§ The order of the day for the House resolving itself into a committee on the Corn-laws was read. The Speaker having left the chair,
Mr. C. Grant
said, that in rising to move certain resolutions upon the Corn-laws, he felt it incumbent upon him, first, to return his thanks to the House for the kind indulgence which they had shown towards him upon a late occasion, when he had been prevented, by indisposition, from calling their attention to these resolutions; and next, to solicit the indulgence of the House upon the present occasion, while he was treating upon a subject of such great importance, a subject affecting all interests and classes of the community, surrounded by so many theories, partly just and partly ill-founded,—surrounded, too, by errors so dangerous, and by opinions so conflicting, that it was a task of no inconsiderable difficulty to point out any good practical measure which, while it removed as much as possible the objections to the present system, would be likely to meet with the concurrence of all parties. If he were, called upon to develop the great principles which this question involved, and to detail the maxims upon which the trade in corn ought to be conducted, he should stand in still greater need of the indulgence of the House; but, fortunately for himself, and fortunately for the patience of the House, he had not so difficult a task to perform. He could not forget that, a few months ago, the House had given the fullest consideration to this subject,—that it had been deliberately discussed by them,—and that in the course of those discussions, the House had formed their opinion upon almost every measure upon the subject of the Corn-laws. He was bound, therefore, to assume, until the contrary was told him, that the House were prepared to concede the principle which had been acted upon last session; namely, that the corn-trade ought no longer to be regulated by an exclusive code of laws—that it ought no longer to be subject to prohibitions, but to a system of duties. Whether those duties should be fixed or variable, 1380 and if fixed, at what rate, Or if varying, how the fluctuations should be regulated, were points altogether of minor consideration, he took his stand upon this great, and, as he believed, recognized principle, that agriculture was to be protected by duties, and not by prohibition.—In the course of last session, an hon. member (Mr. Western) brought forward a series of resolutions, the object of which was to modify the act of 1822, and which were effectually resisted. At the close of the last session, Mr. Canning announced his intention of introducing a bill on the same principle as the bill which had been abandoned, but with certain modifications. What the precise nature of those modifications was, it was impossible for him to say, but it was probable that they would have given greater protection to agriculture. He thought that such must have been the nature of the modifications, because he thought that Mr. Canning, as a practical statesman, would have been obliged to look for a practical result, an arbitration between conflicting opinions, and that therefore he would have introduced a measure which would have been agreed to by all parties. In conformity, therefore, with the authority of Mr. Canning, he called upon the House to adopt the principle he had mentioned, but with such modifications as should appear necessary.—In this state the question now descended to the House. They were called upon to agree to a bill founded on the same principle, but with such modifications as should appear necessary, from all the information and experience which had resulted since the lamented death of Mr. Canning. They found the corn trade regulated by the same acts, they found that the object for which those acts were framed had not been attained, they found the country harassed every year by discussions on this vexatious subject. Some temporary laws had been passed at various periods. One allowed the admission of five hundred thousand quarters of foreign corn at particular duties; another allowed the admission of four hundred thousand quarters; another made exceptions in favour of Canadian corn. The result of all this temporary legislation was, that the great interests of the country were in a perpetual state of agitation; the contracts for corn and the engagements between landlord and tenant having been continually fluctuating. The country called loudly 1381 upon the House to put an end to this agitation and suspense, and it was the duty of the House to obey this call. He thought it the duty of the House to say, that the acts of 1815 and 1822 should remain in force, or to introduce some measure which would be likely to produce a good result, and not end, as that of the last session ended, in disappointment and abortion. If illness would have been a just excuse for his delaying to bring these resolutions before the consideration of the House, he should have been justified in not presenting himself to their notice that evening; but his anxiety to bring forward some measure on this important subject, and his reliance on the indulgence of the House, had prevented his again absenting himself. He thought that if Mr. Canning, at the close of the last session, was impressed with the necessity of making some modifications in his bill, that impression would have been confirmed, if Mr. Canning had lived to witness what had passed since that period.— It would be in the recollection of the House, that a partial bill was passed last session—a bill which was to operate from the 1st of July, 1827, until the 1st of May in the present year— under the same provisions as were contained in the bill which had been abandoned. It was predicted by those who opposed that bill, that its effect would be to depress the price of British, and to introduce foreign, corn into the market. He for one, put as little faith in those predictions now as lie did then. He thought that the depression in the price of British corn was to be accounted for by other circumstances, and that the introduction of foreign corn into the market was to be explained in another way. At the same time, however, these two facts must not be lost sight of. If it was just to take into consideration the alarms of those who were most nearly concerned, in whatever degree they were to be taken into consideration, in the same degree the necessity of taking them into consideration was strengthened by these two facts. Though, as he had before stated, these two facts were to be accounted for in a different manner than by the operation of the act of last session, yet it could not be doubted, that they had excited very