§ Mr. Holme Sumner,
in rising to introduce to the consideration of the House the agricultural distresses of the country, regretted that the subject had not been brought forward by some gentleman more intimately acquainted with its details, and more frequently in the habit of addressing the House. He regretted more particularly that his hon. friend the member for Essex, whose great knowledge upon all questions connected with the agriculture of the country was universally acknowledged, had been prevented by the state of his health from bringing forward this motion, for he was sure it would have been matter of infinite satisfaction to the House, if that gentleman had been able to take the lead on this occasion. It was most necessary, however, that the subject should be brought forward, and he felt persuaded that the agriculture of the country was so rapidly advancing to a state of decay, that unless some measures were taken to stop the total exhaustion of capital embarked in it, ruin of an irretrievable character must fall upon that class of the community who were connected with it. He could not but regret that whenever the agriculturists approached that House to complain of grievances, or petition for relief, the members of the House connected with the manufacturing and commercial interests seemed to think that the gauntlet was thrown down, and that it was necessary to meet any measure which might be proposed for the relief of the agriculturists with the most active opposition. The agricultural petitioners did not come before the House to attack the mercantile or manufacturing interests. He felt that the interests of these three classes were intimately and inseparably connected, and that one of them could not fall into a state of decay without entailing the inevitable ruin of the other. The agriculturists did not come forward to encroach upon the commercial or manufacturing interests, but to claim that protection which the legislature had al- 636 ready decided upon the expediency of extending to them. In the year 1815, the House, after the fullest investigation had come to a determination, that a protection was necessary to be given to agriculturists, and the committee appointed to inquire into the subject reported that they could not be effectually protected unless a remunerating price, which was then fixed at 80s. a quarter, were secured to them. The petitioners did not come to ask for any thing beyond a remunerating price. The prayer of the petitions at present before the House, was, that the petitioners should have such a remunerating price as would enable them to carry on their trade: they did not ask more at present than the House had formerly acknowledged that they were entitled to; but they showed that the provision which had been made for their protection in 1815 was totally inadequate to the purpose for which it had been intended. And, if the present application for inquiry were acceded to, it would certainly be followed up by a request that the House would do something more effectual for their relief. The language of the petitioners was in the highest degree respectful, and had nothing in common with the tone and character of those petitions which complained that the country had been brought to a state of ruin by a bo-roughmongering faction, or a waste of the public money. On the contrary, the uniform feeling of the agricultural branch of the community was one of extreme loyalty and affection to the principles of the constitution; and however they might feel the pressure of the public burthens, they felt likewise that it was their duty to bear them to the utmost limit of their power. Had the agriculturists been a factious body, or had they brought forward their petitions with a view of disturbing the public tranquillity, they must have found another advocate. He again expressed his regret, that whenever the question of extending further protection to the agricultural interests was broached in that House, the guardians of the commercial interests instantly deprecated such a measure, and asked whether the manufacturers were not plunged into a sufficient state of distress, but that their misery must be aggravated by raising the price of corn? However the low price of bread might, by diminishing the price of labour, enable the manufacturer to extend his speculations, he was persuaded that 637 the cry of cheap bread had been productive of incalculable injury to the country, and that much of the distress in the manufacturing districts of which the noble member for Yorkshire had complained, was attributable to the delusions which prevailed upon this subject. He would call the attention of the House to the actual existence of the grievances of which the petitioners complained, next to their causes, and lastly, to the remedy for those grievances. It was unnecessary to occupy the time of the House in exhibiting the distressed state of the agricultural interests; there was not a landed gentleman in the House who had not witnessed it. From the year 1806 to 1814 agriculture had prospered to an extent which was unexampled in this country; from 1814 to the present time, its deterioration had been most rapid and alarming. The causes of this deterioration were in many respects the same as those which had contributed to the distresses of the other classes of the community. The cessation at the end of the war of the expenditure arising from 11 millions of taxes, was one of the most obvious causes of distress. There were other causes, however, which were confined to the agriculturists, and he was surprised to hear it stated by an hon. gentleman, who had the character of a great political economist, and whose opinions were always heard with the greatest respect in that House, that if the agricultural interests bore a greater proportion of any public burthens than the other classes of the community bore, he would allow that they were entitled to increased protection. He was surprised to hear this stated hypothetically by the hon. gentleman, for the hon. gentleman must be aware that a large portion of the public burthens did fall exclusively upon agriculturists. Did not the whole support of the Church Establishment fall upon them? Did not the largest portion of the poor-rates, the whole of the county rates, and the whole expense of the highways, with the exception of turnpikes, fall upon landholders? Notwithstanding these general causes of distress, and those particular causes which affected them in a higher degree than other classes, the agriculturists still thought they could go on if the House would protect them against the ruinous consequences of a competition with foreigners, and they implored the House to re-consider their case. It was impossible for the country to relieve itself 638 of its burthens by violating its engagements with the public creditor; and he thought it would be neither consistent with common honour, nor common honesty, to attempt to divest ourselves of any portion of the public debt. Whatever afflictions taxation had left behind, it was to that taxation we were indebted for our liberty and lives, and that portion of our property which had not been expended or mortgaged in securing them. It was impossible, however, that the agriculturists of a country so situated could, without the assistance of some restrictive measures, compete with foreign markets, when corn from the Black Sea could be brought into our ports at half the price at which our own farmers could afford to sell it. It had been contended, that if corn could be supplied from foreign countries at half the price at which it could be grown in this country, it would be better to go to the foreigner, and not grow it at all in this country. He protested against a doctrine which was calculated to bring ruin both upon the agriculturist and the manufacturer. If such a principle were admitted, it was clear that the agriculturist must withdraw his capital; and the consequence would be, that Great Britain must be rendered wholly dependent on foreign productions: one of the most beautiful countries in the world would thus be converted into a perfect desert, and thrown into a state of dependence on foreign imports for the necessaries of life. The provision of 1815 had been said to answer all the purposes for which it was intended, and to have produced an average price of 85s. since the passing of the bill. This representation, however, was calculated to deceive the public. A system of fraud and falsehood had been pursued in taking the average prices of wheat, by which it appeared that the English grower received 78s. a quarter, when in fact he had seldom received more than 72s. He hoped that House would never listen to the doctrine of those gentlemen who said that the cheapest market should be resorted to. The interests of the manufacturer were intimately connected with those of the farmer; and if the manufacturer were to buy his bread whore he could procure it at the cheapest price, the consequence would be that the farmer could not purchase his manufactures, and thus both would suffer. The petitioners did not pray for any specific remedy, but they were desirous of being admitted to prove, 639 either at the bar of the House, or before a committee, that the provisions in the act of 1815 had failed as entirely of their object, as if that act had never passed. They stated general grievances, and left it to the wisdom of the House to devise the means by which their sufferings might be mitigated. He could not take leave of this subject without adverting to the petition from certain merchants and manufacturers, which had been presented by the hon. member for Taunton. There were no doubt in that petition many principles that could not be denied; but they were wholly inapplicable to the state of society in which we now lived. He would take the opportunity of saying, that bethought there was no great wisdom or propriety in the mode in which that petition had been introduced. It was brought forward at a time when the agricultural petitions were known to be in the hands of many members, and its main object was, to prejudice the interests of agriculturists, to indispose the House towards a consideration of their grievances, and to operate as an antidote to the effects which their petitions were calculated to produce. If the hon. gentleman who opened that subject to the House with so much ability, wished to disguise the real object of the petition, he could not congratulate him upon his success, for, whatever temper and discretion he might have shown in every other part of the subject, whenever he came to speak of the agriculturists he lost his temper,—he lost his discretion, and it seemed impossible for him to speak of that body in any other terms than those; of the most unceremonious rudeness and incivility—The opinions of the agricultural petitioners might be below the notice of the hon. gentleman, and might be, as he had called them, "a farrago of nonsense;" but surely their distresses might at least have screened them from incivility. He was sorry he had trespassed so long on the time of the House, and feared he must have appeared to have lost the connexion of what was more perfectly arranged in his mind when he entered; but he should now at once come to his motion, which was, "That the several petitions presented to the House upon the subject of Agricultural Distresses be referred to a select committee, to consider the matter thereof, and report their opinion thereupon to the House."
§ Mr. Gooch
said, that he considered the question to be of the most vital import- 640 ance, and that however reluctantly he trespassed upon the House, he felt he should not discharge his duty unless he shortly stated the reasons which induced him to second his hon. friend's motion. He was certainly one of those who thought that nothing could be more mischievous, to say no worse of it, than to attempt to separate the interests of agriculture from the interests of any other great branch of the national industry. But the subject under consideration came recommended to the House on another and a very different principle. He would not say that the motion was not intended for the benefit of agriculture, but he would say, that, although, coming from an agricultural part of the kingdom, he certainly did feel a bias in favour of agriculture, yet, if he knew any thing of himself, he was one of the last men in the House, or the country, who would support a motion, the tendency of which would be to injure one class of the community for the advantage of another. A few years since the legislature passed a bill the object of which was to secure to the agriculturist a price which would enable him to cultivate the land without loss to himself. That bill had, however, been totally inoperative. It had not answered the purpose for which it was intended. In consequence of the defective way in which the averages were taken, it was made to appear that the farmer got 80s. a quarter for his corn at the very time that he was actually getting only 72s. Those averages were taken by persons who bought corn, and who were therefore interested in keeping up the apparent price. In some instances they were also taken in districts where little corn was grown, and where the freight was naturally added to the price of the corn. All that the agriculturists asked was, that the bill of 1815 should be made complete and effective for the purposes for which it had been passed. Our ancestors thought agriculture worthy protection, and he could see no reason why it was not as worthy of protection at the present day. How was it possible that, without protection, an English farmer could compete with a foreign farmer who had no poor-rates, no tithes, and comparatively little taxation to pay? He did not mean to enter into the question, whether our present taxation was just or unjust. He knew very well that we could not do without taxes. It was perfectly idle to talk of such a thing. But then came the 641 question, how the British farmer and landlord were to meet this great taxation? If they were not protected, how could it be expected that they would be able to contribute to the revenue? If the farmer could not sell his grain, the landlord must lower his rents, and how could he then pay his share to the revenue, or to the support of the poor? He felt his inadequacy to expatiate on this important question; but he also felt that if he had not thus briefly declared his sentiments upon it, his constituents would have had a right to tell him, that what he had said to them when he met them, he had been afraid to say to the House of Commons.
