HC Deb 16 May 1814 vol 27 cc895-923
Mr. Huskisson

moved the order of the day for the House taking into farther consideration the Resolutions of the Corn Committee. On the motion, "That they be now taken into consideration,"

Lord A. Hamilton

rose and said, that, in the observations he was about to make, he had not, the smallest intention of casting any reflection on those who supported the alteration in the corn laws, whom he believed to be actuated by the most pure and patriotic motives. They seemed unwilling, however, to have it supposed, that the principles which they advocated would raise the price of bread; but, when they admitted that their object was to make corn dearer, he could not conceive how they could get rid of the consequence which, in his mind, must necesarily follow; viz. an equal rise in the price of that which was manufactured from corn. Nor could he conceive upon what principle they meant to abandon, with respect to corn alone, all those great regulations which writers on political economy universally allowed to bear upon every other species of article. If the system were likely to have the effect which its supporters seemed to imagine, he certainly would not object to it. If it were to raise the price of corn, now, temporarily, and to lower it permanently hereafter, he would willingly agree to it. But this was a result which he did not expect from it; and, in fact, it appeared to him, that the subject had been stated, all along, with a view rather to the benefit of the agriculturalist, than to the general interests of the other parties concerned. He wished not to draw a line of distinction between the interests of the agriculturalist, and those of the manufacturer; but he thought it was extremely hard, after the period of distress and privation which the latter class had passed through, that the legislature, the moment the price of grain became moderate, should immediately endeavour to increase it. In his opinion, there was not a sufficient ground laid by the proposer of the measure in bringing it forward, to induce the House to adopt it. They were told, that it was a matter of expediency—that it was called for by the alteration in our currency; but, whatever opinion might be held with respect to the currency of the country, this was most evident, that an alteration in it must now take place. Therefore, he looked upon the present as the most inauspicious moment that could be selected for making any thing like a permanent alteration in the corn laws; because, that which was adduced as a main reason for making the alteration would not perhaps continue long. It was argued, that the new system would, at a very early period, produce an abundant supply of corn; and trusting to this contingency, they were no longer to look for any assistance, though at a cheaper rate, from abroad; they were called upon to consider, as false and erroneous, the usual principle of going to that place where we were most likely to purchase a commodity cheapest. But, could it be supposed, when we considered the immense number of persons taken from agricultural pursuits to become manufacturers, that a sufficient supply of corn for our home consumption could be grown in this country? He was of opinion that it was impossible. He was ready to acknowledge, that the principle of admitting a free exportation might produce a greater quantity of grain; but the restrictions on importation would tend to keep up the price, and to pinch those who were most particularly affected by deafness of provisions. If the promoters of this measure were consistent with themselves, they would not be contented with a free exportation, and a restriction on importation, unless accompanied by a specific law to protect the farmer in the home growth. But, he supposed, the system now would be, every time grain g[...] cheap, to take fresh measures to raise it in price. Now, he would ask, was it right for that House, from time to time, to undertake, by a legislative enactment, to settle the price of grain?—The measure was so extremely noxious, that he felt himself called upon to oppose it altogether. Ireland was selected as a proof of the excellence of this system. She, it was said, had become an exporting country, ever since she had been left at liberty to dispose of her grain abroad. But this was a most unfortunate instance; because the grain exported from Ireland was not a superflux, remaining after supplying her whole population. It was well known, that wheat was not the food of the great body of the people of that country; therefore, no fair similarity, on that point, could be traced between England and Ireland. His lordship concluded by moving, "That the further consideration of the Resolutions be postponed till this day three months."

Sir G. Clerke

observed, that it was admitted, both by the noble lord who moved the amendment, and by a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Rose), who, on a former night, had opposed the Resolutions, that, to obtain a supply of corn for our manufacturers, without having recourse to any foreign country, was a matter of great consequence. The question was, whether it could be obtained without making sacrifices of greater magnitude? In his opinion, by giving a proper support to the agricultural interests of the country, a proper supply of grain could be procured at home, without rendering the price incompatible with the means of the lowest labourer, at the present rate of wages. The noble lord stated, as a reason for not agreeing with the report, that it contained propositions inconsistent with each other. That it proposed to benefit the agriculturalist by raising the price of corn, and to add to the comfort of the manufacturer by diminishing it; and, as these objects appeared inconsistent with each other, therefore the Report was unworthy of attention. Now, the fact was, that the framers of that Report had no intention, permanently, to increase the price of grain. Another error pervaded the whole of the noble lord's speech, who seemed to think we never could become an exporting country; but he was convinced, that a very little stimulus to agricultural energy, by keeping grain at its present price, would secure a sufficient supply both for our own population and for exportation. He was sure if corn were sold at 80s. per quarter (the rate which would give sufficient encouragement to the grower), a quantity of wheat corn, adequate to the supply of the country, would be raised; but if the price were lowered, much of the land at present occupied by grain would be appropriated to pasture.

Mr. Western

* rose and said:

