House in Committee on the Customs and Corn Importation Acts. On the Question—
That in lieu of the Duties now payable on the importation of Corn, Grain, Meal, or Flour, there shall be paid until the 1st day of February, 1849, the following Duties," &c.—
§ MR. W. O. STANLEY
rose for the purpose of moving the following Amendment—There be paid a fixed Duty of five shillings per quarter upon Wheat.Although he represented an agricultural constituency, he had not hitherto troubled the House, because he was desirous of paying undivided attention to the arguments on both sides, with a view to ascertain whether he ought or ought not to alter the opinions he had always held on this subject. The noble Member for the city of London had said on a late occasion that "he thought the interests of the country were deeply involved in the immediate, complete, and tranquil settlement of the question." He cordially agreed with the noble Lord, but he was prepared to prove that not one of his three propositions would be effected by the proposed measure. Nobody would say that they would produce an immediate settlement of the question; the vote of the other night decided that it should not be immediate. Nor would it be a complete settlement of the question; and as to a tranquil settlement of it, the hon. Members for Durham and Wolverhampton had avowed that they would continue to agitate as long as any part of the present duty upon corn remained. Looking to the future, nobody could believe that this would be a tranquil settlement of the question. With a view to bring about a complete and tranquil settlement, he had put his Amendment on the Notice-book; and if his arrangement were accepted, he was strongly of opinion that the country would readily submit to it. It would feel that a moderate fixed duty ought to be maintained—that it would be a useful source of revenue, and a slight protection to the farmer, by which the consumer could not be materially injured. The noble Lord had himself admitted that a 5s. duty upon wheat would not raise the price more than 1s. per quarter. If the right hon. Baronet at the head 718 of the Government wished to carry out his own proposition, he would support this Amendment; and while he advocated a 10 per cent duty on cotton, linen, butter, cheese, &c., it was not unreasonable to expect that he would afford the same degree of protection to corn: 5s. on wheat, 2s. 6d. on barley, and 2s. (or rather 1s. 6d., which he wished to substitute in the terms of his Amendment) upon oats, would not be more than equal to 10 per cent. With regard to the question of revenue, the right hon. Baronet ought not lightly to throw away a source of 500,000l. annually. The right hon. Baronet was himself in favour of a 4s. duty for a limited period; and why should he object to a duty of 5s. permanently? He now appealed to the formidable party opposite—to the 265 Members who were fighting a battle under adverse circumstances, one of which was that they had been deserted by their own supporters. Would they refuse to accept his proposal? Would they not pause before they threw the country into the tumult of a general election, when they would have to array their forces in the counties to meet the League in the towns? If as a body they would unite with him, they would have a much better chance of an equitable settlement than if they were to resort to extreme measures: they would then not only be supported by their own partisans, but they would disarm the powers of the League. He did not believe that the measure would be carried elsewhere, and the result would be continued agitation. He submitted his proposition, convinced that it would not only be a just and fair settlement of the Corn Law question, but that it would be injurious to no interest in the Empire.
said, that he had not as yet taken any part in these long-protracted debates, and he would now trespass for a short time on the House. He was sure that all the great interests of the country, and particularly the agricultural interest, were suffering severely from the great delay that was taking place in adopting the measure of the right hon. Baronet. The whole corn trade was completely paralysed. There was not a farmer who was not waiting to see how this proposal of the right hon Baronet would be disposed of. Who were the parties connected with the agricultural interests who would most suffer from this delay? It was the small tenant-farmers about whom the hon. Gentleman professed to be so much interested. The large tenant-farmers might perhaps be able 719 to suspend their sales, but the small tenant-farmers must prepare for their Lady-day rents. Their barley and their oats were already disposed of: the little wheat they had remained to be sold. They were losing 3s. or 4s. on every quarter of wheat now brought to market, because the trade was suspended; and it was his firm belief that if this question were disposed of we should see the price of wheat rise instead of fall. That was the first injury which was sustained by the small tenant-farmer. Now for the last. By the delay of this measure the price of corn had fallen—the duty on the importation of foreign grain was rising. There was not a ship-load of corn that arrived in any part of the United Kingdom that was not immediately warehoused, and the consequence would be that when this measure was disposed of there would be a large accumulation of corn in the warehouses, which would be poured out for consumption, and utterly swamp the market. So much for the agricultural interest. But there was another class of society concerned in a measure to which the hon. Member for Finsbury had alluded, viz., a measure to alter the law of removal, to which the poor were now subject. Every week's delay in passing that measure was consigning some poor family to the Union workhouse for the rest of their lives. If Gentlemen were so anxious for the benefit of their poorer fellow countrymen, let them not delay this measure; but let this amelioration of the law of settlement travel with the other measure, and whilst they were taking care of themselves, as some supposed, let them take cave of their poorer neighbours into the bargain, and rescue the poorer class of society from the general law of removal under which they were now suffering, and by which some poor families were cast into a parish in which they had not been for forty or fifty years of their lives. He was decidedly opposed to the Motion of the hon. Member who had just sat down. In his own opinion the time had arrived when the Corn Laws ought to be immediately and entirely repealed. He had voted for the last thirty years for every Act of Parliament that had regulated the importation of corn, and he had no hesitation in saying that every one of those Acts of Parliament were perfect failures. He remembered when the Secretary at War stated that the Act of 1815 was the most unwise Act the landed interest ever could support. He voted for the Act, and there was a great cheer of 720 astonishment that anybody could assert that the Act of 1815 was a failure. He had no hesitation in saying that there never was an Act of Parliament placed on the Statute Book which so speedily proved the futility of all enactments to divert the calamities over which there could be no human control, and which the Legislature might materially aggravate, but could not alleviate. In 1816 was the most calamitous harvest ever remembered. On the 15th August, 1815, the opening price was just below 80s., and the ports of the country remained closed during all August, September, and October; and when a little dry corn would have been of the utmost importance to mix with our damaged corn, not a grain could be taken out of bond; and it was not till the 15th of November that any sound corn was entered. The ports were opened in 1816, and they remained open till August, 1818, when there happened a wet week, which raised the price; a large quantity of foreign corn flowed into this country, and for three years the country felt the effect of the importation. From 1815 to the present moment he would undertake to prove that every one of these Acts of Parliament had been failures. There was one reason why he should vote against the Motion of the hon. Member—it was because he was sincerely anxious that this measure should pass the two Houses of Parliament. He thought the right hon. Baronet knew better than other Gentlemen what was likely to pass the two Houses of Parliament. He should vote for this measure, because he thought the right hon. Baronet knew what was likely to succeed; and the other branch of the Legislature ought to have a fair field open to them to do some good. He hoped they would amend the Bill, and send it back with a clause in it for a total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. He was satisfied that if the House of Lords adopted that course—and he firmly believed that as a body they would consult their own interests: there was no part of the landed proprietors whose estates were better prepared to meet any change, if any change should follow, which he believed would not be the case—if they should send the Bill back again, amended, as he hoped, he was sure that the cry from one end of the country to the other would be, "Thank God, we have got a House of Lords!" He sincerely hoped the House of Lords would adopt that course, and with that view he should support the Motion of his right hon. Friend.
MR. STAFFORD O'BRIEN
said, that his gallant Friend had at the commencement of his speech charged him and his Friends with causing great and reprehensible delay by these debates; but in the latter part he challenged them to enter into a discussion with him upon all the Corn Laws which had been passed since 1815. There was, he thought, as much discrepancy between these statements as when his gallant Friend had at one part of his speech said that the measure of the right hon. Baronet would raise the price of wheat, and in another that it would make no difference at all. The right hon. Baronet had said that the effect of the measure would be to raise the price of wheat 1s. or 2s. per quarter; but his gallant Friend said that it would raise it 3s. or 4s. His gallant Friend had said also, that the alteration of the present cruel law of settlement was delayed by the present debates, and that they were responsible for the evils inflicted by that law upon the poorer classes of the country. Now, as far as the famine in Ireland was concerned, the case would be worse, if the price of provisions was raised; and as the law of settlement had no direct connection with the present measure, he begged to call the attention of the Prime Minister to the suggestion of his gallant Friend, that the measure relating to the law of settlement should be permitted to precede the present question—which should be postponed in order to keep down the price of wheat. He could not see how his gallant Friend could get out of this difficulty. Granting the premises of his gallant Friend, they could come to no conclusion but this—that as there were many Gentlemen in that House who received this not as a question of mere imports, but as a great financial and commercial change; and as these Gentlemen would persevere in an obstinate discussion of the question—if the right hon. Baronet had reason to believe that the price of provisions would be raised, and if he agreed with his gallant Friend, who was so zealous a supporter of his—as to the necessity of a change in the law of settlement, the least return he could make for that support, was to grant his request, and to let the law of settlement precede the decision of the Corn Law. But as the question of delay had been urged against them, he egged to call the attention of the House to the state of the case with regard to the delay which had taken place in these debates. With regard to the 722 length of time which had been consumed, he did not believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite thought them to blame. Let the House look to the condition of the Notice-book. It would have been in the power of so large a minority so to have clogged the Notice-book that the progress of the debate would have been seriously retarded. Now, with the exception of his hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, there had not been a single notice placed on the Notice-book by hon. Gentlemen who were opposed to the Government on this subject. [An HON. MEMBER: There's the Motion of the hon. Member for Pontefract.] He did not allude to Motions made as Amendments to this question, but to Motions which would retard the debate. There was not one notice from that side of the House except the notice of his hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire. But let them look upon the other side of the House. There was the hon. Member for Athlone, who had brought forward certain charges against his noble Friend the Member for Buckingham, and his noble Friend the Member for Chichester. [Mr. COLLETT: My charges were not against the hon. Members, but against the Peers.] But the charges were of a nature that directly concerned his noble Friends, and were intended to draw from them explanations and statements in reply. He did not impute any blame to the hon. Member for Athlone for the production of the Motion. The hon. Member had brought it forward in the discharge of his duty. But what he said was this—that if they on that side of the House had been desirous of delaying the debate, they might have entered into a discussion upon the motives of the hon. Member for Athlone, and produced a protracted debate upon the hon. Member's Motion. But not one of his noble Friends had risen, and the Motion had been very speedily disposed of. Let the House then look at the case of his hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire. His hon. Friend had brought in his Motion for a Committee to inquire into the fraudulent objections to the right of voting in his county. The right hon. Baronet did not oppose the appointment of that Committee, and his hon. Friend would have raised no further discussion upon it. But the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard had given notice, not simply of his intention to ask for leave to bring in a Bill upon the subject, but of his intention to ask that leave as an Amendment to the Motion of his hon. Friend. This would necessarily 723 lead to a debate. Now, he did not blame the hon. and learned Gentleman for the pursuit of such a course; but he wanted to free himself and his friends from the charge of having caused a factious delay to the continuance of the debate upon this question. He would also beg to tell his gallant Friend that in his opinion a full discussion was better—seeing the strange confusion of parties which prevailed upon this question, and seeing how the subject had been protractedly, and, it might be, doggedly discussed—than if it had been hastily disposed of. As a principle opposed to the practice of the country for centuries was now, for the first time, to be introduced, a brief or hasty disposal of it would, in his opinion, have been most improper. But, however bad the famine might be in Ireland, he must remind the House that they were not responsible for the not issuing of the Order in Council, against which the only reason he had heard was that the noble Lord opposite had advised it. Nor were they responsible for the non-introduction of a temporary measure for the relief of Ireland, nor for the refusal of the Government to give precedence to the unopposed proposal with regard to Indian corn. Nor were they responsible that Parliament had not been assembled before the 22nd of January. The country would not sympathize with the Government nor with hon. Gentleman opposite in charging them with undue delay; and he gave notice to the House that whenever the same charge was repeated, he would cause still further delay by rising and contradicting it. As to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite, he did not intend to vote upon it, as he did not intend to take any part upon any of the Amendments which might be introduced to the measure of the right hon. Baronet.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had proposed this Amendment had said that it would lead to a tranquil settlement of the question. He, however, could not flatter the hon. Member with the hope that a 5s. fixed duty would load to anything like a tranquil settlement of the question. No settlement of this question could now be satisfactory, unless it were proposed in a speech by Her Majesty from the Throne to a now Parliament. Whatever settlement might be made by the present Parliament would only be regarded as a settlement brought about by treachery and fraud. As to his gallant Friend, he could not understand how—not 724 to be inconsistent with himself—he had not voted with the hon. Member for Wolverhapton the other evening. [Colonel WOOD: I did not vote at all.] His gallant Friend had, however, said that there was no party in the country upon which the House had turned its back; but there was certainly one upon which his gallant Friend had turned his back, and that party was his own constituents. He could not understand why the right hon. Baronet did not postpone the consideration of the measure until he had brought forward the question as to the settlement of the poor. The complaint as to the state of the settlement law reflected not upon his friends, but upon the Government. It was the Government who were chargeable with all the evils of the present settlement question. He had never supported any measure for the prohibition of the importation of corn. He had constantly supported every measure admitting the importation of corn on occasions of temporary exigency; but he had specially supported and consistently adhered to the principle of the sliding-scale. Those hon. Members who spoke of the state of the Corn Law and the effect of the sliding-scale, should recollect that in 1816, when wheat was at 112s. in England, it rose to 116s. at Vienna, and 127s. at Stuttgard and Munich; and in 1817 when wheat was 112s. in England, it was 127s. at Stuttgard and Munich, and 141s. in France. When, therefore, hon. Members who supported the Government spoke of the evil effects of the system of the Corn Laws and the sliding-scale, it should be borne in mind that the Corn Laws had always prevented the price of corn from arriving in this country at the famine level which they had attained on the Continent.
