The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
rose for the purpose of moving the following Resolution:—That this House, thankfully acknowledging the general prosperity, and deeply sensible of the evils attending frequent changes in the financial policy of the country, adheres to the commercial system recently established, and would view with regret any renewed attempt to disturb its operation or impede its further progress.It certainly would be unpardonable in him to trespass at any great length on their Lordships' attention, after the general understanding which had been come to among noble Lords on a previous occasion, that there should not be a division on the question. But at the same time, as objections had been taken to the course which he had felt it his duty in rather difficult circumstances to adopt, he hoped their Lordships would allow him for a short time to endeavour to meet these objections. In the first place, it had been objected that it was perfectly unnecessary that any Motion whatever should be made on the subject in that House; and in the next place, he now understood that the original Motion which he had intended to propose to their Lordships was about to be moved as an Amendment by his noble 923 Friend behind him (Lord Beaumount)—namely, that their Lordships should adopt the same Resolution which had been come to by the other House of Parliament. Now it happened that the original Resolution, of which he (the Marquess of Clanriearde) gave notice, was conceived in those very terms; hut that Resolution being objected to by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby), he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) then framed another, which he certainly thought would have met his concurrence; hut the noble Earl objected to that also. He then, for the sake of obtaining what he thought would be a unanimous vote on this subject in that House, consented to take the words which the noble Earl had himself prepared, which were certainly not the words which he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) should have liked to have moved if he had merely consulted his own feelings, but which he had adopted for the reason he had given on a former day. He now found himself in that unfortunate position which he believed was not uncommon to men who, when they endeavoured to gain unanimity by concession, ended in finding themselves more or less opposed by all parties; a lesson which, in future, should not be lost upon him. Now he was of opinion that that House should move in this subject on two distinct grounds: first, that it was due, under the circumstances in which they were placed, that the question should be directly brought before them; and next, it was desirable, for the sake of the question itself, that that House should pronounce an opinion decidedly affirmative of the commercial system which he thought had been so happily established. And, although those two grounds were distinct in themselves, he thought that the reasons by which they might be supported were more or less identical. Let their Lordships consider the position in which they now found themselves. Early in this year the present Ministry acceded to office. He had no doubt that their Lordships were now, as hitherto, prepared to grant to them that general support, without which the Ministers of the Crown could not continue to perform the duties they owed to their Sovereign and to the nation at large. But upon one question apprehension was not unnaturally felt. He said, "not unnaturally felt," because he was quite convinced the noble Earl would not tell their Lordships, as had been said in another assembly to the amazement and 924 the amusement, he thought, of all who had heard or read it, that the Protectionist party in this country had not wished since 1846, or in the least endeavoured, to have a return to a system of protective duties on foreign corn. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) therefore said that it was not unnatural that there should be the greatest apprehension felt, when that party, with the noble Lord opposite at their head, acceded to office early in this year, upon that subject which the country had wished should receive a Parliamentary settlement. It would be also in their recollection that noble Lords on his (the Marquess of Clanricarde's) side of the House, and several other noble Lords, had pressed the noble Earl opposite very strongly for a decided declaration of the policy the Government meant to adopt on that subject. The noble Earl, however, deferred to make any declaration on the question—he refused, in fact, to do so—until an appeal had been made to the sense of the country; but he distinctly intimated that after the general election Parliament should be called to assemble in order that the question should be finally settled. It was in conformity With that promise that their Lordships were then assembled. Now he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) said, if Parliament were called together in order that the sense of Parliament might be taken on any particular question, it was not constitutional for a Minister of the Crown, and it would not be wise for that House of Parliament, to submit that that sense should be supposed to be taken by a vote taken only in the House of Commons, without bringing the same question for settlement before their Lordships' House. But the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had said he considered that this question was sufficiently noticed in the Speech from the Throne, and in their Lordships' Address in reply to that Speech. There could be no doubt that the terms of the paragraph in the Queen's Speech implied that, under the system recently established—under what had been called there and elsewhere "recent legislation"—the prosperity of the country had been increased, and its condition improved; but it should be remembered that it also distinctly implied that serious injury Had been inflicted on certain important interests, and inferred that the industry of the country could not be carried on under a system of unrestricted competition without some extraordinary legislation on the subject. Now, whilst the Address in reply to 925 the Speech from the Throne was being considered by their Lordships, their time aw} attention were so much engrossed with a sense of the many and important duties which they had to discharge, and which had since been honourably executed, that they were then unwilling unnecessarily to go into the discussion of this great question. He therefore thought it was wise and well that no Amendment was moved either in that or the other House of Parliament on the Address to the Throne; and that when the subject came under consideration in the House of Commons no attempt was made either to negative the Resolution, or to get rid of it by moving "the previous question." Now, he said, it would have been wise and right for the Government themselves to have come forward and proposed a Resolution on the subject; and he was still bound to say, what he had said on other occasions, that he thought under all the circumstances the Resolutions which it would have been best for their Lordships' House to come to were those adopted by the other House of Parliament. He felt all the force, authority, and weight which a concurrent vote of all parties in the other House of Parliament commanded; and if their Lordships' House would unanimously agree to any vote which would confirm the established commercial policy, he believed their unanimity would in every respect have an equal weight, force, and authority. He could not therefore say, that he regretted having acceded to the proposition of the noble Earl at the head of the Government. But there was another reason why he thought that their Lordships' House should have moved in that question, and why a vote of that House would have carried with it even greater weight than the vote in the other House of Parliament, namely, that they had in that House the First Minister of the Crown. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) knew that, constitutionally speaking, all the Ministers were responsible for the advice which they might give to the Crown; but no man could deny that the First Minister of the Crown was the immediate medium of communication between the Cabinet and the Sovereign, and that, in the estimation of the country, he was always considered—wielding, as he did, such immense patronage, and deciding, as he must ultimately, all the deliberations of the Cabinet—as the most responsible person in the Government. Nor could it be denied that the noble Earl opposite (the 926 Earl of Derby) had been the head and chief and the mainstay, as well as the ornament of the great party who had been identified with the principle of protection; and therefore it was, that he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) thought that in that House this question should have been fairly and fully brought under their Lordships consideration. Again, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was charged with the conduct of all diplomatic negotiations between this and foreign Governments, and it was absolutely necessary that there should be no misapprehension with respect to this question in the diplomatic communications which might pass between the Government of this country and those of Foreign States—for he well knew the importance of an agent abroad not being exposed to hints that his instructions were not entirely in accordance with the personal feelings of the Minister. He knew also how much weight was there attached to the feelings of people in office in this country; for, when he had the honour to represent Her Majesty at the Court of St. Petersburgh, he was, when conversing on commercial questions, over and over again met on the subject of the corn laws with the assertion that he knew very well in his heart this country would never agree to the repeal or to any great modification of the corn laws. It was in vain that he asserted his own opinion on that subject, for he then undoubtedly believed that the corn laws would not last long as they then were, and that many years would not elapse before a change took place. He knew, therefore, that it was of great importance that diplomatic and consular agents should be known to be acting according to the opinions of the Minister at home. Now, the Resolution which had been agreed to by the other House of Parliament was passed by an overwhelming majority, and one which was not more remarkable for its numbers than for the elements of which it was composed; and he could not for the life of him understand why the noble Earl and his Friends chose to draw a distinction between the vote of their Lordships' House and the vote of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and their Friends and Colleagues in the other House of Parliament. He did not wish to attribute motives; but one of two things must have been the cause of that. Either the noble Earl and his Colleagues opposite were not sincerely agreed in opinion with their Colleagues in the other 927 House, or else they felt themselves weak in that House, and unable to carry the vote and the measure which they desired. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was free to say that he did not wish to throw the slightest doubt upon the sincerity of the intentions of the Government on this subject; and that was another reason why he was content to adopt the words of the Resolution upon their Lordships' paper. The words of the Resolution suggested by the noble Earl, and which he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) had now to propose, were brief; but brief as they were, they were still stronger than the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne; for this at least is stated directly, and in plain language—that that House adhered to the commercial system recently established. Now, that was an important statement for the House and the country to obtain from the noble Earl. He knew also the Resolution was not extracted from the Government in the slightest degree as a compromise; for he believed in his heart that the noble Earl and his Friends were now prepared to act in conformity with the principles of free trade, and not upon the principles of that which had been well termed elsewhere the "exploded," if not "obsolete," system of protection. Even if he had entertained any doubt on that subject, it would have been dispelled by the remarkable statement contained in th6 Budget brought forward on Friday evening in the other House of Parliament by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which he thought was free from all taint or vice of what might be called protection; and he was content to take it as the best possible test of the sincerity of the Government of the noble Earl opposite. It was impossible for any man who had been party to that Budget to come down and talk to the other House of Parliament in the strain of such a notice of Motion, for example, as stood on the books of that House in the last Session in the name of Sir John Pakington. But if their Lordships were going to frame a Resolution which should be really worthy of their Lordships' House and this subject—if he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) was going to look simply to the subject abstractedly, and not to consider the position in which they now were, or in which the other side of the House might be with reference to the other House of Parliament—it was not to the Resolution which was adopted by the other House—it was not to the Resolution—which he thought infinitely 928 preferable to that adopted—proposed by Mr. Villiers, that he would look; he should go no further than the Journals of their Lordships' House, where he found the immortal protest written by Lord Grenville, in 1815, on the subject of the corn law, and which was in entire conformity with his own sentiments. Their Lordships would forgive him if he read that memorable document. It was in these terms:—Dissentient—1. Because we are adverse in principle to all new restraints on commerce. We think it certain that public prosperity is best promoted by leaving uncontrolled the free current of national industry; and we wish rather, by well-considered steps, to bring back our commercial legislation to the straight and simple line of wisdom, than to increase the deviation by subjecting additional and extensive branches of the public interest to fresh systems of artificial and injurious restriction. 