HC Deb 12 May 1826 vol 15 cc1135-9

The House having resolved itself into a committee on this bill,

Colonel Wood

said, he did not wish to obtrude his opinions upon the House, al- though those opinions remained unchanged. But he had a proposition, which, if it was the pleasure of the committee, he would submit. It was to this effect—that no import should take place until the average price of corn was 65s. But he would not press the motion contrary to the sense of the committee.

Mr. Calcraft

suggested to his hon. friend the propriety of standing still. As ministers had taken upon themselves the responsibility, it would be better for the landed interest to leave the matter entirely in their hands. He did not think that circumstances would arise to call for the exercise of the power; but in case they did, it would be better that ministers should have the entire responsibility.

Sir E. Harvey

said, he would not persevere in the opposition.

Colonel Wood

then said, he should not press the motion, although his mind remained unaltered.

Lord Milton

said, that the gentlemen who had spoken seemed to have withdrawn their opposition, in the hope that they should be thereby the better enabled to fight their battle. Whether this might be the case he could not tell; but he begged to guard himself against being supposed one of those who thought 65s. a fair import price. In consequence of the reduction of taxes which had taken place within the last ten years, 65s. was a higher price now than 80s. when the Corn-law was passed.

Mr. Calcraft

warmly defended the landed interest from the continually recurring taunts and attacks of the noble lord. The Corn-laws were intended more to favour the production of corn in this country than to put money into the pockets of the landowners. He, however, was for a free trade in corn—he meant, of course, subject to a protecting duty.

Lord Milton

disclaimed any intention of wounding the feelings of the landed interest; but he thought no class of persons had a right to hold themselves above the free observation of the members of that House. In the publications in defence of the Corn-laws, he had always seen them represented as being intended for the benefit of the landed interest. He had no hesitation in avowing, that he had changed his opinion with respect to those laws. He remembered, that in the first speech he had made on this subject, he had stated it as his opinion, that it was essential to the independence of the country, that it should raise all its food within itself. He now acknowledged that this ground had been cut from under his feet. If his hon. friend maintained that opinion, he ought, inconsistency, to raise the import price to such a height as would completely exclude foreign competition. The agriculturists said, they only wanted a remunerating price. But, what did they mean when they said so? By a remunerating price they meant high rents for the landlord, and ample profits for the farmer [cries of "No, no!"]. Then, he asked, what they did mean? By a remunerating price, he repeated, they meant that ample profit should be secured to the farmer on the outlay of his capital. Now, that evidently depended on the amount of his rent. The whole question referred to the advantage of the farmers and landowners, or rather of the landowners entirely. A remunerating price, let it be considered as it might, resolved itself simply into the attainment of ample rents.

Mr. N. Calvert

strongly objected to the conduct of the noble lord, in encouraging the cry against the landed interest.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

felt that when, by common consent, or, he should rather say, at the earnest request of the whole House, his hon. friend had withdrawn his intended amendment, this was not a fit occasion for an angry discussion of the general principle of the Corn-laws. Some expressions had certainly been used by the noble lord, which, he regretted to say, were calculated to produce feelings of irritation. He trusted, however, that this course would not again be pursued, as he was convinced, that the worst thing that could happen to prevent a fair and candid consideration of the Corn-laws at any future period, was to seize every passing opportunity, when that subject was touched upon, to excite the feelings of the country.

Mr. Calcraft

said, that if, as the noble lord had stated, no class was to be so high as to be above animadversion, none was so low as to be deprived of defence. He would tell the noble lord what he understood by a remunerating price. It was three per cent on the purchase money, and five per cent on the capital expended on the land. Surely this was no such extravagant expectation.

Major Maberly

objected generally to the principle of the Corn-laws, on account of their tendency to bring bad land into cultivation, and thereby render it impos- sible to know what was a remunerating price for the agriculturist.

Mr. Maberly

wished to have a positive assurance from ministers, that the general question of the Corn-laws should be taken into consideration next year. All classes were equally and justly dissatisfied with their vacillating and uncertain policy.

Colonel Wood

said, that the only understanding on which he had withdrawn his amendment was the general expression of the feeling of the House, that he should not go any further. He had no communication with any body on the subject. When he found such a general agreement, he was not so presumptuous as to persevere against the sense of the House. But if they wished him to proceed, there he was, with his amendment in his pocket, and his speech ready, as well as he could make one.

Sir W. Ingilby

said, that although he understood the gentlemen of the landed interest had compromised this subject with his majesty's ministers, he for one could not give his assent to any such arrangement. If, however, he was, from a conviction of the impolicy of such arrangement, disposed to oppose it, he was still more confirmed in his opposition by seeing the hon. member for Brecon, to whom the agricultural interests seemed to have confided their case, come down with an amendment ready cut and dry in support of such an arrangement. For his part, he could not feel himself justified in bartering away the interests of one of the largest agricultural counties in England, without the most unquestionable proof of its necessity. The farmers of that county were in a state of the greatest terror and alarm, from the impolitic, mischievous and useless, agitation of the corn question at the present moment—a time of all others the least fitted for attempting any of those perilous changes which must be produced by persisting in the course they were called upon to adopt. No prudent government ought, indeed, to have proposed measures likely to excite so much agitation in the present state of the country. At a moment when the bankers, merchants, manufacturers, and the great mass of the people were suffering the greatest evils, and almost plunged into despair, from the losses of the past and the prospect of the future—at that moment, ministers, to increase the evil, and extend the calamity, chose to throw the agricultural districts into alarm and dismay, by a project which could be productive of little benefit to those whose interests they professed to consult, and which must entail certain destruction on the devoted farmers. He would propose an amendment, which, in his opinion, would at once give an instantaneous relief to the distressed, and save the landed interests from dangers which threatened them. The hon. baronet concluded by proposing, that the sum of 20s. be paid upon all wheat now in bond, and that the duty thus levied be applied towards the relief of distressed manufacturing districts.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that this amendment could not, by possibility, form part of the present bill. The hon. baronet had mistaken it for the warehoused corn-bill, which stood the next on the orders of the day.

Mr. Portman

said, he would not press his motion for a minimum or maximum of price. He preferred throwing the whole responsibility on the shoulders of ministers.

The House then resumed.