expressed himself extremely sorry to be compelled to address the House on a subject of such importance, at a time when he was labouring under a degree of indisposition that he was apprehensive would prevent him from making his statement so clear as he wished to make it; and he felt that on that account he must request the idulgence of the House, should he not be so explicit as he could assure them it was his earnest desire to be. Among the various subjects to which the attention of parliament was from time to time directed, there never in his opinion was one which required to be treated with more reserve, and more caution, and he would add, with less frequency than the question which his hon. friend the member for Surrey had just brought under the consideration of the House. On all topics connected with the subsistence of the people, there necessarily prevailed so much apprehension, and he was by no means disposed to deny, so much prejudice, that at all times and in all countries, such topics had been considered as involving matters of peculiar delicacy. So much was he impressed with this opinion that he confessed he felt great regret that the present discussion had taken place. When, at the commencement of last year, an expectation appeared to be entertained that the attention of parliament would be called to the revision of the corn laws, he and his colleagues had felt it to be their duty to state unequivocally their decided conviction that it was not expedient to alter the existing law. In communicating that opinion he had endeavoured to be as explicit as possible, not merely because he thought it his duty to be so, but because he flattered himself that so unequivocal a declaration might lead to the result that 642 the subject would not be pressed. To that result it certainly did lead during the last year, at least as far as the House of Commons was concerned. Ever since that period, however, great pains had been taken in the agricultural districts to excite a conviction that the existing law for the protection of agriculture was inoperative. Associations were established from one end of the kingdom to the other, for the purpose of concentrating in one mass the whole of the agricultural population, in order to bring their case more effectually under the consideration of parliament. In addition to this, it was deeply to be lamented that a kind of manifesto had been issued by an individual, whose name had been very conspicuous in these transactions, in which manifesto (for he could call it by no other title) the case of the agriculturists had been stated with a great degree of culpable exaggeration. He did not pretend to say that there was no agricultural distress. It would be very preposterous to assert any such thing. But he did take the liberty of expressing more than his doubts that that distress was universal. On this subject he had heard with great pleasure a noble lord, one of the members for Yorkshire, declare that to one part of the country at least the distress had not arrived at the extent described by others. As far as his (Mr. Robinson's) personal knowledge went, he did not see about his own residence those symptoms of extreme distress which it was said had betrayed themselves elsewhere. He saw no tenants leaving their farms, no cultivators afraid of speculating, no rents annually in arrear, no poor-rates continually increasing. He was not so absurd, however, as to believe, that, because in that part of the country which came under his own observation he did not see any distress to a considerable extent, it did not therefore exist in other parts of the country: that would be as absurd as appeared to him to be the conduct of those who, seeing great distress around themselves, necessarily concluded that there must be equally severe distress every where else. He by no means, therefore, denied the existence of distress. But the question was—first, what were the causes of the distress? Secondly, what was the remedy which it might be fit to apply? The immediate and direct causes of the distress undoubtedly were, the reduction of the price of corn, and the diminution of the demand. But par- 643 liament would involve itself in inextricable error, if, before it adopted any proceeding on the subject, it did not look more deeply into the primary cause which had occasioned the reduction in the price of corn. By doing so, all would see that as the present distress could not have been created by any deficiency in the corn laws, it therefore could not be remedied by any alteration of the corn laws. It was, in his opinion, impossible for any man to contemplate the events of the five and twenty years of a struggle of unprecedented duration and singularity—it was impossible to contemplate all the extraordinary and various circumstances which attended the late war, without perceiving in those circumstances the real cause of the present agricultural distress. The consequences of that war—a war unlike in its character to any former contest, were such as had never before been experienced in the world. In some countries its tendency was to destroy capital; but in this country its tendency was to accumulate it, and to give an artificial stimulus to every species of our manufactures and agriculture. No man could deny that in consequence of the rapid rise in the value of agricultural produce, occasioned by various circumstances, and above all by the occurrences of the war, an immense capital was embarked in the cultivation of the land, which would never otherwise have been so employed. It appeared to be thought by some that the natural level of the price of corn, was that which would pay the cultivator of the worst land actually in cultivation. It was evident, however, that there was no land, however inferior in quality, which would not produce corn, provided a sufficient capital were expended upon it. But would any man say, that it was possible the legislature could justly be called upon to adopt such measures as would retain bad land in cultivation, when the circumstances which had originally led to its cultivation were totally changed? It was not by any act of the legislature that that land had been called into cultivation, and it was not therefore to be expected that by any act of the legislature it should be continued in cultivation. But it had been stated by his hon. friend the member for Surrey, and by the hon. seconder of the motion, as well as by many other persons, that the law which was passed in 1815 was totally inefficient, and it had been so characterised because it had not produced 644 to the farmers the price of 80s. the quarter for their corn. Now he confessed that if his hon. friend thought that it was the object of the bill to secure that price to the farmers, his hon. friend's view of the motives which led to the introduction of the bill were very different from the actual motives which induced him (Mr. Robinson) to propose it to parliament. On making that proposition, one of the arguments which he had urged against the opponents of the measure, who contended that if it were adopted 80s. would thenceforward be the minimum, was, that in his opinion 80s. would thenceforward be the maximum. If the bill had failed to produce to the farmer 80s. a quarter, it had failed to produce that which it had never been intended to produce. It was impossible that it could produce that which the agriculturists expected, if they calculated upon its operation being similar to that of the circumstances which had maintained the price of agricultural produce during the war. The object of the Corn bill was simply to relieve the farmer from the apprehension of an overwhelming foreign competition, and thus to encourarge him in the proper, but not in the extravagant application of capital to the purposes of cultivation. His (Mr. Robinson's) argument in favour of that bill was, that by its operation the quantity of corn would be increased, which would necessarily diminish the price. It was evident, therefore, that the law was never framed for the purpose of producing to the farmer the price of 80s. a quarter for his corn. If, however, this general argument were considered insufficient, let the House look at the practical effects which had followed the passing of the Corn bill, and consider what had been the actual price of domestic, and the actual importation of foreign corn during the period that had since elapsed. During the last five years the importation of foreign wheat had amounted to 3,483,675 qrs. From this must be deducted 324,546 qrs. remaining in the warehouses, and 770,437 qrs. which had been exported, leaving the amount which had been added to the consumption of the country in five years 2,388,692 qrs.; being at the rate of about 477,000 qrs. per annum. This might appear a formidable quantity of foreign corn to throw into our consumption; but if the House looked at the average price of corn during the last five years, they would find that the agriculturist had not suffered from it, 645 for that average price was 78s. 10d. per quarter. It appeared that under the operation of this very bill, which parliament were told had ruined the agricultural interest, the farmer had received on the average 78s. 10d. a quarter for his corn. It was true that the importation of foreign corn was unequal, as it necessarily must be. It was true, that in the years 1817 and 1818, the first of which followed one of the worst harvests ever known in this kingdom, and was in itself a year of unequal and uncertain character, 2,600,000 quarters of foreign corn had been imported. But then what was the price of corn? No less than 89s. 6d. a quarter. That was the average price of corn during the two years in which the largest quantity of foreign corn had been imported. It was also a remarkable circumstance, that if the House referred to the quantity of corn imported, and to the price of corn from the year 1792 to the year 1809, they would find that during those seventeen years the average quantity of corn imported, and the average price of corn were as nearly as possible the same as the average quantity of corn imported, and the average price of corn since the passing of the Corn bill in 1815; for it appeared, that from 1792 to 1809, the average quantity of corn imported was somewhat less than 500,000 quarters, and the average price of corn was 78s. 6d. a quarter. If the average price of corn during those seventeen years were considered a sufficient remuneration for the farmer, if it were considered a sufficient inducement to him to cultivate the soil, and if it were considered that it left him in the condition in which every man must wish that the fanner should be left (for he supposed no one would suppose that he would be so preposterous as to grudge the fair gains of the agriculturist, or not to join in a wish which must be entertained, even for their own sakes, by all who were possessed of landed property), he really was at a loss to discover why a similar price should not be sufficient for the same purposes during the five years that had elapsed since the passing of the Corn bill. There was another view which he was desirous to take of the subject. The House had been told of the existing distress of the agriculturist. But how was it possible to charge that distress on the existing corn laws, arid to maintain that the low price of corn was attributable to them, when the fact was that no foreign corn had been imported 646 since February 1819, at which period he believed that there was not a single quarter of foreign corn in the warehouses? However low, therefore, the present price of corn, it could not with justice and reason be attributed to any inefficiency in the present law. But, he would ask, was it a trifling matter to be perpetually calling on parliament to make some alteration in the laws on this subject? Was it nothing that a question of such delicacy, of so serious a nature, should be so repeatedly agitated? To him it appeared that such a proceeding was pregnant with the greatest mischiefs. He had never supported the Corn bill on the ground of its being a positive and indisputable good; on the contrary, he had always maintained that it was only a choice between evils. In proportion to the difficulty with which parliament came to such a choice, ought to be the caution with which they meddled with or disturbed it after it had been made. In opening the case his hon. friend had said that the petitioners on the subject did not ask for any specific remedy. He (Mr. Robinson) confessed, that, on the contrary bethought they did particularize a specific remedy—But of this he was satisfied, that the House would find a specific remedy recommended in the manifesto to which he had already alluded, and in which every agriculturist was told that it was the only remedy that could save him from ruin. On that remedy his hon. friend, the member for Surrey, had not touched. He meant the extraordinary proposition or substituting for the present law a permanent duty on foreign corn of 40s. a quarter This might be a protection to the agriculturist in times of plenty; but in times of scarcity it was impossible that it could be tolerated. No government could conduct the affairs of the country in a season of dearth, without being driven to the necessity of making a change in such a regulation. If he were told that instead of 40s. a quarter, which in bad seasons would be an intolerable burthen on the population, a duty of 20s. a quarter might be substituted, he would reply that to the agriculturist such a duty would be useless. If, for instance, such a duty were in existence at the present moment—if to the 32s. a quarter, at which foreign corn might be imported, a duty of 20s. a quarter were added, the whole would not nearly amount to three pounds; and it was evident, therefore, that under such a system agriculture Would be in a very 647 much worse state than that in which it was at present. The plan, therefore, so strongly recommended, was calculated to produce the greatest possible mischief. His lien, friend had said,—and he (Mr. Robinson) knew that great stress was laid on the argument by those who had unfortunately been taught to believe that the legislature could remedy their grievances—that much fraud existed in the mode of taking the averages. For his own part, he had always thought, and he still thought that the greatest possible delusion prevailed on this part of the subject. It was supposed that the price obtained by the agriculturist would not so soon be made to appear to rise to 80s. a quarter, if the average were struck by a different mode. If, for instance, instead of taking the separate average of different markets and different districts, and adding those averages together, the plan was adopted (a plan certainly very plausible in theory) of taking all the quantity of corn sold in the maritime districts, and the price at which it was sold, and thence forming a general average, it was supposed that the result would be extremely favourable to the agriculturist. With a view to ascertain the accuracy of this supposition, he had made some calculations which he fancied would very much surprise those by whom it was entertained. He had taken the average price of grain in the twelve maritime districts for six weeks preceding the 15th May, 1820, as estimated in the usual manner, and he had taken the average price of grain from the total quantity of grain, and the total price, as recommended by the agriculturists. For the week ending the 8th of April, it appeared that the average price of wheat, according to the former method, and published in the gazette was 70s. 2d. a quarter; the price according to the latter method was 71s. a quarter. The price of rye for the same period was, according to the former method, 43s. 7d.; according to the latter method, 44s. 1d. The price of barley was, according to the former method, 35s. 4d.; according to the latter method, 35s. 1d. The price of oats was, according to the former method, 24s. 11d.; according to the latter method 24s. Thus it appeared that, of the four species of grain, wheat and rye were higher by the proposed alteration in the mode of taking the estimate, and that barley and oats were lower. This would at least prove that the change recommended would not be so ad- 648 vantageous, as those who had suggested it imagined. He would not trouble the House by going through the details of the other weeks. It was sufficient to say, that out of the six, five exhibited similar results. Unless therefore the calculation he had made was totally erroneous (which he was by no means disposed to believe), what, he asked, was the object in proposing the change in the mode of taking the averages? It could do no good; and could have no other effect but to put the whole country into a state of agitation and ferment. The introduction of the Welsh counties into the averages had also been objected to. It had been said, that it was absurd to take the average of parts of the country which were so little productive of corn, and that they had better be omitted. The Welsh counties composed the eighth and ninth maritime districts, and Monmouth part of the tenth. Now with a view of discovering how far the objection to their introduction was well founded, he had made a calculation of the averages with the omission of the Welsh counties. According to the view of the agriculturists that omission ought to diminish the price. The reverse was, however the fact. If the eighth and ninth districts, and Monmouth as part of the tenth, were omitted from the calculation of the average price of corn, that average price would be found to be much higher instead of lower. Thus then it appeared that parliament were required to make an alteration on the greatest possible delusion by which several millions of people had ever been deceived. He would by no means assert that the system of taking the averages was perfect. He did not think that the whole system of the corn laws could be perfect. It was, as he had before said, a choice of evils. But, unless a specific ground could be shown for making an alteration in the system, he strongly deprecated the agitation of the whole country by repeated discussions on the subject. He knew that the averages might be imperfectly, and he admitted that it was just possible they might be fraudulently taken. But that imperfection, and that fraud (if fraud there was), might be in favour of the agriculturist as well as against him. At a trial which had lately taken place in Liverpool, it was proved that the object of a person who had made a false return was not to raise, but to lower the apparent price of grain, and that he had succeeded in that object. 649 The agriculturist, however, contended, that all the fraud must be on the side of those who wished to raise the apparent price. But it was evident that it might be the interest of a corn-dealer to lower the apparent price; and as to imperfections, they might tell in favour of the farmer as well as against him. His hon. friend had likewise declared that a great deal of foreign corn was smuggled into this country. Now really he (Mr. Robinson) did not know now that could well happen. No information of that nature had ever reached him. The fact had never been communicated to the office with which he was connected; and he confessed that he had never entertained any suspicion of its existence. He certainly knew that excessive alarm had been excited from the idea that a great deal of foreign corn had been introduced from the Isle of Man and from Guernsey and Jersey, under the pretence that it was the produce of those islands. He had looked closely into the affair, and he had no reason to believe in the existence of fraud. It had always been the custom of those islands to export a few hundred quarters of corn annually to this country; they had never exceeded their usual quantity, and he therefore believed that the alarm which prevailed on the subject was utterly destitute of foundation. Although he was decidedly of opinion that none of the alterations which had been suggested would be at all beneficial to the agriculturist, satisfactory to the country, or generally expedient, he did not mean to say that there might not be ground for examining the execution of some parts of the law. There might be fraud or error or deficiency in the mode of administering the law. To the reference of such an examination to a committee, if his hon. friend wished it, he had no objection. Did his hon. friend think that the law which regulated the appointment of inspectors required amendment? He (Mr. Robinson) doubted it. The fact was, that few persons with whom he had conversed, seemed to be aware of what the law was; but whose fault was that?—The law invested the magistrates at the quarter sessions with the right of appointing inspectors, and of course with the right of removing them if they neglected or betrayed their trust. Why, then, were not fit persons appointed? That fit persons were not always appointed he knew; for, in one of 650 the Welsh counties, one of the inspectors was a lady. It was certainly not a proper employment for one of the fair sex; but, then, why did the magistrates appoint her? It might be said, that the salary was so small that it was insufficient for the remuneration of fit and qualified persons; but whoever said so, laboured under a misapprehension of the law. The law provided that the inspector should have five shillings on each return, which was to be levied on the county. But it went further—and provided that when that remuneration should prove insufficient, it should be competent to the magistrates at the quarter sessions to increase it by a county rate. He did not, therefore, believe that the law had had a fair trial. He did not believe that the magistrates had made use of the powers which the law gave them. There was one part of the subject to which he believed his hon. friend had not adverted—he meant the warehousing system—on which he wished to be permitted to say a few words. By some persons it was supposed that the warehousing of foreign corn was a great evil, and that it had a tendency to keep the farmer in continual alarm of being crushed in the market, the moment the ports were opened, by the immense stock of foreign grain which would pour in upon him from those warehouses. The consequence, however, of not allowing the corn to be warehoused here would be that it would beware-housed on the other side of the channel; and as ships flew on the wings of the wind, the disaster would reach the farmer from Holland almost as speedily as it would from Essex. The only effect of a change would be to deprive the British capitalist of the advantage of building warehouses and of employing persons in them, without the acquisition of any imaginable advantage. If he had been more equal to the task, he should have been glad to have gone at more length into the abstract parts of the subject, and have explained more fully his views upon it. He had stated enough, however, to show that he conceived the main cause of the existing evil was the state in which the country had been for 25 years. He did not speak of the transition from war to peace, or of the cessation of loans and the demands of government; but he maintained that agriculture, being in an unnatural state during the war, had at its termination relapsed into its natural condition. He repeated that he did not here speak merely 651 of a change from war to peace; great and astonishing as that was:Defluit saxis agitatus humor;Concidunt venti, fugiuntque nubes,Et minax (quod sic voluere) pontoUnda recumbit.He should be indeed surprised if any argument could be adduced to prove that that unnatural state was not the primary and operative cause. And if it was so, it was idle to suppose that it could be remedied by any legislative measure? He deeply lamented, therefore, that the subject had been again agitated, and that the petitioners to parliament, many of whom demanded respect and even affection, had been misled into the belief that something could be done, which it was not in human power to accomplish. He repeated, that if his hon. friend would confine the inquiries of the committee to any abuses which might exist in the execution of the law, he would consent to its appointment; but he should abandon the duty which he owed to himself, and to the country which he would fain endeavour to serve, if he did not protest against any change in a law which, while it could extend no relief to this class of the community in the present instance, was calculated to occasion much general inconvenience and injury.
