§ The House having, on the motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, again resolved itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider further of the Corn Trade Acts,
§ Mr. W. Whitmore
rose to submit the Resolution to the Committee, which he deemed necessary, in consequence of the Resolutions submitted on a former night, by the right hon. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, not being, in his opinion, such as to afford satisfaction, or to meet the exigences of the country. He implored the indulgence of the House whilst he called their attention to this most important question—important to all classes of the country—to some a question of life or death, and one on which he hoped the fullest and most deliberate discussion would take place, before any measure was hurried through the House and hastily adopted. In what he was about to offer, he would regard the subject with a view to the general interests of the whole country; satisfied that he would thereby act in a manner most conducive to that interest—the agricultural interest—with which he was himself connected, and which would be most affected by the measure now before the House. Having thus claimed the indulgence of the House whilst he addressed them on this most important, as well as most intricate and difficult subject, he would, without further preface, proceed shortly to lay before the House his views upon it. Before he proceeded, however, to state his opinions as to the effect of the principle of prohibition, he would admit that the measure introduced by the right hon. Secretary was an improvement, but yet a slight improvement, on the former system. There were 1092 two consequences invariably resulting from a principle of prohibition, from which the present measure was not quite free; first, that it led to a great fluctuation of prices, with all the mischiefs attendant upon fluctuation; and secondly, that in proportion as you stop the trade in corn, in the same proportion do you interfere with the price of labour which is depressed at home, and raised abroad. Besides, the effect of such a principle is, that the fluctuations of seasons are felt with accumulated pressure; the supply is rendered precarious; and a discouragement given to the growth of corn abroad—a permitted regular importation of which into the country, would have the beneficial tendency to produce the desirable result; namely, equalization of prices. Add to this—that when a supply is required, from a regular supply and demand not being kept up from abroad, the price is always high. This inability to get the quantity you require, together with the effect of opinion, which always has a tendency to raise the price above the necessity of the case, keeps up the price to an enormous and most pernicious height. But, after a time, the fall is carried to as great an extent on the other side; and this sudden and great fluctuation it is, that is most injurious to the agricultural interests. It produces an unnatural state of things, and falls with a pressure that it is lamentable to contemplate on the farmer, who has, as at the time when the price was high, to pay the poor-rates, tithes, and other heavy charges, to which the agricultural interest is principally liable. It was said by some gentlemen in the course of this discussion, that the great fluctuation that occurred in the high prices in 1817 and 1818, and the low prices of 1820 and 1821, occurred from the great import of corn. But this, though it might be a concurrent cause, was not the only one producing that fluctuation. In the spring of 1818, 1,500,000 quarters of wheat—the greatest quantity ever imported in one year into this country—was imported, he must say, without a corresponding necessity for such importation. The harvest of 1819 was a good, at least a tolerably good, harvest, but that of 1820 was a great harvest. From the great abundance, therefore, supplied from these two sources—excess of importation, and an extraordinary harvest—there was a quantity in the country which its con 1093 sumption could not absorb. This produced the depression down to 43s.; and similarly great and sudden depressions must inevitably occur again if we continue to cherish the principle of prohibition. This violent fluctuation in prices is injurious to no interest more than the agricultural. All the various charges incurred by the farmers were augmented by the price of corn continuing high for a period of two consecutive years. His arrangements of various kinds were contingent upon the continuance of high price; and, therefore, when a fall in price suddenly came upon him, he became involved in difficulties and embarrassments which followed from his relying on the continuance of high prices and high rents. He had himself felt the embarrassments resulting from such a violent and sudden change; and it was to prevent the recurrence of them to himself and others, that he wished to see the principle of prohibition superseded by a regular trade in corn, subject of course to such regulations as would afford adequate protection to the home-grower, but at the same time hold out fair encouragement to the foreign grower, and an inducement to foreign importation. Having enforced the inexpediency and danger that would result from the principle of prohibition, he would next call the attention of the committee to the mischief that must accrue from keeping up the price of corn in this country to an artificial height, and to one quite disproportionate to the cost at which corn was grown on the continent. This was an important view of the question in this commercial country. Capital was the life and active principle of that commerce, and on the profits of that capital the subsistence of so many depended. By raising the price of corn here by prohibition, or by high duties equivalent to prohibition, you increase the price of labour; and, as the profits on capital depend on the prices of labour, the effect of a high and artificial price of corn is, to diminish the profits on capital; and is it to be supposed, that capital will remain in this country, if the profits upon it are reduced, and if higher profits can be realized abroad? And it should be further considered, as the price of labour is raised here, it is lowered abroad. Again, he would say, that if we continued our present system, capital, so necessary to a great commercial and manufacturing coun- 1094 try, would flow from it. Suppose, that in the ports of the Baltic, corn is 25s. a quarter, and that in this country it is 60s.—will not this difference of 35s. operate as a premium to the capitalists of this country, to transfer their capital abroad, where there is a promise of its yielding larger profits. It was a principle implanted in the breast of man, which had ever been and ever would be acted upon, that wherever the largest profits could be realized upon capital, there capital would be employed. Individual attachments might bind a man to his country and his friends; but, although he might continue to reside here, his capital would be employed abroad. This was true in theory it was also true in practice. That high duties upon the necessaries of life were fatal to the prosperity of commercial and manufacturing countries, was shown by a passage in Adam Smith, which he would read to the House. It was as follows—"Duties upon flour and meal, when ground at the mill, and upon bread, when baked at the oven, take place in many countries. In Holland the money price of the bread consumed in towns is supposed to be doubled by means of such taxes. In lieu of a part of them, the people who live in the country pay every year so much ahead, according to the sort of bread they are supposed to consume. Those who consume wheaten bread, pay three guilders fifteen stivers; about 6s. 9½d. These, and some other taxes of the same kind, by raising the price of labour, are said to have ruined the greater part of the manufactures of Holland." Was it not consistent with common sense, with the experience that they all had with the world, that if a man could only get a return of three per cent on his capital in this country, and could get a return of ten per cent upon it in Germany, or any other country, he would employ his capital in the country in which his capital was most productive? It may be within the recollection of the House, that, some time ago, when the interest on money was so low in this country capitalists employed their capital in foreign loans, which yielded a larger interest, and thereby so much of the country's capital was withdrawn from the support of its commercial and manufacturing prosperity. The residence of capitalists here, after the outlay of their capital in other countries, was unimportant; many of the Dutch capitalists resided 1095 in Holland, after they had disposed of their capitals in foreign loans. He dwelt thus much on this part of the subject; for it should be borne in mind, that were it not for the wealth of the country, that House would not be in a situation to make Corn-laws. If capital was lost, the life that supported those laws was gone; for they depended on the wealth and the population of the country. They were a useless and idle letter, if there was not a population in the country with mouths to consume the corn, and wealth in the country to purchase it.