HC Deb 22 April 1828 vol 19 cc16-39

On the motion, that the House should resolve itself into a committee on the Corn Laws Acts,

Mr. Portman

regretted to say, that he saw little reason to congratulate the agriculturists on the prospects held out to them of protection from the competition I of foreign corn in the supply of the British market. The proposed regulations of this were less favourable than those of the preceding year, for this reason—that they did not afford positive protection. He took, as a point conceded on all hands, that 60s. per quarter of wheat was the point at which protection ought to begin to be extended to the agriculturist. The I price of corn was liable to perpetual fluctuation, in consequence of the quantities of that article which might be brought into the country for purposes of trade, and the facilities afforded by that principle of hostility to all prohibition, which was adopted into our policy, and which appeared to be growing stronger and stronger every day, in all branches of commerce. It was obvious that all the corn imported for the purposes of trade, above what was required for the use of the country, must reduce the price of that commodity. When by this means it was reduced to the foreign level, it became exceedingly difficult to raise it up to that amount which was necessary to remunerate the agriculturist. In fact, it could only find its proper level by a progressive adjustment of the supply to the demand; which, in the case of corn, was all but impossible. He would next state, what amount of protection he thought was required to meet the peculiar circumstances of the growers in this country. He agreed with those who maintained that every fair concession should be made to the consumers, and that if possible the legislature should not meddle with the subject above 60s. It would appear, from reference to the last seven years, that the average price was from 53s. to 54s. Under the present system, the wished that a point should betaken below 60s., at which some certain duty should take place. The plan which he would be desirous to see adopted, was that of which the foundation was laid by the resolution of the House last year. The present ministers were most of them parties to that measure; and he hoped that the discussion which the subject had undergone elsewhere did not wholly disincline them from taking the average at 58s. The returns before the House would show that corn could be imported lower than they had taken it according to the present scale of duty. If the resolutions now proposed were those by which ministers were determined to abide, he hoped the House would support him in a proposition for postponing the subject altogether to that day six months; as he conceived that a bill founded upon those resolutions would be most injurious to the landed interests.

Mr. Byng

said, that whatever satisfaction the right hon. gentleman might suppose to exist with regard to his measure, the agriculturists would have been still more satisfied with the measure of last year. They required more protection when the averages were from 52s. to 58s. than when they were from 62s. to 64s. In fact they wanted no protection from 62s. to 64s., and, on the whole, were much more satisfied with the bill of last year than with this.

Mr. Beaumont

said, he could not agree with the hon. gentleman in preferring the measure of last year to that which was now before the House. But, willing as he was to support the present bill, he could not approve of taking the protection at a lower ratio than that proposed last year. They had additional experience to guide them, and that experience would show that foreign wheat could be brought into this country at a lower price than they had assumed, and had endeavoured to support by their averages. He knew for certain that foreign wheat could be brought into this country as low as 24s. the quarter. If 30s. were added to that it would not amount to a prohibition. The whole amount would then be 54s., including duty, which was lower than 58s., the lowest average contemplated in the scale of duties.

Mr. C. Grant

said, that the hon. gentleman who had opened the debate had expressed an opinion that 58s. was an inadequate protection, and that those who supported the measure of last year could have no objection to take 58s., or some point below 60s., as one at which a certain duty should attach. But the hon. gentleman, when he alluded to the measure of last year, was bound to take the whole, and not an insulated part; and, if he did so, he would find that in the same bill it was also taken above 60s. He would allow that there was great difficulty in ascertaining the price, or the exact amount, of the foreign corn which came to market. That commodity was liable, like all others, to fluctuations from various causes: the seasons, the means of transport, had their effect; but, above all, the state in which the corn trade had been placed during the last thirty years operated to produce and to aggravate fluctuations to an extent which bade defiance to calculation. There was the gigantic scale both of price and of protection which existed during the war, and then came the act of 1815 subsequent to the war, and tending, perhaps, more than any other cause, to confound calculation, and to keep prices in a perpetual state of uncertainty. But though he admitted that they could not come to an exact opinion as to the price or quantity of the article, they were not without means of arriving at averages upon which it was competent for them to legislate. The real question was, whether the scale now proposed was such as to afford sufficient protection to the agriculturist. The best way to determine this question was, to look at the prices as they appeared in the papers on the table. The hon. gentleman had quoted the authority of Mr. Canning for stating that 30s. would operate as a prohibition; but the fact was, that if, as in the present bill, they had a varying duty, they could not say at any point that there existed an actual prohibition. Besides, the argument did not apply exclusively to the present measure, but was equally applicable to that of last year. He held in his hand an account of the average price of the foreign corn imported during the last seven years, and he thought the House would agree that that justified the scale which ministers had taken. On referring to the importations from Dantzic in 1827, he found that the price at Dantzic was 22s. 5d. The charges of conveyance were stated at 10s., which made 32s. 5d. independently of duty. Then taking the duty at 30s., the importation price would be 62s. 5d. An hon. gentleman had said, that wheat was introduced into this country last year, at 24s. He believed the hon. gentleman alluded to an importation into the port of Hull. But he should like to know what the quality of the article was, and whether it remained in warehouse for exportation, or was let into the general market of the country. But whether or not, a few extreme cases could not be admitted to bear upon the general argument. With respect to Hamburgh, the average price of last year was 28s. 2d. The 30s. duty would make it 58s., independently of the charge for carriage. In Holland the price was still dearer; and looking to Petersburgh, he found that the price for the same year was 25s. 1d., and the charges for transport were 11s., which, added to the duty, amounted to nearly 70s.> Upon the whole of the averages of the last seven years, it would be seen, that the protection adopted by government was a reasonable, moderate, and just one.

