§ THE QUEEN'S Speech having been reported by the Lord Chancellor,
§ THE EARL of ALBEMARLE
rose and said: My Lords, I rise to propose that a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in answer to the gracious Speech which we have this day heard delivered from the Throne. It is with much anxiety that I call upon your Lordships for this annual expression of your homage—an anxiety arising not merely from the novel position in which I find myself in addressing your Lordships for the first time, but also from a sense of the important and delicate nature of some of the topics which have been necessarily introduced into the Royal Speech, and to which, consequently, it is incumbent on mo to call your Lordships' attention.
Her Majesty assures us that She continues to maintain the most friendly relations with Foreign Powers. I readily anticipate the satisfaction with which your Lordships will receive this gracious announcement from Her Majesty, and that you will cordially concur in this portion of the Address which I am about to propose to you. If, my Lords, we take a rapid glance at the events which have transpired in various parts of the Continent during the last four years—from Feb- 6 ruary, 1848, to the present February, of 1852—if we compare these events with what has happened at home within the same time, your Lordships will concur readily in thinking that we have every reason to be most grateful for the pos-I session of those institutions under which we have the happiness to live. For, while political storms have convulsed almost every other country of Europe; with ourselves, there has been a calm of prosperity almost without precedent even in the annals of our own island. But, my Lords, while we may be permitted to indulge in a natural partiality for our institutions, so congenial to our tastes and so adapted to our wants, we should not be unmindful of what is due to other nations. Every nation, my Lords, has a right to live under the constitution that it chooses to select. It is a right that we claim for ourselves, and it is a right which we are bound to recognise in other nations. My Lords, Providence has designed that nations should be mutually dependent upon each other, and this dependence ought ever to be in proportion to their propinquity. "A natural enemy," my Lords, a phrase very fashionable in a period of less enlightenment than our own, and too often applied to a neighbouring State, is now happily falling into disuse. My Lords, there is no such thing as "a natural enemy." God has made us to live at peace with each other—to live as friends, not as enemies. This I believe to be felt by every one of your Lordships: it is a truth, however, which has been imperfectly known, and little acted upon, by either this or any other country; and as it has caused us an incalculable amount of blood and treasure to learn, I hope we may estimate it at the price we have paid for it. My Lords, the Exhibition of last year tended greatly to impress upon us the importance of this truth; and I feel confident that the friendly intercourse among nations, and especially between ourselves and France, which took place on that great display of the industry of the world, will not easily he effaced. In the autumn of last year, I had the happiness to partake of the hospitality of the municipal authorities of Paris. I had there the satisfaction of hearing the eloquent appeal of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; I was a witness of the enthusiasm with which the doctrines my noble Friend inculcated of peace and good-will were received by his audience. 7 And at a later period, when I visited the southern provinces of the same country, I had the satisfaction to find that the favourable impression towards England had extended from the banks of the Seine to the shores of the Mediterranean. With these feelings, my Lords, I do sincerely trust that the assurances of peace and good-will which Her Majesty has received from Foreign Powers, may continue to exist with all countries, and particularly with our nearest neighbour, so that we may realise the prediction which our greatest dramatist has put in the mouth of one of our kings, who prophesied that—England and France, whose very shores grow paleWith envy of each other's happiness,Should lose their hatred.My Lords, Her Majesty informs us that "the complicated affairs of the Duchies of Holstein and Sleswig continue to engage Her attention, and assures us that She has reason to expect that the treaty between Germany and Denmark, which was concluded in Berlin the year before last, will in a short time be fully and completely executed." I am sure, my Lords, that that announcement will be highly satisfactory to you all, for it forms another guarantee that the general peace of Europe will not be disturbed.
My Lords, the Royal Speech goes on to express regret that a war which had unfortunately broken out at the eastern frontier of the Cape of Good Hope last year still continues. This is a subject on which there can be but one feeling of regret, involving, as it has done, a great expenditure of British blood and money. At the same time, my Lords, as papers will shortly be laid before your Lordships' House on that subject, I will only say, I have entire confidence that when these papers are laid before you, they will receive an impartial, a candid, and careful consideration.
In the next paragraph Her Majesty laments the serious outrages which have occurred in the north of Ireland; and I am sure that your Lordships participate in the regret that Her Majesty expresses in regard to these transactions. At the same time it is some satisfaction to know that general tranquillity prevails in the greater part of Ireland; and I understand that in the southern provinces—at least in some portions of them—the tranquillity is so great that the inhabitants have expressed to the Government their wish 8 for a diminution in the constabulary force in that part of the island.
An allusion is made in the Speech, that "where any increase is made in the estimates of the present over the past year, such explanations will be given as will satisfy your Lordships that such increase is consistent with a steady adherence to a pacific policy, and with the dictates of a wise economy." I am not one of those who have the slightest apprehensions of invasion, sudden or deliberate. At the same time, I cannot conceal from myself that a descent upon our coasts is not a wholly impossible event; hence it becomes prudent to take precautions that such a contingency should be provided against. It is quite necessary that such arrangements should be made for the internal defences of the country as every other nation has made, is making, and—in duty to its people—is bound to make. Nevertheless, my Lords, I do not see that these necessary measures of self-preservation ought to create jealousy in any foreign Power.
We are informed further, my Lords, by Her Majesty, that She has, with a view to the improvement of the administration of justice in its various departments, "directed Bills to be prepared, founded upon the reports made to Her by the respective Commissioners appointed to inquire into the practice and proceedings of the superior Courts of Law and Equity;" and Her Majesty earnestly recommends them to the deliberate attention of your Lordships. Now, looking at the desire of the people, and to the expressed intentions of the Government to carry this subject into effect, I confidently anticipate that the recommendations of the Commissioners will be, not as has been too often the case of former Commissions, confined to the mere pruning excrescences, and the patching up an old system, but that they will be suggestive of reforms in Chancery on a systematic principle, which will render the administration of justice as satisfactory as the nature of human affairs will permit. Above all, my Lords, I do hope that some remedy will be suggested to prevent the unfortunate suitor from being bandied about from court to court in search of justice.
It is with confidence I look to your Lordships' concurrence in the extension of representative institutions to New Zealand. In that, as it has been very properly called, important colony, the granting a form of government in some degree analogous to 9 that under which we have the happiness I to live, has been attempted before; but a suspension of those institutions, from various circumstances, had been necessary. I trust your Lordships will now agree with the view expressed by Her Majesty, that no obstacle any longer exists to the enjoyment of representative institutions by New Zealand, and that you will give to the form of this new Government your best consideration, so as to arrive at a decision most beneficial to that colony.
My Lords, in the next paragraph of the Speech we are informed that the great reductions of taxation which have been made of late years have not produced a proportionate diminution of the revenue; that the revenue of the past year has been fully adequate to meet the demand of the public services; and that the removal of imposts has contributed greatly to the relief and comfort of Her Majesty's subjects. Of this healthy state of the revenue, and what is of greater importance, of the improved condition of the masses of the people, I have abundant evidence in my hand, as far at least as this can be tested by official figures. I find, my Lords, that in 1842, the real or declared value of British and Irish produce and manufactures exported amounted to 47,381,023l.; from that period down to 1848 there was in every year a progressive increase in these exports; but in the year 1848 there was a fall of 5,992,932l., or nearly 6,000,000l. below the exports of the preceding year. Now this involves a very important consideration. Your Lordships will remember that 1848, the year of defalcation, was one of Continental convulsion; and this corroborates the fact I have endeavoured to establish, namely, that our interests are indissolubly bound up with the peace, the contentment, and order of our foreign neighbours. I am aware, my Lords, that there were other causes in the year 1848 which led to the depreciation of our industry—that there was much railway speculation, much overtrading, much suffering from the potato blight. But, my Lords, I believe, that the social disorder of our best customers was the real and principal cause of the distress. From the year 1848 to the year 1850 there was a continual rise in our exports; and in the latter year, 1850, there was the enormous increase in the exports over those of 1848 of 19,509,739l., or nineteen millions and a half in the short period of three years. In order to carry the comparison 10 farther, and to include the year just past, 1851, I quote from another return, which shows that the increase since 1848 to 1851 has been no less than 23,680,639l., that is to say, the exports of our principal commodities have increased during the last nine years (between 1842 and 1851 inclusive) more than 52 per cent. Another evidence of the increased comfort and material happiness of the people is to be found, first, in the diminished number of persons receiving relief under the poor-law authorities; and, secondly, in the consequent diminution of the poor relief expenditure of the country. I have before me a tabular view of the most satisfactory nature, exhibiting this cheering improvement. In the year 1848 the total expenditure under the poor-law was 6,180,764l.; in 1850, with two years' increase in our population, it amounted to 5,395,022l., being a reduction of 785,742l. The registrar's returns of births, deaths, and marriages, also indicate a progress in national prosperity. His Lordship then read extracts from the quarterly report of the Registrar General for births, deaths, and marriages, for the fourth quarter of 1851:—For the whole of the year 1851 the births have generally exceeded the numbers in any previous year, and the mortality has been lower than it was in any of the ten years 1841–50, except 1843, 1845, and 1850. The births, deaths, and marriages, show a balance of births over deaths, and an increase of families, which are only observed in a state of prosperity.But, my Lords, the decrease in the number of persons receiving relief under the operation of the poor-laws, and the diminished expenditure on their account, are not the only proof of the increasing comforts of the working classes. I have now before me a statement showing the regularly increasing consumption from year to year, for ten years together, of two commodities which formerly were considered luxuries, but now, from the improved habits of the people, may be considered necessaries of life—tea and sugar. Your Lordships doubtless remember that celebrated passage in the work of a French historian, the Abbé Raynal, which declares tea to have done more to improve the morality of the great masses of the people than the whole Statute-book put together. Now, in the year 1842, the consumption of tea in this country amounted to 37,355,911 lbs., and in 1851 it had increased to upwards of 53,000,000 lbs., 11 showing an increase within the last ten years of 16,000,000 lbs., or of 44 per cent. His Lordship then showed that the quantities of tea entered for home consumption in 1842 were 37,355,911 lb.; and that in 1851 they had risen to 53,965,112 lb. I am aware, my Lords, that the simultaneous increase of the population must be considered here; but allowing 14 per cent for that increase, there is still one quarter more tea consumed in the country than there was consumed nine years ago. I have also an account of the quantity of sugar for the same number of years, which shows a still greater increase than that of tea. This article, as your Lordships are aware, is very nutritious in its nature, and still more essential than tea to the comforts of the working man. Now, my Lords, in 1842 the quantity of sugar consumed was 3,868,467 cwts. In 1851 it rose to 6,255,574 cwts., being an increase of 2,387,108 cwts. over the former year; or of no less than 61 per cent within the ten years; but allowing the same deduction of 14 per cent for the increase of population, there remains an increase of 47 per cent on the article of sugar. Here, my Lords, are two items in the expenditure of the people which contributed a sum of upwards of ten millions between them towards the national revenue of last year—the duty on tea alone yielding nearly six millions (5,970,000l.), or more than the produce of the malt tax—an increase which proves that a great improvement has taken place, not only in the comforts of the people, but also in their sobriety and morals.
In Her Majesty's Speech we are next informed that Her Majesty considers this a fitting time to make amendments in the representation of the people through the House of Commons. My Lords, this is a measure which will necessarily originate in the other House of Parliament, and all that I call on your Lordships now to do is to express your readiness to give that important subject a calm and attentive consideration when it comes before you.
My Lords, it now only remains for me to apologise for the very imperfect manner in which I have discharged a duty which I would not have selected for myself; and I have to throw myself on your indulgence. I now move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, in answer to Her gracious Speech from the Throne.
§ The following is a copy of the Address agreed to:—
§ "MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN,
§ "WE, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg Leave to return Your Majesty our humble Thanks for the gracious Speech which Your Majesty has made to both Houses of Parliament.
