§ The Marquis of Londonderry having moved the order of the day, for bringing up the Report of the Committee of the whole House on Agricultural Distress,
rose, to submit the resolutions of which he had given notice. In thus offering himself to the attention of the House, he felt it necessary to guard against being misunderstood. It was not his intention to oppose the resolutions of the noble marquis; on the contrary, he meant to support them as far as they went, as he conceived them better than the existing law; but he should propose a set of resolutions, which the House might pass conjointly with those of the noble lord, or they would reject the one or the other, or both, as to them might seem fit. When this question was first introduced, he had determined not to offer a word upon it; but when he found that six different sets of resolutions, not drawn up with a view to immediate relief, but of providing against 521 remote contingencies, which he hoped they should never live to see, he felt him self bound to propose some measures Calculated to give immediate relief. They had been told by great authorities in that House, that the present agricultural distress was not caused by taxation, but by the redundancy of supply; and the noble lord had contended, that from no practicable reduction of taxes could any effectual relief be derived. To say that, was in so many words to say, that the price of corn must remain permanently at 70s. per quarter. It was impossible, therefore, to grow corn at a much cheaper rate considering all the burthens which at present bore upon its production, than 70s., unless a reduction of taxes could be effected. The scheme which had been suggested by the noble lord was, in its nature, impracticable. It was pretty obvious that Ireland could raise her corn at a cheaper rate than England could. If, in what he had now to offer with respect to the different rate of taxation in regard to the two countries, any thing should appear to be dictated by a hostile feeling towards Ireland, he begged leave to disclaim all such intentions. But, while he wished to do justice to Ireland, he begged to claim, at the hands of the Irish members, justice for England. There were many taxes which entered into the course of production in England, which did not affect Ireland. It would be found that the gross produce of the Excise duties on salt, hides, soap, and candles, in Great Britain, amounted, in the year ending the 5th Jan. 1822, to 3,857,239l.; and the nett produce to 3,178,776l." Of this sum, about two-thirds were raised upon the agriculturists, and therefore it might be assumed that in England 2,500,000l. was the amount of taxes that entered into the cost of production. To this amount of taxes, bearing exclusively on the agricultural production of England, the House must add the additional burthen (as compared with Ireland) of the poor-rates; which, in March 1821, amounted to 7,500,00l., of which about 6,000,000l. were paid by the landowners. But, if the diminished price of the necessaries of life, and the consequently decreased charge of supporting the poor, were considered, the burthen of poor-rates might be fairly computed at 5,000,000l. a year on the agriculture of this country. It was his present intention, however, to take into the calculation those taxes only which were paid to the Excise, 522 and he thought he could suggest such a way of relieving the country from the burthen of those taxes as even the noble lord himself would not as even the noble lord himself would not object to. The taxes of a similar nature which might be said to bear on the cost of agricultural production in Ireland were the leather-tax, producing 31,594l. and the Customhouse duties; being, for duties paid in Ireland, 93,000l., and in England, 160,000l. In the last year, about 600,000l. quarters of corn were imported from Ireland; and looking to these facts jointly, the House would easily apprehend, what was the production of that country, and under what favourable circumstances it was realized. If it was possible that Ireland might hereafter become the granary of the empire, he thought it was at least proper, that the relative taxation of the two countries should be reduced to something like a proportion. For if the Irish land-owners, on account of the present bounty which their produce had in fact the benefit of, should be induced to break up their meadow land, and turn it into arable for the production of corn; and if that bounty, either on account of the depressed condition of our own agriculture or from any other cause, should hereafter cease, he left the House to judge whether such a state of things would not be a positive evil to Ireland. An hon. gentleman had observed on the improving culture of that island, it would be productive of serious mischief to it. But the resolutions he had to propose could in nowise operate as such a check, that the natural fertility, of the island, and the present state, o Irish growers, could be sensibly affected by it. His object in proposing, then, the repeal of Excise taxes, only as they regarded our agriculture, was, to repeal those which were of all others the most vexatious; while it was very possible, on the ether hand, that the customs paid in this country operated as a protection against foreign importations. His resolutions would not attack the sinking fund. The noble lord, on a former evening, had told the House, that by the effect of his commutation plan, there would be left a disposable surplus of 2,800,000l.; but it was proposed to apply towards the reduction of taxation 1,800,000l. only; the remainder of it being reserved to be applied to any unforeseen contingent expenses. The noble lord had also said, that 523 the revenue of the country had increased in the last year, by more than 1,500,000l.; and he had understood, that the improvement during the last month had been in the same ratio. Now he should suggest, that it would be better to take from the surplus mentioned by the noble lord another 1,000,000l.; and from the increase on the revenue, also, 1,000,000l., which, added to the proportion of the surplus said by the noble lord to be applicable to the reduction of taxes, namely, 1,800,000l., would give a sum of 3,800,000l. applicable to the remission of those taxes which he proposed to have repealed. The only objection which could be urged against this plan, was, that the revenue might not go on increasing. But this was not the time at which the calculation of possible events was to be put in opposition to actual results: neither did it follow that as the taxes were heavy, so was the revenue large. Any one who looked into the history of taxation, would find, that so far from an increase of revenue being the necessary consequence of increased taxation, the consequence was rather decreased revenue. In 1808, the tax on foreign brandy, was 12s. 7½d. per gallon; and it produced a revenue of nearly 2,000,000l. a year. the importation being about 2,600,000 gallons. In 1810, an additional duty of 2s. 6d. a gallon was imposed. The consequence was, a very great diminution of the imports, and a consequent decrease of duty; so that the revenue on these articles fell to 1,529,000l. In 1812, the duty was run up to 19s. 1½d. per gallon; the quantity imported declined to 200,000 gallons, and the revenue to less than 200,000l. The more expedient course would be, to lower the duty, by which the productiveness of the revenue would be increased. In Ireland, the effects of the present system had been even more fatal. Since 1807, the increased taxation there had amounted to 3,737,000l., yet the revenue was at this moment 700,000l. lower than in 1807. It was his intention to alter one of his resolutions, so as to propose the repeal of the whole of the duty on salt, candles, and hides, and a part of the duty on soap, and to reduce, by half, the tax on windows, the duty on leather, and the customs duty on salt in Ireland. Hence, he contended, that a direct and immediate relief would be afforded to the country of 3,600,000l., without infringing upon the sinking fund, or encroaching upon a single establishment. Some of 524 these taxes carried a self-destroying principle with them: the tax on wine had been trebled, and the wealth of the country since the great augmentation had trebled also: it ought, therefore, to produce four and a half millions; yet it did, in fact, produce only a little more than 1,500,000l. The tax on leather brought only about 500,000l. into the Exchequer; but the people suffered by it to the extent of 1,500,000l., for each tradesman through whose hands the commodity passed, indemnified himself for the duty at the expense of the consumer. After all, the reductions he suggested were trifles compared with the vast ocean of taxation; and more than three times the amount of them would be insufficient to place the country in the situation in which he wished to see it. His proposition was only 1,100,000l. beyond the promised reduction of ministers. The hon. colonel concluded by moving the following resolutions:
1. "That any tax which, by being unequally distributed, acts as a bounty to one part of the kingdom and to the prejudice of another, is in its nature unjust, and ought to be discontinued.—2. That the gross produce of the excise duties on salt, hides, soap, and candles, in Great Britain, amounted, in the year ending 5th Jan. 1822, to the sum of 3,857,239l.; and the nett produce to 3,478,776l.—3. That there are no excise duties levied in Ireland, on soap, salt, or candles; and that the gross amount of the duty on leather, in the year ending 5th Jan. 1822, was 31,594l.—4. That the whole of the excise duty on salt, and three-fourths of the duties on soap, candles, and hides, in Great Britain, be forthwith repealed.—5. That the taxes on windows and leather, in Ireland, be forthwith repealed."
§ The Speaker
suggested that it was impossible that the question could be put in he shape proposed. The resolutions of the hon. colonel could not be made part of the report of the committee.
said, he was in favour of very practicable reduction, but he felt pound to vote against the resolutions for his simple reason, that. they had nothing to do with the question before the House. He returned the noble marquis his thanks or what he had done. As far as he could judge, the resolutions of the noble marquis were an improvement upon the existing corn laws.
expressed his readines 525 to withdraw his resolutions for the present.
