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deserves notice, not only in reference to the subject matter and objects of the proposition, but still more on account of the effect which it was calculated to produce, and did actually produce, upon the relations of parties and the position of the Government. The resolution moved by the hon. Member for Bucks, and which was debated by adjournment on the 11th and 13th of February, was in these terms, viz.:—" That the severe distress which continues to exist among the owners and occupiers of land, lamented in Her Majesty's Speech, renders it the duty of the Government to introduce, without delay, measures for their effectual relief." Mr. Disraeli began by observing that the fact, admitted in the Speech from the Throne, that, concurrent with the general prosperity of the country, there was a continual depression of a certain class, well deserved, not only the consideration of the Government, but the deliberation of Parliament, in order to ascertain the nature and sources of that particular distress. He then referred to the anticipations which had been formed five years ago as to the future prices of agricultural produce, and the effects of the change of the system upon landed property. The result had been the reluctant recognition of continued distress among the agricultural classes, after attempts in past years, on the part of the Government, to represent the depression of prices as exceptional and temporary, and to prove that what had happened could not possibly occur. He did not mean to build upon these results a proposition' to retrace our steps; but if all the estimates upon which the changes of system had been founded were wrong, and
all the calculations erroneous, and if a most important class continued depressed amid the general prosperity, it was the duty of Parliament to investigate the subject in a charitable spirit, and to adopt the course which reason and policy dictated. Mr. Disraeli vindicated the character and the conduct of the British farmers from the stigma of sloth and want of skill, and characterized the outcry against rent, and the plea that this was a landlord's question, as economical fallacies, tending to arm one agricultural class against another. The object of his motion was not to dispute the fact of the general prosperity of the country, or to attack the new commercial system, but to adapt the condition of the owners and occupiers of land to that system. He should make no attempt to bring back the abrogated system of protection; if that system was to be restored, it must be done by a very preponderating opinion out of doors. What, then, was the reason why the cultivator of our soil could not compete with the foreign producer? It was the amount of taxation to which he was liable, and which had been allowed to press unequally upon him in consequence of the artificial state in which agriculture was formerly placed. The great mass of our general taxation was supplied from three sources—external imposts, inland revenue, and local contributions. Nearly one-half of the first was raised by not permitting the cultivators of this soil to produce a particular crop, or loading it with a peculiar impost; two-thirds of the inland revenue were raised by a colossal tax upon one crop of the British agriculturists; while of the 12,000,000/. of local contributions, 7,000,000/, were paid by them, and the whole was levied upon a very limited class. Mr. Disraeli entered into the details of these several burdens, urging, at much length, the hardships they inflicted upon the landed interest; and, with respect to the last, he referred to the proposal made by him in the last session for relieving the land in the matter of local taxation—a question which had been since much advanced. He urged, in addition, the severity with which the tithe fell upon the owner and occupier, not merely in the commutation, but in the incidence of the charge itself, which, as Mr. M'Culloch thought, justified an adequate countervailing duty upon foreign corn. All these facts proved that the British farmer was overweighted. But it was said that the land enjoyed exemptions. These, however, Mr. Disraeli endeavoured to show were comparatively small or illusory, and he opposed to these exemptions the land tax. It was only by that powerful instrument, the property and income tax, that our present financial system was upheld, and from the returns of that tax it appeared that at least one-half was levied from the owners and occupiers of land—from owners whose rents were reduced, and from occupiers without profits. What these classes required was only justice; they did not shrink from competition, but they asked not to be forced into it manacled. Mr. Disraeli, in conclusion, reviewed the remedies suggested by others, pointing out their intrinsic inefficiency, or the impediments thrown in theirway; treating even a fixed duty upon corn as no boon to the farmer, but merely a compromise. He desired no legislation that was not consistent with the welfare of all Her Majesty's
