§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ The EARL of DERBY
My Lords, although it has been suggested by a noble Friend of mine that it would be desirable to read the Property Tax Continuance Bill this evening, merely pro forma, and that the discussion upon it should be taken on the Motion for going into Committee, I think under the peculiar circumstances in which we are placed as regards public business, such a course would be attended with inconvenience to the noble Lords on the opposite side of the House, as well as to some on the Ministerial side: and more- over it is important that this Bill should receive the Royal Assent with as little delay as possible. I therefore submit to your Lordships the proposition that you will now read a second time the Bill for the Continuance of the Property and Income Tax for one year longer. My Lords, in bringing this subject before your Lordships, it will not, I am sure, be expected that I should go into any details as to the state of the revenue and expenditure of the country, or as to the particular reasons which have induced the Government to propose the renewal of this tax for a limited period. Your Lordships must be well aware that at the commencement of the present Session, upon the change of the Government, there was a general understanding on the part of this as well as the other House of Parliament that with the exception of the current and necessary business—with the exception of such measures as were not likely to lead to serious differences of opinion, no business was to be brought forward by Her Majesty's Ministers. Her Majesty's Government have even declared that in the present Session of Parliament it was not their intention to introduce any measure that would be likely to involve any serious conflict of opinions, and more especially in regard to questions affecting the finances of the country. There was, my Lords, more than this understand- 986 ing—there was a distinct declaration that no measure materially affecting the commercial or fiscal condition of the country would be introduced into Parliament this Session. The question, then, for the consideration of Her Majesty's Government was, not whether any alteration could be made in the fiscal or commercial policy of the country, or whether they could make such alterations in the revenue and expenditure of the country as might enable them to dispense with a tax of this character, the objections to which I should be the last man to undervalue—but, my Lords, the question was, whether without any new tax, or without any new arrangement of our system of taxation, it would be possible for us to dispense with either the whole or any portion of the Property and Income Tax. Now, I think; a single word will satisfy your Lordships that, even if it had been desired wholly to dispense with this tax, which was levied originally for a temporary purpose, and which I still hope may be looked upon as temporary, but is merely continued from year to year to meet the pressing necessity of the case—I think your Lordships will agree with me, that unless we feel ourselves in the position of making some general or final arrangement in respect to the whole system of taxation, it would be inexpedient to discontinue the whole or any portion of the tax which it might be necessary for the public service to restore in the next Session. But, practically speaking, we had no alternative before us; for though there is a surplus of income over the expenditure of last year, yet as an important alteration in the taxation of the country had taken place, the effect of which did not come into full operation until the present year, it was difficult to say what the result of such alteration would be upon the revenue of the country. Without troubling your Lordships with the figures in detail, the result is something to the following effect. If the income tax had been altogether taken off in the course of this year—one-half of the tax being receivable in and carried to the credit of the present year—we may reasonably calculate that at the close of the financial year, instead of this surplus, there would be a deficiency of income to the amount of 2,500,000l.; and by the loss of the remaining half of the income tax that would fall upon the following year, the result of our not renewing it would be this: that in the year of 1853 we would find ourselves in a deficiency to the amount 987 of about 5,000,000l The statement which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer submitted to the House of Commons a few evenings ago went to show that the result of retaining the whole tax, supposing that no alteration had occurred in the receipts, would he, on the best calculations, to give a surplus of 450,000l. upon the revenue of this year. This is a surplus which I am sure your Lordships will agree with me in thinking is pot more than is absolutely necessary to meet the probable exigencies of the State, and the call that may be made on us for increased expenditure; nor is it more than is necessary for us to keep as a balance in hand for the maintenance of public credit. Under these circumstances, feeling ourselves bound by the stipulation which we have entered into—not to introduce, in the present Session, any material alteration into our financial or fiscal regulations — and I will also fairly admit, not haying the opportunity of considering or of proposing to Parliament, with due deliberation, any matured plan for the arrangement of our fiscal affairs, though we should even consider such to be ultimately expedient—Her Majesty's Government feel that they have no alternative, while desirous to retain that which both Houses acknowledge the necessity of maintaining, a surplus revenue, having a due regard to the maintenance of public faith and public security—they, I say, feel that they have no alternative but to make that proposition which I now submit to your Lordships, namely, to continue, without alteration or amendment, the existing property tax for another year, in order to afford us in the interval the fullest opportunity pf considering whether it will be practicable to make any such alteration in the financial system of the country as will enable us to dispense with the whole, or any portion, of this tax. At the same time I should be deceiving your Lordships —I should not, I think, be acting a frank or honest part—if I were to hold out any very sanguine expectations that this would be the last occasion upon which I shall deem it necessary to submit to this House a proposition for a renewal of the tax. While I say this, my Lords, I cannot but admit the strength of the arguments that are urged for the removal or modification of the tax; because I think not only that it is one which ought not to be resorted to except in periods of war, and should not be looked upon as part of the ordinary re- 988 sources of the country in tunes of peace, but also because, from the best consideration that I have been able to give to the subject, and from the consideration given to it by successive Committees of this and the other House of Parliament I believe the difficulties are almost insuperable which stand in the way of diminishing the tax on income as compared with the tax on property, but also of putting it on a better footing of equality as regards all parties. With that impression, I should be glad if the present state of the revenue, or, looking forward to our prospects a year or two —I should, I say, be happy if the revenue were in such a state as would enable me to hold out expectations of the reduction or the abolition of this tax. But this I cannot do; and therefore I think the course which the Government is taking, of proposing to continue the tax for the present year, is that which affords to Ministers and to Parliament the fairest and best opportunity of considering the practicability, in a future Session of Parliament, of its entire abolition or reduction; and I, for one, am willing to rest the proposition for the continuance of the tax for another year simply upon the question of necessity, for the purpose of maintaining the public credit. If it can be shown in any future Session that the credit of the country can be maintained, and that our finances can be upheld on a level with the expenditure of the country without it, I shall be the first to rejoice at the abolition of the tax. And if it should fall to the lot of the Government of which I am a member to submit to Parliament a proposition for the repeal, or even for the reduction, of a tax, which in its operation I believe to be not only unpopular, but justly so, because it is unjust and unequal in its operation, no one will be more rejoiced at having such a duty to discharge. But under the circumstances in which Ministers now stand—with the understanding that we have a prospect at no distant period that a reference will be made to the country as to our commercial and financial policy generally, I trust that your Lordships will not only give your consent to the second reading, but, in the position in which we are placed, you will be also of opinion that the continuance of this tax for a single year is the only course it is possible for Her Majesty's Government, under the circumstances, to take. I have, therefore, to move your Lordships that the Property Tax Continuance Bill be now read a second time.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
My Lords, I am sorry to be obliged to trespass on the attention of the House for a short time, before we come to a final decision on the second reading of this Bill. I am the more anxious to do so because, although it is certainly not my intention to oppose the second reading of the Bill, but on the contrary to give it ray very cordial assent, I nevertheless feel that it is desirable, in the present condition of the country, in the present state of our financial measures, and in the uncertainty which attaches to the future in regard to fiscal legislation, that there should be upon this occasion some discussion, which shall set before your Lordships and before the country, not merely the policy, and the success or failure of that policy, which has been pursued for some time past in the financial and commercial affairs of this country, but also the bearing of this particular measure on that policy, the circumstances under which this tax originated, and the facts and circum-stances under which it has been continued by successive Governments. My Lords, the noble Earl has spoken of this tax, as every succeeding Prime Minister and every successive Chancellor of the Exchequer has spoken of it, as a temporary tax; but I must say he appeared to me to have held out no greater hopes of its being speedily dispensed with than those of his predecessors who have been frequently attacked for continuing it, while they admitted its temporary character. The noble Earl tells us this is a temporary tax, but that he feels that it is indispensable, not only for one year more, but he fears it will be necessary again to renew it in a future Session of Parliament. And certainly it is impossible for your Lordships to dissent from that view, if the statement which he has made upon the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer be correct, that without the income tax there is every prospect in 1853 there will be a deficiency of five millions—that being, let it be borne in mind by the House, the amount of the income tax itself—so that he does not even hold out to the House, so far as he can judge, any hope of a diminution of taxes next year. The noble Earl will, I am sure, forgive me for an allusion to a statement which he made last year, to which I feel it necessary to call the attention of your Lordships as illustrating the history of this tax, because I think he did not correctly state the objects for which it was imposed. He then stated, if I recol- 990 lect rightly, in assenting to its continuance for one year, that it was originally a temporary tax, instituted to supply a temporary deficiency. [The Earl of DERBY: Hear, hear!] Well, my Lords, the noble Earl cheers that statement, and it is true; but it is not the whole truth. it was a temporary tax, instituted no doubt to supply a temporary deficiency, but not in the simple acceptation of those words. It was not contemplated, by the imposition of that tax of 5,000,000l. in the shape of income tax, that the ordinary revenue would reestablish itself in a short time by its own elasticity and power of increase, and thereby produce a sufficient amount to enable that tax to be dispensed with; but it was imposed (and I am sure the noble Earl will not dissent from that statement, for he was a colleague of the late Sir Robert Peel at the time) for the purpose, not merely of meeting a temporary deficiency, but of enabling the Government of that day to make such extensive remissions and alterations in the ordinary sources of revenue as would eventually make them more productive, and thus enable the House to dispense with this tax. I believe that it is admitted as an axiom that, at the time it was imposed, we had arrived at the extreme point to which we could go in indirect taxation. In 1840, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day (Mr. F. Baring), being then, as he had been for a year or two before (I do not recollect the exact time), in a deficiency of very large amount, recommended to the House—and the House assented to the experiment—that 10 per cent should be added to the direct taxation of the country, and 5 per cent to the indirect taxes. What was the result of that experiment? Why, that the 10 per cent increase on the direct taxes brought into the Exchequer the whole amount contemplated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that the 5 per cent on the indirect taxes, so far from fulfilling his expectations, brought in, as far as I can recollect, something less than 2 per cent. This was conclusive, on the point, that you could not replenish your Exchequer by a continuance of the system of taxation which was pursued at that time—it proved that the taxes upon articles of consumption had reached their utmost limits. And with a view to such a reduction as might reproduce, not merely the amount remitted, but a much larger sum, it was necessary to supply the temporary deficiency by an income tax. That was the policy of the late Sir Robert 991 Peel when he introduced the income tax in 1842. My Lords, in the speech which the noble Earl delivered last year, and to which I have already referred, he was apparently very far from approving of that policy. On the 19th of May last the noble Marquess who then represented the Government in this House moved the continuance of this tax for one year, and stated two special grounds for the proposal which he made. The noble Earl assented to the first ground, the necessity of keeping faith with the public creditor, and therefore the necessity, under the peculiar circumstances, of passing that Bill; but he dissented from the second ground in these words:—He has also rested it on another consideration, with respect to which I must take leave altogether to dissent from the noble Marquess— namely, the expediency of what he calls developing and further extending your present commercial system, and still further facilitating the importation of those articles of foreign produce, the extensive, exorbitant, and unchecked importation of which has already brought so much ruin on this country."—[3 Hansard, cxvi. 1078.]Now I am prepared to state as my deliberate opinion, after having paid the greatest attention to this subject for the last ten years, that, so far from the free-trade policy having ruined the country (and, indeed, the noble Earl must have some powers of vision that do not belong to other individuals, if in the circumstances of these times he can discover any sign of the approaching ruin of the country)— to that policy, not the ruin but the present prosperity of the country, and of the greater part of the classes comprising it, is due. The country, my Lords, is, I apprehend, the aggregate of the classes contained in it; and if you look for the ruin of the country, you would expect to find its indications, if it existed, in the state of the Exchequer, in the same way that you would, in reference to the financial circumstances of an individual, look to his balance in his banker's hands. My Lords, if we look at the question in this way, and inquire into the condition of the country, as shown by the state of the Exchequer, do we find that ruin has been the consequence of these large importations, and of the reduction of taxation that took place when the income tax was imposed, and the consequent reduction in the price of all articles coming under excise and customs duties? The revenue for the present year is the same within a few hundred thousand pounds as it was ten years ago, 992 without taking into account the income tax; and, notwithstanding the enormous reductions which have been made in the customs and excise duties during that period (I believe the remission of taxes within the last few years amounts in round figures to 12,000,000l. of revenue), the whole of that enormous sum has been replaced to the Exchequer, without taking into account the income tax, with the exception of about 1,000,000l. which may be very fairly put out of the account when we consider the remission which took place last year, and the species of tax upon which it took place; a tax which, though pressing hardly upon individuals and classes in this country, was nevertheless of a character which it is quite impossible should reproduce itself, either in the present or in any future year. The revenue in 1842, when the income tax was imposed, was about 47,000,000l. sterling; and, notwithstanding the reductions that have been made, it now amounts to about 46,000,000l., independent of the income tax. I have now endeavoured to dispose of the question of ruin, so far as relates to the Exchequer. What has been the effect of this policy upon the population of the country? This enormous increase in the production of the taxes of the country has arisen, of course, as every one must at once see, from the increased consumption of articles which pay duty. I have extracted from the Trade and Navigation papers a considerable number of articles of first necessity—articles used in the food of the people—and I will trouble the House by, reading a few figures, showing the increase which has taken place in their consumption during the last few years. The consumption of coffee was 28,421,093 lbs. in 1841, and last year it was 32,564,164 lbs.; the consumption of tea, which was in 1841 36,681,877 lbs., was nearly 54,000,000 lbs. in 1851; and sugar, the consumption of which was 4,065,971 cwts. in 1841, was 6,594,308 cwts. in 1851. Of cocoa, the consumption was not quite 2,000,000 cwts. in 1841, while it was upwards of 3,000,000 cwts. in 1851. Surely, without troubling your Lordships with any further details of that description, it must be manifest that these figures, instead of indicating a state of ruin, indicate a high state of prosperity in all classes of this country, as compared with their state ten years ago. Now, what is the case with regard to our exports? In the same period they have in- 993 creased more than fifty per cent. We are told by the noble Earl opposite, and by his Friends, however, that the effect of the free-trade policy, is that we now pay the revenue which was formerly paid by the foreigner. Why, I think that, on the contrary, we make the foreigner pay now. We have by means of this legislation—by the remission of taxes, by setting industry free, by increasing the means of the consumption of the people, and by lowering the duties on the raw materials of manufactures—we have increased the exports of the country more than fifty per cent. This is, I apprehend, the only legitimate, and, what is more, the only feasible way of making the foreigner contribute to the finances and to the revenue of the country. And, during the time to which I have referred, our imports have increased more than seventy per cent. And what now has been the effect of this marvellous increase of imports as regards those prophecies of evil with which this House and the other House were met ten years ago, and still more in 1846? Has gold flowed out of the country? Certainly not. So far from it, the quantity of gold in the Bank has steadily increased, and is now far greater than it 1ms ever been in any year. What is the case as regards other countries in this respect? Whilst under our free-trade policy the quantity of gold in