§ Mr. W. Whitmore
said, that in rising to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice, relative to the present state of the Corn Laws, he felt the great weight of responsibility he incurred in agitating a question of such magnitude and importance. He was aware how much he had to contend with prejudice; he was aware how exaggerated were the hopes of one party, and how extravagant were the alarms of another, as to the issue of this question. The present moment was one of considerable distress; and, when he reflected that the question related to the supply of food, he felt that it required to be treated with the utmost delicacy. At present, obstructions were interposed in the way of that supply by law. These obstructions he wished to have removed, but he knew well that inconvenience and danger might accrue from any extensive change in the internal policy of the country, however beneficial it might ultimately prove. He knew, too, that the agricultural interest was one for which the House had always deservedly manifested the strongest predilection. The 319 individual by whom it was unnecessarily disturbed, would incur and deserve the severest measure of reprobation which the House could fix upon him. It was, therefore, with feelings approaching almost to dread, that he should proceed to lay the subject before the House. He was decidedly convinced of its importance, and he thought the time was come when the change was imperiously called for. Great advantage, he believed, would be derived from the measures he contemplated. He would proceed with as much brevity as the subject would admit. It was so vast and complicated, embracing such a variety of considerations, and involving so many interests, that it was difficult to compress it within the limits by which he wished his address to the House to be bounded.
The first point of view in which he would consider it, was in connection with the question of free trade. He trusted it was altogether unnecessary for him to dwell on the great importance and advantages of the principles of free trade; but he must implore the House to reflect whether they could in consistency, in sound policy, or in justice, refuse to carry those principles into execution with respect to the trade in corn? If they did, they would make themselves the laughingstock of the world, instead of an example to be imitated by all other nations. It was morally impossible for his majesty's government, or that House, with any shew of justice, to stop in the liberal course on which they had entered. What, in such a case could they say to the silk weaver and the glover, complaining of the injurious results that had accrued to them from the competition of foreigners? In the first instance, the application of the principles of free trade would frequently prove temporarily productive of evil. A great deal of capital was directed into new channels, and a great deal of machinery rendered useless. Fresh improvements became necessary, in order to enable the manufacturer to keep his ground in the foreign market. These consequences had been lamentably evinced in the instances to which he had alluded. Surety, then, a just alarm existed on the part of those who had been so seriously affected by changes in which their interests had been immolated on the shrine of national advantage, that the principles by which they had suffered should be carried further. Government were pledged to carry those principles into complete execution; the 320 House was pledged—every man who had voted in the majority of the division on the silk trade question this session, was individually and personally pledged—to this course. As to the question of free trade, parliament had pledged itself expressly to the principles of that policy. With what colour of justice or policy could the House now turn round and say, "We have deliberately sanctioned these principles, but we will not proceed to apply them to other and greater interests." He did not mean to say, they could do without a system of reciprocity; but it was a system which was generally confined to a few articles. The effect of which was to raise up some few trades at the expense of others; and being founded on treaties of commerce, its advantages were contingent, at best, upon the policy, but more frequently upon the caprice, of foreign nations; and, therefore, it was a system which he could not regard with much confidence or satisfaction. But he was convinced that, if England would really and truly act upon principles of free trade, and extend those principles to the trade in corn and in sugar, it would be sound policy. He should then be an advocate for free trade, if its principles were carried to that extent; but he was not an advocate for free trade, when the principles on which it was founded, and which were now pursued, were partial in their operation [hear, hear!]. But to revert to the principles of reciprocity: if it was expedient, as he thought it was, to adopt the principles of free trade, and that England should lead the way, it was clear that foreign nations, for their own security, must be compelled to follow the example; and he must take leave to say, that no question had ever come under the consideration of the British parliament in which foreign states were more deeply interested than that to which he now prayed the attention of the House. The Corn law, which we passed in 1815, had inflicted upon foreign countries—upon Poland, Germany, Flanders, and America,— a greater evil than the anti-commercial, anti-social, system of even Buonaparte himself. He held a report in his hand, stating the view of a most respectable individual, who had been sent out, very laudably, by the government, to those countries, to collect information on this important subject; and that information, so collected, fully bore out his assertion. The statement of this individual fully 321 bears out the assertion, that England, professing to act upon liberal principles of commerce, and calling upon other countries to adopt her principles of free trade, had passed a law, the most extravagant that ever was submitted to an enlightened legislature, which law inflicted upon those countries a greater evil than even the Milan decrees. He trusted the House would allow him to read a few extracts from the report of Mr. Jacob, the individual he had just alluded to, and the more especially as the report was not in the hands of the members generally. That was not his fault; he was extremely sorry for it; and could he, with any degree of propriety or consistency, have postponed his motion, he should have been happy to have done it, in order that the information collected by Mr. Jacob might be in the hands of every member of the House. However, as that report was not in their possession, he begged permission to read a few extracts. Mr. Jacob visited Dantzic, Cracow, Warsaw, Austria, Bavaria, and returned by way of Paris to England; and he should first mention a passage in that gentleman's report, the first, indeed, which bore upon that important part of the subject—namely, the source from which we drew our supply of food. Mr. Jacob said, "he had found every where the land-owner and corn-merchant in the deepest distress; and this distress was too general, to allow the suspicion that it was not well founded." In the course of the last year he (Mr. W.) had stated to the House, that there was a falling-off in the quantity of corn produced; and he had also stated, on good authority, that a considerable change had taken place in the state of culture in Poland. Mr. Jacob states, that "whole tracts of country, which had heretofore been employed in the production of corn, were now turned into pasture for sheep, or left wholly neglected, the former occupiers and renters having been completely ruined. One nobleman" he says, "who farmed his estate of 26,000 acres, of which two thirds was tillage, and one third woodland, grew but a few acres of wheat; and, of late, had sold no corn of any kind. From the ports of England being shut against corn, he had turned his attention to the production of fine wool. On this estate there is a flock of 15,000 Merino sheep, yielding on an average two and a half pounds of fine wool, the annual sales of which amount to 322 one half more than the value of the sheep. Through the five winter months, the sheep are fed with corn, chiefly rye, at the rate of one pound per day, which is estimated to be equal to three pounds of hay. The proprietor calculated, that sheep thus kept, yielded nearly as much more wool as, added to the benefit which the manure of the animals received from that kind of food, was equal to the price he should have received for the corn, if he had sold it; and that the profit, on this system, was the value of the whole of the hay, which would have been otherwise consumed. Instead of selling, he finds it more profitable to buy corn." At the time Mr. Jacob saw the lands, there were not two acres of them under grain.—He would not pursue that extract further, but would turn to another part of the report, which spoke of the change which had recently taken place in rents, and the general value of land, in some of the foreign corn countries. Mr. Jacob observed, that he was informed that the value of land in Poland had been greatly reduced. Those lands had formerly been let at from eight-pence to fourteen-pence per acre, but at the time he saw them, even those small sums could not be obtained for them. "One instance," he says, "came under my own observation. The proprietor of a large domain had let a farm, consisting of about 7,000 acres, on a lease, for the usual term of six years, at a rent of 850l. That lease had expired just before I visited the place. The tenant had lost a great deal of his property, and the peasants had diminished in number; and a new lease had been taken by the same tenant, for no other could be found, at the rate of 170l." He could, were he to pursue the extracts, give abundant evidence of the great extent to which the cultivators of corn had been reduced in those countries by the shutting up of the English ports. This was a part of the subject to which he would again advert before he sat down; for it was worthy of the most grave consideration, as was another directly arising out of it; namely, the difficulty which might hereafter exist, in case of unforeseen scarcity, of procuring a sufficient supply of food for the people.
But before he came to this part of the subject, he begged to be allowed to show, that, without reference to the question of free trade as a general principle, this country had enjoyed and thriven under what might be virtually termed a free 323 trade in corn. He would not go further back than the year 1773. From that year to the year 181.5 the trade in corn continued free, or at least subject only to so low a duty as scarcely to deserve the name of restriction, the duty to which it was generally liable not being more than 6d. the quarter. He did not mean to deny that we had at all times a Corn-law; but it was a law from the period he had just mentioned, by which only a very low amount was charged. Thus there were, by the act of 1773, three scales of duties, one high duty, and two low. The high was 24s. 3d., which was charged on foreign corn only when corn was in the home market as low as 30s. When it came to 44s., the duty of 2s. 6d. was charged; and when it rose to 48s., the duty was only 6d. From this period, however, until 1791, the price of corn at home continued so low, that only the low duty, and more frequently the lowest one, of 6d. was charged. In 1791 an alteration took place. The first duty continued as it was before, but the second of 2s. 6d. was to be charged when corn was at 50s. When it came to 545., then foreign corn might be imported at a duty of 6d. Again corn rose, and the low duties came into operation. So that with the exception of two years from this period to 1804, foreign corn might be imported at 2s. 6d., and more frequently at 6d. duty. In 1804 the highest duty was laid on the import of foreign corn, when our own sold at 46s. the second duty at 60s. and the lowest at 66s.; but the price at home continued so high, that from that period up to 1815 the low duty was charged. During this period, from 1773 to 1815, what had been the progress of the country, in arts, manufactures, in commerce, in population, and in wealth? Had she not made advances in all these, unexampled in the history of nations? Was there any nation in the world which had made advances to general commercial prosperity with equal rapidity? Was he not, then, justified in saying, that a free trade in corn, or what was almost equal to a free trade, might be carried on without injury to the agricultural classes? For, let it be remembered, that waste and poor lands were yearly brought into cultivation. These considerations went a great way on the question; and, if maturely considered, would tend to allay the alarms of those who feared that the power of importing corn at a low duty would throw the poor lands 324 out of cultivation, those very poor lands which were brought into cultivation when foreign corn was imported at a duty merely nominal. If the agriculturist was uninjured, and not merely so, but in a thriving condition during foreign importation, what reason was there to fear that it would be otherwise at present?