2. Because we think that the great practical rule of leaving all commerce unfettered applies more peculiarly, and on still stronger grounds of justice as well as of policy, to the corn trade than to any other. Irresistible, indeed, must be that necessity which could, in our judgment, authorise the legislature to tamper with the sustenance of the people, and to impede the free purchase and sale of that article on which depends the existence of so large a portion of the community. 3. Because we think that the expectations of ultimate benefit from this measure are founded on a delusive theory. We cannot persuade ourselves that this law will ever contribute to produce plenty, cheapness, or steadiness of price. So long as it operates at all, its effects must be the opposite of these. Monopoly is the parent of scarcity, of dearness, and of uncertainty. To cut off any of the sources of supply, can only tend to lessen its abundance; to close against ourselves the cheapest market for any commodity, must enhance the price at which we purchase it; and to confine the consumer of corn to the produce of his own country, is to refuse to ourselves the benefit of that provision which Providence itself has made for equalising to man the variations of season and of climate 4. But, whatever may be the future consequences of this law at some distant and uncertain period, we see, with pain, that these hopes must be purchased at the expense of a great and present evil. To compel the consumer to purchase corn nearer at home than it might be imported from abroad, is the immediate practical effect of this law. In this way alone can it operate. Its present protection, its promised extension of agriculture must result (if at all) from the profits which it creates by keeping up the price of corn to an artificial level. These future benefits are the consequences expected, but as we confidently believe erroneously expected, from giving a bounty to the grower of corn, by a tax levied on its consumer. 5. Because we think that the adoption of any permanent law for such a purpose, required the fullest and most laborious investigation. Nor would it have been sufficient for our satisfaction, could we have been convinced of the general policy of so hazardous an experiment. A still further inquiry would have been necessary to persuade us that the present moment was fit for its adoption. In such an inquiry we 929 must have had the means of satisfying ourselves what its immediate operation will be as connected with the various and pressing circumstances of public difficulty and distress with which the country is now surrounded; with the state of our circulation and currency; of our agriculture and manufactures; of our internal and external commerce; and, above all, with the condition and reward of the industrious and labouring classes of oar community. On all these particulars, as they respect this question, we think that Parliament is almost wholly uninformed; on all we see reason for the utmost anxiety and alarm from the operation of this law. Lastly. Because, if we could approve of the principle and purpose of this law, we think that no sufficient foundation has been laid for its details. The evidence before us, unsatisfactory and imperfect as it is, seems to us rather to disprove than to support the propriety of the high price adopted as the standard of importation, and the fallacious mode by which that price is to be ascertained. And on all these grounds we are anxious to record our dissent from a measure so precipitate in its course, and, as we fear, so injurious in its consequences."—[1 Mansard, xxx. 263.]These were sound doctrines—they were sound doctrines in 1815, and they were sound then, and they would be sound to all future years, supported as they were by increased knowledge and practical experience of the subject. What effect on such reasoning as this can those transitory circumstances have, to which the noble Earl referred on the first night of the Session? He said it was to emigration and the influx of gold that the general prosperity of the country was attributable. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) would say, those matters producing great effects in themselves, had nothing to do with the sound principles on which their commercial system had been established, and to which the present prosperity of the country was mainly to be attributed. He could not say, and no man could be impious enough to say, that free trade alone would secure them against unpropitious seasons and adverse times; but experience proved that in seasons of adversity, to free trade they must resort for relief and sustenance; and in the days of prosperity free trade was the best foundation they could have to prolong and establish that prosperity. Was it in times of an overflow of gold, or of extraordinary prosperity, that the law was first altered? No: it was forced upon their convictions by one of those visitations of Providence that occasionally occurred, when it was found the corn law would not stand for a moment. No man objected in times of distress to what were called the Order930s in Council, or to the sweeping away of those corn laws. And if it be 930 true, as was well said by the noble Earl on the first night of the Session, that there had been a gradual recurrence to prosperity in the condition of the people during the last three years, had they not the fullest practical proof, if practical proof be wanting, that the only system on which the country could rely, either in prosperity or adversity, was the system of free trade? He had no doubt that that system would never be altered; and it was a comfort to him that the first vote he gave when he had the honour of a seat in that House, and every vote he had given since, had been in support of the principles of free trade. The question was then differently situated from what it was at present, but he had the honour of seconding the Motion proposed by Lord Spencer in 1841, when the proposition was not for the immediate and total abolition of the duty on corn, but for the adoption of a moderate fixed duty. It was then objected, that if they adopted the proposition it would lead to the repeal of the corn law: He never doubted it, but he could not doubt also that it would have been much better if they had acceded to that proposal, and the total repeal of the duty on corn had been made more gradual than in 1846. He hoped the feeling of the House would be unanimous that this Resolution at least should he adopted. He was anxious they should at least have a unanimous vote of the House, agreeing in the great principle that the commercial system now established should be adhered to; for even such a vote as that would put an end to the controversy, and establish free trade (whatever may take place in other countries) as the system of this country for ever.
Moved to resolve—
That this House, thankfully acknowledging the general prosperity, and deeply sensible of the evils attending frequent changes in the financial policy of the country, adheres to the commercial system recently established; and would view with regret any renewed attempt to disturb its operation or impede its further progress.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
My Lords, I should have been unwilling to disturb that unanimity which at one time was likely to prevail on this occasion; but, at all events, I should have felt myself constrained to make a few observations on this subject. My Lords, it may or may not be proper or expedient for this House to come to some resolution or vote affirming the policy of free trade and that system of commercial legislation which has been re- 931 cently established. For my own part, I could be well pleased to have left the matter precisely as it now stands; and I would not myself have advised or proposed any vote of this description; and for these reasons: I think, in the first place, that this House has already pronounced a very decided opinion upon this subject. Since the year 1846 the whole course of our legislation has been in accordance with the spirit of the enactments then passed. We have done nothing to indicate the slightest intention towards any reaction. Even the noble Earl opposite and his Friends, when they sat on this side of the House, notwithstanding their vehement speeches and the addresses they so frequently made to the House on the subject, as far as I recollect, abstained from making any Motion that had that tendency. Certain it is that the House never adopted any Motion that could give any indication of a tendency to reaction towards the old system. That being the case, we are the same body as we were at that time—we are not, like the House of Commons, a changing body, in whose case an appeal to the people was required to know what the opinions of that House on the subject might be. Our opinion may, therefore, be clearly taken now, according to all experience and precedent, to be precisely as it was pronounced in the year 1846; therefore, I should, for these reasons, see no necessity to call upon the House to come to any fresh decision upon the subject. Another reason why I think any vote on this subject unnecessary is, that it is not, in my opinion, a vote to which your Lordships can come with any practical result, or which can be of the slightest importance on this subject. I believe the question of the corn laws is settled finally and irrevocably, and that whatever your vote be it will not affect it. If it be in affirmation, you will only affirm that which has been already firmly established; if, unfortunately, it should be adverse to that system, while I should regret it for the sake of your Lordships' character, it would only exhibit the impotence of this House when opposed to the voice of reason and the strong desire and feeling of the country. I say that this question is settled. When I look to what has recently taken place—when I look to the result of the last elections—when I look at the unequivocal demonstration of public opinion—when I look to the late vote of the House of Commons, and hear the declarations of Her Majesty's Ministers themselves, I take 932 it for granted that the question is not only settled, but that the time is come when I may, as one of the oldest and most intimate of the friends of the late Sir Robert Peel in this House, feel myself fully justified in congratulating the friends of that great Minister—in congratulating the House and the country—on the final and complete success of that system for which he suffered so much, and for which he made great sacrifices. I trust I may believe that the contest of the last six years is now finally closed, and that the name of Sir Robert Peel, which was pursued with so much persevering and relentless hostility, may now be received with blessings, and remembered as that of the benefactor of his country. I cannot, perhaps, expect that noble Lords opposite will join with me in using this language; nevertheless, it is the language that has received the sanction of the country, and the feeling which it expresses is deeply impressed on the hearts of the people. I have said that I do not see the necessity of calling upon this House for any resolution or any vote on this subject; but I must confess that I never did expect to see such a Resolution submitted to us as that which is now proposed by the noble Marquess. When the noble Marquess announced his intention of moving a Resolution on the subject, I took it for granted that he was about to move the adoption of the Resolution which passed the House of Commons by an overwhelming majority. The noble Marquess stated that that was his intention, and even to-night he has declared that he prefers the Commons' Resolution to the one he himself moved. It is difficult for me to comprehend why that Resolution should be objected to by the noble Lords opposite. My noble Friend at the head of the Government certainly, on the first occasion when the noble Marquess introduced the subject in this House, stated that the Resolutions agreed to by the Commons did not proceed from the Government, but were the result of a compromise in some other quarter. But what difference does this make? It is a compromise I admit, but if you accept the compromise, surely you are as much bound to assent as cordially, if you act in good faith, to the compromise, as if the original proposition had been adopted. I, therefore, cannot understand the motive for the objection to it, or what difference there is between its originating on the part of the Government, and the Government accepting it— 933 particularly when they consider the success of that Resolution as a species of triumph. But when the noble Earl objected to the Resolution of the Commons when proposed by the noble Marquess, on the ground that it had not originated with the Government, the noble Marquess set himself right on that point, because he afterwards proposed a Resolution that was placed on the Votes of the House of Commons by a distinguished Member of Her Majesty's Government. That Resolution is, I confess, not at all to my taste, and I would not willingly have approved of it if it had been brought forward by the noble Marquess; but at least it did acknowledge some benefits to have arisen from this system which we support; and the advantages that are accruing to the country from the system of free trade and unrestricted competition were to a certain extent admitted. But my noble Friend at the head of the Government did not give that Resolution either his approbation, and he laid upon the table, or suggested to the noble Marquess, the Resolution which we are now considering. I am bound to take for granted, and to believe, that the noble Marquess, in moving this Resolution, thinks, and is convinced, that he is acting favourably to the interests of that cause which he has long supported. I must say, however, that if I did not feel that this question was removed altogether beyond your power and control, and that the country entertain a very different opinion, I should feel some degree of apprehension. I think that this Resolution would be a greater step to reaction than any we have seen since the year 1846. What is this Resolution? This Resolution asserts that "the House, thankfully acknowledging the general prosperity, and deeply sensible of the evils attending frequent changes in the financial policy of the country, adheres to the commercial system recently established, and would view with regret any renewed attempt to disturb its operation, or impede its further progress." Let your Lordships just observe the terms of this Resolution: first, you acknowledge the general prosperity; but you do not attribute this prosperity to any cause—you attribute it to Providence. Well, I am the last man to deny that all the good we possess is due to the bounty of an overruling Providence; but in this case I must say that Providence has blessed human agency, and we have a right to attribute the general prosperity in a great measure 934 to that system which has been recently established in this country. Then you go on to state that you adhere to this system, and you would regret to see it impeded. Why? Because the change would be inconvenient—because you deeply feel the inconvenience of variations and changes in our commercial policy. But surely a change is as inconvenient from a bad system to a good one, as from a good one to a bad one—
