HC Deb 07 March 1821 vol 4 cc1139-61
Mr. Gooch,

in pursuance of notice, rose to move for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the distress of the Agricultural Interest. If the committee were granted, he hoped it would be allowed to enter with full powers into an examination of the causes which had produced that distress, and would be permitted to report its opinion thereon to the House; and to state whether any and what remedy could be found for the grievances complained of. He well knew the delicate grounds upon which the question rested; and he could therefore have wished that it had been placed in more competent hands. He was happy, however, to observe, that upon all former occasions on which this question had been discussed, no party feeling had ever exhibited itself; and he therefore trusted that the gentlemen who usually opposed the agricultural interest—and especially that individual amongst them who was so highly distinguished for his knowledge of political economy (Mr. Ricardo), would permit the committee to see what good they could effect by their deliberations. Trade and agriculture were so interwoven with each other, that they appeared to him but as one interest; and he had always deemed it wicked to consider them as jarring with each other. He did not know whether it was attributable to his education and his early habits, but he was accustomed to consider the agricultural interest as the basis of all the other, and as the foundation on which the superstructure of public prosperity was invariably reared. If ever there had been a time in which that interest required public assistance, the present was the time. He therefore trusted that the petitioners would not be allowed to petition in vain. The petitions now on their table were signed by more than 100,000 persons, and were not got up in the streets and alehouses, as had too often been the case recently; were not signed by women and school-boys but by the yeomanry of the country, the heart's blood of the state, the most laborious and industrious of his majesty's subjects. If our greatest enemy wished to call down upon our heads his heaviest curse, he could not call down upon them a heavier than this—that the prayer of these petitioners should be allowed to pass unnoticed. They had been told in another place, by a noble earl, for whose general character he felt the highest respect, that the main cause of the distress felt by the agricultural interest was the superabundance of last year's crop. He differed entirely in opinion from that noble lord. In Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridge, the crop of wheat in the last year had been deficient, though that of barley had been abundant. In the conversations which had occurred regarding the malt tax, it appeared to him, that the chancellor of the exchequer had laid too much stress upon the increased returns of malt, since those were owing to the abundance of barley only. It was not, however, against internal produce that the agriculturalist wanted protection, but against foreign; and some further relief must be extended to him, if the country did not wish to see his interests involved in ruin. He did not expect that any great relief could be extended to them under the present system of our corn laws; for there was something radically wrong in them; there was some unseen defect in them; in short, they did not work well. Among other defects he could not overlook that of the warehousing system. Gentlemen who were not accustomed to farming could not be aware of the panic which that system created among the farmers. He would suppose that there were 800,000 quarters of wheat ware housed. The moment the price of corn: rose to what was considered a fair remunerating price, then this corn rushed to market. The farmer was panic-struck, he put his thrashing machime to work; his produce found a glutted market; the price quickly fell from 80 to 60 and 50s., and all his industry and labour were frustrated. Thus the warehousing system produced nothing hut poverty to the farmer and distress to the land. It was an evil, which, like the sword of Damocles, hung by a single hair over the agricultural interests, ready every moment to fall and cut them in pieces. He therefore asked of the House to give to the agricultural interest that protection which its value in the state demanded. He found, by reference to the returns made under the pro- perty tax, that the following was the proportion between the trade and commerce and agriculture of the country.—The owners of land returned 4,297,247l., the occupiers 2,176,228l., making a grand total of 6,473,475l. The property returned by the trade was two millions and upwards. He did not mention this for the purpose of drawing any invidious distinction between the trading and the agricultural interests; but to show that the proportion which the land bore to the other branches of the public revenue was as 3 to 1. If we were desirous of remaining a great agricultural as well as a great trading nation—if we did not wish to degenerate into what our great enemy had called us, a nation boutiquiere, we were bound to assist the agricultural interest. It was impossible for the country to go on for any length of time, as it was going on at present. Seasons of difficulty and danger were evidently approaching; and it became the House not to shrink from the consideration of the measures necessary to meet them. He would not state what those measures were, but he was confident that the House would find out some that were calculated to produce that effect. The hon member then moved, "That the petitions which have been presented to this House, complaining of the depressed state of agriculture of the united kingdom, be referred to a select committee, to inquire into the allegation thereof, and to report their observations thereupon to the House."

