HL Deb 27 February 1852 vol 119 cc889-914

My Lords, the place from which I have now the honour of addressing your Lordships, at once not only affords a justification for my rising upon this occasion, but imposes upon me, as I conceive, the duty of endeavouring to state as shortly and as distinctly as I can, and with as much frankness as may be in my power, and no more reserve than is imposed upon me by the position which I hold, to state not only the motives which have induced me to accept the arduous task which I thought myself bound not to decline, but also, as far as I can, to lay before your Lordships an outline of the course which, having undertaken such a responsibility, I feel it incumbent on mo to pursue.

But before I proceed I feel desirous—indeed I cannot deny myself the gratification—in the presence of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne), of expressing to him that which, not having been present in the House, I could not express at the last meeting of your Lordships, my grateful thanks for the kind and friendly terms in which he alluded to my present acceptance of office. My Lords, to any man accepting the high office I have now the honour to hold, such terms of commendation could not but have been welcome from whatever quarter they might come; but they are peculiarly gratifying to me in a public, and also in a private, capacity, as coming from one to whom, since my earliest boyhood, I have been accustomed to look up with hereditary respect and deference—for whom as years rolled on those feelings were ripened into sincere personal respect and esteem; and of whom I am proud to say, that the circumstances which have separated our political connection have not, either on his part or on mine, in the slightest degree impaired our private friendship. My Lords, I hope that this is only a single example of many that might be cited, that, amidst all the conflicts of parties in this free country, men entertaining opinions far more widely different than those which have separated the noble Marquess and myself, may continue to entertain for one another feelings of personal regard unembittered by the contentions of party, and that, however different may be the views which a sense of public duty may compel us to maintain, there is nothing in this diversity of opinion which may dissever the personal friendship of English gentlemen. I have been told—and I hope the noble Marquess may have been misunderstood—I am told the noble Marquess intimated, on the last occasion of your meeting, his intention of shortly retiring from the active pursuits of political life, and those political duties which have been so long discharged by him with such signal ability and success. Now if the difference of opinion between man and man can diminish the feelings of personal friendship fur each other, it is impossible that such could be the case between me and the noble Marquess, who—and I am sure that I am only expressing the feeling of every individual in this House—has won the esteem and confidence, and I might almost say the affection, of every one of your Lordships who has witnessed the firm and uncompromising, the dignified, and yet the perfectly friendly and courteous manner, in which he has discharged for so long a period his high functions in this House. It must be an encouragement to future statesmen that they should be able to point to his example, and see how, after a period of, I believe, nearly fifty years spent in the public service, a statesman can retire with the friendship, the warm and cordial friendship of his political associates, with the cordial and sincere esteem of his political opponents, and with a character unblemished by a single stain on his political virtue or private honour.

My Lords, having thus relieved my mind of the debt of gratitude which I felt was due to the noble Marquess, I must proceed to a far more arduous portion of the task which I have now to perform.

My Lords, it is unnecessary for me to trouble your Lordships with any speculation or any statement of mine as to the occurrences which may have led to the downfall of the late Administration. Undoubtedly, my Lords, although there had been a general expectation that the resignation of Her Majesty's late advisers was not far distant, I, for one, so little expected that such an event would occur on the particular occasion which gave rise to it, that, as most of your Lordships are perhaps aware, I had, at the time, actually gone down to the country for the purpose of spending three or four days. I shall not attempt to speculate as to whether the particular vote arrived at by the other House on last Friday night, led to that determination of Her Majesty's late Government, or whether other reasons had led them previously to form that determination, which was only confirmed by that vote. It was on Saturday that I received the, to me, surprising intelligence of the result of the division in the House of Commons, and of the consequent resignation of Her Majesty's Ministers. On the evening of that day I had the honour of receiving from Her Majesty a command to wait on Her at the Palace at half-past two o'clock on the following day. My Lords, I had then to consider not what course it was my interest, but what course it was my public duty to pursue. I had to weigh deliberately and candidly on the one side all the overwhelming difficulties of the situation in which I was placed—all the awful responsibility of the task which I felt I might be called upon to perform; and I had to weigh on the other side what appeared to me the still more awful responsibility, if it could be imputed to me that from personal feelings and an unwillingness to take on myself either labour or responsibility, I had left by my act the Queen and the country in the present times without an Administration, however unworthy it might be. The noble Lord opposite will excuse me for saying that I saw little prospect of any other Administration being speedily formed; and, further, that I saw little prospect of advantage from the resignation of the late Ministry being speedily followed by their resumption of the reins of Government; and I therefore felt, that, however unequal to the task, however great the difficulties that might stand in the way—difficulties arising from my own position, and from those who, agreeing with me in opinion, are still unable to command a majority in the other House of Parliament—still, great as all these difficulties were, deliberately weighing and not overlooking them, I felt it my first duty to my Sovereign and my country to determine that at this time the country should not be without an Administration; and it was not, my Lords, without a deep conscious- ness of the responsibility I was incurring, nor without a thorough conviction of my own inability to perform adequately the duties I was about to undertake, that I at once intimated to Her Most Gracious Majesty, on receiving Her commands to that effect, my readiness to attempt the task of the formation of a Ministry.

My Lords, by the concurrence of almost all those friends to whom I felt it to be my duty to apply, I was able, on the following day, to lay before Her Majesty an outline of the Administration; and in the course of the four days since elapsed I have been able to submit to and obtain the approval of Her Majesty to the list of those friends whom I have selected to discharge the principal offices of the Government.

At the same time, the Government being so formed, I feel it necessary that I should state to you, my Lords, frankly, freely, and without reserve, the course of policy which I shall deem it my imperative duty to follow.