Mr. Secretary Huskisson

said, that the proper time for entering upon the discussion of the Resolutions would be in the committee, when the merit of the several parts of the measure might be discussed. This was far more convenient than to anticipate the discussion by an irregular debate. One gentleman said, he would not support the measure in the committee if such a duty was proposed; another gentleman objected to another branch of the measure. But, instead of putting these suppositious cases, the far better way would be to hear what was proposed, and then to entertain the discussion upon it.

Mr. Calcraft

observed, that the right hon. gentleman had stated, that the present was not the regular parliamentary stage in which the discussion could be taken. In that opinion he must differ from the right hon. gentleman. It was in the recollection of the House, that a plan had been proposed last year, by one whose loss they all deplored; and it was but fair and reasonable that they should compare it with the provisions of the present. He did not put the question on any narrow ground of preference, nor mean to argue it as a protection to the agricultural interest, for it involved the interest, of the whole community. He would agree that the landed interest ought to have protection, but not merely for their own sake. The principle upon which it should be afforded was the good of all. It was necessary that they should be protected, because, with all the ports open, it was impossible to say how great a supply might be received from those vast tracts of country which only wanted encouragement to pour in their produce to the detriment of our own agriculturists. The bill of last year had the feelings of the country in its favour. It fixed the pivot price at 60s. but the present bill, departing from that precedent, had fixed it at a lower rate, and upon a principle less calculated to operate as a certain protection. In 1815, we were told that the average price of corn for several previous years had varied from 78s. to 80s. He had foreseen the injurious tendency of the bill which was then introduced into parliament, and then had opposed it to the utmost of his ability. We were told, in 1822, that in consequence of the peace, and the consequent reduction of taxation, and certain other causes, 70s. was the proper average price; and we were next told, in 1827, that 60s. was the proper average price. Now, if we took into our consideration the price of corn during the last year, we should find that the proper average price was somewhat lower than 60s. Why, then, should we jump at once, and without any express reason, to an average price above 60s.? To that part of the present resolution he must object. With respect to what had fallen from the member for Dorsetshire, he fully agreed with him in thinking that these resolutions gave us no protection where we were most vulnerable, and incumbered us with an insupportable weight of armour where we wanted no protection. From 50s. to 58s., we were worse off than we were before; and that was exactly the point at which the people at large did not feel any inconvenience. We thus had corn let in when the people did not want it; but when it rose above that price, and its dearness began to inconvenience them, we threw every possible obstacle in the way of its importation. For his own part, he did not pretend to understand the policy of this measure; but he knew well enough the manner in which it had originated. He was sorry to oppose any measure of the duke of Wellington's administration, and if he now opposed it, it was because he found it necessary to support his own consistency on this important question. It was only natural for the duke of Wellington to say that 64s. was the proper average price, for he had said so last year; and though it might be convenient for those who held seats in the cabinet, to compromise their former opinions, in order to retain them. Why should he, who had no seat in the cabinet, imitate their example? That might be—he would not say that it was—one of the reasons which had led them to agree, that 64s. should be fixed upon as the proper average price. There was also another reason why that sum had been fixed upon, which pleased him as little as that to which he had just alluded. Ministers had said. that the present was the most likely arrangement to get the new Corn bill passed in the other House of Parliament. He was sorry to say that he heard a great deal too much of this compromising language. It was only the other day that he was told, in a committee up stairs, that there was a certain noble lord in the other House who insisted on having a certain clause inserted in a bill which was then under examination; and the House was now told, that unless they shaped their Corn bill in such and such a manner, they would not have the slightest chance of getting it through the other House. He should be sorry if they did not get it through the House of Lords; but sorry though he might be, he should prefer acting on his own sense of right to entering into a truckling compromise of principle with the other branch of the legislature. It would, indeed, be matter of regret, if, when the Commons of England were seeking to obtain a cheap supply of food for the people, the other House of Parliament would not accede to that which appeared to them to be only right and equitable. He was opposed to these resolutions on two points; the first was, that they strengthened the agricultural interest where it wanted no additional strength; and the second, that they left it open to injury in the very quarter in which it was most exposed. The right hon. gentleman had told them, that nobody could object to the Speaker's leaving the chair on the present occasion, except those who were anxious that the Corn-laws should remain as they were. He was not one of those who wished the Corn-laws to remain in their present state. A more wicked and detestable system had never been devised; and he thanked Providence that we had escaped so well as we had done from the mischief which it was calculated to produce—a state of prohibition at one time amounting to a famine price, and then a permission for corn to come into the country in unlimited quantities, and to interfere with our agriculture, let the promise of the next harvest be as plentiful as it might! If there was any part of his political life which gave him particular pleasure in the retrospect, it was his steady opposition to the Corn-laws. He was not sanguine enough to suppose that the House would follow him in supporting, during the present session, the measure which it conceived right and expedient in the last, or he would take the sense of the House on the change which existed between the propositions of the last and of the present year—not with a view of preventing the question from coming to an adjustment, nor of embarrassing the government, but to substitute for the present resolutions, those which ministers had deemed so advisable last session, and which they gave no reason for not adopting in the present. In this situation he would leave the question for the present, hoping that the House would support the view of it which he had just taken, and not being quite certain whether he might not, in the course of the discussion, take their opinion once more upon the resolutions which the House had carried by so large a majority, when they were proposed by the late Mr. Canning.

