§ Mr. Canning
rose for the purpose of giving notice for to-morrow of a motion on the subject of the Corntrade. He said, he was prepared, on the part of his majesty's government, to submit to a committee of the whole House certain resolutions relative to the Cornlaws; but the course he should pursue must, in a great degree, depend upon the course which the hon. member for Essex meant to pursue with respect to his motion. If the hon. member meant to persevere in 1303 his motion to-night, then it was probable that he (Mr. Canning) would have an opportunity of proposing his resolutions by way of amendment to the hon. member's motion; but this must entirely depend upon the turn which the discussion should take.
Mr. F. Lewis
implored the House not to lose a moment in considering this great question. It was not right that they should delay altering the appalling position in which the country was placed by the failure of the late bill.
§ Mr. Western
observed, that nothing had occurred to induce him to alter the course which he proposed to pursue. His intention was, to propose a committee of the whole House, to consider of the acts of 1815 and 1822, respecting the Corntrade.
The House having accordingly resolved itself into the said committee,
§ Mr. Western
said, he should confine himself to a very few observations in submitting his first resolution. It should be observed, that he had given his notice ten days ago. He had, upon giving that notice, shortly explained the object he had in view, and it was really confined to a simple proposition; namely, to remove the suspensive clause from the Corn-bill of 1822, and allow all its other provisions to come into full operation. It was necessary to recollect, that in 1822 there was a committee appointed, to take into consideration the distresses under which the agricultural interest were labouring; that committee sat for months. The late lord Londonderry attended it with patience and perseverance; and he afterwards introduced this act to regulate the introduction of foreign corn. It might appear that he (Mr. Western) was acting inconsistently, in now proposing to bring into operation an act, the passing of which he strenuously opposed in 1822. But this seeming inconsistency was easily explained, by stating that he opposed it as versus the bill of 1815. He preferred the act of 1815, as it gave a more decided protection to the grower, than that of 1822; and because he thought it extraordinary, on the part of the House, to diminish the price of agricultural produce, at a period when the agriculturists were labouring under the greatest distress. Well, the act did pass, and it appeared strange to him, that there should be inserted in it the clause to which he alluded—a clause 1304 which, in effect, prevented its coming at all into operation, save upon a contingency, which nobody foresaw, and which, in fact, had never come to pass. Five years had elapsed, and during that time the price of wheat had never risen to 80s. By the act of 1815, wheat could not be imported until the home price was 80s.; by the act of 1822, the importation price was 70s. with a duty of 12s. and an additional duty of 5s. under certain circumstances. The hon. member proceeded to show the gradual reductions to be made in the duty as the price rose to and above 80s., and went on to observe, that he could not anticipate any objection to a motion, on his part, to allow the measure of 1822, supported as it had been by the right hon. gentleman opposite, to come into operation. Some hon. members objected to his plan, on the ground that if corn rose to 70s. we should incur the danger of having the country inundated with foreign corn. He maintained, that no danger of that kind was to be apprehended. The price, according to the last returns, was 58s.; but since that period he understood from a friend, whose letter he held in his hand, that there had been a rise of 3s. or 4s. This, it was said, was caused by the late bill having been lost in another place [hear, hear!]. Though this was the case, still there was no fear of a great rise of prices; on the contrary, the promise which we had of an abundant harvest was calculated to keep them down. Besides, it should be recollected, that wheat rose 3s. or 4s. upon the introduction of the right hon. gentleman's bill a few weeks ago, and that circumstance caused an alarm in the public mind. When prices were at 67s. it was stated, that we were comfortable and happy. But now that prices were at 58s., alarm was said to be spread abroad in all quarters. The fact was, that with the different variations in the value of our currency at different times, it was extremely difficult to legislate at all with respect to corn. But they were compelled to do what they thought best for the interests as well of the agriculturists as of the community at large. All he asked at present was, that an act which had stood on the Statute-book for five years—an act which had been passed by that House upon the serious recommendation of a committee—should have a fair trial. It might be said, that ministers would have the power of 1305 preventing corn from becoming dear by an order in council. He did not fear that, if this power was given to ministers, they would use it otherwise than discreetly and cautiously. But that was not the question. It was the duty of parliament to provide, as far as in them lay, against the necessity of resorting to such measures, unless at times of unforeseen and pressing necessity. He maintained that, if his measure was adopted, such a necessity would be obviated. Upon the various occasions that the Corn-laws had been brought under discussion, he had taken a lively interest in them. He had never looked upon this as a personal or a party question, and had never taken any part upon it upon private or party considerations. He had always felt that this country should put an obligation upon itself, and provide sufficient food for its inhabitants; as he was perfectly sure it could do with industry, attention, and management, instead of relying upon foreign countries for our supplies. This was the wisdom and the policy of some of our wisest legislators and statesmen; and never had the doctrine been more ably and eloquently enforced than by the right hon. gentleman opposite. He looked upon the act of 1815 as a perfect settling of the Corn-question; and he was sure that it was viewed in the same light by ministers, by the House, and by the country at large; and, therefore, he opposed the act of 1822, because he considered it to be an invasion of that settlement, and a breach of public confidence.—The hon. member concluded by moving the following resolution:
"That it is the opinion of this Commission, that so much of the Act of the 3rd Geo. 4th cap. 60, relating to the importation of corn, as renders the provisions of those acts dependent on the admission of foreign wheat for home consumption, under the provisions of the Act of the 55th Geo. 3rd, cap. 26, should be repealed.
"That the Scale of Prices at which the home consumption of Foreign Corn, Meal, Wheat, or Flour, is admitted by the said Act of the .55th of Geo. 3rd, shall cease and determine; and that henceforth all and every the provisions of the said Act of the 3rd Geo. 4th shall be in force the same as if they had not been made dependent upon the admission of Foreign Wheat for home consumption under the said Act of the 55th Geo. 3rd."