thought it was impossible the House could reject his hon. friend's motion. He had the honour to represent a county which was as capable of sustaining the existing pressure as any county in the kingdom, but which was nevertheless exhibiting a declining capital, and other circumstances indicative of much distress. The petitioners to the House did certainly expect some legislative measure more protecting than the act of 1815. For himself, he absolutely disclaimed any intention by legislative enactments to bolster up the value of corn, for the purpose of securing a remunerating price to the farmer. The object which he had always had in view, was to render this country independent of a foreign supply. For the expediency of that policy he had always contended. In 1815, he had maintained that the bill then passed was not sufficient. And so it had proved. The British farmer had not sufficient security and encouragement, or he would, fertilize every acre in the kingdom. In all our former corn laws, the price at which importation had been allowed was always greater than the average price in 652 the country. For instance, in the first act on the subject, passed in the reign of Charles 2nd, the importation price was fixed at 61s. while the average price in the country was only 33s. In the subsequent acts, the importation price was also considerably higher than the average market price in the country. The import price, in 1773, was lowered from 61s. to 48s.; but looking at the market price for three preceding years, it was at 43s. In the year 1790, the import price was 54s., the market price 49. or 50s., before the ports were open. In 1804 it was 60s. In 1815, the average was fixed at 80s. but if they looked back to the average market price of ten preceding years, they would find it was 93s. Surely then, 80s. could not be fairly called a protecting price? This departure from the original principle of our corn laws was the chief cause of the late measure being inadequate to its object. Under the present regulations, the country was subject to be occasionally inundated with foreign corn. Adverting to the statement made by the right hon. the president of the board of trade, of the quantity of foreign corn imported in 1818, he asked if that could be called a protecting measure which in one year, or even in six months, admitted as much corn into this country as had ever before been introduced in two years of the greatest scarcity? The fact was, that the agricultural produce of this country had been discouraged to such a degree that it could not now be easily restored, and with that discouragement had departed the national prosperity, upon which the community at large depended. The distresses of the agriculturists produced that of the manufacturers; the former took the lead, the latter of necessity followed. It might be proved by fair reasoning supported by facts, that the depressed state of agriculture was the primary cause of the distresses of the manufacturer; in all cases the farmer first had been embarrassed, and the difficulties of the manufacturer had followed as a consequence. Take, for instance, the distresses of the agriculturists in 1815 and 1816. It would be in the recollection of the right hon. gentleman opposite, that the rapid decline in agriculture in those years was immediately followed, by a similar decline in the value of our manufacturing produce. In 1816 corn had risen to an extremely high price, to so much as 120s. per quarter, and then our manufactures were very flourishing; 653 but at the end of that year it fell to from 65s. to 70s, and at that period the declension of our manufactures was equally felt. In 1817 corn rose again in price, and with it rose the manufactures and other interests of the country. A paper which had come into his hands in consequence of the late discussion of the tax on foreign wool, powerfully illustrated the fact of the depression of agriculture producing a corresponding depression in manufactures. It was an account of the quantities of yards of broad cloth milled in the West Riding of Yorkshire in different years, and it showed that the falling off in that manufacture there went almost pari passu with the declension in the value of agricultural products. From this it appeared that about the end of 1816 the average annual quantity fell from six millions to three millions of yards; that in the course of 1817 it rose to three, four, and five millions; but that now again there was a reduction to nearly one half of what it had been in 1S17. The home consumption of our manufactures must depend upon the prosperity of the farmer. The distresses of the country did not arise from the high price of corn; on the contrary, it was found, that as that price declined, the public distress increased, and must continue. It was true in the abstract that cheap corn was an advantage to the country; but cheap corn must be so considered, not by the lowness of price, but relatively to the price of labour. Corn might be sold at a very low price, and yet be very dear to the consumer; and vice versa, at a high price, and yet be cheap. He would ask the House whether the labourer had been benefited by our lowest prices of grain? By no means. The misery was, that there was not at such periods a market for labour. The labourer was, therefore, reduced to a state of misery, of degradation, and of irritation, more dangerous to the tranquillity of the country than any other circumstance could possibly be. He would ask whether corn could rise in price without causing a corresponding rise in the price of labour? Who was it who purchased the corn of the country? Certainly the great mass of the population. The agriculturist could not look to the opulent portion of society as his purchasers, it was the mass of the population who were to be looked to, and if they could not afford to purchase, the price of corn could not rise. The labouring population of this country 654 was calculated to be 5,000,000, now it was understood that the wages of that part of our population had decreased on an average 4s. per week. There was, therefore, a decrease of 52 millions in the amount which the labourer brought annually into the market. The effect of this, added to the diminution in the issues of the Bank of England paper, and the consequent and sudden seduction of a country paper currency to the amount of many millions could not fail to produce the most depressive effect on the agricultural, and consequently, on the manufacturing interest, since such a reduction became the cause of reducing the value of the products of industry. The national debt, and other burthens, became almost intolerable under these circumstances, and operated on all classes with increased effect. He trusted the House would agree to the motion for a committee, since the object the petitioners had in view was sanctioned by the precedent of late years as well as by a provision of a similar nature (although inadequate to the purpose intended, that of protecting our agricultural interest) passed upwards of one hundred and fifty years ago.
expressed the satisfaction with which he had heard the speech of I the right hon. the president of the board I of trade. Notwithstanding the want of temper which had been charged upon him on this occasion, he could assure the I House that he would view this question with as much calmness and temper as any member, even the hon. mover, who was so distinguished for coolness and patience, could possibly do. So convinced was he of the impolicy of bringing forward any question which could agitate the public mind, that he felt great reluctance to enter on the subject. He had opposed the Corn bill in the first instance, and he had since had no reason to change the opinions he had then stated. At the same time he was convinced of the general impolicy of disturbing the system on which a great country moved and acted, and which it was highly important that the inhabitants of that great country should think solid and permanent. This consideration had deterred him from saying any thing upon the subject from the passing of the bill to the present time, though it had confessedly turned out, as was predicted to be totally inadequate to give those whose interests it was meant to serve that protection they required; the result had also 655 further shown the fallacy of endeavouring to put a permanent artificial price on a necessary of life by any legislative measures. So strongly did this conviction operate upon his mind, that if bethought there was the least chance that the proposed committee would arrive at the conclusion to reduce the protecting price of corn, he would consent to its appointment. The motion had, however, been introduced somewhat late, and the hon. mover had omitted distinctly to state the various objects he had in view, though that defect had been amply supplied by the manly avowal (consistent with his general character) of the hon. gentleman who spoke last, who had admitted that his purpose was, to obtain a higher protection, though without mentioning to what extent he would carry it. The hon. member for Essex had ascribed the general distress of the kingdom to the low price of corn and the low price of wages. But in what situation would the poorer, the industrious and labouring classes, find themselves if the price of corn were now 40 or 50 per cent higher than it actually was? His hon. friend had not stated to what extent he would wish the price to be carried; but what, he would again ask, must become of those multitudes, those beehives of population, that were to be found in our manufacturing towns, if any considerable addition were to be made to that price? Already we stood at double the price of the rest of the world, but with this some hon. gentlemen were not satisfied; would they then wish it to be trebled? It was impossible that any man, calmly reflecting on the principles which formed the basis of our commercial and manufacturing interests, should conceive that they could exist under circumstances so unfavourable. He was aware that the sentiment amongst many was, that a high price of corn must be had at whatever risk, and let the consequences be I what they might; that if manufactures would be ruined by such a measure, still that the sacrifice was necessary. Now, in; the first place, it should be remembered, I that what enabled us to bear the present price of agricultural produce, which was double its price in any other country, was the superior industry and trading habits of our own people. If the state of society were to be completely changed, and we were to become an agricultural people merely, it was impossible that the existing artificial prices could be maintained. The 656 only hope of a large profit must then be derived from exportation. The agriculturist had, in fact, as deep an interest in the prosperity of manufactures as the persons more immediately engaged in them—as deep an interest as he had in the cultivation of the land itself. It was the interest of the agriculturists to look to and foster the manufacturers, as it was impossible that the one could improve or decline without producing a corresponding rise or depression on the other. This opinion, he was happy to observe, was now gaining ground, and all endeavours to separate the agricultural from the commercial interest would probably be unsuccessful. His hon. friend had furnished a calculation, the correctness of which he (Mr. Baring) had some reason to doubt; but by which it appeared that three-fourths of our manufactures were consumed at home, and one-fourth only exported. But even on that supposition, if a fourth fell off, it must greatly prejudice the remaining trade, and the means of carrying it on. The prosperity of the country could only be upheld in the aggregate, and the subject ought to be considered in no other than that general light. It was idle for one class to suppose that it could derive any permanent advantage from the depression of another. His hon. friend had said, that for the ten years preceding the last act regulating the price of corn, that price was as high as 93s. per quarter, and seemed to intimate that this would be a fit price at the present day. But his hon. friend entirely overlooked the alteration which had taken place in the value of our currency—an alteration which, as nearly as he could calculate, left the price at the exact point which his hon. friend thought so desirable. Corn being now at 78s. was from our altered currency, as near as possible what it was when its nominal value was 98s. It had been already fully shown that the present depression of agriculture was not ascribable to the introduction of foreign grain, for during the last fifteen months none had been introduced. If the importation price had therefore been 100s. instead of 80s. the occupiers of land would have been in the same condition. All this seemed to prove that the price of corn could not be forced up by parliamentary enactments, but that it depended on a great number of relative circumstances. It was true that the farmer was now-suffering; so was the manufacturer, and 657 indeed every class of the community. His hon. friend seemed to think that the cause of all the evil was, that the farmer could not purchase from the manufacturer; but so it might be represented the other way, that the manufacturer was not able to deal with the farmer, or find consumption for his produce. It had been recently shown to the House by an hon. member, who read the contents of a paper brought up to town by the gentle men who composed the deputation from Birmingham that there had been a falling off of from 56,000 to 48,000 black cattle in the consumption of that town; and a similar falling off in the consumption of sheep. This circumstance went to prove, what was before obvious to all who were conversant with the subject, that distress amongst the poor manufacturers naturally led to a diminished consumption of meat. When his hon. friend, therefore, dwelt so forcibly on one side of the question, it was necessary to look a little at the other. The great portion of decrease in the demand for landed produce arose from the inability of people to pay for it. He might illustrate this position by a reference to the state of things in Ireland, where a large body of the inhabitants had not the means of consuming animal food, and the higher kind of agricultural produce; and where even wheat became a luxury. Some hon. members had argued this subject as if foreign corn was, in point of fact, continually interfering with articles of their own growth, whilst in reality they could not obtain a larger profit, although an entire restriction were placed on the foreign commodity. The general principle, as he understood it, of, the last Corn bill was, to give the farmer a monopoly of the home-market to a certain extent, and up to the indication of incipient scarcity. That indication was fixed at 80 shillings; and the only question now was, whether this limitation ought to be removed to a higher sum. When they considered that in France the price at which symptoms of approaching scarcity were thought discernible was 50 shillings, and that the French government: had made large purchases of foreign corn: when the home-market had reached that price, it was easy to determine a question of this nature. It might happen that I when the price here had arrived at its maximum, we should find the foreign supply already swept off by our neighbours. Such a state of things would, he I 658 apprehended, present a crisis far more awful to us than it would be to France, or any other country, under the circumstances in which we were placed, with millions of men for whom there was no adequate employment. It was undeniable that all classes had now to manage with a diminished revenue, and were compelled to retrench in every mode, and adopt stricter habits of economy. He regarded the present motion as an effort on the part of the landed proprietors to avoid yielding to the same necessity, and to procure in their own favour an exemption from the common lot. He was desirous of stating his opinions with due respect, but this was the view which he entertained. It was his full persuasion that they would soon discover their mistake, and that, if they should obtain a protecting price of 100s., or a complete exclusion of foreign produce, they would find, in the result, that they had only made way, through the ruin of other interests, to their own. It was vain to expect that they could maintain themselves in the same situation in which they had stood during the war. Prices had been forced up, and must inevitably come down. He believed that any attempt to raise by further means the articles either of our home consumption or of our foreign exportation would be to bring them still lower than they would otherwise descend. Let them look at the case of a small landed property—at the situation in which a large part of the yeomanry stood, who had mortgaged their patrimonies to purchase land, but who now found that with their utmost efforts they could not pay the