Sir E. Knatchbull

seconded the motion. He observed, that although his majesty's ministers had declined to take any step on this subject, he by no means imputed any blame to them on that account. He was convinced that the petitions of the distressed agriculturalists had not been treated with neglect or inattention, either by that House or by ministers. But the fact undoubtedly was, that the question was one full of difficulties. The first difficulty was the natural jealousy entertained by the mercantile interest upon it. That jealousy would, he trusted, however, not induce them to oppose the motion. The object was a practical object. It was not the wish of the supporters of the motion to enter into any questions of political economy. For such discussion their habits were unfit; and he trusted that none of the gentlemen who might speak on the motion would be drawn into such a discussion. Another difficulty attendant on the ques- tion was its great delicacy. On all subjects relating to the corn laws, a suspicion was naturally excited, with respect to the views of those by whom those subjects were agitated. If those who supported the petitions of the agriculturists did so with the intention of consulting the exclusive interest of that particular class, such a suspicion would be well grounded; but that was by no means their object, which was on the contrary general and comprehensive. It might be said, however, that if such difficulties as those he had described were in the way, why did the advocates for investigation persevere? The answer was, because perseverance was absolutely necessary. The distresses which existed were generally prevalent. Every gentleman must confess that truth. It was proved by the increased poor rates, by the extensive pauperism, by the inability of the farmers to furnish their labourers with adequate employment. Even the tradesmen of the metroplis must be sensible of the burthens to which the landed interest were subject, by the difficulty which they experienced in obtaining the payment of their bills by that part of the community. He wished to state the subject fairly. It had been said, that during the last five years the farmer had received at the rate of 78s. a quarter for his wheat. If that were the fact, he admitted that the case would not be so strong as it was. But he denied that the averages had been fairly taken. He asserted that the real average price of the last five years was many shillings under 78. In five parishes contiguous to one another, no less than 3,000 acres of land had been either given up to the landlord, or thrown out of cultivation. Farming had been a losing concern for the last three years. In 1818, the farmer lost a good deal; in 1819 that loss was considerably increased; but in 1820 it amounted almost to utter ruin. He attributed a considerable portion of the agricultural distress to the large importation of foreign corn which took place two years ago. The effect of that importation in depressing the native cultivator, had extended down to the present moment. He also agreed with his hon. friend in his remarks on the warehousing system. The alteration that had taken place in the currency was one material cause of the existing distress. Under all the circumstances of the case, he thought, however, it would be highly inexpedient for us to retread our steps on the subject of the currency. Economy was undoubtedly the basis on which the policy of this country, in its present situation, ought to be conducted. With respect to taxation, he did not believe that any large or decided reduction was practicable. As to the estimates of the public service, they might and ought to be considerably reduced. At the same time, how was it possible for ministers to receive, with much favour, propositions accompanied by declarations that those ministers were the cause of the existing expenditure? That was not the spirit in which any recommendations intended to be beneficial to the public ought to be made. He admitted the importance of this part of the subject; and although the committee proposed by his hon. friend was not to be positively a finance committee, yet if any means could be proposed in that committee by which the expenditure of the country might be advantageously reduced, it would be a legitimate object of their consideration. But whatever might be the course pursued by the committee, he was quite sure that they would avoid—because he was quite sure that nothing could be more strongly deprecated by every honourable and reflecting man—any step which might have a tendency to violate the public faith. Whatever were the difficulties of the country, they ought to be met with firmness and honesty; and lie was persuaded that he might confidently declare on the part of the agriculturists, that they were ready to make any sacrifices for the preservation of the national honour. It had been asserted that the whole landed property of England was mortgaged to the full extent of the national debt. That he denied. The fact was, that the general property throughout the country might be deemed to be so mortgaged, but not the landed more than any other species of property. The House had heard that a great portion of the poorer land had been thrown out of cultivation. If things went on as they were going on at present, it was to be feared that the whole of the poorer land would be thrown out of cultivation. This was an evil which, if possible, ought to be averted, because its occurrence would comprehend, not only the utter destruction of all the capital that had been expended on that land; but would throw out of occupation a great number of hands, who, in the present state of the country, could not obtain employment in any other way. With respect to the husbandry horse tax, although he admitted that the abandonment of that tax would not have afforded any very efficient relief to the farmer, yet he thought it would have been advantageous, as showing the disposition of the House to grant all the relief possible. One of the main points was, the establishment of a correct mode of taking the averages. A small advance might also be advantageously made in the importation price of oats. It would be highly serviceable also if a graduated scale of duties, varying according to the price of British corn, were fixed. The hon. baronet concluded by declaring his conviction, that whatever relief might be afforded by the House, would be gratefully received by the petitioners, who, whatever might be the result of the proposed inquiry, would, he was persuaded, still pursue the line of temperate and loyal conduct by which they had hitherto been invariably distinguished.