He now came to another part of the question, which he approached with great reluctance; but it was necessary that he should come to it, in order more clearly to point out what he considered as one of the greatest evils of the present system. He would lay it down as a position which he should be able satisfactorily to prove, that the Corn-laws of this country had not only destroyed the external trade in corn, but had given a blow to our internal trade in that article, from which, if timely remedies were not provided, it would be difficult, if not altogether impossible, for it to recover. He knew he should be told that he had already predicted very fatal consequences as likely to flow from the want of a free trade in corn. He had so. He stated it in 1823; he stated it in 1824; and he now repeated the statement, that, unless some change was made in the present fatal system of our Corn-laws, the country would, at some day, have to deplore the unfortunate result of them. He did not say at what time [a laugh]. If the House did him the favour to hear him to the end, they would find that his assertion was not made on light ground, but rested on a very strong case. In 1823 he had predicted, that very serious and dangerous consequences must almost necessarily follow from the continuance of the present Corn-laws. The data on which he then went were most correct; and the more he considered them the more was he convinced of their accuracy. It would not, of course, be expected that he should point out the exact time when these results were to happen. It would be sufficient if he showed that the direct tendency of the Corn-laws, in their operation on the external and internal corn trade of England, was, to produce an insufficient supply, should there be unhappily a failure of the home crops even for one season. The general practice of the corn trade at home was, to reserve a stock on hand. This stock might, on the average, be calculated at four months consumption of the whole country, or about four millions of quarters. He took the general average of consumption of 325 the year, at twelve millions of quarters, and adding a million for seed, the whole annual consumption might be taken at thirteen millions of quarters. Now, a country setting out with this stock of four millions of quarters on hand, and having a corn trade by which it was made to depend almost wholly on its own supply, might at no very distant period be so run out as to have that stock exhausted. The advantage of having the stock at all would be, to make the surplus of one year meet the deficiencies of another. Those surpluses were in general reserved by the speculations of persons extensively engaged in the corn trade, whose utility to the country was very considerable. Now, if circumstances occurred which should cause the leading speculators in corn to decline the trade, they would have the effect of causing a gradual diminution of the stock in reserve, as the same care would not be taken to provide for an apprehended scarcity. It was this system which Adam Smith had so beautifully described as exhibiting the harmonious operation of the commercial system; by means of which, the private interests of individuals, the more they were exercised, the more did they conduce to the general prosperity of the community at large. But the effect of our Corn-laws, he would show, has been, to depress the general interest, and ruin the individual trade. In the first place, it was quite manifest, that if there was a constant depression of prices, those who speculated in grain must necessarily lose; and, indeed, the enormous losses which had been sustained was matter of notoriety to every one at ail acquainted with that branch of our national industry. He would state to the House the average prices of the quarter of wheat from the year 1817:—
It was needless to go further; the consequence of this depression was, that the corn-dealer was a constant loser. From 1823 to the present time, prices began to rise, but the government, he was sure, had never contemplated, nor had he, nor had any man in his senses contemplated, that the principles of free trade would have been adopted in every other commodity, and would not be carried into 326 effect with regard to corn. Besides the effect of those losses, there was another cause which made the corn-merchant disinclined to speculate; namely, his apprehension of a change in the present Corn-laws, from a conviction of the necessity of such a change, and a belief that ministers could not continue much longer to allow such a system to disgrace our commercial regulations. Another reason which lessened the speculation in British corn was, the quantity of foreign corn allowed to be bonded here, and the great difference between the prices of the two. Corn in bond might be bought at from 20s. to 30s. while that in the market could not be bought for less than 50s. 60s. and 70s. Of course in the uncertainty as to what might be done about granting a free trade, a merchant would choose rather to speculate in the article which was cheapest; because, if a change took place in the Corn-laws, his speculations in the cheap corn would be successful, while in the high-priced corn they would be ruinous. He had made inquiries on this subject from some of the most respectable persons in the corn trade; and he was assured by them, that, from the causes he had mentioned, the speculations in corn were few, and to a very small extent, compared with what they were in former years. All those with whom he had consulted seemed to be firmly convinced of the truth of the position with which he had set out; namely, that the operation of the Corn-laws of this country had not only destroyed the external trade in corn, but had given a blow to the internal trade in that article, from which it would with difficulty recover; but from which there was no chance of its recovery, if the laws were allowed to remain in their present state. Now, if this was so, we might come upon a period of positive deficiency in the harvest; and what then would be the situation of the country, when, from a change in the culture of land abroad, we could not hope for any supply from those places to which we usually had recourse in times of difficulty? He trembled to think of a scarcity of human food under such circumstances. He did not mean to say that such an event was to be expected immediately. That would be too bold an assertion for any man to hazard; but he did confidently state, that we were now in a situation in which a sudden deficiency of even one harvest might be attended with most disastrous effects. The 327 stock in the hands of dealers was, he had reason to believe, very low. As to the farmers, he would admit he knew little about them; but any thing that was known of their transactions in corn afforded no proof that the stock in the country was not low. It might, and he hoped it would happen, that the approaching harvest and the next after that might, by abundant crops, considerably add to the stock in hand; but still we should be in a state, living as it were from hand to mouth, and placing ourselves in circumstances of great peril, which would be increased every year that we allowed to pass without a change in our present system of Corn-laws. It was morally impossible to alter a trade which had been carried on for several years without inflicting an evil which would be deeply felt by hundreds and thousands! and the House might rely on it, that, if circumstances should occur (and occur they undoubtedly would, though he would not say when) to render it necessary to have recourse again to the trade in foreign corn, they would have deeply to deplore the blow which that trade had received by the Corn-law of 1815—the most absurd, the most barbarous measure, and the most opposed to principles of sound commercial or national policy, that had ever emanated from a legislative body calling itself enlightened. The only hope he had of seeing a speedy termination to this absurd system was founded on its absurdity; for he thought it impossible that the people of England could continue much longer to sanction a law so pregnant with danger to their best interests. It was still possible to avert this danger; but it could be done only by a speedy alteration of the law. If that were not done, he feared they would live to regret the consequences.
In 1817 the price was 94s. 0d. 1818 83s. 8d. 1819 72s. 9d. 1820 65s. 10d. 1821 54s. 3d. 1822 43s. 3d.
He would now come to the alteration which, in his opinion, ought to be made; and, without going into all the details which might be necessary if a bill for the alteration were before the House, he would suggest, that a protecting duty of 10s. per quarter should be allowed, conjointly with another, but a temporary, measure, increasing that duty if the price in the home market should be at once considerably reduced. He would suppose the price in the market 55s.; the general and permanent protecting duty would be 10s.; but the temporary measure would have the 10s. increased to 15s. on foreign corn, when English wheat was 328 at 50s. When at 45s. he would increase the duty to 20s.; and when corn came to 40s. he would have the duty 255. It would undoubtedly be most desirable that every means should be adopted for preventing an alarm among the agriculturists. He knew that the very mention of opening the ports would create such alarm; and he would therefore provide a temporary measure for their security, until the chance of returning to a free corn-trade was in progress. It was with this view that he would recommend the higher protecting duties for a short period. This would be the more necessary, as the Corn-laws of this country had produced restrictions on the corn-trade in other countries. This was the case in France, Spain, and Portugal, the markets of which, when our ports were shut, were glutted with an immense quantity of corn which would otherwise have reached our ports. A sort of corn-law was therefore enacted in those countries in their own defence. Now, to prevent even the chance of a sudden glut from coming into the market while the change was being made, and to allay the fears of the agriculturists, he would give the higher duties as a temporary measure. He thought it a main object that the change should be effected with as little alarm as possible.
The agricultural interests said, that if the ports were thrown open, we should be deluged with foreign corn. He thought he should be able to show that this could not possibly be the case, by a reference to the amount of the importation of foreign corn at former periods. Indeed, he was convinced, that the quantity of com which would be imported into this country if the ports were to be opened would not be large. He would proceed to show what had been the importation of foreign corn from the year 1800 to the year 1820, and he had selected this period, because, during it, the importation had been larger than at any other: indeed, during five years of it, a very great scarcity prevailed, which caused the prices to rise to an enormous amount. In 1800, the average price was 110s. 5d.; in 1801, it was 115s. 11d.; in 1810, it was 103s. 3d.; in 1817, it was 94s.; in 1818, it was 83s. 8d. The consequence was, that we had corn sent to us from every quarter of the globe. The quantity of foreign wheat imported from foreign parts to this country during the period he had alluded to was as follows:— 329
During the five years of scarcity, between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 of quarters had been imported, which was half as much as had been imported during the whole twenty-one years. From this statement the average annual amount of corn imported appeared to be 598,906 quarters, and the average price 84s. 6d.; and it must also be recollected, that this price was estimated in a currency which was depreciated during this period, and that until the year 1815 there was in reality no obstruction by law as to the importation of corn.
Quarters. 1800 1,263,771 1801 1,424,241 1802 538,144 1803 312,458 1804 391,068 1805 836,747 1806 207,879 1807 359,835 1808 41,392 1809 387,863 1810 1,439,615 1811 188,563 1812 129,867 1813 341,846 1814 626,745 1815 194,931 1816 210,860 1817 1,030,829 1818 1,586,030 1819 471,607 1820 591,731 12,577,029
He had also examined into the different sources from whence the foreign corn was drawn, which would show that it was only the very high price which had induced the richer countries to afford us any abundant supply. The annual average amount of wheat imported into this country, from the year 1800 to the year 1820, was as follows:—
But if there was not proof sufficient in that statement to satisfy the House of the 330 difference in the exportation of grain between a rich country and a poor one, it would be sufficient to look to the average importation of France, the richest country, during the years alluded to. If they deducted from the importation of France in twenty years the amount of the year 1810, there appeared to have been imported altogether 225,710 quarters, which would make an average of only 12,322 quarters. From Germany, too, the next rich country, if they deducted the amount received in the years of scarcity he had mentioned, the average was only 42,861 quarters. So that it was the poor country, and the poor alone, which furnished that supply of grain which the wants of this country required—a further proof, if any further was necessary, of the policy of that less-fettered importation of grain which he hoped to see the House ere long adopt, as an uniform principle of the commercial regulations of the country. He could never turn to that portion of the valuable report of Mr. Jacob, which treated of the exports from Dantzic and Elbing. The calculations extended over a period of 166 years, in which the annual average of wheat and rye exported was stated at 215,307 quarters; and that surplus, he observes, may be considered as forming the nearest possible approach that can be made with existing materials to what is the usual amount of the production of corn, in those countries, beyond the consumption of the inhabitants, when no incident occurs to check cultivation. He was entitled to assume this, indeed, from a comparison of the different periods divided into terms of twenty-five years. In the first years from 1651 to 1675, the annual average export was 81,775; and in the last years, from 1821 to 1825, it was only 83,523. Mr. Jacob, indeed, shows, that the scarcity which prevailed over various countries of the world about the time of the French Revolution, in France itself, in Sweden, in Holland, and in other places, created a difference; first, in the five years following 1781, when the average was 264,431; next, from the year 1796 to 1800, when it was 409,588 quarters; and subsequently, from 1801 to 1805, when the exports averaged 549,365 quarters; but from 1821 to 1825, it was only 83,523, nearly the same as it was a hundred and sixty years ago. The fact seemed, indeed, to be, that when the price was high in England, the farmers of the various 331 countries all over the continent were induced, by the additional demand, to send their grain to the English market. It had been proved, beyond question, that grain, under such circumstances, was sent even over the Carpathian Mountains to the navigation of the Vistula, and from the remotest parts of Bohemia and Silistria; but it was the extraordinary high price, and the high price alone, which gave the stimulus to such a speculation; and, unless that high price existed, it was nearly impossible that any encouragement could be afforded to exportations, unless in the immediate neighbourhood of the great navigable rivers. And he was the more confident in such an assertion, when he looked at the proofs of the innumerable difficulties thrown in the way of the transportation of grain, as well as the expense and loss necessarily attendant upon it. Indeed, after the most laborious investigation of the different Returns, he had no hesitation in saying, that, if the average price in this country was from 55s. to 60s., they could never expect a larger quantity of grain to find its way to this market than the 400,000 quarters which were the overplus of the maritime countries and those districts near the navigable rivers; and when they considered the consumption of the country to be thirteen millions of quarters, as he had proved before, he could not find any just grounds for the apprehensions entertained upon the subject of an immense quantity of foreign corn being poured into the country, even if the price continued as low as at present.