interest of the money from any profits which they drew from the land they had purchased. This was a lamentable situation; and if any remedy, upon principles of sound policy, could be suggested, he should be happy to give it his support; but was it possible to suppose that such distress could be remedied by any artificial mode of raising the value of agricultural produce? Great stress had been laid on the burthen of taxes which fell peculiarly on agriculture, but he was not aware of any that did not press with equal weight on every other interest. A great deal of conclusive evidence as to that point had been adduced before the last committee on the corn-laws, and it showed that there were no direct taxes of any moment on agriculture, or at least that they were inferior to those which every branch of 659 trade and manufactures laboured under. With the exception of the agricultural horse-tax, they were of a trifling nature, and bore no proportion to the heavy imposts on all other branches of industry and employment. As to parochial rates for the support of the poor, he admitted that they were very heavy, but in some form or other the poor of all countries were supported by the land; and when he heard so much said about tithes, he was tempted to suppose that gentlemen had forgotten the possibility of a tithe-holder being a lay proprietor. The truth was, that in almost every country a tax on land was the principal source of revenue. In France the land-tax was estimated at about 20 per cent, and parochial rates were levied, which, though not attended with the same abuses, or carried to the same absurd extent as in this country, were directly chargeable on the land. In Germany and Poland the case was similar, and he could not but infer that gentlemen were unacquainted with these facts when they alluded so often to the extraordinary burthens which landed property had to sustain amongst ourselves. With respect to the petitions themselves, it was not pleasant to make any observations that might appear severe; he was, however, compelled to say, that the conduct of the petitioners on the present occasion was altogether unprecedented—unprecedented, he would say, save in the instance of those petitions for universal suffrage, which had been presented to the House some years ago. Much the same efforts were used, much the same artifice had been employed in both cases. Mr. Hall had certainly the merit of activity in calling meetings, and perseverance in recommending the same resolutions and the same petitions to every district in the United Kingdom. No doubt, however, he who read the first sentence of what the right hon. the president of the board of trade had called Mr. Hall's manifesto would not desire to wade through more of it. One of the resolutions of the agricultural association was, that copies of their petition should be sent through the country to obtain signatures, and one of Mr. Webbe Hall's agents had come to the town, he (Mr. Baring) represented, with one of the copies, to prevail upon as many butchers or farmers as he could to give their names; but he believed that they, to their credit, had universally refused. These 660 circumstances tended to detract in a great degree from the estimation in which he should otherwise be disposed to hold the petitions of so numerous and respectable a body. To him it appeared that the manner in which the petitions had been got up, and the arts that had been employed about them, tended greatly to diminish their value. He was not, however, to be considered as wishing to underrate the sufferings of the agricultural classes of society; at the same time, if he were called on to declare what class of persons in this country laboured least tinder the general distress, he would most undoubtedly say that the agriculturists were that class; he did not say that their distress was little—that it was not considerable;—but, compared to what the other classes of society felt and suffered, the distress of the agriculturist appeared to him to be the least. The remedy for that distress could not be found in any legislative provisions, in any laws that they could make. The occupiers of land had but one remedy, and that they must seek in a reduction of rents. Upon the whole he was inclined to think it useless to go into the proposed committee, unless the House had made up its mind to raise the importing price of foreign grain. The only result would be an unfortunate agitation of the public mind. If their table had been covered with petitions from the agriculturists, yet, if the country conceived that parliament had any intention of entertaining the object sought for, he was convinced that it would, in that case, soon be covered with petitions of a different kind, and with a prayer immediately opposed to them [Hear, hear!]. With regard to an alteration of the averages, it appeared to him to be the same question as that of raising the protecting price, though undoubtedly, if abuses existed, they were fit matter of regulation. He thought at the same time, that landed proprietors had the remedy for such abuses in their own hands, or that a proper application to the magistrates might have the desired effect. It had been said by the hon. member for Surrey that in the London petition there was a disguised intention of attacking the present corn-laws; but for himself he could sincerely say, that he had no design of mooting any part of the regulations that had already been made. On the contrary, the principle which he maintained was, that whatever system was 661 adopted ought to be supported with: steadiness and perseverance, and. ought not to be departed from, even though a change might be attended with temporary advantage.
Mr. Frankand Lewis
agreed, that it was above all things desirable that the law should be made permanent on this subject. He wished for an extended inquiry with a view to some measure that should relieve the farmer from that state of feverish anxiety in which he was kept by a perpetual attention to average and importing prices. A refusal to inquire he did not think the best means of tranquillising the public mind. Some of the petitions prayed for a change in, the general policy of our system, not for immediate relief, under the pressure of difficulty and distress. They claimed only that sort of protection which bad been afforded, in an almost boundless measure, to every branch of our manufactures. They stated that it would be wise, just, and equitable, to extend the same principle to land; and upon their making out this proposition before a committee, they rested their title to the consideration of parliament. If their views and arguments were erroneous, it would be an easy matter to refute them. Unquestionably the same principles of encouragement which applied to manufactures did not apply to agriculture, because the former were susceptible of the highest degree of improvement, and the utmost degree of cheapness; but the latter, when extended, must, by being driven to inferior land, have its produce deteriorated in quality, and raised in price. Unfortunately no interests were more at variance than those of the owner and occupier of land. The landlord had but one object, that of obtaining the highest rent; but the tenant, whatever might be his interest under an existing lease, could derive no advantage from protecting prices when that lease expired. As a permanent system he must lose rather than gain by it, because whatever tended to raise the price of labour must diminish the profits of stock. The present system was evidently injurious to him; for, in the event of an excess or more than an average crop, he could not export to a foreign place, where there might happen to be a demand, till the price fell below the average, not of this country merely, but of that to which he exported. It operated, therefore, as a prohibition on the export 662 of corn. On the other hand, when a season of scarcity happened, instead of obtaining a proportionally higher price, the farmer was exposed to a competition with every other nation in the world. These two contingencies had the effect of placing the farmer in a far worse situation than that in which he had been accustomed to stand under ordinary circumstances. The views to which he called the attention of the House were, in his opinion, very important, especially to the renters of the land, who, in this case, formed the most numerous class of petitioners; and therefore it was extremely desirous that an opportunity should be afforded for going particularly into this branch of the question. There was, he thought, another reason which ought to induce the House to examine the question—namely, because the mode in which protection was at present given was very inconvenient. He conceived that the adoption of a prohibition was a worse course of proceeding with reference to the protection of the agriculturist, than a positive duty. The existing system operated as a prohibition to a certain extent; and, as it so operated, it must occasion a sudden alternation from a prohibition to an unlimited supply—a state of things the most mischievous that could be imagined. Every change, to be wise and beneficial, ought to be gradual, and it was peculiarly important that it should be so in this case. He was of opinion that the present protective system was inconvenient in other respects. The mode of taking the average, as it appeared to him, was exposed to an unfair degree of influence. He believed it was acknowledged in London that the corn-merchants had it in their power to open the ports when they pleased. Looking to the mode in which the averages were taken, he thought it was in the power of a combination to exert a very great and a very injurious influence; but at all events there was some inconvenience in the existence of such a persuasion. Notwithstanding all he had heard on the subject, he was much inclined to entertain the opinion, that a certain duty would afford the most effectual protection. He, as well as the right hon. the president of the board of trade, viewed with the utmost abhorrence a duty of 40s. per quarter. God forbid the day should ever arrive when the legislature would adopt such an 663 expedient. A duty to such an amount certainly was not desirable. But, looking to the operation of the existing system, he conceived that agriculture weald be placed under an infinitely safer protection, even with a duty of 20s. the quarter, than it received at present. It was evident that though this would admit the importation of grain, yet that importation could not, as had been stated, proceed to the extent which many persons supposed. This fact was corroborated by a well-known circumstance. Some time since orders were sent from France to Dantsic for the purchase of grain: the consequence was, that the price in the Baltic was immediately raised 25 per cent. This circumstance proved, that the northern market was not in a state to supply very extensive demands. It was, however, said, that if a duty were imposed on the importation of corn, it could not be adhered to in a time of scarcity, and that, on the contrary, when the prices were very low, the farmer would not be remunerated. He was, however, willing to meet extreme cases, and to provide for them; and he was convinced that, under ordinary cases, the mode he adverted to would be found the safest and the best, instead of constantly recurring to the opening and shutting of the ports. The House was imperatively called on to institute an inquiry into this subject; particularly when it was recollected that the present state of the country was wholly different from that in which it stood when the corn law was passed in 1815. It was now not only different from what it then was, but it was perfectly different from any situation which was at that time contemplated as likely ever to exist. He was greatly struck I with the words of the report of the committee, in conformity with which the Corn law was introduced. It was there observed, that the laws which regulated the importation of corn, with reference to that grown at home, and the expense of raising it in this country, had been minutely examined. In doing so, your committee turned their attention to the following points—the expense of the present cultivation of the land, together with the rent, and the price of the market." Now, he would appeal to those individuals who had considered these points, whether the country w3s not now in a situation, with respect to cultivation, including rent, perfectly different from that in which it stood in It 1815. when the com law passed? 664 He believed the expense of cultivating a farm was diminished nearly one third. This he stated as the result of inquiry; and he was in the hearing of those who could contradict him if be erred. If the fact wanted corroboration, it was to be found in the manifestos of the agriculturists themselves, where the reduced price of; labour was stated over and over again. That, however, was not all; there was likewise, the reduced price of horses, and of almost every thing necessary; for farming. This created a very essential difference Then what was the result? It was this—that these who had invested capital when the prices were high must be nominally losers at this time; but that, if any persons now invested fresh capital in agricultural pursuits, they would stand at a charge one-third less than they formerly could do. About one-third was the average declension in the price of corn. There was also a declension in the price of cattle and sheep, but not to so great an extent. The price of corn was not, therefore, so much diminished, when these circumstances were considered, as might be imagined at first sight; and he thought the House could not but see that a farmer who now invested money in agriculture was likely to reap as great a profit as he would have gained prior to the high prices. This was a point that bore directly on the question before the House; because if they considered the evidence and the argument, gentlemen must perceive how much rent had fallen in every part of the country. The protection recommended in 1815 proceeded on the expense of cultivation, including rent. That expense was now every way diminished. They could not shut their eyes to this fact, and declare that that which was right in 1815 ought, under very different circumstances, to be considered right now. He could not but persuade himself that the time was not far distant when it would be found necessary for them, in some degree, to retread their steps, and to adapt the protection to the altered state of expense, when, instead of increasing that protection, he trusted they would feel a sincere desire and an anxious wish to examine this question, with a view to the alteration and amendment of the existing system. It was an opinion prevalent throughout the country that excessive taxation was the great reason of all the distress that was 665 complained of. Now he must observe that this system of protection acted as a tax on consumable commodities. It tended to increase the price to the consumer, to the amount of the difference between the sum for which the article might be bought, and that which was really paid for it. This was what the consumer felt, and this increased price did not go to supply any exigency of the state, I but went to the landholder. This was the true state of the case; and he looked upon the tax which he had described as one of the very worst kind, since it weighed, above all others, on the prime necessaries of life, and interfered with that on which all labour depended. It was the most objectionable species of tax, because it was not levied for the I purposes of the state, or for the public protection, but to serve and assist a particular class of persons. He was one of that class, and if the system were altered, he must, of course, bear a proportion of the loss. But if he lost all the benefit he received from the present system, he believed that in the end he would be the better for it. He was convinced that he would, in that case, be a gainer, ultimately, by the beneficial change that would be operated on all classes of society. The existing system produced such an artificial state of prices, and occasioned such fluctuations in our relations with other countries, as must throw very great impediments in the way of foreign commerce. This system diminished the profit of trade. It was, above all things, the most likely to drive capital out of the country, and what was worse, by rendering every necessary extremely dear, it was calculated to drive people out of the country. In his opinion, parliament ought to consider whether it would not be advisable gradually to diminish this system of protection. He conceived that it was now carried too far, and that it must be undone by degrees. Much as he was desirous of inquiry on this important subject, yet he was so confident that the views under which the inquiry was proposed by the present motion were directly opposite to what he conceived to be salutary, that he felt himself obliged to oppose the question.