Mr. Robinson

said, he was seldom anxious to offer himself to the attention of the House; but he owned that on this particular question he was very desirous to take the earliest opportunity of making a few observations. When a proposition similar to the present was made last year, he had felt it his duty to explain the grounds on which he thought it inexpedient to comply with it. He had opposed that proposition, because he did not think the distress at that time was attributable to the existing laws, and because he thought, unless some clear and distinct view were taken of the specific remedy which it might be practicable to apply to the distress, a compliance with the proposition would be at that time inexpedient. He certainly felt that those general objections made by him last year might be said to be applicable to ail times. But still, when the interests, lie would not say of one class, but of the whole community, through one class, were deeply affected, it became a question of feeling as well as of expediency, whether an inquiry might not be consented to at one particular time, though not on every occasion when it was proposed. In that situation he felt himself at the present moment. It would be strange, indeed, if he or any one could hear of distress, which, whatever might be its degree, was universal throughout the country, without being greatly interested in the subject. He did not know how that man's mind could be constituted, who was capable of listening, unmoved, to the representations made, not only in the petitions on the table, but by the various gentlemen to whom the duty of presenting those petitions had been confided. Although, therefore, he might be acting somewhat inconsistently in acquiescing in a motion which he had last year opposed, it was an inconsistency with which he ought not to be reproached, and of which he was not ashamed. With regard to the objects to which the committee were to devote their attention, he did not wish for any restraint to be imposed upon them. It, however, gave him great satisfaction to hear from the hon. mover and seconder, that with respect to one or two subjects which had been incidentally adverted to in antecedent discussions in that House, it was not their belief that any relief could be obtained by an alteration of the existing law. He alluded particularly to the state of the currency, and to the suggestion that relief might be obtained by some operation on the public debt. As to the question of taxation, let the committee examine it in all its bearings. But this he begged to be allowed to say, that the only effectual relief which could be given, either to the petitioners or to any other class of the community, must be accompanied by the maintenance of the public credit. If, by retrenchment, the expenditure of the country could be so diminished as to leave a considerable surplus of revenue, it would then become a question of the utmost importance whether, with reference to the maintenance of public credit and to ultimate national benefit, it would not be expedient to apply that surplus to the diminution of the debt, rather than to afford immediate but less valuable relief, by diminishing the taxation to its amount. That would be a most important consideration; and unless the House were prepared at once to say that all views of diminishing the debt ought to be abandoned, it was a delusion to hold out the hope, that a diminution of the expenditure of the country would operate immediately to the relief of the agriculturists.—There was an idea among many persons, that the only practical relief that could be afforded to the farmer was, to impose high protecting duties not only on foreign corn, but on all other foreign agricultural produce. He trusted, that he had last year sufficiently exposed the fallacy of this notion. The persons entertaining it seemed to labour under a delusion with regard to the actual protection given to agricultural produce; they seemed to believe that every species of foreign produce could be imported into this country without the slightest duty. The fact was otherwise. Since the year 1812, at which time agriculture was in a peculiarly flourishing state, the importation of many articles of agricultural produce, cattle, sheep, and other live stock, which at that period might have been imported without any duty, was now prohibited. Seeds of all kinds were at that period liable to a comparatively small duty; that duty had since been greatly increased. It was extremely productive to the revenue, and did not occasion the injury to the country which a prohibition, or a duty amounting to a prohibition, would cause. Butter and cheese, which, in 1812, could be imported freely, were now subject to a considerable duty. If the system of prohibition were adopted with respect to those articles, the first evil would be, that the revenue would be diminished to the amount of no less than about 600,000l. a year. He could not sit down without expressing his sincere thanks to the hon. mover and seconder, for the judicious, calm, and temperate manner in which they had brought it forward. He was quite satisfied, that if the House went into the proposed inquiry, it was only from the prevalence of a similar spirit that any useful result could be expected. If the members of the committee were to be actuated by any other views—if any hostile feelings were to be introduced—if one interest were to be set up against another, instead of a diligent application to the interests of all, the labours of such a committee would be any thing but beneficial. Without pretending to predict what might be the result of the investigation, he was sure that, if that good spirit of which he spoke were to pervade the discussions of the committee, even if after full investigation they should be of opinion that the grand specifics proposed would be either impracticable, or, if practicable, injudicious, the very establishment of that fact would have no small effect in relieving the anxiety which prevailed among those whose interests were so deeply affected on the question, and who would then feel persuaded that the House of Commons were perfectly ready to afford any relief which was consistent with their sense of what were the true interests of the country.