strong feelings in the minds of those who had been accustomed to indulge in the predictions to which he had before alluded. They ought apt to leave out of consideration the fact, 1382 that under a duty of 1l. 2s. 8d., and a duty of 1l. 4s. 8d., five hundred thousand quarters of foreign corn had, in the months of July and August last, been admitted into the market, and that, too, when the price of British corn showed that no foreign supply was necessary. And what use did he make of this fact? Why, he was very well aware that it would be in vain for him to attempt to convince by argument those who were interested, that it was not owing to the law; but he could convince them that the fact was not forgotten, and that the House meant to take it into consideration. The House would recollect that Mr. Canning did not live long enough to become acquainted with this fact. He could assure the House, that he still retained those opinions on this subject which he had expressed last year; and that even now, when it was not possible to carry into effect the strict principles which he held to be correct, he thought it proper to avow them as the standard by which he was guided, and to which it was his wish to approximate. It would, no doubt, be very delightful to carry those strict principles into effect; but it was equally impossible iii morals and in politics to put into practice the strictest principles, because, though the propriety and correctness of them might be manifest, all persons could not be brought to concur on them. He had mentioned those principles, and if this were the proper time, he should not hesitate to enter into a statement of them. He had stated them last year, and had not now departed from them. He did not by any means imagine that the bill of last year mounted up to the demands; he had looked upon it merely as a step towards those demands, and as a measure which, though it did not do enough, did all that could then be done. It was under these circumstances, therefore that they were called upon to deal with the subject,—to look for a practical result,—to establish a sounder principle in legislating on this question, than had hitherto been carried into effect. His desire was, first to repeal the acts of 1815 and 1822, which, he contended, had cherished much error, and established a mode of legislation separate and distinct from that on any other subject of legislation; and secondly, to establish a sounder principle of legislation. If a sound principle were once established, the House would have made a great step. In his view of the subject, that principle 1383 once sanctioned, the minor considerations which the question involved would be easily disposed of. Of so much importance did he think it to obtain the sanction of parliament to this principle, that he was very sorry that the bill which was sent from that House last session had not descended to them again; because then they would have made a step which now they had yet to make. As with that bill, so it had been with the Catholic bill, which had been totally lost, because one clause of it was objected to; and he believed that the friends of that measure had never ceased to regret the abandonment of it. It was with this view of the subject that he regretted the abandonment of the Corn-bill of last session—not because he liked it better in its altered form, but because, even with the alteration, he liked it better than the acts now in force.—He now came to the Resolutions which he had to submit to the committee.—The first object of these resolutions was to give, in conformity with what he presumed to have been the intention of Mr. Canning, an additional protection to agriculture— additional in comparison with the bill which had been lost last session. There were two modes in which this additional protection might be secured: the first was by an augmentation in the scale of duties; the second, by collateral regulation, which would tend to the same end. With respect to augmenting the scale of duties, it was proposed that wheat, the most important article which would come under these resolutions, should be subject to a duty of 32s. 8d. whenever the price of British wheat was at 54s.; and it was also proposed that the duty should be decreased by 1s. for every increase of 1s. in the price of British wheat: so that at 56s. the duty would be 30s. 8d. This scale advanced by diminutions of 1s. in the duty for every increase of 1s. in the price, until the price reached 67s.; then by a diminution of 2s., until the price reached 69s.; by a diminution of 3s., until the price reached 71s.; and by a diminution of 4s., until the price reached 73s. It would be seen, therefore, that at 59s. and 73s., the scales of the two bills coincided; but as they proceeded by different means, the difference between them at the intervals was considerable. He would now read to the committee the scale as it was proposed in the resolutions:— 1384
So much with regard to the imperial measure. As to the Winchester measure, it was proposed to impose a duty of 30s. whenever the price in this country was at 54s.; and that the duty should decrease in the same manner as in the scale for the imperial measure.—With respect to other grain, applications had been made for an augmentation of the duty on barley and oats, but especially on oats. After considering the subject, however, he had thought it would be better to make no alteration in these duties. He had said, that there was another mode of protecting agriculture besides augmenting the scale of duties. He now adverted to that point and took the opportunity of replying publicly to the various applications which he had received, both for the augmentation of which he had spoken, and for limiting the quantity of foreign corn that should be admitted. His majesty's government, after taking these applications into consideration, did not feel that it would be proper to comply with them, and thought it would be better to take a duty at once on these kinds of grain, rather than suffer it to be continually fluctuating. These resolutions, therefore, were just the same as the bill of last session, with the exception of the alteration in the scale of duties. —Now if it were asked why, in this scale, a certain price was selected, he would answer the question as Mr. Canning answered a question of a similar nature 1385 last year. In a fluctuating scale it was impossible to give a specific reason for fixing upon any price. It must vary at different periods. The rate of exchange, the state of our currency, the influence of foreign markets, were all fluctuating circumstances, which were ingredients that entered into the