§ Mr. Canning
rose and said:—Sir, the first observation I shall make upon the speech of the hon. member is, that I consider the tone and manner with which lie has introduced his motion exactly suited to the discussion of a great question involving so deeply the interests as well of the agriculturists as of the community at large. I beg to assure the hon. member, that I shall address myself to the question in the same spirit; and whatever may be the future opinion I may feel it right, in justice to myself, to others, and to the king's government, to express, I shall abstain from all allusion to what may have taken place. This, however, I will say, not because I do not feel the provocation, but because I do not think this the most proper time for doing so. I can conceive no species of faction more inexcusable, more blameable, or more wicked, than that which would make a subject touching the vital interests, and involving the prosperity of the whole community, a ground for exciting party feelings, or exasperating political animosities [cheers]. Sir, the next observation I have to make is, that the proposition of the hon. gentleman is one to which, as he has laid it down, I cannot entirely accede, and which I think, even according to his own view of the subject, and the reasons he has given for its adoption, is one he cannot hope to see carried into effect. I do not think that his proposition is one at all calculated to meet those circumstances of the country, which he seems to think render some proposition necessary, and which he also supposes call for the adoption of his particular resolution. His reasons seem to me to amount to this—that as the old corn bill, I mean that which was first passed, has introduced a system, that every one agrees requires alteration; and as the bill that has lately passed this House, and which would have afforded the required alteration, has, through no fault of ours, been lost in another place, we should now turn to account another bill passed some few years since; which bill, however, he is forced at the same time to acknowledge, possesses so many defects in principle, that it has never been brought into operation; and which contains among others that clause which I will call the deterring clause, namely, that which prevented the introduction into our markets of foreign wheat, until our own wheat had attained the price of 80s.—a clause which was no better than 1307 a bugbear, and which utterly prevented that bill from being efficient and operative. I admit, Sir, that there are circumstances in the country, such as require some interposition of the legislature; but I do think that the hon. gentleman is asking too much of this branch of the legislature, when he desires the committee to consider of some proceeding to meet those circumstances; and in entering upon that consideration, to retract their latest and most mature deliberation, and to adopt a bill which has always been acknowledged to be defective, rather than resort to the principles at least of that measure, which, as it seems to me, has been unmeritedly thrown aside. Who, I ask, Sir, in the course of the last discussion upon the state of the Corn-laws, ever once proposed to act even upon the principle of the bill of 1822? None. None, at least, without a material alteration in the provisions of that act, which, from its known deficiencies, has been a dead letter from the very date of its enactment. In making his proposition, the hon. gentleman has assumed it to be necessary, upon other considerations besides those to which I have alluded. But even there his reasoning seems to me equally inconclusive. He says, that the House of Commons have lately passed a bill, in which 62s. was stated as the remunerating price; that that bill, without any fault of ours, and, be it observed too, without any impeachment of the principle of the bill itself, has been rejected elsewhere, in consequence of which, a difficulty has arisen, and an alarm has been created throughout the country—ergo, as the difficulty exists, it must be removed, and as alarm has been created, it must be pacified; and the difficulty and the alarm both being caused by the high price of corn, he proposes to remove the one, and to pacify the other, by destroying the remunerating price of 62s., and by returning to the price of 70s., which it was our object lately to diminish [hear! and a laugh]. It is really impossible to establish any other proposition than that which I have just stated, as the consequence of his arguments. The hon. gentleman ought not also to have lost sight of the circumstance, that in the recent discussions in this House upon the subject of the Cornlaws, it was not only the price, but the principle, which came under consideration; and the question, therefore, which we have to consider is, not only whether we can 1308 agree to the substitution of 70s. for 62s. but also, whether the more matured decision of this House shall be abandoned, and whether we shall withdraw our support from those principles on which that decision was founded, for no other reason than that those principles have not been fortunate enough to meet with approbation elsewhere? Yet, such is the conduct which the hon. gentleman wishes us to pursue; and without any arguments to shew the incorrectness of the conclusions to which we then arrived, he calls upon us to abandon what we have done, and to retract the deliberate decision we have lately made—to disclaim all we have been before declaring necessary—in short, to go back to the principle of prohibition. I do not say that the hon. gentleman has been unable to make his propositions clear to the House from the want of capacity in himself. I do not say that it is from want of ability, or of knowledge, or of experience (all of which he possesses), that he has not succeeded in furnishing the House with a single reason for the course he requires us to pursue. Perhaps, that he has not done so is more to be attributed to the nature of his proposition itself, than to any other circumstance. I agree, Sir, with the hon. gentleman, that something is necessary to be done; but the rule I should lay down upon the subject is a very plain one. As, I presume, the House of Commons is not so reduced as to abjure what its members have declared to be necessary principles, to rescind their deliberate resolutions, and to throw away as waste paper that bill which they have so much, and so carefully considered, merely because in a certain assembly, which, for many reasons, is entitled to our respect, they did not happen to be entertained with that courtesy which might have been expected, but were made the subject of an amendment, which not merely went to rescind what we had enacted, but to introduce principles, that, besides being new, were positively contrary to what we had determined to be necessary. Let the House themselves feel this as they may. If there be a single spark of pride or of shame in it, they will not submit to it. While, however, on one hand, I should say that we ought not to submit to change our opinions, and to abandon our principles, without being satisfied that we were mistaken, yet I should most sincerely wish, on the other, that the bill which I 1309 now propose to introduce should be as little liable as possible to any objections that may throw impediments in the way of its being passed. I should, therefore, lay down as a rule to guide us in framing a new bill, that it should not, if possible, run counter to any thing which we have reason to believe will occasion its loss in another place. While, therefore, on the one hand, I do not wish that we should yield one title of our privileges, so, on the other, I am not desirous that this period of the session should pass without our enacting a measure that may produce some practical good. That such a measure should be perfect is more than can possibly be expected; but something is necessary to be done at once; and time enough will then remain fully to consider the alterations that may afterwards be deemed necessary. The first rule, therefore, that I would adopt, should be to do nothing that may ensure contradiction elsewhere; and secondly, that we should do no more than is absolutely necessary at the present moment; since, after what has passed here, and in the other house of parliament, every body must be satisfied, that, in the next session, the whole subject must be fully re-considered. The third rule I would establish is, that conceding every thing that may fairly be required from us, we should begin with spirit whatever we intend to do, and should frame our bill on those principles which have been concurred in here, and on which we have legislated. Now, as far as we have the means of knowing, the principle of the bill we have already passed has not been touched. Indeed, that bill, when it was discussed in the other House upon principle, passed its second reading by a large majority. The immediate evil against which we have to provide is, the alarm that the loss of that bill has occasioned—an alarm which, if the statements of some hon. gentlemen are not exaggerated, must be very considerable. If the alarm is not great now, I trust most sincerely, that the minds of men will not become more excited, and, at least, that the amount of evil may not be exaggerated. I know that if alarm does at present exist, we have great reason to fear that it may be made the subject of exaggeration; for the period at which such an alarm is likely to be the greatest, is between the present time and that of the coming in of the following harvest; 1310 in other words, between the expenditure of the stock in hand, and the period of obtaining the new supply. At this moment I am happy to say, that, from all the accounts we have received, there is every reason to believe, that no ground for alarm exists; for the harvest promises to be most abundant: but, notwithstanding this, I understand there is an apprehension, that the failure of the bill which lately passed this House may create an alarm which may be much exaggerated, if the report should be spread abroad, that nothing is intended to be done by parliament. Now, it does so happen, that, by the natural operation of the bill (for the minds of men were, in some degree, prepared to expect that it would pass into a law), a great quantity of foreign corn has been introduced into the country; and there are, at this moment, about five hundred and sixty thousand quarters of foreign corn in the ports of England. As these have been brought hither on the expectation that their importation would be sanctioned by law, something must be done with them; and, as the principle of the bill that passed this House, has not been impeached in the other house of parliament, I feel no hesitation in making a proposition on the subject. I propose, then, that these five hundred and sixty thousand quarters of foreign corn, now in bond in this country, should be let out, not by an act of the government (for greatly as the hon. gentleman fears the exercise of such a power on the part of the government, I assure him that he is not more unwilling to confer such a power than we are to exercise it), but that they should come out under the provisions of the bill now before the House. To that part of the bill there was no objection in the other house of parliament; and therefore it is that I now propose, that the quantity of corn in warehouse in this country, or which may be brought into warehouse here before the 1st of July, shall be allowed to come out, under such restrictions and regulations, both with respect to price and duty, as would have been in existence, had the bill which passed this House assumed the authority of a law. To that purpose, at least, the bill may be supposed to have passed into a law; since that part of its provisions was not objected to in the other House. The point which impeded the passing of the bill was quite of another 1311 description. At the same time I believe, that, with respect to the regulations on which foreign corn was to have been imported hereafter, an amendment was proposed and negatived. I state this with the view of showing, that, in what I propose we should do with reference to bonded corn, we shall not be running the risk of engaging in a conflict with the other House—a conflict which I should extremely deprecate.—The only other point to which I wish to allude, is with reference to another species of corn, very small in its amount; but, with respect to the importation of which there are peculiar circumstances of favour—I mean the corn of Canada, for the shipping of which preparations have already been made, and for which bills have been transmitted here, on the faith that such corn might legally be imported. This is the only proposition which, under present circumstances, the government think proper to submit to the House. My first proposition is, to let loose the corn now in bond, by the operation of the principles of the bill itself; and then to let in, under the same restrictions, the corn of Canada, which has been shipped on the faith of the bill. To neither of these parts of the bill was the smallest objection made in the House of Lords; and the amendment which lost the bill was, as far as I understand the matter, one which did not touch them in the least. In proposing them, Sir, for the consideration of this committee, I am, therefore, doing that which will not bring us within the risk of a conflict with the other House, since the principles on which I now wish to act are those that met with no objection, and were, in fact, adopted from us. This act of legislation is, however, but temporary in its nature; as I propose it shall last no longer than the 1st of May in the following year. I shall do this for the purpose of insuring the early attention of parliament to a subject which I cannot but consider of vital importance. It is my earnest wish that one of the first acts of the legislature, in the ensuing year, may be, to reconsider the act of the present session; and, by the experience we shall then have had, I think we shall possess the best means of entering on that re-consideration. Between the hon. gentleman and myself there is a wide practical difference. I propose that, in cases of emergency, a quantity of foreign corn, to a limited extent, shall be admitted into 1312 the market here. I say, "to a limited extent," because I have no desire to alarm the agriculturists; and I, therefore, limit the extent of corn thus to be rendered admissible, to that which is now in warehouse in this country, or which may have been shipped on the faith of the bill that passed this House. The price at which I propose it shall be admissible is 62s.; and I adopt the scale of price and of duty from that bill, the principle of which was not opposed in the House of Lords; but I restrict the operation of that principle, by confining it to that corn which is now in bond here, or which has been shipped from Canada, and for which bills have been drawn and accepted. The hon. gentleman, on the contrary, proposes to get rid of the principle of the bill passed in this House in the present session, and to treat it as if every part of it had been rejected in the other House, resorting to 70s. as the minimum price at which the people of England are to be relieved from the pressure of the high price of corn, by the importation of foreign grain. The practical difference, therefore, between the hon. gentleman and myself is considerable; and I confess that I do not think the House can hesitate in agreeing with me, that the proposition I have submitted is that which ought to be adopted. I do not think the hon. gentleman will find the circumstances of the times to be such, that his measure, even if carried, will be conceived to be one which ought to he fastened permanently on the country. All I ask is, that parliament should meet a present, or, at least, a probably approaching evil; reserving to itself the right of discussion upon the framing of a permanent measure, which, for the honour of parliament, and for the advantage of the people of this country, I trust may pass into a law, and be finally settled in the next session. I have now, Sir, only to move, "That it is the opinion of this Committee, that any sort of Corn, Grain, Meal, or Flour, the produce of Foreign Countries, and now in Warehouse, in the United Kingdom, or which may be reported to be Warehoused, on or before the 1st of July next, shall be admissible for home use at any time before the 1st of May, 1828, upon payment of the Duties following." [These were the Duties imposed by the Bill of the present session, passed by the Commons].
