§ Mr. P. Stewart
rose to call the attention of the House to a petition which he presented on Tuesday last, from the county of Renfrew. He felt bound to take this course in discharge of the duty which he owed not only to his own constituency, but to the country generally, and, under these circumstances, he trusted that he should be acquitted of trespassing unnecessarily upon the time of the House, or of offering a factious opposition to the Government. The county which he had the honour to represent, was, like other manufacturing districts, in a state of deep and increasing distress. His constituents had forwarded a memorial to her Majesty, setting forth the deep distress under which they laboured, and praying her Majesty not to consent to the prorogation of Parliament until some means had been devised for alleviating their sufferings. Another memorial, to the same effect, had been sent to the right hon. Member for Tamworth. The petition which he presented on Tuesday, referring to Paisley, stated, that within the last two months several of the leading manufacturing and commercial houses in that town had failed, involving losses to the extent of upwards of 700,000l. The petitioners ascribed these failures to the fact of the markets being closed against the manufacturers, and they complained that they had been deprived of the remedy held out to them by the late Government, by the operations and results of a political contest. It was further represented, that, at the present moment there were 650 heads of families out of employment in Paisley. Suffering and disease were increasing to an appalling amount, and a medical authority declared that it was mainly attributable to the want of sufficient food, and to the use of it in an adulterated form. The attention of the House was also called to the fact, that there were at present 1,200 loomsteads untenanted in Paisley. In this deplorable state of things, private charity had been resorted to over and over again; but that source of relief was now exhausted, and the suffering population had no resource but to appeal to the House of Commons, and to beseech it to take their case into consideration before the doors of Parliament were closed for an indefinite period. 759 He would read to the House two extracts from letters he had received respecting the state of Paisley and Johnstone. First, as regarded Paisley:—Unless it were the effects of war or pestilence, it is almost impossible to conceive any state of things which could create such a complete disruption of society as is going on here, arising wholly from the grievous monopolies, and other burdens, to which the trade of the country is subjected. The effect of this state of things is, that our best tradesmen are trans-sporting themselves to America in great numbers, while houses and shops stand unoccupied, and in many parts of this formerly busy town the proprietors are actually allowing their houses to go to ruin. The friendly societies, those invaluable institutions, are fast going to wreck; and thus our most spirited tradesmen will have nothing left when attacked by infirmity or disease, but to sink to the wretched condition of paupers.The account respecting Johnstone was as follows: —As a proof of the melancholy depression prevalent in Johnstone, it will be sufficient to state the fact, that, at the present moment, of the sixteen cotton mills in the town, only four are in operation. In the machine-shops not one-fourth of the hands are employed; and in the collieries, where two years ago 400 hands were employed, now we have only 108, and these not in full employ. The wages of labour, even to those who are fully employed, does not afford the means of healthy subsistence, and there is every reason to believe that one-half of the disease and death that have been in Johnstone for some months past have been the effects of destitution, either by the decay of nature accelerated, or of disease induced by scanty and unwholesome food. As regards cases of individual suffering, let the worst be imagined, and it cannot go beyond the truth. I could tell you of mothers dividing a farthing salt herring and a halfpenny-worth of potatoes among a family of seven; of others mixing sawdust with oatmeal in making their porridge, to enable each to have a mouthful; and of families living for ten days on beans and peas and ears of wheat stolen by the children from the neighbouring fields. This state of suffering is a reproach to a Christian country, and being beyond the reach of private beneficence to relieve, it becomes a duty, alike urged by the demands of humanity and the requirements of religion, that something be done promptly and efficiently by Government to remove this mountain mass of misery, by opening markets for the industry of the willing artisans. I hope that the memorial to her Majesty not to prorogue Parliament until they have entered upon a full consideration of the corn and provision laws, will be graciously received, and answered to the satisfaction of a starving people.760 He could vouch for the accuracy of those statements. The petition from Paisley concluded with this prayer:—As winter is now approaching your petitioners feel that they would be wanting in duty to the public, if they did not lay a statement of the case before Parliament, that they may be pleased to take the condition of this, and the other distressed manufacturing communities of the kingdom into their early and serious consideration. May it therefore please your honourable House, before adjourning, to take the present distressed state of the country into your immediate and most serious consideration, and to devise such speedy means of relief as to your honourable House may seem meet.It appeared to him that such a petition, presented under such circumstances, was entitled to more consideration from the House than it could obtain from being merely laid upon the Table. It was not fair to make the late Government chargeable with the distressed condition of the country, because the best Government could not always prevent the occurrence of such a state of things. But, the existence of the distress being admitted, any Government which deserved to hold the reins of power for a single hour was bound to make some effort to alleviate it. What surprised those whom he represented, as well, he believed, as the country generally, to a considerable extent, was the silent system observed by the present Government. It had been stated, in conversation by a noble Lord, not more facetiously than truly, that the late Government had been strangled by mutes. When, the other day, the noble Lord the Member for London addressed the House, protesting against the prorogation of Parliament until something had been devised to relieve the distresses of the people, though the right hon. Member for Tam-worth himself spoke able and forcibly on the question, it was remarkable that not another member of the Government raised his voice upon the occasion. The right hon. Baronet would1 pardon him for observing that, although he spoke much in reply to the noble Lord the Member for London, he said little that was of importance to the public at the present juncture of affairs; he contented himself with merely declaring that he would not disclose his secret—he would not reveal the policy by which the country was to be extricated from its embarrassments. The recent change of Government had not 761 taken place under ordinary circumstances. The late Government was not removed merely in consequence of having had a majority against them on an unimportant question. The case was not parallel to that of two former Governments, one of which resigned in consequence of being out-voted on a question respecting the civil list, and the other on account of being in a minority upon a still more abstract question, namely, the principle of the Appropriation Clause. The late change had taken place upon the great and intelligible principle of fiscal and commercial reform. The distress which pervaded the country was admitted on both sides, and there ought to be no unnecessary delay in devising and applying a remedy. It would be remembered that at the close of last Session Gentlemen opposite protested against the Corn-law question being allowed to remain unsettled even for a month. It was represented that the question of a change in the Corn-laws having been mooted, the best interests of the country would be endangered by leaving it unsettled only for a month. Now, however, those who made that objection were content to leave that and other great questions unsettled until the next meeting of Parliament. The late Government had propounded principles which almost all practical men throughout the country approved of [Oh, oh.]. He made that statement advisedly, notwithstanding the contradiction it might be supposed to receive from the state of parties in that House. He must be allowed to say, with all deference, that the majority in that House was a landlords' majority. [Oh, oh.] He believed that he was personally as well as politically the representative of as large a stake in the landed interest as any Member of that House, but nevertheless he would say, that the majority returned at the last election was, to all intents and purposes, a landlords' majority. [No, no.] Hon. Members opposite said no, but he could sustain his assertion by a reference to facts. The counties of England constituted the majority. Ireland returned a majority in favour of the measures announced by the late Government; Scotland did the same, and the English towns also supported a liberal commercial policy. He might be told that the representation of London was divided, whilst Liverpool was against the late Government. That, however, was 762 easily accounted for. The two hon. Members opposite well knew that in London there was a batch of watermen, whose votes were purchaseable, whilst the old freemen formed a large portion of the constituency of Liverpool. When the Reform Bill was under discussion, he voted for preserving the electoral privileges of the old freemen, because he then represented a large body of them. [Laughter]. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might, if they pleased, visit him with their sneers, but he voted in favour of the freemen for that reason, having been returned by them four times; but, at the time he voted for them he thought it probable they would prove to be a rotten plank in the vessel of the constitution. He maintained, therefore, most respectfully, but decidedly, that the majority opposite was a landlords' majority. The whole country was on the tenter hooks of expectation to know the measures which it was intended to propose for their relief, but no information upon that point was vouchsafed them. The right hon. Member for Newark, in addressing his constituents on his re-election, summed up the merits of the new Government by declaring that they had done the good work of displacing the Whigs. But would the country be satisfied with that as an excuse for the neglect of its interests? He yesterday read a long and able speech delivered by the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, but was unable to derive any consolation from it. The noble Lord attributed the whole of the depression under which the country was suffering to overproduction, but he never hinted at the mode in which the country was to be relieved from its depression. The noble Lord also justified the sliding scale, and spoke of the present system of Corn-laws in almost the same strain and spirit as a noble Duke in the House of Lords. When he saw the speech of the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department, to his constituents at Dorchester, he expected to obtain from it some information relative to the intentions of Government, but he was disappointed. The right hon. Baronet, in his able speech, seemed to point at some secret which existed in the Cabinet, but said that he must not disclose it. He said, "I must not violate the reserve under which I accepted office." The right hon. Baronet then touched upon the Corn-law, and whilst professing to 763 vindicate the principle of protection, vindicated the principle of prohibition. The right hon. Baronet indulged his hearers with a simile, which however it might amuse, was not likely to satisfy them. He said that the instrument of the constitution was at last attuned to harmony under the present Government. He stated, that the Queen, the Lords, and the Commons, were in harmony, in consequence of the accession of his party to power; and, following up his simile, said, that the right hon. Member for Tamworth—a master-hand at music—being placed at the instrument, would certainly charm the people by the felicity of his touch. He was not aware of the construction of the great constitutional pianoforte over which the right hon. Baronet presided, but he was certain of this, that unless two Dukes were its pedals, and placed under foot, the instrument would yield no harmony. The farmer had been listening; in the hope of hearing the favourite strain of "Speed the Plough," from the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Dorchester, who held a principal office in the harmonious Cabinet. But no such thing; the only tune he could hear was the mawkish melody of "Oh no, we never mention her." When the right hon. Baronet talked of the harmony of the Cabinet to which he belonged, he must have taken his idea from the poet, who said——"the harmony of things,Like that of sounds, from discord springs.It appeared to him that the Government was bound to make some exposition of its views. He could assure the right hon. Member for Tamworth, that if Parliament should be prorogued without an attempt being made to apply a remedy to the distresses of the people, it would be difficult to preserve peace in the manufacturing districts, over which clouds were thickening. The adoption of such a course on the part of the Government would be inhuman and unwise, and it would also be attended with danger.
