Canning moved the order of the day for the House to resolve itself into a committee on the act of the 3rd Geo. 4th, cap. 60, respecting the Corn-laws.
Sir T. Lethbridge
said, it gave him great pain to offer any opposition to the measure which he understood was to be submitted to the House by the right hon. the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He knew the full extent of the responsibility which every gentleman must incur who ventured to put himself forward for such a purpose at this moment, when the country was looking to the proposition of the right hon. gentleman as the means 785 of imparting relief to the distresses of a large class of the community, whose sufferings no man deplored more sincerely than he did. But, awful as the responsibility was, and great as might be the blame which he should incur, he was impelled by a sense of duty to follow the course he had marked out for himself; and he hoped the House would allow him to state the reasons why he objected to the mode of relief which was proposed. Notwithstanding the sarcasms and gibes with which he might be assailed, and notwithstanding the more severe denunciations with which the noble member for Yorkshire had thought it his duty to visit that class to which he belonged in common with the noble lord, he should persist in doing that which he felt to be called for by the present circumstances; and, while he refrained from making any answer to the descriptions which the noble lord had thought proper to give of that class, he would assure him that his reproaches were as painful for them to hear, as they were undeserved. Although the noble lord belonged to that class which he had chosen to censure, it was well known that he did so with perfect safety, because his interest in it was so large, that it mattered very little to him what was the price of agricultural produce. In the name of that class of persons the greater part of whom had an interest infinitely less in amount, but much deeper and dearer in its kind, in this object, he now rose to offer the most serious opposition to the measure of the right hon. gentleman, and he hoped to be supported in his opposition by all who were connected with that class for whom he spoke. If he understood the tendency of the right hon. gentleman's scheme, it went exactly to this point—that all the corn in this country now under bond should be let out on paying a duty of 12s. per quarter, that was the proposition, he believed, in the first place. To this, if it were to stop here, there might be no objection—he, at least, had no objection to it; but it was to that which followed that he wanted now to call the attention of the House; because it involved the whole subject of the principles of the Corn-laws. But a little fortnight ago, when the hon. member for Bridgenorth had made a proposition, the object of which was, to deal with the whole system of Corn-laws, it had been over-ruled by a large majority of the House. The ar- 786 gument by which it was attempted to support that proposition was, that a scarcity was about to take place. He admitted, that if that fact could be sufficiently proved, it would furnish a forcible reason against the principle upon which the existing system of our Corn-laws rested. But, how had that motion been combatted, and by whom? What was the opinion then expressed by his majesty's government? Did they not say that the proposal was ill-timed—that in the existing circumstances of the country such a question ought not to be disposed of in such a manner? He would ask what had arisen since to justify the alteration which had taken place in the opinion of ministers? He knew of nothing; the distress now complained of existed then, and it was only because it had been of longer duration that it was now greater. There had been no rioting then, and he had heard, he did not pretend to say how truly, that the cause of the riots might be in a great measure attributed to the manner in which that question had been treated in this House. He, however, was much more disposed to attribute those riots to the severe and sore distress which the unhappy people had been exposed to, and which he most heartily commiserated. That distress had led this day to a meeting at which he heard great sums had been subscribed for the relief of those who suffered most under its pressure. The right hon. Secretary had himself made an appeal to that benevolence which had been so often excited on behalf of the people of other countries, and he had no doubt that appeal would be readily answered. But, although the liberality of the persons who might be disposed to subscribe would afford some immediate relief, it would be necessary to look much deeper into the cause of the distress before an adequate cure could be found. The duty of the government was, not only to alleviate the distress, but to remove the cause. Would it not, then, looking at the subject in this point of view, have been much wiser for the right hon. Secretary to have asked the House for a vote in aid of the poor-rates? It was a principle in the laws of the country, that if a parish should be unable to support its own poor, it had a right to call upon the adjoining parish to come into its aid. No doubt this might, in many cases, be severe; but still it was the law, and the principle might in this instance 787 be safely resorted to, for the relief of the existing distresses in the country. If such a vote were proposed he could not doubt that the House would agree to it, for his own part, he would willingly assist to carry it; and he was decidedly of opinion, that it would have been a much more rational and justifiable course than that which was now contemplated. But, would the right hon. gentleman venture to say seriously, that the high price of corn was the cause of this distress? He could not believe that so great a fallacy would prevail in that House. He knew that it had spread elsewhere; he knew that the notion had been promulgated and nurtured by persons of great talent, and that it had been used as a pretext for coming at the landed interest of the country, and destroying them at one blow. Was it wonderful that a large body of the people congregated together should adopt a notion speciously put forward? Petitions had in consequence been prepared, and crowded the table of the House, echoing the opinions which had been carefully disseminated. He, however, knew that the cause of the distress was to be looked for in various other sources than the price of the agricultural produce of the country, and therefore it was that he resisted the present motion. He knew that the ministers avowed no intention of interfering with the Corn-laws; but proposed this measure only as the means of affording some temporary relief. If this representation had been such as he could have given credit to, he might have been content to offer no opposition to this measure, and to have agreed, as he had done before, to the proposition of ministers. It was stated by the right hon. gentleman, that the quantity of corn now in the country under bond consisted of 250,000 or 300,000 quarters. He had reason to suppose that this was underrated, and that there was a much larger quantity than this in the country. If he looked to the account given by Mr. Jacob, he found that it was there estimated that 600,000 quarters formed about one week's consumption in England; and supposing this statement to be correct, it was obvious that the introduction of such a quantity of corn as was proposed could have little effect in alleviating the present distresses. He therefore thought that this was not a fair or manly way of treating the question, and that, under the pretext which was held out, the real object was (for he 788 would speak out) to get rid of the whole system of Corn-laws by a side-wind. A subject of such vital consequence to the country ought not to be disposed of in any such way, and he for one was resolved not to agree to the proposition, without recurrence to a committee, as in the years 1821 and 1822, to look into the causes by which the produce of this country was forced to higher prices than in any other. Until that should be done, he was sure that no one interested in the question, or in the welfare of the nation which it involved, could be satisfied. He was not afraid that, upon such an investigation, it would appear, that the growers of agricultural produce enjoyed any protection to which they were not fairly entitled, nor which was beyond that granted to other classes. He was sure that imposing a duty of 12s. a quarter on foreign corn, would have the immediate effect of throwing out of cultivation a vast quantity of land, and that distress, similar to that which had been felt in 1821 and 1822, would again be experienced. This was a state of things which ought by all means to be avoided if possible; and the House need not be told that the distress of the agricultural classes was not less poignant than that of the manufacturers, although, unlike that of the latter, it did not break out into open violence. The manufacturers, from the nature of their occupations, were congregated together in large bodies, and had not only the means of acting in concert, but of putting into practice any measure that they might resolve upon, however absurd and mischievous. The physical force which they were capable of presenting, had always the effect of intimidating; and, in the present reduced state of the military establishments of this country, this consideration had a greater weight than at other times would have belonged to it. He cautioned the House against being led into the adoption of any measure in which this feeling of intimidation might have any share; because it must not only be fallacious in the prospect which it held out, but, as an example to other classes of the community, must be highly dangerous. The House were not called upon to afford protection to one class or to another, but to make laws which should be for the benefit of the whole country. Would it be said, even if this principle should be disputed, that the manufacturers were entitled to the protection which it was 789 now proposed to give them at the expense of other and not less important interests? When the subject of the Corn-laws was agitated, upon the recent occasion to which he had already alluded, Mr. Jacob's report was not so generally in the possession of members as it ought to have been, and as it had since become. Considering the information which it conveyed, could any man shut his eyes to the fact, that the continental growers of corn regulated all their operations by the state of the British market? The change which had taken place in the importation of wool was a sufficient proof of this fact. So long as they could command high prices in the markets of this country, the corn-growers of the continent encouraged their crops. When, in consequence of the cessation of the war, and the circumstances of this country in 1821 and 1822, their importations were checked, the cultivation of corn was given up, and wool was grown to a great extent instead. It appeared by the returns, that in 1821, seven millions of pounds weight of wool were imported; in 1822, eleven or twelve millions; in 1824, eighteen millions; and in 1825, forty-two millions. Who, then, could doubt that the immediate consequence of the proposed measure must be to reduce the importation of wool to the same quantity as before the period he first mentioned, and to increase the importation of corn in a similar proportion? It was, in his opinion, an assertion wholly destitute of proof, that the high price of corn was the cause of the distress; and this was confirmed by the state of Ireland. Corn in that country was about 42s. per quarter, and here it was about 60s. He stated this to be decidedly his opinion, and he had given the reasons upon which that opinion was founded; but, as there existed so great a difference on the subject between himself and others, it was at least fit that some inquiry should be made into it. The result might turn out other than he expected; but, until he was fully convinced by investigation, which could not be fallacious, he was not to be led into a measure, the danger of which was obvious, and the expediency of which was a matter of considerable doubt. The right hon. gentleman came down to the House in a manner, which, to say the least of it, was quite unusual, and it might fairly be said, he had taken the House by surprise. He could not have supposed, after the fate which the motion of the hon. member 790 for Bridgenorth had experienced, that an attempt like the present would have been made to annihilate the whole system of the Corn-laws. From the moment the ports should be open on the payment of a duty of 12s., who could tell the quantity which might be poured into the country? He had every respect for the authority of his hon. friend, the member for Bridgenorth, but he would not pin his faith upon that gentleman's assertion. The House had heard a great deal respecting the principles of free trade, and had taken some steps in consequence; the result of which did not so clearly appear to be beneficial. For his own part, he was of opinion, that those principles were carrying ministers out of their depth: for it was not from the persons interested in corn alone, but from those concerned in shipping, and from commercial quarters, that he had heard complaints which had not yet been contradicted. He hoped the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade would be prepared to refute these statements. From his talents and acquirements this might be expected; and although he was sure that the right hon. gentleman was only anxious in all his measures to do good to the country, he was nevertheless compelled to look at the effect which those measures had produced abroad and at home. It was yet to be shown that the reciprocity of which so much had been said had extended its advantage to us—whether, while we had given advantages to other countries, those countries had not been very sparing in extending similar advantages to us. Without, however, going further into the principles of free trade than applied to corn, he contended, that it was impossible to put that upon the footing of other articles of produce, until it had been relieved from the burthens which it at present bore to the same extent. Let the House look at the expenses which the country had to pay. Let them look at the amount of the annual revenue. Let them look at the immense establishment, and say whether it was possible to make them cheap. If he had thought it possible, he should not have given the votes he had done: but he was convinced that it was necessary to keep up the sources of the revenue, and to discharge the national debt; which he would, for one, rather sell the coat off his back than not pay. The nation was bound to pay it; and the credit of the nation would be destroyed by the slightest in- 791 fraction of it. The right hon. gentleman was bound to look to all these things; and, he would do well to consider the danger in which the measure he was now about to propose might place the important interests he had alluded to. He begged it to be remembered also, that the distress of the manufacturing labourers was not to be attributed wholly to the price of corn. They were bred in habits of luxury, and had acquired wants which they found it difficult to divest themselves of. Their clamour was caused as much by the taxes on 15s. out of 20s. of their earnings, as on the 5s. which they spent in bread. He, therefore, wished an inquiry to be made as to the exact degree in which the price of agricultural produce acted upon the labouring classes. If, without this, he agreed to the proposition of the right hon. gentleman, he should be admitting that which he expressly denied; namely, that the high price of corn was the cause of the distress. The subject was, besides, far too important to be disposed of in a hasty manner, and without consulting the great interests of the country. For the relief of the distress, which, he trusted and believed, was only temporary, he had suggested the granting a vote of money; and this, therefore, at least obviated the necessity of resorting to the proposed measure. He repeated, that nothing but a sense of the duty he owed, not only to the landed interests, but to the country, had induced him to incur the responsibility of addressing the House at that moment. He thought that the agricultural interests deserved to be looked to as well as any others in the state; and, in order that no injury might incautiously be done to them, he should conclude by moving, "That a select committee be appointed, to inquire into the causes of the distress in the manufacturing districts, and of the best means of applying a remedy thereto."