I am desirous, Sir; of making some observations *From the original edition, printed for Budd and Calkin, Pall-mall; with the following Address to the Reader: It must be obvious to the reader, that in the speech reported in the foregoing pages, a variety of important considerations are not adverted to, and there are one or two on which I am desirous of making some cursory remarks. In the first place, I wish to direct the attention of the manufacturing class of the community to the great advantage of the home market. They must see, upon reflection, to what an enormous extent the home demand for their goods exceeds the foreign; and it must therefore be obvious how essential to them is the prosperity of our agricultural population, creating, as they do, so large a share of the home demand. It is said, if we take corn from foreigners, they will receive our manufactures: suppose we take a million of quarters, and they receive three millions of money for it; or, instead of money, consent to take the value in manufactures, it certainly appears that we should receive an equivalent in one sense; but I think I have made it evident, that the million supplied by foreigners could be furnished by our own agriculturalists, who would thereby, to that amount, become better customers than they are at present. The quantity of custom, or sale of manufactures, would be the same, with the advantage on the question now before the House; and in so doing, shall apply myself generally to a consideration of the principle of the measure. I beg leave in of being derived from a certain home market, instead of a precarious foreign market. It is sometimes said, there would be no danger in opening our ports to foreign corn; I am far from thinking a flood would come in that would overwhelm us at once; but it can hardly be doubted that foreigners can undersell our farmers, and would gradually gain upon them the possession of the markets to a dangerous extent. The superiority of their soil and climate, with taxes and burthens of all kinds so much lighter, must give them a most preponderating advantage; so that the idea of leaving the British and foreign grower to find their own level, appears to me like throwing two persons into the water, the one in the full possession of all his natural powers, the other with a millstone round his neck. This does not militate against the argument before urged, that when the foreign supply has run to its limit, the price would again rise to such a degree as would give a profit to capital and industry devoted to agriculture, equal to that applied to other manufactures.* There is one other point of view in which I wish to represent the possible, if not probable, consequences of a reliance upon foreign countries. I will take it for granted, that we should receive five millions of quarters of grain from them, and grow only thirty of our own: let us suppose, under such circumstances, what is not at all unlikely, a bad season throughout Europe, and the general crop defective one fourth.† Those countries, from whence we have been accustomed to draw these five millions, will, of course, want it, * If the visionary project of a perfect free trade could be realized, it is undoubtedly true, that corn might be had so much the cheaper, in proportion as the aggregate supply might be drawn from the most productive lands: but then, as population increased, recourse must again be had to those of inferior quality. †As far as our supplies may be drawn from America, the danger of a season applying generally to all the countries from whence our supplies came, is certainly less. the first place to declare, that in the view I have taken of this subject, I have never regarded, for one moment, the interests of, the grower of corn distinct from that of and, without being at war with us, will keep it for their own necessities‡. In addition to this loss, there will be the difference between a reduction of one fourth of thirty and of thirty-five; leaving us only 22,500,000 quarters, instead of 25,350,000. Then comes the further injury to our manufactures in another way, in as much as they will lose the foreign demand for their goods; and I should think the home demand would be diminished nearly in the proportion of 22,500,000 to 25,350,000, being the difference of quantity of corn our agricultural population would have for market. And here it may not be amiss to consider the two-fold power foreign countries would have over us, in the case of an extensive exchange of corn for manufactures, the one being of so much more importance than the other. The suspension of intercourse would not only be much less injurious to them, but the immediate consequence would be to give additional food to their people, and encouragement to their manufactures—to us universal distress, and absolute ruin to thousands of manufacturers. Let them recollect the injury they have suffered by the interruption of the foreign market for their goods, and compare it with a small difference in the value of corn. It is infinitely desirable they should be induced to see that their prosperity is deeply involved in, and indeed dependent upon, the prosperity of our agriculture; and that it is as much their interest to admit, as it is that of the agriculturalists to require such a difference of price, as would for a time result from an effectual check (I do not mean absolute prohibition) to the further introduction of foreign grain; they would in consequence have it cheaper upon an average of years. It is indeed their especial interest to cast ‡ Upon an average of some years prior to 1765, we annually exported about 600,000 quarters of grain; in 1764 the price of wheat was 30s. 7d.; in the five years, ending 1769, it was 43s. 2d.; and this was considered such an advance of price, that in each of these years the export was prohibited, and of course foreign countries deprived of the whole of the supply they had usually received. the consumer. I believe that they are inseparable. It is the practice indeed to their views forward; for it is to be presumed they are more able now, from their superior capital and machinery, to undersell foreign manufacturers, than they may be some time hence, They must expect that the struggle of rival nations, possessing great industry, taste, and ingenuity, will become more powerful after a short period of tranquillity; and then, when they would most stand in need of a cheap supply of food, they would find how much they had sacrificed to a temporary delusive advantage, and what an increase of price, as well as other evils; would eventually result from the depression of our agriculture at this time. The following estimate of the growth of wheat, barley, and oats, in the united empire, is drawn out by Arthur Young, esq. I have formed mine on the same principles; but estimating the produce of wheat at only twenty bushels per acre, and considering the growth of the other grains not to come so often in the general course of husbandry, I find a lower result, but am far from positive that mine is the most accurate. It will be obvious, the larger proportion of our consumption drawn from our own agriculture, the greater the evils resulting from its depression. Population of Great Britain 12,596,803 Population of England and Wales 10,791,115, whose consumption may thus be calculated:

Wheat, with some Rye 8,500,000
Barley 831,666
Oats 668,333
Wheat as above 8,500,000
Consumed, not in bread 100,000
Deduct balance of export and import on the average of 1811 and 1812 187,162
Add for seed one-ninth 934,759
Annual growth 9,347,597
talk of the interests of the grower and consumer as disunited, and even opposed to each other, but the fact is quite otherwise. The consumers form the market for the grower, and their number, wealth, and ability to purchase, constitute the value and extent of the market; and it is only the successful and prosperous condition of the grower can insure an adequate supply to the consumer. In the discussion of the proposition now submitted to the House, I shall endeavour to confine myself to the consideration of the probability it affords of providing an abundant supply of food to the inhabitants of this country: for the accomplishment of this purpose, I apprehend we are about to legislate. But, Sir, we must not forget, that the measures we have now before us are confined to the If the produce be 22 bushels per acre, the acres employed will be 3,399,126; and taking wheat at one-fifth of the arable, and barley and oats as occupying half as much land again as wheat, the acres of those grains will be 5,098,686 acres; and the produce at 4½ quarter per acre will be 22,944,100; and the total of white corn will be 32,291,697 quarters: if we allow proportionably for the population of Scotland, it will add 5,401,283. As oats are much consumed in Scotland, and the amount in quarters much exceeding the consumption in wheat per head, this seems to be a moderate allowance. Total consumption of Great Britain, 37,692,980 quarters. In regard to Ireland, the authorities referred to by Mr. Wakefield will not allow us to suppose a greater population than that of five millions; and it is well known that the great basis of their support is the potatoe: we must however remember, that all the higher classes, with a large proportion of the inhabitants of towns, as well as counties in the north of that kingdom, are supported on corn. If all these circumstances permit us to estimate them as equal to the entire nourishment of 1 million of persons, and allow to each (as their consumption is both of wheat and oats, but the latter in the far greatest proportion) 18 bushels,* the total will be 3,375,000 quarters; and the grand total for the United Kingdom will be 41,067,980 quarters. * Smith calculates the consumption of oats at 23 bushels per head per annum—Tracts on the Corn Trade, p. 161. regulation of the foreign trade, and supply of foreign corn; and it is of course essential to consider what proportion that supply has hitherto borne, or is likely to bear, to the total demand and consumption of the united empire.