question of a fluctuating duty, and it was therefore impossible to proceed by any arithmetical rule. Such as these resolutions were, he presented them to the House, not as the best that could be framed, but as resolutions which, under all circumstances, were likely to pass into a law, and set this troubled question at rest. If they did pass into a law, they would, in his opinion, be productive of benefit to the country. They would remove an injurious law, protect the interests of agriculture, impress juster notions on the minds of men, and remove those extravagant expectations which prevailed both among the opponents and the supporters of the present laws on the subject of the corn trade. He had spoken of these resolutions as an introduction to something better; but in one point of view they were permanent. As far as the legislature was concerned, they were permanent. They were permanent, until the minds of men could be led to entertain juster notions upon this subject; and would be changed only as the notions which at present prevailed were altered for the better. They were offered to the landed interest as a resting place,—as firm and solid ground on which time and experience might accumulate a richer soil. He begged the House to consider this measure as an arbitration or compromise between conflicting interests and opinions. He was free to confess, that he thought the resolutions imperfect, inasmuch as they fell short of the bill of last year; but they had been brought as near to that measure as was consistent with the likelihood of their passing into a law. At the same time he must be allowed to say, that he would not have introduced them if he had not thought that they would be productive of benefit to the country; and if he had not been convinced, that if Mr. Canning had been in his situation, he would have acted as he had acted. Mr. Canning introduced his bill as a compromise, and not as the best measure that could be brought forward on the subject. Mr. Canning had expressly stated, that his bill was a peace-offering, which was likely to be accepted 1386 by the two conflicting parties. He was quite sure that every hon. gentleman had still deeply impressed upon his mind every part of that memorable speech of Mr. Canning's, which was one of the finest specimens of that temperate and chastened eloquence of which Mr. Canning was as great a master as he was of every thing that was delightful in imagination, and in all the most exquisite forms of oratory, which made him at once the ornament of the senate, the pride of those he led, and who were proud to serve under him, and the delight and admiration even of those to whom he had the misfortune to be opposed. He could not restrain himself from taking advantage of this opportunity of paying a tribute to the memory of that illustrious statesman—a tribute in which he was sure he should be joined, not only by that House, but by every feeling and intelligent mind in the country. He had now merely to recommend these resolutions to the House; and to implore the House not to treat them as the best which might have been produced, but as all that, under existing circumstances, could be done upon the subject. He then moved,
Wheat—Imperial Measure. s. d. 52 and under 53 34 8 53 and under 54 33 8 54 and under 55 32 8 55 and under 56 31 8 56 and under 57 30 8 57 and under 58 29 8 58 and under 59 28 8 59 and under 60 27 8 60 and under 61 26 8 61 and under 62 25 8 62 and under 63 24 8 63 and under 64 23 8 64 and under 65 22 8 65 and under 66 21 8 66 and under 67 20 8 67 and under 68 18 8 68 and under 69 16 8 69 and under 70 13 8 70 and under 71 10 8 71 and under 72 6 8 72 and under 73 2 8 73 and under 74 1 0
"That it is the opinion of this committee, that any sort of corn, grain, meal, or flour, which may now by law be imported into the united kingdom, shall be admissible for home use upon payment of the following duties." [Here the Chairman read the scale above quoted].
§ Mr. W. Whitmore
said, he wished to take an early opportunity of protesting against, this measure. If he had differed from the measure of last session, it was impossible that he should not do the same now. The present measure was so complicated, so much at variance with the principles of commercial legislation, and with the real interests of the country, that it was with the greatest surprise he had heard it proposed; and he felt still more determined to oppose it than he had done to oppose the bill of last session. His right hon. friend had talked of the benefit which was to result from this measure, and of the difference between exclusion by law and exclusion by duty. Now, he did not think that it would be productive of any benefit to the country, and he must say, that he could see no possible difference between an exclusion by law and an exclusion by duty. If corn was excluded, except at high prices, he could see no difference between protection which re- 1387 suited from duties and that which resulted from law. If this measure was, as it had been stated to be, a compromise between conflicting opinions, it was a compromise of conflicting opinions in the cabinet, and not in the country. As to the admission of foreign com in the months of July and August last,—he believed to the amount of about five hundred thousand quarters, —how had it been accumulated? It was bonded in 1825 and subsequently, because it was believed that no higher duty than 12s. would be imposed by government; and when it was found that this expectation was erroneous, it was thought better to pay a duty of 1l. 4s. 8d. than to keep the corn in warehouse, or to export it again. That a great loss had been sustained by these transactions, was well known. He had been informed that, in one instance, in which three cargoes of wheat had been brought from Odessa, a loss of 2,000l. had resulted upon the sale of the whole. Now, if this were true, he thought his right hon. friend had made out no case at all. And although this quantity of five hundred thousand quarters of corn had been brought out of bond, it was equally true, that there were only one hundred and twenty thousand quarters in bond now. It was well known that no such trade as this could be carried on; because it was very clearly seen that there was a disposition, on the part of this country, to fix a duty which would amount to a total prohibition; consequently, the present measure was no provision against the difficulties in which this country might be involved. He would sit down with repeating his protest against this measure, because it was against the principles of commercial legislation, and at variance with the best interests of the nation.