§ The EARL of DERBY
The word is "evils," not "inconvenience." If the noble Earl wishes to make comments upon the Resolution, let him at all events take care that he is commenting upon that which it contains.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
I assure the noble Earl that I will not make any comment but what I conscientiously feel to be applicable to the Resolution. My variation from the literal terms of the Resolution was quite unintentional—I did not now read the exact words of the Resolution, thinking the substance would be sufficient. The Resolution is precisely in substance what I have stated, the words being, "deeply sensibly of the evils," instead of the "inconvenience," as I stated. You acknowledge the "evils" of frequent change; so it may be inferred that the "evil" exists as much when the change is from bad to good, as when it is from good to bad. I say further, that, looking to this Resolution, the logical and fair inference is, that you would change if you could do so without exposing yourselves to evils. Supposing it is only the evils attending change you would prevent, then I say the inference is that you would change were it not for the evils that would attend it. That is not a sufficient ground for adhering to the system which you profess to adopt. No, my Lords, if you adhere to that system, it is because it is wise, and just, and beneficial: and that is what I should like you to vote. I therefore think the Resolution placed on the Commons' Votes with the acceptance of the Government infinitely preferable to that moved by the noble Marquess; and it was framed studiously to meet the convenience of the party which acts with noble Lords opposite, and to avoid giving offence to them. Although, I say, I should like to vote that the system of free trade is wise, just, and beneficial, I do not call on your Lordships to join in that vote, nor do I expect you to do so; but, at the same time, I must protest against being any party to the support 935 of a Resolution which is immeasurably below the amount of my own convictions on the subject. I do not wish to enter at large into the question; but I could not help expressing the strong feeling I entertain of the total inadequacy of the Resolution to its professed object.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, that he had no doubt that the object of the noble Earl opposite was identical with that of his noble Friend near him. He believed it was his sincere and earnest wish that the long-vexed question of free trade or protection should be finally settled, and that Parliament should give a pledge, as far as it was able, that in future their commercial and financial system should be based upon the principle of unrestricted competition. That he believed to be the sincere wish of the noble Earl, and to be likewise the object which his noble Friend had in view in proposing this Resolution. He believed that the desire of all parties was, that in the present Parliament they should not lose the ground which had been gained in past years; and that, although the question of free trade had been re-opened by the Government on its first accession to power, they would now counteract any evil effects which might have thence arisen, and place themselves in the same position as after the passing of the great Act of 1846. He believed that both the one and the other of the noble Lords thought that if this question, which had been re-opened, was to be again settled, and finally settled, as the system of policy to be adopted, their Lordships' House should not be passed over, but should be in some way consulted, or at least considered. He believed that both the noble Lords saw the necessity of passing some Resolution in that House; and if that was their opinion, he agreed with them on that point. He thought that except such a Resolution was passed, embodying the opinions their Lordships wished to express on the subject, no pledge would have been given by Parliament to the country. It was not by one branch of the Legislature that it should be passed, but by both; and he considered that a Resolution passed by their Lordships' House must produce a considerable effect in the country. That House peculiarly represented the landed interest, and such a pledge from them would afford the firmest (assurance with regard to their intention is. The commercial and mercantile interests given pledge after pledge and vote after vote on the question, and what 936 was wanting was a pledge from the landed interest, which had hitherto been conscientiously opposed to the measure, that in future the policy established in 1846 would not be disturbed. So far he agreed with what he believed to be the intentions of both the noble Lords; but then came the question how it was to be done, and it appeared to him that there was only one course to take, and that was the straightforward and simple course of adopting the Resolution passed in the other House with the assent of the Government, voted for in the other House by some leading Members of what once was called the Protectionist party, and carried by an overwhelming majority. By doing so, they would concur in and endorse the opinion of the other House, and thus give a double security to the country. He owned he could not see any difficulty in the adoption of it; and if there was any difficulty, the last quarter from which he should expect an objection to come was Her Majesty's Government. There might be a difficulty to get some ultra parties to agree to it who wished to adhere to what were now called "obsolete" opinions. They could not expect unanimity, but of this he had felt sure, that at least they would have all the Members of the Government with them; also, that they would have noble Lords at his side of the House with them, and that they might even hope for the support of those who did not think the Resolution went far enough. He agreed perfectly with the description given by the noble Earl opposite of what the Resolution ought to be. The noble Earl said it ought to be framed so as not to take such a retrospective view as would reflect upon the conduct of those who firmly, conscientiously, and ably, had opposed the measures of 1846. Certainly he agreed that the Resolution should be such as in no way to insult or reflect upon the conduct of those who bad acted the part of Opposition in that year. But did the Resolution passed by the other House do that? Was it possible that that Resolution could have done it, when they looked to the names of the men who voted for it? Would the Government themselves support a Resolution that reflected upon the conduct of every Member of the Government? Would such leading men connected with the agricultural interest as Mr. Cayley, and others who supported it, vote for that Resolution if it were a reflection on the conduct of the landed interest in past times,? He 937 must consider that the Resolution pass in the other House reflected in no way those who formed the Opposition in past years. The noble Earl opposite also wished that the Resolution should be framed so as not to imply that free trade was the sole cause of the prosperity of the country; but the Resolution passed by the other House did not imply anything of the sort; it merely stated that the admission of corn had cheapened food, and materially tended to the welfare of the country. He agreed that it should not be said to be exclusively the cause of the prosperity of the country, because it could not he denied that the importation of gold had a considerable influence. He thought it must be apparent that, considering the nature of the law regulating the Bank Charter, the importation of gold had an influence; but the main reason for the prosperity of the country no doubt had been the cheapening of food. He presumed the noble Earl was prepared to affirm that assertion, for it was to be found in the Resolution drawn up by the Cabinet themselves, and proposed as an Amendment in the House of Commons. Under these circumstances, the Resolution passed by the other House appeared to him (Lord Beaumont) to have nothing objectionable in it. The noble Earl, however, actually declined to agree to the Resolution which had been passed by such an overwhelming majority in the other House, and which had obtained the support of his own Colleagues in that House. What other conclusion could be drawn from such an objection than that the noble Earl believed, in the other House a Resolution had been adopted which materially reflected on the conduct of those who had been opposed to the free-trade policy. This was a dilemma from which the noble Earl could not escape; he must either believe the Resolution to be such that its adoption by Government was a condemnation of themselves, or that it was altogether unobjectionable. The conduct of the noble Earl was inexplicable, it was contradictory, it condemned here what it approved of elsewhere, and he Lord Beaumont thought the whole position of things so extraordinary, that he felt justified in coming forward at the eleventh hour and proposing an Amendment. On the noble Earl's objecting to the same Resolution that had been passed by the Commons, the noble Marquess showed his complacency by withdrawing it. He next proposed to move the Amendment suggested 938 in the other House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and agreed to at a Cabinet Council. Even that was objected to by the noble Earl. The complacent Marquess again gave way: he withdrew the second as he had done the first Resolution. The noble Earl then suggested a Resolution himself. What did the noble Marquess do then? He complacently agreed to accept it. He (Lord Beaumont) thought that the good nature of the noble Marquess would have been exhausted by this. But the noble Earl went a little further. He said, "Now that yon have abandoned your original Resolution, have withdrawn your second Resolution, and have accepted my words, do me a little favour and propose them yourself." That scene passed rapidly before the House on Thursday night. In a few minutes not only did the noble Marquess abandon his original and his second intentions, and accept the words of the noble Earl, but he also undertook to propose the Resolution of Government—and this he did in two minutes after he had had heard its terms. He (Lord Beaumont) was himself so surprised and astonished at what passed, that he did not know where he was; whether his noble Friend (the Marquess of Clanricarde) had turned Protectionist, or what was the state of things. The whole appeared to him such a scene of confusion, that though he disapproved of the arrangement that was come to, and was rather ashamed of the occurrence of so undignified a scene in the House of Lords, he was so taken by surprise that he could not get up to give notice of any Motion. He had since then reflected upon the subject; and he could not conceive that any advantage, but on the contrary that great disadvantage, would be derived from adopting the Resolution now before their Lordships. He was convinced of the necessity of something being done in that House, and he was at the same time convinced, that the only proper, effective, and simple plan was to adopt the Resolution which had been agreed to by the other House, and to place it on their Lordships' Votes. Had it not been for what fell from the noble Earl opposite as to the propriety of that House doing anything at all, ha might have been contented to have rested the Amendment which he should propose, upon the grounds he had already stated. But the propriety of that House coming to any resolution having been doubted, it was absolutely necessary that he should state the reasons 939 which struck him in favour of such a course. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) was some months ago called to power; not in consequence of any immediate act of his own—not in consequence of any successful Motion, or in short, of any proceeding in which he had taken part. The noble Earl thus entrusted with the Government was perfectly free to adopt what course he liked with regard to the question of protection and free trade. It was true he long ably led an Opposition, the chief bond amongst whom was the principle of protection; but called as he was thus suddenly to power—not in consequence of any Motion he had made in favour of protection, not having pledged himself to a positive Motion, but having merely expressed his opinions in Opposition—he was perfectly free when he acceded to office to adopt what course he pleased on these questions. And had he forthwith announced that having taken into consideration the circumstances of the country, and what had happened since 1846, he thought it would be just, wise, and beneficial to continue the course of policy which was then adopted, he (Lord Beaumont) thought that he would have been fully justified in so doing, nor would the noble Earl ever have heard from him one word of condemnation. The noble Earl, however, did not say that he was prepared either to adopt or to abandon protection; he reversed what was the constitutional view of the province of Government—for instead of doing as all other Governments had done, and laying down a certain policy and leaving the country to decide upon it, he declined, on the part of the Government, to propound any positive policy on the subject, and went to the country in order that it might tell him what he was to do. Now, he (Lord Beaumont) maintained that this was not a constitutional proceeding, and that it was an unfortunate and dangerous precedent. He did not blame any noble Lords for changing their opinions on this subject, or for seeing the necessity under the circumstances—whatever might have been their predilections—of abiding by the policy which had been adopted; but for a Government not to lay down a line of policy at all for six or eight months, and then to take it from the country, was, he must maintain, an unconstitutional and dangerous proceeding. But still, when the noble Earl took this course he gave certain pledges. He said that he would leave the 940 question open to the country, and would carry out their decision. This, he (Lord Beaumont) must say, the noble Earl had done. He did leave the question open—to such an extent, indeed, that he allowed some Members of the Government to speak in favour of protection, and others in favour of free trade. The country had now spoken out, and by a majority had declared in favour of the continuance of the policy which had been recently adopted; and the noble Earl had fulfilled the pledge he gave to call Parliament together in the autumn to consider and determine the future commercial policy of the country. Nor could he condemn the terms in which the Queen's Speech on the opening of Parliament was couched. The noble Earl rightly thought that it was not proper to put into the mouth of the Sovereign any very strong or positive expressions of opinion upon the course of policy to be adopted. What was the next thing to be done in order to show the intention of the Government and the Parliament to abide by the decision of the country? The Government said, "Wait until we come to the Budget, and you will see that our Budget will be in conformity with free trade." Other parties, however, were not satisfied with the case as it stood—they were not satisfied with the declarations of the Government, though the noble Earl had certainly made a very clear statement during the debate on the Address—about which he (Lord Beaumont) never had any doubt as to his opinion. It was, however, still thought by some Members of the House of Commons that it was necessary that such a Resolution should be passed as should show the country, and also foreign Powers, what we were about to do, and should leave no doubt on the subject. As the Government did nothing, a Resolution was brought forward by these parties, worded in such a manner as to give good ground for the objection, that it reflected too much upon the past conduct of some parties. The Government then proposed a Resolution of their own; subsequently another Resolution was proposed, which the Government accepted. Talk of a compromise on this—it was nothing of the sort—the Government liked the second Resolution so much that they withdrew their own Resolution and adopted it. The case was infinitely stronger than if they had chosen between that Resolution and the Motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. Then it might be said that they adopted it as a compromise; but what they actually did 941 was to adopt it in the place of the Resolution framed by themselves. Indeed, if he was not mistaken, the Government themselves moved this third Resolution. The Government had, he thought, up to this point, fulfilled all their pledges, and had done as much as they could to bind this Parliament. What remained, however, was to get that pledge of the House of Commons endorsed by that House of Parliament, so that the opinion of the whole Legislature (including that of the House of Lords, as the Representatives of the landed interest) might be fully expressed. But here, at the last moment, the noble Earl paused; and by refusing to accept the Resolution already adopted by his Colleagues in the Government, he was undoing what had already been done; he was re-opening the case and throwing doubts on the sincerity of many parties, and casting a slur on those who voted for this Resolution in the other-House of Parliament; and he was running the risk of enabling foreign Powers to say that we were not sincere—that the great landed interest as represented by the House of Lords had refused to pledge itself to free trade, and that even the Government saw the case so strongly that it had introduced a Resolution which had been described as a reactionary Resolution by the noble Earl near him (the Earl of Aberdeen), who, of all persons, should be accustomed to the diplomatic way of viewing these things. On these grounds he was prepared to move the Resolution as passed in the House of Commons, as an Amendment on the Motion of the noble Marquess; and he did intreat the House and the noble Earl at the head of the Government to adopt that Resolution, and thus to place the House of Lords in one of the most noble and exalted positions which could be occupied by any public body, namely, that while many of them still thought that their interests would be benefited by the contrary system, they yet come forward to sacrifice those imagined interests, and, disregarding their former predilections and an obstinate adherence to their own opinions, to declare that the great measure of 1846, having been the means of doing great good to the masses of the people, having mainly contributed to their welfare, having fed the hungry and relieved the destitute, they, the House of Lords, as representing the landed interest, were prepared to come forward, and in the most clear, straightforward, and loyal manner to endorse and support the Resolution adopted in the other House, and 942 thus to show that the Legislature and the Government were of one mind upon this subject, and were agreed in support of the free-trade policy involved in that measure. The Lord concluded by moving an Amendment—To leave out from 'That' to the End of the Motion for the Purpose of inserting—'It is the Opinion of this House that the improved Condition of the Country, and especially of the Industrious Classes, is mainly the Result of recent Legislation, which has established the Principle of unrestricted Competition, has abolished Taxes imposed for the Purposes of Protection, and has thereby diminished the Cost and increased the Abundance of the principal Articles of the Food of the People:'That it is the Opinion of this House that this Policy, firmly maintained and prudently extended, will, without inflicting Injury on any important Interest, best enable the Industry of the Country to bear its Burthens, and will thereby most surely promote the Welfare and Contentment of the People:'That this House will be ready to take into Consideration any Measures consistent with these Principles, which, in pursuance of Her Majesty's gracious Speech and Recommendation, may be laid before it.'
§ The EARL of DERBY
My Lords, I certainly was desirous of waiting somewhat longer before I addressed the House, in order that I might know what view your Lordships generally take of the position in which we are at present placed, and of the Motion and the Amendment now before you. But as no noble Lord appears to be inclined to rise after the Question has been put, I feel it my duty not to allow this question to pass in absolute silence on my part, although I shall enter but very shortly upon the general topics which are considered to be involved in the Resolution and the Amendment. I am desirous, in the first place, of calling your Lordships' attention to the position in which the subject is now placed by that which took place in this House in the course of last week. It will be in the recollection of your Lordships that on Tuesday last the noble Marquess who has brought forward this Motion gave notice of his intention to move a Resolution upon the subject of the free-trade policy of the country, without at the time giving notice of the precise terms in which he intended to bring the question forward. In the course of a short conversation which took place on that occasion, I stated to the noble Marquess the grounds on which I hoped that this House would be spared the necessity of any conflict of opinion upon this subject. I stated that, in my opinion, it was most desirable that the 943 past should be consigned to oblivion, and that; your Lordships should look to that which is really important—the future policy of the Government of this country, and the principles upon which our commercial policy is to be based. And I then stated to the noble Marquess—although I had not written anything down—the substance of an Amendment which I wished to submit to his consideration, for the purpose of seeing whether it would not meet the views of himself and his friends. My Lords, it was then the intention of the noble Marquess, if he brought forward any question, to have given notice on the Tuesday for this day, so that noble Lords in the country might have an opportunity to come up to record their opinions, and that those remaining in London, if any important discussion should seem likely to arise, might not leave town, but might remain here. I then suggested to the noble Marquess that he should take the course of postponing his final decision on the subject until Thursday, and that in that case, if he still persisted in his intention of moving a Resolution to which I felt that considerable objection would be made on this side of the House, he should then extend the period of the notice so as to give the same time for its consideration and of the Amendment, and for the attendance of the House, as he had originally intended. When I came down to the House on Thursday, the noble Marquess met me in the ante-room, and proffered to show me the precise Resolution which he was about to move. I had by that time written down the words of the Resolution which I proposed to ask your Lordships to adopt, and upon which words I ventured to think there would be that which the noble Marquess—sincerely, I have no doubt—professes to desire, and which I think all your Lordships would admit to be desirable—a unanimous concurrence in the view to be taken by this House. I placed these words in the noble Marquess's hands. He did not immediately return them to me. He stated, and stated very properly, that before he could adopt thorn he must consult with his friends. Who those friends were with whom he consulted I know not; but I do know that a very considerable period elapsed, during which we were waiting for the noble Marquess: and when he returned into the House he stated to me that he was perfectly satisfied to adopt my words, although he, would wish to place upon record the words which he himself had suggested; 944 that he was quite willing to accept as a substitute the words I had proposed, in order that there might be no division of opinion among your Lordships upon this subject. In consequence of that the scene took place which the noble Baron who spoke last has somewhat humorously described, but which was by no means that series of concessions on the part of the noble Marquess to demands on my part which he has represented. I suggested certain words, and the noble Marquess stated, that although he preferred his own words, yet to obtain unanimity, to prevent the possibility of a division, and to render unnecessary the attendance of Peers on a future day, he was willing to accept my words; on which I put them across the table to him, and said, "Perhaps, if that be the case, you had better move them yourself, to avoid even the appearance of a hostile Amendment being moved." That was the scene which took place; and, for my own part, so far from thinking that it was a scene discreditable to the House of Lords, I think it a good example of the manner in which political opponents in this House are in the habit—and always, I hope, will be in the habit—of dealing with each other—with frankness and courtesy; and, so far as possible, of endeavouring to conciliate opposed opinions, rather than unnecessarily to embitter differences, and to have recourse to unnecessary divisions. The noble Baron must have been aware that, in consequence of that conversation, no division was expected, and that, but for what might almost be considered technical grounds, the Motion might have been put and carried that very evening. That was on Thursday. But the noble Baron says, that he was taken so entirely by surprise that he lost the power of speech. Now I must say that, when the noble Baron loses the power of speech, I should think that he is in a very bad way indeed, for I have never seen the noble Baron so surprised but that he could be tolerably fluent whenever he wished to express an opinion on any subject—tolerably fluent, whatever we may think of the arguments he uses. But how long did his surprise last? Why, he slept over it. He came down to your Lordships' House on Friday. Had he not then recovered from his surprise? Had he not then made up his mind as to the course which he should pursue? Could he not on Friday night, consistently with the usage and practice of this House—if he intended to depart from that general agreement to which the House 945 had come, and if he were not still in that state of surprise and astonishment which he has described—have given notice of his intention to move an Amendment? But instead of that, having told the friends who usually act in conjunction with me, that it was unnecessary for them to attend the House—that, in consequence of the general agreement, they were perfectly at liberty to go about their ordinary, and personal, and private occupations—I am told for the first time, on coming down to the House this evening, that not from this but from that side of the House an Amendment is about to be moved, and, consequently, that we must prepare for a hostile division. Now I put it to your Lordships on both sides of the House, independently of the merits of the question, whether, after what passed