the Bank has increased to the enormous extent it has, what has been the case in America, whose tariff the noble Earl on a former occasion eulogised as being so much preferable to ours? Why, in the last Speech of the President of the United States, he stated that "the exports of specie on account of our foreign debt during the last fiscal year have been 24,000,000 dollars over the amount of the specie imported." Thus, whilst a country with a high tariff has been subjected to this inconvenience, which we were told we were to be subjected to by the reduction of our import duties, we, on the other hand, by following out a better course, have received into our coffers the largely increased sum at present there. I do not know whether, by his smile when I alluded to the fact of these prophecies not having been fulfilled, the noble Earl referred to what I have lately seen alleged as the reason for what is called "the comparatively light pressure of free trade on the industry of the country"—I mean the discovery of gold in California. This was stated on the hustings in Buckinghamshire; and I 994 think I have seen that the noble Earl has, on a subsequent occasion, though not in this House, given, in some form or other, an assent to that proposition. I believe that it is impossible that we can at present appreciate what the effect of this discovery will be; but this I apprer hend, that its effect at the present moment cannot be great. In the first place, the system of free trade has been in operation now for a considerable time; while the influx of gold from California is comparatively of recent date, and until within the last two years, or even less, no great quantity has come to this country. But, my Lords, supposing that this is the case, supposing that the gold from California has indeed operated what the noble Lords and others call a "mitigation of the evils of the free-trade system"—if the limited quantity with which we have been hitherto supplied has had this effect—may I not fairly turn this fact, if fact it be, as an argument against the noble Lord and the Protectionist party generally? Why, we have not now to look merely to California, but an enormous importation must before long take place from our Australian colonies—and a large quantity may probably come from another island in our possession —and we do not, in fact, know how many gold fields may turn up before many years are over. If the effect, which the noble Lords mean, of course, when they describe the limited quantity of Californian gold as having saved us from what they describe as the frightful consequences of free trade, has taken place, the enormous quantity of gold which must soon come in is a reason, not against the continuance of the free-trade policy, but is a reason showing that it will become an absolute necessity; and that unless you not only continue that policy, but carry it out to its fullest possible limits, you will inflict upon the consuming classes of this country a very serious and enormous evil. I say, therefore, in regard to this newly-discovered means of evading the benefits, as I say, or mitigating the evils, as the noble Earl says, of free trade, you are placed on the horns of this dilemma — either the effect has not taken place, or if it has taken place with so small a quantity of gold as has been brought here, the immensely increased quantity of gold that must come in absolutely necessitates the perseverance in the same policy. I should really be ashamed to detain your Lordships with many more figures on any part of this question; and I should feel 995 more sorry to do so because I must say that I should be following in this House at an humble distance a most able statement made in another place by a right hon. Gentleman connected with the noble Earl's Government. I feel that anything I can say would be but a repetition, in many respects, of that statement, though in a manner and language vastly inferior to that which the House of Commons had the pleasure of listening to. And although that right hon. Gentleman has since stated, as I am told, that upon that occasion he expressed no opinion with regard to the policy of the remission of customs duties, he nevertheless did certainly bring forward such unanswerable arguments in its favour, that, as far as I am concerned, I can only say I am ready to make the noble Earl opposite a present of the opinions, and shall be very glad to reserve to myself and to noble Lords on this side of the House the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman used. To go for one moment into some of the principal articles included in the free-trade policy of the country for the last ten years, it is impossible to pass over that to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, I think with the most triumphant success. I, in common with the noble Earl opposite, had the pleasure of hearing the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the triumphant success of the free-trade policy of the last ten years, and I am sure that I listened to the right hon. Gentleman with as great pleasure and admiration, and as full coincidence of opinion, as I can entertain no doubt the noble Earl opposite must have done. With reference to the policy of free trade, it is impossible to pass over the subject of sugar; but I do not wish upon this occasion to enter into any question of the policy of that measure with regard to the West Indian interest. That has been postponed by the Government for the present year. It is a great and important question; but I merely wish on this occasion to point out the advantages which have accrued to the people of this country as disproving the allegations of ruin which have been made by the noble Lords opposite. Ten years ago—that is, the last year of the restricted tariff—the consumption of sugar in this country was limited, in round numbers, to 4,000,000 cwts. per annum. At this moment, or rather at the close of last year, the consumption had risen in this short space of ten years—although it should be remembered that the 996 free-trade policy, as regards the article of sugar, was not adopted to its present full extent till five years ago—to the enormous extent of nearly 6,900,000 cwts., an increase of 70 per cent In the course of five years. I have seen it lately stated in an excellent publication, that during this time the consumption of sugar by the poorer classes in this country has increased from 9 lbs. per head to 23 lbs. Now, no one who is conversant with the habits of the poor can be unaware of the enormous advantages of such an increase, and of the immense addition to their social enjoyments and comforts. Now, there is another point upon which I will touch very briefly, and the more so as I have reason to hope, from what fell from my noble Friend soon after he entered office, that at any rate it is not his intention to interfere with that alteration of the former law—I allude to the navigation laws; but still it is so important that I cannot altogether pass over it; more especially as in spite of the harsh prophecies of my noble Friend the Postmaster General (the Earl of Hardwicke) on that question, I think the repeal of those laws is one of the most triumphant vindications of the principles of free-trade policy. There can be no doubt that the passing of the new law, by opening fresh ports to our shipping in foreign countries—opening, that is to say, a more profitable trade than they can find at ports nearer home—so far diminishes the returns of the shipping in our own ports. But notwithstanding that diminution, the returns for 1851 of British tonnage cleared outwards and inwards is greater than in any year previously on record. But in case it should be objected that this is not a fair view of the case, I think no noble Lord can dissent from this view, that if you take the number of vessels registered, and the number of men employed, there can at any rate be no fallacy which could militate against a fair comparison; and this is the result of a comparison of this kind. In 1841 the tonnage of English ships registered was in round numbers, and omitting the smaller figures, 3,500,000 tons, which had increased in 1849 to 4,100,000, and in 1851 to 4,332,000. Now there is a corresponding increase in the number of men; and so far, therefore, from the nursery of British seamen being destroyed, it has been greatly increased by this measure— an effect which I am sure has exceeded the anticipations of those who advocated the measure, at least within so short a 997 period as that which has elapsed since the passing of the Act. The number of men employed in 1841 was 210,198; in 1849 it had increased to 237,971; and in 1851 to 240,928. But, my Lords, besides this, mew trades have sprung up. We have not lost any trade, and there has grown up a transit trade, which is likely to be of the greatest possible importance to this country, but from which we were previously excluded by the American reciprocity laws. Formerly, before the passing of the law, no transit trade with America could exist; but the reciprocity law of America stipulated that the same concession should be made by America as was made by any other country; and we are now, in consequence of our insular and intermediate position, able to I avail ourselves of a transit trade to such an extent that a very considerable traffic and intercourse is springing up: in fact, there is a prospect at the present moment, if we may judge from the very short experience we have had, that England, with our great ports on the Thames, the Mersey, the Clyde, and the Humber, may soon become the entrepÔt between Europe and America. And do we not already see the effect on the shipping interest of all this increased prosperity—for so I may term it, in spite of the statements and statistics of Mr. G. P. Young, and others, who have written on the subject? We see that the shipping interest is obtaining cheaper vessels: that, I believe, is known to all who, like my noble Friend on the cross benches (the Earl of Cardigan), indulge in the luxury of yachting. My noble Friend knows that any member of the Yacht Club could now get a good yacht built for less money than would have been possible five or six years ago, if he employs a proper person. At any rate, as regards the mercantile navy of this country, the vessels are far cheaper and better, the management is better, and, as the effect of these concurrent causes, a large and important extension of trade has ensued. There still remains another most important point, and one in which I, as an individual, as well as many of your Lordships, are very deeply concerned; I mean of course the agricultural interest, as affected by the repeal of the corn laws-—the last trial of the principles of free trade as regards the duties of customs, on any very great or important scale. Now, my Lords, putting on one side for a moment the effects of the change on the farmers and those more immediately interested in the cultivation of the soil, may I ask what 998 has been the effect on the great mass of the population of this country? I say, let the Gentlemen who are now canvassing with a view to the coming election go into our towns; let them not he content to go into the market on market day, and converse with those who buy and sell, but let them look also at the staple of your population, the men whose the we and sinews furnish the materials of all this traffic. Though it may not be the duty particularly of any Member of your Lordships' House, it is a necessity imposed on the Members of the other House of Legislature at this particular moment to make domiciliary visits in those towns; and it is this which will bring vividly before their eyes the amended domestic condition of their inhabitants. I do not talk only of those enormous hives of industry — Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, or Birmingham—I am speaking now of towns of 8,000 or 10,000 inhabitants, agricultural towns, the capitals of your counties, which live entirely by the agricultural interest, such as Salisbury, Grantham, and others; and I may, perhaps, refer to one from which the still small voice of warning has come up to London, within a very few hours (Windsor). I say, those who now visit the by-lanes and streets of such places must recognise, since their last visit in the less happy days of 1847, a marked change in the condition of the population, which can he attributed to no other cause than the decrease in the price of provisions, and the consequent improved means of living which the inhabitants enjoy. Would that your Lordships might he persuaded to accompany some of the Members of the House of Commons in their present canvass, and I say that if you did you would hear the truth from the wives and daughters of the householders. Yes, my Lords, you may smile at the statement; but there is no surer indication of the domestic state and condition of the people than what you may learn from the lips of women upon visits like these; and if you bring me 2 per cent of the women of the labouring classes of any town asking to have the corn laws restored, or any equivalent for the corn laws, in short, consenting to be deprived of what they call the cheap loaf, I will surrender this question at once. My Lords, I have not been long enough out of the other House to be entirely dissociated from these recollections. I have felt it incumbent on me, in consequence of circumstances peculiar to my 999 own affairs, to visit the houses of many of the humbler class, in a way which some of your Lordships, who have been longer in possession of your property, may not have been obliged to adopt, and I assure you I have heard from the wives and daughters of the labouring men of those towns the most touching expressions of thanks for the boon which has been conferred upon them, and the most earnest appeal that under no circumstances might they be deprived of it. My Lords, I have heard stories regarding the condition of these persons from their own lips, more touching far in their humble tone of heart-stirring appeal than anything which flowed from the pen of the Corn Law Rhymer, and better calculated, too, to secure the object which the Corn Law Rhymes were intended to promote. I am almost afraid of frightening the tender sensibilities of some of your Lordships by adverting to the subject; but I must direct your Lordships' attention for a moment, as the most striking evidence of the benefits which must have been derived by the great mass of the population, to the enormous quantity of corn imported into this country during the past few years. That quantity has amounted to 10,000,000 quarters in each year since the year 1846. It is difficult to anticipate with certainty the probable results of any measure at a period before its passing into law; but I recollect the discussions we had in the House of Commons as to the necessity of passing a measure of this kind. We were told that the country was able to produce sufficient for its consumption, and that it was desirable it should be kept as it then was, independent of other countries. But is it not clear now, after the trial this measure has had, with an annual importation of 10,000,000 quarters, is it not clear now how great must have been the privations formerly endured by the labouring classes, when, upon an average, not more than about 3,000,000 quarters annually found their way into this country? And is there a man in your Lordships' House who can feel that he could, consistently with his duty, venture on any course which would have a tendency to deprive of the fair reward of their hard toils the labouring classes of this great and rapidly increasing community? It is not necessary to restrict one's view to the towns; I challenge any man to extend his inspection even to the agricultural districts, to show whether they less manifest the great improvement which has taken place 1000 in the condition of the people. As hearing on this branch of the question, there is one point most deserving your Lordships' attention, as affording an indication of a most unequivocal kind—the state of the poorhouses. In the course of the last year the returns show a diminution over the whole area of England and Wales of 7½ per cent. That decrease has continued; and although I believe by the last returns it has not gone on at the same ratio, yet there is a further diminution of, I think, 3½ per cent in the half-year immediately passed. I hold these returns in my hand, and some remarkable facts appear on their surface relative to the greatest diminution of the poor-rates. We have been in the habit of hearing that the prosperity of the manufacturing districts has increased, but that this has been attended with a lamentable amount of suffering in the agricultural districts; but the returns prove directly the reverse. In some of the manufacturing counties, such as Leicester, Nottingham, and others, the difference is not considerable, and but a trifling decrease appears on the face of the returns; but amongst those which show the largest decrease are the strictly agricultural counties—Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Devonshire, Westmoreland, the East Riding of Yorkshire—these counties present a decrease of 11 per cent. That of itself would prove that in the villages and small towns of the country, not less than in the vast seats of manufacturing industry, there has been a decrease of want and misery, and that the agricultural labourers have been enormously benefited in the substantial form of increased means of subsistence and increased employment. The same circumstances have been observed in the poor-law reports of Scotland. From the last report delivered by the Scottish Poor Law Commission, it appears that, as the expenditure has continued to diminish since 1849, so also has the number of poor; at the same time the number of persons relieved has decreased, whilst the average allowance to each registered pauper is higher than it was in 1848 and 1849. The principal causes of this decrease, the report adds, are no doubt the abundance of employment, and the diminished cost of sustenance. Thus in Scotland there is the same diminution of expenditure, whilst there has been an increased liberality in dispensing assistance. But perhaps the most remarkable proof of the improvement I have yet seen anywhere, is embraced in a report which I have seen from the Poor Law Inspector of 1001 the district, more particularly connected with the noble Earl at the head of the Government; and it is in every respect worthy the highest attention of the noble Earl, not merely as showing the admirable condition of the country, but because it describes the district in which the noble Earl resides, and which is no doubt so familiar to him. The district to which I refer, including within its limits the county of Lancaster, contains a population of 3,111,000 persons, and in the whole of that very large population there are at this present moment only 3 7–10ths per cent of the inhabitants receiving parochial relief—men, women, and children all included. Since 1848, pauperism has decreased at no less a rate than 40 per cent; and your Lordships will recollect that the corn law came into operation within a few months of that time. [The Earl of MALMESBURY: In 1846.] The Act was passed no doubt in 1846; but the alteration came into effect only in February 1849, so that it is clear that the diminution of pauperism was in fact perfectly concurrent with the actual abolition of the corn laws. The saving of expense, it is stated, has been considerable; for, on the maintenance of 79,388 paupers, it appears that a reduction of 237,000l. has been effected. Referring more particularly to the Preston Union, a portion of the district, Mr. Farnall proceeds to state that in 1848, the last year of the duty upon corn, there were 11,638 paupers upon the books, and in 1849 there were 11,102. It would appear, therefore, that the diminution was not so great as in the first year; but if the noble Earl will glance at the figures, he will observe how rapidly it has since decreased, for though from 1848 to 1849 there was only a diminution to the extent of 500, the diminution in the next year was from 11,102 in 1849 to 4,840 in 1850; again, in 1851 to 4,031, and at the commencement of the present year to 3,951. Other proofs of increased prosperity have presented themselves to me when attending the quarter-sessions of the county to which I belong, evidenced in the considerable diminution of crime among the resident labouring population; for I have observed that the business in which we often