My Lords, with regard to the Foreign Relations of this country, I am sure there is not one amongst your Lordships, and few indeed in the country, who will not earnestly desire to see maintained the blessings of universal peace. There is not one of my noble Friends who will not think that every effort on the part of Government should be made with a view to averting the remotest chance of incurring the miseries of war. My Lords, in my humble opinion that desire of preserving peace is not best supported by displays of large military and naval forces, by the assumption of an attitude of hostility, or by making preparations as if for war; neither, on the other hand, is the maintenance of peace to be secured by the adoption of the Utopian theories in which some gentlemen indulge, of universal disarmament; or, if not of universal disarmament, of placing this country in a position in which it is incapable of defence. My Lords, I believe that peace will be best maintained by observing to all Foreign Powers—whether powerful or weak—a calm, temperate, deliberate, and conciliatory course of conduct, not in acts alone, but in words also; by adhering with strict fidelity to the spirit and the letter of the obligations imposed upon us by treaty, and by respecting the independence of all nations, whether great or small, as well as by admitting their full right to regulate to their own will the internal affairs of their own administration. My Lords, I believe the constitution under which we have the happiness to live, is of all imaginable con- stitutions the best adapted to secure the happiness and the liberty of the greatest number; and I should be glad to see our example diffusing itself through other nations and countries, and that the admiration which our constitution excites should cause it to be generally followed. But I hold, my Lords, that we have no right as a nation, to entertain particular prejudices, or particular sympathies, for this or that course of government that other countries may think fit to adopt, be these courses or forms of government the most absolute despotism, limited monarchy, constitutional republic, or, if such a thing could endure, absolute red republicanism; that which is the choice of a nation, so far as it affects its individual and internal concerns alone, it is the duty of a British Government to recognise. My Lords, I concur entirely in the observations that were made with great truth and dignity a few days ago by the noble Earl the late Secretary of the Foreign Department (Earl Granville), namely, that in our conduct of affairs with foreign nations, there is far more dignity, if any of the subjects of these realms conceive themselves to be injured by a foreign Power, in acting with forbearance than with violence—the dignified course in public as in private life is at once to offer, without waiting to be asked for it, such reparation as the circumstances of the case, and our own conscience, may show to be right. On the other hand, I am convinced that if we or any of the subjects of this realm have reason to complain of the conduct of any foreign country, the course is plain and simple: frankly and temperately to state the complaint we have to make, not indulging in vituperation and intemperance of language, but submitting equally to the honour and justice of other countries the claim we should be the first to acknowledge ourselves. I cannot but think, my Lords, that steadily acting on that principle, alike in reference to powerful as to weak nations, we shall be able not merely to maintain the blessing of peace, but also to place this country in an attitude of sincere friendship with the other nations of the world.

But, my Lords, the more I entertain this belief and hope that the preservation of peace and good understanding will continue amongst the nations of Europe; yet in proportion to this conviction, I feel it our duty, as a Government, not to omit those precautions which have been adopted by our predecessors for placing this coun- try in a position by the internal organisation of its domestic affairs to be freed from the possibility of hostile apprehension. My Lords, I believe that our naval forces were never in a better or more effective condition than it is at this moment. I believe that for all purposes, whether as regards the protection of our own shores, the defence of the numerous and distant Colonies which form our Empire, or for the protection of that extended commerce which crosses every sea and fills every port in the wide world, I believe that for all such purposes our Navy was never in a more effective state than it is now. Our regular Army is also, I am happy to inform your Lordships, in a state of perfect efficiency, so far as its numbers are concerned. I repeat the words—"so far as its numbers are concerned," for, as to the duties which it has to perform, there is no Army in the world on which so heavy a load of military duties falls. But, my Lords, efficient as our Army is, well qualified as those are who constitute it, for the performance of the effective duties of their profession, that Army numerically—and I am rejoiced at the fact—cannot excite legitimately the apprehension or jealousy of any foreign Power. My Lords, the genius and disposition of the people of this country are hostile to a large standing Army. England has no desire of aggression, has no wish for extending her dominion by force of arms; much less has she any longing to engage in unnecessary quarrels with other countries, requiring a large increase of her military force. She, therefore, feels that to her a large standing Army is unnecessary. I know and feel, my Lords, what is due to the honour and character of this country; and I know and feel that, if it were threatened with hostile aggression, England, Scotland, and Ireland would rise as one man to defend it, and to repel the invader. I feel, my Lords, that thousands of loyal and gallant hearts would instantly rush to the rescue. I feel that we may rely with the utmost confidence upon the loyal hearts of the British people, who, I am sure, will rush at once, in case of necessity, to the service of the country; but, at the same time, it is impossible to deny that, if they are not a disciplined and organised force, they will meet any attempt of foreign aggression under fearful disadvantages, My Lords, various occasions have arisen before when propositions were made, not for creating, but for reorganising an old constitutional force, which has been always relied on for the internal military protection of the country; but I think it is unfortunate that those propositions have been always made under the pressure of some immediate anxiety or apprehension of some immediate danger, and that when the anxiety and apprehension had passed away, all ideas as to the necessity of the precaution passed away too, and vanished like a dream. In such a course there is a double disadvantage. If the measures for the organisation of a new military force, which cannot be aggressive, but is of necessity defensive, be taken in haste—if the preparations which its organisation requires be adopted under the pressure of immediate necessity, then the preparations are attended with a very large expense; in the next place, they would probably be too late to meet the anticipated danger; and in the third place, from being hastily adopted, the provisions themselves would probably be inadequate. Besides, there is this further disadvantage in such a course. The very fact of your taking extraordinary precautions at once increases the panic and alarm which has given rise to the necessity for making them on the part of the Government, and tend in turn to excite the jealousy of those foreign Powers against whose supposed or intended aggression it is placing itself on its guard. Therefore, my Lords, the more confident I feel of the peace of Europe, the more I would urge upon your Lordships the imperative necessity at this time, and not when the next apprehension may occur—but now at this time—of taking the necessary measures, with due deliberation and sufficient promptitude, for giving, not a large military force to the country, but for giving, at all events, that organisation and that discipline which in times of danger, may be necessary for our defence. My Lords, I rejoice to think that, for the maintenance of the tranquillity of this country, no military force, regular or irregular, is, or is likely to be, required. On many memorable occasions, and more particularly on one within the last three or four years, the people of this country have shown, in a manner exciting the admiration and wonder of foreign nations, that the peace and tranquillity of England may be safely intrusted to the loyalty of the people themselves. I believe that this is not owing to the ability of its rulers—I am sure that it is not the number of our forces which keeps this country in tranquillity and contentment, but it is a due and frank appreciation on the part of Her Majesty's subjects in every class of the community, of the inestimable value of those institutions under which they have the happiness to live, and a deep-seated conviction that under those institutions not only the just prerogatives of the Crown, but also the dearest liberties of the people, are preserved secure and inviolate. Under these institutions we are not only free and tranquil at home, but are, as we have always been—and God forbid that we should ever cease to be!—an ark of refuge for those whose misfortunes have driven them as exiles from their own homes to seek protection here. My Lords, with the disturbances and distractions of foreign countries we have nothing whatever to do; but when from those disturbances and distractions exiles and fugitives reach our shores they have always a right to claim, and I hope they will long continue to claim from us, the frank hospitality of England. But I say also, on the other hand, that it is the bounden duty of all who, flying from the misfortunes of foreign countries, find here a safe and tranquil asylum, not to abuse the rights of hospitality, and, above all, not to compromise the interests of this nation, which receives them into its hospitable arms, by organising here against their own country measures which they must know they can only carry on in safety under the shelter and protection of English law. I say, further, that it is not only the right but the duty of Government, without descending to a system—I must use a French word for it, for, thank God, we have not an English one which expresses it—of espionage, or surveillance, which is averse to all the feelings of the country—it is, I say, our duty as a Government to keep guard over the conduct of such persons as are disposed to abuse our hospitality; and if the fact of any plan hostile to the Government of their native land comes to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Ministers, it is our duty to put the foreign Government so menaced in possession of the facts, and thus place it on its guard against such machinations. Further than that I do not think it is right nor in the power of the Government of this country to interfere. If these persons, under any circumstances, and from whatever country, attempt to levy war against their own country, that is by our law a punishable offence; and it is the duty of the Government to visit such an offence with exemplary and con- dign punishment. But, short of that, which is in the eye of the law an offence, I say that, while on the one hand we perform the duty of friendship and all that is required by the comity of nations to be done to Foreign Powers, we cannot, on the other—I will not say to avert the hostility, but to secure the friendship of those Powers with whom we have contracted the closest intimacies—we cannot, I say, even for that purpose, strain the law and constitution of this country beyond the limits warranted by the law itself.