§ On the question, that the report of the committee be brought up,
said, he was firmly persuaded that the noble marquis's resolutions would, neither directly nor indirectly, contribute to the welfare of agriculture; but that they would even add to the load of distress which already burthened the farmer. The question mainly, if not altogether, depended upon the price of grain in the foreign market; and he contended that the noble marquis had made his calculations upon the evidence before the committee, which was given in British currency, and not according to the price of gold. If hon. gentlemen would refer to the testimony of Mr. Solly, they would find this to be the fact. Thus, the price of grain was made to appear higher abroad than it really was; and the noble marquis had, in consequence, felt warranted in proposing a duty proportionably lower. That important subject had by no means been sufficiently investigated, either by the committee of the present or of the last year; and the House was consequently legislating in the dark. At Hamburgh, wheat was now selling at from 26s. to 31s. per quarter; rye 13s. to 14s.: barley 8s. to 9s.; oats 5s. 9d. to 8s., it was not to be forgotten—also, that freights from Hamburgh to London were not dearer than from some parts of the coast of Essex. So great was the suffering at Hamburgh, that the Danish government had been obliged to take 700,000 quarters of wheat in payment for taxes, and that quantity would of course be converted into money at almost any sacrifice. The reduction of the import price from 80s. to 70s. had spread dismay in all quarters, bath through Ireland and England. The resolutions of the noble marquis had doubled the despair of the agriculturists. They looked upon it, and justly, as a violation of a solemn pledge given by parliament—as a breach of public faith. The landed interest would have been much better satisfied to have remained under the former law, defective as it was, than under the proposed improvement. The hon. member sat down, after referring to the too hasty and peremptory contradiction he had received on a former night on the subject of prices from the hon. member for Portarlington.
§ Mr. John Smith
said, it was his opinion that the distress of the agricultural body proceeded in a great measure from a 526 superabundant harvest, and that the House could not apply a remedy. Various remedies had been proposed, but it appeared to him that the remedies, as they were called, would lead to nothing but ruin and degradation. He regretted that he had been prevented by illness from attending the discussion of a motion of an hon. gentleman (Mr. Wyvill). That motion went to embrace a great and general reduction of taxation; and the speech with which it was introduced suggested the propriety of taking off 20 millions of taxes, in order to relieve agriculture. Now, he did not think, if it were the intention to ruin agriculture, that there could be a better expedient proposed. The effect of taking off 20 millions or 15 millions of taxes would necessarily be a diminution of the expenses of the country. But how could the public expenses be diminished? No man would be so absurd as to say that the navy and the army could be prevented from receiving their pay. What then was to follow? He thought it would not be uncharitable to say, that the meaning of the hon. member was, to reduce the interest of the stockholder. What would be the effect of that measure? The first consequence would be, to reduce the dividend of the fundholder one half—an act of injustice in itself, and one which would excite great alarm, particularly amongst foreigners who had large sums in the English funds. If the dividends were to be reduced one-half, or at all, foreigners of course would hasten to sell out, and invest their money in their own country. But it was not foreigners alone that would do so. Englishmen would be ready to follow their example; indeed, at the present moment, there existed a strong disposition upon the part of Englishmen, to invest their property in foreign funds; and it was clear, that if the dividends were reduced by one half, that disposition would greatly increase. The consequence would be, that exchange would fall in this country, as it did in France in 1792 and 1793. The consequence of that fall would be, a great and immediate demand for bullion, and if that demand continued to be made, the Bank would cease to pay in bullion in the course of one month. The greater part of the property of the Bank was in the hands of the government. But if the scheme was once adopted that the public creditor should be deprived of his dividend, the question would soon 527 arise whether the Bank had a better right to be paid than any other of the public creditors? In that state of things, it would be certain that the notes of the Bank would not, and ought not, to pass. The private banks would next close their doors. Independent of their connexion with the Bank of England, the private bankers were themselves fundholders; their property depended upon the state of public credit; and if that were interfered with, the town and country banks would not stand long. A scarcity of money would necessarily follow. If there was any principle more than another which that House had contended for, it was this—that a scarcity of money produced low prices. If prices were to fall still more, the land would do little more than support its paupers and the cultivator. He lamented that he could not attend in his place at the discussion of the motion, and he regretted that he did not see the hon. gentleman who proposed it in his place. He respected that hon. gentleman—he respected him the more highly, because he was the son of a man whose name was dear to the liberties of his country. He was aware that the hon. and learned member for Winchelsea, and his right hon. friend (Mr. Tierney) voted for the motion. For both of them he had the highest respect. They acted from conviction, no doubt; but still he regretted their vote, because that vote was likely to be remembered when the qualifications which they attached to it were forgotten. He knew it would be said, that he belonged to what was called the monied interest, and that he did not feel for the agriculturist. With respect to the monied interest, he was not aware of any act of cruelty or insensibility ever committed by them. He would be glad to repeal taxes as much as with safety could be repealed. He would wish to oppose the salt tax, because he looked upon it as injurious and oppressive. Various other taxes ought to be repealed, and for the repeal of every tax he would cheerfully vote, save that general sweep of repeal which would lead, not to retrenchment, but to infamy and ruin. It would take twenty years to settle the country after such an alteration in its system as must be produced by a remission of taxes to the amount of 20,000,000l. They might look at France as an example in point. And therefore, his objection to the motion of the hon. member for York was, that such 528 a remission would not give immediate relief, but would produce immediate ruin. He did not say, that the country would not right itself at last; but then other sentiments rushed upon his mind, other feelings struggled in his breast, on which, perhaps, he had better be silent, for he feared that he could not do them justice. Was there no such thing as national honor? Was there no such thing as national faith? Was there no such thing as moral strength? [Hear.] Could they who had the good fortune to inhabit this happy island, contemplate with patience the abandonment of all moral principle? It had often occurred to him, when he reflected on his own country, that it had done more for mankind than all the rest of Europe. It had advanced the cause of science—it had advanced the cause of humanity; it had uniformly supported the cause of civil liberty; and, above all, that which was its highest honour and proudest recommendation, it had upheld the cause of religious toleration, which now extended its goodly branches over all Europe. It might be said, that though toleration reigned here, yet bigotry remained in various quarters. It might be so; but the principle of toleration was at work, and the day was not far distant, when its holy influence would be felt all over the world. Who would degrade such a country as this? For his own part, he contemplated national dishonour, national perfidy, and national robbery, with horror—with more than horror, if he had a word to express such a feeling; and he hoped that death would close his eyes for ever, before he witnessed the degradation of his country—he hoped he should be spared the misery of contemplating the infamy of his native land [Hear, hear.] The sentiments which were contained in various petitions, and which had been delivered in that House, implied a belief that an immense reduction of taxes would serve the agricultural interest. His view was, to show that this was a mistaken idea; and that, on the contrary, such a remission would ruin the agricultural interest, and reduce all society to one common mass of shapeless ruin. If it was true, that the non-payment of the dividends would have the disastrous effects which he had pointed out, he would ask the House and the country to mark the deep and commanding obligation by which they were bound to avert such evils. He could entertain no doubt, however, that 529 a considerable sum of money might yet be saved to the country without any material inconvenience to the government. Much might be saved in the colonies—in the expenses of the Cape of Good Hope, for instance; in the naval and military establishments; and in different other departments. If he were told that such reductions would weaken the influence of the Crown, he must deny the assertion. It was idle, in the present state of intellect in this country, to advance such an argument. Neither the Crown nor the government need fear any want of influence, if wise measures were adopted; and he would say, what he had before observed, and what he now repeated on mature reflection, that if the gentlemen opposite were true to their, own interest, they would create more influence by adopting principles of rigid economy, than they could by any other means. He should trespass no farther on their time, but to observe, that the moment they violated public credit, that moment misery and discord would overwhelm the country, and the sun of England would be set for ever [Hear, hear.]
Mr. D. Browne
expressed his conviction that the resolutions would neither benefit the agricultural interest, nor satisfy the country.
Sir W. W. Wynn
deprecated any breach of faith of faith with the public creditor. He approved of the resolutions, because they formed a medium between those which proposed a very low, and those which called for a very high protection. He could, however, have wished, that the protecting duty had been higher.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he would not answer the argument which his hon. friend (Mr. J. Smith) had adduced to shew that a national bankruptcy would be mischievous, but he thought it highly unfair that it should be insinuated, that all persons who voted for a reduction of taxes contemplated a national bankruptcy. He had not voted for the resolution of the hon. member for York, not because he disapproved of it (on the contrary he should support it whenever it might be again brought forward), but because it tended to interrupt an adjourned debate.
