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Mr. Gladstone had expected that Lord Howick's speech would lead to the naked proposition of simple free trade; but he did what he last year accused Sir Robert Peel of doing, and “halted between two opinions,” hesitating to declare how far he would remove restrictions on trade. He was sure Lord Howick professed that which he felt, and did not undertake to defend the interests of the people from any personal or party object; still it appeared to him, that the present motion served a purpose which no other motion with which he was acquainted could effect: The noble Lord the Member for London was determined last year to lead the attack on the Corn Laws; and he arranged with the Gentlemen who sat behind him—he did not know whether that noble Lord could still call them his friends, to quote an expression of the noble Lord— that he should commence the movement of the session with the debate on the fixed duty. The debate on the fixed duty went off with éclat. The noble Lord mustered the whole strength of his party, and, all circumstances considered, made a respectable appearance. But what became of the Member for Wolverhampton P The noble Lord took all the bloom off his motion, and the honourable Member for Wolverhampton had nothing but stale dregs to offer. (Continued laughter.) After he and his friends had passed muster, and helped to ...} the minority of the noble Lord, they were allowed to have a separate debate. Very few Members attended, and the noble Lord joined in increasing the majority against them. It might have occurred to the
minds of these gentlemen, that this was a disadvantageous position to leave the Corn Laws in, and they had determined no longer to march in the rear of the noble Lord while waging his own battle. This being the case, a difficulty might be felt how to unite the body, which was so divided in its opinion as to what ought to follow the repeal of the Corn Laws; and he thought that it must have been clear that the movement in favour of the fixed duty could not be repeated. (Cheers and laughter.) But then it was said, that the motion was for an inquiry into the subject of the distress; and there was something so satisfactory in its first aspect, that though it did not pledge anybody to anything, yet at the same time it testified the interest Parliament took in the condition of the people. The difference between Government and their antagonists was not really so great as the Opposition made out, but was one of degree only: “The question raised by the noble Lord, it was manifest, was by no means whether restrictions should be altogether removed, for there the noble Lord and his right honourable Friend at the head of the Government were agreed in the negative; it was not whether restrictions ought to be judiciously relaxed, for there the noble Lord and his right honourable Friend were agreed in the affirmative; and he must say, that although much had been proclaimed concerning the doctrines of Free Trade put forth by his right honourable Friend, he was not struck with the novelty of those doctrines in the mouth of his right honourable Friend, because it appeared to him in the abstract to be indisputable that the policy of this country had been founded on the recognition of the validity of those doctrines; the whole question between the two sides of the House being, not merely whether there should be a judicious relaxation, but in what degree would the country bear the application of those principles. The noble Lord and honourable Gentlemen opposite did not wish to displace labour at home by the employment of labour abroad, but so to dispose the legislative measures of this country as to obtain a great augmentation to the demand for British productions, and thereby not only to maintain labour at home, but at the same time to increase the commerce abroad. His right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Treasury intended and designed precisely to pursue that course, and to attain that object by increasing the employment of the people, by cheapening the prices of the articles of consumption, as also the materials of industry, by encouraging the means of exchange with foreign nations, and thereby encouraging in return an extension of the export trade; but, besides all this, if he understood the measure of the Government last year, it was proposed that the relaxation should practically be so limited as to cause no violent shock to existing industrial interests, such as would have the tendency of displacing that labour which was now employed, and which, if displaced, would be unable to find another field. As far as present experience had gone, he did not think any person would maintain that the proposition of last year had produced a great shock upon any commercial
