HC Deb 08 May 1820 vol 1 cc165-97
Mr. Baring

said, he had the honour to rise for the purpose of presenting from a most extensive and respectable body, the merchants of London. Whether he adverted to the terms, in which their petition was couched, to the respectability? of the gentlemen by whom it was signed, or if the peculiar circumstances of the country under which it was presented, he felt, and the House, he thought, would also feel, that a more important subject had never been submitted to its consideration. He did anticipate, when he reflected on the general interest which the petition had created—on the general desire that was expressed by so many persons representing, as they did, so many different interests—that thus appealed to, the attention and wisdom of that House would be applied to its investigation. It would be for the House to ascertain whether, in the present distressed state of the country, the causes of that distress were so irremediable that it was not in its power to afford relief—or whether, on the contrary, these effects could be remedied by a successful application of its attention and wisdom. There was, in the present circumstances of public embarrassment, much, he feared, to which no remedy could be applied, at least, no parliamentary remedy; but at the same time, he was satisfied there was a great portion of that embarrassment and distress, which could be relieved by a prompt and efficient exertion of that House. He should have said, that none of the persons who signed or supported the present petition, entertained any intention of attacking the interests of any other class. Indeed, it was quite clear to them, and to every other man who understood his real interests, that no particular branch, either as to its commerce or its agriculture, could be benefited by any measure which improved the general prosperity. In fact, it was quite impossible for any man of the least information to suppose that commerce could derive benefit from a state of things in which agriculture and manufactures were the reverse of flourishing. The commercial evils under which we laboured had been attributed to the transition from war to peace; but it ought to be considered that we had been five years in state of peace, and that we were now not only without any beneficial alteration, but rather in a condition of aggravated distress. While all other parts of Europe were recovering from the general suffering, Great Britain was the only country in which every branch of industry remained not merely as depressed, but much depressed then it had it had hither to been. He confessed that when he contemplated our situation he was sorry to say, that he discerned strong indication that must still be considered a declining coun- try. The agriculturists loudly complained of the distress which they experienced—thernanufacturers and the merchants united in similar declarations of pressure. With respect to commerce especially, he was persuaded that during the last two years it had not been in the slightest degree productive to those who were engaged in it; nay he feared that, on the contrary, they had sustained much loss. He entertained the same apprehension with respect to manufactures. The mind naturally turned to the investigation of the cause of this extraordinary state of things. He wished it was in his power to give a satisfactory solution of it; but difficult as that was, it would, he was afraid, puzzle him much more to suggest a remedy for the evil. The extraordinary improvement which had taken place in every part of our industry and commerce during the late war had been followed by a langour as remarkable. No country had ever taken greater strides towards unbounded wealth and splendor than this country in the late war. During that period, in consequence of our maritime supremacy, we monopolized the trade of the world. Every effort made to injure our commerce recoiled on those by whom it was projected. At the present moment, having gained the objects for which the war was undertaken, our industry and trade were in a state of utter prostration. The extraordinary success which we enjoyed during the contest naturally rendered us careless and inattentive to those wise principles to which we were originally indebted for, our commercial greatness. Fortune poured her gifts upon us in so uninterrupted a stream, that we seemed to think any care to retain her favour superfluous. Now, however, the case was very different. We must no longer indulge in dangerous relaxation. Our agriculture, our manufactures, our commerce, all required the greatest possible care; They could no longer be left unattended to. Formerly, no imprudent measure, no false step, could check their growth; now they might soon and easily be stunted without the power of recovery That which rendered our condition still more alarming was, that the trade we had lost bad gone into different, channels. The various countries, of Europe shared it among them, instead of being without competition, we had competitors all over the world; and it behaved us therefore to act with the utmost circumspection. The safest and the wisest course which under these circumstances, it appeared to him that we could pursue, was, a recurrence to those old established principles and maxims to which the country first owed its commercial success. To those principles and maxims he was persuaded we must look as affording us the only hope of retrieving ourselves. It was not the loss of our commerce alone which occasioned the general suffering. We had lost a great commerce, but we had also incurred an immense debt, added to, and aggravated by what was in that respect, at least, an unfortunate departure from our ordinary currency. Easily as in the times of our prosperity we had borne this load, he confessed that he could not but entertain a feeling approaching to despondency when he contemplated the inadequate means to which be must now look for sustaining it. That debt, he repeated, had been materially increased by the alteration which had taken place in the character of our currency last year. Whether that alteration was right or wrong, was not the present question; but no man could deny that it had added from a fourth to a third to our debt. No man could deny that now gold was at the Mint price, namely 3l. 17s 1d. an ounce, the pound note, and. the debt payable with it, must be of a very different value from that which they were when gold was 4l. 10s. an ounce. The alteration in our currency had also operated in aggravating the effect of the taxes to a similar extent. It had also aggravated the effect of the corn laws. Calculating on the increase in price both of food and of labour, which all this occasioned, it was impossible for any man not to see the impossibility that this country so burthened could enter into a successful competition with the commercial rivals which, had started up around us. Whether we had sunk to the lowest state of our probable depression—whether things had come to their level—it was perhaps difficult, to ascertain. He feared not. He feared that, as the House had seen from year to year; ministers coming down with prophecies of nor eased prosperity, the croakers would now have their turn. Certain it was, that since the peace there was no evil prognostic which the most confirmed alarmist could have ventured upon, that had not been sadly verified.