Mr. Robinson

said, he had heard with unmixed satisfaction the manly speech of his hon. friend. As he himself entertained similar sentiments, he had been induced to give notice, that he would afford the House an opportunity of dividing upon the resolutions proposed by Mr. Canning last year. He hoped that his hon. friend, who was so much more competent to the task, would take it up himself, and bring it forward with his usual ability. He should feel great gratification in transferring to his hon. friend's shoulders the task which he had intended to impose upon himself.

Mr. Calcraft

said, he felt flattered by the transfer of this duty to him, and accepted the trust.

Mr. Stanley

concurred entirely with the hon. member for Wareham, that there was very great convenience in taking a discussion on this subject on the question that the Speaker do leave the chair. It afforded an admirable opportunity of obtaining the opinions of different parts of the country, as expressed by their representatives, on the different plans which might be suggested. It appeared to him that this was the object with which, before the recess, three different sets of resolutions had been offered to the House; and the present was the first opportunity of which the House could avail itself, to examine and discuss them, and to sec how far each interest could concede on each point to the other. He had not as yet learned why the House of Commons was, in the present session, to recede from the path which it had chalked out for itself in the last. There might be reasons of policy and expediency why gentlemen, hold- ing responsible situations, might make concessions to their colleagues on points of national importance; but those reasons were no grounds for that House, nor for individual members bound by no ties, except those of conscience and equity, to alter the vote to which they had deliberately come in the last session. He had heard much in the course of the session, not only of the expediency of gentlemen yielding up their opinions to their colleagues, but also of the House yielding up its deliberate vote to the other House of Parliament. The argument might be very convenient for official personages, but ought to have no weight with a British House of Commons. The House of Commons ought to send every measure up to the House of Lords in the shape which it deemed most advantageous to the public: it was for the House of Lords to suggest any amendments which it deemed expedient upon such measure; and then it was for the House of Commons to decide whether they would deviate from the line on which they had first proceeded, in order to pass a particular measure, rather than no measure at all, upon any particular subject. That, he apprehended, was the constitutional course for the House of Commons to adopt, and that was the course which he himself would rigidly adhere to. Without entering into the detail of the points in which the resolutions of this year differ from those of the last, he would hazard one or two remarks on the principle upon which the bill professed to be founded. There were many gentlemen who were of opinion that it would be more for the interest of the agriculturist that there should be one price fixed under which foreign corn might always be imported—that the agriculturist should take the advantage of good and bad times, like dealers in every other kind of produce— and that he should only be subject to the inconvenience of the home-market, leaving that to be corrected by the foreign market, as occasion might require. But if he was not entirely mistaken in the view which he had taken of this subject, the great point was, to secure the corn market from all excessive fluctuations; and that was the very point in which the present bill was notoriously and palpably deficient. He was sorry to use such a word, for he had a great respect for the right hon. gentleman who had framed this bill, but he must, nevertheless, designate it by the title of a disingenuous bill. He must say, that when it was held out to the agricultural interest as a premium on the bill which had been proposed last year, it was the most palpable fallacy that was ever attempted to be palmed upon a House of Commons. True it was, that at a certain price it afforded greater protection to the agricultural interest; but it was exactly at that price to which corn had never arrived in the last year, and to which he did not expect that it would ever arrive again. He was desirous that corn should be had at a low rate; but he was still more desirous that it should be had at a fixed and definite rate, and that it should not be exposed to those rapid fluctuations which were equally ruinous to the consumer and the producer. Up to 58s. there was less protection for the agricultural interest under the bill of this year, than there was under that of the last; and so far it was favourable to those who stickled for low prices. The great fault, however, of the present bill was, that we had prohibition when we did not want it, and protection when we needed it least; for it gave protection under high, and withdrew it under low, prices. The bill of last year proceeded upon a straight-forward, consistent, and intelligible, principle: the bill of this year proceeded on no other than an ad captandum principle, seeking to conciliate one side by the offer of low, and the other by the offer of high, prices, and making them both liable to the danger of fluctuating prices. On these principles, he should support the motion which the hon. member for Wareham intended to submit, at some future opportunity, to the House. If brought forward as an amendment to the present bill, he should certainly support the resolutions which Mr. Canning had proposed in the last session, and which were then carried by acclamation—at least by an overwhelming majority. The sense of the House of Commons was expressed most decidedly in favour of Mr. Canning's bill. He had as yet seen no just ground for departing from it. It was founded on a clear and intelligible principle, on which, though it might not be satisfactory to all parties, all parties could at least meet without collision. There were not, however, any two parties who could meet on this bill, and say, that there was a price settled in it, in the propriety of which they both concurred. The hon. member for Dorsetshire had expressed his desire to support the bill of last year, as far as it extended to the low scale of prices. He (Mr. Stanley) hoped that the agricultural interest would agree with the view which he and his friends had taken of this part of the question, and would consent to admit both the ascending and descending scale of duties fixed by Mr. Canning.