§ Mr. Chaloner
said, his hon. friend and colleague did not state 20,000,000l. to be the measure of taxation which he proposed to be reduced, but that it was the amount short of which he conceived no very ma- 530 terial relief could be afforded to the country.
said, he had not heard the whole of he speech of the hon. member for York, when he made his motion. He did, however, hear something said about 20,000,000l. as an abatement of taxation, which was cheered, and immediately after the motion for a reduction of taxes was proposed. He could not, in consequence, abstain from stating his disapproval of such an abatement of taxation, which must either have the effect of cheating the public creditor or of depreciating the currency; but, when he found that the motion only pledged the House to a reduction of taxation, without stating any specific amount, he voted for it. The hon. member for Essex had again made a reference to the calculations of Mr. Solly, which had already been perfectly explained by the hon. member for Portarlington. The hon. member for Essex objected to the period when those calculations were made; but he should have recollected, that those calculations came down to 1820–1, when the metallic currency had been restored; and what calculation could he wish to have except one founded on that currency? To take the present price of grain on the continent was a deviation from the ordinary course of things. On referring to the evidence contained in the report of last year, it would be found, that the average price of wheat at Daritzic, for 30 years ending 1819; was 53s.The hon. member for Corfe-castle was of opinion, that averages should be taken on shorter periods. He (Mr. P.) had done so; and he found that the average price of Dantzic wheat on board for 5 years from 1796 to 1800, was 53s. 8d.,and for 5 years from 1816 to 1820, the average price of Dantzic wheat on board was 67s. 7d. So that even the averages of these short periods showed, that unless they had monstrous high duties on importation, foreign wheat must find its way to this country. He was unfriendly to any system which created a fluctuation of price, and he believed there were no persons to whom steady prices were of so much importance as the landed interest. When the agriculturist possessed high prices and high rents, his habits and arrangements were formed on that high scale; and when low prices and low rents occurred, then came distress, and misery, and applications to that House. He thought it unwise to adopt a system of 531 high import duties. He believed it to be absolutely impossible to keep up high prices; but he was sure that much mischief would be done by legislating on the subject. Great complaints had been made by the landed interest in that House, that they had not attended sufficiently to their own advantage. They complained of the corn law which occasioned great fluctuations. It certainly was the worst measure which could possibly be adopted; but it was their own measure, and they had no right to come forward and say that they had neglected their own interest while they took care of those of the manufacturer and the merchant. Those who imagined that the present distress arose from the resumption of cash payments, suffered under a great delusion. When France resumed cash payments had that measure the effect which was attributed to the resumption of cash payments in England? In France the metallic currency had been driven out by the assignats, and the resumption of a metallic currency had had a greater effect than in this country, because the quantity of currency was there less than in England, from the limited nature of her commerce. Yet in France the resumption had produced no effect on prices. It had been alleged, that importations of corn from Ireland had increased the distress of this country: but Ireland had in return received our manufactures, and thus both countries had been benefited. If corn were not allowed to be imported from Ireland, and prices should be raised to double their amount in other countries, could they be maintained in that state? Manufactured goods would rise, and commerce would be obstructed; for our manufacturers could not compete with the manufacturers of other countries. The poor-rates would increase; wages would get lower; and what would then become of agriculture? The situation of the country at present was far superior to what it would be if agricultural produce were raised high while they were low in other countries.—He wished to take that opportunity of correcting some mistakes which prevailed respecting the state of the manufacturing interests. The fact was, that the manufacturing interests were only recovering from a depression, similar to that under which agriculture now suffered. The manufacturers had been every day seeing their capital diminished. They had now prospect of recovering; but it was not 532 be denied that their profits were extremely low. By low wages only—which again could only be borne out by extremely low prices—could the manufacturers go on. He wished also to advert to another mistake. It had been attempted to calculate the prosperity of manufacturers by their annual exports. This was not at all a test by which to judge of their situation. The manufacturer himself often did not know the result of his own trade during the year. His exports were made, not in consequence of foreign orders, but according to his own judgment and at his own risk. He sent agents abroad; if he had the good fortune to send goods to a market where the supply was deficient, his agent often wrote in return—"I have made an advantageous sale, but I do not know what the proceeds may be; if I take bills, the course of exchange will destroy all the profits; and if I take the manufactures of this country, they are so high that you will lose by them." Thus, perhaps, the manufacturer lost money, after his hopes had been raised of making considerable gain. If, then, the manufacturer, whose whole study was to adapt the supply to the demand, and who was not dependent upon the seasons, often lost, notwithstanding all his experience and sagacity, was there not a much greater probability that grain could not be adapted to the demand so accurately as to protect the agriculturist from loss at all times? They might shut out importations of grain, but they would only on that account be more exposed to the evils of fluctuation. He wished to get rid of the system of averages, and therefore the only set of resolutions he could approve of, were those of his hon. friend, the member for Portarlington. Far from agreeing with his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham), and the noble member for Northampton, that the effect of indirect taxation was greater on agriculture than on manufacture, he thought that if they traced the progress of a manufacture from the raw material, they would find it more burthened with taxes than an agricultural product. He concluded by hoping that his hon. friend (Mr. Ricardo) would bring forward his resolutions year after year; convinced that time would prove the correctness of his positions. The more his hon. friend was known, the more he would be respected; and the more universally recognized, by all who had sense or candour, as one of the most 533 original and wisest writers, and one of the soundest thinkers on the subject of political economy.
§ Mr. Sykes
contended, that the proposition for the reduction of taxation was so obviously a remedy, and the only remedy for the great distress which was now felt, that he was surprised that there could be any difference of opinion upon the subject. No proposition could be more clear to his mind. His hon. friend (Mr. J. Smith) had been conjuring up a chimera, and then destroying his own creation. No one in that House had said, that national credit was not to be maintained. The reduction of taxation was the best ground on which national faith could be fixed. He had not voted on any one of the resolutions brought forward, because he had not been able to bring his mind to agree with any one of them. It was, in his opinion, the change in the currency which had caused the distress. He agreed in the main with the hon. member for Callington, (Mr. Attwood.) If they succeeded in raising corn to a high price it would be by oppressing other classes; and they would throw a burthen on the manufacturing interests which they could not bear.
§ Mr. Ricardo,
in explanation of the allusion which had been made to his statement of the average prices of foreign corn, by the hon. member for Essex, begged the House would bear in mind, that there were two authorities on that subject that were quoted from, who differed much in their items. The calculations of Mr. Solly were made in conformance with the variations of our paper currency, and were, therefore, always higher than those of Mr. Grade, who made his calculations upon a fixed exchange. He had built his argument on the latter, and it would be found that whilst he was quoting from one paper, the hon. gentlemen was quoting from another, and thus the misunderstanding arose. He therefore hoped he should be acquitted of any intention to mislead.
said, he rose in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. member for Wootton Basset on the subject of the prices of foreign grain, and from other hon. members on the same subject, in the course of the debate. The present measure rested for its details, altogether on the information they possessed respecting those prices. They took the price of grain in foreign markets, 534 according to what they believed it to be. They added the cost of transmission here, and to this they added their duty; in order to form the amount of protection, they were willing, and proposed to, give to British agriculture. All this rested, therefore, on the accuracy of the information they possessed, respecting prices in foreign markets: and on that head, there was no information whatever before the House, on which it could safely act; none that was not defective or fallacious; and they were proceeding to regulate the most important interests of the empire, the interests of that vast body of petitioners before them, upon information which no man would be satisfied to act upon in the conduct of his own affairs. The noble marquis who had proposed the protecting prices now under consideration, had stated, that with respect to the prices of grain in the Baltic ports, they were not to take the prices of the present time, which were low; but that they were to ground their calculations, on what had been the average prices of the last 20 or 25 years. Undoubtedly they must take an average price, and not the price of any particular time or year; but then, so far from its being the average of the last 20 or 25 years which they ought to found their calculations upon, it was an average out of which that 20 or 25 years ought to be entirely struck. That was a period when the high prices of this country, by whatever cause occasioned; whether by the alterations in their currency as he contended; or by bad land, and bad corn laws, as the hon. member for Portarlington would contend—from whatever cause those prices had arisen, they had, during their existence, during the last 20 or 25 years, materially deranged the prices of all those foreign markets, with which this country was connected, and from whence it had drawn supplies. The price of the Baltic ports was, in fact, no other than the price of Mark-lane, whenever importation was free. The price of Mark-lane was known to the Baltic merchant; and he knew also, the cost of transmission, and that his grain was worth the Mark-lane price, deducting that cost. But were they to consider, that because a high price had existed in the Baltic, occasioned by a high price here; that the Baltic prices were to continue high when their own had fallen? That because they had paid high prices for the Baltic grain for the last 20 or 25 years; that therefore at a 535 low price this grain would not be delivered here? It would be just as reasonable to take the average price at which for the last 20 or 25 years the corn of Yorkshire had been sold in the London market; and conclude that if for the next 20 or 25 years the London prices should fall below that average, no corn would arrive from Yorkshire in that market. He submitted that one conclusion would be just as reasonable as the other. In the tables which had been laid before the House, for its information respecting foreign prices; even the difference in the exchanges had been lost sight of, as giving a different estimate for corn when marked in money of, a low, from that which would be given, when marked in money of a high value No allowance had been made for the essential difference, which a corrected estimate of the exchange would have made in those tables. That important distinction had been entirely overlooked; and he confessed that when that error had been recently explained to the House, by his hon. friend the member for Essex, he had witnessed with some surprise, the confident contradiction which the hon. member for Portarlington had given to his hon. friend's statement; because he then believed he recollected, what he had since found on reference to be the case, that the hon. member himself had, in a very detailed statement of foreign prices which he had delivered to the committee of 1821, fallen into that very error which when the member for Essex pointed it out, he did not believe could have existed. And the consequence of that erroneous method of computation was, a difference no less than this, that when the House referred to the hon. member's table; for a price marked of 21s. 6d. they ought to read 14s. and for a price of 26s.,—16s.; and a difference of a similar kind ran through the whole table. The present prices in the Baltic, he believed, were 33s. at Dantzic, and 25s. at St. Petersburgh; the freight to London was, perhaps, double, or little more than double, of that from Yorkshire; and at prices somewhat similar to those, he had little doubt, but, in common years, all the surplus corn the Baltic could produce, would be sent to this country if they would receive it, and the English markets should admit of no higher price being given.