Quarters. Russia 66,373 Sweden 12,275 Prussia, including Poland 204,667 Germany 87,092 United States 87,376 Canada 23,040 Holland 40,033 Flanders 29,530 France 23,071 Denmark and Norway 18,956
Now, as to price. The price in the ports of the Baltic, for common grain, was stated at 13s. a quarter; but, would any man say, that such a price did not proceed from the total derangement of trade? and was it not evident that its continuance, for any length of time, would have the effect of turning all the capital employed upon the cultivation of wheat into some different channel? Men would grow flax—they would grow rape-seed—they would cultivate wool, or employ their land in any other way which a night bring in a better rent, or raise a more profitable produce. For it was not with agriculture as with manufactures. In the manufacture of woollens or cottons, if the supply became too abundant for the demand, the manufacturer would gradually diminish the quantity, until he ceased altogether to produce that particu- 332 lar commodity which was depreciated in price; but he could not instantly apply machinery which had been erected for one purpose to the execution of another. The agriculturist, on the contrary, could immediately turn his attention to the growth of some other species of production, and he felt convinced, that, unless in consequence of some extraordinary high price in England, the grower of wheat on the shores of the Baltic could not be much encouraged to exceed the fair estimate of the consumption of his own country. From the details of Mr. Jacob it appeared, that the inferior quality of wheat—that quality which was not exported, unless in time of great scarcity —could not be sent, even from the maritime provinces of Prussia, under 43s. a quarter. He states the first cost to be, including all charges, about 24s., upon which there was to be calculated a loss of 20 per cent; which, with rent, freight, insurance, and other charges would bring it to the English market for about 43s. That was, he begged to be understood, for the very inferior kind, and from places quite accessible to water-carriage. But the better kind, and that usually sent to this country, when the ports were open (and here he begged to say, that these Returns were made out at the request, and under the sanction of the Treasury), the better kind of wheat from Warsaw could not be landed in England for less than 48s. a quarter, in a time of no peculiar demand. The cost was made up in this manner:—
In the same manner, wheat from Cracow, which cost the grower about 22s. 6d. would be delivered in London for 45s. 6d. It was necessary, however, to explain that the charge for insurance only cover- 333 ed the stranding of the ship, but did not take any account of wetting, pilfering, and all the other losses to which the grain trade was peculiarly subject, and which must be estimated in the cost before it came to market. No trade, indeed, was more subject to losses, from the badness of the vessels in which the commodity was conveyed; because the Baltic vessels, being constructed for the timber trade, leaked so much as to injure the grain to a very serious extent. But it was not alone the ordinary expenses which were to be taken into their calculation. No demand for grain ever continued for more than six days without increasing the amount of freight and the price at least forty per cent; and, if the demand continued for twelve days, it would exhaust, as he had already shown, the whole Stock of grain which could be brought into market. Mr. Jacob, to whose invaluable Report he had so often referred, Stated, most distinctly, from a consideration of these circumstances, that, if a duty of ten or twelve per cent was imposed upon the importation of corn from Poland, it would, in his opinion, put an effectual stop to the importation of grain from Poland, except in extraordinary seasons; and it should be recollected, that he stated that, after the most laborious investigation of the subject, in compliance with an order from the lords of the Treasury, requiring him to turn his attention to the grain trade of Poland, that he might be able to say what would be the probable supply if the price in this country was 60s. or 64s. The words of the concluding portion of that Report were so conclusive upon the subject, that he would take leave to read them to the House.
s. d. Cost of the quarter of wheat at Warsaw 28 0 Conveyance to the boats, and charges for loading and stowing, and securing it by mats 0 6 Freight to Dantzic 5 0 Loss on the passage, by pilfering, and by rain causing it to grow 3 0 Expenses at Dantzic, in turning, drying, screening, and warehousing, and loss of measure 2 0 Profit, or commission, as the case may be, to the merchant at Dantzic 1 6 Freight, primage, insurance, and shipping charges, at Dantzic and in London 8 0 48 0If a duty in this country of 10s. or 12s. per quarter was imposed, it would not allow of such a profit, on the supposition of the price being from 60s. to 64s., as to induce any great exertions to in crease cultivation in the districts bordering on the Vistula. The chance of a rise occasioned by war, by a winter so severe as to injure vegetation, or by a rainy harvest season, might induce those of a speculative turn to increase their growth of wheat; but those who have that turn, and have the means of indulging it, are so few, that they would produce no sensible increase in the general surplus. I see no reason to believe, that with such a duty as I have mentioned for England, 334 and a price of from 60s. to 64s., and with some similar regulation in France, that the surplus corn produced in Poland, including all the countries near enough to the Vistula to send their corn to that stream, would materially increase in common seasons, or very much, if at all, exceed the average produce of that country. The greatest part of this might, probably, be wheat; and if the duty was alike on all the various qualities of that grain, none would be sent here but that part which is the driest, heaviest, and whitest. The inferior descriptions would not pay for importation, unless the average price in England was much more than 64s.This opinion upon a free trade in corn, from an individual who was once decidedly hostile to any such freedom, must be allowed to have the greatest weight. Mr. Jacob had recorded his opinions in opposition to any such measure, in a work published in 1814—he had expressed his continuance in the same conviction before the Committee of 1821—and it was, therefore, a proof, both of his sincerity, and of the force of the facts which had come under his knowledge during the period of his inquiries, that he had, in the very face of all his former declarations, given such decided testimony in favour of a system directly opposed to that which he had once advocated. The present average price was about 58s., but he had no hesitation in declaring, that the agriculturists—and he was himself an agriculturist—would be well protected with an average price of 55s. There was, he was convinced, no landed proprietor or farmer who would not, if he looked to the state of the country, and the security which it would give his property, be content with that price for his grain. He would ask, indeed, any landed proprietor, in that House or out of doors, whether he would not be content with that price, or even something lower, provided he could give permanence to the present state of things, and obtain security for the payment of his rent? If the price was lower, the income from land would become still more available; and he put it to the landed proprietors, whether the regular payments of such prices, and the comparative cheapness of every thing else, would not be preferable to a kind of income, which, though it might be nominally high, they received but with the right hand to pay it away with the left. 335 He would ask them, whether the security to property, the advantage bestowed on manufactures, the general activity given to the whole commerce of the country, would not amply compensate for a nominal amount of rent, which produced no real benefit to those who received it. If they persisted in their present course but for a time, it required no great penetration to discover that they would be, ere long, afflicted with the most frightful miseries. For his part, as long as he had the honour of a seat in that House, he would continue to raise his voice against a system which he had periodically held up to their condemnation, and which he hoped yet to see give way before the united force of reason, common sense, sound policy, and every consideration which regulated the principles of trade, with regard to all other productions. If they considered the effect of their at one time calling in a large supply of grain from foreign countries in anticipation of, or from the effect of, a dearth—a supply which continued long after the occasion of the dearth had ceased to exist; and if they contemplated the long train of evils, in the shape of high tithes, high rents, and high poor rates, which were created by such a bounty upon that importation; and if they turned their attention to the ruin and misery inflicted upon the agricultural interests, and every other interest in the kingdom—when the fear of that dearth had subsided, and when they made an attempt to return to their former state of prohibition—if they considered these things, and reflected that such had been their condition not very long since, he confessed they must have stronger nerves than he had who could look without emotion to the continuance of a course which might, by possibility, produce a return of that appalling state of misery and distress. Upon every principle, therefore, of common sense, common honesty, and liberal feeling, he called upon the House to rescue the country from the evils to which it must be subjected, if the present Corn-laws were allowed to remain unaltered. To advance that most desirable object to the utmost extent of his power, he would now conclude by moving, "That the House do resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider of the present state of the Corn-Laws."
§ Mr. Philips,
in rising to second the motion, said, that it was expected by the manufacturing interests that, if there was 336 to be a free trade in manufactures, there would also be a free trade in corn. He conceived, that the doctrine of free trade ought to be applied to grain rather than to any other commodity. Some commodities were wanted only for luxury, others only for convenience; many were not of paramount importance, and many could be entirely dispensed with. Grain, however, was indispensable to human existence, and was one of those articles which it was impossible for a nation to do without. Besides, the tendency of manufactures was, to become cheaper as the demand increased: whereas, the tendency of grain was, to become dearer in proportion to the quantity of new land brought into cultivation. The high price of commodities, too, might exist without producing any considerable effect upon the rate of wages: whereas, a high price of corn led either to a great increase in the price of wages, or to the starvation of the labouring classes. He should like to know why the country should not have a free trade in grain. The common answer to that question was, because the agricultural interest was subject to heavy taxation. If such were the fact, he would say, "place upon foreign corn a protecting duty, equal to the amount of that taxation." But was the agricultural interest, he would ask, the only interest in the country which laboured under taxation? Were there not other interests which suffered equally from it? The legacy duty applied to personal property only—the stamp duties fell almost entirely upon legal and commercial men—not to mention a variety of duties which affected the commercial interest exclusively, and from which the agricultural interest was free. It had been said by the hon. member for Cumberland, and repeated by the hon. and learned member for Winchelsea, that more labour was expended in the production of corn than in the production of manufactures. Now, he had collected facts which convinced him of the utter fallacy of that position. His hon. friend, the member for Cumberland, who had certainly paid great attention to this subject, had told him, that, according to his calculations, the labour employed in the production of agriculture constituted 20 or 25 per cent of its value, and that the labour employed on manufactures constituted a much less part of it. Now, he would not pretend to speak decisively upon every species of manufacture; but 337 he would inform the House of the result of his calculations on one manufacture, to which his consideration had been more particularly turned—he meant the cotton manufacture. The quantity of raw cotton imported, and of cotton goods exported, was well known. The value of the cotton-manufacture he would take, in round numbers, to be 24 millions. Now, the value of the raw material, including the expense of freight and duty, constituted 6 millions out of the 24. The expense of dyeing, bleaching, &c. the material, the wear and tear of the machinery, the cost of keeping it in repair, together with the interest and profit on the capital so employed, amounted to 4 millions. These 4 millions, added to the other 6 millions, made 10 millions out of the 24. The remaining 14 millions consisted entirely of the labour of the cotton-manufacturer; so that the labour expended on the cotton manufacture, instead of being only 20 or 25 per cent, as in the productions of agriculture, was full 60 per cent. He made this statement, to prove the fallacy of the position laid down by his hon. friend. But even if the position were correct, it did not deserve the importance which his hon. friend seemed to attach to it. If the value of a commodity were to be estimated from the quantity of labour expended upon it, then the worse the land which was brought into cultivation, the greater would be the advantage to the person who bestowed upon it the labour of cultivation; and, at that rate, the tilling of the barren mountain of Snowdon would turn out a very profitable speculation. He had been taught to believe, that the great object of mankind was, to obtain the comforts and accommodations of life with as little, and not with as much, labour as was possible, and he had yet to learn that he was mistaken in that belief. According to the statement he had just offered to the House, 14 millions of the capital employed in the cotton manufacture was employed in the payment of labour. Of this sum he conceived that 4 millions were paid by the labourer for his clothing, his furniture, and various other articles of necessary use, in which, however, food was not to be included. The labourer had then 10 millions left him for the purchase of food. His hon. friend, the member for Cumberland, admitted, he believed, that the exclusion of foreign grain from the markets of this country raised the price of corn 338 20 per cent. Now, if food was raised to the labourer 20 per cent, it was clear that the labourer in the cotton trade paid a tax of two millions for the benefit of the landed interest. His hon. friend, the member for Cumberland, thought the protecting duty proposed by his hon. friend, the member for Bridgenorth, to be insufficient, and wished to place a protecting duty of 20s. a quarter upon wheat, and 12s. 6d. a quarter upon barley. In order to show the effect which his hon. friend's proposal would have upon the circumstances of the country, he would take the protecting duty in both cases in round numbers—the first at 20s. and the last at 10s. The hon. member for Essex (Mr. Western) had published a speech which he had made in 1814 on the Corn-laws, and had subjoined to it a calculation of the quantity of grain produced and consumed in the united kingdom. The hon. member had made his calculation on the supposition of a smaller population than that which was proved to exist in the country by the late census, having taken the population of England and Wales at 10,791,115. He had calculated the quantity of wheat consumed by them to be 10 millions of quarters. And the consumption of every other species of grain in the united kingdom at 37 millions. Now, it was proposed to add to these two quantities a protecting duty of 20s. and 10s. a quarter respectively. The result of such a measure would be, to add 10 millions to the price of wheat, and 16 millions to the price of every other grain, thus making the people pay 26 millions for the benefit of the landed interest [cries of "No, no"]. He did not mean to say that the people actually paid that sum at present, but that the proposal of the hon. member for Cumberland would inevitably lead to such a conclusion [a laugh]. Gentlemen might laugh, if they so thought fit, when the object of their schemes was thus unfolded to them; but laughter was not argument, any more than contradiction was refutation. He believed that the effect of repealing the present system of our Corn-laws would be much less than one class of the community was accustomed to hope, and another to fear. He did not believe that the agricultural interests of Great Britain were so incapable of competition with those of other countries as they had represented themselves to be. He recollected that Mr. Jacob, whose 339 authority was deservedly high, had stated to the House, that the system of agriculture in this country, compared with that practised on the continent, exceeded it in the proportion of seven to five. He had stated further, that whereas 4-5ths or 9-10ths of the population were employed on the continent in the production of food, not more than one-half of the population was so employed in England. On that point Mr. Jacob had gone much beyond the mark. The late population-returns proved, that not more than one-third of the population was so employed. If, then, our system of agriculture was so superior to that of the continent, as Mr. Jacob represented, could the House suppose that our agriculturists had any just reason for apprehending the competition of foreign nations?