Sir E. Knatchbull

said, he had heard with astonishment the assertion that the bill of last year was carried by acclamation. Did gentlemen recollect, that the hon. member for Dorsetshire proposed last year an amendment similar to the present resolutions and that it was supported by no less than 170 members? He contended, that, had it not been for the monstrous coalition which had then taken place, the majority would have been the other way. He would ask gentlemen to recollect what had been the effect of it out of doors. For his own part, he had not met with any person connected with the agricultural interest who approved of it. He believed ministers were fully justified in making the addition which they had done to the scale of duties. What had been the avowed object of Mr. Canning? To make the price of corn oscillate in future, between 55s. and 60s. Now, the price of corn during the last year had been only 54s.; and it was the knowledge of that fact that induced him to give his support to the additional duties proposed.

Mr. Fergusson

trusted, that the hon. member for Dorsetshire would not press his amendment to a division. He did not see how any member could object to the Speaker's leaving the Chair, unless he was satisfied with the present state of the Corn-laws. When the bill of last year was under discussion, he had voted in favour of the proposition made by the hon. member for Dorsetshire for fixing the price at 64s. He must confess that if the resolutions now on the table were adopted in toto, he should reluctantly give them his support: but he would give his support to discussing them in the committee, if the price were fixed at 62s. There was the same duty, by the bill of this year at 66s., as there had been by the bill of last year at 62s. That being the case, he was willing to adopt the resolutions which fixed the price at the same point as that at which the hon. member for Dorsetshire had fixed it by his amendment of last session; but he should object to them when that part came under consideration which took away protection when it was most wanted, and inflicted prohibition when it was altogether unnecessary.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said:— I simply object to this discussion, because I cannot see what object it can answer. If there were a general feeling in favour of an adherence to the present law, I could understand why arguments should be introduced against the proposal that the Speaker should leave the Chair; but when I hear the hon. member for Wareham talk of the existing Corn-laws as the most pernicious code that ever had existence— and when I find him resting his claim to public confidence on his almost unsupported opposition to it, I cannot discover the principle on which he and others object to go into a committee, by which that most pernicious code is to be amended. Every hon. member who has spoken has expressed his general concurrence in the principle of the new law. In the name of God, then, why are we not to go into the committee, that we may consider the details? The hon. members for Worcester and Wareham have given notice of their joint amendment; and that amendment cannot be moved but in the committee. At least, we have three distinct sets of resolutions before us; but the hon. member for Preston has given, as a reason for not approaching the subject, that the resolutions of the present session are not the same as those of last year. This mode of argument seems to me strange indeed in a deliberative body. After the interval of a year—after the experience of what has passed in that year—and after the additional information we have obtained, is it to be said that this House is bound by some fanciful sense of honour and consistency to adhere to its previous resolutions. True it is, the bill of this House did not pass elsewhere. It is a delicate subject to allude to the conduct of the other branch of the legislature, and certainly nothing can be more unwise than to ask the House of Commons to assent to what it thinks wrong, because the House of Lords refuses to do what is right. But, speaking not theoretically, but practically, there may be limits to the strictness with which the House will adhere to its own decisions. If we, on our part, are bound never to deviate, under any circumstances, from out previous decisions, it is a good rule also for the other branch of the legislature. On matters touching the privileges of the House, it may be very right not to give way, but the feelings and interests of the country on general questions may require the adoption of a middle course. If both branches are determined not to yield; there can be no accommodation— no approximation; and while we adhere to the price of 60s., the Lords will perservere in the warehousing clause, and years may elapse before a permanent settlement is effected. As to the opinion of the country on the resolutions of my right hon. friend, though I believe there was a more general concurrence in the measure of last year, than, under all the circumstances, could have been expected. I am satisfied that this measure is at least as palatable. Certainly, when it is said that the project of last year passed by acclamation, it never can be forgotten that the proposition for adopting the price of 64s. was supported by 168 members, who, in point of consistency, are now precluded from taking any other course than giving the present proposition their cordial approbation.