—Now, as to the new system which it was proposed to substitute for that which was in force, it was not easy to see all the evils that might follow from it; it would be sufficient to shew that some great evils would result, to induce him to withhold from it his assent. He did not think that the evils to be apprehended from fluctuation of price would be corrected by commencing the duty at 20s. when the price was at 60s. If there was a deficiency in the supply, the price would easily rise to 65s.; and if by the fall in the stock of grain here the price should rise to 70s., the foreign grower would pour a great quantity into this country at a great advantage; for, although there would be an increase of 10s. in the price, yet there would be a diminution of 19s. in the duty; the duty at 70s. being one shilling—and thus we should be again subjected to those irregular jerks and convulsions, which the right hon. Secretary was desirous to avoid. It was preferable, in his opinion, to adopt the principle of feeding the market by holding out inducement of regular supply to the foreign grower, and thereby securing that which was most desirable—steadiness of price. Now, as to the averages from which so much good was contemplated by taking them weekly, he confessed he had great doubt if there would not be as much, or even greater, temptation to fraud, from taking them weekly, than from taking them quarterly. If the averages were to be struck weekly, so that the averages of one week were to regulate the averages of the next, it should be considered, that it was easier to effect a fraud at a short notice than at a long one. If, for instance, a party entered into a conspiracy to import six hundred thousand quarters of wheat (the averages of one week being 60s.), and if by purchases at home he were to raise the averages of the next week to 65s., this importation gives him a profit 1096 of 300,000l.. This fraud was much more easily effected when the averages were taken weekly, than if taken quarterly.—He would now refer to the resolutions proposed by the right hon. gentleman, and those which he had moved by way of amendment, and he would show that his were not at all inconsistent with the principle which the right hon. gentleman had laid down. He fully concurred in the opinion, that a fixed duty would be desirable where it could be established; but he doubted its applicability to the prices at which it was proposed to place it. The high prices at which it became fixed were those which-corn rarely attained, and the low price at which it was again to be fixed, were those to which it seldom descended. To do away with any ground of clamour at either end, he would propose, that when com rose to 50s., and under 51s., the duty should be 20s., instead of fixing that duty at 60s. as was proposed by the right hon. gentleman. He would then have the duty decreased 2s. for every 1s. which the price rose above 50s.; and increased 2s. for every 1s. it descended below it; and whenever the price rose to 55s. and did not exceed 65s., he would have a fixed duty of 10s. This, he thought, would go, in a great degree, to remedy the defect in the resolutions of the right hon. gentleman, and would prevent that great fluctuation of prices, against which those resolutions did not sufficiently guard. Supposing wheat to be at 55s. with an import duty of 10s., he would be prepared to contend, that at that price there could be no importation at all injurious to the British agriculturist. In proof of this position, he would refer the committee to the returns of the amount of corn imports from the year 1773 to 1815, from which it would appear, that in no one year, with the price as low as 60s., had the quantity of wheat imported exceeded six hundred thousand, quarters. At higher prices, no doubt, the importation was greater; for instance in the years 1800 and 1801, which were years of great scarcity. With the exception of those years (his reasons for omitting which would be evident), it would appear that, from the year 1795 to the year 1805, with the price at 63s., the importation did not exceed four hundred and eighty thousand quarters. With the experience, then, of those years before him, he was fully justified in contending that, with corn at 55s, and an import duty of 1097 10s. there could not be any amount of foreign wheat imported, which would be injurious to the British agriculturists; that all the alarm existing on that ground would be found wholly illusory, and that the fears of those who believed that the effect would be to throw all the poor lands out of cultivation, would turn out to be equally unfounded.—This led him to another and a most important part of the argument. It was said that, if we imported even so small a quantity of foreign wheat as six hundred thousand quarters, it would displace so much British corn, and by that means materially lessen the value of the whole. This argument was founded on the assumption, that our own home stock was fully equal to all the demands of our market. He very much doubted whether that was the case. True it was, that since 1820 we had a very slight addition to our home stock from foreign importation, except what was some short time back let out of bond, and the small quantity which we got from Canada. But, then it should be remembered that we had, up to that time, a stock on hand, which was generally equal to three months' consumption. Let the committee consider what had taken place since 1820. From that year to the year 1823, the price continued to decline; so much so that almost all who had speculated in corn from autumn to spring, and from spring to autumn, lost considerably. Those losses continued, and were so heavy, that at length all speculation ceased; and when it was announced to be the intention of government to make an alteration in the Corn-laws, no person who could get rid of it would hold corn; and he believed it would be found, that there never was a smaller quantity on hand than at the present moment. He should be told that this was an old story, and that he had said the same thing in 1825 and 1826. He had said so; and his opinion, which was still unaltered upon the subject, was, he contended, borne out by the facts. He now repeated what he had said in 1825 and 1826; and maintained, that if, unfortunately, the same system of Corn-laws, or one approaching to it was continued, we should find ourselves in difficulties from which it would be very difficult to escape. He knew that his forebodings on this subject had been laughed at; but, though it was found convenient to laugh at them on a former occasion, those who did so had been since glad to avail themselves of a measure, 1098 which added to the home stock, by importations from Canada, and by taking-some foreign corn out of bond: and, but for that measure, we should have been compelled to open the ports. Then, if what he had said in 1825 and 1826 was true, it was equally so in 1827; for, though the last harvest was in wheat a fair crop, it was in other kinds of corn much below an average crop. The wheat of the last harvest was in a dry state, and sooner fit for use than for several years; we began our consumption of it much earlier than usual; and we were now going hard upon our stock. He did not say this with the view of exciting any alarm; but he thought it was best to look at once to the real state in which we were placed with respect to the amount of our stock on hand. He would not assert that that stock might not be found sufficient, if consumption were to proceed upon its present scale; but if our trade and manufactures should be so much improved as to increase that consumption in any great degree, and if the next harvest should fall even a little below the last, we should find ourselves in a state which could not be contemplated without considerable alarm. Should such a state of things arrive, it would be found that the stock of foreign corn imported at 60s. or 65s. would be but small; and that it would get as high as 70s. before any quantity came in, large enough to give a sensible relief to the market.