subjects, not excluding one particular class, which it was acknowledged had been treated with injustice.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was quite ready to discuss this subject with calmness and temper, but Mr. Disraeli had asked no distinct opinion of the House upon anything, throwing into the hotch-potch of his speech all the subjects which had occupied it for the last five years. Sir Charles justified the opinions he had expressed in past years respecting the effects of the change in our commercial policy; he had never concealed his apprehensions of the difficulties which agriculture, like manufactures, might experience upon the withdrawal of protection, but he thought still that it would revive and stand upon a sounder foundation than before. The anticipations of the advocates of free trade had not proved more exaggerated than the gloomy forbodings of its opponents. The distress alleged to exist among our agriculturists was paralleled in France, notwithstanding its large exports of corn to this country and its importing none. The diminished price of meat here was the result of increased production, and cattle were produced at a cheaper rate. Mr. Disraeli had dealt only with the owners and occupiers of land; but, though it might be very convenient to ignore that important fact, the agricultural labourers—whose condition on a former occasion was made the point upon which the whole question turned—were never in more prosperous circumstances than at present. In Ireland as well as England the numbers of ablebodied paupers were rapidly diminishing. Wages, in relation to prices, were higher than during the war. While the labouring classes were thus benefited, there had been no reduction of rents commensurate with the diminution of prices. Sir Charles then reviewed the several burdens alleged to fall peculiarly upon the land— the tithe, the prohibition to cultiTate tobacco, the Excise duties on agricultural products (which were paid by the consumer, a fact overlooked by Mr. Disraeli), and local contributions,—which he justified or palliated. The assertion that seven-twelfths of the local taxation were paid by the agricultural classes was an error, and Mr. Disraeli had confused with the owners of agricultural land other landowners who have no title to relief from such burdens. He next passed in review the objections which Mr. Disraeli had offered to other remedies than his own, and, assuming that that gentleman, if he meant anything, asked to be relieved from the Customs duty on tobacco, and the Excise duty on malt, hops, and spirits, asked him, how he would provide for the public expenditure? It could only be by reimposing those duties which, with so much advantage to the country, had been repealed. Before that course was pursued and our present policy reversed, let the House consider what had been the result of that policy. Since 1841 the revenue had increased 4,726,000/.; the taxes repealed amounted to 10,763,0001., from which, if the taxes imposed (5,655,000/.) were deducted, the balance of relief was upwards of 5,000,000/., with an augmentation of revenue nearly to the same amount. Sir Charles read statements of our foreign trade, showing, he said, an increase of our exports perfectly unexam
pled, and asked whether it was possible that a legislation which had produced such results could be wrong? No protected interest ever lost protection without transient sufferings; agriculture had not been the only interest protected; the others had recovered from their depression, and now flourished beyond precedent; the application of capital and improved processes of cultivation would produce the same result in agriculture, and enable the British farmer successfully to compete with foreigners. He called upon the House, therefore, to reject this motion.
The Marquis of Granby observed that, after five years' experience of our commercial policy, the landed interest was in a worse position than when it began. Taking the quantity of wheat sold at 20,000,000 quarters, and the depreciation at 24*. a quarter, it amounted to 24,000,000/.; the depreciation upon the whole crop was no less than 60,000,000/. In this state of things Mr. Disraeli had asked the House not to reverse its late policy, but to see whether it could relieve the landed interest from burdens always unjust, but which, under the existing conditions, had become intolerable. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not say the proposition was unjust, but alleged difficulties in the way of lessening the weight of taxation upon the agricultural classes. But those classes had not created the difficulties; those who had were bound to find a remedy. Lord Granby contested the details brought forward by Sir C. Wood, and adduced evidence from which he drew different conclusions respecting the state of the country. He doubted whether the labourer was better off than under protection, and whether he would not prefer high-priced corn with a high rate of wages. He believed that other interests were not so flourishing as Sir C. Wood had represented, and he was convinced the Legislature would be obliged, sooner or later, to return to a system of protection, admitting the principle that for every tax imposed upon the home producer an equivalent tax must be laid upon the foreigner.