said, that the only circumstance 1313 under which he could be induced to give his vote in favour of the proposition of the hon. member for Essex, would have been the belief that it was the determination of government not to introduce any other measure during the present session. Had that been the case, he should have considered the proposition of the hon. gentleman as one which was calculated to amend a great blot in the existing system of the law; and although he was not satisfied with it, and although he believed that it went to establish a principle which ought not to be established, he should have preferred it to the present state of the law; as he thought it impossible to retain in actual operation a law which prohibited the importation of foreign corn, until the produce of our own country, had risen as high as 80s. Had no other proposition been made to the House, he should have voted for that of the hon. gentleman, because he conceived some change in the present system absolutely necessary: but as the amendment proposed by his right hon. friend was founded on the bill which had passed that House, he preferred it to the partial proposition of the hon. gentleman; and therefore, not only on the ground of consistency, but because he preferred his right hon. friend's amendment, he should vote for it. He should follow the example of his right hon. friend, in not mixing up with this discussion matter which was really foreign to it. At least such had been the rule which his right hon. friend had laid down at the commencement of his speech, but which, no doubt unintentionally, he had, in some pars of it, violated. It was his opinion, that no more unwise course could be pursued by any party, than to connect political questions of any sort with the question of the Corn-laws, which ought to be discussed independently of any other matter. "If," continued the right hon. gentleman "any gentleman should think that the amendment proposed by my noble friend, the duke of Wellington, in the House of Lords, was connected with any purpose of a political nature, or still less with any purposes of party faction, I declare, upon my honour, that I believe such an impression to be totally erroneous. I believe that my noble friend, having supported government in the early stages of the bill, and having voted for its second reading, when its principles was discussed, proposed his amendment with sincere desire to promote that which he 1314 understood to be the real object of the bill, and to remedy a defect which he thought he perceived in it. I believe that he made his proposition on a misconstruction of what had passed between my right hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson) and himself; and that, when he made his suggestion, he really thought the suggestion was not dissented from by that right hon. gentleman. I say I believe this, because, if the noble duke intended to have made that amendment the means of an opposition to the government, I do think that I should have heard of it previously; and that the first intimation I had of the amendment would not have been on the morning of the day after that on which he had carried it." The right hon. gentleman then proceeded to comment on the claim which the chancellor of the Exchequer had set up for the privileges of the House of Commons; and observed, that while his right hon. friend claimed for that House the full and free exercise of its privileges, they ought to give equal freedom to the other. However, so anxious was he to avoid saying anything that might produce acrimonious feelings, that he should abstain from making any further observations upon that part of the subject, and should confine himself entirely to the discussion of the question immediately before them. On that question the course he should adopt was taken up with no other consideration than what he believed to be for the permanent interest of the people of this country. He must, however, remind the House, when they objected to the opinions of others upon this bill, that they themselves had deemed it necessary to make alterations in the bill since its first introduction. He was sorry to hear that what was to be done now was to be only a temporary measure. He wished that it had been thought possible to have introduced, at this time, a Corn-bill in such a form as would enable them to render it permanent, and that the right hon. gentleman had not taken the amendment to have been so important as to destroy the bill. The amendment might have been important enough to prevent the government from carrying the bill, so amended, through the House of Lords; but he would ask, whether it was so much so as to prevent the right hon. gentleman from doing that which might have amounted to an honourable compromise between the two Houses? He thought that such was the 1315 importance of the discussion that was to decide the price of corn, and to settle the question between landlord and tenant, that even if the session should be protracted to the end of July, he should think the time was well consumed in finally disposing of the subject. He thought it would be infinitely better, both for the agriculturist and manufacturer, if between those two, as between the two Houses of parliament, an honourable compromise could be effected. He was not the advocate of one or the other; and he thought that those persons shewed the greatest wisdom, who manifested no particular or exclusive partiality for either; especially as he believed each of those classes would best promote its own interest, by shewing respect to the wishes and interest of the other. On the ground of his own consistency, but, beyond that, on the ground of the preference he really entertained for the amendment, he should give it his decided support.
said, that, in rejecting the bill lately presented to them, the lords had manifested greater ignorance than he ever before witnessed in any body of legislators. He concurred, though with some reluctance, in the resolution of the right hon. gentleman; and he begged to guard himself most distinctly against being supposed, by that concurrence, to convey an approbation of the temporary measures by which it was attempted to palliate the evils inherent in the existing system of Corn-laws. It was too much that the people should be obliged to look to the government, year after year, for the supply of food. This was the third temporary measure of this kind that had been adopted; and he now felt it right to state, that if a similar measure should be proposed on any future occasion, upon whatever alleged grounds of expediency, he should give to such a proposition his decided opposition.
thought, that both the proposition of the hon. member for Essex and that of the right hon. gentleman, might with perfect propriety be adopted by the committee. The proposition of the right hon. gentleman was very good, so far as it went, but that was not far enough. In the event of the country being afflicted with a wet harvest, as it was in 1816, the admission of six hundred thousand quarters would not prevent the price from rising. He therefore thought it a very reasonable proposition to admit corn when the price 1316 should reach 70s. under the operation of the act of 1822.
§ Mr. Benett
did not think that the proposition of the right hon. gentleman was called for by the circumstances of the case. For his own part, he had no apprehensions of a wet season. He rejoiced that the bill had been abandoned in the Lords, because he objected to its principle. He believed that the effect of that bill would have been, to diminish employment, by throwing out of cultivation a great portion of the poor-lands. It appeared to him that the only fair principle to be adopted with respect to the trade in corn, was that of a fixed duty, to commence at a price which would secure the agriculturists of this country from the injury which they must sustain, if compelled to compete with other nations who did not bear the same pressure of taxation.