§ Sir T. Gooch
said, it had always been his opinion, that of all the miseries to which the country could be exposed, the perpetual tampering with the Corn-laws was the most productive of mischief. He trusted, therefore, that before the present session drew to a close, something would be done towards a permanent arrangement upon that subject. He would confess that he was strongly prejudiced in favour of the law as it now stood, because he felt it was the best calculated to give that security to the corn-grower which it was necessary that he should have, because it was less liable to those variations which constituted the great evil of the other 1388 systems, and because corn had been lower under its operation, on a comparison with former averages, than was generally admitted by its opponents. As, however, in the conflicting opinions of the House and the country, the existing law could not be persevered in, the best thing that he and those who agreed with him in opinion, could do, was to endeavour to give effect to the present bill; but while he did so, he must object to the mode of taking the averages. The bill of last year held out that 60s. was a fair remunerating price. He agreed that it was, but then the House should take care that the amount which it professed to give should, in point of fact, be secured to the agriculturist. The way in which the averages were taken did not effect that; for out of the 60s. was to be deducted the cost of commission 1s., and of cartage 3s. which would reduce the remunerating price to 56s. Having stated thus much, he would take leave to say, that he felt the most perfect confidence in the noble duke at the head of the government, that he would do nothing to injure the landed interest. In fact, there was no administration since the days of Mr. Pitt on which he relied with so much confidence as on that which now directed the affairs of the country, under the auspices of the noble duke.
§ Mr. Benett
said, that the more he considered the question, the more he was convinced that the agriculturist was entitled to something above what was laid down as the protection in the former bill. The proposition of the right hon. gentleman was certainly an improvement on the bill of last year; the difference between which and the present was, that the present imposed the duty at 2s. higher. He would confess that he did not see why, in the bill of last year, a reduction of Is. in the price should be attended with an increase of 2s. in the duty. The same principle was retained in the present bill, though not carried to the same extent; but, for his part, he could not see why the duty should advance or fall in an increased ratio to the advance or fall in the market price. An hon. gentleman had said, that the reason why there was so much corn in the market last year was, that a quantity of bonded com had keen let out; but since then, when the same cause did not operate, the supply was still considerable. He conceived that, if some modification was not introduced into the warehousing clause, 1389 the effect would be, to render this country greatly dependent upon foreign countries for its supply; and he was borne out in this opinion by the experience of the last year, when 600,000l.duty was paid, though the opinion maintained by many gentlemen on the subject was, that no duty at all would have been paid in that year. Under these circumstances, he thought if the clause was carried in its present shape, they might fairly calculate on an increased import. In what he now said he did not consider the interest of the great landed proprietors, but that of the agricultural labourers, whose comforts must be considerably abridged by the influence of an increased importation. He thought he might say, that the sums paid for working labour amounted to 20s. for every quarter; but if the importation of corn were to increase, the labourer's proportion could not be continued at the same rate as at present. There was a right hon. gentleman then in his eye (Mr. W. Horton) who might suggest as a remedy for the evil that they should encourage the labourers to proceed to Canada. But it was to be considered, that in order to give effect to such a plan, they must send out farmers with capital to direct their industry; and, if possible, a few proprietors also. After all, the effect of the measure must be, to produce great distress at home, a great increase in the amount of the poor-rates, a depressed rate of wages, and an excess of available labour above the demand.
said, he could not agree with those who thought that the duty ought to be low; neither did he think that a fixed duty was better than a variable one, the latter being more adapted to the fluctuating interests of the country. He could not help regretting that the low rate of the duty of last year had not been discovered and admitted, before the amendment which was moved by the hon. member for Bridgenorth. Now, however, they had it at 60s. which he believed was what the agricultural interests absolutely required for their protection. It was his opinion that a still higher duty would be better; at the same time he allowed that the House were not to consider any particular body of men, but to legislate for the whole with a view to the general interest. The averages ought not to be taken in England exclusively, but should extend to Scotland and Ireland, which were equally entitled to the protection of 1390 the law. As to the warehousing system, it opened a wide field of discussion upon which he should not enter at present. The right hon. gentleman had said, that there were great interests to be conciliated in the measure he had submitted to the House; but did the right hon. gentleman mean to say, that because there were no great interests to be conciliated upon what appeared to him (Mr. F.) to be a part of the same question, the measure should not be extended to the articles of barley and oats, of which so great a portion of the agriculture both of Ireland and Scotland consisted? Were not Ireland and Scotland entitled to the advantages of this measure? He conceived that they were, and upon that ground would certainly take the sense of the House when the general question came before them, on the propriety of extending it to the two important articles of barley and oats.
§ Mr. Robinson
said, he had heard with pain the resolutions proposed by the right hon. gentleman, especially as he had introduced the name of Mr. Canning, and had described the present measure as the modification to which he had alluded in the House. What Mr. Canning did say on introducing his resolutions in March last, bore a very different interpretation. Mr. Canning had said, that he did not think the resolutions were likely to conciliate ail parties, though the government had paid due regard to their conflicting opinions; but that the balance was in favour of the landed interest. After such an acknowledgment from Mr. Canning was it probable that he would have supported a measure which was still more favourable to the landed interest than that which he had so described? The fact was, that the present ministers, like all other ministers, found it impossible to carry any bill which was opposed by the landed interest. And though he objected strongly to the present measure, he had no hope of being able to carry any measure, or any modification more favourable to the general consumer, than that which was now before the House. An hon. baronet had said, that the landed interests were hardly dealt with, but the arguments on which he relied went upon the assumption that the re-sellers always sold at a profit, which was not borne out by the fact. As a commercial man, and the representative of a commercial town, he objected to the principle, that the landed interest were entitled 1391 to a fixed protection, when all the other interests were exposed to' the casualties and fluctuations of the market.