Mr. Curwen

said, that the subject was undoubtedly one in the treatment of which party feeling ought not to interfere. He, for one, should not reproach the right hon. gentleman for any inconsistency which there might be between his present course and that which he pursued last session. He was not disposed, however, to augur very favourably of the result, after what had fallen from him. The right hon. gentleman was mistaken if he attributed to him any wish to exclude the foreign grower from the home market: he desired only to place him on a level with the English grower. It must be concluded that ministers were ignorant of the real extent of the distress. Had they known it, it would have been their imperative duty long ago to have interposed relief. To such an extreme had it been carried, that unless a remedy were quickly applied, it would come too late. He did not want to repeal any of the taxes to pay off the national debt; the amount rendered it impossible; but he called upon ministers to remove some of the existing burdens, to prevent the complete and irremediable ruin of the nation. In the most flourishing times the income of the whole empire could never be placed higher than 400,000,000l., while taxation amounted to 80,000,000l. At present, the income was only 300,000,000l., yet taxation was the same. In what situation was the farmer? The average of grain, if properly taken, did not exceed 62s. per quarter: the consequence was, that the farmer lost not less than 3s. by every bushel of grain he grew. On the article of wheat alone, the agricultural interest had lost 15,000,000l. and on barley and oats 15,000,000l. more. The value of his stock had been deteriorated not less than 10,000,000l. so that in England only there was a total diminution of 40,000,000l. The diminution in Scotland and Ireland might be taken at the lowest at 15,000,000l., so that the capital of the country was reduced 55,000,000l. While the agriculturists had lost one quarter of the value of his productions, the rate of taxation had actually increased. That rate had formerly been considered as 20 per cent, but to that 6½ per cent must now be added for the diminution of the value of his productions, so that it actually now amounted to 26½ per cent. Here was one great cause of the evil—enormous taxation. Some gentlemen exclaimed to the landlords, "Lower your rents." There were 72,000,000 of acres in the united kingdom, producing a rental of 40,000,000l. and the diminution already was equal to one year and a quarter of that rental: if this state of things continued, the effect must be to annihilate all landed property. Ministers, like drowning men, caught at straws; and on this account charged the friends of the farmers with attempting to excite alarm. He denied it: and he denied also their other assertion of the increased prosperity of the country. The consumption of some articles might be considerable, because people, though they could not afford them, were unable to shake off old habits: but he believed, that there were gross errors in the accounts of the revenue for the last quarter; for instance, that the wash had been taken instead of the spirit. In the article of tobacco, the luxury of the lower orders, there was a great reduction, as well as in shoes. That document therefore, which was brought forward to show the improving state of the country, ought to excite the utmost alarm. With regard to importations, he contended that, as the law now stood, a supply for no less than fifteen weeks could be poured into the country, and during that period the British grower was beaten down in his prices. On the part of the agriculturists, he disclaimed the wish for any price for grain that could bear hard upon the manufacturers. A too high price was against the interest of the farmer, and a too low price against the interest of the mechanic. When the members for Nottingham and Southwark were about to sound an alarm through the land, he begged to ask them if the low price of victuals had at any time produced case and comfort to the consumer? If it did not, it was pretty evident that very low prices were not the best cure for public distress. The great cause of that distress, was, first, the diminution of 50 millions in agricultural produce. Secondly, the overwhelming amount of taxation. In order to restore the country to the prosperity which it had lost, he would first recommend fair countervening duties, in order to place the English farmer on the same footing with the grower of foreign corn. That such protecting duties were necessary, no one could seriously deny. He had not long since had a conversation with a great proprietor in Poland. That gentleman had told him, that if the agriculturists of Poland received 8s. for their corn, they would not count it bad, but if they received 12s. they would consider themselves completely remunerated. Thus the House sow how difficult it was for the grower of British corn to cope with farmers who could sell their corn so low as 12s. The right hon. gentleman had said that the revenue was benefited to the amount of 600,000l. on the importation of cheese, butter, and seeds; and, he asked, would you have the government give up that revenue? No. He did not call upon them to relinquish that revenue; but he called upon them to give to the British farmer that fair protection to which he was entitled. He wished to see the farmer enjoy a fair price, which would be found to constitute the surest source of revenue. He had heard many persons say that the poor soil ought to be put out of cultivation. It should be recollected, that the growth of wheat, from what was termed poor soil, amounted to one million and a half of quarters; a quantity which afforded two months consumption, the want of which could not be well supplied from any other country. If those grounds were to be put out of cultivation, where would the country find consumption? Who that recollected the miseries of 1796, would expose the country to the danger of general scarcity? It should be also recollected, that there were not less than 300,000 employed in the cultivation of poor soil, whose productive labour amounted to six millions a year. Could the country afford to add six millions to the poor laws or could they feed the people, and put those lands out of cultivation? It had been said from high authority, that the national distress arose from over production; but farmers must have been madmen, if within the last few years they had increased their growth. The fact was precisely the reverse; and when the state of the markets was appealed to, that was the very circumstance he should have adduced, to show the aggravated nature of the distress. In truth, however, the harvest of last year had been over-calculated. Measures of relief ought to have been taken long ago, but, if not now adopted with promptitude, they might come too late. There was a point at which it became a duty even to resist; and if government would not take care of the interests of those committed to their charge, men would feel that they had a right to take the preservation of those interests into their own hands. Unless pro- tection was given to the cultivator of the soil, and relief afforded by the reduction of taxation, ruin would be inevitable. Neither would he shrink from repeating: that, according to the first principles of society, the legislature had not the power to make an exemption of any species of property from taxation. Whatever bar there might appear to be to taxing the funds, he would maintain that not to tax them was a fraud upon the people of England. The very foundation of society was, that every man, according to his means, was bound to pay for the protection afforded him. Economy must be adopted; for the nation would compel it. Not the economy of candle-ends and cheese-parings, but a real, effectual, and substantial economy. It was useless to go into the committee, unless the members came out of it with a strong report that would compel ministers to grant what was required.

