The Marquis of Londonderry
moved, "That the Report pf the Committee on the Agricultural Distress, presented the 18th June, 1821, together with the several petitions which have been presented to the House in the last and present sessions of parliament, complaining of the depressed state of Agriculture of the United Kingdom, be referred to a Select Committee, to enquire into the allegations thereof, and to report their observations there up on to the House."
§ Mr. Gooch
said, he was desirous of correcting some of the misrepresentations which had taken place respecting him at several public meetings. He had been described, as having brought forward this subject last year, in collusion with the government, in order to prevent enquiry. If he had acted such a part, he should have thought himself unworthy to represent that county which sent him to parliament, or any other. Having been sent there to represent one of the first agricultural counties in England, he had believed it to be his duty, when he saw their table covered with petitions, all describing the existence of one unusual scene of distress, to call the attention of the House to it. Though little qualified to perform such a task, he had determined on taking it up as nobody else did. He wished for that inquiry which had taken place; but which, he was sorry to say, had done little. He had, in the first instance, thought it right to ascertain his own strength, and the strength of those opposed to him. Feeling no wish to raise the landed interest to the injury of other interests, he had not anticipated much opposition from the commercial 463 and manufacturing interests. After consulting those connected with those interests, he then went to the noble marquis to ask what the government proposed to do The noble marquis told him, that ministers would not oppose a motion for a committee, as they felt for the situation of the agricultural classes as much as he could do. He told the noble marquis, he was rather surprised that with these feelings they had not come forward with some measures for their relief. The noble marquis said, that as a minister, he had no right to bring forward a measure unless he could offer a remedy, as he wished not to hold out a hope to the country which might not be realized. But, he added, that he would willingly attend the committee, and give every aid in his power to the prosecution of the enquiry. That pledge the noble marquis had most fully redeemed. Now, with respect to the Report of the Committee, he would say, that to him it appeared worse than useless. The House probably did not know by whom the report had been drawn up. He had not done it. Even had his opinions been those of the right hon. gentleman who performed the task, he could not have executed it with that gentleman's talent. Still the document, though admirably got up, had been considered by the country as a piece of mystification. It was rather extraordinary, perhaps, for a chairman to speak in such terms of a report which was supposed to emanate from himself; but be was bound to confess that he thought it threw dust in the eyes of those persons whose eyes it should have opened. It ought to have carried comfort and information to the people; and, in fact, it had carried neither the one nor the other. Perhaps he might be allowed a few words on what had fallen from the noble marquis on Friday last. No man had more at heart the welfare of the landed interest than the humble individual who then addressed the House. His duty, his inclination, and his interest, all led him that way. He thought the statement of the noble marquis in many respects most satisfactory; and he begged to congratulate the House on the state of the finances of the country. It was a most gratifying circumstance to find that we were in possession of a clear sinking fund of more than 5,000,000l. For the general welfare of the country it was necessary that public credit should be secured. Nothing could tend more to the relief of 464 the country than thus improving and strengthening public credit. But when he came to speak of what the noble lord had said on the subject of Agricultural Distress, he should not speak truth, if he were to state it to be his opinion, that it would prove satisfactory to the landed interest. He thought they would be discontented, because more was not done. But it was one thing to say, that what had been proposed, was not sufficient, and another to point out what more ought to be done. He did not see what more could be done; but he was most anxious to see as large a diminution of taxes as could be made, consistently with the maintenance of the great interests of the country. The question then became one of quantity. He was one of those who did not wish the numerical strength of the army to be more diminished; but he wished for further reductions in the civil departments of both army and navy. When the estimates came before the House, he would vote for such reductions as he thought would be proper. On the whole, however, looking at what had been done already in the way of reduction and retrenchment since the last session, he could not help congratulating the country upon it, as the opening of a system that appeared to him to be pregnant with the greatest benefits. He had been censured for not having been present in the House last session, on several occasions when the hon. member for Aberdeen brought forward questions connected with public economy. The fact was, however, that not having been in the habit of long confining himself to a room, his attendance for fourteen weeks on the Agricultural Committee, from an early hour in the morning until four in the afternoon, had the effect of frequently jading him to a degree that would not allow him to take his place in the House. Again he congratulated the House on what had been done. He hoped to God the noble marquis would follow up the plan which he had commenced. He hoped the House would go hand in hand with the country, in giving to that plan the utmost effect of which it was capable; he hoped that all persons would, for once, divest themselves of party spirit; he hoped that they would unite in one common cause, and, in the words which they were every day accustomed to hear, "lay aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections."
§ Sir John Shelley
said that the hon. 465 member for Suffolk seemed rejoiced at the relief that had been afforded, and appeared quite surprised that the noble lord had done so much. He (sir J. S.) was surprised too; but it was that the noble lord had done so little. With respect to the sinking fund, it appeared to him to be a complete fallacy. He regretted that the noble lord did not confine the amount to be devoted to it to one million, and avail himself of the remaining four millions of the surplus of the income over the expenditure, by taking off those taxes which bore most heavily on agriculture. He had no hesitation in declaring, that the sinking fund had ever been a great charge to the country, and that very little had been gained by it. Reduction of taxation was alike the wish of the House and of the country; but, in his opinion, the plan of the noble lord was merely a bolstering up of the funds at the expense of the landed interest.
observed, that the principal object for which he rose was, to ask the noble marquis a question. He would first, however, make a few observations on the subject immediately before the House. Although some of the views of his majesty's government appeared to be rather enigmatical, he had no doubt, that on the whole, the measures which they proposed would be beneficial. He felt it his duty, however, to express the obligation which he felt to two distinguished individuals on the other side of the House. To the one, he owed a two-fold obligation; he meant the hon. and learned gentleman opposite (Mr. Brougham). Although he differed very much from the hon. and learned gentleman on some points of his arguments, he yet thought that that hon. and learned gentleman had done more service to the cause of agriculture than any man in the House. Such, indeed, were the transcendant talents with which he was so marvellously gifted, and such the extraordinary force of his reasoning, that it really required great firmness to resist him in his conclusions. The other obligation which he owed the hon. and learned gentleman, was, for having, m the course of his argument on the sinking fund (that rock on which our public credit rested), done justice to the memory of that great man who was the author of that measured and who could never be estimated too highly. The other individual to whom he wished to express his obligation was, a noble lord (John Russell) not 466 then in his place, who, in an address which he had published some time ago to his constituents on the subject of a proposed petition to parliament for the relief of agricultural distress, had treated the subject exactly in the way in which, in his opinion, it ought to be treated. Honourable gentlemen might recollect that, in the course of the last session, language was held on this subject which he trusted would never be repeated. It was asserted, that the landlords in England were like the lords of the soil in Poland and Russia, who, when they were themselves satisfied whatever became of their unfortunate tenants, considered that all was well. Nothing could be more opposite than the character and conduct of the landlords in England and the lords of the soil in the countries alluded to. In the latter, the situation of the tenant was that of slavery; or at least their institutions were so much mixed up with feudal obligations, as very much to resemble slavery. What was the situation of the tenant in this country? The proprietor: of the land was satisfied with a fourth, or, where it was highly cultivated, with a sixth of the produce as rent; and such was the reciprocal confidence between the landlord and the tenant, that the most beneficial effects resulted from it to both. It was much to be regretted, therefore, that a a comparison so unfounded had ever been instituted. The noble lord had, in his opinion, treated the subject exactly as it ought to be treated; and he beeged leave to repeat his thanks to him for it. In looking at the distress of the landed interest, the House would allow him to disown all idea of relieving it at an expense of any other class of the community—of the commercial, the monied, or manufacturing interests. The relief to the agricultural classes, of whatever nature it might be, could never be effectual, if it went to the injury of any other class of the community. In the great discussion which took place in 1811, on the bullion question, the principal argument was between Mr. Horner and Mr. W. Elliot, both men of very superior talents. The difference between them was this. Mr. Horner maintained, that no political danger should induce the House to depart from the sound principles of commercial prosperity. Mr. Elliot, on the contrary, argued that he could not conceive how political danger could be coexistent with commercial safety. Whichever of those able men was is the right, 467 no one need be ashamed of placing himself under the authority of either. What he wanted was, a distinct explanation from the noble marquis as to the principle on which it was the intention of his majesty's government to proceed. If there were to be the slightest relaxation of the existing system, parliament would reduce to a complete wilderness those unhappy soils once the seat of cheerful industry, but now over burthened by poor, whom it was difficult to know how to sustain, or how to remove. Thus circumstanced they would doubly feel the pressure of the taxes which it was declared by his majesty's government it was not consistent with the maintenance, of national faith to repeal. This was at war with the principle asserted by a great man, "that no interest in the state ought to be called upon to contribute beyond its ability." It militated also against the opinion contained in the report of the committee of the House last year, namely, "that taxation, if measured by population, is heavier in England than in any part of Europe, if measured by capital it is lighter." If that position were not true, he would not trouble the House with any argument upon it; but if it were founded on any thing like truth, what would become of the parts of the country to which he had already alluded? He understood that the author of the report of the committee of 1814 was the same individual as the author of the report of the committee of 1821: or at least that, if he was not the author of the report, it had his decided support. The report of 1814 began thus:—"it appears to your committee to he established by all the evidence, that within the last twenty years a very rapid and extensive progress has been made in the agriculture of the united kingdom; that great additional capital has been skilfully and successfully applied, not only to the improved management of lands already in tillage, but also to the converting of large tracts of inferior pasture into productive arable, and the reclaiming and inclosing of fens, commons, and wastes, which have been brought into a state of regular cultivation." Then came a passage to which he wished the attention of the House to be particularly directed—"That many extensive enterprises, directed to the same important objects, are some of them still in their infancy; that others, though in a more forward state, do not yet make any return for the large advances which have been 468 laid out upon them; and that these advances in many instances will be a total loss to the parties (involving also the loss to the nation of the produce, which in a few years might be expected from such expensive undertakings), if, from the want of a sufficient encouragement to continue them, they should be abandoned in their present unfinished state." That was the way in which the report began. He would now read its close:—"They are convinced, that a reliance on foreign importation to a large amount, is neither salutary nor safe for this country to look to as a permanent system; and that many of the sacrifices and privations to which the people have been obliged to submit, during the late long and arduous contest, would have been materially alleviated, if their means of subsistence had been less dependent on foreign growth. If, compelled by the frequent recurrence of those sacrifices and privations, the country has at last made exertions which will enable us under ordinary circumstances to hold ourselves independent of the precarious aid of foreign supply, your committee, without venturing to suggest the mode, cannot doubt that it will become the wisdom, and will consequently be the policy of parliament, on the one hand, by protecting British agriculture, to maintain if not to extend the present scale of its exertions and produce, and on the other, consistently with the first object, to afford the greatest possible facility and inducement to the import of foreign corn, whenever from adverse seasons the stock of our own growth shall be found inadequate to the consumption of the united kingdom." Such were the principles on which the report of 1814 had proceeded. The question that he wished to put to the noble lord was, on what principle it was the intention of his majesty's government to proceed? He was confident that no one who heard him would for a moment suppose that he wished to rake up an angry discussion on the corn laws; but, such were the difficulties of our situation, that some decided conclusion must be come to on the subject. No person could doubt the ability of the right hon. gentleman below him. Let the peroration of that right hon. gentleman's speech in March 1815, be remembered, in which he conjured the House to agree to the measure of prohibition, with reference, not to the interests of the agriculturists alone, but to those of the artisans, the manufacturers, and the 469 whole community. He trusted the House would have the benefit of the whole force of the right hon gentleman's understanding exerted on this most important subject.