I know, Sir, it is very difficult to form an accurate estimate on such a subject. I have endeavoured to obtain one out of all the different materials we at present possess for this purpose; and my result will, I think, be allowed to be fair and tolerably correct, or at least that it takes the proportion of our own produce as low as it can be placed. The consumption of wheat, barley, and oats, in Great Britain and Ireland, I estimate at 35 millions of quarters. The import of all sorts of grain, on an average of the last ten years, is known to be about one million: of course the native growth is to the importation as thirty-four to one.

It is necessary to have this proportion in our contemplation, that we may see how speedily any diminution of our own agriculture would reduce the aggregate supply.

The regulation of the foreign trade has generally been subject, as it now is, to a great diversity of opinion. Some gentlemen think it safer to prohibit the importation of foreign corn, and to rely upon the steady exertions of our own farmers; others contend, the importation should be stopped at what is called the medium price; and there are those who maintain that the importation and exportation of corn should be perfectly free, and liable to no restriction whatever.

It is impossible to doubt for a moment, that if an entire freedom of trade could be established throughout the world, it would be decidedly for the advantage of mankind in general. There is not a dissentient voice upon this subject; at the same time, no hope or expectation can reasonably be entertained that such an event will ever come to pass. It is impossible in the present state of the different countries of Europe and the world, or in any probable state which the most sanguine person can look forward to, that such relations of concord and amity can ever be established amongst nations, as shall secure an uninterrupted freedom of trade. But it is said, though we cannot look forward to the freedom of trade generally, it would be better, as far as lies in our power, to have a free trade of corn, to permit a free export constantly, and to open our markets at all times to the admission of foreign growth. The question is, whether such a system would give us, in a course of years, a more abundant, more steady, and cheaper supply? I am convinced it would not. But let us examine what the effects of such a measure would be. If the superior fertility of foreign soils, or other circumstances, should enable the foreign grower to pay the freight, and undersell the British farmer, the first consequence certainly would be, that British agriculture must give way to the extent of the increased supply of foreign corn. The more steril lands of this empire would be thrown out of tillage, the capital therein employed would seek more productive channels, the proportion of foreign supply would increase, and our own produce diminish; our present import of one million would arrive perhaps at five millions, and our own growth would be reduced from 54 to 30: if we could draw still more copiously from foreign countries, the relative proportion of our own produce would of course be still farther altered. But I presume there is nobody who does not admit that there must be a limit to the quantum of foreign supply. It cannot be supposed for an instant, that we can draw our entire subsistence in corn from foreign countries; there must be some limit: then, I say, when we have arrived at that limit, we shall be exactly in the same situation in which we are now, except that we shall have five millions of quarters of foreign corn (supposing that to be the limit) instead of one, and thirty of our own instead of thirty-four. When this is done, what can prevent the price rising to the same level it would naturally reach, if no such change had taken place? I put out of the question here the manifest objections to so great a reliance upon foreign, and perhaps hostile countries, and view the argument as if divested of all these considerations.

I presume it will be on all hands admitted, that neither corn nor any other article can long continue to be produced in any country, at a rate of profit lower than that which is derived from other trades and manufactures. If the trade of the farmer, or any other trade, ceases to be profitable, in that proportion the capital of the persons employed in it will by degrees seek other channels, and their industry will be turned to more advantageous employments. By these means, the quantity of the article to be produced will diminish, till the demand operating upon a reduced supply shall restore the price to a level that shall again place the manufacturers of that article upon a footing with others: during the period of this reduction they will be obliged, no doubt, to sell at a loss, but they will relieve themselves as quickly as possible from this situation. In the present state of the agriculture of this country, if we allow the ports to be open to foreign corn, and if we can draw large quantities from hence at a cheaper rate than we grow it, the operation I have just described must take place; and during the period of the consequent declension of our own agriculture, the price may be lowered beyond that, which shall give the farmers an adequate profit: when we have arrived at the limits of the foreign supply, then the price of the whole must return to the level which shall give them a profit equal to that of other British manufacturers. I am now looking at the question without considering the possibility of any interruption to the foreign trade; and yet it does appear to me certain, that viewing the measure of free import even under these most favourable, but most improbable circumstances, the consumer would in the event be miserably disappointed in his expectation of finding a cheaper or more abundant supply.

I come now, Sir, to a consideration of those laws which have hitherto been enacted for the regulation of the trade with foreign countries; they have been, as we all know, very different in their effects; at the same time, there has been a uniform similarity in one respect, inasmuch as they have always subjected the export and import of grain to restrictions or encouragements dependent upon the market price. For instance, by the Act of 1791 wheat was exportable on bounty till it reached 44s. per quarter; at 46s. the export was stopped; at 50s. foreign corn might be imported on a duty of 2s. 6d.; at 54s. it might come in duty free.

It is obvious, that the scale upon which the regulating prices are taken, must decide the efficacy and consequences of such a measure; and it is well known, that so differently has that scale been fixed at different periods of the history of our corn laws, that their effects have been diametrically opposite. In one period it has operated nearly to the exclusion of foreign corn; at another, it has given the benefit of the British markets, almost without interruption, to the agriculture of foreign centuries. These periods may be computed, first from our earliest information up to the Act of the 22d of Charles the 2d, in the year 1670, hence to the 13th of George the 3rd, 1773, and from hence to the present time.