said, he had been charged with deceiving or deserting his constituents. Now he believed that his views were in accordance with the opinions of the majority of his constituents. He thought he knew as much of his constituents as any one; and he declared his belief that from the Lord Lieutenant downwards to the tenant-farmer the majority of them concurred with him on this question.
LORD J. RUSSELL
merely wished to explain that he had not suggested the opening of the ports by an Order in Council, but by a short Bill, to which he believed no one would have raised any objection. As to the introduction of maize, he had recommended not that it should be a separate measure, but that instead of 725 forming a part of the general Tariff, it should be introduced at the end of the measure upon the Corn Laws.
SIR J. TYRRELL
could not help saving that he had heard the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for Brecon (Colonel Wood) with extreme astonishment—inasmuch as the hon. and gallant Gentleman had hitherto been regarded as the very Nestor of Protection. Especially was it a subject of surprise to him that, the hon. and gallant Member should be in a state of such excessive ignorance as to the opinions and feelings of his constituents upon this question, because, a requisition was already in a state of very considerable progress calling on the hon. and gallant Member to resign his seat—a requisition which he hoped the hon. and gallant Member, on account of the utter discordance between his opinions on the subject and those of his constituents, would be impelled, by his own high sense of honour, to accede to by resigning his seat as requested, particularly as the requisition was signed by large numbers not, only of the gentlemen of property, but, of the class referred to as so much the object of solicitude by the friends of this measure, i. e. the tenant-farmers. There was an association also of which he had heard, entitled "The Amalgamated Farmers' Company." He did not know how many shares the hon. and gallant Member was prepared to take in that concern. While he was on the subject of ignorance, he might be permitted to suggest a course which he believed would, while not interfering with public business, give great public satisfaction, He meant that while the agricultural interest accused the Government of treachery, and demanded that the sense of the country should be taken, the Ministers would leave the independent Members to carry on the business of the Session (the only pressing portion of which appeared to be the railway business), and meanwhile conduct an appeal to the country on the present measure: with such an appeal the agriculturists would be satisfied; without it it was not possible that they should be satisfied, especially while they saw in such places as those for which the Law Officers of the Crown sat, opinions entertained on this important subject quite at variance with those which were advocated by those learned Gentlemen. This he could assure the Government, that the agricultural party were prepared to fight the measure by every means which the forms of the House 726 afforded. It was their duty so to do—their duty to protection, as it would be to the Crown, were its interests directly, as he believed them to be indirectly, affected by the measure.
§ LORD WORSLEY
recommended the withdrawal of the Amendment, as a division would be a useless waste of time, with no prospect of success.
said, seeing the hon. Member for Sunderland in his place, he wished to set him right as to a statement the hon. Member had made the other night.
§ MR. GREENE
It is not competent to the hon. Gentleman to refer to speeches delivered on a former occasion in this House.
Well, then, Sir, I will just state, it has been said that the wages paid to agricultural labourers in Sussex are only 8s. a week. They are on the contrary 12s., a week, and often 13s. or 14s. I know that many farmers give 13s. or 14s. a week, and that if a man be a tolerably good labourer he can easily get 12s. I do not believe that wages so low as 8s. a week are to be met with except rarely—and certainly not in Sussex. The hon. Member went on to say he really wondered that tin- Amendment met with so little, support among those who till recently were so favourable to the fixed duty. His own opinion was in favour of a duty of 6s. first; then one of 4s.; then one of 2s.; and then none at all. The farmers thought that they had not been fairly dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. They claimed to be justly entitled to relief from the hop duty, and the malt duty, and other burdens. There was a strong opinion gaining ground in favour of a repeal of the malt duty; and it would be powerfully urged on the Government that a proportion of the hop duty should be taken off equal to that portion of the corn duty which was removed by this measure.
§ MR. HUDSON
said, that he had never alluded to the wages in Sussex, and was gratified to hear they were so good, though he was not at all surprised to hear it, believing that most, unfounded statements had been made as to agricultural labour; and he trusted that what had been stated would weigh with Her Majesty's Ministers.
§ Amendment negatived,
§ MR. MONCKTON MILNES
rose for the 727 purpose of moving the following Amendment:—To more the omission of all words in the Resolution respecting the importation of Corn, referring to the cessation or alteration of duties to be paid in 1849.He assured the House that nothing but a strong sense of public duty could have induced him to come so prominently before them; but having a powerful excuse in the present state of parties — presenting as it did a disruption of all its usual ties—and looking to the suspension of confidence in public men which prevailed throughout the country, and the necessity imposed on every Member of Parliament who had not pledged himself to his constituents to judge the question before the House by the light of his own knowledge and reflection, he ventured to recommend the adoption of the course suggested in his Amendment. He might be told that the character of mediator between two great parties — one flushed with victory, and the other unsubdued by defeat—was ungrateful and unnecessary; and indeed the issue of his hon. Friend's Amendment did not encourage him to believe that he would receive much support in that capacity from either side of the House. But he would, nevertheless, perform what he conceived to be his duty to his constituents and his country. The object of his Amendment was to continue for an indefinite period; but he should be sorry to say for a permanency—the reduced scale of duties which would come into operation on the Bill before the House becoming the law of the land. That scale was extremely moderate — ranging over very few figures, and affording a strong contrast to the measure of the right hon. Baronet in 1842. When that measure, which the House was now called on to abolish, was brought before them, he (Mr. Milnes) stated his opinion that the scale was too high, and its details too complex. He was then informed that a lower protection to the farmer could not then be given. He opposed the scale of 1842, because he thought the country could not go up and down the ladder, with two great gaps in it, without sometimes falling through it. He objected to that scale, because he thought, considering the increase of population, and the great advance of agriculture, a lower scale would have been sufficient to enable the farmers to do all that they were asked to do—namely, to compete successfully with foreign farmers in average seasons. It was unnecessary for him to say anything 728 at all upon the scale of 1842. After hearing the two right hon. Gentlemen (Sir R. Peel and Sir James Graham) speak of that scheme, one would imagine that some satanic agency had brought it about rather than those two right hon. Gentlemen themselves. It was difficult to imagine how, with their means of information and power of observation, they should in 1842 have considered it the best scale, and that they should now treat it with such bitter vituperation. Therefore he was perfectly consistent in acting up to the principle in commercial matters which he had ever hitherto observed in approving of a considerable reduction of the scale of 1842. He would appeal to the right hon. Baronet whether he ought not gravely to consider whether, by some compromise, such as reducing the duty to a low amount, and then fixing it indefinitely, he would not be able to reconcile his opponents, who now formed a determined and talented protective party. All the arguments of the right hon. Baronet went to relaxation, not abolition, of the corn duties. It was most untenable to attempt to draw analogy between the cases of wool and of corn. It would be scarcely less absurd than to expect credit for 100,000l. on account of the previous punctual repayment of a loan of 50l. Total repeal involved results pregnant with difficulties and dangers to which a statesman surely could not or should not be insensible. It was a matter of no small importance, to throw away entirely and absolutely the means of raising a revenue from corn—especially with a view to probably increased taxation, while clouds were hovering in every quarter of the horizon. Was it a wise thing, under such circumstances, was it a cautious thing for a cautious man to do, to cast away the power of raising revenue from this source? The effect of such a duty, it was obvious, would be very inconsiderable in its effects on the consumer; while the effect of a removal of the duties would simply be, to throw a large bonus into the hands of the foreign exporter. A natural feeling was aroused in the minds of the agriculturists that they were entitled, in the event of such a measure passing, to call for the abolition of all protective duties; and the inevitable effect would be to awaken, among a large and influential class of the community, a dangerous and hostile spirit, which had been characterized as a "strong, though ignorant impatience of taxation." It appeared unreasonable to lay it down that in three years—whatever might be the misfortunes 729 which agriculture meanwhile might meet with; whatever the intermediate difficulties and the intervening embarrassments of the country—free trade should be absolutely established. He thought that they had heard enough on both sides of the House on this subject to convince the right hon. Baronet that if he thought that the next three years would be years of contentment and happiness among the agricultural classes, he was sadly mistaken. He did not believe that the agricultural interests would even think themselves conquered by the carrying of this Bill; and he did not think that the Anti-Corn-Law League would be less serious in prosecuting their own intentions and their own objects. But so the right hon. Baronet had declared of his previous Corn Law, which he now deemed a failure. And what prospect was there that his deductions or his expectations as to the next three years, would prove more, correct than they had turned out as to the preceding period? Let it be supposed that in 1849 the harvest should be as abundant, and the price of wheat as low, as in 1835, did the right hon. Baronet really mean to say, that if wheat were at the end of his three years' interval, at 37s., the carrying into effect of this proposed law was to be persisted in? If so, the result would certainly be one of the most terrible panics ever experienced. And it was inexplicable to him how the right hon. Baronet could have so signally been betrayed into a departure from his usual cautious and prudent course, and have entered on one rash, uncertain, and dangerous. No person could deny, that if this measure passed, all parties would regard it as a most triumphant victory of one class over another, He might be permitted to say to hon. Friends of his of the protective party—and he hoped that they would understand him to make the observation in a kind spirit—that he did not think that they acted wisely in refusing all compromise on this subject. He did not think that they did right in laying down the principle, that, whatever be the increase of the population, whatever be the increase of the necessities of this country, they would not admit any reduction of the law of 1842. Any man regarding the large increase of population, must consider the Corn Law as a temporary means of keeping in good and active cultivation the soil of this country. When he considered that England was the only wheat-eating country on the surface of the globe, he was not able to resist the conclusion, that to have a full and abundant 730 supply of wheat at the command of England, was not a matter of choice, but a matter of necessity. If they looked to the history of the last twenty years, they would find that the supply of corn was not in any way whatever limited by the Corn Law passed at the time of the peace. Let the right hon. Baronet then proceed in the course he had hitherto pursued, and carry out his own precedent. Let him only act with the same prudence and caution as he had acted in other matters, and he was sure that the right hon. Baronet would reap an abundant reward. He knew well that it was a matter of great difficulty for any statesman in these days, especially after the passing of the Reform Act, to accomplish an harmonious action between a powerful monarchy, a proud aristocracy, and a free people. He would ask the right hon. Baronet, however, if he did not think that this measure would have the effect of causing a greater conflict between the middle classes and the aristocracy; and whether he did not think that he was really doing a great injury to the social state by presenting to the world the want of harmony between the English middle classes and the English aristocracy? It was not true that the right hon. Baronet had been swayed by the threats of the Anti-Corn-Law League; but still that accusation would be brought against him. He prayed him not to persist in carrying out this measure in its integrity; for he would not in any degree compromise his own character or dignity by submitting to the strong opinion, or to the prejudices, if he would, of the higher classes of the community. Let him only give this question a fair chance of arrangement, either in this House or the other, and let him remember that he was not the Minister of one party, but of the whole community. Let him so modify this measure, and so adapt it as he could well adapt, it to the ultimate common sense of the whole community, and thereby establish the reputation of having brought about the settlement of this great question. Having settled this great question as he had other great questions, let him add the decision on the Com Laws to the question of decision on Catholic claims, and the great question of currency, and by this means let him show to the world that he had proved the Minister of no class and of no party, but the Minister of the entire community. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