§ Sir J. Newport
thought it was impossible for the House to entertain the proposition of the hon. member for Essex, seeing that they had already passed a resolution which was equivalent to a repeal of the act of 1822. How could that House send up to the Lords an amendment of that act, when there was at present on their lordship's' table an act for its repeal? The principle of prohibition, as applied to the trade in corn, ought not to be entertained. It had been said, that the act of 1822 had never come into operation. He rejoiced that it had not. That act prevented the importation of corn until a famine-price was attained; and then the effect of opening the ports must have been to inundate the country with foreign corn. The country had been placed in an embarrassing situation, by the manner in which the bill agreed to in that House had been treated in another place. That, however, was no fault of the House of Commons, but of those who had attempted to destroy the measure, under the guise of amendment. Those persons only were to blame who, having originated the measure as part of the king's ministers, turned round upon the principle which they had sanctioned, and, for purposes which he would not attempt to designate, produced a result which was calculated to excite feelings of exasperation throughout the country. He repeated, that those persons only were to be blamed who had carried into the discussion of a question connected with the supply of the principle article of food of the whole population, the principle of hos- 1317 tility derived from other sources: for no man living could lay his hand on his breast and say—knowing the events which had recently taken place—that party feelings did not enter into the proceedings adopted in another place [hear, hear]. Though some persons might not view the matter in that light, it appeared to him as clear as possible, that the case was as he had stated. If the House of Commons were to act upon their privileges, and imitate the conduct of another House, the consequence would be, that the people would be ground between the two Houses, and a famine price of corn would be produced, unless the necessity of the case should compel the executive government, upon its own responsibility, to relieve the people from the neglect of the legislature. Looking to the interest of Ireland, which was agricultural, and to that of this country, which was partly agricultural and partly manufacturing, he thought the bill which had been sent up to the other House a wise measure of legislation. The agricultural interest was fully protected by it; whilst it afforded the greatest relief to the manufacturers.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
regretted that the proceedings in another place had not been commented upon in a manner likely to produce that spirit of conciliation which it was desirable should prevail between the two branches of the legislature. He was quite surprised how the right hon. baronet could have felt himself justified in resorting to a strain of almost personal abuse, when he alluded to the fate of the other bill. For his own part, he should have long hesitated before he could have brought himself to have treated a political opponent in the harsh terms which had been used on the present occasion; and this, too, after the declaration of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel), of the utter impossibility of the duke of Wellington's having been influenced by party views in proposing his amendment. How, then, the right hon. baronet could have brought himself to have so violently impugned the motives of the illustrious duke, and to have done so of all days on the 18th of June [cheers], the anniversary of his greatest glory, he was at a loss to conceive. He could not concur in the principle laid down by the government in the proposed resolutions, but preferred that of the bill of 1822, upon which his hon. friend had framed his present resolutions; and for the latter, if pressed to a division, he should certainly vote.
said, that, in reference to the question more immediately before them, the measure suggested by government was of a simple and temporary character, and only intended to reach the next year, when he hoped parliament could be brought to the main consideration of the Corn-laws, with that calmness which their discussion and adjustment so imperatively called for. At the same time it was intended, that the temporary measure should be in the same spirit, and on the same plan, as that which had already received their sanction. There was this advantage in adhering to that course, in preference to the adoption of a resolution like his hon. friend's (Mr. Western's); namely, that they were adhering to a plan which had been carried after mature deliberation, instead of sanctioning at once and crudely an entire deviation from it, thereby implying that they had been misled, and had spent their time idly in their recent debates upon the general question. He had besides, this further objection to the amendment of his hon. friend—that, by fixing the price at 70s. at the close of the sitting of parliament, it tended to fetter the discretion of ministers during the recess, and to compel them to sanction, under all circumstances, the prohibition of the importation of foreign corn until the higher price of 70s. was exceeded in the home market. The prevalence of any public belief, that the government was so fettered by any implied restriction imposed by that House, could not fail to be attended by great inconvenience, as well as no small share of mischief in particular contingencies. Viewing the amendment in this light, then, he came to the consideration of the proposition which was broached this night by the right hon. gentleman, and which was merely affording that House an alternative of falling back upon a principle which they had already sanctioned, and which there was reason to think would meet the general satisfaction, notwithstanding the fate that had attended a part of their system elsewhere. With reference to that plan, he must say, that there never had been one submittted to the country which had received so large a share of assent. There were particular farmers who certainly complained that agriculture was not sufficiently protected by the late bill; and, on the other hand, there were some manufacturers who complained that it would make the loaf too dear; but, notwithstand- 1319 ing these extreme opinions, the general understanding, among the soundest and most rational thinking men was, that it was calculated to do even-handed justice to all parties; so far as any bill could be experimentally framed for so delicate and important an object. He lamented that that bill had not succeeded elsewhere; for he had strong objections to any temporary measure upon so vital a question. This uncertainty upon the final issue of such arrangements not merely affected the growers and dealers in corn, but every other species of human industry in which the country was embarked; leaving, in the mean time, the buyer and seller, the cultivator and the speculator in land, in a state of utter ignorance as to the real value of their property or contracts. All purchases and bargains were thereby left unsettled and unhinged, and every class of society flung, as it were, into conflicting interests—one body exclaiming for cheap bread, another calling for an extravagant price for their corn, and the public left in a state of doubt, difficulty, and danger. It was with the greatest reluctance, then, that he could give his consent to the suggested temporary measure, not only on account of the important interests which must still remain unsettled, but on account of the injurious moral effect which must inevitably attend this putting into incessant collision two of the great classes of the community; who, when excited, were not likely to reason very closely upon the real bearings of their respective duties. This moral irritation was as unwise as it was dangerous; and rather than prolong it by the substitution of a temporary measure, he would have preferred a prolongation of the sitting of parliament, to have a general and permanent measure still discussed, if he could have hoped that such a discussion was likely to be conducted, under existing circumstances, with that temper which the subject so imperatively demanded. This hope, from what had lately passed elsewhere, he could not now rationally entertain; and therefore he was painfully obliged to give up the present expectation of having a dispassionate consideration of the merits of the Corn-laws, and content himself with any safe, temporary measure until next year. As to the noble duke, whose name had been so often alluded to in the present discussion, he must say, that he felt so sincere a veneration for his character, so deep a conviction of the im- 1320 mense debt of gratitude which his country owed to him, that on any occasion he should hesitate before he ventured to pronounce the slightest opinion to affect his integrity or understanding. But, at the same time, he could not help saying, that when he saw no less than five of the late ministers, all of whom had, while in office, themselves concurred in and approved of the measure which had been passed by this House, and sent to the other House—when he saw all of them, when out of office, turn round and strangle that very measure, he could not agree with the right hon. member for Oxford, that all this was done from an entirely honest feeling: more especially as the amendment, by means of which they had effected their object, was the most foolish and absurd, and the most inoperative for any good purpose, that ever was proposed to be introduced into any bill that ever came before parliament [hear, hear!]. That was the true character of the amendment: but he spoke of it in these terms, not with any view to reflect upon the individual with whom it originated, but to point out the reasons which induced him to consent to a temporary measure, since a permanent plan could not be adopted during the present session. If the right hon. member could think that such an amendment was introduced from a sincere desire to promote the object, without injuring the principle, of the bill, he could only say, that his credulity was equal to his candour; for he could hardly conceive how any persons of common sense, who were really friendly to the principle and object of the bill, could have proposed such an amendment, especially if they knew what would be the fate of the bill, which they must have done; as it was to be presumed that they were acquainted with the privileges of the House of Commons. The effect of the amendment was, to throw the whole of the corn trade of the country into a state of total uncertainty and confusion. He thought the right hon. gentleman himself ought to have said a few words on the nature, object, and effects of the amendment. Could any one shew that the amendment was good for any thing, except to throw the corn trade into the hands of foreigners? If the object was to give a preference to the corn directly imported, over the corn in bond, that plan would not have the slightest effect in protecting the agriculture of this country; and if it had not that ob 1321 ject, it had no object whatever, unless that of destroying the bill. It could not have been intended to injure our own shipping, and to throw the whole of the corn trade into the hands of foreigners; and, if that was not the purpose, what could it be, except to get rid of the bill? He repeated, that as a protection to agriculture, the amendment was the most absurd and inoperative that could possibly be conceived; for corn would be warehoused at the Hanse towns and Flemish ports, and would come into competition with the home-growers to the full as much as if it were warehoused at home. To the foreigner, indeed, no greater or more unexpected boon could have been given, than the late amended bill, while it conferred not a particle of real advantage to the home-grower. He was astonished that the noble duke could not have fancied that the necessary effect of his amendment must be, to take the carrying and warehousing trade out of British hands, while the prices were low and assisted speculation, and yet, when a season of distress should arrive, and the price got up to 80s., or 90s., then the article would be placed under the guidance of other hands, and the home-market absolutely left to the discretion of the foreigner, just beyond the confines of British power, who at a moment so critical would have a distressed population at his mercy, either to cut off their supply of a staple article of food, or mete it out exactly as he pleased during the exigency. Any thing more absurd in legislation he could not conceive; and, giving great credit to the right hon. member for Oxford for the sincerity of his opinion on the subject, he must say, that, with persons of common sense, he was obliged to suppose a perfect consciousness in them, of the mischief of the proposal. He repeated, that those who had ability to understand it, must regard the amendment as being of this description. And with respect to that very bill, if he had thought with the right hon. member for Oxford that the amendment proposed elsewhere had honest reference to corn, he would have preferred having the bill back to that House, that they might have had a conference on the subject; because, if it were to come to reasoning, he was quite sure that they would have no difficulty in making even the supporters of the amendment understand the absurdity of their own proposition. He was decidedly of opinion, that the country would do better to endure 1322 the inconvenience of delay, than legislate in haste on so important a question. The plan of the hon. member for Essex was not calculated either to do credit to the House or to benefit the country.