§ Mr. Davenport
said, that from the flourishing description which the noble marquis had given of the state of our finances, he hoped there would be some reduction of taxation, which now bore so heavily on the country. The noble marquis had stated, that the taxes on the farmer were not more than five per cent. on the incoming and outgoings of his farm. Now, in answer to this, he would state, that in Cheshire, the occupiers of dairy farms paid five per cent. on one article of consumption alone; namely, that of salt; the tax on which he considered the most oppressive that ingenuity could devise.
§ Mr. Curwen
was anxious to know, whether the noble lord meant to open the whole extensive question which had last session occupied the House. If so, he was persuaded little would be done with it during the present session. Did the noble lord wish for further information as to the distressed state of the country? Was it for that the noble lord wished to open the question? If so, the committee would spend the whole of the session as they had spent the last, and would come back with a similar report. Instead of referring the subject to a committee, it was the duty of government to be prepared with a measure. He wished the noble lord would take the subject into his own hands. No man could do more justice than the noble lord had done to the subject in the committee last year. The noble lord must be aware, that if it were again sent to the committee, a great diversity of opinions would necessarily arise, and, after all, the committee would make just such a report as the noble lord and his friends would recommend. Thus the session would be allowed to pass and no measure would be adopted to prevent the possible influx of foreign corn. He would ask whether the country ought to be left in this uncertain state—whether something should not be done to ascertain the price at which importation should take place; unless the noble lord wished this country to be placed in the situation in which he had described Silesia to be, where the price of corn would not pay for its removal from the ground. The noble lord perhaps considered that he was taking a great step towards relief, in removing a 470 part of the malt-tax—that tax or which, when the repeal was formerly talked of the noble lord had threatened to resign if the House consented to it: but let him consider, that even according to his own showing, the taking off of a shilling a bushel duty would give no sensible relief. The noble lord, after estimating the taxes on the farmer, at five per cent. offered him a relief of one half per cent. He could tell the noble lord, that it would be a relief to the farmer not of five per cent. but of 20 per cent. if the taxes on barley, salt, leather, soap and candles, were taken off. As to the sinking fund, he should be extremely sorry to go the length of recommending that it should be wholly relinquished; as such a measure might have a very unfavourable effect on public credit. But, on the other hand, it was of extreme importance, that at the present moment as much relief should be given to agriculture as it was possible to afford to it. Why could not the noble lord let the sinking fund wait a little? Why could not the noble lord let the million which he anticipated in the next year, and his expected resources in subsequent years, go to the sinking fund, and in the mean time give the agricultural interest an immediate, four or five millions? He could assure the noble lord, that a great alarm existed in the country on the subject of the existing difficulties. He was ready to allow that alarms of any kind might be pushed to too great an, extent; but the fact was, that such an alarm did exist, and might be productive of the most serious consequences, unless means were taken to tranquillise it. In one of the suggestions of the noble lord the other evening he was much disposed to concur; namely, to create a fund of a million for the purchase and storing of corn, whenever an over supply depressed it below a remunerating price. If the late harvest had been well got in, there would, he was persuaded, have been a thirteenth more produce than an average crop; in which case, the application of a million to purchase 500,000 quarters of corn with which the market might have been gradually fed, would have been most beneficial, as it would et once have relieved the farmer, and have prevented the influx of foreign corn. The steadiness of the market, under such circumstance, would also be highly advantageous to the manufacturer. With respect to the best mode of preventing the admission of 471 foreign grain into the country, no question could be of greater importance, or involve in its determination a larger portion of the community; for, whatever destroyed the farmer's ability of purchasing from the manufacturer, must of course, be essentially injurious to the latter. He was convinced that no time was to be lost; and he repeated, that he thought the noble lord might have been perfectly prepared to bring forward the great question at issue, without any further reference to a committee. He had listened to what had fallen from the hon. member for Suffolk with considerable surprise. That hon. member concurred with him, that the distresses of the agriculturists were great, and that those distresses were daily increasing. He would ask that hon. gentleman what would be the opinion of his constituents, when they heard that, after having made that declaration, he nevertheless thanked ministers for the very insufficient relief which they proposed to give? He was surprised, at the praise which the hon. member had bestowed upon the ministers, for doing that now, which they might as well have done last year. If such was the language of the county members, he despaired of any relief. If, on the contrary, they had held a high and bold language to the ministers, instead of one million, he had no doubt they should have had five millions, of taxes repealed. Of the effect of such a measure, they might judge by the pressure of the taxes on the labourers. Take the salt tax for instance. The labourer's pig was to him a sinking fund: from the high price of salt he was not able to salt it, and selling it was quite out of the question. He had hoped to see not only the salt tax, but the taxes on leather, soap, and candles repealed. The repeal of those taxes would be a saving of 20 per cent on the farmer's expellees, which, with 20 per cent. on the reduction of rent, would amount to 40 per cent. With this the farmer might have gone on. The hon. member for Norfolk had told them, that in his county the paupers increased. This he believed to be the case in every part of the kingdom. The most industrious and meritorious class of the community, the agricultural labourers, were broken down to pauperism or beggary. As the noble lord had given up to them a million on malt, he hoped the concession would be followed up by some other reduction. He did not ask them to abolish 472 the sinking fund; but the noble lord should defer his project of swelling it and there by save the country from distress and ruin. The noble lord had dwelt upon the fact, that the revenue was increasing. True, it was so; but on what principle he could not conceive. Seeing the universal suffering that prevailed in the country, how the revenue kept up, he did not know. If, however, the taxes were taken off, the consumption of agricultural produce would be increased, and the farmer would then be relieved from whatever he suffered from excessive produce. They might, he hoped, meet the noble lord at some middle point; that, as they asked every thing, and he refused every thing, they might agree on some compromise which might afford a chance for the renovation of agriculture. He wished the noble lord had been with him that morning at Smithfield, and seen the state of the first market probably in the world, where 1000 head of cattle were driven off, because they could not meet with purchasers. He should not oppose the appointment of the committee; but he should wish its sittings to be confined to this side of Easter; that time might be given to take some measure on their report before the end of the session.