During the first of these periods the prevailing character of the laws was to encourage importation and prohibit exportation; and during that time the nation experienced a great and distressing fluctuation of prices, and a painful dependence on foreign supply.

The Act of 1670, on the contrary, subjected the importation of foreign corn to such duties as virtually amounted to prohibition; and this was followed by the Act of the 1st of king William, by which every encouragement was given to the exportation of our own produce. This system was continued to the year 1773, and was certainly most successful in the extension of our agriculture, and in producing a plentiful supply of corn at a steady low price. To this system, Sir, I am anxious to return, and to accomplish it we must form our regulating scale, as near as we can, upon the proportions at that time adopted; and the degree of approximation recommended by the committee of last session, is that to which I adhere, as the proper measure for the purpose.

An idea very generally prevails, that, in fixing the import, we are in truth settling the lowest market price of corn; a more unfounded and erroneous opinion cannot well exist. It seems, however, to be deeply rooted in the minds of the people, and probably has originated from the circumstance of the market price having very seldom been below the import price since the commencement of our present system of corn laws, which I date from the Act of 1773. The causes of this I shall now proceed to explain, by tracing their several enactments, and the events that followed; and in so doing I shall at the same time shew, in a great measure, the inefficacy of the principles on which they were formed.

This Act of 1773 allowed of the importation of corn from all parts of the world, when the price of British wheat rose to 48s. a quarter, and other grain in proportion. Now, it is to be observed, that the average price of the preceding ten years was 45s. 6d. consequently the least deficiency of supply, or diminution of the value of money, which has certainly been progressive since that time, would necessarily make the market price equal to, or above the import price. This Act, whilst it subverted at one blow a system eminently beneficial, established on the experience of a century, exhibited in its own enactments the most impracticable ideas, and most futile and absurd projects. The Act of the 22d Charles the 2d continuing in force till 1773, fixed the import price of wheat at 53s. 4d. a quarter, subject also to a duty of 8s. together 61s. 4d. The Act of the 1st of king William gave a bounty of 5s. upon the export of British wheat when the price was at or under 48s. a quarter; and these two Acts combined formed the system of laws under which the trade was governed till the period I am now speaking of. Now this Act of 1773 absolutely converted the export bounty price into the import duty-free price, so that a more complete and utter subversion of a code of laws could not by any possible means be effected. The expectations which appear to have been formed by the authors of this Act are demonstrable by its provisions, and are certainly very extraordinary. By its different enactments, when wheat was under 44s. it was exportable with a bounty of 5s.; when above 44s. the exportation of it was altogether prohibited, under a severe penalty; and when the price rose to 48s. foreign corn was admissible from all parts of the world duty-free; so that they really seem to have entertained the idea of keeping the price of corn within the limits of 44s. and 48s. The same opinions seem to have prevailed in the year 1791, as the provisions of that Act were nearly similar. The average price of corn of the ten years preceding 1791 was 51s. and the import price was fixed at 52s. 6d.; including a duty of 2s. 6d. it was exportable on bounty under 44s.—export allowed, without bounty, under 46s.—prohibited above 46s. Here again it is obvious from the same causes; the market price, differing at the time so little from the import price, would soon be equal to or exceed it.

We come next to the Act of 1804, which, under the direction of a committee, I had the honour of introducing into the House. That Act carried the import price, including duty, to 65s. 6d.; the export bounty price to 48s.; permission of export without bounty to 54s. The average price of the 10 years preceding, inclusive of the scarce years of 1800 and 1801, was 70s.; exclusive of those two years, 60s.; so that upon the calculation of ordinary years, the average market price was only 5s. 6d. under the duty-free import price. Upon a review of all these cases, it is therefore apparent, that at the time of passing these several laws the market and import prices were nearly at par; and events, too obvious to be noticed, have constantly occurred to annihilate that minute difference, and generally to render the former much higher than the latter.

The Committee of 1804 in general thought at the time, that the measure recommended by them to the House would not afford sufficient confidence and encouragement to the British farmer; but were induced to give way to the opposition they had to encounter. And here I will take the liberty of stating more fully what I have before asserted, that Mr. Pitt, who was then at the head of the administration, gave to this measure his most decided and cordial support. I was certainly surprised to find, in the pamphlet of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Rose) the declaration of an opinion directly at variance with this assertion. The right hon. gentleman says, in that publication, "he knows Mr. Pitt was prevailed upon reluctantly to give his assent to concur in the regulating prices enacted in 1804." The right hon. gentleman must, I think, be mistaken; for I still entertain a most perfect conviction, that Mr. Pitt not only cordially assented to those prices, but wished to have carried them considerably higher. I have a clear recollection of what passed at our first interview with him upon the subject. We presented to him our plan, remarking at the same time, that the measure probably would be strenuously contested, that much clamour was already excited, and that to obviate it we had adopted the lowest possible scale. He said, it appeared to him so low, that he thought it might prevent the threatened opposition; the only doubt he entertained was of its efficacy. I also feel persuaded that he expressed hopes we should be able, by degrees, in subsequent sessions of the legislature, to carry further the principle of protection and encouragement to the agriculture of our own country. When the Bill got into the House of Lords, an alteration was made in the calculation of the duties; in consequence of which, when it came back to this House, it was rejected. Mr. Pitt directed a message to be sent to me, informing me of the circumstance, and desiring I would come to town, which I immediately did. It was then the middle of July; he told me he had hoped the prorogation of parliament would have taken place before that time, but would advise the delay of a week or ten days, in order that a new Bill might be introduced, which I accordingly moved the same evening; and which, after some opposition, passed into a law. I mention these circumstances to enable the House to form a judgment of the real sentiments of Mr. Pitt, independent of the mere recollection of myself or any other person, which certainly may be erroneous.

From the period of the passing of this Act, which, it is curious to observe, has in no one instance impeded the importation of foreign grain, the average price of wheat has been nearly 100s. a quarter: in 1812 and 1813, it was above 120s. almost double the import price of the Act; so that if there are those who persist in supposing the import price must necessarily be the lowest, they certainly cannot flatter themselves with the hope that it will invariably be the highest; the experience of the last fifty years has fully shewn that such an expectation would be vain indeed; and the history of the century prior to 1773 will equally prove, how opposite to truth the assumption is, that the market price never can be lower than that at which the importation of foreign corn is prohibited.

