§ Bill to be committed.
§ Another Question having been called on and disposed of, during which time Lord G. Bentinck was conversing with Mr. Young and some of his Friends, the noble Lord then moved the adjournment of the House.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said, that he distinctly understood from his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury, that the Corn Law Bill would not be read a third time before Easter. I declare (said the noble Lord, with marked emphasis), I so understood my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend came to me, and asked what the intention of my Friends was as to opposing the Corn Bill? I replied that I was not sure whether they would take a division on the third reading, or on the question that the Bill do pass, and that it was also their intention to take a debate and a division on the second reading. It was also understood that the Customs Bill was not to be proceeded with till after the Corn Bill; but after what has been now stated, I am satisfied that the Customs Bill has been read a second time out of mistake.
§ MR. YOUNG
said, that at the request of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, he had asked the noble Lord what course he and his Friends meant to pursue; and the noble Lord had stated it in the terms he had now used. He returned to the right hon. Gentleman with the message; but he had not said a word about any stipulation, and he had made no stipulation of any sort. The noble Lord the next morning stated to his friends that a message had been sent to him by the right 137 hon. Baronet, but he had expressly guarded himself against making any agreement. The next evening he met the noble Lord in the Vote Office. He had been aware of the meeting, but he was not aware that they could do more than read the Bill to prevent Assassination in Ireland, a first time before Easter. He was perfectly aware that hon. Gentlemen meant to fight that Bill step by step; and as there was a pledge that the Bill should be read a first time before Easter, he did not think that the Corn Bill could be read a third time. He might have appeared to overstate his authority; but he had no authority from the right hon. Baronet to conclude any agreement with the noble Lord. The noble Lord had stated fairly what had passed, and the intentions of his own party; but there was not a word as to any agreement; he had no authority from the right hon. Baronet to come to any agreement; and he had expressly guarded himself from making any in all the interviews he had. If there was any blame, he was ready to take it upon himself; and he certainly had been under the impression that they could scarcely read the Corn Bill a third time, if they read the Irish Bill a first time before Easter.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
Sir, as this matter has proceeded so far, I must, in justice to myself, say that this conversation or arrangement was not of my seeking. I was in the Vote Office on Friday, when the hon. Gentleman called me aside. He distinctly told me that he had come from Sir R. Peel, whose authority he had to enter into an arrangement with me. He suggested the arrangement, that if we supported the Irish Coercion Bill, which it was the wish of Sir R. Peel to have read a first time before Easter, the third reading of the Corn Importation Bill would be postponed until after Easter. This was agreed to; and it was further arranged that the questions of the noble Lord the Member for the city of London should be allowed to pass, sub silentio, by me and by those about me. Sir, that, too, was agreed on; and myself and my hon. Friends scrupulously observed the pledge. On Saturday last I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Secretary, saying he had not been authorized to say as much as he had said, and requesting that the conversation which had passed between us, might be considered private. I wrote a reply, setting forth all that had passed between us. Since then I met the hon. Gentleman, 138 when he admitted that every word in my letter, as respected the conversation, was perfectly correct. I am sorry if there be any misunderstanding; but if there be, it is not my making.
§ MR. YOUNG
I must again say, that I expressly guarded myself from making any engagement on the part of the Government. I freely admit that I addressed the noble Lord in the first instance; but I think by what took place since then, that the noble Lord might easily understand that it was no agreement at all. I mentioned the subject of the questions which were to be put by the noble Lord the Member for the city of London, and the noble Lord's statement on that head is correct; but I expressly guarded myself against any agreement on the part of the Government either on that point or on the Irish measure. I admit that I said it was impossible the Corn Bill could be read a third time before Easter, and mentioned at the same time the Poor Law Bill and others which were in progress. There was no concluded arrangement on the part of the Government, though I do not say but the noble Lord might have so understood it.
§ SIR R. PEEL
Sir, if there has been any arrangement, it was entirely the speculation of my hon. Friend. I said to my hon. Friend, "Ask the noble Lord" (for it is absolutely necessary on questions of public business, in order to conduct it, that some understanding should be come to). I told my hon. Friend to ask the noble Lord what course he intended to pursue with respect to the debate on the Corn Bill; but I distinctly say, that my hon. Friend was not authorized by me to enter into any arrangement with the noble Lord. Since then the discussion has been carried on on the perfect understanding that there had been no arrangement. I consider myself perfectly at liberty to postpone the Irish Coercion Bill; and I have, since the conversation to which the noble Lord adverts, come down to this House and made a statement which would be quite inconsistent with the understanding or agreement which the noble Lord had been speaking of. If there be any mistake or misunderstanding, I feel bound to say that the engagement did not originate with me. I should be sorry if my hon. Friend made any mistake, and still more so if the noble Lord should suffer by it; but I do not think the noble Lord or his friends have forfeited any advantage, or lost any opportunity by what has taken place. I distinctly 139 stated in this House the course I meant to pursue, to give precedence to the Irish Assassination Bill, but nothing else. I hope the noble Lord has not sustained any inconvenience. I again declare that I was not only not a party to any engagement, but I did all that became me to prevent such an engagement.