Whilst he was upon this subject, he must beg leave to notice an argument which he had often heard in that House, namely, that the landed interest paid all the poor-rates, and was therefore entitled to protection. Now, it was not quite clear that the premises were correct upon which the conclusion was drawn. He had himself, in a former session, moved for certain returns to show the proportion in which different sorts of property contributed to the poor-rates. Those returns had since been made, but inaccurately. They were sufficient, however, to prove that out of 6,000,000l. of poor-rates, more than 2,000,000l. were assessed on other property than land. These returns, he said, were inaccurately made, because it was the custom in some counties, and those agricultural ones, to pay wages out of the poor-rates. In the manufacturing counties this was never done: and that was the reason why the poor-rates in Lancashire were only at a rate of 4s., and those in Sussex at 21s. in the pound. In the one case liberal wages were paid by those who benefitted by the labourer; in the other, the labourer received part of his wages from the rates—a measure which was calculated more than any other that the ingenuity of man could have hit upon to degrade and demoralize the peasantry of England.
He was happy to find that the repeated discussions which the House had held upon the Corn-laws had been productive of one change at least. In the years 1814 and 1815, every person who opposed himself to the Corn-laws then proposed, was put down as an enemy to 340 the agricultural interests: and he well recollected that his lamented friend, Mr. Horner, complained that any member who spoke against them was not even beard with common patience. The case was altered at present, and the House listened with better temper to the arguments of those who contended against the policy of the present system. It was then maintained, that no gentleman who was not engaged in agriculture could be a proper judge on the subject. Such an assertion would scarcely be ventured at present by the most hardy defender of the restrictive system; so much had the discussion of the question enlightened and humanized the public mind. He had, therefore, no hesitation in asserting, that those whose property was vested partly in land, and partly in commerce, were the best qualified to judge on a question which was partly of an agricultural and partly of a commercial nature. For his own part, he should hail with pleasure any change in the present system of Corn-laws, and more especially any measure which gave the country an opportunity of recurring to a free trade in grain. No change in either the foreign or the domestic policy of the country could add so much to its wealth, could increase so much the comforts of all its inhabitants, or could tend so much to the improvement of its manufacturing, and even of its landed property, as an approximation to a free trade in grain. For a time it might, perhaps, injure the agriculturist; but ultimately the increased wealth of the country would produce increased comforts; increased comforts would produce an increased population, and that increased population would produce an increased demand for agricultural produce, which would greatly enhance the value of the fee simple of every landed estate in the kingdom. Such an approximation to a free trade would prevent those fluctuations of prices, which were as injurious to the agriculturist as to every other class of the community. It would raise the price of corn on the continent, and depress it in England, and would thus reduce them both gradually to the same level. It would, besides, put a stop to the perpetual jealousies and heart-burnings to which the present system gave rise. When he was last in Lancashire, he had an opportunity of observing the manner in which it worked among the manufacturing classes. There was no grievance which they felt so acutely as the operation of the 341 Corn-laws; and he knew that it had, in many instances, induced them to emigrate to America, where they could get full employment for their skill and industry, with cheap corn. The emigration of such men was not an evil of petty importance; for it was to the improvements which they had made in the mechanical part of our manufactures, that the country owed much of its wealth and consideration. A change in the existing system was, therefore, rendered advisable by motives of domestic policy. From what had fallen from the president of the Board of Trade in a former session, he had supposed that that right hon. gentleman would in this session have advocated the necessity of making such a change without delay. If the motion of his hon. friend, the member for Bridgenorth, should not be carried that evening, be hoped the right hon. gentleman, in the next session of parliament, would recollect the pledge which he had given to the country in the last, and would come forward with some measure which should have for its object the adoption of a free trade in grain. The right hon. gentleman had conferred great services upon the country by what he had already done to promote free trade; but those services would manifestly be incomplete, if he failed to establish a free trade in corn. Although he had come forward to second the motion of his hon. friend, the member for Bridgenorth, he felt himself called upon to say, that he did not approve of all the details into which his hon. friend had entered. He wished to get rid of the system of averages, because they led to an endless mass of fraudulent intrigues. He would prefer a protecting duty of 10s. per quarter, to a complicated system of averages. He had endeavoured to make as accurate a calculation as he could of what would be a fair protecting duty to the British grower. He had compared his calculation with those of Mr. Ricardo, Mr. Tooke, and Mr. Blake, who were deservedly considered the most eminent authorities on this important subject. Those gentlemen were of opinion, that a protecting duty of 7s. 6d. per quarter, would be an adequate remuneration to the agricultural body, for the land-tax, the tithes, and the poor-rates, which it paid, and the foreign grower did not. He was of opinion that 10s. would be a sufficient remuneration; but he would willingly enlarge it to 12s. if, by so doing, he could conciliate the sentiments of gen- 342 tlemen who were opposed to him on this subject, and not only to him, but also to their own individual interests. He should be glad to have these discussions terminated by a protecting duty of 12s., and therefore it was, that he willingly seconded the motion of the hon. member for Bridge-north [hear, hear].
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that in offering himself to the notice of the House immediately after the hon. proposer and seconder of the present motion, he rose, not for the purpose of following the honourable mover over the wide field of most important matter to which he had culled their attentive consideration. However much he might admire the instructive detail which the honourable mover had offered to the House and to the country, it was not his purpose to enter into it at that moment. His purpose rather was, to persuade the House not to engage in the discussion of it, because he was convinced that the discussion of it could only terminate in inconvenience and embarrassment. The hon. seconder of the motion had stated, that last year he had pledged himself to recommend parliament to undertake the revision of the Corn-laws. He would say a word or two as to the nature of that pledge by and by; but he thought himself warranted at present in saying, that from the opening of the present session, there appeared a coincidence of feeling in the House, amounting almost to a common understanding, that there were certain questions of great magnitude, importance, and difficulty, which it would not be desirable, under the circumstances of the country and the parliament, to enter into during that session [cries of "No," from the opposition benches.] That feeling, he maintained, was entertained by the House, not only in justice to the questions themselves, but also in justice to the public interests which were materially involved in them. It was almost universally admitted, that there were certain questions which it would be much better to leave in a state of abeyance, until they could be more fully discussed in a new parliament [hear]. He certainly did collect from the hon. and learned member for Winchelsea, with respect to this difficult and important question, that he conceived the present session not to be a convenient season for the discussion of it; and his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, acting in the same spirit, intimated to the House, on 343 the first evening of the session, that it was not the intention of government to undertake that year any revision of the Corn-laws.
Having made this statement, he must now proceed to express his astonishment at the argument which the hon. member for Bridgenorth had endeavoured to build upon it; especially as it was one in which there was much more of refinement than of solidity. The hon. member had said, *hat the uncertainty which prevailed abroad as to the intention of the government and of parliament on this question, had completely stopped all speculation in the internal corn-trade of the country. Now, what were the facts. On the first day of the session of 1825, he had distinctly stated, that he had no intention of making any alteration in the Corn-laws during that session, On the first day of the present session, his right hon. friend had made a similar declaration as to the intentions of government. The government had, therefore, acted fairly as to their views and intentions upon this question, and the stoppage of speculation in the corn-trade, if it had taken place, must have arisen from other causes than that which the hon. member had mentioned. If people had bought corn at a certain price, with a view to selling it for a profit at some future period, it would be too great a refinement upon the principles of trade to say that they were compelled to refrain from doing so, in consequence of any uncertainty in the existing law. If there was one question more unfit than another to be entertained at the present moment, it was this relating to the Corn-laws. No question was more calculated to agitate the House, and to set afloat in the country notions which might give rise to general inconvenience than this; and he thought, therefore, that unless the House was prepared to go through with it—unless they were convinced that this opportunity and this time were convenient for dealing with so momentous and difficult a subject as the state and system of the Corn-laws, it ought not to be taken up. It was a momentous subject, because it bore immediately upon the employment and subsistence of an immense mass of our population. It was immediately connected with the well-being of classes of the community who were extremely numerous and important, including as well those who possessed the property of the soil, as those whose capital 344 and industry were employed in its cultivation, and depended upon the land for their subsistence. It was difficult, on account of the circumstances which had grown out of the recent alterations in the commercial law of this country, and which had established the principles of free trade with moderate duties for that system of prohibition which had before prevailed. It was difficult, also, on account of the situation in which that alteration had placed other corn-growing and corn-exporting countries, with respect to their intercourse with us as to other commodities prior to that' alteration. It was a subject not to be lightly undertaken at that advanced period of the session, and in the state of the present parliament; for it would require a most deliberate consideration of the footing on which the charge upon land should be placed. It had been admitted, that persons who engaged their capital and their labour in the cultivation of the soil were entitled to compensation and protection; and the exact amount of these roust be ascertained before any satisfactory decision could be arrived at.