Lord Althorp

said, that this preliminary discussion had not been useless, as it clearly showed that the bill of last year was preferable to the present. The scale of the former was, to affix high duties when the price of corn was low; but the present varied entirely from that principle; for when the price was low the duty was to be reduced, and to be raised when it was high. When the price was low, then, where was the protection?

The House having resolved itself into the committee,

Mr. G. Heathcote

said, that though he wished to state some objections to the scale of duty, yet, at that late hour, he would content himself with moving, "That the Chairman should report progress, and ask leave to sit again." The lower part of the scale should be amended, and the upper was not necessary. The agriculturists were suffering severely, and some effective protection should be given them.

Mr. Huskisson

thought, that after the discussion which had taken place, and the three weeks notice already given, the bulk of the committee were prepared to discuss the question, though the hon. member might not be in a similar condition. So serious a subject ought therefore to be proceeded upon without further loss of time.

Mr. Hobhouse

said; that as yet the House was ignorant of the cause of the change from the bill of last year. He agreed with the hon. member for Wareham, that it was their duty to ascertain why this change had taken place in the opinions of his majesty's ministers. He had listened to the President of the Board of Trade, with attention, but that right hon. gentleman had stated no reasons for the change. So far from doing so, it was manifest, that, as far as his feelings could be collected from what he had said, he was almost ashamed to bring forward the measure.

Mr. Calcraft

said, he was ready to go into the discussion, even though the hour was so late: at the same time, he must regret the way in which they had spent three or four hours of the earlier part of the evening. He thought it was incumbent upon the government to explain why they had departed from the resolutions of last year. For his own part, he was quite ready to confess, that it did not follow, because at one time one thing was done, that it ought to be repeated at another: still, an explanation was due, and ought not to be withheld. For the purpose of bringing the two scales of duty into full consideration, he would introduce, in the shape of an amendment to the present resolutions, the rates fixed in the proceeding of last year. The hon. member then moved as an amendment the adoption of Mr. Canning's scale of resolutions of the last year.

Mr. Robinson

seconded the amendment.

Mr. Benett

said, he was placed in rather a difficult situation. While he preferred the bill of last year to the present awkward measure, which conferred protection where it was not wanted, and gave no protection where it was required, he was of opinion that the bill of last session stood in need of some amendment, and it was his intention to propose an amendment of it. If it was understood, that he should be at liberty hereafter to propose the amendment of which he had spoken, he should, in that case, support the proposition of the hon. member for Wareham. It was asserted, that this was a measure which would prove palatable to all interests in the empire. The truth was, that the measure was not as yet understood in the country. So much confusion had arisen by the mixing up of the measure of last year with the measure of this year, that no person had as yet been able to understand the proposition of ministers. If a little more time was given, perhaps it might become intelligible. From 52s. to 64s. there was no difference; but after 64s. the ascending scale of duty was higher in the present measure than in that proposed last session. The bill of last year was far preferable, as a protection to the agricultural interests, to the present measure.

Sir G. Philips

inquired what were the grounds upon which the right hon. gentleman opposite adopted the present measure, in preference to that which he had supported and recommended in the last session?