My Lords, I have now stated to your Lordships the principles upon which I think that our foreign policy should be regulated and conducted. I will not shrink, my Lords, from dealing with questions of far greater difficulty; I will not shrink from speaking frankly upon the subject of our commercial and financial policy.

My Lords, I need not remind your Lordships that in the year 1842 I was a warm and cordial supporter of the financial measures then introduced by the late Sir Robert Peel. I not only entirely approved of the revision of our Customs duties which at that time he proposed, but I also approved of the principle which, as I then understood, he announced of imposing duties on the principal articles of importation for the purpose of raising revenue; and not only for the purpose of raising revenue, but also for the purpose of levying duties in a given proportion to the extent to which the articles the subjects of duties admitted or did not admit the expenditure of future British labour. I understood the principle then laid down to be acquiesced in—I freely acquiesced in it—that there was to be the freest possible admission of all the raw materials which form the basis of domestic industry. My Lords, a different system has, to a certain extent, been adopted since that period; and I cannot but think that, if we look to the whole of our financial system, there is ground for believing that it is open, in point of principle and in point of practice, to considerable and useful revisions. Your Lordships will, I trust, forgive me if I contrast the system which prevails with regard to the Customs duties in this country, with that which prevails in another country which I have heard lauded as a free-trade place: I allude to the tariff of the United States. Now, my Lords, the tariff of the United States levies upon almost all articles of importation duties, more or less extensive, duties in some respects to an oppressive amount; but, in almost every instance, the whole of those duties levied are avowedly upon those articles which mainly enter into competition with the produce of their own soil, and of their own industry. My Lords, we appear to have proceeded recently upon a different principle; for while we admit with entire freedom many of those articles which do so enter into competition with our own produce, we load with an inordinate amount of taxation a certain small number of articles which enter directly, and to an immense extent, into the necessary consumption of the masses of the community. And I beg of your Lordships not to lose sight of this fact, that when the whole supply of any article is furnished from a foreign country, the whole amount of the duty imposed upon the import of that article, falls necessarily upon the consumers in the shape of an increase of price: but when you impose a duty upon an article of which a portion is supplied at home, and of which a portion is supplied from abroad, there the measure of the duty is by no means the measure of the increase of price; but that increase of price is only in proportion to the amount of foreign produce which may be excluded by the imposition of any duty whatsoever; for, consequently, the supply is diminished, and thereby, to a certain extent, the price is enhanced. Now, my Lords, I say that, as between these two principles, it appears to me that the American system is the easiest to be defended upon principle, and the least burthensome in practice to the consumer. My Lords, I will not shrink from expressing again that which I have expressed on former occasions, and repeating in office as I have stated out of office, that, in my individual opinion, I see no ground why, from the general system of imposing duties upon foreign imports, the single article of corn should be made a solitary exception.