But these were not the only grounds of difficulty which the subject presented. It was clear to most gentlemen, he believed, that the system which had hitherto been pursued was an erroneous one. That opinion he had openly maintained elsewhere, and had expressed frequently in that House; and the chief error of the system was, that it had kept an almost entire prohibition. If, then, it had become necessary to retrace the steps which led to the formation and establishment of that system, they must do so with a cautious reference to all objects which were connected with it. All parties were interested that this should be conducted with the utmost deliberation and prudence, and none more than the consumers of corn themselves. Let no one attempt to deceive himself or others, as to the effect which any sudden alteration of that system must have upon the state of things which had grown out of it and along with it. All the mortgages and other incumbrances, all leases, settlements, and every other description of charges upon land, must be immediately affected by any such alteration; and the parties interested in them would be exposed to the greatest injustice, while the difficulties which are now felt to exist would be more aggravated by any unguarded change, or any mistake in the principle which ought to govern that 345 change, than by any other means that could be devised. Whenever, therefore, the parliament should resolve on proceeding with this subject, they must do so upon the consideration of many other circumstances than they were now prepared to embrace. The difficulties he had stated were chiefly of a general nature, but there were others which were scarcely less important. His hon. friend had, in the course of his speech, made frequent references to a document which was not before the House. He alluded particularly to the change which had taken place in some of the countries of the north of Europe, respecting their capacity to supply corn, which it appeared was considerably reduced. It was not only true as to those countries, but the same effect had been produced in France, in consequence of the regulations which had been adopted there respecting the exportation of corn. Still, the condition of those countries in this respect must form the elements by which the House must form its consideration of this subject. In consequence of the discussions on this subject in the course of the last session, he had considered it to be his duty to employ a gentleman to make personal inquiries into this subject; and the Report which had been mentioned was drawn up in consequence of those inquiries. The gentleman so employed, of whose diligence and ability he could not speak too highly, proceeded to the countries which were chiefly engaged in the exportation of corn, and collected there the materials of which his Report was formed. That Report was not, perhaps, quite perfect, nor might some hon. gentlemen think it was sufficient for all purposes, but he was sure no man would deny that it formed a most important addition to the information which was already possessed on this subject. If any measure had been adopted before this Report was made, it must have been extremely defective, because it would have been without the valuable information which was now available. If the Report should now be read without any of those exaggerated fears and prejudices which sometimes rejected all evidence, he had little doubt that, in another session, the House would be enabled to come to a satisfactory adjustment of this question.
These, however, were not all that appeared to him in the shape of objections to proceeding with the subject at present. It was impossible that any 346 alteration could be made in the Corn-laws without an exclusive consideration of the price of the commodity; and this branch of the subject was intimately connected with the monetary system. At this moment, when inquiries into that system were going on, and in the feverish and unsettled state in which the currency was placed, would any man say it was desirable that it should be attacked on another side? In considering the subject now before the House, it would be impossible to legislate wisely, unless the currency, which was the soul and element of the prices, should have been first disposed of; and this reason not less forcibly than the others which he had stated, convinced him, that the present period was wholly unfitted for the discussion.
He thought he had stated general grounds enough to convince the House that it would at all times be desirable to have more leisure for entering upon the inquiry than they could at present command; but he would also fairly own, that at this period of the session, when the public business (so far at least as it originated with the government) was in a very advanced state, and every body was looking forward to the probability of a general election, he thought that nothing could be less advisable than to agitate the subject. In saying this, he stated no more than was to be learnt from every newspaper; and he repeated that, if at this moment the House should raise (as the discussion of this question was necessarily calculated to do) a great excitement in the public mind, it would be impossible to conduct the debate with that calmness which ought to characterise the deliberations of a British House of Commons. A pledge which he was said to have given on this subject had been alluded to, and he had no inclination to withdraw that pledge. As a servant of the Crown, he had aright to consider, that circumstances might happen, between the time of giving that pledge, and of being called upon to redeem it, which at least might induce him to postpone it. But, what was the pledge which he had given? He had stated, that, if he should have procured all the information that was requisite, and if the business should be begun at an early period of the session, he thought they might be enabled before the end of it, to arrive at that satisfactory adjustment of the question which was so highly desirable; but this was not the time he had spoken 347 of. He was ready to admit, that, powerful as were his reasons for not now proceeding, if, by doing so, the distress, which, he grieved to say, still prevailed to a considerable degree, could be alleviated, he would immediately forego his opposition. He, however, denied that it would have any such effect. If the House could suddenly and materially reduce the prices of all the necessaries of life, so far from relieving, it would aggravate the general distress, and postpone all hope of its termination. In the state of foreign markets, the stagnation of trade, and the difficulties which existed universally, the effect of an increased consumption produced by such means would be worse than useless. Let him not be misunderstood, in saying this he advanced nothing at variance with the doctrines he had so often advocated; and he was convinced now, as much as he ever had been, that prohibition was a blameable and injurious principle. He did not think it necessary, or even prudent, at this time to go into the details of the alteration which, when the opportunity should arrive, he thought ought to be made in the system of the Corn-laws. Any thing which established occasional or permanent prohibition he was a decided enemy to. He agreed with the hon. gentleman that the evils he had pointed out should be remedied; but the subject was one which gave rise to so many fears and alarms, and seemed to be connected with the interests of so many persons, that a man, who had greater power than himself of expressing with precision and accuracy the alterations which he intended, might be reasonably apprehensive of leading to misconceptions among those whose interests were, or were thought to be, at stake. For this reason, and because he would not encourage any opinion which might be incorrectly formed, the House would excuse his going into the subject now. His wish was, that the public mind should not be agitated on this subject; and he was sure, if the discussion should be continued, the warmth, irritation, and indifference of opinion to which it would give rise in the House, must lead to no other result than to produce ferment and inconvenience, perhaps mischief, out of doors. He wished the question to stand for the present where it did, and that the House would permit him to say (if it would receive from him an intimation of his intentions) that in the next session of 348 parliament he would bring it forward [a laugh.] The hon. member for Northampton might laugh, and he might perhaps think the reasons he had stated for this delay were not sufficient; but if the House were satisfied with them, he should be consoled under the hon. gentleman's disapprobation, and would repeat his request, that he might be allowed to transfer to the next session the assurance he had given in a former one. He would meet the sneer of the hon. gentleman with this qualification that he was not to be bound by this pledge so absolutely, that whatever circumstances might happen during the next six or eight months to change the grounds upon which it was made, he was to be held to redeem it. If the hon. gentleman' thought that he shrunk from the discussion of this question at this time on account of its difficulty, he knew little of the character of the humble individual who now addressed the House, and less of the line of conduct which he had on all occasions pursued. He trusted that he had never evaded that which he had felt to be his duty, whether it happened to be palateable or unpalateable. The pledge which he gave was, that he would take the opinion of the House on this subject at what he believed a favourable opportunity; but he wished to guard himself against being afterwards taunted with the non-performance of a task which he should be no more bound to fulfil then than he was now. He wished to be understood that he by no means undervalued the information which his hon. friend had given to the House, but that he thought the time was unfitted for receiving it.
Before I sit down (continued Mr. Huskisson) I must say, that some of the doctrines of my hon. friend on the subject of free trade are not quite just, or well founded. At least they are not the doctrines which I have ever entertained; and certainly they are very different from those which I have uttered in this House, and they are equally distinct from the principles upon which the government have guided their recent measures with reference to trade. My hon. friend has argued the question of free trade, as if it were the absolute removal of all difficulties thrown in the way of the supply of foreign productions to the inhabitants of this country. This is not my view of the question; but that doctrine does not meet my view of foreign trade. The hon. mover says, that he is the friend of free 349 trade in corn. I appeal to those who have set with me in the committee of 1821, whether I shrank from avowing myself as great a friend of the free trade in that article, as the hon. mover is; but, when my hon. friend says, "I am for free trade in sugar, and for free trade in timber," he forgets that there were two grounds of restriction in the shape of duty, upon the productions of foreign countries. One of these grounds is the levying of duty for the purpose of raising a revenue, which the peculiar situation of this country, the amount of our national debt, renders necessary. Does not my hon. friend know that the revenue levied upon the importation of timber is of considerable amount, and that the duty upon sugar is a most productive source of revenue? Those duties are not like other duties levied for the protection of any British manufacture, but solely for the purpose of revenue. If it is of the duty on East India sugar that my hon. friend speaks, I will show him, whenever that subject comes regularly under the consideration of the House, that the duty is more nominal than real. But, with respect to other articles, I do not know why one produce of the skill and industry of this country should not be protected as well as another. The object was, to place our commerce and manufactures in a slate in which they could fairly compete with the commerce and manufactures of other countries. If, in the peculiar situation of this country, there are circumstances which render it necessary to impose upon our manufacturers and agriculturists burthens from which those classes are exempt in other countries, it is but fair that a countervailing duty to the extent of the advantages enjoyed by other countries, should be imposed as a protection to those classes in this country. What I have already proposed in this parliament, respecting a free trade in silk, was not that all the ports should be opened without duty, but that such a degree of protection as appeared to me commensurate with the disadvantages under which our manufacturers of that article are placed, compared with the foreign manufacture, should be afforded in the shape of a duty upon the foreign manufacture, and by thus putting our manufacturer upon an equal footing with the foreigner, to excite his emulation and his industry. It is upon that principle that I, according to my view of the principles of free trade, have acted, and I have 350 done so, not from any wish to destroy the silk trade in this country, but from a wish to destroy that competition which smuggling had created, and thereby to increase the revenue. I am aware that this measure at first created alarm among the British manufacturers; but I now believe that they find such a system more to their advantage than an actual prohibition, which could not, by possibility, completely exclude competition, and that the protection afforded the British manufacturer is quite sufficient. The hon. mover has said, that in proposing that measure, I began at the wrong end, and that I ought first to have proposed an alteration in the Corn-laws. When the hon. mover made that statement, I beg to ask him whether he recollected the different circumstances under which those two branches of commerce were placed? Does he forget all the statements which had been made by Mr. Webb Hall and others, repecting the protection afforded to the manufactures of the country? Does he forget that Mr. Hall shewed that one branch of manufactures had a protection of 80, and another branch a protection of 60percent.;and that such was the impression created by his writings, that the answer of the agriculturist to every proposal for any alteration in the Corn-laws was, "take off the protection given to the manufacturer, and we shall be then able to enter into competition with the growers of foreign corn?" That objection has been removed by the change which has taken place; and we can now say to the agriculturist, the protecting duty of the cotton manufacturer has been reduced; he pays a duty upon the raw material, but in addition to that duty, there is another imposed upon the manufacturer in the shape of corn." This statement must silence some of the arguments against an alteration in the system of the Corn-laws. The great difficulty is, to fix a sufficient protecting duty to the agriculturist upon the importation of foreign corn; but I am convinced, that when we have sufficient time to consider the nature of the information, which in a few days will be in the hands of every hon. member, and when we shall be placed in more favourable circumstances than we stand in at present, we shall come to the consideration of the question with greater certainty of doing justice to all the interests concerned, with greater satisfaction to our own minds, and with the best prospect that the most sanguine ad- 351 vocates of what are called the agricultural interests will be reconciled to an alteration. For these reasons, and being firmly persuaded that no good could, under the peculiar circumstances, arise from agitating the question at present and that this moment is not the fit one for proceeding to the apppointment of a committee, I feel myself, with every respect for the motives of the hon. mover, under the necessity of moving the previous question.