On the subject of corn the laws, he would not trouble the House; because, whatever might be his opinion of them, it was not his intention to recommend, nor did the petitioners wish for any immediate disturbance of those laws. He was perfectly persuaded that no laws of any kind could long, uphold the present price of produce in this country; but he felt it would be highly improper at present to agitate the minds of the country by a discussion which could not be followed by any immediate practical results He was quite sure that every intelligent man would condemn with him the absurdity of opposing the interests of one class of the people to the interests of another. And yet a manifesto had made its appearance from certain persons associated for the purpose of endeavouring to induce parliament to impose further restraints on the importation of agricultural produce (on which object he would say nothing as he was sure it would be discountenanced by the House), in which manifesto, the interests of the agriculturists were spoken of as of much more importance than the interests of the manufacturer or the interests of the merchant. Nothing could exceed the absurdity of all this, and he was persuaded that more nonsense in the way of political economy was never broached. To assert that one class was more useful in society than another, or that the interests of one class should be preferred to those of another, was just as foolish as it would be to say, that in the human body, the heart, or the lungs, or the liver, was more serviceable than any other organ in the performance of the animal functions. Every person of common sense must feel that this country, highly populous as it had become, must mainly depend for the support of that population, and for its comparative prosperity, on the cultivation of every branch of its industry. It was most important that parliament should consider, since we could not recover what we had lost, how we should retain what we still possessed. To do this we must look back to the principles of our ancestors. The first desideratum was such security and tranquillity in the country as would enable the possessor of capital to employ it without apprehension. The second, and it was that to which the petitioners principally referred, was 58 great a freedom of trade as was compatible with other and important considerations. The benefits to be derived from security were incalculable. Without that security the distress in when great part of the population was involved must be deeply aggravated. In former times the institutions of the country were respected and the laws were obeyed, while rational liberty was enjoyed, and the result was, that the country was the favourite theatre of commercial enterprise. But a great change had taken place; and to him it was evident, that if the state of insubordination which had so long existed were permitted to continue, the most fatal Consequences would ensue. He was sorry to find that the effects of the present state of things were beginning to be felt, as he apprehended they would be felt, in Scotland* where the good sense of the people seldom failed in ascertaining their bear interests. He was sorry to hear from Paisley, that a considerable number; of the smaller manufacturers were with drawing themselves in consequence of the state of insubordination in which I that neighbourhood was thrown. Without a return to order, without respect for the laws was perfectly restored, it was impossible to expect that the possessors of; capital would risk it in commercial speculations. To a people so discerning as the Scotch, he was surprised that the example of a country close to them had not been sufficiently convincing on this subject. What was the reason that in Ireland, with its cheap food, and its immense population, manufactures had never been established to any extent? Because the greater part of that country had always been in a state of the worst insubordination and lawlessness. An additional proof of the necessity of security to commerce and manufactures, might be found in the fact, that the very small portion of manufacture existing in Ireland, was carried on precisely at the little spot of it where tranquillity was established. He considered, therefore a main obstacle to our hope of commercial recovery, to consist in the general insubordination and insecurity which pervaded the country.

But that was not the sole obstacle. Another great obstacle was that of which the petitioners complained—a reluctance to return to the old and established principles on which our commercial prosperity was originally founded. We were now surrounded with jealous rivals; Every government was endeavouring to aggrandize its subjects by commerce. Nor was it surprising that many parts of Europe, as well as America, where trade was unres- tricted by the fetters imposed upon it in this country, beat us in the market. In France great strides were making. He had been for some time a resident in that country, and he knew it to be the fact, that no government could pay more attention to the interests of commerce. He had that morning received a letter from a friend at Paris, in which his correspondent said "Manufacturers of all kinds are more employed than they have been for years:—the labourers are all at work;—and there is no branch of industry without bread." What the petitioners wished was to draw the serious attention of the House to the subject, and to the expediency of some legislative interposition. They stated, that it was not possible they could be expected to enter into competition with their continental rivals, unless some attempt were made to return to the old principles of freedom of trade. At the same time they were very far from wishing for such a sudden alteration as might be injurious to existing interests. It was evident that something must be done. It was impossible that the country could rise from its present depressed state without some change in our commercial system. It was a subject wholly divested of the prejudice of party feeling. All parties must concur in one wish. He was convinced that no gentleman was more anxious to see the sound principles to which be had alluded carried into operation than the right hon. gentleman in whose hands at present the regulation of our trade was placed. He did not wish to say any thing harsh of that right hon. gentleman's predecessor, than whom no man could be more zealous or desirous of doing good; but he could not speak of her a with equal praise. But that which was one of the most alarming symptoms was, the apathy with which the government in general regarded this subject. So far were they from being sensible of the necessity of some exertion, that (as in matters of finance) they went on from year to year, trusting that the next year would be spontaneously productive of some favourable change, and apparently with very indistinct notions of what the real condition of the country was. Whenever a question arose between two classes of the community, government, without seeming to have any opinion, of their own, stood by, until they ascertained which party could give them the most effectual support. If the House looked back to an earlier period of those which were still our own times, they would behold a different picture; they would find Mr. Pitt engaged in framing a commercial treaty, and, amidst difficulties of every description, boldly taking whatever steps appeared to him to be the best calculated to advance our commercial prosperity. He wished that he could see a little of the same spirit in the present day. Instead of that, ministers were balancing one party against another, and trying how they could keep their places from one year to another; neglecting in the mean while all those great commercial and national questions to which their most lively attention ought to be directed.

Having stated that the general object of the petitioners was a renewal, under certain limitations, of the freedom of trade, by the abolition of all injurious restrictions, he might, perhaps, be excused if, without entering into minute details, he suggested some of the improvements which were deemed desirable. The first doctrine which the petitioners wished to combat was, that fallacious one which bad of late years arisen, that this country ought to subsist on its own produce; that it was wise on the part of every country to raise within itself the produce requisite for its consumption. Now really it was most absurd to contend, that if a country by selling any article of manufacture could purchase the produce which it might require, at half the expense at which that produce could be raised, it should nevertheless be precluded from doing so. It was one of the wise dispensations of Providence to give to different parts of the world different climates; and different advantages; probably with the great moral purpose of bringing human beings together for the mutual relief of their wants. But these absurd reasoners had found out that the only true wisdom was in spite of that benevolent ordination to endeavour to producer at, home by considerable effort and vat great disadvantage, that which with ease and at half the expense, might be procured: elsewhere. To some countries greater fertility of soil, to others greater ingenuity on the part of the people, was imparted. But according to the profound gentlemen to whom he alluded, no exchange should take place, of the produce of the one for the fabric of the other. Nay, they would have the Swede or Norwegian scratch his barren rocks, in the hope of a scanty crop, rather than purchase with his ample forest the means of living from countries possessed of abundance.

But to come more closely to the immediate object in view. There was the duty on the importation of wool. On what principle could that be defended? A tax on the raw material! He was curious to hear what ministers would say on the subject, when the noble lord (Milton) should bring forward the motion, of which he had that evening given notice. He believed this was the first time in which in any country, where commerce was protected and fostered, that such an impost had been attempted. The woollen manufacture especially—the favourite branch of our ancient industry—that that should be subjected to such a burthen, he strongly felt as to be most injurious. It might be asserted, that it could bear the tax. Let it be recollected, however, that as it was not always possible to ascertain exactly how much in animal could bear, so it was not always possible to ascertain exactly how much a manufacture could bear; and that in touching the manufacture to which he alluded, they tampered with one of vital importance, a single mistake about which might be fatal. He conjured the House to keep this in mind, when they came to the consideration of the question which the noble lord intended soon to raise; and he was happy that the subject was in such excellent hands. The chief manufacture of the country was at stake. When he said that the manufacture of the country was at stake, he would add that the agriculture of the country was equally at stake. The tax on the raw material from abroad must inevitably bring down the price of the raw material here. Since the tax had been imposed, the trade had fallen immensely; and he had no doubt the price of wool would fall also. Many persons would contend that the home market was every thing, and that the foreign market was nothing. Suppose it should turn out that manufacturers in all parts of the continent, where they were thriving in consequence of the cheapness of labour and the freedom of the raw material from duty, should beat us entirely out of the foreign market, in what state would the interests of agriculture then be at home? If the woollen manufacture were to sink, wool of home growth must be exported in immense quantities, similar to those in which our princes formerly paid their subsidies, and would of course be deteriorated in value. The tax, therefore, would eventually be as injurious to the farmer as to the manufacturer. Under all these circumstances, he certainly had felt the greatest surprise to find his majesty's government, without having heard a word on the subject, declare their determination not to countenance any alteration in the law. A tax on the raw material was contrary to the practice of this country in all times, until the extreme prosperity which existed during the late war, when every old principle was borne down, when it mattered not, commanding the seas as we did, whether we imposed a duty on wool, or on any other commodity necessary to our manufactures, and when we could neglect with impunity those maxims which we must now re-establish if we wished to avert a portion of the evils that threatened the country.