spent two whole days is now sometimes transacted in a very few hours. So much for the diminution of crime; as far as regards the district in which I am myself resident, we have very little of it amongst the labouring population. Have I not, then, a right, when I prove how the 1002 industry of the labouring poor has been relieved—when I prove how the workhouses are empty—when I show you how, instead of an immense amount of pauperism cooped up within their walls, their former inmates are now labouring in the fields, and earning their subsistence by honest toil—have I not a right to ask who are the friends of domestic industry? Is it those who by forced tampering brought the country into the condition into which it was before these measures passed; or is it not rather those who have relieved industry from its fetters, and, taking men from the workhouses, have set them to the performance of works of utility, whether at the loom or the plough? I am willing to admit that during the years to which I have been especially referring as regards the labouring population, there has been distress amongst the farmers. I am not evading that question, nor ever have done; I have always regarded it as a feature naturally to be looked for, and inevitable under a transition from one state of things to another. I am one certainly who never anticipated that that transition would take place without some distress. I am bound also to say that in many districts, as a natural consequence of the protective system, and I say it without fear in this assembly, rents were too high, and it was inevitable that, until those rents were reduced, and the state and condition of the farmer should be readjusted to that change, by which he may eventually profit, the farmers, under the altered system, must suffer. In short, I will state fearlessly before your Lordships what, upon occasions when I have been called to meet large bodies of the tenant-farmer class, I have abstained from telling them. I say that, as regards the great subject of the condition of the farming and labouring population, this question of protection is essentially a landlord's question. I really cannot sufficiently apologise to your Lordships for the length of a statement which I know it is at all times irksome to listen to, and which I am deeply sensible of wanting the power to make more agreeable. I should be most unwilling—iudeed, I should be departing from the duty of a Peer of this House if I were to attempt— to prejudge the question of what it would become the duty of the noble Earl to do in the next Session of Parliament with respect to this measure now more immediately under consideration. I am certain there will not be a voice lifted in this House against the passing of the measure 1003 on the present occasion. I readily concur with the suggestion made, that it may be our duty to assist him, or whoever may then occupy the Ministerial bench, in the course of next Session of Parliament, in respect to a similar measure; but I must say that, looking to the facts before us, and the necessity of abstaining from prejudging the question, I certainly could have wished that we had not heard such very broad hints thrown out, not so much in this as in the other House, that the system of direct taxation is so vicious in itself, that it is impracticable without exceptions, and with exceptions is no better than confiscation. My Lords, I say I regret it, as an indication of what I trust is not about to take place; and I would almost derive some hope from the statement of the noble Earl as to the impossibility of dispensing at an early period with this tax. But I do hope that the noble Earl will take warning by all that is passing in the country at this time; and if this tax is eventually to be abandoned before the revenue has equalised itself by the increased productiveness of those taxes which now exist, I do hope that he will not resort to that which appears at first sight the simplest and most immediate, and therefore the prominent and obvious expedient, namely, an attempt again to impose duties upon imports of articles constituting the great staples of the trade of the country, or, more important still, the materials of the food of the people. I would wish on this occasion—it may be the last upon which any discussion of this kind will take place in the present Parliament—most solemnly to raise my voice in entreating the noble Earl to abandon any idea of the kind, which I must assure him would indeed be chimerical. I will not employ anything like menace in this House—God forbid I should! — even in this time of perfect quiet and contentment amongst the people; but still it is important that truth should be spoken; and I can assure the noble Earl that, unless I am greatly deceived, the people of this country, attached as they are to their Sovereign and the institutions of the country, will bear much, but they will not suffer any diminution of the advantages they have gained in this respect. I feel certain they will not bear any tampering by which, either through direct or indirect measures, any alteration of taxation will take place which may increase the burdens on the consuming class. I cannot doubt that this House will—as I feel confident 1004 that those who are about to be returned to the Commons House of Parliament will—-support the people in any resistance which may be found necessary—though I trust it will not—and I feel sure that this House will resist any reversal of the great principle which in the last ten years has so enormously benefited the country and blessed its population; and when I say that it will resist a reversal, I comprehend under that term every proposal which has been included or insinuated under the name of revision—I do not mean, of course, such revision as may be found necessary with respect to the minor features of a plan; but I mean a revision such as is intended by some of those who are now canvassing under that new designation which I have no doubt the noble Lord has heard of—as Free-trade Derbyites—who do not scruple to pledge themselves to certain constituencies to what they call free-trade policy, whilst they leave themselves open to modification or revision. My Lords, if it is intended by these slippery words to do by indirect means what the people insist shall not be done by direct means, I am confident that the resistance of both Houses of Parliament will be equally great, and that the repugnance and discontent of the people will be proportionately greater as the means adopted are less justifiable. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby), on a former occasion, in addressing this House, dwelt at considerable length upon the Conservative character of the Government, and the determination to resist what he called the encroachments of democracy. If these encroachments are seriously made, the noble Earl will find in me an humble follower in that respect; but I confess that at present I see but little sign of any encroachment of the kind on the part of the people, although you may occasionally hear an agitator's speech which falls flat upon their ears. But I say the noble Earl has not a right to assume to himself this character until he has made a clean breast on this most important question. I feel confident that a declaration on this night or any other before Parliament is dissolved, assuring the country that he has finally abandoned once for all any intention of restoring the corn laws, or tampering with. the great commercial policy of which he was once a distinguished advocate—such a declaration, I say, would be reassuring; it would place him in a position before the people which might indeed entitle him to some claim of the kind to which I 1005 am alluding. But, my Lords, of this I am certain, that the Conservative policy of this day is a policy of rational, steady, well - considered — and because steady and well-considered, therefore safe and salutary—progress. I believe that you cannot stand still without danger; but of this I am still more certain, that—and the question involves even weightier interests and more solemn consideration than those which are wrapped up in a mere question of trade—if there is any attempt at reaction, then indeed the noble Earl will forfeit the character he has assumed, and he will, though unintentionally, yet most assuredly, be. lending his aid to promote those rash projects which he thinks to arrest, and professes himself most anxious to defeat. I repeat, my Lords, the policy of a Conservative Government is that of steady progress; to stand still, again I say, is dangerous; and in my conscience I believe that at the present day a Government of reaction, however slow, is a Government of revolution.
§ LORD BERNERS
did not desire to follow the noble Duke through the various topics to which he had adverted, but certainly he could not acquiesce in the conclusion he had arrived at. So far as he had been able to ascertain, the effects of free trade upon the labouring classes and the tenant-farmers were the reverse of what the noble Duke had represented; indeed, he knew that in those parts of the country with which he (Lord Berners) was acquainted—Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire—they were accustomed to couple together "free trade and starvation." In the manufacturing town of Leicester, too, he knew the state of the poor had been most unsatisfactory—wages had been reduced to the lowest point, and at one period last year one-tenth of the population had been out of employment, and receiving relief; and at a large meeting of operatives a few months since, he heard the opinion echoed—"Free trade meant low wages and starvation." From Parliamentary returns relative to the Poor Law, he drew facts and inferences very different from those stated by the noble Duke. He found that in 1850 the total amount of money expended in the relief of the poor was 5,395,000l., which was more than the amount expended in 1836 by no less a sum than 677,000l.; and in 1850, the expenditure was hardly a farthing per head less than in the seven years of the highest average price of corn. Since the passing 1006 of the new Poor Law, in 1834, sixteen years had elapsed; and taking eight years in which wheat was above the average of 62s, and eight years in which it was below the average (49s.), the result, by a large proportion, would be found in favour of the former period. The expediture in the eight lowest years, when wheat averaged 48s. 10d, was 41,369,007l.; and in the eight years of highest average, namely, 62s. 6d., was 39,467,481l., leaving 1,901,526l. in favour of the highest price of wheat. By the last Poor Law Report, it appeared that the expenditure for the relief of the poor, in 1850, was greater than in the average of years before the repeal of the corn laws. The expenditure in 1850 might be less than in 1848; but it was greater than in any year between that year and 1836, except the years 1848 and 1849. Again, take another test — that presented by the savings-banks returns. From 1843 to 1846 there was a gradual increase in the deposits; but in 1846 there were 20,600 more depositors than in 1849; and the deposits were less by 306,000l. and upwards in the year 1849 than in that year. He would appeal also to the increase of crime and increase of emigration. He did not wish to detain their Lordships by any further observations; but he had been anxious that the observations of the noble Duke should not pass without contradiction, founded, as he believed they were, on very great misapprehension of the facts.
said, the noble Lord compared the deposits in the savings banks in the year 1846 with those made in the year 1849; but he doubted not that every one of their Lordships was aware that 1848 and 1849 were years of very considerable depression, caused by certain circumstances wholly irrespective of the changes in our commercial policy. They were years of decline, not only on the amount of deposits in the savings banks, but on many of the great exports and imports of this country; and no person who took a just view of this question would think of using that argument against the policy which Sir R. Peel and the late Government had adopted. And now with regard to the poor-laws. It was certain that during the last three years there had been a considerable diminution in the number of paupers in workhouses. The condition of the labourers in his neighbourhood had been for years past a continuously improving condition, entirely owing to the cheap- 1007 ness of the necessaries of life; and he had been glad to find during the whole of the winter, that all the persons in the country with whom he had conversed, had invariably admitted that the state of the labouring classes had undergone very considerable improvements. Sufficient evidence that this was really the case was seen in the reports of the Poor Law Board, the statement therein being, that on the 31st of January this year, as compared with the 31st of January last year, there was a decrease in Norfolk of 13 per cent in the number of ablebodied paupers receiving relief in the Workhouse, and in Suffolk and Essex of about 8 per cent. But, like the noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle), he preferred, as the best of all, ocularevidence; and he would ask any man who knew anything of the labouring classes whether the position taken up by the noble Lord opposite was not utterly unwarranted by the facts? Even at Protectionist meetings, so called, the admission was now made that the condition of the labourers was improved: indeed, so far from their wages having diminished, there was at present an apprehension among the farmers that the rise in wages which was going on in some districts might by-and-by operate to the destruction of all profit upon the cultivation of wheat; and though he did not at all share in that apprehension, he referred to the fact that there was such an alarm as strong evidence of the flourishing condition of the labourers, as compared with their state previous to the repeal of the corn laws. With respect to the occupiers of land themselves, he admitted that there had been difficulty and embarrassment, aggravated particularly among those whose command of capital had been limited, But he was sure that the difficulty was everywhere decreasing. This, indeed, had been allowed by noble Lords opposite; and the concession was not a judicious one in regard to the soundness of their economical doctrines; for if their principles were correct, the depression of the farmers since 1846 ought to have been a steadily increasing depression; and if the farmers were living on their capital, and their profits were falling off, every year must bring them more and more near to the verge of that ruin which had been so long predicted, but which had not yet arrived; but he would ask those who were acquainted with the agricultural counties, whether instead of depression there was not a decidedly improved tone of the occupiers of land? How, then, did the noble Earl reconcile 1008 it to himself that he was exciting hopes that would be of no benefit to the farmers, and that induced them to depart from that course of industry to which they were giving their attention? One most preposterous argument had been used, namely, that, notwithstanding the importation of 10,000,000 quarters of corn, including last year about 5,000,000 quarters of wheat or wheat flour, not a single loaf more had been eaten. It was known, however, on all hands, that at present unprecedented quantities of artificial manure and guano were being used in agriculture in this country, and that draining was going on to an enormous extent. Then as to all other classes, the speech of a right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) in another place a few nights ago was conclusive. The agriculturists themselves had made vast exertions, convinced that they could no longer look to Government for aid or protection; and he referred to the reports of the Inclosure Commissioners, to show that the cultivation of the large extent of land which had been enclosed could not have been without very remarkable effects upon agriculture generally. It appeared, from the report of the Inclosure Commissioners, that since their appointment, some seven years ago, there had been no less than 644 applications for inclosures; 160 of those were disposed of before the last annual report, and of the remaining 483, 364 were granted, and the land had been since inclosed, and the quantity of land authorised to be inclosed since the last general annual report was 46,798 acres. The noble Duke had dilated upon what he believed to be the feeling of the country on this question. It would probably be better if the question could be argued as an economical question, and as a question of reason; but it was clear that the great body of the working classes viewed this as simply a question of feeling, and that feeling no wise or prudent Minister would trifle with, for, rely upon it, they would not view a proposal to re-enact, fully or partially, the corn laws, as a mere political move; The statement of the noble Earl that evening had been exceedingly brief; but brief as it had been, it had greatly surprised him. He remembered that last year when the noble Earl had not the responsibility of Government upon him, but had failed in forming an Administration, he presented their Lordships and the country with a very ample, elaborate, frank and open, programme of what his policy would have 1009 been as distinguished from the policy pursued by the then existing Government. The principal point in that programme was a gradual diminution of the income tax, coupled with a moderate duty on corn. It was to be regretted that the noble Earl was not as distinct and explicit on this occasion, and that he had not taken the opportunity of relieving the country from the deep uncertainty in which it was placed with regard to the policy of his Government. It was very natural that noble Lords opposite should be but ill pleased with the constant recurrence of such remarks as these; but it was not the fault of those who were on that (the Opposition) side of the House that they had so frequently to entreat the Government to explain their policy; for it was, indeed, a very remarkable state of things when the Minister of Finance having made a statement in another place, confirming the facts upon which the late changes in our commercial policy were based, the First Lord of the Treasury should qualify his admissions and mystify his statement, not in his place in Parliament, but at a public dinner at the Mansion House. Under such circumstances, impatience for explicitness was excusable, and was indeed a duty on every Member of the Legislature. The interests at stake demanded that every doubt should be set at rest. It was not merely a question of reversing the policy of Sir Robert Peel — though he understood the Government had no intention of attempting to do that: it was something more—it was a question whether the present Government would adept that policy in all its integrity, and carry it out to its legitimate lengths. That policy was not completed, it was only begun. There were still remaining unsettled questions relating to sugar; to the coasting trade, as affected by the repeal of the navigation laws; to the timber duties, an equalisation of which had been promised, and was greatly desired; and to the tea duties. On all these questions the country was entitled to some distinct explanation from the Ministers, and to know whether the Government were determined to deal with them in the spirit in which Sir Robert Peel had dealt with the other great subjects of his commercial policy. The interests at stake might be said to be more than of national concern. In the course now to be taken, the commerce of the whole civilised world was affected. The United States and the great nations of the Continent were looking to the commercial policy of England for a warning or an ex- 1010 ample. Some of these nations (as, for instance, Prussia) were wavering between an advanced and a restrictive tariff; and if England reversed her steps, and did not persevere in her free-trade policy, it would be believed that that policy was abandoned because it had not been successful. He believed the course the noble Earl was pursuing would be injurious to the great party of which he was the head; for he was convinced that he was discrediting that party by giving no explanation of his policy, and while he ostentatiously appealed to be tried by the country, refusing to declare the issue to be decided.