My Lords, I state this as my opinion; but, at the same time, I have always said, and I repeat it again, that I think this is a question which can only be satisfactorily solved by a reference to a well-understood and clearly expressed opinion of the intelligent portion of the community. My Lords, any possibility, any idea of dealing with a system so vast and so extensive as the financial policy of the country, including within its range not only the whole system of duties on foreign imports, but also the incidents and the pressure of domestic and local taxation—I say, my Lords, any scheme so large and so ex- tensive requires to be dealt with by a Government strong in the confidence, not only of the country but of Parliament, and able to carry, with the concurrence of Parliament and of the country, measures adopted and matured with great deliberation, with such care and foresight as it is impossible that any Administration could give to such a subject, called suddenly to deal with public affairs at the commencement of a Parliamentary Session. My Lords, I have said before, I know the position in which Her Majesty's Government is placed—I know that, in the other House of Parliament my Colleagues and I are in an undoubted minority. I know not whether we shall be enabled to command a majority in favour of our views even in the House which I have now the honour of addressing. But I say, my Lords, that the same motives which induced me to sacrifice all other considerations to avoid the responsibility of leaving the Sovereign and the country at this time without a Government, weigh on my mind with equal force to induce me to think that the public interests would not be consulted, at this period of the year and in the present circumstances of the world, by an unnecessary interruption, for a considerable period, of the sittings of the other House of Parliament, for the purpose of maturing and of carrying out (if it is to be or can be carried out) the policy which I consider advantageous to the interests of the country. While, then, I state frankly and freely what that policy is, and what my opinions are upon the subject, I confess, my Lords, that, situated as we are, we have a much humbler, but, at the same time, perhaps not a less useful, task before us. I avow that we cannot command a Parliamentary majority. I avow, my Lords, that, in the face of this conviction, I have felt it to be my duty not to decline the responsibility which has been thrown upon me. I know that in conducting the affairs of the country under such circumstances, Her Majesty's Government will have to appeal to the forbearance of its opponents, and in some cases to the patient indulgence of its friends; but, my Lords, I have that confidence in the good sense and judgment of the House of Commons, that they will not unnecessarily introduce subjects of a controversial and party character for the mere purpose of interrupting the course of sound and useful legislation, and of driving the Government out of that moderate and temperate course which the Government has prescribed to itself. My Lords, I think there are subjects enough, without dealing with those large and complicated questions—there are subjects useful enough to attract the attention and to occupy the time of this and the other House of Parliament. I believe, my Lords, that if, avoiding unnecessary party questions, we apply ourselves to the great measures for which the country has long called—measures of legal reform, simplifying and improving the administration of law and justice—measures of social reform, improving the condition and comfort of the people—I believe that, even as a minority in the House of Commons, we shall not be uselessly or dishonourably conducting the public affairs of the country. And, my Lords, I must say that, if interrupted in such a course by a merely factious opposition, I have that confidence in the good sense of the country, that that factiousness will, at no distant period, recoil upon its authors.

My Lords, among the measures of social improvement to which I have just adverted, I do not include one to which Her Majesty's late Government have thought it necessary to direct the attention of Parliament. My Lords, it was announced by Her Majesty's late Government that they intended to introduce, and I believe they did actually introduce, into the other House of Parliament, three measures in some degree connected together: the first for disfranchising a borough in which gross and notorious corruption was proved to have prevailed; the second, for facilitating the means of examining into, and correcting and controlling such corrupt practices in other boroughs for the future; and the third, comprising a somewhat miscellaneous assortment of topics, but comprising as a leading feature a large and extensive alteration of the electoral system of the country. Now, my Lords, with regard to the first measure, without dealing with the individual question, I avow, my Lords, that no man is prepared to go further than I am—and I am sure in this I speak the sentiments of my Colleagues also—to check, by all possible means, that gross and disgraceful system of bribery which, I am afraid, has increased very considerably in the course of the last twenty years, and which, in the intensity of the evils which it has produced has thrown into the shade the evils which existed in the local influences by which constituencies were previously controlled. My Lords, I say that no man can go further than Her Majesty's Government, in seeking to cheek that system, as far as it can be checked by legislation—in seeking to visit it with condign punishment, whenever a full and fair investigation has proved the existence and enormity of the offence. Nor, my Lords, do I pretend for a moment to say that the system of representation introduced in 1831 was a perfect system, or incapable of amendment. I think there may have arisen, and will arise in the course of time, abuses requiring change, and evils demanding a remedy; but, my Lords, I say, before you seek to apply a remedy, before, at all events, you pledge yourselves indefinitely to an unsettling of that which is, and settle nothing, be quite sure that you know the course which you are about to adopt; be satisfied of the nature of the evils which you mean to meet; be satisfied that the remedy which you propose to apply is not calculated to aggravate already existing evils. And I do entreat your Lordships—and if I were speaking in the presence of the Members of the other House of Parliament, I would entreat them, and through them the country—seriously to consider the incalculable injury, not only to the monarchy, but ultimately to the real and true liberties of the country, which may arise from constantly—from time to time—unsettling everything and settling nothing; rendering the country dissatisfied with that which is, without in the slightest degree removing the dissatisfaction of those who are prepared to go much further than any of your Lordships or Parliament could desire. My Lords, on the part of Her Majesty's Government I have to state that it is not our intention to proceed with the measure of Parliamentary Reform which was recently introduced by our predecessors in office. On the other hand, if you will show or prove to us the existence of any substantial grievances, no men will be more ready than my Colleagues and myself to endeavour to remove those grievances in the manner we consider best calculated to ensure that end without involving future danger to the constitution or the internal peace of the country.