§ Mr. Benett,
of Wiltshire, said, he concurred with the hon. member for Norfolk in his praise of the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Brougham), but he did not concur with him in differing from the hon. and learned gentleman's conclusions. He certainly had never heard any subject so clearly stated, or so convincingly reasoned on; and the country was deeply obliged to the hon. and learned gentleman, not only for the eloquent manner in which he had stated the claims of the agricultural interest, but for the sagacity with which he had indicated the mode of relieving them. He concurred in thinking, that on the subject of the distresses of the farmers, and the means of affording relief, the noble marquis should be more explicit; for, except that ls. a bushel was to be reduced on malt, and another agricultural committee was to be appointed, the House had yet heard nothing on which a hope of relief could be founded. He was satisfied that considerable disappointment would be felt throughout the country, at hearing that this committee was to be appointed, with out any specific object being pointed out 473 for its consideration. What could be expected from such a committee? Neither the House nor the country wanted to find out the cause of the distress. Relief from its pressure was generally desired; but, after what had fallen from the noble marquis on this head, what could be hoped for, from a committee so appointed? Without going into any inquiry as to the various causes from which the agricultural distresses were said to have arisen, he would state what, in his opinion, was the principal cause. He considered it chiefly to have proceeded from a transition from a state of war to peace. One of the operations of the war had been to raise the price of every article of consumption, and particularly of agricultural produce, to an extraordinary height. In the course of it our commerce, agriculture, and manufactures, were in a most flourishing condition; but, as the permanence of that state of things depended on a continuance of the causes out of which it had grown, it was a natural consequence that, those high prices subsiding, our commerce and manufactures should return back to their former state. In this transition, the agriculture, though more slowly, felt a severe change, and was at last reduced to that state from which it was now sought to relieve it. Another cause of the agricultural distresses was, the importation, after the peace, of a vast quantity of corn from countries comparatively untaxed. To remedy this, the corn bill was introduced; and it was thought that a monopoly of the home-market would be there by secured to the landed interest: but this remedy failed when its aid was most wanted: for in 1818, by the rise of the prices to the maximum standard, the ports were opened, and the country was inundated with foreign corn. For his own part, he had never been a friend to the corn bill. He thought it proceeded entirely upon wrong principles. He would admit that we could not compete with foreign countries, which, from a variety of causes, could grow corn much cheaper: but then, rather than a prohibition, he would return to the old and sound principle of a duty, whatever might be its amount. He was not an advocate for high prices; for he considered that low prices would, in the result, be for the advantage, not merely of the manufacturing classes, but of the agriculturists themselves, and would afford a better protection than a corn bill. But, 474 then, these would always depend in a great degree, on the state of taxation, which generally fell with tenfold pressure on the poor. It was easy to say, that a tax pressed hard upon this or that article of consumption, but those who said so did not often consider its various ramifications, and the very many ways in which it entered and encroached upon the poor man's comforts. He would show one instance of the inequality of its pressure upon two classes. Take the tax on salt or malt. The poor man consumed as much salt as the rich, and perhaps a little more malt: so that in the consumption of those articles, the poor man paid as much as his rich neighbour, who perhaps possessed one hundred times greater means of supporting the expense. The hon. member for Portarlington had said, that all taxes eventually fell on the consumer. This would be true enough, if the growers of corn in England enjoyed a perfect monopoly. But he was sure the hon. member would allow, that as the taxes had a tendency to raise the price of corn in proportion to their amount, so the taxes must cause distress when other circumstances depressed the price below the cost price. They had now been presented with the ministers' plan for the relief of distress. They were to borrow money to support the sinking fund! He had long considered that this fund was only a means of delusion; but if ever there was a proper time for putting an end to it, it was the present. As to the loans to parishes, on the credit of the poor-rates, it would be altogether futile. He knew of no parish in which such a loan would be accepted; because, as security was given for the repayment, the parish accepting the loan would have, in a subsequent year, to pay double rates, with the addition of the interest on their amount. Another plan of the ministers' was to purchase up corn. He knew not how this was to operate for the relief of the country. If the corn was so damp at present as to be forced into the market, what would be the result of laying it up in public granaries? He did not like to use the term ridiculous; but he was compelled to say, it was the most absurd proposition he had ever heard advanced. It had been well said, that the best public granaries were in England; and that those granaries were the stacks of the farmers. Those ample stores were brought out by high prices, and thus tended to equalize the 475 supply, and prevent the horrors of scarcity.—The next measure proposed for the relief of agriculture was, the reduction of 1s. on the malt tax. That, as he calculated, was equal to about one per cent on rent, as the farmer could only find relief from it in his capacity of a consumer. If the whole of the malt tax, indeed, were taken off, the consumption would be probably so increased, that the price of barley would be affected; but a reduction of 1s. per bushel would be an almost immaterial relief to the farmer.—Another cause of the present distress was, the recent change which had taken place in our currency. He did not, however, think that the currency as it now stood ought to be disturbed. The great evil was, the original departure from the sound metallic standard, from the fear that if it were continued, the gold would all go out of the country. But gold would ever go, in spite of all obstructions, to the country which wanted it most. It was like a stream, and would find its level. In a wrong view of this subject, the Bank-restriction act was passed. However, the currency was now restored, and he would not disturb it. It did not follow, because our ancestors, thirty years ago, committed a robbery, that we should do the same thing to day. No; he would now let the currency rest; though it could not be denied that the effect of the change had been a benefit to every creditor, public and private, of thirty per cent, and a loss to every debtor, public and private, to the same amount. He did not think the noble lord's plan for lessening the interest of part of our debt would be so effectual; for it should be considered that in lessening the interest, they lessened the value of money also. But it appeared to him, that in examining the supposed remedies for our distress, the House were losing sight of the real and effectual one—the most rigid economy and retrenchment. This was the remedy that must be at last resorted to, unless it was meant to be held, as it was contended by an anonymous writer in the "Times" Journal, under the signature of "Abraham Tudela," that taxation was a benefit to a country, and that a great national debt was great national wealth—positions so evidently at variance with the fact, that he would not stop to refute them. It was unfortunately pretty obvious, that, at the present moment, no reduction that could be effected in rents would really 476 and effectually benefit the farmer. Reduction of taxation, offered a better and a more tangible mode of permanent relief; and to that only could he look with any confidence of a favourable result.—He would now offer a word or two as to the relative situation of the landed and funded interests of this country. The House had been continually told, that we must preserve faith with the national creditor, and nobody could more warmly advocate that principle, or more readily confess its perfect justice, than himself. But they had been also told, in the same breath, by the hon. member for Portarlington, that all the land in the country was mortgaged for the entire amount of the national debt. He admitted that all the land in the country was mortgaged for a certain proportion of that debt; but he denied the principle in that extent to which is had been attempted to be carried. It was not the land only, but in point of act the labour, the industry, the property, of the country, were severally mortgaged, on the same account, to the fundholder. The land-owners had certainly incurred very great debts, and they were bound to pay them: the amount was enormous, but he must say that the land owners had, generally speaking, to thank themselves. When he said this he undoubtedly felt that no blame could attach to himself for what had passed: he had not been a party to those measures by which the great proportion of those debts had been incurred: but they who had concurred in them had very much, he repeated, to thank themselves alone for their present difficulties. Those gentlemen had supported all the extravagant propositions—had voted for all the extravagant grants—which the administration of the country had been in the habit of bringing forward for the last thirty years. Whether such a system of measures was or was not necessary to be upheld, it was not requisite for him now to inquire; but, certain it was, that hence had originated most of those evils under which the landed interest was now labouring. It was curious at the present moment to see hon. gentlemen, who had been amongst the warmest supporters of such a system, quarrelling amongst themselves as to the causes of the agricultural distress. He was as anxious as any man could be that faith should be inviolably preserved with the public creditor; but he could not forbear saying, that, in these times, when 477 the value of money had increased, in the course of the period to which he had been adverting, upwards of 33l. per cent, he thought that those who received very large emoluments out of the public purse should voluntarily give up the amount of their salaries, or at least such a portion of them as might bear some relation to the altered value of money. By so doing, they might go far to enable the government to reduce a certain portion of those taxes which a depressed and impoverished country was now compelled to pay. Whatever measures the House might be disposed to adopt, he conjured those gentlemen who were land-owners to remember; that it was quite impossible to separate the landed from the other interests of the state; that it was quite impossible, consistently either with policy or justice, to dismember one from the other; but he hoped that, excluding the consideration of no class of the community, and combining their best efforts for the general welfare of the whole, they would devise such measures as might rescue the country from the evils which now impended over it; and which, if not averted by a prudent and timely interference, must overwhelm it.
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
said, that much blame had been imputed to his hon. friend, the member for Suffolk, for the opinions which he had expressed with regard to the exposition of the noble marquis. Now, he also must confess, that he had listened to the noble marquis with very great satisfaction; and thought that he had pointed out to the country means of relief much more immediate, effectual, and expedient, than any that could be derived from a reduction of taxation. When the hon. gentleman who spoke last said, that the landed interest had arrived at their present condition principally through their own fault, he was perfectly ready, for one—if any blame was to attach to them generally—to take his share of it. Far from regretting the share which he had taken in supporting the measures in question, he felt that, if the landed interest had not given that support to the government of this country, the hon. gentleman himself would have had a much less stake to preserve than what he now possessed. For his part, he always felt that in supporting that momentous war, he was supporting a war for the preservation of the liberties of the country. [Repeated cries of "hear," from the Opposition.] In spite 478 of the cheers of the gentlemen on the other side, he did believe that if ministers had not persevered in that war, this country would have been a province of France. Therefore, any shame which was to be cast on those who had given them their support, he was willing to take his full share of. He was surprised to hear the observations which had that night fallen from the hon. member for Cumberland, and the hon. member who had just sat down. When they heard from the noble marquis that we had now a clear surplus of 5,000,000l. of income above our expenditure, and when they found that ministers, at the same moment that this surplus was announced, were enabled, in addition, to take off a sum of a million and a half from our ordinary annual expenditure, he must be allowed to say, that if this was an exposition, not satisfactory to hon. gentlemen, he did not know what exposition would please them. He was aware, that many hon. gentlemen contended that there ought to be no sinking fund: he should not detain the House on this point, but he should think that even to those gentlemen the circumstance of our having such a surplus as 5,000,000l. must be satisfactory. He conceived that it was not material, whether they carried these 5,000,000l. to4te, sinking fund or not. He had no doubt that if parliament adhered to the sinking fund, or adopted any: other scheme that should reduce the national debt in as short a time as possible, that proceeding must operate, in the most essential way, for the benefit of the agricultural interest; and this, in his opinion, hardly required demonstration, since it appeared to him as plain as that two and two made four. The operation of any such measure must ultimately be, to reduce the interest of money, and the effect of such a reduction he might thus exemplify:—Supposing a person possessed an estate of 2,000l. a year, which he mortgaged for 20,000l., he must pay interest for that sum, at the rate of five per cent. which would be 1,000l. per annum. Now surely, if the consequence of such a public measure as he had adverted to should be to reduce that rate of interest—say by one or two per cent., this would be to enlarge the income of the land-owner, and to enable him effectually to lower his rents. The real distress of the land-owner was this—that he must now pay the same interest which he paid when the value of money 479 was much less than at present. If the land-owner could raise money at three instead of five per cent., it was clear, that in the case which he had put, there would be a difference of 400l. a year in his favour. But, when he declared that he thought the speech of his noble friend, on a recent occasion, most satisfactory, he wished to be understood why he thought so, and why in some respects he not only concurred with, but was disposed to go farther than his noble friend. They had heard that during the last recess government had effected reductions in the public expenditure to the amount of about two millions. Now, he begged to say, that he should expect his majesty's ministers would continue the work of retrenchment, and carry it as far as possible. It was no reason that they should cease to retrench, because they had al ready retrenched to the amount of 2,000,000l. It was the bounden duty of the government to proceed in this course; and he hoped his noble friend did not mean to lie on his oars, because he had already done so much. He trusted that he would go on to satisfy the just expectations of the country, by not relaxing in his efforts. As to the 4,000,000l. of Exchequer bills, which it was proposed to issue for the relief of parishes, he was free to say, that this part of his noble friend's speech gave him no satisfaction, because he did think it was quite impossible to apply those 4,000,000l. under the conditions of the plan, in any beneficial way whatever. With respect to the motion now before the House, he was surprised to bear the hon. member for Cumberland object to it; because he did think that they would now go into the committee with minds pretty well agreed upon the main points of their inquiry. Their great object must be, to prevent that excessive influx of corn which was likely to be poured into the country, immediately after the price of grain reached the maximum now established by law. He did not think there was any person who did not see the distressing effects which must be produced, the moment the price of corn should exceed, though by a single penny, the sum of 80s. If the House went into a committee, keeping this mischief steadily in view, he thought much good might be done.