§ "WE humbly concur with Your Majesty that the Period has arrived when, according to Usage, Your Majesty can avail Yourself of our Advice and Assistance in the Preparation and Adoption of Measures which the Welfare of the Country may require.
§ "WE rejoice to learn that Your Majesty continues to maintain the most friendly Relations with Foreign Powers.
§ "WE humbly thank Your Majesty for acquainting us that the complicated Affairs of the Duchies of Holstein and Sleswig have continued to engage Your Majesty's Attention, and that Your Majesty has every Reason to expect that the Treaty between Germany and Denmark, which was concluded at Berlin in the Year before last, will in a short Time be fully and completely executed.
§ "WE beg Leave to assure Your Majesty that we participate in the Regret which Your Majesty has expressed, that the War which unfortunately broke out on the Eastern frontier of the Cape of Good Hope more than a Year ago still continues; and we thank Your Majesty for informing us that Papers will be laid before us containing full Information as to the Progress of the War, and the Measures which have been taken for bringing it to a Termination.
§ "WHILE We unite with Your Majesty in the sincere Satisfaction with which Your Majesty has observed the Tranquillity which has prevailed throughout the greater Portion of Ireland, we deplore, in common with Your Majesty, that certain Parts of the Counties of Armagh, Monaghan, and Louth have been marked by the Commission of Outrages of the most serious Description.
§ "WE rejoice to learn that the Powers of the existing Law have been promptly exerted for the Detection of Offenders, and for the Repression of a System of Crime and Violence fatal to the best Interests of the Country; and we thank Your Majesty for acquainting us that Your Attention will continue to be directed to this important Object.
§ "WE thank Your Majesty for informing us that the Improvement of the Administration of Justice in its various Departments has continued to receive Your Majesty's anxious Attention; and that in furtherance of that Object Your Majesty has directed Bills to be prepared, founded upon 13 the Reports made to Your Majesty by the respective Commissions appointed to inquire into the Practice and Proceedings of the Supreme Courts of Law and Equity.
§ "WE humbly concur with Your Majesty in the Persuasion that nothing tends more to the Peace, Prosperity, and Contentment of a Country than the speedy and impartial Administration of Justice; and it will be our Duty to give our best Consideration to those Measures which Your Majesty has recommended to our Attention on this Subject.
§ "WE humbly beg Leave to express our Thanks to Your Majesty for informing us that Your Majesty believes that there is no Necessity to renew the Act of 1848 for suspending the Operation of a previous Act conferring Representative Institutions on New Zealand, which will expire early in the next Year, and that no Obstacle any longer exists to the Enjoyment of Representative Institutions by New Zealand. We assure Your Majesty that the Form of these Institutions shall receive our best Consideration; and we trust, with the Aid of the additional Information which has been obtained since the passing of the Acts in question, to arrive at a Decision beneficial to that important Colony.
§ "WE beg Leave humbly to state to Your Majesty, that we participate in the Satisfaction which Your Majesty has been pleased to express in being able to inform us that the large Reductions of Taxes which have taken place of late Years have not been attended with a proportionate Diminution of the National Income. We rejoice to learn, that while the Reduction of Taxation has tended greatly to the Relief and Comfort of Your Majesty's Subjects, the Revenue of the past Year has been fully adequate to the Demands of the Public Service.
§ "WE humbly join with Your Majesty in acknowledging, with Thankfulness to Almighty God, that Tranquillity, good Order, and willing Obedience to the Laws, continue to prevail generally throughout the Country.
§ "WE humbly thank Your Majesty for the Expression of Your Opinion, that this is a fitting Time for calmly considering whether it may not be advisable to make such Amendments in the Act of the late Reign relating to the Representation of the Commons in Parliament as may be deemed calculated to carry into more complete Effect the Principles upon which that Law is founded.
§ "WE thank Your Majesty for the Expression of the Confidence which Your Majesty feels, that in any such Consideration we shall firmly adhere to the acknowledged Principles of the Constitution by which the Prerogatives of the Crown, the 14 Authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the Rights and Liberties of the People are equally secured."
§ LORD LEIGH
My Lords, in rising to second the Address proposed in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech, permit me, in the first place, to request the favourable indulgence of your Lordships while I, with unfeigned diffidence, express my regret that I should, on the first occasion on which I have the honour of addressing your Lordships, have so important though gratifying a part to perform; greatly as ray difficulties have been lessened by the very able manner in which the Address has been proposed to you by the noble Earl who has just sat down. But, while deeply regretting my own inability to do justice to the present occasion, I feel the more encouraged to expect a favourable reception at your hands, when I rise to record my entire concurrence throughout with the sentiments contained in the Speech from the Throne, confident that in so doing I am carrying with me the feelings of the House. The contents of the Speech have been so ably and fully commented upon by the noble Mover of the Address, that I will not detain you with any observations of my own on the war which unfortunately broke out on the eastern frontier of the Cape of Good Hope more than a year ago, and which still continues, as papers will be laid before you containing full information as to the progress of the war, and the active measures which have been taken for bringing it to a termination. Nor will I delay you with remarking on the importance of the measure contemplated for the improvement of the law, as recommended by Commissioners, with a view to its more speedy administration; nor pause to press upon your Lordships the propriety of granting a new constitution to that important dependency of this great empire, New Zealand. But, while granting the wisdom of making some addition to our forces to protect the extended possessions and interests of this great nation, I cannot but congratulate your Lordships on the amicable relationships existing between ourselves and our foreign neighbours; while the prosperous state of the revenue, notwithstanding the remission of taxation (the falling off being far short of the amount remitted), must be an additional subject of congratulation. The prosperous condition of all classes of Her Majesty's subjects, together with the 15 brightening prospects of the agricultural world, seem to promise a continuance, nay, an increase, of that national prosperity and contentment which the enlightened rule of our beloved Sovereign has, under Providence, hitherto secured to us. At the same time, the increasing population, the wealth and enlarged intelligence of the people, seem to call upon your Lordships to consider calmly the expediency of any further alterations in the provisions of the Reform Bill. Though outrages of a peculiar character have been prevalent in three counties in Ireland, which the utmost powers of the law have been and still are exerted to suppress, yet it is gratifying to know that the general state of that country is more satisfactory. Such being the case, and having, I believe, briefly touched upon most of the topics of Her Majesty's most gracious Speech, it only remains for me to express my hope and belief that the Address will meet with your cordial and unanimous approval.
§ On the Question being proposed,
§ The EARL of DERBY
said: My Lords, important and multifarious as are the topics which are treated of in the gracious Speech just delivered from the Throne, I am happy to be able to state, at the very outset, that neither in the terms of that Speech, nor the Address in reply to it, do I find any grounds for compelling the introduction of a hostile Amendment; nor yet do I find in the speech of the noble Earl who moved the Address, nor in the speech of the noble Baron who seconded it, anything which requires much serious, animadversion, saving always that splendid outbreak of the noble Baron on the brightening prospects of the agricultural interest. The topics, however, of the Speech and of the Address are, I repeat, so important and so multifarious, that I feel I should not be performing my duty either to the House, or to the position which I have the honour to occupy in it, or to the party with which I have the honour to act, if I did not shortly express my opinions, and in expressing my opinions I know that I am expressing theirs, on some of the matters mentioned in that Speech. I said that the topics were important and multifarious; and, with all due deference to those who prepared that Speech, I must add that I never saw or read a Speech in which the topics were jumbled together in such admired confusion, and in which there was such a total abstinence from all connection and order. We begin with a declaration of the friendly 16 state of Her Majesty's relations with Foreign Powers. We are then transported to the complicated state of affairs in the Duchies of Holstein and Sleswig; and thence we jump to our antipodes in the Cape of Good Hope. We are next carried to the tranquillity which reigns in one part of Ireland, and then to the outrages which have been committed in another; and from the outrages in Ireland to the Expenditure required to make adequate provision for the Public Service. Thence, again, we jump to the reforms to be made in the practice and proceedings of the Superior Courts of Law and Equity; and thence to the reform in the representative institutions, not of the United Kingdom, but of New Zealand. Then, making a sudden flight from New Zealand, we come back to Her Majesty's declaration of satisfaction at the economical prospects of the country; and then, having already disposed of the representative system in New Zealand, we are recommended by Her Majesty to give some attention to the representative system of Old England. I am not surprised, my Lords, that for some time past rumours have been in circulation that the Cabinet is not in that complete and perfect state of organisation which some could wish; and I can really not account for such an extraordinary concoction as this Speech is, unless by supposing that each of the fifteen constituent members of the Cabinet introduced each a paragraph into the Speech, and, having jumbled them together into a box, drew lots for the precedence in its organisation. But, my Lords, the order of the arrangement of the Speech is of much less consequence than the topics themselves. Before, however, I come more particularly to them, it will be my duty, my Lords, to advert to two topics which are not adverted to in that Speech, and on which I shall be happy to elicit some expression of opinion from Her Majesty's Ministers. In the course of last year Her Majesty's Government thought it fit and necessary to use expressions of condolence regarding the distress which prevailed at that time among a large and important class of Her Majesty's subjects: I mean the class connected with agriculture. I have seen, my Lords, and not without surprise, that this topic is now altogether omitted from the Speech. I am at a loss to know how and in what degree the prospects of the agricultural interest have materially "brightened" since last year; but I was wholly unprepared for that splendid out- 17 break with which the noble Baron enlivened us, when, with a gallantry natural to his age and to his profession, he rushed forward to congratulate the agricultural classes, of all people in the world, on their eminent and increasing prosperity. I wish that I could share in the visions of prosperity in which the noble Baron indulged; but I confess that, in spite of the rise of 2s. a quarter in the price of wheat in the course of the last few weeks, bringing up the price to the unprecedented amount of 39s. 3d. a quarter, I see no prospect of material prosperity for the agricultural interest. There is one class, indeed, which I may congratulate on this recent rise, if I may trust to the accounts in the newspapers, and that is not the agriculturists, but the bakers. I see this day—and it is worthy of the attention and consideration of the public, if not of the Legislature—I see that in consequence of this rise of 2s. per quarter in the price of corn, that is, of 1–20th part of the price of the raw material, the price of the 4 lb. loaf is increased a penny, that is, it has been increased a fifth in consequence of the rise of a twentieth in the price price of the raw material. Now, I beg that in this case the country will consider that the increase in the price of the 4 lb. loaf ought to rest on the shoulders of those who ought to bear the responsibility, and ought not to be attributed to the increase in the price of corn. However, I don't wish to overstate or exaggerate any part of the case, and I readily admit that even under the present system some portion of agricultural produce—I mean barley and oats—has maintained its price to an extent greater than I and others anticipated. But, my Lords, with regard to that most important article of agricultural produce, wheat, I must say the effect of the repeal of those laws which protected the native agriculturist, has influenced prices to a far greater extent than I ever ventured to anticipate. At the present moment the price of wheat is below what was anticipated even by those who assured us that the prices then existing were purely exceptional. For the last three or four years the price of wheat has been falling in this country; and my belief now is, as it was some two or three years ago, that the production of wheat in this country, unless some alteration of the law shall take place, must diminish to an extent alarming, if not dangerous, to this country. My Lords, I do not look upon it as a 18 matter of indifference that a large and increasing portion of our supplies should be imported from other countries, because, unless we are misinformed, a prohibition of exportation from these countries may not be distant or improbable. I am not convinced that the repeal of the corn laws may not lead to frequent fluctuations in price; but I am confident that the effect of the repeal of these laws must be to render this country more than ever dependent on foreign countries for its main supply of food. That, my Lords, is a state of things dangerous to this or to any country; and I have not at all altered my opinion, that, for the purpose of revenue, as well as the protection of native industry, it is desirable that agricultural produce should be included in the articles of import on which a revenue should be raised. But perhaps I should not have said anything on this subject had it not been for the expression which fell from the noble Baron on the brightening prospects of agriculture.
