« PreviousContinue »
subject of this Bill. To the measure he had given his conscientious support. He denied that it was precipitated through the House, having been fully before them during a week's discussion. The hon. baronet had referred to the manufacturer's suffering, but the general support of the poor fell decidedly upon the landed interest. The hon. baronet should have observed, that he had not been much a resident in that part of the country. He did not know, perhaps, that considerable relief had been afforded to the people during that period of distress to which he had alluded. General Gascoyne repeated his previous observations, and said, that the proof of their truth was to be found in the 118,000 signatures and upwards, from that county alone.
measure having no other effect but that of raising a considerable revenue from the consumers of bread for the purpose of raising the rents of land-[hear, hear!] He congratulated the House on the short delay which had already been gained. If it had not been for the adjournment, for one day, which he had been fortunate enough to succeed in obtaining, on a former stage, at three o'clock in the morning, the citizens of London would not have had an opportunity of stating their sentiments to the House, before this important period in the discussion. The great city of Westminster, where the two Houses of Parliament were held, had not even yet been heard on the subject. The hurry with which the measure had been carried through, had prevented them from yet Sir R. Peel replied to an observation having a representative from that great which fell from Mr. Cawthorne, respect- city in the House. The absence of one ing his not having an accurate knowledge of the members was sufficiently accounted of the opinions of the people of Lanca- for; but the other member, the worthy shire, in consequence of his not having baronet, who had always been such a zearesided for some time in that county, by lous defender of the rights and liberties of asserting, that although he had been par- the people, would no doubt be anxious to tially absent from the county, he would come forward on such an important occahave the hon. gentleman understand that sion as the present; and he must, at least, his great capital had been constantly emhave been on the road from the moment ployed in it, and had contributed to the that he heard of the measure, support of the people, whose sentiments tant parts of the country had been taken he could not but know as well as any man. by surprise; they thought the subject had Sir William Curtis rose to present a Pe- been set at rest last year; and many of the tition, signed by 40,000, and upwards, of towns, from the precipitate manner adoptthe merchants, bankers, and traders of the ed, had not yet been able to express themcity of London. There never was assemselves. It was not enough, in an imporbled a more orderly meeting; attempts tant question of this kind, in which the were made to introduce extraneous topics whole community were so deeply intefor its consideration, which the good sense rested, to have long discussions in that of the assembly altogether rejected. It House; it was their duty to give the was composed, said the worthy alderman, people time to express their sentiments. of all parties in the city, Whig and Tory, To every attempt he saw to hurry this High-church and Low-church, Dissenter measure, he should give his decided opand Non-conformist. The worthy baro- position." net contended that the representatives of the people of England should not shut their ears to the people's voice.
Sir James Shaw warmly applauded the temper of the meeting from which the petition emanated. It was carried with the utmost and most unexampled unanimity.
Mr. Baring wished to take this opportunity of saying that he believed a more numerous, respectable, and unanimous meeting had never been assembled, than that at which the present petition was agreed to. He entirely concurred in the sentiments stated in that petition. He believed that the measure now in progress through the House, was substantially a
Mr. Alderman Atkins said, that so far from the signatures to the petition being only 40,000, upwards of 40,000 had signed it on Saturday. He had on Friday night earnestly intreated the House to postpone the second reading of the Bill; but the result was known. It really seemed as if the purpose of this precipitation was to prevent the petition from receiving three times the number of signatures that were already affixed to it. [No, no,' from different parts of the House.] At all events, he said, it had that effect. The unanimous proceedings which had lately transpired, fortified the view which he had originally taken upon this subject. This petition,
together with those of the manufacturing districts, should induce the House not to proceed any further with the measure.
Lord Lascelles presented a similar petition from Leeds, subscribed by 24,000 persons; and petitions from Wakefield, Pontefract, and some other places in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He said, he believed there was a very general disapprobation of the Bill in the manufacturing districts.
Sir Samuel Romilly presented a similar petition from Westbury. He concurred entirely in the sentiments of the persons petitioning, and thought the present one of the most injurious measures ever brought forward in that House. He lamented exceedingly that such an important subject should be carried through with such precipitation, and that they should appear unwilling to hear the sentiments of the country.