§ Mr. Ricardo
began by observing, that the hon. member had stated, that the operation of the sinking fund in the purchase 480 of stock, would have the effect of reducing the interest of money, thus benefiting mortgagers and other borrowers, and in that way relieving the landed interest. But he begged to say, that the interest of money depended upon other causes. The rate of interest depended upon the profit that could be made upon the employment of capital; and that again depended upon the wages of labour, which were regulated, in a great measure, by the price of food. While a sinking fund was fairly applied, it might and would raise the price of stock; but it by no means followed, because the price of stock rose, that, therefore, the rate of interest would generally fall. He would not be understood to be adverse to the principle of the sinking fund, if he could be assured that it would be really applied to the liquidation of the public debt: but he found from experience, that, while the people were called upon to pay a large proportion of taxes for the maintenance of this fund, in the hope that it would be applied to the discharge of their debt, they experienced nothing but disappointment, through the manner in which that fund had been appropriated by the ministers. The existence of this fund would serve only to encourage ministers to engage in new wars, by facilitating the contraction of new loans. Such, indeed, had been the destination of every sinking fund which the country had known, from the plan of Walpole to those of die ministers who followed him. Mr. Pitt, not withstanding the experience he had de rived of the fate of all sinking funds, established by his predecessors in office, had been unable to secure his own. What a variety of expedients had been resorted to in order to keep up that system, and to secure the application of it to the purpose for which it was professedly designed at the outset. But they had all been ineffectual against the attacks of the present chancellor of the exchequer, a sinking fund which ought to be now above 20,000,000l. was so reduced that with the addition of 3,000,000l. of new taxes it only amounted to 5,000,000l.; and he had no doubt, whatever, that within a few years this grant would be found quite as inefficient as any that had preceded it. The hon. member for Wiltshire, had pronounced great praise upon the speech of his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham); which was the more extraordinary, as the hon. member differed from all the main 481 positions laid down by his hon. and learned friend; for, in opposition to the views of the hon. member, his hon. and learned friend had maintained, that it was impossible to raise the price of agricultural produce: that the producer could not transfer the taxes imposed upon him to the consumer, in the same manner as manufacturers could; while the hon. member for Wiltshire had maintained, that taxation did tend to increase the price of raw produce, his doubt only being as to the time that would be requisite for such purpose. His hon. and learned friend had observed, that if a man embarked any large proportion of capital in manufactures, he might, by the use of improved machinery, and other means, contrive, not only to overcome any discouraging prospect which might appear at the outset, to damp his speculations, but even to advance his profits beyond any thing upon which he could originally calculate. But the agriculturist, upon investing his capital, had no other remedy for any discouraging prospect, excepting time alone, while he was oppressed with certain taxes; for he would never make the consumer pay them. The hon. member for Wiltshire's observation, as to the time required to transfer taxes on raw produce to the consumer, was not applicable to the matter under discussion, because no new taxes had been laid on agricultural produce. If his observation had been applied to any taxes now for the first time proposed to be adopted, it would no doubt be entitled to attention. But it was to be recollected, that the taxes to which the hon. member had alluded, were, it might almost be said, interwoven with our general system of taxation, having existed for several years; yet that which had so long existed, was now by many persons set down as the cause of the low price of agricultural produce; and hence it was argued, that taxation was the cause of the public distress. But to the agriculturists he would say, that the only effectual remedy for their case was, to regulate their supply by the public demand; and, if they did not take special care of that, all other efforts must be unavailing. He had been represented by the hon. member for Wiltshire as to having said, that the land was mortgaged for the whole of the public debt. But he declared that he should have been quite ashamed to have made any such observation, as he only meant to say that which was his opinion, namely, that the land-owners were, as well as the other 482 classes of the people, responsible to the fund-holders for the payment of their share of the debt [hear, hear!.] From the responsibility the fund-holder himself was not wholly exempted: towards the payment of his own debt he must himself be a large contributor. He did say, that it was for those who contended that the fund-holder received more than his fair share, to show the House how this had happened; and that if such were really the case, a proportionate abatement ought to be conceded. His hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham) in his last speech had remarked, that to raise the price of corn was impossible; and that, therefore, the remedy for the present depression must be by reducing taxes: but that, if this reduced taxation should not have the effect of placing the gentlemen of landed property in affluence—[cries of "No."]
§ Mr. Brougham
observed, that the case he put on a former evening was that of the distress of the landed interest becoming intolerable.
§ Mr. Ricardo
said, he might in some degree have misunderstood his hon. and learned friend, but he would offer a word or two on the subject of this distress. It was not very long ago since they were all in a state of the greatest alarm, on account of the distressed manufacturers. It was conceived that our manufacturers were declining and the most gloomy apprehensions were indulged on their behalf. But he then took the liberty of intimating his opinion, that those distresses were not permanent; and, happily, his predictions had been fulfilled. He was disposed to hope equally well of the agricultural interests; but not while such a system of corn laws as the present existed. He thought it was most desirable to fix some system by which the prices of corn might be rendered less variable, and by which a proper and adequate compensation might be secured to the grower, One of the measures of relief proposed was, an advance of four millions by the Bank at three per cent interest. This was an hazardous experiment, unless the Bank had issued four millions more than was necessary for the circulation of the country. The House would do him the favour to recollect, that, in the session of 1819, he expressed an opinion on the Bank question, for which he received a reproof at the time from an hon. director, that the Bank should not then buy gold, but rather sell it. His fears, he would confess, were now the other way. 483 Vast quantities of gold had been obtained by them to supply the circulation of this country; and he now begged the directors to consider whether they had more than was sufficient for that purpose; for if they had not, he was quite sure that the measure which they were about to adopt could not be expedient, for four millions could not be absorbed in our circulation. It was quite impossible that four millions could be added to the circulation, without affording a great inducement to export the gold. If the Bank had no greater quantity of gold than sufficed to carry on the circulation of the country, no measure could be more injudicious than this, as it respected them. If, on the other hand, having large quantities of gold in their possession, they issued four millions of additional currency, the effect would be, to promote the exportation of gold, to lower its value all over, the world, and to turn the foreign exchanges against us. He gave the directors of the Bank full credit for their good intentions; he believed that men of higher honour or integrity could not exist; but he thought they had not a sufficient degree of talent for the management of so vast a machine as that with which they were intrusted. Once more he would intreat them to consider the matter well, in all its probable consequences, before they increased the present currency, by so large a sum as four millions. And here he would beg the House also to reflect what might have been the effect of the bill brought in by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel), had it been fully acted on. He (Mr. Ricardo) had ventured to say, that its effect upon prices would be about five per cent. To that opinion he still adhered; and he thought he could demonstrate the fact. The state of our money system at that time was this:—gold was five per cent higher in value than paper; that was, a man having an ounce of bullion could per-chase the same quantity of any commodity as another man could do with 4l. 2s. in Bank notes. The question was, how to make these two denominations of money coincide in value? It was quite clear, that if nothing was done to alter the value of gold, it was only necessary to raise the value of paper to the same level, and that then the sum of 3l. 17s. 10½d. in paper would purchase as much as the ounce of gold. After the right hon. gentleman's bill was brought in and had passed, he (Mr. Ricardo) regretted that it was not carried into effect in the method at first 484 proposed; he referred to the intended payments in bars of gold bullion. If that plan had been acted upon, the Bank would have been competent to have answered all demands upon it with the gold then in their possession, how small so ever that sum might have been. As they therefore, in that case, would not have affected the general value of gold in Europe, by making large purchases in other countries, the change could not possibly be greater than the difference between gold and paper, at the time of the passing of the bill. The bill of the right hon. member (Mr. Peel), he did not conceive to be materially different from the plan proposed by himself, for it established an intermediate system of payments in bullion, and did not make the payments in cash imperative till the 1st May, 1823. He could not imagine the reasons which had induced the Bank to commence cash payments at so early a period. He had always blamed them for being too hasty in their preparations; for if they had contented themselves with bullion payments, and the country had seen the advantage of that system, it might have been continued—as undoubtedly it would have been wise to continue it—and payments in cash might have been deferred some years longer. If the affairs of the Bank had been conducted with skill, the directors, instead of forcing so great an importation of gold, should have kept the exchange as nearly as possible at par. He repeated then, that the consequence of the law, if skilfully acted upon, was only to cause a rise of 5 per cent. But the Bank had acted very differently, and had imported a great quantity of gold; as much perhaps as twenty millions. This, of course, had created a change in the price of commodities, in addition to the apparent difference between paper and gold. The buying up of this quantity of gold must have affected a change in the value of it (as compared with other commodities) throughout Europe. What the amount of this change was, it was impassible to say—it was mere matter of conjecture. But when they took the quantity of gold in circulation in Europe into the calculation, and all the paper also, for that too must be reckoned, he did not conceive that it could be great, and he should imagine that 5 per cent would be an ample allowance for the effect. [Hear, hear!].—With respect to the 4 millions of Exchequer bills, and the mode of their 485 application which the noble lord had made a part of his plan, he was really astonished to find the right hon. member for Chichester (Mr. Huskisson), in a speech which contained many sound observations, supporting a system for lending the public money on the security of corn and poor-rates. Such a system was decidedly contrary to every established principle of political economy and common sense.—As to the effect and operation of taxes, he wished to make one or two observations. There were two descriptions of persons, producers and consumers, likely to complain to that House of the pressure of taxation. Against the producers he was prepared to say, he would shut the doors of that House. He would tell them they had the remedy in their own hands; that they must regulate their own price, by making the supply square with the demand. But to the consumers on whom the taxes really pressed, he would say, the doors of the House should be always thrown open. When they said that their income was unequal to their expenditure, and that taxes prevented them from procuring the comforts and enjoyments to which they were accustomed, he would say, that their prayers were entitled to the utmost attention, and that the taxes should as far as possible, be removed. Now, he would ask gentlemen, to whom they supposed the repeal of the malt tax would be a benefit—to the farmer who produced it, or to the general consumer? He should say to the consumer. And so on of the salt, the soap, and other taxes, which affected articles of general consumption. That would be his reason for calling for the repeal of these taxes; but not at all from the impression that those taxes were duplicated or triplicated by dealers or sellers, His hon. and learned friend seemed to think, that if a commodity changed hands two or three times, each dealer would charge 10 per cent or, the amount of the tax; so that, after various changes, it might be increased to an almost indefinite amount to the consumer; but, if these two or three changes took place in the course of one year, 10 per cent, supposing that was the ordinary rate of profit per annum, would satisfy all the persons through whose hands it passed. He had been represented, very erroneously, to have stated that reduction of taxes was not a benefit. But the contrary was the fact. He always thought that taxes were injurious, but they affected all 486 classes of consumers, and the repeal of any one of them would not be particularly serviceable to the agricultural class. His hon. and learned friend observed, that if the quantity of capital were increased, it was an axiom in political economy, that profits would be diminished. Far from that being the fact, he denied the position altogether. If the capital of the country were doubled and the price of provisions lowered, he would have no doubt that the rate of profits would not be reduced. But with the continually increasing population of England, they could not have low prices of corn, if they did not import foreign corn. He would not at this moment propose an importation free of all restraints, but he would agree to a protecting duty (the amount he was hardly capable of fixing), gradually declining till the duty was equal to the peculiar burthens to which the farmer was liable. The hon. member after a recapitulation of his remarks, and characterising in strong terms of reprobation the impolicy of the system of lending the public money upon the security of corn or poor's-rate, concluded with observing, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. member for Wiltshire as to the increased amount of taxation which the landowners and farmers had now to pay in consequence of the depreciation of the currency, that the fund holders were subjected to the same advance upon the taxes, although that class of proprietors had not derived any additional advantage from the war or its consequences, as Mr. Mushett had most satisfactorily demonstrated.—[The hon. member sat down amidst loud and general cheering.]