There was one great corn country also, France, that had been nearly as much overlooked on this subject, as though it 536 had no existence—although it was most probable, if not altogether certain, that whenever importation should again take place; from France their main supplies of grain would arrive. Many districts of that country, produced in all ordinary years, a great disposeable surplus. Corn was grown very cheaply there, with few taxes; that country was close to their own shores; the carriage of corn from thence to Mark-lane, would be little more than the carriage from Essex; and the only information the House had before it, as to the price of grain in France, was to be collected from the evidence of Mr. Jacob, who had incidentally mentioned, that in one particular market the price of which he had noted: he found wheat at about 3s. a bushel. Did not this circumstance indicate a necessity for further and for accurate information respecting prices in France; when they were determining what duty would, or would not be, a protection here against corn of a foreign growth? The prices of France, it was important also for them to look to in another view. The steadiness which he believed it would be found, that those prices had maintained, was calculated very strongly to elucidate the causes of those extraordinary fluctuations which had taken place at the same time in this country, and had been attended with consequences so important. There was no objection to taking the average of the last 20 or 25 years, for the prices of France: those prices had not been affected during that time, either by any derangement in their own currency, or of the markets of this country. They had preserved, therefore, a steady uniformity, the present prices were those of a century and a half back. They were those, also, of the late war: Mr. Malthus had found that the price there, in 1814, was 36s. 8d. a quarter; and, that that was then considered as a high price. In some districts, riots had then taken place on that account, and corn did not appear, on an average, to have been higher during the ten preceding years: the period when corn attained its highest prices here. The present prices of France, were not materially lower than those thus cited in 1814. The price given by Mr. Jacob, it would be found, was not to be taken as the average of the kingdom, it was the price of a particular town; and corn, from a variety of causes, varied in price in different districts in France, much more than in this country, The state of the corn laws in 537 France confirmed this information respecting its price. In November last, the free importation of grain into France, was restrained for the first time since the war. It was, as the king of France told the Chambers, in consequence of the effects of an abundant harvest. That is, the manner in which he described the agricultural distress, which they were told existed in France. The average price for the whole of France at that time, as appeared by accounts published by the French government, was equal to 34s. 2d. a quarter, of English money. By a law which had been passed in 1814 the exportation of wheat was prohibited when the price rose to about 48s. These two prices might, therefore, perhaps, be taken, as the extremes of prices in France, for the average of the kingdom: with a price of 48s., it was to be concluded, that the landowners were desirous of no farther rise; at 34s. the consumers were satisfied; they desired no lower price. The law made in 1814, prohibiting exportation when the price exceeded 48s., corresponded with a similar law made fifty years before, in 1764; which fixed the same price of 48s., as the price when exportation should cease; and this exhibited strong evidence, that the average prices of those two periods had not been materially different from one another; and the tables exhibited the same results. From an examination of those prices, then, it was manifest, that those statements which had been made in parliament, of a condition of agricultural distress, existing in France, similar to that experienced here, were without foundation in fact. Such information ought not to have been given to parliament; nor such statements hazarded, on so important a subject, at random, and without due inquiry. They misled the country as to its own condition, and its causes. Slight, partial, and temporary fluctuations in prices, were all that had been experienced in France—varying from year to year with the state of crops. There had been no such fall of prices there, as had taken place here, and could not have been, for there had been no such previous rise.
When the agricultural committee now sitting, was appointed, it was stated by the noble marquis who moved it, that one object of the labours of the committee, would be, to investigate this important subject of foreign prices; to obtain accurate information upon it; and 538 upon the condition of foreign agriculture. It was to be regretted, that that suggestion had not been acted upon: the committee could not have been more importantly employed; nor could the House have been put in possession of information more necessary; whether for the purpose of guiding them in regulating their own corn laws, or of assisting their inquiries into the cause and origin of the condition of agriculture in this country. The committee of 1821 had performed this duty most inefficiently. They had examined, on this head, a few merchants respecting the prices of a few sea-port towns; connected with their own markets, influenced by those markets, deranged by them; and on that evidence had not hesitated to report to the House, that as great a fall in agricultural produce had taken place throughout the continent generally, as in this country. Statements of that kind on insufficient evidence, conveying erroneous information, were most mischievous. They misled the government, the House, and the country, upon the most important subject on which they could be occupied; the causes which had occasioned their own difficulties. For if those difficulties were common to this country with the world at large; then it was to be believed that they had their, origin in some general cause, over which this country had no particular control;—but if, on the contrary, the distress experienced here was peculiar to this country; if it was not generally felt, its cause, was then to be looked for in their own internal measures. Nothing could have been obtained more readily, than correct information on this important subject: their foreign ministers and consuls could have transmitted to the committee, with great facility, tables, shewing the prices, and fluctuations which had taken place in grain of late years, in the different countries where they resided; and the present condition of agriculture there. Such information was extremely necessary, the want of it involved them in much error and inconsistency. The noble marquis himself, in discussing the question of the distress of their own agriculture, at the commencement of the present session, had stated, that great as that distress was, it was exceeded, by the difficulties experienced, at the same time, by the cultivators of the soil in all other countries; and he had confirmed that information by a letter which he read to the House from 539 one of their foreign ministers, who described, that in that particular country, where he was stationed, or in a district of it; in Silesia, so great was the destructive superabundance of agricultural produce, that the crops of corn were left to perish in the fields. But it then appeared that this document did insufficiently support the most important statement the noble marquis had been led to make upon it; for he had not stated that government had received similar information from other ministers in other countries, or from their foreign ministers generally; and the probable conclusion, therefore, was, that no such statement had been received; no such distress elsewhere observed; and that the letter from Silesia, described merely a local distress, occasioned by some peculiar circumstance, and that consequently no general opinion could be justly formed from it. And indeed on a subsequent occasion, when the noble marquis had occasion to read the letter of another minister or consul, in which agricultural prices were incidentally mentioned, it then appeared that in one part of the world at least, there was no superabundance of corn, or agricultural distress; for it was on the ground of the high price of agricultural produce in that country—the high price of the quartern loaf, for which the consul said, he had to pay no less than two shillings and eleven pence—that he demanded, and apparently with very good reason, an increase to his fees or salary. Now he must confess, it had appeared to him, that this high price of agricultural produce thus evinced; for it was nearly double what had been the highest price in this country; that this high price had appeared to him quite as extraordinary and important as the harvests perishing on the ground in Silesia; and he had been induced to make some inquiry into its circumstances; and as he could not but esteem that in the present condition of the country, every thing tending to explain the causes of the high or low prices of agricultural produce, in whatever country, was of importance; he would repeat the information given him to the House. It was in the Brazils that this high price of corn was noticed. The Portuguese court had established in 1808, its royal residence, as be need not repeat, in the Brazils. They found existing there, an establishment which issued paper-money, called the Brazil Bank, which became decorated with a new title, and be- 540 came the Royal Bank of the Brazils. With this establishment the Court found it convenient to become very largely in debt; and that that operation would be greatly facilitated if the court should impose an injunction on the bankers, to refuse payment of their notes to those who held them if presented for payment; and these notes thus issued, and being incapable of returning to the issuers, of course circulated about, wherever they could find customers, and wherever property was to be purchased. This state of things had not been long established, before a great rise in the monied price of all property followed; the quartern loaf advanced, as their consul had observed—the exchange fell—the mill-rea, which had before exchanged for 96 British pence, would exchange only for 45.—Gold advanced; it rose greatly above the mint price. All agricultural produce greatly rose;—there was, in short, in all things one general advance. Now, he submitted this state of things to the consideration of the political economists; of those whose attention had been directed to the causes of the rise first, and then of the fall in agricultural produce here;—if he permitted him, to the hon. member for Portarlington;—and if that hon. member should ask if there existed any corn laws in that country?—if there was any had land—or changing that ground, on the suggestion of the hon. member for Bridgenorth—if there was any good land?—That, he confessed he could not answer—his information did not extend to it.—But he would confidently submit a farther problem—that if that government should become so wise and politic as to see no other evil in all this but that of a high price of gold, and a low course of exchange—if they should become seized with the ambition of preserving public faith by one general confiscation and robbery—of atoning for fraud committed on one body of men by committing still greater fraud on another—if amidst the dangers, with which they were surrounded, they should fix their attention on nothing but the restoration of an old metal standard—and in pursuit of that wretched object should proceed to repay their debt to the Bank, to return the notes borrowed, to take away the injunction upon it—if they took that step without a full inquiry and a knowledge of its importance—if it were not accompanied with measures of important precaution and arrangement— 541 with provisions for adjusting public and private engagements to the alteration they were engaged in—or if, failing to adopt measures of such complicated precaution and extensive foresight; they did not alter the value of the metal money in which the Bank paper was to be paid; if they did not make the mill-reas and little joes which were the coin of that country somewhat less than they are—then would there be seen in that country an excessive supply of all commodities in all markets—an overproduction of all the productions of the earth—no adequate market, no adequate demand—the farmers there, if they had leases would be, to a man, ruined—the landlords if there were taxes and debts would be in a situation little better, and one general scene of derangement, confusion and ruin, would ensue [Hear, hear!]. These would be the certain consequences. There were others that might be more doubtful. He should not be surprised under such circumstances, to see the people, in ignorance as to the cause of such calamities, mistake the accidental error of their new government, for its essential character—if that weak government were, under such circumstances, shaken from the shoulders of that rising people, as an intolerable burthen—unless, indeed, there existed there a body of country gentlemen so patient as to permit their burthens and engagements to be thus increased—their tenantry to be ruined that it was their duty to protect—their own fortunes to be sacrificed; their station in society subverted, and the prospects of their families destroyed, by a miserable operation such as this [Hear, hear!]. But a body like that indeed—as it supported, under all circumstances, in one country the measures of an administration, might save a government in another. But, however this might be, he (Mr. Attwood) hoped that this consul of theirs who had so readily discovered a ground for the increase of his fees and emoluments, would be equally prompt—whenever this alteration again took place—to propose himself—a reduction of those emoluments to the old scale; and that he would not dream of making a miserable juggle like this the ground of a permanent encroachment on the resources of this generous and credulous, but distressed and abused country [Hear, hear!].