§ Lord Morpeth
said, that though the measure before the House applied to the article of wheat alone, it would be unwise to consider it as of small importance to the community. The price of bread, the chief article of life, was at all times a subject of deep interest; and the slightest alteration which was likely to affect that price might be of considerable importance. He was of opinion last year, and he still retained the opinion, that if any alteration was made in the law, it should be one that would make bread cheaper instead of dearer to the whole body of the consumers. It was a fact unfavourable to the operation of the present bill that the price of wheat had fallen since the averages were taken. He did not see why the public should not have the benefit of the lower averages. Was it right that, after a succession of seasons not very remarkable for fertility, the people should be told that bread was too cheap? The hon. gentleman who spoke last did not appear to him to have made a fair use of Mr. Canning's language. He did not remember Mr. Canning to have described the measure of last year as favourable to the landed interest; but he did remember him to have said, that if the House of Commons had a spark of spirit, it would not prostrate itself at the feet of the other House of Parliament. Such a sentiment was worthy of the man by whom it was uttered. For his own part, he was willing to afford protection to the agriculturists, but not greater than to the other classes of the community.
§ Sir T. Lethbridge
observed, that as the fall of prices since July last had taken place under the temporary measure, they had a right to argue that the protection was inadequate. The law had expired on the 1st of May, and what was the average then? Wheat had fallen from 61s. to 52s. and 53s. in the course of six months. Could any one be surprised at this when they looked at the returns for which he had moved? There they would find a regular introduction of bonded corn, though the duty varied between 1l. 2s. 8d. at the lowest, and 1l. 18s. at the highest. Even at 61s. the duty was 1l. 2s. 8d. These facts were sufficient to allay the apprehension that the measure was calculated to produce high prices. There 1392 was no ground for saying that the landed interest was that which the government most attended to. On the contrary, he thought it was just the reverse. He hoped, however, to see the day when a better feeling would arise; and he was confident that there was no more effectual way of making corn cheap than by protecting the landed interest. In confirmation of this opinion, he might refer to the history of the last hundred and fifty years, when the old rules of protecting duties, and corresponding bounties on exportation, were in force. There were no bounties included in the present bill, and the omission was, in his judgment, a defect. The prices were then steady: they were now variable. Though he thought the present bill was better than the last, some alteration should be made in the warehousing system, some improvement introduced in the mode of taking the averages, and a drawback or bounty should be afforded on exportation. In his opinion, the price of barley and oats should have been decidedly kept up by the new law. The proposition was not one with which he could profess himself satisfied, although he thought it better than that of the last session.
concurred in opinion with the hon. members for Wiltshire and Somersetshire that it was highly necessary to keep up the price of barley and oats. The quantity of oats imported into this country from Ireland, in the short period between the 5th of January and the 22nd of March in the present year, had been one hundred and sixty-five thousand quarters; and, if he was not much deceived, the greater portion of those oats had been previously brought from foreign markets into Ireland, to the destruction of the grower at home. Unless a decided protection was given by the new law to oats and barley, a stagnation in the home production of those articles must be the consequence.
Mr. Secretary Huskisson
observed, that although he by no means agreed that it was desirable to abstain from ail immediate discussion on the present occasion; and although he thought it an extraordinary anomaly, when a measure was brought forward by a minister of the Crown, that it should be unaccompanied by a full explanation of its merits and character; yet, as the propriety of such a course had been maintained, he would not eater into 1393 any wide field of remark, but would address himself merely to the few observations which had fallen from the hon. members who had prefaced their observations declaring, that they would make no observations at all. And, first, he must state, that the hon. member for Lincoln was under a great mistake in supposing that in the last year a million and a half of quarters of foreign oats had been smuggled into Ireland, and thence imported into this country. He could assure that hon. member, after the most rigid inquiry, that not a single bushel of oats had been so imported in the last, or in the present year. In fact, when the cumbrous nature of the commodity was considered, and the heavy penalties which would follow detection, it was impossible to conceive the existence of such a case of smuggling as the hon. member supposed. The hon. and gallant member for Lincoln was not, however, the only person who was alarmed upon the subject of inferior grain; the hon. member for Somersetshire had expressed the same species of jealousy, and had spoken as though an immense injury had been offered to the agricultural interest, by the opening of the ports, in 1826, for the admission of foreign oats. Now, he was certainly surprised at this complaint, for, in the first place, he thought it had been agreed on all hands, that the measure of opening the ports recommended to his majesty in August, and approved by parliament in the following November, had been a measure peremptorily called for by the circumstances of the time. But an additional fact moreover existed, not merely to prove the necessity of the course adopted, but also that it was a course by which the agricultural interest had not lost