§ Mr. Manning
defended the conduct of the Bank in carrying into effect the measure of restoring the currency. The directors had a difficult duty to perform in fulfilling the intentions of parliament, and they had performed that duty to the best of their ability. He denied the assertion, that the Bank, in resuming cash payments had narrowed the circulation so much as to produce the prevailing distress, and showed that, including jointly the paper and gold which had been issued since the passing of Mr. Peel's bill, our currency was greater by one million than before. The depressed state of agriculture was therefore to be ascribed to different causes. Among these was the superabundance of produce occasioned by successive plentiful harvests and extended 487 tillage. The farmers having no demand for this excess, could not obtain that accommodation from the country bankers which they were accustomed to receive when markets were more prosperous. The hon. gentleman proceeded to develope these ideas, stating as proofs of extended cultivation the number of enclosure bills passed at different periods within the last forty years.
§ Mr. Sykes
said, he was anxious to bring back the debate to the question at issue, which was, whether or no the Corn Committee should be revived. After having heard the speech of the hon. member for Suffolk supported by that of the hon. member for Cheshire, he confessed he saw no good in going into a committee a second time. The hon. gentlemen had admitted that they had been completely mystified by the right hon. gentleman who drew up the report; and, according to the language of the member for Suffolk, dust had been thrown in their eves, for the purpose of hindering them from seeing the real situation of the country. He therefore could see no advantage in going over the ground again; for if twenty gentlemen had employed the whole of last spring in pursuing an inquiry which had only produced a report contradictory and inconsistent in many parts, and delusive and unpractical on the whole, he could see no prospect of a different result in the present session. It would end, as the last had clone, in the country gentlemen being mystified, and the agricultural interest being disappointed. It was, however, a consolation to him, that gentlemen were now shaking off the dust which had been so profusely thrown in their eyes, and that the hon. members for Suffolk, Cheshire, and Norfolk, were beginning to take a correct view of the conduct of ministers. He could not say that he heard with the same pleasure the speech of his hon. friend, the member for Yorkshire: for he never was mare surprised than when he heard him express his almost unlimited satisfaction at the speech of the noble marquis, the other night; and be listened with all his ears to learn the cause of his hon. friend's complacency. This pleasure he found was derived from the noble lord's statement, that, in the next year, he should have a sinking fund of five millions. But, did not his hon. friend recollect, three years ago, the chancellor of the exchequer held out the same hopes—aye, and carried his expectations to the 488 amount of eight millions; and had he not experienced how those hopes had been disappointed? Again, the hon. member derives great consolation from the rise in the public funds, and thinks, that by this means the interest of money will be lowered. The fallacy of this hope has been well exposed by the member for Portarlington, who had clearly shewn the grounds on which the rise and fall of interest depend. But, independent of this, what relief would this give to the present distress of the farmers? Could a contingent, distant, precarious lowering of interest give the means of living to the ruined tenant, or put rents into the empty pockets of the landlord? The relief they wanted was something prompt, immediate and comprehensive as the evils they laboured under. If the hon. member had been advocating the cause of the fund-holder, his satisfaction was very natural; but how the agricultural interests were to be amended, he was totally at a loss to conjecture. And if his hon. friend was satisfied with the plans of the noble lord as a measure of relief, he could only say he was the most easily satisfied, good-natured gentleman he ever met with. But he hoped the next time his hon. friend presented himself to the freeholders of Yorkshire, it would be as the friend of the fund-holder, and not of the farmer. He should now proceed to examine the plan of the noble lord. He must confess, that, so far from deriving any satisfaction from it, it filled him with surprise and disappointment; he might almost say, with consternation. He said this, not in the spirit of hostility to the noble lord; for he could assure him that if his hon. friends below him were transplanted to the other side of the House, he should address them in the same language, and urge upon them the same arguments. In fact, he agreed with the noble lord in many of the views he had taken of the subject. He agreed with him in thinking it necessary, that we should have a sinking fund, that is a clear excess of receipt beyond expenditure; but, he did not approve of a sinking fund in its ordinary sense. He also coincided with the noble lord in thinking that the distress would be only temporary; for he conceived it to originate principally in superabundance, aided, no doubt, by the alteration in the currency. This might be removed or mitigated in a few years, when that excess, the causes of which were easily accounted for, should be remo- 489 ved. But, as long as it continued, it was a sore and pressing evil. It would ruin, he had no doubt, the present cultivators, and greatly damage the land-owners. Relief must be applied, and that immediately. It could not be administered by the noble lord's plan of running up one of the public stocks, and running down another, or by his poor and pitiful relief from taxation. What! after the poignant distress of the country had been so clearly proved and so fully admitted, and after economical relief had been recommended by a resolution of this House, at the conclusion of the last session, was all the measure of relief, proposed by the noble lord, to consist in a reduction of a shilling a bushel in the malt duty? This was the mighty boon of the noble lord to the suffering interests of agriculture! This was his only relief to the farmer without a market, and the landlord without rent! The only two sources of comfort which he opened, were the prospect of reducing the interest of the public securities, and a remission of a part of the tax on malt; and neither of these had the essential quality of effecting an immediate alleviation of a pressure which was almost intolerable.—But the noble lord; broached another scheme, namely, an issue of Exchequer bills, the most objectionable and unstatesman like that had ever been mentioned in parliament. If such a measure were ever carried into execution, the effect of it must be this: Supposing the amount of currency at present sufficient to carry on the business of the country, an issue of Exchequer bills, to the amount of four millions, must just displace so much gold coin, which would disappear from circulation. The four million of Bank notes thus thrown into circulation would thus be, pro tanto a repeal of the bill of the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Peel). Considered as a project to relieve agricultural distress, it was the most silly, inefficient, and absurd, that ever entered the head of man. To advance money by means of such a loan, on security of the parish rates, would be nothing else than imposing a dead weight of debt on land already unable to support its burthens. But, supposing this evil was surmounted, there was still another objection to the measure, which must strike the least attentive observer. The persons who borrowed the money from government would be liable to all the hardships and oppressions of the law of extents, that is, their property might be seized for the pub- 490 lic, and their bodies thrown into gaol, where they might be confined for years—instances occurring where an imprisonment of 15 years had been inflicted on those subject to the extent law. And was this the condition to which the gentlemen of the country were to be exposed? Was this all the relief proposed by the noble marquis for the suffering land-owners and farmers of England? And yet, in the face of such remedies as these—with such prospects as these held out to the distressed agriculturist—his hon. friend, the member for Yorkshire, congratulated the country on the statements of the noble lord! But the House ought to consider whether there was not another and a better remedy. When a country suffered from want of a market for its produce, and when that country was burthened with a load of taxation, which aggravated the evils incident to reduced prices, the only practicable mode of relief would seem to consist in a reduction of taxes—the only element of the distress which government could remove. That reduction ought, in the present circumstances of the nation, to amount to five or six millions at least. They would thus get rid of the duties on soap, leather, and salt, in addition to some of the assessed taxes. When the noble lord promised in his statement a reduction of the public burthens, he expected something on this scale. What, then, was his surprise to hear only of a deduction of 1s. from the bushel of malt? The large retrenchments which he had recommended would be so far from injuring public credit, that they would confer upon it additional consolidation and security. Our large establishments offered ample means of relief in their reduction, without any detriment to the public service. The army, which in 1792, cost the country only 2,000,000l. might surely now, in a season of distress, be reduced to a lower expenditure than 8,000,000l. The Navy, Ordnance, and Civil list could bear similar reductions, as had been often shown by the hon. member for Aberdeen. If, in 1792, the different establishments of the country could be maintained at the expense of 7,000,000l. were there, in the present times, any dangers to require, or any resources to warrant, an expenditure of triple that amount? He was willing to concede to the noble marquis, that the half-pay and allowances imposed a dead weight on the country, with which parliament could not interfere; but, making all 491 allowances for this, such establishments as were proposed ought not to be maintained. The army, it appeared, was not to be reduced by the noble marquis, who considered it as the "guardian of public liberty." Of all the extraordinary uses of a standing army that had ever been mentioned, he (Mr. Sykes) considered this the greatest. He had often heard a free press called the bulwark of public liberty: he had often heard parliament so designated: he had often heard the preservation of our freedom ascribed to the impartial administration of justice in our courts of law; but this was the first time that he ever heard of our owing the security of our freedom to the bayonets of a standing army. No wonder that the noble marquis felt so anxious to preserve our military establishments on the most extensive scale, when they served so important a purpose. In conclusion, he would call upon those hon. members who were connected with the agriculture of the country, and who complained so loudly of public distress, to join in compelling the ministry to effect those reductions by which alone that distress could be alleviated [The hon. member was greatly cheered in the course of his speech].