§ Mr. Gibson
observed, that the right hon. Member for Tamworth's position appeared to be analogous to that of a barrister, who, having a bad case, received instruction to hold his tongue. He disliked the course adopted by the Government. For what more useful pupose could the House of Commons assemble than to take into consideration the dis- 764 tresses of the people? The right hon. Baronet was next called upon to explain, upon the moment, his financial scheme. It might be urged very plausibly that, having been only a month in office, he had been unable to obtain access to the official documents necessary to enable him to produce a permanent financial plan. If, however, the access to official documents were a matter of so much importance, it was surprising that more deference was not paid to the financial scheme of the late Ministers. That scheme, however, was opposed with the most intemperate zeal, and defeated even before it was fully developed. As matters stood, seeing that it was, to all appearance, the intention of the right hon. Baronet to impose new taxes, he would not care how long his financial scheme was postponed, or indeed if it were not brought forward at all. That was a point of little importance, compared with the commercial distress which existed in the country. Whatever reasons might exist for postponing the announcement of a financial scheme, there was none for not taking the distresses of the people into consideration. The hon. Member who preceded him had read a most interesting statement concerning the distress of his constituents, and he could, if he were not unwilling to trouble the House, read statements of the distress existing at Manchester, which would even exceed those referred to by the hon. Member. In Manchester there were warehouses piled up with goods, for which no profitable sale could be found, insolvencies and bankruptcies were daily occurring, and thousands were actually suffering from the want of food. In the district of Manchester there were 8,000 persons living on the miserable pittance of 15d. per week. If he turned to the agricultural interest, did he witness the prosperity which high prices and the Corn-laws ought to give to the farmer now if they ever could give it him? No such thing. He saw the greatest competition for farms, and a general complaint that there was no getting them but as a favour from the landlords, and under conditions which reduced the occupants to the situation of serfs. The farmers complained, that in consequence of the blocking up of all channels of employment, they were unable to get their sons started in business. The agricultural labourers, too, were earning a miserable pittance. Where then, were the signs of agricultural pros- 765 perity? The agricultural associations, which were established for the encouragement of scientific improvements, had lapsed into mere Conservative associations. He would name the Agricultural Association of Saxmundham, which the other day exhibited all the symptoms of a political association. They began with passing the usual insult on the Queen. The toast was received with cold indifference and some hisses, whilst the health of the Queen Dowager was drunk with nine times nine cheers. At the same meeting some agricultural labourers were marched into the rooms to receive rewards — for what? For having been able to bring up a small family without having had recourse to parochial relief. This was an admission that the state of the agricultural labourers was such that it was a matter of wonder, for any of them to bring a small family of children up without obtaining parochial relief. Were not the landowners always striving to get ruin out of their districts, and applying to boards of guardians at Manchester, and other manufacturing districts, for that purpose? The other day the Duke of Buckingham actually subscribed a pound to get rid of a labourer and his six sons, all of whom were able to earn their livelihood, but could obtain no employment. The man was not got rid of because he was a bad character. On the contrary, the ratepayers subscribed to send him to the manufacturing districts, because he was a man of good character and could not obtain employment where he was. When these facts were known, it was impossible to suppose that the Corn-laws were producing prosperity in the agricultural districts. The wages of agricultural labourers in Devonshire, Wiltshire, and Buckinghamshire, were 6s., 7s., 8s. and 9s. a week. In Suffolk and Norfolk they were a little more, but in consequence of the high price of bread, after they had purchased their food they had scarcely anything left for rent, clothing, and the education of their children, and they could not themselves dress decently enough to attend a place of divine worship. He defied agricultural Gentlemen on the other side of the House to contradict that statement. When the distress of the people were spoken of, hon. Gentlemen opposite always referred to over production as the cause of it. The cause they assigned for the people wanting employment was, that they had always been employed too much. 766 They recommended that manufacturers should commence the system of employing fewer hands, and then they said, their workmen would be much better off. Other hon. Gentlemen attributed the distress to joint-stock banks, fictitious capital, and a variety of things of that sort; but the important question was, what was to be the remedy for the distress, the existence of which was admitted? The hon. Gentlemen opposite confined themselves solely to a consideration of the causes of the distress, instead of immediately setting about to devise a remedy for it. Those on his side of the House contended that the best way to alleviate the pressure upon the manufacturing interest, and to find a market for the labourers, was to extend the foreign markets, and find fresh customers for the industry of our people. That was a natural course to pursue. The field for employment in the cultivation of land on an island must necessarily be limited, but it was impossible to set bounds to foreign trade. As long as the wants of the world should go on increasing, additional employment would be furnished to our labourers. Under these circumstances it would be acting contrary to the first principles of common sense, to encourage the application of labour to the land, instead of manufactures for foreign trade. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might say, "it is all very well for you to talk about free trade, but look how we, the advocates of protection are supported; we have the support of Members for London, Hull, Liverpool, and Leeds." Very true, but how had that support been obtained? Did not the studied reserve of the right hon. Baronet as to his future policy afford Conservative candidates an opportunity of playing fast and loose at the hustings about free trade? Did it not enable them to persuade Conservative manufacturers that the right hon. Baronet would give as much free trade as Lord Melbourne; that he would have the power as well as the will, whilst the late Government had only the will without the power. That was the way in which they cajoled the Conservative manufacturers. What happened at Manchester? A right hon. Gentleman, now a distinguished Member of the Government, was sent down to Manchester. What banner did he fight under? Was it protection? No; it was free trade: and the whole lone of his speeches, the spirit which pervaded every 767 thing he said, went to induce a belief that the right hon. Member for Tamworth was, at heart, a free-trader. The right hon. Gentleman did not say that in so many words, but that was the inference which every one must have drawn from what fell from him. It appeared, from what that right hon. Gentleman said, as if the right hon. Member for Tamworth was only watching his opportunity to throw over the extreme landed party, and bring into operation the measures which were so much desired. The speeches which the light hon. Baronet made in the House were quoted over and over again, and one passage was pointed at to prove that he was actually opposed to the Corn-laws. The passage to which he alluded was one in which the right hon. Baronet declared that, manufactures were the main stay of the country's prosperity, and that the value of land depended on the prosperity of manufactures, and not on the Corn-law. That passage, which he believed he had quoted correctly, was frequently quoted on the hustings in order to cajole the Conservative manufacturers. It was also said, that Mr. Huskisson was a Conservative, and the first free trade minister, and that free trade principles were introduced by the Conservatives, and that the Whigs only adopted them in their last agonies. He did not mean to impute a knowledge of the proceeding to the right hon. Baronet; but it was certain that agents were industriously engaged in creating a belief throughout the manufacturing districts that he was a free trader. At Manchester, a placard was exhibited, bearing the inscription, "Free trade, cheap bread, high wages. Vote for Murray and Entwistle. No Whiggery and no Poor-law." It was an anonymous placard, but it was never disavowed, although it was alluded to over and over again, in different speeches. Indeed, there was no reason for disavowing the placard, because the speeches made were in strict accordance with it. After all these shifts, however, the moment the Government was safe and had a majority, the Duke of Buckingham declared that he had not changed an iota of his opinion, and that he was prepared to maintain the Corn-laws as they stood. It was quite evident that there had been some misunderstanding in the country upon this point. The right hon. Baronet had gone so far as to hold out a hope that he would alter some minor details of the 768 existing law, but the motto of the Duke of Buckingham had always been "no surrender," and he had nailed his flag to the mast. He was at a loss to conceive how the conflicting views which different Members of the right hon. Baronet's Cabinet, entertained on this important subject could be reconciled. Did the right hon. Baronet mean to trust to the chapter of accidents, and rely upon the majority which surrounded him? He could hardly think that the right hon. Baronet and his colleagues, would find it safe to trust wholly to the upper classes. But did her Majesty's Government not think, after the efforts that had been made to increase the independence of the lower classes—after the efforts made to impress upon them a full sense of the degradation of living upon parochial relief, that by now postponing the consideration of the causes of existing distresses, they were in a very great measure counteracting the wholesome influence aimed at by the new Poor-law? Could they hope that trade would recover of its own accord, within any moderate period of time? He had no such hope. No one could have better expressed himself on this subject than the Rev. Baptist Noel; an authority to which he felt assured the hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House would cheerfully submit, for that rev. Gentleman, it must be admitted, was among the most distinguished ornaments of the Established Church.To this hungry multitude," said the rev. Gentleman "already goaded by want, into rick-burning, and trades unions, into chartism, and every other expression of impatience at unendurable calamity — 400,000 beings are added year after year. What is to be done for them? Soup kitchens, tickets for coals and potatoes, mendicity societies, night asylums, and charity balls, or charity sermons, will not fatten their lean visages, nor furnish their empty dwellings, nor make them bless God for plenty. And yet God has provided plenty for them all. The earth would grow a hundredfold more corn than they want; and they have strength, skill, and industry wherewith to purchase it. Only allow them the opportunity of labouring for the food with which Europe can supply them; only fix and reduce the duty on foreign corn, and they will be fed.In a few words that rev. Gentleman expressed clearly the remedies by which the Liberal party, had proposed to meet the existing distresses. It was not safe, the House might rest assured, in the present advanced state of intelligence, to leave 769 the country without any information as to whether the Corn-laws were or were not to be changed. The people were daily becoming more and more enlightened with respect to their true interests. The penny postage and other improved means of intercourse were sending information into every part of the country, and all classes were thereby enabled to make themselves acquainted with every bearing of this important question. All classes of the people, moreover, were now fully aware that even the Colleagues of the right hon. Baronet—the very Members of the Cabinet —were themselves persuaded of the injustice of these laws. In proof of this he would refer to what had taken place a few days ago, on the occasion of the re-election of the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, when Mr. James Acland was put forward to oppose the noble Lord. He had no knowledge of what then occurred, except such as he derived from the public papers, but he must say, that he saw nothing to laugh at in what had taken place on the occasion referred to. Mr. Acland had been proposed and seconded by freeholders, and the show of hands for him was equal to that presented on behalf of the noble Lord — though certainly he did not go to the poll but he was not talking of Mr. Acland. All he said was this—that this gentleman being brought forward, enabled the electors to put questions to the noble Lord, and that was a convenient mode, to say the least, of eliciting the opinions entertained by a member of the Government. Now, let the House hear. The first question put by a freeholder was—" Do the Corn-laws raise the price of bread?" The noble Lord frankly, fairly said, that the object of the Corn laws was to raise the price of bread above its natural level. Then the noble Lord went on to say, that the effect of this raising the price of bread above its natural level was to increase the rental of the landlords. That was proposition two, then. The noble Lord, to be sure, did not say that the object of the Legislature was to raise the rental of the landlords when they passed the present Corn-laws. Let it be assumed that such was the incidental effect—all that was necessary was, to establish the fact. Did the noble Lord admit that the result of raising the price of bread was to raise the rental of the landlords. Doubtless the noble Lord did admit it. Now, then, for the third proposition, and 770 the most important of all—the noble Lord admitted fairly and distinctly that the price of bread had no effect upon the rise or fall of wages. Let it be remarked, that this was the very position for which the Anti-Corn-law League, and the political economists had always been contending— that the price of bread had no influence upon the rise or fall of wages. Now, he asked the noble Lord, what must any poor handloom weaver think, when he read this speech, and heard that the price of bread increased the rental of the land, and that this was the effect of the Corn-laws, and that they did not increase his wages? What would be the result of the artisan's deliberation, but that the dainties of the rich were purchased at the expense of the tears of the poor?