Another important point was, such a revision of the regulations respecting the revenue as would show where our old principles had been deviated from, accompanied by a determination to correct those aberrations, unless very cogent reasons could be shown for persevering in them. Every endeavour should be made to abolish restriction as far as it was practicable to do so. For instance, in the article of timber. Why not allow the Norwegians, the Poles, the Russians, to import their timber into this country, which would necessarily cause a great consumption of British manufactures and great employment of British shipping? And here he would observe, that the restrictive system had not only driven us out of the continental market, but had communicated a character of severity to our commercial regulations generally injurious to us. He was sure that our re-' strictions, and especially those on the importation of timber, had created many enemies who possessed considerable means of annoyance. On that subject he would not, however, say more, as he had reason to hope that the gentlemen opposite had made up their minds to allow at least of some alteration in the existing law.—Another desirable step would be to do away totally prohibition as much as possible. Where protection for particular manufactures was considered to be necessary, it ought to be in the form of duty and not in that of prohibition. Prohibition had no doubt seriously injured the revenue by the encouragement which it gave to smuggling. The customs had fallen off a million and a half in the course of the last year. He was sure that a good deal of that defalcation might be ascribed to prohibition. Nothing could be more absurd than to suppose any prohibition would prevent the introduction of articles that were in demand. The fact was, that at an advance of 20 or 25 per cent all light prohibited articles might be had at our doors. He would not say which sex was the more to blame, but such was the fact. Indeed, it was quite impossible to suppose that ladies would not procure French gloves or shoes in this way, if they could not get them in any other; and thus the revenue suffered without the attainment of the object which the prohibition contemplated. He did not wish to make any general sweeping assertions; but he must observe, that hon. gentlemen in agreeing to cite the navigation laws as affording a protection to commerce were much mistaken. Their tendency was, to injure commerce. For instance, coals—so necessary to our manufactures—might, but for the navigation laws, be brought to our ports at half their present price by Dutch or German vessels. The principle of the navigation laws was, that no produce should be imported into this country except in our own vessels, or in the vessels of that country to which the produce belonged. He thought that no restriction ought to be held on foreign ships importing into this country, whether the produce was of their own or any other country. When this restriction was imposed, he was sure that those who framed it did not clearly see the advantage of a free intercourse between this and other nations. The freedom of the transit trade was also a most desirable object. The importation of every commodity for re-exportation ought to be allowed, and any opposition to this principle was a restriction of our commercial transactions. He was not aware that a regulation of this sort would interfere with the interests of any gentleman or set of gentlemen in this country; but if it so happened that it did, he felt convinced that the House, or any committee to whom the subject was referred, would give every attention to any representations which should be made to them. But upon a subject of this kind, he hoped gentlemen would go into an inquiry, without any prejudice or party feelings, looking only to the advancement of the commerce of the country, and not listening or yielding to any interest without considering the justice of the objections which should be made.

A great objection had been made to the transit of German linen, and petitions had been presented against its importation even for exportation. A vague and idle notion existed that this would injure the linen trade of Ireland; that that trade was in fact at stake, if such an importation were allowed. A noble lord who was interested in this trade, was so strongly of this opinion, that the question was decided against the importation. The House should, however, consider, without looking to the right or to the left, that their great object ought to be to use every possible means to revive the trade and commerce of the United Kingdom. He was aware that the linen trade of Ireland deserved their greatest attention, and ought to be encouraged by every possible means; there was no trade which was more entitled to protection, but the transit to which he alluded could by no means affect that trade. The consumption of German linen here was the only means by which the Irish linen trade could be affected. What, in the mean time, was the effect of this prohibition? If we were to send goods to foreign markets, they must be made up of assorted articles. Suppose we send to the French colonies, what were we to send but such articles as would suit the market? There was a time when we sent our fleets under convoys, and when no other country could oppose us; then we could send out what we pleased; but now that exclusive monopoly was at an end. Every nation was as free as we were to go to the different markets; therefore we were bound to exert ourselves, to procure a market as well as our neighbours. It was also of importance that we should alter our commercial regulations with respect to France. He was aware that strong prejudices existed against us in that country, not to speak of those existing here. But he did not think it would be difficult in a little time to remove those prejudices. And here he felt it necessary to state, that he by no means blamed the noble lord (Castlereagh), who lately conducted negotiations between this country and France, for not having stipulated for or forced any commercial concessions, ft was desirable that all restrictive regulations between the trade of England and France should be removed, but to do so we must begin at home. It would be unfair to attempt a negotiation for a commercial intercourse while we kept our ports shut against them. Let it be considered, that it was not by a restrictive system that this country had grown to such a pitch of greatness, but on the contrary, that such a system was a bar to that greatness. It was necessary also to remove an impression which our system of commerce had made abroad. We were looked up to as the first commercial nation in the world, and it was therefore believed that we had adopted our restrictive or protecting system, from a conviction of its beneficial effects on our commerce. This impression it was our interest as well as our duty to remove, by altering our commercial regulations with foreign powers.