My Lords, I know not whether it has been correctly stated, but still I have heard it stated, that my noble Friend—I hope I may call him my noble Friend, although opposed to him on political grounds—who preceded me in the situation I have the honour to hold, intended, for some cause which I cannot well divine, to combine with his plan for an extensive reform in our system of Parliamentary representation, another plan for a general improvement in the education of the people. My Lords, I believe that, for the purpose of improving education, no extension of the suffrage and no alteration in the constitution of Parliament was either necessary or could have the slightest influence or effect. I believe—and I rejoice to believe—that the feelings of the community at large—that the convictions of all classes, high and low, rich and poor, have now come to this conclusion—that the greater the amount of education which we are able to give, and the more widely it is spread among all conditions of men, the greater chance there is for the tranquillity, the happiness, and the well-being of the community. But, my Lords, when I use the term "education," let me not be misunderstood. By "education" I do not mean the mere development of the mental faculties, the mere acquisition of temporal knowledge, the mere instruction, useful as, no doubt, that may be, which may enable a man to improve his social condition in life, and give him fresh tastes and fresh habits, and with those habits the means of procuring for himself their enjoyment. Valuable as that instruction may be, when I speak of "education," I speak of this alone—an education which includes culture of the mind and culture of the soul—laying the foundation of all knowledge upon the basis of the Scriptures and Evangelical truth. My Lords, I desire to look upon all those who are engaged in the work of spreading knowledge, even though they be of different communions from that of which I am a sincere and attached member—I desire to look upon them rather as fellow-labourers than as rivals in the warfare we conjointly wage against vice and ignorance. But I trust, my Lords, I shall say nothing which can be offensive to any of those who differ from me and belong to other communions, when I say that, for the promotion of education and of religious knowledge among the people, I rest mainly and chiefly upon the exertions—the able, the indefatigable, and enlightened exertions of the parochial clergy of the United Church of England and Ireland. My Lords, I look upon that Church as the depositary of what I believe to be the truth, and as an instrument of incalculable value in diffusing good here, and leading to still more incalculable good hereafter. My Lords, I say it is not only the interest, but the duty, of Her Majesty's Government to uphold and maintain that Church in its integrity, not by penal enactments directed against those who differ from her communion, not by violent abuse and invective against the religious faith of those whose errors we may deplore, but to whose consciences we have no right to dictate—but by stedfastly resisting all attempts at aggression upon the rights, privileges, and possessions of that Church, come from what quarter, and backed by what weight of authority, they may, and by lending every power of the Government to support and extend the influence of that Church in its high and holy calling, of diffusing throughout the length and breadth of the empire (for I speak not of this country alone) that knowledge which can only be derived by the diffusion of the Holy Scriptures.

My Lords, I believe that I have now stated—perhaps at more length than I ought to have done, but I hope not with undue and unnecessary frankness, and with only such reserve of necessary details as is inseparable from the position in which I stand—those principles upon which we propose to conduct the administration with which we are intrusted. My Lords, for my own part, when I look to the difficulties which surround us—when I look to the various circumstances which must combine to give us a chance of successfully encountering the various obstacles which beset our path—I confess I am myself appalled by the magnitude of the difficulties which we have to meet. But I believe, and know, that the destinies of nations are in the hands of an overruling Providence. I know that it is often the pleasure of that Great Being to work out His own objects by weak and unworthy means. In His presence, I can solemnly aver, that no motives of personal ambition have led me to aspire to that dangerous eminence on which the favour of my Sovereign has placed me. In the course of my duties, no considerations shall sway me, except those which have led me to accept it—the paramount considerations of public duty. And with this feeling in my mind, and with a deep conviction of the sincerity of my own motives, and trusting to the guidance and blessing of a higher Power than my own, I venture to undertake a task from which I might otherwise have shrunk, appalled by its magnitude. And, my Lords, be the period of my administration longer or shorter, not only shall I have obtained the highest object of personal ambition, but I shall have fulfilled one of the highest ends of human being, if in the course of it I can, in the slightest degree, advance the great object of "peace on earth, and good will among men"—if I can advance the social, moral, and religious, improvement of my country, and if I can contribute to "the safety, honour, and welfare of our Sovereign and her dominions."


said: I do not intend, my Lords, to dwell upon the several topics discussed by the noble Earl, but I wish to say a few words on one point, in the way of protest, against a principle which the noble Earl has laid down in his statement. The noble Earl has declared, with that frankness which I expected from him, what the principle is on which the financial and commercial policy of his Administration is to be conducted. The noble Earl has described that principle with great clearness, and the comparison which he drew between the tariff of the United States and the tariff of this country, for the purpose of explaining it, was a perfect illustration. It is true, as the noble Earl says, that the principle which has been adopted in this country, within the last few years, has been so to impose the duties levied under the Customs laws, that they shall fall entirely, or much as possible, on goods imported from abroad, which do not compete with similar articles produced in this country. On the other hand, the noble Earl has told us that the principle acted on in the United States is the very reverse. The noble Earl has told us that in the United States they do not tax some of the great articles of consumption produced only abroad, such as teas; but that they do tax articles which are partly produced at home and partly imported from abroad, and with the avowed object of giving what is called "protection" to their own produce. The noble Earl says the effect of this system of taxation is, that it only partially raises the price of the imported commodity, and does not levy so large an amount of taxation from the people. Upon this the noble Earl bases an argument which, I confess, I was not quite able to follow, but which seemed to me intended to show that the price of the article was not affected. Now, it has long been an argument with us, that when you impose a duty on an article partly imported from abroad and partly produced at home, you raise the price to the consumer, not only of the imported article, but of that which is produced at home; and that, so far from its being favourable to the revenue, the direct opposite is the case. You levy a very large tax upon the consumer, not one sixpence of which is paid into the revenues of the State. The article of corn is one on which a duty of the kind alluded to by the noble Earl formerly existed. The revenue derived from that duty was very inconsiderable. But the noble Earl wished to reimpose the duty which previously existed. If he does so, I have no doubt he will not only raise the price of the 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 quarters of corn imported into this country, but of the much larger quantity which is produced in this country, the amount of which will not go into the Exchequer. Suppose that the noble Earl imposes a duty of 5s. per quarter on the 4,000,000 quarters imported, he will raise a revenue of 1,000,000l. to the Exchequer. But the price of the four or five times that quantity grown in this country will also rise in exactly the same amount as the duty so imposed. The revenue derived by the Exchequer from corn will amount to 1,000,000l.; but the sum of 6,000,000l. will be paid by the consumers. This is the effect of the principle of a protective duty. By acting on the other principle, by repealing those duties which we always argued were a frightful tax upon the community, without bringing any money into the Exchequer, the effect has been, as I had the pleasure of stating on the very first night of the Session, that within the last few years duties have been repealed to the amount of twelve or thirteen millions, and that instead of the Customs revenues having diminished, they have reached a higher amount. Both theory and practice have proved the correctness of this principle. My Lords, I heard with great regret, with a consternation which I am altogether at a loss to describe, that the noble Earl intends to apply this, as I think, most unsound principle of commercial and finance to the food of the people. I have heard with consternation that a measure is to be proposed, with the authority of Government, for again imposing a tax of this kind.