a shilling: for although three million of quarters of oats had been imported, yet such was the pressing demand in the country, that the price had still continued constantly above the limitation of the bill of 1815. So that, if the ports had not been opened by the recommendation, under the existing law the oats would still have come in; and come in, as the provisions of that law stood, without paying any duty at all. Therefore it would seem that, to meet the views of the hon. member for Somersetshire, the bill of 1815 must not only be maintained in full strength, but absolutely reinforced to such a degree as not to let in corn at all, even in the most pressing emergency of the state. The hon. member for Somer- 1394 setshire, however, went on to make a still more extraordinary statement; namely, that wheat had been imported into this country in November last at so high a duty as 2l. 0s. 8d. a quarter. This was a mistake, and it arose from the hon. baronet's having looked negligently at the return which he quoted. There was no wheat at all imported in the month to which the hon. member referred. It was true that, if wheat had been imported in that month, from the price which it bore in the same market, the duty payable would have been that which the hon. member stated; but no wheat at all had come; the return before the hon. member applied to wheat, "or other foreign grain;" and it must have been some other grain—beans, Indian corn, or flour—that had been imported in that month: that wheat should have come was utterly impossible. In fact, the returns were before him; and, during the whole time that wheat had. kept the price here in the market of 51s. to 52s., for three successive weeks, the note upon the importation paper was constantly "Nil," "nil," "nil." In the same way, when the hon. member for Somersetshire said again, that corn in July last had been at 61s. a quarter, and in the last month it was at 52s., and that that decline must have proceeded from the importation of the five hundred thousand quarters of wheat since last September, the hon. baronet was right as to his facts, but totally wrong in his deduction. He had forgotten the influences of times and seasons in England. The hon. baronet forgot that our system of monopoly, or something at least which approached to it, gave the mere time of year always a certain effect upon the relative price of corn. July, which was the date of the hon. members high price, was the end of the agricultural year; at that time corn was invariably higher than in those months more immediately following the harvest. If the hon. member had gone further, and compared the prices of the last year with those of former years, he would have found, that the variation between July and February, which he complained of, might have been produced, and constantly had been produced, without, any importation at all. Nay, if the hon. member looked only a little further into the returns before him, he would find the state of all grain the same with that of wheat. Barley and oats had fallen between the July and February 1395 in the same proportion as the higher-priced grain; and he had little doubt that the same means which had produced the fall would ensure the rise again; and that before July next wheat would be as high as it had been in the same month last year. He desired particularly to call the attention of the House to the fact of the difference of seasons, as the statement of the hon. baronet had been calculated to produce an impression, and it certainly was utterly erroneous.—The hon. and learned member for Kircudbright (Mr. Fergusson) was one of those who insisted on some law which should keep up the price of barley and oats. But did the hon. and learned member forget, that in the last year those grains had received a considerable advance on the scale proposed? The hon. member forgot that the central point of oats had been advanced from 21s. to 25s., and that of barley from 30s. to 33s.; no corresponding advance being made upon the article of wheat. He was surprised that the hon. and learned member should overlook this point; and that he should not see that 25s. was a higher ratio for oats than 60s. was for wheat. He had looked carefully back to the prices of former years; and he found no instance in which the price at which importation should be permitted had been fixed so high as 25s. The hon. and learned member seemed to think, too, that there was no difference between the scale of duties now proposed, and the amendment moved by the hon. member for Dorsetshire last year. This impression was a mistaken one. The object of the last year's amendment of the hon. member for Dorsetshire had been to raise the pivot price of wheat from 60s. to 64s., but to leave the graduations of the scale, both in the ascent and descent of the duty, as it stood; but it was clear, upon the slightest calculation, that, from the beginning to the end of the scale, that change went to make a most important difference.—The hon. member for Bridgenorth had announced his hostility to the resolutions proposed, and his intention to suggest new ones. It would have been as well, he thought, if the hon. member had brought forward his resolutions at once. In fairness, both to the House and to the country, he thought that hon. members who had counter-resolutions to propose, would have done well to have named them on that evening, that they might have gone forth side by side with 1396 those of ministers for general consideration. In this there could neither have been any thing objectionable, nor any needless occupation of time: and ministers, if they were not immediately to have the benefit of hon. gentlemen's speeches, might yet have had the advantage of seeing, and perhaps deriving instruction from their plans. The hon. member for Bridge-north approved neither of the existing law, it appeared, nor of that proposed: for he said, that if the President of the Board of Trade had brought forward the system of the last year ipsissimis verbis, he would have objected to it. The hon. member then complained that the system now proposed was of too complicated a character. Now, he could not see that it was more complicated than