In reverting to that period, it will be recollected, that the import price, including the duty, was 61s. It so continued above a century, and yet, during the whole of that time, the average market price was not quite 40s.—This example is of itself decisive. But the case is stronger yet: for by the Act of William, British corn was forced out of the country, by a bounty of 5s. a quarter, till the price exceeded 48s. and during the full operation of this law, and the Act of Charles 2, combined, the price of wheat, for 68 years, was only 33s. 6d.*

It is well known indeed, that under the operation of these laws, British agriculture flourished beyond all former example; that from being considerably indebted to foreign countries, we not only became quite independent, but acquired a large * In the first thirty years of this period the excess of our exports was on an average 345,392 quarters, and the average market price was 36s. 6d.; in the last thirty years the excess of exports was 642,182 quarters, and the price only 30s. surplus, and a beneficial export trade. The price was also steady, and on an average comparatively lower than it had ever been before, or has been since. If these facts will not eradicate the opinion, that in fixing the import, we are fixing the lowest market price, I am at a loss to know what arguments can have any avail. There are persons who will say, perhaps, that all these events have followed from other causes; but it must be observed, that the system established by these Acts of Charles 2 and William, was of a most decisive character; it amounted in effect to an absolute prohibition of foreign corn;† and it gave such encouragement to exportation, as never was before attempted in any other country in the world. It must be remembered also, that † A TABLE shewing the average Prices of Middling Wheat per Statute Quarter; the average Excess of the Exports of every sort of Corn, Flour, and Meal; the average Imports of the same, from 1697 to 1764, both inclusive.

PERIODS. The Price of Wheat Per Statute Quarter. The Excess of Exports. The Excess of Imports.
ending s. d. Qrs.
5 years 1701 42 8 139,866
6 years 1707 25 11 289,304
4 years 1711 49 9 299,367
4 years 1715 37 8 453,986
4 years 1719 33 1 485,852
5 years 1724 28 10 532,732
5 years 1729 37 7 216,643
5 years 1734 25 9 468,844
5 years 1739 30 10 597,462
5 years 1744 28 7 446,378
5 years 1749 27 9 932,593
5 years 1754 30 5 1,080,077
5 years 1759 36 2 273,805
5 years 1764 30 7 696,117
465 7
Average 33 3
ending s. d. Qrs. Qrs.
5 years 1769 43 2 223,184
5 years 1774 47 276,206
5 years 1779 40 9 290,595
5 years 1784 45 185,906
5 years 1789 43 3 198,716
5 years 1794 47 2 1,145,584
267 11
Average Price per Quarter 44 7
previous to the adoption of this policy, we had been dependent upon foreign countries, as we have been since its abandonment. If the system had been less operative, its effects might have been attributable to other causes; but so powerful, and so effectual as those laws were, it seems impossible to doubt they must have occasioned the consequences which followed upon them, and which they were intended to produce.

But, Sir, the beneficial effects which resulted from that system are equally deducible, from a consideration of the principle on which it was founded; one simple proposition, the truth of which cannot be disputed, formed the basis of the plan; I mean, that undoubted axiom, that self-interest is the source of all production; that neither corn nor any thing else can be procured, but by the operation of that active principle working upon the mind of the producer; and that the more scope is given to it, the more effectually will the public be served. Nothing more strikingly exemplifies this position, than the regular and nicely-measured supply of food to the population of this vast metropolis: the uninterrupted operation of selfish motives alone miraculously accomplishes this great work; it is the certainty of market, and an adequate reward, which attracts to this capital every thing which its inhabitants require. The same principle, of course, is applicable to the provision of food for our entire population. The corn laws, matured and settled at the Revolution, were obviously founded upon it; they inspired with full confidence of uninterrupted reward the British growers of corn; they held out to them the possession of the home market, and taught them to look to all the other markets of the world; in short, the system was calculated, by offering boundless prospects to their view, to produce that ardent competition, which will always produce an ample supply of any article we are desirous to have in abundance.

I know it will be said, this is all very true, and why not let the same principle operate upon foreigners as well as upon British subjects? The obvious answer is, because they are foreigners; and the fruit of their industry is subject to direction over which we have no controul. If the character of mankind could be altered, and if those passions, which have hitherto involved nations in continual hostility, could altogether subside, and just views of policy invariably prevail, then indeed the case would appear in a different light; but till then it would be the height of folly to allow ourselves to be dependent upon foreign countries for any considerable proportion of that which is necessary to our existence. In the article of food, an uninterrupted intercourse is less likely to be established than in any other; the prejudices of men so powerfully operate against it, that it is only in modern times the entire freedom of the corn trade has been fully accomplished within our own dominions.