Mr. Secretary Huskisson

said, his majesty's ministers had been placed in rather a difficult dilemma on this occasion. No sooner had the House formed itself into a committee, than up got an hon. member, who moved that they should report progress, and ask leave to sit again. That certainly was not the way to discuss this measure. The hon. member for Wareham, following that consistent and open course which he usually adopted, had already moved an amendment upon the resolutions proposed to the House. The hon. member for Wiltshire had stated his intention to propose an amendment upon the resolutions of last year. Under these circumstances, he had been desirous to hear the various objections which gentlemen had to urge to the resolutions before the committee, before he stated his reasons for supporting them. However, as he had been thus called upon, he was perfectly ready, at this stage of the debate, to address the committee. Before he did so, he should advert to one observation which had fallen from the hon. member for Wareham. That hon. member had stated that, by the present measure, the pivot in the scale of duty had been changed from 60s. to 64s.; and this he objected to as a great change from the measure of last year. Now, he would maintain that the pivot had not been changed at all. If he understood what was meant by the pivot, it was that point in the scale at which on one side the duty ascended, and on the other descended—it was the level where the ascending and descending duties met. The pivot in the bill of last year was fixed at 60s. the Winchester, and at 62s. the Imperial, measure. In the present resolutions, the same level was taken, and at 62s. the Imperial, and at 60s. the Winchester measure, the scale ascended on the one side, and descended on the other. The difference between the two measures arose not as to the pivot fixed upon as affording a sufficient protection to British agriculture, by the imposition of a certain duty when the price of corn ascended above that point, and diminishing the duty when the price of corn fell below it: the point which had been agreed to last year by parliament as affording a sufficient protection to British agriculture, was still preserved; but the question now was, whether the scale which had been last year adapted to that point afforded a sufficient protection. In the statement made by his lamented friend last year, he wished to give an efficient protection to the British corn-grower up to 60s. the Winchester, and 62s. the Imperial, measure. With that view, his lamented friend prepared a scale of duties, which remained stationary between 60s. and 64s. the Winchester measure, and 62s. and 66s. the Imperial measure, and which were increased or diminished as the price of corn rose or fell above this standard. The scale then proposed was considered adequate for the purpose. The question now before the House was, not to change the price at which that scale had been fixed, but whether the protection thereby afforded was a sufficient protection to the British corn-grower. In deciding that question, they should look at what had happened since the bill of last year. They would find that a quantity of corn, amounting to five hundred thousand quarters, had been admitted into the market. Without adverting even to the circumstances under which this corn had been admitted, when they found that such a quantity as five hundred thousand quarters had been admitted in one month, it must appear evident that the scale of duties proposed in the bill of last year did not afford a sufficient protection to the agricultural interest: in fact, that protection which was contemplated by the bill of Mr. Canning on the last occasion when his lamented friend addressed the House upon this subject. On that occasion, when introducing the temporary bill, after the intended permanent measure had been thrown out in the other House of parliament, he distinctly stated, that it was a measure to be tried by the test of experience, and that in the next session they would be enabled to judge, from the working of it, whether it was calculated to afford the desired protection to the agricultural interest. To the duties imposed by that bill, he would apply the test of experience; and if he found that the importation of foreign corn was not sufficiently checked by them, he was at liberty to support a measure which went to alter that scale of duties. He acted upon the suggestion of his right hon. and lamented friend, and taking the test of experience as his guide, he felt himself bound to support an amendment of the bill of last session. The principle of lord Liverpool and that which was laid down by his right hon. friend last session was, that up to 60s. there should be a sufficient protection to the British corn-grower—that between 60s. and 64s. Winchester measure, foreign corn ought to be admitted. The principle, then, with regard to the scale of duties, was so to arrange it that a sufficient check should be imposed upon the importation of foreign corn, until the price of corn rose to 60s. Winchester measure; that between 60s. and 65s. its importation should be allowed, but subject to such a check as would prevent it from coming in such quantities as materially to affect the market: and when the price rose to 65s., the object of the plan was to impose duties sufficient to prevent foreign corn from being imported in large and overwhelming quantities. Now, on referring to what occurred last year, they would find that five hundred thousand quarters of foreign wheat were in warehouse when the bill of last session passed. In consequence of an early and an abundant harvest, the price of corn fell; and this so affected the bonders of foreign corn, that they were anxious to pay the duty then, lest they should have a still higher duty to pay. Accordingly, the quantity of foreign corn which he had already mentioned was taken out of bond; and it was evident that, under the bill of last session, a similar influx of foreign corn might occur, so as to oppress the British corn-grower. The first object, then, of