§ Lord Milton
concurred with the hon. gentleman who had just sat down. He had wished, when notice of this motion was given, that it should be introduced with such extensive views, that it should 666 have pointed at such a broad and general inquiry, and should have had for its object such remedial measures, as would have accorded with his feelings on the subject. But he found that the fears which he entertained, when, last week, he put a question to the hon. mover, relative to the object of the motion, were completely realized. He did then expect that the motion would be brought forward with views, which, begging the hon. member's pardon for the expression, would be so confined and So little adapted to this great question, that it would be quite unfit for the House to entertain it. The speech of the right hon. the president of the Board of Trade, or rather the conclusion at which that right hon. gentleman arrived, surprised him exceedingly. In every sentiment which that right hon. gentleman expressed, and in every view he took of the question, he thought it was impossible not to concur. He therefore confessed that he felt much surprise, when, towards the end of his speech, he gave the House to understand, though not so clearly as was desirable, that he might possibly support the motion. [No, no.] As he understood the right hon. gentleman, he intimated that it was his intention to support the motion, provided it was limited in a particular manner. Now, he would contend, that the limitation of the motion in that particular manner rendered it unfit to be granted. When they had the whole of the agricultural interest at their bar, stating the distress under which they laboured, and calling on the House for inquiry, were they to be told by a minister of the Crown, "inquiry you may have, but only on this condition, that it shall be limited." And limited to what? To the operation of the averages. When, at the conclusion of his speech, the right honourable gentleman stated the grounds on which he would consent even to that limited inquiry, he told the House that perhaps it might be fit to alter the manner of appointing inspectors. It did appear to him that it would be trifling with that great interest which appealed to their wisdom, if a committee were appointed with such a limited view. Indeed, in his opinion, almost all the gentlemen who had delivered their sentiments, except the hon. member who spoke last, gave the go-by completely to the true causes of the existing distress. Those who considered the question correctly must feel that it was not the mode of taking the 667 averages, or the manner in which inspectors were appointed, that occasioned the evil. No; he would now state, as he had done before, that they could not look to the agricultural distress alone, but they must consider it as part of the general distress which affected the whole country. If this were the case, it was quite clear that any such inquiry as that now proposed would only disappoint the' hopes and expectations of the great interest whose petitions were before them. It would lead them to think that the House had really at heart a minute inquiry into the cause of their distress; but when they came to examine the course that was adopted, they would find that the inquiry proposed was not suited to the attainment of the object. By proceeding in this manner, they would first excite an anxious expectation; but when that expectation was raised, they would dash the cup from the lips of those who hoped for relief, and discontent would be created in a tenfold proportion. The history of all the distress under which the country suffered was to be traced to the "unnatural state" in which Great Britain had been continued for the last 25 years. This had been truly and simply stated; but these were only two words, which expressed nothing, unless they went further, and showed how that "unnatural state" of things operated. It was the peculiar distinction of the late war, that in the course of it they had not only spent an immense quantity of actual capital, but he would go farther, and say that they had spent an anticipation of capital, which was necessary for the service of the country. They had entered into engagements, for satisfying which the capital of the country was insufficient. And to meet those engagements, the creation of new capital, the accumulation of wealth, and the increase of those resources which the country possessed, were called for. If those resources were not increased and extended, it would be impossible to bear the load of debts and taxes which weighed on the country. It was that load which pressed on the agriculture, the manufactures, and the commerce of the empire. In the last session, the House had agreed to a measure, over the effect of which he thought a veil had rather been cast by some gentlemen. He alluded to the regulation of the currency, which must have had a very considerable effect in aggravating the distress of the country. Not that he would ask the 668 House to retrace their steps on that question, or that he would not stand by the measure. All he wished was to open the eyes of the country to what the effect of that measure had been and must be, because he was of opinion that the entire operation of the measure, introducing a certain degree of distress in the country, had not yet been realized. In considering the general distress, there were many points to which they ought to turn their attention. The inquiry ought not to be such as the hon. gentleman proposed, but one embracing a wide and comprehensive scope. Ought they not to consider whether the late war had not had a great effect in altering the direction of capital, and transferring it from some classes to others? Again, it would be proper to inquire what effect that war had on the population that was called into existence during its continuance; and also what was its operation on the property of the lower orders—he meant industry and labour—for they were as much property as the capital that was embarked in agriculture and commerce. Employment was one of the final causes, perhaps the final cause, of population. Then it was for them to examine whether there was trade sufficient to give employment to that population which had been called into existence during the war. And if not, they should inquire whether any derangement of the system of capital, was or was not, one of the great causes why there was not employment for the population. With all these considerations before them, he confessed that he thought the House would appear blind to the real state of the country if they instituted an inquiry so limited in its operation as that which was now proposed. He felt much regret at not being able to vote for the motion, because his belief was, that an inquiry, properly conducted, and extensively undertaken, would go far to satisfy the minds of the petitioners. In his anxiety, however, that they should not be disappointed by expectations which the course now recommended would not realize, he was reluctantly compelled to oppose the motion. Mr. Curwen said, the picture given of the state of the country by the right hon. gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade was the most melancholy that could be imagined. There were many points, however, in which he decidedly differed from the views taken by the right hon. gentleman. The right hon. gentleman 669 had stated that there was not in the country, in the beginning of 1819, and that there had not been since, a quarter of foreign grain in the warehouses of this country. If this were the fact, which he could scarcely suppose, it was an admission of the most alarming nature; because it must be well known that the harvest of last year did not, either in quantity or quality, average the produce of ordinary years. The inference then was, if the price of corn were not kept down by the quantity of foreign grain in the market, that there was such a decrease in the population of the country, that so many individuals were obliged to go abroad, as to render the harvest of an unfavourable year adequate to the support of the country. He was of a different opinion; for he believed that there must have remained a considerable portion of foreign grain to keep down the price of the market. The great difficulty and distress of the country at this time arose from the unproductive state of labour. Whatever was likely to give activity to labour would operate most beneficially far the country. There were burdens that fell particularly on agriculture, and an inquiry ought to be allowed, that these burdens might be more equally divided among the different interests of the community. He needed only to allude to the enormous amount of the poor-rates, which particularly pressed on the land. The taxes, which fell likewise more upon the landed than on the other interests of the nation, were now, considering the difference in the value of the currency, greater than during the war. The hon. member for Taunton, had asked, "what burdens did the land bear more than the other interests?" He would answer "the poor-rates." These, with other burdens on agriculture, constituted 30 per cent, on the value of the produce, no part of which was borne by the fundholders. He wished inquiry for various reasons, and chiefly to remove the burdens borne peculiarly by agriculture, and to divide them more equally between the agriculturists and the fundholder. The interest which the fundholders derived from the nation was upwards of 28,000,000l. no part of which was liable to any charge on account of the poor, while agriculture was particularly oppressed, as the quantity of labour had exceeded the demand, and the supernumerary labourers were entirely supported by the land. By this means 2,000,000l. of taxes, which were paid by 670 the poorer class of society, fell ultimately upon the agriculture of the country.—When an hon. gentleman stated that land could be tilled cheaper than in 1813, he must excuse him for saying that he could not have looked closely into the question, for the poor-rates had increased in a proportion far exceeding any abatement that had been made by the remission of other taxes, so that notwithstanding the removal of the income tax, the burden on the land was now greater than at any period during the war. Seven shillings was deducted from every pound in rent, while no deduction was made from the funded interest. He would be willing to go into committee with two views. First, he thought it but fair that the funded property should bear a part of the burthen of poor-rates, which would save 7s. a quarter in the growth of corn. But the country laid taxes on labour. Could any thing be more absurd than to tax men who were obliged to go to the parish for relief? The best way, he thought, would be to resort to a fair and modified income tax, by which the expense would be fairly shared between all descriptions of property, instead of pressing exclusively on the land. Would the commercial interest agree to this? They ought to take their shareof the public burthens, and he should be glad to see them coming forward and making such an offer. The hon. gentleman had mentioned that rents ought to be reduced; they had been reduced, not 5 per cent, but 15. The hon gentleman was mistaken in thinking that they had poor rates in other countries; he would find that the system was confined to England. Upon the whole, he was for a general arid a fair inquiry, to take into consideration the interest, not of one class, but of the whole Community, to find out the means' of equalizing the public burdens, to remove commercial restrictions where they could be removed, and to afford that protection to agriculture which it required for the general welfare. The common people were suffering the greatest distress. He would wish the taxes which fell particularly on them, namely, the tax on soap, on leather, and other articles, to be equally commuted for an income-tax, which would fall equally on all classes of the community. With regard to the present protecting price of wheat, namely, 80s. he would not wish it raised. If he had had a seat in the House when the measure was introduced he would have proposed 671 86s.; but he saw no reason for disturbing the present arrangement. All that he wanted was, that agriculture should not be subjected to greater burthens than the other interests of the nation, and that the profits of labour, not labour itself, should be taxed, and he trusted that the time was not far distant when such would be the case.