The next point to which he would direct the attention of the House, was an extension of our trade with India. He was aware that this was a delicate subject; that it was one concerning which we had to deal not with a foreign power, but a great power at home. But he felt persuaded, if the gentlemen who conducted the affairs of that Company had a fair case made out to them; if it was clearly shown that the trade between this country could be extended without injury to their interests, that their concurrence would be easily obtained. At all events, he was sure they would come fairly forward and argue the subject—and if upon inquiry, such extension should be shown to be injurious to their interests, he would be the last man in the House or the country to press his suggestion. He was aware that there were two great objections to the extension of this trade: first, that it would open a facility of smuggling in the China seas; and secondly, that such an extended intercourse on the part of this country would derange existing regulations, and involve the India government in difficulties with the government of China. He knew that it was a difficult matter to manage the government of China. But to these two objections he would give what he conceived to be an unanswerable argument. What was there now to prevent the Americans from trading between China and Amsterdam? It was a thing daily done. If, then, this was the case, he should like to know what injury was likely to be done to the India Company by English vessels carrying on a similar trade? It was urged on former occasions, that English vessels would enter into smuggling transactions. Suppose them to do so, there was a means of catching them at some time. The vessels and their commanders were known; besides, there were securities given which could always be come at. But where was the remedy against a foreigner who smuggled goods from China to England, or elsewhere? He came, deposited his cargo, was off, and nobody could find him or make him responsible in any other way for what he had done. Then came the argument, that such an extension of trade would involve the India government in difficulty with that of China; but it was known that the Americans had for a considerable time carried on that trade without being involved in any such difficulty; at least, we had not heard of any—why could not this country be allowed to carry it on in a similar manner? Why should it not be open to our own merchants as well as to foreigners? Besides, this trade would give to this country a commercial intercourse with the Spanish colonies in South America. The trade in the Indian seas would be wonderfully improved if opened to the spirit and enterprise of British merchants. That trade was now carried on by Americans, whose vessels went from port to port unrestricted as to their tonnage or any other disqualification to which British traders were subject. Let this trade be thrown open, and it was impossible to say what advantages might not be derived to this country from it—from the ingenuity, enterprise, and industry of the merchants of Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow, and our other commercial sea-ports. At all events, enough was known to show that it would be an improvement to the commerce of the country. He begged pardon for having trespassed so long on the attention of the House. He was sure, that whatever proposition of this nature was proposed to to the company, they would meet it with that fairness and deliberation which the discussion of so important a subject demanded.

He believed that he had pretty generally pointed out those alterations which he conceived practicable in our commercial system. He was sure the House would feel with him, that the circumstances of the times were such as to call for the minutest inquiry, on their parts, into ever possible means of improving our trade and commerce. It was their duty to show to the country, that nothing practicable was left undone to contribute to relieve those distresses under which so many laboured. It was natural when any portion of the country felt distress, that they should apply by petition to parliament for relief, and it was the duty of parliament to show that they adopted every means in their power of affording it. He knew very well that there were many and severe distresses, which it was out of the power of any parliament to remedy. He recollected the lines of the Poet— How small of all the ills which men endure, The part which Kings or Lords can cause or cure. But it was the duty of parliament to turn their minds seriously to the question—to show the people that their wants were not neglected—to let them see that no party feeling or prejudice operated, but that all, however differing on other points, were united on this. By doing so, they would do more to quiet that disturbed feeling, to set at rest those angry passions, which arose in a great measure from distress, than could be done by any other means.—The hon. gentleman, after moving that the petition be received, sat down amidst loud cheers from all sides of the House.

The petition was then brought up and read; setting forth,

"That foreign commerce is eminently conducive to the wealth and prosperity of the country, by enabling it to import the commodities for the production of which the soil, climate, capital, and industry of other countries are best calculated, and to export in payment those articles for which its own situation is better adapted; that freedom from restraint is calculated to give the utmost extension to foreign trade, and the best direction to the capital and industry of the country; that the maxim of buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest, which regulates every merchant in his individual dealings, is strictly applicable, as the best rule for the trade of the whole nation; that a policy, founded on these principles, would render the commerce of the world an interchange of mutual advantages, and diffuse an increase of wealth and enjoyments among the inhabitants of each state; that, unfortunately, a policy, the very reverse of this, has been, and is more or less adopted and acted upon by the government of this and of every other country; each trying to exclude the productions of other countries, with the specious and well-meant design of encouraging its own productions; thus inflicting on the bulk of its subjects, who are consumers, the necessity of submitting to privations in the quantity or quality of commodities, and thus rendering, what ought to be the source of mutual benefit and of harmony among states, a constantly recurring occasion of jealousy and hostility; that the prevailing prejudices in favour of the protective or restrictive system may be traced to the erroneous supposition, that every importation of foreign commodities occasions a diminution or discouragement of our own productions to the same extent; whereas, it may be clearly shown, that although the particular description of production which could not stand against unrestrained foreign competition would be discouraged; yet, as no importation could be continued for any length of time without a corresponding exportation, direct or indirect, there would be an encouragement for the purpose of that exportation of some other production to which our situation might be better suited; thus affording at least an equal, and probably a greater, and certainly a more beneficial employment to our own capital and labour; that of the numerous protective and prohibitory duties of our commercial code, it may be proved, that while all operate as a very heavy tax on the community at large, very few are of any ultimate benefit to the classes in whose favour they were originally instituted, and none to the extent of the loss occasioned by them to other classes; that among the other evils of the restrictive or protective system, not the least is, that the artificial protection of one branch of industry, or source of protection against foreign competition, is set up as a ground of claim by other branches for similar protection; so that if the reasoning upon which these restrictive or prohibitory regulations are founded, were followed out consistently, it would not stop short of excluding us from all foreign commerce whatsoever; and the same train of argument, which with corresponding prohibitions and protective duties should exclude us from foreign trade, might be brought forward to justify the reenactment of restrictions upon the interchange of productions (unconnected with public revenue) among the kingdoms composing the union, or among the counties of the same kingdom; that an investigation of the effects of the restrictive system at this time is peculiarly called for, as it may, in the opinion of the petitioners, lead to a strong presumption that the distress which now so generally prevails, is considerably aggravated by that system; and that some relief may be obtained by the earliest practicable removal of such of the restraints as may be shown to be most injurious to the capital and industry of the community, and to be attended with no compensating benefit to the public revenue; that a declaration against the anti-commercial principles of our restrictive S3'stem is of the more importance at the present juncture, inasmuch as in several instances of recent occurrence the merchants and manufacturers in foreign states have assailed their respective governments with applications for further protective or prohibitory duties and regulations, urging the example and authority of this country, against which they are almost exclusively directed, as a sanction for the policy of such measures; and certainly, if the reasoning upon which our restrictions have been defended is worth any thing, it will apply in behalf of the regulations of foreign states against us; they insist upon our superiority in capital and machinery, as we do upon their comparative exemption from taxation, and with equal foundation; that nothing would more tend to counteract the commercial hostility of foreign states than the adoption of a more enlightened and more conciliatory policy on the part of this country; that although as a matter of mere diplomacy, it may sometimes answer to hold out the removal of particular prohibitions or high duties, as depending upon corresponding concessions by other states in our favour, it does not follow that we should maintain our restrictions in cases where the desired concessions on their part cannot be obtained; our restrictions would not be the less prejudicial to our own capital and industry, because other governments persisted in preserving impolitic regulations; that, upon the whole, the most liberal would prove to be the most politic course on such occasions; that, independent of the direct benefit to be derived by this country on every occasion of such concession or relaxation, a great incidental object would be gained by the recognition of a sound principle or standard, to which all subsequent arrangements might be referred, and by the salutary influence which a promulgation of such just views, by the legislature and by the nation at large, could not fail to have on the policy of other states; that in thus declaring, as the petitioners do, their conviction of the impolicy and injustice of the restrictive system, and in desiring every practicable relaxation of it, they have in view only such parts of it as are not connected, or are only subordinately so, with the public revenue; as long as the necessity for the present amount of revenue subsists, the petitioners cannot expect so important a branch of it as the customs to be given up, nor to be materially diminished, unless some substitute less objectionable be suggested; but it is against every restrictive regulation of trade not essential to the revenue, against all duties merely protective from foreign competition, and against the excess of such duties as are partly for the purpose of revenue and partly for that of protection, that the prayer of the present petition is respectfully submitted to the wisdom of parliament; the petitioners therefore humbly pray, that the House will be pleased to take the subject into consideration, and to adopt such measures as may be calculated to give greater freedom to foreign commerce, and thereby to increase the resources of the state."

