HC Deb 08 March 1815 vol 30 cc53-8

Numerous petitions were presented relating to the proposed alteration in the Corn Laws.

Mr. Baring

rose for the purpose of presenting a petition, signed by between 5 and 6,000 inhabitants of the city of Carlisle and its immediate neighbourhood; a number which comprized, with very little exception, the whole of the grown population of the district he had mentioned. The prayer of the petition was similar to that which had been so frequently stated during the evening, namely, that no alteration should be made in the Corn Laws. The petitioners had, however, made remarks on a variety of other subjects; and they seemed to think, that the Board of Agriculture was a very great nuisance. They expressed their conviction, that the members of that board, by tampering with the Corn Laws, from time to time, had rather occasioned evil than good. The petition, though it did not absolutely pray for parliamentary reform, yet touched indirectly on that subject. The sentiments of the inhabitants of Carlisle were thus expressed: "Your petitioners," say they, "are satisfied, that any hope of success in restricting the importation of corn, must arise from the people not being fairly represented—from the want of parliamentary reform." And they recommended to them, by "granting no more public money than was absolutely necessary, and by doing away the corn laws, to shew that they were really ready to support the interests of the people." He agreed with them in the view they had taken of the subject; for no argument—no fact that ever before had been submitted to that House—proved so clearly the insufficiency of the present representation of the country, as the number of petitions which had been on this occasion submitted to parliament, without producing any effect whatever.

Sir James Graham

said, he had never heard of this petition, as his constituents at Carlisle had never favoured him with their opinions or intentions upon the subject. The whole population of that place was not much more than 9,000. With respect to the corn laws, he owned that he in part agreed with them. He had made it his business to inquire particularly into the subject during the course of the last 12 months; he had spoken to many persons connected with agriculture in most parts of the country; and this he would state to the House, that from the greatest proprietors of land downwards, he found they would be satisfied with an average price of 72s. the quarter, so as to have 80 or 85s. for the best wheat in the market. He had heard from the best surveyors, that if the average price was 72s. the best market wheat would be 80 or 85s.; and he was astonished that Parliament should think of fixing 80s. as the importation price. This was not only the language of honest surveyors throughout the country, but of the greatest landed proprietors, persons who possessed more lauded properly than most consumers. He was therefore astonished when he heard gentlemen in that House say that nothing less than 80s. the quarter would satisfy the agricultural interest. He was no less astonished to hear it asserted that rent was not material in this question; there could be no doubt that rent was very material. If the tythes were at a moderate compensation, and rents somewhat lowered, the farmer would undoubtedly be also able to lower the price of grain. Labour must fall, the taxes had been diminished, and would be diminished still more. And was corn alone to be kept up? The truth was, that corn had already fallen one-third in most parts of the country. If corn was to be kept up by a vote of the House of Commons, the price would fall so heavy on the manufacturing interest, that they would be driven out of the country. If they could find proper protection in Flanders, he had no doubt that they would leave this country; for it would be impossible for them to exist in it. It had been said that it was impossible to raise corn on the South Downs, Dartmoor, and some such places, without a great expense; and that the farmer could not be remunerated for his trouble, unless he were secured by such an importation price as that in the present Bill. If the farmer of these districts could only raise three quarters of wheat at an expense of 18l. it was a pity he should ever think of laying out so much money on such ground. No price could ever secure an adequate return to such extravagant speculations; and even 150s. a quarter could never produce any profit to the agriculturist. This was a measure which had been proposed, and supported in the House by those who were connected with land, and it ought not to be borne with. He knew well that wheat had been selling in the country at 5s. a bushel, but this wheat was not fit to be eaten by man. Oats, too, had been selling at 12s. and 15s. a quarter; but they were not fit food for horses. All this arose from the badness of the season; and it would be most absurd to force that to be eaten by man which was not fit to be eaten by pigs. He could assert, that the best wheat was now selling at 80s. and had never been selling at less than 80s. in several parts of the country with which he was acquainted; and that the people, for the best wheat, were satisfied with that price. It had been said they ought not to be deterred by clamour from passing this Bill; he would not be deterred by clamour from doing what he conceived to be right, but neither would he pass a bill merely because there was a clamour against it. He implored the House only to delay passing this Bill for some time, and to inquire of honest surveyors and agriculturists, not those surveyors who were employed merely to raise rents, but those who decided fairly between landlord and tenant, what the protecting price ought to be. If they were to call some of the largest landholders in the country, they would find that they would be contented with much less than 80s. It was his own firm belief, that 72s. was quite sufficient; and he should never give his vote for more.