§ Mr. Ricardo
said, that there was one sentiment delivered by an hon. gentleman in the early part of the debate, in which he cordially concurred, namely, that in legislative enactments, the interest of one body of men ought not to be consulted at the expense of others, but that each should receive corresponding consideration in proportion to its importance. He (Mr. Ricardo) would wish to act up to this maxim, and, because he consulted the interests of the whole community, he would oppose the corn-laws. In many of the observations which he intended to make he had been anticipated by his hon. friend the member for Taunton. The agriculturists had contended that they had a right to be protected in a remunerating price for their produce, but they forget that no remunerating price could be fixed. It was in vain to talk of fixing a remunerating price, which must necessarily change with circumstances. If by preventing importation the farmer was compelled, for the national supply, to expend his capital on poor or unprofitable soils, the remunerating price at which he could keep this land in cultivation must be very high, as compared with the price of grain in other countries, where the soil was better, and less labour was required. Open the ports, admit foreign grain, and you drive this land out of cultivation; a less remunerating price would then do for the more productive lands. You might thus have fifty remunerating prices according as your capital was employed on productive or unproductive lands. It became the legislature, however, not to look at the partial losses which would be endured by a few, who could not cultivate their land profitably, at a diminished remunerative price, but to the general interests of the nation; and, connected with this, he would look to the profits of capital. In his opinion a remunerating price might have been so fixed, that 50s. per quarter would have answered the purpose, but at all events he conceived that if the farmers in the country could raise a sufficient supply for the de- 672 mand, 70s. might be considered as a protecting price.—He would rather have a great quantity of produce at a low rate than a small quantity at a high. By making food cheap, the people would be enabled to purchase a greater quantity of it, and apply a part of their earnings to the purchase of luxuries. The high price of subsistence diminished the profits of capital in the following manner:—the price of manufactured articles—of a piece of cloth for instance—was made up of the wages of the manufacturer, the charges of management, and the interest of capital. The wages of the labourer were principally made up of what was necessary for subsistence; if grain was high, therefore, the price of labour, which might be before at 50 per cent on the manufactured article, might rise to 80, and being sold to the consumer at the same rate, the 10 percent (difference) would necessarily be a reduction from the profits of stock. If food was high here, and cheap abroad, stock would thus have a tendency to leave the country, and to settle where higher profits could be realized. The right hon. president of the board of trade appeared inconsistent when he denied a committee to inquire into the more important question, and yet agreed to one for discussing such trifling matters as striking the average. This was not what the petitioners wanted; they declared that they could grow as much as the home market; required, and they demanded a monopoly of it. He would admit their statement to its full extent. He would even admit that our land was susceptible of a great increase of population, and that we could grow what would be sufficient to support that increase. But then, see what the inference of the petitioners was—they required that importation, therefore, should not be allowed. The answer to the whole of their system was plain. "You can grow those articles, it is true, but then we can get them cheaper from other countries." They could grow them, but was it expedient that they should under those circumstances? All general principles were against it. They might as well urge that as in France, they could grow beet-root for the purpose of producing sugar, as grow grain sufficient for home consumption merely because it could be done. The right hon. gentleman opposite had ridiculed that absurd scheme of Buonaparté in the most pointed language, but all his ridicule applied equally to the 673 growing of corn in this country when we could get it cheaper elsewhere. Another of their arguments was, that as ship-owners and merchants were protected by the navigation laws, and other enactments, so they ought to be protected by prohibitions in return. But he denied that these protections were of any use to the country. The navigation laws were of no use. Nay, he would allow them to take any trade they pleased, and surround it with protections; the meaaure might be beneficial to the particular trade, but it must be injurious to the rest of the country. There was no principle more clear than this. The argument of the agriculturist was, that the legislature having enabled the ship-owner and cotton manufacturer to injure the community, they should give him a privilege to do the same. Again they talked of the tax on malt, as if the tax on malt was not a general burthen, which fell upon every class of the community. Another of their statements was, that they paid 30 per cent on the whole produce of the country. He contended that the land-owner did not pay 30 per cent on the whole produce of the country. The produce of the country was calculated at the value of two hundred millions a year; 30 per cent would be 60,000,000l., and besides that there were the assessed taxes, the customs, and various other sources of revenue, which showed that the calculation of 30 per cent was wrong. They spoke also of the encouragement given to foreign labour, but, he would ask, what article could they import which was not the produce of foreign labour? for which, it was to be observed, that English labour was given in exchange. The error committed in 1816 was that of making the corn law a permanent law. It ought to have been a temporary measure, and to have ceased its operation as soon as the existing leases had expired, and the farmer was enabled to make new terms with his landlord. There were many measures that might be adopted with propriety, even in opposition to general principles, for a time, and under the exigencies of the moment, but parliament should always provide for a return to the good system. They should go back to that system as soon and as well as they could, but at all events they should go back. Nothing was more likely to occasion a convulsion than to persevere in a wrong measure merely because it had once for a temporary purpose been adopted. Adverting to the 674 subject of countervailing duties, of which he had formerly spoken, he contended that it was not necessary to constitute a countervailing duty, that it should make up the difference between the price at which a foreigner could sell grain and that at which we could raise it. A countervailing duty, in his opinion, was one which balanced the particular tax laid upon any particular class of the community. Countervailing duties of a different description would entirely destroy all commercial intercourse. He agreed that the interests of the agriculturists, and of the other classes of the community, might be identified, provided we were restrained from intercourse with other nations; but this might not be the case in reference to foreign commerce. It might be the interest of the farmer to confine the manufacturer to the supply which he could afford him at a high price, while the manufacturer might procure the article cheaper from abroad. The price of grain might be raised by two causes—either by a change in the currency, which would affect grain like other articles; or by legislative restrictions, which might alter its relation to other articles. A rise in the price of corn from the latter cause tended to injure all who were not interested in the cultivation of the land, by lowering the profits of stock. It had been said, that the national debt, and the pressure of taxation, were the sources out of which the difficulty had arisen. It was no such thing. If all the taxes and the debt had been got rid of together, the same question would still arise—for while the population of foreign countries was not able to consume the produce of the land, and the population of this country was more than sufficient, there would be a disposition to import.—Some gentlemen seemed to think that taxation made a difference in the state of the question, as to our intercourse with foreign nations. It would no doubt be the case, if we taxed one article more than another, that we should cease to supply foreign countries with that commodity; but, if all articles were taxed alike, commerce in general would hot be affected. If, for instance, this country produced corn and cloth, and that the production of each commodity was equally taxed, the amount of taxation would not make any difference in the relative advantage which one species of production had over the other, nor consequently in the choice of the commodity which we might supply to 675 other nations, or be supplied with by them. It would be said, however, that taxation would make ail things dearer; he admitted that—but though we might thus for a time cease to sell to other countries, we should not cease to buy of them, till the reduction of the quantity of money we possessed reduced prices also, and brought us to a level with them. It was one of the evils of the national debt, that it stood in the way of a reduction of the taxes in the same ratio as the currency was reduced. If, for instance, a tax was imposed of two shillings per yard on cloth worth twenty-two shillings, the country calculated on paying one-eleventh of the value; but when, in the progress of the alteration of the distribution of money, the cloth was reduced to 20s. a yard, the tax continuing the same, the country paid l–10th of the value. There was another argument, which was the most important, because the most plausible argument in favour of the Corn law, viz. the plea that by importing corn, we became dependent on foreign countries. On the ground of economy not a word was to be said by any one who had paid attention to the subject, but in the argument that it was desirable that in war this country should not be dependent on another for subsistence, there was a certain degree of plausibility. In answer to this, it was to be said that if we imported corn in time of peace from any one country to a considerable extent, that country must be in the habit of growing corn specially for our consumption. In the event of a war with us, such a country would suffer extreme distress. We knew the effect of an excess, however small, of the supply of corn over the demand in the reduction of the price of this commodity, the consumption of which could not rapidly be increased, and the overplus of which consequently possessed no exchangeable value. All the agricultural distress we complained of would be not one-tenth of what such a country would suffer. But this went on the supposition that all our supply was to be derived from one country, whereas the fact was, that the supply would be derived from great variety of countries; and was it probable that we should at once be at war with all of them? He therefore thought that this argument was hardly better founded than the other. This would be the happiest country in the world, and its progress in prosperity would be beyond the power of imagination to conceive, if we got rid of 676 two great evils—the national debt and the corn laws. When he spoke of getting rid of the national debt, he did not mean by wiping it away with a sponge, but by honestly discharging it. His ideas on the subject were known, and he had heard no argument to show that the measure he would recommend was not the best policy. If this evil were removed, the course of trade and the prices of articles would become natural and right; and if corn were exported or imported, as in other countries, without restraint, this country, possessing the greatest skill, the greatest industry, the best machinery, and every other advantage in the highest degree, its prosperity and happiness would be incomparably, and almost inconceivably, great. Other topics he would allude to but for the lateness of the hour. Gentlemen had favoured him more than he had expected. He should oppose the motion because he was persuaded that a committee would be productive of mischief, and not good.
§ Mr. Benett,
of Wiltshire, said the hon. member who had preceded him, had told the House that this country would arrive at a degree of prosperity almost beyond imagination if it could get rid of the National Debt, and the Corn laws. By putting the National Debt first, the hon. member had seemed to admit that it was necessary to get rid of the National Debt before the Corn law could be put an end to. He (Mr. Benett) should not detain the House by entering into any discussion of political economy, because he presumed every member was acquainted with the principles of Adam Smith, which continued the foundation of all political economy to the present day. If we had no National Debt we should certainly want no Corn laws, but while we had debt and taxes, we could not manufacture corn as cheaply as those who were not similarly burthened. They were told that this was not the time to agitate the question of the Corn laws. Every time was, in his opinion, fit to agitate the causes of the national distress, and to perform an important duty to the country, unbiassed by the clamour of any class of the people. He did not advocate, however, the present Corn law, which had thrown odium on the agriculturist, without affording him protection, and he should wish it to be repealed, parliament granting some more efficient protection. The mode of taking the averages was bad; the law left an opening for bribery (that 677 was to say, the officers making the returns were frequently bribed) to smuggling, and to every species of evasion. He was for abandoning the present law therefore; that a more efficient one might be substituted. In wishing for an efficient Corn law, he did not consult the interest of the farmers alone, but of every class of the community, especially of the labourers, who were now sunk to so degraded a state that they were living on the lowest subsistence that would support human life, many of them existing only by the pittance secured to them by the laws of the country. When it was acknowledged on all sides that labour was the true source of the wealth of a country, he wished to know on what principle of political1 economy it was, that emigration had been encouraged? Why had 5,000 of the most active inhabitants of England been sent out of the country, at an expense of 50,000l. to the nation? These men, whose labour he calculated at 300l. a man we gave to those who would take them, with a premium of 15l. each. This was in reality decreasing productive labour, the source of national income; and he would put it to the House, whether that was the way to remove the public debt of the country? This object could be effected only by an increase of productive labour, and of course of population. The productiveness of the country was not carried to half its length. It was capable of supporting double the population it now contained. The policy of depending upon foreign nations for the prime article of necessity was, in his opinion, the very worst that could be acted upon, it only tended to increase eventually, the burthens and distresses of the people. Adam Smith spoke in strong terms of the evil of depending upon foreign countries for subsistence, and he instanced Holland as a country in which this circumstance gave rise to frequent revolutions. Had we been dependent on foreign countries 25 years ago, whence could we have had the troops and the hardy tenantry which formed the pride of our nation? He begged pardon for detaining the House so long at that late hour of the night. He hoped the committee moved: for would not be refused.