§ Mr. Peel
observed, that the hon gentleman who had just sat down had opened his speech by stating, that he would call back the attention of the House to the question before it. But if this was his mode of confining himself to the subject under discussion, he could not conceive how largely the hon. gentleman might think himself entitled to expatiate, when the whole question of agricultural distress should be brought forward. In offering himself to the House, he would rather follow the example of the hon. gentleman, than his precept. In the first place, he begged leave to make a few observations on the bill that went by his name, however small a portion of merit he had in the measure—a bill that had of late been the subject of discussion with every one who speculated on the prevailing distress, both within and without the walls of parliament. From the share he had in introducing it, as chairman of the committee at which it was recommended, he might he allowed to say a few words on its character and effects. At the time that he presented it to parliament, and when it was more popular than it was at present, he had arrogated no merit for the work— 492 he willingly gave it to those to whom it was due; and now, when it was viewed with a less partial regard, he would still renounce the merit, and take his share of the responsibility. He confessed that after all that had passed—after the measure had been opposed, sometimes by argument and sometimes by clamour—he was still as much disposed to maintain its justice and policy, as he was when it was first introduced. He would not shelter himself under the immense majority who concurred with him on that occasion—he would not shelter himself under the great authorities who sanctioned his views—he would not shelter himself under the consideration, that party feeling was at that time laid aside, and that all sides agreed in passing a law which was thought necessary for the safety of all. Notwithstanding the evils ascribed to it, notwithstanding the disapprobation since expressed, he was prepared to maintain that there was then no alternative—that the measure was in itself wise and conducive to the general interests of the empire—that the agricultural interests had not been depressed by its operation—and, consequently, that whatever depression they had since experienced was in no peculiar degree to be ascribed to it. He would contend, that it had promoted the general interests; and that agriculture, which had not been injured by it, would soon feel what the manufacturing and commercial interests had already felt. It was natural and common to feel acutely the evils that pressed upon us, and to shut our eyes to those from which we had escaped. He would therefore beg leave to recall for a moment the year 1819, and ask the House to remember the situation in which the country was then placed. Let the House look to the internal state of England—let them read the reports of committees of parliament—let them recollect the distress that pervaded the manufacturing district, in Derbyshire, Lancashire, Nottingham, and some other counties, the people were goaded by distress to nearly open rebellion: and let them recollect, that their disaffection and tumults were ascribed to the miseries arising from insufficient wages At that time we had great establishments. Our manufacturing and commercial transactions were on a scale of immense magnitude; but they were not sound, because the manufacturers depended on a state of the currency that gave no security. He 493 would appeal to an example to prove what what he said. A petition was presented in that year from Coventry, complaining of the sufferings of the persons engaged in the ribbon manufactories, which was referred to a committee. It described the distress of the petitioners as overwhelming; and stated that many of them were driven for subsistence to the poor-rates. The cause was the low rate of wages. The quantity of goods manufactured was not diminished; but the wages of the manufacturing labourers were so reduced, that they could not furnish the means of living. Out of the 40 counties in England, 23 had reached their maximum of assessment for poor rates in 1818, the year before the return of cash payments. The same cause of the depreciation of the currency had always produced the same effects. In the time of queen Elizabeth, from the discovery and working of the Spanish mines, the value of money fell, and the fall was aggravated by the debasement of the coin. The effect was great distress arising from insufficient wages. In the discussions which took place on the bill he had brought in, for restoring a metallic currency, it was argued, that the pressure of the measure would be severely felt on our revenue and on the manufacturing and commercial interests; but nobody predicted similar consequences on the state of the agricultural population. If, then, in opposition to those forebodings, our revenue had increased—if our commercial transactions had extended—if the state of our manufacturing population was greatly improved, what reason had we for believing that the change in the currency had been detrimental to agriculture, on which its injurious operation was not anticipated? What greater good could be effected than the reduction of the poor-rates, which must be ascribed to the additional means of living, conferred by the rise in the value of wages produced by the restoration of the metallic standard? He did not say that the reduction of poor-rates was to be ascribed entirely to this measure, though it was natural to suppose that it had the greatest share in the result. In every county in England but one, the rates had been reduced. If, then, he saw all the counties of England, with one exception, reducing their poor-rates to a great amount—if he saw Nottingham reduce them 18 per cent.—if he saw Sussex, 494 where the reduction was least, effecting a change of this kind to the amount of 3½ per cent—and if the only county in England where there was an increase was a county not peculiarly agricultural (Cumberland)—if he saw all this take place since the passing of the bill, was he not entitled to conclude, that it was to be ascribed to the operation of that bill, and therefore to infer that it was not the cause of the agricultural distress? That there had been a great reduction in the value of agricultural produce must be admitted; but he could not allow that the depreciation was caused by the alteration in the value of the currency. The same fluctuations in the price of corn, which were now the subject of complaint, had taken place in other periods of our history, when the currency was not affected by the operations of the Bank. Upon looking over some returns, he found, that in 1774, wheat was only 33s. per quarter; in 1777, 39s.; whilst, in 1801, it was as high as 108s., and sunk again, in 1802, to 67s. and in 1803, to 56s. He could not agree with those persons who attributed the depreciation in the price of corn to foreign importations. He was of opinion that the depreciation would be occasioned by any excess of supply over the demand. The doctrine which was laid down by Mr. Tooke in his evidence before the agricultural committee appeared to be well-founded. That gentleman stated, that an excessive supply produced a greater effect in the corn than in any other market. He believed that to be the case. If the excessive supply was in an article of luxury, the effect would only be to increase the consumption of the article, by bringing it within the reach of a greater number of persons than were before able to purchase it; but that was not the case with respect to an excessive supply of corn because the same average quantity was always consumed. If, therefore, it were true, that an excessive supply of corn had the effect of depreciating the price of that article, could it be material whether the excess was occasioned by abundant production in our own country, or foreign importation? If the markets were glutted, it mattered not from what source it proceeded. It might be contended, that his reasoning could not apply with respect to the abundant production of corn in this country: but why should it not apply with respect to the abundant production of corn in this country: but 495 why should it not apply with respect to importation from Ireland? He was most fully disposed to acknowledge the justice and expediency of that measure which permitted the importation of corn from Ireland; nothing could ever induce him to deprive Ireland of that indulgence; but, at the same time, he could not close his eyes to the consequences which resulted to the agriculture of England from the importation of Irish corn. It was impossible for him to look at the large quantities of corn which had lately been poured into this country from Ireland—greater than at any former period—without thinking that they must have had the effect of depreciating the price of corn here. It was very natural, upon the cessation of the war, that the rich pasture lands of Ireland, the produce of which had formerly supplied the contracts of government, should be broken up and devoted to the cultivation of wheat, which could be raised at less expense, and probably sold at a less price than the corn of this country. The consequence had been enormous importations of corn into this country from Ireland, which he could not help thinking must have had the effect, by glutting the market, of lowering the prices here. He should now state to the House the amount of corn imported into this country from Ireland for certain periods. In the seven years, from 1800 to 1807, the quantity imported amounted to 2,355,000 quarters; in the seven succeeding years, ending in 1814, the quantity imported amounted to 5,045,000 quarters: and in the seven years, ending 10th October, 1821, it was increased to the enormous quantity of 7,630,000 quarters; being more than three times the quantity imported in the seven years first mentioned. In the two last years of the seven ending in 1821, three millions of quarters had been imported. In the year 1820, 1,425,000 quarters, and in the three quarters of a year, ending the 10th October, 1821, the amazing quantity of 1,502,000 quarters had been imported; being nearly double the quantity ever before imported from Ireland in one year. He did not mean to say, that a stop ought to be put to the importation of corn from Ireland, but it was at the same time impossible for him to shut his eyes to the consequences of that proceeding. It was to the large importation of corn from Ireland, combined with the effect of the three successive good harvests in this 496 country, and not to the importation of foreign corn three years ago, and still less to the alteration which had been made in currency, that he attributed the present state of the agricultural interest. He was firmly persuaded, that no measure could be adopted by parliament which could afford immediate relief to that interest; but he was convinced that in time relief would be afforded, and that that relief would be complete.—He now came to the last point upon which he had stated it would be necessary for him to animadvert; namely, that, admitting a general fall in the value of all articles to be occasioned by the alteration in the currency, yet the distress which pressed upon agriculture so peculiarly ought not to be attributed to that change. Here he must, however, observe, that he could not admit the change in the price of commodities to be occasioned, to the extent contended for by the hon. member for Portarlington, by the alteration in the currency. He could not admit the fall of the price of commodities to be in proportion to the difference between the market price of gold at 4l. 3s. and the mint price. In one of the two years immediately preceding 1819, he found the market price to have been 3l. 18s. 6d. It was true, that the price of gold had been for one month in the year preceding the passing of the bill for the resumption of cash payments 4l. 3s.; but be thought it was better to draw his conclusion from an average price for the two years, which was less than 4l. 3s. He could not admit that the agricultural interest would not have been liable to the same distress, if no attempt had been made to suspend the issue of paper money. In 1816, the hon. member for Essex (Mr. Western) submitted a motion to the House on the subject of agricultural distress. He might assume, that it was impossible to attribute the distress which then existed to an anticipation of the measure which the House had afterwards resolved upon for the resumption of cash payments. The first resolution which the hon. member for Essex submitted to the House upon that occasion was to the effect, that the agricultural interests of England was in a state of unexampled embarrassment. The greater part of his speech went to prove the magnitude of distress under which the people laboured; and the conclusion to which he came was, that it was impossible the, taxes could continue to 497 be paid. He (Mr. Peel) was willing to admit, that one of the causes of the distress then felt might be the contraction of the issue of country bank paper. But then it must be allowed that the country was liable, under the former system of currency, to the same evil which it now endured. By returning to that system they would, therefore, gain nothing. There would still exist the same degree of distress, resulting from the same cause, but without the benefit of a metallic currency. He believed the distress to have been occasioned by the withdrawing of the paper of the country banks, and by extraordinary speculations. If the Bank had issued a fresh supply of paper, there would have been a fresh cycle of prosperity, but which in the end would have only aggravated the distresses of the country. Under such a system he could only contemplate an alternation of success and failure; and every subsequent failure would be worse than the preceding. He requested the House to consider the state in which things stood in 1819. That period presented a more favourable opportunity for adopting the measure of a return to cash payments than would probably have ever occurred again. Had the system of paper money continued, individuals never would have been satisfied with a fixed high price for their commodities, as all the stimulus which prevailed during the war arose not from a fixed high price, but from a continually rising price. He had risen for the purpose, after all the clamour which had been directed against the bill which he had had the honour to introduce, of stating that after the experience of the past he remained perfectly satisfied, rather than to enter into the discussion of the subject more immediately before the House; a fitter opportunity for doing which would present itself at another time. He would, for his own part have been satisfied to adopt the plan of the hon. member for Portarlington, for he thought that plan would have effectually guarded against the depreciation of Bank notes. The same reasons that induced him to advise a return to metallic currency still remained in full force; and amongst these there was one which had great weight with him, with the House, and with the Bank—he meant the necessity that existed for putting a stop to the forgery of Bank notes, and the numerous executions of offenders. The House would recollect, that the Bank had 498 tried every possible means to put a stop to that evil. [Cries of No, no.] It was possible that the proposal of some ingenious artist, might not have been tried or adopted, but it was well known that the Bank had spared neither time, trouble, nor expense, in its endeavours to attain that desirable end—the prevention of forgery.—The return to a metallic currency had met with the full acquiescence of parliament on that very ground; and it could not be denied that the result fully justified the anticipation.—The pecuniary sacrifices made by the Bank to carry the plan into effect ought never to be forgotten. He believed the clamour against the return to a metallic currency to be only temporary; and that at the end of three or four years we should look back with heartfelt pleasure and gratulation to our return to cash payments. By firmness, constancy, and perseverance in the present system, he felt convinced that we should, at no remote period, derive all those advantages from it, which the warmest friends of the measure contemplated at its enactment.