the government was to remedy that defect in the bill of last year, and to afford a sufficient protection when the price of corn was from 60s. to 65s. That object, they conceived, would be effected by adding 4s. to the duty proposed last year, when the price of corn should be at 62s. Other corresponding changes had been made in the ascending and descending scale of duties, which appeared to them calculated to remedy the defects of the bill of last year. The hon. member for Wareham seemed to think that the duties did not afford sufficient protection when the price of corn was low, but he was surprised that the hon. member for Preston should characterize the conduct of government on this question as disingenuous. The hon. member had advanced the charge upon the ground that the proposed resolutions did not afford protection where it was wanted, but where it was not wanted; namely, when the prices of corn were high. The duties when corn was between 58s. and 59s. were as high as was intended in the last bill. When corn was 58s. and up to 59s. the intended duty would amount to 28s. 8d. Did the hon. member imagine that foreign corn would be imported under that duty when com was at 58s.? He should be glad to know from what part of the world it would come. Notwithstanding the circumstances which, during the last year, tended to encourage the importation of foreign corn, yet when the price was at 58s., the duty, under the bill of last session, prevented, though it did not altogether exclude, the importation of foreign corn. Notwithstanding the fall in the price of corn, and the alarm thus created in the minds of the holders of foreign corn, when the duty was at 28s. 8d., what was the fearful quantity of foreign corn taken out of bond? Only two hundred and seventy-seven quarters: when the duty was at 30s., four hundred and twenty-six quarters were taken out: when at 32s., one hundred and six quarters were taken out; when at 34s., one hundred and one quarters; when at 36s., fifty-three quarters; at 38s., sixty-one quarters: and when the duty was at 40s., four quarters were taken out in one week, fifty-two in another, twenty in another, and two in another; altogether about one thousand quarters were taken out during an entire quarter of a year. A great portion of these dribblings was ordered to be sold out by the foreign merchants even at a loss, as it would not pay for the rent of the warehouses. It was plain, then, that the duty of 28s. 8d., when corn was from 58s. to 59s., amounted nearly to a prohibition duty. Last autumn, indeed, when the holders of foreign corn became alarmed by the fall in price, about five hundred thousand quarters were taken. Government had, therefore, made out, from the experience of last year—from the reports which had beer received from foreign countries, and from the evidence taken before the House of Lords—that, by the imposition of a duty of 28s. 8d. when corn was at 58s., there was no risk of any quantity of foreign corn being imported into this country.—It should be recollected that the importer of foreign com would, in addition to that duty, have to defray the price for which the corn was bought, the price of freight and warehousing, and various other charges, before he could reckon upon any profit. The freest and most open corn market on the continent was that of Rotterdam. It received the corn of Germany by canal navigation, and that of the north of Europe by steam navigation. Now it has been ascertained, from a comparison of the prices of corn there during the last seven years, that 28s. 8d. duty, when com here was at 58s., would afford an adequate protection to the British corn-grower. He had applied the test of experience to the two scales, that of last year and the present one, and he preferred that which was now proposed. The scale under the present bill was calculated to afford a better protection to the agriculturist. Though he, as well as others, had agreed to the measure of last year, he could not think it safe to continue it, as it had not proved adequate to the intended object. He repeated, that he supported the present bill because it would afford a more efficient protection. When the price of com was from 60s. to 65s., under the proposed duty, the importation of foreign corn would be checked: when the price was above 65s. the corn from our colonies would come in free; and when the prices were higher, the duties would operate to prevent the importation of an overwhelming quantity of foreign corn.—The hon. gentleman opposite had spoken in favour of a fixed duty. Abstractedly, that might look well enough; but when they regarded the circumstances of the country and the wants of the people, they would see the impossibility of adopting such a principle. If a high permanent duty were imposed, then, in periods of scarcity, the poor would be exposed to miseries, the infliction of which no claims for protection on the part of the home corn-grower could ever justify. For the advantages, then, which the grower foregoes when corn is high, by the admission of foreign grain, he receives compensation by the imposition of a high rate of duties when corn is at a low price. He receives in fact only that remuneration to which he is justly entitled. When legislating upon this subject they were bound to look to the different and varying circumstances of the country, and to the wants and necessities of its inhabitants. A permanent fixed duty was therefore out of the question. The principle of the present bill was the same as that of the bill of last year; and it afforded a more effectual protection to the British corn-grower. That principle had been laid down by Mr. Canning last year; it was contained in the memorandum of lord Liverpool; and he could support it from documents in his possession. In the year 1804, a duty of 24s. 3d. was imposed, when corn rose to 63s. Winchester measure. That was, then, to the grower as effectual a protection, up to that price, as the present duty would be. For these and various other reasons, he would support the resolutions before the committee.