—He would now say a few words to remove what were urged as some of the popular objections to the view which he took of this question. Great alarm, he knew, had been excited in some minds, by the quantity of corn which it was thought might be imported from Odessa. Great stress, he knew, had been laid upon an assertion, that wheat might recently have been purchased, and that it was, in fact, purchased there at 7s. the quarter. He would state a few facts connected with this subject. The wheat which was thus mentioned was wheat that had been long kept. It was quite an inferior quality, and wholly unfit for the English market. There was a transaction now going on, which would show how unreasonable were any alarms of the landed interest, on the score of what could be procured from Odessa. One individual—(not one of those who was formerly engaged in the importations of corn from Odessa, the greater part of which, on its arrival in this country, had been found wholly unfit for 1099 use, and was thrown away, but a person unconnected with the corn trade, and who had not burnt his fingers in it)—had entered into a speculation to bring corn from the port he had mentioned. It was purchased there not at 7s., but at 18s. the quarter. The freight from thence, exclusive of insurance, was generally 12s., but at the present moment, it would, he believed, be found not to be less than 15s. the quarter. This brought it to 33s. To this were to be added the rate of insurance, and the profit of the importer, which he could not state at less than 7s. the quarter. Indeed, there were some who considered the risk so great, that they would not insure such a freight at any price. Thus, then, taking the charges he had mentioned, this wheat, though of an inferior quality, could not be brought to our shores at less than 40s. the quarter, to which was then to be added the duty. This statement would show from practice, and not theory, that there was not the slightest ground for any alarm, as to the corn which might be imported from that quarter. This, it should be remembered, was the price in Odessa, without the demand of the English market; but there could be no doubt, that when it was known that that market was opened, the price at Odessa would rise considerably above its present amount, and, with the increased price, the English grower need have no alarm as to the competition.—Another popular objection was, that by admitting foreign corn to our markets, we should, in a short time, be placed in a kind of dependence on the market of a foreign state, and that that state might withhold from us a supply at the moment when we should most require it. This objection was, he thought, altogether without foundation. The greatest effort of that kind which had ever been made was during the supremacy of Buonaparte. By his anti-commercial regulations he endeavoured to strike at the root of our trade, and particularly to prevent our getting a supply of foreign corn. But what was the result of that attempt? If they looked to the returns of the imports from the Baltic during the continuance of these restrictions, it would be found, that the quantity of foreign corn which reached our shores was very considerable; and that a large part of our supply came from the ports of France itself [hear, hear]. He would take the year 1810 for example; that year when the Berlin and Milan de- 1100 crees were enforced with the strictest severity—that year when we had to supply an army in the Peninsula, and when it was an object of the utmost importance to the French Emperor to prevent, our obtaining a sufficient supply; yet, in that very year it was remarkable, that we imported a very considerable quantity of corn from Flanders, Holland, and France itself—all which places were under the dominion of Napoleon. From France we got in that year two hundred and twenty-five thousand seven hundred and ten quarters; from Flanders, one hundred and sixty-seven thousand one hundred and fifty-four, and from Holland, one hundred and eighty-nine thousand and sixteen; making, in the whole, five hundred and eighty-one thousand, eight hundred and eighty quarters, from ports under the sway of that individual, who had made it a point to exclude the English from the markets of the continent, and who had endeavoured to cut off the supplies of our army in Spain. He could not give a stronger illustration of the utter inability of the government of any country to prevent a supply of corn, when a demand existed for it in another. If he were not afraid of fatiguing the House, he would call their attention to another important point connected with this subject, but he feared he had already trespassed too far on their indulgence. In conclusion, he would implore the landed interest to consider the situation in which they were placed. He would implore them to take care how they adopted a principle, which would not be one of union, but of schism and discord between themselves and the great mass of the people of this country. It was impossible to contemplate without serious alarm the evils which must result from an interruption of the good understanding which existed between the aristocracy and people of this country. Let him, then, implore the landed gentlemen to look well in time at the evils which must follow from the course which many of them seemed desirous to adopt—a course which, if it did not fail them immediately, would certainly do so in the result. Let him implore them to endeavour while there was yet time, to heal the breach which had already commenced, and of which, if further widened, it would be impossible to speculate upon the consequences. The hon. member then moved by way of amendment, "That whenever the average price of wheat, made up and published in man 1101 ner required by law, shall be 50s. and under 51s. the quarter, the duty shall be for every quarter 1l."
§ The original resolution, which made the same amount of duty apply to a price of 60s., was then read, and the amendment put.
Mr. C. Grant
said, it would not be necessary for him to occupy the attention of the committee at any length. He did not feel called upon to follow his hon. friend into the detail through which he had gone, as only a small part of his arguments had reference to the question immediately before them. In the general principles, for which his hon. friend had contended, he fully concurred; but the question was, how far those principles applied to the measure before the committee? In the first place, his hon. friend had said, that the effect of the present system, as well as of the proposed resolutions, would be that of creating a fluctuation of prices. The right hon. gentleman then proceeded to defend the new mode of striking the averages weekly instead of quarterly, on the ground that it would be less open to fraud and combination than the old mode. He could see no reason why the hon. member for Bridgenorth should fix upon 50s. as the price at which he would affix the duty at 20s.; inasmuch as it was lower than the average price of wheat for the last seven years in this country; but he could see a very good reason for fixing upon 60s., as the point from which the scale of duties should spring, in the consideration that a protecting price ought to cover the expense of the agriculturist, and that for the last few years no less a sum than 60s. could effect that protection. Besides, of late years, a capital had been vested in agriculture, which would be seriously injured, if the hon. member's scale of duties was acceded to. The right hon. gentleman made a few other observations, which were inaudible in the gallery, and concluded by declaring his intention to oppose the amendment.
§ Sir Henry Parnell
said, that having some years ago taken a leading part in proposing a measure on this subject to the House, he was anxious to state his opinion upon it; and more particularly so, in consequence of his name being mentioned in the letter, quoted last night by a noble lord, of the President of the Board of Trade; He was one of those who had to avow that he had, in some respect, changed his opinion; but this was a subject which, 1102 perhaps, of all others, justified such a course. If gentlemen would consider what the knowledge was that we had of it in the year 1813, when he first took it up, or, if he might be allowed to use the expression, the acquaintance we had of the science connected with it, it would appear that there were ample reasons on which any one might, and ought, to change his opinion. Since the year 1813, the subject of rent had been fully explained for the first time; whatever were the differences of political economists in other points, nearly all were unanimous in adopting the new views which were promulgated about rent. Since 1813, Mr. Ricardo published his new doctrines respecting wages and profits, and upon the tendency of low profits to promote the transfer of capital from this country to foreign countries. All these matters were intimately connected with the question of protecting agriculture. But, perhaps, the information we had of late obtained respecting the means of foreign countries to grow corn, and the price at which it could be sold in this country, was the most important, and that which ought to lead to changes of opinion. The hon. member said, that when he filled the situation of chairman of the committee which sat in 1813, he was so convinced by the best information which he could obtain at that time, that corn might be grown to an unlimited amount in Poland, and brought here at a very low price; that he, in consequence, believed that a protecting duty was necessary. The state of the case, as now more fully made known, induced him to take a different view of the question, and to feel that the agricultural interest had nothing to fear from a more free system, even than that which was now proposed.