on Thursday night, and in face of the fact that no notice of an Amendment had been given on Friday night, you can, consistently with the ordinary practice of the House, consent to support the Amendment moved by the noble Baron? My Lords, I will not now enter on the question whether any Resolution was necessary on the part of the Government. I did not think that any Resolution was called for on the part of the Government; and so far I agree with the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen). But it being the opinion of the House of Commons, and it being also the opinion of some Members of this House, that it was desirable that a public record should be made of the intentions of Parliament with regard to the future, which should, as far as anything of the sort can do, bind this and the other House of Parliament to adhere to the present system of commercial legislation, I made no objection then, nor do I make any now, to that which I conceive was desired—that the House should place on record, and beyond doubt, the principles on which the Government intends in future to act. The noble Baron (Lord Beaumont), differing from some others, has done me the justice to say that he does not greatly blame the course pursued by the Government up to the present moment; and that, whatever he may think of the course adopted by us of referring a question of this kind to the country in general, that he is ready to admit that up to the present moment we have fully redeemed all the pledges which we have given, and have acted upon the intentions which we have expressed. But, my Lords, the noble Baron goes further; for he says—and I thank him for the admission—that 946 even the terms made use of in the Royal Speech were not such as Parliament had a right to complain of, and that they were only such terms as a due regard to the Royal Person from whom the sentiments proceeded rendered necessary and proper. My Lords, I think the noble Baron also did me the justice to say that, upon the occasion of the debate on the Address, my own declarations, as Minister of the Crown, with regard to the future policy of the country, were plain and unequivocal, and not to be mistaken; and that, even if in the terms used in the Speech from the Throne, in which we spoke of "that unrestricted competition to which Parliament has decided that the country shall be subject," there could be any ambiguity, there could be none in that in which I declared the intentions of the Government for the future, and announced that, whatever our own views might have been, or might now be, that we were prepared to act on that system of policy in commercial matters which had obtained the general assent of the country. But the noble Baron thinks that we should have gone somewhat further, and have given—beyond the explanation of the Minister in this House, or of the Minister in the other—some public assurance of our intentions as to the course to be pursued. But did we give no such assurance of our intentions? Why, in the course of that same speech I announced to your Lordships that, if your Lordships and the other House of Parliament would have the patience to wait for one short fortnight, we would lay before the House of Commons those commercial propositions in detail, and that financial policy, in the shape of the Budget, which would at once test the sincerity of the Government, and give an opportunity for a declaration on the opinion of the country. My Lords, had it not been for the interposition of a Motion of an abstract character, referring to the past much more than to the future, that Budget would have been before the public one week sooner than the period at which it was possible to bring it forward. Now, when the noble Baron comes to look at that Budget, he says—and I think the noble Marquess said the same—"Whatever may be the faults of that Budget—whatever parts we may desire to comment upon, I must say that there is in the Budget, ample evidence of the full intention of the Government to carry out the principles of free trade; it is not to be characterised as a protection Budget; it is a free-trade 947 Budget, and carries out the declarations which you have made." Well, then, up to the moment of the debate on the Address, it is admitted that we had redeemed our pledges. We then asked leave to give a practical proof of our intentions in a fortnight, hut we were prevented from giving that proof by the interposition of an abstract Motion; but when we are permitted to develop that scheme, by the confession of our opponents that scheme is a complete fulfilment, so far as free trade is concerned, of the pledges we had given, and the declarations we had made. I did say, in the course of the last Session of Parliament, that I thought it desirable that previous to Christmas there should be an opportunity given to Parliament, not only to hear but to decide upon the commercial policy of the country. Undoubtedly I was anxious, and am anxious still, that such an opportunity should be given; and the best practical proof that we can give, is, that we have introduced that financial policy, not in the form of resolutions, which may be liable to interpretations one way or the other, but in the way of legislative measures submitted to Parliament, and upon which, before the other House separates, I trust that we shall have the judgment of Parliament; so that, in complete fulfilment of the pledge which we gave upon a former occasion, the current business of the ordinary Session shall not be interfered with by questions, raising doubts as to the future commercial policy of the country. So far for the course which the Government have pursued, so far for the course which, in my judgment, would have rendered any Motion by way of resolution Unnecessary and uncalled for; because I think that the best proof that could be given of the intentions of a Government—if the words of the Ministers were not to be taken—were the legislative and commercial measures which they proposed for the consideration of Parliament. But I waive that question; I accept the Resolution; and now, my Lords, I ask—what is your object? What is the object of those among you who are the most determined free-traders, who have been the most consistent supporters of that policy from the beginning? For I am sure that this immutable principle of free trade has had to struggle against various and serious difficulties; and I say that there is hardly a single individual—I except the noble Earl who has to-night made his first 948 appearance this Session—amongst those I have the honour of seeing on the opposite benches, and who are now the ardent supporters of that system, whose votes have not at one time or another been recorded in opposition to that immutable principle. The noble Marquess himself—I do not wish to taunt him with it—but the noble Marquess himself is not quite correct in saying that he never gave a vote in opposition to free trade; because, though he never did in person, he did by proxy. He did a considerable number of years ago give a vote by proxy against the principle of free-trade, and more especially against the principle of free trade in corn, [The Marquess of CLANRICARDE. When?] In 1839, when Earl Fitzwilliam brought forward a Motion on the subject of free trade, you will find that the proxy of "Lord Somerhill," was given in opposition to that Motion. The noble Baron next him (Lord Beaumont) is a still more recent convert; because so lately as 1846 he both spoke and voted against the repeal of the corn laws, and, if I am not mistaken, was himself subsequently the chairman of a Committee to inquire into the burdens on agriculture, and the means of mitigating the great injury inflicted on the agricultural class, by the repeal of the corn laws;—and still more recently, I had the honour of seeing amongst the names of those who joined in the protest which I thought it to be my duty to enter on the records of this House against the repeal of the corn laws, the name of Lord Beaumont. I do not wish to taunt any noble Lord with having charged his opinions. We are all liable to change our opinions, and God forbid that I should taunt any man on the subject! What I was about to say was, that if the noble Lords opposite are sincere and earnest in their wish to produce the greatest possible effect upon the country, by the affirmation of the free-trade principle by this House, then the course which they ought to take, is to frame the affirmation of that principle in such a manner as shall secure the largest number of Peers to vote in favour of that Resolution, without doing violence to their own feelings; and it was on that ground (as I took the liberty of explaining to your Lordships), that, studiously abstaining from dealing with the past, and from offering any opinion on the part of the House as to the abstract policy or the abstract justice of the measures—with regard to which there might be differences of opinion—I framed 949 a Resolution which, so far as any resolution can pledge the House for the future. pledged it to the adoption and carrying into effect the principles of free trade, Now, a few words as to the noble Earl on the opposite side (the Earl of Aberdeen). My Lords, it is quite natural that with his feelings the noble Earl should be very jealous of anything which should appear to cast doubt upon, and should be anxious, on the contrary, for anything which could pay a compliment to, the memory of his and my departed friend—for I shall venture so to call him, although he differed from me in opinion during the last few years of his life—it is quite natural that noble Lords, who were one in feeling with and approved of the policy of Sir Robert Peel, should support a Resolution commendatory of the policy which that statesman adopted. But this is the very point with respect to which the difficulty must arise. The approbation of that policy would be the very point on which those noble Lords who have not changed their opinions, would feel themselves placed in a position which would prevent them from recording their opinion in favour of the Resolution, and thus obtaining the unanimity which we all desire. The noble Earl spoke rather warmly on this point; but he has misrepresented or misquoted me, in referring to words I used on a recent occasion with regard to the condition of the country. Now, my Lords, in the Resolution I drew up, I did not attribute—for that was precisely what I wished to guard against—I did not attribute the prosperity of the country to any one particular cause; but I recognised the existing prosperity, and the imprudence of risking a disturbance of it. In recognising the prosperity of the country, and at the same time in admitting, not the inconvenience, but the serious evil, of frequent changes of policy, I was quite satisfied that this House should affirm—not that they now for the first time adopted, not that they now accepted—but that they recorded their continued adherence to that system of commercial policy which had been recently introduced. Now, my Lords, I am lost in astonishment when I hear the noble Earl, whose peculiar mission, and whose peculiar opportunities, in conjunction with others who act with him, I thought had been to smooth over the differences between parties, to act as impartial mediators, to give a friendly opposition to the Government if they were compelled to offer any opposition at all, and to do what they could to pre- 950 vent any breach in the great Conservative party of the country—I confess I did hear with astonishment from him comments upon the Resolution which the noble Marquess had accepted at my hands, which I think were not called for by the occasion, or founded upon any fair and rational interpretation of its terms. The noble Earl says this is the most reactionary Motion which could possibly be proposed. A reactionary Motion—that is, a Motion which indicates a desire to recede from a particular system of policy by pledging the House in terms to adhere to it—which indicates a desire to abandon and depart from it in terms expressing the regret with which this House would view any attempt to reopen the question, to interfere with that policy, or even to interrupt its further progress. I must say that though, on the part of a decided opponent, I might expect to have such a construction placed upon such words, I should not have expected to have such a construction placed upon them by one whose professions, both personal and political, except upon one point, are friendly and conciliatory. One word, my Lords, I may say with regard to Sir Robert Peel. I will not now enter into any discussion of the wisdom, expediency, and justice of the measure of 1846. I differed from the policy, and still more widely from the justice, of the introduction of those measures at the time when they were introduced, and by the man by whom they were introduced—and I gave the fullest proof of the sincerity of my opinions by abandoning the colleagues with whom I had no other ground of difference; but from that time to this I defy—I do not use the word offensively—the warmest friends of the late Sir Robert Peel to find in any speech or writing of mine a single expression derogatory to his character, or affecting the integrity or the motives of that statesman. The only serious misunderstanding I ever had with my noble and lamented Friend the late Lord George Bentinck—a misunderstanding which I am happy to say was throughly removed before his untimely death—was, upon a full and frank expression of my opinion, that nothing could be more unfitting or more impolitic than to load with terms of vituperation those from whom we are compelled conscientiously to differ. My Lords, I am not prepared to say now that I would take, if 1846 were to come over again, the same course into which I was then thrown by circumstances. But I am quite prepared 951 to say this: that whatever may have been the justice or the policy of the measures introduced in 1846—which, be it observed, were not introduced upon any abstract principle, or any theory of what was required by justice or immutable doctrine, hut which arose out of the exigency of the time, and were called for by the deficiency of the potato crop in Ireland—for that was the basis of the free-trade legislation of that time, and not soundness