said, he was at a loss to reconcile the whole tenor of the hon. member's speech with the declaration with which he had prefaced it, of the veneration which he felt for the illustrious duke, and the indelible sense he professed to entertain of the immense debt of gratitude which his country owed him. What violence, then, must not the hon. gentleman have done to those feelings, when, so soon after their expression, he could on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, have suffered himself to have attempted to cover the noble duke with ridicule, for an act which he had done in the honest discharge of what he felt to be his public duty. He conceived it to be no part of his duty, on the present occasion, to vindicate the duke of Wellington's clause in the corn bill. What he had stated earlier in the evening was, that he was prepared to vindicate the illustrious person himself from having been actuated by any party feeling in the step which he had taken; and this he was prepared to do, not because the noble duke could not have taken any step he pleased without his concurrence, but because he was on such terms of confidential intercourse with him, that he knew the duke would not have done a formal political act, without at least having apprized him of it, were it intended as a party proceeding; and he had never heard of the introduction of this clause, until the morning after it had been submitted as an amendment. But really, when the hon. member thought fit to exercise his talents for ridicule, he should have taken care that when he meant to heap it upon the noble duke, he did not, in an equal portion level it at his right hon. friend who sits under him (Mr. Huskisson). The history of this proceeding must, however, be known, to remove this attempt to cast obloquy upon a public character who had achieved such glorious services for his country, and who on this day at least, if on no other, ought to have been spared the necessity of requiring such an explanation. The duke of Wellington had been a member of a committee which had sat to inquire into the price of grain for shipment at foreign ports, and the price at which it could be imported into the home market. The result of that 1323 laborious investigation had created—right or wrong he was not now to argue—an impression on the noble duke's mind, that the warehousing system, as at present constituted, gave a power to certain speculators in the article, so to practise upon the averages, as to make them available for their speculations in the market. And his noble friend's object in proposing the clause was to throw an obstacle in the way of such dexterous movements for sinister purposes, and to give a preference to corn directly imported in ships, to that which had been previously bonded. This was not an alteration which introduced any new principle; for in fact it had prevailed in the construction of the act of 1791. Why, then, was his noble friend to be assailed with ridicule for having revived a principle which had already received the formal sanction of the legislature? The hon. gentleman, he repeated, seemed to forget that if ridicule must be applied, it equally attached to his right hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson) for the individual assent which he had given to a part of the alteration. His right hon. friend's opinion was originally called for by the noble duke, on a proposition, that no bonded corn should be taken out of the warehouses, until the patties who had previously bonded theirs had expressed their consent. His right hon. friend had very properly objected to such a proposition, but had added, that if the prevention were merely to extend to the importation of foreign corn until the home price was 66s., he could have no objection individually, though he feared it would be fatal to the bill. Now, all the objections of the hon. member would apply equally to this alteration as well as to that of the noble duke. His sole object was to vindicate the duke of Wellington from the aspersions which had been cast upon him. He was exceedingly sorry that an individual who had acted, as his noble friend had acted, from a firm belief that he was not departing from the original proposition of the clause, should have met with such treatment. His noble friend might naturally have supposed, that a similar mode of proceeding might be taken with respect to this measure, as had been taken, under precisely similar circumstances, with respect to the Canada Corn-bill. He was quite sure that his noble friend acted under the impression, that though the bill might be rejected, yet the country might have the be- 1324 nefit of some permanent measure on the subject. His noble friend did vote in favour of the principle of the bill, and he had not attempted to violate the principle of it. He believed that his noble friend had acted throughout with that fair dealing, and with that singleness of heart, for which he was as much distinguished, as for those great and glorious military achievements, which had spread such lustre over the arms of this country.
said, it had been with the most unfeigned reluctance that he had felt himself compelled to speak of the noble duke, whose great qualities he was quite as ready to acknowledge, as the right hon. gentleman could possibly be. For his own part, he perfectly believed, that the noble duke had been misled by persons who were much more cunning and artful than he was. He must also add, that he did not think it quite fair, that the discussion of the question before the House should be obstructed, merely because that day was the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that he had to beg the indulgence of the House in the performance of a very painful but imperative duty. He certainly could have wished that honourable members had confined themselves to the motion before the House, and that the discussion had not taken the turn which it had taken. His right hon. friend the member for Oxford, had said, that the ridicule and blame which had been lavished upon the amendment of his noble friend attached in an equal degree to him (Mr. Huskisson) as it attached to his noble friend. He would tell his right hon. friend, that however great that ridicule might have been, he would rather have borne with it, had it been twenty times as great, than that the amendment should have received the sanction of that House, and worked all the mischief, all the disadvantages, and all the distress, which it must inevitably have produced. At the same time, however, he must deny that any part of that ridicule attached to him. He was answerable neither for the merits nor the demerits of that amendment. It had been said, that he had suggested the amendment; but it was quite clear that the noble duke had entirely mistaken the suggestion which he had made to him; and, as certain documents connected with this subject had been alluded to there and elsewhere, he hoped the House would al- 1325 low him to read some extracts, which would put the matter in a clearer light than it had yet appeared in. At a late hour on the night of the 24th of last month, on the eve of the day for which the corn bill stood committed in the House of Lords, he received from his noble friend a private communication, which he would now read to the House:
"London, May 24, 1827.
"My dear Huskisson: I beg you to look at the enclosed clause, and let me know whether you have any objection to its being inserted in the Corn-bill, after the clause permitting the entry. In my opinion, it will tend to diminish the apprehensions entertained, that the system of warehousing may be for the purpose of facilitating and ensuring the results of frauds in the averages; and will tend to induce some to vote for the bill who would otherwise vote against it. Let me have your answer as soon as you can. Ever yours, most sincerely,
The clause which his noble friend inclosed ran as follows:—
"Provided always, that no corn shall be entered for home consumption from any warehouse in any port or place in this kingdom, previous to the entry for home consumption, or to the exportation of every other portion or portions of corn previously lodged in warehouse, in such port or place; without the consent in writing, under the hand and seal of the proprietor of such last-mentioned corn, so long as the average price of corn within this kingdom, as settled by virtue of this act, shall be less than 70s. a quarter."
He wrote an answer to this letter of his noble friend that same night, which he believed his noble friend received early the next morning. In replying to the letter which he thus received, he could assure the House, that he communicated with the noble duke in the same spirit in which one colleague would communicate with another; for in such relation he still supposed himself to stand with his noble friend, as far as that bill was concerned. He did not even keep a copy of the letter which he wrote, and he had to thank his noble friend for the copy of it which he now held in his hand. This letter had been the cause of all the misapprehension which had taken place, and he must, therefore, beg to trespass on the House by reading it:— 1326 "Somerset-place, May 24, 1827.