wished to call the attention 731 of the right hon. Baronet opposite to a subject that was intimately connected with the Corn Law. He did not think that any person had yet ventured positively to predicate what must be the result of the great measure now before them. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman expected that there would be a diminution in the price of corn and of the money wages of the country, or that, thinking so, whether the labourer would not be greatly benefited. For himself, he looked to great advantages from the repeal of the Corn Law. Another result to be expected—and in this he was sure he expressed a sentiment which he had heard from the right hon. Baronet and others—namely, that whatever might be the results as to the price of corn sold by the farmer, that the produce of the country might be greatly increased by the application of capital and skill, and this for the general interest. It appeared to him that hon. Gentlemen in that House treated the general subject before them according to the experience which they had acquired in their immediate neighbourhood. They treated the question as it affected landlords, and not as it affected or might affect tenants. The way in which he wished to look at this question was the manner in which it would affect tenants in his part of the country—in Cumberland and Westmoreland. In these parts of the country, property was divided into very small parcels—the holders of these small parcels of land were designated "statesmen," analogous to yeomen in this part of the country. This class was composed, as the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department could testify, of very honest and very industrious persons. These were persons without much capital; and he wished now to show the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury how these men might be assisted in case this measure turned into a law. These persons had very little capital; they gave to the land their own industry and that of their families; their holdings varied from 150 to 200 acres, and were in their own occupation, tilled by their families and a few labourers. Now, though they had not capital, something might be done to relieve them from wanting it. Here was a very large class of Her Majesty's subjects holding under our ancient feudal settlement. They were copyholders. But there was another matter which was still worse. In the north of England they had a tenure of this description—that upon the death of the 732 lord of the manor, a two years' fine was laid upon every acre of land within the manor. Let the House consider the effect of this, and ask itself how the tenant could be expected to lay out capital for the improvement of his occupation? He did not refer to this as an objection to the measures of the Government; he only wished, that in the passing of those measures, justice should be done to the large class of persons who were subjected to those fines. Let them be enabled to lay out their capital without imposing upon them such fines—in short, do what the Committee of this House recommended in their Report of the 13th of August, 1838, in which they said—Your Committee have come to the conclusion that the abolition of the copyhold tenure would not only be a great public benefit, but that it should be made, if possible, a national object.The importance of the question was as great now as then; and it would be very much increased when the measures of the Government had become law. He considered that every facility should be given for enfranchising such copyholds on a compulsory principle. At present he would content himself with drawing the right hon. Baronet's attention to the subject; and if he could do it without embarrassing Her Majesty's Government, he would like to bring forward a measure in some subsequent stage of the present discussion. If such a Bill could be passed simultaneously with the measures now before the House, he thought it would have the effect of inducing a considerable body of agriculturists to give their adhesion to the repeal of the Corn Laws.
§ SIR R. PEEL
hoped the hon. Member for Pontefract would not think he was guilty of any disrespect—a feeling which he entirely disclaimed—if he abstained on the present occasion from entering into a consideration of the arguments which the hon. Member had urged with very great ability. Such a course would have the effect of reviving the whole of the debate which had taken place on the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Somerset. In the course of that debate, he stated the reasons which induced him to think that it was for the permanent benefit of all classes of the community, that a foundation should be laid for the complete adjustment of the Corn Laws. To that sentiment he deliberately, and on the fullest consideration, adhered; but he could not enter on the explanation of it without opening up the 733 whole question again. He apprehended there would be opportunities on future stages of the Bill of again discussing the general subject; and he did not think it would be for the advantage of any party to go into it at present. He must, therefore, state very generally his entire dissent from the opinion of the hon. Gentleman, that he should conciliate the support of any party by adopting the course proposed. He did not think that the agriculturists would be at all satisfied by the adoption of that course, but the contrary; nor would those who supported the measure of Her Majesty's Government, because it provided for the total repeal of the Corn Laws within a certain period, be willing to accept such a proposal as the present. As to the argument which constituted the chief ground of the hon. Member's recommendation, that he was the Minister of all classes, he was very much afraid that he should not fulfil their expectations by consenting to this Amendment. The question to which the hon. Member for Cockermouth had adverted was a very important one, and he very much desired it should not be connected with the present measure. It might be expedient; but it had obviously no particular reference to the proposal he had made on the subject of the Corn Laws. The hon. Gentleman said it would be a great advantage to a particular class, and so it might, to relieve them of their obligations; but there was another class who might not take exactly the same view, and might object to fines certain in lieu of improved value fines. At present the law gave certain facilities to those who wished to effect the conversion of their tenures; but if you could make some arrangement with the goodwill of both parties—the payer of the fines and the lord of the manor—quite irrespectively of the question of the Corn Laws, he believed it would be attended with very great advantages. A Committee was now sitting in another place to consider, the subject of peculiar burdens on agriculture, which would enjoy the best assistance on legal questions; and he was of opinion that it was very desirable that their consideration should be given to this question, and a special report made by them. The hon. Gentleman must recollect that there were two parties: it would be easy to sacrifice the rights of one by simple legislation; but the proposal to effect a settlement not by voluntary arrangement, but by some sort of compulsion, required very great consideration. He 734 had always regarded the expense and delay of transferring property as a great evil; if they looked to the state of the law in other countries, he believed they would find that in all there were greater facilities for the transfer of property than existed in this country. Such was the expense as well as delay now, from professional arrangements, unavoidably incident to the transfer, that he believed any one who had purchased a small property would be much inclined to come to the conclusion that he would never buy another. To diminish the impediments now existing to the transfer, was a point well meriting consideration; but he thought it would be very unwise to mix up this question with, that of corn—a subject of great, difficulty, and sufficient of itself to occupy the attention of the House.
§ MR. W. MILES
agreed that they should throw no kind of delay in the way of passing this measure, after having fully considered and come to a decision on its principle. Amongst the different Amendments on the Paper, he could not see any in which he could concur; and a discussion on any of them would, of course, have the effect of opening the whole question of the Corn Laws. He thought, therefore, the disposition of the House would be best consulted by abstaining from unnecessary discussion. The intention of the party to which he belonged was, having discussed the subject fully and fairly, and placed their opinions before the country, to leave the country to speak for itself, when it should come to that election which they hoped was not far distant, and decide whether their view, or that of the right hon. Baronet, was the most advantageous for the country. With respect to this Amendment, he completely dissented from it, considering the principle of the existing Corn Laws as the best that had been proposed up to the present time. He wished to retain the law of 1842; and to all the Amendments he should give his decided opposition. Hitherto the varying systems of Corn Laws had entered comparatively little into the discussion; but there would be subsequent opportunities of showing that there would be such a declension of prices as would render it impossible for the present holders of the soil to maintain their position. He wished, before he sat down, to correct a misapprehension of the right hon. Baronet, with reference to a speech he had delivered on the Motion for going into Committee. The right hon. Baronet conceived that he had 735 stated, that, of the two propositions before the House—that of the right hon. Baronet and that of the noble Lord the Member for London, for total and immediate repeal—he should prefer acceding to the noble Lord's proposition. He had meant to state what was the opinion of the farmers generally throughout the country. He had said, that to both the proposals he should give his most decided opposition; but he added, at the same time, that, as far as the farmers were concerned, he was bound to say that, in his opinion, they would infinitely prefer the proposition of the noble Lord, and he then went on to show why. He had wished to defend his own consistency by stating his opinions, and did not mean in any way to derogate from his principles. He regarded the Resolutions as merely pro formâ; and he wished it to be distinctly understood in the country, that in allowing them to pass, they were decidedly opposed to each and all of them.
§ SIR R. PEEL
It would be most unjust to contend that, because the Resolutions were permitted to pass without a division, or the expression of much dissent, any compromise was entered into. They were necessary as the foundation of the Bill, which the hon. Gentleman said was to be contested in its future stages; and it would be impossible justly to assert that those who acquiesced in the Resolutions, had abandoned their opposition in the slightest degree. But he could not compliment the hon. Gentleman on the clearness of his explanation. The hon. Gentleman hoped he had satisfied him (Sir R. Peel) that he had not derogated from his principles, most completely; he (Sir R. Peel) had never thought so: nothing was further from his intention than to impute to the hon. Gentleman any opinion that he wished the present amount of protection to be in the slightest degree abated. On the contrary, he thought the hon. Gentleman differed from the hon. Members for Huntingdonshire and Nottinghamshire, in being unfavourable to any modification of the Corn Laws. He thought the hon. Gentleman said, if we must incur the inevitable evil of a change in the Corn Laws, then he should decidedly prefer the proposition for an immediate repeal to that proposition brought forward by the Government. The hon. Gentleman decidedly preferred the maintenance of the existing Corn Law; but, he said, on the hypothesis that something must be done, and an extensive change 736 made, he preferred immediate to deferred repeal. That he understood to be the opinion of the hon. Gentleman; and, on referring to the usual records, he found his recollection confirmed in every particular. He had not in the slightest degree meant to impute that the hon. Gentleman derogated from his principles; but when he said, that if the noble Lord opposite would only stand to his guns he would be ready to support him, his conviction was, that he preferred immediate repeal; and the explanation now made did not interfere with that impression. The hon. Gentleman said, he would not enter into the question: neither should he; but he wished to diminish the authority of the hon. Gentleman as a prophet; and let him, therefore, remind the hon. Gentleman that, in 1842, when he proposed the diminution of the duty on the import of cattle, the hon. Gentleman predicted an enormous downfall in the price of food. The hon. Gentleman approved of the Corn Law, but objected to that part of the Tariff of 1842, which provided for the removal of prohibition on the import of cattle, saying, there would be an enormous use of barley in the fattening of cattle on the coast of Holland; and, therefore, on that ground he proposed that the duty should be taken on the weight of the cattle, in order that we might be enabled to compete with those formidable rivals. He could not help reminding the hon. Gentleman that he had prophesied, in 1842, an enormous depression in the price of stock and meat, and that up to this period his prediction had not been realized.