Mr. Stanley

said, he had yet to learn the reasons which had induced the right hon. gentleman to prefer the present bill to that of last session. He was certainly inclined to the opinion of those who abstractedly supported a fixed permanent duty. But feeling that it was impracticable to carry such a measure, he felt that the next best plan would be to adopt such a scale of duties as would keep the price of corn as low as possible, at the same time giving to the agriculturist a fair profit. Still adhering to that principle, he conceived the scale of last year to be much better than that now proposed. It was said that this measure would bring high prices to the agriculturists and procure cheap corn for the poor; neither of which objects it was likely to effect. As compared with the bill of last year, the proposition now made gave little or no protection to the agriculturist, while it was so framed as not to confer any benefit, by a reduction of price, on the poor. He wished to have it distinctly ascertained what the object of the bill was; for he believed that, up to this moment, the intention of ministers with reference to the measure was not understood.

Mr. Huskisson

said, the object and principle of the present measure were precisely the same as the object and principle of that of last year. The bill of last year afforded protection up to 60s.: a greater degree of protection from 60s. to 64s. was given by the present proposition. The object was to give protection up to a certain point, and to exclude the introduction of foreign corn as much as possible.

Mr. Baring

observed, that this was a most important question, whether taken with reference to our agricultural, manufacturing, or commercial interests; and he was glad to find that it was this year discussed without any mixture of party or political feeling, which unfortunately was not the case in the last session. He could not, he confessed, discover how the object stated by the right hon. Secretary could be obtained by this measure. The objection started by his noble friend in the outset of the debate, rendered it superfluous for him to say much on the subject. It appeared, according to this scale, that when prices were low, protection would be diminished, and when prices were high, that it would be increased. Such a system could not be useful to the agriculturist, and must be oppressive to the country. In his opinion, the settlement of a question of this kind did not depend merely on the rate of price, but must be guided by a variety of circumstances; because the corn trade, like every other trade, might be, and frequently was, affected by gambling speculations. The calculation for this country was, that every third or fourth year there would be a deficient harvest. Hence speculations, which constantly affected the price, took place. In a year of deficiency, when prices were high, a speculator would make a large profit; and if, when the prices were low, he lost twenty or twenty-five per cent, he could afford it, because he was sure to be repaid in a year or two; in the same manner as smugglers saved themselves if they were able to save one cargo out of three. Individuals would thus speculate in corn; and if a deficient harvest did not enable them to procure high prices, they would put up with a loss in getting rid of their cargoes, and look forward to better success on some future occasion. In ordinary years, therefore, the duty which was set down in this scale was not so much a prohibitory duty as the right hon. Secretary seemed to suppose. On the other hand, when he said that this measure, when corn arrived at 64s. or 65s., would encourage importation, did not every one perceive that such importation would not be allowed until there was an incipient scarcity—the very thing that ought to be prevented? In point of fact, the measure in this respect held out a seeming protection to the agriculturist, which no gentleman could wish to have; for before com arrived at so high a price, it would be impossible for the people to purchase it. No person could conceive wheat selling at the rate of 65s. in this country, without knowing that a great extremity of distress must prevail, and that consequently to impose a duty of 20s. on the importation of that article was unjust. He professed that, whether he looked to the one interest or the other, —to the agriculturist or the manufacturer, —he considered the bill of last year was better for both. The measure of last year was an equitable adjustment between the parties interested; but, notwithstanding the explanation of the right hon. Secretary, he conceived the new measure to vary considerably from that equitable system. It was dangerous, because it was calculated to keep up very high prices; and it afforded a degree of protection which the greediest desirer of protection could never wish for—an extent of protection that must defeat itself.—He thought it was right that they should come to some early resolution on this subject, and therefore, in discussing it, they ought to abstain from those general topics which had for years been introduced, and with which the House was familiar. It would be better to take a dispassionate view of the different plans presented to their notice, rather than to enter into the larger field of speculative reasoning. Much had been said about the price of growing corn on the continent. But, for his own part, he thought it was useless to send persons hunting all over Europe to ascertain this point, when all that was necessary to be known could be learned from persons at their own door. And after all, the calculations made by those inquirers, who travelled into the different corn countries, were generally fallacious, and could not lead them to a just decision. It was said that some great lights had been shed on this subject by the inquiry before the Lords. He must be excused if he doubted the fact. The experiment of last year was altogether inconclusive; for in that case grain was brought in under the excitation created by the Corn-bill; and whether at a gain or a loss, was no argument, with reference to the general question. The present proposition he could not help thinking was very unfortunate; since it gave the agriculturists no real pro- tection where they wanted it, and it exposed them to great obloquy by giving them the appearance of a protection which they did not call for. He treated this question as a question of policy; not caring one straw how it operated on individuals. He would, on the one side, give that protection to the population of the country which was most desirable, and, on the other, he would give a just protection to the agricultural interest. He had never said that no protection should be granted to that body, and could easily perceive the loss of property and fortune that must be attendant on the withdrawal of a fair protection. On this question of protection, he would be quite ready to give to the agricultural interest the full amount, which persons most anxious for the welfare of that interest, could desire; even supposing them to consider no interest but their own. This he would willingly concede, provided the individuals calling for protection decided on sound and fair principles. The present proposition, however, professed to do a great deal more; but, in reality, would not afford them a just protection.

Sir G. Philips

expressed his belief, that the explanation of the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, with reference to the deviation from Mr. Canning's bill of last year, had not given satisfaction to any member of the House. He contended, that by looking at the population returns, and comparing the number of those engaged in agricultural pursuits with that of the classes who were differently employed, it would be found that they had sacrificed two-thirds of the population to benefit the landed interests. This system he conceived to be most objectionable; and it was attempted to be carried to a greater extent than formerly by this measure. He could not conceive, from any thing that had fallen from the right hon. Secretary, what had induced him to depart from the scale of duties of last year. —The hon. baronet then entered into a calculation to show, that when wheat was 50s. a quarter at Dantzic, which would be about the price there when it was 65s. here, it could not be imported, including 12s. per quarter for freight, and 21s. 8d. duty, under 83s. 8d. per quarter, which, he contended, was equivalent to a prohibition. The bill, therefore, deluded the people on the one hand, because it went only to admit foreign corn when the home prices were low; and it deluded the agriculturists on the other, because it pretended to secure them high prices by protecting duties, when the imposition and collection of such duties would, in fact, be impossible. The consequence would be, that the people would obtain no relief when the prices where high, but corn would be retained in the warehouses until it could be let out at the price of 72s., and then the country would be deluged with it. The further the House departed from the principle of free trade, the greater would be the mischief they would produce to the country. Our commerce had already suffered much from the neglect of that principle, and no one had so ably shown the evils of a prohibitory system, as, the right hon. gentleman who now stood forward as its advocate.

Mr. Portman

said, he agreed with the light hon. gentleman as to the duty now proposed; for when the price was at 60s. he found, by the returns, that the former duty had not afforded a sufficient protection to the agriculturists. When the price was above that sum, he was not prepared to say that some alteration might not be made without injury to the landed interest.

The Committee then divided: For the Resolutions 202; For the Amendment 58; Majority 144.