—that the bread of the labourer was taxed to enable the landed proprietors to revel in a few surplus luxuries? Was it at all wonderful that the poor should come to such a conclusion? He by no means imputed these as the motives of the party opposite. He knew it would be said that there was an increased demand for labour in the agricultural districts, and therefore that indirectly, if not directly, the Corn-laws kept up wages. He answered that by facts. Had not the agriculturists been sending labourers away to the manufacturing districts? Were they not, at this moment, subscribing money in support of this system? Was it not manifest, that unless the people were allowed to exchange the fruits of their labour for the corn and the cattle of foreign countries, they must be in a state of constantly increasing distress? Under these circumstances, he asked again, was it wise to put off considering the question, when not only the poor, but the middle classes, and the capitalists, were making up their minds that they would no longer submit to a law based upon the principle, that food was to be dealt out to them only on conditions dictated by the jealous spirit, or the pecuniary exigencies of the landowners? What had the people to do with the pecuniary interests of the landowners? Let those who had no land introduce foreign wheat, just as those who had land produced it at home. If this corn could be produced cheaper than at home by the instrumentality of exchange with foreigners, why should it not be so? What possible justice was there in giving to the proprietors of land the exclusive right of producing bread and beef, and 771 selling to their countrymen? What conceivable title had the landed proprietors to be considered the licensed victuallers of England? What peculiar privileges of such a nature did the possession of a few acres justly give? Why should the manufacturers and the men of commerce be content to consider themselves as a mere secondary class? What was there unfair in their demand, that they should be permitted the fair reward of their own enterprise, skill, and industry? Whether there was distress or not, was it unfair that they should be permitted to get as much of profit as they could? Had they not a right to call upon the Legislature to reform the law, so that the value of land should not be unduly enhanced? The people, they might rest assured, would not much longer submit to such a state of things, but would insist upon being allowed to turn their own industry to the best account. "You shall not make laws for the protection of particular interests," would be the cry of the people; and for my part, concluded the hon. Member, I see nothing revolutionary in the demand that all classes be secured in the enjoyment of their right to a fair reward for their exertions.
§ Mr. J. Parker
was sorry that, after the speeches which had been delivered, no Member of the Government should have risen to reply to them. Under ordinary circumstances, he should have said that the right hon. Baronet was not to be called upon to give any exposition to Parliament of his views; but the Government of Lord Melbourne had fallen in consequence of many attacks on the part of the right, hon. Baronet—iterum ite-rumque—assaults against the late Government were carried on after careful observance of the right hon. Baronet's injunction, "register, register, register." The right hon. Baronet, therefore, must have been aware, that if he succeeded, the country must expect from him an exposition of his views in respect to the all-important subject on which the country had been appealed to—that he would be expected to say a little more than that he would amend the averages, and make some slight change how large or how small he did not say. The country had certainly a right to expect a little further light from the new Government, as to their intentions with respect to the Corn-laws. Yet, at present, all that was known was, that the 772 sliding scale was to be reformed. He would tell the right hon. Baronet that the country would not be satisfied with this; and would believe that so eminent a statesman, and one so experienced, could have hardly failed to form opinions on the great subject of free trade. Whatever other constituencies might have done, in his there was no division on the question; and they believed that a great part of the national distress was owing to the operation of the Corn-laws. They were not so absurd as to pretend that these laws formed the only cause—a variety of causes were associated with this—but he was convinced that this was the main cause. Therefore, it would not be deemed sufficient for the right hon. Baronet to say, that he had been suddenly called to office. It was with these feelings that he had given his vote the other night (which till now he had not had an opportunity of explaining) in support of the motion of the hon. Member for Oldham.
§ Sir R. Peel
thought if he took the advice of the hon. Member for Sheffield, he should not give that satisfaction to the country which it was required he should give. For all that the hon. Member demanded was, that he should give a "little" development of his intentions. Now, he saw really no great practical advantage in a "little" explanation. It appeared to him, that the course he proposed to pursue, was a much more rational one than that which the hon. Member suggested. The course he adopted, on being called with his colleagues to the Administration of public affairs, to repair, if possible, some of the enormous embarrassments in which they found the country involved, so far as financial affairs were concerned, was to ask from the House confidence sufficient to enable them to take a comprehensive view of the whole position of the country, and after a short, a comparatively short, period (considering the importance of the questions to be discussed), to mature their plans and submit them to the consideration of Parliament: that really appeared to him to be a far more reasonable course than that he should make a "little explanation." What could this "little explanation" of his be upon the subject of the Corn-laws? Was there any alternative, if the Corn-laws were to be considered at all—was there any other alternative than that of fully stating the measure of the Government? And was it not in- 773 finitely better that nothing should be said, till the plan was maturely prepared and ready for the consideration of Parliament? What advantage would there be in merely hinting at details, and then postponing the consideration of them? It was only the other night that he was told from the other side of the House, that nothing would be so unwise as to bring forward the discussion upon the Corn-laws, without taking into account the question of the Poor-laws. He had been told from the other side of the House, that these two subjects were so intimately connected, that he should not develope the views of the Government with respect to one, without at the same time explaining them as to the other. Again, was he not told during the last Session, that the consideration of the Corn-laws was essential to any wise system of finance, and that finance also was so interwoven with the Corn-laws that they ought not to be separated—that they must never be distinctly considered? If, then, the opinions thus expressed on the other side were correct, was it not perfectly clear that he could not propose the plans of the Government with respect to all these great questions, pressing as they all were equally for consideration? He had stated last Session, that if the Opposition he conducted were successful, he would not be forced into a premature declaration of opinion. Since that, the opinion of the country had been taken, by the election, under the auspices of the late Government, and whatever might be said, by hon. Gentlemen opposite, the opinion of the country had been evinced in favour of the course he had pursued, and the reasonableness of the demand which he had made. He had nevertheless distinctly stated, that if his Opposition proved successful, he would not, on his assuming power, bring forward a temporary plan for supplying the presumed deficiencies, but he would wait till he had prepared a matured measure. He had said this, before the late election, the constituencies were well aware of it; yet the consequence of that election had been, that her Majesty's late Government had been forced to resign. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Manchester, had said, that he had maintained a perfect reserve. Well, but the country knew of that reserve, and the country had demanded no more explicit declaration of opinion; and, notwithstanding that reserve, the late Govern- 774 ment were forced to abdicate. [Mr. Hawes. The counties.] The counties the constituencies of this empire, as left by the Reform Bill of the noble Lord opposite. But this was always the way when the party opposite was unsuccessful—a new Reform Bill was threatened. This was their refuge under every loss of public confidence—every declaration of opinion against them; and they would have it that the real opinion of the country was, after all, at variance with the result of the election. If that were so, how happened it that though by reason of the change of Government some thirty seats had been vacated, and the Members had been before their constituents, not one hitherto had been defeated? Nay, more, with the single exception of Mr. Acland, that formidable opponent who first came down against himself, and then against his noble Friend with that exception, none of the Members of the Government had met with opposition. Certainly, he was not surprised that the hon. Member for Manchester should dwell upon the name of Acland with exultation — he had a right to make the most of him—for he was the only opponent the Government had met with on the re-elections. To be sure, this formidable opponent was formally proposed and seconded. [Mr. Gibson: And had the show of hands]. Oh, yes, the show of hands; but he had such small confidence in this popular demonstration that he did not go to the poll. Now, it was not from any disrespect to the two hon. Members who had commenced the discussion, nor from any indifference to their representations, that he had refrained from rising immediately after the hon. Member for Manchester. But he thought, after the discussion of the other night—not at all, however, questioning the full right of the hon. Members to take the course they had pursued, if they deemed it proper—yet he must say, it was not a usual course to interrupt the committee of supply with a discussion which could lead to no practical result. He had understood that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire wished to bring forward some statements of a peculiar character and importance affecting his constituents —statements, indeed, the hon. Member had made which could not be listened to without pain; but he had not understood that the hon. Member intended to provoke a discussion upon the subject debated the 775 other night. Considering what the hon. Member had said of the distress of his constituents, he must own that he was surprised that notwithstanding all the sympathy the hon. Member had expressed, he should have found time to concoct that laboured series of exceedingly bad jokes, by which it seemed that he was desirous rather of the reputation of jocoseness and waggery than of the respect and gratitude of his constituents. The hon. Gentleman convinced him, also, that notwithstanding the prominent position he occupied, his counsel, as an adviser under the present difficult circumstances, was not altogether to be depended on, for the hon. Gentleman said, that he attributed a great part of the defectiveness of the existing constituencies to the retention of the old freemen in the boroughs; and that in the first instance he was resolved not to maintain the rights