§ MR. THORNELY
Sir, I think it is of much more importance to the House and to the country to know whether the Corn Bill is not to be read a third time before Easter, or until after Easter, than the discussion which has just now taken place. The trade of the country is in a state of stagnation in consequence of the slow progress of this Bill. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether or no he intends to propose the third reading of the Corn Bill before Easter; or whether, according to the statement of the noble Lord, it is to be postponed till after Easter?
But the noble Lord says, that such was admitted in the letters which passed between him and the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Treasury.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I think it is very important that the House should know whether the third reading of the Corn Bill will take place before Easter.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
My hon. Friend the Secretary for the Treasury has got my letter, and can read it for the House.
§ MR. HUDSON
I hope, Sir, I may here be allowed to state my opinion. I see no reason why I should not. I consider myself quite as capable as the hon. Gentleman opposite of giving an opinion on a point of honour or honesty, which I conceive this to be, having had some experience in the world. It appears to me Sir, that a Gentleman connected with the Government had a communication with my noble Friend, wishing to know from him in what mode he intended to proceed. I think it appears, from what has transpired, that an arrangement took place, and that my noble Friend was warranted in considering that arrangement as concluded. I do not see how the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Treasury could guard the 140 Government against being bound by his acts, since he went to the noble Lord in the capacity of an agent to negociate for the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. I don't think the transaction can bear any other interpretation than that which the noble Lord put upon it. As to what the hon. Gentleman opposite said about the stagnation of trade in consequence of the delay of the measure, I think there is no cause for any such apprehension, for trade will stagnate much more when the Bill is passed. That, at least, is my opinion; and I don't think there is any particular anxiety on the part of the people that the measure should be proceeded with at all. But, Sir, as to the other matter, I feel bound to say again, that the hon. Gentleman must have acted as the representative of the Government, as my noble Friend did of his party; and I think it is not fair dealing to turn round upon us now and say that the hon. Gentleman was not authorized by the Government. The only question is—was the engagement made between the hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord? for if it was, I take it that according to the customs and forms of society the Government is bound by the acts of the hon. Gentleman, unless the noble Lord chooses to release them from the contract. I think that when an engagement takes place between public men, the greatest nicety of honour should be observed. It would be highly unworthy of one filling the post of First Minister of the Crown to attempt to escape from an engagement by any petty contrivance.
MR. O. GORE
did not understand these private agreements. He knew that there was a considerable number of Gentlemen anxious to express their opinion on the subject of the Corn Laws. For himself he did not belong to one party or another: he was not bound by any agreement; and if he had not an opportunity of expressing his opinions, he would move the adjournment of the debate to-morrow, let the agreement be of what nature it might. He did not think these agreements were consistent with the nature of the Constitution, and, therefore, they ought to be thrown overboard entirely. He was most unfortunate in relation to this subject, and he regretted it extremely; there was not a man in the House that entered into the subject of these measures with deeper or more heartfelt regret than he did. He had followed the right hon. Baronet through all his measures for a great length of time; 141 but he had pledged himself in the House—he had never pledged himself elsewhere—that he never would support free trade. Under these circumstances, he could not be a party to an agreement formed either on the one side or the other.
§ MR. S. CRAWFORD
said, there was one point on which he thought it was necessary to have some explanation. The noble Lord had said that some proposition was made to him on the part of the Government, in regard to the support which he and his party would give to the Irish Coercion Bill. He wished to know if that was the case; he wished to know if any proposition was made on the part of the Government to the party of which the noble Lord was the leader, in regard to the Irish Coercion Bill?
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said, there was no bargain of any sort or kind proposed either by the right hon. Baronet or by him. But he stated what he believed to be the views of the party with whom he served, and they were these—that if Her Majesty's Ministers, in their conduct in forcing this measure through the House, gave a practical proof of their belief that there was imminent danger to life and property in Ireland, which they thought might be remedied by the passing of this measure, then the party with whom he served, as far as he understood their views—and his impression had since been confirmed by a considerable number of them—that party would support Her Majesty's Ministers in carrying the Coercion Bill through the House, as a Bill which the right hon. Baronet, in his place in Parliament stated to be a Bill for putting down murder and preventing assassination. But that if Her Majesty's Ministers did not in their hearts believe that there was any urgent necessity for passing this measure, which was undoubtedly an unconstitutional one, which he might describe as a second Curfew Act, if they showed this by their conduct in postponing this to other measures, some of which were not to come into operation for three years, then the case assumed a different complexion, and he could not say that the party with whom he acted would in such a case support Her Majesty's Ministers to carry a measure which it could not be disputed was in itself a most unconstitutional measure.
§ MR. YOUNG
said, the noble Lord would bear him out in saying, that he had put no question, direct or indirect, to the noble Lord in regard to the Irish Bill. Their 142 intercourse was merely in regard to what would be the future course of the party with respect to the Corn Bill; and in other respects, he could fully confirm what had been stated by the noble Lord.
§ MR. M'CARTHY
certainly understood the noble Lord to say, that a communication had been made to him from the Government, that if he and his party would support the Irish Coercion Bill, the third reading of the Corn Bill should be postponed till after Easter.