that of the last year. The scheme now proposed took the two extremes of the scale as it was formed for the last year, and proposed to enact such regulations as, at the price of 70s., should let in wheat at a merely nominal duty, and, on the contrary, at the price of 60s. should pretty nearly prevent its admission altogether. That was an equitable arrangement, and one which could lead to no inconvenience. When corn was either much wanted here, or at a very low price abroad, it would certainly find its way into the country. Let the House look, however, to what had occurred since last year. It was said that after the bill of last year had received amendment in another place, which materially altered its effect—it was said, that in any reconsideration of the subject in a future session, the House ought to proceed with a view to what the result of that bill had been in experience. He agreed with his right hon. friend, that that experience had received more consideration than it deserved: five hundred thousand quarters of wheat, however, had come in when the duty exceeded 20s.; therefore there was a prima facie case made out, that 20s. was not a sufficient duty to exclude. This fact, then, in the construction of the present measure, had been considered; and it was upon that ground that an attempt was contemplated, without departing from the principle of the last year's bill, or sacrificing any of the views which it had embraced, to quiet the apprehension which had arisen out of the importation at a 20s. duty, and to throw an additional drag or impediment in the way by which foreign corn, in a given state of the market, was 1397 to be admitted. All parties last year had been agreed upon the mischief which would arise from permitting large importations of foreign wheat, when the price in the home market was between 60s. and 64s. The measure of the present year was calculated to check such importation: it was no deviation from the principle of the last year's bill, or from the manner in which that bill dealt with the subject; but it was so constructed, as to defeat a possible course, which it was generally agreed, if put in execution, would prove inconvenient. He admitted fully that, in the course of the last year, there had been circumstances calculated to produce a larger importation, at given rates of duty, than was likely to occur again. In the first place, the act of November, 1826, had given the Crown the power to admit five hundred thousand quarters of foreign wheat at 12s. a quarter duty. That power, it was true, had not been exerted, for the occasion for its exercise had not arisen; but the belief that it would be called into effect, and the contemplation of further changes, had brought a large supply of foreign corn into the warehouses of the country—a larger quantity, probably, than would otherwise have been introduced. The expectation of the admission of the five hundred thousand quarters at 12s. duty had failed; and the general measure, upon which something had perhaps been calculated, had been defeated in another place; and a short time was open to get rid of a large supply of a commodity which received no benefit from keeping. The result was, that a sort of panic had seized upon the holders of foreign corn in bond, which had produced considerable loss; it had been taken out of bond at high rates of duty, and rapidly forced into consumption. It was necessary, therefore, in any estimate of what had arisen under the last year's law, to consider these circumstances. But the right hon. President of the Board of Trade had stated truly, that it was their duty, as practical men, to look at the measure of the present session as one which was to settle what the rule and what the law was, by which all the transactions of the country relating to the land were to be regulated. The question was one, the final adjustment of which was not merely deeply desirable, but a matter of paramount necessity; for it was one by which all acts and business of men's lives were influenced and governed. 1398 The object of the House should be, to pass a measure which men might believe, and look upon to be, a lasting and a conclusive one;—an award, if he might be allowed the expression, between the exaggerated prejudices entertained against all freedom on the one side, and the exaggerated hopes which might have been conceived by the other;—a measure which, if it was not the very best which could be introduced, might yet be one which would prove an adjustment of the question so long agitated with so much inconvenience to society;—a question, one of the worst effects of the uncertainty of which was, that some particular class of the community was constantly apprehending that its interests were about to be sacrificed to those of another class; while the duty of the House, as well as its real disposition, was to look upon all interests impartially. It was for purposes, and with feelings of this description, that the present measure had been submitted to the House. He did not think it the best which might have been brought forward; but he did believe that it was a measure, when duly considered, which, with reference to all the circumstances of the currency, and the state of public feeling, was more likely to abate those angry squabbles which the absence of final measures had given rise to, than any other which, in the present condition of the country, could be introduced. As to those who objected to it on the score that the interests of agriculture were not sufficiently protected, he had already briefly replied to their observations. The hon. member for Somersetshire professed himself pleased with the law of 1815. He could only say to that hon. member, that he lamented from the bottom of his soul, the mass of evil and misery, and destruction of capital, which that law, in the course of its twelve years' operation, had produced: and he did believe that he could make it distinctly appear, if the moment were a proper one, that the effect of the bill, as far as regarded the agriculturists themselves, had been to keep the prices of produce lower, for those twelve years, than they would have been, even if the trade in corn had been entirel yopen.