of those old freemen; and the hon. Gentleman had no better reason for justifying the course which he took against his own resolve than the personal obligation he felt to those people for having returned him to Parliament for four successive years. That clearly proved that whatever course the temporary interests of his constituents might require him to take, the opinions of his constituents would prevail over the enlarged views of his own mind. So far had the hon. Gentleman carried this principle, that having to repair any vessel—say the vessel of the state, for instance, which he said was endangered by the rottenness of some particular part, he consented to vote for the substitution of that which, according to his own words, was a rotten plank for a good one. That was the hon. Gentleman's description of his own policy as a legislator; owing obligations to certain freemen, he purposely inserted a rotten plank in the vessel of the constitution. The hon. Gentleman, therefore would permit him to detract considerably from his authority as a counsellor after that declaration of his past course in reference to the interests of his subjects. As he had said before, he deeply sympathised with the distressed portions of the population in certain parts of the country. He did not deny the existence of distress; he believed it to be most painful in some districts. But it was most important that those upon whom the duties were imposed of laying the foundation, if possible of a remedy for those distresses, should not be driven into 776 hasty and precipitate measures in the hope of applying an immediately effectual remedy. He was certain that the deliberate sense of this country was, in favour of those who were now intrusted with the administration of public affairs having an opportunity of knowing to what causes the distress which prevailed in some quarters of the land was attributable before they attempted to devise measures to remove it. He had heard those who now were most actively engaged in anti-corn-law leagues attribute that distress mainly to the very causes for alluding to which her Majesty's Government was now ridiculed, namely, the artificial stimulus, which was applied to production, by means of the excessive issue of bank notes. That very Chamber of Commerce of the town which the hon. Gentleman represented distinctly stated, in reference to manufactures, and to the manufacture of cotton in particular, that they were in a state of prosperity up to the year 1836. That prosperity was coexistent with the present system of Corn-laws. But the Chamber of Commerce declared, that in consequence of the misconduct of the Bank of England, followed by the misconduct of the joint-stock banks, there was first, the most extravagant stimulus given to manufacturing speculations; advances were made by joint-stock banks to manufacturers and owners of cotton mills, machinery was placed in those cotton mills, the machinery and the buildings being assigned as a security for the advances. Then came a revulsion in trade, and then came a demand for money. The mills were stopped, and the security being of little value realized but a comparatively small sum. Those were said to be the causes of all the embarrassment and distresses of the manufacturers. But now it was alleged that the Corn-laws were the cause of all the mischief. He must declare, however, that he was morally certain that to other causes the evil was to be attributed. When, therefore, the hon. Gentleman, in making a reference to free trade, asked him to come forward and propose a new Corn-law, he would inquire of him in return, if he would be satisfied if now, when corn could be admitted at 1s., he should propose that it must be admitted not under 8s. He knew very well that her Majesty's late Ministers would allege, that had the 8s. duty been devised before, the distress might have been prevented. But he would 777 not enter into a retrospective argument. He would keep to the business in hand. They asked him for a sudden proposition of remedial measures, and he asked in reply, whether they would be satisfied were he to propose the adoption of that remedy which had been heretofore propounded—namely, an 8s. duty instead of a 1s. duty? If they told him that they would not be satisfied with that proposition, and that the increased duty on the importation of corn would only aggravate and extend the distress, they must admit that some other course must be adopted to remedy the evil. The hon. Gentleman had asked him whether or no he denied the existence of the distress? Certainly he did not. He feared that in the manufacturing districts it had been very general, and that it had been most severe in some places, particularly in those connected with the cotton manufactures; but while he expressed feelings of the deepest regret at its existence he must say, that he did not think it wise to take so desponding a view of it as some hon. Gentlemen were disposed to do. He did not believe generally speaking, that the condition of this country was such as to forbid all hope of returning prosperity. Among the many documents which any persons wishing to consider the position of this country would be naturally led to examine, even if from some of them no very lucid inference could possibly be drawn, there was one of great importance and value in regard to the kind of information it conveyed; and to such a document of course those who had the management of public affairs, and who must necessarily be impelled to ascertain the precise condition of the country, would direct their attention. The document to which he alluded was," An account of the Principal Sums paid into the National Debt-office, and drawn for by the trustees of Savings' Banks and Friendly Societies, during the periods set down." The hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrewshire had referred to the friendly societies' banks, and stated that there had been a universal withdrawal of the deposits from those banks; and the hon. Gentleman thereupon inferred that he must therefore calculate upon an universal system of private benevolence, for the purpose of supporting the poor, and relieving their distresses. He was at a loss to discover from what it was that the hon. Gentleman drew such a wide inference; and he 778 trusted to be able to show that the hon. Gentleman was wrong with respect to the universal bankruptcy of which he had spoken. He knew how unsafe and unwise it was to lay one's self open to the charge of indifference to distress, and to attempt to correct mistakes of this kind. Yet, if misapprehensions and mistakes were set forth, it was right that they should be corrected. In the document which he held in his hand, the title of which he had read, he thought he saw indications which forbade the application of any instantaneous schemes for relieving the distress already alluded to. The account in question was of the principal sums lodged in the savings banks of the united kingdom, and from that account it appeared, that in the month of June, 1841, the sum of 66,422l. was paid in, while the amount drawn out was, 86,364l., exhibiting this melancholy fact, that the sum drawn out exceeded the sum paid in by nearly 20,000l. In July, however, the sums paid into the savings' banks and friendly societies reached to 125,917l., and the sums drawn out to 87,061l. only. That was a most satisfactory change of things. In the month of August the deposits altogether were 100,033l., and the sums drawn out 50,004l. only. Let the House just observe that in June the sums withdrawn exceeded the sums paid in by nearly 20,000l., and that in the month of August the sums paid in exceeded those drawn out by 50,000l., doubling in fact the withdrawals. He would not presume to say whether this remarkable change was partly or chiefly owing to the confidence engendered through the country in consequence of the change in the Administration. The hon. Gentleman perhaps might think that he took rather an interested view of the matter, but he assured that hon. Gentleman that one of his reasons for hoping for improvement in public affairs was, the increased confidence of the country in the present Administration. In that hope he was confirmed by the fact, which might be considered, perhaps, as only simultaneous with the change of Ministry, and not in the nature of an effect resulting from that as a cause, that whereas in the month of June, it appeared that the sums drawn out were nearly 20,000l. more than those paid in, in the month of August following the deposits exceeded the draughts by 50,000l. He stated the fact only —he would make no comment. But he saw, 779 in that fact a sound and constitutional reason for not taking any rash or too sudden a step. Again, the sums paid in from the 28th of August, up to the 11th of the present month amounted to 32,325l., and the sums drawn out to 20,850l., showing another increase in the deposits. The hon. Gentleman might say, that these were not satisfactory indications of the condition of the working classes. He would agree in such an opinion; but, at the same time, the argument always had been, that the state of the working classes was pretty well demonstrated by the manner in which the small retail dealers found themselves affected by passing circumstances; and, perhaps, there could not be a more satisfactory test of the state of the small retailers than the state of the savings-banks, particularly in manufacturing districts. He had, therefore, procured a return of the deposits paid into the savings-banks in the manufacturing districts, embracing Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Glasgow, Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham, and Paisley, for the last three months, and the result was, that the gross total of the sums paid in was 123,329l., while the amount drawn out was 114,378l.; still showing, even in the manufacturing districts, an increase in the deposits. He was quite aware that there was great distress in parts of Lancashire, but still he asserted that a view of the question must be taken upon the general results, rather than upon particular features. Within the last three months, however, even in Manchester the amount of deposits was 25,555l., while that of sums drawn out was but 22,725l. It was of great importance that time should be allowed to ascertain where the pressure was, and to make inquiry as to the cause of that pressure. He thought the Government had shown that they were not indifferent to the distress that existed; the production of the present document might be taken as a proof of that. But they were attempting to ascertain the position of the country for the purpose of considering, and not of denying the distress. At the same time he deprecated that exaggeration which would demand immediate and precipitate, and he must say, as a consequence, delusive measures for removing it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, speaking of the reserve with which he charged him, mentioned a single instance in which, accord- 780 ing to that hon. Gentleman, he, or rather some of his supporters, had departed from that reserve. The hon. Gentleman was not very fortunate in his selection of an exception. He had stated, that in the town of Manchester a candidate had come forward to represent the place, having inscribed upon his banners, "Cheap bread and no Corn-laws," "High wages and no: Poor-laws," "Vote for Murray and Entwistle," "No Whiggery." The cry, then, of "Cheap bread, no Corn-laws," and "No Poor-laws," was not, it would seem the highway to success for a candidate. Those appeals were fruitless in the case cited by the hon. Gentleman, and it would appear that the candidates had failed for not copying him in his reserve; while in other instances, where the language of candidates had been, "We will make no rash and precipitate declarations; have confidence in us, and give us full opportunity for maturing proper measures, and not for the purpose of avoiding discussion"—in those cases candidates had been successful. But the unfortunate candidate in the manufacturing district, who put forth "No Poor-laws," and "No Corn-laws," and "Cheap bread," was rejected. He would not pretend to say, whether the addition of the words "No Whiggery" had tended to produce that effect; he knew not, but it had been said, that possibly it did tend to his downfall. The hon. Gentleman, however, in speaking of that instance of failure, rather proved to him that the country was content with the reasonableness of the proposition which he had made heretofore, and that they did approve of that reserve of his, and that due attention should be paid to the state of the country, before attempts were made to remove the existing evils. "It is impossible to deny (continued the right hon. Baronet), that we are familiar with the subjects of finance, the Corn-laws, and the Poor-laws; yet my firm belief is, that the intelligent and thinking part of the community in the three kingdoms are of opinion that, on the constitution of a new Government, under the auspices of one who has been excluded from power for more than ten years, it is a rational and just proposal, as conducive to mature deliberation and the adoption of wise measures, that we should take time to make inquiries, and avail ourselves of the opportunities and sources of information which official power affords us; and 781 having inquired, and given all attention to the measures we have to propose, we should then leave it to Parliament to determine whether those measures are founded on just and wise principles, or not, and whether or not they are likely to conduce to the permanent welfare of the country."