Mr. Whitbread presented similar petitions from Derby, Great Bedwin, and Hammersmith.
tenantry, had no interest in the present question. He believed the prevailing sentiment among the tenantry was, that this was the landlord's affair, and not theirs, for they could only pay to the landlord what they could afford after defraying their other expenses. But to talk of the labourer was altogether ridiculous. Whether wheat was 120 or 80s. the quarter, he could only expect dry bread in the one case, and dry bread in the other; and they therefore had no interest whatever in it. With respect to petitions from the Fens, he could not but express his opinion, that if any persons were more entitled than others to the thanks of their country, it was those who made land productive; but there happened to be evidence as to these fens in the report before the House. That evidence was decidedly against 80s.; and therefore, if the persons best acquainted with land of that description did not consider 80s. as a necessary price for the protection of the petitioners, he considered it conclusive on the subject.
Mr. Methuen begged to assure the House, that the petitions he had presented that day were not signed by manufacturers alone, but that they contained the names of many land-owners, who were convinced of the injurious tendency of the measure.
Mr. Home Sumner presented a petition from the inhabitants of Croydon against the Bill, and observed, that as he had already brought up one from the same place of a different tendency, he could not but regret that while he performed his duty, he should have to differ in his opinion from any portion of his constituents.
Mr. Yorke presented a petition from the corporation of the conservators of the Bedford Level, stating their distressed state, and praying for an alteration in the corn laws. It was rather too much for gentlemen who took the opposite side of the question, to say that they expressed the sentiments of the people. That they expressed the sentiments of a part, he was willing to admit. How easy was it to get petitions signed in great towns like London? The agriculturists had not the same opportunities of coming forward as the inhabitants of great towns. The sense of the people was much divided on this Mr. Calcraft presented a petition from question, and it was therefore a proper the inhabitants of Rochester, signed by subject for the decision of parliament. If 8,700 names. The hon. gentleman dethe agriculturists could be collected toge-clared he fully concurred in the prayer of ther to petition, the difference in number the petition, and hoped the House would would not be great. The petitioners had even now find it necessary to pause in redeemed between 3 and 400,000 acres of their precipitancy. land from the water, under the guarantee of parliament, and they now claimed its protection.
Mr. M. A. Taylor presented a petition against the Bill from Poole, which, he said, was numerously signed; not by manufacturers, for there were no persons of this description in the town, but by merchants and others, many of whom were considerable landholders. He trusted, that if the House should agree to the Bill, the people would sit down quietly under it; but, for his own part, he would give it his utmost opposition. The same hon. member gave notice of a motion relative to Wills; and also of another, for a Bill to abolish the punishment of the Pillory.
CONGRESS AT VIENNA.] On the motion for going into a committee on the Corn Bill,
faction, and he hoped in a manner that would prove satisfactory to the whole House.
Mr. Whitbread thought the noble lord must have misunderstood the intent of his question. He had asked if he did not propose to give some information to the House; for whatever the noble lord might have been told by his colleagues, he (Mr. W.) did think the time was come when some information ought to be given from the Prince, or from the noble lord in his place, without being called for. From the answer he had received, he could hardly believe the noble lord was the man who had been at Vienna; for what had fallen from him was but a continuation of that system of evasion which had been prac
Mr. Whitbread did not rise to object to the Speaker's leaving the chair, but there were other orders of the day on which he wished to obtain some information. He desired to know, if the discussion on the Corn Bill should last long, how it was intended to dispose of the question on the renewal of the Bank Restriction Act. And he desired particularly to know what the noble lord opposite (lord Palmerston) meant to do in that case with the Mutiny Bill? While he was on his legs, seeing the noble viscount in the blue ribbon (Castlereagh) in his place, he wished to ask if the time for making those disclosures which had been called for, but withheld in histised in his absence. It would be most absence, was at hand, and if they might soon expect him to come down with a message from the Prince Regent on the subject of his late important mission?