—He would now explain what the principles were on which he acted in 1813. In the letter of the President of the Board of Trade, he was represented as having proposed to this House a protecting price of 84s. He certainly had done so, but not by any means for the object that was commonly attributed to him. It was so much a matter of course to suppose that those who suggested a protecting price could have no other object but to establish a market price to the same amount, that he was not at all surprised, that he was so generally considered to have been an advocate for permanent high prices. But he really never had any such object in view. His 1103 whole object was to secure, by the influx of a high duty, a sufficient supply of corn at moderate prices. He conceived that if Ireland was for some time protected from competition with Poland, an immense quantity of corn would be grown in that country, and that the consequence would be a fall of price. He might have been mistaken in the principle which he adopted; but the result proved that his prediction of the capability of Ireland to grow a greatly-increased quantity of corn was well founded. He had, he believed, been the first person to call the attention of the House to this view of our own resources for supplying ourselves.—In the year 1790, the lords committee of the Privy Council, in their report on the corn trade, said, that the western counties of England had nothing to fear from the competition of corn from Ireland, because that country could not grow sufficient for its own consumption but now nearly 1,400,000 quarters, on an average of the last eight years, had been imported from Ireland. A fall of price, but not such a fall as he had anticipated, had also taken place; so that he might say, most correctly, that he had not been the advocate of any scheme of protection which had high prices for its object. He could refer to the report of the committee of 1813, in the drawing of which he had a principal share, and to his speeches in 1813, and 1814, to shew that he had always looked forward to moderate prices. He had never taken a part in committees, though put upon them, that had for their object a high remunerating price; and although he might have formed some opinions on the subject in 1813, which he now considered incorrect, he had not then, or ever been desirous of establishing, by act of parliament, a permanently high price of corn. The more he had examined the subject, the more he felt convinced that the danger of a more free system of trade in corn with foreign countries was exaggerated and unfounded. He did not think the subject was at all considered with such extended views of the different interests concerned in it as it ought to be. As it was of great use to take advantage of discussions like the present to set forth the various ways in which the public interests were affected; though it might lead to no immediate result, he would endeavour shortly to show that the opinion expressed by the hon. member for the county of Suffolk, Must night, was not a correct one; namely, 1104 that the general prosperity of the country was equally promoted with the landed interest by protecting agriculture.—In the first place, as the consequence of protection was to raise the price of corn, those who were the purchasers of the forty or fifty millions of quarters of corn, which were annually consumed in this country, were obliged to pay several millions a year more than they would otherwise do for what they bought, they therefore suffered a positive injury. The effect of an increased price of corn on the wages of labour, was very injurious. If the labourers receive a rate of wages which is higher then the rate which is merely sufficient to keep up the stock of labourers that is necessary to supply the demand for labour, then the increased price of corn, by protecting agriculture, was nothing less than a tax on the labourer. He could not obtain repayment by his wages being raised, but was obliged to submit to a privation of his comforts. If the wages of labour on the other hand are only just at that rate which is absolutely necessary to keep up the stock of labourers, then the effect of the increased price of corn is to raise wages; but this would be an operation of some time; and, while it was going on, the labouring class would suffer greatly. Now, if it was true, as it was generally allowed to be, that every increase of wages was followed by a corresponding fall in the rate of profit, then one of the effects of protecting agriculture would be, to injure all the master manufacturers of the kingdom, and all persons who obtained their livelihood by employing labour. But a fall in the rate of profit generally would reduce the returns on the great number of millions of capital invested in industry, and consequently the annual fund for making new accumulations of capital, and the general wealth of the country. The protection of agriculture would contribute to depress capital in another way; namely, by lending a great amount of it to be employed in a less productive manner in agriculture than it would be employed if no protection existed. It was thus that one of the consequences of protecting agriculture was the diminishing of the means of the country to bear taxation. No doctrine advanced by the advocates of protection was less founded than that of the country not being able to bear its present amount of taxation, if wheat was to be as low as 55s. a quarter. It was evident that the 1105 power of the country to bear taxation could depend upon nothing else than its general wealth; but if the consequences of protecting agriculture were to check the accumulation of capital in the way just described, protection, in place of affording: the means of paying taxes, would have a contrary effect. Besides these injurious results, many others might be mentioned as necessarily belonging to the increasing of the price of corn, by restrictions on foreign corn; so that it was by no means so evident as some gentlemen supposed it to be, that the protection of agriculture contributed to the prosperity of the whole community. All that the advocates of Corn-laws had to say in defence of them was, that the increased incomes of the landlords contributed by their expenditure to benefit certain classes of society. But if the operation of this expenditure was traced in all its details, it would appear that very erroneous notices were entertained about it; because it could be proved that just in proportion as the landlords had larger incomes to expend, other classes had smaller. As to the effect which a freer system would produce in respect to the lowering of the price of corn, this seemed to be very greatly exaggerated. The prices of corn at Rotterdam were sufficient to prove this. There the price of wheat, for the last ten years, had been 49s., for the preceding ten years, 55s., and for the preceding ten years, 61s. As corn was imported there free, or very nearly free, I of all duty, and from all parts of the world, and as Rotterdam lay so close to the English ports, it was manifest, that if the trade had been freer to this country, lower; prices than them would not have occurred in England. In respect to the motion of the hon. member for Bridgenorth, he considered it, in point of principle, preferable to the plan proposed by government; but, as the latter would be a great improvement in comparison with the existing law, and as it was desirable in making a change from total prohibition, to yield to the actual circumstances of the agricultural interests, he thought it ought to be supported: but, being decidedly of opinion that the landed interest had nothing to fear from a still freer system, and seeing what injury arose to the community from a high price of corn, he would be ready at some future period to support any plan which would go further in admitting foreign corn.
§ Mr. Liddell
expressed the great interest 1106 he felt in this question, from its importance, not only to the agricultural classes, but to the country in general; and he should be sorry, therefore, to give a silent vote upon it. He had not last night supported the amendment on the measures proposed by his majesty's ministers, because he considered those measures an improvement on the existing system. But now the House was called upon to sanction a very different proposition, although not an original one; for it struck him that the measure proposed by the hon. member for Bridgnorth was kidnapped from those originated by the right hon. gentleman on his side of the House; at the same time that he admitted, that in its present despoiled and disfigured condition, it was scarcely possible to recognise its former features. Conceiving, as he did, that the changes in the Corn-laws contemplated by government would be generally beneficial, he would support them with his voice, and must dissent from the amendment of the hon. member for Bridgenorth.