§ Mr. M. Phillips
said, that the right hon. Baronet ought, upon his admissions of the extent and severity of the distress in the country, to proceed without further delay to the adoption of remedial measures. Indeed, so heavy and pressing was that distress, that he was convinced, unless the House would proscribe immediate relief, they would have to witness and deplore that want of order and those scenes of mischief, which he thought it was the duty of all those who entertained his opinions to take timely steps to prevent. It had been his good fortune to support an Address from that House to the Throne, praying, that her Majesty, having called together her Parliament, would direct the distressed state of the country to be taken into immediate consideration. He held in his hand a speech which the right hon. Baronet made in that House on the 7th of June last, which had led him to hope, that Parliament would be re-assembled, not for the purpose of having a great and pressing question of this nature postponed, but of devising an immediate and effectual remedy for the distresses which afflicted the country. On the 7th of June last, the right hon. Baronet said:—According to all usage, and under circumstance of all the cases that were analogous to the present, the new Parliament ought to be convoked immediately. He said this not only with reference to the important questions to which the public mind was alive—not only with reference to the immense advantage which it must be to all persons engaged in commercial speculations or enterprise of any kind, to know what was to be the state of the law affecting the importation of corn—not only with reference to these considerations, but also with reference to the position of the executive government, which manifestly stood before the people as not possessing the confidence of the House of Commons. The combined force of these considerations compelled him to conclude that the interval ought to be as short as possible between the dissolution of the present Parliament, and the calling together a new Parliament. No considerations of private or personal convenience of Members ought in the slightest degree to interfere.Perfectly concurring in those sentiments of the right hon. Baronet, as he did, he 782 must say, that his disappointment was the greater, hearing the right hon. Baronet, now that Parliament had been assembled without delay, propose to postpone all the great and pressing questions to which the public mind was alive, and which were of immense consequence to all persons engaged in commercial enterprise and speculations. All that the House had to expect from the right hon. Baronet until next February, was, it seemed, the document he had just quoted with respect to the amounts of deposits and withdrawments of deposits. He would ask nothing unreasonable of the right hon. Baronet. He implored him not to allow Parliament to be prorogued until something was done to relieve the distresses of the people; let him take a fortnight, or even a month, for the consideration of proper measures of relief, but let him not suffer the winter to pass over without taking some decisive step. He had presented n memorial from one of the most numerous meetings ever held at Manchester, uttering the same request, and he must say, that he saw nothing unreasonable in that request. If the Government were not prepared to make any alteration in the Corn-laws, let them say so at once, and put an end to the anxiety which now prevailed throughout the country. If he were to assume from what had fallen from certain Members of the Government and other hon. Members sitting on the same side of the House, that they were of opinion, that the Corn-laws had nothing to do with the distress of the country, let the Government unequivocally state that to be their opinion. It did not require a delay of weeks or months to allow them to make a simple declaration of that kind. Such an opinion had been expressed by the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool, on the one hand, and by the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, on the other; and if the right hon. Baronet entertained the same views, let him come forward and avow them. He did not wish to enter into any details on the subject of the present distress; but he must repeat his solemn conviction that the industry of this country was paralyzed by the operation of the provision laws—that markets were wanted for the extension of the industry of the country, and that it was not unreasonable to ask for a decision on a question of such vital importance. He would urge upon the Government the impropriety of allowing Parliament to separate before Christmas without taking into their serious consideration a question to 783 which the public mind had of late been directed with a degree of intensity never before known. The question had been taken up by the people, who considered it to be one of vital importance to their interests; and it was the duty of their representatives, when they saw the country plunged into such distress, to rise in their places and urge upon the Government the necessity of coming to some conclusion before the approach of winter, upon the most important question which ever occupied the attention of any Legislature.
§ Mr. Ewart
thought the right hon. Baronet had rather injudiciously diverted the attention of the House from the main question to the metaphors of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire. The metaphors of the musical instrument on which it had pleased the hon. Gentleman for some time to play did not originate with his hon. Friend, but with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, to whom it ought in fairness to be awarded. The inference drawn by the right hon. Baronet from what took place at Manchester during the late election was rather unfortunate. The right hon. Baronet said, that although the words "free trade" were inscribed on the Conservative banners, yet they were unsuccessful; but the right hon. Baronet ought to recollect that on those banners were inscribed the names of Murray and Entwistle. The inference to be drawn from this fact was not that they did not put faith in free trade, but that they had no confidence in Murray and Entwistle. The right hon. Baronet appealed to the House for time. He was quite willing to afford him time, but the question was what length of time would he require? A delay of one or two months, perhaps, might not be objected to, but the right hon. Baronet would not give the least intimation of the probable period when he would favour the House with his opinion, and this would necessarily tend to aggravate the feelings of discontent which now prevailed in the country. The only inference which the public could draw from this prolonged silence of the right hon. Baronet must be unfavourable to any scheme which he might afterwards propose; and whilst he kept his remedy in abeyance, the exasperated feelings which had arisen between the manufacturing and agricultural interest would increase, and the trials of a long and severe winter might excite the people to such a degree, as to disturb 784 even the prolonged silence of the right hon. Baronet. Knowing the feelings which prevailed in the manufacturing districts, he was quite certain that no greater source of danger could exist than the uncertainty which attended the measures of the Government; and he thought the right hon. Baronet would do well to consider whether the discontent produced by such means might not end in disorder. He could not reconcile it with the duty of a Minister to conceal for so long a time the remedy which be intended to propose for the relief of the public distress. An anticipated time, now approaching, was shown in the memorable speech delivered by Mr. Huskisson ten years ago. He adverted to the time when the competition of foreign countries might endanger the safety of our manufactures, and to the necessity which might then arise of an alteration of the Corn-laws. He said,The greatest of all follies on such an occasion would be to shut our eyes to the difficulties which, taken in time, we may perhaps overcome, but which by procrastination we cannot avoid. Our Corn-laws, however expedient to prevent other evils, in the present state of the country, are in themselves a burden and restraint upon its manufacturing and commercial industry; whilst the produce of that industry must descend to the level of the general markets of the world, the producers in this country, so far as food is concerned, are not upon that level. If the price of those products which we never export, and are frequently compelled to import, be materially higher here than elsewhere, that dearness cannot be counterbalanced in the articles which we export; it must fall either in the way of reduction upon the wages of the labourer or upon the profits of those who find him employment.The time was now come when the operation of the Corn-laws was felt both upon the wages and comforts of the labourer and the profits of his employer. He did not imagine that measures of free trade would be an immediate panacea for the existing evils of the country, but he certainly thought such measures would secure its lasting prosperity; and, if ever there was a time when it was necessary to carry them into operation, it was when distress was so prevalent, and the manufacturing industry at so low an ebb. He trusted that the right hon. Baronet would not keep the country longer in that state of suspense, which was beginning to have such a serious effect on the manufacturing districts. If this prolonged silence were 785 to remain undisturbed, it would aggravate the discontent which now prevailed, and make the distresses of the people more keenly felt. He trusted the right hon. Baronet would not present the country with a picture of what had been so happily described by the Roman poet—Jurantem me scire nihil, mirantur, et unumScilicet egregii mortalem altique silenti.
§ Mr. R. Walker
said, although he bad been in business about forty years, he never saw greater distress than now existed in the manufacturing districts, and he believed the middle classes were fast verging towards poverty. The borough which he represented contained 25,000 inhabitants, and the annual rental was about 60,000l. A larger sum than the amount of that rental had been taken from the working classes during the last twelve months. An establishment with which his family was connected would, in the course of the present year, pay 20,000l. less in wages than the average of the last four years. There were three other establishments of a similar nature in the town, in which he had no doubt a proportionate reduction had taken place. Some of the mills had been altogether stopped, and a great number of operatives bad thus been deprived of employment. Although much difference of opinion prevailed as to the causes of the present distress, no one denied its existence, and it was therefore the duty of the House at once to endeavour to provide a remedy. The people certainly attributed their sufferings to the Corn-laws; and he wished the Government would take into consideration the interests of those classes who had hitherto been so much neglected.