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that the great inconveniences of agitating the Corn laws had been so ably stated by his right hon. friend, the president of the board of trade, that he owed an apology for 678 getting up to speak upon the subject. But he rose in consequence of observations made by the noble member for Yorkshire, and by the hon. member for Portarlington. He still retained the same views on this question which he had held in 1815, and he would now repeat the three grounds on which he had then supported the Corn law. In the first place he considered that during a long series of years of war by circumstances over which the country had no control, an artificial protection had been afforded to agriculture, which had forced a great mass of capital to the raising of corn, which would not otherwise have been applied to that object. He thought that if an open trade in corn had been then allowed, a great loss of the capital thus invested, and a great loss to the agricultural part of the community would have been occasioned. He fully agreed with the hon. member for Portarlington, that no particular price could be said to be at all times a remunerating one for the growth of corn, but that it must be determined by an inquiry with reference to the actual circumstances of the country of the cost of raising corn on the inferior and most expensive lands in cultivation. In 1815, it was determined that 80s. was the price that would protect vested capital, and he had voted for it accordingly. Another object which appeared to him of more importance than it did to the hon. member for Portarlington, was, that this country, in its peculiar circumstances, should not be dependent to too great an extent on foreign countries for the necessaries of life. The hon. member for Portarlington had stated, that there would be suffering on both sides if the country which raised corn for us attempted to withhold that supply. But the contest would not be an equal one. To the foreign nation the result might be a diminution of revenue or a pressure en agriculture; to us the result might probably be revolution and the subversion of the state. It would be recollected that one of the countries in which the government was most sensitive to the feelings of* the people actually submitted to an embargo during the late war with the view of incommoding us by cutting off our supply of grain. He now stated the case between two belligerents; but the case might be, that a strong belligerent might exercise, as Buonaparte actually had done, art irresistible power over a weak neutral 679 power, so that we might be thus incommoded while our enemy suffered no inconvenience. The third ground on which he had consented to the modification of the general principle of a free trade was the situation of Ireland, which had previously received encouragement from our demand, to withdraw which would have been most injurious to that country. To give a superior cultivation to the fertile land of Ireland, and to turn British capital into that island, would ultimately tend to increase in the most material degree the resources and revenue of the empire. Since the enactment of the Corn bill, the import of corn from Ireland had actually increased every year. These were the grounds on which he had supported the Corn law, and that law had, in his opinion, answered the purposes for which it was intended. It would be recollected that in the discussion on the Corn bill, the argument of those who opposed it was, that under the proposed law 80s. would be the lowest price of corn, or the minimum. On the other hand, those who supported the bill contended that 80s. far from being the minimum, would be more nearly the maximum. What had; been the result in this respect? In the five years which had elapsed since the passing of that law, there had been two years of deficient and unproductive harvests. In those two years, the corn which was in consequence imported from abroad was 2,600,000 quarters; the whole of which was consumed in Great-Britain. The price of wheat, on the average of those two years, was 89s. and 6d. per quarter, so that this great importation of 1,.500,000 quarters in one year, and 1,100,000 in another, would have taken place, even if the protecting price had been 85s. instead of 80s. In the other three years of fair harvests; viz. 1815, 16, and 19, we had actually exported 428,000 qrs. beyond the quantity of corn imported in the other two years. So that in those years when the price had been under 80s. we had been totally independent of foreign supply, and the low price must have depended not on foreign competition but on the improvement of agriculture which had taken place during the war. The present law was, therefore, perfectly effectual, with a protecting price of 80s., because in those ordinary years the result would not, have been different if the protecting price had been 80l., and in the years of scarcity, notwithstanding 680 the importations, the price had been much above the sum which had been thought sufficient by the agriculturists. When it was considered how grave a subject of discussion this was, and how dangerous and delicate to move it, he would ask whether the agriculturists could make out a case of necessity, to induce the House to unsettle what had been established, when after accepting 80s. as a protecting price, they had come to state that the actual price had been on the average of five years 78s. 6d. only 1s. 6d. per quarter less than they had demanded? When, too, according to the hon. member for Beaumaris the expence of cultivation had diminished in many articles perhaps 1s. 3d. when heavy direct taxes had been removed, when the agriculturist should expect rather a diminution than an increase of the protecting price, was it not too much that the House should in such a case be called upon to enter into an inquiry? Though it might be said that no harm could be done by an inquiry, yet it was impossible for them to divest their minds of the scope and intent of the mass of the petitioners, who, with a gentleman who had been that night often alluded to (Mr. W. Hall), demanded a large direct duty on foreign corn. He (Mr. Huskisson) would willingly consent to an inquiry into any alleged frauds and inaccuracies in the mode of taking the averages (though he doubted whether they existed), to satisfy the minds of those who complained. Whether such an inquiry would be accepted, it was left to the hon. member for Surry to decide. Having stated the grounds which had induced him to support the corn-laws on a former occasion, and to oppose the present motion, he did not feel it necessary to trouble the House further; but he could not avoid offering one or two remarks on what had fallen from the hon. member for Portarlington, who stated that two things only were necessary to restore the country to prosperity—namely, the discharge of the national debt, and the repeal of the corn-laws. He would admit that parliament might, if they pleased, repeal the corn-laws; but it was rather doubtful whether they could effect the discharge of the national debt. At all events, the plan which the hon. member had mentioned for this purpose would in his opinion have the effect not of bringing capital into the country, but of removing a great portion of capital out of it: for in 681 the supposed case, every one who could, by going out of the country with their capital avoid the payment, would endeavour so to do. The chief cause of the general distress which was complained of was founded in the falling prices of two objects of exchangeable value, which two objects he considered to be corn and labour. But he thought it would be most injurious and imprudent to give an artificial value to either of those. He fully concurred in the opinion that the situation of our trade, and the question of whether the opening of new channels for it would not give additional stimulus to our national industry, were fair subjects of parliamentary inquiry; and he was glad that a committee had been appointed in the other House of Parliament, for the purpose of investigating this important subject. A similar one was, he believed, to be proposed in that House. The distress arose from the great demand for labour, occasioned by the war, and the necessary falling off in time of peace. This was an effect that could not be prevented, unless they were prepared to apply the same stimulus now which existed while hostilities were going on. The evil was to be remedied only by time. It was desirable, however, that the people should, by discussion in that House, be made acquainted with what relief it was within the reach of parliament to give, and what not; when those in the country, who were in favour of the present motion, saw that the present price of corn was owing, not to the nature of the corn-laws or to any mis-management, but to causes over which the government or the legislature had no control, they would feel satisfied that no alteration of those laws at present could afford them relief, and they would therefore wait patiently for more favourable circumstances.
said, that representing as he did a great agricultural county, from which many petitions had been presented, complaining of distress, and differing, as he happened to do upon this occasion, from many persons whom he highly esteemed, he could not help expressing his regret that this question had been agitated, as he felt it an imperative duty to declare his disapproval of the motion. Every one who knew him must be aware that he was delighted with agriculture, in the practice of which he had spent nearly the whole of his life; and that he was peculiarly attached to those by whom its interest was 682 promoted. But still he could not consistently, in the present generally distressed state of the country, give his assent to a motion limited to the concerns or grievances of the agriculturists alone. Had a motion been made for an inquiry upon a large scale, comprehending the commercial and manufacturing, as well as the agricultural interests, or had a proposition been submitted for an inquiry into the state of the nation, such a proposition should have had his decided support. But he could not agree to the idea of confining the solicitude of the House to the agriculturists, while the state of the manufacturers was notoriously so very wretched. The House had that night heard a petition presented by his noble friend, the member for Yorkshire, in which it was stated that the petitioners were unable to earn more than 11¾d. per week; and if this statement were true, it was indisputable that the condition of the manufacturers was much more deplorable than that of the agriculturists in any quarter of the country. From such a fact, indeed, it would appear that the grievances of the one were considerably more aggravated than the other. Such, then, being the circumstances of the country, he was an advocate for the most enlarged and comprehensive inquiry, in order to see what could be done for the relief of our severely suffering population. In the minds of some gentlemen, perhaps, in consequence of inattention to their property, or the rise of rents during war, there might be reasons for supposing that the price of corn must be kept up, or rather raised, in order to meet that pressure of taxation which was the essential cause of the national calamity.—But he could see no just reason for such a course of proceeding, or for any course that should benefit one class of the community at the expense of another, when all were equally distressed. A great addition was made to the suffering of the agriculturists in consequence of the pressure of tithes, which affected so much the cultivators of bad land; and this was one among the many reasons why some commutation should take place, as the parsons derived an unfair proportion of profit from poor lands, rendered productive principally through artificial manure, of which article he presumed that the parsons contributed nothing. Out of respect to the petitioners he must repeat his regret that he felt himself compelled, by a 683 sense of duty, to vote against the present motion.
§ Mr. Ellice
asked the hon. mover whether he meant to press his motion to a division? He put this question because he understood that some compromise was proposed to the hon. gentleman; and if he did not mean to agree to that proposition he (Mr. E.) should feel it his duty to move the previous question, as it was now evidently the object of those who supported the motion before the House to produce an aggravation of the evils under which the country laboured, in consequence of the system of the corn laws.
§ Mr. Sumner
observed, that he could not see that any good result would be produced by any such compromise as the hon. gentleman had alluded to.
§ Mr. Mansfield
maintained, that the object of the motion was, to raise the present protecting duties on corn. Agreeing with the hon. member for Coventry, he should very cordially second the motion for the previous question. Being the representative of a place of large manufactures, he felt it his duty to state, that however great the distress of the agriculturists, the distress of the manufacturers was much greater. He regretted that the hon. member had not also moved for a committee to take the situation of the manufacturers into consideration, for he would then have given him his entire support.
§ Mr. Brougham
apologised to the House for rising at that late hour, but he could not, consistently with the duty which he owed his country—consistently with the respect due to the agricultural interest, and to the numerous body of persons whose petitions crowded from every quarter, and covered the table of the House, give a silent vote on the present motion, after hearing the very extraordinary motion of the previous question made by the hon. member for Coventry. He could conceive the reasons why some gentlemen, after gravely weighing the question, and yielding to the subtleties of the hon. member for Portarlington, or to the ingenuity of the hon. member for Taunton, should determine to meet it on its merits, and to decide manfully upon it; but of all the ways which he could possibly imagine of getting rid of the question, he should least think of that proposed by the hon. mem- 684 ber for Coventry, namely, "That this question be not now put."—This was the last way in which the cries of the petitioners ought to be met. He confessed that he agreed with the motion of the hon. member for Surrey: but if he had dissented from the supporters of the present motion, he would have met them by argument, but could never bring himself to say, this was a question unworthy the attention of the House. Moving the previous question meant not to inquire whether the motion was or was not a fit subject of inquiry, but it meant to get rid of the question in the best and speediest way. If he had not heard one word of argument to-night, the numerous petitions on the table, and the cry of general distress, which was abroad, would be sufficient to make him pronounce, that this was a question worthy the most serious attention of the House. Indeed, it would be next to indecent, to give a deaf ear to the petitions. The numbers, the gravity, the interest, and the importance of the body, in fact, of the whole agricultural interest who had signed those petitions, were sufficient to expect the respectful attention of the House. If he had any doubts on the subject (and he had some little, but they were overborne by the consideration which he had just mentioned), they arose from his opinion that this motion was too general in its nature, and held out hopes to the country which it was possible the inquiries of a: committee might not realize. That doubt, however, was not strong enough to outweigh his favourable consideration of the motion. He had the choice of two evils—either a committee with this objection, or no committee at all—and he chose the former. He could wish the motion more definite, but as it was the only one before the House, and its professed object was simply to inquire—to probe the distresses, and see if any thing could be done to remedy them, he could have no alternative but to vote for it, or to shut the doors against the prayers of the agricultural interest. He had stated the grounds upon which, notwithstanding the evil to be apprehended, he thought the House ought to entertain the motion. Having done that, he felt it, a duty which he owed to the petitions, and to the distressed state of the country at large, to notice some doctrines which had been advanced to-night, and made the ground of objection to the motion; but if these doctrines were of any avail, they 685 would compel the House to retrace its steps, repeal the Corn bill, and substitute a new system of political economy. His hon friend, the member for Portarlington, had argued as if he had dropped from another planet; as if this were a land of the most perfect liberty of trade—as if there were no taxes—no drawback—no bounties—no searchers—on any other branch of trade but agriculture; as if, in this Utopian world, of his hon. friend's creation the first measure of restriction ever thought on was that on the importation of corn; as if all classes of the community were alike—as if all trades were on an equal footing; and that, in this new state, we were called upon to decide the abstract question, whether or not there should be a protecting price for corn? But we were not in this condition—we were in a state of society in which we had manufactures of almost every description, protected in every way, even to criminal enactments, to prevent the raw material from going out of the country, in order thereby to; assist the native manufacturei1. He alluded, as one instance, to the prohibition of the exportation of wool. He never heard, from those who spoke so freely against the protection afforded to the agriculturist, the slightest murmur against the restrictive duties on foreign wool. He might mention another instance—the silk trade: he contended that silks might be worn at half or a third less than their present price, if protecting and prohibitory laws had not been enacted in aid of our manufacturers in that material; but that was a subject which the hon. members to whom he alluded, took care not to touch upon. Now, he would ask, who was it that paid the poor's rates? Was it principally the manufacturer, or the owner and occupier of land? He could easily imagine that he saw, and in fact, nothing was more common than to see a manufacturer erect a fine tall building, a matter of great ornament