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distress ; and its continued pressure which, under the existing regulahad led, in the month of April
, to tions, could not come into the a series of disgraceful riots in Lan- market. The admission of this cashire, which led to the de- quantityinto the market could have struction of machinery, more par- no material effect upon the agriculticularly of steam looms, to a large ture of the country, whilst it was extent. It may be observed, that thought it would be sufficient to the delusion of the Lancashire ar- diminish that suffering which was tizans, that machinery deprived actually felt, and which, it was to them of employment, was scarcely be feared, was more acutely felt to be wondered at; when, at a in consequence of the approximameeting of the noblemen and free- tion of so much food in the neighholders of the county of Lanark, bourhood, and the contrast thus men of high rank and liberal edu- presented; for the very fact of the cation, apparently smarting under co-existence of two such states of the necessity of making a public things, want and plenty, tended to subscription for the relief of the exasperate the evil. It was thereunemployed manufacturers of Glas- fore proposed to allow bonded corn gow, were found to express and to to come into the market. As again, maintain the same doctrine. The it was impossible to foretel what riots were speedily repressed by the the result of the coming harvest military, although not without some might be (and from the then aspect sacrifice of life. They arose fromlig- of the crops,
fears were entertained norance; but that ignorance had that the harvest might be far been stimulated by a state of suffer- from productive), it was proposed, ing-of almost absolute starvation as a measure of precaution against -which the feelingsofno mancould the continuance or the recurrence overlook, and which it was impos- of the existing distress, to vest gosible to meet by merely local sub-vernment, during the recess, with scriptions. Ministers were adverse a discretionary power of permitto making any grant of public ting, generally or partially, as the money for the relief of local dis- necessity of the case might require, tress, on the same principle on the importation of foreign corn, on which they had refused to issue payment of a fixed duty. Exchequer bills for the relief of Accordingly Mr. Canning, on the merchants; but there were the 2nd of May, moved that the other means both of giving imme- House should go into a committee diate assistance, and of providing on the 3, Geo 4th, c. 6o. But even against its increase during the the Speaker's leaving the chair was long interval which must elapse opposed, and pressed to a division. between the dissolution of the pre- The motion, it was argued, was in sent, and the sitting of the new par- downright contradiction to the vote liament. In the immediate neigh- of the House upon the motion of bourhood of the scene of distress, in Mr. Whitmore. On that occasion Hull, Liverpool, and other ports, there existed the same reasons for there were in bond between 250,000 entering upon the consideration of and 300,000. quarters of wheat, the Corn-laws which existed now;
but the loudly-expressed opinion of The detail of these outrages will the House had been that this was be found in the Chronicle, p. 63, a most inconvenient crisis for such VOL. LXVIII.
a discussion : with what consis, which ministers themselves had altency then could it now be called ways denied. If the pouring in of upon to rescind that very vote--now new quantities upon the market that inconveniencies, if they ever is to benefit the sufferers at all, it existed, had only been augmented. must be, either by furnishing them It was vain to say that the proposed with employment and wages, or measures did not involve the whole by lowering the price of their food, question of the Corn-laws: they for nobody alleges that the food necessarily opened up the whole does not exist. To say that it can discussion, for ministers were to do the former is manifestly abhave the power of opening the surd; and to say it can do the latports at their discretion, while it ter, and yet to maintain that the was altogether uncertain how the Corn-laws have no connection with harvest might turn out. Either the existence of the distress, is still these discretionary importations more clearly illogical. It comes to were to take place under a certain this, that importations of grain, conduty, and when the home price trary to the Corn-laws, are to inwas at a certain point, or there crease comfort, and are to do so by was to be no fixed point, and no lowering prices. The evil arose fixed duty. If the latter, who from want of employment, from would venture to lodge such an inability to purchase; and, thereabsolute discretion in government fore, there ought to be a grant of for any length of time, or how public money. If the state of could the creation of such a power things was such, that individuals be even thought of, without a were called upon to subscribe for the thorough investigation of the whole relief of their fellow-subjects, then system? If again, there was to a case was made out why parliabe a fixed price to regulate this dis- ment should interfere with a grant cretion, and a fixed duty to burthen of pecuniary assistance. On these the importations, what this price grounds of general opposition to and this duty ought to be, must the whole spirit of the proposed necessarily be investigated, and measures, sir Thomas Lethbridge, such an
investigation compre- seconded by Mr. Benett, moved hended the whole essence of the “ That a select committee be apcorn question. Moreover, the pointed to inquire into the causes price and the duty which might of the distress in the manufacturbe now fixed for this temporary ing districts." Upon a division, measure would assuredly be ulti- the original motion was carried by mately adopted as the price and a majority of 214 to 82. the duty on the final decision of The first resolution, allowing the general question, and when wheat in bond to come into the fixed for the purpose of giving low market, on payment of a duty of prices to the distressed consumer, 10s. per quarter, and other corn they must necessarily be unfair at inferior rates, met with no reand unjust to the no less distressed sistance, excepting that Sir Thomas producer. The measure, too, Lethbridge was anxious to add to proceeded upon this principle as the duty ; but the wishes of the their basis, that the distresses of House on the other side were so the manufacturers were occasioned loudly expressed, that he withdrew by the price of corn, a principle his opposition.