complained, that the proposition which was to be made to the House was another instance of the vacillation of ministers, and to that, more than to any other circumstance, he was inclined to attribute the present distress. Fourteen days ago this question had been settled, and the whole subject of the Corn-laws, it was understood, was not to be discussed again during the present session. This decision had been come to by a large majority of the House; and yet so soon after this it was, that the House was called upon to disturb all the 792 contracts which had been made for the purchase of corn and land. It was true the object which was put forward was important enough to justify almost any measure, if it readied the cause of the evil; but even those who advocated it did not pretend that it would do so. If, then, it was not likely to act as a remedy, what could be said to induce the House to adopt it? He was much more disposed to attribute to the change in the system of our currency the greater portion of the distress which prevailed. If the House should agree to this proposition of admitting corn on payment of a 12s. duty, they would be giving to ministers a power much greater than any they had ever before possessed. The remedy which had been proposed by his hon. friend for the relief of the distress was one to which he should gladly consent in the present emergency, although as a precedent it was highly objectionable. The distress was not even now confined to the manufacturing classes, although it prevailed most in manufacturing districts. He knew that the agricultural labourers in those neighbourhoods, not content with the allowances made them in their own parishes, resorted to more populous places, where the poor-rates afforded them a larger share of relief. These people were now among those who were engaged in the absurd and violent practice of breaking looms, and must eventually be sent back to the places in which they had settlements. His objection to the proposed measure was chiefly its inutility. If the price of corn was not greatly reduced, it would be of no service in alleviating the distress; and if it should be reduced to a very considerable extent, it would transfer the distress from the manufacturing to the agricultural classes. Whenever the land laboured under any pressure, it was communicated to the manufacturing interests; and when the land revived, its prosperity also reached the manufacturers, by increasing the home consumption of their produce. He was the more strongly opposed to the new measure, because it seemed to carry with it an admission, that the Corn-laws were producing, or tending to aggravate, the existing distress. Once get this opinion fixed in the minds of the manufacturers, and they would proceed to destroy agricultural property in the same way that they were now destroying their own machinery 793 and tools—a course about as rational as that of the Irish rebels, who had burned the bank-notes wherever they found them, in order to injure the bankers by whom they had been issued. Upon the subject, generally, of the Corn-laws, he did not wish at the present moment to speak. His personal opinion had always been in favour of admitting corn conditionally—without regard to home prices—at a protecting duty. As to the amount of that duty, he agreed with the late Mr. Ricardo, that it ought to be just so much as would compensate the land-owner for the share he was compelled to bear of the public burthens, and not one shilling beyond. But he had voted against the motion of the hon. member for Bridgenorth a few evenings since, both because he thought the time chosen an unfavourable one for discussing the question, and also because he thought the duty proposed by that hon. member entirely insufficient. The duty, however, was twelve shillings, at which the right hon. gentlemen opposite desired to let this bonded corn into the market; and they justified the imposition of that particular duty, upon the ground that it was the duty put on when the ports were opened by the existing law. But, this defence appeared to him, to be quite unsatisfactory; because, though 12s. was the ultimate duty at which the corn was to come in, supposing the ports to be opened, yet for the first three months, it should be recollected, there was the imposition of an additional 5s., making 17s. Therefore, if we were to assimilate the new measure in any degree to the existing law, it was at 17s. the bonded corn ought to be admitted, and by no means at 12s.; and this the rather, because the difference in the home price at which the admission was to take place, was all in favour of the higher duty. If a duty of 17s. was necessary when corn, at home, was 80s., surely a greater duty rather than a less would be requisite when the importation was at 60s. or 65s. The least that the House could do in justice to the agriculturists, was to make the importation duty 17s. for the first three months, as it stood by the existing law; and, even then, gentlemen need entertain no apprehension. Subject to that duty, the 300,000 quarters that were in bond would be in the market within a week. He was convinced, in spite of all that was said by the right hon. mover of the question, that the quantity of corn in 794 bond would have a very powerful effect upon the market. Mr. Jacob had been sent, it was true, to inquire into the condition, as regarded corn in bond, of foreign countries, though that gentleman's report was, after all, only an ex parte statement; but what pains had been taken to ascertain the quantity of corn now in hand in England? None; and yet the fact was highly material. Decidedly he was in favour of the committee proposed by the hon. member for Somersetshire. Time would be consumed by it, no doubt; but in the interim, measures might be taken for the relief of the distressed, far more efficient than this change in the Corn-laws was likely to produce. Proper persons might be sent down into every district, to inquire what the suffering classes were actually receiving from the poor-rate, and to ascertain what was the best mode of administering further to their necessities. A sum of money voted by parliament might be sent down, in proper proportions, to different parishes, either to be distributed in aid of, and through the same medium as, the poor-rates, or to be laid out in the purchase of corn which afterwards should be sold at a cheap rate to those who stood in need of it. He trusted, that in what he said now he should not be suspected of treating the condition of those who were suffering, carelessly or lightly. No man in the House knew better what the poor had to bear, or commiserated their sufferings more, than he did; but he did believe, that to give them relief in the way which was now proposed, was to do that which would end in their own destruction. He trusted that the right hon. gentleman would not allow parliament to separate, without doing something for the assistance of the manufacturing districts; but he did not think that any thing but mischief could result from such a measure as that now brought forward.