"My dear Duke; I should certainly be disposed to acquiesce in any reasonable concession which would conciliate some of those who object to the Corn bill in the House of Lords, without risking the loss of the measure when sent back to our House.
"I cannot take upon myself to say, whether the proviso, which I return, would be open to this objection. On other grounds, I am afraid you would find great practical difficulties in the execution of the proposed measure.
"It would give, as I understand it, the power to any one proprietor of foreign corn, in any port, to lay a veto upon the sale of all corn warehoused subsequent to his in that port, until the price reached 70s.
"This would put it in the power of one individual, by reserving a quantity, however small, of old corn, to stop any sale below 70s. as effectually as it could be stopped by a positive prohibition under that price.
"Supposing this objection removed, how, at any of the great ports, can you hope to get the consent in writing of every proprietor? I have no doubt, that the corn now warehoused in London is the property of at least five hundred firms or individuals, some living in London, some in different parts of England, some abroad. This corn, whilst in bond, is every day changing hands. How can it be satisfactorily certified to the Custom-house that all the consents have been obtained; or how is any party to set about procuring them all, or to know when he has accomplished it?
"There are other difficulties of detail which occur to me. For instance, a party who cannot fulfill the conditions in the port of London, may not find any difficulty in doing so at Rochester, because of corn previously bonded at the latter port there is none. In that case, the London owner may either remove his corn to Rochester, or import fresh corn from the continent into that port, and the law would be different in different ports, though possibly very near to one another.
"Had your proposal been, that no corn bonded after the passing of the present Bill should be allowed to be entered for home consumption till the average price had reached 66s., and that thenceforward all corn so bonded, or thereafter imported 1327 should come under the regulations of the Bill, individually I should not object to such a proviso. It would ensure that no quantity beyond that now in bond should be thrown upon the market, unless, in spite of that quantity, the price reached a level which might fairly be taken as an indication of our being in want of a further supply from abroad.
"But I am afraid that even this Amendment would prove fatal to the Bill in our House.—I remain, &c.
§ "W. HUSKISSON."
Now, what he meant to state was simply this,—that, up to the price of 66s., the corn now actually locked up should have a priority, and that henceforth that and all other corn should be under the regulations of the bill. He had insinuated that there were five hundred thousand quarters of corn in bond, which corn might be taken as the representative of so much British capital, much of which had, in all probability, been brought here under the authority of measures either already taken or pledged to be taken, and he, therefore, did think that it was entitled to a priority up to the price of 66s. But then it was merely pro hoc vice, and nothing approximating to permanency. It was to give a preference to this corn, and not to the foreign corn, as had been erroneously stated. He must say, that he should always look upon it as a matter of regret, that his noble friend, who had done him the honour to consult him upon this subject, to take his opinion on one clause, and then, considering his reasons against that clause to be valid and conclusive, had not hesitated to abandon it,—he should always look upon it as a matter of regret, that his noble friend did not tell him that he had another clause to propose. If he had done him that favour, the misapprehension would have been spared, and his noble friend would have been set right. He certainly was never so much surprised as when a friend of his, not a member of the other House, informed him, on the 2nd of June, that the duke of Wellington had proposed a clause, by way of amendment to the corn bill, and that the noble duke had stated, that he had his (Mr. Huskisson's) sanction for it. The moment he received this intimation, he lost no time in writing to the noble duke, telling him that he was not only totally ignorant that the noble duke was going to propose any clause, but that, if he was rightly informed 1328 of the nature of it, he was totally opposed to it. In the same letter he had explained to the noble duke the spirit and feeling under which he had communicated with him on the subject of the clause. And now he would ask his right hon. friend, the member for Oxford, if this was a fair history of the amendment of his noble friend which now formed a part of the bill, how it could possibly happen that he (Mr. Huskisson) could be in the slightest degree answerable for it,—and upon what grounds his right hon. friend could say, that all the objections, and all the ridicule, to which that amendment had been subjected, were equally applicable to him. His noble friend moved his amendment on the 1st of June, when his own individual opinion might have been that he was correct in citing his (Mr. Huskisson's) authority for the clause; but, on the 2nd of June, his noble friend was perfectly aware that he had misconstrued his letter. It must also be recollected, that from that time nothing snore was done with the amendment, until the following Thursday. Now, seeing that the noble duke was fully informed that he had misapprehended his (Mr. Huskisson's) letter, and that the clause which he had proposed would be fatal to the bill, if he did not think it of vital importance, why did his noble friend persist in going on with it? Why press an amendment, which no human being in that House could think any thing but actual destruction to the bill? He could only say, that whatever might be the reason, the individual who was now addressing them could not be made chargeable with the measure. He would not do the noble duke the injustice of taking the merit of it; and he must protest against its being fathered upon him, who had no share whatever in the matter. He was sorry to trespass so long on the time of the House with this subject; but he must beg to call their attention to the letter which he wrote to his noble friend, on hearing that he had proposed his amendment in the House of Lords:—
"Somerset-place, June 2, 10 a.m.
"My dear Duke; I have this moment heard with great surprise, that in moving an amendment last night on the corn-bill, you urged that amendment as having been consented to by me, and that to prove my consent, you read a private letter, which I had written to you, in answer to one which I had the honour to receive from you on the 24th ult. 1329 "As I did not even keep a copy of that letter, and as your grace has felt yourself at liberty, without any subsequent communication of any sort with me, to make this public use of it, I feel it necessary to request from you a copy of that letter, as without it I cannot enter upon that explanation of my own conduct which the use that has been made of my letter renders necessary.
"As I have only yet received a very imperfect report (not from any peer) of what passed last night on your moving the amendment, this is not the occasion to make any further observations upon the subject.
"I must, however, be allowed to say that, be the amendment what it may, it had not my consent; and that if my consent (as is perhaps erroneously reported to me) was urged in any way as a ground for pressing its adoption, I must protest against the authority of my name having been used for that purpose.
"Though I cannot recollect the wording of my private letter, I well know the feelings with which I wrote it. I considered it as strictly private, addressed to a colleague with whom I had sat in cabinet upon lord Liverpool's corn bill, who had concurred in that measure, and who was, therefore, considered by me as anxious for its success: and my recollection greatly deceives me if I did not convey to your grace that any amendment, such as I now understand to have been carried on your proposal, would be fatal to that measure. I remain, &c. (signed) W. HUSKISSON."
On the same day he received from the noble duke the following answer:—
"London, June 2, 1827.
"My dear Huskisson; According to your desire, I send you a copy of your note of the 24th of May, in answer to mine of that date, in which I proposed for your consideration a clause to be proposed to be added to the corn-bill, having for its object to prevent the use of the warehouse system to promote frauds in the proposed modes of taking the averages.
My object in consulting you was, to obtain your opinion and sanction for what I proposed to do; and having obtained, instead of your sanction to what I proposed, your suggestion of another measure, I adopted it.
"I showed your note, and the clause which I had drawn in conformity with your suggestion, to lord Goderich, who, I erroneously 1330 conceived, consented to what I intended to propose; and I stated the contents only when he stated his dissent from my proposition, which was in fact your own.
"In respect to the bill being thrown out in consequence of this or any other alteration, that is a matter that depends entirely upon the government. Ever yours, most faithfully, WELLINGTON."
It would be quite impossible for the committee not to see, that when the noble duke thus gave him clearly to understand, that the amendment was his, he could not do otherwise than send him an explanation. He accordingly wrote to him as follows:—
"Somerset-place, June 2, 1827, 11 p.m.
"My dear Duke; Your letter which I received this evening makes me regret extremely that you did not afford me an opportunity of pointing out to you before the discussion of last night the wide difference between what is stated in my letter of the 24th ult., as that to which individually I should have had no objection, and your amendment, which, from mistake, you represent as being my own proposition.