§ Lord Milton
said, that the right hon. gentleman had, instead of fairly grappling with the question, merely repeated the assurance which he had given last session. The only reason which the right hon. gentleman gave for this was, because he feared an impending dissolution of parliament. Now, he thought the question of such importance, that if the necessary discussion of it took a much longer period than was reckoned upon, it ought immediately to be taken up; because the inconvenience of the suspense in which the country were now kept was of the utmost importance. How was a man to purchase an estate, or how could he calculate the rent of a farm, while things were in their present undefined state? When he considered the power which the landlords possessed over their tenantry, he must protest, on the part of the latter, against their being left in a situation in which they were at the mercy of the landlords. The persons interested in the question were the landlords: they were a powerful, though not a numerous class; they were the members of parliament, and those who made the members of parliament. He thought that he did not give an improper definition of the landed interest when he thus described it. It was not, in his opinion, very creditable to parliament that it should, under the present circumstances, or, indeed, under any circumstances, be thought incapable of considering the question. Much of the alarm which the landlords professed to feel, as to the proposed repeal of the prohibitory laws, was, he thought, groundless. The substitution of an equitable system of Corn-laws, for the present system, would not be injurious to the landed interest. It would, he admitted, occasion a considerable fall of rents, but at the same time it would create a corresponding advantage, by diminishing the prices of all articles of consumption, so that the landlords would not be such losers by the measure as they 352 anticipated. The advocates of the present Corn-laws were apt to make use of terms which were calculated to mislead those who heard them. They talked of the agricultural interest, or the landed interest, being ruined. Those were only abstract terms. It would doubtless be a misfortune if the individuals who derived their support from landed property should be ruined; but, that agriculture should be destroyed, whilst commerce continued to flourish, was impossible. The same number of acres must still be cultivated, whether the rent paid was 20s. or 10s. per acre. The rents of the landlords might be reduced without causing the ruin of the agricultural classes. The landlords pretended to advocate the cause of the farmers and the labourers; but those classes had no interest whatever in the high price of corn. In pretending to plead the cause of the farmers and labourers, the landlords were, in fact, only endeavouring to advance their own interests. He would give the House an instance which had come under his own observation of the tender regard which landlords felt for the farmers. Eighteen months ago, when the price of corn rose, the proprietor of a large estate in his neighbourhood gave notice to all his tenants to quit, preparatory to raising their rents. That case ought to be a warning to the farmers and labourers, and should be stated as an answer to those persons who, in that House and other places, affected to take credit for the protection, forsooth, which they had afforded to the agricultural classes, when, in fact, they were only desirous to protect their own interests [hear]. He was perfectly aware that the opinions which he entertained on the subject were not very palateable in that House. People were, in general, too much disposed to listen to those arguments which flattered their own opinions, and found but little pleasure in hearing those of a contrary description: but it did seem to him, that if ever there was a time when the question of the Corn-laws could be fitly considered, it was at a period when the greatest commercial distress prevailed in the country. He was convinced that the existing laws were not only injurious, as they tended to raise the price of provisions in this country, but that they were doubly hurtful as they affected our foreign commerce. In his opinion, there were no laws which more interfered with the commerce of this 353 country. They shut us out from most of the foreign markets of Europe, and they compelled our merchants to seek for markets for their commerce in the most distant part of the world—at the other end of the globe; in countries whose resources not being accurately known were, of course, much exaggerated; the trading to which was attended with greater expense and risk, and which frequently ended in involving the merchants in ruin. These laws shut out English merchants from the Baltic, from the nearer coasts of Europe, and especially from France; though he believed, that if foreign corn was admitted into this country, very little would come into it from France. Yet from the mere fear that England would be deluged with French produce, were these prohibitory laws maintained. These laws, however, affected us most, as they excluded our commerce from the northern parts of Europe. He trusted the House had not forgotten the important information given them by the hon. mover, who had shewn, from indisputable documents, that not only now, but for some years past, we had been sowing in those countries the seeds of the perpetual exclusion of our manufactures and commerce. By ruining them, we were ruining those from whose prosperity and wealth we looked for a portion of our wealth and prosperity. In short, in whatever view he contemplated the existing laws with respect to the corn trade, he considered them impolitic, unjust, and in his conscience he thought they were unchristian; for it was not christian to enhance, except for the gravest cause, a necessary of life. He knew that he was himself one of those who had been guilty of the sin of voting in favour of these laws. He had given that vote in consequence of the peculiar circumstances in which the country was then placed. And he might recal to the recollection of the right hon. the chancellor of the Exchequer, the speech of a man who was always listened to with admiration and delight, and the charms of whose eloquence on this subject had deluded his hearers into an acquiescence with his opinions. He alluded to the late Mr. Elliot, at that time the member for Peterborough, whose patriotic mind was inflamed; as he thought he saw, in the dependence of this country on foreign states for a supply of corn, a circumstance that could hardly exist, without the loss of her national independence. Such con- 354 siderations, at the conclusion of such a war as that in which the country had then been engaged, were not unnatural, though they did not appear very well founded in fact. Unless, however, the supposition of Mr. Elliot could be made out, every argument that might be advanced in support of these prohibitory laws would fail entirely. To the necessity and the desire of preserving national independence, of course, every thing must yield; but if there was no reason to believe that national independence was endangered, there could be no other reason on which these laws ought to be maintained; and upon mature reflection, he was of opinion that the national independence could in no way be affected by a free trade in corn. Let the House consider who it was that asked for these prohibitory laws. It was the landed gentlemen of England, and their object was, to obtain high rents and large profits. Was it for the landed gentlemen of England, who ought to be at the head of every thing liberal, and prepared to sacrifice their own interests to promote the general welfare of the country—was it for them to stickle for prohibitory laws, in order to enrich themselves at the expense of their lower fellow-subjects? He blushed for the order to which he belonged when he thought of the Corn-laws and the arguments by which it was sought to maintain them. The Corn-laws could not be justified upon the grounds which had almost always been advanced in support of other prohibitory systems. Formerly, when any class of the community desired to obtain a prohibitory law in their favour, they had the dexterity to persuade the government that the public at large was interested in their prosperity; but, in the present case, the landholders of England called upon government to continue a prohibitory system, not on the ground that it was advantageous to the public, but because it was beneficial to themselves. It was said, indeed, that the interest of the national debt could not be paid unless the landed gentlemen were supported by high prices; as if the interest of the national debt was not paid from something else; as if the arm of the labourer, his industry, and the national stock, did not all contribute, with the rent of land, towards making the payment. Really, the absurdities into which the landed gentry were led, would excite pity, if another sort of feeling was not created by the conclusions 355 to which these absurdities conducted them. He begged to apologize to the House for having detained them so long on this subject. He had done so because he considered it of importance, and he could not conclude better than by expressing his firm conviction, that the Corn-was were not founded in policy, and were not warranted either by justice or sound argument, on which any man of sense and impartiality could rely.
§ Mr. Holme Sumner
thought the country gentlemen were ill-treated by ministers, who, rather than meet the subject as it ought to be met, were for smothering it, whenever there was danger of its exciting discussion. In this manner it had been smothered last year, and in this manner it was to be smothered now. This perpetual delay was most inconvenient to the landed interest, who could not tell into what engagements they ought to enter with their tenants while this subject remained suspended over their heads. The principle of free trade had been much referred to. That principle might do very well in commercial concerns, but it was a frightful and fearful doctrine to apply to the agricultural interests—the absolute ruin of which it might probably occasion. The same rules did not apply to agriculture and commerce. If any branch of trade was injured, there was a disposition in the country to embark its capital in commercial adventures, and the interests of trade would be retrieved. It was not so in agricultural concerns, which ought, therefore, to be more carefully protected and encouraged. Besides, the agricultural interest had not yet recovered from the distress which it had suffered, and more time ought yet to be allowed it. In what be now laid, he disclaimed the imputation of speaking merely for his own individual interest, and not for the interest of the farmer and the labourer. On the part of the landed gentlemen of England, he disclaimed the imputation which the noble lord had cast upon them, of seeking to advance their own interests, whilst they pretended to advocate the cause of the farmer and the labourer. The landed gentlemen bad made sacrifices which were in the highest degree honourable to them. The principle of free trade might convert the lands of foreign countries from wastes to gardens, but it would convert the lands of England from gardens to wastes. Before this protection was taken off corn, ministers should determine to put the 356 agriculturalists here on a footing with those in other countries. It was impossible that the agricultural interest could exist without the Corn-laws, so long as they had to pay the present amount of taxes. If ministers would take away 30,000,000l. from the 50,000,000l. of taxes, and repeal the 2,000,000l. of land-tax, and the 6,000,000l. of poor-rates, the agricultural interest would be able to meet foreign competition, but not otherwise. The right hon. the President of the Board of Trade seemed to think that this question had been brought before the House too early; as one publication that might have much effect on their opinions had not yet appeared. For himself, he could say, that publications of the day produced but little effect on his mind; and he believed that the opinions of the gentleman who was the author of this publication had once been different from what they were now. Though, however, he had not read many books on this subject; he had read the book of experience. That book was uniform; and, except in two years, when high prices were caused by great scarcity, he had always found that years of high prices were years of prosperity to all classes; while years of low prices were those of the greatest distress. When he saw a man entertain one set of opinions at one time, and a different set at another, when he was employed by government to serve a particular purpose, he could not attach much weight to his evidence. He should vote against the motion.
began by remarking upon the inconsistency of ministers with regard to this question. The right hon. gentleman opposite admitted, that last year he had promised to discuss this question in the present session, but said, that he had not performed his promise on account of the difference of circumstances between that time and the present. Yet, notwithstanding this breach of promise, the right hon. gentleman still expected faith to be placed in his word; and, at the end of the sentence in which he had made this admission, he repeated his promise. What was the case which the right hon. gentleman attempted to make out in justification of the breach of his promise? it was most unsatisfactory. The whole of it might have applied to any time and circumstances as well as to the present, and his arguments might have been moulded in the same manner, to answer his purpose on every occasion 357 whatever. This year he said he would not interfere, because it was a year of general distress; and last year he begged to decline the discussion, because it was a year of general prosperity, and the discussion might be injurious, as it might lead to inconsiderate speculations in corn. What did the right hon. gentleman mean? If the prosperity of the country was a reason for delay in one year, surely it was at least odd to assign distress as a cause of delay in another. The debate of last year assumed a very different character from what it would have done, in consequence of the representation and promise of the right hon. gentleman, and of the great respect which every one entertained for his word and his character; and now, when the question was brought forward, the right hon. gentleman urged its postponement with such a set of arguments, as had hardly ever been heard from him before. It was said, that the report and evidence of Mr. Jacob were not yet published; but why were they not? That gentleman had returned in August last from his northern tour, and his evidence might have been laid on the table before now; and since it had not been, surely it was rather hard to say that the House ought not to proceed with the discussion, because evidence which the ministers might have furnished months ago was not yet ready. Then it was said, that the question ought to be postponed on account of the ferment it might create on the approach of a general election. Surely this was no sufficient reason; but even if it Were, the evil was not to be much dreaded, as the whole question might be settled before a general election. He maintained that, upon this view of the question, it was their duty to press it forward at the present moment. It was unfair to argue, that this subject ought not to be introduced at the close of a session, or of a parliament. Again, it was a great fallacy to argue, that there could be no benefit derived to the manufacturer from low prices of corn, inasmuch as the agriculturist, who was the principal consumer of our manufactures, could not afford to purchase them, if he was obliged to sell cheap corn. But he would ask, whether those who argued thus, did not forget, that for every quarter of corn which might be imported into this country? Some article of our manufacture would go out? At that late hour he could not think of detaining the House, but he wished to impress upon them the necessity 358 of preventing, by a judicious legislative enactment, those fluctuations in the price of corn, which raised it at one time above the reach of the mechanic, and again, by a sudden alteration, lowered it to such a degree, that it seriously affected the farmer, whose interests the existing Corn-laws were said to protect. The hon. member proceeded to state, in answer to what had been said about remunerating prices, that in 1773, the price was 48s.; in 1806, it was 66s.; and now it was 70s. If the present system were persevered in, they would have all the poor land of the country brought into cultivation again, and then a law would be required to give a remunerating price for the produce of those lands. Now, the sooner they got rid of such a system as this the better. The hon. member, in conclusion, expressed a hope, that this measure would be pressed upon ministers year after year. He trusted that continued attacks would be made upon a system which exposed the country to disorder and distress on the one hand, while it operated as a severe check upon our wealth and prosperity on the other.