Mr. Secretary Canning
said, that, in simply making his motion, without prefacing it by any observation, he had been actuated by no want of respect for the opinions of those who differed from him; but he had thought, and he thought so still, that whatever discussion was to arise would have been most conveniently taken in the committee. As some hon. gentlemen, however, were of a different way of thinking, he could have no hesitation in adopting whatever course seemed to them most desirable, and would therefore, at once, trouble the House 795 with the very few words which he had to offer upon the question. And first, he begged to assure the hon. member for Wiltshire, that no man could think more unworthily of government than ministers—and he, for one—would be inclined to think of themselves, if there was any foundation for the charge, that they were now attempting, by a side-wind, to alter the established system of the Corn-laws. Whenever that subject might be brought forward, gentlemen would do him the justice to recollect, that he had hitherto had do discussion upon it. He should come to it unheated by any opposition, and without having any declared opinions either to abandon or support. But, for the present measure, he proposed it only under peculiar circumstances, without the slightest reference to the merits of the general question: and he was only sorry for the course which had been taken by the hon. member for Wiltshire, and the hon. member for Somerset, lest it should lead, out of doors, to the uniting of two considerations, which in truth were—as he had intended to keep them—perfectly distinct. Now the argument of the hon. member for Somerset—that, to touch the Corn-laws for the relief of the present distresses, was to admit that the Corn-laws had occasioned those distresses—that was an argument the force of which he could not understand. He did not think it necessary, in the first instance, to consider what had occasioned the distress. He might concede to the hon. member, argumenti gratia, that it arose from the system of free trade, or from whatever other causes he thought fit; because, let it arise from what it would, there being so obvious a remedy at hand, as the letting out of bond a quantity of corn, in the very neighbourhood of a crowd of persons who were afflicted with want, the propriety of instantly resorting to that remedy, he thought, was too clear altogether to be denied. To say that, admitting this corn as a remedy for the evil, was making the absence of the corn the original cause of it, was an argument, as it seemed to him, no more capable of being sustained, than if a man should say, that because a particular medicine—bark or senna—had cured him of a particular disease, it was for the want of such bark or senna that he had first been taken ill with it. It would be too tedious a work, at present, to follow the hon. member for Somerset through the question as to what had been, or 796 had not been, the real cause of the present distresses. Afflicting as they were, they were no more than, from time to time, at different periods, the country had been subject to, nor than probably must still continue occasionally to visit us, so long as we remained a great commercial nation. Perhaps, it would be impossible to trace the distress to any definite cause; but this the House knew, that it existed; and the only point that remained to be discussed was, the manner of its alleviation.—Then, for the proposal before the House, it consisted of two measures, different from each other in their extent and operation, and which would require to be supported upon different grounds. There now existed in this country a large quantity of corn, which had been imported under a law which forbad its coming at present into circulation: upon the very site of the granaries in which this corn was lying, there was a grinding, pressing, dangerous, and destructive distress; then could there be a question as to the propriety of at once letting that corn into circulation, and so gaining a considerable immediate relief, at little or no sacrifice on the part of the community? This was the first part of the measure proposed, upon which he did not think it necessary to dwell, because the hon. member for Somersetshire appeared to have no decided objection to it, and the hon. member for Wiltshire merely thought that another arrangement might be the more convenient of the two; and he should apply himself, therefore, at once, to the second branch of the proposition; namely, that which went to give government a power, prospectively, to admit foreign corn, in case of any extreme necessity which should make it, in their estimation, advisable to do so. Now, with respect to this discretion, he could assure the House, that of all the boons which it had in its power to bestow on ministers, this was the very last they desired to receive; in fact, it was a boon which, either for a permanency, or under any circumstances less trying than the present, if it was offered to them, they should most certainly resist. He understood, not having been then a member of the government, that at the time of first passing the Corn-laws, it had been proposed to vest such a power in ministers, but that by the gentlemen then in office it had been protested against altogether. But, if government now asked for that authority, or suggested the expediency of its being 797 Conferred upon them, which formerly they had refused, under what circumstances was it that they made the demand, or thought the discretion necessary? Parliament was about to separate. It might be said, not necessarily, practically, however, that was not true; for parliament could not be sitting all the year round. Now, he was no alarmist as to the quantity of corn in the country, nor did he know how far prices were likely to rise; but, for the last six weeks, no matter from what cause, we had had a rising market; and there were symptoms of a rising market still. This was so clearly the case, that his opinion was, that the bonded corn admitted would have no more effect upon the agricultural produce than to prevent a further rise. In speaking of prices, it would be understood, that he did not speak of high prices, or low prices, because those terms were properly relative to the condition of the country. This time twelvemonth corn had been at 76s.; now it was at 60s. Using the common terms, therefore, prices would seem to have been higher in the last year than they were in this; but looking at the comparative state of the country, there could be no doubt that the 60s. was a higher price now, than the 76s. twelve months ago had been. He repeated, therefore, that he avoided using the terms high or low, as regarded the price of corn; but the more so, because what was wanted in the price of corn, was not a high price or a low price, so much as a steady price: but, suppose that during the absence of parliament, such a rise were to take place as would create great and imminent distress, whatcourse—this was what he wished to know of honourable gentlemen—what course was to be pursued? Would the House attempt to legislate beforehand as to the precise prices and rates of duty at which importation should be allowed to take place? Certainly not; because mere price was not, without reference to circumstances, a measure of what would be high or low. Would not the House rest a discretion somewhere? Which, after all, would be doing no more than had been done a hundred times without it; because, supposing the exigency to occur, government would assume the power without having it, and at once, according to the custom, call parliament together. As the law stood, if, between this and August next, corn did not rise in price to 80s. whatever the dis- 798 tress or inconvenience, nothing could be done. It might rise to 79s., and the distress might be most pressing, and still no measure of relief could be taken. It might happen that, on a sudden, as the existing distresses had occurred, so a necessity for some new measure might arise; and, at the time when this necessity appeared, the nation might be without a parliament. To provide against these possible contingencies it was, that government now came to the House, and desired to be furnished with that authority, from which, above all things, the desire of ministers would be to be delivered. Personally, they felt the power to be an infliction, but it was one which they preferred submitting to rather than incur the risk of mischief. With the expediency or inexpediency of the existing Corn-laws, the present measure had nothing to do. The existing rate of duty had only been adopted in it, because the mention of any other might have seemed to indicate in future an intention to make some change. He had taken the duty as he found it, giving no opinion as to its advantage—whether it should still exist, or whether it should be a maximum or a minimum, in case a permanent admission of corn, at a protecting duty, should eventually be resolved upon. He repeated, that the observations of the hon. member for Wiltshire, as to the amount of duty, seemed to him founded in error; because the question was not in any way one purely of amount. A reviving trade, with a high price, would assist the country more than even a modified price with the existing state of commercial affairs. At the same time the hon. member had deprecated any suspicion of insensibility on his part, to the distress of the manufacturing classes, in the opposition which he gave to the present measure, or of any inclination to believe that the interests of the agriculturists generally were opposed to those of the manufacturers. In the last feeling he entirely concurred with him; and he believed that the final settlement of this much-agitated question would perhaps surprise both parties, when it showed them how very little they really had to dispute about. Still less could he suspect the hon. member for Wiltshire, or any other member taking his side of the question, of any desire to advance the interests of his own class at the expense of the suffering of any other part of the community: he saw nothing in the expression of those opinions from which he 799 differed, on the present occasion, beyond that anxiety for the assertion, by each party, of his own right, which rendered the debates of that House so peculiarly valuable. For himself, he thought that the hon. member for Wiltshire had done himself credit by the free expression of his sentiments; and he was satisfied every gentleman must see that if once any thing like charges of personal feeling were admitted into the discussion of a question like the present, so far from any thing being done really to aid those classes which were suffering, they would only have the further unhappiness of hatred and suspicion towards their superiors added to the present misery of their situation. Then, while he gave the hon. members opposite credit—and he did so fully, even in that which he thought the extravagance of their apprehensions—for the absence of any thing like interested motives, he hoped that they, on their part, would acquit government of any intention, under the mask of a distress which all parties must alike deplore, to come down to the House with a measure which went, or was intended to go, one point beyond the limit which they affixed to it. The present measure, as he believed, was calculated to do service to the whole country; and not least even to those very gentlemen who were the most strongly inclined to oppose it; for, if a distress should arise connected with the corn trade, and no power were given to relieve it, they might perhaps find the current of opinion setting so strongly against the land which they relied on, that they might be unable to maintain it. The right hon. gentleman sat down by repeating his assurance, that ministers, in asking this discretion from the House, asked that which, but for the peculiar exigency of present circumstances, their greatest comfort would be the failing to obtain.
thought, that the measures of ministers ought to have been taken much earlier; he thought, too, that there could be nothing in their policy which might not be more fully explained than it had been so far. The right hon. Secretary complained that the present measure was coupled with the general question of the Corn-laws. But, how was it possible to disconnect one from the other? There was a prevailing opinion among the lower classes, that they were suffering from the operation of the Corn-laws. The right hon. Secretary, who in words denied that 800 this opinion was well-founded, admitted it in spirit; for, when the distress arose, it was by tampering with the Corn-laws that he proposed to relieve it. What would the first part of the hon. Secretary's measure—the letting in of the bonded corn—do? Suppose it reduced corn to 30s. a quarter, how would that help people who wanted work, and who had no money to buy it at any price? The right hon. Secretary said that this corn was bonded in the districts in which the distress lay. That statement was erroneous: 130,000 quarters of it, at least, were in London. For the first part of the proposition, he saw no advantage that could result from it: and he thought the principle erroneous. It was bad policy to encourage the working classes to look always, in case any distress affected them, for an alteration in the price of corn. At the same time, thinking the measure could have little operation in any way, he would not oppose it; but the second part of the proposition—that for vesting a discretion in ministers—he certainly should resist. He thought at least that such a measure deserved more serious consideration than to be stated on one day and passed on the next. Much as he was inclined to give credit to the present government, he would not intrust the power of altering the whole agricultural trade of the country to any government, without some stronger proof than had been given of the absolute necessity of the case. As to the first part of the present proposition, therefore, he should not object to the Speaker's leaving the chair; but the second point he felt it his duty to resist, and he should prefer the hon. member for Somersetshire's motion of a committee.
thought that the measure proposed would serve only to aggravate the existing evil. The distress arose from a failure of demand consequent upon the recent commercial distresses, and from the glut of British manufactures which existed in all the markets of the world. If the bonded corn was allowed to be brought into the country, the agricultural interest would take alarm, and a panic would follow its introduction which it would not be easy to allay. Another consequence of that measure would be, that corn would be brought down to half its present price, and it would not, after all, produce the desired effect; for it would be brought forward to a starving and impoverished people, who would not have 801 the means to purchase at. It therefore behoved the House to pause before they acted with precipitation in a matter of such vast importance. The decision of this question required the greatest degree of coolness and judgment. It should not be rashly adopted. If foreign corn were allowed to be imported, he had no hesitation in stating it as his opinion, that ruin would be the inevitable consequence, without in the least relieving the distress which the measure undertook to remedy. The hon. gentleman then alluded to the report of Mr. Jacob; a report which was highly thought of by some, although he confessed he could not see in what its value consisted. Mr. Jacob said, that the average price of corn in Dantzic, Rotterdam, and Copenhagen, had never exceeded 20s.; it could, therefore, if the ports were opened, be brought into this country and sold for 26s., leaving a profit of 6s. clear of all expenses. Mr. Jacob was certainly a man very well calculated for the inquiry which he set on foot; but he went forth strongly imbued with the feelings of government, and he was therefore unfitted to enter into an impartial investigation of the matter on which he was called upon to report. Taking the entire circumstances connected with the subject into his best consideration, he had himself a proposition to submit to the House, which would extend effectual relief to the distressed manufacturers, without injuring the interests of the landed proprietors. He proposed that the House should grant a considerable sum of money—he would name half a million—which should be placed at the disposal of government for the relief of the distressed districts. The way in which this relief could be best effected would be to let government, with this sum of money, purchase up the bonded corn, and the money collected in subscriptions throughout the country might go to purchase this corn for the relief of the starving manufacturers. If this plan were adopted, corn could be purchased at 30s., or considerably less than half its present price; and not only would that measure produce the effect of alleviating the present misery, but it could be effected without injuring in any way the landed interest of the country, to which the House was bound to look, and without breaking down the hopes of prosperity which the landed interest might feel with respect to the state of the harvest next autumn. Having said thus 802 much, he had only to add, that he was against the House going into a committee to consider the proposition of the right hon. gentleman.