§ Sir J. Easthope
assured the House that it had not been from any insensibility to the distress that existed among the people at large, nor had it been from any impression that the position of the constituency he had the honour to represent less demanded the serious and attentive consideration of Parliament than any other portion of the country, that hitherto he had refrained from addressing the House upon those momentous questions which now agitated the public mind. Without troubling the House at any length with those details of distress which had already been so strongly brought under their notice, he begged permission to relate one fact as being painfully illustrative of the state of 786 trade and manufactures in the town he represented. One of the most skilful and iudustrious manufacturers there, an individual possessed of capital, called upon him (Sir J. Easthope), and after representing the universal state of distress which surrounded him, stated that he had come to the determination of abandoning trade. For four consecutive years he had been a loser to a considerable amount, and in order to secure something upon which to retreat, he felt that his only course was to give up his trade. He (Sir J. Easthope) had then asked this gentleman what was to become of the artisans, who had found their subsistence in his employment, and the reply was, that, unhappily, he had no means of averting the evil, and that they must form an addition to the thousands who were already in a state of destitution. Now, he asked the right hon. Baronet if he expected, that, with augmented sufferings and an augmented number of those who suffered, a winter of severity could pass away without greatly aggravated wretchedness and misery—misery so deep, that, in spite of all that could be done, might endanger the peace and order of the manufacturing' districts of the kingdom. Surely before Parliament separated, something ought to be done to show to the country their distresses were not unheeded and to prove that there was an earnest desire on the part of that House to stay the progress of the evil. Not a doubt existed as to the distress that prevailed in the country—distress, in a great measure, attributable to the Corn-laws; yet there was one Member of the Cabinet proclaiming in the midst of his tenantry, that he adhered to all the principles he had ever laid down, and all the determinations he had ever made, and that noble Duke was rightly considered the champion of the present Corn-law. Then there was the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, who, if rightly reported, had certainly not spoken in a way calculated to excite the hopes of the suffering people. Were such speeches as these, or that of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, calculated to tranquillise those who took the same view of the subject which he did, to satisfy them, so as to induce their patience or to prevent their alarms? On the other hand, all that we were to hear from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth was his often repeated admiration for the enterprising spirit of manufacture and commerce in this country, 787 his mere expressions of sorrow for the distress that prevailed amongst the people, but at the same time his perfect determination to say nothing on the subject of the Corn-laws which should indicate the leading principles of his policy. With regard to minor details of his plan, he was not pressed to make communications, but in relation to those great and leading principles upon which his conduct in the Government would be regulated. That was what he desired to hear—that was what the failing manufacturers and Starving artisans of the country desired to hear from the right hon. Baronet. They wished to know what were to be the grand and leading principles of that right hon. Gentleman—whether they were to be in strict conformity with the language held by a noble Duke in his own county, in unison with what had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, and in harmony with the sentiments uttered by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester. The people sought to know whether the present abstinence from legislation was with a view to some effectual change in the present system of Corn-laws, or was merely preparatory to some trifling and insignificant regulation in the averages, which would still leave them amidst all their calamities in absolute despair. That was what the country wanted to know, and that was what his (Sir John Easthope's) constituents wanted to know, when they met yesterday in large numbers to demand that Parliament should not separate until the state of the people had been taken into consideration—a demand that was becoming general, and which, if not conceded, might be productive of most direful effects. And here he could not refrain from expressing his thanks to his hon. Friend, the Member for Manchester for his observations upon the joking pleasantry upon this subject in which the right hon. Baronet had this evening seen fit to indulge, for truly it was, as the right hon. Baronet had himself previously declared, no topic for a joke. Whatever levity might be exhibited at this time, levity would not be felt hereafter; whatever indifference might be felt now, would not be felt much longer; and whatever the delay that might be demanded now, it could not much longer be endured.
said, that as he had been one, who on a former occasion, had complained of the course intended to be taken 788 by the Government, and as it might be presumed that they had heard this evening the ultimatum of the right hon. Baronet, he could not help referring to the precise ground upon which the people complained of that course. The people allege, that they have for many years past been suffering from certain restrictions upon the commerce of the country, which prevent full scope or adequate reward being given for their industry: they say they have complained of the restrictions, more or less, from the time when they were first imposed, that they have been supported in their view by some of the most excellent and enlightened statesmen who have taken part in public affairs; that though they have been engaged in a struggle to obtain their removal ever since their enactment, they have had peculiar occasion to complain of them of late years, and from many of the evils being now aggravated, they had become more urgent in their prayers to this House. They allege, that their increasing numbers, and increasing capacities for production, render it more than ever essential to their well-being, that trade should be extended, and that adequate markets should be opened for their products; fur, unless this be done, the same cause would render their condition proportionably worse. All this they have pressed upon the attention of this House seeking to establish by evidence whatever might be in doubt on the subject, and thus leaving no doubt at least as to the nature of their case. They have just seen a Government displaced, that, it was said, had not the power to remove those restrictions, and another Government take its place with complete power to execute whatever it desired. Their case was well known to this Government, and if there had been doubt as to the object of those laws to which he, of course, chiefly referred, namely, those upon the commerce in food, the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, has by his admission, removed it; for he had heard, that upon the most public occasion lately he had candidly avowed, that the object of those laws was to raise the price of food, and thereby to raise the price of land. And now, the people ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of this Government what views, in his new position, he entertains on this subject, in order to learn whether he admits their grievance, or contemplates any remedy for it. The new House is assembled, and the people cannot understand why they 789 should not learn through that channel the intentions entertained towards them. Now, what says the right hon. Baronet to the people who are so grievously oppressed, and who have turned to him and to this House with the hope, that these laws will be improved or repealed. He says, I declared before the dissolution, that if I was called to the councils of the Crown, I would maintain a reserve upon all important questions which at that time were in discussion, on which he was then expressing a confident opinion. He says now, upon that declaration, that a majority has been returned to the House who are willing to support him, and that they had, therefore, under these circumstances, no right to call upon him to express an opinion before he may find it convenient to do so. With respect to the distinctness with which this intended reserve was announced before the dissolution he entertained some doubt; but if it was made, the ground which they complained of would have been weaker, if this reserve had been strictly adhered to; for what justified him in complaining was, not that he had not made that little development of his policy, which, he says, would have been so inconvenient, but of his having developed a little too much or not enough. He has not, nor have his friends, been silent on this nice point of the Corn-laws. A most important and decided opinion has been expressed with regard to them, namely, that they have nothing to do with the distress now universally admitted to exist. They have thus suggested the obvious inference, that as they are not likely to be wanton Reformers, they would not think it necessary to make any change in the Corn-laws at all. But the large numbers who believed the contrary to be the case, asked the right hon. Baronet, with great reason, that as he admitted that they were in distress, and that he denied the cause they assigned for it, to go one step further and intimate to them what was the cause of their declining condition, or whether he had any remedy to propose for it. This, then, was their case, they reiterate to him their old complaint of the restraints which partial legislation imposes upon their industry, and of the suffering which they are now enduring, and he says that they are wrong, but he declines to give them any insight into what he considers to be true or advisable in the matter; but while he does this he certainly does cast a doubt upon the correctness of the statements that are made on the subject. 790 He points to the probability of its quickly blowing over, and as some proof of the revival of better days, he tells us of the state of certain savings banks, which show, that the working class are recovering, and that trade was improving. [No, no!] What, then, were the statements respecting these banks made to show the reverse? [No, no!] Why, one way or the other it must be. He contended, that the right hon. Baronet referred to the document with great parade, alleging that that was the sort of document that any person should refer to who did not wish to take a partial or one-sided view of the matter and that it was such evidence that would tend to assist the judgment in coming to a just conclusion, and he showed that at this season more money had been deposited in these banks than there had been just previously, and while the last Government was in power; and from which the inference is fair that he does not give much credit to the details of distress, which appear to be known to and admitted by so many, and this was all the insight that he allowed the people to have into his future policy, denying their view of the mischiefs of the Corn-laws, and implying that they were not in such distress as they alleged. He should not forget, however, that there were certain vague and indefinite allusions to past proceedings of joint-stock banks thrown out as the cause of evil, though the peculiar connection of the accommodation given some years ago by joint-stock banks with the present distress he could not discover. This, then, was the case of the people. With all these doubts respecting their condition, they call for instant consideration and inquiry, and complain of the intended delay, and of opinions that have been expressed regarding them; and as this would probably be the last opportunity of discussing these questions this Session, as with the determination not to discuss any question on the other side, it would be useless for him to enter more at length into the matter, he had thought it right to relieve himself and those he represented from the charge of anything like factious opposition to the course pursued by the Government, by the reasons which he had assigned for it. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman might see that these objections did not come from those who hoped or who had anything to gain from removing the present Administration, nor did they spring from those who had been the mere dependents of the last Ministry, but from those whose advocacy had generally been directed 791 to the common interests, and whose objects would be equally satisfied if the grievances of the people were redressed, whether by this Government, or by any other. He thought those who took this part in the House, had reason to be disappointed and dissatisfied at the prospect of the new Government, and for that reason he had expressed his opinion.