§ Mr. Ellice
felt himself called upon to address some observations to the House after the speeches of the hon. member for Portarlington, and the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down, in justification of the opinions he had uniformly maintained, of the changes in our currency forming one main, if not principal ingredient in all our difficulties and embarrassments. In doing this he had no objection in the outset at once to admit the general principles laid down by his hon. friend and the right hon. gentleman. It was perfectly true and could not be denied, that, at particular periods, the market price of gold was precisely as they had stated it; and that at the period of passing the right hon. gentleman's bill, that price was relatively to our paper money only about six per cent below the mint price, but the question at issue between them vas this, not whether gold could not be purchased with Bank notes at that moment at 4l. 2s. per oz. or about six per cent above what was called the mint price, but whether, there having been no legal standard between 1797 and 1819, and no metallic circulation, except silver tokens depreciated about thirty per cent, the accidental and often nominal price of gold, was a better criterion than the fluctuating value of almost any other article of merchandize, by which to estimate the general effects of the ac- 499 knowledged depreciation on all prices and contracts. Sure he was that, during the war, this particular commodity had been subject to as great if not greater fluctuation than any other. There were instances of its value having fluctuated thirty per cent within a year, while the amount of paper in circulation, and the price of other commodities had continued precisely the same. In 1815 the price was about 4l. 2s. in the month of April, 5l. 6s. in the month of May, and 4l. 2s. again in the month of July, without the least variation in the quantity of paper, or any perceptible change in the value of other commodities. Again in 1S17 and 1818 when the amount of paper currency was increased one-third, if not nearly doubled, as compared with the amount in circulation in 1816, the price of gold was scarcely affected, which was easily to be accounted for, by the transactions of the Bank in these years. To check a fall in the exchanges, of which the worthy directors were not aware or would not admit, was the necessary result of an excessive issue of paper, about seven millions of gold was exported from about the middle of 1817 to the period when the committee met in 1819, when they found the stock of bullion so nearly exhausted, that it was necessary to bring in a bill to prevent the further issue. What would have been the effect upon the price of gold in the subsequent year, if the same quantity of paper in circulation in 1818 had remained for 12 months subsequent to this new suspension of cash payments (necessary, because they could not have been continued from the absolute exhaustion or their means) imposed on the Bank at the recommendation of the committee in 1819? Not an ounce of the 7 millions issued in 1817 and 1818 remained in circulation: it had been exported as an article of merchandize, and because this artificial supply of a commodity reduced its price, the committee gravely datermined to represent to the country, that all the effects of the imprudent issue of paper in 1816, were to be precisely measured by the difference between the mint and market price of gold under such circumstances as he had stated. If the gold so issued had remained in circulation, and had been current with paper, as in Austria, Russia, or other countries, where the precious metals and paper circulate a according to their respective values, he might admit the principle contended for on the other side, that the apparent difference between paper 500 and gold marked the real depreciation of the currency; but it was farther evident, from other fasts which he would state, that this would be a most erroneous view of the case. Did the House recollect the evidence of the hon. member for Taunton (Mr. Baring) before the committee of 1811 on this subject?—The price of gold being then about 4l. 8s., the hon. member was asked, whether he would undertake to procure even the small quantity of 10,000 ounces at that rate. His answer was, not at a less premium than 50 per cent beyond the market price; and would it still be contended that an article, while exposed to such fluctuation, could be a standard? Then look again to the state of the Bank and the country bank circulation from 1815 to 1819, during which there was a comparatively trifling variation in the price of the metals. In 1816, the debt from the public to the Bank, on which the Bank of England circulation mainly depended, was reduced, deducting the public balances in their hands, to about nine millions. The country bank paper stamped from eleven millions, in 1814, to about seven millions. Had this nothing to do with the distress of 1816? In 1818, the amount due by the public to the Bank was increased, deducting also the balances to 22 millions, and the country bank paper stamped to 12 millions: this produced the kind of relief the Chancellor of the exchequer promised in proposing his financial measures of 1816. In 1820, the amount due to the Bank was again reduced by payments recommended by Mr. Peel's committee to 10 millions, and the country bank paper stamped to less than four millions! Was it possible to suppose the effect of these changes in the circulation, could be measured by the price of gold which had varied only five or six per cent during the whole period from 1815 to 1820? or rather that the value of gold must not have been affected, like that of all other commodities, by the measures of 1816, if the Bank had not counteracted this effect by their injudicious and unaccountable management, that the public might be deceived with respect to this second inundation of paper? He did not mean to take the quantity of country bank paper stamped, as the precise measure for the quantity in circulation, but it was the best datum on which to found a calculation; and it was confirmed by Mr. Stuckey's evidence in the Report of 1819, that the 501 circulation of a Bank in the West of England, in which he was concerned, had increased gradually eight-tenths between 1816 and 1819, and by the statements of the directors of the Scotch banks, showing nearly the same result. During the whole of this period, there had been little fluctuation in the value of gold, but would the right hon. gentleman say, that an addition to the circulating medium of from one third to a half, did not, at least, in the same proportion, nominally increase the value of all property? The difficulties in 1816 and of the present moment, arose in a great degree from the same cause, and he much feared at last the same cure would be applied; the proposed loan of four millions from the Bank, appeared to him as the precursor of a similar system. But his hon. friend (Mr. Ricardo) had again repeated, what he had stated in 1819, that, whatever might be the effect of the depreciation, the country had already sustained all the difficulty to be apprehended from it? Had we then paid our debts, either public or private, incurred in a depreciated paper, or was not the national industry still mortgaged for the payment of taxes, imposed while our resources and profits from the particular circumstances in which we were situated, were nearly double in nominal amount? Take an illustration of this which must be correct, according to the strict interpretation of the principles of his hon. friend, that the depreciation was precisely measured by the price of gold. In 1815, on the return of Buonaparté from Elba, we had recourse to a large loan for the service of the year; on the day on which it was contracted the price of gold was about 5l. 6s.—the exchange on Paris, 18. Eighty-three millions of stock were created at the price of fifty-four, by a loan of forty-five millions of money. We were now draining almost the last shilling from the pockets of the industrious classes, to form a sinking fund to redeem this stock at the price of 78, the exchange and value of money having advanced about 40 per cent: so that we were now endeavouring to pay ninety millions, for forty-five borrowed six or seven years ago. Could this go on, or could the country, with its reduced means, bear it? These were questions for the chancellor of the exchequer duly to consider. He had in 1819, foreseen and foretold all these results; but so decided were all parties in the House, upon their 502 favorite measure of restoring the ancient standard, that he could find no person to second a resolution he wished merely placed on the Journals as declaratory of his opinion. He had never objected to the principle of fixing some standard; on the contrary no person had been more alive to all the evils of the system we had been so long pursuing, nor was he unaware of all the advantages which the labouring classes would necessarily derive from the bill of the right hon. gentleman; but he considered it unfair, and likely in the end to aggravate the evils we sought to remedy, that the tax, such as it was, to be imposed on the country for this purpose, should fall exclusively on owners of property of all descriptions, while creditors and claimants on that property were exempted from its operation. The right hon. gentleman had described with perfect justice the benefits which had accrued to the manufacturing population from the measure; their distress in 1817 and 1818, had been much aggravated by the operations of the chancellor of the exchequer in 1816 and 1817, and of course an opposite line of policy had produced opposite effects; but the right hon. gentleman forgot the inconsistency of his argument as applied to the present occasion. If the situation of the labourer was improved, and the amount of poor-rates diminished by the lower price of provisions, and that low price was the effect of the measure of 1819, surely the right hon. gentleman must admit the operation of this cause to a similar extent upon the value of produce, the chief coma plaint of the country gentleman and farmer, and tins was precisely the case. All would go on very well if the landlord and tenant had no debts or engagements to pay, contracted on the faith of the artificial value to which their property had been raised by a depreciated currency, and if the country had no taxes to pay disproportioned to its reduced profits, on its nominally reduced capital. The great difficulty was, how to secure all the benefits of a restoration of the old standard of money to the industrious classes, and so to arrange contracts, that debtor and creditor might remain in the same position as they were in 1818, the amount possibly of the greatest depreciation, if the true data on which to estimate that were, as we had assumed, the debt due to the Bank by the public, and the amount of paper in circulation. This was 503 what he wished considered well in 1819 before the bill was passed, but so entirely was the House carried away by the opinion then entertained by committees of both Houses, and by his hon. friend (Mr. Ricardo), that the extent of the depreciation was to he precisely measured by the relative value of gold to paper, that he had in vain endeavoured to persuade them to listen to his arguments and opinions. One hon. friend, the member for Taunton (Mr. Baring), had indeed soon found out the error of the calculation on which they had proceeded—and had last year proposed a measure of relief, to which he was surprised he (Mr. Ellice) with his particular opinions did not assent. But it was one thing gravely to determine on a serious measure of this description, and then to swerve from it, more especially for a relief quite inadequate to the evil; and he opposed the proposition of his hon. friend. What course they were now to adopt, he left ministers to suggest who had taken credit most unaccountably in their recent pamphlet, both for the financial measures of 1816, and the bill of 1819, although diametrically opposite in principle and effect. The question was, would the land-owner submit to, or the nation, as public debtor, be long able to bear, the pressure increasing on both? He did not believe it, but still he would be consistent, and whatever propositions the present state of things might lead to, he would be found protesting against subjecting the industrious classes to the renewed evils of another depreciation, although it was apparent the present measures of the chancellor of the exchequer pointed to that result. It had been most unaccountably stated, that with a superabundance of money, which could scarcely be employed on any terms by capitalists, we had a restricted circulation. To remedy this; but in fact to job up temporarily the price of the public securities by adding artificially