said, he could not, as some gentlemen seemed to do, consider the present measure as unconnected with the general question of the Corn laws, which he so lately had brought before the notice of the House; and, however he might have succeeded in making himself intelligible to those who heard him on that occasion, he was fearful that his views and opinions had not gone forth to the country in as clear a way as he could have wished. He stated then, and repeated now, that the time was arrived when the subject of the Corn laws should engage the most serious attention of the House. Government, however, had thought otherwise; and the further agitation of that great question was accordingly deferred. Under the present afflicting circumstances of the country, he was of opinion, that the measure proposed by his majesty's government would have the best effect; and, looking at the existing distress, he was persuaded, that, if parliament was dissolved without alleviating that distress, as far as might be practicable, consequences the most disastrous would follow. Had the House reflected on all the consequences of this measure? Perhaps, he should be allowed to explain, that the stock of corn in bond was now comparatively small; and that if the ensuing harvest should happen to be unproductive, the present measure would be absolutely necessary. He conceived that in the usual state of the country, taking one year with another, the produce was not equal to the consumption. If the contrary were the fact, and if the produce could be proved to exceed the consumption, there would not be any occasion for a revision of the Corn laws. He was borne out in his assertion of the deficiency of produce to meet the consumption, by the average importation, taken on the average of every ten years, from 1780 to 1820; from which it would be seen that it had been progressively increasing. From 1780 to 1789, the importation was 230,330 quarters; from 1790 to 1799, it was 320,609 quarters; from 1800 to 1809, it was 574,753 quarters; from 1810 to 1820, it was 684,642 quarters. This included the importations from Ireland; deducting which, the importation was 508,583 quarters. Now, from the year 803 1823, down to last winter, the harvests had been neither very abundant nor very scanty, so that during that period—a period too of considerably increased consumption—it must be concluded, that the stocks on hand had been rapidly decreasing, and that very little of them now remained. The hon. member, in proof of this part of his argument, went over certain returns from Mark-lane, from Liverpool, and from the general accounts of sales, and went on to point out the gradually rising prices in our markets, which had crept up from 55s. to 56s., 58s., 59s., and 60s. and a fraction. Seeing this progressive rise in the prices, and knowing the state of the money-market, he was led to believe that the stocks on hand were very small. He was aware the subject was a tiresome one, and that it was difficult to draw the attention of the House to it. Were it not for this, he would shew, from the most unquestionable authority, that the stock on hand was small, and that it lay principally in the hands of farmers (rich farmers, for the poor ones had been driven to market), and that the number of holders were daily becoming fewer and fewer. It was upon this ground, and from a fear of the consequences of a bad harvest, and other incidental circumstances, that he felt bound to support the present motion. He was aware of the power which the measure gave to ministers—a power which ought not to be intrusted to any set of men upon ordinary occasions, or in an ordinary state of things, but which were actually called for upon the present occasion. It was a fact, that the quantity of corn in bond could produce no material effect upon the market price of that article. In the present state of the funds it was not likely that speculators would be disposed to rush to the corn market in such a way as to cause any material alteration. And if the parties were wise they would take care to feed the market so sparingly as to meet the demand without causing a glut, and thereby altering prices. It might perhaps be said, that, in such a case, no material relief could be afforded to the existing distresses. He candidly confessed that he did not think there could. But it would produce the great moral feeling among the distressed manufacturers, that their case had been seriously considered by parliament; and that the legislature, though unable to give all the relief they wished to afford, still 804 gave all that it was in their power to give. It would also have the beneficial effect of shewing the manufacturing population, that their distresses were not to be ascribed to the Corn laws. For he agreed with the right hon. Secretary, in thinking, that the parties upon this question would be surprised to find that they had been contending for so little. This feeling being impressed upon the people, would remove those dissensions and angry feelings which tended so much to disunite society and set one body of persons against another. If the House separated without the adoption of some such measure, it would be impossible to foretel the miseries which a bad harvest, and other at present unlooked-for circumstances, might bring upon the country. If the bill passed here, he was sure it would meet with no opposition elsewhere. It was not his intention then to enter into the more general question of the Corn laws; and, if he did not answer the observations of the hon. member for Somersetshire, and the hon. member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes), it was not, he assured the House, because he thought their arguments either the most logical or the most unanswerable; but, because he thought the present period was not a fit one at which to enter upon such a discussion. He felt, too, that other and more fitting opportunities would present themselves for delivering his opinions upon the subject. He should support the motion.
said, that the hon. gentleman had observed, that this country had grown corn hardly equal to its consumption. But, what was the fact? For the last seven years the country had been living on its own produce, and no importation of foreign grain had taken place during that time. The hon. gentleman had said on a former night, that in the internal trade of corn in this country there was a; great falling-off. He begged to deny that. In the year 1822, there was a greater quantity of corn sold in Marklane than on any other occasion. He thought that this measure was the safest; that could be resorted to under the present distressing circumstances; yet, although he regretted as much as any gentleman present the existence of distress in the manufacturing districts, and would go as far to relieve them, he confessed that he was not very sanguine as to the benefit which this measure would effect. He should regret, if the disturbed dis- 805 tricts should suppose that by passing this measure for their relief an admission was implied that the Corn laws were conceded. The better way, he thought, would be, to settle the question of the Corn laws at once, by referring those laws to a select committee in order to ascertain how far their revision would be proper or advisable under the present circumstances. He would say in that committee, that he had no objection to the proposal to let out the bonded corn at 12s. So far there would be little difficulty; but he thought it impossible to look at the proposition relating to the discretionary power which was proposed to be vested in government, with respect to the importation of foreign grain, without a reference being had to the Corn laws. When the Secretary of State, the other evening, laid his proposition before the House, he did not state what price the corn ought to arrive at before the discretionary power which government required of parliament should be resorted to. He hoped, if his majesty's ministers should be invested with that power, that they would acquaint the House as to the price at which it was intended to fix English grain before the foreign corn should be allowed to be imported. He had now a proposition to offer: it was this. Instead of keeping the ports shut against foreign cornat 80s., bethought they should be opened at 70s. Why, he would ask, were the ports to be kept shut until the average price of corn should be 80s.? The cause was this:—At the time when that regulation was entered into, there was great agricultural distress existing, which rendered it necessary to adopt that course, in order to protect the landed interest; and it was thought that 70s. was too low to extricate the agricultural interest from the difficulties by which they were surrounded. It was impossible to say too much in praise of the manner in which the agricultural interest bore up against their trials at that distressing period. It was impossible to give them too much credit for the patience with which they bore their misfortunes; but they were now recovered from the shock; they were on their legs again. He would not say that they were in prosperity, for the distress of 1821 and 1823 had hardly as yet subsided, at least its effects were still felt; and it might be said, that the agricultural interests had scarcely recovered from the shock they sustained at that period. The average price of wheat, for the last six 806 years, it appeared, was 60s. Now, he would say, let the ports be opened at 65s. He thought it would be wise if the agricultural interest would agree to that proposition. The law was originally passed to extricate the agricultural interest from the difficulties under which they laboured, and the restriction price was fixed at 80s.; not because that was considered a fair standard, but because they were unacquainted with what ought to be the real sum under which corn could not be imported. It was not the wish, neither was it the interest, of the agriculturists to force prices. All they wanted was a fair remunerating price; and to that they were fairly entitled. We were now in a state of peace, and could produce corn enough for our own use; but it was possible that that peace might be interrupted, and then what would be our situation if we should be obliged to look to foreign ports for a supply? Allusions had been made to Mr. Jacob's Report—a document which he confessed he had not read; nor, indeed, had he heard of it, until it was produced in the House by the hon. member for Bridgenorth. This, however, he knew, that instead of sending that gentleman to Poland, he ought to have been sent to Ireland, to inquire what was doing there. Ireland had been for some time gradually improving as a corn country; owing to the opportunities which she had of coming into this market. The gallant officer, in conclusion, repeated that, instead of adopting this ineffective measure, it would be better to settle the whole question at once, by fixing the restriction price of corn at 65s. or 70s., as might be deemed most expedient.
§ Lord Milton
said, he had paid great attention to the speech of his hon. friend who had last addressed the House, but he trusted his hon. friend would forgive him for saying, that, as his speech was rather calculated for Tuesday, the 18th of April, than for Tuesday the 2nd of May, he would not that evening enter into an argument with him. He could not help expressing his regret at the course pursued by his majesty's government on this occasion. Undoubtedly, during the three days preceding yesterday, every body anticipated some communication from the Crown to parliament, relative to the distresses of the manufacturing districts. Different people according to the different views they took of the state of the country, and the remedies applicable to it 807 had formed different expectations as to the measures that would be proposed by government; but, with the exception of ministers themselves, and the horn member for Bridgenorth, he doubted whether there was an individual any where to be found, who thought that the situation in which, unfortunately, the manufacturing population of the country were placed, could be prevented by the measure propounded by ministers. He would not go into the commonplace dissertation on the adaptation of remedies to diseases, but he would affirm without hesitation, that, unless he was quite mistaken as to the nature of the calamities under which the country was suffering, the remedy now proposed had no relation to those calamities. The right hon. Secretary had stated, that he did not intend to tamper with the Corn-laws; yet he brought forward this measure, not as a permanent alteration, but in order to admit the bonded wheat for a temporary exigency. For that purpose the right hon. gentleman called on the House to invest his majesty's ministers with a power, which, under no circumstances ought these or any other ministers to possess. If, indeed, the population of the manufacturing districts were suffering from the want of the necessaries of life—if food were raised to an excessively high price, or locked up in the warehouses of London, Hull, or Liverpool, by the operation of any particular law, then he could understand the sense of opening those warehouses by such a measure as that before the House. But, without entering into the cause of the evil now pressing on the country, he would venture to state, that it was not the want of food that constituted the grievance. It was his firm conviction, that the commercial districts were now suffering the extremity of that distress under which five months ago the banking houses of the metropolis had fallen. There was no destruction of commercial or agricultural capital. All that was wanting was credit; and he complained of ministers that their measures, instead of maintaining public credit, had tended, but he did not say were designed, to destroy that credit which successful speculation might have revived. He had no wish to enter upon the general question of the Corn-laws. Every body, he was sure, would concur with him that this was no remedy for the evils under which the 808 people of Lancashire were groaning. The principal argument in favour of the measure was, the necessity of giving the Crown the power of admitting foreign corn, when parliament might not be sitting. But why, he asked, need the country be without a parliament at any time previous to the next harvest? A heavy responsibility would rest on ministers if they counselled the Crown to dissolve the parliament during the present crisis. He approved of the suggestion of the hon. gentleman who had seconded the amendment, that a sum of money should be voted in aid of the rates, to enable the parishes to bear the great pressure they had to endure. He was aware that such a course was not in conformity with sound principles; but, when the public were called upon to subscribe for the relief of large bodies of their suffering countrymen, the State ought to interfere. At that moment, the people of Lancashire might be considered the poor of England, and the whole nation as the parish to which they belonged. They were in justice chargeable, not on the parishes of Blackburn or Bolton, but on the country at large. The acts of that House, and the speeches made in it had contributed, not immediately, but remotely, to produce the evils under which the distressed population were suffering. Over-trading was, he believed, the leading cause, which in its train had drawn after it all the other calamities.