said, I must beg to correct that statement. What I said was, that I saw no reason, in my own opinion, why corn should form an exception from the general principle of imposing duties upon foreign produce; but that that was a question which ought to be settled, and which could only be settled, by the deliberate judgment of the large and in- telligent community of this country. And I decidedly stated that neither with regard to that, nor with regard to dealing with the great and complicated question of our financial policy, had I any intention of making any proposition on the part of Her Majesty's Government until that public opinion should be decidedly and emphatically expressed.


I am greatly relieved by hearing the explanation of the noble Earl. To a certain degree I understood him, but not exactly as he has now stated. What I understood him to say was, that he laid down what he considered a sound and proper principle of commercial legislation; that the application of that principle required great care and great deliberation, and that a measure founded upon it could not be produced in a hurry. I, therefore, did not expect (and I thought this perfectly reasonable) that the noble Earl would produce any such measure as this at an early day; but undoubtedly I did understand that the noble Earl did look to revise the commercial policy of this country upon the principle he has stated, as a means of revenue, and that in that general revision of our commercial policy, corn was not to be an excepted article. If I was wrong in so understanding the noble Earl, I beg his pardon; but I still think that, to the best of my understanding, the words delivered by the noble Earl could not be otherwise understood. Now, upon that, allow me to make this observation—


I have already corrected the misapprehensions upon the part of the noble Earl, and stated what I believe I did say, and what I know it was my intention to say. The noble Earl says that he is much relieved by the explanation, and then he proceeds to repeat his version of that which he had understood me to say, but which I hope I have satisfied your Lordships the noble Earl misunderstood, and now upon that misunderstanding, so corrected, he is proceeding still to argue.


I appeal to your Lordships whether this interruption on the part of the noble Earl is strictly regular. I said I was greatly relieved. I then explained in what sense I had understood the words of the noble Earl, and then—though I was glad to find he had put a somewhat different construction upon them—I was then about to say that even now the distinction is not very clear; so that at first it must have been difficult to put any other construction upon the words of the noble Earl than in the exercise of my judgment I fairly placed upon them. Even at this moment I am not quite convinced that I accurately apprehend the noble Earl: because I do not know, from what the noble Earl has stated, whether that revision upon what he conceives sound principles of legislation, is contemplated by Her Majesty's Government or not. Now, this is a question on which I do not press for any immediate answer or decision; but, as one deeply interested in the landed interest, as a member of the community, every class of which is deeply interested in that question, I do implore the noble Earl to let no long time go by before he explains distinctly and clearly the views of Her Majesty's Government on this most important, exciting, and agitating question. After the events of the last ten years, the question of a tax on the food of the country is not one to be kept long in suspense. We are entitled to know—I do not say to-night, I do not say in a fortnight, but I do say at a very early period—the clear and decided intention of Her Majesty's Government. I implore the noble Earl, in justice to the great interests which are affected by leaving this question in doubt, that he will not leave that doubt to continue longer than is absolutely necessary; because, let your Lordships only consider the effect of that doubt. There is not a transaction between landlord and tenant, not a transaction in trade, commerce, or manufactures, which is not vitally affected by our being left in ignorance of what is to be the policy of the country on this all-important subject. In justice, therefore, to all these great interests which ore affected, I do hope and trust that we shall not be long in learning more clearly, and in having some distinct explanation of the views of the Government. We are not to be told that this is a question to be cast loose, and decided by public opinion. That is not the way in which a Government can deal with a question of this sort. It is the duty of an Administration to have a policy on such subjects, and having that policy distinctly to avow it, and take the responsibility of submitting it to Parliament.


