§ Mr. Ellice
assured the House and the noble lord, that after what passed on this subject on a former evening, he would not have interrupted the course of these proceedings, if he did not feel himself called upon, after the most mature consideration of the various resolutions on the table, to take the opportunity of protesting against them all, by now opposing the motion for the Speaker leaving the chair. He certainly would have abstained from this opposition, if he conceived there was the slightest chance of any amendment, or modification of the propositions in the committee, according to the prevailing opinions, or he would rather say prejudices on this important subject; but as no improvement was likely to result from them, in the present system of the corn laws, the wisest course, appeared, to him, not to touch that which it was not intended, to improve, and which there was in some quarters a pretty obvious disposition to render more injurious to the public interest. The noble marquis proposed to debate first in the committee, his resolution relative to the advance of a million on bonded grain, protesting against going into the general discussion; but this opened the leading points in the general question, and those to which evidently the greatest importance was ascribed by ministers and the committee—the effect of the proposed advance from the Bank on the currency, and the price of grain. It was not now disguised, the sole object sought to be obtained was, a forced advance in the value of agricultural produce. On the appointment of the select committee he had stated his apprehensions, that all other considerations would be neglected. When he found his apprehensions realized, on their report he ventured to recommend to the House the greatest caution, before they embarked in the senseless and desperate expedients proposed in it. After having listened with the utmost attention to all that had fallen from the noble lord on the former evening, and the different gentlemen who had spoken in the course of this debate, his conviction, if possible, was confirmed, that no possible good could arise to the agricultural petitioners, and infinite mischief might be inflicted on many other interests, by the adoption of the measures before them. His duty, therefore, compelled him to attempt, at least, to arrest the course taken by ministers, by opposing this further progress of the committee. 335 He would not enter into a detailed consideration of the various resolutions on the table, involving the most opposite and contradictory opinions and principles, and he scarcely knew whether either, so entirely did he object to all, could be called better or worse than those of the noble lord. The same fate would probably attend whichever the House in their wisdom might adopt. The bill would remain a dead letter on the Statute-book, as another proof of their fever for legislation, and of their perpetual reliance on temporary and pernicious expedients, to arrest the necessary effects of great and obvious causes, which gentlemen carefully and studiously kept out of view; until a bad harvest brought the provisions of the act into operation, when parliament would be as ready to repeal, as they were now to enact them. Of all the resolutions before them, those of the hon. baronet, the member for Somersetshire, were the most monstrous. He (Mr. Ellice) concurred, in principle, with those of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson), and of his hon. friend, the member for Portarlington; but he could not bring his mind to sanction the conclusion at which either arrived. A certain protection, looking to the peculiar taxes which affected the farmer, until these could be repealed, or thrown generally on the community, might be necessary, and some regulations to prevent a sudden inundation of foreign corn, beyond the wants of the country at particular periods. The latter evil was caused by the present state of the law, which certainly, so far, his hon. friend's proposition would counteract; but no grounds had been laid, or proofs brought forward to establish the claims of the agriculturist to the enormous protecting duty of 20s.; and when he reflected, that the price of grain in other countries did not greatly exceed this amount, he could not consent to impose so great an additional burthen on the consumer, in a period of scarcity, when the proposed law could alone come into operation.
The whole question resolved itself into this—What temporary protection could be given to the farmer, consistently with the equal interests of other classes of the community? In looking at this, they must take into consideration what was the present state, and likely to be the probable state of foreign markets, and what was the present, and probable future state of 336 our own? The price of grain in England and on the continent, previous to the late war, was generally nearly the same; and as often higher as lower. Under the regulations existing at that period, any great difference was soon adjusted, either by an exportation of our surplus, or an importation of our deficiency, to meet the wants of our neighbours, or our own. At present, in all other countries, the price had again returned to the former standard of about 40s.: while here, although the average in the gazette might be under 50s. in consequence of the large proportion of the late harvest damaged by the wet season, good sound bread corn had never been cheaper in the great markets than 55s. and 60s. This was at least 25 per cent higher than in any other country in the world. The price of bread in London was actually one half dearer than in Paris; and yet such was the state of things of which the English grower complained, and the only remedy the propounders of the present measures could devise for his distress, was, an attempt to augment this already singular difference, and to throw the burthen off his shoulders upon those of the consumer! At all events, if they were to adopt the principle of these measures, let the House understand the extent to which it was supposed its application could be carried. The noble lord should distinctly state the rate at which, in his opinion, it would be desirable, and just, both to consumer and grower, that the price of corn should be maintained in ordinary years though there the folly of attempting to regulate by legislation that which depended so entirely on the fluctuation of seasons met them at the outset. On the former occasion, which gave rise to the present law, of the inadequacy of which, although under it they had enjoyed an absolute monopoly, the agriculturist now complained, 80s. was the rate on which their proceedings had been founded. Taking into calculation the alteration of the currency, 55s. to 60s. was now equal to 80s. at the former period. Would that satisfy the agriculturists, even if they could assure it, to them? The answer was obvious: that was now the price, and the complaint the petitions on the table was, its total inadequacy to enable them to pay present rents and taxes. [Hear, hear.] There he agreed with them; they came there near the root of the evil. Both must be reduced, but 337 the reduction of the former would do little good, without a large repeal of the most oppressive taxes; and that, and not a futile and useless attempt to raise artificially the price of corn, should be the object of the country gentlemen. What protection could do more than the absolute monopoly the present law secured to them? And odious as it was in principle and oppressive as might be its provisions, he would rather leave them to the full enjoyment of it, until a change of circumstances should render its total repeal necessary, than consent to any aggravation of it, by adopting either of the propositions now before the House.
It was curious, and not uninstructive, with respect to their present proceedings, to take a retrospective glance at the course in which the legislature had gradually embarked in an attempt to prop up the landed interest, by sacrificing to it all the principles on which the corn trade ought to be regulated in a commercial country, if, indeed, the true policy was not to leave it entirely free. Every succeeding enactment since the first, or at least the first imposition of restrictions in modern times, had been progressively unjust, until they bad arrived at such a state of delusion on the subject, that even his hon. friend, the member for Portarlington, the able advocate of free trade, had consented to clog his resolutions embracing that principle, with a duty totally destructive of it in effect, and within 4 or 5s. of what had been considered absolutely prohibitory, as late as 1804. Without going further back than 1773, when the price of wheat was very high, 60s., if they referred to the law of that year, they would find the only regulations were a permission of free import when the average exceeded 48s., and of export when it fell to 44s. The next alteration came in 1791, when the price was 49s. By the statute of that year, a duty was imposed of 2s. 6d. when the average was 50s., only 6d. when it rose to 54s., and under 50s. for the first time, a prohibitory duty, as it was called, of 24s. 3d., although looking to the prevailing feelings and opinions of the present day, that was considered a very moderate imposition. The Bank stopped payment in 1797. The price of corn naturally rose with the first depreciation of the currency, with that of all other commodities, and in consequence of the two bad harvests of 1800 and 1801, reached the enormous and before un- 338 heard of rate of 120s. In. 1802, 1803, and 1804, a more abundant supply reduced it to 65s., still an unusual price, but the land owner accustomed to that of preceding years, forced the legislature again to interfere for his protection. The principle adopted in the previous bill of 1791, was still pursued; 2s. 6d. duty was imposed on importation when the average should be between 63s. and 66s.: 6d. when above 66s., and the old, and still considered as such, prohibitory duty of 24s. 3d. attached when the average was under 63s. Committees were subsequently appointed in 1810 and 1814, and although their recommendations were not acted upon by the House, they were framed in the same spirit, which distinguished all these proceedings, the proposal being at that time to devise regulations by which the price of wheat should be permanently maintained at the enormous rate of 100s. Lastly came the bill of 1815, prohibiting importation while the average was under 80s., and as if this was not sufficiently oppressive to the community, the house were called upon again to legislate; let it also be kept in view, by the party supposing themselves aggrieved by the low price of produce, and with the sole object, not implied, but openly avowed by the supporters of the present measure, of enhancing its value. Was this just, under the present circumstances or the country? Was it practicable, even if just and expedient?