I now pass, my Lords, to another question of equal interest, on which I hope to hear some explanation from Her Majesty's Ministers. At the commencement of last Session we were told, in most pompous language by the Prime Minister, that a most insolent and violent aggression had been committed on the independence of the country—that an attack had been made on our religious liberties—and that there was a conspiracy, an organised conspiracy, against the Protestant institutions of England. After an announcement sufficiently ample to warrant the re-enactment of the whole code of penal laws, a measure was introduced, which occupied the attention of Parliament almost to the exclusion of every other subject from the beginning of the Session to its close, for the purpose of repelling that insolent and violent foreign aggression. I thought at the time that there was serious danger threatening our Protestant institutions; but I also thought that Her Majesty's Government was dealing with the surface and not with the substance of that danger, and with a small part and not with the whole of the evil to be encountered. Though I felt it my duty to support that Bill, yet I could not help feeling also that, limited and scanty as it was, it was not calculated to attain the object, limited and scanty as it was, which it sought to accomplish. I wish to ask, then, whether any one of Her Majesty's Ministers will 19 get up and say with a grave face that he is satisfied with the result of that legislation? I wish that Minister to tell me in what way that law has been effective—in what degree the aggression has been repelled—and, above all, in what manner the institutions and liberties of Protestant England have been secured against the past and present aggression of the See of Rome? I am glad to see that the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey) is taking a note of what I am now saying, for I shall be glad to hear him state the mode in which that Act has had any effect in repelling or removing aggression, or in placing our liberties in security, or to hear him state that the law has been obeyed implicitly, and has produced all the effect intended. For, my Lords, what is the fact? The fact is, that the law, whether so intended or not, has been entirely a dead letter—ay, and worse even than a dead letter, because it has been a target at which all manner of abuse, vituperation, and defiance has been launched. The law, I say, has been violated with impunity—yes, openly and ostentatiously. Perhaps the noble Earl will tell me that no steps have been taken to punish the violation of the law, because no proof of its violation could be obtained. Now, that places the Government in this dilemma, either that the law is such that it renders proof of the commission of the offence which it proposes to punish impossible, or that it has been openly violated, and in that law all the authority of Parliament and of law in general has been openly, wantonly, and ostentatiously set at nought. I expect, however, to hear either that Ministers are satisfied with the law as it now stands, and that no further steps are to be taken to strengthen it, or else that they propose to take measures to vindicate that which last Session they declared to be a matter of national importance.
I pass now, my Lords, to other topics; and, delicate as I know some of them to be, I shall not hesitate to speak on them, being bound by no such ties of official responsibility as are Her Majesty's Ministers. Her Majesty's Government announce that Her Majesty "continues to maintain the most friendly relations with Foreign Powers." Perhaps, if I had been seeking for an expression which would correctly describe our relations with Foreign Powers, I should have selected as the more appropriate one, "Our relations with Foreign Powers continue on as friendly a footing 20 as when I last addressed you." But, though it be a question of a more personal nature if our relations with Foreign Powers continue on the most friendly footing, yet it is a subject, at all events, on which the country will think, if not with anxiety, at least with some curiosity, how it came about that the Government found it necessary and expedient to part with the services of one of the most able and skilful of their colleagues. My Lords, I have had occasion frequently to find fault with the foreign policy of that noble Lord, and if he had still continued a Minister of the Crown, I should probably have found it necessary to comment on some of the transactions which have taken place since the last Session of Parliament; but no one can have any doubt that the noble Viscount was fully equal to the business of his office—that he is a man of the highest character, of the highest ability—and the opinion, therefore, must arise that some serious cause alone could have induced the Government to dispense with the services of one of their most experienced coadjutors. If not, then, in this House, I presume that in the other House of Parliament public curiosity will be satisfied. I pass from that topic to one which is of infinitely more importance, namely, the real state of our relations with Foreign Powers. Even at this late hour, there is some hope that within a very short period the treaty between Germany and Denmark, which was completed the year before last, will fully succeed. I rejoice in the removal of the cause of complaint and of difference between any two European nations, because I know how liable the slightest spark of dissension between any two countries might be to kindle a flame which it might be far more easy to kindle than to extinguish. But, my Lords, although Her Majesty's Ministers have alluded to the friendly relations maintained between this and Foreign Powers, they have not alluded to their relations with France. It may be politic on their part to do so; but I am not bound by any of those ties by which they are bound to abstain from speaking openly upon the subject. I entirely agree with the noble Earl who moved the Address (the Earl of Albemarle) that the internal administration and government of each country is a matter for the consideration and arrangement of that country alone; that it rests with that country alone; and that that with which other countries have to deal is the Govern- 21 ment de facto, without reference to whether it be the Government de jure. With regard to France, its government for the last sixty years has been a succession of usurpations of one kind or another; but on no occasion have we thought it to be our duty to protest against that system of government which the French had chosen for themselves, whether the constitutional monarchy of Louis Philippe, the Republic of 1848, or that which I suppose I am still bound to call, by courtesy, "the French Republic" of 1852. In each case the form of government has been the deliberate choice of the people of France, and that form is one which, as that choice, we are bound to respect. We are bound to consider, undoubtedly, whether one form of government or another, whether one state of affairs or another, existing in a country in our immediate neighbourhood, may exercise an influence for good or evil over our own national relations and our national independence; but beyond the question of how far it may affect our own material national interests, we have nothing whatever to do with any shade or form of government which a country may choose, from the most absolute despotism down to the most entire red republicanism. It is not for us, therefore, here to canvass every step which has been taken in France—to canvass either the policy or morality of any particular act which may have been done. It is enough for us that the existing state of government has been acquiesced in by the French almost with unanimity—it is enough for us to see that the extraordinary powers which are exercised by the French President have been conferred upon him by the almost unanimous expression of the popular opinion of France—it is enough for us to see that he holds the power which he now exercises by a title which we are bound to respect, that of the declared and expressed will of the people of France. My Lords, I will go further, and I will say that I firmly believe that the French President personally is fully disposed to entertain friendly relations, and to maintain a pacific policy towards other nations. But, my Lords, I think that if anything could divert him from that course—if he were a man likely to be worked upon by his own personal feelings—if anything were likely to divert him from that course of policy which I believe his inclination and his sense of the interests of France are likely to make him take, it would be 22 the injudicious, and, I may add, unjustifiable language, which has been made use of by a large portion of the public press of this country in commenting upon the character of the French Government and people. If, as in these days, the press aspires to exercise the influence of statesmen, the press should remember that they are not free from the corresponding responsibility of statesmen, and that it is incumbent on them, as a sacred duty, to maintain that tone of moderation and respect, even in expressing frankly their opinions on foreign affairs, which would be required of every man who pretends to guide public opinion, and which is naturally expected from every man who does not seek to inflict the most serious evils upon his own country and others; and I say that it is more than imprudent, that it is more than injudicious, that it is more than folly—that it is perfect madness—at one and the same time to profess a belief in the hostile intentions of a foreign country, and to parade before the eyes of that very people the supposed inability of this country to defend itself; to magnify the resources of your supposed assailant, and to point out how easy would be the invasion, if not the subjugation, of this country (though, thank God! the most violent have not yet spoken of subjugation); but to speak of that invasion, accompanying it with details of the fearful amount of horror and bloodshed which, under any circumstances, must attend it, and then, in the same breath, to assail with every term of obloquy, of vituperation, and abuse, the public and private character of the man who wields that force which you say is irresistible. I am sure, my Lords, that whatever unfavourable impression may have been made on the public mind of France by the unjustifiable censures of the public press, that impression may be removed to a great extent by the frank expression of opinion such as you have now received in this and the other House of Parliament; and certain I am that in making use of these expressions I speak the opinion of every well-judging and well-meaning friend of his country. But, believing as I do in the pacific policy of Prince Louis Napoleon, certain that the preservation of peace is an object of not less importance to France than to England, certain that the whole Continent of Europe would be banded as one man against him who should unjustifiably violate the state of peace in which happily for some time we have been 23 reposing, conscious as I am also that the violation of peace would ultimately recoil on the country which leads to it, I cannot yet conceal from myself that the state of Prance is at present in so unsettled a condition that even the ruler of that country may not always be a free agent. I know not the passions which may suddenly break out—what the motives which may influence that vast army, which, well equipped, numerous, and powerful, does hold in its hand at this moment an important influence over the destinies of France and of Europe. A sudden ebullition of public feeling may override all considerations of sound and long-sighted policy, and overbear the prudent determinations of the ruler of France; and I think, therefore, if in truth we are in anything approaching that state of the want of provision for the defence of this country in which we are assured we are by the noble Earl, that you are bound to take care, looking at the unsettled state of affairs in France, and of the possibility of the Government of that country being overborne by an unreasoning popular clamour, that such precautions are taken in this country, and such provisions made for its defence, as would render an invasion not only a matter of improbability, but of absolute impossibility, on account of the results that must ensue from it. Therefore—I know not what others may think—but if with the view to the preservation of peace, if with no aggressive intention—and none such can be entertained by any of your Lordships—if Her Majesty's Government, on their own responsibility, say that for the purpose of internal protection and of guarding ourselves against any the slightest risk of horrors which none of us, thank God! have ever had an opportunity of realising in our own persons, further expenditure be necessary, I am sure that I and those who act with me will be the last men who, because on other matters we differ from the Government, will seek to withhold from them that which they require for the safety and well-being of the country; and nothing will induce us to shrink from the responsibility of making effective provisions for security. But, my Lords, there may be one lesson which we may learn from the state of things in Paris—we may consider for our own advantage how nearly the two extremes of unlimited republicanism and unlimited despotism approach—we may draw from the history of France and the state of other countries, that any 24 country which weakens and destroys the influence, whether in or out of the Legislature, of that great permanent body, the territorial possessors of the land—I don't speak of your Lordships' House, important members of that great body as you are, but of the country gentlemen of England, who are spread throughout the length and breadth of the land, who have the prestige of old hereditary descent, and whose names have been handed down through nany centuries, exercising a conservative influence (not in the sense of party, but of conserving the institutions of the country) each in his own immediate neighbourhood—I say, if you weaken and destroy that body—if you take away the power of that class, which is intimately and indissolubly connected with the soil of the country, you may produce a republic, you may produce a despotism, you may produce a violent oscillation between the extreme of popular frenzy and the extreme of military despotism, but you destroy the possibility of the existence of a limited and constitutional monarchy, and take away the best and only security for the well-regulated liberties of the country; for, without meaning the slightest disrespect to the great community on the other side of the Atlantic, I venture to say that the amount of individual liberty—meaning by that, liberty of speech, liberty of opinion, liberty of action—is far inferior there to that which is enjoyed in this country; and that in the republican institutions of America the absolute majority is a greater tyrant over public opinion than any which exists under our monarchical institutions.