On the question, that the petition do lie on the table,

Mr. Grenfell

said, that after the able and eloquent speech of his hon. friend, it would be idle in him to attempt entering into the subject. But as it was a subject upon which he had before delivered his opinions, he hoped he might be allowed to express his opinion upon it now; and he assured the House that in doing so he should not take up much of their time. He begged then to state, that he gave his humble, but most hearty concurrence in every principle contained in the petition, and so ably advocated by the hon. mover; and he begged to add, that in the House, or out of the House, he would give its principles his most zealous and active co-operation.

Mr. F. Robinson

said, that as no other gentleman seemed disposed to rise, he felt it necessary to offer a few observations on the question so ably introduced by the hon. mover. He hoped the hon. member and the House would do him the justice to believe that he was fully sensible of the extreme importance of the subject before them. He had always given it as his opinion, that the restrictive system of commerce in this country was founded in error, and calculated to defeat the object for which it was adopted [Hear!]. He had not the slightest objection to repeat those opinions now. The hon. member had done him the honour to pay him some compliments, to which he did not conceive himself entitled; but, he must say, neither did he conceive himself or his colleagues deserving of the qualification which was tacked to them, namely, that he and those with whom he had the honour of acting, had a sort of pathetic-feeling, and went on from year to year, looking more to their offices than to the interests of the people. He might have felt differently on this question, and he admitted that he did feel differently from some others with whom he acted, but on questions of this nature, and particularly on that of the transit duties, he met with more opposition from the other than from his own side of the House. Therefore it was that he felt the restrictive system so deeply rooted, that it was difficult to induce any gentleman to oppose it. This it was which had prevented him from carrying his principles into effect. But on looking into the question, he found that the hon. member and he agreed as to the general principles. They agreed, at all events, that it was impossible all at once to alter our commercial system. He was by no means prepared to say, that upon an inquiry, and upon arguing the question, many practical improvements could not be made. In point of fact, a considerable alteration had been made, and a considerable relaxation had taken place, in our commercial regulations, within a few years. Within the last two or three years, three commercial acts passed; one of Richard the 3rd, one of Edward the 2nd, and one of Elizabeth, had been repealed. The hon. member would also recollect, from the report of the Lords, the repeal of duties on 300 articles, upon some of which large duties existed, and upon others there was a total prohibition. The next point alluded to was the duty on timber. He felt no difficulty in saying that that duty required amendment; and it was his intention, in the course of the session to propose such an arrangement to the House. That objection he did not dispute. And he must say, that in all the communications which he had had with the interested parties on this subject, he had told them, that he was determined to propose such alteration to parliament. He agreed with the hon. member, that the importation of timber from the Baltic was preferable to that from Canada; but it was only fair to say, that the duty on timber was not a duty of protection, but of revenue. There was a duty before, but that of 1813 was a revenue duty, and it appeared to him necessary to make an alteration. The hon. member's next point was the navigation laws. He fully concurred with that hon. member, in saying that the navigation laws were hostile to the free commercial intercourse of the country. But he would say, that the injury so sustained was but as a feather in the scale compared with the great advantage derived from those laws in the protection and safety of the country. By the strict enforcement of those laws, we were able to keep our naval force, and protect ourselves in cases of emergency. But he was far from saying, that even in these laws there was not room for relaxation and improvement. Indeed, there were many improvements now in operation, but they were so scattered about in different acts of parliament, that it would be idle to attempt to point them out. With respect to the transit duties, he could not deny what had been said by the hon. member; indeed, he had endeavoured, though unsuccessfully, to alter them according to what he conceived to be the commercial interest of the country, but, he had met with much opposition, whether from the efforts of a noble lord, connected with the trade, he would not say, but so it was, that he was unable to induce those connected with and interested in the linen trade to concur with his view of the question. He did not, however, think it difficult to show those persons that they were in error. Those duties had effected the purpose desired to be effected by them, and in the altered state of things all rational grounds for maintaining them were removed. As to commercial treaties with foreign countries, it was evidently the object of every country to enter into such treaties as would most favour their own interests. One point he had beard from the hon. gentleman with particular pleasure, as it confirmed what he had stated before, and what some of the friends of the hon. gentleman had not admitted; the hon. gentleman had justified his noble friend and the government for not, at the peace, obtaining commercial advantages as favours from friends, or punishments on enemies. Justice, peace, and policy, were equally opposed to such an acquisition of commerce. With France it was not easy to manage a commercial arrangement. Great prejudices existed on both sides, and very foolish prejudices they certainly were. Nothing was so preposterous as for any persons in either nation to repine, if any did repine, at the prosperity of the other. The prosperity of each nation contributed to promote commerce; the interests of commerce made peace necessary; and peace and commerce would thus go hand in hand. Much better was this rivalry than such animosity and narrow-minded contentions for military distinction, which led to so many evils. With regard to the agriculture of the country, he would only state, that it was a question of the greatest importance; it was one on which a great feeling had been excited, and there was not a member in the House who would not feel it his duty to attend to every suggestion which should be made as to its improvement. When any such question should be agitated, it would be the duty as well as the wish of his majesty's ministers to give it their best consideration. At the same time he did not feel that there was any thing so radically wrong in the present system as to induce an alteration; yet, he must repeat, that both he and his colleagues were always ready to attend to every suggestion which should be made with that spirit of fairness and candour evinced by the hon. member who presented the petition. When new measures were last year proposed respecting the corn laws, lie felt it his duty to give his decided opinion against any interference on the subject of additional protecting agricultural duties, as he conceived that no alterations could then be made. With respect to India, he did not deny that the commercial interests of England would be promoted by an extension of the trade with that country; but he begged it to be considered that this was a question of compact. They ought not to suffer their anxiety to relieve the distresses of the country to press them into an act of unfairness or injustice. What the feeling of the India company upon this subject was he did not know: but they ought not, in honour, in good faith, or in fair dealing, to interfere with the interests of that company unless with its consent.