§ MR. W. MILES
said, he had meant to state that the farmers would prefer the proposal of the noble Lord for immediate repeal. But he had not intended to say anything contrary to what he had always proposed; he merely gave the out-of-doors opinion. With respect to the statement of the right hon. Baronet as to the opposition he had given to the Tariff in 1842, he attributed the rise in the price of meat to the immensely increased consumption of labourers employed on railroads, as well as to the disease among the cattle. Though he might be supposed to be a false prophet, he would still tell the House, that whether they took the duty off cattle or not, they might expect an annual increase from the Continent, which would work exceedingly well, not injuring any one, so long as the demand for labour continued. But when the demand ceased, that instant the 737 new Tariff would become oppressive to the tenant-farmer; and foreign wheat, when it was not wanted, would come into competition with the produce of our own farmers.
§ MR. BURROUGHES
wished to advert shortly to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Cockermouth. At a time when it would be necessary to call into operation all the productive powers of the soil, he thought it was the duty of the Government to remove every obstacle that was in the way of improvement; and he did not think that the right hon. Baronet was correct in his view of the Copyhold Enfranchisement Act, when he said that a commutation under that Act converted a fine certain into a fine arbitrary. He spoke with diffidence; but his opinion was, that upon the enfranchisement of copyhold land, under that Act, which was effected by the payment of so many years' purchase, as the case might be, no fine remained, and the tenure was altogether changed. That appeared to him to be an analogy between the mode in which the Highway Act was about to be dealt with, and the mode in which he would have the Copyhold Enfranchisement Act dealt with. And he could assure the right hon. Baronet he did not think a compulsory clause in the Copyhold Act would be half so unpopular as the compulsory clause which was about to be added, for the appointment of district surveyors, in the Highway Act. He wished to be understood as approving that intention, however unpopular it might be. He thought the appointment of district surveyors desirable; but what was the state of the law now with regard to copyholds? There was an Act for the voluntary enfranchisement of copyholds; well, what was the consequence?—a copyright tenant complained that the fine was too high, and that the fees were forty times worse. The tenant would state that there was now a Copyhold Enfranchisement Act, under which proceedings were voluntary, certainly, but it would, in all probability, before long, be made compulsory. The value would be calculated upon the fines of preceding years; and so, he doubted not, out that since the passing of that Act, fines had been higher than before; and he knew that, like the district surveyors' clause in the Highway Act, the Act for the voluntary enfranchisement of copyholds had been almost a dead letter. The right hon. Baronet had said, that the purchase of small estates was much checked on account of the expense. Now, nothing increased 738 that expense more than copyhold tenure; but there was a compulsory sale of small portions of an estate, to which parties were obliged to submit—he alluded to the compulsory sale of those pieces of land which were taken for railroads. He had superintended for himself and others the sale of several small portions of estates to railroad companies, and the trouble and expense of defining the copyholds was very great. He would not trouble the House at any greater length on the present occasion; but the subject having been mentioned, he did not like to remain entirely silent.
§ MR. HUME
thought few measures would tend more to the development of the productive powers of the soil than making the enfranchisement of copyholds compulsory. The more our tenures were simplified the better. He hoped measures would be adopted to carry out the recommendations of their own Committee on the subject.
§ SIR A. BROOKE
would, at that stage of the proceedings, address some observations to the House, explanatory of his reasons in giving his opposition to the measure introduced by Her Majesty's Government. He would principally confine himself to the operation of the measure as regarded Ireland; for however the interests of England might be involved, he maintained it would ten times more affect Ireland. It appeared to him very extraordinary that, during the whole of the debate, there was so little said as to the effects the measure might produce on Ireland. And of all the Irish Members who voted in favour of the Bill, only two attempted to justify that vote; and of those two, one was the follower of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. O'Connell), while all of them assumed to themselves the exclusive privilege of watching over the particular interests of the poorer classes of Ireland. None of those Irish Members had good reason for the course they had taken — a course in opposition to their former sentiments and votes. Some reason ought to have been given for a change of conduct so extraordinary; for had there been any reasons adduced throughout the debate which were calculated to satisfy his own mind as to the propriety or the necessity of the measure before the House, or that it would tend, even in a comparative degree, to benefit the condition of the lower classes of the people of Ireland, it should have his cordial support. In considering the measure with reference to 739 Ireland, it struck him that it should be considered on its own intrinsic merits, and particularly as to its effects on Ireland. Every Gentleman present must be aware that in England a great mass of the population was almost exclusively dependent on manufactures for support; that was not the case in Ireland. There, few, comparatively speaking, derived support from such a source; and even those parties in Ireland who carried on factories, were themselves in a great measure dependent on the land to carry on their business; for instance, those who were extensively engaged in the linen trade were generally landed proprietors; they had large farms which they cultivated. And those labourers who were employed in manufactures, when their business became at all slack, had recourse to agricultural labour for the support of themselves and their families; with the exception of some artisans, masons, and carpenters, and even those could hardly be excepted, as in country places they had small farms to assist in the support of themselves and their household, so that he might fairly conclude that in Ireland all classes were dependent on the land. It was also evident that England was an importing country, while Ireland was an exporting country. The exports of Ireland to England, during the last year, in wheat, in barley, oatmeal, flour, and other articles of trade, amounted to nearly 5,000,000l. of money. He would ask, would it be to the advantage of this country that that vast sum should be transferred to America or to other countries? Would it be to the advantage of Ireland to have an amount of 5,000,000l. sent to foreign countries? He knew the reply would be made that it would be much better for the people of Ireland to consume their own productions; but the means to do so should be first acquired, which to some would be a difficult matter, as three-fourths of the population were a great portion of the year without any employment. One of the first things which should be considered as regarded Ireland was, to provide the people with employment, and which he would recommend to the immediate attention of Her Majesty's Government. He was one of a deputation who waited on the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government to press on him the necessity of the construction of a canal from Lough Erne to Ballyshannon, which would afford employment to the poorer classes in that large district. The reply of the right hon. Baronet was, 740 that it would be more consistent for the landed proprietors to undertake the work. He would say that the landed proprietors were perfectly willing to assist to the utmost of their power, if the Government would give that encouragement which they ought, and which the circumstances of Ireland now imperatively demanded. It was, however, with regret he had to state to the House that there was not the slightest hope of any great benefit being conferred on Ireland, unless there was some security for peace, for tranquillity, and for security to life and property. As long as the present system of agitation continued, it would be impossible for anything to go on in Ireland either prosperously or happily. He regretted very much the absence of the hon. Member for Cork, as he wished to refer to a letter which was addressed by that hon. Member to the Conciliation Hall, Dublin, relative to the Bill which was now before the other House; and which would prove the little hope there was to benefit Ireland, while letters of such a description were addressed and circulated in that county. In the letter of the hon. Member for Cork he found the following passages, well calculated to keep Ireland in a state of excitement:—I am now anxious that the Association should distinctly understand the position we are placed in. The Association is most anxious to have the country free from the horrors of the wholesale murders of the clearance system, and of the often retaliatory and hideous assassinations. The Coercion Bill does not even purport to give any remedy for the crimes of the landlords; and it is more likely to provoke additional assassination than to check the progress of crime, or bring to punishment those who are already stained with the guilt of perpetrating those crimes.Here there was, at least by implication, a charge against the landlords of Ireland, as if they were murderers; while, to speak the truth, there could not be taken, as a class, a more indulgent or a more useful body of men. The right hon. Baronet alluded to the potato disease. He would be sorry to damp the ardour or the zeal of Her Majesty's Government to provide against any contingency which might arise in Ireland; but still he was convinced that the accounts which the right hon. Baronet had received on the subject of the potato disease were greatly exaggerated. There might be in some districts a defalcation as to the potato crop, but there was in the country an abundance of corn. From a consideration of the whole subject, he felt himself compelled to oppose the measure introduced by the Government, because it would prove 741 prejudicial to the best interests of Ireland, and retard every agricultural improvement.
would not enter into the question, but he wished to say that he was one of those who had been exposed to considerable odium for refusing to pledge himself to a course which was most impolitic. If they were going to suffer they had to thank those who had made unreasonable demands; and he had refused to pledge himself to the unreasonable proposition of not being content with less protection than they then possessed. He had not given his vote the other night without much consideration of the course he was taking.
MR. STAFFORD O'BRIEN
would second the request to his hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract not to divide the House on this Amendment. His hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire had said that all who voted against the proposition of the Government had pledged themselves to maintain the existing Corn Laws. Now, he thought he should speak for himself; and he begged to say that he expressed no opinion of the kind on that subject. He found a proposition of the Government before the House on this subject—he felt it his duty to oppose that proposition—and he should do so without stating what were the particular views he entertained on the maintenance or surrender of protection. He had seen enough of the process of Hansardizing going on in that House to know it was very disagreeable to be a Hansardee, and, therefore, he would not subject himself to it. All he would say, therefore, was, that he saw a Bill for the repeal of the Corn Laws on the Table, that he objected to that Bill, and that he meant to vote against it.
§ MR. C. BULLER
said, as the hon. Gentleman and his Friends were united, he presumed they were united for some purpose or other; and as they objected to the Motion for an alteration of the Corn Laws, it was but a fair inference that they were united in favour of the existing Corn Laws.
§ MR. BORTHWICK
Under the existing circumstances of the country, the measure proposed by her Majesty's Government was totally uncalled for; indeed, any measure on the subject of the Corn Laws was at present uncalled for, and unnecessary. Nor could he take into his favourable consideration any amendment which would imply any alteration in the Corn Laws at this time. He was, however, far from saying that circumstances would not 742 arise which might require a change; but those circumstances had not yet arisen. He agreed in opinion with that great philosopher, Lord Bacon, who declared that changes should never be made unless there would be a sufficient amount of good to counterbalance any evil which might result from the change. The present Corn Laws had worked extremely well; and it was most desirable that the present protection, which the present circumstances of the country imperatively demanded, should be continued.
§ MR. WARD
said, he had hitherto looked upon the right hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. S. O'Brien) as the pink of consistency, the very mirror of agricultural chivalry. He was therefore astonished to hear the hon. Member, the Chairman of the Publication Committee of the Protection Society in Old Bond-street, who were pledged never, under any conceivable circumstances, to adopt any measure by which the agricultural interest would receive less than their present amount of protection—he was astonished to hear that hon. Member come forward with such a Mysteries-of-Udolpho sort of speech, and concede that he might be hereafter ready to adopt some such measure as this, or at least a modification of the present Corn Laws. Henceforward he should not know in whom to put faith. He had once the greatest reliance on the hon. Member; but he was obliged to confess with the greatest pain and regret that he could now place no more confidence in him (Mr. S. O'Brien), that on any other person on that side of the House. His confidence in them was reduced so low he could go no further.