"The proposition in my letter of the 24th ult., to which I stated that I should have no objection, was in substance this:—to suspend the regulations of the present bill in respect to any foreign wheat that should be bonded after the passing of the bill until the average price had reached 66s., and to provide, that thenceforward (i. e. after the price should have once reached 66s.) the provisions of the bill should take effect in respect to all such foreign wheat; or, in the words of my letter, that 'it (such foreign wheat) should then come under the regulations of the bill.'
"The effect of your amendment is, that at no time shall the regulations of the bill come into operation in respect to any foreign wheat bonded after the passing of the bill whenever the price shall be below 66s.
"My proposition obviously contemplates a measure, the extent and limits of which are as follows;—That the wheat now in bond (upwards of five hundred thousand quarters) should be the only foreign wheat entitled to come into the market of this country till the price should have reached 66s.; that this price once attained, the preference should cease; and that all other foreign wheat should thenceforward be equally entitled to come in under the regulations of the bill'—which regulations 1331 enact that it may be taken out of warehouse at all times, upon payment of the duties specified in the schedule.
"Your amendment is not a proviso pro hac vice, qualifying for a special purpose, and, according to all probability, for a very limited time, the general regulations of the bill: but it is a permanent enactment directly contravening those regulations.
"Having thus, I trust, made clear the difference between your amendment and the proposition contained in my letter of the 24th, it is only further necessary for me to state the reason which induced me to intimate to you, at the close of that letter, my apprehension that the giving effect to such a proposition would be fatal to the bill.
"I conceived that you would think it better not to risk the fate of this important measure, by proposing any amendment, however much it might be agreeable to some parties, if you were aware that the necessary effect of its being adopted would be to put an end to the measure altogether.
"The amendment which you have carried cannot, I am persuaded, be acceded to by the House of Commons. This is not a matter that depends upon the government; and you must allow me to acid, that were a new bill to be brought in, embracing that amendment, it would be no longer even in principle the measure agreed to in lord Liverpool's cabinet, but one of a very different character.
§ "W. HUSKISSON."
In answer to this letter, he received one from his noble friend, lamenting the mistake into which he had fallen, and saying that he could only regret that he found himself bound, in duty, to persevere in the course which he had taken. He had now discharged a very painful duty, which he had been called upon to perform, in consequence of the public discussion which had taken place on what had passed between him and his noble friend. He would only add, that the high respect which he entertained for his noble friend, and the many personal acts of kindness which he had received at his hands, prevented the existence of any other feeling, on his part, than that of variance of opinion with his noble friend upon this point. He trusted that nothing else existed on the part of his noble friend.—He would now make a few observations on the propositions before the committee.—He should never have ex- 1332 pected that a proposition such as the hon. member opposite had made would have come from that quarter. The House was now called upon to negative all the preceding votes of the session, and to disclaim their own consistency. Surely the hon. member must be aware, that the rule respecting trade in foreign corn was, that it should be admitted under certain occasional regulations and prohibitions. The hon. member, however, seemed inclined to make prohibition the rule, and importation merely occasional. The hon. member for Essex seemed to think that 70s. a quarter was a fair price for corn free of duty. But, had the hon. member so far forgotten the views which the House had lately expressed upon the subject, as seriously to say that, up to 70s., there should not be one grain of foreign corn admitted? The hon. member seemed, indeed, to think that the House had completely lost sight of a system founded on prohibition, and had determined to adopt a more liberal system than the law of 1815 allowed them to adopt. That law never came into full force until the years 1816 and 1819; and such were its effects at those periods, that general reprobation was expressed throughout the country, both by the agricultural and manufacturing interests. The hon. member seemed to think it quite consistent with the previous opinion given by a majority of the members in that House, that 70s. ought to be the price at which wheat might come in at a duty of 17s. He proposed, as a safe mode of legislation, to lock up all corn in bond, and not to admit it to be imported, until the price reached 70s.; and this he proposed at a period when 60s. was insufficient to protect the holders of corn.—There was another point to which he wished to refer. The hon. member for Essex had, no later than last Thursday, stated, when on the subject of the currency, that 60s. of the present day was equivalent to 80s. of the year 1815. In this opinion he felt disposed to agree; but he would ask the hon. member, if 80s. of the year 1815 was equal to 60s. now, then what was his proposal of 70s.? Why, it was equal by his own showing to 95s. of the year 1815. So that his proposition amounted to this—that 95s. was the price at which corn might be admitted: with this difference, however, that the law of 1815 admitted foreign corn free of duty; and now at a price of 95s. a duty of 25s. was chargeable upon it. The hon. gentleman, 1333 in order to be consistent, ought to have money as cheap as it was in 1815; and then corn would have been at the same price that it bore prior to that year. He was warranted in stating, from past experience, that the renewal of the law of 1815 would cause an undue flow of corn into the country. The hon. member must perceive, that the price of 80s. could no longer be sustained; and he must also see, that to alter the present bill, and substitute the price of 70s., would be to make the measure altogether nugatory. If you adopt the price of 70s., you adopt that price which might come into operation under circumstances of great pressure, when the failure of the harvest in this country should render foreign importation necessary: and he had already shown that 70s. then, was equal to 95s. new. Did the hon. member for Essex mean, by his measure, to call into action the system of averages? or did he think it a matter of indifference to the country at large, that foreign corn should be shut out for three months longer? He, as a choice of evils, distinctly preferred 80s. to the price mentioned by the hon. member for Essex; because the former price was, in point of fact, tantamount to a prohibition, and because, under the operations of that law, the system of averages could have no mischievous effects, and would in fact be a dead letter. He perfectly agreed with his right hon. friend, that it would indeed be a very great misfortune if the country were to remain for an indefinite period without any measure being decided upon with regard to the vital question now before the House. The evils which its protraction would create would be felt not only by the great majority of the people; but the agricultural interest world also feel deeply the misfortune of delay, by which they were precluded from carrying into operation the several agreements into which landlord and tenant had entered to meet the new state of things, and all of which would necessarily remain unsettled by the state in which this law was left. He felt the misfortune of this delay the more, when he reflected on the late period of the session: and when his right hon. friend said, that it would be better that the House should sit until the end of July, in order to pass some measure of relief, he agreed with him that it would be so, if by protracting the session he could hope for such a result. His right hon. friend said, 1334 he wished to see the bill with its amendments passed into a law: he could only say, that if his right hon. friend would undertake to pass a measure similar to that which was rendered useless by the introduction of the noble duke's amendment, then his right hon. friend might be sure of his support. But the amendment proposed by his right hon. friend (Mr. Canning) could have been proposed elsewhere; and he owned he felt rather surprised that a noble friend of his, lately a colleague (lord Bathurst), had not proposed such a clause. Really, after so much discussion, deliberation, and delay, he could see no chance whatever of passing any bill, unless the House were so far to compromise its consistency, and stultify its own acts, as to adopt an amendment which would establish warehouses in foreign ports, and expose the corn intended for the British market to all the hazard of fluctuating prices, and the impediments which foreign powers at variance with this country, would be sure to throw in our way. At no time could we adopt such a measure; and therefore he should give his support to the amendment of his right hon. friend; for he felt that to introduce a measure of a permanent nature would be to subject it to the fate which attended the bill in the other House. And how could he suppose otherwise, when he reflected that the noble duke gave the measure his sanction when first it was introduced, and opposed it in a subsequent stage, notwithstanding the convincing reply to his objections which was urged by a noble friend (lord Goderich), and which met with no other answer than this—"Here is our amendment, we know it is fatal to the bill, and are determined to carry it." Would it not be exposing the House to a similar result, if any other than a temporary measure were now proposed? It was therefore with regret he confessed that a bill similar to that which was rendered abortive could not be again introduced,—that bill, which was carried by the House with a triumphant majority, the effects of which would soon have spread throughout the empire, lulling irritation and angry feeling wherever they existed, and which for years past had prevailed in society in consequence of the unsettled state of this question—that bill which had awakened the hopes of those whom it was intended to relieve, and which, if it possessed no other merit, would at least have redeemed the 1335 character of the landed interest from the imputation that, from the year 1815 to the present period, they had shut their eyes and their ears to the distresses of their fellow-countrymen. There was one other topic on which he wished to make one or two remarks. It had been quoted against him, that he held that England ought not too largely and frequently to depend on other countries for their supply of corn. He maintained that doctrine in 1815; he held it now; he thought nothing could be so dangerous to this country as to rely too largely and too frequently on foreign countries for their supplies of corn. But he could conceive a state of things which might be attended with most dangerous consequences, if such a bill as the one that had been proposed did not exist. He hoped he had now stated his reasons fairly. His object was, to restore the Corn-law to what it was in 1773. He wished to make this country independent of foreigners, commercially as well as politically. The committee might be assured, that, so long as it was the interest of foreigners to produce distress here, and cause political discomfiture, they would be unceasing in their efforts to do so. It was because he valued the independence of the country, and not that he wished to undermine it, that he had supported the measure, the loss of which was so generally deplored. With respect to the letter to which allusion had been made, he disclaimed the compliments which had been paid to it. All he could say of it was, that it was directed to the purposes for which it was written, and not, as had been supposed, to revive the prohibition of 1815. Being himself the party, who, as a private member of parliament, in 1814, proposed a graduated scale of prohibitory duties which was matured afterwards by the wisdom and experience of lord Liverpool, it was not likely that he would recommend a principle utterly inconsistent with that suggestion. That principle was the basis of the very measure the loss of which he should always lament, and which he hoped, early in the next session, this House, and it was to be hoped the other, would have the wisdom to repair.