Mr. Fawcett

said, that he had received letters from several landholders, stating that they had no desire to have the importation price fixed so high.

Sir J. Graham

, in answer to a question by Mr. Cawthorne, stated, that wheat was selling at 10s. the bushel in Yorkshire and Cumberland.

Mr. Wortley Stuart

said, he knew that it had been at 10s. the bushel, but that it had since fallen back. He had at one time thought that a lower average would have been sufficient; but having heard all the debates on the subject, he was satisfied that the price now proposed was not beyond what was necessary in order to give the farmer a fair profit. He knew that there were many who had their lands in-closed, and peculiarly calculated for the raising of wheat, who might be desirous that this measure should not pass; for if it did not pass, much land not so fit for the purpose of raising wheat must be left uncultivated, and then their good lands would procure an inordinate price. He was not at all surprised, therefore, that there were many great land-owners adverse to this measure. Now the state of the question appeared to him to be this: it was agreed on all hands that here was a party in distress, and the only question was as to the relief. On the one side was the great body of the agricultural interest; on the other many well-informed persons certainly, and also a great number of the lower orders, who were utterly unable to reason accurately on the subject. Who was to decide between them? The Legislature unquestionably. He had endeavoured to form the most correct opinion on the question, and should vote according to his conscience and the best of his understanding. Having once clearly ascertained what was his duty, he should be ashamed to shrink from it; and if he had represented the most populous place, he should decide exactly in the same way, and tell his constituents that they had no right to control his judgment and vote.

Mr. Calcraft

said, that though the lower orders were not perhaps judges of all the minute details of a question of this kind, they knew, from experience, that whenever the subject of wheat, bread, or provisions was mentioned in that House, it had always the effect of raising the price of them to the consumer. With regard to the inferior lands which had been alluded to by the hon. baronet, whatever was done by the House, it would be impossible to keep them in cultivation, unless a similar stimulus should be applied from time to time; and even this stimulus would be insufficient to keep them in cultivation to the amount wished. Nothing could be more impolitic than such a system. Had they not seen other things raised to an immoderate height, by the number of acres which had been converted from pasture to arable? He said he had been highly pleased to hear the hon. baronet express himself as he did, because he was a man of great experience, had a knowledge of all parts of the country, and was connected with some very great estates. The hon. baronet had fixed on the same sum as be himself had fixed on. After the statement which the House had done him the honour to listen to the other night, and which the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson) had not refuted in any part, he should trouble the House very shortly at present. It was monstrous to hear the arguments made use of in that House. Among the different burthens of poor-rates, taxes, and tythes, with which the farmer was loaded, no mention was made of rent as a burthen on the farmer. He would say that he had had conversations and held correspondence with farmers in different parts of the kingdom; and they all disclaimed that the present Bill was a cause of theirs. He wished the House to consider this subject more maturely, and not make such a respectable body of men as the agriculturists of this country, odious in the eyes of their fellow-citizens. It was the prayer of all of them that a measure of such great importance, might not be precipitated.

Mr. J. Graham

paid, he had not advised the withdrawing of land from cultivation; he had merely said, that if land was cultivated at 18l. an acre, the cultivator never could he repaid. He had not said that the agriculturist ought not to be protected; agriculture and manufactures ought equally to be protected; but if a preference were necessary, it ought to be given to agriculture, as it was productive of more moral good.

Mr. Methuen

wished the House to bear in mind that it had been admitted by an hon. member, that the present Bill had already raised the price.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

called the attention of House to the petitions which had been presented on the one side and the other, and expressed his wish, that the numbers on each side should be ascertained and stated. The petitions against the measure were not signed by the rabble who had committed those outrages which all must abhor, but by a vast number of intelligent people, perfectly competent to discriminate, and to form a correct judgment on the question.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

stated, that wheat had been rising in Reading market for these four weeks past, and was now selling at 88s. the quarter. He thought that no case had been made, out to justify the interference of Parliament to this extent.

Mr. Baring

hoped the inhabitants of all the petitioning towns would receive such support as had been given by the hon. member for Carlisle to their constituents. The hon. baronet, who was so well acquainted with the country, had told them, that if a committee of impartial and fair men were appointed, much less would be found requisite than 80s. a quarter. But he had always argued from the partial report itself, that the price ought to be much less. An hon. gentleman whose displeasure he had formerly incurred, had even himself said that something less than 80s. would do. He had only to regret that those who thought 80s. too much, when there was a question for leaving out 80s. were generally in the majority.

Mr. Philips

presented a petition from certain journeymen tailors, assembled at their house of call, the Peacock, in Clare-market, against any alteration in the Corn Laws;—which was ordered to lie on the table.

Forward to