to the neighbourhood, no doubt, but certainly of great use to him. This building was erected on a comparatively small portion of land; and within its four walls were carried on the manufacture of two very important articles, cotton and paupers! And though this manufactory produced to its proprietor, an income frequently of not less than 30,000l. a-year, yet he only paid poor's rates as for a property of 500l., while his poor neighbour, the farmer, who rented land to that amount, paid the same proportion, though 686 his income was not the fourth part of his rent. Besides this, there were the bridge-rates, the county-rates, the militia-rates, and all the other blessings which were heaped on this favoured class, the agriculturists. They, of course, were not to murmur at all those imposts nor were they to raise their voices for the same privileges which the other classes enjoyed. But the moment a word was said of any restriction affecting the manufacturers, then the House heard murmurs and complaints from all parties. There then was, as sir Robert Walpole had expressed it, "great cry and little wool." That statesman had compared the agriculturists to a flock of sheep, and said that, like sheep, they were shorn without repining; but the complaints of the commercial and trading classes when any thing affected them, he had compared to the noise of another animal, which, out of regard to that respectable body, he (Mr. Brougham) would not name. It was most impolitic and unjust to support any one class of the community to the neglect of the other. One principle had been objected against the motion, to which, in the abstract, he might subscribe. It was stated to be an erroneous policy to purchase dear corn at home, whilst it could be bought at a much cheaper rate abroad; and it was added, that the effect of this would be, to force men to cultivate bad land at a great expense. Though he might, as he said, agree with this principle in the abstract, yet he had a right to complain of the manner in which it was turned into a meaning, which, as applied to the subject before the House, it could not properly bear; for the question here was, not whether at such an expense, you ought to bring poor land into cultivation, but it should be considered that we had already encouraged the cultivation of such land. The circumstances in which the country had been placed were such, that even poor land was eagerly sought and diligently cultivated. It was hedged and ditched, and improved so as to become the depository of a large portion of British capital. It would be idle to say, that this was done in other times, and under other circumstances; for, if we were to go back at all, we might with as much reason extend our retrospect to the Heptarchy. The fact was, that capital had been so employed—that this land was now under cultivation—that it contained the capital, he might almost say the life, of the cultivators—and it would be as rea- 687 sonable, under such circumstances, to refer back to the period he had mentioned, or to say that they should go for their grain to Poland, where the serf cultivated the soil for his lord—because at Poland it could be got cheaper than they could now produce it. He was not wandering into any theory on this subject—he spoke practically. He would mention one fact which had fallen within his own knowledge. Some time ago there were, two or three-cargoes of corn in the port of London, which, but for the corn-laws, could have been purchased at 37s. per quarter (corn of that description could be purchased currently at 40s. this he knew of his own knowledge would have been sold at 37s.): now, on the principle on which the present motion was opposed, this corn ought to have been purchased, because it was cheaper than any which we could grow: but then, if that principle were extended, what would be the consequence? The inevitable consequence would be, that in the next season, 7 or 8,000,000 of acres would be thrown out of cultivation, and those dependent on them out of employment;—the tenants would be expatriated, and the landlords would be brought to the workhouse. Was there any man bold enough to look such a difficulty as that in the face? But then it would be said, "this might be very good logic for the farmer, but it would not be so for the consumer." Let that objection be examined, and, after all, what did it amount to? That we inflicted a certain calamity on the cultivator and landlord, in order that the consumer might eat his quartern loaf a halfpenny cheaper. He would confine himself to that point; and he maintained it to be as sound a principle as any principle in political economy, that the destruction of one portion of the community could not be considered a benefit because another portion gained by it. This was a proposition which no philosopher, or political economist, had ever attempted to deny or to dispute. He would suppose a case of a community, consisting of a thousand individuals; and that he invented a law by which five hundred, of those individuals might be destroyed, which destruction would render the remaining 500, twice as rich as they were before; would any man attempt to say, that, in such a case, because no part of the wealth left the community, that it had therefore sustained no injury? But, according to the theory of those who opposed this motion, such a law 688 would be most salutary for the five hundred who survived. He (Mr. Brougham) should, however, run counter to every principle of political economy and public justice, if he did not contend that such a proceeding would be most unjust to the individuals destroyed, and most injurious to the remainder as a community. As to the argument founded on the circumstance that there was bad ground in cultivation, even if the Corn bill were repealed, much bad ground would still be cultivated, and much good ground left uncultivated; because local circumstances, such as navigable rivers, canals, &c. had great influence over persons in the disposal of their capital. If these theorists, after the repeal of the bill, would go about the country, they would soon see that their theories were not verified. They would, of course, ask the persons who remained in the occupation of indifferent land, their reasons for doing so, and would probably be surprised if an old man should say,—"though I am acting against your theory, yet you must allow me to remain here." Nothing short of removal by the parish officers could realise these Utopian doctrines. The House was often told, that in meddling with commercial questions, they were handling edged tools, and that the capital would leave the country. He would wish some law was devised for equalising the burthens of the community, and throwing part of those which now pressed heavily on agriculture, upon the other interests. Such a measure would not, he was certain be followed by an emigration of capital. If he had a right perception of things, the House would be obliged before many years to meet this question, and to face it boldly. Could any man believe, that at the time of the passing of the statute of Elizabeth, when land, then the only kind of property, was made liable to the relief of the poor, if the manufacturing capitalists and fundholders had possessed any thing like their present property, they would not have been compelled to furnish a part of that relief? He was persuaded that the landed interests could not be injured, without an injury being sustained by the commercial and manufacturing classes. Who were the consumers of the manufactures? The agriculturists. What was the great cause of the distress of 1816? The cause was, that in the year before, the commercial interests had suffered in consequence of the extreme hardships to which the agricultu- 689 rists were subjected. He would recommend to the House at least to take the question respecting the mode of striking the average, into its consideration. What was the average? Was it known or determined? It was said to be 80s.; but was it such? It was said to be less. The question respecting the mode of striking the average was therefore fitted for consideration; it was necessary that it should be examined, that the uncertainty, and the irregularity attendant on uncertainty, might not be longer permitted. He hoped that some member would move an amendment to that effect, but if no such amendment was moved, he should feel it his duty to vote for the motion as proposed originally. Upon all these grounds, he intreated the House to take the subject into its serious consideration.
§ Mr. Gipps
said, he held in his hand an amendment, which was to the effect, that a select committee be appointed for the purpose of ascertaining the mode best fitted for ascertaining the average price of corn. He should think it his duty to put this, unless the hon. member withdrew his motion for the previous question.
§ Mr. Ellice
said, the reason why he moved the previous question was, that a member who had followed the hon. mover, had, as he thought, laid before the House a motion not consistent with the views of the hon. member for Surrey. He therefore proposed the previous question; but he was far from wishing that the prayers of a suffering people should not be attended to. He would therefore, with the permission of the House, withdraw the motion for the previous question.
§ On the motion for withdrawing the previous question being read from the chair,
§ General Gascoyne
said, that there was scarcely a member present who" was not aware, before he entered the House that evening, that he intended to move the previous question. So strongly was he opposed to the appointment of a committee for the purposes intended by the hon. mover, that if such committee should be appointed, and any measure be carried upon its recommendation, he should feel himself bound to make an attempt to repeal that measure, or at least to bring the subject again under the consideration of the House. After this explanation, the House would not be surprised at his objecting to the motion for the previous question being withdrawn.
§ Mr. Corbett
was not sanguine in his 690 expectations from the operations of the committee, but he thought that such petitions from such numerous and highly meritorious people, ought not to be disregarded altogether.
rose, not for the purpose of entering into any further discussion, but to call the attention of the House to the question which now stood before them. The member for Surrey had proposed to refer all the petitions to the consideration of a select committee, with a view of entering into the whole subject, and effecting a complete alteration of the scale of protection settled in 1815. Agreeing as he did with his right hon. friend the president of the board of trade, and with his right hon. friend on his left, it was immaterial, in his view, whether the proposition of the member for Surrey were got rid of by a direct negative, or by the previous question. Either of these courses would equally effect his object of not going into a general view of the agricultural state of the country. At the same time he did not wish to preclude any other hon. member from adopting the suggestion of his right hon. friend, the president of the board of trade: he was ready to give his support to a motion for a committee, not to enter into so large a field of inquiry as would tend to alter the scale of protection adopted in 1815, but to inquire whether, by fraud or evasion in the mode of striking the averages, the provisions of the Corn bill had been defeated. The suggestion of the hon. and learned gentleman would open the whole question of the scale of protection, and if the averages were taken upon a survey of the whole surface of the united kingdom, an alteration of 6s. or 7s. would be produced upon this scale of protection established by the provisions of the Corn bill in 1815."
Mr. Alderman Heygate
thought that the Corn laws required to be reconsidered, agriculture having been much affected by the bullion question. He would, however, oppose any rise in the average price of corn, or any tax on capital in trade, which was equally depressed with agriculture, and in his opinion from the same cause.
§ Sir T. Acland
supported the motion in its broadest manner. He considered the question to be a double one, and thought that the House ought to unite in taking the question relative to the distress into consideration, although the question re- 691 lating to the raising of the prices might not be considered. From the observations of the president of the board of trade, who admitted that last year the question was not proposed, but postponed, he drew an inference, that there was last year a doubt entertained by his majesty's ministers, whether they should not take the matter into consideration. They had given the petitioners encouragement; and: would they now dash all their hopes to the ground? Would the distress be removed by not attending to the petitions? Would not the discontent of the people be doubled by such treatment? So he thought, and he hoped the House would agree with him, and vote for the appointment of the committee.
Mr. V. Fitzgerald,
as a member from Ireland, wished to say a few words in favour of the agricultural interests of a country which appeared to be neglected. He thought that the distresses of the people merited the serious attention of the House.
Mr. Sumner replied. After which, the previous question being put, "That that question be now put," the House divided: Ayes, 150; Noes, 101. The main question was then put and agreed to. On the motion, "that Mr. Holme Sumner be a member of the said committee,
§ Lord Milton
lamented the decision the House had come to, and entreated them to defer the nomination of the committee on account of the lateness of the hour.
expressed his apprehension that the decision of the House that night would tend to show the people the perilous state they were in, and produce the greatest dissatisfaction. The House having come to this unexpected, and, in his mind, lamentable decision, he thought a fitter time than the present should be appointed for choosing the members of a committee upon which so much would depend. He therefore proposed that the further consideration of the subject should be adjourned till to-morrow. He trusted the decision of that night would convince those whose opinions agreed with his own of the necessity of watching this proceeding strictly; and, for his own part, he pledged himself to oppose it in every stage.
§ Sir R. Wilson
seconded the motion of adjournment; and, feeling anxious for the tranquillity of the country, and knowing the effect which this decision of the House would produce, he implored them 692 to adopt the motion, and suspend all farther proceedings for that night. Millions of men would have petitioned the House against this proceeding, if they had anticipated such a decision as that which had taken place.
said, he had intended himself to make the motion which the hon. gentleman had just made. He deplored and lamented from the bottom of his heart the decision of the House. So-little had he anticipated such a result, that, being asked by several persons whether he thought there was such a difference of opinion as would make it necessary for them to remain in the House till-the division, he had told them that nothing was so unlikely, from the temper which the House had evinced during the debate, as an effective support of the motion. If he had thought that it would have had so many supporters, there would have been a very different attendance of members, and a very different result.
§ Mr. Brougham
lamented the necessity of differing from his gallant friend on any subject, but more especially on a subject so delicate as the present. He did not say it was so in itself, but the hon. gentlemen made it delicate by the manner in which they treated it. He would ask if any thing had fallen from the hon. mover, or from any of those who had supported his motion, that could warrant the belief that they wished to introduce a new system of corn laws? for it had been held out to every man in England, Scotland, and Ireland, that the object of this committee was, to raise the price of bread. He himself had said over and over again, till he had nauseated the House with the repetition of the argument, that he was, in the first instance, for granting no farther assistance to the agriculturists than they had been formerly acknowledged by the legislature to be entitled to.
§ Mr. Sumner
said, that the decision of the House had taken him as much by surprise as it seemed to have taken others; for, however convinced he was of the propriety of the measure be proposed, he had not thought that any proposal he could make to the House would have been so favourably received. As to the nomination of the committee, he had before the division communicated, with the noble lord, and they had showed each other their committees, in which there was only a difference of three names.
said, that when the hon. gentleman showed him his list, he compared it with the list which his right hon. friend had prepared, with the view of adopting the measure for a limited inquiry, thinking that only such an inquiry would be granted, he had paid little attention to the list.
§ The motion of Mr. Baring, "That this debate be adjourned till this day," was then agreed to; and at four o'clock in the morning the House adjourned.