My Lords, in the next paragraph of the Speech, Her Majesty expresses her regret that the war at the Cape still continues. I am aware that I may be charged with rambling from one subject to another, but I must remind your Lordships that I am following the order, or rather the disorder, of the Speech to which I am directing your consideration. My Lords, it certainly is a matter of serious regret, and must be, moreover, of serious inquiry, how it is that that war, which has been so long raging in the Cape colony, is not only not yet brought to a termination, but has not yet made any material advance in that direction. If that war—if so it may be called, that "little war" against which we were so emphatically warned by a most distinguished authority in this House—in which we have been engaged for a period of now nearly two years— [Earl GREY: 25 Just thirteen months.] Well, if now for thirteen mouths a body of savages have been able to carry on a warfare, and a successful warfare, against all the troops which the Government have been either able or willing to spare for that service, it is manifestly a matter which requires the most serious consideration. I know, as well as the noble Earl, the difficulties attaching to the government of the Cape colony; but I must say that I think those difficulties have been seriously aggravated by the unnecessary assumption of a nominal sovereignty over a district of country over which it was absolutely impossible that you could exercise that permanent amount of authority which ought to be inseparable from the sovereignty of the Crown. I think that great errors have been committed by unnecessarily extending our frontier, by increasing our line of posts, and at the same moment that we immeasurably increased the extent of the frontier to be defended, not only withdrawing a considerable portion of the troops actually at the Cape for the purposes of a war then hardly extinguished, but also withdrawing, from a false spirit of economy, a portion of those troops in the neighbouring colonies, from which, in the event of an outbreak in the Cape, reinforcements might have been most easily obtained. The Speech speaks of the "progress" of the war; but I am much afraid that in this matter Her Majesty's Government can only "report progress" in a Parliamentary sense, when no advance has actually been made. The only progress I am aware of is that Her Majesty's Government have recently, for the second time, thought fit in the middle of a war to supersede the Commander-in-chief during his military operations, and to send out another person to fill his place. I know not—and can scarcely venture to ask the question—whether the military stigma thus thrown on the character of the Governor at the Cape is a stigma attached to him on the military authority of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey), or on what he will himself, I think, admit to be the higher authority of the Commander-in-chief of Her Majesty's forces. We will wait patiently for the explanations which Her Majesty's Government may have to give with respect to the little progress they have made in this case; but the subject is one which will demand—and will, I am sure, receive—the most anxious and careful consideration both of this and of the other House 26 of Parliament, not only with a view to censure that which may have been done amiss, but to prevent for the future the recurrence of an unlimited outlay, of a discredit to British arms, and of a perpetual and unavailing struggle for a worthless possession.
But Her Majesty's Government have observed with "sincere satisfaction the tranquillity which prevails throughout the greater portion of Her dominions." I am afraid, however, that in some parts of Ireland there is a melancholy reason for the tranquillity which prevails in them: where hundreds of thousands of acres are lying almost without inhabitants and without cultivation, it is not very extraordinary that tranquillity should prevail in them. There is no doubt about it, that famine and emigration have done their worst; there is no doubt about it, that a relief by the most frightful means has been afforded to the previously exuberant population of the south and west of Ireland. It is a singular instance, certainly, of the prosperity on which Her Majesty's Government think that we may congratulate ourselves, that from this happy country there is pouring forth such a stream of emigration as no other country has hitherto ever witnessed, and which is characterised in Ireland as the "exodus of the Irish people." This is one of the most singular and lamentable instances of prosperity I know of; but, at all events, I have no doubt that emigration and death have, to a certain extent, tended to produce that absence of violence in the south of Ireland on which Her Majesty's Government congratulate themselves. It is impossible, however, to look without feelings of the deepest anxiety and apprehension at the state of the north of Ireland—at the not individual outrages, but that systematic violation of the law, that systematic perpetration of the most atrocious crimes, which now characterises so many portions of a hitherto peaceful district. I hope that Her Majesty's Government are taking steps, not only for punishing the instruments of those abuses, and the diabolical association which has extended itself over so large a portion of Ireland; but I trust they are taking steps also to come at the instigators and the contrivers of that association, and all those, who under any pretext, however holy, connive at or conceal their knowledge of the existence of those crimes. Her Majesty's Government say that they have promptly 27 resorted in this case to the powers of the existing law. But I regret to find, that however promptly they may have resorted to them, they appear to have resorted to them unsuccessfully; for within the course of the last twenty-four hours, since, as I suppose, this paragraph of the Speech was agreed upon, we have received an account of a most unfortunate nature, of the double failure of the first of those prosecutions which have been commenced on the part of Her Majesty's Government at the special sessions, by which a damp has been thrown on the administration of justice, an encouragement has been given to the perpetration of further outrages, and that which ought to be, as it is in England, an instrument of upholding and supporting the majesty and vindicating the authority of the law—namely, the institution of the jury itself—has been made an instrument for defeating and destroying the administration of justice. The jury may have been justified in not convicting the prisoner; but if they were justified in disagreeing as to their verdict, then I say that Her Majesty's Government have acted, as I think, with culpable precipitation in hastening the holding of the special commission, because that commission ought not to have been appointed unless they were perfectly certain that the evidence they had to adduce in the case was such as could be attended with no risk or hazard of failure. At all events the convictions have failed; the law is defeated; justice is defrauded; and the effect of this impression is evident, for at the very time this special commission is sitting, two persons, as I understand, have been arrested within a very short distance of the place where the commission met, charged with the crime of lying in wait for the purpose of committing another atrocious murder. The state of things in that country is such as to require, no doubt, vigorous administration of the existing law; but I should be better satisfied if, in this paragraph, Her Majesty's Government had not been content with saying that their attention would still be directed to this important subject, but had taken upon themselves to assure us that if the ordinary powers of the law for the suppression of this organised system of outrage should be insufficient, they would not hesitate to apply to Parliament for such extraordinary powers as they might deem necessary for the security of life and property.
My Lords, with regard to the question 28 of law reform, no one, of course, can doubt the importance of securing a speedy and impartial administration of justice in the various judicial courts of this country. Upon that subject I will only say that I hope due attention will be given by Her Majesty's Government to the recommendations of the Commissioners, on which recommendations Bills are to be founded, although very little time for that consideration has as yet been given, inasmuch as the document containing the views of the Commissioners was not, I believe, signed until last week. I trust that the subject will be carefully and maturely considered, and that this is not to be, according to the statement of the noble Lord who seconded the Address, a mere patching up of the old system, but a total and entire change and reorganisation of the courts. I trust that the measure will be speedily introduced into your Lordships' House, and under the sanction of that Member of the Cabinet who is more immediately connected with the administration of the law. I cannot hesitate to say, that, looking at the various subjects to be brought under the consideration of the other House, and looking at the nature of this particular subject, it is absolutely essential that it should be brought, at an early period, not under the consideration of the other, but under the consideration of your Lordships' House.
From the courts of justice we proceed to New Zealand. It is certainly very-satisfactory to know that the time has arrived when, in the judgment of the noble Earl opposite, New Zealand is fitted for representative institutions; but I cannot forget that that time had arrived, in the judgment of the noble Earl, some five or six years ago. In the year 1846, or the year 1847, the noble Earl prepared a bran new constitution for New Zealand. But in the course of the year 1848 he found it advisable to introduce a law for suspending that constitution. The suspending law is at present about to expire; but your Lordships are not to imagine that at the expiration of the period of its suspension the suspended law is to revive. Far from it; you will have to consider again another new constitution; for the former one is now considered Unworkable, and you are again about to be called upon to determine what species of representative institutions are at this moment applicable to New Zealand. I have no doubt but you will give to that subject your 29 deliberate, calm, and careful consideration. But you will also, I feel persuaded, find some little time to devote, at intervals, to the comparatively insignificant subject of the representative institutions of this country. Upon that subject I wish to say a few words.
I pass over without any detailed notice the satisfaction which has been expressed by Her Majesty's Government "that the large reductions of taxes which have taken place of late years have not been attended with a proportionate diminution of the national income, and that the revenue of the past year has been fully equal to the demands of the public service." But when it is said that the revenue has been adequate to the public exigencies, I must remind your Lordships that a considerable portion of that revenue consists of a tax, not very popular in the other House of Parliament, and for the continuance of which there appears to be no very absolute certainty. The adequacy of the public revenue to the demands made upon it, depends, at all events, upon a tax which, if we are to believe Her Majesty's Government, we may be compelled to have recourse to as a war tax; but on that account it is most important that it should not be unnecessarily continued in time of peace. And yet without the imposition of that tax, with all its inequalities and all its injustice, you could not venture to say, that with the great prosperity of the country the revenue was adequate, or anything like adequate, to the exigencies of the public service. I will not attempt to follow the noble Earl who moved the Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne through the various statements which he presented to the House. I shall, however, make an observation upon one point. The noble Earl speaks of a very large increase in the commercial exports of this country within the last few years. I wish that the next time he speaks upon commercial subjects, he would ask the commercial men in this country whether they found their profits to afford any proportion to the amount of their exports. I believe that, one and all, they would tell him there never was a year of such low profits, and in many respects of such serious commercial losses, as the year 1851, with all its boasted prosperity. The noble Earl would also do well to look at the returns to the property tax during the past year, and more especially that portion of the property tax which is collected from trades and professions. The 30 decline in that item of the national revenue does not afford a ground for that extremely sanguine view which the noble Earl has taken of the commercial prosperity of the country. We find that profits do not keep pace with exports, and that those profits as exhibited in the property tax of the year show not only no increase at all, but indicate a progressive decline in the amount of capital on which that tax is paid.
My Lords, the last topic adverted to in the Speech from the Throne is the project of Her Majesty's Government for a reform of our representative institutions. Now I do not hesitate to say I am glad to find that we are not called upon to concur with Her Majesty's Government in the opinion that this is the fittest time for the introduction of such a measure. In one respect, no doubt, we may enter upon a consideration of it with the utmost calmness, for I believe that instead of saying that it is viewed with calmness throughout the country, we might use the stronger words—with entire apathy. I do not believe that throughout the length and breadth of the land, apart from Her Majesty's Ministers, there are five reasonable men who consider it a matter of the slightest importance whether this Bill be introduced or not, or who have the slightest desire for an agitation of the question of Parliamentary reform. I think that the announcement of the intention to introduce this Bill was an unjustifiable act on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I believe that announcement to have been made hastily and unadvisedly, not because the state of the country required a deliberate investigation of our representative system, but as a vague lure held out in the hope, which turned out to be frustrate, of escaping an adverse division in the House of Commons, while the Prime Minister left it subsequently to himself and to his colleagues to consider to what extent it would be convenient for them to gratify the expectations they had created. I may be wrong, but I cannot help thinking that when the announcement of the noble Lord at the head of the Government was first made upon the subject, not only his Royal Mistress and his colleagues were utterly unprepared for such an announcement, but that he had not himself at the time the slightest idea what were to be the nature and object of the Bill he was to introduce. I believe that this is a course which is not justifiable in any man who holds the high position of Prime Minister of this country, 31 and that he was either unduly tampering with the exaggerated expectations of the people, or else he was throwing down to be discussed and commented upon, and to become a subject of popular agitation, a topic which of all others would be most likely to kindle angry controversy. But Her Majesty's Government have pledged themselves to introduce this Bill; and for my own part I do not hesitate to express my opinion that any advantage which can be derived from a change in our representative system will be more than counterbalanced by the disadvantages of a renewed agitation on this exciting topic—of a renewed uncertainty as to any stability in our institutions, and the prospect of a constant change in the very basis of our constitution. But Her Majesty's Government are pledged to bring forward a Bill upon this subject, and I presume they are by this time agreed upon its details—I presume so, but I do not believe there is any absolute certainty upon the point. Well, then, I say it will be our duty calmly and deliberately to consider the nature and extent of the Bill, and the principle on which it is founded. The Speech from the Throne is undoubtedly extremely vague upon the subject. We are told that its object will be to carry out the measure of 1832. Now, the Bill of 1832 was introduced for the purpose of doing away with some of those anomalies which length of time had produced in our representative system. It was introduced for the purpose of doing away with what were absolutely nomination boroughs, some of which existed only in the imagination. It was at the same time thought advisable to give to the independent inhabitants of certain great towns that representation which was monopolised by self-elected bodies, and also to admit to that share in our representative system, to which I think they were fairly entitled, certain towns which had gradually grown up into importance, and to give them their due weight, but not more than their due weight, in the representation of the country. Such were the principles on which the Reform Bill of 1832 were based; but I believe that no one declared more emphatically than the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that the objects of the Bill of 1832 had been effected; so emphatically, indeed, on various occasions, has the noble Lord declared himself opposed to further change, that the word "finality," which inadvertently escaped from him, has been attached to his name. It 32 would now appear, however, that although the noble Lord thought this country could not hear a revolution once in five years, he is of opinion that extensive changes may be introduced in our representative system once in twenty-one years. He seems to think that the constitution of this country is something like an agricultural lease—that at the end of twenty-one years the tenant has derived the fullest advantage from his old lease, and that it is full time then for him to enter into a new contract. Now I confess that I cannot admire that perpetually fluctuating condition of the representative system in this country. I think it will be necessary for Her Majesty's Government to show why this Bill was required, and I think it will be rather difficult for them to satisfy the country that any Bill upon the subject was required at this moment. They will, however, have to state not only why they thought an alteration in the present system was called for, but they will also have to state in what sense, and with what view and what object, their alteration of the existing system is introduced; and upon the explanations which they may give upon those points, will depend the opposition or support which they will meet with from that great party with which I have the honour to act. We may think it would be more advisable that no Bill should be introduced; Her Majesty's Government have taken upon themselves the undivided responsibility of saying that this question shall be again opened. But I do not say that in itself an extension of the numbers of the constituency will not be perfectly consistent with the useful administration of the affairs of this country, which is, after all, the great object of all representative institutions. I say, however, that although numbers may not materially affect this question, the class of new constituents whom you are to introduce, and the distribution of the power which is to be given to that class, may and must most materially affect the character of the body to be hereafter elected. I presume that Her Majesty's Government are not going to lend themselves to the notion that they are to do away with all existing irregularities and anomalies. I presume that they are not going to cut up the country into districts in which representation would be precisely coincident and coequal with the population of those districts. I presume that none of those fallacies will enter into the scheme of Her Majesty's Government, I am convinced 33 that if it were possible for them to accomplish such a scheme, nay, if it were possible for them to introduce a perfect equality with regard to the representation in the other House of Parliament, that perfect equality would be entirely discordant from the spirit of the British constitution, and would produce the most unfavourable effect on the constitution of the House of Commons itself. I am satisfied that the very essence of the utility of the House of Commons as a representative body is, that it represents all classes and all denominations—not perhaps according to any precise or fixed rule, but that every class of Her Majesty's subjects finds there its appropriate representative and organ—that large communities do not overbear the small—that the crowded masses do not preponderate unduly over the scattered population of the country. I trust that in the course which Her Majesty's Government are about to take, they do not mean to disturb the existing balance between the different classes of the community, or to give to the population of the large towns a larger influence than that which they at present possess over the legislation of this country—that they do not mean to swamp the distinction between the county and the borough voters, and to overwhelm that which I have already stated to your Lordships I believe to be the main security for the maintenance of the constitution of the country and the liberties of the people—namely, the permanent influence of the land—by giving a still larger preponderance to those whose apparent interests at all events are at variance with those of the proprietors of the soil. According, not to the extent of the Bill, but according to the extent of the principle involved in it, shall our course with respect to it be shaped. I can imagine it possible that some of the more eager supporters of Her Majesty's Government may approve of the principle of the measure, and yet be dissatisfied with the extent to which they are prepared to go; so that the extent of the Bill will not be the question at issue so much as the principle involved in it, and the objects which the Government seek to attain by it. If we should concur in its objects, and think that it is calculated to meet existing abuses—not to do away with theoretical anomalies and irregularities, but to correct substantial injustice—then Her Majesty's Government need apprehend no factious opposition from us to the introduction of the measure, however unnecessary or un- 34 wise we may think it. But if their object be to extend still further the democratic power in this community at the expense of those more conservative influences which maintain the permanent and fixed institutions of the country, then, I say, I care not what may be the step made—it is, in my belief, a step made in a dangerous direction—and to that principle I shall be compelled to give such opposition as it may be in my power to offer.