§ The EARL of ALBEMARLE
regretted that the First Lord of the Treasury would not condescend to give their Lordships some inkling as to his future policy. This was the more to be lamented, because the noble Earl was not so chary of his declarations in other places, such as the Mansion House, for instance. His speech there had been well designated as an elaborate mystification; but even that was better than nothing. It was hard upon their Lordships that no explanation could be drawn from the Government, except what was elicited by turtle and champagne. The noble Earl, in a recent speech, spoke of great distress existing among parties not connected either with commerce or manufactures, and he supposed the noble Earl alluded to the agricultural classes; but it must be remembered that there were three distinctions of persons included among the agricultural classes—the labourer, the tenant-farmer, or the landlord: to which did the noble Earl allude? He would assume that the landlord was not meant, and it could not be the labourer, because there never was a period within the last fifty years in which the labourer was in a better condition than he was at present. Could any noble Lord mention a period in which the labouring man, thanks to the blessings of free trade, had had more bread, more bacon, more butter, more eggs, tea, sugar, and coffee— and another article, not a necessary of life, but the poor man's luxury—namely, tobacco? As evidencing the well-being of the labouring classes, he would refer to a statement of the consumption of tobacco per head in the four decennial periods, 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851: Tobacco, 1821, 11oz.; 1831, 12oz.; 1841, 13oz.; 1851, 16oz. Thus their Lordships would see that, in the first three periods, there was a regular increase of about an ounce per head; and in the last period there was an enormous jump to an increase of three 1011 ounces; the duty of 3s. remaining the same throughout the time. With reference to the tenant-farmer, he maintained that, since the period of free trade, there had been exhibited more skill, enterprise, and industry by him, and there had also been a greater expenditure of capital in farming. The following statement of the consumption of bones and guano in tons would show how much had been expended on those two articles alone: Bones and guano, 1848, 103,995 tons; 1849, 112,862 tons; 1850, 144,123 tons; 1851, 274,970 tons; an increase over the first year of 137 per cent. Valued at 10l. per ton, 2,749,700l. He admitted that there certainly had been a considerable degree of depression among the tenant-farmers, but that was in consequence of the transition from high to low prices; but there was every reason to believe that that depression would be only temporary. He would read some extracts from letters, showing what was now the condition of the country. The first was written by Mr. Scott, of Bungay, who was a Conservative and Protectionist, if he thought he could get protection; but he stated that such a measure could not be carried without something like a rebellion in the manufacturing districts. He wrote:—The farmers in our neighbourhood have made extraordinary exertions in draining, clearing, ditching, claying, & c, And this has given much employment to the labourer.The Rev. Mr. G. Sandby, vicar of Flixton, and chairman of the Waynford Union, wrote as follows, in reference to the part of Suffolk where he resided:—It is a district of very heavy land, and the crops of last harvest, unlike those in most parts of the kingdom, were very far below the average, and indeed, were lamentably deficient, from the ejects of a local blight; and, as a consequence, the tenant -farmers, who in my neighbourhood are by no means an opulent body, have suffered severe losses from a circumstance quite irrespective of the price of gain. It might, therefore, not have been unreasonable to expect that the pressure on the working classes would have been more than commonly severe; and certainly I looked forward to the winter with anxiety. What are the facts? I have been actively engaged in the administration of the Poor Law from the first formation of our union, and at this season of the year, I have never known our labourers better, if even as well employed; J have never known our duties, as guardians, lighter; and I have never known our workhouse so comparatively free of ablebodied men. Week after week during this winter, when I have compared the condition of the union-house with its condition in the corresponding week of the six or seven years previously, our improved state was most noticeable. Of course, the agricultural labourer is very far from being in that 1012 condition in which we should all wish to see him; still, wages have not fallen with us in proportion to the price of corn: and it is my belief that the poor man and his wife and children have had more food in their mouths during the last two or three years than they had had for a similar period during my remembrance.The next extract he should read was from the letter of a gentleman who had the management of his (the Earl of Albemarle's) estate in Norfolk, but who was a Protectionist in opinion, He wrote—In my observation, which covers no little space of time and extent of country, I never witnessed more activity nor so much disposition to improve. I may say that every man with sufficient capital to stand through the depression is, doing everything in his power to improve his cultivation and increase his produce; fully as much labour is employed, and more artificial manure and more artificial food are used than at any former period in my recollection or observation.The gentleman, whose letter he was next about to quote, was the first agriculturist in England, namely, Mr. Blyth, of Sussex-farm, Norfolk; a gentleman of large property, who was farming his own extensive farm. He wrote—My Lord—You are aware that our people depend entirely on agricultural employment, either directly with farmers, or indirectly with tradesmen connected with farming. The condition of the farm labourer has been regularly improving during the last six years. There are fewer hands out of employment at any time; there are fewer applications for relief at the workhouse; there is frequently an inquiry for labourers by farmers."…. "With respect to farming, there is an immense exertion made to increase the produce of land, by the purchase of manures, keeping more sheep, growing more cattle, and by a more cleanly system of tillage. All this increases the demand for labourers in the first instance, and then the increased produce requires more hands to turn it round for market,He would read one more extract, and then conclude. Another gentleman stated—Now, as to the industry, skill, and capital among tenant-farmers, I have no hesitation in saying agriculture has materially improved since I became connected with West Norfolk ten years ago. Whether the capital be borrowed or real, I cannot say, but I am certain more is employed by seven men out of ten. The man who was satisfied to grow six or seven coombs of wheat per acre, now employs more labour, buys more artificial manure, and increases his produce to eight or nine coombs per acre, and for the simple reason that he is obliged to make up by quantity for what he has lost in price. Wherever you go it is easy to perceive that the agricultural mind is more active and inquiring than heretofore; fresh plans are eagerly listened to and carefully tried, and every one feels that he must not leave a stone unturned to lessen the cost of production, and at the same time to increase the produce.These were a few extracts from the letters of some of the most intelligent farmers in 1013 England, describing the present condition of the country. He had ventured to bring them under their Lordships' notice, and, having done so, he implored the noble Earl at the head of the Government to declare, what the world was beginning to think, that his convictions had undergone a great change.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he desired to make a few observations, which, however, he would gladly postpone if any noble Lord were disposed to address the House on the part of the Government. After the statement of the noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) who entered into a vindication of the results of the commercial system introduced during the two late Administrations, it was surprising that no one connected with the Government should have risen to say one word in reply, either to refute the noble Duke, or to admit gracefully that the Members of the present Government had been in error during the whole time they opposed that commercial system to which he (Earl Granville) had just referred. However, as matters now? stood, it would go forth to the country that the Government were unwilling to admit the facts stated by the noble Duke, though they were at the same time unable either to deny those facts, or in the least way to diminish the force of the argument which accompanied them. He thought this to be part of that course of conduct of which not only that House, but the country, had cause to complain. The noble Earl at the head of the Government, in the short speech in which he introduced the present important measure, referred to the course which, on his assumption of the reins of government, he had proposed to take. The noble Earl stated that during the present Session of Parliament he would only introduce measures of absolute necessity, and that then he would appeal to the country to decide on the principles of finance and commerce upon which the Government should proceed. At the same time it appeared to him (Earl Granville) that they had clearly a right to ask the noble Earl to define precisely the course he intended to propose to Parliament after the elections. They had a right to expect that he would state the general principles and tendency of the measures on which the country was to decide; but so far from the country being favoured with any insight into the general principles of the policy which the Government intended 1014 to pursue, it so happened that, sometimes through appeals made by the ordinary supporters of the Government to their constituents, sometimes by declarations made by those connected by high official position with the Government, and, at other times, by speeches delivered in Parliament having different tendencies, the one from the other, their Lordships, and the constituencies of the country, were left much more in the dark at the present moment as to what policy would probably be adopted by the Government, than they were on the day on which the noble Lords opposite assumed the Government. Every point connected with the future commercial system of the country was involved in perfect obscurity as far as the Government were concerned. Was it or was it not intended by the Government to relieve the landed interest by a direct duty on the import of corn, or by some indirect mode to charge the rest of the community for the relief of the landed interest?—or was it the intention of the Government to continue the present commercial system, and the alterations introduced by Sir Robert Peel? The noble Earl at the head of the Government had made a speech that very year, in the course of which he stated that the present system was mischievous, and that he was still of opinion that a recurrence to a duty on corn for the purposes of revenue and protection was necessary. If he mistook not, that was what the noble Earl said.
§ The EARL of DERBY
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. The noble Earl is wrong in quoting me as saying that a duty on corn, in my opinion, is a matter of necessity. What I stated was, and distinctly as my own opinion, that for the purpose at once of relieving the suffering agricultural classes, and also for improving the revenue, whereby we should be enabled to take off other taxes, without injury to the consumer, an import duty on corn would be desirable. I also stated that whether relief was to be afforded to the suffering agricultural classes by the imposition of a duty on foreign corn, was a matter which was to rest on the opinion of the constituencies. In no case did I say that it was a matter of necessity; but that, in my opinion, it was a desirable mode of offering relief to the agricultural classes. I hold that opinion still; but I state again that it is a question to be left to the constituencies of the country; and, moreover, I may add, if it will give any satisfaction to the noble Earl or to others, my opinion is, from what I have since heard and 1015 learned, that there certainly will not be in favour of the reimposition of a duty on foreign corn that extensive majority in the country, without which, I stated to your Lordships' House, it would not be desirable to impose such a duty.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
was glad that a mistake into which he had unintentionally fallen had drawn from the noble Earl so decided a statement, which give the greatest satisfaction to the country at large; namely, that there was no likehood of the reimposition of a duty on foreign corn, and that the great question that the price of the people's food was not to be enhanced by artificial scarcity was at last and for ever to be given up. After what had fallen from the noble Earl, there was hardly any topic on which he (Earl Granville) need address the House. With regard to the Navigation Laws, the noble Earl had already declared that it certainly was not the intention of the Government to re-enact the whole system. He could, if necessary, give several instances of the beneficial effects which have followed the repeal of the navigation laws, and of the enormous increase in the number of vessels now engaged in trade. In consequence of the repeal of the old navigation laws, a considerable number of our vessels had been engaged in trade with the United States, which, unless for the repeal of those laws, could not have had access to that country. More than 500 vessels, which previously could not have been admitted, had entered into the United States; and a few vessels less than 400 had cleared out. But, after the clear statements already made by noble Lords near him, and after the declaration just made by the noble Earl at the head of the Government —suddenly and unexpectedly—he thought he should be wasting their Lordships' time if he detained them a minute longer.
The MARQUESS of CLANRIOARDE
wished to call their Lordships' attention to a point which had not been adverted to during the debate. The Bill under discussion was the most important that had been laid before the House this Session, yet the Peers were not summoned in accordance with the usual practice; he was sure it was in consequence of some mistake.