§ Mr. Huskisson,
in explanation, denied that he had, last session, urged the prosperity of the country as an argument against going into a revision of the Corn-laws; nor had he in the present, quoted the distress as a reason for avoiding that measure. All he now said was, that any rapid reduction in the price of corn might be likely to create alarm, and aggravate the difficulties under which the country was labouring. As for the report to which the hon. member for Northampton had alluded, as soon as he received it, he had lost no time in laying it before the House.
§ Mr. Curwen
said, it was not his intention to occupy the time of the House more than a few moments. Indeed, he would not have presented himself at all, at that late hour, were it not that he was anxious to rebut a charge made against land-owners, that, in keeping up high prices, they were looking only to their own interests. He should blush at rising in his place, if he felt that such a stigma deservedly attached to that body. But he was glad to know that such was not the case. In advocating their interests, they were advocating those of the public at large. It was impossible that the manufacturing and other interests of the country could go on with what was called cheap corn; because cheap corn must 359 bring low wages, and low wages, instead of producing comfort and happiness to the manufacturers, would be productive of precisely the reverse.
said, he felt much obliged to the honourable mover for making out so good a case for the landed interest. That hon. gentleman had now appeared, for three successive years, in a very extraordinary capacity; for in three successive sessions of parliament he had prophesied that a famine would befal the country. Now, he was quite disposed, on many occasions, to go with that hon. gentleman; but really, where a man undertook to be weather-wise, he must be pardoned for thinking him otherwise. If the hon. gentleman would only print his speech of that night, as a summary of all the others that he had printed on the same subject, he would promise him that it should be treated better than the last; which, to say the truth, had not yet, to the best of his belief, been read by any member of the club of which himself and the hon. gentleman were members.
Sir Francis Burdett
said, he differed entirely in opinion from the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, for he thought that there was no question which was more proper for discussion than that before the House; and none for which, by discussion, more was likely to be gained. He wished to hear the question argued fully and fairly—to hear as many gentlemen as possible express their opinions upon it, plainly and practically, but without such angry animadversions or imputations of interested motives, as could only tend to create ill feeling, and lead them from the real merits of the subject; and, although he regretted, at so late an hour, and in the present disposition of honourable members, to be compelled to occupy any portion of their time, yet he should be obliged to trouble them at some little length, from the peculiar situation in which he stood as to the arguments of the speakers who had gone before him. For, to deal candidly, although he could not agree in the view of the question taken by the honourable member immediately above him (Mr. Curwen), yet certainly he had not quite so disinterested a feeling upon it as that contended for by one or two honourable members who had spoken in the course of the debate. Standing as he did in the situation of a gentleman of England, possessing a landed estate, most certainly, if he believed that 360 a change in the corn system would be detrimental to the landed interest, he was not so great a patriot but that he should think it his duty to maintain himself in that situation in society in which it so happened that he was placed. But while he avowed the possibility of this dilemma—and he did so without hesitation—he had the satisfaction to add, that he was by no means subjected to it at present; because he felt and believed, that in maintaining the interests of his own class and station in society, as regarded the effect of the present motion, he was maintaining the interests and safety of society at large. He stood, in fact, in the rather singular predicament, of being about to vote for a motion, without participating in any of the views of the hon. member who had brought it forward. He did not think that the proposition of the hon. member for Bridge-north would produce any of the opinions or expectations which he anticipated from it: nor did he expect any of the results which the opponents of the measure threatened from it. But he would support the motion on different grounds—he would vote for it, because he was persuaded that the particular interests of the land-holder and the general interests of the country were one and the same, and that they did not consist in the objects which the hon. gentleman wished to see effected. With respect to the noble lord who had spoken that night upon this question with so much eloquence, and such patriotic feeling, he could not concur exactly with him in his view of the subject; but, while he himself had arrived at a very different conclusion from the noble lord, he could not refrain from bearing, with all other members who had heard that speech, a most willing testimony to the disinterestedness and the great ability which it had manifested. The hon. member who seconded the motion, had urged one or two arguments in which he fully concurred, and he had relied upon another position, from which he totally dissented. He agreed with that hon. member, that the welfare of society was best promoted, not by employing a great number of hands to produce what would, after all, be a small supply for the consumption of the whole people, but by creating a large produce by the skilful and well-directed application of the labour of a few. There were many who thought it a matter of discredit and reflection upon the agricultural portion of the community, that they 361 were less numerically important than the manufacturing classes; but he agreed with the hon. gentleman who seconded the motion, that the great and striking evidence of the opulence and prosperity of the country was comprised in the fact, that, with the small proportion of the community, numerically speaking, of which the agricultural interest consisted, such was the skill employed by them, and the knowledge and experience they brought to their labours, that, although one-third only of our whole population was employed in agriculture, they raised sufficient produce to keep the entire community in a state of prosperity and abundance—for such, notwithstanding the impediments occasioned by partial and adventitious visitations, was the general condition of the people of this country. This result of the labours of the agricultural classes exhibited a spectacle not equalled in any country in the world. There was no other nation, which by a third of its population, was able to raise a sufficient supply for the consumption of all its inhabitants; yet this was the effect of the labours of the English agriculturists; four millions of the people being engaged in that occupation, while six millions were employed in commerce and manufactures, and two millions devoted themselves to the learned professions and scientific pursuits. This circumstance gave to this country a superiority over any other nation in Europe. In France, for instance, whose population amounted to thirty millions, four-fifths of that number were employed in agriculture, and the remaining fifth composed the manufacturing classes. The redundancy of the agricultural population, and the small division of property in that country, created a consumption as rapid as the supply, and the necessary consequence was, that the manufacturers were poor and insignificant in number. The manufacturer could not be rich unless the agriculturist was rich too, and the agriculturist could not be rich unless a great return was made to the manufacturer for his produce. Nothing could be more clear than the fact that there could be but one interest between the agricultural and the manufacturing classes. The only reason that England had so large a body of manufacturers—the only reason why she was enabled to support them—was, that her agriculturists produced with so little labour so much more than was needful for their own consumption. The living of each party being made out of the 362 exertions of the other, it was impossible that either could be rich without their prosperity being mutual. The more the agriculturist's labour produced, the more he had to sell to the manufacturer; the less exertion the manufacturer had to lay out upon his commodity, the more the agriculturist received in the exchange. This was the plain and simple view of the question; putting aside for the present all those difficulties which arose from combining it with the subject of the currency—difficulties which seemed to belong, indeed, to the question of the currency-let it be discussed in what shape, or to what effect it might. Setting those difficulties aside, the point to be accomplished was the due adjustment of that trade which was always going on in the country—the exchange of their respective articles of produce between the agriculturist and the manufacturer. Then, hon. gentlemen said—"Give the manufacturer cheap corn, and he will give you cheap commodities;" but those who reasoned thus, spoke without consideration—because the terms "dear" and "cheap" applied in such a way, became convertible. To say that manufactures were dear, was to say, in other words, that corn was cheap; and vice versa; for, in the whole, there only was an exchange of one article for the other. Both trades might flourish; the greater and easier production of both was an advantage to both; but, that the produce of both should be dear, was impossible. And those who were disposed to endanger the safety of agricultural property were short-sighted in their views of their own advantage; since they endangered the stopping of the source from which all their own means of existence were derived. Without the agricultural produce, it would be impossible for the manufacturers to live; and the members of learned professions, such as the law, who, however valuable in their ministry, were not immediately producers, would soon find that their assistance must be dispensed with by society; for that there would be no means of paying them for it. If any man doubted this principle, let him look at the way, at the degree, in which scientific pursuits were paid for in England, and the amount of payment which they received in countries on the continent, where agriculture was a less productive and profitable pursuit. He did not entertain such high sentiments of patriotism as to say that he was prepared 363 to merge himself and those connected with him, for whom he at least entertained a concern equal to any he felt upon public affairs, in some scheme for the public advantage; but he would say, that it was the interest of the class of society to which he belonged, to do that which advanced the interests of all; and that of the labouring man as much as the rest. But he repeated, that this difficulty was not one to which he need attend; for he was convinced, that that which was his own interest was the interest of the country at large. There were points, however, as he had premised, in the speech of his hon. friend, from which he was compelled entirely to differ. His hon. friend, speaking upon the application of capital, had observed, that, by a sufficient outlay, the mountain of Snowdon might be brought into a state of cultivation. No doubt that might be done; but that, he should say clearly, would be a misapplication of capital; because, how could it be done but by such a misapplication of capital—such immense labour and increase of numbers—that though you would positively augment the gross produce, still you would add so many more to partake of that produce, that the proportion between the gross produce and the whole population, would be in a more disadvantageous ratio than if the mountain remained an uncultivated spot. Thus, it was not the actual quantity produced in any country which constituted poverty or wealth, but the quantity produced with reference to, and in comparison with, the number employed in the production or cultivation. A country of very small gross produce might be richer than a country where the produce was very large; because, the numbers employed in cultivation might be comparatively less in the first than in the latter. France, for instance, with only one-half of her present population, and keeping up all her existing produce, would, perhaps, be a richer country than England, but the very scheme of her law, by preventing the accumulation of wealth, cut at the root of every thing like solid and lasting prosperity. It had been said, that people were elated with that which was their destruction. It seemed to be so in France; for there the greatest madness had been shown in opposition to a law, which, even if passed, would have taken a long time to restore her to a state of competent wealth. Gentlemen said, that 364 the people of that country were well off. But the thing was impossible; it could not be. It was not necessary to go to France to know that it could not be; for it was clear, upon considering the operation of the law he spoke of, that landed property, which was inherited equally by the sons, must be growing less and less, and more and more sub-divided every year. Under the influence of such a system, it was impossible that accumulations of such property could take place in France to any extent; yet, until that was the case, she must go on, getting worse and worse, weaker and weaker, poorer and poorer, every day. But, if he agreed with his hon. friend as to his instance of the cultivation of Snowdon—that such a proceeding would be manifestly a misapplication of capital—he could not agree with him that the Corn-laws, by keeping up the price of provisions, had in any degree injured the labouring classes of the community. His opinion was, that they produced, in fact, a directly contrary effect—that they injured—not the working classes, but the landed proprietors; though, even this not in the way which was contended for by the hon. member for Bridgenorth. To the labourer, as it seemed to him, neither the price of bread nor the money price of any other article was a matter of importance. It might be a matter of some little consequence to the labourer's employer, who wished to get his work done as cheaply as possible; but the labourer himself had no interest in it; and upon this point it was worth while to take notice, how anxious the manufacturers, who objected to remunerating prices in favour of the agriculturists—how anxious they were to have remunerating prices for themselves. From Glasgow, Paisley, and other manufacturing towns, all the story was of "stagnation in trade," and "heavy low prices"—complaints which, certainly, did not come with a very good grace from gentlemen who were so very desirous to have a "heavy low price" put upon corn. In truth, what was the