Sir James Graham joined issue with the Marquis of Granby on these two points—that the great body of agricultural labourers had not been gainers by the present commercial policy, and that, sooner or later, it would be expedient to return to the system of protection. He admitted that the depression of the prices of corn had been somewhat greater than he had expected, and the duration of the depression longer. On the other hand, Mr. Disraeli had conceded that the general condition of the people was prosperous, and the condition of the labourer, in Sir James's opinion, lay at the root of this whole subject. He did not undervalue the importance of the landlord or the farmer; but he regarded as paramount the welfare of the great body of the people. In Ireland the number of ablebodied men receiving out-door relief had diminished from 1,210,000 in 1849, to 572,000 in 1850. In England the number of able-bodied poor had been reduced 14 per cent. In Scotland, the poor in receipt of relief numbered 101,000 in 1850, instead of 106,000 in 1849; and the number of casual poor, the heaviest charge in Scotland, had diminished from 95,000 in 1849, to 53,000 in 1850. Meanwhile the revenue, notwithstand
ing remissions of taxes, was prosperous, and the exports had reached the unexampled amount of 70,000,000/. Notwithstanding the repeal of the Navigation Laws, the outward tonnage of British ships had exceeded that of 1850 by 188,000 tons. But, after all, the most conclusive test of the real prosperity and well-being of the great body of the people was furnished by the immense importations of foreign wheat and flour, paid for and consumed by millions of mouths that would not otherwise have been fed. There had, no doubt, been a serious disturbance of prices; but so there had been in France, where protection was high, and even in this country under protection. In 1822 the average price of corn for the year was 44s., and in some weeks it was below 40s. But the time had arrived when the price of cor n must be left to find its natural level. The shepherd and the ploughman, who now enjoyed a cheaper meal, knew the reason why. The soldier, who felt his pay virtually augmented, also knew the reason why. It was necessary to speak plainly, and he was satisfied that no power in England could permanently raise, by force of law, the price of bread. His objection to the motion, which was studiously ambiguous, was that it implied, though it did not ask, a reversal of that system of fiscal policy to which he traced the tranquillity and social order of the last three years. Sir James showed the exceptions to which the remedial measures suggested by Mr. Disraeli were open, and asked what his motion could mean if not a return to protection. He contrasted the expressions used by that gentleman last year with his late speech, and putting the best interpretation he could upon these mystical phrases, he came to the conclusion that the real object of the motion was to turn out the present Administration, dissolve Parliament, return to protection, and reimpose a duty upon corn. He saw, therefore, that they were on the eve of a serious struggle; that they must gird up their loins and prepare to offer a firm, manly, and uncompromising resistance. In an impressive peroration he appealed to the latest declaration of the author and champion of our present policy, the late Sir Robert Peel. "Though dead," Sir James observed, "he still speaks, and from the tomb I hear the echo of his voice—' I earnestly hope that I may never live to see the day when the House of Commons shall retrace its steps'" He would give his vote in opposition to the motion.
Mr. Booker referred to details purporting to show that the country was not in the prosperous state which had been supposed, that the condition of the labourers had not improved, and that wages had diminished ;— sooner or later the country must return to a system of fair, proper, and efficient protection of British industry.
Mr. Labouchere said the effect of the motion was to change our commercial policy; the defence of that policy must mainly rest upon the results it had produced upon the comforts and prosperity of the people; and, taking any test, the answer would be the same—there never had been a period in which, notwithstanding the partial distress of one class, the great body of the people had been equally well off. The effect of the change in the Navigation Laws, so far
from realizing the predictions of those who had foreboded ruin to our shipowners and shipbuilders, had been completely the reverse. Mr. Labouchere furnished some striking instances of the improvement in this branch of trade; and upon the general question said, he was satisfied with the manner in which it had been left by Sir C. Wood and Sir James Graham.
Mr. Cayley supported the motion, observing that its advocates asked only justice, and it was not their fault if justice and protection were convertible terms. He disputed the accuracy of the conclusions drawn by the Chancellor of the Exchequer from his "troops of figures," and he utterly denied that the revenue had recovered so quickly from the collapse of 1847 as in years of protection. Thus, in the interval of 1822 and 1824, upwards of 6,000,000/. of taxes had been repealed, in spite of which the revenue had increased more than 3,000,000/., making a gain of 9,000,000/. in three years. Mr. Cayley contended that since 1841 the revenue had really diminished; that the profits upon our exports had not increased; and it was admitted that the landed interest had sustained severe losses. He condemned the whole theory of our taxation pursued for the last 40 years, and considered that no member who desired to do justice could withhold his support from the motion.
Mr. Cardwell said, that although Mr. Cayley asked only for justice, his speech was one continued impeachment of the great measure by which the peace and loyalty of the country had been insured in times of more than ordi