said, he was anxious, from his connection with a manufacturing district, to make a few observations on this important question; more especially as he feared he should be one of those, who, in the principles which he should feel it his duty to put forth that night, might be compelled to differ from the great majority of the House. He would, in the first place, beg to remark, that his hon. friend opposite appeared to him to have fallen into a mistake, in stating that the hon. member for Bridgenorth had kidnapped his proposition from the right hon. Secretary opposite. It appeared to him that the kidnapping had been directly the other way; for it was well known to every hon. gentleman who sat in that House, that for two years his hon. friend had continued to urge propositions analogous to that now proposed by his majesty's ministers. His hon. friend's propositions had been founded on the system of a duty varying in an inverse ratio, and, although its details might not have been exactly similar to those of the present measure, it fully corresponded in principle. Therefore, if there was any fault to be imputed for the taking up of measures which were sanctioned by expediency, the blame should attach to the right hon. gentleman opposite, and not to his hon. friend. He had risen mainly for the purpose of stating the grounds of his 1107 dissent from the proposition of the right hon. gentleman opposite, as well as his disapprobation of the ancient law, and of declaring his intention to vote for the proposition of his hon. friend, the member for Bridgnorth, although even that did not appear to him altogether unexceptionable, or as completely suited to existing circumstances as could be desired. The measure brought forward by his majesty's ministers, and the resolution proposed by his hon. friend, as well as the existing law, which he rejoiced to find the great majority of the House unanimous in their anxiety to repeal—all these systems seemed to him founded in error. They were founded on the principle of a remunerating price to the fanner; than which he conceived a more egregious error, a more fallacious and prejudicial doctrine, never obtained; because, in proportion as the country advanced in population, that remunerating price must constantly advance in its amount; thus making it necessary to create a proportionate increase in the protecting rate. Let the House look to the progress of the Corn-laws, and they would find ample proof of the truth of this position: in 1774, a low rate of duty was fixed; in 1791, this rate was raised; in 1815, it was again raised; in 1822, the rate was nominally lowered; but, on account of the prevailing pressure, it was, in fact, raised still higher. This gradual increase must proceed; and, for this reason alone, if he had no other objection, he would oppose any system founded on that principle. It was well known that great quantities of poor land had been taken into cultivation, in consequence of the high price and increased demand for grain; and, were they to go on giving the cultivators of such land that which would be considered a remunerating price? Upon these grounds it was that he objected to making laws, with a view solely to the preservation of remunerating prices. He supported the amendment of the hon. member for Bridgnorth, because he felt that the principle upon which it was founded would lead to a free trade in corn. That there ought to be that free trade, was the opinion of Mr. Ricardo, in the committee up stairs. He could not help regretting, that his hon. friend had not so framed his resolutions as to guard against the sudden rise or fall of prices. He would ask, what security the farmer now had against enormously low 1108 prices? The double evil was, that no protection of this kind was extended to the agriculturist on the one hand, nor to the manufacturer on the other. He thought it would be infinitely better to fix, by law, the amount of duty payable on corn, than to leave the relaxation of the law to the government; which seemed to him to be an unconstitutional mode of vesting them with discretionary power on a most important subject. The situation in which the committee was placed, was this there was a system of monopoly on the one hand, and resolutions founded upon principles of free trade, but coupled with restrictions, on the other. The only choice seemed to be between the two. He disapproved of both; but less of the latter than of the former; and unless a third proposition should be made, he should give that which appeared to him the more liberal measure, his cordial support.
§ Lord Milton
said, that, although he thought the system now proposed did not go far enough, it nevertheless seemed to him a great improvement upon the one from which government were about to depart. He was afraid that few members of the House would agree with him, and with his hon. friend, to the full extent of the principles upon which they were inclined to act; but, for himself he should say, that he agreed fully with every thing which his hon. friend, the member for Bridgnorth, had said about a remunerating price. He wished the committee to consider what was the state of the country, if the principles which had been laid down by his hon. friend were true. A further advance in prosperity, and an increase in the numbers of its population, would produce, as an almost necessary consequence, an advance in the price of food; and in proportion as the price of food rose, the greater would be the necessity of having recourse to sterile soils for the production of corn; and consequently the greater would be the expense of feeding the population. If that population was industrious, and by industry was adding to the general wealth of the country, it was most desirous that they should be fed at the cheapest rate. It was said, by the opponents of the present measure, that if the price of corn was reduced, the strength of the landed interest would be reduced in the same proportion. He begged to say that he respected the landed interest—. 1109 that he wished them to be powerful and wealthy; but, at the same time, he wished them to be esteemed by all classes of their countrymen. He confessed that nothing had given him more pain than what he witnessed last night; when he saw the great aristocracy of England deserting the ministers, whom they had before supported, and when he saw his noble friend (lord Clive) whom he much esteemed, at the head of those deserters, quitting their old friends, and struggling for an advance of 4s. per quarter on the price of corn [hear, hear!]. The result of this conduct—of course he did not mean to say the object of it—was to obtain so many shillings increase of rent per acre. He was sorry they should have so abandoned their friends; but he knew that it was done, not for the sake of themselves, but for the advantage of the farmer and the agricultural labourer. It was said, that high prices were necessary, as the expense of outlay in taxes in this country was so great, that without high prices the agricultural classes could not pay them. If it was true that it was those taxes which rendered the expenses of cultivation greater here than in the other countries of Europe, then he thought the exact difference which those taxes created should form the criterion of the amount of the protecting price. It was also said, that the poor-rates fell more heavily upon that part of the landed interest engaged in producing corn. He denied the proposition; and he felt convinced that it fell equally upon all kinds of land, and not merely upon land but upon manufacturers. It seemed to him a great error to speak of the poor-rates as a tax falling only upon the land. Within the last few years, it had been thought right to levy a new rate in Yorkshire, and the result of that levy proved the fallacy of the opinion to which he had alluded. One large town in that county now paid in poor-rates the sum of 90,000l. per annum; a sum which would cover a large proportion of the rates levied upon many of the counties of England; and amounting, in fact, to about the rate that would be paid upon a hundred thousand acre of land. He was fully persuaded, that if we attempted to keep the price of corn in this country above the level of the price paid for the same article in other countries, it was impossible that England could continue her commercial intercourse with them.—He knew that one of the objec 1110 tions to the present measure was, that a large proportion of poor land now in cultivation would be thrown out of cultivation. He admitted the fact, but he denied the inference attempted to be drawn from it; namely, that the country would suffer a loss, equal to the amount now expended in that cultivation, as that amount could be better and more beneficially employed in supporting other branches of industry; so that the good thus produced would far more than counterbalance the evil. What, he would ask, was the effect of every shilling added to the price of the quarter of wheat? What! but to increase the price of the most necessary article of life? Suppose the amount of corn consumed annually in this country was twelve millions of quarters—an advance of a shilling per quarter would make up a sum of 600,000l. per annum, paid by the consumer. This was in itself no trifle. But that was not all: for the committee were now divided upon the question, as to the advance of several shillings, and the difference between the proposition of the government and that made by his hon. friend, the member for Bridgenorth, would go to impose a tax of nearly six millions a-year upon the people—a tax which it was too much to require them to pay, at such a moment as the present. He could not here abstain from remarking the speech of the right hon. the chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered last night; in which it was avowed, in effect, that, on the point of principle, the interest of the manufacturing classes had been consulted upon the present measure; but that with regard to the question of price, the interests of the agriculturists alone had been consulted. He could not but lament that government should propose, as they now did, to establish a system, which seemed to him to go only to create a progressive increase in the price of corn, beyond what it was now found to be. For this reason, that he thought the proposition of the right hon. Secretary by far too favourable to the agricultural interest, he should support the amendment of his hon. friend, the member for Bridgenorth.
§ Sir T. Gooch
said, he did not think the advance of 4s. a quarter such a trifling matter as the noble lord seemed to consider it, with regard to the landed interest. What would be the consequence of getting low prices? Why, all classes must suffer a reduction in their income. The land- 1111 owner must be reduced; the clergyman must be reduced; the fanner must be reduced; and so, indeed, must all classes. The noble lord must not be considered as the representative of the agricultural classes. He came from a manufacturing district; and was returned to the House upon the manufacturing interest. If he threw such taunts on the landed gentlemen for deserting, as he called it, the ministers, he must tell the noble lord, that the landed gentlemen were as independent in their principles, and as willing to do justice to every class of the community, as the noble lord or his manufacturing friends. Were the country gentlemen alone to suffer? Could it be desirable that they should be compelled to reduce their establishments, to leave their houses, and discharge their servants? He thought not. He was one of those who had long supported ministers, and would always support them, while he thought them right; but he was not so chained down to any administration, as not to give his vote against it, if he disapproved of its measures. He wished to see the present administration continue in their places; and he did not wish to sec the noble lord and his friends in place; and he believed that was the great offence which the other side thought the landed gentlemen had committed.