Mr. Philips

argued, that the right hon. gentleman had made liberal admissions, but had at the same time intimated that his principles were counteracted by divisions in the government. If the same means had been used for removing restrictions as had been used for continuing the droits of the admiralty, the same result would have been obtained. If political economy were an object for which ministers chose to use their influence in that House, there was no doubt that the result would be the success of the right hon. gentleman's liberal and just views. But the objection was, that it was necessary to yield to the errors of others. This only showed, that on this, as on all other subjects, there was a division of sentiment in the government. But if this argument was good so far as to prevent us at once from retracing our steps, at least we ought not to advance one step further with the restrictive system. Yet, last year, a tax was imposed, of the worst kind of restriction, against the feelings of the country, and against common policy. The duty on foreign wool was in every view unjust and impolitic. That duty was severely felt both in Ireland and in this country, and added considerably to the already overwhelming distresses of the manufacturing districts.

Mr. W. Douglas

said, he very much lamented that on a question like that before the House, there should be heard the least expression of any thing like party feeling. He was convinced that it could not be the wish of the petitioners to take any other view, but to represent to parliament what they really thought to be the sound principles of political economy, and to show how far the restrictive system of trade was contrary to those principles. Those alone were the objects of the petitioners; and he begged to express his entire concurrence in the sentiments of the hon. mover. He was happy to hear the right hon. the president of the broad of trade express his concurrence in those sentiments; but still he could not help feeling disappointment at some parts of that speech. The right hon. gentleman concurred in the views of the petitioners. He considered them important and desirable; but although a similar petition had been presented at the conclusion of the last session of parliament, and though the right hon. gentleman then, as now, professed sentiments friendly to those objects, yet he did not point out what practical alterations might be made; he did not say what specific plan might be followed; he did not countenance the appointment of a committee to satisfy the country on those points upon which the public mind required to be satisfied. On looking at the present state of the country, that plan appeared to him the very best plan that would most contribute to give general employment: that plan would be found the best for the landed interest, as well as every other interest in the country. The House should be prepared to take an enlarged and impartial view of the subject—not to oppose one interest to another, but to struggle to promote the objects of all; and, when they came to discuss the situation of the country, to adopt what appeared to them the best means for its relief and its prosperity.

Mr. Beaumont

concurred in the principles laid down by the hon. mover. Much of the evil under which the country now laboured might be traced to her commercial system, and the sooner it was improved the better. It was a fit subject for the interference of his majesty's ministers. When it was recollected that the right hon. the president of the board of trade, had so unequivocally expressed his opinion against the present restrictive system, that fact alone was sufficiently strong to require the interference of ministers, and to induce them to promote, by all practical means, the objects suggested by the petitioners.

Lord Milton

said, he had heard the petition before the House read with great pleasure; he had listened too with much satisfaction to the speech of the hon. member who brought it forward. If any thing indeed in the present distressed state of the country, could give satisfaction, it was that of hearing the sound principles of political economy and the liberal principles of commerce embraced by so respectable a body of men as the merchants and traders of London. But that was not the only satisfaction which he had experienced in the course of the debate. The speech of the right hon. the president of the board of trade would have increased the satisfaction he felt on the present occasion, were it not for the little alloy which was too apparent in it. To him it appeared, that the principles and the conduct of the right hon. gentleman were not in unison. He had expressed very excellent principles, but when he came to explain his conduct, and the conduct of the government with whom he acted, he was not so successful in rebutting the accusation so often and so forcibly made against them, that they were more disposed to countenance particular interests than the enlarged and general interests of the community. This was a subject upon which no partial interests should prevail—on this subject they were called upon to legislate for the empire at large, and the hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Beaumont) should not consider that he was the member for Northumberland, nor he (lord Milton) that he sat there as member for Yorkshire—but both of them should look on themselves as the representatives of the people, bound to consult and to promote the general interests. It was admitted on all hands, that the situation of the country called for a union of counsel and of action; but if they looked at particular interests, they would lose sight of more enlarged objects, and, by narrowing their views, would decrease the capability of promoting the general good. Looking at the different interests of the country, he saw the agricultural interests, to use a homely phrase, scrambling for the increase of the price of corn—and, with respect to the manufacturing interests, he observed the same feeling, and heard from them the complaints of general distress. To him it appeared that the great error of those different interests was, that they did not see the difficulty in its proper light the distress of which they respectively complained, was not, in truth, the distress of the agriculturalist, nor of the manufacturer, but it was the distress of the country at large—in which, of course, the agriculturist and the manufacturer were comprised. He did not think so ill of the patriotism of either party as to doubt that they would not sacrifice their particular interests, and consult the general interest. Certain it was, we could not go on long in the situation in which we were. Last year the chancellor of the exchequer came forward, and stated with a great deal of fairness and frankness, that a surplus of 5,000,000l. was necessary. He did not know whether to blame the right hon. gentleman's want of sincerity, or to discredit his prophetic powers in the declarations he had made respecting the produce of the new taxes; but blame or discredit must fall somewhere. Either he saw that he could not raise the revenue which he announced, and then he was guilty of misleading the House and the country; or he did not see, but expected the realization of his predictions, and then he was the worst prophet that ever opened his mouth in parliament. If the opinions of So insignificant an individual as himself were worthy of being remembered, he might appeal to the recollection of the House, whether he had not then asserted that government would never succeed in their attempt to raise additional supplies by fresh burthens—that on the present system the sources of taxation were exhausted, and that ministers began at the wrong end when they endeavoured to raise taxes without first adopting some measures to enable the people to pay them. Now with regard to the petition before the House, he was glad to say, that in all its principles he concurred. It stated the restrictive system as one of the causes of the national distress; and though it was not the sole cause of this distress, it was certainly one of them. The pressure under which the country at present laboured had been ascribed to various causes by various persons. Some said that it was mainly attributable to the system of poor laws, and the immense increase of the poor rates. Now, as regarded this growing evil, it ought to be considered whether the system which we had been pursuing for many years had not a tendency to absorb capital from the general body of the people, and to accumulate property in a few hands. While therefore, during the war, our population increased, owing to the augmented demand for labour, this increased population extended the system of dependence, and multiplied the number of those who required relief when the extraordinary resources of war were withdrawn. The pressure of the times had consequently not fallen in due proportion on the higher classes of society. It was felt with great severity by the labourer, the manufacturer and the artisan, while it scarcely affected the rich capitalist, or the great landed proprietor. The present commercial system was another cause of the general distress. The restrictions by which it was distinguished were of a nature not only to injure ourselves, but to provoke retaliations of a similar injurious tendency from other nations. Accordingly, instead of an interchange of commodities, founded on the reciprocal capacities and wants of different nations, every nation seemed to consider that it ought to receive nothing from its neighbours, and to wish to realize the prediction of the poet— —nec nautical pinus Mutabit merces; omnis ferit omnia tellus If we were to obtain the articles which other countries could supply, we should obtain them with as few restrictions as possible. This principle would not go the length of inducing us to abolish the regulations with regard to the importation of grain and the navigation laws. If the independence of a country was of more consequence than an increase of its wealth or an addition to its commerce, the laws which protected that independence should be maintained at the expense of these advantages. But though this principle might lead us to support the corn laws, and the navigation laws, it should be carried no farther; and we ought to be allowed to procure the luxuries and commodities of other countries, where our security and independence were not affected as cheaply as we could. Another cause of the present distresses of the country was the change lately effected in our currency. He rejoiced at the measures taken to enforce and prepare a return to cash payments, but he could not conceal from himself, that the transition had occasioned a considerable degree of embarrassment and pressure. The House was unwilling to alarm the country concerning the temporary results of a measure which they conceived so necessary to its permanent security; and there hon. members had not placed anticipated evils in so strong a light as they might have done. He believed even his hon. friend near him (Mr. Ricardo) had formed too low an estimate of the pressure which a change in our currency would create; nor had the evil yet, he was afraid, reached its point of greatest severity. He rather wished than dared to hope that we had now passed the extremity of the evil, and that we had not still to suffer more than we had yet suffered. At any rate, ministers ought to have considered this point with more care, before they had added the burthen of additional taxation to the pressure arising from a contraction of our circulation. He could not bring himself to believe that they could now realize the five millions which they predicted would accrue from the new taxes. He had to express his obligations to the petitioners for bringing the state of the country before the House; and when he saw merchants of such high respectability, and so well acquainted with the condition of the commercial and manufacturing interests, complaining of the public pressure, and proposing measures of relief, he thought there could no longer be any doubt of its severity.