§ Mr. Philips
said, he should regret much if the proposed measures should not be carried, because he was satisfied, that the effect would be not only to retard an advance in the price of provisions, but, by increasing our exports, to give employment to those who were now unemployed. It had been stated by many hon. members, that the manufacturing population attributed all their calamities to the present price of corn; but he was convinced that such an opinion was not general among those classes, and that the course pursued by the hon. gentlemen who put themselves forward as the advocates of the agricultural interest was the principal cause of having such an opinion entertained by some of those classes. He could assure those hon. members who spoke so slightingly of the manufacturers, many of whom were in an inferior station of life, that they had more correct notions upon the subject than hon. members gave them credit for, and that many of those 809 individuals in humble life would, if admitted into that House, puzzle the country gentlemen. He knew many artisans who delivered speeches upon the subject—speeches which, he would venture to say, were as full of moderation and good sense as the speeches of persons in higher stations of life; and among those artisans he could name one individual, whose name had been mentioned more than once in that House, he meant a cotton spinner of the name of Hodgkins, who possessed much influence among his fellow workmen, and displayed so much good sense and moderation, and such powers of reasoning, as would be admitted by any society to justify his offering an opinion upon this question. With respect to the observation of the hon. member for Dorsetshire, as an argument for high prices, that the landed interest composed three-fifths of the population, and that they bore all the burthens for the relief of the poor, he would merely observe, that although three-fifths of the population might consist of the landed interest, not one-third of the population was employed in agriculture. With respect to the landed interest in Lancashire, which was the scene of the present distress, who, he asked, composed the landed interest, and were obliged to support the poor? It could not be denied that the manufacturers composed the landed interest; or at least the occupiers of land in that county. Before he sat down, he begged to make an observation upon what had occurred that day in the city. He meant the subscription which had been commenced, which he was satisfied would produce the happiest effects. It would chow the manufacturers, that in seasons of difficulty and distress, they must look for the alleviation of that distress, not to the destruction of looms, which could produce no effect, except depriving the masters of the means of giving employment—not to acts of outrage which must be repressed by the law—but to the sympathy of those classes of society who possessed the means, and who showed no unwillingness to afford relief.
said, he could not give a vote upon the present occasion, without stating to the House, the grounds upon which he was induced to vote. He wished he could agree with the right hon. gentleman opposite, that the effect of the measures proposed would be the introducing of a cordiality of feeling between all 810 classes. He looked upon the effect of the measure in a different light. He thought, if the proposition of the right hon. gentleman should be carried in the way in which it was proposed, nothing that had ever happened was so likely to promote dissension and misunderstanding between the two great classes, agricultural and manufacturing, whose interests were, in his opinion, inseparably connected. He felt rather aukward upon the present occasion; because, when in the early part of the session he had taken occasion, upon the presenting of a petition, to put a question to the right hon. gentleman upon the subject, and of stating his opinion that the country would derive benefit from the House manfully facing the question, and settling it, than by any postponement—that right hon. gentleman had told him to wait until the 18th of April, and that he would then hear the sentiments of his majesty's government upon the subject. He did wait, and the result of the discussion which took place upon that occasion, convinced him of the propriety of postponement; and he therefore voted with the majority. What, then, must be his surprise, when, in so short a period as eight or ten days after that discussion, he heard his majesty's ministers proposing measures which involved the whole question, the discussion of which, during the present parliament, they had but so short a time before deprecated? After this, he did not know in whom to place confidence, and he thought the only-chance a man had of doing what was right, was to rely solely upon his own judgment. This was not all; because, about five or six days ago, the right hon. gentleman, in answer to a question put by the hon. member for Shaftesbury, had said that it was not intended by his majesty's government to let out the bonded corn. What alteration had since occurred to change the resolution of ministers, had the price of corn risen rapidly? He knew that circumstances of a calamitous nature were then in existence; and certainly, if letting out the bonded corn would soothe the feelings of one unhappy being in the distressed districts, in God's name let it be so. But his great objection was to the second proposition, namely, that which invested his majesty's ministers with the power of dealing as they pleased with a question which, they said, was not fit even to be discussed by parliament this session. Yet they, who from day to day, knew not 811 what measures they intended to apply to the state of the country, claimed the absolute discretion of acting as they thought proper. Much as he wished to vote with government, he felt it impossible to put the least confidence in their doubtful and fluctuating councils. He defied any man to point out any instance in which the weakest administration that had ever existed, had manifested more vacillation and indecision than the present ministers, with reference to this vital topic. His first objection was, that the proposed measure would be a direct infringement of the law, in the most invidious manner. If the Corn-laws were to be got rid of in this way by a side wind, the artisans of Lancashire, whom the hon. gentleman had praised so highly, would conclude that they had triumphed over the landed interest. But how? Not by their petitions, certainly; but by—what? Their impression would be, that government had deluded the landed interest out of the Corn-laws, in order to prevent the progress of their disorders. Instead, therefore, of promoting a good understanding, the measure would only sow discord between the two classes whose interests were really as inseparable as those of England and Scotland. But what would our friends say in Ireland and Canada, if the Corn-laws were thus suddenly repealed? It would better become government to say at once, that circumstances had so changed, and so many events had occurred entirely unexpected, as to warrant them in changing their opinion. Let them then invite the House to the regular discussion of the whole question, and take the sense of parliament. If that were done on fair principles, he was convinced, that whatever might be the decision of the majority of that House, there would be no discontent in the public mind. The neglected agriculture of Poland and Germany was much dwelt upon; and it seemed as if it were deemed the duty of this country to re-establish its prosperity. Sure he was, that if the supply of corn from those countries was thrown open, the supply for the next seven years would not be had on as liberal terms as we had obtained it during the last seven years from our own agriculturists. Mr. Jacob fixed the probable price of corn from abroad at 60s. while during the last seven years, the average of our home growth had not exceeded 57s. He was convinced that the removal of the re- 812 strictions on foreign corn had nothing to do with the relief of the distresses of the people of Lancashire. When the artisans of that district remembered that that House had voted large sums to the distressed Hanoverians, Russians and Portuguese, they would think it extraordinary if something was not done, in the same way, for the relief of sufferings so much nearer home. If, therefore, government would not move the grant of a specific sum, and nobody else would, he would discharge that act of duty himself. He was fully aware of the difficulties of the measure; but, if any thing could reconcile the people to the extravagant expenditure of government, it would be that some portion of it had been applied to the relief of distress. He trusted the right hon. gentleman would not persevere in the proposition he had brought forward, but that, instead of it, a sum of public money would be voted for the immediate benefit of the miserable population of Lancashire.
§ Sir J. Newport
expressed himself favourable to a grant of money by the government for the relief of the distressed manufacturers; and, as he could not see that the measures proposed by the right hon. gentleman offered any remedy for the distress, he should support the amendment of the hon. member for Somersetshire, provided there should be an instruction to the committee to dispose of the bonded corn. He thought the House ought, by releasing the bonded corn, to give an earnest of their good intentions towards the distressed manufacturers; but his most decided objection to the second measure was, that no beneficial object could be obtained by it which could not be obtained by his majesty's government acting upon their own responsibility, and coming afterwards to parliament for an act of indemnity.