price of corn, or any other article in the country, depended chiefly upon the state of the currency; but the real question—the amount of the reward received for labour—that always depended upon the quantity which the country had of surplus produce. The hon. seconder of the motion had spoken of "liberal wages." Now, as far as he understood what was 365 meant by "liberal wages," there could be no such thing. Individuals might be liberal, but nations could not. In the great concerns of a country, there could be but one way of carrying on business; namely, that which was to the advantage of the person who carried it on. The value of the labour was the question; that was, what it would fetch, and the amount of that would depend upon competition; and, as far as by "liberal wages" was meant any arrangement which tended to keep up a high price of labour, the result of that course must necessarily be, the throwing a considerable portion of the labouring classes out of employ, and consigning them to starvation. The petition from Blackburn, lately presented, came from a very distressed class of the community. They also complained of the high price of corn; for, except among the unfortunate landed interest, a complaint of the high price of corn seemed to be the order of the day with all classes. In this instance, however, it was only the expressed gravamen of the complaint; while the real evil deprecated by the petitioners was the introduction of the power-looms, by which, it seemed, a little boy or girl could accomplish the production of work that would have required the application of several machines upon the former construction. But these evils were the inseparable attendants upon the introduction of all great discoveries in art; and might have been as reasonably made on the invention of the plough by him who had been accustomed to dig with the spade; or, to go still further back, with the nails and fingers. He, for one, was as ready as any man to afford temporary relief where severe and pressing distress called for it; but every man who attempted to legislate upon such principles as those which he had just alluded to, would, at once, put a bar to those sources of wealth and aggrandisement by which the prosperity and greatness of the country had been hitherto maintained. He thought the country gentlemen in error, if they supposed the Corn-laws were requisite to maintain the prosperity of the landed interest, or that the abolition of them would not benefit both them and the rest of the community. Their interest was closely allied with the interest of the other classes, and the former could not prosper if the latter did not flourish. There was one fact which he had almost forgotten, to which he 366 thought it of importance to advert. This fact was, that, during the periods of high prices, a very large quantity of corn had been annually imported into this country. It was wrong, therefore, to say that low prices would necessarily be caused by importation. The fact was, indeed, opposed to theory; but, when he saw that fact occurring during a period of twenty years, he preferred the fact to the theory; and he believed that, during a part of the time when the importation was largest, the price of wheat was 120s. a quarter. But he had another theory to account for this, and that was, that the more food there was for the manufacturers, the more manufacturers there would be; the more their skill would be excited, and the greater return there would be for the produce of the agriculturist. It might be, that a part of that food came from abroad; but it was, in his estimation, of little consequence where it came from—whether grown in this country, or dropped from heaven, like manna—the advantages would be the same. He would say, therefore, let the trade in corn be free; and he was ready to vote for a free corn trade. The more the manufacturers increased, the more they would produce; the better off would the agriculturists be, and all classes would be richer. Since the prohibition to import foreign corn into England, corn had been at a certain price—perhaps higher, rather than otherwise—and this had certainly extended cultivation, and caused more corn to be produced, so as to supply the wants of the people better than before. But the manufacturers had also increased, both in skill and numbers; and, though more food was produced in the country, they had ample returns to pay both the grower of food here and abroad, and there was a greater revenue in the country. For much of this prosperity we were indebted to that law of primogeniture, which was, he believed, peculiar to this country, by which estates were kept together, and descended in the same families for many generations, and which led to the establishment of large farms, and all that improved cultivation, for which this country was distinguished, and to that surplus food which was the means of paying all the other classes. He believed these things necessarily went together, and they; were accompanied by better modes of conveyance, greater mechanical and manufacturing ingenuity than were to be 367 found in other countries, by which the towns gained in their turn, and were enabled to make large returns to the country, and the whole increased in wealth. He did not think, therefore, that he was, as a landed gentleman, making any sacrifice by; voting for the motion. He laid claim to no great virtue in doing it, but he thought he was promoting the public interest by such a vote, and not injuring the landed interest. He quite agreed with the hon. member for Bridgenorth, that there was no measure which caused more extensive mischief than the Corn-laws. If we would not take the corn of other countries, which was, perhaps, all they had to sell, it was impossible they could take our manufactures. If we forbad importation, we also, necessarily, forbad exportation. He thought the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade not consistent with himself. He wanted free trade, or, rather, he talked of wanting it; and with that he connected reciprocity, and required protecting duties. But these things were incompatible. Protecting duties only made us pay dearer for commodities made at home than we should pay for similar commodities imported from abroad. Another injury such duties inflicted on us was, to make us engage in undertakings for which we had no natural advantages, and refrain from prosecuting those manufactures for which, having natural advantages, we could obtain large returns by exportation. The hon. baronet concluded by saying, that he thought the range of mischief caused by these laws very extensive; that it was not possible to inflict an injury on others without injuring ourselves; that he had no objection whatever to a free trade in corn; and that he thought such a trade would be of the greatest benefit to the landed interest [cries of question!].
§ Mr. Brougham
said, that taking warning by the impatience manifested by the House, he should address himself shortly and plainly to the simple question before them. That question was, whether they should go into a committee of the whole House, for the purpose, as he understood, of ascertaining whether or not some legislative measure might not be introduced which would settle this question? The right hon. gentleman opposite would not, however, accede to the proposal; he would not run the risk of prolonging the session a few short days, or a week or two at most, to enable them to settle this 368 question—the final settlement of which, he believed, settled how it might be, would be of far greater importance than any other. Important and extensive as he deemed the consequences which would be involved in settling the question either way; highly important as he thought the different details connected with the subject; yet they were all, in his estimation, of far less importance to the country, than finally settling the question which the right hon. gentleman said they would not have time to discuss. He referred, no doubt, to the circumstance that the parliament was now drawing to its close, and the members would soon have to meet their constituents; and it was under these circumstances that the right hon. gentleman thought the Corn-laws an unfit subject for discussion. He could not, however, view the matter in that light. He could not but conceive, that, before they separated, they ought to take some step to satisfy the country, and put this important question in a course for final decision. The course pursued by the right hon. gentleman was one which it was not possible could give satisfaction to either of the great parties interested in the decision. Coming to no distinct resolution, each party remaining in uncertainty as to the future state of the question, it was inevitable that both would put their own construction on it, and the construction of each would be influenced by their apprehensions. What those constructions would be, the House might learn from the speech of the hon. member for Surrey, who was one of that class for whose interest the postponement was, if for any, beneficial; and he had expressed his aversion to the postponement. He had found no satisfaction in it, but had said he saw, with fright and alarm, the fearful doctrine which was connected with the postponement. But, would the manufacturers, would the consumers, would the great mass of the people, be contented with this delay? He believed no such thing; and by not discussing the question now, they would come to a resolution that would, of all others, be the least likely to enable gentlemen to meet their constituents with satisfaction. There was one other reason which had been mentioned for opposing the motion of his hon. friend, and that was the only reason which had any weight with him; he meant, what had been said of the present unsettled state of the cur- 369 rency; but he did hope, that, before the committee should have concluded its labours, something might be settled with regard to the currency, which would either show the difficulty of settling the question, or enable them to come to some resolution which would, at least, promise a satisfactory conclusion. By putting it off till next session, it could not be hoped that it would even then be settled. And, in what state, he would ask, did things in the mean time remain? While things were in this state, no man could tell what his land was worth; no man could sell land; no man would buy land; no man could take a farm; contracts would not be made, or could not be kept; no man could tell what rents would be, and hardly what they now were. He doubted the argument adduced by his hon. friend, which went to show, that lowering the price would not affect rent. The present system was never intended as a final arrangement. It had not been so stated when it was proposed, and it had not been so understood by those who supported it. He was not himself then in parliament, but this he knew to be their conviction. If that arrangement was only temporary, the time was now come for making it permanent. It was now time to sweep away that system of averages which was liable to all the objections made to the system of prohibitions. It was now time to get rid of what had been called the sliding duties, and repeal the prohibitions permitting the ports to be continually open, only laying on such a protecting duty as would enable the agriculturist to grow his produce on such terms as to stand the conflict with the foreign grower. He was not prepared to contend, that lowering price would not lower rent; and not supposing that this would be the effect, he would not utter one word that should encourage any delusion of that nature; but he conceived that the Corn laws, if they gave high rents, caused extensive fluctuations in them, and he concluded that repealing them would give permanent and steady prices, lowering rents, but preventing fluctuations in them. To say that the repealing the Corn laws would not lower rents, would, he thought, be treating the landed interest unfairly. It would tend to lower rents, not to fix them, and with lower rents, he hoped there would be lower wages; at least with one class of the community. He hoped that the high wages for public 370 services, the high salaries for public men, settled at a time when every thing else was high, would be lowered when every thing was lowered. They were increased a few years ago, and he hoped they would be revised and diminished, thereby affording relief to the landed interest, by lessening the public burthens. They would, if the Corn laws were repealed, derive relief from diminished poor-rates, from diminished county-rates, and from a lessening of the public burthens; and, expecting to be relieved of all these, the landed interest, under such circumstances, ought to wish the question set at rest as speedily as possible, and should, like him, vote for the motion of his hon. friend.
§ Mr. Whitmore
briefly replied. He said, that in the temper of the House, he would not notice the arguments which had been brought against his proposition; but there was one personal imputation which he wished to correct. The hon. member for Surrey had stated, that he had caused great inconvenience by the notice of his motion; that since he had given notice of it, no sales could be effected but from day to day, and that the price of wheat had fallen. Now, he happened to have the returns of the price of wheat before him, and what was the fact? On February 15, 1825, the price was 60s. 4d. the quarter; while on March 15, 1826, the price was 67s. 11d. showing, whatever other effects his notice might have had, it had not had any effect on prices.
§ The House then divided: For the motion 81; Against it 250; Majority 169.
|List of the Minority.|
|Allen, J. A.||Ellice, E.|
|Barrett, S. B. M.||Evans, W.|
|Bentinck, lord W.||Fergusson, sir R.|
|Bernal, R.||Gascoyne, general|
|Birch, J.||Gaskell, B.|
|Bright, H.||Grattan, J.|
|Brougham, H.||Grenfell, P.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Grosvenor, hon. R.|
|Butterworth, J.||Hobhouse, J. C.|
|Buxton, T. F.||Hodgson, F.|
|Calthorpe, hon. A.||Hume, J.|
|Calthorpe, hon. F. G.||Innes, J.|
|Calvert, C.||James, W.|
|Caulfield, hon. H.||Kekewich,—|
|Colborne, N. W. R.||Labouchere, H.|
|Corbett, P.||Langston, I. H.|
|Cradock, col.||Leader, W.|
|Creevey, T.||Lester, B.L.|
|Crompton, S.||Leycester, R.|
|Davies, col.||Lloyd, J. J.|
|Denman, T.||Maberly, J.|
|Dowdeswell, J. E.||Maberly, J. L.|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Mansfield, J.|
|Martin, J.||Sykes, D.|
|Mildmay, P. St. J.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Milton, lord||Thompson, alderman|
|Monck, J. B.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Moore, P.||Tulk, C.A.|
|Ord, W.||Wall, C. B.|
|Palmer, general||Warre, J. A.|
|Palmer, C. F.||Whitbread, S. C.|
|Pares, T.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Philips, G.||Wilson, T.|
|Ramsbottom, J.||Wigram, W.|
|Ramsden, J. C.||Wood, alderman|
|Rice, T. S.||Wortley, S.|
|Ridley, sir M. W.||Wyvill, M.|
|Robarts, A. W.||TELLERS.|
|Robarts, colonel||Philips, G.|
|Robinson, sir G.||Whitmore, W. W.|
|Rumbold, C. E.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Scarlett, J.||Gurney, Hudson.|