Mr. Ricardo

begged the noble lord to recollect, that at the time when he spoke on the bullion question last session the price of gold was at 4l. 3s. per or. and that now it was at 3l. 17s. 10½d there could not, therefore, be such a pressure arising from this measure as the noble lord had described. At the time when that discussion took place, he certainly would rather have been inclined to have altered the standard than to have recurred to the old standard. But while the committee was sitting, a reduction took place in the price of gold, which fell to 41. 2s. and it then became a question whether we should sacrifice a great principle in establishing a new standard, or incur a small degree of embarrassment and difficulty in recurring to the old. With regard to the petition before the House, he had heard it with great pleasure; and he was particularly pleased with the liberal sentiments delivered by the right hon. gentleman opposite. It was to him a great source of satisfaction that sound as well as liberal principles were put forward by so important a body as the merchants of London; the only thing that astonished him was, that it was only now that these principles were put forward—that they should have taken so much time in their progress, since they were first promulgated by Adam Smith. However desirable the system now suggested, it could not be denied but that some difficulties lay in the way of its completion. The difficulties were of two kinds; the first difficulty resolved itself into a question of revenue. To increase the sources of revenue was doubtless the object of every wise government; and where taxes of a particular kind pressed heavily upon the people, it did not appear to him a very difficult thing to substitute other taxes. Another difficulty, and a greater, was, respecting the vested interests. Many persons vested their capital on the faith of the continuation of the restrictive system, and therefore, however injurious that system might be, nothing could be more unjust than, by the immediate abolition of that system, to occasion the absolute ruin of those who vested large capital on the faith of laws so long established as the restrictive laws. But from this no argument could be surely drawn to continue the system in future times. No argument appeared to him more mischievous—more calculated to promote commotion and rebellion, than this—that if they once did wrong they should never do right, but that they should go on in error and make every mischievous system perpetual. He thought the House ought now to do what was suggested by the bullion committee. There were difficulties of a very formidable kind connected with the system embraced by the committee, at least with its immediate execution. And what was done on that occasion? Why, that which ought to be done on the present—to spread the return to cash payments over a great space of time. So now might they return, gradually return, to a better system of commercial regulation, allowing full time to those who had their property invested, to turn it into other channels. After they had done so, they might say to the capitalists, "The present system will continue only so long as you can accommodate yourselves without any sacrifice of your interests, to the new one which we propose." Some restrictions might thus be removed immediate, without any inconvenience; others might be gradually relaxed, and others might be left till our situation had so greatly improved as to render their removal no inconvenience. He was surprised that the right hon. gentleman who had expressed such liberal principles of political economy, and had so freely declared himself against the policy of our commercial restrictions, had yet made a reservation in favour of the corn laws. They were necessary, he said, to protect the agricultural interests; and he (Mr. Ricardo) would admit the validity of the argument, provided it could I be made to appear that the agriculturists suffered more burthens than other classes of the community. But what were their peculiar burthens? They did not suffer more from the malt-tax, or from the leather tax, or from any other tax with which he was acquainted, than any other class of men. These taxes were common to all, and all felt their pressure alike. But the poor-rates, it was said, operated on them as a peculiar burthen. Well if the poor-rates were really more oppressive to them than to other classes, and tended to raise the price of grain, he would recommend a countervailing duty on the importation of foreign corn, to the amount of the operation of that cause. He allowed that the poor-rates actually raised the price of corn, because they fell upon the land, and operated as a burthen solely upon agriculturists. But if, while this burthen was felt by them, other classes of the community felt equal burthens, they wore put to no disadvantage, and ought to receive no protection. He was fully prepared to admit, that the necessity for supporting the poor constituted the only or the best apology for the corn-laws. Tithes likewise were another burthen to the landed interest, and tended, he would allow, to a certain extent, to raise the price of grain, and for these he would have no objection to allow a countervailing duty. There was this difference between poor-rates and tithes—that while we must support the poor, whatever was the produce the church could only claim a tenth of what was raised; for, whatever was the deficiency of produce, the clergy must conform to their proportion, and find it Sufficient for their support.