§ The EARL of DERBY
was understood to say that his impression was that the second reading of the Bill would be taken that night proformâ, and the discussion reserved for the Committee. He certainly came down to the House without any idea of a lengthened debate taking place. If he 1016 had thought the debate was to take place that evening, the Peers would have been summoned. But, under the impression which he had, that course was not taken, nor had he asked for the attendance of the supporters of the Government.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
wished to say a word in explanation. As the noble Earl stated that he had been taken by surprise, it followed, of course, that he (the Duke of Newcastle) was the individual who took him by surprise. Now he must say that the noble Earl had not correctly represented the state of the case. The noble Earl gave notice of the second reading of the Bill, but he gave no public notice that he intended to ask their Lordships to read it a second time pro forma. If the noble Earl on Friday last had intimated any such desire, he was sure their Lordships would at once have yielded to his request. The noble Earl was well aware that he (the Duke of Newcastle) had offered no objection to the course he wished to take. Although when he came down to the House, he had not the remotest idea that the noble Earl intended to read the Bill pro forma, yet on receiving an intimation to that effect after he came into the House, he told the noble Earl that so far as he was individually concerned he might take whatever course he pleased, and that he would consent to any arrangement the noble Earl might prefer. But he also told the noble Earl that other Peers had been equally taken by surprise, and that they perhaps might object to read a Bill of such importance pro formâ, although they might not object to postponing the second reading till tomorrow. If the noble Earl had been taken by surprise, it was in consequence of the proceedings of his officials in the other House. The noble Earl had been told by a noble Lord that the course he proposed to take was an impossibility—that he could not take the second reading pro forma this evening, and postpone the Committee till Friday, because it was necessary for the public service that the Bill should be passed before Friday next. He could state most positively that that information was given to the noble Earl, and that in consequence of that information the noble Earl proceeded to the bar of the House to make inquiries whether such was the case, and then came back and stated that he neither could postpone the second reading, nor take it pro forma, but must proceed with it in the usual way, as the public service required it. As to the noble Earl being 1017 taken by surprise, he (the Duke of Newcastle) came down in consequence of the notice that the Bill was to he read a second time—a notice given by the noble Earl himself—quite prepared to offer the opinions and arguments which he had lately ventured to deliver; hut, as he had before stated, he had been equally ready to suit the convenience of the Government by postponing his remarks till a future day.
§ The EARL of DERBY
laid no blame on the course pursued by the noble Duke, who had very accurately stated that although it was inconvenient to him to postpone the debate till Thursday, he was willing to do so. With regard to what bad been stated by another noble Lord, he had rather overstated the fact. It was not a matter of necessity that the Bill should pass before the holidays, although it would he convenient for the public service if it did pass before that time.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
said, the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) seemed to forget that this Bill had been accepted by the country on the ground that it was only a measure of a temporary nature. He (the Marquess of Clanricarde) would go into no remarks on the question; but he must say that be thought it would be most desirable if the noble Earl would only state now—after giving the House distinctly to understand that he had no idea of imposing a duty on corn—if the noble Earl would only go one step further, and say, that he would lay no burden upon the people for the benefit of any class whatever. The noble Earl must come to that declaration next year; and he had lately received a gentle reminder from Windsor, and another from Newark, that the country were determined there should he no burdens of that sort imposed. Then why should the noble Earl not give up the paltry consideration which could be derived from such a source, and at once say that protection to agriculture—as it had been called—hut what it might be he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) could not pretend to say—but if the noble Earl would only say at once that he had no idea of imposing any such burdens on any class of the people, how much more advantageous would such a declaration be for the welfare of the country.
§ EARL GREY
said, he had heard with very great surprise the observations of the noble Earl upon the order of their proceedings. He would remind their Lordships of what had taken place on former occasions. The income tax had been for many years 1018 the very keystone of our financial and commercial policy. No Minister of the Crown, in moving the second reading of that measure, had ever failed to explain the views and intentions of the Government in proposing it. Last year, when his noble Friend (the Marquess of Lansdowne) moved the second reading of a Bill precisely similar to this, he thought it respectful to their Lordships to state somewhat fully his views upon the subject; and the noble Earl opposite then entered into a discussion on every one of the topics which had now been adverted to. Seeing that the noble Earl had now taken this Bill into his own management, he (Earl Grey) conceived, as a matter of course, that the Bill would be discussed as similar Bills had been discussed in former years, and he had consequently, at great inconvenience, come down to the House for the discussion. Had the noble Earl, at the last meeting of the House, stated that he wished the Bill to be read a second time pro forma, he was sure no Peer would have objected; but after coming down to the House, with their arrangements made for the discussion, to be told that the noble Earl had settled with another noble Lord that it would be better to take the discussion at a future stage, he must say was not treating the House with proper respect; and the House, in these circumstances, might fairly object to taking the second reading merely pro formâ. He was glad, therefore, that the proposal to pass the Bill through its present stage in that manner, had not been persevered in, and that the discussion had been allowed to go on; though what had passed he could hardly call a discussion, since a discussion implied that something should he said on both sides, and the argument hitherto had been all on one side. This was not a debate. Noble Lords opposite might say, in the words of the slave in the play, Ubi tu pulsas ego vapulo tanlum; and he really pitied them for the humiliating position in which they were placed, compelled as they were to listen to the able statements of the noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle), and the important statistical facts brought forward by his noble Friend (the Earl of Albemarle), without venturing to say one word, and not daring either boldly and avowedly to confess they had heretofore been in error, or to stand up and maintain the opinions which they had so long professed; they shrank from taking either the one line or the other. But it appeared to him that, although noble Lords opposite were 1019 afraid to maintain their former opinions, and endeavouring by their strange silence to stifle the debate, their Lordships ought not to allow the discussion to be put by, and slurred over in a manner so discreditable to the House, but were bound to discuss the matter fully; and it was therefore with extreme satisfaction that he had heard the speech of the noble Duke and his noble Friends near him. No Member of the Government had ventured to contradict the facts stated by his noble Friend; the great reduction effected in taxation without any corresponding diminution in the revenue; the prosperity of trade; the spirit of enterprise and activity which at this moment distinguished every branch of industry, not excluding even agriculture; the fact that pauperism had diminished, and, according to the admission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the prosperity of this country was never greater. Not one of these statements had been met by noble Lords who were formerly so eloquent in describing the distress of the country, and in calling upon the then Government to say how long they meant to persevere in that experiment of free trade which the noble Lords considered had failed so lamentably. He felt it the more necessary not to let the discussion drop, because, though his noble Friend (Earl Granville) had that evening at length extorted from the noble Earl opposite the information that no duty was to be imposed on corn, and it was known that the Navigation Laws were not to be meddled with; there was another subject, on which it appeared that the Government intended to alter the policy which had been pursued for some time, and that was with respect to sugar. It was reported to have been stated in the other House that some alteration in the existing arrangements on the subject would be proposed hereafter. Now, that being the case, considering the great interest which, from the office he had held, he had taken in that question, he hoped their Lordships would permit him to state a few very striking details connected with the produce and consumption of sugar. In the year immediately preceding that in which foreign sugar was first practically admitted for consumption to any extent, that is, up to April, 1846, the consumption of sugar in the United Kingdom was 5,714,000 cwts. In the year ending April, 1852, it had increased to 7,583,000 cwts. But, looking back a little further, he found that, taking the last complete year 1020 before any foreign sugar was brought to the markets of this country, namely, July, 1844, the whole quantity of sugar admitted was 4,145,000 cwts.; and in the half-year ending January last the consumption was 4,033,000 cwts.; so that during that half-year the quantity consumed was within 100,000 cwts. of the consumption in twelve months prior to the admission of foreign sugar. That was a very striking fact, and very easily accounted for. Prior to the introduction of foreign sugar, when there was a monopoly in this market of British sugar, he found, by a return laid on the table of the House of Commons, that the price of Havana sugar in bond was 21s. 3d., whilst that of British West India sugar was 34s. 9d., making a difference of 13s. 6d. Now as Havana sugar was notoriously better in quality than the average of British sugar, it followed that the difference in price arose entirely from the differential duty which then existed, and was an enhancement to the British consumer of the cost of sugar beyond the amount of duty. The British sugar and molasses— reckoning 3 lbs. of molasses as equivalent to 1 lb. of sugar—consumed in that year were 4,145,000 cwt.; and, therefore, in addition to the large revenue of 5,254,000l. which was received into the Exchequer from sugar, the British consumer was subjected to a further tax to the extent of no less than 2,790,000l., which was in no degree less felt as a burthen because it brought nothing into the Treasury. But since the passing of the Acts of 1846 and 1848 the price of British sugar was brought down much nearer to that of foreign sugar; and in two years more, if the law remained unaltered, the duties would be the same, and of course, therefore, there can then be no difference in the price of sugar except that which depends upon its equality. Already it appeared, from the return he had already quoted, that the difference of the price in bond of foreign and British sugar, which, as he had stated, had been 13s. 6d., had fallen to 1s. 8d.; and as the duty on British sugar had in the same time been reduced from 14s. to 10s.; it followed that while the tax on sugar which was paid into the Treasury had been reduced only by 4s., that which was really levied, without benefit to the revenue, by the enhanced price of British sugar, had been reduced no less than 11s. 10d.; and the result had been, that whilst the consumer had gained enormously, the consumption had so increased, that the revenue, instead of suffering, had actually gained. The reve- 1021 nue received in the year, up to July, 1846, was little better than 3,500,000l.; whereas the revenue received up to July last, Was 4,130,000l. Therefore the effect of the measure had been, while giving an immense relief to the consumer, and extending trade in all directions, to give also an secession to the revenue, rendering it possible to effect other reductions of taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might well say, in reference to the article of Sugar, that it was a marvellous example of the effect of reducing duties. The benefit of the alteration, so far as this country was concerned, really could not be contested after the statement of such facts. But when the alteration in the policy of this Country took place, and when foreign sugar was first admitted, it was said the effect of the change would be to destroy the cultivation of sugar in the British colonies, and give a new impulse to the slave trade. We were told that it would be vain to increase the vigilance of our squadron, or to take any other measures to suppress the slave trade; that if we gave such an enormous bonus, the slave trade would continue to flourish, and that it was worse than hypocrisy to lower the duty on slave-grown sugar, and maintain the squadron on the coast of Africa. From that opinion he had utterly dissented, strongly urging upon their Lordships his belief that the ultimate effect of the measure would be to promote the abolition of slavery, and increase cultivation in the British possessions. Now, with regard to the slave trade, he was happy to say that his prediction had been verified; for their Lordships were aware that Lord Palmerston, before leaving office, had congratulated himself and the country on the almost practical extinction of the slave trade. He had no doubt the present Government would follow up the same determined measures for putting an end to the slave trade; and, if so, he was happy to think that this infamous traffic, which already was very nearly extinguished, would soon be so completely. It was certain that this seemed to be expected, for the planters of Cuba were beginning to substitute free labour for slave labour, and a contract had been entered into to bring no less than 8,000 free labourers from China. Now, the labour market of China was no less open to the British planter than to the Cuban planter, and before he left office he had the satisfaction of having reason to hope, that by means which had been taken, an emigration of that de- 1022 scription to the British Colonies, would be set on foot. It was clear, then, that the admission of foreign sugar had not been sufficient, at all events, to counteract our efforts for the suppression of the slave trade, since that trade had never been brought so low. It was also confidently predicted by the opponents of the free-trade policy, that the effect of the change would, at any rate, be to put an end to the cultivation of sugar in the British colonies. Now, how far had that prediction been realised? The cultivation of sugar was a branch of industry in which any falling-off very quickly manifested itself. It was now little less than six years since the principle of an immediate diminution of protection and an equalisation of duty between British and foreign sugar was established; and nearly four since the law, which was still in force, had been passed—consequently there had been ample time for the change in our commercial policy to produce its full, or almost its full, effect on the cultivation of our Colonies. He had therefore been exceedingly anxious to ascertain, from facts, what the effect of the change of policy had really been; and, as a single year was sometimes deceptive, owing to a variety of causes, he had taken the averages of three years. He would take the liberty of quoting to their Lordships a return, which would show the average production of sugar in the three great divisions of the British possessions—the West Indies, the East Indies, and the Mauritius, in the three years 1839, 1840, and 1841, being the first three years after complete emancipation; the three years 1842, 1843, and 1844, being the last three years before any foreign competition was allowed at all; the three years 1845, 1846, 1847, being the three years during which the new policy had taken comparatively little effect, and the last three years. It was a curious circumstance that every one of these triennial periods showed a steady increase of production, not only in the East Indies and Mauritius, which might have been expected, but also in the West Indies. In the West Indies the production of sugar in the first three years after emancipation was 2,388,000 cwts.; in the last three years of complete monopoly, namely, from 1842 to 1844, inclusive, it was 2,487,000 cwts.; in the three years ending 1847 it was 2,733,000 cwts.; and in the last three years ending 1851, when the free-trade policy had taken full effect, the importation of sugar from the British West 1023 India colonies had increased to 2,833,000 cwts., being the largest importation in any triennial period since the emancipation of the slaves. This showed conclusively that production was not falling off. Further than this—he had compared, island by island and colony by colony, the production for 1850 and 1851; and it was a very singular circumstance that there was no British possession, from Jamaica to the East Indies, which did not show an increase in 1851 as compared with 1850. He thought this fact would satisfy their Lordships that this free-trade policy had not led to the throwing out of cultivation the British colonies as to the production of sugar—on the contrary, their production was increasing. The reduction of the price of British sugar had been met by increased economy in production, and the planters were now really better off than they were in 1846. The reduction in price had been met also by a diminution of wages: it would perhaps be more accurate to say, that the slaves had consented to perform more labour for the same money. The effect of protective duties was not to relieve the planter, not to prevent distress to the West Indies: the effect of the monopoly was, to enable the emancipated slave to satisfy himself with working two days in the week for five or six hours a day in the most productive colonies, and to make the British labourer pay sixty or seventy per cent more than was necessary for the article which is now a necessary of life, in order that the emancipated slave might be able to earn such extravagant wages for working such a short time. In a despatch from Governor Higginson, dated Mauritius, 14th of October, 1851, which was laid on their Lordships' table on the 23rd February last, he found the following passages:—I found abroad a spirit of self-reliance, a conviction of the adequacy of our growing resources, and a resolution to combat with vigour the difficulties still unsubdued, that to my view present unmistakeable earnests of ultimate success. I saw in some quarters luxuriant canes covering lands redeemed within a few years from the forest or the rock, now amply remunerating the labour and capital bestowed upon them. I saw in others substantial edifices rising up, new and powerful steam engines at work, and improved processes of manufacture rewarding the enterprise of their introducers, and everywhere symptoms of activity, energy, and industry. I saw the Indian immigrant in the field working steadily and with good will, and when at rest cheerful and contented in his camp. As it is by him and through him that the Mauritian planter must rise or fall, to the character of the relations subsisting between them, the utmost importance ought, I conceive, to be at- 1024 tached. So far as I could judge, and I took pains to ascertain correctly, these relations are highly satisfactory. Complaints on either side grow more rare as the language, the character, and the habits of the Indian become better understood: and from what I heard and witnessed, I believe that he and his employer are mutually pleased and satisfied."