My Lords, I believe I have now gone through most of the topics, if not all the topics, introduced in the Speech from the Throne. We shall have other opportunities of dealing with many of those topics separately and individually, and much more conveniently than in the course of an incidental discussion such as this; and I now conclude by repeating what I stated at the outset, that neither in the Speech from the Throne, nor in the language held by the noble Lords who have moved and seconded the Address, do I see any necessity for doing that which without necessity I always consider to be unwise and impolitic, namely, disturbing on the first day of the Session the unanimity with which we should present a loyal Address to Her Majesty.
§ EARL GREY
My Lords, I rejoice very much to find that the noble Earl who has just sat down has no intention of moving an Amendment to the Address which has been so ably proposed and seconded by my noble Friends behind me. But I still more rejoice to find that, in the speech just made by the noble Earl, there is so much in which I can express my entire and cordial concurrence. It has been very often my lot in Parliamentary warfare to be arranged on opposite sides to the noble Earl; but I must say, in the speech he has just delivered, I find very little indeed from which I am inclined to differ. There certainly are points on which I differ from the noble Earl; but, on the other hand, the greater part of his speech appears to me characterised by just and sound views on the particular questions adverted to; and I am able therefore to follow him more briefly and easily than I otherwise could have done. The noble Earl began his speech very good-humouredly, and indulged in some amusing witticisms upon the order in which the various subjects are treated in Her Majesty's Speech. Now I can supply the noble Earl with a key to the order in which they are treated. A few days ago, when the subject of the Speech was under discus- 35 sion, my noble Friend who prepared the first draft of the Speech stated the principles by which he had been guided in point of order. He said the right principle was, in the first place, to mention the various topics with regard to the past, to which it was necessary to call the attention of Parliament; then to introduce any reference which might be necessary as to financial measures; and then to come to the various topics likely to be brought under the consideration of Parliament; and it was natural that the most important and that which would probably occupy the largest share of the attention of Parliament should be reserved for the concluding paragraph.
The noble Earl first adverted to two subjects which he said had been omitted from the Royal Speech, and, referring to the absence of any allusion in it to agricultural distress, he found considerable fault with my noble Friend behind me for the very sanguine anticipations he had expressed with regard to an improvement in the prospects of those engaged in agriculture, and which he considered not warranted by the existing state of things. I am sorry to incur the noble Earl's reprehension; but I say, in my judgment, my noble Friend's expression of hope for the future was not in the slightest degree exaggerated or unwarranted by the present circumstances of the country. What is the condition of the farmer? Why, the British farmer in the greater part of the country has had the advantage of a very excellent crop. Providence has blest him with an ample return for his labour; and while the amount of produce he has had to sell has been large, except in the article of wheat, it is notorious that the prices have been highly remunerative:—that oats, barley, and cattle, have all brought prices with which good farmers had no right to be discontented. And we have now seen a remarkable circumstance, which a few years ago no noble Lord in this House would have been prepared for—we have actually seen the export of wheat of British growth to supply the exigencies of other countries, showing that in this country, under the stimulus of competition, and the advantages which with that stimulus the British farmer has had conferred upon him, by various measures of late years, we have been able so to reduce the cost of production that we can compete with foreign countries as to 36 the cost of our wheat. The noble Earl reserved his opinion as to whether it might not, at some future period, be necessary to impose a revenue duty on grain; for this reason, that if we persevered in the present system, the effect would be that we might be left to a greater and greater ex-tent dependent upon foreign nations for the supply of the most necessary article of our consumption. Now, I see around me many of your Lordships who have a practical and personal knowledge of the state of agriculture in this country; and I will ask you whether, from one end of the country to the other, the progress of improvement, the increase of cultivation, has not been beyond anything that any one of you could have imagined? I spoke yesterday to an old friend of mine, who comes from the great agricultural county of Lincolnshire, and he told me that he never saw draining, that foundation of all improvement, go on with so much activity and to such an extent as now. I have heard the same from Devonshire. I can say the same for Northumberland; and I hear of the same progress in every part of the country. The other day I heard a complaint from some persons who live in the neighbourhood of the Downs, in the south of England, who were afraid that in a few years the delightful rides over the Downs would be destroyed, the plough was encroaching so fast upon the land. I have not seen this myself; but I heard the complaint made, not with reference to the state of agriculture, but speaking of quite other matters. For myself, I believe improvements in agriculture never made more rapid progress than at this moment. And I believe, further, that the farmers are beginning to recover from the depression of spirits which has weighed upon them for a considerable time. They are beginning to entertain a hope that they shall get through the difficulties. I am far from denying that there are difficulties to be contended with. Perhaps none of your Lordships have experienced these difficulties more than myself, or have felt more the pressure of the times. But, in spite of that pressure, and of those difficulties, I never for a moment entertained a doubt that a better time was coming; and that in good time British agriculture, like every other branch of British industry, when fairly put upon its mettle, would stand competition with any foreign nation. While upon this subject I cannot help saying that I have heard with deep regret what the 37 noble Earl said with respect to the imposition of a revenue duty upon grain. This is a question upon which I think it is of the deepest importance to the agriculturist and to the country at large that we should know where we stand; that a permanent and final determination of Parliament as to the policy that should be adopted upon this question should be come to at once and for ever. If we are to have duties upon corn, let those who advocate them come forward and state their case, and let it be fairly argued. Let me remind them, that when we, who were against the old system of the corn laws, proposed the change which has since taken place, we did not wait till we had a majority; we did not say, "Oh, we have no chance in the present House of Commons—we will wait till we get a House of Commons which is more favourably inclined." No. We knew that if this question was to be settled, it could only be by argument and discussion. We stated our views fairly and plainly in the other House of Parliament, and year after year, with apparently hopeless minorities—the first in which I myself, and my noble Friend behind me (the Earl of Carlisle) voted, was a minority of only 12 to some 500 or 600—we continued to state our views, and from that day to the final triumph of those principles we never hesitated or shrunk from discussion, from stating plainly our views, and putting them before the House and the country. Now, I say those who believe the present policy is wrong, who think it ought to be altered, are bound, in fairness to the country, and to those who differ from them, to state clearly and distinctly their views, to bring them before Parliament and before the country, and let them then stand or fall by the result of that discussion. But let me add this one observation: When you talk about a duty on grain, for revenue, let me advise you to settle this question with some of your own supporters; because, well do I remember when I and those with whom I acted were arguing for a change of the corn law, and urging the substitution of a moderate fixed duty for the sliding scale, that a noble Earl, who now sits at the end of the bench opposite (the Earl of Winchilsea) denounced in a most emphatic manner the iniquity of raising a duty for revenue upon the food of the people. He said protection was all right, he would vote for protection; but when the question between a fixed duty and a sliding scale was introduced, he said a duty for re- 38 venue upon the food of the people was a measure so iniquitous, and so contrary to all principle, that it ought never to be assented to by Parliament. I am sure the noble Earl will remember the speeches he has made to this effect; and I hope, when you talk of that principle of a duty for revenue on corn, you will settle the question I with your own supporters, and that you will tell us fairly whether revenue or protection is your object. If revenue is your object, and not protection, you are bound to lay your duty upon all wheat, not merely upon wheat that is imported, but on wheat that is grown at home. You do so with respect to sugar, and with respect to every other article upon which the duties are revenue duties, and it is mere shuffling, and a disguise of your true object, to tell us you want duties for revenue, and at the same time to impose a duty, not upon wheat whether home-grown or imported, but merely upon imported wheat.