§ Mr. George Robinson
said, he represented a large portion of the manufacturing population, and he therefore felt interested in the question. He could not fail to observe, that while much had been said as to the payments made by the landed interest, very little had been observed upon the capabilities or the outlays of the manufacturing classes. The landed interest might, perhaps, be said to constitute the strength of the country; but there were others whose interests ought not to be neglected. To these classes he feared the measure now proposed by government would be very unsatisfactory. When he looked to the effect of the proposed Resolutions on the Corn-laws, he must say, that the last quarter from which he expected any opposition was the landed interest; because, those who framed the resolutions seemed to have well considered the interests of the landed gentlemen; and, if there was any disappointment, he thought it would come from the manufacturing classes. To those classes he did not expect any 1112 relief would be afforded by these resolutions. All that they were calculated to do, was to pave the way for a better system. He thought the only effect of these resolutions, at present, would be, to raise the price of corn; and this supposition was confirmed by what had actually taken place in Mark-lane, where the price had risen immediately after they had been proposed. It had been said, that the farmers could not pay their rents if the price was not kept up to 60s. He denied the proposition, and appealed to the experience of last year, when the price was 54s., and when, even the landed gentlemen must acknowledge, the rents had been well paid. The most extraordinary opinion he had heard was, that high prices were useful to the operative classes. He denied the fact. He wished to ask the Committee whether they were to legislate merely for the purpose of keeping in cultivation those poor lands which had been brought into cultivation during the war; the only consequence of which would be, that the proprietors of rich lands would be enabled to make large fortunes at the expense of the country. He should support the proposition of the right hon. gentleman; and he doubted much, whether, after the minority of last night, the hon. member opposite could hope to carry his amendment.
§ Mr. G. Philips
was surprised that those who affected to consider themselves as the representatives of the landed interest, should object to the system proposed by the right hon. gentleman, which actually seemed to him one that amounted to the system that they desired; namely, the system of prohibition. Under that proposition they were to receive a protection amounting to 33l. 3s. 8d. per cent; and yet they were dissatisfied. It seemed to him, that the interest of the consumer—in other words, the interest of the public-was entirely left out of the question. The landed interest need not fear a want of protection. They could not avoid being taken care of in that House; as they had a great preponderance in the election of its members. Let not the landed interest be panegyrised for their conduct, when they required such sacrifices from the other classes. Not more than one third of the people were engaged in agricultural pursuits; and yet, when their interests were the subject of discussion, they spoke of the other two thirds as nothing in com- 1113 parison with themselves. The protection now proposed by the right hon. gentleman was higher than any that had ever been afforded to the manufacturing interests. For the protection of the landed classes, and in order that they might demand high rents, the importation of grain was to be prohibited; while, on the other hand, the Usury laws were to be continued, that they might be enabled to borrow money at a cheap rate. Was this the situation in which the landed gentlemen wished to present themselves to the country? If it was, he thought it not an enviable one. It seemed to him, that the opinions of the noble lord (Milton) were deserving of much consideration; because it was very likely that, from his being connected both with the agricultural and the manufacturing districts, his judgment would be impartial and unbiassed. The opponents of the present proposition wished us to deny all the principles which had been laid down by political writers; but he did not think that they ought to expect the Committee to believe, that all which had been stated, from Dudley North down to Adam Smith, was a mass of folly and nonsense. At least, if they could persuade gentlemen in the House to do so, they would not have the same success out of doors. He acknowledged the obligations of the country to the right hon. gentleman for the liberality of his domestic and foreign policy; but he must, nevertheless, give the preference to the plan of his hon. friend, the member for Bridgnorth. He admitted, however, that any system of duty was preferable to prohibition.
said, he wished as much as any man, that corn should be at a low price, and the cheaper the better, provided it was of British growth.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
said, that the body of individuals whom he represented were at all times entitled to much attention from the House, although their interests might not be exactly the same as those of the hon. gentlemen who had already addressed the House [cries of "Question"]. He saw how hopeless any effort on his part must be in the present temper of the House; but he should, nevertheless, endeavour to discharge with fidelity the duty he owed to his constituents. All they wanted was, to be put upon the same footing as the landed interest; and it had been repeatedly said, when it answered any purpose, that the 1114 landed, manufacturing, and mercantile interests were inseparably connected, and that one could not be injured without a corresponding detriment to the other. It was stated, that all the landed proprietors acquired was protection and security; but, from what did they require that protection, and on what ground did they claim that security? A great deal had been said about taxes and poor-rates; as if the landed interest had exclusively paid them, and no other class of the community had made the slightest contribution. He begged leave to ask, on the other hand, whether, during the whole course of the war, the landed interest had not derived advantages in which no other class participated? All ranks contributed more or less to taxation, either directly or indirectly; for the imposts ministers thought fit to levy were laid upon the community, and paid by the consumer. Some of the many publications which had been so industriously circulated among members of parliament on this subject, contained the' grossest absurdities [cries of "Question," accompanied by other symptoms of impatience]. He should not, by elevating-his voice, enter into a contest with those who were resolved only to hear what made for their own side of the question. For himself, he claimed nothing; and if it was thought, that an individual who represented the interests and wishes of the citizens of London, however inadequately, did not merit some attention, he should very willingly resume his seat. He belonged to a class of persons not properly and fairly represented in this House. Scarcely a single member had yet spoken on behalf of that class; and hitherto, the landed gentlemen had all the speaking and all the cheering to themselves. If he were not allowed to partake of the last, he hoped to be forgiven if he endeavoured, very diffidently, to obtain a small share of the first. Taxation, it had been said, had risen upon land to the enormous extent of two hundred per cent. Such a statement was a gross imposition upon the credulity of those who were of ready belief. He contended, that it did not amount to more than ten or fifteen per cent. All the taxes had been imposed under the pretence of protecting property; but of what value was it, if the people could not be fed at a cheap rate? During the war, the people had made the most generous sacrifices, and had fought with the most distinguished 1115 bravery; but were they not fighting for poverty and workhouses, while the landed interest did not pay sixpence towards the expenses of the war [hear! "question!"] He would prove it. In the twenty years previous to 1792, the only variation in the price of wheat had been between 45s. and 45s. 9d.> per quarter. An enormous advance afterwards took place. The stoppage of the Bank of England, which was considered a great national calamity, produced, at least, this benefit to landlords—it raised the price of agricultural produce so extravagantly, that the value of the property of the landed interest was increased, at least one-half, and the landlord was thus more than reimbursed for all he contributed towards the expenses of the war, undertaken for the protection of his property. Corn rose from 45s. 9d. to 88s.