…. "I may perhaps be over-sanguine, but I witnessed so many significant symptoms of progress and improvement throughout the island, that I cannot resist the conviction that the foundation is now being laid of wealth and prosperity more stable and enduring than ever could have been obtained under the former speculative and artificial system of labour and of prices, which for a time largely enhanced profits, and ultimately left the colony on the verge of bankruptcy and ruin."… Whilst I am enabled to report thus favourably of our material prospects, I believe I am warranted in stating that progress has also been made in ameliorating the moral and social condition of the people.The witnesses examined before the Committee of the House of Commons in 1848, stated positively, that the Mauritius must go out of cultivation, unless a large protection were restored. Had these predictions been fulfilled? In the three years ending 1844, when British sugar possessed a complete monopoly, the average importation from the Mauritius was 568,000 cwts., whilst the average importation for the last three years was 967,000 cwts. That statement he considered quite conclusive as to the progress of the Mauritius under the new system. The same thing held in a great degree with respect to British Guiana, and he begged to read a few lines from a despatch received from the Governor, and dated the 12th of November last, in which it was stated that the situation of the planters was better than it had been for many years; and if they acted prudently there was no reason to apprehend any reverse. He was bound to state, in fairness, that since the despatch was written, there had been some fall in the price of sugar that did produce a great feeling of alarm in that colony; but, looking to the discussions in the papers and at public meetings, it appeared that the great object of alarm was no longer slave sugar, but beet sugar. It was stated that the cultivation of the beetroot sugar on the Continent had created alarm amongst the colonists; but for his part he believed that alarm was unfounded; for even with the assistance of a heavy protective duty, it was impossible that beetroot could long sustain a competition with the sugar cane. However, whether beetroot sugar was the object of alarm or not, it was quite as much to be feared by the slave planter as by the British planter—it was as much to be feared by Cuba and Brazil 1025 as by British Guiana. He admitted that great distress prevailed at present in Jamaica; in that colony the pressure at present, he admitted, was very severe: that he candidly acknowledged; but he could not help adding that Jamaica, possessing as it does great natural advantages—second to none of their colonies, but, on the contrary, probably superior to any of them—taking the amount of population, their comparative civilisation, the nature of the soil and climate—Jamaica ought not to be under a disadvantage, as compared with the other colonies. It was now, indeed, suffering from the effects of a very fatal visitation of cholera, but infinitely more from the circumstance that in that colony the planters had listened too much to those who called themselves friends of the colonists, but who were in fact their worst enemies. Listening to such bad advice, the Jamaica planters had fixed all their hopes on the success of their visionary attempts to recover protection; they had refused to adopt any of the remedial measures to which their attention had been called; and the Legislature of that colony had unfortunately obstinately fixed its eyes upon the restoration of protection, and nothing else. By listening to those who called themselves the friends of the West Indians, but of whom, if they were to judge of the results, they were the worst enemies, they refused to adopt any of those measures which were completely within their own power for improving the state of things in that magnificent colony. While the other West India colonies were recovering from the extreme depression under which they were lately suffering, while the Mauritius was advancing with gigantic strides, and increasing its production to the extent he had described, in Jamaica alone the prospect of the planter showed little improvement; but even there production was showing some slight increase. Passing from the subject of sugar, there was another point relating to the general policy of free trade, to which he begged to call the attention of their Lordships. He wished to remind them lint the very remarkable improvement which was admitted to have taken place in the state of the country, must plainly be the result of liberating industry from the restrictions to which it had been formerly subjected by a vicious policy, since it had been brought about in spite of circumstances in every other respect most unfavourable. The great commercial and financial revolution—for he could call it 1026 nothing else—begun in 1846, and almost entirely completed by the repeal of the navigation laws in 1849—that great commercial revolution had taken place under circumstances of the greatest possible disadvantage. It was impossible to conceive circumstances that could have made it more difficult for that great change to succeed. The Bill for the repeal of the corn duties had scarcely passed before the potato disease, which had been partially felt in the preceding autumn, came upon the country again with tenfold violence. The whole food, he might say, of the great body of the population of Ireland was destroyed, and concurrently with that there was a general deficiency of corn not only in this country, but throughout the greater part of Europe. The consequence was, that in Ireland, in the latter part of 1846 and during 1847, there was an absolute famine; and in this country the distress arising from the high price of food approached very nearly to it. They could not forget that in 1847 every man felt the most serious anxiety and apprehension, lest the country should be absolutely without supplies before the harvest. Corn for one or two weeks sold in Mark Lane at a price of at least 100s. a quarter. The country was obliged to borrow no less than 8,000,000l. for the relief of intense distress in Ireland; and in this country, though they had been enabled to obtain the corn they wanted by the energy of their merchants, they had to pay for it a price that was a most fearful drain upon our resources. That was not all. Concurrently with the distress arising from those circumstances, there came the fearful reaction of the railway mania, and of the overtrading of 1845 and 1846; and the latter part of 1847 was, from the concurrent effect of all these causes, probably a period of as deep and aggravated distress as the country had almost ever gone through. To those who had the responsibility of Government at the time, it was a period of the most intense anxiety and distress. Even this, however, was not all. On the Continent, early in the following spring, broke out the revolution of February, 1848, and convulsions followed throughout Europe that paralysed trade from one extremity of the Continent to the other. Was it possible to conceive a greater combination of circumstances calculated to try the resources of the country? We were obliged to borrow 10,000,000l. to meet the immediate pressure, and the distress was as intense as it 1027 was possible to conceive. But under the free-trade policy, and he might say by virtue of it, and in consequence of it, they saw how triumphantly the country had passed through that tremendous ordeal. In the first place, he would point out that in 1847, distressed as the people were, and suffering as they were, yet, knowing that their suffering arose not from the artificial legislation of Parliament—that it was not aggravated by any law restricting the introduction of corn—that every facility that could be afforded was given for their relief— knowing it was a visitation of a higher Power, and not the work of Parliament, they submitted to the infliction with a patience and resignation which were infinitely to their credit. And he would say that their patience and resignation met with a speedy reward. Industry and enterprise, not checked by disturbance and confusion, as they were in other parts of the world, speedily revived, being also given a free career by the abolition of vicious and impolitic laws; new branches of trade were struck out, merchants and manufacturers exerted themselves in a manner that created astonishment in everybody, and all traces of those fearful calamities were repaired in a time inconceivably short. He would remind them of what had been the result in a financial point of view. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had told them that those commercial questions were irrelevant in discussing the question of a property tax; but he should point out to him that their commercial and financial policy were one and the same— that there were not two subjects, but one subject indissolubly connected, from the circumstance that the manner in which their revenue was raised necessarily determined the nature of their commercial policy. Look how the emancipation of their industry had told on the financial interests of the country. He had pointed out to them that during the period of distress they had borrowed 10,000,000l., 8,000,000l. being for Ireland; five years only had since elapsed, and the amount that had been repaid, or for the repayment of which provision had been made, exceeded by nearly a million the amount they had been compelled to borrow in 1847 and 1848. The amount of the debt then incurred was 10,000,000l.; the amount repaid, or for the repayment of which provision was made, amounted to 10,974,000l., leaving a balance of 974,000l. in their favour when the operation shall have been completed. He 1028 thought he had shown that the result of the free-trade policy must be gratifying to those who had to struggle in support of it against the noble Lords opposite. It was commenced by the great change in 1846, when the alteration in the corn laws was made by Sir Robert Peel, which was followed up by the measures which the late Government had thought it their duty to propose and carry. It was no less gratifying to those who many years before 1846 had gradually prepared the public mind for this great change by Parliamentary discussion; and he should ever be proud that he had borne a part, however humble, in these discussions, and in advancing the great cause of commercial liberty. He thought when the results were so clear— when the success of the measure had been established so completely beyond all question—it was very natural the country should feel much anxiety to know whether the party to which the noble Lords opposite belonged did or did not intend to tamper in any way with that policy. That anxiety appeared to him as very natural; in one respect it had been relieved that night by the most important declaration that had been made by the noble Earl— but still he thought it was far from being entirely satisfactory. He could not help saying that he quite concurred with his noble Friend the noble Earl near him (Earl Granville), that up to that moment they were no less in doubt than they were on the first day the Administration was formed, with respect to what were the real views of Her Majesty's Government on this great question. At the commencement of the present Session the noble Earl at the head of that Government entered into a statement of his views and policy. In doing so he told them, that for certain reasons he stated, he conceived the imposition of a duty upon corn, and of duties upon other imports, was in itself desirable; at the same time he stated he would not attempt such measure unless he had the very general concurrence of the people in its favour. Subsequently to this declaration, in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at his re-election, he informed the electors of Buckinghamshire, and through them the whole nation, that was anxiously watching his words, that full and complete redress to the agricultural interest for the injustice under which it was suffering was an absolute necessity; and he said he thought a countervailing duty upon corn was less costly to 1029 the rest of the community than any other mode of giving this redress; but, either by that mode or some other mode, it was the duty of the Government, and the Government were determined, to afford relief. Not very long after, the right hon. Gentleman made a most able speech in the other House of Parliament in introducing as Chancellor of the Exchequer the very measure now under discussion; for the Bill was founded upon one of the Resolutions then introduced by him, which showed that those commercial and financial questions were not irrelevant to the income tax. The right hon. Gentleman made a most admirable statement about the advantages which had followed upon the introduction of free trade. That statement gave great satisfaction to the country; but unfortunately it was not long afterwards when the noble Earl at the head of the Government made what he called a sort of supplementary speech. He told a distinguished company on a festive occasion that his Colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made a most excellent speech in the House of Commons; but in that speech there was one topic to which he had not adverted, and which could not well be introduced in a financial statement, and that was the advantage of a compromise, and the necessity of some compromise, in favour of the landed interest, in consequence of all the advantages that had been given to the consumers as against the producers. That was a somewhat unusual proceeding; he did not remember to have heard anything of the same kind before; he had never known a case where a Prime Minister had informed the assembled citizens in this manner that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was only an imperfect statement of the views of the Government, and that there was another important part of those views which ought not to be lost sight of. But, unfortunately, that was not all; because after the supplementary speech the right hon. Gentleman himself, a few nights later, in the other House of Parliament, got up and said that he had been very much misunderstood-—that he had expressed no opinion in his Budget speech—that he had only stated certain facts, and that he retained and was ready to act upon all the opinions he had expressed in Opposition. That was a somewhat startling declaration; but he (Earl Grey) supposed it was required to silence certain rumours in the camp; but it qualified the satisfaction 1030 which the country had received from his previous speech. Nor was that all; as had been adverted to by a noble Friend behind him, there had appeared addresses from various adherents of the Government, and even from Gentlemen holding office, making in most distinct terms very contradictory declarations of their views. One Gentleman holding a high office stated that he had accepted it in the full confidence that it was the intention of the noble Earl to reverse the policy of Sir Robert Peel; and as that hon. Gentleman remained in an office which he only accepted on this understanding, he (Earl Grey) must suppose that he (Mr. Christopher) must continue to feel satisfied that the noble Earl's real object was to reverse the policy of Sir Robert Peel. Under those circumstances it was difficult to form a conjecture of what the policy of the Government would be, even assisted by the statement which had been made that night, which the application of the screw by his noble Friend behind him had so reluctantly extorted. They had learned indeed—partly he believed because the electors for Windsor and Newark had spoken out too plainly to admit of concealment on this point—that they were to have no duty on corn; and the Lincolshire farmers might at once discard all hope of that, and make up their minds to do the best they could without it; but then there was to be something else, and as to what that something was to be, they were very much in the dark. They were to have something respecting which the supporters of the scheme had kept them up to that moment in a state of mystery. The description of this concealed child was kept back carefully by its parents that it might one day astonish the world by its beauty and merits; but the account they gave of it was not very reassuring to the consumers of the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that it was something in comparison with which the duty upon corn would be less costly to the country, less inconvenient, and more simple. If so, he could not but say that if they were to have such measure, they had better have that which was least burthensome; and much as he was opposed a duty upon corn, he should prefer it to this unknown measure, which its authors described as still more onerous to the country. He (Earl Grey) agreed in opinion with the noble Earl near him, and the noble Puke who spoke on a former occasion, in thinking that it was time, for the credit of Her 1031 Majesty's Government, that there should be an end of this ambiguity, and of this studied concealment of their views. Let them say they were convinced they had been in the wrong, or that they were convinced they were right. If they thought they had hitherto been right on the subject of protection, let them say so, and let us discuss the question in a fair and in a straightforward manner. If they felt they had been wrong, let them frankly acknowledge it, and relieve the country from the uncertainty. that now exists. That the Government, which they were told would endeavour to compose ill-will and ill-blood between different classes of the community— who were to reconcile town and country and to heal all heartburnings—should now keep their real views and intentions in the back ground for some pitiful electioneering purpose, and refuse to state their real views and intentions, was utterly incomprehensible. It was time they should have an end of this ambiguity—though it was perfectly true that the noble Earl, whichever side he took, whether he adhered to his former opinions, or abandoned them, would incur no doubt considerable reproach. Still he would find that as the course of a straightforward declaration of his intentions would be the most manly and honourable, and the best for the. interests of the country, so it also would be the best for the strength and stability of his Administration. No Administration could gain in strength by carefully shrouding in mystery its policy on a point of such vital importance. It was not a question on which they had to make up their minds; it was not a question that was now discussed for the first time; on the contrary, it had been the great subject of political discussion for the last dozen of years; it was a question on which every man who assumed to take a part in public affairs was bound to have made up his mind one way or the other long since; it was a question from explanation on which the Government had no right to shrink. On the one hand the noble Earl might incur reproach for having grossly deceived himself and others, and for having in the reckless pursuit of personal and party objects sacrificed what he knew to be the interest of the country; or, on the other hand, for having shown a blindness and want of judgment as to what are the true interests of the country, which gave him but little claim to have confidence placed in his judgment now that the helm was placed in 1032 his hands. The noble Earl must choose between the two alternatives—of having evinced either a want of judgment or a want of candour; and it was the proper penalty for the unfortunate course, for himself and for the public, which he had taken for the last six years. But let him be assured that this was a penalty he could not escape, and the longer he attempted to disguise his real views and avoid an explicit declaration of the intentions of the Government in the hope of doing so, the more general and the more severe would be the condemnation to which he would ultimately be exposed.