§ Lord John Russell
began by observing, that after the promise which ministers had made last year, to discuss the question of the Corn-laws, and after their deprecation of that discussion in the present year, he did think that the agricultural interest had just cause to complain that that question was now, in fact, introduced in this side manner. He thought that in any form in which the motion for a grant might be brought forward, it was objectionable as a bad precedent. How did the present state of the country operate on this question? There were many 813 persons now in a very unfortunate situation. They were suffering under the pressure of extreme distress; and not only so, they were guilty of committing excesses. These persons now came to the government, and stated their case; and government offered to relieve them by altering the state of the Corn-laws. What was the effect of this conduct? Did it not amount to an acknowledgment, that the state of the Corn-laws was the cause of the present distress? And the consequence must be, that the next time any distress arose among these people, that distress might be followed by insubordination, and they would come to parliament with a threat, and say, that they had been once relieved by a relaxation of the Corn-laws; that those laws must be further relaxed; and that government must diminish the amount of the duty, for that, as they had admitted the Corn-laws to be the cause of the distress, and as experience had proved that to be the fact, they had found that they had only to ask for relief, no matter in what manner, and they should obtain it? He thought the precedent would be highly dangerous; that it would be holding up the landed interest of the country as the persons, who not only kept their fellow-countrymen from the means of obtaining bread at a cheap rate, but who refused to afford the means of relieving the present distress of the country. The right hon. gentleman who had commenced this discussion had expressed his wish that it should be considered only as a question of the means of remedying the distress, and not as a question on the Corn-laws; but it had so happened, that the debate did not turn merely on the cause of the distress, and on the remedy to be applied to it, but on the question of the existing state of the Corn-laws. He should now consider, first the application of the remedies to the distress, and secondly, he should make a few remarks on the observations which had been made regarding the Corn-laws. As to the first, the proposition was, that a considerable quantity of foreign corn should be introduced into this country; and that introduction, the right hon. gentleman had declared, would only produce the effect of preventing the corn from rising in price. If that were certain, he should for one have no objection to the proposition; especially as it had been declared to be founded solely on consideration of the circum- 814 stances of the present time. Still he must ask, why had not the right hon. gentleman who presided at the Board of Trade taken these circumstances into his consideration previously to the present moment? And, if the distress arose from the causes stated by ministers, and was to be remedied by the means they had proposed, was it not matter of blame that these circumstances had not been weighed, and the consequences foreseen and provided against by ministers, and especially by the right hon. gentleman, to whose care was intrusted the superintendance of the trade of the country? However, taking the measure which was now proposed as a good measure, and one that was likely to answer its intended object, what, he would ask, would be the effect? The right hon. gentleman had said, that the warehouses containing the bonded corn were constantly in the view of these distressed manufacturers, and that to open those warehouses to them would be the best method of affording them relief. Now, if those warehouses were actually to be opened to these men, he should agree to the proposition; but the fact was, that the warehouses would only be opened to the merchants who would purchase the corn, and then sell it afterwards to these men at the regular market price. The right hon. gentleman had, indeed, said, that it would be reduced in price; but suppose a reduction of 10s. per quarter took place, surely it would not be contended that that would be a great relief to the distressed manufacturers. He would now come to the second measure—that of giving to government the power of opening the ports during the recess, or before the meeting of the next parliament, should circumstances (to be judged of at their discretion) so require; and, as an argument in support of this it was urged, that under any circumstances the ports could not otherwise be opened before the 15th of August. He for one would hesitate before he left such a power to the discretion of ministers; a power which, by opening the ports even at the duty of 17s., might, in the course of a few months, so fill the country with foreign corn, as to destroy the agricultural interests for years to come. If such a power were considered necessary, the measure should have been introduced long before, when the whole subject, in all its bearings, might have received that mature consideration which its import- 815 ance deserved. This, however, was not done, and he must say of the omission, that it was a gross abandonment of duty on the part of ministers. Having, however, passed over the opportunity of doing this, they now came to the House to ask for a dictatorial power over the most important of all questions—that which related to the subsistence of the people. He would not consent to the grant of any, such power; and therefore, as it was moved that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into the cause of the present distresses, he would gladly support that amendment; and in supporting it, he opposed that want of firmness and decision which characterized the proceedings of ministers on this question. He had lately voted with them on this subject, on the understanding that, in the present year, nothing was intended to be done with respect to the Corn-laws, and he would gladly vote with them again if they proposed any fair measure which would set the question finally at rest. If the present distress was caused by a want of credit, nothing would be more useful than an advance of money to the manufacturers; but if it arose from a want of demand for their produce, then a grant of money would be of no use; but the difference of opinion which existed as to these points was a reason why an inquiry should be entered into, as to what were the causes of the distress, and what would be the most efficient remedy. As to an alteration in the Corn-laws, he thought there would be no objection to such a one as would settle the question permanently. The alteration necessary to be made would, he was sure, be found on inquiry to be very small; and if the subject had been considered as it ought to have been at an earlier period, that matter might have been set at rest. It was most desirable that it should be settled, as a great degree of anxiety existed among farmers and land-owners with respect to it—an anxiety very natural, when they found that they were held up to the country as the causes of the present distress. This was a state of things which it would be extremely unwise to allow to remain, and therefore he was anxious for any measure which would set the question at rest. If such an attempt had been made in the early part of the year there would now be an end of the question. He had opposed the motion of the hon. member for Bridgenorth on this subject, because 816 he thought it would be impossible to carry it through without the concurrence of government; but he thought that the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson), if he had given the subject the consideration its importance deserved, and introduced it with his usual clearness, might before now have carried a final and satisfactory arrangement of it through both Houses. In such an arrangement none would have more cordially concurred than the landed interest.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that after all the speeches he had heard on the subject that night from the other side of the House, he still retained the same opinion which he expressed a fortnight back, that the present was not a proper time for going into a general revision of the Corn-laws. He had heard nothing upon the present occasion which tended, in the slightest degree, to shake that opinion. It would, perhaps, be more correct to say, that he was confirmed in that opinion by all that had passed out of doors since what he must call the unfortunate discussion of the subject, not many nights back in the House. After what he had stated upon that occasion with respect to the final settlement of the question, they must take a very different view of it from him, who thought that the present was a fit time for entering into it. It was not a little surprising, that when his right hon. friend announced last night what government meant to propose, and the reasons on which it was grounded, there did appear to be, on all sides of the House, a spontaneous, cordial, and universal concurrence in the proposition, greater than he ever recollected upon any former occasion. Not only did this strong concurrence of sentiment manifest itself, but also a determination, that when the subject came to be considered on the next night, it was not to be mixed up with the general question of the Corn-laws, or any other heterogeneous consideration. This he looked upon as a happy omen; and had the same feelings continued to influence the House, the best results must have followed. It would seem now, however, that some new light had broken in upon hon. gentlemen, and accordingly, with an ingenuity which he could not well comprehend, it was boldly inferred, that the only effect of the measure now proposed, would be, to confirm the manufacturing population in an opinion, that the cause of all their distresses was the Corn-laws, and that the 817 proposal of his right hon. friend must be considered as amounting in fact to such a declaration. This was a most extraordinary inference to draw from a proposition, the only effect of which would be to let out the corn at present in bond. The conclusion was not a logical, or a fair one. For himself, he had no hesitation in denying that the Corn-laws had any thing to do with the existing distress in some of the manufacturing districts, or that they even contributed to produce it. It was not a logical, or a legitimate mode of reasoning to say, that because government came forward with a measure, which, in their view, had a tendency to alleviate the present distress, to soothe the feelings of the sufferers, and to show a sympathy with their sufferings, that therefore they looked upon the Corn-laws as the cause of the distress. His opinion might perhaps be worth little upon this subject, or upon any other; but he must frankly and openly say, that he did not look upon the Corn-laws as the cause of the distress. This question would be much more effectually and satisfactorily settled by a reference to facts, than by the authority of any individual, however respectable. Now, he would ask, what was the situation of the manufacturing districts last year, and this year? Last year, the manufacturing population was in most active and general employment. A spirit of over-speculation and over-trading prevailed. The whole world was ransacked for raw materials to give employment to their manufactures; and it seemed as if they never could get enough, either of building materials for the vast number of new factories that were commenced, or of the articles necessary to put them into operation. Credit, though it existed to overflowing, was not adequate to meet the increasing demands made upon its speculation. At that period, however, when the manufacturing districts were in full employment, when there was no complaint among the population, corn was 7s. or 8s. a quarter dearer than at present. Now, however, that the state of the manufacturing districts was so different—that the population was suffering the most serious calamities—they were told, because government came forward with a measure calculated to afford some relief, that they wished to spread a most dangerous delusion among the people, and to impress them with the idea that the Corn-laws were the sole cause of all the distresses. 818 How was it possible for any roan to come to such a conclusion as this, knowing at the same time the fact, that last year, when the manufacturing districts were, perhaps, in the most flourishing state that was ever recollected in this country, the price of corn was actually 7s. or 8s. a quarter more than in the present year. When he said that the price of corn was higher last year, he trusted no person, would infer that he considered the present price as not materially exceeding that of last year, taking into consideration the price of all other articles at the present period, the price of labour, and all the existing circumstances. On taking all these things into account, the conclusion must be, that the price of corn was now greater in reality, though not nominally, than it was last year. He was not one of those who maintained the theory, that the price of labour should be in the inverse ratio of the price of corn. Upon this occasion, however, he wished to avoid the general question of the Corn-laws, and to state distinctly that the present subject had nothing to do with it. The noble lord opposite (Milton) seemed to think that want of credit was the cause of the evil, and the noble lord gave what he considered a definition of credit. He said, it depended on opinion. In a certain sense this was true; but, for himself, he knew no possible way of reviving credit, but by reviving the demand for commodities. Credit could not possibly be created by any act of authority; by any interference on the part of the government. It must arise from demand. When that began to advance—when prices, in consequence, began to look up—when capital and labour began to find ample employment—then, and not till then, would credit improve. Such, however, was not at present the state of the country. But, though the wages of the manufacturing population were low, they were not quite unemployed. In those districts where the distress prevailed the people were not quite out of work, though the wages were not sufficient to enable them to support their families. Now, if, under such circumstances, some measure could be adopted, to prevent, at least, a further rise in the price of corn, to render the rate of wages more commensurate to the price of the necessaries of life, and to come in aid of that relief afforded by the poor-rates, this surely would be doing something to alleviate the present distress; it would tend to inspire 819 hope and confidence, and parliament, by adopting such a measure, would do no more than sound and liberal policy recommended. It was admitted on all hands, that the most disastrous consequences might be occasioned by a further rise in the price of corn. To prevent this was the only object contemplated by the present measure; and he could, therefore, see no valid argument against its adoption. He wished to call the attention of the House to one fact, which appeared of some importance in considering this subject. He held in his hand a return of the prices of corn during six weeks of 1825, from the 19th of March to the 23rd of April, and during the corresponding six weeks of 1826. Now, during the former period the manufacturing population was in full employment. There was no complaint of distress, and yet the prices were higher than in the corresponding period of the present year. The price was, in the first of these six weeks of 1825, for the quarter of corn, 68s.; for the second, 68s. 9d.; the third, 69s.; the fourth, 68s.; the fifth, 68s. 6d.; and the sixth, 66s. 6d.; so that it fell 2s. during the last week. Now, what did they propose at that period?