industry, or had displaced English labour. One great object of the measures of last year was to give a stimulus to trade, symptoms of which already appeared, and could be proved by figures; and Mr. Gladstone cited examples of this progress in the timber trade, showing increased consumption, at better profit to the dealer, in various articles which he specified. Suppose, however, that Lord Howick were to gain his Committee, and the Corn Law were to be repealed, by what measure would it be followed, with the variety of opinions among Opposition Members ? Lord John Russell's fixed duty had met with sorry treatment from Members behind him; Lord Palmerston advocated a mere revenue duty; Mr. Cobden argued against such a duty, that an equivalent impost must be laid on home corn. If asked, why deal in corn on a different principle from that of dealing with other commodities, Mr. Gladstone had a i good temporary answer; he replied, because it had been so dealt with for centuries, and enorinous investments had been made under the faith of such a principle. He still adhered to the opinion which Lord Howick had quoted, respecting the importation of 50,000 oxen, that exports would be increased in a corresponding degree on the relaxation of restrictions on imports ; but the application of such a proposition must be carefully , watched: It was a principle which might be very safe with reference to the importation of 50,000 head of cattle (for that would not produce the displacement of British labour); in such a case it might be well to trust to the operation of the natural laws of exchange between man and man; but it did not follow that the law on which the masses of the labour of the country were dependent should be abandoned. Let them honestly ask themselves this question— whether or no they were in a condition to reneal the Corn Law without the displacement of a vast mass of labour * Mr. Gladstone explained his use of the word “temporary.” Though he had used the epithet “temporary" with reference to one protective law, it was an epithet which would apply to every commercial law. There was no commercial law that must not be regarded as temporary. Since 1765, they had had twenty-five corn laws. He did not know why that which had been mutable heretofore was all of a sudden to become permanent. (Loud cheering from the Opposition Benches.) The form of cornlaw had been changed from time to time, and regulated according to the circumstances of the country and the necessities of British labour and capital. The principle had been permanent; and that principle he was not prepared to abandon whilst the principle of protection was applied to other articles of commerce. He denied that the maintenance of Corn Laws was a question of rent; for however rents might be reduced, the redundancy of labour would make the pressure be felt less by the landlords than by the labourers. He was ready to admit the arguments used on the other side to a certain point. If a change in the Corn-law were to take place, and if that change were to produce an increased inportation of foreign corn, and if that importation of foreign corn
were to be paid for in British goods he thought it would be taking a most short and false view of the interests of British agriculture to view that importation of foreign corn, as so much displacement of British agricultural commerce. (Loud cries of “ Hear!” from the Opposition Benches.) Why, the first effect would be that it might reduce prices; but undoubtedly it would give a demand for the labour of those now unemployed, and thereby create a new class of producers, and raise the wages of those who now had low wages, and o enable them to consume more largely. More wheat, he doubted not, would be consumed in a state of comfort than in a state of poverty; and even if more wheat were not consumed than the amount of wheat received by foreign importations, no doubt there would be a further increase of and demand for other articles of agricultural commerce. He had not the least hesitation in admitting that ; and that admission, he thought, might save a great deal of time in that House—it was a proposition which could not be disputed. But he would not admit the assumption involved in the proposition; the question was, were they without knowledge, upon speculation, to assume that increase of trade which Lord Howick presumed but which he had not endeavoured to demonstrate. That increase of trade might be indefinitely distant.Were they, without increasing the means of employing the population, so to encourage the import of foreign corn as to displace the British labour now o: in agriculture? Were they to pursue such a course without having taken those measures which would se
cure the prospect of those results by which alone such a change in the law could be rendered advisaable 2 How were we circumstanced with regard to foreign countries 2 The three countries from which we chiefly derived corn were Russia, including Russian Poland, Germany, and America. What were our circumstances as respected those countries with regard to the exportation of our goods? What tariffs had been imposed in those countries 2 and what effect had those tariffs had on the exportation of British goods? He showed the working of foreign duties in neutralising the benefit of greater cheapness of imported commodities as compared with those produced at home. “The complaint of the manufacturer of this country against the Corn-law was this, that he got from the British farmer a smaller return for his manufactured goods than he would obtain from the foreign farmer. Suppose that corn were onefifth dearer in England than America, he (the manufacturer) said, “I give 100, and only get back 80.” He valued at 20 the tax paid for protection to the British agriculturist. He did not take into consideration the manner in which the general standard of prices was affected by the protective duties of the Tariff; but he contended that he paid that amount as a tax to the British landlord. Suppose that to be true—grant the allegation, and suppose he sent his 100l worth of goods to America, upon which in England he only #" 80l., when he got there he found he must pay 40l. as a tax to the American Government. The present Tariff of America levied a tax of 40 per cent. ad valorem.