In his opinion, their time would be much better employed, in investigating the causes of the present distress, with a view to some efficient remedy, if that was within their power, than in discussing prepositions, from which it was scarcely possible to imagine any practicable or useful result. What, then, had brought the country into its present situation? The progressive depreciation of a paper money, by which prices had been gradually augmented, in proportion to the calls of an almost overwhelming taxation during the late war, and an attempt, on the restoration of peace, to restore the former currency, which had in the same manner again reduced the value of all property without any proportionate reduction of the demands of the tax-gatherer or other creditor. The country gentlemen and farmers, with all proprietors or capitalists, whose capital was engaged in property, had gone on on the same scale, and their wants had been supplied from the same sources, as those of a profuse government. Their engage- 339 ments had increased in proportion to the artificial and temporary advance in their rents and value of their property, as the public debt had been increased according to the nominally increased means of the country, and they were now both left to face these engagements, with their means reduced one half, either by the actual improvement of the currency, or the effects resulting from it. According to Mr. Colquhoun, (and his calculation was confirmed by the returns of the property tax,) the rental of England in 1813, when corn was at 90s. and 100s., and every species of farm produce at double its present price, might be taken at 43 millions; the farmers profit according to the rule laid down for their assessment to the same tax at 32, together 75 millions. If 75 millions was the profit on the agricultural transactions of the country under such circumstances, what must the result be now, with scarcely any reduction in the amount of charges, proportioned to former prices? If the rent was rightly calculated at one-fifth of the gross produce, and the gross produce had fallen third, or a half, it was obvious a sacrifice of the whole rent would not remedy the evil. It was impossible to predict what might be the consequences of a continuance of the present state of things. Certainly, neither the present, or any former measures brought foward by ministers, were calculated to dispel the alarm, which the prospect before them naturally excited.
If they referred back to various periods of our history, they would find the prices of corn had been necessarily affected in the same manner by the same cause. Shortly after the Revolution, between the years 1693, and 1699, the guinea was worth 30s., the ounce of gold 6l. 5s.; the price of corn then rose to 60s. The currency was reformed in 1700, and between that year and 1708, the average was again reduced to 32s. and 35s. Although considerable difficulties ensued from such changes, the transactions of the country, and its population were on a much more limited scale, and there was no national debt, to require the imposition, or render the continuance of taxation necessary to so disproportionate an amount, after the value of the currency had been augmented. Great care was also taken to relieve as much as possible embarrassment to individuals. The debased money, for there was then no paper currency, the 340 exact depreciation of which could not be ascertained, was taken at its full amount in payment of taxes, and every measure adopted to prevent more inconvenience than was unavoidable to the public.
But he would ask hon. gentlemen who advocated the expediency of the present measures, whether they were prepared to extend their protection to all other articles of produce foreign or domestic, equally depressed, and how they would propose to ensure a remunerating price for them? They must be also anxious to restore former prices for cattle, wool, timber, bark, iron, and other articles in which they were interested. The colonist had an equal claim to some legislative protection in favour of his produce, which had been most strangely depreciated in the same manner, and at the same moment. All staple articles of our manufacture, the produce of other countries were in the same situation—cotton, hemp, flax, silk, and tallow, had fallen from 50 to 100 per cent. Could his hon. friend, the member for Portarlington, produce any proof to satisfy them that over production was the cause of all this depression? He was not disposed to dispute the grounds on which he had stated his opinion, that some allowance should be made for the effect of one, or a series of abundant crops, and for other causes affecting the transactions of a great country, arising out of the protracted war in which they had been engaged. But the true evil and paramount cause of these changes was the paper system, with its perpetual fluctuations, to suit the convenience, or profligacy of the government. Without entering into many details, he would state to the House what these fluctuations had been; and they would then be able to judge how far the effects had been proportioned to the cause he assigned for them. Since the enormous and unlimitted issues of later years, who, indeed, could form a satisfactory calculation, or who could pretend to foretel till we had experienced them, all the effects to be still felt from the restoration of the standard? Putting entirely aside the index of his hon. friend, the member for Portarlington—the price of gold as a commodity, which was now less in vogue—it appeared to him a rational estimate, and their effects could only be deduced from the influence of the contraction and expansion of the paper currency at particular periods on general prices. Let the House then subject the 341 fluctuations which had hitherto been so remarkable to this test. In 1809, Mr. Horner found the Bank of England paper suddenly increased 1½ millions, which was followed by an increase of three millions of country paper, forming together a greater addition to the circulation of this country, than the produce of the American mines had added in the same period to the general circulation of Europe. In 1810, after this addition, the Bank of England paper was only eighteen millions, and supposing the amount of country paper, which he believed would be generally found equal to that of the Bank, the same, the whole circulation of the country amounted to thirty-six millions. Mr. Horner estimated the depreciation at fifteen per cent, nearly the difference at the time between the market and mint price of gold: but he distinctly says in his report, that he doubted whether this could be then considered a fair standard of depreciation, and that he was certain the price of gold must entirely cease to be so, if the uncontrolled issue of paper should be carried to a much greater extent. The uncontrolled issue, however, proceeded steadily increasing till 1814, when the Bank of England notes had advanced to twenty-seven millions, and the country notes according to the former proportion, in an equal ratio; forming together an amount of currency in circulation of fifty-four millions. At last, in 1818, it increased to the highest amount known in the history of the system, and arrived at the enormous extent of thirty millions of Bank notes, and, on the same scale, thirty millions of country notes, together sixty millions; and because, while prices of other articles invariably rose the price of gold owing to particular circumstances, capable of easy explanation, happened at the precise moment, when the amount of paper was most excessive, to be only 3l. 18s. the effect of the necessary reduction of the paper currency, previous to the restoration of the former standard, on all the transactions of the country, was to be measured by 2d. per oz. in the value of gold! At least, this was the doctrine of the committee; and the country were now deriving full benefit from this great effort of their wisdom and experience!