—To let out the corn then in bond, because there was a feeling that, if, before the harvest came in, the price should rise to 80s., the consequence would be such a sudden inundation of foreign corn, as must produce a rapid decline of price, and be attended with the worst consequences to the agricultural interests. To prevent this, it was judged advisable to let out the corn, which had been long in bond, and thereby prevent a sudden rise to that price at which importation must have taken place. These were the grounds on which the measure was recommended by him last year, and on which he recommended it to the support of the House. Was it too much to ask in 1826, and under the existing circumstances of the country, to have recourse to a measure similar to that adopted in 1825, though with a view to a different interest. What must be the feelings of the manufacturing population, if they should be told, that parliament, in 1826, under circumstances of difficulty and distress, refused to act with the same liberality and consideration towards them as they did in 1825, towards the agricultural interest, by the adoption of a measure calculated to prevent the sudden rise of price, and thereby the importation 820 of foreign corn. And be it remembered, that at the period, when this regulation was introduced in 1825, the price was on the decline, for it fell 2s. in one week, whereas, it had lately risen from 54s. 11d. to 60s. 1d. These considerations, he thought, were of themselves sufficient to justify government in the measures proposed by them. What became, then, of the argument put forth to show they were proposing to tamper with the Corn-laws; and that, by this measure it would be impossible that that question could have a fair discussion next year? The same thing had been done last year; and therefore there could be no difficulty in the way of letting out the bonded corn. The fact was, that the opposition had arisen in the imagination of some gentlemen out of doors, and had found its way into that House upon the present occasion.—He would next touch upon another part of the question, upon which he understood there was a much more decided feeling of objection; although he did not understand that the hon. member for Somerset had those objections so strong that they could not be overcome by preliminary inquiry. This, he must say, he felt strongly opposed to, on account of the feverish anxiety it would create in the country, and the contradictory evidence which, upon a subject of this kind, they were sure to have. The hon. member for Somerset did not object to the measure respecting the bonded corn, but to the other measures he did object. Now, he thought he had a right to complain, on behalf of his majesty's ministers, that in a case of discretion being placed in their hands, which they were so little willing to receive, honourable gentlemen could not wait till they got into the committee and heard the explanations as to the nature of the measures, before they offered their opposition. For his own part, he must say, that he was by no means prepared to state any opinion upon the question of the supply of corn to this country. In the absence of all statistical information—in the absence of all knowledge, which in some countries however easy it might be to get, in this it was most difficult to establish the means of acquiring—it would be rash in any one, but more especially in one holding an official situation, as he did, with a certain degree of authority attached to his opinion, to declare that we were without an adequate supply of corn; in other words, without 821 the means of subsistence in sufficient quanties to fill the markets. But were there not facts established upon this subject which must materially guide the judgment? In the first place, was it not true that the price of corn, at a time when there were causes in operation which had led to a fall in the price of all other commodities, had been steadily rising for the last six months? Secondly, was it not equally true, that the supply to all the corn markets in the country had been materially deficient for some lime past, by several hundred thousand quarters, compared with the corresponding period in former years? Now, upon these facts it was material to observe, that in the year 1823, when, from something like the same causes, embarrassments were created, and circumstances pressed hard upon the property of the country, and led to great depressions in trade, corn sunk to the very low price of 38s. When, therefore, it was contended, that the present high price of corn was caused by the state of the currency, it was incumbent upon those who held such a doctrine to reconcile it with the fact he had already stated, of the price of corn falling in a former year, when the same causes were in operation. In the attempt to reconcile the doctrine with the fact, it would be impossible that they should not perceive, that there was some element at work in the present case which was not in existence upon the former occasion; and that was, the difference in the state of the supply. He was most anxious to preserve the Corn-laws at the present moment, and he recommended those who were of that mind to consider well ere they rejected the proposal to let out the bonded corn. Let them consider, that last year 500,000 quarters of foreign corn had been let out into consumption in the period between June and the harvest; and it was to be borne in mind also, that the harvest of last year was one of the earliest that had ever been gathered in this country, and that, from peculiar circumstances, it was immediately available for consumption. Now, he would venture to say, that it was entirely owing to these 500,000 quarters being thrown into consumption at that period, and the early harvest of which he had spoken, that the ports had not been opened in August of last year. He was convinced, from the prices in June last, that they owed the advantage of the ports not opening, to the two circumstances he had mentioned. 822 This surely ought to be well weighed by those gentlemen who dreaded such an occurrence. He maintained, that it was by no means a visionary fear, that between the present moment and the next harvest, or before the corn was ripe for consumption, there would be considerable difficulty to prevent the ports from opening, and the natural operation of the law. At the same time, it could not be denied that, in the present condition of the country, in the present state of the currency, the circumstance of corn rising to 80s. would have the effect of so augmenting the difficulties and increasing the pressure of distress, as to incur the risk of shaking society to its very centre, and endangering the security of property. But, was the danger of having the ports opened the only inconvenience to be anticipated? Was there nothing in the situation the country was likely to be placed in if there were not power in some quarter to admit corn into the country between the 15th of May and the 15th of August? As the law now stood the ports could not be opened in less time than a week after the 15th of August, even if the price of corn rose to 80s. as the average was struck upon the prices for the six weeks preceding that period; so that the price might rise to 90s. or any other price which should cause famine to stalk through the land, and there would be no power to apply a remedy without convening parliament, and discussing the whole of the Corn-laws, and the principle upon which they were founded, in such a condition of things. Could a temperate discussion of the subject be hoped for under such circumstances? It was, therefore, better to provide in time, and not to depend on such contingencies. Let not gentlemen, then, run away with the impression, that by the adoption of this measure, the ports must necessarily be opened. They would remain shut, unless such circumstances occurred as would render their opening an object of paramount necessity. It had been said by an hon. baronet—if such necessity should arrive, why not throw open the ports on their own responsibility, and come afterwards to parliament for an indemnity? He answered, that if the state of the country was such as that they had a reasonable cause to foresee the circumstances under which they might be compelled to do so, it would be better to provide for the necessity beforehand. If the contingency 823 should happily not arrive, the power granted would be harmless. There was another difficulty, which he begged leave to suggest to the hon. baronet. The hon. baronet had said that upon former occasions ministers had acted upon their own discretion, and had then come down to parliament to obtain an indemnity. But the hon. baronet, when he made use of that observation, ought to have recollected, that the prohibition of foreign corn in the first instance, and then its importation at a fixed duty in the second, were the inventions of modern times. He asked the hon. baronet whether the Crown could of itself impose a duty of 17s. upon foreign corn? The duty, the hon. baronet ought to know, was contingent on the price in the home market; was fixed in its amount; and was besides imposed by parliament; and therefore when the hon. baronet said, "let ministers act upon their own discretion," he had only to reply, that the only discretion, indeed the only power, which ministers had left to them to act on, was the opening of the ports at once, free from all duty whatsoever. Now, what ministers asked of parliament at present was, to grant them such a power as would adapt itself to the existing state of the law, and would enable them to take such measures as the existing state of the country might require. If the House had been in a committee, and he had been allowed to state his resolution in the committee, he should have stated, that ministers did not ask for the power of opening the ports at any time, but the power of opening them under certain conditions for a time limited by the circumstances of the country. If it should be thought right to add to the limitation of time and circumstances the limitation of price—as, for instance, that the ports should not be opened unless the price was at 65s.—he would say, that for that or for any other prudent limitation which parliament might give them in the exercise of the power which it intrusted to their hands, he for one should be very thankful. Let parliament, however, consider, first, whether it would lock up this quantity of corn in the face of rising prices in the present distressed circumstances of the country, after it had liberated a much larger quantity last year under far more favourable appearances; and secondly, whether it would see the session terminate, under all the difficulties with which the 824 manufacturing classes had to contend, and with all the feelings which those difficulties were likely to engender among them, without leaving to ministers, under some limitations, or with some instructions, the power of saying and proving to the people, that means of relief were provided for them, in case corn before the ensuing harvest should rise to an inconvenient price—inconvenient, he meant, with their means of obtaining supply, and with their other general circumstances. If parliament refused ministers that power, those who induced it to refuse it them would incur a responsibility, of which they would do well to contemplate the extent. He protested beforehand against the consequences which must ensue, if, for three months or more, government should be left without the power of relieving a starving population by the introduction of foreign corn. He had now stated the grounds upon which he was inclined to support the motion of his right hon. friend. It was admitted, he believed, on all hands, that the first of the two proposed measures was a measure of relief, or he should perhaps rather say of prevention against further pressure. It was a measure which, without any compromise of principle on the general question of the Corn-laws, and without committing any gentleman to any particular side upon it, would, under the existing circumstances of the country, tend greatly to alleviate the irritation which prevailed, and to create a better moral feeling than existed at present. As to the other measure, it might not be necessary to recur to it at all; but, if a necessity should arise for it, it would be a means of averting great calamity from the community; and upon that possible case he thought it was a measure which came down to the House strongly recommended. He did not mean to say that even these measures would afford immediate relief to the existing difficulties; for he knew that those difficulties were not connected with such causes. He knew that there had been a glut in all the foreign markets of our foreign manufactures, and he also knew that if any thing greatly depressed the price of corn in the home market it would only lead to a further aggravation of our difficulties and distresses. He said, that, if parliament allowed this corn to be taken out of bond, the parties to whom it belonged, having disposed of the supply of foreign corn which they had in hand, would send abroad or purchase more, and 825 more would thus come into bond. Those who purchased corn would create a demand for our commodities—that demand would create credit, and the beginning of credit would be the termination of the existing distress. The cotton manufacture was not touched by any laws in the shape of either duty on its imports or exports. It was in that branch of our manufacture, that a market was most particularly wanted. He believed he might say, that two-thirds of our cotton manufactured goods were not made to meet the home consumption, but the foreign demand. If, therefore, a foreign demand could be created, either by the purchase of corn or by any similar measure, relief would be administered to the cotton manufacturer. Other branches of our manufactures were less connected with foreign demand. The home market was for them the nearest and the best; and the most effectual mode of administering relief to them would be by creating an increased demand for them. The evil under which the country now laboured, arose from over-trading, and a want of credit; and the only way in which it could be remedied, was by creating such a demand as would lead to the renovation of credit. He contended, that this measure was calculated to produce such an effect upon those branches of our industry which were most affected by the present depression. He should not have troubled the House with any further observations, had he not felt himself bound to notice a circumstance which had been commented on with a severity, of which he did not complain, by the hon. member for Wareham. In the course of the presentation of some petition on the subject of the Corn-laws, the hon. member for Shaftesbury, without any previous intimation of his design, had asked him if he intended to put any more of the bonded corn into circulation. He did not tell the hon. member that he had any such intention either one way or the other. His answer, en passant, was, that it had been decided by his majesty's government, that the general question of the Corn-laws should not be decided that session. He did not mean to say that his answer was prudent; but what would the hon. gentleman have thought of his prudence, if on a question so full of delicacy, and leading to so many important considerations, he had answered, either that it was not under consideration, or that it was under consideration, 826 but that the result of it could not be disclosed? He contended that he could have given no other answer to the hon. member for Shaftesbury, without leading the country to suppose that some immediate measure was in the contemplation of the government. The right hon. gentleman, after briefly recapitulating his former argument, added, that the beneficial effects of the poor laws—which in a crisis like the present were so beneficial as to reconcile him almost to the worst abuses of them—and the measures which had been proposed that evening, were, in his opinion, the only measures by which the House could hope to see the distress of the country relieved, and the people obtaining their subsistence once more by their own industry, without the compulsory aid of the law on the one hand, or the spontaneous benevolence of individuals on the other. He concluded by stating, that he must oppose the motion of the hon. baronet for going into a select committee upon this subject, because he was convinced that it could be productive of no good, and must be productive of much harm, by the excessive agitation which such an inquiry would excite in all parts of the country.