§ SIR R. PEEL
In answer to the question which has been put by the hon. Gentleman opposite, I distinctly state I never authorized such a proposal to be made. I never understood that any engagement was entered into by the noble Lord to support the Coercion Bill. At this moment I understand the noble Lord to be at perfect liberty to oppose the Coercion Bill, and I distinctly declare that I never authorized any communication to be made to the noble Lord with respect to the support of the Irish Coercion Bill. I can only state for myself and the Government that, either directly or indirectly, I never authorized any communication to be made in respect to the Coercion Bill, and up to this hour I never understood the noble Lord to be under the slightest engagement to support that Bill. The hon. Gentleman asked me, did I think it probable that the Corn Bill would pass before Easter? I think it is of consequence that it should pass before Easter; however, it is impossible for me to say it will pass before Easter; but no effort on my part shall be wanting to expedite that Bill, as much as possible. I am sorry for any misunderstanding; but I must declare, in the face of the House, that I never authorized any communication to be made to the noble. Lord as to the future progress of the Corn Bill after to-morrow night. I never authorized any communication to be made to the noble Lord with respect to the future proceedings on this Bill; and I distinctly asked my hon. Friend to explain to the noble Lord that he was not authorized by me to enter into any engagement. I ask my hon. Friends who met me on Friday, whether the whole of my conversation with them must not have left the impression on their minds that I was perfectly free from any engagement as to the course to be pursued. And the declaration I have made to the House, in answer to the question of the noble Lord is in perfect conformity with that statement. There are two or three of 143 my hon. Friends here who were present.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
said, it was absolutely necessary, as the matter had become of so much importance, that there should not be the least disguise or concealment of what took place at the meeting to which his right hon. Friend alluded as being held on Friday morning. They met together to consider whether it was their duty to proceed with the Corn Bill without reference to the Bill for protection against murder and assassination in Ireland. He, in concert with his Colleagues, expressed their strong opinion, that it was indispensably necessary, notwithstanding their deep conviction of the importance of passing the Corn Bill; that considering the urgent necessity there was for the other measure becoming law, as well as the courtesy that was due with reference to a measure transmitted from the other House of Parliament, that the first reading of the Bill should be pressed through the House: but that no other step should be taken, and that no public measure on the part of the Government should be allowed to interfere with the uninterrupted progress of the Corn Bill through all its stages. That was the conclusion to which they came as to the course to be adopted; and they also came to this other conclusion, that it was indispensably necessary, in the circumstances of the case, that no compact should be entered into with any party; that the proceedings should be taken entirely on their own responsibility; and that there should be no understanding at all come to with any party, either in or out of the House, at variance with this responsibility which they assumed.
§ MR. DISRAELI
had wished that the discussion on this question should cease. A discussion regarding a correspondence which, in the first instance at least, was intended to be private, they must all regret should have been brought up; but after the concluding observations of the First Minister, and after what had just been said by the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department, he did not see how they could allow this matter to rest. What had taken place between the right hon. Gentleman and the Home Secretary could not satisfy the House, nor was it of any importance as regarded this question, with regard to the point that had been raised of bargaining for support on the Irish Coercion Bill. He was certain that the expressions of his noble Friend must have been misinterpreted, for there could have 144 been no such understanding. His noble Friend, he knew, would never be a party to any such agreement; and he much mistook the character of the Prime Minister if he would propose it. With regard to the third reading of the Corn Bill, there did exist a misapprehension, and he did not think the cure lay with them. It was very well for the right hon. Gentleman to rise and say, I am no party to any such agreement—I never authorized it, and I will have nothing to do with it. But he begged the House, in justice to them, to consider all the circumstances of the case. The hon. Gentleman might not have been authorized to make the proposition; but he was well known to be an active man in Parliamentary business, and he was authorized to make a communication from the Minister to his noble Friend: not a casual, not a solitary communication; but there were three different conferences, and then a correspondence. He would put it to any hon. Gentleman, and ask what would be their inference if the Secretary for the Treasury were to come to them, and, in a tone which he could only be justified in assuming because of his connexion with the Minister, make a communication, would they doubt that he had the authority of the Minister? He had a great respect for the Secretary of the Treasury; but he did not suppose that his noble Friend would have entered into any engagement with him in his individual capacity. Bring the case before a Parliamentary Committee, and he thought the case of agency would be clearly established. He thought this was the most charitable construction to put upon the case. He did not wish to cast the slightest delay in the way of the third reading of the Corn Bill; but he did not see, from the course which the Government was taking, that there was any fair and probable chance of the third reading taking place before Easter. The right hon. Gentleman had given no answer to the question, whether he thought that the Corn Bill would be read a third time before Easter. He talked, indeed, of his anxious desire to see it pass. They might, or might not, be anxious for its passing; but what he wanted to know was, if there was any fair chance of its passing before Easter; and as there was a dispute about the nature of the engagement, he thought the best way to settle the controversy would be, for the right hon. Gentleman now to agree that the third reading should not take place before Easter.
§ Motion for adjourning the House withdrawn.
§ After the transaction of some routine business, the House adjourned at a quarter past One o'clock.