§ The EARL of DERBY
My Lords, I cannot but thank the noble Earl for the kindness with which he offers the tempting alternatives from which to choose; but I beg to say, on the part of myself, and of my noble Friends, and of my Colleagues in the other House of Parliament, that I do not think we shall be driven to expose ourselves to either the one or the other of them. With great respect to the noble Earl, I must take the liberty of repeating the opinion that a great part of this discussion, and almost the whole of the speech of the noble Earl, is altogether irrelevant to the subject before us, that subject being the alternative of renewing for one year what the Government consider an objectionable tax, or leaving the country with a deficiency this year of 2,500,000l., and in the next year with a deficiency probably of 5,000,000l. I say that on the discussion of such a Bill for such a purpose, it is not relevant to enter upon a discussion of the entire commercial policy of the country, more especially as the noble Lords opposite well know that, from the circumstances in which the Government are placed, and under which they took office, that a full and fair discussion of that subject is on their part impossible. The greater part of the noble Earl's speech refers to a point that is totally irrelevant to the continuance of the income tax— namely, the effect which he considers to have been produced by recent free-trade measures. While, on the one hand, the noble Earl has, with a candour for which I thank him, admitted that the great revolution in our commercial policy did not take place at an earlier date than the year 1846, and did not refer at all to the earlier portion of Sir Robert Peel's Administration, or from 1842 to 1846, he has at the same time asked a question that has been repeatedly answered, whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to 1033 pursue or abandon the commercial policy of Sir Robert Peel; and he illustrated that policy and its effects by a very elaborate argument on the subject of the sugar duties. Now, the noble Earl must permit me to remind him and the country that the abolition of the differential duties in favour of British sugar against slave-grown sugar was no part of the policy of Sir Robert Peel; that formed no part of the proposition submitted by Sir Robert Peel to Parliament; and it is very well known that when the proposition for the repeal of those differential duties was made by the late Government, Sir Robert Peel with the greatest reluctance was induced to consent to that change—not because he thought the measure was wise, equitable, or just, but because he thought he had to choose between the adoption of what he thought an unjust and impolitic course of proceeding, and the expulsion of Her Majesty's Government for the office to which they had just succeeded. Sir Robert Peel took the course—the generous course—but the impolitic course of supporting his successors and opponents, though pursuing a policy to which he was himself opposed, and to which he objected. Therefore let not the noble Earl and the country claim the abolition of the differential duties on foreign and colonial sugar as part of the free-trade commercial policy of Sir Robert Peel. With regard to the effect of that measure, I am sorry to say that the noble Earl seems to be under some misapprehension, when he spoke of the almost total cessation of the slave trade, and attributed that almost total cessation to that free-trade system from which we anticipated an increase of it. The noble Earl is wrong in point of fact. It is true, undoubtedly, that by the vigorous and active operations of our cruisers, and by the adoption of coercion upon the coasts of Africa and upon the coast of Brazil, the slave trade has been very much put down; and it is because these operations have been aided of late years by the vigorous and sincere exertions of the Brazilian Government, that our efforts for the abolition of that trade have been to so great an extent successful. But the noble Earl is entirely in error when, speaking of Cuba, he speaks of the slave trade being either put down, or being at this moment in course of diminution. I regret to say the fact is that the slave trade of Cuba is at this moment on the increase; and the proof that the two subjects are closely united together—namely, the effects of 1034 free trade on the West Indian colonies, and the increase of the Cuba slave trade —is this, that at this moment, when Jamaica is in a state, admitted by the noble Earl to be one of deep depression and distress, the steam machinery of Jamaica is at this moment in large quantities being transferred to Cuba. It is withdrawn from the cultivation of sugar where there is free labour, for the purpose of being employed where there is slave labour. There is no doubt of the fact; the noble Earl himself has admitted it—that although in some of the colonies there has been an increase in the production of sugar, yet in Jamaica they are in a state of deep depression and distress not arising from a diminution of production, but from the unremunerating price of the produce, that low price in turn being aggravated, as he states himself, by the greater exertion that is made, in hopes by the increased amount of produce to compensate for the reduced amount of profits. I still entertain the opinion I entertained in 1846—that upon the long run it is not possible for free-grown sugar, except in some favoured situations to compete advantageously with the slave-grown sugar of Cuba and Brazil. And though at this moment there is an increased amount of sugar imported from the British colonies, yet if the noble Earl looks to the Prices Current, he will see that the increased amount is more than compensated for by the fall in the price, which leaves the planter in a condition in which former engagements and present liabilities leave him no alternative of abandoning cultivation altogether, but gives him little or no hope of carrying it on beneficially, while at the same time he is compelled to go on, and seeks for the moment, by the increased amount of supply, in some degree to compensate for the decrease of profits; and in the result only increases the very evil under which he suffers. I must repeat, however, that the question of sugar is totally different from the question of whether we shall or shall not continue the income tax. For the present year the noble Earl has introduced the question of the sugar duties not apropos to any measure introduced by the Government, nor to any statement made by them, nor to any Bill brought forward by them, nor to any announcement given by them; but because he understands, or has heard some rumour, that in the course of another Session of Parliament it is intended to retrace our steps with regard to the question of sugar. My Lords, that is 1035 not a question upon which I think I am called to make any declaration at the present moment, especially under the engagement we have made that during the present Session we will not submit any financial or fiscal changes to the consideration of Parliament; and therefore I think the House will agree with me that nothing could be more impolitic, nothing more improper, nothing more imprudent, than to make any declaration with respect to fiscal changes which it is impossible for us to bring under discussion, and to decide, until a future Parliament. The noble Earl who has just sat down, has said that the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of the present Session shows that the subjects of free trade are necessarily connected with the consideration of the income tax. Now, it was the bounden duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the other House of Parliament, to go through every detail in connexion with the finances of the country; not pronouncing any opinion on the merits of this or that course of policy, but stating to the House of Commons what was the state and progress of the revenue, and what measures he considered necessary to enable him to equalise revenue and expenditure before he asked the House to consent to a measure for reimposing the income tax. Consequently, it was impossible for him to avoid dealing with those questions which involved large amounts of duties, especially those imposed upon sugar, corn, timber, and various articles that entered largely into the revenue. It was impossible that he should overlook the receipts from these duties in laying before the House the state of the whole revenue of the country. But then, says the noble Earl, "Oh, but last year, when this question was discussed, you took it upon yourselves to state what course you deemed it advisable to pursue—not what course you were going to pursue, but what you would have done if you had been in office. You then said that you would reduce the income tax." I am perfectly ready to do so; I would have done so then, and I would do so now, if I had the means; but subsequently to that declaration, of mine, made last year, Her Majesty's Government, who then had at their command a surplus revenue of 2,500,000l., thought fit to do away with that surplus by a reduction of taxation; and they thus made that which I recommended as wise, politic, and advisable, not less wise, politic, 1036 not less advisable, but simply impossible, because you had not the means of dispensing with the revenue derived from it. Therefore I do not think that the noble Earl is justified in pointing out any inconsistency on my part, because last year, with that surplus revenue, I expressed an opinion that we should do wisely gradually to reduce the income tax, and to do away with that which, in time of peace, I shall ever hold to be an objectionable mode of taxing the country; and because this year, being debarred from entering into the general fiscal question, I submit that, for a single year, having no surplus, but a deficiency, it is necessary for us to resort to a continuance of this mode of taxation. I am not going to follow either the noble Earl or the noble Duke, or any noble Lord who spoke this evening, into a general discussion on free trade, or on our commercial policy. To a portion of that commercial policy I was a willing and consenting party. I supported the reduction of the amount of differential duties, because I was desirous of placing our home producers and our foreign producers on a footing, not of nominal but of real equality. I desired to introduce a fair and bond fide competition, and thus to give a fresh stimulus to the industry of this as well as other countries. I am not ignorant, nor does it take me the least by surprise, when I am told that it is possible so far to diminish the duty on articles of import, and by this means to increase the amount of consumption, as in some cases to make good the whole loss to the revenue caused by the diminution of duty; and whether that principle was introduced by Sir Robert Peel or by any other party, I am a willing and a cordial co-operator in its application. Undoubtedly, if without injustice to other parties, if without loss to the revenue, it be practicable to give the greater part of the community a larger command of the necessaries and luxuries of life—no doubt if a lower duty on those luxuries and comforts will produce the same revenue, and at the same time will not act unjustly upon other classes in the community—it must be a matter of rejoicing to every man that the price of commodities should be brought so low as to be brought within the reach of the largest possible number of the consumers of this country. Nor do I deny that there has been a great boon conferred on the consumers generally of this country by the diminished price of sugar consequent upon 1037 the diminution of the duty—no one ever doubted that there would be a great addition to the comforts of the people by increasing the consumption of sugar: but the question which has to be considered, and which we should never lose sight of, is not singly and simply whether there would be a great advantage derived by the classes of consumers in this country, but whether that advantage to them is not bought by an act of injustice and spoliation on other parties, and by sacrificing and involving in ruin large classes of our fellow-subjects, who, upon the faith of your Acts of Parliament, have embarked their capital and their all in the cultivation of the article which you so depreciate. When these things are done, it may be very difficult to retrace our steps; but I confess that, notwithstanding the great advantage which the people of this country have derived from the freer import of foreign sugar—from the import, that is, of slave-grown sugar—I had much rather have seen a smaller advantage to the consumer at home derived from the improved cultivation of our own colonies, in consequence of the encouragement given to those who had a natural and rightful claim upon us, than to have seen a somewhat increased advantage gained even in cheapness by what I thought at the time was an act of injustice, and what I think now, in spite of what the noble Earl has said, had a tendency then, and has so now, to stimulate and encourage the production of sugar by means of slavery, and by that encouragement increase the infamous traffic in slaves, while it discourages the production of free-labour sugar in our own colonies. In like manner, I do not deny that it is possible there has been an increased consumption of the necessaries of life in consequence of the great fall in the price of corn in this country; but that that increase has been in anything like the proportion which is stated by the noble Lords opposite, is that which is utterly contrary to fact; and if I had the figures before me, it would be very easy to show that it is grossly exaggerated. Noble Lords opposite talk of an increase of 10,000,000 qrs. of corn in the annual consumption of the country. Now, my Lords, that 10,000,000 qrs. I believe is taken on an average which includes some years of famine, in which the amount of importation was considerably larger. Now, supposing that all this corn that Was introduced was consumed, you are not to suppose that that was a gross addition to the 1038 amount consumed previously by the population of the country. In the first place, the average importation before the year 1846 was, if I am not mistaken, 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 qrs., and this deducted from the 10,000,000, will reduce it to something between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000. Taking this 10,000,000 quarters, and supposing that to be the average, supposing you want to come at the comparative consumption of the country, you must deduct something like 3,000",000 or 4,000,000 for the corn wheat which was imported in the years before the alteration of the law. That leaves an increase in consumption amounting to something like 6,000,000 or 70,00,000 qrs., not of wheat, but of corn of all descriptions. Then the noble Earl asks me whether I believe that 800,000 acres of wheat land have gone out of cultivation, in the face, he says, of all the immense Inclosure Acts which have taken place. Now, a large portion of those Acts do nothing whatever to the cultivation of the country; in fact, a large part of those Acts were inclosures of land held in common, all of which was then as much under cultivation with corn as it has been since the passing of the Acts. Nay, more so; because under the state of circumstances which existed previously to inclosure, it was impossible to depasture upon them; and these lands, previously to inclosure, were necessarily employed in the cultivation principally of corn. Well, but though 800,000 acres have not gone out of cultivation, does the noble Earl mean to tell me that there has been no diminution in the amount of produce imported from Ireland in the course of this year? Does he not know that there has been something like a diminution of 800,000 quarters of wheat alone in the importation from Ireland in the course of the last few years; and when you come to an increase of 10,000,000 qrs., reduced to 6,000,000, as I have already said, and when you have to make a further reduction for the diminution of production in Ireland, and of the imports from Ireland into this country to something like 2,000,000 quarters of corn of different descriptions, the case is materially altered. Now, I do not say that there has been no increase in the consumption of corn in this country; but I say, when the noble Earl proceeded to argue upon it as if it were an addition to the consumption of this country of 10,000,000 qrs., or something like it, he grossly exaggerated by something like 4,000,000 what I believe to 1039 be the actual increased consumption of this country, notwithstanding the enormous fall in price. However that may he, there remains the question, whether the benefit to the consumer has not been purchased at too great a price. The noble Duke passed very lightly over this part of the subject. He said, "I pass over all the landlords and all the tenants." That, my Lords, is rather a summary mode of proceeding in reference to great classes of men in this country. It may be very well for the noble Duke, and large proprietors like him, to say, "We can afford this heavy loss, and can put up with it; we shall have a large disposable property, and sufficient incomes to support us in comfort and luxury;" but there is a large class of both landlords and farmers, and if the landlords suffer on the one hand, and the farmers on the other, what must be the condition of the class which consists of landlords and farmers combined, small proprietors cultivating their own land, and on whom these losses are falling with double weight, and have pressed with a severity which has nearly extinguished a considerable portion of that class, and driven a considerable number more to seek refuge in other countries, from the difficulties which have fallen upon them at home. I say it, my Lords, with satisfaction—I believe the great portion of the labouring classes of this country are enjoying at this moment a very ample share of prosperity; and I should have been the last man to desire, by any measure which I might recommend to Parliament, to deprive those labourers of any portion of that prosperity; but undoubtedly the welfare of the labouring classes must be ultimately dependent upon the well-being and comfort of their employers, and if you diminish materially the means of the employer, sooner or later distress must fall upon the labourer. That wages have not been diminished at the present moment in proportion to the price of corn, I admit; but that merely means that the loss has fallen on the landlords and tenants, and not on the labourers, and the consequence of that fact is, no doubt, that the labourers are enjoying a considerable amount of prosperity. It is no doubt also true that, in the course of the last two or three years, both landlords and tenants have made great exertions to improve the system of agriculture followed in this country. The stimulus of necessity has operated upon them, to a certain extent, to the public advantage, perhaps, but with great oppres- 1040 sion and hardship to themselves individually; and I have very great doubts whether, in many cases, that expenditure which has been incurred, and in consequence of which the labouring classes are now in a better condition—whether a great portion of the outlay, at least, is not a loss to the proprietor and to the tenant, though for