The present system of our corn laws is founded upon a notion, that we can at any time derive assistance from foreign countries; and not only that, but that we can command it exactly to the extent we think is desirable, and at the moment we fancy it is necessary. In order to do this, we go to work to find out what is called a fair average price for the British grower in ordinary seasons, and the moment that is exceeded our ports are immediately thrown open. Now, if we were even to suppose that foreigners enjoyed an uninterrupted liberty of free export, it would still be absurd to believe they would always have a surplus ready for the supply of an uncertain demand. They are not more likely to have a constant surplus than we are, unless they have a constant demand for it. We may indeed extract a portion of their food, by the temptation of high price; and if our average demand for a given number of years produces a constant market for them to a given extent, they will soon have that quantity in ordinary years to spare; but, beyond that, they will have no surplus, and even that average supply is always liable to be withheld. In the mean time, what is the effect of this fallacious system upon our own agriculture? This uncertainty of market, it must be recollected, operates upon those who must ever provide the bulk of our aggregate consumption; it damps their spirits, checks their exertions, and teaches them to confine their produce rather within the limits of the necessary supply. If then a succession of different seasons at any time occurs, which experience instructs us to expect, we find ourselves unprovided for the occasion, no foreign supplies can be extracted but through the operation of high price, and the nation becomes exposed to great distress and danger. In a short time our agriculture, which before had languished from the causes I have just mentioned, begins to feel the influence of an eager demand, the market price rises rapidly, and the growers of corn for a time experience great profits. In spite of the discouraging nature of the laws, unusual gains excite unusual exertions, and in the course of a few years the aggregate produce of the kingdom is largely increased. Profits now again decline, and thus an alternate succession of periods follow each other; in one of which the farmer gains more than an adequate profit, in another less. I know very well the difference of seasons must, under all circumstances, render uncertain the produce, as well as profits of agriculture. But it is this very uncertainty we should endeavour to guard against; and indisputably that country which has the largèst surplus produce will suffer least from this inevitable variation of seasons. The only way to grow a surplus in ordinary years is to promote a demand, beyond our actual necessities, for the food of our own population; and this is effected by bounties on exportation, and still more by an extended home consumption of grain. The breweries, the distilleries, and the quantity used by horses, fortunately occasion in this country a great extra demand; and the consequent increased production essentially adds to our means and resources in time of need. Few countries suffer much in ordinary years; the great object should be, to make provision against the incalculable evils of a real scarcity.

We have very recently experienced that vicissitude of events which I have endeavoured to describe, and happily for us the period last past has been that of high prices and large profits, and we are in possession of the plenty which they have occasioned. It is true the last crop was unusually and universally productive, but the abundance we at present possess is greatly attributable to the extended and improved tillage of every part of the united empire. In the last eight or ten years, in consequence of causes too powerful to be counteracted by the baneful tendency of the laws, our agriculture has advanced with rapid strides, larger capitals have been devoted to it than formerly, and the science as well as practice has greatly improved.

This is the time then to secure the advantages we have thus painfully acquired; the sacrifice to accomplish it will be trivial, and will be most amply repaid. It is impossible, indeed, we can continue long to enjoy the full amount of our own extended and improved agriculture, and receive large foreign supplies into the bargain. Such an idea would certainly be most preposterous; and if we were to endeavour to act upon it, we should have sufficient reason in a very few years deeply to regret our folly. The path we ought to pursue is plain before us; we should revert to the policy of the Revolution laws, we should give to our farmers that confidence which they inspired, and thus again throw off all dependence upon foreign countries.

I am much afraid the character of the plan now under consideration is too indecisive to accomplish this great object; it resembles too nearly the measure of 1773, and every subsequent act of the legislature; it affords no certainty of market to the British grower, and no security against an influx of foreign corn. He certainly will not continue his late exertions under the influence of the regulations we are now contemplating. The application of capital to agriculture is already checked; and if the profits become inadequate, and the markets doubtful, the produce will again diminish with a rapidity much exceeding the comprehension or belief of those who have no practical knowledge of the subject. The first consequence of such a state of things is, to put a stop to all those essential improvements which require any considerable expence; the next is to convert a spirited and liberal practice into a saving and parsimonious system of farming; and the difference of produce between the one and the other is immense. There are amongst farmers, as amongst other persons, some more enterprizing than others; one class get money by saving, the other by freely embarking their capital, in the expectation of proportionate returns. It may be doubtful which in the end put the most money into their own pockets; but such is the obvious effect of capital applied to the growth of corn, as well as to all other manufactures, that nobody can doubt which are the best farmers for the public. It may be said, that at all times it must be the real interest of the farmers to grow as much corn as they can; but, upon a moment's reflection, it will be seen that that can never be true, as persisting by unrequited expences to overstock the market must even accelerate their own destruction. Some few of the more opulent and adventurous may, for a time, pursue the same liberal system, expecting a speedy return of pressing demand; but they will in general have recourse to a reduction of expenditure in every possible way. If they still continue to feel the loss of adequate returns for their capital and industry, they will give up a portion of their land to pasture; those who can withdraw their capital will do so, and others will be ruined. Such is the course we shall most unavoidably go through, in proportion as we weaken the confidence and exertions of the British farmers, and increase our dependence upon foreign countries.

I will now notice some observations, or rather misrepresentations, of the Report of the Committee; it is said, they at one and the same time, profess to have high prices for their object, and yet to make corn cheap; I deny that high prices either are their object, or so stated in the Report; and if fairly considered, their reasoning on the subject is perfectly consistent and correct. They say that high prices, or in other words, great profits will, in the nature of things, produce extraordinary exertions; that profits at one time inadequate, at another excessive, are not so good for the farmer as sufficient and steady profits; and that steady and sufficient profits will not only produce a sufficient supply, but upon the whole at a cheaper rate than can be procured by any attempt to press down the farmer's gains below that which capital and industry employed in other manufactures can command. In looking at the prices of wheat for the last twenty years, we shall find that they have fluctuated from 42s. to 125s. a quarter; the average of the whole is about 79s. Now, I think it is quite obvious, that an average price in itself much lower, if not compounded of such violent extremes, would have been considerably better for the farmer; and that the consumer would have benefitted, there can be no possible doubt.