§ Mr. Cobden
who rose amidst cries of "question," could readily understand, he said, the impatience with which the Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House listened to the remarks which fell from the opposition if they entertained the same opinions as those which the right hon. Baronet had that evening expressed, namely, that the subject of the Corn-laws and of the distress of the people ought not again to be obtruded on the consideration of Parliament, after the discussion which had already been taken upon it. But had ' nothing' since transpired to render a revival of the question just and necessary? He thought that subsequent to the recent discussion, the suffering artisans of Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, and Leicester, had met to remonstrate against Parliament's putting an end to the question. He thought that memorials had been sent up from those towns to the Queen's Ministers, and he imagined that those Ministers would have felt it their duty to give a reconsideration to the grievances of which the people complained, unless, indeed, they were disposed to have it go forth to the country, that they agreed with a noble Duke in the opinion that town meetings were farces. As he and his Friends entertained a more respectful regard for the opinion of the country legitimately, legally, and morally pronounced, he hoped they might be excused by the Gentlemen opposite for dwelling a little more upon it, and for claiming for the wishes of the people a little more attention than the supporters of the Government seemed to be disposed to accord to them. Had the right hon. Baronet been in his place, he (Mr. Cobden) should have called his attention to the answer he had that night made to the remonstrances of the people. Three years ago when petitions came up from the people complaining of distress, the right hon. Baronet had his statistics to refer to, to show the manufacturing interests must needs be in a state of prosperity. What did the right hon. Baronet do now? He referred to the accounts of the savings banks for three months to 792 show that there was a progressive improvement in the condition of the country. How could the House judge of the state of the people from a three months' account of the sums deposited and drawn from the savings' banks. Why did not the right hon. Baronet extend his review, and state to the House the amount of deposits and drafts from the savings' banks, in the years 1835, 1836, 1837, 1838, and 1839? Why did the right hon. Baronet limit his account to the three months commencing in June last. Had the right hon. Baronet gone back to the years he had mentioned, the House would then have been able to judge of the progress of the condition of the people even by his own test, fallacious as that test was. He hoped that the people would fill up the hiatus in the right hon. Baronet's statement, and look back to the accounts of the savings' banks themselves. The right hon. Baronet had also quoted a report of the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester. This was not a question between the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester, or of any other town, and the right hon. Baronet; but when the right hon. Baronet did quote from the report of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, he should at least do so correctly. The right hon. Baronet had quoted from the report of 1839, referring to the conduct of the joint-stock banks and the Bank of England; and asserted that the Chamber of Commerce attributed all the distress which at that time prevailed in the manufacturing interest to the inflation of the currency. In that assertion the right hon. Baronet had most entirely and most unjustifiably misrepresented the report from which he professed to quote, for in that report there was a special reference to the Corn-laws, in which they were deprecated as being the chief cause of those fluctuations in the currency from which such disastrous consequences ensued. But the right hon. Baronet in quoting the report, made no allusion whatever to that most important paragraph. The question, now, however, was not as to the state of the savings' banks, or joint-stock banks, in the opinions of the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester—it was a question whether or not the people should be fed: and they never were fed by joint-stock banks yet, nor by chambers of commerce either. "The people," exclaimed the hon. Member, "the people want bread, and you who take 793 upon yourselves the monopoly of feeding them, are called upon to administer to their necessity for food—all we ask is the right, the inalienable right of feeding ourselves." The trading people had never yet come to the agriculturists to ask a favour of them—had never yet begged to be fed at the cost of those by whom food was produced. On the contrary, two years ago, when great distress was experienced, the delegates of the manufacturing districts put forward an un nimous declaration, addressed to the world at large in which they stated that all they wanted was the right to exchange the product of their labour for the food which was the product of other countries; and, at the same time, they prayed the House of Commons to remove all protection from themselves, and to give to the agriculturists as well as to themselves, the free and unfettered liberty of exchanging the product of their labour how and where they pleased. That being refused, he had a right to lay at the door of the landowners all the distress and misery of those whom they had the privilege of feeding, but whom they would only consent to feed at a high and unnatural price. He told her Majesty's Ministers that the manufacturing and commercial interests would feed the labourers if the laws would let them—that they would employ them at good wages if the Legislature would let them; but if laws were passed which said that they should not exchange the produce of their labour for the food which other lands would supply, then how were they either to employ or feed them? "If," said the hon. Member," you have stores of food in Norfolk, Lincoln, Kent, and Essex, bring it to Manchester, to Leeds, to Birmingham, and we will exchange our manufactures for it: if you cannot keep the people employed, we will. Do not play the part of the dog in the manger, and, being unable to employ and feed the people yourselves, refuse to allow others to do so." There appeared to be a great misapprehension on the part of her Majesty's Ministers, as to the capability of the manufacturers to supply themselves with food from other countries. What was the opinion in America upon that subject? A petition was presented to Congress in May last, from a person named Joshua Leavitt, setting forth the importance of an equitable and adequate market for American wheat.Let it be supposed for a moment," said 794 the petitioner, "that the landowners of England would be satisfied with a fixed and moderate duty in lieu of the existing sliding scale, there would then be a constant market for our wheat in England, and the whole of the return would be required in British manufactured goods, generally of that kind which yield the highest profit; the consequence of which would be that every spindle, wheel, and hammer in the manufacturing districts of that country would immediately be set in motion.This was the opinion expressed in a country containing 180,000,000 of acres of land, all capable of growing wheat, and which the Americans were most anxious to bring into immediate culture, for the purpose of supplying England with food, and taking her manufactures in exchange. The Americans said, "only consent to make this exchange with us, and for a hundred years England shall not know what it is to want plenty of wheat, plenty of pork, and plenty of beef." The noble Lord (Lord Stanley) the Member for North Lancashire, seemed to think that there could be no extension of trade without a considerable reduction of wages. But what did the Americans say?We do not wish to reduce the wages of your labourers, we think they are already too low; only exchange with us at your present prices, and we will clear out your warehouses, and place your manufacturing districts in a state of activity and prosperity.Was it unreasonable that the people of England should claim the right of making such an exchange? Suppose, continued the hon. Member, that it were but the Thames, instead of the Atlantic, which separated the two countries—suppose that the people on one side were mechanics and artizans, capable by their industry of producing a vast supply of manufactures; and that the people on the other side were agriculturists, producing infinitely more than they could themselves consume of corn, pork, and beef— fancy these two separate people anxious and willing to exchange with each other the produce of their common industry, and fancy a demon rising from the middle of the river—for I cannot imagine anything human in such a position and performing such an office—fancy a demon rising from the river, and holding in his hand an act of Parliament (if you please), and saying, "You shall not supply each others wants;" and then, in addition to that, let it be supposed that this I demon said to his victim, with affected smiles and laughing, "This is for your 795 benefit; I do this entirely for your protection." Where was the difference between the Thames and the Atlantic? Steam navigation had laid the great western continent of America alongside of England, and we should be setting at naught the beneficent designs of Providence by denying the one the right of benefitting the other. Wherever he went—whether along the banks of the Rhine, or over the plains of France in search of wine—nay, even if he spoke of the luxurious Grueyere cheese of Switzerland, he found that the best of every thing was brought to England, not, however, for the benefit or advantage of the poor, but to add to the enjoyments and luxuries of the rich. The wine-producing countries of the continent had the advantage of an exchange with England—the produce of their vineyards was eagerly sought for and consumed in this country; but go to other countries where the staple produce was wheat—go to Poland or to Prussia, where the soil was redundant of that which would feed the poor, and it would be seen that the grain that if imported here would carry gladness into the heart of our manufacturing districts, was left for the want of a market, to perish in the field, or to be trampled under foot, and devoured by swine. If the corn-growers in those countries were asked, why this redundant produce was not sent to England, the sliding-scale was at once pointed at as an insuperable barrier. The markets of the whole world were open to supply the luxuries of the rich, but a special law was provided to prevent the poor man from profiting by the laws of nature, and freely exchanging the produce of his labour for food. Yes, the laws of nature were set at naught when it became a question whether the people should be fed. "Let me ask," exclaimed the hon. Member, "what is it that you send abroad in exchange for the luxuries you derive from other countries? Is it not the products of the manufacturers? And when you send their products abroad, you pass a law which says, ' nothing shall be brought back in exchange which can benefit the labouring and industrious classes—nothing but what administers to our own gorged luxury.' Is there justice in this? Is it consistent with the laws of nature? And can you set at nought the laws of nature, and hope to prosper as a nation? When I go down to the manufacturing districts, I know that I shall be returning to a gloomy scene. I know that starvation is stalking through the land, and that men 796 are perishing for want of the merest necessaries of life. When I witness this, and recollect that there is a law which especially provides for keeping our population in absolute want. I cannot help attributing murder to the Legislature of this country —and wherever I stand, whether here or out of doors, I will denounce that system as legislative murder which denies to the people of the land food in exchange for the produce of their industry. The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire (Lord Stanley), has explicitly declared, that the object of the Corn-laws is to keep up the price of corn—in other words, to make it scarce and dear. This makes out the whole of our case; and we need no better agitator than the noble Lord, whilst he makes such candid avowals. I call upon you, the House of Commons, to consider the question as it affects the whole people, especially the poor; and when I see in some quarters a disposition to trade upon a reputation for humanity — I think I see at this moment in his place the hon. Baronet (Sir E. Wilmot) the Member for North Warwickshire, who is a great friend to the negro slave at the Antipodes—I think I see also another hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis), who is a great friend of the Church Establishment, and who, the other night, complimented a noble Lord (Lord Ashley) for his great humanity as the friend of the unprotected generally, and of the factory children in particular—when I see a disposition amongst you to trade in humanity, I will not question your motives, I will not deny that it is really felt; but this I tell you, that if you would give force and grace to your professions of humanity, it must not be confined to the negro at the Antipodes, nor to the building of churches, nor the extension of the Church Establishment, nor to occasional visits to factories to talk sentiment over factory children—you must untax the people's bread. Whilst you retain that law, which raises rents but does not raise wages, you may be humane, kind and beneficent, but your benevolence and humanity, more showy than substantial, will soon become a mockery and a bye-word."