The next subject omitted from the Speech to which the noble Earl adverted, was the celebrated measure of last year with respect to Papal aggression. The noble Earl asked me whether I was prepared to say that that measure had answered, and had given security to our Protestant institutions? He appears to think that the Bill was intended to do that which I, for one, never expected. I never looked at an Act of Parliament to give security to our Protestant faith, whatever the noble Earl might do. What do the institutions of the country rest upon? Upon the convictions of the vast body of the people of this country in the truth of that religion which they profess. Those convictions can neither be taken away nor strengthened by Act of Parliament. The security of our Protestant institutions rests upon the general conviction of the people, that that religion which they are intended to teach the people, is true and consistent with the Holy Scriptures. I, for one, entertain such a perfect confidence in the triumph of truth, I am so satisfied that discussion can only tend in the end to give additional stability and strength to that which is founded in truth, that I never looked for a moment to Acts of Parliament as any protection against what is called Papal aggression. If the real power of the Papacy is a power over the minds of the people; that power you cannot take away nor confer by Act of Parliament. It rests upon something far beyond your reach, and is not to be dealt with by weapons of that description, But 39 the object of the Act of Parliament last year was, in my opinion, very different. I thought that a most wanton insult had been given to the people of this country in feelings which are deeply cherished by the great majority of them, and I did think it was fit and proper that Parliament should, by a solemn and legislative Act, utterly repudiate and protest against the act so committed, and which has so shocked the feelings of the people. But to suppose that this Act could make the smallest difference to the real power of the Pope, or the real power of the priesthood, would, in my opinion, be utterly to mistake what the power rests upon. I believe that even over those who profess the Roman Catholic religion, that power, instead of being really increased by the aggressive spirit which has lately been shown by the Court of Rome, and by a certain portion of the priesthood, I believe that power, instead of being increased and augmented, has, on the contrary, been sapped and mined in its foundations by the injudicious measures which have been taken, for, I rejoice to say, that those most useful institutions the Queen's Colleges are prospering, and likely to prosper. Those institutions, and that system of education which the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) was, greatly to his credit, one of the principal instruments in establishing in Ireland—that system of general education is opening the minds of the people; and I believe they will not, whether they are Roman Catholic or Protestant, tamely bend their necks under the yoke of priestly tyranny. Against that tyranny, whatever be the denomination of the priests by whom it is attempted to be exercised, I shall always raise my voice. I believe there is a natural disposition, if it is not checked by the determined countenance of the laity, in the priesthood of almost every denomination unduly to trench upon the mental freedom of those whom it is their business to teach. Against that tyranny it is the duty of every man of independent mind to array himself as far as possible; and I certainly think that in Ireland, and in this country generally, the measure adverted to on the part of the Pope has not done any real injury to us. But the noble Earl says, "Is the Act to be a dead letter?" I say it has not been so; I say that at this moment the dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church have practically submitted to the Act, by taking the greatest possible pains to avoid com- 40 mitting themselves to that open violation of which it would have brought them into contact with the law. The utmost care and pains have been taken, as far as I am informed, by the dignitaries of that Church to avoid that assumption of the prohibited dignities which would have brought them within the purview of the law. It is surely no unimportant object to have been, gained by the law that it has taught the Catholic priesthood and the population of this country, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, that if a case for interference really exist, Parliament is not to be deterred from interfering, and is prepared to take such measures as may be necessary to prevent any aggression upon our religion from any quarter. That is my view with regard to the Act of last Session, and such the grounds on which I deny that it is a dead letter.
The noble Earl then proceeded to notice the various topics in the Royal Speech, and in doing so began by making a remark upon a change which has recently taken place in one of the principal departments of the Government, by the retirement of my noble Friend (Lord Palmerston) from the Foreign Office. Upon that subject, considering all things, I feel that it would be the height of indiscretion and impropriety on my part if I were to make any other remark than this, that I cordially concur with the noble Earl in the tribute which he has paid to the talent, the ability, and the character of my noble Friend the late Secretary of State for the Foreign Department; and I will also add the expression of my sincere and deep regret, that circumstances have occurred which deprive his colleagues of his assistance, and of the advantage of that noble Lord's co-operation with them in the councils of their Sovereign.
The noble Earl then proceeded to remark upon the state of France. I have the pleasure of being able to express my unqualified concurrence in, I believe, every word which he uttered. I entirely agree with him as to its being the duty of this country, as a country and a nation, and the duty of each individual in his individual capacity, to abstain from any interference in the internal politics of that great and powerful nation which lies so near to us. I, like the noble Lord, observe with the deepest concern, and, I may say, with the indignation which the noble Earl has expressed, the tone which has been taken by a large portion of the newspaper press of 41 this country. I think that the denunciation of the Person at the head of the Government of France, coupled with those more than exaggerated—I will say, untrue—representations of the defenceless condition of this country, do not only savour of imprudence, but of something worse than imprudence; and I rejoice that the noble Earl, in the position which he occupies, has come forward to assert, in the emphatic manner in which it has been done, his utter repudiation of language such as I have described. And I do trust that when, with the full assurance that I have the concurrence of my colleagues, I join in that repudiation, and when I am convinced every one of your Lordships will echo the same sentiment, I do believe and hope that the mischief, the incalculable evil, which might otherwise have resulted from language thus held by a great part of the newspaper press of this country, will to a great extent be neutralised, and that it will be understood in foreign countries that, however those newspapers may express the opinions and the feelings of those who write in them, they do not express the opinions or the feelings of any great and powerful party in this country, or in the Houses of Parliament.
The noble Earl then proceeded to advert to the question of the defences of this country. Here also, my Lords, I think the noble Earl expressed views which are perfectly just, and with which your Lordships cannot but concur. Like him, I entertain the fullest confidence in the assurance of friendly fooling which the Government of this country has not failed to continue to receive from all the great Powers of the world. I believe there exists nowhere any serious intention of attacking this country, or of disturbing the peace of the world. But, at the same time, I concur with the noble Earl in thinking that, however pacific may be the intentions of our neighbours, it is not fitting that the security of this country should rest only upon the permanence of those amicable intentions. This nation occupies too high a position in the world to trust its security upon such a foundation. I think we are hound always to feel that we have the means of protecting ourselves from any aggression which may be attempted, however unlikely it may be that such an aggression is contemplated. I think also, in common I believe with the great majority of those who have consider- 42 ed this subject, that for many years it has been necessary that something should be done to place this country in a state of greater security from aggression. This is a subject to which the attention not only of the present but of preceding Administrations has been for a considerable time directed; and it would be a great mistake to suppose that nothing has already been done. It would, for obvious reasons, be highly inconvenient and improper for me to enter into detail; but to those acquainted with the subject it is perfectly well known that much has been done of late years to increase the means of this country for its own protection, and that we stand now in a far better position, with reference to our defences in case of need, than we did upon the last occasion when there arose serious misapprehensions that tranquillity might be disturbed: I refer to the time of the discussion on the case of Pritchard, which created so serious an anxiety in the Government of this country. Since that period, although nothing has occurred to create any fresh jealousy, a great deal has substantially been done to improve our means of defence. I do not mean to say that we ought to stop with what has been done. I do see, as the noble Earl stated, in the present state of the world, sufficient reasons for going further. I cannot forget that every other country in the world does more than we do with a view to prepare against any sudden aggression. Even the United States—though by their position they are almost exempt from the possibility of invasion—though they have a standing army which, if small, is yet highly efficient, and a navy of the same description—in addition to that, the United States have completely organised a militia, which, if I am not misinformed, amounts in number to much nearer 2,000,000 than 1,000,000 of men. Now, if even the United States thinks it necessary that some precautions of this kind should be taken, it can hardly be considered unreasonable that in this country—so much more exposed as we are by situation, in case any misunderstanding with Foreign Powers should happen—we should be better furnished with means of defence. The present state of the world, the great increase which has taken place in the armament of all Foreign Powers, and the improvements in implements and the arts of war in modern times, which render that increase, of course, so much more formidable—all these 43 things show us that we should have our attention directed to this most important duty, and that we should not neglect measures of defence. I entirely concur with the noble Earl as to the principle upon which any measures which we may take ought to be founded, namely, that they ought to be, as is stated in the Speech from the Throne, consistent with a steady adherence to the pacific policy which we have always endeavoured to maintain.
The noble Earl then adverted to that to me most distressing subject—the war now raging on the eastern frontier of the Cape of Good Hope. I have already laid upon the table of the House papers which contain the fullest information, and up to the latest date—up to despatches received only on Saturday last. As these papers will be in your Lordships' hands in less than twenty-four hours, I think it highly desirable that I should abstain from any discussion whatever upon them. There is only one point to which I will call the noble Earl's attention. He stated that the difficulties of the British Government at the Cape had been greatly increased by the extension of territory, more especially over what is called the Orange River Sovereignty. Allow me to inform the noble Earl that no one has more regretted that extension of territory than myself. He knows, from papers already before the House, that it was adopted without the possibility of previously obtaining the consent of the Government; and that it was not without great difficulty, and a balancing of the evils on both sides—on the one hand of disavowing a measure which had been actually adopted, and on the other of maintaining the authority of the British Crown at so great a distance from the seat of power—it was not until after a careful balancing of these opposite difficulties that Her Majesty's Government decided upon confirming that act of the Governor of the Cape. Let me add—and this is the only observation I wish to make upon the subject—that in one of those despatches which I trust your Lordships will be in possession of to-morrow, Sir Harry Smith, alluding to this subject, states his own opinion to be the same as mine—that it has been a great misfortune to be compelled to extend our power over this district, but that he was compelled to do so by the measures previously taken under the administration of the noble Earl himself by the then Governor, Sir Peregrine Maitland, who had virtually established an authority 44 in that district which could not be entirely abandoned. Your Lordships may deny or admit the accuracy of this statement; but I only beg to call the noble Earl's attention to the fact that Sir Harry Smith's defence for his conduct, is—and it is recorded in the despatch received on Saturday last—that the measures adopted by Sir P. Maitland in the years 1844 and 1845, when the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) was Secretary of State, had left him no alternative but to take the course which he did take, or to incur still more serious evil. It may be a question whether he is right in his opinion, but that is the opinion which he has expressed.
The noble Earl next adverted to the state of Ireland, and said that the peace and order which Her Majesty's Speech represented as prevailing in the greater part of that country, were owing to the fact that emigration and famine had thinned the population in the greater part of the country, so that it was not wonderful that no disturbances should have taken place; and the noble Earl said this exodus was hardly a convincing proof of that prosperity which was said to exist in that country. With respect to that extensive emigration, allow me to remind your Lordships of this ciroumstanoe—that during the five years that I have had the honour of holding my present office, one of the greatest difficulties with which I have had to contend in your Lordships' House, has been resisting the very strong pressure which was made upon Her Majesty's Government by a very large proportion of the noble Peers connected with Ireland, when they urged the Government that they should adopt far larger measures than they thought proper to do for the promotion of emigration from Ireland. I always held the opinion that interference on the part of the Government was unnecessary, and would be unsafe; that there was a process in operation which would lead to emigration being carried on to the fullest extent to which it was required; that if a vote of money by Parliament had been agreed to, you would have arrested voluntary efforts, and have entailed without necessity a very heavy expense upon the public, and at the same time have run the risk of not carrying on this emigration to the same extent that might otherwise take place by voluntary means. Now, these anticipations of mine have been entirely verified by the result; and it is a most curious circumstance, to which I beg to call your Lordships' at- 45 tention, that the enormous emigration now going on from Ireland—that this most unparalleled movement of the human race from one country to another—is carried on absolutely without expense to this country, almost exclusively by the earnings of previous emigrants remitted for the purpose of enabling their friends who were left behind to join them in another hemisphere. I cannot help thinking this a circumstance most honourable to the national character of the Irish. It shows in the humbler classes a regard for their friends and relations, which I believe has not been equalled by any other nation in the world. When the Irish go to America, the first object almost to which they devote themselves is to save money out of their higher wages, to enable them to remit money to their own country to bring their friends and relations after them. I believe that this emigration, though it has been extensive, has not been more so than was desirable or advantageous to the country. I believe Ireland will be greatly improved by it. I am convinced that nothing but emigration of this description would have had the effect of breaking down the inveterate system which existed in that country of competition for land, and the bad system for the employment of labour which had been for centuries the reproach of that country. But, with the facilities of intercourse with America now in existence, it is impossible that the great disparity of wages which has hitherto existed, between those two countries, should much longer exist. I am, indeed, informed that within a very short time this curious circumstance has taken place—that the tide of emigration is, to a certain extent, turning—that some of the persons who have emigrated from Ireland to America are returning, saying that they find by experience that if they work as hard in Ireland as they are by force of circumstances compelled to do in America, they can be as well off in Ireland as in the land to which they had removed. This is to a certain extent a new discovery. I hope it may be verified by further experience. I firmly believe it to be true. I believe that with the same amount of exertion, equally well directed in Ireland, that is required from emigrants in America, those who are about to leave Ireland might, under present circumstances, live as well in the one country as the other. But I believe that by leaving these things to themselves, by letting the 46 pressure of individual emigrants, guided by their own interests, equalise the population in different parts of the world instead of by State interference, we shall see that regeneration of Ireland which has been the ardent wish of every one of us for so many years. Upon another point to which he has adverted, I entirely agree with the noble Earl, that the improvement of Ireland is not to be expected unless that atrocious system of outrage which is at present confined to some districts, can be effectually suppressed; and he may rest assured that nothing which depends upon Government will be left undone to put down a system of outrage which is totally inconsistent with the security of life and property. Her Majesty's Government feel that it is the very foundation of all improvement, and of the welfare of every country, that perfect tranquillity and security should be maintained; and if the existing laws fail in accomplishing that object, then it will be the duty of Government to apply to Parliament, and of Parliament to decide upon measures, however rigorous they may be, necessary to pre-vent the continuance of such a system as that which I have mentioned.