of argument or correctness of principle. I repeat, that whatever may have been the justice of those measures originally, I still say, and in the words of the Resolution am willing to affirm, that now, when the decision of the country has been finally expressed, it is time to put an end to a hopeless and useless political struggle, the consequence of which can only be to maintain a prolonged state of uncertainty, to embarrass our legislation, and to impede the prosperity of the country. To the Resolution now before the House those may assent who have been entirely and absolutely opposed to the past policy of 1846. The noble Marquess has commented upon language which has been held in the other House—not a very convenient practice, I must say—by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in declaring that at no time had the Protectionist party sought to reverse the system of 1846. My Lords, I think the noble Marquess must have misunderstood that which fell from my right hon. Friend. What he said was—I think I can answer for it with perfect certainty, and the noble Marquess will do me the justice to recognise it as the principle we have acted upon in this House—that in the House of Commons, or within the walls of Parliament, from 1846 downwards, no attempt has been made to reverse or repeal the policy of 1846; but that from the period of the general election of 1847, which was an election conducted under peculiar circumstances, we have uniformly held out that that question never could be held settled until the country had pronounced on the policy pursued at a general election, and that that general election must be taken as decisive on the issue of the question. I did not say—I forget who the noble Lord was who, I am sure unintentionally, misrepresented me on this point—I did not say that I would bring forward the question of Protection if I obtained a majority in favour of my views. What I did say was, that while I had not altered the views I entertained as to the commercial 952 policy of 1846, unless there were not only a bare majority, but an overwhelming majority, in favour of the reversal of free-trade, and a return to a protective system, so strongly did I feel the inconvenience and evils of continued agitation, that even if I had a bare majority with me, I should think it more advisable to continue the system I found established, than to excite an obstinate and continued struggle between contending parties. The same language was held by my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who declared the conclusion to which he had come—that, after the opinion of the country had been taken on the general question, that question must be considered as definitively settled—that from that period we should take a new departure, and, unless the country was decidedly in favour of a return to the protective system, we should endeavour to shape our course frankly and cordially, so as to draw from the system that had been introduced all the results it might admit of, and in the manner most advantageous to the general interests of the country. Such, my Lords, is the issue I put. I entreat you to allow the question to stand upon this, the sound, the rational, the politic footing; that you will not allow the subject to be re-agitated—that you will not insist upon reviving past dissensions and forgotten bitterness—that you will not endeavour to compel men to retract the opinions they had conscientiously formed, and which they still entertain; but that, on the other hand, you will be content with a pledge for the future—with the recognition of your own principle as the rule of action henceforward, as you have been content with the recognition of the principles of slave emancipation, Catholic emancipation, and the Reform Bill, all of which have been accepted and acted upon by those who at the time differed from their proposers as to the policy and justice of those measures. What would have been said if, shortly after the Catholic Relief Bill and the Reform Bill had been admitted as settlements of those questions respectively, their friends had come down and insisted that not only should the Houses of Parliament consent to act on the new policy they had adopted, but should expressly recant the opinions they had entertained in favour of the policy that had formerly prevailed? What would the friends of Sir Robert Peel have said in 1835, if, when he assumed the Government, and when the new Parliament was 953 assembled, he had been called upon to declare that the Reform Bill was a "wise, just, and necessary measure," and if, when he refused to stultify the convictions of his own friends, he had then been accused of proposing a reactionary policy, I am of opinion that such a course, calling upon men to declare that which it may be against their consciences and settled opinions to declare, and thereby to abandon their convictions and recant their declarations—as would inevitably follow from the particular course you wish to see adopted on the present occasion—I say that such a course is neither consistent with the usual generosity of political opponents in this House, nor is it, permit me to say, conducive to the final and decisive establishment upon a fixed basis of that principle of commercial policy which must hereafter be the basis of our commercial legislation For my own part, I need not say that I cordially concur in the Motion made by the noble Marquess opposite. I concur in it without the slightest reservation, and I believe it can be concurred in by the great majority of this House, if not unanimously. At the same time I declare that if it were possible that words could be inserted which should make the prospect for the future more clear and definite, and more utterly take away the possibility of a reactionary policy, to such words I should not for a moment object. But, my Lords, I am convinced that no such words could he introduced. I entreat your Lordships, therefore, not to go back to a useless and causeless discussion about the past; but, above all, I entreat your Lordships, even those who may not view with entire satisfaction the Motion of the noble Marquess as it stands, not so far to depart from the usual practice of this House as to sanction the discussion of an Amendment which can be introduced only as a surprise on those who believed they had a right not to expect that any such step would be taken.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
wished only to say a few words on the subject of the Motion made by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Clanricarde) at the suggestion of the noble Earl opposite, and as to the position in which this question stood. In the first place, he would state that, setting aside the merits of the Amendment moved by his other noble Friend (Lord Beaumont) beside him, he should certainly feel himself precluded from voting in favour of that Amendment, in consequence 954 of what had taken place in that House the other night. He did understand at that time that a most distinct understanding was come to, in which all the noble Lords then present concurred, that the very reasonable request of the noble Earl opposite should be acceded to—that, if the Motion appeared to be of such a nature as would invade disputed ground, the further consideration of it should be deferred to such a day as would admit of the attendance of noble Lords. Undoubtedly, that arrangement would not be in any degree binding on noble Lords who were not present when it was made; but, for his own part, though he took no share in the conversation between the noble Marquess and the noble Earl, he was then present, and not having offered any objection, be considered himself a party to what then passed; and he was sure his noble Friend the noble Baron would be the last man to wish that any course should be followed which, if adopted, would not only defeat the efforts that had been made to arrive at a good understanding on this vexed question, but prevent the transaction of the public business in a satisfactory manner. It was quite open to his noble Friend upon that day, or any other that was convenient, to come down and give notice that he was not satisfied with the course intended to be pursued, and that he intended to take the sense of the House upon it. If, therefore, his noble Friend insisted on moving the Amendment now, it would be, he trusted, with the intention of not pressing it to a division, or he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) should certainly feel that, upon the ground he had stated alone, he must abstain from voting. This was a matter on which the House was bound, not by its technical forms of proceeding, but by the understandings usually arrived at between its Members in respect of the conduct of business. As to the position in which he found himself with respect to the Motion made by the noble Marquess, he confessed that, without entering into the question whether it was proper or necessary at all for this House to adopt any proceeding on the subject, he was not one of those who ascribed all the importance that many persons in and out of the House did to the particular terms in which the Motion was made. The position in which they found themselves was this: his noble Friend the noble Marquess near him, having been a most consistent and most able supporter of that liberal policy which die- 955 tated the change in the corn laws, naturally and justifiably had a disposition to bind the noble Earl opposite and Her Majesty's Government, with respect to the course that was to be adopted for the future. The noble Earl opposite appeared to have assented to the principle of the Resolution; but he contended, naturally enough on his part, that he should be bound only by words proposed by himself. If the noble Earl and Her Majesty's Government asked themselves to forge the fetters they were hereafter to be bound by, all that the House had to take care of was, that the fetters should be made of well -tempered steel—of such stuff as that the noble Earl and Her Majesty's Government would not be able easily to escape from—because, in his mind, he confessed that there must be some difference in an agreement between persons who had uniformly supported particular lines of policy, and an agreement between persons who had uniformly supported one line of policy, and others who had long supported an opposite line, but now had suddenly changed their opinions. He therefore said that some suspicion was justified on the part of the noble Marquess—some desire that this House, in concurrence with the other House of Parliament, should express an opinion in terms so strong and so decided, that the House and the Government should not afterwards easily depart from them. He had come down the other day, as he had come down to-night, prepared to agree to any form of words that conveyed a distinct impression upon this subject, even if those words should fall far short, as he certainly thought the words suggested by the noble Earl fell infinitely short, of the expression of opinion required—of that candid and complete admission of the justice of the past policy, in concurrence with the determination to pursue it for the future, which he thought the magnitude of the occasion, and the precedent afforded by the other House of Parliament, demanded. But because he thought the Resolution shortcoming in itself—because he condemned, or at least regretted, the apparent reluctance on the part of noble Lords opposite, the hesitating faltering consent they had given to the doctrines on which they were about to act—yet if it were so repugnant to their feelings to adopt doctrines and subscribe to the articles of that Church which they announced they were about assiduously, frequently, and earnestly to attend, it was not for them (the Opposition) to say that, 956 to the extent to which Ministers and their friends were willing to make that admission, and act upon that system for the future, they would not have every facility allowed them for doing so; although, from the statements they had made, it appeared that they wished to preclude all inquiry as to the wisdom and justice of the policy which they themselves recommended to be maintained. In assenting to a Motion on this subject which fell short of what he thought the occasion demanded, in adhering to the terms which in the opinion of many of his noble Friends near him, and in that of his noble Friend the noble Earl on the bench above him (the Earl of Aberdeen), did not sufficiently bind the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers, it would, however, be affectation in him to say that he felt any apprehension as to their future course. He felt no apprehension—but not on account of the confidence he felt in Her Majesty's Ministers—for the noble Earl opposite could not think it disrespectful in him to say that he could not have the same confidence in persons who had recently adopted new opinions as in those who had consistently adhered to them for years, and who from long affection, feeling, and conviction, had confidently persuaded themselves as to the policy they ought to pursue; but although he did not feel confidence, still no apprehension existed in his mind in relation to the future. When he heard it distinctly admitted, as it had been that night and on many former nights, that in guiding the great vessel of the State in its course towards a liberal policy, it was not Her Majesty's Government that had held the rudder, but that that rudder was held by public opinion, he agreed with his noble Friends that they could place confidence in the action and power of that public opinion, and that whatever words their Lordships voted—nay, if their Lordships voted no words at all—whether their Lordships adopted the Motion made in the other House of Parliament, for throwing aside which the noble Earl had not assigned any reasons, or should he induced to abstain from insisting on that Resolution which the noble Earl's Colleagues all supported in another place, and which was adopted by a large majority in the other House—whichever of these things should happen, he believed that the policy first laid down in that House, as the noble Marquess stated, by Lord Grenville—and it was to the lasting honour of the House of Lords 957 that maxims so favourable