HC Deb 12 May 1820 vol 1 cc329-32

Earl Temple presented six petitions from the occupiers of land in the county of Buckingham, complaining of the depressed state of the agricultural interests, and praying for inquiry. On the motion for their being laid on the table,

Mr. Hume

stated, that observing the daily increase of these petitions, he could not avoid saying, that they appeared to him calculated to aggravate the general distress, by calling at such a time for the imposition of additional restrictions on the importation of grain. Could any man acquainted with the country, propose any measure more likely to increase the notorious sufferings of the commercial and manufacturing classes? The extent of those sufferings required of that House to give the fill up to industry, by the removal of all commercial restrictions; and he was the more surprised at the course to which these petitioners manifestly inclined, when it was recollected that the late corn law had altogether failed, as a measure of relief to the body for which it was intended.

Mr. Curwen

observed, that the hon. member was quite mistaken in his representation of the objects of the petitioners. Had lie given himself the trouble to attend to the allegations of the many that had been already presented, he would have found that they abstained from stating any specific measure of relief, but prayed generally for an inquiry. Was that inquiry to be refused by the House? He trusted not; and when it took place, he was convinced it would appear that the object was not to put money into the pockets of the landlord or the farmer, but to enable them to give employment to labour. In the present distressed state of the agricultural interest, he knew, and he said it with pain, that it was made the object of both the landlord and the farmer, to abstract rather than to employ labour. He should be very sorry that any premature discussion on the subject should take place, and therefore he regretted that a gallant and honourable member had on a former night sounded an alarum on the question. There could be no separate interest between the great branches of the public. The mechanic was as interested in the prosperity of agriculture as the farmer himself. Let it not, therefore, be sent abroad, that relief was sought alone for the landed interest. In the alleviation of that distress, the public creditor was deeply interested. He feared that nothing was calculated to afford actual relief, but a diminution of taxation—and that, to any great extent, the demands on the public income did not hold out any hope. In his conscience he believed that nothing could be effectually done, until the interest of the debt was diminished.

General Gascoyne

contended that the hon. member, who wished too often to discuss a public question in detail, had either not heard him, or had misunderstood him. In place of sounding any alarum, he had implored the House to pause before, in the present state of the public mind, when too many were irritated without cause, it afforded any ground for increasing that agitation. What other object could these petitions all drawn up in a similar manner, and all complaining of the importation of corn have, but to raise the price of that necessary article? He had that day received a letter from a most respectable manufacturer in the neighbourhood of Manchester, requesting his opinion of the propriety of calling meetings and of petitioning, for the purpose of meeting these agricultural petitions. His answer was, that it would be better to wait until the objects of the petitioners were a little better defined.

Sir J. Newport

considered that the gallant general had not a little contributed to that agitation which he deplored, having taken, in the earliest stage, the opportunity of giving a very decisive opinion on the object of the petitioners. He trusted the doors of that House would never be closed against any class of the people who conceived themselves aggrieved, whenever they approached it with temperate and respectful language. He deprecated the doctrine, that the agricultural body had a separate interest from the rest of the community. Believing the home market to be the most beneficial, the manufacturers had an equal interest in the prosperity of agriculture.

Earl Temple

said, that the petitioners asked only for inquiry; they did not presume to point out the means.

Mr. Ricardo

was not disposed to refuse inquiry to the petitioners, though he thought, under the present state of the country, such a question ought not to be moved but under the soundest discretion. The labouring classes throughout the kingdom were reduced to the greatest distress. That was not the period, therefore when measures should be taken to increase the price of corn. The agricultural interest had its depression, but still it was to be considered as one class, whose prosperity ought not to be forced at the sacrifice of the general good. There was not a more important question than that of the corn laws. Nothing, in his mind, was better calculated to afford general relief than the lowering of the price of corn. It was the first step to that great remedy, the making labour productive.

Mr. Calcraft

hoped that as long as petitioners approached that House in moderate and respectful language, their application for inquiry would be attended to. When the measure for increasing the importation price of corn was under the consideration of parliament, he had voted against it, but though he did not feel himself bound by that conduct to oppose inquiry, he never had conceived that this question could not be viewed as one in which the interests were divided. Agriculture and commerce had an equal and a common interest in their respective prosperity. It was also to be recollected, that the whole burthen of the poor was thrown upon the agricultural interest. That his hon. friend who spoke last, had, on a former evening, admitted to be a question worthy of investigation. Was it not right then to ascertain whether any relief could be afforded, even on that point?

Lord Nugent

stated, that he could vouch for the unequivocal respectability of the petitioners. In their allegations as to the poor laws, he agreed with them; in many other respects he differed with them, most particularly as to the extension of the principle by which the price of corn was raised. Such an unnatural increase directly went to raise the price of labour, and add to the pressure of the poor-rates. It was, however, not to be denied, that the distress amongst the occupiers of land was excessive. Many farmers, who were in possession of property, were actually living on their capital, and those who had saved nothing, or but a little, were totally ruined. The country in fact, at the present hour, laboured under a stagnation of all its leading interests. The causes were, to him, plain and obvi- ous—an immense debt, and a fictitious paper currency. The measures adopted by that House, relative to the return to cash payments, were but in operation, and during their process he should have no objection to a temporary measure of relief.

Mr. Huskisson

deprecated the continuance of any premature discussion on a question which every member must feel to be one of peculiar delicacy. He: therefore suggested that the similar petitions which were to be presented should be allowed to be placed on the table with out discussion, particularly as an hon.; member had already given notice of a motion on these petitions for a future day.

Ordered to lie on the table.