Mr. Whitmore

observed, that he thought it would be the best policy to abrogate all the duties which restricted commerce in Ireland, except perhaps that which related to corn, where perhaps some protection was necessary for the English grower. In his opinion, the main cause of the present distress was taxation. It was idle, when particular interests were affected, to fly to legislation, or to look at the laws affecting any one species of commerce. Unfortunately that had been the course pursued; and it had raised a vicious and artificial system which could not now be altogether laid aside. Of this description were the laws for keeping corn above its natural price. It was, however, material, in considering this subject, to bear in mind that rents had increased in proportion to the rise in the price of the produce. He held in his hand an account of the average value of 100 acres of land in the years 1790, 1S03, and 1813. In 1790 the rent was 88l., in 1803, it was 121l., and in 1813, it was 161l. Tithes had of course increased, and rents must be deemed to have increased in a proportionate degree with the price of corn. He expressed, his opinion, that it was no longer politic to force the cultivation of corn in bad land. The sooner it was put out of cultivation the better. He urged the imperative necessity of economy in all the departments of the state. Until arrangements to that effect were adopted, there, was no chance of promoting the interests of the public.

Mr. Honywood

trusted that the expectations of the public would not be too much raised by the appointment of this committee. Indeed, he felt convinced that if every system of economy and retrenchment was not enforced, the inquiries of the committee would be worse than useless. It had been truly said, that, id referring to the corn prices of 1790 and 1795, they ought to take into consideration the expenditure of the country at that period. The interest of the national debt was, at that period, 14,000,000l., whereas it now amounted to nearly 40,000,000l. The poor-rates, too, had increased to an enormous amount since. He was one of those who felt that the British grower ought to be protected; that we ought to be independent of foreign markets. He trusted, that the committee would have an opportunity of forcing the government to a proper reduction of our expenditure. The present ministry was not a ministry founded on public opinion, but on patronage and ministerial influence. He was one of those who lived among the people; who sympathised in their sufferings; and, who participated in their distresses. The only chance we had of maintaining the public faith, was by rigidly enforcing economy and retrenchment.

Mr. Walter Burrell

was of opinion that the present agricultural distress arose chiefly from the great importation that had taken place in 1818 and 1819. He was aware that the pressure of taxation was severely felt by the agriculturist. An hon. gentleman had talked of throwing the thin lands out of cultivation; but he apprehended the hon. gentleman could not be aware either of the situation or of the extent of lands of that description. If such a plan were carried into execution, the country must inevitably be plunged into a state of insurrection; for there would be no possibility of finding employment for the numerous hands that would thus be deprived of labour. Every possible retrenchment should be effected, in order to reduce the present rate of taxation; and some restraint should be placed on excessive importation.

Mr. Tremayne

said, that if any assistance could be afforded to the agriculturist, it must be by extending relief to all branches of the community. He wished that gentlemen would consider the impropriety of voting large grants, without previously inquiring into the practicability of reducing the public expenditure. The main stay of the country in its present distress must be economy and retrenchment. He was convinced that agriculture was the sure and stable anchor of the wealth and prosperity of the country. But he hoped the agriculturists would not forget, that their interest was inseparably connected with that of every other class of the community.

Mr. Wodehouse

was convinced that the gentlemen on the ministerial side of the House were just as sincere in their wishes for every possible retrenchment as the hon. gentlemen opposite. He and his friends around him were equally aware of the effects of taxation; for a man must be worse than an idiot not to perceive that every class was pressed down by the burthen of taxation. But that the balance of taxation was not equally adjusted he was prepared to deny; nor could he believe that any relief could be given to the agriculturist, without at the same time relieving the other classes of the community. It was on this principle that he had voted against the resolutions proposed last night, and also against the repeal of the horse tax.