What better was the British manufacturer, if he escaped paying 20 per cent. to British agriculture, and had to pay 40 per cent. to the American Government? It might be said that we ought to teach foreign countries the true principles of trade; but the recent augmentation of the French duty on linen yarns, of the German duty on the goods of mixed woollen and cotton, and the American Tariff, showed how little disposed foreign countries were to follow our example. He believed that there was no one country on the face of the globe to which the changes of the last year in our Tariff had been so extensively valuable as they had been to the commerce of America. Summing up his arguments, Mr. Gladstone observed that Lord Howick might have spared himself the trouble of advancing abstract principles where the real question was one of time and degree. “That view had been recognised in this country for the last twenty-five years by every Government which had successively held office ; there was no one who had held office during that period who had not introduced measures in the nature of relaxations of our commercial code. But he must say that the Government to which right hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords opposite had belonged was, of all others most slack in introducing such measures until the memorable year 1841.” Mr. Labouchere supported the motion. Sir Robert Peel had promised that the operation of the Tariff would enable people to meet the Income-tax by lowering prices. Now Mr. Gladstone told them that it had not lowered prices in any assignable degree. He protested against the “temporary" nature of the arrangements respecting the Corn-laws, and receiving “temporary” answers from a Minister of the Crown. Mr. Gladstone's speech was calculated to excite alarm in the country as he believed it would in the House. “It was true they had been told by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, that he intended to propose nochangeduring the presentsession of Parliament; though he had not told them what he intended to do next year; but no one could listen to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, without perceiving that he at least had made up his mind as to the necessity of an alteration in the Corn-laws. The secret of Mr. Gladstone's resistance to the motion was to be found in a single sentence which escaped him respecting free-trade principles. The right hon. gentleman said, “The whole question is in what degree the country will bear the application of these principles 2" He suspected the right hon. Gentleman had omitted one word from that sentence: he should have said, not the country, but “the whole question is, in what degree the country gentlemen will bear the application of these principles P” Mr. Ferrand advocated returning to “the principles of our forefathers,” as opposed to free-trade; and he condemned the Government for having departed from the principles which they were sent into the House to support. He quoted from various pamphlets, letters, &c., passages to show the mischief of free-trade and the condition of the working classes, and moved, as an amendment to Lord Howick's motion, that the proposed
Committee should inquire into the depression of manufacturing industry alluded to in the Speech, into the effects of machinery, and into the origin of the disturbances mentioned in the Queen's Speech. The debate was resumed on the 14th by Mr. Ewart with an able speech, commencing with the remark that all the principles of Mr. Gladstone's speech were in favour of free trade, and all his parentheses of protection. Mr. Ewart declared his belief that an opinion was gaining ground in the country in favour of direct taxation as a means of reducing the Excise and Customs duties, the duties on raw materials, and on the means of the operative's subsistence. Mr. Liddell, admitting Lord Howick's general correctness as to the distressed state of Northumberland and Sunderland, imputed it to different causes—the competition of Durham, and especially Hartlepool, in the coal trade; the intricate and expensive machinery of the new Poor-law, the bill system, and the drought of the last summer. Other general causes were, the deficient harvests of the last four or five years, and the financial difficulties of America. Lord Worsley believed that the distress of theagriculturists would be greatly increased by want of confidence in the stability of the Corn-laws, which Mr. Gladstone called a “temporary measure.” Mr. Gally Knight imputing the distress to improvements in machinery, which disengage labour, recommended a tax on machinery, coupled with a regular system of emigration. Mr. Gladstone's use of the word “temporary" did not alarm him; for anything that was not perpetual was “temporary.” Mr. Ward supported the mo