[61 The second resolution, giving could justify the establishment of ministers a discretionary power of such unnecessary and unconstituadmitting foreign grain during the tional power, and such dangerous recess, was much more stubbornly tampering with laws on which so opposed. In the first place, it was many interests depended. It was, an irregular and unconstitutional in some measure, a breach of faith power, and was asked without any towards all connected with the good reason being assigned why it corn trade, and a breach arising should be bestowed at all. Even from that very frankness in deallowing the possibilities on which claring their intentions, of which it entirely rested, of such a failure ministers boasted highly. At of the harvest as might render it the opening of the session, they advisable, in the present state of had declared, that the question of the country, to admit foreign the Corn-laws would not be stirgrain, why should that be deter- red. Trusting to this, and that
, mined beforehand when parlia- for a year, at least, they would be ment can still be in existence to safe, farmers and corn dealers had meet the emergency ? Parliament entered into contracts, the relahas still twelve months of its dura- tions under which would now be tion remaining ; and if the state of altered to the disadvantage of one the country be such as to require of the parties; and on the merchant the investing of government with who had purchased grain on the unconstitutional power, much more faith of these declarations that no does it require that parliament foreign grain would be admitted, should continue to exist to exercise excepting under the existing reits constitutional authority. But gulations, was inflicted a loss equal neither was there any foundation, to the depression of price which in point of fact, for what was pro- the quantity of grain to be brought posed; the whole case proceeded into the market under these temupon possibilities, the possibility porary regulations might occasion. that there might be a bad harvest, Some members said, that they and a famine price, during the re- would have given a decided precess;
and the whole argument pro- ference to a discussion of the whole ceeded on apprehensions of this matter; others accused ministers imaginary, danger-not indeed ab- of inconsistency, in having, during solutely imaginary, because per the adjournment of the commitfectly possible, but yet so far ima- tee since the first resolution was ginary, that it would furnish a agreed to,* brought down their dereason for vesting the Crown with mand from an unlimited importaa dispensing power over the Corn- tion to the comparatively insignilaws at the commencement of every ficant quantity of 500,000 quarlong adjournment, as on the pre- ters, which, if the danger really sent occasion. Now, likewise, that the quantity which was allowed
Only the first resolution, for taking
out bonded corn, was agreed to on the to be imported was to be limited 2nd of May. The resistance to the seto 500,000 quarters, the power cond was so stubborn, that the comasked would be futile even in its mittee divided again and again. It operation; forit would never be pre- sih; and then was mentioned the limi
again came before the committee on the tended that the lowering of the price tation
of the quantity to 500,000 quarof the loaf by a single halfpenny, ters.
arose, would be insufficient to meet was not a single opinion against it; and Mr. Portman was of opi- the necessity of the measure, the nion that it was the duty of mi- minister was exposed to the most nisters, instead of applying to the bitter censures, because he had House for special powers, in the not acted with a proper sense of prospect of mere contingencies, his duty to parliament. But, in to have waited for the occur- the present instance parliament rence of these contingencies, and was still sitting to provide constituthen, by their own act, if necessity tionally for any emergencies, and existed, to have opened the ports, breach of duty would have conunder the weight of their consti- sisted in ministers wilfully neglecttutional responsibility. The de- ing to clothe themselves with that claration involved in these mea- authority which parliament alone sures, that the Corn-laws were in- could give. They had indeed sufficient, and that extraordinary been told that they ought to enactments were required to guard have acted on their own discreagainst a probable mischief, had tion under the weight of their already done much harm, and pro- responsibility ; but the example duced much agitation.
of 1756 was a warning; and, Ministers maintained, that it was in the support which ministers a solecism to accuse them of bring- were receiving in this very meaing forward an unconstitutional, sure, they had an impressive earnest measure, when they were pur- of the sort of reception with which posing to do nothing but by the they would have met, if they had authority of parliament, and had so acted; for was it to be believed come expressly to ask the permis- that those same gentlemen who sion of parliament. They might believed ministers to be committing have acted without this authority; treason against the landed interest, that would have been unconstitu- by asking permission to act untional, and could have been covered der the authority of parliament, only by a bill of indemnity ; but to would, if they had acted on their wish to avoid the necessity of own responsibility, without the requiring an indemnity was to authority of parliament, have given wish to avoid taking an unconsti- them their votes, when they came to tutional step. The consequences ask for pardon? Ministers might, of doing otherwise had been seen after all, be obliged to act upon their in 1756, when lord Chatham was own authority still, if they were minister, and lord Camden attore thrown back on themselves; but ney-general, and the administra- then they would do so no longer tion the most popular which this on their own responsibility, but on country had ever seen. During that of those who had refused to the recess of parliament, famine invest them with power to meet stared the country in the face, and the emergency. corn could legally be exported up . It was complained, that there to a certain price. Ministers closed were no facts to lead to the conthe ports; but, when parliament clusion, that corn would, during met, the most violent debates en- the recess, reach a price inexpesued, although the necessity had diently high.
But the measure originated only after parliament was not one of positive legislation had separated; and, although there founded on special facts; it was a