§ Captain Carnegie
said, he could not but complain of the course adopted by the hon. Members for Manchester, Stockport and Bolton, in getting up and stating their opinions, without having the least prospect of carrying any measure which they might propose. He deprecated the practice of encouraging peripatetic orators to 797 perambulate from town to town for the purpose of arousing the passions of the working men. The hon. Member for Stock-port having shifted the responsibility of not bringing forward anything for the relief of the people, had turned round and blamed her Majesty's Ministers for not having stated what they intended to do, although the Government had only been a few weeks in office. The hon. Member for Stockport had addressed a meeting the other day of what was termed the "Anti-monopoly Young Men's Association," and in his address he had greatly abused the system of education which then prevailed. He (Captain Carnegie) thought, of course, the hon. Member would have brought forward a better system, but the hon. Member made an end of his speech by informing the meeting, that in the course of his travels he had seen some Grecian women washing in the river Illyssus. The hon. Member further said, that while he was speaking of the distress which existed, that the other Members would be found following their sporting amusements in the country. Some years ago, he (Captain Carnegie) recollected, at a dinner at Manchester, it had been boasted that the manufacturers were able to buy up the landed aristocracy ten times over. Now, if the manufacturers possessed this enormous wealth, how could they pretend to profess sympathy for the sufferings of the poor, and yet let 102 families pawn their beds each morning to redeem their clothes. The hon. Member had further said, that the Corn-laws were upheld by the bayonet and baptised in blood, or something of the sort, and that he hoped the struggle would not end in blood. He would tell the hon. Member the best way to prevent violence was to abstain from using such expressions as he was pleased to indulge in. He gave his vote to the right hon. Baronet because he had confidence in his ability and integrity. The right hon. Baronet had not stumbled on power, but he had been borne into power by the people, and he was backed by the country. He for one, had no hesitation in saying, that he trusted soon to see England in a state of commercial prosperity beyond what she had yet experienced. But if his anticipations did not unfortunately prove true, and if the right hon. Baronet could not carry on the Government with satisfaction to himself and the country, the right hon. Baronet himself stated what course he would pur- 798 sue. Should such a contingency arise, he would not on that account abstain from supporting any Minister who should endeavour to effect the greatest good for the greatest number; and if her Majesty should call to her Councils the hon. Members for Stockport and Bolton, he should offer them no factious opposition. He should say to them, "We have tried and failed; come you and try;" and, in the language which the hon. Member for Bolton thought so inapplicable to the discussion of a question like the present—Immature peril, sed tu felicior annos,Frater, vive tuos, optime, meos.
§ Mr. Thornely
rose to offer an observation on what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, when he asked whether hon. Members opposite would now accept a duty of 8s., the present duty being 1s. The right hon. Baronet did not, perhaps, recollect, that though the duty was yesterday so low as 1s., that to-day it had risen to 2s. 8d.; and from letters which he had received from persons in the corn trade, he was informed that there was every expectation of its being as high as 20s. 8d. before the end of October—so that the country would have been, on the whole, great gainers by a fixed duty of 8s., and he would accept the offer of the right hon. Baronet with both hands. The operation of the sliding scale was most injurious, inasmuch as it caused great uncertainty in the transactions of the trade in corn. He knew a case of a gentleman largely interested in the trade with the United States, who had sent orders for a quantity of flour by the packet of the 4th August, but felt obliged to countermand the order, from the impossibility of its arriving in this country in sufficient time to be admitted at the low rate of duty. He knew of another instance, which still more strikingly illustrated the absurdity of the sliding scale. He was informed, in a letter which he had received from a commercial house in Liverpool, that the Margaret, a large steamer, had been chartered, and sailed on Wednesday, to return from France next week with a cargo of flour. Here was a great additional expense incurred to avoid the operation of the sliding scale, and he was convinced that the trade of the country could not go on in this way.
§ Mr. Brotherton
always rose with great reluctance. He had presented a petition from his constituents, calling on the House 799 to inquire into the cause of the distress, in the prayer of which petition he entirely agreed. He could state it as a fact, that the distress which existed in the manufacturing districts pervaded all classes of the community. It was felt in a great degree by the capitalist in the diminution of his profits; it was felt by the tradesman in his want of business, and in the bad debts caused by the numerous bankruptcies that were daily taking place; it was felt by the manufacturer in his inability to dispose of his manufactures; but, above all, it was felt most severely by the working classes; for he took on himself to say, that thousands and tens of thousands of industrious families were in a state of destitution in consequence of the want of employment. These were facts with which the House ought to be acquainted. It was for them to propose a remedy. The other night he had stated the condition of the borough of Salford in regard to the number of un-tenanted houses. He believed he had understated the number. In the memorial which he had had the honour to present to the Secretary of State, it was stated that there were in that borough seventy-four mills, dye-houses, and workshops of various descriptions untenanted. Instead of 1,500 houses—the number which he had stated as untenanted—there were no less than 2,030 in that condition, which, if occupied, would yield a rental of upwards of 27,000l. a year. The poor-rates were double what they were in 1836. He believed this was also the case in Manchester, where during the last year, upwards of ten thousand families had been relieved by subscription. Cases of distress had been mentioned to him which would harrow up the feelings of any one obliged to witness them. It was for this reason that he was so earnestly desirous that something should be done to alleviate the distress. He only stated the effects of the distress. It was the duty of Parliament to endeavour to find out the cause. In regard to the depreciation of property he had that morning received a letter which stated that a mill, with its machinery, had this week been offered for sale. The property, a few years ago, cost 50,000l., and when offered for sale at public auction only 4,500l. was bid. He understood that the assignees of the person to whom it belonged were willing to accept of 10,000l. for a property which, a few years ago, cost upwards of five times that sum. Even property in houses had depreciated forty per cent.; 800 and from these facts the House might well suppose how great was the distress which prevailed in the manufacturing districts. Four years ago they were in a state of prosperity. A gentleman connected with the trade had made a calculation to show that at that time there were worked up weekly 24,000 bags of cotton, giving employment, in one shape or another, to about 2,000,000 persons, at an expenditure of 22,000,000l., annually. He found that the consumption of cotton had since then been reduced to 19,000 bags; and if the population employed were reduced in the same proportion, there would be 400,000 persons out of employment, or not receiving the same rate of wages which they did four years ago. Instead of the expenditure in wages being 22,000,000l,it would not now be more than 16,000,000l. Could there, then, be any doubt of the existence of the distress? Take the silk, the woollen, the iron, or any other trade, they would find that they were equally depressed. It was admitted on all hands that the distress was spreading. It could not be without a cause, and Parliament ought to lose no time in endeavouring to ascertain it. Some might say that it was impossible things could be improved by legislation and that the distress was caused by overtrading and over-production. That might be so. Others might say that it was occacasioned by the operations of the joint-stock banks and the currency. He was ready to admit that at one period there had been great issues of paper, which, in a certain degree, might create the prosperity they had beheld, but they ought to recollect that the contraction of these issues could not do otherwise than produce distress. He was informed that at the present time the circulation was contracted to a greater degree than it had been for a great number of years; but although he was ready to admit that the distress might be caused by the contraction of the currency, he begged to ask what had been the cause of that contraction, but the present Corn-laws. Owing to the operation of the sliding scale, the bullion had been taken out of the country, and the Bank of England had been compelled to put on the screw, as it was called, in order to bring the gold back. It might be said, how were they to know that other countries would take the manufactures of this country in exchange for their corn? How were they to know this when they had never tried them? He wished to give them the opportunity, and 801 he condemned the present Corn-law, because it obliged them to send the gold out of this country, and consequently was the cause of those fluctuations in the currency of which so much complaint had been made. It had been said that they could not expect the evil to be remedied by legislation. He said they could. They had the power to legislate, and to repeal the Corn-law, which, in his opinion, ought to be repealed, because it was unjust. It might be said, that the manufactures had been prosperous in spite of the Corn-laws. Be it so. In 1833, 1834, and 1835, they were in a state of prosperity, but then bread was cheap, whereas it was now dear. He had no hesitation in saying that, in his opinion, bread, taking the present state of the country into consideration, was dearer now than it was when wheat was 110s. a quarter. Knowing that some remedy must be proposed, he trusted Parliament would institute some inquiry into the cause of the distress. If the present Corn-laws were repealed, if the sugar duties were reduced, if they legislated for all equally and not for a particular class, then no blame would attach to Parliament; but as the people conceived the distress was brought about by the present Corn-law, he implored the House to take it into their consideration without the least delay.
§ Mr. Aglionby
rose to offer his testimony to the extreme distress which existed in the manufacturing towns in Cumberland. In the town of Cockermouth, which he represented, there were many hundreds of families in the greatest distress, and they had hitherto endured it with the greatest patience and forbearance. Many willing to work had not been able to procure employment, and many had been compelled to subsist and to support their families on 6s. a week. In Carlisle he had seen a deputation from the suffering weavers, and had hon. Members seen and heard them they would have felt for their condition. He wished to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet opposite to this fact, and no doubt he was aware, from the report of the hand-loom weavers' committee, of the nature of the sufferings of the hand-loom weavers. He called the attention of the right hon. Baronet to the fact, that since the investigation had taken place—since Mr. Muggridge had visited Carlisle—the wages of this class of operatives had been reduced 35 per cent. He was not going into the cause of this, but 802 he merely rose to say that if the House were not prepared with a remedy, they ought, at all events, to express their sympathy for the distress that existed.
said that he would only occupy the attention of the House for a minute in consequence of the assertion of the hon. Member for Stockport as to certain districts which would produce corn in sufficient abundance to supply the wants of our population. The hon. Member in the course of his travels had no doubt seen many wonderful things—he had told them he had seen cheese on the summits of the Alps—that he had met with negroes at the Antipodes, and that sufficient corn might be brought by steam, amply to supply the wants of the manufacturers; but he begged to ask the hon. Member whether he was aware that the 180 millions of acres to which he had referred had not yet been put into cultivation? And he wished therefore to know how those acres out of cultivation could be of any possible service to the present distressed condition of this country. It was to a remedy for the present distress that they looked, and though they had been accused by the hon. Member for Dumfries of being mutes, he might say, without fear of contradiction, that there was as much and as deep feeling for that distress on that side of the House as the other; but they were loth to waste time, when business of importance was waiting, by rising one after another without any motion before the House, and expressing opinions which had been stated over and over again long ago.
§ House resolved itself into a committee of Supply.