But, to return to the present corn law before them. There was one part of that bill—that which went to permit that fo- 542 reign wheat at present bonded, should be admitted to home consumption when the average price rose to 70s.—on the payment of a duty—instead of being, as at present, admitted at 80s. with no duty,—for which he had heard no one reason given, and was altogether at a loss to know on what grounds it could he justified. It could not, by any perversion, be said to be other than an injury to the British farmer; that alteration at least was to him a measure of unbalanced evil. It was not to the advantage of the proprietor of the corn; it exposed him to a duty, and took away the only prospect of even speculative advantage which his situation gave him. What, then, was the object of this? It was an injury to the farmer. It was no benefit to the importer. But it might give a little duty to the Exchequer. The agricultural community appeared before them in expectation of relief under unexampled distress. The House could afford them none—but it could not be content to dismiss even those petitioners without an attempt, though they could not relieve them, to levy a miserable duty on their misfortunes, and to scramble a little money into the Exchequer—by whatever means—whatever interest was to suffer from it—that Exchequer which they were told was so full and abundant in the midst of the poverty that surrounded it—which the right hon. secretary opposite had told them, with his characteristic candour, so greatly flourished in spite of his bill; or in consequence of it, for he did not collect which—a prosperous Exchequer, and a ruined country—an Exchequer flourishing amidst the ruin of those from whose resources it was drawn—that was a state of things which the right hon. secretary might look on with satisfaction, though he did not. He could look with satisfaction on no revere which was not commensurate with the resources of the people, nor could he see any thing which in his mind was more ominous than a taxation increasing with the public distress [Hear, hear!].
It was necessary also for the House to take into its view, before they adopted these new rates for the importation of corn, all those considerations that arose out of the uncertain condition in which their currency at present stood. If the old standard now attempted to be established should be again abandoned; as no man could venture to affirm with confidence its permanence; then in the rise of prices that would follow its abandonment, the 543 rates now proposed would be altogether inapplicable, and would afford no protection against foreign corn. On the other hand if that disastrous attempt should be persisted in; if it should prove capable of being finally carried into effect, and the old standard be again established as the measure of value and price—then was this country on the eve, or in the midst of a great internal change; operating on all its important interests, agricultural, commercial, and above all, perhaps, political. In circumstances like those he deprecated all measures of needless, officious, half-informed and partial legislation. The present standard would not be finally established; the changes now in process would hardly be complete, without the entire destruction of that vast and important body by whose capital their soil was cultivated; of a great portion of those to whom as property it belongs. Under circumstances like these, he again repeated, that he deprecated all needless, officious, partial legislation. As far as the importation of foreign corn could affect them, the agricultural community was at present secure from that danger; they were safe from that danger beneath the shelter of the present corn laws. There he conjured the House, that it would permit them to remain. If they could not relieve their distress, let them avoid aggravating their calamities; nor forfeit, if it were possible, their confidence; nor above all provoke their resentment; nor urge the violence of a storm, which they would find it much easier to excite, than to control or allay. They had been told that this change in the value of their currency was now completed, that the measure was at an end; its operation finished. Would you derange again, it was asked, a system now established, a change now complete? Complete was it said? It was at that moment in the midst of its operation. There was not a day, nor an hour, in which that most iniquitous measure was not now working wrong, and injustice, and fraud, and disguised robbery in every part of the empire to its furthest extent, and in its remotest districts. [Hear, hear!]. Could the House forget the statements which were nightly made to it, the petitions presented? Let them consider the statement made to them two nights since by the hon. member for Sussex, of the condition of that district in which were two whole parishes, in process of utter, and necessary, and inevitable abandonment of la- 544 bourer, and occupier, and landlord; necessarily and entirely to be abandoned in consequence of a contract for tithes—of a contract made as the hon. member, expressed it, in the reign of the paper money—a contract made in money of one species, to be executed in money of another. Each acre as it became abandoned increasing the burthen on the others, and the whole at this moment in course of rapid desertion. Those parishes were but a picture of the country at large. The manner—the degree—was different—the operation was similar. Let them consider what representation the hon. member for Essex had made to them, with an earnestness befitting its importance, of two-thirds of the whole tenantry of that great county in a condition of insolvency—that is, in a condition of beggary—not possessed of a shilling; all their capital confiscated; the produce of lives of labour, the provision for children, for age, every thing that renders property valuable, confiscated; not capable of discharging their debts, if present prices continued. What condition of a country was this? In which the peaceful cultivators of the soil, were thus given over to one common destruction; in a mass, and to a man—and by measures of that government, which exists for their protection, and advantage, and security. And were they to be told that those measures were not to be disturbed, that they were sacred, that they were complete? They were but in part began. He would tell them of one great operation, necessarily connected with those measures, necessarily arising out of them, demanded in necessity and justice: by those measures which had not even commenced. That was, the reduction of salaries; that was, the reduction of pensions; that was, the reduction of every description of pay, and pension, and salary of all the servants of the Crown, in all the departments of the state [Hear, hear!]. What? those that had urged forward these measures—the authors—were they to profit by them? Were they to make them a means of profit and advantage to themselves? That would be to clothe these measures with all that odious and reproachful character, with which alterations in the monied standard have been on other occasions stigmatized. These measures were adopted, they were told, to support public faith, and the national character. Was it in this way that public faith was to be supported and the national 545 character upheld? Was not a rise effected in the value of money to what ever extent, an advance exactly equal to it on all the salaries and pensions held under the Crown? Indirect, indeed, concealed, but not the less effectual in its profit to the holders, or in its burthens to the country. It was an advance obscurely effected, its nature and operation was only slowly seen or understood by those even, perhaps, who profited by it; but it must of necessity become at length evident; it must be at length acknowledged: and whenever that acknowledgment was made on the bench opposite; whenever that advance was admitted—to whatever extent admitted—it must be of necessity, at the same moment, proposed by his majesty's government themselves; to reduce at once pensions and salaries to the extent they would be thus acknowledged to have been raised. If they should fail to accompany that acknowledgment, whenever made, with that proposition for reductions—then whilst they had been calling on the House, and the country to submit to sacrifices in support of public faith and the national character, they would themselves have affixed disgrace on both—they will have imprinted on the character of the country—by measures adopted on the plea of upholding it—as vile a reproach as any that the pages of its history present. On these grounds, therefore, he should give his vote against the further progress of the bill before them.—The hon. gentleman sat down amidst loud cries of Hear, hear!