in explanation, said, that he had never asserted that the stock of corn on hand was so short as not to be sufficient to carry us on till the next harvest.
§ Mr. John Williams
began by lamenting over the desperate condition of the country. He said he had listened with great attention to the speech of the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down, in expectation of hearing some measures of relief proposed; but, except at the concluding part of his speech, he had hardly alluded to this important part of the question. He had no doubt that the right hon. gentleman and his majesty's ministers felt great anxiety on account of the distress, and an urgent wish to improve the condition of the people; and he was surprised that they stopped where they had stopped, and had not brought forward some measure of practical and immediate relief. By the motion of the right hon. Secretary, and the motion of the hon. baronet, the House was placed in an embarrassing dilemma. If, on the one hand, they should adopt the motion of the hon. baronet, they would appear indifferent to the sufferings of the people; and if, on the other, they should vote with the right 827 hon. gentleman, they would be lending themselves to the rash counsels of his majesty's ministers, that promised no immediate benefit. He had listened in vain to the speech of the right hon. gentleman who spoke last, and had heard no offer of consolation—no promise of immediate relief;—but he had heard a long and dry discussion of the question of the Corn-laws, at the very time that the right hon. gentleman was protesting against discussing that general question. The House here manifesting signs of impatience, the learned member said, he had no intention of detaining them at any length, but it was just conceivable, that when a great part of the subjects of the realm were dying of famine, the House of Commons should be willing to attend for a short time to the details of their distress, examine into its causes, and listen patiently to any member who should endeavour to shew what immediate prospect there was of finding a remedy to that distress. If it were indiscreet to go into the question of the Corn-laws fourteen days ago, he saw nothing in the circumstances of the country which made the agitation of that subject, as it had been discussed by the right hon. gentleman, now necessary. If the question were then unfit for discussion, it was not, at this time, more fit; and he objected strongly to allowing ministers, in the manner they proposed, to take the command of the Corn-laws, and deal with them as they pleased, without the whole question being previously settled by parliament. If this power were left in the hands of ministers, they would have the rental of all the landed gentlemen in the kingdom at their mercy, and it would be exposed to the hazard of their discretion till the next meeting of parliament. He thought, before legislating, inquiry was the safest mode of proceeding, and he should therefore vote for the motion of the hon. baronet.
§ Mr. E. Wodehouse
wished to state, that he had always declared, both in that House and out of it, that he did not wish to leave the importation price at 80s., as that would be a famine price in the present state of our currency. He had assented last night to the motion of the right hon. gentleman, under the conviction, that it was not in any way to affect the principles of the present system. While he fully relied on those principles being maintained, he gave his ready consent to any measures which had for their 828 object to give relief to the people. As to the report which had been made by Mr. Jacob, on which so much stress had been laid, he did not know which most to admire, the extent of that gentleman's capacity, or the credulity of others. A very superficial view of that report would satisfy every hon. member, that the author, in what he said of prices, knows nothing of Poland and Prussia. He knew as little also of what stock of corn was on hand; and, when he found gentlemen, who pretended to no personal knowledge themselves, confiding in persons who knew nothing, he felt himself bound to be as unrelenting in his opposition to their measures, as he was at other times happy to support them.
§ The House divided, when there appeared for the Amendment 82: against it 214.
§ The House having resolved itself into a committee,
Sir J. Sebright
declared, that he would oppose the second resolution; because he considered that it involved the whole question of the Corn-laws.
Sir T. Lethbridge
wished the right hon. Secretary would add 5s. to the 12s. which he proposed to affix as a duty on the corn in bond. ["No, no."] He would not press this point, as he saw it was against the sense of the House. He was disposed to support the first resolution, because he thought that it would be a palliative of the existing distress. He hoped, however, that the House would reject the second. He could consider that resolution in no other point of view than as an attempt to get rid of the existing Corn-laws. If the resolution should be agreed to, he was convinced that the ports would in future be open to the introduction of corn upon payment of a duty of 12s. If it should be carried, good bye to any future protection to the landed interest.
Mr. Secretary Canning
observed, that the hon. baronet mistook the principle on which the duty of 5s. was added last year to the protecting duty of 12s. It was then proposed to add it to the 12s., for the purpose of preventing an unlimited influx of foreign corn when the ports should open, and of graduating, as it were, the supply. The application of last year's measure was undefined, an objection which could not apply to the present proposition; for they were already in possession of as much certainty as to the 829 quantity to be admitted into the market as if an additional duty of 5s. were proposed. The duty of last year was 10s.; but the higher duty of 12s. was now resorted to, for reasons of which the hon. baronet himself seemed to be sensible; namely, from a wish to conform to the existing act, and not to the former regulation. Besides, the corn was last year allowed to come into consumption before the average prices reached that height which would warrant its being thrown into the market; and therefore he had, in fact, a right to come out without the payment of any duty at all. But the permission to come out at 80s. was compromised by the payment of a duty of 10s. a quarter. Although not strictly in order, perhaps it would be most convenient to follow the hon. baronet to his objections to the second resolution, which, in the present stage, necessarily had, on the face of it, no details of the limitations or restrictions subject to which the government were to permit, during the recess, the importation of foreign corn, but merely proposed to grant the power. Before this evening's debate he had not only no objection, but rather thought it would be a relief to ministers, to have some regulation adopted; and he still continued to have no disinclination to the limitation of the price at which the discretion of admitting corn was to attach to his majesty's ministers. Indeed, he saw no reason to be dissatisfied with the price of 65s. the quarter, suggested by his hon. friend behind him; and had no objection that the discretion of government should commence after corn had reached that price. He wished it above all things to be understood, that it was the full intention of his majesty's ministers not to draw into precedent the present arrangement on the general discussion of the Corn-laws; for he thought that it would be most unfair to take the duty of 12s. as an adequate protection, or the price of 65s. as the amount at which the ports ought to be opened, and thus prejudge, without inquiring the amount at which, for the future, corn was to be imported.
§ Mr. Benett
objected to conferring the proposed power on ministers, not because he distrusted them particularly, but because it was a power with which no administration should be trusted. If, however, the committee should give ministers the power which they asked for, he would 830 have it conferred upon them unconditionally; for, if the price of 65s. and the duty of 12s. should be given to them for their guidance, he felt persuaded that those sums would always be followed as precedents.
Mr. Secretary Canning
remarked, that the very reason why no particular price had been fixed was to be found in the last observation of the hon. gentleman; namely, that the agricultural gentlemen would, if any particular price had now been named, look on it as implying the future price of corn. For his own part, he was not bigotted to either decision, and whether the discretion was unlimited or limited, he again assured the committee, that it would not have the effect of settling the general question. The present resolution did not enter into particulars; it regulated neither the time nor price, but simply conveyed the power.
declared himself hostile to the second resolution, and hoped that ministers would not press it.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that the question at present was merely, whether or not they would, by passing the resolutions, sanction the principle of the measures which had been proposed? If they did sanction the principle, it would be a matter of public convenience to assent to the resolutions on the present occasion. He saw, indeed, no sufficient ground of opposition, because many opportunities would be afforded hereafter to discuss the details.
§ The, first resolution, "That it was the opinion of the committee that bonded corn ought to be admitted into the home market" was then carried. Upon the reading of the second resolution, "That it was expedient to empower the king in council to permit the importation of foreign grain when it was considered necessary,"
§ Lord Milton
said, that he, in common, he believed, with many members, entertained considerable objections to this resolution, and thought that it ought not to pass, at least without further discussion. He therefore moved, as an amendment, "that the chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The House divided; for the Amendment 109: against it 60: majority 49. Mr. Benett next divided the committee on the question, that the chairman do leave the chair—ayes 45: noes 122: majority 77. Mr. Benett expressed his 831 determination to avail himself of every expedient which could retard a decision upon this important question at the hour to which the discussion had been prolonged. After some conversation,
§ Mr. Canning
consented, most unwillingly, he allowed, to the hon. member's proposal of reporting progress. He could not, however, do so without declaring, that he considered the opposition displayed on the present occasion to be as unreasonable as it was inconvenient. The House then resumed, and the chairman reported progress.