But, to take another view of this subject. Look at the enormous and otherwise unaccountable advance, exclusively in this country, at least to an infinitely 342 greater degree than in others, of all commodities, during the rise and progress of the system, and the rapid decline since the restoration of the old currency. So far from corn being the only article which had fallen, he should be glad to be informed where an exception was to be found to the general depreciation? In 1813, the prices of all staple articles of manufacture or consumption, foreign or British arrived at nearly their highest point, and were from 50 to 100 per cent invariably above the rates both of 1790 and 1822. Did this ever happen during any former war, or at any former period of our history, except where the same cause, a debased currency, led, in particular cases, to the same results? In 1815, at the termination of the war, the chancellor of the exchequer made an attempt to repay the Bank advances to the public, that they might withdraw part of their paper and resume their payments in specie, and certainly that was the fit moment, if it ever was expedient to return to the old standard. What followed? The distress of 1816, and the remedy of that distress—the re-borrowing and re-issuing the former amount of paper repaid and withdrawn from circulation. The right hon. gentleman put an additional guinea in the pocket of every person in the kingdom. There was no doubt the same measure now would produce the same relief. Would the right hon. gentleman venture to propose it, or was it possible to increase the present paper currency one-third or a half; to restore the amount of 60 millions in circulation in 1818, and to continue in operation the provision of his right hon. colleagues bill in 1810? The loan from the Bank in 1816 led gradually to the over-issue in 1818, and the measures in contemplation of the resumption of cash payments in the end of that year, and finally the report of the committee had led to the present contraction; so that the country doomed to perpetual disease under the hands of these physicians, suffered in turn from the alterative system prescribed for it. From the end of 1818, putting one pound banknotes, and gold, on both sides, out of the question, the Bank of England circulation had been reduced about a third, and from the best calculation the country paper a half, and still the effect of all this, according to the dictum of the hon. member for Portarlington, was to be estimated in proportion to the difference of 2d. in 343 the ounce of gold! And it must also be observed, that the same amount of currency being absorbed at both periods in the transactions of the revenue, and payment of dividends, how infinitely less that proportion must be, which was left for the general circulation of all other transactions. It was said, that taxation had nothing to do with the distress. Was the same taxation as easily paid with 30 or 35 millions of currency, as with 60? This was the main and paramount cause of all the distress, and either paralyzed equally all interests of the country, or threatened them at no distant period with the same consequences which were now felt by our agriculture. It was a mistake to suppose, the least caution had been observed, in preparing for the change in the currency. He had already stated the issue of paper was most excessive in 1818; since which time it had nearly been reduced one-half.
The noble marquis, had in the course of his recent observation on the state of the country, talked of our commercial prosperity, but certainly he was the only authority from whom he had been able to collect such an opinion, either connected or unconnected with that branch of our industry. On the contrary he believed no class had suffered so much from the great cause to which he ascribed, not the ruinous situation of the country, for to whatever results these wretched measures might lead, it was scarcely in the power both of legislature and government to exhaust our immense resources, but the general and most unjust derangement which had been produced in the relative situation of the industrious and unproductive portions of the community. Could the noble lord communicate to the House from what source he derived his information, that the ship-owner, the tradesman, the foreign and colonial merchant, the importer or exporter of domestic or foreign productions, or the general dealer in our home market, were now carrying on their business with profit? As far as he had access to persons of all descriptions, the answer to inquiries on this subject was universal: We certainly are carrying on our business with no profit or rather to a loss, but with the same vague expectation which encouraged the farmer to persevere, that the times would mend. The situation of the merchant, who in the ordinary course of his business had extended his transactions, exporting the productions of this country, 344 or entering into engagements on the faith of his usual returns from the colonies was peculiarly deplorable. His bills must be paid, he could not, like the farmer, ask and wait for an abatement of his rent, and the returns for his exports, equal in quantity to the amount he had formerly received, were deficient half in value. He could not deduct equally from his engagement, and although from the very engagement, and although from the very circumstances of the case, complaints of this description were not so loud as those of the agriculturists, let not the noble marquis console himself with the idea that they did not more server pressure.
The noble marquis then went on to congratulate the country on the state of the manufacturing interest, and certainly, looking to the accounts before the House on some more reasonable grounds. But even here, if the particular circumstances which had lately occasioned an excessive demand were duly considered, it might be very doubtful, how far all that apparent comfort which prevailed among the manufacturing population, and the prosperity of their employers was likely to be permanent. The right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel) had truly stated his bill was productive of beneficial results to this class of the labouring population, the invariable effect of an enhancement in the value of money, being immediately to reduce the price of all commodities, before that of labour: but it must be recollected this effect was only temporary, and that ultimately, and at no protracted period the price of labour must adjust itself to that of provisions. He did not mean to say, that in many of the manufacturing districts wages were too high, consistently with the comforts the poor man ought to enjoy, but in the metropolis and in the great towns, there had been scarcely and decline, and wages remained at the same rate, to which they had been raised during the war, while the means of existence had declined one-half. Might not the great increase in the revenue be in some degree ascribed to this? If half the amount formerly required was sufficient for the purchase of necessaries, would not the surplus be expended in luxuries, and unfortunately, and it was a most melancholy consideration, find its way to the ale-house and gin-shop, the ready receivers of the chancellor of the exchequer? If any part of this statement was correct, if the price of labour and provisions had not yet adjusted themselves, 345 and if no high profits, which was admitted was the case, resulted to the masters from their trade, must not the attempt be made soon to increase them? Or supposing the demand to decline for manufactures at present price, to endeavour to produce them at a lower cost, by pressing upon the labourer a reduction of his wages? Suppose a material falling off in our exports, what might be the consequence? The late unprecedented and extraordinary demand was to be ascribed to two causes. Great speculations to India and South America, neither of which were likely to answer the expectations of those engaged in them, and a necessity of importing in a short period an immense amount of specie for our circulation. We had imported in two years, at the lowest calculation, about 20 millions of gold and silver. Was that to continue?—and if it was not, what other substitute was to be found, against which we could, to a similar extent, calculate in the same period, an exchange for an equal quantity of our manufactures? Restrictions upon restrictions were heaped upon our import trade, and the wise legislators of the present day supposed, as was proved in the case before them, that we could continue supplying all the world with the produce of our own industry, without receiving any thing in exchange for it. Our home market in the present state of agriculture did not promise an increased demand; our exports were exposed to fluctuation and diminution from the circumstances he had stated. What then would be the consequence if at the very moment when the provisions of the present bill came into operation, and raised the price of all the necessaries of life, the price of labour should be suddenly reduced, and the dangers arising from discontent, be added to a reduction in our revenue and in the sole remaining prosperous branch of our industry? Would any government attempt to force upon a discontented population, under such circumstances, the unjust operation of the present bill?
Looking at the various propositions, it was scarcely possible to determine whether their injustice or perfect inefficacy even for the object in view distinguished them most. While the agriculturist maintained his present monopoly the bill was useless and would remain a dead letter on the Statute-book. If a case should arise in which he supposed he might derive some advantage from its provisions, the state of society was likely to be an insurmount- 346 able bar to his attaining it. If they would make the poor man eat his bread at double the price of any other consumer in the world, they must give him the means of buying it, and where were these to be obtained? Only through the exertion of his labour and industry, and if the manufacturer could not employ him at as cheap a rate as his foreign competitor, that would soon fail him. Foreign nations did not purchase commodities from any particular predilection for the country of their production, but where they could be obtained cheapest and best—and was it the precise policy for a country depending almost entirely on her commerce and manufactures, so to advance the cost of production, by enhancing the value of labour and provisions, as not only to encourage competition on the part of other countries, but absolutely to ensure the destruction of her own industry? The price of bread he had already said was now double the price in France and other countries, and there were already indications of this disparity producing its necessary results. An hon. friend of his, the member for Nottingham (Mr. Birch), had informed him, that complaints had very much increased, of the continued emigration of their best workmen— and it was notorious in the capital, that every encouragement was given to our machinists and engineers to embark for other counties. If he was not misinformed, government had also been lately called upon to enforce rigorously, those odious statutes, which prevented the industrious man from carrying his talents and industry to the most advantageous market. To inflict penalties, he would add, the most unjust in our laws under any circumstances, upon persons of this description, was as cruel, as it was likely to be inefeectual:—but to do so, after the passing of this bill, depriving the poor man of his comforts in the first instance, and subjecting him by its consequences, to the risk of finding no employment at an adequate remuneration, was to add the most cruel oppression, to the grossest injustice. If any person had asked him (Mr. E.,) three years ago, whether it was probable America would soon become a manufacturing country, he would have answered, that while the fee simple of good land continued at 20s. an acre, and there was a moderate market for its produce, few men were likely to abandon a country life, with the hope of independence it held out, for the more 347 unhealthy and confined employment of a manufacturing one. But, then he could not contemplate the continuance of restrictions which prevented the American agriculturist from exchanging his productions with the British manufacturer to their mutual advantage. The consequence had been the recent establishment of many considerable manufactories in the United States. Spinning mills, with all our improvements, were erected in Massachusetts, where the cotton from the Southern States was spun, the yarn returned to Philadelphia, and then wove into as good and as cheap cloth as we could manufacture. The countervailing duties of about thirty per cent, imposed beyond all the charges on our manufacture, insured a good profit to the American, and the trade had answered so well, that these establishments were rapidly increasing, particularly in Pennsylvania. These were some of the necessary results of measures like the present, and with all our capital and ingenuity, our trade and manufactures must in the end be sacrificed to a perseverance in them. If we continued in this manner to heap restriction on restriction, under the name of protection, all productive industry, as was the case in Holland, must be gradually banished from the country, and our decline would be accelerated, by furnishing to others the very elements to enable them in the first instance to compete with, and under the unsupportable oppression of our taxation, at last, to destroy our trade.
He had already entered much more at large into the subject than he intended, when he first rose to address the House, but he must still add one or two observations on the other projects of the noble lord, and on what he considered the most advisable course for the House to pursue. First, with respect to the advance of a million on bonded corn. It was almost impossible to treat this speculation in a serious manner, but it was necessary to advert to the grounds which had been adduced in support of it. These were, the probability of adding to the currency, and of relieving the farmer, by enabling him to watch a proper opportunity of disposing of his corn, it being alleged that the present low price was occasioned in some degree, by a pressure of produce on the markets, arising from the distress of the agricultural body for ready money. The first ground was too absurd to admit of any argument. Since 348 the restoration of the standard, and the convertability of paper into money, no measure could have the effect of increasing the quantity of currency in this country particularly, which did not produce an equal effect on the general money market of the world—unless to be sure we were driven to another depreciation, a question which it was unnecessary now to discuss. Then, as to relieving the farmer by enabling him to borrow money on a deposit of his corn? Did be now want this facility, or was not the country banker and broker, ready to advance, even on the credit of his possessing the means of repayment, without an actual pawning of his produce? And, if he was to pawn it, which part of his corn was he to pawn? The good, for which there was now a ready market at 55s. or 60s., already too high for the interest of the consumer? or the bad, that owing to the condition in which it had been got in, it might rot in the granaries? He had heard it said, why should not such a measure be extended to the relief of the agricultural, which had so often been beneficially applied to commercial distress? The answer was simple. The cases were in no respect analogous. The merchants had applied at different times, when, in consequence of particular events during war, their warehouses were overloaded with colonial produce, or manufactures, intended for markets, then closed to their admission. Exchequer bills had been issued to enable them to meet pressing engagements founded on this property, for which it was impossible to find a sale, but the moment the restriction was removed, and the accustomed markets opened, the relief came, and the advance which, had not injured the community, and in many cases saved the merchant from ruin, was repaid with facility. Flow could that case be compared with the present? Instead of a scarcity of money, which was invariably the case when the measure was before resorted to, they had now abundance, and there was no complaint on that subject from the agriculturists themselves.
The only remedy then, and he confessed he was not among those who considered it adequate to the evil, but it was all they had in their power in the present indisposition of the House to enter upon the consideration of the effects produced by the currency, was, to require from ministers a reduction of every shilling of taxation which was not absolutely required the for 349 expences of government, and the payment of interest on the debt. He could not help thinking, if the landed gentlemen would exert themselves to enforce a system of the strictest œconomy, some considerable relief might be granted. In the commencement of the session, they had been told, it was impossible to do more than take off 1s. a bushel on malt, on condition of the plan succeeding for the reduction of the 5 per cents. Since that time, a new light had broken in upon administration, and, although they manfully resisted the proposition, that taxation was an evil, they had been compelled to submit to a further reduction of about two millions. To be sure, the plan they had devised to do this, and maintain their own consistency, was one of the most extraordinary description, calculated, unfortunately, to cheat the country, as much as themselves, the latter of which could only have been the intention of the chancellor of the exchequer. His hon. friend, the member for Winch else a had blamed members for not being in their places to resist this scheme; but he (Mr. E.) was satisfied, from some experience of the House, that opposition to any useful effect was fruitless, and he did not feel himself called to debate such absolute quackeries and absurdities. When this scheme for relieving the present generation of what was called the dead weight was first suggested, he had asked in vain, why the amount of taxation to be repealed could not be deducted from the sinking fund, which must be the case at last? or why, if all this complicated process must he submitted to, to save the consistency of ministers, with those who could be blinded by such clumsy artifices, the profit arising from the transaction, or the expenses to be incurred, might not be gained, or saved to the public, instead of going into the pockets of contractors? The plan, he believed, would be found perfectly impracticable, and that no persons would be induced to undertake such a contract; but as the remission of two millions of taxes was only to be obtained in that way, he was far from advising the House to reject the good part of the speculation. Let the country gentlemen only persevere, and at last they must get rid of taxes to the amount of the annual sinking fund. He had, to be sure, no great faith in the real existence of any such fund; but if it did exist, as was pretended, was it wise, was it prudent, look- 350 ing to the grievous oppression under which the country laboured, to force the last shilling from the pockets of a suffering population, and which might still be usefully employed in their respective occupations of industry, to add to the already enormously disproportioned profits of the fundholder? As long as a sinking fund could be maintained out of profits, it was a most expedient measure; but would the right hon. gentleman deny that a much larger proportion of the existing taxation was now drawn from the reduced capital, at least in nominal value, of the country? The object of all this was, to raise the price of stock, and to reduce the rate of interest, without reflecting that an useless accumulation of capital, so drained from the productive industry of this, must, when the desired effect was produced, be transferred to other countries for investment. Did the right hon. gentleman hear nothing of the foreign loans, negotiated and negotiating, and was he not aware that every pound unnecessarily exacted by taxation encouraged this perpetual transfer of capital? It was impossible to enter upon the consideration of the particular subject before the House, without adverting to the whole system which had produced so great a convulsion in all our various interests, and which now induced the landed interest to look only for relief from the injurious and oppressive measure under discussion. If the committee bad suggested any amendment of the corn law, which was certainly not much better in point of principle than the proposed alteration, be could have willingly lent his assistance in endeavouring to reform it; but when he saw that was not intended, he must protest against any useless aggravation of it. At present the landowner possessed a complete monopoly, with every prospect of its continuance, and his conviction was, that such a scarcity as would require relief by importation, under the provisions either of the present or the intended bill, would compel the House to adopt an entirely opposite policy on this subject, and instead of imposing restrictions, to encourage by bounties a supply for the absolute wants of the people. Great changes must take place in the general situation of the country before another session. It was not pretended that any benefits were likely immediately to accrue to the party seeking them from this bill. In the mean time he had a decided feeling 351 that the best character which could be given to the proceeding altogether was, its absolute inefficiency either as to good or evil; but when he reflected upon the consequences which had been brought on the country by the hasty proceeding of 1819, he could not but consider the wisest course under present circumstances was, to abstain from all legislation affecting so seriously important and opposite interests, either until an absolute necessity forced us to interfere, or till we had the benefit of further experience, and some fairer prospect of a satisfactory solution of the various difficulties which surrounded us. It was on these grounds he should oppose the further progress of these proceedings.
§ Mr. Benett,
of Wiltshire, said, that as he had originated one of those propositions* which his hon. friend had designated as monstrous, he thought himself called upon to defend it. His hon. friend had also been guilty of one or two errors in his statement, which it was important to correct. The last returns stated the average price of wheat to be 44s. 7d. His hon. friend had taken it at 55s. Now the price of corn being so much lower than his hon. friend had stated it at, the situation of the agriculturists was really much worse than his hon. friend had imagined. His hon. friend had said, that the corn bill had given a monopoly to the landowners. Now, when the ports were opened, they had been glutted with a* The following are Mr. Benett's proposed resolutions:1—"That it is expedient to provide, that the foreign corn now under bond in the United Kingdom may be taken out for home consumption, whenever the average price of wheat, ascertained in the usual mode, shall exceed 80s. per quarter; and the trade in corn shall thenceforth be permanently free, but subject to the following duties upon importation; viz.
Wheat 24s. per quar. Rye, pease, and beans 16s. per quar. Barley, bear, and bigg 12s. per quar. Oats 8s. per quar.2d.—"That a drawback or bounty be allowed on the exportation of corn to foreign countries:
On wheat of a marketable quality 18s. per quar. Rye, pease, and beans, quality 12s. per quar. Barley; bear or bigg quality 9s. per quar. Oats, quality 6s. per quar.And that such drawback or bounty, in like manner as the importation duty, be fixed.352 supply of foreign corn that had lasted four years; and the fact was, that for the last three years, even the corn bill had not given the land-owners a monopoly. The extent of that importation might be judged of, from the increase in the exports of corn from Ireland alone. The quantity of corn, reported as of Irish growth, and as exported from Ireland, could never have been grown in that country: for, during the four years be had mentioned, the accumulation of corn imported from Ireland was as sevenfold; and what was still more remarkable, the accumulation of flour imported from the same quarter was as eleven fold. If the corn had been grown in Ireland, the traces of increased cultivation must have been visible. But where were they to be found? If the flour, again, was really Irish, mills must have multiplied throughout that kingdom in a very surprising degree. He had never heard that such was the fact. Perhaps he should be told, that much of the pasture land in Ireland had been converted into arable; and that the imports of pigs, bacon, butter, and cheese, had decreased in proportion. This, however, was not the case; for they, also, had very considerably increased during; that period. He perfectly agreed with his hon. friend, that the proper and effectual relief to be afforded to the agriculturists must be a remission of taxes. Much bad been done in this way; but much more remained to be effected. Even these remissions would not entirely effect the object.—They could not relieve the country from the poor-rates, or from the tithes. He must defend the proposition which he had made in the committee. The duty he proposed on imported corn, was 3d. lower than the duty of 1792. For his own part, he had not desired any monopoly; his anxiety had been, that the ports should be always open, and that the country might get rid of the corn law, and all its horrible and odious attendants. The House bad shown itself always extremely anxious to protect at all events, the consumers of corn. Now, who were the consumers? The farmers, the labourers, and the manufacturers for home consumption. These were the consumers; and their best interests were bound up in the general interest of the country. What was the reason that the manufacturers were now in distress? Because the home trade was now, as it ever had done, following the distress of the agriculturists. What had gone to 353 ruin the agriculturists, had gone to ruin them. There was, however, one class of consumers, who had profited by the fall of prices of agricultural produce: he meant those who lived by the interest they made upon their own money, and who most profited by the bill of 1819, to which his hon. friend had attributed all the distresses of the country. His hon. friend had often expressed his feeling for them: but for himself (Mr. B.) he had no feeling whatever for them. The value of their money had risen, as the price of produce had fallen. He knew not whether the depreciation of the currency operated in the ratio of 10l. per cent or of 40 per cent; nor was he anxious to enter upon that discussion, because he feared, that while every gentleman ran away with some favourite theory of his own creation, the interests of the country were likely to be sacrificed. Much, unquestionably, of the existing distress was owing to the late war. During its continuance, we had been living on loans, and spending money which we certainly had no right to touch. The consequent increase of the currency had produced an artificial trade, which vanished with the return of peace, and the diminution of the currency. Besides all this, the country had certainly not returned so speedily as it might have done, to a peace establishment; and that delay had been a serious blow to the already dilapidated finances, and to the general prosperity of the country. The next blow we received was an enormous and overwhelming importation of provisions from foreign countries, which importation was not at all called for by any wants of this country. This last circumstance bore most severely on our agricultural interest. A third blow was given by the alteration effected in our currency.—The proposals which parliament was now to be called upon to sanction, were; first, the loan of 1,000,000l. on exchequer bills for the purchase of corn, the produce of our own soil, to be warehoused under particular regulations. Upon this he should reserve what he had to say till the House should have resolved itself into a committee. The second proposal referred to the relief to be afforded by remitting 1,800,000l. of taxes. If he was not exceedingly mistaken, he had, upon more than one occasion, heard the noble marquis assert, that it was idle to expect any relief from the remission of taxes. He was glad to find him in a different opinion. The next 354 proposition or resolution rather, was, to the effect, that the only fair protection for the home grower consisted in the imposition of a fixed duty upon imported corn, equivalent to the amount of the existing taxation on its production; and this had ever been his (Mr. B's) own principle. His hon. friend had called this a monstrous proposal on his (Mr. B's) part, as if it extended too high a protection to the British agriculturist. Now, several hon. members, with whom he had conversed upon the subject, considered it to be too low. He had no hesitation to name the prices which he considered to be fair, and likely to afford the desired protection. He was, then, in regard to corn, only anxious that the grower should obtain such a price as would meet the rents as they stood in 1792. It was not, therefore, too much to say, that the land-owners should receive now, the same money amount of rent as they received in 1792. In order to show that this amount would not be too great, gentlemen must first assume the gross value of the produce of a farm, and then they must ascertain the value of the rent. To get at the value of the produce, they could not do better than to fix an average price of corn; for by the price of that commodity, the value of all other produce must be regulated. The average price of wheat for 10 years preceding 1792 would amount to about 6s. 3½ per bushel. Say that the whole produce of a farm was 2,000 bushels, they would produce, at 6s. 3½d., 627l. 3s. 4d. Now, the most eminent land surveyors in 1792, allowed one-third of the gross produce of the farm, as a fair rent to the landlord. One-third of this gross produce, therefore, would be 209l. 1s. 1d. Now, wheat at the present moment might be taken at 8s. 4½d. per bushel. The gross produce of the same farm, 2,000 bushels at 8s. 4½d., would yield 837l. 10s.: of this amount one-fourth must be taken for the rent; the same surveyors who gave one-third as a fair proportion in 1792, giving one fourthh only in 1822, owing to the increase of taxes including the poor-rates, for which such an allowance was to be made as must affect the calculation to that extent. One-fourth of 837l. 10s. would give 209l. 7s. 6d. for the rent proper to be paid in 1822, being only higher by 7s. 6d. than that which was thought fair in 1792. Consequently, 2,000 bushels of wheat, now at 8s. 4½d., would afford the grower no higher remu- 355 neration than the same quantity at 6s. 3½d. in 1792. The principle laid down by the hon. member for Portarlington was, that the growers were entitled to a remunerating price in proportion only to the increase of rents. Now, all that he (Mr. B.) asked for was a protecting duty of 24s. Every body would, in fairness, admit that the landowner was entitled to a higher rent now than in.1792, because of the increased taxation; but the fact was, that he did not ask for a higher rent. He would not do so, because he anticipated a very great reduction of taxation, and it was for the landlord to look for his relief from that circumstance alone. He should not be surprised if, the very moment the ports should be opened, 500,000 or 600,000 quarters of corn, should be immediately brought into this country. That importation would carry at least 700,000l. or 800,000l. into the Treasury, and would thus enable the government to relieve the people from a part of their present burthens, and place them in a situation to pay the British grower a protecting price. When he saw some of the greatest land-owners in the country affected by the general distress of agriculture, and knew that he must depend solely upon the value of the land and the produce, he should advocate any proposition which might tend to restore them to their former flourishing condition, more especially as he conceived their prosperity to be intimately connected with that of the state. He was anxious to correct an ill-feeling that had gone abroad, with respect to the power of landlords over rent. They had been accused of racking rents as high as they could: but every country member who heard him knew that that was impossible. Human nature was always the same. The landlord naturally strove to get the highest rent, and the tenant endeavoured to reduce it to the lowest proportion: but it should not be forgotten, that the theory of rents was this—the purchaser made the price, and not the seller. When to this consideration the House added the local attachments both of landlords and tenants, they would see that the charge was of a very improbable nature. One of the finest farms in Somersetshire, which had let but a very few years ago for 1,400l. per annum, had since been rented 700l., and was now untenanted, for nobody could be induced to take it. Instances of the same sort had occurred in Wiltshire. 356 This state of things would, in the end, occasion high prices. But, for whose benefit? Not for the farmers, but for the merchants and the foreigners, at the expense of the agricultural interest. The farmers would then be told that they should be content, because they had a high price for their corn—but by that time they would have no corn to sell. He wished it to, be understood, however, that nothing would benefit the country, without a reduction of taxation. That reduction would enable the farmer to supply the home market, at a much lower price than would now remunerate him.
§ Mr. Monck
contended, that the distresses of the country were mainly imputable, not to low prices but to high taxes. None of the recipes of the five or six state physicians made, therefore, an approximation to the true remedy. Every corn bill was intended to benefit the agriculturists at the expense of the other classes; and instead of looking at the present low price of grain with dismay, it afforded him sincere satisfaction, because it would compel country gentlemen to do their duty to their constituents. The existing corn bill gave a complete monopoly. What were called its defects did not injure the farmers, and were a great benefit to the consumers. Dr. Paley had considered the uncertainty of crops and seasons as a providential ordinance, because it prevented the landowner from extracting the last farthing from his tenant. He (Mr. M.) was, however, decidedly of opinion that there were no bad seasons: one county or one country might produce less than another, but the gross produce of the world was always the same, and a perfectly free trade in grain ought therefore to be established.
§ The House having resolved itself into the committee,
The Marquis of Londonderry
rose to call the attention of the committee to his first resolution. He should do injustice to the agricultural committee, and injustice to his own opinions, if he did not desire it in the outset to be understood that he was not prepared to justify the proposition upon general principles: it was only to be tolerated as an exception to them, and employed as a temporary law. It would, he conceived, be nothing but pedantry, to say that no case had arisen, or could arise, in which they might not be relaxed. The hon. member for Taunton (Mr. Baring), in a former session, 357 had proposed a departure from them as a permanent part of the corn laws, when he suggested the employment of a capital of three millions, in order to keep up a stock of corn in the national granary, that might be replenished from time to time. The agricultural committee had had two distinct propositions under their consideration—the one, the application of r sum of money, not exceeding a million, for the purchase of corn by an agent of the government—the other to give encouragement in some mode afterwards to be considered, not by purchases to be made by an agent of the government, but by individuals acting with a view to their own interests. They would come into the market as ordinary purchasers, with a portion of capital advanced to them or moderate interest, or having an allowance in the nature of a bounty, to be applied towards covering the expense of depositing the corn, which they might subsequently sell at a profit. After a very fur discussion, the first proposition was laid aside, without any reproach to the hon. gentleman who suggested it, because the hon. member for Taunton had contemplated a similar project as a permanent measure. The committee did not think that even the exigency of the present moment warranted government in putting forward a purchaser, who was: to buy corn when it was cheap, and to sell it when it was dear. Such an agent would drive all other speculators out of the market, for it would be impossible to compete with an individual, whose purchases were not contracted or limited by any view to his own interest. It was thought that it would be a most active corrective, but purchased at too dear a rate. Looking to the other principle, the committee had been of opinion, that some relief might be afforded by a permissive, not a compulsory measure. That strong distinction was taken: a million in the hands of a government agent might be looked upon as a compulsory measure; but in the other case, the money would not be laid out unless the individual thought that his own interest would be advanced by the speculation, by selling again afterwards at a profit. The committee found, on examining the quantity of corn sold in sonic of the markets, that last year, in the early months, it was nearly double what it had been in the corresponding months of the preceding years. Hence a superabundance of produce was inferred, 358 aided by the wants of the farmers; who by coming to the market in such numbers, rendered it very ruinous to the markets.—As to the possibility of permanently raising the price of corn by any system of laws, he believed that notion was neither exploded. The present measure neither could nor would raise the average price throughout the year; but it would; have the effect of making a more convenient distribution of the supply. On a former night he had said, that the subject had received much attention from government, but ministers had laid it aside, under the impression that they would not be justified in bringing it forward as a measure of relief. They were led to believe that the country was not distressed so much from a want of capital, as from a want of conviction in the minds of those who possessed it that it could be advantageously employed in speculations in corn. There was besides another plan which ministers had thought would give more encouragement to parties storing grain: they preferred giving a small monthly amount on the torn stored.; He had distinctly stated, that he brought forward that measure in preference, because it had more activity of encouragement in it. Ministers at that time were rather looking for the means of locally applying funds, which funds they conceived existed and were not applied; and they thought that four millions thrown into circulation would afford of itself a means of purchasing corn, and thereby afford relief to the agriculturists. They thought that the monthly allowance, though it would not amount to a premium to force speculation, would nevertheless cover the expenses of warehousing, and the interest of money, and thus tempt individuals to make speculations in, grain. It was due to the committee to remark, that this permissive measure, if it did no good, could do no harm. The plan held out no inducement to any one to embark in an improvident speculation, if he thought the market was not likely to rise: if it were likely to rise, then at the time of the greatest glut purchases might be made, which, with the assistance proposed, would render a profit at a later period. He had not voted for this measure in the committee nor had he supported it with any warm tone of argument. He would say, however, that on the present occasion he felt no repugnance n offering it to the fair consideration of he committee of the whole House, He 359 had learnt from gentleman connected with the landed interest, that whether right or wrong, this was the proposition which the farmers themselves thought would do good,. Upon these grounds, he had felt himself justified in bringing it forward, and would move, "That his majesty be enabled to direct Exchequer bills, to an amount not exceeding one million, to be issued to commissioners in Great Britain, to be by them advanced, under certain regulations and restrictions, whenever the average price of wheat shall be under 60s. per quarter, upon such corn, the growth of the united kingdom, as shall be deposited in fit and proper warehouses."
§ Mr. Curwen
felt that there were great objections to the measure in point of principle, but he did not see why it might not be adopted as a permanent means of relief in times of distress, as he conceived that much advantage might result from it. A time could scarcely arrive when the demand and the supply would be equal; and in years of abundance the scheme would hold out an important inducement to speculators in grain. It was quite idle to hope, that a time would arrive when there could be an export trade in grain, the growth of this country. As a measure of relief the proposed plan could do no possible harm, and might be productive of some good. It had been stated, that all these measures were intended to benefit one part of the community at the expense of others. Now, he would ask what could be done to assist the grower of corn that would not be useful to all classes of the community? These measures were not intended for any particular class. The effect of them would be, to induce the cultivator of the soil to sow a sufficient quantity of corn for the use of the population, which was by far the cheapest mode of subsisting the country. The production of corn ought to be viewed with reference to the real wants of the country. If they did not proceed on a system of protection, they would destroy their own agriculture; and then the country would be at the mercy of a few interested merchants. The great object of parliament ought to be, to render the country independent of foreign corn, and at the same time to afford the consumer an opportunity of purchasing it at a cheap rate. He would always support the principle, that they ought to rely on their own produce for consumption, instead of depending on foreign states for the necessary 360 supply. Some gentlemen argued, that it was better to throw the ports open, and to encourage a free trade in corn. But, if that course were taken, what was to become of the great body of agriculturists? He might be told, that agricultural capital would find its way into other channels, and that greater exertions would be made by the manufacturing interest. He was of a different opinion. Such was the power and perfection of machinery, that the whole world could be supplied with manufactures, wrought by the number of hands who were now employed. How could amends be made to the country, if the corn trade were thrown open, for the loss of labour which must necessarily follow? There was not one individual who would be thus thrown out of employment whose labour was not worth 40l. per annum; and thus the country would be subjected to a loss of 40,000,000l. a year. The produce of all countries was so much increased as to threaten danger to the agriculture of England. If the ports were thrown open, there would not be a mere supply of corn for three weeks. No: a supply for six months would be poured in at once. He did not ask for great prices, but he wished to see them reasonable and steady. He merely asked for those prices which would keep the country in a state of cultivation; condemning, as he did, the throwing out of cultivation any large portion of the land of this country. Very large protecting duties would not, he believed, operate beneficially. His wish was, to limit the supply of corn, so as to procure as much as was necessary, but to avoid a glut. With that view, he would be satisfied if lower protecting duties were imposed.
§ Mr. Leycester
said, there never was a more zealous friend to the agricultural interest than he was. He commiserated their distress, but he was quite convinced that it would not be alleviated by the plan of the noble lord. The measure was contrary to all legislative rule. Was it not most unjustifiable to expend the public money, for the purpose of raising the price of bread against that very public from whom the money was taken? Was it not most unjustifiable to raise the price of bread against those manufacturers, whose chins were merely kept above water by the existing low prices? The principle of the measure was most flagitious; and he did not think that the badness of the principle was redeemed by 361 the equity of the plan. The question was, whether the present prices were forced or unnatural? If they were forced or unnatural, the evil would correct itself, and the prices would rise. In that case, it would be a gratuitous violation of principle to add a stimulus to that which would work its own cure. But, if the low prices were occasioned by an actual redundancy of produce, the measure certainly would do no good, but harm. It would bring large quantities of corn into local proximity with the market. In the event of a bad harvest, this might do good; but it would do much harm if the harvest were a large one.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, he would state the grounds on which he objected to this resolution. Looking to this as a temporary measure, his objection to it was, the time to which it was to be applied. His noble friend had stated that, since the last harvest, corn had been brought into the market to nearly double the quantity which had ordinarily been introduced at antecedent periods of similar extent. The reason his noble friend gave for this was, that the farmers were called on to pay their rents; and, from the difficulties which pressed on the landlords, the occupiers of land, in order to meet their demands, were compelled to thresh out their corn, and to send it to market at an earlier period of the year than usual. Now, if this reason were well founded, it followed, that many of the farmers were no longer in the market as sellers of this commodity, but as purchasers for their own support, and for the maintenance of the poor in the parishes to which they belonged. The consequence then must be, if this measure had the effect of taking out of the market any considerable quantity of corn, and thereby of raising the price, that it would bear hard on the lower class of farmers, and render the maintenance of the poor more onerous. He believed, if any practical man asked who were the most distressed? the answer would be, "look at their stack-yards." The yards of the wealthy farmers were well stored, while those of the lower class were emptied. How, then, could they be relieved by this measure? This plan did not accord with the general principles which governed the subject. The fact was, they were in an artificial state, which required frequent revision. With respect to the general principle, if there was any one article on which go- 362 vernment ought not to lend money, that article was corn. Let the House consider what the effect of the law would have been, if it were passed last session. Agricultural distress was then pressing severely on the country; and, if the corn-market could then have been operated on to the amount of million, he would ask his noble friend, who knew the state of the market in September, whether the price would not have been forced up to 80s., and the ports in consequence, have been thrown open immediately? On the 8th of Sept. the price of corn was 55s. 8d., and on the 29th it was 70s. 8d. being an advance of 30 per cent in twenty days. Now, if this plan had been then carried into effect, the corn-grower might, at the former period, have called for this million—the price would then have risen above 80s.; and that which the agriculturist most apprehended, namely, the throwing the ports open, would have taken place. What would be the consequence if there were a prospect of a rise in the market? Why, those persons who had received money from government at 3 per cent would be speculating against those who speculated with their own money, at an interest of 5 per cent. Considering the contingencies of this market, he thought it was truly desirable that its regulation should be left to the operation of nature. Prices were beginning to adjust themselves between landlord and tenant. They ought to be allowed to find their proper level: but this measure only tended to keep up the delusion, and to add to the difficulty. It would create a most dangerous precedent, which it would be necessary to keep up, if the harvest were abundant next season. Should the ensuing harvest be unfavourable, there would be no necessity for this assistance; and, if it were favourable, there would be a general scramble for this money. They would either do too little or too much. If the prices rose, there was no necessity to interfere; and if they were depressed, the, measure would afford no adequate relief.
Sir J. Sebright
said, he had had conversations with various farmers on this subject, and they all declared that the plan was of no value whatever. Legislative interference with the corn trade must, he was convinced, be productive of harm.
§ Sir J. Shelley
thought the measure would not only not be beneficial, but that it was calculated to do a great deal of injury.
said he had obliged to thresh out his corn immediately, and carry it to market to prevent it from mouldering on his hands; and this had been the case with most of the farmers in his neighbourhood. The corn of the last year would be perfectly unsaleable after the next harvest, and the measure would consequently be wholly inoperative.
Mr. D. Gilbert
thought the proposition would be a violation of sound principle, without any corresponding benefit. None but bad corn would be warehoused, if it were adopted.
could not look forward with satisfaction to the operation of this plan. The little farmer had, in a great measure, got rid of his property; and, therefore, with respect to him, it was too late. The damaged corn could not be dried, and kept in warehouses without great loss in weight and in other respects. He was quite persuaded that they could not get one without a fixed and permanent protection.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
thought, that the agricultural interest, were much indebted to ministers, and especially to the noble marquis. He appealed to the agricultural committee, and asked them, what situation they would find themselves in, if in this instance their recommendation and plan of relief should be thrown overboard. In justice to his constituents, himself, and the noble lord, he felt himself called upon to support the resolution.
did not think he should act right if he were to leave the noble lord in the lurch; although he regretted that a measure less exceptionable in its principle had not been brought forward. This measure, however, came a little too late, and was accompanied with so much doubt and hesitation, that many would be prevented from adopting it.
said, he bad been of opinion that government should directly interfere and expend one million in purchasing corn. The present measure was a modification of that plan, but much less efficacious. As a general principle he was ready to allow the impropriety of such interference; but in circumstances of particular exigency, relief should be given according to the nature of the exigency.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, his hon. friend the member for Norfolk had been so good as to say that he would not leave him in the lurch. His hon. friend should rather take care that he did not 364 leave himself in the lurch. He certainly had no disposition to ruin the cause; but he had given his reasons for not supporting the measure in the committee. Let the saddle, however, be placed on the right horse. When he saw the measure so tamely supported by some members of the committee, and when he heard nothing in support of it from others, who ought to regard it with parental feelings, he was not in any degree disposed to press the resolution. If other gentlemen did not raise their voices in its behalf, he begged leave to give notice that he would not divide the committee upon it.
§ Mr. Irving
said, that the reluctance and diffidence he always felt in addressing the House, was his reason for not having before avowed, that he was the originator of the measure, and offered such reasons as he had given for this measure in the committee above stairs. He still continued to think it was calculated to be useful, although it had been ridiculed so severely by his hon. and learned friend. He had not proposed this measure in ignorance of the true principles of political economy. It was one of many expedients; and he had supported it as the least exceptionable. He was not more responsible for it than the committee. It was the measure of the committee, not his. He thought the scheme could be carried into effect without danger; and it was the duty of the House to adopt measure which had the least tendency to relieve a class at once so important and so distressed as the agriculturists.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
considered this the only practical measure which had been recommended by the committee. It was asked, what advantage could be proposed by advancing prices? The answer was—they would encourage farmers to keep in cultivation lands which would otherwise be thrown out of cultivation. The merchants had received advances in consequence of their goods lying by them. What danger was there in making similar advances to farmers? He was astonished to hear it said, that it was too late now, for that one half the benefit of it was lost. In God's name, was not the other half worth saving? We had now had a series of good harvests, and it was not unnatural to suppose that a bad harvest was not far distant. Therefore, they ought to accept this, the best measure the committee had offered to them. It was desirable to have cheap bread; yet they must not, for the 365 sake of cheap bread, let land be thrown out of cultivation, and the cultivators be sent to the poor-house.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he would be the last man who would be slow to interfere for the relief of agriculture at the expense of principle. Least of all would he be slow to interfere thus in their case, when be well knew that general principles had not been attended to with respect to the other classes. He alluded to times when the mercantile, the colonial, and the manufacturing interests, had been suffering, and the House had interfered for their relief. Though there was this material difference, that in those cases there had been no deposit. It was clear the measure could only tend to raise the price, or keep it up when raised. Now, the persons who had the most need of relief were not those who had grain to sell, and who could take advantage of the high prices: they were those whom distress had already forced to sell all their produce for the payment of their rents; and, as they would have to come into the market, to purchase produce for the maintenance of themselves and their labourers, that would add to their distress. He would ask one question. How was the corn to be protected in the depots? Could that be done without expense. The farmers were called upon to give their property for the money which was to be advanced to them; but the fact was, that they would soon have no property to give, and thus, for the repayment of the loan, they would be exposed to a hardship far more severe than any which they now felt—an extent in aid—the only misery from which they were now free. For these considerations, as well as for others which had been stated, he would oppose the measure as mischievous, as at best ineffective in its result, and painful in its consequences.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, that after the discussion which had taken place, and seeing that the resolution was not supported by those who brought it forward, he would with the leave of the House withdraw it.
§ The resolution was withdrawn. The chairman then reported progress, and obtained leave to sit again to-morrow.