There is an opinion, I believe, entertained by some people, that this kingdom is incapable of growing corn enough for the consumption of its inhabitants, and they are therefore very naturally apprehensive of checking the importation of foreign supplies. Such an idea to me appears very extraordinary, as I have no conception of any deficiency of means to provide amply for double our present population: indeed, as to all practical purposes, I can see no limit to our possible production but the limit of demand. Let those who entertain such fears carry their views for a moment over the extent and situation of the united empire of Great Britain and Ireland, over the millions of acres yet untouched, and the millions of acres of fine land hardly producing one third of the quantity of food that might be drawn from them.* Greatly as our agriculture is improved and extended, its limits are yet contracted, compared as well in regard to the science itself, as the circulation of that knowledge we have already acquired, and the application of it to the kingdom at large. Our attention, our industry, and our capital, has no doubt, in late years, been much attracted to the cultivation of the soil; and if a sufficient portion of the vast capital we can command is allowed to find its way to this most advantageous employment, there can be no doubt of the produce of our own land keeping pace with any increasing demand. They would have done so hitherto, if the policy of the last fifty years had not forcibly directed our national exertions to manufactures of inferior importance;† for if we look to the table of exports and imports since 1773, we shall see, that in spite of the discouraging nature of the system established at that time, the excess of our imports gained upon us by very slow degrees; and it appears to me impossible to doubt, that if our agriculture had not been checked by the pernicious influence of those laws, it would, from that moment to the present time, progressively half kept pace with the increasing demand upon it. I will not now, Sir, detain the House any longer: I have endeavoured to confine myself to that view of the question I consider the most important; and I think I have succeeded * It is perfectly well known, that large tracts of very poor land in Norfolk, for instance, by means of judicious cultivation, produce a larger quantity of corn and meat than the same number of acres in many other countries where the land is of the best quality. † There is no intention here to underrate the value of our manufactures, nor is any doubt entertained of the immense influence of their success upon the prosperity of agriculture; the observation is meant only to apply generally in a way which is never disputed, that the growth or manufacture of corn (as it may fairly be termed) is of more importance than all others. in shewing, that however we might depress for a short time the profit of our agriculture, we should derive no permanent advantage from encouraging the importation of foreign corn. It is indisputably certain, the more we draw from foreigners, the less we shall grow of our own; and as the proportion we derive from them increases, so is the supply of our food within the absolute controul of their respective governments. If we allow ourselves to become annually indebted to them for a material portion of our sustenance, we shall certainly sacrifice our political independence, and endanger the welfare and happiness of the people.

Mr. Rose

said, the principle which he had always maintained was, that the grower should be protected. How this could be done, was a subject for enquiry; and what he complained of was, that they were proceeding without having sufficient information. All that he asked was, that when an adequate price had been fixed for the protection of the grower, importation should be encouraged. But the prices had been fixed without sufficient enquiry. He much objected to free trade; but would not have trade free in one way and fettered in another. An hon. gentleman had said, that there was no objection to investigation. Why then should they not investigate the subject? Why not investigate it immediately? For himself, he would be happy if a committee were appointed to proceed in the investigation to-morrow. Certainly the present time was, of all others, the most unseasonable for a change, but especially for such a change as was proposed. He would again say, that he most cordially agreed with those who thought that the interests of the grower and the consumer could not be separated.

Mr. Horner

was anxious to shew his reasons for the vote he should give to-night; begging this only to be kept in view, that if the principle of preventing the importation of grain was to be adopted, the most effectual mode in which it could be adopted was the best. The right hon. gentleman on the other side had failed in convincing him that there was any occasion for departing from that system in regard to the corn laws, which had hitherto prevailed. He was far from thinking that freedom in any trade was bad in itself, or that such a system was impracticable in regard to corn; but he thought it best that the system now in practice as to the corn trade should be kept in view, unless reasons were made out for the departure from it. He was aware that commerce should always give way to higher reasons of state: but it appeared to him that there was here no such reason; and, in addition, it also appeared to him, that the present was the very worst season for proposing any change in this system. He could not help particularly remarking the great difference of opinion that prevailed on this second resolution; as to which, no two members who approved of it concurred in the reasons on which that concurrence was founded. He was unwilling, therefore, to go into a detail of his reasons why he wished this resolution to be postponed. He did so, taking into consideration the state of the manufactures of this country, and the persons in foreign markets whom we were to meet with.—He thought that this resolution ought to be postponed, not because there was not time enough to consider it, but because of the change of circumstances which might be expected to take place with regard to our foreign relations; and because there was not now time for us to see in what posture the trade of this country as to our foreign relations, was likely to stand. If the House were to postpone this part of the subject, he should have the satisfaction of thinking, from reflecting on the Bill which had been brought in this day, and to which there was likely to be little or no opposition in any quarter, that the House had done enough in the present session on this important subject, in the recognition of the principle of a free trade in so essential a point. If that Bill was to be maintained and carried through, as he trusted it would, it would eventually, he hoped, prove one principal part of the trade of this country, particularly of that part of the kingdom in which he was satisfied every member of that House felt a deep interest—Ireland—That there was no danger that supplies of corn could at any time be withheld from us when we required them, he argued from this consideration, that at the very period when our enemy had vowed our destruction—when our crops had failed, and when the continental system, in full vigour, we were, in spite of that system, in full supply of corn. If so, what reason had we to be afraid of our agricultural interests on account of the cheapness at home? It was impossible that importation could ever be carried to such a pitch as to drive out our home grown corn. The expence of the carriage of so bulky an article alone must always render that next to impossible; added to which, there was the expence of double shipping from the one country to the other. As to the agriculturist, he would gain just nothing at all from the proposition of the right hon. gentleman; and as to poor rates, there would, at no great distance of time, be occasion for a revision of them; for at present they could be regarded in no other light than as an inefficacious and circuitous way of paying the wages of labour. The extension of home demand and home market, was the true stimulus of all agricultural improvement. He concluded with stating, that this was not a merely agricultural country, but that we depended principally on our commerce and manufactures for that distinguished rank and pre-eminence which we held in the scale of nations; and he therefore thought it impolitic to adopt any measure, the tendency of which might be ultimately to throw discouragements on the commercial prosperity and resources of the country, from an exclusive and unwise preference of our agricultural interests.

Mr. Brand

argued in favour of the Bill. He contended that the competition between the home grower of corn and the foreign importer would not be a fair one. The cultivator of the land at home had a very heavy tax to pay before he could bring his corn to market. It was the land that paid the poor's rates, that paid the salaries of the functionaries of religion; it was from the rents of the land that churches were built and roads made. Would then the foreign importer be content to pay half the expence of these, in order to start fair in the market with the home producer of corn? The effect of a free and unrestrained importation from foreign markets would be, to throw a great proportion of the arable land of the kingdom out of cultivation. The farmer could not afford to grow corn, unless he could be sure of a certain average price for it. The effect of this diminished growth of corn would be, to render us unwisely and unnecessarily dependent upon foreign nations for our supply of this necessary article of life; and the ill effects of such a precarious supply we had already sufficiently felt, and might soon feel again with ten-fold force.