I have endeavoured to follow strictly the order of the noble Earl in his speech, and in doing so the next point I have to mention is that with respect to the constitution of New Zealand. Upon that subject I beg slightly to correct the noble Earl in a portion of his observations. He said that in the year 1846 it was my opinion that the time was come in which the inhabitants of New Zealand might be trusted with the powers of a representative government; but that I soon found this to be a mistake, and was compelled to ask Parliament to retrace its steps. Now, so far as the settlers are concerned, I have no doubt that my original opinion was correct. But certainly it had been overlooked by me and by my colleagues, and I may say by Parliament, that in New Zealand there were difficulties arising from the then not terminated war which had been going on with the native inhabitants, and from the large proportion which the native inhabitants bore to those of European descent. Undoubtedly when the Act passed by Parliament for establishing representative institutions in New Zealand reached that colony, and the very able Governor wrote back a despatch, pointing out what the effect upon the native inhabitants would be, I thought it my 47 duty, without being ashamed to confess that I had made a mistake in overlooking this consideration previously, which in the then state of our information was not unnatural, to ask Parliament to reconsider the course which had been taken. The information which was laid upon the table of both Houses of Parliament, was of such a character that I believe, without a division in either House, Parliament agreed that, for a time, the enjoyment of representative institutions by that colony ought to be deferred. But under the administration of the very able Officer whom the noble Earl opposite, much to the credit of his discernment, selected for the government of New Zealand, and in so doing did a service of inestimable value to the country—because when I contrast the present state of New Zealand with what it was six years ago, I think too much cannot be said for the able and firm administration of that Officer—now, I say, that when that Officer reports in the papers which are on the table of the House, that the objections which he formerly pointed out no longer stood in the way, the time is certainly come when Parliament should fulfil its original intention. The noble Earl said, however, that even now it was not proposed to carry into effect the constitution as it was originally devised. But is it unreasonable to suppose that if the constitution had been in operation, modifications would not have been introduced in it? Your Lordships know that it is the opinion of the Governor of the colony that the main features and principles of the Bill may be put in force now; and I believe that if the Bill had been brought in before, it would have undergone considerable modifications by this time.
The noble Earl next adverted to a passage in the Speech from the Throne which related to the public revenue. I did not understand the noble Earl to say that he found great fault with that passage. All he said was, that a large part of the revenue of the country depended at present on the income tax, which was only renewed in the last Session for a single year. That, no doubt, is the case, and the subject must be considered by Parliament, who must either renew the tax, or find some substitute for it. At the same time I think it right to remind your Lordships, that though that tax was passed for a single year, the measures taken for the last five years have not been very unsuccessful in their results. 48 Let me remind your Lordships that in the last five years there have been repealed taxes to no less an amount than 4,500,000l., and that notwithstanding that great reduction of taxation the revenue for the year just expired is equal to the revenue for the year 1847. I cannot help saying that this is a satisfactory state of things. But let us go back a little further. The great change in our system of taxation may, I think, be dated from the year 1831. In that year a very large reduction of taxation was effected. Since that period the system of reducing taxation, and of altering as much as possible the incidence of taxation so as to relieve industry, has been going on uninterruptedly. A very curious paper was laid before Parliament last Session, which was moved for by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Cardwell), showing what remissions of taxation have taken place during each year, if I remember right, since 1822; but, not to go quite so far back, and only looking at the period from 1831 up to 1850, I find that there were remitted in that period no less than 12,490,000l. of taxes. There have also been imposed within the same time 8,820,000l. new taxes; so that on the balance there has been positively remitted from taxation within that period no less, a sum than very nearly 10,500,000l.; and if you add the sum of 1,920,000l. remitted last year, the total balance in favour of the reduction of taxes since the beginning of 1831 amounts to no less than 12,490,000l. And yet, notwithstanding that enormous reduction of taxation, your Lordships will find, on referring to the Parliamentary Paper to which I have adverted, that the ordinary revenue of the country, instead of falling off, has increased from 46,000,000l., which was the figure which it reached in 1831, to the sum of 52,000,000l. My Lords, no increase of population can account for anything like this amount. A remission of taxation to the immense amount of 10,500,000l.—about a quarter of our national income—coincident with an increase of actual revenue received into the Exchequer, is in my opinion the best and clearest demonstration of the soundness of that system of policy, which to a greater and greater extent has year after year been adopted by Parliament, with a view to the emancipation of trade and industry from the shackles imposed upon them. I suppose that in the history of the world there never was a more remarkable spectacle of 49 the effect produced on a great country in the improvement of its resources and condition by the simple process of emancipating industry, and leaving the people free to exert themselves according to their own judgment. It is in my opinion so unanswerable a proof of the soundness of the policy which has been pursued, that I, for one, will never be persuaded that Parliament will give up one iota of that system, or will retrace, by one hair's-breadth, the course which its policy has taken.
The last topic to which the noble Earl adverted was the intimation contained in the Speech, that a proposal will be submitted to Parliament for amending the Act of 1832, relating to the representation of the people. Much of what was said on this subject by the noble Earl I heard with much pleasure; but I do protest against the justice of his remarks upon my noble Friend at the bead of the Government. The noble Earl used what—but that it came from him—I should have called the vulgar taunt, that my noble Friend held out reform as a vain lure to Parliament to support his Government. The noble Earl put it on the ignoble ground that the proposal was made in order to prop up a falling Administration. Now, my Lords, let me point out the real circumstances of the case. Three years ago, if I remember rightly, various Motions were made in the other House of Parliament, and obtained in that House a considerable degree of support, not only from those who voted for those measures, but in the expression of an opinion by Gentlemen of great weight and great influence, that experience had shown that there were defects in the Reform Act which required further legislation. My noble Friend, feeling the force of those remarks, and of public opinion, and seeing defects in some arrangements in the Reform Bill, which had not answered the expectations of the country, thought it right to express his opinion that a time might come when it would be proper to make some alteration in the existing law relating to the franchise. My noble Friend expressed that opinion in the strongest manner, and particularly after the noble proofs that were given in 1848 by all classes of the population of loyal attachment to the Crown and to the existing institutions of the country. My noble Friend expressed that opinion so far back as 1849; and since that period he has had to combat various 50 proposals made in the other House of Parliament for alterations in the Reform Act. It was my noble Friend's opinion that if he had combated these propositions for inconsiderate and hasty alterations in the Reform Act, and if in doing so he had said that that Act should never be altered, and that he would take his stand upon it precisely as it was, he might, by closing the door to all hope for future improvement, have done something which would have shaken the foundations of that great settlement of our constitutional rights. My noble Friend, therefore, said—and I think he was right—that he was not averse to well-considered amendments. But it was impossible that he could take this line in combating those propositions which he considered dangerous, without thereby contracting a pledge which he considered it his duty to fulfil at a proper time. And, I ask, can there be a better time for redeeming them than the present? Is not the very apathy of which the noble Earl speaks a sufficient reason for calmly approaching the subject, and considering what amendments can be introduced? Would that apathy have existed if we had pronounced the Reform Bill to be a final measure, and if we had said that there were no blots in it which we would attempt to get rid of? If we had taken that line, would there not have been a very different disposition on the part of the people of this country with regard to changes in the Reform Act far less temperate than those now about to be proposed? I firmly believe there would; and I say this because I think it is a justification of the line which my noble Friend has taken, and in which his colleagues joined. But as in less than a week the nature of the measure which we are about to propose will be made known to the other House of Parliament and the country, it would be premature for me to say anything further now on the subject. All I will say now is, that I concur with the noble Earl in thinking that the measure ought not to be a disturbance of the general settlement made by the Act of 1832. If such a disturbance had been contemplated, I, for one, would not have been a party to the measure; and I believe I may say the same for the other Members of the Cabinet who are my colleagues. We believe that the measure of 1832 has been eminently successful, and that it has been the means of benefiting the people of this country in the greatest 51 possible degree. To use the expression of the noble Earl, it has been, in the true and not in the party sense of the word, a conservative measure, because by that measure the people of this country have undoubtedly been placed in a situation to feel that the public opinion—the deliberate and well-considered public opinion, the opinion of the intelligent and educated classes—is all-powerful in this country; and it affords, more slowly perhaps than some may desire, but I believe more safely and more certainly, because slowly, the means by which the deliberate judgment of the people is enabled to effect those improvements in the laws and in our system of administration which seem to them to be required. We have seen this in the gradual and certain progress of improvement in the last twenty years. We are apt to forget, my Lords, and therefore I must remind you of it, how much has been accomplished in the last twenty years; but if we look back to the state of the Statute-book at that time—if we look back to the state of the country at a still earlier period, we shall be sensible how much has been effected for the welfare of the country during that period. I agree with the noble Earl that in no country in the world do men enjoy the same amount of real liberty, including in that term liberty of opinion, liberty of speech, and liberty of conduct, that we do in this. I believe we enjoy far more of true liberty than is enjoyed even in the United States. I see nothing in their institutions for us to envy; on the contrary, I believe that our institutions contribute far more to the real happiness and prosperity of the country than theirs. Not only that we enjoy more liberty, but I will venture to say, also, that in the institutions of this country as they now stand, there is a far less amount of that corruption which, in all human forms of government, must, I believe, more or less exist, than in those of the United States. I am confirmed in this opinion by having, only yesterday, seen the annual message of the Governor of the State of New York, in which he describes the extent to which corruption is carried on in the State elections of New York. It is not for me to say whether that description is a just one or not; but I have no hesitation in saying that it would be altogether unjust if applied to the state of matters in this country. These things being so, I entirely concur with the noble 52 Earl when he says it is just and sound policy to introduce necessary improvements into our institutions, while it is the interest of every man in this country, from the highest to the lowest, to maintain those institutions on their existing foundations. I have no doubt such will be the unanimous opinion, not only of Parliament, but of the country. And I must say that I heard with great satisfaction the opinion which the noble Earl expressed, because it gives me the hope that Her Majesty's Government will have the support of the noble Earl and those noble Lords whose sentiments he is understood to express in favour of the measure which they deem it their duty to introduce.