said, that he was in hopes that no further debate would have taken place after the speech of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby); for he was of opinion that after he had, in so ample, frank, and honourable a manner explained to the House the position in which he stood, the consideration which had induced him to undertake this great task, and the difficulties of the situation in which he was placed, the noble Earl should have been the only speaker. He lamented that his noble relative (Earl Grey), instead of taking a comprehensive view of that speech, had chosen to single out from it one particular topic, and that the most exciting. Their Lordships might well deem that that was a question upon which he felt no little interest; for he believed that he was, in both Houses of Parliament, the very first person to attack the ancient—no, not the ancient—but what he might call the mediæval system of commercial legislation. But he thought that the speech of the noble Earl was not entitled to be animadverted upon in the way in which it had been by his noble relative. He thought that a better system than the present might be devised; but he doubted whether, even after the noble Earl had collected the sentiments of the intelligent public on the subject, it would be advisable to endeavour to revise it. There were many wise laws which wise men would not undertake to propose at all times; and he ventured to express a fear (although he thought that there was a great error in the view which his noble relative took of the effect which a duty would produce upon the price of corn) whether, under the circumstances of the country, and after the people had for some time enjoyed the benefits derived from a virtual abrogation of duty, and tasted the sweets of cheap bread, they could be induced to submit to the smallest imposition of duty even for the purposes of revenue. He entirely dissented, however, from the position of his noble relative (Earl Grey), that whatever duty was imposed upon a quarter of foreign corn, raised the price of every quarter of corn grown at home by exactly the same amount. That fallacy had been promulgated by two different parties. One party promulgated it because it suited their interests when addressing the audiences assembled in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, and when they were bidding for the support of the manufacturers and the great masses of the people; while another set of Gentlemen, who had now taken possession of the Ministerial benches, also propagated it for their own purposes while they were bidding for the support of the farmers. The result was, that that fallacy, as he believed it to be, had made a very great impression on the community. He thought it would be difficult for even the most critical opponent to find much fault with the other parts of the noble Earl's speech. The noble Earl correctly, and with great clearness, stated the duty of this country to foreign nations; and he (Earl Fitzwilliam) trusted that in the administration of the Government he would adhere to the principles, and act upon the maxims, which he had declared in his speech. There was one subject on which he had heard the remarks of his noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) with great satisfaction. He quite agreed with him that it would not do for the Government of this country to be every few years tampering with its constitutional rights. He heard, therefore, with great satisfaction that the noble Earl did not intend to proceed with a certain measure which had been introduced into the other House of Parliament, for the purpose of what was called a further reform in Parliament. He (Earl Fitzwilliam) thought these further reforms in Parliament most dangerous. He believed that if this question were to be agitated every ten or twenty years, the quiet and sensible part of the people would imbibe a great indifference to the popular franchise. He believed that if these changes were to be introduced, a very large section of the community would be of opinion that it would be much better to live under a mild and tranquil despotism. Well, he did not say all of the people; but a very considerable portion of them would prefer living under a mild and tranquil despotism, than to have these incessant discussions upon constitutional rights, and the constant change of those rights. He rejoiced to have the assurance of the noble Earl that this exciting question was not to be renewed by him. With respect to the Government generally, he trusted that the noble Earl who had been called on to form an Administration would be allowed to have proper time, and would not be pressed into a precipitate declaration of the precise principles upon which his Government was to be conducted, or the particular measures which they intended to propose to Parliament. He should also much regret to see any of that sort of opposition given to the Government which they might not in that place call factious opposition, but to which the public out of doors would be disposed to attach such a character.


said, he could not help rising to utter his protest against the censure which the noble Earl (Earl Fitzwilliam) had just thought fit to cast upon his noble Friend lately at the head of the Colonial Department, for the very judicious and, in his mind, perfectly justifiable comments he had made on a most important part of the speech of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby). The noble Earl complained that his noble Friend had not taken a comprehensive view of that speech. Now he should very much object to such a course, because, if taken, it would lead to a very wide and extended discussion, which he thought on that occasion it would be best to avoid. At the same time, after the peculiar language and peculiar views held by the noble Earl opposite, he considered it perfectly right in his noble Friend near him to express the sentiments he did; and in those sentiments he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) cordially concurred. He would remind the noble Earl and the House that the question referred to had not been first brought before Parliament by his noble Friend or by the late Government, but that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) on the very first night of the Session thought it so necessary that the Government of the country should have an opinion on the subject, that he blamed the omission of such a matter in the Speech from the Throne. It was not mentioned in Her Majesty's Speech or in the Address in answer thereto; but the noble Earl thought it necessary to declare his opinion that it ought to have been noticed, and that with the price of corn which then ruled, the cultivation of wheat in this country must cease to an alarming and a dangerous degree. Well, if that was the opinion of the noble Earl on the first night of the Session, was it wonderful that when he came forward that night to make an exposition of the principles of his Government, the peculiar language he had used should be remarked upon by his noble Friend? Why, what was the language of the noble Earl? As he understood it, the noble Earl declared that his opinions remained unchanged, and when he had got a majority in his favour he would act upon them; but that until he had obtained that majority he would not act upon them; in other words, so long as the majority was adverse to his views, the present laws should continue unaltered; but that as soon as the majority went round to him, the laws should be changed. Now, he said that such language as that, coming from the head of a Government, would involve every transaction affected by these laws in incalculable uncertainty and embarrassment. Passing from that point, he must next say that, although he agreed with the main part of the doctrine laid down by the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) with regard to the intercourse between the Government of this country and foreign nations, there were yet some remarks that had fallen from him which, just at this particular moment, he had not heard with great satisfaction. Neither was he entirely satisfied with the mode in which he had treated another subject on which the Government ought to be more frank and explicit, but which the noble Earl had touched extremely lightly—namely, the state of what he had himself termed, on the first night of the Session, "the Protestant securities" of this country. On the opening night of the Session the noble Earl went out of his way to declare on that subject, that either the law as at present constituted was defective, or that the late Government were deficient in energy in their administration of it. The natural inference that might be drawn from these expressions was, that the present Administration intended to alter the law, or to administer it in a different spirit from their predecessors. He hoped, however, that no such inference could justly be drawn, and he hoped so particularly for the success of the Administration of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Eglinton) who, he understood, was to govern Ireland; and he was greatly relieved to hear that as yet all the Government intended to do with regard to Protestant interests was to render aid and assistance to plans of Church extension. If he did not agree with other of the noble Earl's remarks, this was not a good time for entering into them; but he must, in conclusion, repeat that, looking at the importance of all the transactions of this country, it was highly essential that his noble Friend should have expressed the opinion entertained by himself and by many others on the same side of the House, that a subject of this gravity should not be left in abeyance in the indefinite manner now proposed, but that it would be better, as soon as they had given it due consideration, to come forward and frankly and fairly avow the opinions of the Government.