Mr. Bennet

said, that he for, one should oppose the appointment of a committee, unless they were to go into the fullest inquiry into the causes of the present distress. Unless the committee inquired into the pressure caused by the taxation, and into the effects of the existing state of the currency, the proceeding would be worse than a delusion upon the public; for, unless such an inquiry were entered into, it would be evident that the appointment of the committee had for its only object the raising of the price of bread, increasing the rent of the landholder, and supporting the revenue. The report of the committee would not be got up as some finance reports were at the Treasury. It was evident that taxation was one of the main evils which pressed upon the country. The existing state of the currency operated also to produce considerable distress. He hoped that those gentlemen who complained of this distress would exert themselves to prevent the voting a single shilling of supply without the most rigorous inquiry. In the present state of unexampled distress, when every, individual was anxious, by oppressing his fellow, to shelter himself from ruin, it was not by parading a paltry, pitiful saving of a million a-year that ministers could redeem the pledge of economy which had been wrong from them by the people. It might be said that our great colonial system demanded the protection of a standing army; it might be said that troops were necessary, under the home system, to keep down the people of England; but he would tell ministers, that England could not afford the expense of the existing establishments; that she could not afford, at such an annual cost, to keep up her colonies, or even to keep down her subjects. He did therefore entreat of those gentlemen who were rising one after another, and describing the sheet anchor of the country, the agricultural interest, as in such a state of ruin, that scarcely any measure could be devised for its salvation; he did call upon every one of those gentlemen to watch their time, and to take their measures. Within a few days the first great grant of money a grant for the support of a numerous army, would be submitted to the House. Let the hon. members who advocated the present motion come down to the House and vote against that grant, and then the country would be enabled to Judge of their sincerity; but, if they took a contrary course, he must believe that they supported the present motion from interested motives. The distresses of the country must be relieved by a diminution of the public expenditure. But granting the reduction of a million, that reduction would not materially help the country, He should be one of the last men to suppose the possibility of breaking faith with the public creditor; but if the present system of extravagance was continued, that most dishonest measure might be forced upon the House. He wished to avoid that public fraud, that dangerous and disgraceful act of necessity; and the first step, in his opinion, towards recovering payment to the public creditor, was to diminish the other burthens that pressed upon the country. He begged pardon of the House, but he could not hear the arguments of those who supported this motion, without entering his protest against the appointment of any committee, whose object was to seek for a remedy to the distress complained of, by raising the price of bread, while the only true remedy was a reduction of the expenditure of the country.

Mr. Western

said, he could not help repelling the censure which his hon. friend had endeavoured to cast upon the supporters of the motion. It was well to talk of foreign supplies; but he would ask, whether foreign supply had ever been found sufficient when England had been visited with scarcity? Possibly a reliance upon her own agriculture might raise the price of bread a little beyond the cost at which it might be obtained from the foreign grower; but that additional price was the price, to this country, of security—of a security which he trusted he never should see sacrificed to any visionary project of feeding the country by the sale of its manufactures. He admitted the importance of the manufacturing system; but that system must not be carried to such an extent as to supersede, or to interfere with, the culture of the soil; and he hoped that our protection against foreign agriculture would be such as to keep in cultivation at least as much land as stood at present in that situation. It was his firm conviction, that it was not by the money price of bread that the labouring classes were affected. The labourer was not so well situated at the present moment, as he had been at times when the necessaries of life had been much higher. Bread was now cheap in England, and yet the labourer was in a state of wretchedness; and he firmly believed that, taking a view of the prices throughout Europe, in those countries where bread was the cheapest, the labourer had the least share of it. The less the price of corn was, the less the means were of the labourer to contribute to the payment of any part of the national debt; and yet it could not be denied that by labour the greatest part of the debt was to be paid. Now, the wages of a labourer had been lowered from 16s. per week to 9s. and the price of bread had probably been reduced in equal proportion; but, supposing a man's weekly consumption of bread to form a part of his weekly expenditure, then the 16s., after proportionate deduction for that article, would leave a larger residue for general purposes than could be afforded by the 9s. While, however he thought that, in the present state of the public burthens, high prices, and consequent high wages, were advantageous to the working classes, he agreed in the necessity of all possible retrenchment. He could not anticipate any greatly beneficial result from the labours of the committee sought by the present motion; but if to have such a committee was the wish of the country, it was the duty of the House to accede to that wish. He trusted that a committee might be appointed to consider how far the act for the resumption of cash payments was, or was not, a principal cause of the present distress. The hon. member reiterated his arguments for the protection of British agriculture. By attention to that important object, not only would benefit accrue to England, but all the energies of the sister kingdom might be brought into action. Ireland alone was capable of supplying all the corn which was now obtained from foreign sources; the quality of the Irish wheat was improving every year.

Mr. Dennis Browne

said, that the members for Shrewsbury and Kent seemed desirous of forming a committee of passion and prejudice rather than one of practical benefit. He was one of those who considered that the main cause of the existing agricultural distress was the want of protection of British produce against, the produce of the continent. The system of averages, as already established, had greatly failed, and he feared that any new system founded upon the same principle, could not be permanently beneficial. He thought the only way to accomplish the great object of the committee was to prohibit the importation of foreign corn altogether, leaving it to the discretion of parliament to decide when it was proper to remove the restriction. Nothing was more mischievous than the abstract philosophical notions which so much prevailed on all points of political economy.

Mr. Barham

said, he had always been of opinion that bread and corn might be furnished cheaply to the people of this country, without maintaining the importation of foreign corn on its present footing. It was manifest, that the great object of the continental powers was the improvement of their manufactures. Every man must see that without some material alteration in the state of things, a famine was rendered probable. It was obvious that a large proportion of the lands now employed in the growth of corn must soon be thrown out of cultivation. If the agriculture of England was not protected, the country would soon be ruined.