—an advance of about seventy-five per cent. After what had been absurdly called a revulsion from war to peace, it was to be expected that every thing would decline in price and value. War had elevated the value of the land, next the value of the produce of the land, and afterwards the price of labour; but the return of peace had lowered manufactures from thirty to forty per cent. And, upon what principle was it, that land alone was to be kept up at an artificial value above its due proportion? Taking the price of wheat at 55s. it gave the cultivator of the soil 10s. per quarter above the price it bore for twenty years previous to the war. He had much respect for the landed interest; they were men generally who had a good deal of time upon their hands; who had leisure to do good and to reflect upon the best mode of doing it. He had always thought that to the exertions of the landed proprietors, the country was greatly indebted for the preservation of its liberty and privileges. They were men also who saw their own interests pretty clearly; but he must say, that they seemed to have no conception of the difficulties and privations to which other classes were reduced. The population of the kingdom had increased one third; but if it had been augmented to three times that amount, the manufacturers were still to be told, that they were to obtain bread only from the produce of the country. They were not to be allowed to import corn, but to export and expatriate the surplus population. There were Colombian and Canadian Societies, and Committees of 1116 Emigration, employed in contriving means to send a once happy people for ever from their native soil, merely because they were not to be allowed to eat the bread of industry at home. Such was the condition to which the country had been reduced, and in which it was to be kept for the sole benefit of the landed interest. It had been said, that the landed interest were the best customers of the manufacturers; and it might be true if they would but buy enough, and at a sufficiently high price; but, if the landed interest would only purchase a small quantity, and that at a low price, the manufacturers could not live. At that moment the quantity of manufactured goods was far beyond the consumption of the country, and all the manufacturer asked was, to be permitted to export some of them to Poland, in order that he might there buy wheat for his starving family. He had seen some curious calculations.—[Here the worthy alderman stated the calculation which related to a farthing a day taken from the labourers of the country, and to a guinea which each might accidentally find in his pocket, but the impatience of the House did not allow what he said to reach the gallery.] It might be thought by some members that it was impossible for any but a landed member to understand the subject; but he had himself been a farmer in his time, and had sold wheat as high as 133s. per quarter, and as low as 50s. per quarter; and oats as high as 60s. per quarter, and as low as 17s. per quarter. He was of opinion, that it was just as reasonable to assert, that the landed interest could form no adequate notion of the distresses of other classes of society. They had applauded ministers, on a former night, for their liberal policy, for the free trade they had established in silks and cottons, to the very echo; but the moment a hint was given that the same principle might be applied to grain, then they started back with horror from the proposition, and declared that corn was a sort of sacred commodity, which it was almost impious to touch. Ministers had, perhaps, done all they could, or, at least, all that the landed interest would let them do, for the benefit of the country at large. If they wanted taxes, the landed interest gave them taxes; if they wanted supplies the landed interest gave them supplies; if they wanted to cut down a man's income in the funds, to the 1117 extent of one fifth, the landed interest readily supported the project, and one fifth of the funded income of the country was seized "at one fell swoop." But, if ministers ventured to touch the land, the country gentlemen, instantly became the pillars of the state: "We support the labouring classes—we pay the taxes—the poor-rates, the county rates, and, above all, we pay, and support you," they said, like the servant of the Commoner to the servant of the Peer, in "High Life below Stairs:"—"Suppose we stop your supplies, what becomes of your dignity then?" But for this combination between the landholders and the place-holders, neither of them would be able to drink their Burgundy and Champaigne, while millions in the country had not bread to eat, and, what was worse, were not permitted to get it. Honourable members were, perhaps, not aware, that there had been no less than three thousand five hundred cases of bankruptcy and insolvency last year. Not only paupers from want, had been led to the commission of crime, and thus filled the calendar, but thousands of individuals in the middle classes, who had hitherto supported themselves with respectability, were now on the very brink of ruin. Was such, or any thing like it, the condition of the landed interest? All men must yield to circumstances: at this moment they were imperious: distress was general, and unequalled in severity, and relief must be afforded. If the price of wheat was taken at 60s. it would operate as a prohibition, and corn would never be sold cheap again ["question, question."] Had he been addressing an audience on which there was even a remote chance of producing conviction, he should have spoken with more confidence and effect; as it was, he had been anxious to perform his duty, and if he had done so imperfectly, the blame was not imputable to himself.
said, that this was a question in which every gentleman who spoke on the subject had some particular interest.—It was impossible it could be otherwise. At the same time, he was confident that the House would decide equitably and honourably. The worthy alderman had said that the landed interest paid nothing towards the taxes. Surely he had forgot that the manufacturers had had the same extraordinary protection as the agriculturists, and that, during almost the whole of the war, the ports were open. The noble 1118 lord who spoke last but one, had said, that he had no objection to low prices, provided the corn was British? Was the noble lord aware that such was the growing extent of the population of this country, that British corn would not feed the people? The first duty of the government was to take care that nobody should starve. We must be an importing country; and the next question was, under what regulations we were to be an importing country? They must protect the landed interests if they desired the establishments to be maintained. He could not object to cheap bread; but if that cheapness could only be obtained by sacrificing the establishments, in such case he must, as he did, enforce the necessity of protecting agriculture, to enable the land to bear its share of the burthens of the country.
§ Lord George Cavendish
gave great credit to the hon. member for Bridgenorth, for the manner in which he had introduced his amendment; for this was a subject of vital importance, and thanks were due to any man who afforded the House and the country, and ministers themselves, materials for sifting the matter to the bottom, and examining the question in all its bearings. He confessed, that from the wise and liberal spirit which ministers had displayed on several occasions, he was disposed to place much confidence in them. A great clamour, it was well known, had arisen on this subject, both among manufacturers and agriculturists. But, considering that ministers seemed disposed to deal impartially and justly with all parties, and that they had had much greater opportunities of investigating the real state of the question than others could have had, he trusted that the measure would pass upon the terms which they had suggested. He need not trouble the House with any further remarks except this—that the subject of the commerce in wool was one of the greatest importance, and one which ought to receive the speediest and most mature consideration. Without some additional provisions and regulations, made with reference to this matter, the late law, with respect to weights and measures, might lead to a great deal of confusion.
§ Lord Howick
also gave great credit to the hon. member for Bridgenorth. But he could not agree with him, nor with the worthy alderman, that the landlords had been repaid by the high prices of grain for their peculiar burthens; for this, among 1119 other reasons, that they had often been compelled to borrow capital at a higher rate of interest. He was not altogether satisfied with the amendment of the hon. member for Bridgenorth; but, on the whole, he liked it better than the propositions of ministers, and would therefore vote for it.