§ Lord Morpeth
observed, that in the measure which had failed elsewhere, the agricultural interest, though not perfectly satisfied, had obtained more than they expected, whilst the commercial classes, in fact, all the consumers—were content. 1336 One great mistake had, however, been committed, by the indulgence of a foolish credulity, in supposing that, when the measure reached that place where one of those interests prevailed, and where a generous principle ought to prevail, the wishes and the hopes of the country would be gratified [cheers]. It was not his desire nor his intention to inquire by what instrumentality those hopes and wishes had been disappointed; but he thought that if ministers had not refused to go on with a bill upon which there had been grafted a clause subversive of its principle, they would not have been entitled to the praise they deserved. If, in another place, the late measure was opposed, the present resolutions of the hon. member for Essex could not be agreed to; for they were more opposed to the principle adopted by the late ministers, than even the mutilated bill, the loss of which they proposed to supply. He should give his support to the resolutions of the right hon. gentleman, which contained as much good as could be expected at that late period of the session. If there needed any confirmation of which had been the master mind in the late ministry—if there was any thing wanted to mark out the great and splendid distinction between those who left and those who remained in office—that difference would now be recognized by the whole body of the people.
§ Mr. Western
shortly replied. He said, he was glad to learn from the chancellor of the Exchequer, that he did not propose his measure with a view of ruining the agriculture of the country—that he did not contemplate the putting the bad lands out of cultivation—and that he wished to secure to the country a sufficient supply, without depressing the agriculture of this country. He and the right hon. gentleman were now agreed in their views of the importance of agriculture, and neither wished to see it diminished. These, however, were not the impressions circulated by those publications which advocated the repeal of the Corn-laws. They wished to promote the manufactures of this country at the expense of our own agriculture, and by encouraging the agriculture of foreign countries. To this system he was opposed. He preferred his own measure, because the resolutions proposed by the right hon. gentleman would only allow the corn now in bond to be taken out, and then the country would 1337 be in the same state it was now in; while his own resolutions would bring the act of 1822 into operation, and insure a large supply of corn, if necessary.
§ Mr. Canning
begged to say a few words in reply to the only objection offered to his resolutions. He should begin by answering a question which had been put by the hon. member for Essex. He did consider that it was the bounden duty of the House to support the agricultural interest; but he did say, that the course which had been pursued, for a series of years, with regard to this subject, was not calculated to promote the interest of the agriculturists, and that in no instance was it plain and clear, their real interests had been consulted. He blamed not those who were the authors of the measures he referred to; it was by mere accident that, in the years 1815 and 1822, he was not a party to them. But there had been a great and grievous mistake throughout in respect to the agricultural question. He considered that the bill which had been sent up to the Lords afforded protection to the agricultural interest in one point, of all things most desirable; it was not highness or lowness which it was calculated to effect, but steadiness. The country would not have had to go through the ruinous fluctuations of former years, which pressed with equal violence on opposite, and sometimes conflicting, but consentient interests. He did think that the bill in the House of Lords, if it had been allowed to pass, would have gone as far towards accomplishing the object in view, as any thing he could think of, or as had been proposed by others. On that ground, the bill had his concurrence; and such a bill should have his support if introduced in the ensuing session. To the principle of protecting duties instead of prohibition, he was decidedly favourable: it was advantageous to the corn trade at home; it enabled growers and importers to go on amicably together, assisting, and not running counter to, each other. Upon these principles the bill was founded. The hon. member for Essex asked, whether there was a difference between a prohibition and a prohibitory duty? He answered yes; there was the same difference in respect to the corn trade, as in respect to other trades: and was there any other trade to which the question could apply? Under a non-prohibitory system, the trade would be going on, whereas under a pro- 1338 hibition it stagnated altogether; the supply would be stinted when it was most wanted, and would at other times overflow. The non-prohibitory system placed the corn trade on that wholesome footing upon which it ought to stand; leaving it to all the risk of occasional speculation, but offering no powerful stimuli on one side or the other. Such was the difference between prohibition and prohibitory duties. When protecting duties were introduced, the motive was taken away to extravagant speculation, as in 1819, which was injurious to the consumer, and overwhelmed the agriculturists with ruin. He now proceeded to the only objection taken to his own resolutions. It was asked why, instead of a temporary measure, he did not introduce a permanent one? He answered, because he did not wish to subject it to that fate which had attended the last; because he felt that there was a determined spirit in the other House to reject whatever the Commons should agree to on this subject [cheers]. Was there any man in this House, who, when out of it, would say he believed there was no such thing? He (Mr. Canning) had conversed with persons of all sentiments and all persuasions, some of whom had felt anger, some regret, and some triumph, at the fate of the bill; but he had not met with any individual who would say, that he believed there were one hundred and thirty-three votes given in favour of a certain amendment, without some other bond of sympathy besides a disinterested conviction that the measure was honest. He had conversed with those who walked the streets, and he had not met with one who gravely thought that the coincidence arose from a conviction that the measure was beneficial. Did he, by this, accuse any one of faction? No such thing. He had listened to the correspondence which had been read that night by his right hon. friend, and he must say that he was not convinced that the duke of Wellington did not labour under some misapprehension, and did not think that he was doing that which was beneficial. He could not exclude from his consideration, that even so great a man as the duke of Wellington had been made an instrument in the hands of others on that occasion [some few cries of "order" followed this sentence; but they were instantly lost in loud and continued shouts of "hear, hear!"]. History afforded other instances in which equally 1339 great men had been made the instruments of others, for their own particular views. He did believe that the amendment moved by his grace was not at first intended by him, but that in the first instance certain words omitted in the first clause led the way to that amendment. As to the numbers by which that amendment was carried, he must say, that he believed it impossible to get together such discordant materials (differing as they did on so many other points), acting from a conviction of the merits of that amendment. He looked upon the union not as arising from the merits of the question, but from some deep-rooted design to produce another effect in the other House, or that House, or elsewhere. He repeated his belief, that the duke of Wellington acted from a conviction of what he thought was right; and he fully acquitted him of any hostile intentions in the course he pursued. From the correspondence which was read that night, there was no doubt that the noble duke acted conscientiously, on what he understood to be the meaning of his right hon. friend's letter. However, the delusion, or whatever else it might be called, which had led to that result, would die away before the next session, more especially if the subject, as no doubt it would, should become matter of discussion out of doors. For these reasons he would, in the course of the next session, if not better advised in the interim, introduce a measure founded on the same principles, and having the same object as that, the loss of which they had now to regret; and would to God that it might be then time enough to realize advantages equal to those which the late bill would have produced [cheers].
The committee then divided: For the original motion 52; For Mr. Canning's amendment 238; Majority 186.