Mr. Ricardo

disclaimed any intention of imputing unworthy motives to any of the various patties whose interests were concerned in the question; but he would say, as he had said before, that the interest of the landholders must necessarily be opposed to that of the consumers in the present case. Some, hon. gentleman had been pleased to address him as a mercantile man, as if he had a particular interest to serve. He would answer, that he was not a mercantile man—that he was not a man of funded property, but that he was a landed proprietor, and, as such, had the same interest in the question with many of those who had opposed him. He did not look to the interest of any one party in the state, but to that of the whole country. He agreed in one opinion which had fallen from the hon. member for Essex, that it was not the money price of com they were discussing, but the, labour price; and it was on that very ground that he contended for the policy of a free trade. And what did a freer trade mean?—that they should devote the capital which they possessed to the more extensive production of any commodity; corn, for instance. It would result, that the greater the capital which they could so devote, the more of the article would they be able to procure. While he said this, he begged that he might not be understood as advocating an unlimited free trade in corn; for there were circumstances attending that question which rendered it imperative upon the legislature to impose some shackles upon a trade, which, more than any other, being once without restrain, speedily required them. And this led him to consider what had been urged by many gentlemen upon the subject of countervailing duties. If the agriculturists would show that they had any particular taxes to cope with, which other producers had not, then, undoubtedly, they ought to have a countervailing duty to that amount: and not only so, but there ought to be a drawback allowed upon exportation to that amount. The great principle upon which they should go was this—to make the price of their corn approximate, as nearly as; possible, to the price it bore in other countries. He was more sanguine, undoubtedly, than many; but he was not such an enthusiast as to suppose that, under present circumstances, they could reach at one step this great and true principle of all corn trade Much had been said, affirming and denying the direct interest of landholders in monopolizing the market. He would say without hesitation, that gentlemen of landed property had a interest in getting the monopoly of the market for their own corn. In the mode in which they had gone about it, however, they had not been very dexterous or successful. The hon. member for Cumberland had said, with great propriety and truth, that for many years past a glut of corn had always come into the country whenever the price had risen above 80s. This fact confirmed the objections which had been raised to protecting duties upon that commodity Although a duty on the importation of corn would not be so wise a measure as the approach to that system which he had suggested as constituting the true principle of a corn trade; yet he did think that a permanent duty upon importation would be a much wiser measure than that which*had been proposed and advocated. Let them father have a certain moderate duty which should have a tendency to product a price of corn that should not be very variable. The last desideratum was of the very highest importance, as much of the evil arose from the fluctuation of prices. The system which had been proposed by the hon. member for Bridge-north, of duties that should rise as the price of corn fell, and fall as the price of corn rose, he could not consider a very wise one. What would be the situation of the grower, if such a system were put in practice? Supposing he had to contend with the deficiencies of a short crop in one season, he naturally expected to make up for them in the next season. But the adoption of these duties would leave him no such remedy for his misfortunes. The hon. member for Oxford had the other evening appeared surprised at one or two positions which he had ventured to advance. The hon. gentleman had called upon him to solve this riddle, as he called it, namely, "if you open your ports, and import the immense quantities of corn which then will inundate the country, how can it be said the country will be better able to sustain a money taxation?—so far from it, the means she now possesses, now applicable to that purpose, will be withdrawn from her." But it was not difficult to give the required solution. Suppose the ease of a country which was cultivating its own lands, and received no supply from abroad;—a country that had a much better, mode and practice of agriculture than others; and which, in consequence of that circumstance, could, with less, trouble and expense than they could do, grow all that was necessary for her purpose. It was clear that, under such circumstances, the price of corn would be much lowered there. But, let gentlemen keep their eyes upon the capital that would be thus liberated from the land. Would that be idle? Would that be employed in no way? Would it not be employee for the purchase, and obtaining of other commodities? Would not those commodities be of value in the country, and by their value afford to pay that additional taxation which he had alluded to, in the position that had so much startled the hon. member for Oxford? "But," said that hon. gentleman again, "do you mean to say, that if the price of corn be lessened one half, the country can afford to pay the same money taxation?" He answered confidently, "Yes," these commodities of which he had spoken? would enable her to pay it. An opinion had been given in another place, which he thought had been treated with too much a levity. It did appear to him, that that opinion was well founded; for he also was one who thought that the low price of corn, under which we were at present labouring, was occasioned by too great a supply. He did not think it to be the consequence of taxation. Whether that abundance was the effect of too great an importation, or arose from a diminution of the demand, still the depression was in every case, if the price did not repay the producer, to be attributed to no other cause but the too great supply. Taxation, undoubtedly, was a very great evil; no man was more ready to deprecate the present system and extent of the taxation than he was; but how did it operate? Take the commonest article of trade; a hat, for instance. If the hat were taxed, the price of the hat rose of course. Enemy as he was to all taxation, he must say that it was not to taxation only that he attributed