§ MR. HUDSON
would assure the House that, in his own neighbourhood, numbers of small proprietors, who had in their occupancy one hundred acres of land and upwards, found it very difficult, under all the advantages which the present law afforded, to maintain their position. He would ask what must their situation then be when the proposed measure would come into operation? If it became law it was his firm conviction, and the conviction of the landed interest in his county (Yorkshire), whether Whig or Tory, that certain ruin would be the result. With reference to the subject alluded to by the hon. Member for Cockermouth, and spoken of by the First Lord of the Treasury, he thought that to enfranchise copyholds by a compulsory law would be to do an act of injustice to the lords of the manors, 743 and to commit a wholesale system of robbery.
MR. S. O'BRIEN
was sorry to find that the hon. Member for Sheffield had so little confidence in the Members of his (Mr. O'Brien's) side of the House, but he was happy to observe from the manner of the hon. Gentleman, that his confidence in himself was not at all diminished; and he desired further to remark, that when he (Mr. O'Brien) should enter into a statement of his reasons for opposing the measure, it would be for the gratification of those persons who had a better right to question him upon the subject than the hon. Gentleman.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
would not make any apology for the few observations he was about to address to the House. He could assure, the hon. Member for Sheffield that there was no "shaking" on that side of the House, in their determination of upholding the interests of agriculture, and the other branches of domestic industry. He did not mean to say that the present system of protection was to remain permanent for all time and under all circumstances. If, for example, his hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department were to come down to the House, and fulfil all the promises and recommendations he made to the country in 1826, and offer full compensation to agricultural interests; if he were to come down on the part of Her Majesty's Ministers, and propose to deduct 30 per cent of all payments out of the Exchequer for that purpose, commencing with the Civil List, and going through all the annuitants on the public purse, and when he had got a reduction of 15,000,000l. from the burdens of the people, and the greater portion of that amount was to be paid to the relief of agriculturists—they would not be so unreasonable as to say that they were not then in a condition to compete with any people in the world. Let them relieve agriculturists from the payment of tithes, from the payment of poor rates, from the payment of the malt tax, from the payment of the duty on home-distilled spirits, and from the payment of the hop duty, and they would defy every nation in the world in their agriculture; and no man would be so unreasonable then as to ask for protection, as they would be able to compete with any country. It was really impossible for him to say what proposition might not emanate from Her Majesty's Ministers: he was always in expectation of hearing something new. He 744 could assure the hon. Member for Sheffield, therefore, that they were not bound under every circumstance to ask for the same amount of protection as they then had, if those views of Her Majesty's Ministers were carried out, which they had been induced to expect from the statement of the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
§ MR. M. MILNES
considered what had fallen from the hon. Member for Cockermouth had as much to do with the question under discussion as if he had delivered a dissertation on the state of New Zealand. He would not, after the House had listened to what had been said by the several Members who had addressed the House, ask them to retrace their steps for the last few hours, and go back to what he had laid before them. He still believed that he did right in making the proposition, not concurring in the opinions of hon. Members who had referred to it; and notwithstanding his own impression as to the advantage it would be to the public, he would withdraw his Motion, at the same time expressing his hope that at a future time he should have an opportunity of again bringing it under the consideration of the House, when it would be more favourably received.
§ Motion withdrawn.
§ Question again put.
§ MR. P. HOWARD
said, he had placed on the Order-book a Motion in reference to the question which had so long occupied the attention of the House. It was to give to their Colonies and Canada time to prepare for the great change that was proposed in reference to the Corn Laws, as he knew that they could not keep pace with the rapidity of the alterations, and would be unable to compete with the United States. He also considered, in reference to the farmers of this country, that existing contracts should regulate the councils of great nations. With regard to tenants-at-will, it was not necessary to come to any arrangement; but with leaseholders it was very different, and by withdrawing protection from them, they would inflict upon them a very great injury; yet his wish was not to interfere further than would merely protect existing rights. As hon. Gentlemen who had preceded him, had considered it advisable to withdraw their Motions, it was probable he should follow their example. He saw many reasons for an immediate cessation of the existing protective duties, in order to meet 745 the wants of the Irish people, and he was anxious to see the question of the Corn Laws settled, because if they should have to contend against the great transatlantic republic, it would be desirable that they should have peace amongst themselves. He considered that there was nothing in the change proposed by the right hon. Baronet which was at all unconstitutional, as an alteration in the Corn Laws would be merely an administrative measure. The hon. Member concluded by withdrawing a Motion of which he had given notice to extend the period of protection to February 1, 1851.
§ SIR W. JOLLIFFE
was of opinion, that the proposition of the Government would have an injurious effect upon the country. He did not agree with the opinions expressed by the hon. Member, that the proposed Bill would give any security that protection should exist for the term of three years; for in case corn should rise to "famine, prices," he did not believe that the right hon. Baronet would retain even the 4s. duty; and that was an opinion in which the hon. and gallant Officer (Colonel Wood) who supported the views of the right hon. Baronet fully coincided. Should the right hon. Baronet remain in office for three months, which he considered would be the extent of it, they had no security by the proposed Bill, that he would not in that time propose an entire removal of protection; and if he did not do so, but went out of office, and the noble Lord the Member for the city of London should succeed him, could that noble Lord be upbraided for proposing an immediate repeal of those duties of which he had expressed his disapproval? When he looked at the state of that House, and considered the probability of the measure being again brought under discussion for an alteration of the Bill then before them, he thought it would be much better to have it repealed at once.
§ MR. ALDERMAN COPELAND
expressed his hearty concurrence in the measure of the right hon. Baronet, but thought that it would have been more complete if the repeal of the Corn Laws had been total and immediate; for the effect of its being only gradual would be to keep the farmers of the country, for the next three years, in a state of uncertainty and agitation. Till this question was settled by a total abolition of duty, it would never be settled; but it would be annually discussed. He was last Monday in the county of Hants, 746 at Winchester, and he asked several farmers what they thought of the Government majority; and nine out of ten, although they expressed themselves surprised, declared that they would prefer an immediate abolition of duty to its retention for three years. In this discussion it had been asked what was to become of the tenant-farmers? He would give an answer from his own experience. He was joint-treasurer to a charitable corporation, and pending the present proposition, one of the large farms belonging to it became vacant; they did not wish to continue their tenant, and applications for the farm were innumerable. They were at a loss to choose. One of their other tenants from Essex, who had been on a farm for some years, which he had brought to great perfection, applied for this, and he was asked 1,400l. a year rent, instead of 1,200l., at which it had before been let. He went into Yorkshire, returned, and took the lease; and today he (Alderman Copeland) had settled the terms of his lease, and he had taken the farm. [Sir J. GRAHAM: For how many years?] For fourteen years and a half. It might, perhaps, be said, the farm was underlet; but all he could say was, that the bite tenant had not been successful; and when he saw a man take a farm of 900 acres at 1,400l. a-year, and go into it with a capital of 20,000l., he was convinced that the tenant-farmers had no fear of the Bill of the right hon. Baronet. These were circumstances which weighed with him as a commercial man, and told more forcibly on the opinion he had formed of the project of the Government than any arguments he could hear.
§ MR. FINCH
would meet one case with another. He knew a farmer in the same county, Essex, who, not long since, in answer to his landlord, who was a free-trader, and who attempted to persuade him that, as the shackles of trade were about to be removed, he ought to take a new lease, said that, but for the capital he had already sunk in the farm, nothing would induce him to take a lease at the same rent, foreseeing the injurious effect which the removal of protection would have upon agriculture. The circumstances which might have induced the farmer to whom the hon. Gentleman alluded, to increase his rent were twofold: first, the land might have been greatly enhanced in value; secondly, the farmer might have been sanguine that the Government measure would have been 747 thrown out in the House of Lords, as a great many other agriculturists were.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said: Sir, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, whether or no he has made up his mind as to what will be the probable operation of the Bill which he has introduced? I think that when the right hon. Baronet introduced the measure, he said he was unable to form any calculation as to its effects upon the price of home-grown corn. He then said, he had made no calculation whatever. A considerable time has since elapsed; and it surely must have struck the right hon. Baronet that the country is most anxious for the solution of the question, and to hear the opinion of Government upon the subject. I cannot avoid saying, Sir, that I think the right hon. Gentleman is bound to tell the country what his opinion is—what he calculates will be the practical effects of the changes. So short a time ago, Sir, as the 10th of June last, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department predicted, with the greatest confidence, that if the total repeal of the Corn Laws took place, the average price of wheat could not exceed 45s. per quarter. I think my right hon. Friend at the same time predicted, that if such would be the case, that all the most ancient land of England would be thrown out of cultivation. I wish to know whether anything has transpired since the 10th of June, to alter the opinion of my right hon. Friend as to the probable price of wheat in case this Bill is passed? I further wish to know what the right hon. Baronet proposes should be done with respect to the commutation of tithe. I think my right hon. Friend on a previous occasion said, he wanted time to consider what would be the effect of the alteration caused by the measure as regards tithe; but in June last, my right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham) showed that the revenue of "the most ancient land in England" would be almost entirely eaten up by the tithe if the Corn Laws were to be repealed. I want to know, Sir, whether the right hon. Baronet still thinks such will be the effect of this measure on these lands? My right hon. Friend was, I repeat, Sir, of opinion, at the time to which I refer, that a repeal of the Corn Law would drive most of the ancient land in England out of cultivation and into pasture; and my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government also expressed his opinion in 1841, that no higher protection 748 than a duty of 1s. per bushel would have the effect of entirely paralysing agriculture, and would be no protection at all to Ireland. Since the introduction of the measure, the right hon. Gentlemen have had time to consider what its probable effects would be; and I say again, Sir, that the country is entitled to hear the opinions of the Government on the subject. When the right hon. Baronet introduced the measure which is now law, he informed the landed interest what his expectations were as to the prices of wheat. He said he thought the price of wheat would average 56s. per quarter, and would range between 54s. and 58s. My right hon. Friend then estimated what the protection was to be which would give such an average price. The right hon. Gentleman then, at all events, considered that a considerable protective duty was necessary in order to keep the price of wheat at 56s. At that time, when the right hon. Baronet expected the price of wheat to be 56s. a quarter, he calculated that foreign corn would be sent in at 40s. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, in his address to his constituents on the 13th of February, 1845, stated, that it had been his opinion that a duty of 20s. was more than sufficient protection; but then he admitted that subsequent experience had taught him that 20s. duty was not one penny too much protection. I believe I am perfectly correct in making this statement, and that the right hon. Gentleman then said that a duty of 20s. ought to be kept up. I ask that right hon. Gentleman, as well as the right hon. Gentlemen the First Lord of the Treasury and the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether any new circumstances have occurred within the last twelve months which can lead them to the conclusion that the price at which foreign corn can be introduced to this country would be anything less than from 40s. to 45s. per quarter? I repeat again, Sir, that it is but proper Government should give an opinion, for which the country is so anxious, upon what the effect of the measure will be, according to the opinion which, doubtless, they must have formed before this period. I distinctly ask the right hon. Baronet whether or no he has made up his mind as to what the effect of this law will be, and what that opinion is?