a time it may no doubt add to the comfort and wages of the labourer. I do not deny either that in the course of the last few years there has been a very great extension, under every head, in the articles of import and export. I am not going to enter on the question—a very difficult question, and one which I believe nobody could explain at present—what is likely to be the effect of the late astounding discoveries of gold in various parts of the world; but I have no doubt that had it not been for those great and increasing discoveries of gold, and for the large influx of that precious metal which has come into this country with rapidly increasing speed, you would have seen a very different state of commercial affairs in the course of the last few years from that which you see at the present moment; and though it be quite true that the amount of our imports and exports has largely increased, I doubt whether, if we look into the balance-sheet of our commercial men, we should see that this increase in their operations has been accompanied with a corresponding increase of profit; on the contrary, I believe we should see, that with the largest amount of trade almost ever known, in the last few years there has been, short of absolute panic, less profit to the importers and merchants than in any year which has before elapsed. As to the prosperity of the country, noble Lords are exceedingly fond of quoting a diminution in the amount of pauperism. The noble Lord opposite said, that since the year 1848 the pauperism of the country had greatly diminished; but is it fair to take 1848? Why, we had a most emphatic declaration from the noble Earl who has just sat down, that 1848 was a year of so exceptionable a character—a year of wide-spread ruin, in which many classes unfortunately were involved, succeeding to a year of famine and pestilence in 1847—that surely the amount of pauperism in that year cannot be taken as a datum from which to calculate our increasing prosperity. But I believe I am correct in saying, that with all the prosperity of the country at this moment—with all the diminution that has occurred in the price of 1041 food—with all the consequent diminution in the amount paid for the relief of each individual pauper—still your expenditure on this head for the present year exceeds the outlay of 1845 and 1846. Since I came into the House a return has been handed to me, showing that there has been a demand in the course of last year for an increased amount of workhouse accommodation, for building new workhouses, and increasing the size of the old ones. That does not look like a symptom of increasing prosperity or diminishing pauperism; but thus it is. Is it a proof, I ask, of great prosperity when the bone and sinew of the country are departing in hundreds of thousands to flee the distress to which they are subject here, and to seek a better means of employment in other countries? Has that emigration produced no effect on pauperism? Why, we were told that there has been a reduction in the course of the present year of, I think, 17,000 paupers in England. Now, with respect to the efforts of the parishes alone, there have been sent out above 2,000 emigrants from England in the course of the last year, and that takes no account of the amount of emigration which has gone on voluntarily from England and Ireland, and which has amounted to between 500,000 and 600,000 persons. [Earl GREY said, the real number was only 300,000.] I find, on reference, that the total is 335,000, which gives the amount of voluntary emigration in the course of the last year from England and Ireland. It is difficult to ascertain what is the precise amount of Irish emigration included in that, because a large part of the Irish emigrants go from Liverpool, and appear under the head of English emigrants, though he-longing to Ireland. But we have 335,000 of the poorest class of the community emigrating in the course of the present year, following on the diminution of the population by famine and disease to an extent which it is awful to contemplate; and it is not extraordinary, under such circumstances, without any reference to free trade at all, that there should be a diminution of the total amount of pauperism in this country. I did not intend, certainly, to he drawn into any discussion on the general condition of the country as estimated by the existing amount of pauperism, or the various tests brought under the consideration of your Lordships by noble Lords on the opposite side of the House. All I desire to say is this, that while I do not deny that certain of the community have largely 1042 gained by the introduction of free-trade measures—I believe that the whole community has gained considerably by the greater cheapness of some of the principal articles of consumption imported from other countries'—but I believe, with regard to some portion of that free-trade system, the good has not been by any means an unmitigated good, and that it has pressed on large classes of the community, and on large parts of our colonial fellow-countrymen, with a severe and oppressive burden. Noble Lords opposite have asked what is the policy which the Government intend to pursue? Do they, it is asked, intend to reverse the policy of Sir Robert Peel, or do they not? Now, my Lords, I have already stated, as distinctly, I think, perhaps more distinctly than was absolutely desirable for me to do, that I had no intention of reversing the policy of Sir Robert Peel, understanding by that policy the policy which prevailed from 1842 to 1846. Nor have I any desire to reverse the policy of Sir Robert Peel evinced in 1846, by the reduction of the duties upon the import of foreign corn. I concur with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in believing that a moderate duty upon the import of foreign corn, while it would not appreciably increase the cost to the consumer, would be for the country at large the cheapest and most effectual mode of giving relief to the classes who are suffering in consequence of the total repeal of the duties. I repeat, however, again, that the question whether that alternative should be adopted, is one which the country must decide; and I am glad that I have given such great satisfaction to the noble Lords opposite, by what they call an important declaration which has been made by me this evening, which was neither more nor less than that, in my opinion, as far as I could judge, the result of the approaching elections would not be in favour of a proposition to reimpose the duty on foreign corn—that it was not likely we should obtain such a majority in favour of that course, without which I had previously declared I would not submit such a proposition to Parliament. When the noble Earl says I have given up all idea of flaking such a proposition—that I have abandoned all wish or intention to do it— I must take the liberty of saying that he has gone one step too far. I have already declared, on a former occasion, that I would not submit such a proposition to Parliament without a majority, such as must be 1043 thought adequate to warrant us in doing so; and I have intimated my opinion that we are not likely to have such a majority, so far as I can judge from present appearances. But if the sense of the country should be different from what I at this moment anticipate, then I say I hold my former opinion, that in no other mode can we more advantageously to the finance and Commerce of the empire, provide for the public exigencies, than by a moderate duty on com. But the noble Earl having represented me as having said that I abandoned the imposition of a duty on foreign corn, proceeds to say, "Go one step further, and tell Us that you will do nothing whatever with the view of tampering (as some noble Lords call it) with the existing system." Now, if the noble Earl means to ask me, as Minister of the Crown, whether, if I am unable to afford relief to those interests which are suffering, in what I think the most advantageous manner, I am therefore prepared to abandon them altogether, and to give up any other mode of relieving them—then I say not only I will not do so, but that it is the precise opposite of what I have always stated before, and what I repeat now. In spite of the opposition of noble Lords opposite, I declare that it is the purpose of Government to seek to afford a good and equitable relief to those classes which, for the benefit of the community at large, have been made the victims and sufferers of our recent change in legislation; and I believe that, on the part of the English people, there is such a sense of justice that they will not see one class, or two or more classes, deprived of advantages which they have hitherto enjoyed, and at the same time subjected to an undue proportion of the burdens they have hitherto assisted in bearing. I state distinctly that it is my intention—it is the wish of Government, and the determination of Government, to direct their attention to the best mode they Can devise of relieving those interests which have been suffering for the good of the rest. The extent and nature of the relief may not be in our control, or at our own command, but we intend if possible to afford that relief, consistently at the same time with full justice to all classes of the community. I declare now, as I have declared before, that the attention of the Government will be directed to that point, and that we shall hold it to be our paramount duty in one shape or another to afford that relief to those classes who have been suf- 1044 fering for the good, we believe, of the rest of the community.
The DUKE of ARGYLL
My Lords, I cannot allow this debate to close without addressing to your Lordships a few words. I cannot admit that the question of free trade was any part of the question before the House; and I will not be tempted to enter into a general consideration of our commercial system. This much only I will say, that I cannot conceive how any rational man, with ample evidence before him, and judging by every test by which the welfare of a nation is ordinarily estimated, can resist the conviction that the great free-trade measures of Sir Robert Peel, including those measures which were carried into effect by the late Government, have resulted in signal blessings to the people of this country. In parts of his speech the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) seemed to admit that fact, while in other portions of it he appeared to be attempting to explain away his own conclusion. He grants that the consuming classes have largely benefited, and he can only lay stress upon the sacrifices to the agriculturists by which those benefits have been produced. Now, that is a fair way of stating the argument, and I meet the noble Earl on that ground; and I say that those of the producing classes of this country who produce corn, have not so suffered as to make us regret in the slightest degree the passing of the measures of 1846. The noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) has said that this is a landlord's question. The truth is that it is not even that. It would not be enough to say, in a period of commercial distress) that it was a master manufacturer's question. If the master manufacturers were really ruined, all who depended on them would be injuriously affected also; and, in like manner, if it were true that the owners and occupiers of land were ruined, it might be doubtful if a general national benefit would be possible. But that has not been so; and such distress as there has been-sometimes, I admit, painful and severe-has not been on the whole of a character to diminish the estimate of the importance of the policy of Sir Robert Peel. So far as I can observe in Scotland—-and I have made it my business to inquirer-rentals, on an average, have not been diminished at all. In some districts, of which my own is Unfortunately one, there has been a considerable diminution in rentals; but in the best districts, generally speaking, rentals have hot been materially reduced. With respect to the 1045 labouring classes, they have had more employment than ever; their wages have not been reduced, and they may be said to be in a flourishing condition. I will, however, not enter on that question. I rose only for the purpose of expressing the satisfaction which I do feel—notwithstanding what has now fallen from the noble Earl in explanation of his previous statement—at the intimation which has fallen to-night from him. I will add, however—I say this with the utmost respect for him—that I do regret the form in which the announcement was made. The Government and Parliament appear to me to be placed in peculiar relative circumstances. Upon first entering office, the noble Earl declared his opinion that a small duty upon corn would be the fairest method of reimbursing those classes who have suffered from recent commercial policy. Subsequently, he said that he would not attempt to carry into effect this his private opinion, not only if he did not obtain a majority of the House, but if he was not sure that he had a majority in the country. To-night the noble Earl has gone one step further. He has intimated that, looking to the results of the canvassings which are now going on, he does not believe that he is likely to obtain in the next Parliament such a majority as that to which he has referred. Now, such an intimation, coming from him, I think we are entitled to say amounts to this—that he is convinced he must now abandon a proposition to reimpose a duty on corn. Under such circumstances I do entreat the noble Earl to reconsider whether, if such be his conviction, it would not be better at once to say what he leaves only to be inferred, that he has altogether abandoned that intention. It seems to me that no disadvantage can accrue to any public man from plainly stating before the country that he abandons a policy which individually he may believe to be good, but which he finds repugnant to the vast majority of the people. In resorting to indirect terms, he increases, at any rate, whatever dangers can proceed from an open and decided avowal; for such an intimation as the noble Earl has made to-night cannot but be received as providing a facility for a certain set of candidates at the next election. If, on the other hand, the noble Earl were to be free and frank, no blame could attach to him, because he would be acknowledging no inconsistency in himself, but merely the irresistible will of the country, and there could be no censure on him, except, indeed, in re- 1046 ference to the manner in which the noble Earl conducted his opposition to the late Government. All the great political parties in this country have had in turn to recant upon this question of free trade. The party which recently quitted power have been converts to free trade only ten years; and the party of the late Sir Robert Peel became a free-trade party only in 1846; and the change is now about to take place with the party which has been prominent as advocates of the theory of protection. In the course of this debate, at the period when I did not find the discussion very lively, I turned over Hansard, and examined the speeches delivered in the House of Commons at the time when this income tax was first proposed. I find one speaker asking why some other method could not be resorted to for meeting the deficit, and, as an expedient, that speaker mentioned an 8s. duty. That was so late as 1841, and yet that speaker was Lord Howick. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) is now and has long been a genuine free-trader; but this circumstance of his proposal in 1841 may be referred to as an evidence that inconsistencies on this question in leading public men are not new; and the result shows that no dishonour attaches to this avowal of changes, grounded upon the perception of the desires of the country itself. Another reason why an avowal of policy is now demanded from the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) is, that so long as this income tax is retained as a stop-gap, and so long as it is not made certain that no party will at-tempt a reimposition of duties on corn, the great principles of taxation upon which it is time for us to establish an enduring system, will continue compromised. I agree with what has been said on this point by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in another place, that, if we are to found the permanent revenue of the country on a system of direct taxation, it is impossible to have a system marked by large exemptions—such a system, with those large exemptions, amounting, as the right hon. Gentleman has correctly said, to "confiscation." I very much agree with this statement, because I view with alarm and jealousy the system of pursuing direct taxation as opposed to indirect taxation. For all these reasons, while finding cause for satisfaction in the inferences which the noble Earl has left us to draw, I deeply regret the vagueness of phrase by the noble Earl and by his Colleagues; and I regret this the more, that I heard, as a 1047 stranger in the House of Commons, the celebrated lectures which the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered to Sir Robert Peel upon the duties of public men—duties which the right hon. Gentleman now finds it convenient to elude. It was not change, but the circumstances under which change takes place, that determined the character of public men. The changes which took place in the opinions of Sir Robert Peel were never coincident with any mere party interest. Sir Robert Peel sacrificed every thing most valuable to a public man, excepting only that which was invaluable and above all price—the satisfaction of his own conscience as regarded the good of the country whose interests were entrusted to his care: all his changes being made in obedience to those interests which he believed to be for the highest advantage of his country; and so far from thinking that the career of Sir Robert Peel injured the popular estimation of the morality of our public men, I believe the exact contrary; and the proof of the contrary is to be found in the general tribute now paid by all classes to the memory of the departed statesman. But there are changes and inconsistencies which do damage public men; they are the changes made for the sake of party, and not at the sacrifice of party.
§ EARL GREY
explained the cause of his suggestion of an 8s. duty in lieu of an income tax in 1841. He could assure the noble Duke that from 1837 to the present time he had consistently spoken against all restrictions upon commerce; and his suggestion of an 8s. duty in 1841, on an Amendment of the nature proposed by Mr. Hume, had not been made because he was not a free-trader, but because in the then existing state of opinion he had believed that such a compromise would have beneficially settled the question for some years.
The DUKE of ARGYLL
said, the noble Earl had mistaken the animus with which he had referred to the circumstance. He had not quoted Hansard to prove an inconsistency in the noble Earl, but simply to illustrate the point he was arguing, namely, that all parties and public men had been compelled to confess errors in respect to our commercial policy; and that, with such precedents, there ought to be less hesitation in the declarations of the noble Earl at the head of the present Government.
§ On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 2a.
§ The House adjourned till To-morrow.