to the people of this country should have been first suggested and inculcated by one of its Members—the policy enforced under the auspices of a great statesman and supported by a majority of that House, and a great proportion of the ability of the country, carrying out principles previously laid down into practical effect, and insuring to this country prosperity of trade and cheapness of food—two of the greatest desiderata which any nation could obtain—he felt that this policy it was not in the power of the noble Earl, or even of Parliament itself, to alter or disturb. Be the changes in the Ministerial policy what they might, he was convinced that the moment any dispositions were manifested on the part of Government to overturn the measures of 1846, or even any hesitation in acting on their policy, the sense of the country would speak out; and it was not the words voted by their Lordships which would determine the issue, but the sense of the country operating upon Parliament, controlling the course and influencing the judgment of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Earl opposite had admitted as much when he told them that he had not acted upon his own opinions, but had acted, and meant to act, on the opinions of the country. If the opinion of the country had been strong enough in the present year to influence the noble Earl, with all the advantages which his accession to power gave him, would it not be sufficient to control him, so far as to secure his adhesion to the policy on which he told them he had now entered, willingly as respected present measures, but reluctantly as regarded past opinions. In the Motion as suggested by the noble Earl, there were certainly some words to which he gave his most cordial concurrence; and from what had passed since notice of this Motion was given, he was apprehensive that he gave those words a more cordial concurrence and approbation than the noble Earl did himself; because he saw with great satisfaction introduced into this Resolution a strong declaration, not absolutely called for, but volunteered, as it were, on the part of the noble Earl, as to the inconvenience of financial changes not absolutely required by the public exigencies. After what he had heard passing within the last few days in another place, and after what, it was notorious, had passed there, he did feel, even more strongly than the noble Earl himself, the importance of this House voting an 958 opinion as to the evils of financial changes, and, above all, of the evil of financial changes when the country was in a most happy and prosperous condition. If it were indeed so happy and prosperous, why these portentous financial changes? He was not going to attempt to discuss in that place a Budget which, from the multitude of branches into which it ramified, required on the part of the principal organ of Government in the other House five hours to make it intelligible to the House of Commons, and which he really believed, with all the noble Earl's unequalled clearness of exposition, and with all their Lordships' quickness of apprehension, it would take him at least two hours and a half to make intelligible to their Lordships; but he would say this, that although the extent of the changes in that Budget, and the indicated alterations in the policy it had laid down, might have disappointed noble Lords in that House, or hon. Members in the other House of Parliament, and, above all, those who were believers in Protection—or, to use a word recently adopted, compensation—it was a Budget involving very great financial changes; but when the noble Earl talked of the expediency of coming to a rapid decision on the subject of the great changes proposed, he did trust that both the Government and the House of Commons would take time to deliberate before they hastily adopted changes which transferred burdens from one quarter to another, the effects of which transference it was impossible rapidly and certainly to discern. He hoped for the sake of all parties—for the sake of public credit—that at least the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not hastily abandon one of the great foundations of the finance of this country, without having first assured himself of the means of replacing those foundations which he would have removed. He thought this a grave consideration for the country—a grave consideration for the Legislature. He knew it was very delightful to all financiers and Chancellors of the Exchequer to exhibit their ingenuity, by taking money from the pocket of one class and putting it into the pocket of another, and thereby, as they thought, lessening the burdens of all; but let them recollect that those operations which most strikingly exhibited the skill of the operator were generally those which were most painful to the patient, and that bandages removed from a diseased part might only produce symptoms of malady in those portions of 959 the frame to which they were transferred. He said, therefore, that these changes were most deserving of the attention of every man in the country who had studied the subject, and of the people, who had only been put in possession of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government within the last three days. Before he sat down he must take notice of one doctrine laid down, not for the first time that night, by the noble Earl, but one which he had repeated on former occasions—namely, that the influx of gold from the Australian colonies affected the question before the House. His noble Friend (Lord Beaumont) to a certain degree subscribed to that doctrine, but it was one from which he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) must record his entire dissent. He believed that whatever permanent accession of such a nature was made to the country in general, it did not alter in the least the permanent relations between consumer and producer, and that there was no more produced of any article in consequence of a great accession of gold, than there would be produced in consequence of a great accession of paper. If the Bank of England issued paper tomorrow, as it might do if permitted by Parliament, it would not make the slightest difference in the relations between the amount of agricultural produce, or of any other produce, and consumption. He was sure the noble Earl would on reflection admit that fact, for, if his argument was carried out, it would follow that if a diminution of the supply of gold were to take place, Parliament would be compelled to alter the corn laws again. The noble Marquess concluded by repeating that he was ready to vote for the Motion of the noble Marquess, though thinking its terms insufficient, but could not support the Amendment.
§ The EARL of DERBY
, in explanation, said that the noble Marquess had misunderstood him with regard to the effect of the recent discoveries of gold upon the prosperity of the working classes. He (the Earl of Derby) and his friends had entertained great apprehension that, as the price of corn fell—other circumstances remaining, the same—the result would be a diminution in the rate of wages; and that the consequence would be that the position of the working classes would be worse than before. They had not denied, and did not deny now, that the cheapness of provisions, if wages remained the same, would increase the comforts of 960 the labouring classes. But the question was, whether other circumstances had not had a beneficial effect on the rate of wages, and consequently counteracted and neutralised the results they had anticipated from the simple reduction of the price of corn: and he could not help thinking that the large influx of gold, and the emigration that had taken place, combined, must have materially affected the rate of wages, and prevented the fall which might otherwise have occurred; for the result of the large importation of gold had undoubtedly been to render the interest of money cheap and capital abundant, thereby enabling the employers of labour to obtain a larger amount of capital to lay out in the employment of labour, upon easier terms than they would have done if these gold discoveries had not taken place. And simultaneously with that operation, rendering capital abundant and money cheap, there had occurred also a very large emigration from this country and from Ireland, which had very largely diminished the number of persons competing in the labour market, and thereby gave to a reduced number of competitors higher wages than they otherwise would have obtained. Therefore, he said that the discoveries of gold were one cause—he did not say the main cause—and that the emigration which had been carried on to a greater extent than usual, was another—that the influx of gold, and the great extent of emigration, had acted and reacted on each other; and to the cheapness of of capital and to the emigration (with the consequent scarcity of labour) was undoubtedly to be ascribed, to a certain extent, the improved rate of wages. Add to this the fall of prices—and it was owing to these three causes combined, and not to any one in particular, that the working classes were now in a state of prosperity.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
observed, that the noble Earl had mentioned the rate of wages as the first thing to be affected; but he believed it would be found that it was the last in the circumstances to be considered in the question.
The EARL of RADNOR
thought the House was placed in a position of considerable embarrassment by the Motion that had been made, and the Amendment that had followed it. He saw only two modes of overcoming the difficulty. The first was by both parties agreeing to withdraw both the Motion and the Amend- 961 ment; and the second, which would perhaps be the more agreeable course, was by adjourning the debate. Thinking it advisable that the debate should be adjourned, he now moved, "That the further debate be adjourned to Monday next."
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
said, he had no objection to offer to the suggestion for, adjourning the debate. His only desire in moving the Resolution that he had done was to promote unanimity, but unfortunately he had caused the greatest possible discord. He could not, however, agree to the withdrawal of both the Motion and the Amendment, because it would go forth to the public that the question had been raised in the House and no Motion had been adopted. The Resolution that he had proposed he did not think a good one; but he had hoped, as he had said, that it would at least ensure unanimity; and if he consented to withdraw it, he was not sure whether the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) would approve of his doing so. On the question of adjournment he wished to say, in answer to what had fallen from the noble Earl opposite with regard to his conduct in 1839, that it was a clearly understood thing that a vote given by proxy was not the vote of the Peer who gave the proxy, but the vote of the Peer who held the proxy.
§ The EARL of DERBY
expressed his objection to any Motion for the adjournment of the debate, and said that he would support the noble Marquess against any Amendment.
§ The said Motion was (by leave of the House) withdrawn.
§ The EARL of HARROWBY
said, that the misfortune of this Resolution, as far as it occurred to him, was, that it rendered it difficult for some noble Lords to vote for it because it assigned certain reasons for their being unwilling to change the commercial policy recently established; and by reciting those specific reasons it seemed to exclude every other. It would appear from it as if the majority of that House (should the Resolution be passed) had no other reasons for not disturbing the system of unrestricted competition than their unwillingness to subject the country to the evils attending frequent changes in the financial policy of the country. He would, therefore, suggest that the simplest and best course of arriving at an unanimous conclusion would be by omitting the preamble of the Resolution, and avoiding 962 the allegation of any reasons, and declaring "that this House, thankfully acknowledging the general prosperity, adheres to the commercial system recently established, and would view with regret any renewed attempt to disturb its operation or impede its further progress." That would be a more statesmanlike proposition; and would recognise the wisdom of the advice once given to a Judge," Never give your reasons; give your judgments—your judgments may be right; but your reasons will most probably be wrong." They had already seen how unphilosophical and absurd it was to attempt to assign reasons on which there should be agreement in opinion, in the controversy between the noble Marquess and the noble Earl on the effect of the influx of gold and of emigration on the prosperity of the country. That was a very good subject of debate for a Political Economy Club, or for articles in the newspapers; but that House would never come to any practical conclusion on a question of commercial policy if they were to attempt to settle the relative effect of each different ingredient of the prosperity of the country. Therefore he said that this Resolution, shorn of its preamble, would be a positive declaration, and certainly as binding on the House and the Government as could be desired; while, on the other hand, if the preamble were retained, and the prosperity of the country should be ascribable to other causes; or if changes were in future effected in our financial policy leading to an inference that such changes need not necessarily be an evil, they would perhaps leave it an open question for consideration, whether I they ought to adhere to the policy commonly known by the name of free trade. He doubted exceedingly whether any noble Lord would come forward and assert that the prosperity of the country was to be attributed simply to any one cause, let it be free trade or any other. By simplifying and shortening the Resolution in the manner he suggested, they would save themselves the embarrassment of the re-discussion of this question; and they would avoid bringing ridicule upon their deliberations, because at present it would really be said that in debating about mere words they were contending for no real principle at all.