§ SIR R. PEEL
I think my noble Friend will see that I could not answer his question as to the price of wheat under the proposed measure, or its effect upon the tithepayer 749 or the titheowner. I believe it is understood that we are not to revive that discussion, which it was the general wish of the House should be postponed till the second reading of the Bill. I am sure the noble Lord cannot have failed to have paid the same attention to my speech which I paid to his; and I assure my noble Friend I listened to that speech, which he delivered with much ability, with great satisfaction, whatever might be the observations it contained with regard to myself. In what I addressed to the House, I endeavoured to show two things; I endeavoured to show that there were causes in operation tending to diminish the cost of the production of corn, and which for several years had diminished the price of wheat; and I attempted to show that there had been within the last three years more agricultural improvement, and more application of science to the production of corn, than at any former period. I was charged with hastiness in disturbing this happy state of circumstances. Now, during the last three years, when you admit there was a greater amount of agricultural improvement than at any other period, the price of wheat has only been 51s. I attempted to show that there were causes at work, extrinsically of the operation of the Corn Laws, which had a tendency to diminish the price of wheat. I then attempted to show that agricultural prosperity was not necessarily interwoven with the price of wheat, because on the average of several years previous to 1842, the price of wheat had been 67s. per quarter; yet during the three years admitted to have been years of great agricultural improvement, the price had been only 51s. I thought that a very strong proof that the prosperity of agriculture does not necessarily depend on the price of wheat. Now, I admit to my noble, Friend, I have no answer to make to him if he quote's Hansard; I admit to him if he searches through Hansard, he can find observations and speeches at variance with what I stated the other night. I began by simply stating, that after a close investigation into the question, I was ready to submit to the charge of inconsistency. I stated in the strongest manner that I did not want to be referred to speeches delivered at a former period, to know that my opinions had undergone a change; I said I did not wish to deprive those who had always advocated a repeal of the Corn Laws, of the full and entire credit due to them; and I must remind my noble Friend, that when the Motion of 750 the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) was brought forward last year, I made a speech which Earl Grey described as a conclusive speech in favour of a gradual repeal of the Corn Laws. As to the effect of the present measure with respect to tithe, I am unwilling to enter into that part of the subject. I have already stated I would fix any day that maybe most convenient for the discussion on the second reading, I do not wish to throw any difficulty in the way of that discussion. I am ready to name any day, at a reasonably early period, for taking the second reading. The arrangement I propose is this—that the Report on the Resolutions should be brought up and received on Monday, and the Bill then brought in and read a first time; as the debate on the second reading is likely to be a protracted one, it might be inconvenient to begin it on the Friday; and I, therefore, propose that the debate on the second reading shall be taken on Monday week. This being the arrangement, I think it better to postpone any observations I may have to make till that debate; I could not merely answer the questions my noble Friend has put, and, therefore, I think it better to postpone my observations till that opportunity. As to the price of corn, if, as he says, I endeavoured by the Corn Law to give a guarantee that it should keep at a certain price, I could have attempted nothing so unwise. Under a higher rate of protection than that given by the Act of 1842, the price of corn was very much lower than subsequent to it; I believe in 1835 the price of wheat was as low as 35s.; during the whole of that year the average price of wheat did not exceed 39s. I think that subsequent to the passing of the present law, the price has been 41s., 42s., and not under 40s., on the average of years. And among other considerations that induced me to change my opinion was, seeing that legislative enactments, even where the protection given by them was higher than that given by the present law, have entirely failed in securing a high price of wheat; if with the higher rate of protection the price has been as low as 39s., should it, the year after the present change, fall to 39s. again, the low price cannot be necessarily imputed to the meditated alteration in the law; because under a high protection we have failed for a whole year in securing to the agricultural interest a higher price than 40s. I do not think the prosperity of agriculture depends upon the price of wheat. 751 I know a case in which eleven farms in the county of Roxburgh have been let since the proposal of the present alteration in the Corn Law; the valuation was made in October last, under the assumption that the present Corn Laws would be continued, and yet the whole eleven farms have been let at higher rents: this has occurred within the last fortnight. I believe also that five farms in the county of Lincoln, which had become vacant, have been relet since the intentions of Her Majesty's Government were made known; and in the case of each of these five farms an increased rent has been received. These facts confirm my impression that the prosperity of agriculture is not necessarily interwoven with the price of wheat.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I have no intention of trespassing on the House, but I feel bound to say that the right hon. Baronet has not answered the inquiry of my noble Friend. My noble Friend inquired whether the right hon. Baronet had, during the last six weeks, formed any opinion as to what extent the measure would affect the price of agricultural produce, and what the probable price of corn would be under the proposed measure? What my noble Friend said as to the opinions of Members of the Government three years ago, the right hon. Baronet has likewise passed over. I do not wish to enter into the general question. After what has fallen from the right hon. Baronet, it would be neither becoming nor courteous to do so, until the second reading of the Bill; but I cannot avoid saying that I think the inquiry of my noble Friend a perfectly fair and legitimate one. I think my noble Friend has a right to ask if the Government has not, during the six weeks which has intervened since the introduction of the measure, formed an opinion as to how it will affect the price of agricultural produce. If the Government have not formed an opinion, we will accept that reply at the value which we choose to place upon it—it may guide our future conduct, and the opinion of the country. The inquiry does not trench on the general merits of the question; within these limits my noble Friend has confined himself; he has not received an answer, though I must say I think he was entitled to it. After what has fallen from the right hon. Baronet, it would be unbecoming to press on him any general considerations. I am glad to congratulate the House on their deliverance from a great evil; and that henceforth there are to be no more quotations from 752 Hansard. I am glad myself that after this night Hansard is to be no longer recognised as an official authority.
§ SIR R. PEEL
The hon. Gentleman asked me for an answer which I had already given. I stated that it would be utterly impossible for me to estimate what the price of wheat would be whatever the state of the law was—that it is influenced by other circumstances. I cannot enter further into the question.
§ MR. FINCH
regretted that a more satisfactory answer had not been given by the right hon. Gentleman. Every body knew that the price of wheat varied with the seasons and other circumstances; but the right hon. Gentleman might state what average he expected. When you took away a duty varying from 1s. to 20s., could you say that it would not have an effect on the price of wheat? The responsibility of this measure must fall on those hon. Gentlemen who, in and out of the House, had placed their confidence in the Ministry; and they who could confide in their wisdom and discretion were bound to transfer their confidence to the Anti-Corn-Law League. He should have thought that the First Minister of the Crown, when he introduced a measure to affect one half the population of the United Kingdom, would have been enabled to give a satisfactory reply. How was it possible that landlords could enter into any stipulation with their tenants which could be satisfactory? Nobody could give an answer, and say what was to be the price of wheat three years hence. He asked, then, the hon. Member for Stockport, had he formed any calculation?
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
My right hon. Friend has not answered my question. I did not ask the right hon. Baronet to protect us from the influence of seasons, but a simple question, to which I think I have a right, on behalf of the country, to demand an answer before we go into the second reading. We have a right to know what the right hon. Gentleman estimates will be the difference, occasioned by the removal of protection as it now exists in the price of corn. I say again, the country has a right to know what the opinion of the First Minister of the Crown is on so important a subject—what difference the removal of protection will make in the price of corn. Let my right hon. Friend select any year—that year to which he adverted, 1836—when the average price of corn was 39s. a quarter—whether on such a year as that the price of wheat 753 would, by the removal of protection, be lowered 5s., 10s., or 15s., or taking the price of wheat at 56s., as it had been during other years, whether he thought that with no protection it will be 51s., or 46s., or 43s.—what, in short, he expects the price of corn will be under the proposed law? The right hon. Gentleman had answered such a question in 1842; nay, he had volunteered an answer; and it has been usually the practice of all Ministers in introducing changes, to tell the country what was likely to be the practical operation of those changes.
§ SIR R. PEEL
It is because of my courage in 1842 that I hesitate now. But it is not that I ever gave a guarantee that the prices of corn would vary from 54s. to 58s. If my noble Friend will refer once again to Hansard, he will find that I distinctly stated it was utterly impossible, in my opinion, for any act of a Legislature to guarantee prices. I then distinctly refused to give any guarantee whatever. I stated that although I thought it probable there would be a variation from 54s. to 58s., yet that various other considerations besides the acts of a Legislature affected prices. My noble Friend refers to a case of corn being at 39s. under a high state of protection. Now, after mature reflection on this subject, I am not at all clear that, if protection had been withdrawn, even at that period, the price of corn would have been lower than 39s. I think it is highly probable that the exclusion of corn, and of a regular trade in corn, there being a high protection, did lead, under a succession of favourable harvests, to lower prices in this country more so than if for some years preceding there had been less protection. I am bound to state to my noble Friend that there are great difficulties in making a calculation of this kind. I am not prepared to admit that, if there had been a much diminished protection, or no protection at all, there would have been a lower average price for the year 1835 than 39s. But, as I said before, it is very difficult to make any accurate calculation.