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, he would not follow the hon. member through a great part of the arguments which he had used, many of which did not apply immediately to the question. But he must protest against the endeavour of the hon. gentleman to suspend the operations of the legislature, and to adjourn the business of the country, until he could bring about a change in the standard of the currency. Whether the hon. member fixed upon corn, gold, or any other settled unit as the sign of value, it was difficult to form an idea of his standard by which all contracts were to be adjusted. The. declamation which he had mixed up with his political economy, respecting the in-crease of salaries by the change in the currency, was unwarranted by the state of the fact. When he called upon ministers to reduce their incomes on account of the restoration Of cash payments, 546 only imitated the hon. gentlemen who cheered him on the side of the House on which he sat, who excited passion when they could not produce conviction. They knew that the emoluments of offices and pensions had been reduced by the depreciation, and that, so far from being increased by the late act, they had only been restored to their former amount. They knew that the Irish pension list had been reduced one-half, and the Scotch very considerably. He would again protest against the suspension of all public business, and the delay in bringing up this report, until the hon. gentleman had settled the standard of currency, and reduced to his own scale the salaries of public officers. The noble marquis, after some further preliminary observations, entered on the question of the corn laws, and discussed the objections made to the resolutions by the hon. member for Essex, Whose knowledge, intelligence, and sound judgment, as applied to the interests Of the agricultural body, he highly praised. He denied that in passing the resolutions fixing an import duty they were legislating in the dark. The committee had had before it the prices of corn in most parts of the continent transmitted by our consuls. These prices varied from place to place and time to time; but they afforded the means of deciding what amount of duties would yield protection to the British grower. The mistake those who opposed the resolutions before the House, on the ground of their including an insufficient amount of duty, was, that they took the continental prices at the present state of the market, when there was no demand, and when, of course, prices were ruinously low. Adding, then, the duty and the freight to these prices, they found that importation could take place at so low a rate as to enable foreign corn to obtain an advantage over that of our own growth in the British market. But this was not the way of viewing the matter. The continental prices of former times were to be considered, and then 17s. of duty, and 10s. for freight, insurance, and profit, added to the original cost of the article, would raise the price of foreign grain sufficiently to afford protection to the British farmer. It was a mistake to suppose that the House was now called upon to legislate finally on this subject. Parliament could never preclude itself from revising its own arrangements on a question of this kind. The proposed 547 duty might be found too high in more settled times. It was, however, a great improvement on the existing law, as it would prevent the great inconveniences to be apprehended from the opening of the ports at 80s. At the same time, the change was breaking no faith with the farmer, as the legislature had never promised him 80s. for his wheat. When the import price of 80s. was fixed, it was said by the friends of the measure, that corn would seldom reach that amount, but that the abundance, which would be the consequence of a secure home market, would reduce prices much below it, while its enemies contended, that its object was, to increase the price. It would be recollected, that the ports were not to open till the price reached 80s., and the 70s. then fixed upon was equivalent from the change in the currency to the former 80s. The hon. member for Essex had given notice of a motion for making an important alteration in the currency. What the hon. member's standard was, or what he meant to substitute for the existing currency, he did not pretend to conjecture; but he could not omit that opportunity of adverting to the manner in which the hon. member for Midhurst (Mr. J. Smith) had expressed himself with regard to the public credit. Such a speech from such an authority could not fail to produce a deep impression in that House; and he was satisfied, that nothing but a painful sense of public duty could have induced that hon. member to read such a moral as well as political lecture to his friends around him, for supporting a motion fraught with such alarm as that for abolishing 20,000,000l. of taxes, and thereby breaking faith with the public creditor, and endangering the institutions of the country He would ever contend, that the mode in which that motion had been brought forward and supported, had struck a severe blow at public credit; but, severe as it had been, the effects of it had been counteracted to a considerable degree, by the valuable speech of the hon. member for Midhurst that evening.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that the words of his hon. friend's motion were, that relief was only to be expected from "a large remission of taxation." Now, in that resolution he fully concurred, as did every man in the country, except perhaps the noble marquis. In 1817, the taxation of the country amounted to 60,000,000l.; in 1818, to 61,000,000l.; in 1819, to 548 60;500,000l.; in 1820, it amounted to 61,634,000l.; and in 1821 it reached 62,463,000l. Now, how was it possible for agricultural produce to obtain a remunerative price in the market, if the farmer was to be called on every year to pay such an increased proportion of taxes? With these facts before them, would the landed interest allow themselves to be robbed any longer? The resolutions of his hon. friend the member for Portarlington, were those to which he thought the House must hereafter come; but those of the noble marquis he was of opinion would improve on the present law, and so far they had his support.
Mr. Secretary Peel
was surprised, that the hon. member for Callington (Mr. Attwood) should have entered on the present evening into a discussion, on, the state of the currency, when he knew that the hon. member for Essex had given notice of a motion which would bring that subject fairly before the consideration of the House. As the hon. member had made several pointed allusions to him (Mr. Peel), he could not allow the present opportunity to pass without making some observations upon them. And here he must be permitted to express his surprise at the applause with which a part of the hon. member's speech had been received by gentlemen on the other side. When he heard the bill which he had had the honour of introducing in 1819, called an iniquitous measure, and found that appellation of it cheered by many gentlemen who had at that time supported it—when he recollected that the concluding resolution of Mr. Horner in 1811 contained the principle on which that individual stated that the currency ought to be conducted, and that that principle was, that within two years the Bank should return to cash payments—when he remembered that strong fact, and contrasted it with the cheers which had burst from hon. members when the act of 1819 was stigmatized as an iniquitous bill, he could not sufficiently express the surprise which he felt, or prevail upon himself to submit to such an epithet in silence. He would here take the liberty of asking, whether the principle on which that bill was founded did not receive the support of the other side in 1816? The House must recollect well that it did receive the approbation of hon. gentlemen opposite; and that circus stance made their cheers of this evening more extraordinary than they otherwise 549 would have been. If there was any man whose conduct he was more surprised at than another, it was the hon. member for Coventry. That hon. member had moved resolutions to amend those which he had proposed to the House. His (Mr. P's.) resolution was a resolution to compel the Bank to pay in specie in May, 1823. The resolution proposed by the hon. member for Coventry was a resolution that the Bank should pay in cash in May, 1822. The hon. member might perhaps say, that he had also moved some previous resolutions He admitted that this was true. The hon. member had certainly made borne proposition relative to the re-payment of certain issues to the Bank. But the hon. member said, that on leaving the House upon that occasion, he had whispered into the ear of the hon. member for Salisbury, that no return was to be made to cash payments, whilst the price of gold was 5l. 10s. What the hon. member whispered into the ear of the hon. member for Salisbury, he could not tell: he knew, however, what was the resolution the hon. member had recorded, and against his alleged whisper he would place in opposition his recorded recorded resolution.—He would now return to the hon. member for Calling ton, who had endeavoured to overwhelm him with his sarcasm. But as he was to share that sarcasm with his hon. friend the member for Portarlington (if he might be permitted; on account of the respect which he felt for that hon. gentleman's great talents and high character, to use a term which he certainly had no right to use from long intimacy with him), he would only observe, that he was willing to share it, so long as he shared it in such company. The hon. member for Callington had repeated certain observations of his upon the fulness of the Exchequer, and had made his own comments upon them. This made it necessary for him to repeat what he actually had said. He had said that if the currency had indeed been raised 40 per cent, it was most extraordinary and at the same time most consolatory, to discover that the taxes had increased in amount, and that there was one of two alternatives proved by it—either that the resources of the country were most flourishing, or that the depreciation had not been so great as was generally stated. But, if he had spoken of seeing with satisfaction the result which he had mentioned was it to be understood that he saw with satisfaction so much money raised from 550 the people? No such thing. What he meant to say was, that he had had great satisfaction in seeing that sum raised without any recourse being had to processes of law to extract it from those who were unwilling to pay it. His reason for making the observation was, to use it in refutation of a witness who had been examined before the agricultural committee, and who had stated, that the consumption of all the necessaries of life, had, for some time past, been greatly decreasing. The following was the evidence of that witness:—"You have stated that in the necessaries of life you conceive the consumption to have diminished one third in Birmingham; do you think that that diminution of consumption is at all general? A general diminution of the necessaries of life, I believe, exists throughout the whole kingdom, except in the markets of London.—"Do you consider salt as a necessary of life? Certainly.—Soap? Certainly.—Malt? Yes.—Candles? Yes.—Sugar? I do not; but the poor people do.—Tea? Yes." The name of this witness was Thomas Attwood, esq. [Hear.] And, if he had spoken with satisfaction of the increase of the revenue, it was because he had wanted to show that no decrease had taken place in the consumption of the necessaries of life. The hon. member for Callington had then stated, that if he (Mr. P.) would examine the records of his office, he would find that the prevailing distress had given birth to disturbances in various parts of the manufacturing districts. Now, if the hon. member was speaking of the present, he must beg leave to say, that he found no disturbances at present existing among them. The hon. member might, perhaps, allude to the riots in Staffordshire and Monmouthshire—the only counties in which the laws had been violated.
said, there was not employment for those labourers. The wages were probably as stated; but the men had not employment for more than four days in the week.