, after listening to so much and understanding so little, only rose to express his deep regret that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) was not a Member 963 of their Lordships' House. There would, then, he some chance of coming to a conclusion.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
My Lords, if it had been the wish of the House to continue this debate, I should have endeavoured to express my concurrence in the views which my noble Friend the noble Earl who spoke second in the discussion to-night stated as to the absolute inutility, as regards this House, of any Resolution such as the one which the noble Marquess has proposed. But under present circumstances, and with these opinions, I rise now for the purpose of impressing upon your Lordships how desirable it is that we should accept the proposition which the noble Earl on the cross bench (the Earl of Harrowby) has suggested, and thus put an end to the discussion, by expunging the words in the Motion which noble Lords on this side of the House so strongly disapprove of, and to which the noble Marquess can attach no importance—stating, as he does, that he disapproves of the whole Resolution, although he undertook to father it. I say, looking at the fact that the preamble can have no particular value in the eyes of the noble Lord on the other side who proposed it, and has certainly been met with disfavour from all those on this side of the House, I cannot but think that we shall be acting fairly, and wisely, and prudently, as regards our own credit and the object which we all profess to have at heart, if we confine ourselves to the practical part of the Resolution, omitting the whole of the preamble, rather than by retaining it to give rise perhaps to future debate and future misunderstanding of what were our real intentions. My Lords, if I understand from the assent of the noble Earl that this meets with his approval—[The Earl of DERBY: I have no objection to it]—and that the noble Marquess is willing to adopt the proposal of my noble Friend on the cross bench, I certainly shall not think it right to trespass on your Lordships' attention for many minutes. But, my Lords, there were some few observations of the noble Earl, with reference to the course of conduct of the late Sir Robert Peel, and with reference to that of his Friends, on which I feel bound to make a few remarks. My Lords, I will not discuss with the noble Earl what he may consider to be the peculiar mission of my noble Friend the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen), or of the former Friends and Col- 964 leagues of Sir Robert Feel in this House. I will not discuss with him whether it is our bounden duty, for some reasons which he did not assign, to act as mediators between noble Lords on this side and noble Lords on that—as pacificators who are to turn the balance in favour of the Government, I presume, on occasions when they are in any difficulty—I know not, my Lords, what notion the noble Earl opposite may have of our duties; but with reference to the question immediately before the House, this I can say, that I conceive there is a legacy devolving on us from that great and illustrious man, namely, the protection of that commercial policy which he founded in this country, and with the success of which we are all identified; and from the execution of the duties imposed upon us by that legacy, I assure the noble Earl we are not likely to be diverted by any observations that he may make. My Lords, the noble Earl said, that he gave credit to my noble Friend the noble Earl for—I do not recollect the exact phrase—but for evincing some degree of jealousy of anything which disparages the reputation of Sir Robert Peel. [The EARL of DERBY made an observation which was inaudible.] He said that he could pardon some degree of zeal on the part of my noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen), because he must naturally feel anxious to express an opinion in favour of the policy of the late Sir Robert Peel. My noble Friend expressly said, that it would have been his individual desire to declare that that policy was "wise, just, and beneficial;" and so say I; but I agree with my noble Friend that it would not be wise or desirable to do that which the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) deprecated, in his somewhat impassioned peroration, to make any attempt to impose on noble Lords opposite a formal recantation of the principles they believed they had been right in advocating. My noble Friend said—expressly said—that for that reason he did not wish to propose such words; but the noble Earl will forgive me for saying that he has never answered, in the slightest degree, the observations from this side of the House, not with reference to the words "wise, just, and beneficial," which have not been proposed, but he has never answered this objection: that while he, or rather his Colleagues in the other House, accepted certain Resolutions, spoke on them, and voted for them, he now objects to call on noble Lords in this House, and on his own Colleagues in this House, to 965 adopt the very same Resolutions. My Lords, that is the objection that we have raised; and the noble Earl has studiously avoided giving an explanation, leaving us to choose between two alternatives—either that he is willing to cast a decided slur upon his own Colleagues and Friends in the House of Commons, by refusing to call on your Lordships to agree to certain Resolutions which he considers objectionable and repulsive to your feelings, although they have been accepted in the House of Commons; or else we must be driven to the other more painful conclusion, namely, that the noble Earl cannot really be sincere in his declarations with reference to his practical acceptance of free trade. But the noble Earl said, "What would have been the course of noble Lords in this House, or of right hon. Gentlemen in the other House of Parliament, if, on the accession of Sir Robert Peel to office in 1835, a Motion had been made to declare the passing of the Reform Act a 'wise, just, and beneficial measure?'" My Lords, the cases are in no respect parallel. If Sir Robert Peel, from the time of the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, up to his accession to office in 1835, had constantly brought forward in his place in Parliament Motions for the repeal of the Reform Act—nay, if, instead of Motions of that kind, he had been making speeches in this House Session by Session and month by month—if he had been receiving deputations in his house at Whitehall Gardens, and had been telling his friends that at the proper time the Reform Act would be repealed, and that at that time he would give the word "Up, Guards, and at them!"—if he, on the other hand, had been attending dinners at the Freemasons Tavern, and had said—as had been said in that place only last year—that he would cry, "Halt in the downward course of legislation!"—if that had been his course, then I say that noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen would not only have been wise, but just and right, in imposing such a test on his taking office in 1835. But, my Lords, consider the contrast rather than the parallel. Sir Robert Peel never pursued that course: he did directly the reverse. My Lords, I entered Parliament for the first time in the first reformed Parliament, and one of the first speeches that I ever heard delivered in the House of Commons was delivered by Sir Robert Peel, if I recollect rightly, on the Motion 966 of the first Address to the Crown from the first reformed Parliament, in which he distinctly declared, at the very first opportunity that he ever had after taking his seat in the new Parliament, that he accepted the Reform Act as an irrevocable decision of a great constitutional question. Therefore I say that there is no use in the noble Earl attempting to draw a parallel between his position and that of the late Sir Robert Peel and his friends. So far from their being parallel, they are diametrically opposed; and the noble Earl has no right to take advantage of it, and say now, "You are not entitled to demand a declaration from my Government which the Members of the Whig party in 1835 did not expect from Sir Robert Peel." My Lords, the noble Earl appeared to me to venture upon somewhat delicate and dangerous ground when he turned to the noble Lord the mover of the Amendment, and to others on these benches, and pointed out the various lengths of time that have elapsed since they abandoned the principles of protection, and adopted those of free trade; I and although he ended by saying that God forbid he should taunt anybody with a change of opinion, yet, certainly, by anther allusion to the course taken by Sir Robert Peel and his friends in 1846—he appeared to intimate that there had been some dereliction of duty and some infraction of political principle in the; course which they then pursued. My Lords, the noble Earl said that at the time he objected, and that he still felt the objection, to the manner in which, and the men by whom, the measure of 1846 was carried. My Lords, we do not deny to the noble Earl, any more than to Sir Robert Peel or to any British Government, that time may operate a change of his opinion; but what we now complain of on the part of the noble Earl is, that he has not changed his opinion. If the noble Earl had come forward and declared that his opinion had hanged even at the eleventh—or, I should rather say, at the thirteenth hour—if he had come forward and told us that he had changed his opinion, these Resolutions would be unneces-sary—we should not feel it to be our duty to bind the Government any more than I to bind this House—which House, my Lords, let it be remembered has never swerved in any vote with regard to free trade during the last ten years. [The Earl of DERBY: 967 Ten years?] I repeat, for "ten years;" and if the noble Earl wishes to have proof, I say that from the year 1842 down to the present time, there has been no instance in which this House has attempted to reverse the principle of free trade. The whole of Sir Robert Peel's tariff of 1842 was carried in this House either without a division or by considerable majorities; and the repeal of the corn law, in 1846, was carried through this House, notwithstanding the strongest opposition and the most eloquent speech of the noble Earl opposite—it was carried under the guidance and counsel of that great, sagacious, and illustrious man whose warning voice will never be heard again on similar occasions of difficulty and danger. Again, in the same year the alteration in the sugar duties was carried, not only by a majority, but the noble Earl declined, if I recollect rightly, to divide the House on the question; and two years later the repeal of the navigation laws was carried by a majority in spite of a strong opposition from noble Lords opposite. And from that time up to the present, although, as I just now said, not only annually, but month by month, speeches were made in this House, and violent attacks made on the course that had been pursued—although we were told that ruin was overtaking the country—although we were told that our course had been most disastrous—although we were told, not, as now, that the labourers were flourishing, but that they, above all other classes—and this too within twelve months from the present time—that they, above all other classes, were suffering—I say, although we heard all these things day by day, and week by week, nevertheless, whatever its individual Members may have said or done, this House never swerved from its free-trade course; and it is upon that account that I maintain with my noble Friend the noble Earl that any Resolution as regards this House is unnecessary. I say, if we look merely to the position of this House, we ought to pass no Resolution at all, because it would only be expressing an adherence to those principles from which this House has never deviated; and the only object of passing any Resolution at all is that it may bind that Government whose course, it is now announced by the noble Earl, is intended to be altered, but whose opinions, he has stated, remain still unchanged. My Lords, if this debate were likely to be protracted, I certainly should have wished 968 to address some further observations to your Lordships with reference to other statements which fell from the noble Earl opposite; but if, as I said before, the opinion of the House should be that we should be content with the proposal of the noble Earl on the cross benches, I should be unwilling to prolong any further a useless discussion. And I the more readily sit down without any further reply to the noble Earl, because I feel that to whatever Resolution this House may come, the great cause of free trade, and of an enlightened commercial policy, is perfectly safe. I, my Lords, would not—except for the honour and reputation of this House—I would not care if this were a far more unmeaning and spiritless, a far more wretched and disparaging Resolution than that proposed by the noble Marquess. I say, my Lords, I have not a moment's fear in regard to the progress of free trade; I would not care, so far as that cause is concerned, what Resolution may be passed by your Lordships; because, irrespective of anything that may pass in this House, I believe the principles of free trade are based on the immutable grounds of justice, and with or without Resolutions will be maintained as hitherto by this House, whatever Government, present or future, may occupy those benches.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, that with the counsels of the noble Earl on the cross bench (the Earl of Harrow by) it might be said that the genius of Tiverton existed in that House, for the noble Earl had had the good fortune to propose an Amendment which, as far as he could understand, was approved of by every one of their Lordships. Therefore, under the circumstances, he (Lord Beaumont) would agree to withdraw his Amendment if the noble Marquess would consent to withdraw the original Resqlution.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
expressed his satisfaction at finding that their Lordships were likely to come to an unanimous vote, and would consent to withdraw his Resolution. The noble Marquess was understood to explain that his proxy in 1846 was used against his individual sentiments.
§ The EARL of DERBY
would accept unreservedly the Amendment which his noble Friend on the cross bench (the Earl of Harrow by) had proposed with such skill, and, he was happy to say, with such eminent success. It was a curious coincidence, that all parties in both Houses of Parlia- 969 ment should have been brought into harmony by a Resolution interposed in this manner.
§ Then the Amendment was also (by leave of the House) withdrawn.
Then it was moved in the original Motion to leave out
—"thankfully acknowledging the general Prosperity, and deeply sensible of the Evils attending frequent Changes in the Financial Policy of the Country.
§ The same was agreed to.
Then the said original Motion, as amended, was agreed to, Nemine Dissentiente, as follows:—
Resolved—That this House adheres to the Commercial System recently established, and would view with Regret any renewed Attempt to disturb its Operation or impede its farther Progress.