§ MR. C. P. VILLIERS
thought that, as hon. Gentlemen opposite turned to that (the Opposition) side of the House as if they deemed all the responsibility of the repeal of the Corn Laws was there to be attached, it was only fair that they should learn what was the view there taken of the probable effect of the withdrawal of protection. The answer might be illustrated by an analogous case. A person who had 754 been persecuted with the solicitations of a beggar for alms, at last gave some money, and in doing so, he asked the mendicant what he would have done if his entreaties had been refused? The reply was, "Why, I should have been obliged to work." Now, the hon. Gentleman asked what would become of him if protection was withdrawn? All he could say was, that if he went and looked over his own property himself, and cultivated it better than he hitherto had done, he would, perhaps, become a better and a happier man.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
ventured on two or three occasions to express his astonishment at the position of the present Government — a Government which was once strong in every way, not only as regarded their own individual position, but also strong in the aid they received from their late supporters. He had taken the liberty to put some questions to the right hon. Baronet on former occasions. He asked, where were certain Members of that Government? he asked why were they not in that House? He received no answer; the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government was silent, and so also was the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department. Perhaps they delayed their answers waiting for precedents; perhaps they thought there were no precedents on the subject. But he was not without a precedent, and he could refer to Parliamentary records for the accuracy of which he might vouch: they were records to which the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, as well as the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, had themselves referred. He put questions to know where were certain Members of Her Majesty's Government who were always esteemed important men in that House? He now repeated the question, why certain Members of the Government were not present in the House? Where was the Secretary for the Colonies? Where was the Secretary for Ireland? Where were the Irish Attorney and Solicitor Generals? And where were two Lords of the Treasury? [An HON. MEMBER: A new writ has been moved for one of the Lords of the Treasury to-night.] There was one still vacant; but ubi mel, ibi apes. For his precedent he found in one of the records of Parliament that a question was put by a noble Lord, a protectionist, the Earl of Darlington (now the Duke of Cleveland) in that House, on the 22nd of May, 1835:— 755Lord Darlington said, I wish to ask the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether Lord Palmerston is to be created a Member of the British Peerage, and thereby obtain a seat in the other House of Parliament? Or, whether any vacancy is likely to occur in this House, so as to enable him to procure a seat here? The public know nothing upon the subject, except that Lord Palmerston has been gazetted as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; and it is highly important that the fact should be understood.So he thought with respect to the present instances to which his question had reference. Lord Darlington added—If the noble Lord answer in the negative, I wish to ask, whether it be intended that the noble Lord should continue to hold the situation as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs? I believe it is perfectly unusual, and almost unprecedented, for an individual not in Parliament to hold a Cabinet situation.So, indeed, it was. [Sir ROBERT PEEL: I was not asked that question.] No; nor would the right hon. Baronet have answered it. The answer was given by the noble Lord then the Home Secretary, now the Member for the city of London, who said—The noble Lord has asked me several questions, all of them of rather an extraordinary and novel nature. One is, whether it is the intention of the Crown to confer the dignity of the Peerage upon a certain individual? Next, whether it is the intention of any Member of this House to vacate his seat for that individual, or, as my right hon. Friend suggests, to vacate in that individual's favour by dying himself? The question then arises, whether, in that case, any particular body of constituents would be disposed to elect the noble Lord, who has heen referred to, as their representative in this House, or whether they would choose some other representative? There then arises a fourth question, or a fifth, whether, supposing none of those things to happen, it is intended that Lord Palmerston shall then continue Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs? Really these questions are of so extraordinary and novel nature, that I can only entreat the noble Lord to bring forward a distinct Motion on the subject.Lord Darlington was then reported to have said—Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to ask him another question? The noble Lord talks of novelty; is it novel or is it not for an individual holding the office of Foreign Secretary to have no seat either in this or the other House of Parliament?Now he thought he might put the question in the same form touching the present Secretary for the Colonies, and the present Secretary for Ireland. To the latter question Lord John Russell, with that suaviter in modo which characterizes the noble Lord, replied thus:—I can only say that if the state of things of which the noble Lord complains had continued for 756 any length of time, these might be very proper questions; but as the absence of Lord Palmerston is merely a temporary one, I must decline giving any other answer than that I have already returned to the noble Lord.Now, as to the length of time he (Colonel Sibthorp) should wish to be informed how much longer the present Secretary for the Colonies was to be non est inventus, and how much longer the Scretary for Ireland would remain absent for want of a seat in that House. He wanted to know when there was a chance of those two Gentlemen, who filled important situations in the Government of the country, appearing in that House. For himself, he thought the chance became every day less. The people of this country did not like tergiversation; and the more the conduct of the Government was exposed to the public, the less likely would be rendered the presence of those Gentlemen in that House. Formerly, he never put a question to the right hon. Gentleman, or to any Member of the Government, that he did not get a straightforward answer, which he hoped, as an humble Member, he was entitled to. If the right hon. Gentleman's conduct had been straightforward, then he (Colonel Sibthorp) had practised a very crooked course during the whole of his life. He had, during his twenty-two years' residence in this House, scorned to act a servile part to any one; and when he found a man profess one thing and perform another, it became him (Colonel Sibthorp) as an honest man to say—"The Lord deliver me from such company!"
§ SIR R. PEEL
could not help remarking that the hon. and gallant Officer always forgot when he rose to ask a question, before closing his speech, to put the question. With respect to the offices to which the hon. and gallant Member referred, that of the Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests had been filled up by the appointment of Viscount Canning; and the other office, that of one of the Lords of the Treasury, would be filled up by Monday next. These were the answers to the first inquiries of the hon. and gallant Officer; but if he further insisted upon an answer to his question as to when the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary for Ireland would obtain seats in that House, he must honestly confess that he could not give the hon. and gallant Member any positive answer. He would only remark that if the hon. and gallant Officer should think proper to accept the Chiltern Hundreds, he could assure him that his noble Friend (the Earl 757 of Lincoln) would be quite prepared to encounter him in his own city.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, that with regard to accepting the Chiltern Hundreds, he believed that was an office for which application must be made to Government. Then he never would make that application. He would never disgrace himself so far; but he would tell the right hon. Baronet this, that if he would dissolve Parliament, he cared not even if the right hon. Baronet were himself to come to Lincoln, and with all the expectations that he might hold out to the citizens of Lincoln, he (Colonel Sibthorp) was quite prepared to meet him. He never bribed any man. He had no Treasury seats to offer; he had nothing but his own conduct—his principles and consistency to rely on. But with all this disadvantage he would invite the right hon. Baronet to the contest. Let him dissolve Parliament to-morrow, and send whom he liked, he would try a contest for the city of Lincoln, which he had had the honour of representing for twenty years, and his ancestors before him for a century and a half. With the support he could command, he would set the right hon. Baronet at defiance. There should be no tricks, no Anti-Corn-Law League manœuvres. He defied the right hon. Gentleman. He would stand upon his own character, his own consistency, his own conduct. Let the Anti-Corn-Law League men—let the Secretary for Ireland try; he would meet them, and would see whether they would dare offer such an insult to the citizens of Lincoln. He relied upon their consistency, and their Conservative principles.
§ MR. DISRAELI
considered that it was clearly the duty of the House to inquire whether the First Minister, who had recommended this measure, took the responsibility of passing it through the two Houses of Parliament. The gallant Officer had referred to some circumstances which occurred in 1835, and which were of great notoriety. He did not suppose the noble Lord, who was connected with those circumstances, could deny their accuracy. He would recall to the right hon. Gentleman a precedent with respect to this question, which he thought would be entitled to a more direct answer than that which he had given to the question of the gallant Officer. When the Master General of the Ordnance, Sir George Murray, was deprived of his seat in that House, the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) rose and 758 asked whether the gallant Officer, the Master of the Ordnance, still attended the Cabinet Councils? If he (Mr. Disraeli) recollected aright, the right hon. Gentleman rose and said that his right hon. and gallant Friend had ceased to attend the Cabinet Councils. In his (Mr. Disraeli's) opinion, that answer recognised a great constitutional principle; and he could not understand why the House of Commons should lose sight of that principle. Therefore he begged leave to ask, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, whether the Secretary of State of the Colonies, who did not occupy a seat in the House of Commons, was still in the habit of attending Cabinet Councils?
§ SIR R. PEEL
said, that he believed there had been no Cabinet Council held since his right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone had been appointed Secretary to the Colonies, which he had not attended. His right hon. Friend was a Member of the Cabinet, and attended the Cabinet Councils, although he was not a Member of that House.
§ MR. DISRAELI
understood, then, the right hon. Baronet to say that he approved of Mr. Gladstone being a Member of, and attending Cabinet Councils, although, in the year 1835, the right hon. Baronet did not approve of Sir George Murray attending those Councils, he not being at the time a Member of the House of Commons.
§ SIR R. PEEL
did not recollect under what circumstances Sir G. Murray, at the time the hon. Gentleman referred to, did not attend the Cabinet Councils, nor did he recollect that the reason he (Sir R. Peel) assigned for the right hon. and gallant Officer not attending those Councils was that he was not a Member of Parliament. Until he referred to the Parliamentary records, he could not speak upon the subject.
said, that as the right hon. Baronet had invited the hon. and gallant Colonel the Member for the city of Lincoln to accept the Chiltern Hundreds, that he might afford an opportunity of a contest on the part of Lord Lincoln, he (Lord Pollington) as a voter for the county of Nottingham would ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether he was not satisfied with the defeat which the noble Lord had already experienced?
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
invited Sir R. Peel to meet him next Friday at the corn market in Lincoln. He would entertain the right hon. Gentleman generously, and give him the best bottle of wine he had 759 in the House; and then he would accompany the right hon. Baronet to the farmers' ordinaries and give him an opportunity to judge of the temper of mind that prevailed amongst them.
§ MR. GREENE
(the Chairman) then proposed the First Resolution, which reduced the duties on corn, grain, meal, or flour, which put and agreed to.*
§ SIR R. PEEL
said, it had been suggested by the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) that buck-wheat, Indian corn, or maize, should be included in the First Resolution, instead of standing among the miscellanous articles in the Second Resolution. He therefore proposed to embody in a distinct Resolution those articles, and he hoped there would be no objection to this. [Mr. MILES: I object to that course.] The suggestion of the noble Lord was, that the duty should be immediately relinquished on those articles (buck-wheat, maize, or Indian corn); but he (Sir Robert Peel) having entered into an engagement that with regard to articles which were to be included in the new Corn Law he would not exercise on the part of the Treasury the power which they usually exercised, of remitting the duty immediately after the Resolution passed the House, but that the duty in respect to those articles should not be remitted until the Bill should have passed the House of Lords and have received the Royal Assent, he could not include buck-wheat, maize, and Indian corn in the First Resolution. He however, had hoped that there would have been no objection to the exercise of the power which the Treasury possessed in respect to these latter articles, should the House pass the Resolution proposed. The whole amount of duty would thus be remitted at once. He regretted that the hon. Member for Somersetshire should oppose this. He moved—That in lieu of the Duties of Customs now chargeable on the articles under-mentioned, imported into the United Kingdom, the following Duties shall be charged, viz.
s. d. Buck-wheat, the quarter 1 0 Maize or Indian Corn, the quarter 1 0 — Meal, the cwt. 0 4½ Rice, the cwt. 1 0 — of and from a British Possession, the cwt. 0 6 — rough and in the husk, the quarter 1 0 — of and from a British Possession, the quarter 0 1
said, that the strongest* For Resolutions, see Vol. lxxxiii., p. 283.760 sympathy had recently been expressed by the House towards Ireland, and he was sure it was sincere. Now it would be exceedingly beneficial to Ireland if the duty on Indian corn, buck-wheat, and maize, were remitted. He would not press hon. Gentlemen to do anything against their principles; but if, consistently with their principles, they could accede to this propo-position, he would most respectfully ask them to allow that these articles should be admitted at once duty free.
§ MR. MILES
said, that though it was not his intention to throw any opposition in the way of the Resolution immediately, he, at the same time, wished to tell the right hon. Gentleman, that when they came to take maize from the Tariff, and deal with it as if it were in the Corn Bill, they would materially affect the agricultural interest, not only as regarded the price of wheat, but also the price of barley and oats. His hope and trust was, that the right hon. Baronet merely wished to take the vote on it to-night; but what description of vote would it be? Was it that it should pass under the shilling duty immediately? If the Committee came to that conclusion, he for one would at once give it a decided negative. If the Government pleased on their own responsibility to take maize from the Tariff, it was necessary at once to take the objection. It was quite impossible for him (Mr. Miles) to bring forth all the arguments which justified his objections, as he did not know that this question was to come on. He wished that they should have some discussion on the subject. Notice of Motion was given at the very end of last Session, when no one was in the House, that there was an intention to move this Session for a total repeal of the duty on the article of maize. He believed that no observation was made on the subject at that time. It was said by the right hon. Baronet, that maize was used in America for fattening animals. He represented in the House of Commons that it was food fit for pigs; but the American papers said that those who were the authors of such a statement very much resembled swine themselves. The papers also confirmed the statements made by the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, who said that from his long residence in America he was well aware that what were there called "Johnny Cakes," went far to supersede the Yorkshire cakes. This maize then must come in direct competition not only with wheat, 761 but also with barley and oats, and therefore he thought that this discussion must come on at some period, in which hon. Members might have an opportunity of stating their opinions with respect to it. When they talked of the quantities of wheat produced in the United States, they ought to recollect the large quantities of maize that were produced also. There were seven hundred millions of quarters produced there last year. The produce was enormous. He was in hopes that it would come under the Corn Bill, and scarcely thought it right immediately to enter into a discussion on it. All he would say was, that it was his determination, if the Ministers proposed taking it out of the Tariff, to object to the Resolution.