§ Mr. Peel
said, he would leave it to his 551 hon. friend, the member for Staffordshire, who at his request had left his parliamentary duties to visit, in his magisterial; capacity, the county which he represented, to speak more fully upon that particular point. He would now refer, not to the present, but to a past period, to illustrate his argument. The period to which he should allude was a period under which that beautiful order of things, a paper standard, flourished most largely. Why, the very words, "paper standard" was a contradiction in terms. Yet, under that beautiful order of things, what was the state of the manufacturing population? In 1816 and 1817 we had all the blessings of the paper standard; but in those years we had the Habeas Corpus act suspended, and several other precautions taken for the preservation of the public tranquillity Disaffection to the government and the constitution was not at that time attributed to the bulk of the people, but, as was stated in a report from a committee of that House, to causes existing among the lower classes, one of which was, privation Consequence of the lowness of wages of wages and the increased price of the necessaries of life. "But," said the hon. member for Callington, "there had at that time been a great revulsion of prices." To be sure there had: that was one of the evils arising from the paper standard. "Oh yes," said the hon. member for Callington, "but you ought to recollect that a paper currency gives you wealth and capital." Of course it did; but only till a day of payment came. In 1816 what was it but an over-issue of paper which led to great speculation, and a reaction of it created much bankruptcy and distress, that reduced the country to its pitiable situation? That system might go on well if it were always to continue. But, though a man might be happy when he got drunk, or when he imbibed oxygen gas, still he must expect to endure some misery before he returned to a state of sobriety, or before he was again able to inhale the atmospheric air. To go on well under a paper system, it must always continue—just as a drunken man, to be always happy, ought to be always drunk. The right hon. secretary then proceeded to state, that he must again refer to the evidence of the witness whom he had quoted. That witness was asked, "Has there been no circumstance in the last two years but supply and demand to determine the price of any of the 552 necessaries of life?" To which he replied, "Certainly; nothing can determine he price of articles but the relative state of supply and demand." That was an admission which the hon. member seemed to have forgotten that evening. [Here some gentleman interrupted Mr. Peel, for he purpose of informing him, that the member for Callington was Mr. Matthias Attwood, and not Mr. Thomas Attwood.] He had thought that it was the opinion of the hon. member for Callington, that he had been quoting: sure he was, that he had seen the same or similar doctrines from the hon. member in print; and he had referred to them to show what he conceived to be a great inconsistency in the argument of the hon. gentleman that evening. With regard to what had fallen from the hon. member for Calling ton, as to making corn the standard of value, from the year 1700 to 1783, there had been little or no change in the price of gold, whilst, on the contrary, there had been the greatest fluctuations in the price of corn. In 1815, when wheat was 6l.s per quarter, gold was 5l. 6s. per ounce, and accordingly paper was much depreciated. In 1817, when wheat was 94s. per quarter, gold was of much lower value. Indeed, of all articles corn was that which it was most unfit to fix as a standard, since it was liable to great fluctuations in consequence of the smallest increase or decrease of the natural quantity in market.
said, in explanation, that he did not recognize any opinions that had been expressed by him, amongst those which the right hon. secretary had so preposterously ascribed to him. He would request the right hon. gentleman to take his opinions from himself, and neither to form, nor collect systems for him, nor imagine that he was to be responsible for them, when collected from whatever sources. With respect to the long extract of evidence which had been read he was at a loss to know what conclusion the right hon. gentleman meant to draw from it: but as he seemed to think he had established by it, some inconsistency in him (Mr. Attwood), he begged to inform him that he had never even read, and did not know of the existence of such evidence, till the right hon. gentleman was pleased to read it to him; and all he had then to say upon it was, that the answers seemed to him at least as correct as the questions.
§ Mr. Ellice,
in answer to the observations of the right hon. gentleman, maintained he had always been a strenuous and consistent opponent of the paper system, but, unlike the right hon. gentleman, he had never ceased to warn the House of the ruinous and unjust consequences of the measure of 1819. The right hon. gentleman had taunted him with cheering his hon. friend (the member for Callington), for whose luminous and able statements he was, in common with the rest of the House, so much indebted, when he had called the bill of the right hon. gentleman a fraud on all creditors. He was not aware, that the observation of his hon. friend was applied exclusively to that bill, but he had no hesitation in expressing his entire concurrence in the opinion, applied, as he understood it, to the various measures adopted since the first conclusion of the war in 1814. These had been equally fraudulent on the part of government towards creditors, as the bill of 1797 had been before to all debtors. The right hon. gentleman recalled to the recollection of the House his (Mr. E's) support of the bill of 1819, and stated he rather outran the proposers of that measure, than fell short of their endeavours to restore the standard. The right hon. gentleman might also have been candid enough, to admit the principles, on which he then advocated the necessity of fixing some standard. He would not say he had been able sufficiently to explain those principles, for it was the first time he had ever addressed a public assembly, but he appealed to those who attended the discussions in 1819, whether he did not qualify his support of the bill, preferring it as the only alternative to a further perseverance in the existing system, which was then before them. The country had been too long subject to the experiments of the chancellor of the exchequer and the Bank directors, who had complete control over its circulating medium, without the most remote acquaintance with any of the common principles on which a paper currency could safely be regulated. We had had first, on the cessation of the war in 1815, a sudden contraction, and then in 1817 an immense over-issue of paper, apparently without the least reflection, and certainly without any knowledge of the necessary results of such opposite and contradictory proceedings. On the report of the committee, he entirely concurred in their recommendation that a definite standard should be 554 settled, to prevent the recurrence of such a state of things, and to put down, he trusted for ever, the unlimited power possessed by the Bank; but he also protested against misleading the country with respect to the necessary consequences of the proposed alteration. He denied then, as he denied now, that the price of gold, banished as it had long been in this country as a circulating medium of exchange, could be any index of the true extent of the depreciation of our currency; or rather that the difference between the accidental price at any particular period and the former mint price, could at all measure the effect of the depreciation on general prices of commodities and contracts. Upon this view of the subject, he proposed to obviate their acknowledgment of the rule laid down by the committee, rather at once to resume the old standard, than adopt the graduated scale which neither for the time it was intended to continue it, nor in its difference from the former, could afford any adequate relief to the difficulties he apprehended. He foresaw in the disposition of the Bank at the time, as the practical working of the plan must be left to them, that before the bill could pass, their paper might be even more valuable than gold at the old standard—this actually happened. The House would recollect he had added a rider to permit the Bank to pay in coin as soon as the price of gold was actually 3l17s. 10d., from an apprehension that this might occur. The Lords rejected his amendment, and the consequence had been, the necessity of passing a bill last year, to meet precisely the case he predicted. But did it follow, because such had been the line he pursued, that he must necessarily be included among those who concurred in the measures recommended by the committee, as well as in, their general principles? It was in the extent of the application of those principles under the particular circumstances of the country that he entirely differed from them, and his difference was to such an extent that he could not prevail upon any person to second an amendment substituting 5l. 10s. for 3l. 17s. 6d. His noble friend the member for Sarum (lord Folkestone) would have sanctioned a resolution for fixing the standard at 4l. 10s. But considering that, even, ineffectual and inadequate to meet the effect of the previous depreciation, he declined proposing it. He subsequently, in a future 555 session from the same feeling although he had previously brought before the House a detailed statement of the severe effects of the alteration of the currency on the mercantile interest, which was confirmed by his hon. friend, the member for Bramber (Mr. Irving), voted against the proposition of his hon. friend the member for Taunton, for establishing the double standard of gold and silver, at the depreciated scale of our silver currency. That would have been a relief equal to fixing the standard of gold at 4l. 5s. or 6s. but still in his opinion insufficient, and nothing could be so impolitic or inexpedient as tampering in this way, from year to year, with the currency. Indeed, he should say now, that to whatever extreme measure our difficulties, when more fully ascertained by experience, might lead us, nothing should induce us again to alter the standard fixed by the bill of 1819. But he did not expect to hear from the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel), the charge he had made against him of inconsistency in his opinions on this subject. Those who had done him the honour to listen to any thing he had said, since he first came into the House, must know what his invariable impressions had been respecting it; but if he could justly be charged with inconsistency, the accusation came with a bad grace from the right hon. gentleman and his friends, who had voted both for the resolutions of the Chancellor of the exchequer in 1811, and for the measures of 1819. Every hour's experience confirmed his apprehensions of the ultimate result. The country, it was true, was altogether as rich, or