Lord Castlereagh said, he should be happy to give the hon. gentleman every information in his power, but at present he was not able to intimate to him when any communication on the subject referred to was likely to be made from the Prince Regent. When he should know such a message was to be brought down, he would not fail to give due notice of it. If, before this was done, the hon. gentleman should wish to obtain information on any particular point, he thought it would be best, that he should raise some question-that after some days had elapsed, he should call for that which he thought necessary. The hon. gentleman would certainly understand that, under present circumstances, the explanations which he (lord Castlereagh) could give, would be in many respects limited. If, however, the hon. gentleman called for any information which he might consider desirable, it would enable him (lord Castlereagh) to state what disclosures he could make without injury to the public service. At present he could only say, though the proceedings were not closed, yet much had been done; and it was important to add, that what was done, had been done with the general concurrence of all the great Powers, who had made every arrangement for upholding those decisions which had been dictated by the common interest of all. All the great points in which this country was especially concerned, had been met by all the Powers in a spirit of peace, and arranged perfectly to his satis
satisfactory to the House that the information to be given should come spontaneously from the noble lord; but if no communication was to be made to that House before the Easter holidays, he would certainly move for that which he thought necessary. He repeated, however, that it would be best that the noble lord should give what he thought himself at liberty to offer, and it would then be for the House to determine whether or not that was sufficiently ample and satisfactory.'
Lord Castlereagh replied, that whatever communications the Crown might have to make, would be made at the proper period; but if the hon. gentleman wished for any information in the present instance, he was at liberty to call for it; and he might be enabled in that case to state how the business of the Congress now stood, and whether that which the hon. gentleman might desire should be produced, could or could not be given. That which had been done, had not yet received its full ratification. Most important questions had been decided, and the determinations of the Congress had been reduced to articles; but these not having yet been ratified, could not be produced. What had been done, had been done (he repeated it) with the concurrence of all the great Powers, and every thing had been satisfactorily arranged that regarded the peculiar interests of this country.
Mr. Whitbread inquired if he was to understand, that unless some member moved for information, the noble lord proposed to remain altogether silent on these great subjects?
Lord Castlereagh had not intended to assert this, but in the present state of
things his communications must necessarily be limited.
Mr. Whitbread wished to know if he was to understand, that at any given time the noble lord would lay any information before the House, as a minister, or as a member of parliament?
Lord Castlereagh said, not as a minister certainly.
and looking the subject honestly in the face, with a due recollection of what had taken place in the case of the rents since 1791, he thought a reduction of one-third might very reasonably take place, which would be a most wholesome relief to the cultivator of the soil. The House was told that 80s. was a very fair and moderate price, but on what authority did they receive this information? Look to the report, and it would be found, that they were to bottom themselves on the opinions of land-surveyors, who received a per-cent age according to the high value they put upon rents, by which, according to the arguments held up in favour of the present measure, the landholders were to fix the price of corn on the whole population Mr. Whitbread then gave notice, that on of the kingdom. The true method of proan early vacant day he would raise a ques-cedure would be to lower the rents, which tion on the subject of the noble viscount's mission, which would give the noble viscount an opportunity of laying before the House such information as he might give consistently with his duty.
Lord Palmerston, in answer to the question put to him, said, if the discussion on the Corn Bill should not take up much of the time of the House, it was his intention to proceed with the Mutiny Bill that evening. If, however, the House should be occupied till a late hour in the committee, he was willing to postpone it to a future day.
CORN BILL.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the order of the day for the House to resolve itself into a committee on the Corn Bill. On the question, that the Speaker do leave the chair,
could not fail to produce the best possible effect, and would render the present very unpopular measure totally unnecessary.. He was himself a considerable landholder; and from the first moment of his being so, he had always objected to high rents, as tending to prevent all good offices between landlord and tenant, and to weaken, if not in course of time finally to destroy that desirable attachment which, in his opinion, ought ever to subsist between persons so closely and intimately connected in point of mutual interests. He thought the present measure might be avoided by empowering the Prince Regent, with the advice of his privy council, to stop the im
might be found necessary, and by that means make the measure a temporary one. In addition to this, it ought to be the peculiar care and conduct of ministers to introduce economy into every department, both civil and military; and he had not a doubt but by these means the country would be relieved from its present pressure, without resorting to a measure so unpopular as the present Bill evidently, was
Sir Gilbert Heathcote rose to object to it. He said, that improper motives had been imputed to the landed proprietors; but, however faulty their motives might have been, the blame was more attributable to the Government, who had given their sanc-portation of foreign corn, whenever it tion to the measure, when their duty ought to have pointed out to them that they had no right or business to interfere between two parties so situated as were the landed proprietors and the manufacturing interests; nay, indeed, as appeared from the innumerable petitions, he might say between the landed interest and a vast majority of the whole nation. But he must now call the attention of the House to the real question, which was this. The Go-to the whole nation. He wished most vernment wanted to wind up the expenses of the war; the sum was no less than 20,000,000l.; and in order to prevail on the landed interest to support them in the measures necessary to raise this sum, mi"nisters had thrown out the alluring bait of giving their aid to this measure respecting the corn laws. It was in vain to come to any fair decision on the subject by the means which had been proposed; the only way to meet the matter fairly, would be by an immediate reduction of the rents; §
particularly to call the attention of the landed interest to the melancholy events which were consequent on the French revolution. He would beg them to recollect who were the persons that formed the great mass of the refugees who emigrated to this country on that lamentable occasion. They would find that the great majority of these unhappy fugitives from their native land were great landed proprietors, who had brought on the revolution and the direful effects attendant on it,
by rack rents, and treating with contempt the calls of a suffering people, groaning under their weight and pressure.