to the sinking fund, and founding another scheme upon this, the reduction of the five per cents, we are to borrow four millions from the Bank, in strict imitation of the financial plan of 1816. Might this not lead to similar consequences, and must not the money thus poured into our circulation, beyond any demand for it, find its way to other markets where it could be employed? The momentum of rapidity with which the noble lord had described the current of gold as, setting into this country, may be turned the other 504 way. It would require a very little alarm of this description to place the gentlemen at the Bank in their former dilemma about the currency, and the chancellor of the exchequer at their mercy about his deficiency bills—without a regular loan on which he could not pay the dividends. Would a second order in council of 1797, under such circumstances be a very improbable event? One material omission in the speech of the noble lord (on a recent occasion) in the bright picture he presented the House, of the financial state of the country, was, all mention of the consolidated fund. The deficiency had been increased by purchasing stock beyond any real sinking fund last year about two millions, and now amounted to the enormous sum of between nine and ten millions. How was that to be provided for, and was the House aware that the national creditor was dependent on the receipt of his dividends each quarter, on the good will of the worthy directors of the Bank? Much discussion had taken place on the conduct of the Bank with respect to their circulation, and an hon. director (Mr. Manning) had said, greater caution was required in consequence of an amendment he (Mr. Ellice) moved to a bill brought in last year, that they should be obliged to exchange either small notes or coin for their large ones at their option. He frankly owned that his object in that amendment was, to force as much as possible of the coin lying idle in the coffers of the Bank into circulation, and his hope was, that, instead of finding fifteen or sixteen millions lying unemployed there now, it would have replaced great part of the small country notes. He was sure, at all events, it would have been more beneficially disposed of in that manner, and the objection made to actually restoring a metallic currency, after having decided upon the ancient standard, was something like straining at the gnat, after we had been attempting to swallow a camel. Another great and almost insurmountable objection to permitting the one pound notes to continue in circulation, when they could be removed, without material inconvenience, was the lamentable state of prosecutions and convictions, and the still more indefensible executions under them for forging this description of paper. Thank God, they had in a great degree removed that stigma from the character of the country. With respect to the present 505 conduct of the Bank, and their renewed and friendly intercourse with the chancellor of the exchequer, after having been used as his cat's-paw on so many occasions; the greatest objection it was liable to, was, the possibility of these new dealings leading to former results. It had always been understood, that this corporation was established for the advantage of commerce—and the way the directors took of proving their sincerity to act upon that principle, was, by endeavouring to keep the rate of discount at 5 per cent, while out of doors the merchants readily found it at 4 per cent. This was really a grievance to the small Trader, who was accustomed to rely on his hanker for the necessary accommodation of his trade, and was charged of course according to the tariff established by the Bank. Beyond this their proprietors were the only aggrieved parties, but to be sure, the directors had managed their affairs so well for a long series of years, by putting into their pockets at the expense of the public, some twenty or thirty millions, that it was not wonderful their ears should be shut against any insinuation of possible mismanagement. Still it was not very probable, if any of the worthy gentlemen had banking concerns of their own, they would complain of having 14 or 15 millions unemployed, because they could not get 5 per cent interest. They might possibly dream in that case of taking less, and common sense would at once tell them this was the rule by which they ought now to manage their public concerns. Do they suppose their circulation will be more under their control by lending 4 millions to government, than if they lent it on mercantile bills, even at the same interest of 3 per cent? Is it not their duty to the commercial class to endeavour for their interest to reduce the rate of discount, to the very lowest possible amount, which will not interfere with their circulation? As he had always held very singular opinions in that House, although he believed not so singular out of it, on these subjects, after the speeches of the gentlemen who preceded him, he had thought it his duty to offer these observations on the past and present state of the currency. With respect to the appointment of the committee moved for by the noble lord, although he did not see what good could result from it, and he must always look at their professed object with jealousy, this was not the 506 particular moment under the severe distress in which the agricultural interest, was involved, to offer any objection to the most full consideration and discussion of it. The agricultural was only suffering in common with the commercial and other interests from the same causes, and the only relief, which would also be a common one, in the power of the House to grant, must be by a reduction of taxation. He feared that to the extent it could be granted, consistently with the measures of parliament with respect to the currency, a very partial remedy could only be expected. At the same time he was ready to listen to all other propositions, and to concur in all other measures for their relief, which had not for their objects any enhancement of the price of provisions; a result which in the first instance would be most unjust to the consumer, and in the end as prejudicial to the producers themselves, as to every other class of the community.
§ Mr. Huskisson
observed, that some honourable members had called him the author of the report which had been laid before the House last session, relative to the distressed state of agriculture. Now, he had always understood, that a report was considered as the production of the whole of the committee to which the subject discussed in the report was referred; but as a different opinion seemed to prevail with respect to the report he had mentioned, he would explain the facts connected with its production. When the committee came to deliberate upon its proceedings, several members proposed different resolutions. After hearing those resolutions, he had taken the liberty to propose a series of his own. The committee approved of that series of resolutions and had done him the honour to request that be would draw up a report founded on them. He appealed to the gentlemen who had been members of that committee, whether he did not, as long as he could, protest against the imposition of a task, which did not properly belong to him, as he was not the chairman of the committee. The committee, however, pressed him so strongly, that he yielded, and drew up the draught of a report, which was discussed paragraph by paragraph, and many alterations were made, in the propriety of which he did not concur. Those alterations affected not only the wording, but the principle of the report. Under these circumstances, 507 he thought he was not treated fairly when the authorship of the report was attributed to him. He wished to set himself right on this part of the question, because both in and out of doors the whole report had been attributed to him exclusively. If the resolutions he had proposed, and which were rejected by the committee, were laid upon the table, he should be ready to defend the principles they contained, although some persons had thought fit to apply to them the epithets of stupid and contradictory. He should be able to show that they were neither inconsistent nor contradictory, but founded on a correct view of the circumstances of the country and the state of agriculture. The hon. member for Suffolk had charged him with having mystified the committee; the hon. member for Norfolk had asserted that he had misled it; and the hon. member for Sussex contended, that he had employed some unfair spells, as if he had dealt in necromancy. After being thus accused, the House would not be surprised if he declined attending the committee on its re-appointment. His principles were known and recorded, and during future discussions, he should not be found to depart from them. The hon. member for Norfolk had also charged him with being the author of the report of 1814: but in fact, it was the production of the chairman of that committee, while he (Mr. H.) had only furnished a few paragraphs. Neither with the bill that followed that report had he had any thing to do. On the contrary, he objected to it, and it was well known that, at a meeting of gentlemen previously held, he was almost the only one who had supported protecting duties instead of the fixed price of 80s. per quarter. The hon. member for Norfolk had thought fit to compliment the learned member for Winchelsea, as the first and ablest lecturer upon political economy, as if no other titan deserved this diploma of distinction; nevertheless, that learned gentleman had not for a single day, attended the former committee on agriculture. He hoped that the learned gentleman would be more disposed to aid the new committee with his presence and his counsels, and the result might be a report less liable to objection. With regard to the Bank of England, he gave the directors full credit for a knowledge of their business, and for pursuing the interests of their, establishment, perhaps even, with 508 too much caution. As far as it went, the loan of 4,000,000l. from the Bank would unquestionably be a measure of relief: whether it went forth in the shape of discounts, or whether it were lent to parishes, it would be advantageous. The circulation would, of course, be increased; and as it could not be confined to England only, it would tend rather to lessen the value of gold, and in proportion to raise the price of commodities. So far that tendency might itself be beneficial to the farming interest.
§ Sir J. Newport
deprecated its being held out as it had been, out of parliament, and rather invidiously, that this was a pure and absolute boon to Ireland; whereas, it was only part and parcel of the act of Union, or at least carrying into effect the provisions of that act. It must not however be left out of view, that the situation of Ireland was very peculiar. With regard to the order of reference, he recommended strongly that the objects to which the committee were to direct its attention should be specifically defined. They would otherwise, probably, travel into matters not at present in the contemplation of the House, and would protract the report beyond the period when it might reasonably be expected. He much doubted, whether it would not have been better for ministers to have brought down their measures at once, without waiting for the deliberations of a committee.
The Marquis of Londonderry
agreed, that it might become advisable to restrict the subject of inquiry to those practical results he had in contemplation; at the same time, if this were necessary, it might be done afterwards, when any member could come to the House to prevent the committee from wandering into too wide a field of inquiry. All the members would be fully apprised of the objects in view; and, as to the nature, extent, and operation of the distress, he apprehended that it would not be necessary to go further than the former committee had done. The state of the foreign markets, however, was a part of the great subject not yet sufficiently investigated; and he hoped, that to this the committee now appointed would proceed without delay, so that very early after the holidays some practical measure might be founded upon its report.
§ The motion was agreed to; and a committee was appointed consisting of the following members; viz. The marquis of 509 of Londonderry, Mr. Gooch, Mr. F. Robinson, lord Althorp, Mr. Bankes, Mr. Brougham. Mr. Huskisson, sir E. Knatchbull, Mr. Stuart Wortley, Mr. Baring, sir H. Parnell, Mr. Wodehouse, Mr. Western, Mr. H. Sumner, Mr. Estcourt, Mr. Sturges Bourne, Mr. Tremavne, sir W. Rowley, Mr. Calthorpe, Mr. Hunter Blair, Mr. Irving, sir T. Lethbridge, Mr. Littleton, Mr. Whitmore, Mr. Alderman Bridges, Mr. Nicolson Calvert, Mr. Ricardo, Mr. Curwen, Mr. Dennis Browne, Mr. F. Lewis, lord Cranbourne, lord Binning, Mr. W. Lamb, Mr. Goolburn, and sir J. Newport.