§ SIR R. PEEL
must, in justice, say that he had directly called the attention of his hon. Friend to the proposal, hoping it would answer his views. Some time since his right hon. Friends had taken upon themselves the responsibility, to lessen the pressure in Ireland, of ordering a large quantity of Indian corn from the United States, for which act they must ask for the indemnity of Parliament. He had reason to believe that many benevolent individuals looked upon it as a substitute for potatoes, of which he assured the House there were alarming accounts, and that if Indian corn were admitted duty free, individuals would at once spend a large sum in the purchase of Indian corn as a substitute for potatoes. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman that Indian corn properly prepared might make excellent food, and when the existing pressure was overcome, might make the best substitute for potatoes. He asked the hon. Gentleman whether he might not allow the Resolution to pass through Committee to-night, on the understanding that it should be reported the first thing on Monday, on which occasion it would be competent for the hon. Gentleman, if he so chose, to raise his objection. He thought that this arrangement might be satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman, who would then have an opportunity for consideration in the interval, and perhaps would see the advantage of admitting Indian corn, not only for the purpose of feeding cattle, but also for the purpose of feeding the people in the present emergency in Ireland. With respect to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman, that Ministers might admit maize duty free by an order in Council, that would be a most unconstitutional proceeding while 762 Parliament was sitting, and would form a most dangerous precedent.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he should have been greatly surprised at the speech of the hon. Member for Somersetshire, if he had not recollected the extraordinary objections raised by him on a former occasion. He was quite sure that the hon. Gentleman must see on a little consideration that he would be not only consulting the wishes of the House, but also those of the country, if he acquiesced in the proposition of the right hon. Baronet. No doubt the protectionists would not object to allow maize to come in, if, by so doing, they could only keep out wheat; but surely in the present day it could not be made an objection to the introduction of maize, that human beings would get a portion of it, and that it would not be confined exclusively to brute beasts. Considering the state of Ireland, he hoped hon. Gentlemen opposite would withdraw their opposition to the present proposition; or else, if they went on at this rate, they would not only lose their Corn Laws, but their character.
§ MR. MILES
, though perfectly prepared to discuss the subject, yet knowing that certain objections were raised in the country to the introduction of maize, he thought it his duty to get up and to state shortly what those objections were. Hon. Gentlemen, when discharging their duty, should not be lectured so severely even by Corn Law repealers. He thought, though in opposition to the hon. Member, he had always given the hon. Member credit for honest motives, and he trusted that his own motives would not be impugned. He ought not to be held up to disapprobation, as expressing opinions which he felt to be inconsistent with reason. The Government had provided a large quantity of Indian corn for the consumption of the Irish people. He did not think that anything could be more legitimate than that, before a famine occurred, fearing that it might occur, the Government should take Indian corn out of bond duty free. But when it came to a question of having our markets inundated with this maize from America, it became quite necessary to interfere against any such proposition; and, at all events, their conduct in so interfering should not be thus impugned.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
Sir, I cannot quite concur in the necessity which is alleged to exist for taking this maize out of bond; inasmuch as, practically speaking, I do not myself see the difference, in point 763 of advantage, between the Government paying the duty, and other parties doing so, for the Government would only pay it with one hand, and receive it with the other. I don't see any necessity for any hurry in respect of maize, more than exists in regard to any other articles of grain. I, for one, do not concur in the wisdom of Her Majesty's Government in proposing to feed the Irish people with maize; but, at the same time, it is not a point upon which I wish to quarrel with them, inasmuch as I conceive that, in that particular, they have acted to the best of their understanding. My own opinion, however, is, and I feel it strongly, that the true way to benefit Ireland would have been to have purchased Irish oats in the very localities in which the potato disease prevails; and I apprehend that the expense of feeding the Irish upon oats would have been very little greater than that of feeding them on Indian maize; whilst I am persuaded it would be a great blessing to many who are suffering from the disease in the potatoes, if they had thus found parchasers for their oats. I am not an Irishman, nor have I any property in Ireland; but if I at all understand the state and condition of agriculture in that part of the kingdom, and of the Irish population generally, almost every Irishman cultivates oats as well as potatoes, and sells his oats in order to procure the other necessaries of life. Now, if the Government introduce a great portion of maize into Ireland they will necessarily reduce the price of Irish oats; but, on the other hand, if they buy Irish oats, they will furnish that portion of the Irish population that is suffering under the potato disease with the means of buying those other necessaries of life. I think, then, that the Government committed a great mistake in buying maize, instead of going to Ireland and purchasing Irish oats—instead, in short, of feeding the Irish people on their own oats. Besides, I am persuaded it would have been more agreeable to the Irish people, and that they would have much preferred to be fed upon oatmeal, than with a food with which they are not acquainted, and to which their taste is not adapted. By sending to America, too, for maize, you have sent at the same time much money out of the country; whereas, if you had sent to Ireland and bought Irish oats, you would have enriched that country to a certain extent, and you would have increased instead of reducing the price of her oats. I do not approve of mixing up the potato famine with a matter 764 that relates to feeding cattle rather than human beings, and there is consequently no necessity for any hurry in admitting maize free of duty.
§ SIR R. PEEL
said, he did not propose to include buck-wheat and maize in the Corn Bill. The Corn Bill, which provided for the admission of rye, beans, barley, oats, and wheat, he proposed should be read a first time on Monday next, and he would fix the second reading for Monday week. It was not proposed to include the other articles which had been referred to in the Corn Bill; indeed rice never was included in the Corn Bill. The proposal which he made to the hon. Member for Somersetshire was, that he should permit these Resolutions to be voted in Committee to-night, and that the discussion should take place upon the Report of the Resolutions on Monday next, and should have precedence. He would make one remark in reply to his noble Friend (Lord G. Bentinck). The noble Lord said that the Government ought to have purchased Irish oats in Ireland, and the effect of that would have been to raise the price of oats in that country. That was very true, but then a great part of the population of this country — the manufacturing population of the west of England, derived their supply of oatmeal from Ireland. He referred to the west of Scotland and the west of England; and he would ask the noble Lord, whether he thought it just, that by an unusual intervention of the Government in purchasing Irish oats, and thereby raising the price, they should raise the price of the main article of subsistence in the west of Scotland, Lancashire, and Wales; and at the same time have refused any alteration in the Corn Law. That was one of the causes which he foresaw. There would have been complaints in those parts of the country where the price of food had been raised, not only that there was no alteration in the Corn Law, but that by the intervention of the Government they had raised the price of the chief article of their consumption. That was one of the points which they foresaw would make it difficult to refuse an alteration of the Corn Laws.
§ MR. S. CRAWFORD
considered that the Government had acted wisely in not interfering with the price of oats in Ireland; for, by their not doing so, many in Ireland were now able to supply themselves with oats, who could not have purchased them had the price been raised upon them. In this matter, then, he was bound to say 765 that the Government had exercised a wise discretion.
LORD J. RUSSELL
remarked, that no one could refuse to the hon. Member for Somersetshire the credit of believing that he was influenced by feelings of humanity on this and other subjects; and he must also add, that he was not surprised that to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member should have made some objection. He did trust now, however, that the hon. Member would consent to the proposal; adopt these Resolutions in Committee that night, and take the discussion on Monday. The whole difference in the matter must be, that by adopting this course, they would take the discussion a few days sooner than it would otherwise come on. These articles were contained in the Tariff; but the Tariff might be delayed from various causes. As he understood the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, it was that these articles might be admitted immediately at a low duty. He had also to add that he thought the Government had exercised a sound discretion in ordering a supply of Indian corn; for if they had purchased the oats in the markets in Ireland in the name of the Government, they would have raised the price of food; whilst now they had, without raising the price, added to the quantity of food in the country. But then came the question whether such Indian corn should be admitted free to meet an emergency, or be permitted to be introduced permanently? That was a proper question to consider, and it would be quite competent for the hon. Gentleman to move an Amendment to the effect, that Indian corn should be only admitted for a certain period, or for the recommittal of the Resolution. He trusted that when the question was discussed, it would be debated with calmness, and with a due consideration for the present state of Ireland. The hon. Member for Somersetshire was fully justified in seeking for discussion, and he saw no objection to its being taken upon the Report of the Committee.
The EARL of MARCH
hoped, after what had fallen, from the noble Lord the Member for London, that his hon. Friend would withdraw his objection for the present. He was surprised, however, to hear the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government say that the state of Ireland now required the immediate passing of these Resolutions. The right hon. Gentleman knew of that state when he brought forward his Tariff; 766 and now, in the course of a few weeks, he took these articles out of the Tariff, and wished to press them on the attention of the Legislature.
§ MR. DISRAELI
wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman what quantity of corn had been imported by Her Majesty's Government into Ireland?
§ SIR R. PEEL
replied, that orders had been given to purchase Indian corn and rye to the amount of 100,000l.; but what quantity of corn had been purchased with that sum he did not recollect.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
understood that the hon. Member for Durham, who was fond of imputing motives to his opponents, was a prominent character in the Anti-Corn-Law League; and then there was the hon. Member for Bolton, who was the chaplain in ordinary, or the extraordinary chaplain of the League; and he wished to know from both, when they talked so much of their humanity, why they did not give 50,000l. to relieve the Irish? Let the hon. Member for Durham, and the League, act on their philanthropy, and down with the dust. Don't let them lay out their money in buying up votes, and bringing over to their opinions those unlearned persons who, he was sorry to say, were too unsuspecting of their tricks.
§ MR. C. GORING
suggested to the Government that in Committee of Supply they should propose a vote of 100,000l., to pay for the Indian corn required by the necessities of Ireland.
§ MR. W. MILES
said, that for the purpose of showing his desire to relieve the distress which was threatened, he was willing to add a proviso to the Resolution or to-night, empowering the Government to take out of bond or to import maize, buck wheat, or Indian corn, free of all duty, for the next three months.
§ MR. BRIGHT
wished to say a few words with regard to the permanent duty to be levied on Indian corn. The duty of 1s. on Indian corn would often be six per cent upon the cost in America, and generally five per cent. The Government might have some object in continuing this duty; but if the principle of no duty was satisfactory in the case of cotton and other articles, and no inconvenience was experienced at the Custom-house, he thought that the right hon. Baronet might be willing to reduce this duty, if any were required for registration, to one penny the quarter, or else allow it to come in entirely free. He wished to know if this subject had been 767 under the consideration of the right hon. Baronet and his Colleagues?
§ SIR R. PEEL
The duty was, in fact, a merely nominal one; and considering the very extensive reductions proposed on other sorts of grain, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not oppose this part of the measure.
§ MR. W. ELLIS
assured hon. Gentleman that, in consequence of the delay which had taken place, and the uncertainty which prevailed with regard to the measures before the House, a great check to employment was experienced in the manufacturing districts.
§ The first five articles in the Tariff were also agreed to as follows:—
§ "Resolved—That in lieu of the Duties on Customs now chargeable on the articles under-mentioned, imported into the United Kingdom, the following Duties shall be charged, viz.
|Agates or Cornelians, cut, manufactured, or set, for every 100l. value||10||0||0|
|Ale and Beer of all sorts, the barrel||1||0||0|
|Almonds, Paste of, for every 100l. value||10||0||0|
|Amber, Manufactures of, not enumerated, for every 100l. value||10||0||0|
|Arrow Root, the cwt.||0||2||6|
|— of and from a British Possession, per cwt.||0||0||6|
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ House resumed, and Committee to sit again.
§ Adjourned at half-past Eleven o'clock.