Mr. Ellice,

after a few observations in reply to Mr. Ricardo, said, that since the return to cash payments was finally settled, to the present time, every staple article or produce connected with manufactures had experienced a fall of from 30 to 50 per cent; the only articles exempt from the operation of that system were agricultural produce, and that was kept up by the protection of the corn laws. With respect to the petition before the House, he entirely agreed in the objects proposed, and he was willing to give the fullest credit to the professions made that night by the right hon. the president of the board of trade, to concur in the propositions that petition contained. But, unfortunately, the state of the debt and the finances, rendered it impossible, without some great alteration, for the House to pay much attention to the petition before them. When they considered the state of the public debt, when they knew how the right hon. gentleman opposite would be reminded by his right hon. friend the chancellor of the exchequer of the loss to the revenue which would follow an alteration in the system, they would, he feared, but deceive the country, if they were to encourage hopes of any great advantage being likely to be derived from the present petition, or the system, however admirable, which it suggested. There were other consideration? which ought to be met. His hon. friend who presented the petition had stated that a number of Gentle- men in Glasgow and its neighbourhood, who were engaged in manufactures, were alarmed at the disturbances of the country and had withdrawn their capital from trade; but he should also have looked to the causes which led to the distress in that part of the country. In Lancashire, when the wages of labour were low, the poor-rates were resorted to. If that system were to go on, the whole manufacturing interests of Scotland would be soon destroyed, because, in Scotland they could not, as in Lancashire, make up the deficiency of wages by the poor-rates. This was one of the difficulties which must stare them in the face, when they attempted to adopt and regulations. Still, however, some benefit might be derived from the proposed plan, and some vexatious regulations which impeded the true principles of commerce might be done away with. The bonding system was a vexatious and injurious regulation—but the whole of the bonding system (particularly with respect to the repeal of the stamp duty) could not, he was aware, be got rid of without encountering much difficulty. Under all the circumstances, he approved cordially of the plan proposed by the petitioners, whilst he lamented the difficulties that existed in the way of its ultimate success. When any practical attempt should be made to promote that object he would bestow upon it his best attention, and exert for it his best energies. He would entreat the right hon. gentleman opposite to take the matter under his own management, and to suggest to parliament at no distant day, some mode of carrying into effect whatever could be adopted to meet the objects of the petitioners.

Mr. Marryat,

after complimenting the petitioners and different members of the House, for the liberal ideas which they had expressed, entered into some statements as to the commercial advantages which this country enjoyed from its colonies. By the restrictions imposed on them, and the manner in which the intercourse was carried on with them, they were made to contribute most largely towards the prosperity of the mother country: they were limited to an intercourse with us alone: their produce was imported in British ships, and paid for in British manufactures.

Mr. T. Wilson

said, he could not but concur with the hon. gentleman who spoke last but one, that in the present state of the country little could be done towards furthering the object of the petitioners. The restrictions of which they complained could not be entirely removed while the taxes remained the same. It was impossible now to discuss the question to any useful result. He was glad to find thru all the hon. gentlemen who had addressed the House upon it had spoken with the greatest temper and moderation; but, to effect any practical purpose, the question must be brought before them in a very different shape. The different parties affected should lay their interests before the legislature, and then the whole subject might be fairly discussed.

Mr. Baring

said, that there was one point of importance on which he had the misfortune totally to differ with his hon. friend (Mr. Ricardo); on that point, as on every other, he would differ with him with reluctance and with diffidence. When his hon. friend stated that the difference in the currency was but as 3l. 17s. lO½d. compared to 4l. 3s. he must differ from him entirely. He did conceive that the difference between 1l. sterling at present, and 1l. sterling during the period of the war was at least 5s. On an average during the war as compared to the present time, the difference was at least five and twenty per cent. This he stated without considering the casual difference between one day and another. The value of the currency had been fluctuating during the whole of the war, and defied all calculation; the value of commodities did not immediately follow the fluctuation of the currency, but took time to accommodate itself to the value of money. It was impossible to say what the value of a pound sterling was during the war; yet the difference was seldom for the last 12 or 15 years, as compared with the value of money at the present time less than five and twenty per cent. He had entered on this point because he considered it a vital one, and because it was, in his opinion, necessary that every gentleman should make up his mind on the subject, not with a view to a practical result on the question before the House, but to form correct or consistent opinions generally on the concerns of the country. He stated this because he felt that the change in the currency was one of the circumstances that weighed on the country; for, besides the putting an end to the depreciation of the currency, the scarcity had been augmented by the difference in the facility in the negotiation of paper, which carried the change in the state of the monied world much beyond the difference of prices. In saying this he did not venture to say, that if the thing were to do over again he would not do as he had done; he was sure the country had done what was honourable and liberal, in declaring that they would return to the old standard. Whether they had promised more than they would be able to perform, was a point on which, he was sorry to say, he had not made up his mind. We had now a declining commerce and a declining revenue; and till we could say that this decline had ceased, it was impossible to say whether the country could perform what it had promised. He should, perhaps, in the next session, have to make a proposition on this subject; he said in the next session, because the present session was likely to be so short as to afford little time for investigation, and because he was willing that the country should proceed for some time with its present system, to see what might be its effects. All the difficulty of the country was in its having a large debt; for without that we might accommodate our taxes to any standard of value whatever. We had now to pay our creditors a higher value than we had received from them; but in doing so it would be contended by no one that we should go further than the law under which the debt was contracted required. Now, we had done something more. In returning to the metallic standard we had taken gold alone as a standard, and not silver and gold. We had then, as it happened, undertaken to pay not only all that was required by law, but something more. To add facilities to the circulation he should probably propose, if events did not alter his opinion, in the first place to make perpetual the plan of his hon. friend for payment in metallic bars instead of coin, for which the country was infinitely indebted to his hon. friend, and in the next place to give the Bank the option of paying, either in gold or in silver, not in depreciated or debased coin, but in weight. It happened that at present, for instance, silver was 1J or 2 per cent under the Mint price, so that payment in that metal would be a facility to the Bank, whilst the most scrupulous could not deny that in paying the pound sterling in one of the metals which formed the legal standard at the time when the debt was contracted, the strictest justice was done. As to the petition itself before the House, the principles which it contained had met with so unanimous a support, that he wondered whence that opposition could come, by which the right hon. the president of the board of trade seemed to be deterred from attempting any reform of our commercial system, and he could not help expressing a hope that for the future that right hon. gentleman would not listen entirely to the suggestion of others, but, in treating the subject, would rely on his own excellent understanding.

Mr. Ricardo,

in explanation, stated that he had never imagined that the currency had never been depreciated more than 4 per cent. He had merely contended, that at the time when the subject was taken up by parliament in the last year, there was only that depreciation; which was too small to warrant an alteration of the ancient standard. He was well aware that during some of the latter years of the war, the depreciation had been as great as 25 per cent.

The petition was ordered to lie on the table. A similar petition was presented from the chamber of commerce of Edinburgh. On the motion, that it do lie on the table,

Mr. Ricardo

said, he would take that opportunity of making an observation as to the two standards of gold and silver. He fully agreed with his hon. friend, that a payment in both would facilitate the payment of the public creditor; but then there was a question whether two stand ards would not be more liable to fluctuation than one invariable standard. If payment were made in one metal, it would be liable to less fluctuation than if made; in two, and in two it would be less than if made in three; therefore he considered the payment in one metal as preferable, being liable to less fluctuation.

Mr. Baring

considered the difference in this respect as more theoretical than it I would be found in practice. He had never found the variation to be so great as was apprehended; and as, upon his hon. friend's own admission, the payments in both metals would afford a facility which could not be other wise acquired, bethought that plan preferable.

Mr. W. Smith

thought that the price of one would act as a corrective on the other. He therefore preferred the plan of payments in both.

Ordered to lie on the table.

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