Mr. Horace St. Paul declared, that he would not have troubled the House with the expression of his sentiments, but for the precipitation that marked this measure in every stage of its progress-precipitate he would call it, with respect to the country, in not affording the people an opportunity of expressing their opinions on the subject-precipitate, likewise, as it respected the members of parliament, in not granting them a sufficient time to form their judgment-and, finally, he conceived it precipitate even for the ministers, from the imputation that might be cast on them, of hurrying it, as if they were apprehensive of its justice and policy: and certainly such an opinion might naturally be entertained, for the refusal of a reasonable time to examine its expediency, displayed symptoms of such an apprehension. He had now risen to enter his protest against their proceedings, and after having given the most anxious consideration to the subject, he had arrived at this conclusion, that all legislation on the article of corn was in the present instance unwise and premature; and, however he might think a protecting price ultimately necessary for the farmer, he would oppose such a law, while we were still ignorant of the real state of the affairs of Europe. At present it was impossible to decide on this question; and it might be esteemed somewhat presumptuous to settle a price before we could ascertain the state of our currency, and our various relations with other powers. We were now proceeding in darkness and ignorance, without even that knowledge to direct us which we might have expected from its being made a ministerial question. But what must have been the surprise of the House to find that the speech of the right hon. gentleman who so modestly introduced this measure, contained no information on the subject-nothing new-nothing to instruct. The hon. member next observed, that the evils suffered last year by the agriculturists no longer existed; there was now no glut of foreign corn in the market, no property-tax, and the war with America was now terminated; these circumstances should weigh considerably in the decision of this question. The House likewise should consider who those persons were that promoted this measure, who the committee were that sat on the subject. Many of them were prejudiced (VOL. XXX. )
in favour of it. Who were the evidence? Men whose characters were raised in proportion to the rise of land. Every landholder, he contended, was interested in this, for they would gain considerably in the amount of their rents. If corn was raised from 60s. to 70s. the landlord would
gain a guinea àn acre; if to 80s. he would gain 21. 11s. [A laugh, and cries of Hear, hear!] The House might be surprised at this. Gentlemen might laugh within those walls, but there was but little laughing on this subject without them. But he would prove his assertion. An acre of land, at a low average, produced three quarters of wheat. If there was an increase of 7s. a quarter, there must consequently be a clear gain of one guinea an acre; and if the price be raised to 80s. he fancied that on a fair calculation he would not be found to have over-rated the profits. As to the argument brought forward by certain hon. members, that the amount of rent made no difference in this question, he would not insult the understandings of the House by dwelling on it; but he would assure them, that farmers in general were hostile to this Bill, because it would afford a pretence to the landlords not to abate their rents. He could not agree with those who asserted that low prices would produce idleness. He knew that among manufacturers a man might earn as much in three days as would support him for a week; but in agricultural labour the business must advance regularly, and without intermission. But who, he asked, supported the poor in the great scarcity? Not landholders or farmers, but the merchants and shopkeepers-No one, said the hon. gentleman, condescended, on the first night of debating this question, to mention the effect it would have on the quartern loaf. A worthy barónet (sir James Shaw) had proved that when the average price of corn was 80s., the quartern loaf was considerably above 1s.; and his arguments were answered only by the assertion, that they were calculated to stultify the understandings of the House. It had been said that the people decided on the measure by feeling, rather than reason. How else, he would ask, could they decide, when their families were starving prayed the House to pause before they decided on so momentous a point; and declared that although a friend to the landed interest, he considered the general welfare of the empire as more important. The bon. gentleman then enumerated the various (C)