Sir F. Burdett
said, that he found he differed so much from many hon. members, that perhaps the committee would excuse him if he trespassed longer on their attention than would otherwise be necessary. He could not, however, avoid premising that there was one unfortunate and prevalent error on this subject; namely, a general impression that there was a contention of interests in the state between agriculture and manufactures. A worthy alderman had in some degree lent his countenance to this error. The worthy alderman had accused the landed gentlemen of being a peculiarly grasping avaricious class of persons. However, justice ought to be done to the worthy alderman, for, in another part of his speech, he had said, that the landed gentlemen were amongst the most liberal in the country. In such opinion he cordially agreed with the worthy alderman. He repeated, what he had on a former occasion declared; namely, that there was no class of men in this country (and if not in this country, not in the world), more liberal, or more considerate, in all their dealings than the country gentlemen of England—the class to which he had the honour to belong. The hon. alderman seemed to think it an absurd position to say, that if every man in the country had a guinea in his pocket to-morrow, no man would be the better for it. Nevertheless, such was clearly the fact; because, as every man would remain in the same relative position, no man would be able to command more of the conveniences and comforts of life. When the House considered, that the landed interest was that out of which every other interest sprung—that without a productive agriculture there could be no large body of merchants and manufacturers—no great quantity of goods sold or manufactured—no traders exchanging produce between the two bodies; that, in fact, all commerce grew out of the prosperity of agriculture, they must be convinced, that the interests of both were one and the same, and that all depended on the welfare of the landed interest. If that was impoverished, all the 1120 other interests must suffer with it. He was aware there was one class of persons who had indeed a different interest. He alluded to the national creditor, the annuitant, and those who were in the pay of government. These formed what was called the unproductive part of the community. But though their interest was really opposed to that of the rest of the community, the difference was not such as to excite their jealousy or hostility. Something had been said, in the course of this discussion, respecting the change that had been made from the Winchester measure to that which was termed the Imperial measure. This change would illustrate his opinion of the cause from which all the difficulties of the country had arisen. He was one of those who thought that the distress of the country was altogether of an artificial nature—that it resulted from bad legislation, and from bad legislation alone. There had been another very material change, not only of the bushel that was applicable simply to corn, but of that common measure of the value of all commodities in the land, which was called currency; and this change had been nearly in the same proportion as that from the Winchester measure to the Imperial; namely, about one third. The country gentlemen found themselves embarrassed because they were called upon to pay the same amount of taxes out of a diminished income. Suppose, for example, an act of parliament had been passed, requiring persons who had entered into contracts in the Winchester measure to fulfil them in the Imperial measure, could such a proceeding be justified? Would it not be a gross fraud upon those who had entered-into the contracts? This was just the case of the country. Government, he believed, was not aware of the effect it would produce, when it changed the currency. It was his opinion, however, that, if that currency had not been altered, there would have been no agricultural distress. What was the evidence of facts upon this subject? During the twenty years previous to the late change in the currency, there had been no distress in the country; but, on the contrary, while there was a large annual importation of foreign corn, every interest, including that of agriculture, flourished in an extraordinary degree. The only wonder was, how, after so prodigal an expenditure, the country had not only been able to bear it, but, at the close 1121 of that war, to find itself more flourishing and more prosperous than it was at its commencement. The agricultural interest had never been injured by the importation of foreign corn until another cause had operated upon it; and then, and not till then, distress ensued. It was palpable that the whole evil had arisen from mistaken legislation. He believed government had intended well. The principles on which they had acted were good in the abstract, but not applicable to the circumstances of the country when they were carried into effect. The hon. alderman had charged the landed gentleman with being reckless of all interests but their own; and he had intimated, that they were ready, for their own relief, to apply a sponge to the national debt: in short, that they care about nobody but themselves. He had heard declarations made in that House, which could leave no doubt of the utter groundlessness of that imputation. When hints of that kind had been thrown out, landed gentlemen had got up and declared, that sooner than lower the interest of the public debt—not to talk of; wiping it away altogether—they would strip the coats off their backs; and even stronger expressions had been uttered, which he would not repeat. On such occasions, none had expressed themselves more warmly than the landed gentlemen. If justice, however, was due to the public creditor, government owed an equal measure of justice to the landed interest of the country. When government contracted; the currency, they did to the landed interest precisely the same thing as if they had broken faith with the national creditor, by at once lowering the rate of interest, and paying him a less sum than they had contracted to give him. A contrary effect had not been produced by augmenting the currency; because the process was gradual, and the injury was not felt, as it came on those who suffered it by degrees. Prices were thus almost imperceptibly raised; and the whole frame of society was settled on the basis of high prices. He differed entirely in opinion from those who were favourable to low prices. Taking all the circumstances of the country into consideration, he was convinced that high prices were necessary to its ease and prosperity, in its present condition. Nobody could really benefit by low prices. The labouring classes would receive only as much wages as was proportioned to the price of 1122 food. All parties would stand in the same relative position. The great object to be gained for the relief of the country was, that all its burthens should be reduced, in proportion to the increased value of the currency. The distresses of the country resulted from the existing contracts having been made during high prices, while the parties were called upon to fulfil them at the standard of low prices. An equitable adjustment of contracts was that which alone could fully relieve the country. He admitted that the difficulty of carrying-such a measure into effect would be great; but it was nonsense to deny that it was desirable. He thought it unlikely that; corn would ever rise to such a price as to give practical effect to the proposed Resolutions. It was true, it might do so through a famine; but that, instead of benefiting, would inflict injury on the agriculturist. He believed that no country ever had two such distressing measures imposed upon it at once as the Corn-law of 1815, and the Bullion act, each of them deeply affecting the vital interests of the country. The effect of them was, necessarily, to throw the country into dreadful disorder. If we had adhered to the existing system, palliating and mollifying the evils and inconvenience of it from time to time, we should have done much better; and the country, he firmly believed, instead of being in a state of distress; instead of seeing its industrious farmers dragged to prison for debts which the fault of the legislature, and not their own misconduct, had brought upon them, would have been in a state of unexampled prosperity.
§ Mr. W. Duncombe
concurred in the principle of the resolutions, proposed by the right hon. Secretary.
§ The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 50; Noes 335; Majority against the Amendment 285.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Fergusson, sir R.|
|Batley, C. H.||Folkestone, lord|
|Beaumont, T. W.||Fortescue, hon. G.|
|Bernal, R.||Graham, sir J.|
|Birch, J.||Guest, J.|
|Bright, H.||Hobhouse, J. C.|
|Calvert, C.||Howick, lord|
|Cradock, col.||Hume, J.|
|Crompton, S.||Knight, R.|
|Davies, col.||Lombe, E.|
|Lumley, F.||Rancliffe, lord|
|Lushington, Dr.||Robarts, A. W.|
|Marshall, J.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Marshall, W.||Rumbold, C.|
|Maberly, J.||Sykes, D.|
|Maberly, col.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Milton, lord||Thompson, alderman|
|Monck, J. B.||Waithman alderman|
|Morpeth, lord||Warburton, H.|
|Nugent, lord||Wood, alderman|
|Ord, W.||Wood, J.|
|Philips, G.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Philips, G. R.||Wyvill, M.|
|Ponsonby, hon. J.||TELLER.|
|Poulett, T. C.|
|Ramsden, J. C.||Whitmore, W. W.|
§ The chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again.