said: My Lords, I wish to state very shortly the impression which the speech of my noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) has made upon my mind. Although the noble Earl below me (Earl Grey) has expressed very much the sentiments which I entertain, yet there are one or two points on which I wish to offer a few remarks. My Lords, long and intimately connected as I had been with the eminent man (Sir Robert Peel) whose untimely fate we all deplore, and whose loss, in proportion as the difficulties of the country increase, we shall have more and more cause to lament, I think this is not an unfitting occasion—the very first which presents itself—for me to declare a determined adherence to his policy, and the resolution, as far as in my humble power lies, to carry out the great system of commercial policy which he established. My Lords, I have no right or title to speak authoritatively for others; but I shall be much surprised and disappointed if all those who supported him, with me, in establishing that policy, shall not be found to entertain the same sentiments as I now express. My noble Friend (the Earl of Derby) has described the principles upon which he considers the policy of the country on commercial matters should be guided; and he has on other occasions as well as to-night drawn a distinction between customs duties imposed for the purpose of revenue, and those imposed for the purpose of protection. The distinctions between these duties are, I confess, not very intelligible to me. They appear to me shadowy and unreal; but at all events with me, they have no application, for I am equally prepared to oppose the imposition of a duty upon corn, whether for the purposes of revenue or protection. My Lords, I think the time is past when any such tax can ever again be levied. I consider the system established by my late right hon. Friend to have been most eminently successful; and I am convinced that the persistance in that system will render its wisdom more plain, and its benefits more apparent. I therefore take this, the earliest opportunity of declaring my firm adherence to the policy of that legacy which he left behind him. I do not think it necessary to enter further into the other topics of the speech of my noble Friend. I have already adverted to that point on which I am totally at variance with him; and as far as I know there is no other subject with regard to which I may not hope to offer him my support. In all that portion of his speech which relates to the policy to be pursued towards Foreign Powers, I entirely acquiesce. My noble Friend and I have acted together for the last ten or twelve years, both in and out of office, in full concert and communication on those subjects, and I am not aware that there is any shade of difference between us in that respect; and in all that he has said tonight I fully concur. On the other portions of his speech I will make no observation, nor do I think that any is called for at this moment. I can assure my noble Friend that I am aware—fully aware—of the great difficulties with which he is encompassed, and he may rely on receiving from me, whenever it lies in my power, the most cordial and the most sincere support.


I hope the noble Lord at the head of the Government will have no objection to agree to the proposition that I am about to make, namely, that we should not adjourn longer than is absolutely necessary, and that there is nothing to prevent us from meeting next week upon judicial business. Our sittings have already been interrupted—I am aware, almost unavoidably so; but I think that, if possible, we ought to meet next week for causes. There is another thing I wish to know from my noble Friend. He has stated, clearly enough, that all subjects are to remain for a certain time in abeyance, with only one exception, that of questions relating to social improvement. Now I hope and trust he included under the head "social improvement," that great and most important subject, the amendment of the law. I have no doubt that he meant so to include it; but I think he did not mention it by name. With respect to the conversation on the subject of the corn laws, I wish that it could have been avoided, and I do not mean to enter upon it even for a moment—not that I differ at all from my noble Friend near me upon that great question (Earl Grey); and of his alarm I for a moment partook, from what was stated by the noble Earl. But I think I heard something more than my noble Friend can have done, which at once quieted my apprehensions; for I think the noble Earl stated that these were his individual opinions, but that whether the Government were prepared to act upon those opinions, or to introduce measures grounded upon them, must depend upon what is the general opinion of the country—to which proposition I entirely accede, and would be the first myself to subscribe. How that general opinion is to be taken—[A laugh]—at what time it is to be taken, I am not aware. I certainly do not think I have said anything to excite mirth, for I understood the noble Earl to say, and I was happy to hear it, that a dissolution in the present state of affairs was out of the question; and that the opinion of the country being only obtained by a dissolution, the appeal to it must, of course, be postponed till that event. In the meantime, whatever other measures do not depend on that event, and do not depend on the opinion of the country, such measures (I understood the noble Earl to say) will be proceeded with. I repeat that I hope he meant that the amendment of the law is among those measures; for it is a subject which, if it ought not to stand the very first amongst questions of "social improvement," at least ranks second to no other.


replied: I have to thank the noble and learned Lord for affording me an opportunity of explaining more clearly my meaning. With regard to the question of law reform, I think I did state, as I certainly intended to state, that, exclusive of those great party questions in which it is notorious that the Government are in a minority, and which they would, therefore, only bring forward with the certainty of defeat—exclusive of those more exciting topics, we shall propose to Parliament to deal with those great measures generally called for by the country—legal reform and social improvement; and I am sure that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, when he has taken his seat in this House, will apply his vigorous powers of mind to the consideration of that subject, and the promotion of those objects which were recommended by the Chancery Commissioners in their Report. With regard to the subject of the adjournment of this House, I am about to propose that the House should only adjourn, as usual, till Monday next; and on that day it may be seen whether it is not possible to proceed with the judicial business. In the meantime, your Lordships will understand, that if the House sits, it will only sit for the transaction of judicial or of private business; and that no matter of more general interest shall be dealt with while the House of Commons finds it necessary to adjourn until the re-election of the Members of the Government who have seats there.


Doubtless the House, without a formal resolution, will come to the understanding which the noble Earl has stated, not to proceed with any thing but private business.

House adjourned to Monday next.

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