possibly more so than at any former period, and it was of little consequence whether our general capital and profits were double the nominal amount in Bank notes of 1814 or 1818, or hat amount in the reformed standard of 1819 The difficulty was, in the disarrangement of all the respective claims of debtor and creditor on that capital, and in the enormously oppressive operation of taxes imposed in one currency, and levied in another, on means reduced in an inverse proportion. He had watched attentively the progressive operation of the last of these measures, the bill of the right hon. gentleman, and which was only a part of the system. He had seen the merchant who had engagements either absolutely ruined, or still, struggling to put off the evil day, in the hope of some advance in the value of his means of payment, arising 556 from changes for the better, which could never arrive. They had before them the just complaints of the cruel distress of the agriculturist, who was called upon for the same taxes and charges from his produce reduced one half in price. In short, they were daily witnessing the progressive destruction of all the productive interests of the country, striving against burthens and engagements, which with all their exertions, they might be unable to meet. The creditors and unproductive classes, on the other hand whose means were derived from the profits of the industrious and active population, were taking an undue proportion of their earnings. According to the progressive distress of the latter, the wealth and influence of the former increased, and it appeared to hint a silent revolution was steadily advancing, under which all that was valuable or useful in the community, must be gradually but ultimately sacrificed to an insatiable monied interest. Indeed he could not blame the latter; their good fortune appeared forced upon them by government: and that House, and he conscientiously believed they had sufficient experience of the extremes to which the country had alternately been exposed, to be rather apprehensive of a long continuance of the present state of things, and desirous of some fair and equitable settlement to all parties. It appeared however in the opinion of his majesty's ministers that matters were not yet sufficiently ripe for a consideration of this subject, and it was useless until the majority of that House had a little farther experience of the present system, to press further for a revisal, of it. The resolutions before the House Were a melancholy proof of the delusion which still existed, and of the weakness of those who expected from such measures any, he would say, the smallest relief from sufferings produced by obvious causes, which they persisted in denying. He certainly would continue as far as the expression of his opinion went, his decoded opposition to them all, although he really did believe, beyond the adoption of a most unjust and unwise principle, a course which unfortunately that House was often in the habit of pursuing, any measure to be founded upon them under present appearances would be equally unproductive of mischief or benefit to the community. The discussion had served a useful purpose to ministers, in distracting and dividing the attention of the landed 557 gentlemen from the real cause of their embarrassment, but he even did them the justice to believe, they would be as strenuous advocates for the repeal of the proposed bill, as they were now for its adoption, if unfortunately by its enactments coming into operation, the price of provisions should be increased to the consumer, to double their cost to the industrious classes in other countries.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
observed, that when the measure of 1819 began to operate, the depreciation of our paper currency, did not exceed five or six per cent. There was no ground, therefore, for the assertion of his hon. friend (Mr. Attwood), on this point. Neither could he agree with his hon. friend, that they had not how sufficient information to enable them to legislate on this subject. He had on doubt that the measure before them would prove beneficial.
§ Mr. Littleton
confirmed the truth of the right hon. secretary's statement, that the disorders in Staffordshire did not originate in distress. It was actually true, that the miners had refused an offer of 3s. a day, besides beer and fuel.
§ Mr. Brougham
asked, upon what principle he was required to exculpate himself, on account of the vote he had given in favour of the motion of his hon. friend the member for York? He must protest against a practice, which would have the effect of cramping members in the votes which it was their duty to give on public questions; and must, also declare, not only that he made use of no argument in favour of a remission of taxes to the amount of 20,000,000l., but that he had heard of none such on the occasion alluded to. It might happen that beneficial measures were supported by doubtful arguments; and, independently of the reasoning urged in its defence, or of the quarter whence it proceeded, he would vote for a, resolution which had, in his opinion, a salutary tendency. Of this readiness he could not furnish a more decisive instance, than by voting, as he should do, for the resolutions of the noble marquis that night, although he had a well-grounded distrust of the principles on which the noble lord administered the, government of this country.
§ The question being put, "That the report be now brought up," the House divided: Ayes, 153; Noes, 22. The report was then brought up and read. On the motion that, the said Resolutions be read a second time,558
§ Mr. Huskisson
rose, for the purpose of submitting his resolutions, not with any view of opposing them to those of his noble friend, but he wished to have them recorded on the Journals. He thought the House had, in approving the resolutions before them, attended too much to one inconvenience—that of the danger of too great an influx of foreign grain from the warehouses; while they overlooked another—that of the want a steady remunerating price to the farmer. It was his opinion that the safest mode would be, a free trade in corn, with a fair protecting duty. Without this, the farmer would in time of dearth be inundated with foreign corn without an adequate protection. The time, he was convinced, would come, when we should have such a trade, by which the British grower would be protected in a degree equivalent to the disadvantages under which he laboured. The right hon. gentleman then moved his resolutions by way of amendment. [See p. 209]
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, that in giving the negative to the resolutions of his right hon. friend, he would not deny the general principle which they involved; but he thought that principle applied to a different state of things. He was anxious to see the general basis of the corn laws well settled before he consented to such a measure.
§ The amendment was than put, and negatived. Mr. Ricardo then submitted his resolutions for the sake of having them recorded on the Journals. [See p.201]
said:—The duty on foreign wool recently imposed has beer followed by the meat prosperous trade ever known in woollen manufacture, and the monopoly of the corn-market has been followed by universal demand for British manufacture; yet we are told, that protecting duties are a positive detriment to the country, and a poll tax upon the community. And a poll tax upon the community High prices here, and low prices on the continent, would lead the farmer into the most disastrous situation, we told—and yet, We have never had complaints from the Wool grower on this ground. If we raise the price of previsions, we are assured of the flight of commerce—and yet we are told that a monopoly regulation is inoperative, in effecting a rise of prices. Have the junto at Henderson's hotel—has Mr. Webb Hall—ever advanced positions more unreasonable, or less demonstrable than these? Can any 559 one doubt them to originate with the merchant and the monied interest? Let us lay aside the intrigues of corn jobbers and of corn growers, and consider, as consumers desirous of keeping faith with the public creditor, how we can most honestly obtain cheap bread. Let us examine the price of labour in Britain and on the continent, and give the farmer indemnity for employing workmen at such prices as may keep the industrious family from privations incompatible with comfort or contentment. This is the first duty we have to perform; and it is one which will be as salutary to the state and consonant to justice, as prohibitory laws are at variance with equity, and opposed to commercial prosperity. The price of grain depends upon the currency—its value, upon the wealth of the community. What right a corn jobber and a Pole have to profit, arising from evasion of the burthens imposed on industry in Britain, I cannot discover, any more than I can comprehend why the farmer should have a boon not accorded to the manufacturer. Let ministers subject the seller of Polish grain to those burthens with which he overwhelms the British seller, and cease to punish the latter for being his countryman. The bounty of Providence is said to be a calamity. Nativity in Britain will be considered a misfortune, if a free trade and a debt of 200 million ounces of gold are co-existent. Protecting duties must be kept in force, where taxation falls upon the necessaries of life in a degree unknown in any other country. But struggling emigration, expensive revenue establishments, and corrupt influence, will accompany their enforcement, and the public and the state be at variance. A good minister would remove the taxes from the necessaries of life, and place them upon property: a wise parliament would sanction a change calculated to give industry a stimulus. Mercenary defence of the state, spies, incendiaries, pauperism, and all the vice and crime, cause or effect of such nuisances, would be diminished, low prices of food would be a universal good, and machinery a blessing instead of a curse to the working classes. Let the consumer weigh in his own mind the consequences of the present system: let him estimate the moral good that would arise from a juster system of finance, and unite with the farmer in making that property, secured by the war, amenable to the consequences in- 560 volved in its security. Let the landowner avow that it was his own acres that he mortgaged. Let him act in unison with his avowal, and take the burthen from the industry of the country to its wealth, before the people leave him lord of a depopulated domain, and chief of to beggared populace. I shall oppose no measure of relief to the farmer, except prohibition or schemes to raise the price; protecting duties and reduction of taxes must be resorted to, until the labourer of Britain can live as cheaply as the Frenchman or the Belgian; and any scheme which shall give to the Exchequer what the corn importer defrauds it of, must be a public gain, and will not alter the price of food I am persuaded.
§ Mr. Ricardo's resolutions were negatived; after which those of the marquis of Londonderry [See p. 190.] were agreed to.