§ The DUKE OF RICHMOND
hoped, if the question as to the Cape Colony were to be discussed, as the noble Earl had stated that Sir H. Smith had extended the boundaries of Caffraria in consequence of the arrangements of his predecessors, every opportunity would be given to take away from the shoulders of Sir P. Maitland any responsibility which, in justice, he ought not to bear. He thought it would have been more judicious if the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey) had not picked out a single Government for animadversion. The noble Earl had alluded with great satisfaction to what he termed the return of prosperity to the agricultural interest, and, forsooth, he found out some gentleman who lived at some watering-place, and who was afraid the time would come when he would be deprived of a ride over the Downs because a portion of the poorer tenant-farmers were ploughing up the Downs. Now, instead of that being a proof of prosperity, it proved diametrically the opposite. They were obliged to cultivate additional land to enable them to pay their rent. The tenant-farmers of England and Scotland were suffering greater privations than any class of people in the country ever did before. He hoped the declaration of his noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) would be read by all the suffering tenantry in the country who thought it was the duty of the Legislature to protect domestic industry when it was so heavily taxed. English farmers could compete with the world if they were but in a position equal to that of foreigners; but if their labourers could not live on the miserable pittance awarded to serfs in Poland, and labourers in Prance, the competition was altogether an unequal one, 53 and they must be protected. He was surprised to find—and he would not entertain a doubt on the matter for a moment—that his noble Friend, who left office because he would not say that domestic industry should be entirely ruined, entertained now the same opinions that he did formerly. That was indeed encouraging to the farmers of England, who had for three or four years been paying rent and taxes out of capital. Many of the small tenantry had been destroyed in this country, and they ought not to be surprised that they were flying to the United States to seek a living a country where domestic industry was protected.
would not enter upon the question which had just been introduced by the noble Duke; nor would he have addressed their Lordships at all were he not desirous that one statement of his noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) should not go to France without an objection being made to it. This related to a point of historical accuracy, and he was the more anxious to advert to it, because he well knew the effect that would be produced elsewhere. He did not speak of the present existing Government, but of the parties to the proceedings of 1848, the most mischievous and most fatal that had occurred in France since 1792. He did not wish that the parties to those proceedings or their supporters should have the consolation of knowing that in this country we regarded all the Governments which had successively been established in France for the last sixty years as a series of usurpations. He knew the effect which would be produced in France if it was supposed by those who effected the revolution of 1848 that they were regarded in this country as having been no more guilty of usurpation than the restored Government of Louis XVIII. and the Government of Louis Philippe. He could no more consent to call the restored Government of 1815 a usurpation than j he could consent to call the restoration of Charles II. in this country a usurpation. He could no more consent to call the Government of July, 1830—that of Louis Philippe—a usurpation, than he could consent to call the Government of William III. in this country a usurpation. They stood precisely on the same ground. He thought it right to add how entirely he agreed with his noble Friends in their reprobation of the attacks that had been 54 made by the press on the existing Government of France. He would not say it was necessary to lay down in the unqualified manner done by his noble Friend opposite that all those attacks were groundless in their substance.
entirely agreed with his noble Friend to the extent of that observation. But he could assure him that he was not the only person who bad understood his noble Friend otherwise. Those sitting near him (Lord Brougham) had conceived that the disapprobation expressed was much more unqualified. He would also say that even if he were giving an opinion, which he was not, even if he agreed in every respect with the opinion so strongly expressed against the late proceedings in France, still the manner of expressing that opinion, and the personal abuse with which it had been accompanied, could not have his concurrence. As to the unhappy condition of the sister kingdom, be was sure that if for the protection of life and property it was needful to extend the powers of the Executive Government, Parliament would be found ready to perform its duty to their fellow-subjects. Ireland must be made—if that was possible—a country that men could inhabit without the constant risk of life. So long as a man could not send out his agent or his bailiff to exercise his undoubted rights of property with regard to his tenantry, without being shot at like a wild animal from behind a hedge, the same feelings would be inspired that followed from the machinations of secret societies in a neighbouring country. He spoke from continued and near observation of that country, when he said that those feelings of alarm had been the cause of all the submissions of which some men now complained, and at which others were astonished. All that had happened had followed, because, rather than submit to such an intolerable state of things as had partly existed, partly been apprehended, men would submit to any sacrifice of civil rights. Secret societies could not be named as regarded France, without reminding them of the same pest in Ireland. 55 Two remedies had been applied at different times; but he believed one would be effectual. He meant the revival, in proclaimed districts, of the courts-martial clauses of the Act of 1833, and the regulation which prohibited persons being out between certain hours of the evening and certain hours of the morning. God forbid that they should be driven to that necessity: but anything was better than the present intolerable state of things in Ireland.
§ The EARL OF DERBY
explained that what he said, or what he ought to have said, was this, that with one expectation, namely, the Restoration of 1814–15, every change of Government which had taken place in France for the last fifty or sixty years had been more or less a usurpation; but he applied that term to any authority which was substituted for that which came in by descent, in accordance with the established law of succession in the country; and he said, that he could not admit any distinction between the merits of one Government and another. Changes of Government had no foundation except in the will of the country pronounced in their favour; and in the expression of that will this country had always concurred. He used the remark in this way—it had been argued that we ought not to deal with the Prince President, because he was a usurper. But this country recognised the First Consul, as well as Louis Philippe in 1830, and the Republic in 1848, though one and all of these forms of government were interruptions of the legitimate line of succession, and violations of existing law, resting on no foundation but the will of the country expressed at the time. He did not mean to use the word "usurpation" in an offensive sense.
The EARL OF WINCHILSEA
complained that the Government had not attempted to carry out the Papal Aggression Act of last Session. He considered it a disgrace for the Legislature of a great country like this to pass an Act of the character of that passed last year, if it was not the intention of the Government to carry it into execution; and he believed the allowing it to be evaded had led to the establishment of Ribbon societies in that part of Ireland which had been before free from their influence. He stated last year that the encouragement given to the Church of Rome had conduced to those calamities which prevailed in the south 56 and west of Ireland, and the self-banishment of the population through the terror in which they lived. He stated, at that time, that the next step would he to endeavour to drive from the northern part of Ireland the few remaining resident landlords. He feared his expectations were being realised; and unless something in the nature of a military law was passed, it would he perfectly hopeless to anticipate that the northern would be more secure than the southern and western parts of that unfortunate country. The noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey) had reminded him of an observation he (Earl Winchilsea) had made—that he would never advocate the imposition of a duty on foreign corn for the purpose of revenue. If it were solely for that purpose, he would never give it his support; but he was quite prepared to give his support to protection, and in the light of protection to the home-grower he should be prepared to advocate decidedly the imposition of a duty on foreign corn, The noble Earl suggested that our own corn should be taxed. That was the very ground upon which he (Earl Winchilsea) advocated the taxation of foreign corn. Our corn was already taxed, for the support of the poor, for the maintenance of public peace, for the erection of lunatic asylums and other public buildings, without reference to the amount of production, and we allowed the foreigner to come into the country untaxed and sell untaxed corn. All they (the Opposition) asked was protection—that no foreigner should be allowed to bring corn into the home market to compete with that of the English farmer, except he paid a certain amount of taxation, equivalent to that which the producer in this country was called upon to pay.
§ The EARL of YARBOROUGH
hoped there would be no misunderstanding on this question of protection. It was much too serious a matter for the farmers to be left in any uncertainty, for if anything operated to depress the farmers, it was the being left in a state of uncertainty as to their position. If the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) meant to advocate a duty on foreign corn for the sake of revenue, he (the Earl of Yarborough) considered the noble Earl said one thing; but if he advocated it for the sake of protection, he considered the noble Earl said another. For instance, a duty of 2s. or 3s. a quarter might be imposed as revenue, which he was sure would be repudiated as giving any pro- 57 tection whatever to the farmer. He heard the farmers constantly arguing that such a small duty as that would not sufficiently raise prices to enable them to compete with the foreigner. Yet a duty of 2s. or 3s. a quarter would raise a considerable revenue. It appeared, then, to him that the statements by the noble Earl and the noble Duke might be widely different; the farmers might imagine they were going to have a considerable duty, as much as would amount to protection; and perhaps the noble Earl only intended such duty as would raise a considerable revenue, and enable the Government to remit other taxes. He (the Earl of Yarborough) hoped the noble Earl or the noble Duke would state whether they would like to see such an amount of duty imposed for the sake of revenue as would also act as protection, or whether for revenue only. He was happy to say he could confirm his noble Friend who spoke after the noble Earl, as to the great extent to which agricultural improvements were being carried on; from personal observation he could state that he never saw such an amount of drainage being carried out as he had seen this winter; and he understood it was mainly to be attributed to the energy of the farmers themselves, who only asked their landlords to supply them with the draining tiles. Tenant-farmers had taken up, and were still taking up, the draining tiles which had been put in at a depth of 18 inches, and at their own cost were putting them in again at a depth of from three to four feet, their landlords supplying new tiles to replace the few which were broken. The leaving of the farmers in a state of uncertainty would, he repeated, be attended with the most injurious effects; and he hoped the noble Earl would say whether the amount of duty sought was for the sake of protection, or merely for the sake of revenue?
§ The EARL of DERBY
said, he would answer the question of the noble Earl by putting another; which was, at what point did he consider a duty ceased to be protective, and became merely a duty for revenue? And also, what he considered a revenue, what a protective, duty? His (the Earl of Derby's) opinion was, that any duty imposed, whether for the purpose of revenue, or for the avowed purpose of protection, must incidentally act as a protective duty. The amount of protection afforded could be measured only by the amount of duty. The principle was the same; and if the noble Earl wished to 58 know what he (the Earl of Derby) desired, it was to impose a duty on the import of foreign corn, not for the purpose of revenue alone, but for the purpose of revenue combined with the collateral object of affording protection to the home grower.
§ The EARL of HARROWBY
could not allow the debate to close without protesting against a doctrine which had been laid down by the noble Earl at the head of the Colonial Office, relative to the discussion of foreign affairs. It was of the highest importance that both individuals, as well as the press, should always enjoy the privilege of discussing the acts of foreign Powers, so long as they did so temperately; and he certainly did think expressions had fallen from noble Earls on both sides of the House tending to deny that right, which ought not to go forth to the world without explanation. He felt called upon to say that the declaration made that night, that neither their Lordships nor their fellow-countrymen generally ought to express any opinion respecting the conduct of the French President, would find no sympathy with the people of England. It appeared to him that noble Lords on both sides of the House had gone too far in what they had said on this point. The course prescribed on the present occasion was different from that which had heretofore been pursued. Their Lordships had been accustomed to hear the conduct of the Emperor of Austria, the Emperor of Russia, and the French Republican Government of 1848, commented on very freely, and not the least freely by noble Lords on the opposite side of the House; and why should they not exercise the same privilege in reference to the doings of other foreign Governments? If their Lordships should now for the first time propound the doctrine that neither the press nor Members of the Legislature ought to discuss with freedom the acts of foreign Powers, they would set a very bad and a very unwise example. It was his firm belief that the press, although it might occasionally be too strongly tinctured with personal abuse, did, nevertheless, accurately and faithfully represent the public opinion of this country in regard to the recent proceedings in France. Strange, indeed, would it be to find the people of this country indifferent to what was passing in a neighbouring country. It was not now his intention to pass any opinion on the acts of the French President; but after what had passed that evening, he felt, it necessary to rise and 59 state, that if he saw occasion to do so, he, at least, would not hesitate to speak his sentiments plainly and boldly.
§ EARL GREY
did not differ at all from his noble Friend who had just sat down. He was informed by a noble Friend, who repeated what he had said, that the language he had used did go a great deal further than he (Earl Grey) intended. He quite agreed that neither the press nor Parliament ought to be restricted in expressing fairly and temperately their opinions on the affairs of foreign countries, and he had never intended to deny that right. He was quite sensible his own words conveyed a sense he did not intend, when he used them. He did not object to such an expression of opinion; his objection was to the intemperate observations on acts of foreign Governments, of which they were imperfectly informed.
§ The EARL of MALMESBURY
said, it was not only of the personal abuse which was poured on the chief officer of the Executive of a Government in amity with this country, sending an ambassador to this country, and receiving one from it, that he complained; but he blamed and regretted the extraordinary manner in which, side by side, in parallel columns with the abuse of a country notorious for vanity, was flaunted out the supposed weakness of England, as if inviting the people of that country to revenge the insults which other paragraphs contained. That was what he regretted, and that was what he understood the noble Earl to blame. Such an exercise of the freedom of the press was, to say the least of it, highly indiscreet; and he hoped that those who had the management of the newspapers would be more cautious in their future writings. No noble Lord wished to shackle the press, or prevent its discussing all questions in an abstract sense; but it was the personalities which he condemned, fearing their consequences might be serious to both countries.
§ Motion put and agreed to, nemine dissentiente; and a Committee was appointed to prepare the Address. The Committee withdrew; and after some time, Report was made of an Address drawn by them, which, being read, was agreed to, and ordered to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.
§ House adjourned to Thursday next.