the distresses of the farmer; and they who did so, attributed the evil, he thought, to a wrong cause. The hon. member for Wareham had said a great deal, to show that those distresses were principally to be imputed to the heavy duties upon, salt. Every person who used salt Was injured to a certain degree by that tax: no doubt it was a very grievous, burthen, but it was certainly not an adequate reason to be assigned for the present distressed state of agriculture. It had been said that such large quanti- ties of corn had been imported, and at so low a rate, that all the poor lands would go out of cultivation. This he took to be a fallacy: and to proceed from hon. members erroneously supposing that all corn was grown at the same remunerating prices But nothing was more clear than that price was as 30s. in some instances, and 40s., 50s., 60s. and 70s. in others. The hon. member for Essex had told the House what small quantities of corn, after all, had been imported within the last ten or twelve years, from foreign countries. Another hon. gentleman, however, was for prohibiting the importation of foreign corn altogether, and asked them how they were to pay for it? Why, as for that matter, they ought not to contract the debt, if they could not pay for it; and if the fact was that they could not pay for foreign corn that was pretty good security, he should conceive, that they would grow it themselves. Then there was the ware housing system. It had been said, "who will speculate in corn, when he knows what a tremendous quantity of it is hanging over him?" He would for one; for, if he had bought his corn at 79s., and it was now selling for 70s. he would keep it on-hand; and take care not to sell it till it: had got above 79s. Then if it rose only to 80s., he evidently had the market in his own hands. The hon. member for Cumberland had asked, "Can we grow corn in England on the same terms as the foreign grower." To this he would answer "No:" and for that very reason he would import it: But, what was the proposed end of all capital, if it was not this—that the possessor should procure a great abundance of produce with it? Now if he could prove that by getting rid of all that capital which is employed in land, he could make more profitable use of it, then he contended, that that was in effect so much capital gained by him. But here again an erroneous idea prevailed. The House was told of the capital which was employed in land, and told in a manner as if it was absolutely and entirely vested in it. Let them just consider, however, the wages of labour, the price of improvements, the charges of manure, and they would1 find that the total cost of all those items would be a capital saved. The hon. member for Kent had spoken in a very disparaging manner of thrashing machines. Now, in his opinion, everything which tended to lessen human labour was an advantage to man- kind. Something also had been said on the subject of the national debt. He had no particular individual interest in it, because he derived no revenue from it; but he would say, that the lauded interest, the agricultural interest, the trading and every other public interest, were pledged to the public debt. What could be more dishonourable than for a state to carry on the expenses of war by the money advanced upon her good credit by her own subjects, and then to turn round upon those from whom she had borrowed it, and say—"We are involved, and we will not pay you." It was totally unworthy of an enlightened and honourable assembly to entertain a proposition so monstrous. The hon. member for Cumberland appeared to entertain a very strange idea of the nature of countervailing duties. He had said, that the countervailing duties should amount to all the difference between the price for which the foreigner could grow corn, and that for which we could afford to grow it. But the fact was by no means so. The House might remember the large capital employed in France during the continental system of exclusion, in obtaining a species of sugar from beet. Now, the question was, when that exclusion was abolished, and sugars could be imported, what were they to do with the capital employed in the beet process? The hon. member, on his proposition, would have required a countervailing duty to the amount of the difference between the price at which sugar could be so imported, and that at which it could be extracted from beet. Another argument was, that rent and capital would be annihilated if the land was thrown out of cultivation. He did not mean to deny that the House ought to deal tenderly with all the interests concerned; but though opening the ports would throw a good many labourers out of employment in land, it would open other sources of labour. The hon. member for Bridge-north had taken an unfavourable view of the state of the country. For his own part, he bad better hopes. He could not help feeling that the difficulties of the country were nearly at an end, and that the present unnatural state of depression must soon cease to be felt. He thought we were now reviving; and nothing could so much contribute to that revival as the relief of the people from taxation by every possible means. He had great apprehension from the appointment of this committee, because he feared that it would look for relief to restrictions upon importation. If restrictions were to be imposed, lie would rather have a fixed duty than a graduated one, as being most likely to produce permanent benefit to the country.

Mr. Calcraft

observed, that on a former occasion he had opposed the appointment of a committee upon this subject, but he had now no hesitation in saying that his opinions were changed. He would willingly go into the committee, yet he could never sanction the enactment of higher protecting duties. He had thought the former, duty too high, yet he was willing to assent to it, in order to afford protection to the Irish farmer, and to give encouragement to the consumption of Irish corn in the British market.

General Gascoyne

said, that lie should feel extreme jealousy at any measure at all calculated to raise the price of the necessaries of life. The only consolation lie had with respect to the proposed committee was, that the opinion of its members would be much at variance on the means of affording relief, that the whole would, come to nothing.

Mr. Wilson

confessed, that he was an advocate for the commercial and shipping interests, but lie did not feel the less for the agricultural. He considered that a rise in the price of corn would enable the landlord to pay his labourer better, and keep him out of the workhouse.

The motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed.