§ The order of the day was read for going into a committee of the whole House, to consider further of the Report of the Committee on the Agricultural Distress. On the question "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair,"
§ Mr. Wyvill
rose. He said, that the distress of the country was so paramount at the present moment, that no consideration should deter him from doing what he conceived to be his duty. Two committees had been appointed; but the result of their labours had been any thing rather than satisfactory. It appeared to him, that the resolutions now before the House were likely to do any thing rather than afford relief; and, indeed, the noble marquis who had brought forward some of them, admitted that they were not calculated to give relief immediately. With such a view of the subject, he proposed to take the sense of the House upon the only resolution which to him seemed capable of meeting the difficulty. Two courses only presented themselves of relief. The first was, the repeal of Mr. Peel's bill; the second was, a reduction of of taxes. Now, to the repeal of Mr. Peel's bill he was, averse. The country had proceeded so far with the difficulty, that he, for one, was prepared to go 424 through with it. The applicable remedy, therefore, was, the reduction of taxes, and that remedy was called for from one end of the country to the other. It was allowed, that the produce of English corn was about, upon an average, 50,000,000 of quarters a year. Of this amount 5,000,000 quarters were taken as tithe; 8,000,000 were consumed as seed; 22,000,000 were taken by the agricultural interest; and 15,000,000, therefore, were left for the agriculturist to carry to market. Now, a reduction of taxes to the amount of 20,000,000l. a year would operate towards the agriculturist as a relief of 10,000,000l. a year—forming change of fall 30 per cent in his favour. Such a measure might seem a sweeping one; but it was the only one from which permanent relief could be expected. There was not a measure now before the House which, if in action tomorrow, could remain in action six months. He would therefore move, by way of amendment, "That it is the opinion of this House, that the best and most effectual relief that can be given to the agricultural interest is a large remission of taxation."
§ Mr. Lockhart
said, that a reduction of taxes would, in his opinion, be tantamount to a breach of national faith; for with such a reduction, it would be impossible to pay the interest of the national debt. No one of the 500 petitions from the agricultural classes went the length of this motion of the hon. member. He had heard the distress ascribed to a superabundant produce; but of this he was not satisfied. The notion appeared to owe its origin to the early sales of corn at low prices; but if he were to see in a pawnbroker's shop an unusual quantity of wearing apparel, he should not therefore believe that there was a superabundance of that article, though, assuredly, he should believe that the consumers were distressed. But, whatever was the cause of the distress, he conceived the proposition of the hon. member for Portarlington was altogether unsound. It would have the effect of throwing much of the poor land out of cultivation; a measure so destructive to those interested in it, that had he not known the amiable disposition of that hon. member, he should be disposed to question his motives. The persons engaged in the cultivation of these lands could not successfully look for employment in any other direction, as the manufactures were already overstocked. The 425 number, too, of these persons would be very considerable; for there were large tracts of poor land all over the country; especially in Norfolk, Bucks, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Oxford, and Gloucester. There would be considerable danger to be apprehended from those persons thus brought to distress by acts of the legislature. But, at all events, it was not to a reduction of taxation that they looked fur relief. It was to protecting duties; and on this part of the subject he was glad to find that the noble marquis thought a provision should be made against sudden and strong competition in the market. To proceed on this basis, the House should satisfy itself on two points. The first was, the price of corn, generally, at Dantzic and other northern places. He was here much surprised to find that the evidence of Mr. Solly stated the average price at from 43 to 48s. This he conceived could not be a fair average; as he was satisfied the general price on an average was not more than 24s. The noble marquis thought that, on this part of the subject, a trifling variance was of no great or particular consequence; but surely the noble marquis was not at this moment, to be informed, that a shilling difference in the bushel of wheat made a difference amounting to the whole rent. The mistake of a shilling only would therefore drive the English grower out of the field. The second point to ascertain was the amount of protecting duty. This also would depend on the average price at Dantzic and other northern places. He had already stated his belief that this average was 24s.; but he would take it even at 30s. Allowing, then, 5s. for profit, 5s. for freight, and 15s. for duty (instead of the 12s. proposed by the noble marquis), this would make 55s. only; and yet a resolution proposed by the noble marquis himself, admitted that the English grower could not sell at less than 70s. The English grower must therefore come down to the price of the foreigner or not sell at all. He only wanted protection for the English farmer, no matter whether it was caused by a duty of 5s. or by one of 50s. It was indifferent to him at what price he sold, provided he could be ensured from the competition of the foreigner. And here he could not but express his surprise that the agricultural committee had not noticed the petitions for protecting duties on other articles of the soil besides corn. All that the agricultural 426 classes wished was, that they might be allowed to live, to pay their taxes, and to support government.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he entirely agreed in the principle of the amendment, and referred, as a proof of his assertion, to the various votes which he had given during the present session. At the same time he wished the House to go into the proposed committee—not that he looked upon the inquiry in which it was engaged as calculated to afford immediate relief, but that he thought the present corn laws so bad, that any of the proposed resolutions would be much better.
§ Mr. Monck
said, that the only mode of relieving the present agricultural distress, was by an immediate repeal of taxes to a very considerable amount. He had heard much respecting low prices; yet even under these low prices, bread was 100 per cent dearer in England than it was in France. In 1792, and for the nine years previous, the price of wheat was 44s. a quarter. During the American war the price was 42s. a quarter, though for nine years antecedent it had been 46s. a quarter. There were, however, sufficient causes to account for the difference which existed between the state of things in 1792 and at present. In 1792, the charge for the national debt was 10,000,000l.; now it was 30,000,000l. In 1792, the naval and military establishments of the country cost 7,000,000l.; now they cost 18,000,000l. In 1792, the sinking fund, which circumstances rendered necessary, amounted to 1,000,000l. or 1,200,000l.; now it amounted to 5,000,000l. The poor-rates in 1792 amounted only to 2,000,0001; now they approximated to 7,000,000l. Upon the whole, the expenditure of 1792 did not amount to 20,000,000l.; now it amounted to 70,000,000l.; or, in other words, since 1792, the taxes and poor-rates had been nearly quadrupled. He maintained that the taxes and poor-rates. entirely extinguished the profits of agriculture. It was idle to take off a million here and a million there. Nothing would do any good except a great and efficient, retrenchment. He should, therefore, support this amendment.
§ Sir R. Wilson
said, he had not hither to remained silent on this momentous question of agricultural distress from any want of sympathy in that distress, but from the hope that hon. gentlemen would see the fallacy of attempting to relieve that distress by partial measures. Finding, how- 427 ever, that the measures having a tendency, to raise the quarters loaf to half-a-crown and three shillings were seriously advocated in that House, he felt himself called upon to declare his sentiments. If the resolution proposed by the hon. member for Somersetshire were acceded to, the whole country would be alarmed with the apprehension of dearth; that apprehension would occasion discontent, that discontent, would give birth to fresh innovations on the rights and liberties of the people of England; and he had seen enough of a coercive government, and had suffered too much as its victim, not, if possible, to withhold from it all pretext for increased action. He could not pretend to say what produced the present agricultural distress. The hon. member for Portarlington was of opinion that it arose from an over-abundant produce. He could not, however, bring himself to believe that this was the case. It had been said, and truly, that the corn in France had fallen in price. But notwithstanding this—had the farmer become a pauper or had sought alms? No such thing. Not only the farmer, but the peasant, was well fed in that country. He had never conversed with a peasant in France, who did not appear perfectly content with his situation; they had all three or four good meals a day. True, they sold their corn cheap, but then they purchased their leather and their salt cheap also; they could purchase wax candles cheaper than we could obtain tallow candles. He could go home without being pursued by the tax-gatherer. Could the English peasant or farmer do the same? In fact as to taxation, the situations of England and France were widely different. In France there was a population of 30,000,000, who paid between them a taxation of 34,000,000l. being little more than one pound per head. In England we had a population of 17 millions, but we were subject to a taxation amounting to 64,000,000l., exclusive of tythes and poor-rates, making about 3l. l0s. per head. He wished that faith should be kept with the public creditor, but he was convinced that by a revision of the civil list, and of the general expenditure of the country, ten millions of taxes might be taken off.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
said, that he could not vote for the motion of the hon. gentleman In the present situation of the frances of the country, it was obviously impossible that the taxation could be 428 diminished in the degree be had proposed. And even if it were possible, it would go to increase the present instant embarrasment, whatever relief it might prove hereafter. Every one at that time in the House must remember when the right hon. gentleman at the head of the board of trade brought in the present Corn bill, that the country gentlemen on all sides of the House loudly declared that in asking the monopoly of the corn market for themselves, they had not the slightest idea of raising prices; but that their lands if thus protected, would be so cultivated that prices would greatly fall, and that low prices were what they wished. The government looked further than the squirealty—what they wanted being, to give the monopoly of the English corn market to Ireland. It was curious to see how the views of both parties had been fulfilled. The prices had fallen, to the utter ruin of the tenantry, and the infinite embarrassment of the landlord; while the Irish had sent all their corn to England for money, and had left whole counties in their own country, as it now appeared, to starve!—But, the real cause of the distress was, the altered value of the currency. The speech of the hon. member for Callington (Mr. Attwood) had been unanswered, and was unanswerable. We are now told, that the best wheat sells for 55s. a quarter—that it did sell for 106 shillings. But, let any body look back to what the shillings then were, and they would see that the bushel of wheat now exchanges for nearly, as much pure silver as it did then.—Mr. G. said, that, though not at the time a member of the House, he happened, to be in the gallery when the present master of the mint brought down his propositions for the new coinage of silver. When the hon. gentleman he now saw below him, the member for Tavistock, then member for Grimsby (Mr. J. P. Grant) was the only man in the House who foresaw the consequences of that first operation; who told them they were ignorant of what they were doing; and who distinctly then forewarned them of all the difficulties and all the distresses which had since ensued.—As to what, ought now to be done, his majesty's ministers seemed completely at a loss,—the House in perfect ignorance. For himself, he did not pretend to have the slightest idea. But he owned that from their proceedings he was driven to fear, rather than led to hope. Stir which way they might, they were more likely to do mischief than 429 good. But, the only three things in his opinion, they could resort to, would be, to put a great seignorage on the coin—to substitute a free trade to a commerce shackled and manacled every way—to take off all taxes very burthensome or very, vexatious in their collection, and to replace them by a fair and adequate property tax.
agreed, that the most effectual relief for the distresses of agriculture would be found in a reduction of taxes, and his hon. friend's motion should therefore have his decided approbation. But he was equally anxious to press upon their consideration, a repeal of that act (Mr. Peel's bill) which had increased that distress beyond any thing contemplated at the time by the promoters of the measure. Until they had fully grappled with that bill, it would be in vain to seek any remedy. To discuss any scale of prices or measure of duty, without looking steadily at that bill, was to place the subordinate before the primary consideration. To talk of price until they had ascertained the measure of value they had to give, was quite delusive. The price they had first to settle, was the price of money [Hear, hear], and that would regulate all the other measures. Did the House think the industry of the country could bear this oppressive accumulation arising out of the act of 1819? The noble marquis had said, that the price of Dantsic wheat was 45s. per quarter; and he had mentioned that sum to found upon it his measure of protecting duties; but the noble marquis forgot that the 45s. which he had named ought to have been estimated according to the depreciated currency of this country: he had not named the real or cost price, but an assumed value to be measured upon a depreciated currency. It by no means followed, if that allowance were made, that 45s. must be the price to the Dantsic grower. He might, and no doubt would, grow at 30s. and have a profit in the bargain. He could not too often repeat, that the higher the money price of corn the lower would be the labour price in real effect. By raising the money price of corn, they would practically lighten the weight of taxation, and reduce the real price upon the labourer He disclaimed any desire to raise the price of any of the articles of life upon the labouring classes: but their condition would be materially improved, if the whole subject were reconsidered in the manner he had mentioned. The immense weight of charge 430 upon the country could not be borne, according to the standard of value unfortunately fixed in 1819. Without a reconsideration of that measure, any attempt to afford relief was impossible. The bill of 1819 was the greatest calamity the public had endured in modern times. He for one would not refuse a permission to import foreign corn, if the state of the country required its introduction; and he would take the average of the last 20 years, for the purpose of regulating the nature of that importation. Care should be taken that the admission of foreign corn was confined to the necessity of the case, and that it was not permitted overwhelm the British agriculturist at the moment when the country had no necessity for the aid of the foreign grower. It would be most important to govern that necessity, and not to place England as a dependent upon other powers for any considerable share of the supply of the necessaries of subsistence.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that the hon. member had objected much to the bill in 1819. Now, as it was the intention of the hon. member to bring that measure separately under the consideration of the House, he should feel it at unnecessary to say any thing further upon it at that moment. The question involved so many important considerations that it might not to be mixed up with the agricultural question. It was obvious that any alteration in the existing standard must go to alter all the contracts that had been entered into since 1819; and the consequent mischief must be evident to every one. If it was correct that under such an accumulation of burthens and privations, the taxation which bore upon the agricultural interest, had increased in the ration of 40l. per cent, he was impressed, more than ever, with an idea of the immense resources of the country and more than ever anticipated her gradual but certain recovery from temporary depression.
§ Mr. John Williams
addressed the House for the first time. He said, that if he thought that in now presenting himself to the notice of the chair, he was at all interfering with, or delaying the consideration of, the relief to be extended for those distresses which the House was called upon to remedy, he should think himself without excuse. But, it was only because he believed that his duty obliged him to assign his reasons for supporting the motion of his hon. friend, and that by such a 431 course he was not opposing any measure that could afford present relief, that he offered himself to the notice of the House. What was the language of the petitions, under the accumulated burthen of which their table groaned? It was not that the petitioner asked for some distant and speculative relief—for some modification of this or that system—for some specific alteration of the, corn laws, which might affect the rising generation, when the present race of corn-growers was swept away; but their language had undeviatingly been, that they required to be instantly relieved, or must die. What was it to the sufferers of the present generation, whether the plan of the right hon. gentleman, or some other, at a more distant period, should or should not be adopted. Since the noble lord's experiment had been withdrawn, an attempt had been made by an hon. gentleman near him, and by an hon. baronet, to praise it, and if possible, to give it an adequate panegyric. For that experiment, none other had been substituted, possessing any thing like an immediately remedial aspect. What then, was the present complexion of the affairs before the House? In proportion as the wisdom of the wise was found to be deficient, there was abundant reason for their recurring to the plain, homebred, direct, and forcible language of the petitioners themselves. What had that language been? Of all the petitions on this subject which the House had heard, there was not one that had submitted more than one or two remedies; and these were a reformation in the Commons House of parliament, and a reduction of taxation. As to the first of these suggestions, after the decision which the House had so recently come to, he would be the last man to revive the discussion; but this he would say, that he heartily regretted that he had not had an opportunity of adding one name to the minority upon that occasion. But as to taxation, would any body say, that its reduction would not have some effect upon the distress? He begged to be understood as speaking, not of any definite amount of reduction, but of the necessity of reducing. If gentlemen should say, that its amount must necessarily be but small, he should answer, that even in that case it would be better than none. If he should be told, that the repeal of the tax upon leather, upon salt, upon candles, would do but little in the way of reduction, his reply would be, that still it would 432 do something—that it would be advancing a step towards the only effectual remedy for the evil. But the proposals which were before the House could have no operation except to mislead the public opinion and to withdraw from the people that which they had hitherto possessed—a manly fortitude. Was it that parliament could devise no effective remedy? If that House had really no remedy to apply, it would be much better manfully to avow the fact, and to state, that as this was the case of distresses such as had never before arisen in the country, so the wisdom of parliament was incompetent to provide a remedy for them. Was it not, however, clear, that to remit taxes must be to afford relief? Did any man mean to say, that much, very much, might not yet be done in the work of reduction? Was that a lesson which ministers had still to learn? Would any one assert that this was a doctrine which was self-taught, or innate in those ministers, or in any others? Not only was it not innate in them, but he would go further, and say, that government began to practise it, just at the precise moment when gentlemen who had the misfortune or the happiness to have constituents began to desert the government; and when the latter found it to be no longer advisable to disregard the remonstrances of those constituents. Ministers began to practice the doctrine of effecting a saving in the expenditure of the country, at the precise time when parliament began to be sparing in supply. Mention had been made of the expenses of our colonies; and here, again, a fair field was open for reduction. Such colonies as did not repay to us the expenses we were put to on their account, or for the support of which there did not exist some paramount political necessity, ought to be abandoned. There was another species of retrenchment which was abundantly open to the House. It was one which he did not speak of as in its nature pleasurable; but this was a moment of necessity, when such considerations were not to weigh with the House. He alluded to a reduction in the allowances or salaries of all those persons, from the highest to the lowest, who were paid from the taxes raised upon the country. Lamentations had been uttered, that that House was receding, day after day, from the favour, approbation, and good will of the people of England. He knew not what other means might be suggested for reviving those feelings in the people 433 but he conceived that their good-will would never be regained, until motions like that of his hon. friend should be favourably entertained; until the House insured their regard and confidence, by manifesting an anxious desire to alleviate their distress; or (which he considered to be the only other alternative) until parliament should revive its too long antiquated practice, the power of control over the supplies. Feeling, therefore, that no other direct remedy was now proposed; feeling also, that the motion of his hon. friend, if carried, would certainly go to re-establish the confidence of the people in that House, he had great pleasure in supporting that: motion.
said, that because the motion went to recommend a reduction of taxes, he would give it his support. The ground upon which he had felt, at the close of his hon. friend's speech, that he could not vote for his motion was, that he had supposed him (Mr. W.) to have insisted upon such a reduction of taxation as could not be effected without defrauding the public creditor. As his hon. friend appeared to disclaim these intentions, he would support his motion. An hon. friend had recommended a return to a depreciated paper currency. Now, the country having most wisely adopted a metallic currency, it would be worse than inexpedient to go back to one of paper. The present agricultural distress arose from the charges which now fell on the farmer which be had not formerly to sustain. These made the prices which would formerly remunerate him insufficient. His tithes had increased—wages had increased—poor-rates had increased—and his taxation had enormously increased. Tithes and wages had in some measure settled themselves; and poor-rates had been reduced in something like a proportion to the diminished price of provisions. To him, therefore, it appeared, that the only way which the agricultural interest, could be relieved by parliament, was, by the remission of taxes. The circumstances of the country were such, that the public expenditure must be reduced. That House ought not to rest satisfied with voting against the continuance of two lords of the admiralty, or with doing, away one of the post-masters-general. They ought to carry retrenchment and economy into every department.
§ Sir I. Coffin
said, that a gallant member seemed to consider that Frenchmen were 434 much better fed than the people of this country. Now, he had been in all parts of France, and had seen nothing but what led him to come to an opposite conclusion. It was not going too far to say, that an English farmer eat as much at one meal as a Frenchman consumed in four. The nobility, gentry, clergy, and yeomanry of England, were better off than those of any country in the world.
Mr. K. Douglas
said, that diminution of taxation, though good in itself; would, if carried to too great an extent, prove very injurious. He disapproved of a motion which sought the attainment of a particular object by a side wind.
§ Mr. Curwen
would vote for the motion, because it called for a remission of taxes. He feared the period was not very remote, when the only means that would remain for saving the agricultural interest would, be, to call on the monied interest to bear a part of the burthen. He should, therefore, infinitely regret that any remedy should have been omitted to be applied for the purpose of averting such a calamity.
Mr. Denis Brown
rejoiced in the motion having been made, as it would, afford the House an opportunity of proving in what light it beheld a proposition which would go to prevent the dividends from being paid, and lead to a revolution.
§ Mr. Beaumont
said, the only way to prevent a revolution would be, to relieve the country from the distress under which it laboured; and how were those difficulties to be removed but by the repeal of oppressive taxes?
§ Mr. Brougham
would support the motion, not because it had a tendency to prevent the House from going into a committee, but because the motion put in issue a principle of great importance.
The Marquis of Londonderry
wished the House to bear in mind the general principle for which the hon. mover was disposed to contend, namely, a remission of taxes to the amount of 20,000,000l. It would be well that those who thought of giving the motion their support, should first consider whether they were disposed to favour the confiscation of property to that amount. The committee ought to know what was meant by those who voted for the motion.
§ Mr. Tierney
said, he was quite as much averse to revolution as the hon. gentleman. The motion did no more than establish a principle; and he could have no objection to it, unless it had the effect 435 of putting an end to the discussion of the resolutions. Whatever their merits, it was admitted, that they would give no immediate relief; where as the amendment was calculated to produce that effect. If he were asked, whether it ought to have been brought forward now, he should answer in the negative. If sufficient notice had been given, a fuller attendance might have been obtained. He should not vote for it, because he thought that 20 millions of taxes might be taken off; nor did he, support it because he thought it would endanger public credit; but because, in the words of the resolution, immediately to reduce taxation would be "the best and most effectual relief' to the agricultural interest."
§ Mr. Bright
thought, that a great reduction of taxes was necessary, might be made, and would afford very considerable relief.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, it was generally understood that those who voted for a motion acquiesced in the arguments by which it was supported—[Cries of "No, no!"]. Those who did not do so would do well to avow their motives; and he was glad that so many had done so, to avoid being thought favourable to a proposition which was revolutionary in its tendency.
§ Mr. Powlett
supported the motion, but wished to qualify his vote as to the amount of taxes which it was practicable to reduce.
§ Mr. Benett
, of Wilts, did not concur with the hon. mover in any thing but the vote he should give. As the greatest relief might be afforded by lessening the weight of taxation, he was, almost against his will, compelled to support the amendment.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
was disposed to vote for the remission of taxation to the utmost extent to which it could with safety be carried; but the, present motion was brought forward under circumstances so deeply affecting the honour and good faith of the country, that he felt it to be his duty not only to vote against it, but to call upon every reflecting man to pause before he gave a vote for a proposition, which might be productive of infinite mischief.
§ The House divided: For the amendment 37. Against it 120.; Majority 63.
|List of the Minority.|
|Allan, J. A.||Brougham, H.|
|Barret, S. M.||Blake, sir F.|
|Beaumont, T. W.||Hume, J.|
|Birch, J.||Lennard, T. B.|
|Bright, H.||Maule, hon. W.|
|Benett, John||Monck, J. B.|
|Bernal, R.||Philips, G.|
|Coffin, sir I.||Power, R.|
|Creevey, T.||Powlett, hon. W.|
|Crespigny, sir W. De||Palmer, C. F.|
|Chaloner, R.||Sykes, D.|
|Curwen, J. C.||Sebright, sir J.|
|Denman, T.||Tierney, right hon. G.|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Williams, John|
|Fitzroy, lord C.||Western, C. C.|
|Fergusson, sir R.||Webbe, colonel|
|Guise, sir W.||TELLERS.|
|Griffith, J. W.||Wyvill, M.|
|Graham, S.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Hornby, E.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Heron, sir R.||Gurney, R. H.|
§ The House then resolved itself into the committee; and the adjourned debate being resumed,
§ Mr. Benett,
of Wilts, addressed the committee. He said, that the act which had restored cash payments had virtually added 35 per cent to the taxes and to the private debts of individuals. He thought it would yet be necessary for them to retrace their steps, or the country could never recover from its present depression. It was said, that the present corn bill had given the agriculturists a monopoly; but he could never discover that it had benefitted the landed interest. It, indeed, prevented the importation of grain for a time, till the price rose to 80s., but when the ports opened, it subjected the country to an inundation of foreign grain, from which it could never recover. Whenever the price of corn should again rise to 80s., besides throwing open the ports, the present bill would cause foreign corn to the amount of a million of quarters to be thrown on the country. He therefore contended, that a protecting duty on foreign corn was necessary; and he could not conceive on what grounds this could be opposed by those who were friendly to a free trade in grain, and who wished its price to be low. What they had to do then was, to ascertain the price at which the protecting duty could be equitably imposed. The price of wheat in the foreign market very much depended upon the fact whether the ports of Great Britain were or were not open; and on this account, as well as others, it was extremely difficult to ascertain the, real price on the continent. The first point was the cost of production abroad. He had taken considerable pains to learn the 437 price at which sales had been made in the Baltic, and his information differed materially from that of the hon. member for Portarlington. Mr. Solly, in his evidence, indeed, had said, that it would cost 2l.16s. per quarter if brought from the interior of Germany; but be might just as well have said from the interior of India. Why was it necessary to bring it from the interior of Germany? [Mr. Ricardo said, "Poland."] Whether it were Germany or Poland was not of much consequence. He had been favoured with a detailed statement of the prices at Memel in January last, by which it appeared, that the average was 33s. 10d. He therefore made his calculation thus—Price of the wheat 1l. 14s.; freight and insurance 4s.; lauding and warehousing 2s.; profit at 15 per cent 3s.; duty 1l. 4s.; in all 67s. This was the protecting price he proposed to fix. The foreign importer would be able to bring his corn to market at 67s.; and if British wheat were sold at that price, it would give merely the rents of 1792. One circumstance had been omitted in all the calculations, viz. the Osier-measure. The committee had had one honest man before it, who told them what the over-measure amounted to, and hence it appeared that it gave 5 per cent additional to the profit of the importer, making it in the whole 20 per cent, whereas he (Mr. B.) had only calculated it at 15 per cent. It might be asked, why the land-owner was to receive the rents of 1792? In the first place, because, like the merchant or manufacturer, he was entitled to a fair profit on his capital which was invested in land. In the next place, because it was a favourite year of reference with many gentlemen on the score of retrenchment; and thirdly, because the currency was then, as now, gold. It was admitted on all hands, that the farmer was entitled to protection to the amount of taxes he paid beyond what were borne by the foreign grower. Now, the taxes, tithes, poor-rates, &c: on a quarter of wheat, amounted to 1l. 10s. 8d. the quarter; but he (Mr. B.) only claimed protection for the farmer to the extent of 24s., allowing 6s. 8d. as the cost of importation. It was his decided opinion, that the community might be better fed by the British farmer, than by the British merchant. On a series of years the British farmer could also do it more cheaply than the merchant, who relied on foreign supply. Cultivation, therefore, 438 ought not to be discouraged The object of the legislature of every state ought to be, to make the people as happy and comfortable as possible? To make the inhabitants of these islands merely a manufacturing people—to set them to work machinery—to withdraw the peasantry from their present healthful occupations—to reduce and deprave the yeomanry, the shopkeepers, and the gentry of the country now residing on their estates, might add to the temporary riches, but could add nothing to the permanent happiness of the people. The example of Holland, according to Adam Smith, showed that in such a manner the real interests of a state could never be promoted. Hither to the nation had mainly depended upon itself for food, and it ought to do so still; for what, he would ask, would have been the situation of Great Britain during the late contest, had it been otherwise? She must have been compelled to accept any terms the conqueror of Europe thought fit to impose. The noble marquis opposite had contended, that it was impossible to force a duty of 24s. a quarter on wheat imported. Had the House heard any objection to the imposition of such a duty? Had any petitions against that duty been presented from any part of the country? The whole country was anxious that the landed interest should have such a protection as was necessary; and a duty of 24s. per quarter was not more than enough. Surely it was not right to say that any measure which was intended for the good of the country was meant by the House of Commons to be forced on the people. An hon. member had cautioned the House not to lean too much to the landed interest. Now, had they ever seen any particular leaning to that interest? The landed interest had lost its weight in that House, and it never would regain it until it sent individuals to parliament who, divested of all party feelings, would conscientiously take care of the interests of those by whom their own estates were occupied. The landholders had acted upon a narrow principle. They had never offered any particular objection to measures introduced exclusively for the protection of trade and manufactures. They had a short time ago agreed to a measure relative to the silk trade, which gave to the British manufacturer a perfect monopoly of that trade; and it should be observed, that silk was naturally a foreign, not a British fabric. Again, they had 439 agreed to a bounty on the exportation of linens, and a prohibition on their importation. The hon. member for Portarlington—(and no man admired the justness of his political theories more than he did)—had observed in one of his publications, that all bodies should be allowed protecting duties, or none. Now, without meaning any thing invidious, he should be glad to know on what pretence were protecting duties refused to the land-owner, while they were lavished on the manufacturer? He asked for nothing but justice. He only desired, that the same protecting duties should be extended to the landowners which were granted to others. He should be as glad as any political economist of the present day, to see a free trade established; but, under the existing circumstances of the country, he believed it would be impossible to establish it. If the fund holder could pay himself—if all the taxes could be defrayed—and the great burthens of the country supported by means of a free trade, then, indeed, every protection, might with propriety be refused to the landholder. But, so long as the fundholder was obliged to look to the landholder for the security of his debt, he could see no reason why the latter should be excluded from a fair protection. He would request the fundholder to consider, what benefit he had derived, and was deriving, from the measure commonly called Mr. Peel's bill. That measure had certainly conferred on them a benefit of from 30 to 40 per cent. That measure had occasioned a very great change of property. It had taken the land from the landholder, and transferred it to the fund-holder. Many gentlemen were aware of this circumstance, but no one knew it better than he did. The stockholder or money-jobber would, he supposed, make a very good landholder in time. That class of persons were now taking estates out of the hands of families in which they had been preserved from generation to generation. This system might go on for some time. The Treasury would have its receipts: as the old landlord went out, a new one would come in; the former could not pay taxes, the latter could. But, would the country allow such injustice to be practised against so large a body as the landholders of England? Such a system could not continue. The landholders had borne all the evils which had been poured on them with great patience—so patiently, indeed, that they had 440 been compared with their own sheep. But, patient as they were, they would not suffix themselves to "fall to cureless ruin," without making some effort to retrieve themselves. It was cruel, that men, who, during a long war, had behaved themselves with so much public spirit—who had showed that they loved the constitution of their country, and were ready to sacrifice their lives m its defence—it was cruel, that such men should be reduced to their present calamitous situation. The hon. member concluded by stating, that he would not propose his resolutions until the House had decided on those of the hon. member for Somerset-shire and of the noble marquis opposite.
said, that amongst the number of plans which had been submitted to their consideration, it was impossible to find one that could be wholly approved of. They were, therefore, called on to decide which of these six evils—for he believed there were six sets of resolutions—was the least. Much had been said about the good effects which would be produced by a remission of taxation. Now, a reduction of 8s. a quarter had taken place on malt and barley, and malt and barley had fallen in price ever since. A hope was entertained that this remission would have produced an increased consumption and an increased price; but it had totally failed. With respect to the measures now before the House, there was not one that could do permanent good to the agricultural interest, except that proposed by the hon. member for Somersetshire. But still he could not support it; because, if a measure were carried in conformity with his plan, the table of the House would be loaded with petitions from those who must be materially affected by it. He agreed that the agricultural interest alone was not depressed, but that every other body in the state felt the pressure of the present period. Some gentlemen had complained of the operation of the corn law. If that law had given the British farmer a monopoly, surely it was not prejudicial to agriculture. It appeared that no foreign ports had affected the price of the corn market. He therefore inferred, that the corn bill had, up to this time, secured a monopoly to the British farmer. The only danger, then, to be dreaded was, that should corn arrive at 80s. per quarter, there would be an inundation of foreign grain. That ought to be prevented, and 441 there fore he should vote for the resolutions of the noble marquis, although he wished the importation price to have been rather higher. The resolutions of the hon. member for Portarlington, he considered as the next best; but these, if the price of grain should advance, and if there should be a large crop elsewhere and a scanty one here, would leave the farmer without protection. The House could do no other than negative the resolutions of the hon. baronet. He was sorry they could not be carried; but this was impossible without bringing all the other interests of the country before them as petitioners.
§ Mr. Brogden,
the chairman, suggested, that it would tend to simplify the proceedings of the committee, if the several propositions were submitted to them seriatim, beginning with the highest scale of duties, instead of taking the sense of the committee on the several amendments.
said, that the hon. baronet (sir T. Lethbridge) thought the present period peculiarly favourable for legislating on the corn laws; because the price of corn being very low, there was no danger of any person opposing the agricultural interest. But, he requested those who entertained this opinion to read the resolution of the committee of last year, and say, what there was in the present system of the country which should induce the House to form a different opinion from that which they then entertained? The House had received a specific recommendation from that committee not to legislate at all upon the subject. The only circumstance that could induce him to legislate, would be, if there was any prospect of the price of wheat reaching 80s., so as to allow an importation of foreign corn; because if that occurred, such an inundation of grain would be poured into the country as the present land-owners never could recover. An hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett) seemed to think, that the importation of foreign corn ought to be allowed. But, with the exception of his solitary opinion, all other persons thought that the importation of foreign corn was an evil that ought to be guarded against at almost any risk. He was willing to leave the farmer under the protection of the act of 1811; and, should, what was scarcely within the verge of possibility, the price rise above 80s., then he would legislate so far as to prohibit the importation of foreign grain for a given 442 period. Suppose the measure were to extend to the 25th of March next, the House would then be sitting, and could take such farther steps as might be necessary. He believed there were now 700,000 quarters of foreign wheat in the country. The quantity placed in warehouses last year, almost doubled the quantity imported in ordinary years. There was, no doubt, a superabundant crop of corn in this country in the year before last; but he doubted whether last year there was even an average crop. The British market was in an unnatural state, and he believed all the foreign markets were in the same situation. He would then ask, was that the time to legislate with respect to the price which the importation of corn should be restricted? They ought to wait until the markets were in a natural state, and then they could consider, at what price corn might be imported, and under what duties, if duties were to be imposed at all. Suppose the ports, were opened by an accidental rise of price to 80s. In that, case, he confessed he knew not what duty he could venture to propose by which the agricultural interest could be preserved. To maintain the duties of the hon. baronet would be impossible. When the quantity of produce was of such amount that the demand had no control over it, permanent relief could only come from the operation of the seasons, or from those changes to which our uncertain climate was so subject. Periods of several successive year together, or what were called cycles, during which the seasons were uniformly unfavourable, sometimes occurred. The years 1709 and 1710 were portions of one of these cycles, in which corn rose to considerably above double its ordinary price, and was as high at one moment as 3l. 18s. 6d. per quarter. From 1740 to 1745 was also an interval during which, as well as in 1756 and 1757, the price of corn reached a great height. The present act had been fully discussed for two sessions, when the only difference was as to the extent of protection; and yet it now appeared to have done infinite mischief, instead of benefit to agriculture. This should warn them against legislating prematurely, or without necessity, on a question like the present. On the subject of the corn trade, principles were now carried to an extreme, as if every restriction ought to be removed, and we should become citizens of the world. The hon. 443 baronet (sir F. Burdett) Wished for a perfectly free trade in corn, and even argued that it would give relief to agricultural distress. But this principle, if acted upon, must necessarily lead to a free trade in all articles of manufacture, and in all raw materials. Now this might be right, but it was not the system under which the country had acquired its wealth and power. That system was one of restriction, upon all articles of home produce, and upon none more than corn. They might be much wiser than their ancestors; but he was not disposed to consider them such fools as modern philosophy would make them out to have been. They had been wise enough to make a little country a very great one, and to acquire for it fame and power far beyond the apparent proportion of its means and resources. A free trade in corn must necessarily intake our imports larger, and if we had greater imports we must become more dependant upon foreign countries. There would be some hon. gentlemen old enough to remember that at the beginning of the present century great alarm existed on account of scarce crops, the increase of prices, and an apprehended inadequacy of the home produce to meet the consumption. It was now curious to see the sudden, absurd, and, as he thought, unreasonable change which had taken place in the general opinion. At that time it was considered a matter of great triumph that a hundred enclosures had taken place in one year, and all our attention was turned to bring the produce to an average supply. He did not wish this feeling to have changed. He should consider it to be a public calamity if one acre of the land so enclosed should be now thrown out of cultivation. If they refused to protect agriculture, the question was, whether they would turn the country from an agricultural one to a manufacturing one. At the present time there was an evident tendency to this, and he thought the country was more manufacturing than was good for it already. He was disposed to give all just encouragement to agriculture, in order that capital should not be withdrawn from the land. Some hon. members said, that if Capital would not pay in agriculture, it might be put somewhere else. He would ask them where it was to be employed? Our manufactures were, be hoped, as they had been stated to be, in a state of activity and prosperity. But he deemed 444 it impracticable to increase them, in any considerable degree, without general detriment. It was fearful to contemplate the inroads that had been made upon the capital employed in land within the last five years; and that made it necessary that they should protect what remained. By encouraging foreign agriculturists instead of our own, they would be reducing those who had formed the strength of the country to irretrievable ruin. This must be the result of the liberal doctrines of the day, if they were adopted and acted upon by the House. The alteration in the currency had, to a certain extent, operated to keep up the distress; but its effect had been greatly exaggerated. With regard to that, as well as taxation, being the chief causes of distress, he had never heard any reasons advanced why they ought to be treated in any other than the lightest manner. Since the close of the war 18 millions of taxes had been reduced and that without affording relief to agriculture. The greatest further remission which he had heard proposed was that of five millions; and what benefit could be expected from that, after the experience they had seen. The hon. member concluded by reminding the House of the fable of the bundle of sticks, and conjuring them to hold the interests of the country bound up together. If they did so, they would be safe. But if they became disunited, and suffered the political economists to pull one out of the bundle, they would all be broken up. Let them look to agriculture as the chief stick, and protect it as far as lay in their power. But above all, let them continue to follow in the course by which their ancestors had made a small country become a great one, and he had no doubt but they would eventually triumph over temporary difficulty, and remove every obstacle in the way of permanent prosperity.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, he would state very shortly the course which he had taken during this session, and his motives in tendering the resolutions which he had offered. It was known, that he had abstained altogether from attending the agricultural committee this year. He felt great satisfaction in hearing his noble friend say, that, after the treatment he had experienced from several members of the committee of last year, he was fully justified in abstaining from its duties this year. Of the report of this year he would 445 say nothing; but if there was in it any of that mystification so falsely imputed to the report of last year, it was very short, and what the French would term, a mystification of themselves. Of the former report he would say, that in its principles its view of the law of 1815, its general view of what was fit to be done with respect to the corn trade, he perfectly agreed, and for these he held himself responsible. To some of its recommendations he did not agree; and of them he said nothing. It was further a great satisfaction to him, that his noble friend felt his mind still alive to the principles of that report, and admitted them to be those by which their proceedings ought to be regulated. But his noble friend was for a modification. He would not go into the difference of opinion between them. There was no difference anywhere as to the effects of the corn law on the community. They were admitted by the sages who watched the agricultural interests in a neighbouring tavern, and by the political economist who studied them in his closet. Whatever ridicule might be attempted to be thrown on political economy, it could not be discredited. It was the result of general principles warranted by observation, and constituted the guide in the regulation of political measures. After all the obloquy to which he had been exposed in consequence of last year's report, he had offered his resolutions in order to absolve himself from all responsibility for the consequences of the present corn laws, for the destruction of capital in agriculture, already carried to a fearful extent, and which he imputed mainly, not to importation, but to a monopoly. Desirous of protecting himself from the responsibility of the evils which would follow, he had recorded his opinions, and having done so, he should leave them to be dealt with by the committee as they thought proper, without entering into any discussion upon the different practical measures under their consideration.
§ Lord Althorp
could not agree with those who thought that the present was not a proper time to legislate on the corn laws; for if, as had been recommended, they were to prevent the importation of foreign corn till the 25th March, the consequence must be that the price would rise next year, and that the subject would then come under discussion with greater inconvenience. He had looked at the evils of our agricultural interests; and the 446 main source of those evils, he believed to be the great fluctuation of prices. A remunerating price would be the great object, and the true remedy. What he complained of in the present law was, that it created the fluctuation of price by artificial means. The great corrective would be the introduction of a system that would give to the agriculturists a steady price. From 60s. to 70s. a quarter would, in his opinion, give that steady price; and at such a rate the consumer would not be placed in a worse relation than he was placed by the present corn law. The evidence of Mr. Solly went to show that a demand of foreign corn here must necessarily increase its price. He might say, that when wheat was 60s. here, it would be 50s. at Dantzic. But then it was said that a lower quality would be imported, That was an idle assumption; when duties were imposed, the importer knew his interest too well, not to import the best quality. Mr. Solly had stated that 45s. a quarter, was the lowest remunerating price at which foreign corn could be imported. Taking that price, he should have no objection to a protecting duty of 20s. But after all, the only remedy to the farmer was in a diminished taxation.. He agreed with the hon. member for Callington (Mr. Attwood), who in his most able speech of last night, had so justly stated, that it was impossible; when the grower of agricultural produce received but the half or the price which he was wont to received that he could pay a scale of taxation imposed, when the prices of that produce were as much more. Whatever might have been said to the contrary, it was now well understood that the depression was equally felt in most of the important branches of our manufacturing interests. Witness the recent disturbances in Staffordshire and Monmouthshire. These disturbances proved, that the wages of the labourer were low, and the profits of the manufacturer short. Let the House then consider what the effect of any duties higher than a remunerating price to the grower of corn must have on manufacturing concerns thus situated. Under such circumstances, these manufactories must cease. He was much surprised at the manner in which this grave subject had been introduced by the noble marquis. The noble marquis had introduced his first resolution with a levity that was not very suitable to the subject; and had abandoned it 447 with an indifference that was not a little extraordinary. In the present state of agricultural depression, however men might doubt as to the means of relief, all must acknowledge that it ought to have commanded the most anxious consideration of his majesty's government. With regard to the drawbacks on exportation, he considered that an advantageous proposition: but he thought a much larger amount should be granted. The expense of transporting corn abroad was at least equal to the expense of importing it from foreign countries. Such a bounty would, in the first instance, take money out of the pockets of the people; but it would operate as an efficient check to that main evil to grower and consumer, the fluctuation of prices.
§ Mr. Gooch
said, he had unfortunately given offence by stating that the report of the agricultural committee was a mystification. He really considered that report drawn up with talent; but it was not a report which could afford much instruction. He lamented that any party spirit should pervade the House on this subject, yet the abandonment of one resolution by the noble lord was certainly ground for the attack made by an hon. baronet. He wished the first resolution moved by his noble friend had been agreed to, as it would have relieved the country from the glut in the markets. As to any sweeping measure for the relief of agriculture, he did not believe there was any possible chance of giving relief in that way. All they could do was, to stem the torrent of mischief, which was inundating the country. All they could do was to prevent a fluctuation in the prices of corn which kept the farmer always in a panic. He agreed in the third resolution, which declared that the ports ought not to be open till wheat came to 75s. The protection of all he wished was, that the farmers should be placed in that relation to the other classes, which would be for the honour of the country. He admitted that a reduction of taxes would be a relief; but we were still to keep faith with the public creditor, and the removal of half the taxes would not remove the agricultural distress.
Sir T. Lethbridge
repeated, that a protecting duty of less than 24s. would not be sufficient for the farmer. The resolution which he had moved would guard against that fluctuation of prices which was so, injurious, by the insecurity to 448 which it exposed agricultural capital. It was most unfair to talk of returning to the prices of 1792, when we looked at the taxes of 1822.
§ Mr. N. Calvert
did not think that any immediate relief to the agricultural interest could result from the present measure. It was necessary, however, to alter the existing law in order to prevent the great fluctuation of prices that would proceed from opening the ports. The protecting duties might effect that object. He had no great favour for any of the plans; but he thought that of the hon. member for Cumberland preferable to any other.
§ Mr. Irving
said, he would support the resolution, as he was not disposed to leave the noble lord in the lurch. But he left it to the noble lord to prove his consistency, by distinguishing between the principle of the resolution which he had called on him (Mr. I.) to acknowledge, and that which he had himself submitted. The only difference between them was, that the resolution of the noble lord was inadequate, and ought never to be resorted to at all, while the other would have relieved the existing pressure of distress. If his resolution had been absurd, he was not chargeable with its absurdity, but the committee. He did not think it was absurd, and would submit it again. Though it might be in opposition to the principles of political economy, yet it was justified by the circumstances of the times. He did not approve of any of the plans proposed, but he thought that of the noble marquis the least objectionable, and would give it his support.
§ Sir N. Colthurst
observed, that there were other kinds of agricultural produce, which were entitled to protection, besides corn. He would mention butter, and meant to propose a resolution to that effect.
Sir W. W. Wynn
expressed himself in favour of protecting duties, because without them he conceived, if the ports should open at 80s., there would be such an influx of foreign grain as would injure the agriculture of the country for many years.
wished to know whether, according to the popular doctrine of superabundance of corn, there was likewise a superabundance of all other articles of agricultural produce; seeing that live stock had fallen in price proportionably to grain. If there was not likewise superabundance of these latter—a proposition 449 which he did not think would be maintained—the cause assigned for the distress of the landed interest could not be substantiated. The change in the value of the currency, and the increased pressure of taxation, from the payment of taxes by a medium of increased value, appeared to him to be the real causes of the embarrassments experienced by the agriculturists. The commercial, trading, and manufacturing population did not suffer so much; because they found a compensation for the change in those low prices of the necessaries of life, which ruined the farmer. The poor-rates, a burthen that pressed peculiarly on land, amounted still to 6,000,000l.; and this was a load which the other classes of the community did not equally share, but should be called upon to do.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, that the question before the committee was, whether any and what changes ought to be made in the existing corn law? Now, among all the various opinions delivered to the House, he had heard but one in favour of the law as it stood. All who had spoken thought that nothing could be more injurious in its consequences than the act in force. The two objections to it were, that it prohibited importation till a certain price was attained and then permitted unlimitted supply, and that it likewise embraced the system of averages. The question was, did any of the propositions before them get quit of these objections, and what ought to be substituted in the place of regulations so condemned? The noble lord's plan was liable to both objections; for it fixed an importation price, and required the striking of averages. The right hon. gentleman's plan was open only to one. He fixed no importation price, allowing the trade to be free on paying duties; but he established averages. His hon. friend, the member for Portarlington had proposed a plan which was liable to neither of those objections. He proposed, that as soon as the price of corn should reach 70s., the trade in that article should be permanently free, and that a fixed duty of 10s. should be permanently imposed upon importations, with a bounty or drawback of 7s. upon exportations. The duty proposed by his honourable friend commenced at twenty shillings and went on diminishing one shilling every year until it was reduced to 10s. To the principle of this plan he had no objection; but he was inclined to 450 think that his hon. friend had taken the scale of his duties, or rather his permanent duty, at somewhat too low a rate. At the same time he considered the duties proposed by the members for Wilts and Somerset were too high. It was curious to see how extremes met. His hon. friend and himself, who rigorously maintained the expediency of a free trade, were now going to legislate on the same principle with the member for Somerset, who was not disposed to look with much compassion on the principle of a free trade, and who had expressed himself with great and unmerited acrimony against political economists. [A laugh.] He thought the member for Somersetshire ought to have abstained from censuring economists, because on the present occasion he had proved himself to be one, and of the same school with those he blamed. The principle difference between them was with respect to amount of duty, but certainly was a very important one. The member for Somersetshire desired a protecting price of 80s. He would here just allude to the operation of the change which had taken place in the value of currency: The price of 80s. which was now demanded would, by the change in the value of the currency, be equal to 100s. and more a few years back. Now, if any one in 1814 and 1815 had asked for a protecting price of 80s., even the member for Somersetshire would have said that such a price was more than the agriculturists had a right to expect. He would state the reason why he thought the permanent duty of 10s. too small. The hon. member for Portarlington had calculated that duty on the ground that the farmer was peculiarly burthened to that amount by the pressure of tithes and poor-rates. But the hon. member stopped short when he limited the peculiar burthens of the farmer to these two points. Not to mention the large sums levied on the raw produce of the farmer, he was more severely affected by all the indirect taxes than any other class of the community. He had, he thought, proved this in detail at the commencement of the session, and he would now do no more than direct the recollection of the House to his arguments upon that occasion. The agriculturists, more than any other class, were affected by the taxes imposed on those commodities which were consumed by the labouring classes, because more labour was used in producing the same amount of produce 451 in value by the farmer, than by the manufacturer, or any other individual. For instance, it would require more labour to produce corn to the value of 1,000l. than manufactures to the same amount. The expense of the labour upon a farm never amounted to less than one-third of the value of the produce, to which were to be added the charges of tithes and poor-rates. He therefore thought it would be acting unjustly to the farmer to impose a duty calculated only on the amount of tithes and poor-rates. If the late hour of the night did not forbid it, he would willingly enter upon the subject which the member for Corfe-castle had opened for discussion, by denying that taxation was the cause of the prevailing distress. If the whole of the distress of the country did not result from excessive taxation, a very large part of it could be ascribed to no other cause: and the remedy for the distress was a reduction of the burthens which pressed upon the country. It was remarkable, that all the plans had for their object to prevent the recurrence of an evil after it should be removed, but for the removal of it no provision was made. In his opinion, the first thing that ought to be considered was, the means of escaping from the evil. It was immaterial whether taxation was admitted to be the only cause of the evil: if it was allowed to occasion a part of it, a reduction of taxation was the only remedy within our reach. He thought this ought to be resorted to in order to avoid the necessity of again interfering with the currency. That should be the ultimum remedium. If the return to cash payments had been accompanied by measures which, in his opinion, were necessary, he should have considered it his most sacred duty to support that act of the legislature which restored a metallic currency. But it was never to be sufficiently deplored, that when that measure was resolved upon, parliament did not sufficiently consider the state of the country, and the effect which it would produce upon a most important class of the people. The member for Essex had given notice of a motion for altering the act which provided for resumption of cash payments; and upon that occasion he would state his opinions with respect to the object of the motion; but he had no hesitation in declaring now, that in his opinion any attempt to tamper with the currency, after it had been placed on its present footing, would show that 452 we were reduced to something like an extremity. He implored the House to avoid this evil, by having recourse to the only means by which it could be avoided—a reduction of taxation. Let them afford every relief which it was practicable to afford to agriculture, by taking off those numerous and heavy duties by which it was now borne down. If all should prove unavailing, let them come to that which he would certainly fain avoid if possible. But; before they resorted to so injurious an expedient, let them no longer listen to those who, in defiance of all reason, because they had once said that a sinking fund ought to be maintained, determined to maintain it for ever, and who persevered in refusing relief to the country in order to preserve their own character for consistency, or rather for obstinacy. His own view of the subject was simply this—to reduce the taxes to as large an amount as would be equivalent to the clear surplus of the revenue over the expenditure; first introducing into that surplus all that could be added by new and unsparing retrenchment. That such a reduction of taxes, if judiciously made, would afford a speedy and important relief to the suffering classes of the community, he had no doubt. He should vote for the principle of the proposition made by the member for Portarlington; but with the scale of duties recommended by the member for Wiltshire. But, he repeated, that these propositions related to distant operations. Something more was called for by the public voice. It was a call justified by necessity; and parliament would shamefully abandon their duty, if they neglected to attend to it.
The Marquis of Londonderry
agreed with the hon. and learned gentleman that the measures which had been proposed to the House, were calculated rather to protect the country against future danger, than to afford it immediate relief. He could not, however, agree that the reduction of taxes would benefit the farmer; because, although such a measure would be advantageous to him, in his character of consumer, it would be detrimental to him, in his character of grower of corn, by depressing the price of his produce. He regretted the observations that had fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman on the subject of the currency. The hon. and learned gentleman admitted all the evils that would result from any change in the decision which parliament 453 had come to on that question; but still he kept the possibility of such change hanging over the country. It had been proposed that the subject which occupied the attention of the committee, should not be discussed until prices were higher; but he was of opinion, that at such a time the question could not receive that calm deliberation which was now bestowed upon it. The country was looking forward with confidence to the decision of the House; and if they should pursue a cautious course between the two great interests, he was certain the country would be grateful. The noble marquis then defended the fitness of the scale of duties which be had proposed, and censured that of the member for Somerset as being too high. The most convenient mode of proceeding would be, by taking the sense of the committee on the higher scales of duty first. The highest scale was that proposed by the member for Somerset. The best way, therefore, would be for the hon. baronet to move his resolutions first, by proposing that they be inserted instead of the original resolutions. If the hon. baronet's resolutions should be negatived, then the hon. member for Wiltshire could move his in the same manner. Then, if they were negatived, he (lord L.) would move his own resolutions, when it would be competent for any member to move what modifications he thought fit upon them.
§ The Committee then divided on sir T. Lethbridge's Resolutions [See p. 404], The numbers were: For the Resolutions 24: Against them 243. Majority 919.
|List of the Minority.|
|Bastard, J.||King, sir J. D.|
|Browne, D.||Leigh, J. H.|
|Chandos, marq. of||Milbank, M.|
|Chichester, A.||Nugent, sir G.|
|Curteis, E. J.||O'Callaghan, col.|
|Cotterell, sir J. G.||Stanhope, hon. J. H.|
|Dundas, C.||Shelley, sir J.|
|Drummond, J.||Shiffner, sir G.|
|Fane, John||Wemyss, J.|
|Harvey, sir E.||Wells, John|
|Jocelyn, hon. J.||Lethbridge, sir T.|
§ After this division, Mr. Benett's resolutions [See p. 351] were negatived without a division. Mr. Huskisson's Resolutions, joined to the two last Resolutions of Mr. Ricardo, who had withdrawn his previous resolutions in favour of the 454 series drawn up by Mr. Huskisson, were then submitted to the committee by the chairman. On lord Althorp's moving an amendment upon this string of resolutions, the cry of "Adjourn" became general; the chairman was in consequence ordered to report progress, and to ask leave to sit again to-morrow.