Mr. Abercrombie

contended, that the high price of corn must ultimately raise the price of labour in an equal proportion; the measure would therefore produce an unfavourable effect on our manufactures, when brought in competition with those of other countries. The measure had also a tendency to check the population of the country, and thus strike at the very root and sinews of our strength. The manufactures of the country were the best excitement to the growth of corn; and there never, he thought, could be a want of encouragement to agriculture, so long as we retained at home our manufacturing population. The price of agricultural produce had got so high, that it could be considered only as artificial, arising from the means the enemy had used to shut us out of the continent; and any attempt to continue this unnatural price would be a great want of policy. If they were ever to revert to their money payments, it would be hard to say what the effect of such a law would be. He said, the question in his mind simply was, whether it was better for the interest of the community at large, that they should lay this prospective tax on the consumer of corn? He called upon the House to pause before they laid on this additional tax. At least, time for farther inquiry he thought absolutely necessary. The report which had been brought up contained information and details with respect to Ireland only; but if this information was necessary with respect to Ireland, he could not see why it was not equally important with respect to England.

Mr. Huskisson

conceived, that the appeal which had been made by a noble lord (lord Archibald Hamilton) to general and abstract principles of political œconomy totally failed; because the whole of our commercial and œconomical system was a system of artificial expedients. If our other regulations with respect to the price of commodities stood upon the basis of the principles of a free trade, then there could be no objection to leaving our agricultural productions to find their own level. But while our commerce and manufactures were encouraged and forced by protections, by bounties, by restraints on importation from abroad, he saw no reason why the laws relating to the growth of corn should alone form an exception to this general want of system in almost all other respects. The examples of Holland, Hamburgh, and Venice, which had been alluded to by the noble lord in support of his argument, appeared to him by no means in point. The two latter; Hamburgh and Venice, were little more than trading towns; and Holland did not contain a sixth part of the arable land which there was in this country. Holland might always derive a supply of corn, either from this country if she were at war with the continent, or from the continent if she were at war with this country; but we might be so situated as to be entirely shut out from any foreign supply. He thought this an evil of greater magnitude than some gentlemen seemed to imagine. The proportion of corn imported had hitherto been indeed only one thirty-fifth; but it might come, if proper measures were not taken to encourage the home cultivation, to be in the proportion of one-tenth, or even one-fifth. Nothing, could be more dangerous to the safety and tranquillity of the country, than by accustoming it to a regular and extensive importation of grain from abroad, to expose it to all the evils which must in that case result from a sudden stoppage, or even diminution, of the import; whether that stoppage or diminution might arise from actual scarcity, or, which in some cases would probably occur, from political and hostile motives. The effect of the consequent variation of price on the poorer classes would be in the highest degree injurious. He owned, that it would be well if those classes could be taught so much providence as to œconomize when the necessaries of life were cheap, in order to enable them to meet a period of dearth; but as this was more than could be expected from human nature, it became the duty of the legislature to make such arrangements as would preserve as nearly as possible an even supply. To effect this desirable object, the resolution proposed by the hon. baronet seemed admirably calculated; and he trusted, that neither the hon. baronet, nor any other hon. gentleman would be deterred from supporting it, by any popular clamour that might exist on the subject. No one could suspect that his approbation of the resolution arose from any personal bias towards what was called the landed interest. Several other hon. gentlemen, who had maintained the expediency of the resolution, were similarly situated; all which distinctly proved, that the resolution was recommended not by any partial or selfish feelings, but by considerations of sound and general policy. Adverting to the agriculture of Ireland, he contended, that the effect of the resolution would be materially to encourage it; and this was a strong additional inducement with him to vote for its passing into a legislative enactment.

Mr. Marryatt

expatiated on the advantages of our various institutions, and on the benefits derived from the nice balance of contending interests in the country. If any one of these interests were to obtain a decided preponderance, the result would be, the destruction, in the first instance, of the other interests, and ultimately of itself. This was the danger he apprehended from the Resolution proposed by the hon. baronet. If by its influence grain, and with grain the other necessaries of life, were rendered more expensive, or even kept up at their present price, the agriculturist and landholder might at present benefit; but the artisan and manufacturer, doomed to compete with countries to which the cheapness of food must give extraordinary advantages, would be compelled to emigrate; and eventually the landed interest would suffer in the general ruin.

Mr. Foster

said, that when the amendment proposed by the noble lord should be disposed of, he would move the re-commitment of the Resolution, in order to propose as an amendment, instead of any duty, to prohibit the importation of grain altogether, up to that price at which the duty was to cease according to the original Resolution.

Mr. Protheroe

warmly opposed the Resolution. He adverted to the opposition which he and some other hon. gentlemen had given last session to the Report made by the committee on this subject—a Report which he declared was full of crudities, and the avowed object of which was to raise the price of corn [Coughing, and cries of No! No!]. He repeated it, that the avowed object of the Report was, to raise the price of corn; and he would not be deterred by any high tone assumed in that House, from speaking his sentiments, and advocating the cause of his constituents, who would be seriously injured by the proposed regulations.

Sir H. Parnell

observed, that the hon. gentleman must have read the Report to which he alluded very imperfectly, to assert that it abounded with crudities, and that the avowed object of it was to raise the price of grain. Neither of these allegations was well founded; and the hon. gentleman ought to be more cautious how he spoke of the labours of a select committee of that House, many of whom were men of the highest political attainments and discrimination.

Mr. Protheroe

said, that he should be happy to have an opportunity of convincing the hon. baronet of the accuracy of his character of the Report.

The House then divided—

For the Amendment 27
Against it 144
Majority 117

On the motion of Mr. Foster, the Resolution was then ordered to be recommitted next day, with a view to the introduction of his amendment; and at two o'clock in the morning the House adjourned.