said, he thought that the complaints of the right hon. gentleman who had last spoken, as to the conduct pursued by some members in that committee, were rather unreasonable. The right hon. gentleman should consider that 1399 these resolutions had been the subject, for many days past, of anxious consultation with the public. For his own part, he should have been much surprised if the committee had not looked a little more nearly than was usual on the occasion of reading such propositions from the chair, in order to see how they bore upon this most important question. Although the principle of the resolutions might be the same, the alteration made in them from the law of last year was considerable, particularly as to the advance in the scale of prices. It was certainly impossible for any one to have opened the question with more candour than the right hon. gentleman; but it was apparent, from the manner of that statement, that before it was submitted to the committee, a hard battle had been fought, to reconcile the conflicting principles of this and of the former measure. His right hon. friend who spoke last had, with somewhat less of candour, defended this proposal, by reflecting on the manufacturing interest on the one hand, and the agricultural interest on the other; and he had concluded by telling the committee, that the measure, such as it was, had not his entire approbation. As for himself, he would acknowledge to the right hon. gentleman that his case was very like that of the person who was only transported, after expecting to be hanged. Various rumours, of an alarming nature, were afloat out of doors, as to the character of the measure now brought forward; and he was glad that it was no worse than it really appeared to be. He had anticipated some system like that of a remunerating price—that old proposition which the hon. bart., the member for Somersetshire, had declared he would always defend, as being best adapted to protect the agricultural interest. He should, for one, deprecate the discussion of a principle which could not confer one iota of protection in reality, but which, if persevered in, might one day produce a famine, owing to the absurd prejudice of the agriculturists against permitting the establishment of what might be considered a permanent depot for the supply of grain, at a distance of one thousand or one thousand five hundred miles from their own market. When he saw attempts making, from day to day, to impose restraints upon the supply of corn for a population so vast and so increasing as that of these kingdoms—the necessity of which supply was 1400 evident from this, that year after year, we had been blest with abundant harvests, and yet were still, year after year, importing foreign corn—he was astonished at such propositions being persisted in. Looking to that population, to the numbers and the condition of the labouring classes, could any man of common sense or common humanity, be jealous — of what? of permitting a depot, such as he spoke of, to exist in his neighbourhood, for the supply of all those people with corn. What was the present state of the country? Those who knew the condition of the manufacturing districts would not contradict him, when he asserted, that in all the general branches of manufacture, there was, perhaps, sufficient work for the labourers; but the wages paid them for such work they could but just manage to exist on. The working part of that community, therefore, being in this situation, the masters were enabled to carry on their business to an extent barely sufficient to make some small returns upon their capital. In the mean time these poor people were under the necessity, under such circumstances, of paying 52s. for their wheat. Who could say what might be the consequence of getting this already enormous price up, by possibility, to 64s.? The gentlemen belonging to the agricultural interest, should remember, that the effect of realizing their extravagant expectations would be, to pull that House down about their own ears. It would be presumptuous to pretend to state beforehand to what extent the price of corn might, from circumstances, within a given period, rise; but when they raised that price at once from 52s. to 64s., it was not difficult to foresee the serious effects that might ensue. If the scheme were effected, what would become of the agriculturist himself? Was it not obvious that this was not a question of the manufacturing, or of any other isolated interest. The hon. member for Suffolk might send his team to Ipswich, but what became of him or his farmers if the population were so distressed as to be unable to become customers for his agricultural produce? It might be said that the manufacturing classes should, in that case, be made to work harder—that instead of twelve, they should be compelled to labour thirteen or fifteen hours a day; but he would say, that there was a point beyond which they could not go, and arrived at which they would fall upon the 1401 parish as paupers. He was ready to go as far as any man in providing for the agricultural interests, and in maintaining them in that competency which was so essential, not only to the good order, but to the morals of the community; but he never would encourage the unwarrantable expectation that they should be kept up at the expense and to the injury of all other classes. Bad as the old law was, he had great doubts whether it was not much better than this which was now proposed. Any thing was better than a state of law which, professing to impose duties which should force high prices, had had the uniform effect of producing low prices. And why? Because as long as it existed, government had found itself, from time to time, under the necessity of permitting importations of large quantities of foreign corn. Since this law had been resorted to, the minister, at the end of every session, if the weather happened to be a little too dry or too wet, or prices a little too low or too high, had not dared to trust the chances of the season, but had very properly thought it necessary to let in the foreign corn. Many more mischiefs had ensued to the agriculturists than they could possibly have experienced under a well-regulated Corn-bill. The law, as it now stood, was a despotic law in respect of grain. The very limitations it assigned had the effect of forcing up prices, until they reached a point at which foreign grain became immediately admissible. He should say, that any price exceeding 60s. would be an indication of incipient distress. The moment the price got beyond 60s. the duty ought to decline rapidly. If at 60s. there was a duty of 24s., and at 61s. a duty of 23s., it was a scale which ought not to continue. His own impression was, that if the price were to rise beyond 60s., there would be that degree of alarm in the country, which would be productive of the most serious consequences. He could not say, therefore, that he much approved of the measure now proposed, or that he considered it preferable to the existing law.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that the hon. gentleman having confessed the measure to be more favourable to his views than he had anticipated, he could not but be much surprised to hear the hon. gentleman afterwards declare his doubts whether the measure were preferable to the existing system, which it was meant to 1402 supersede. He did think that no individual in that House was more deeply impressed than the hon. member with a conviction that any fixed system was preferable to that state of uncertainty, with respect to the Corn-laws, under which the country had laboured for some time past. He had understood the hon. member to say, that for the settlement of the relations of landlord and tenant, and with respect to the trading and manufacturing interests, it was desirable that the price of corn should be fixed, so far as it was to be fixed or made dependent upon legislative intervention. Under the consideration that last year the bill introduced by government had met with the approbation of the hon. member, he was certainly surprised that he should find such essential differences between the present proposition and that of the preceding year, as to declare the measure before the House not preferable to the state of uncertainty of which he had so much complained. For his own part, he should vote for the present measure; for, profiting by the experience of the last few months, he was convinced that it was fair equitable, and just. He should vote for it also, because he conceived that any proposition likely to conciliate the good opinion of the House, and to meet with general concurrence, was desirable in every point of view. Last session the House had passed a measure founded upon the principle now adopted by his right hon. friend, and fixing the importation price at 60s.; but gentlemen must be aware of the view that had been taken of that measure in the other House. That House added to the bill of the Commons an amendment, which prohibited the admission of foreign corn out of warehouse until the average price in the home market should rise even as high as 66s. Until the price amounted to this sum, foreign corn was excluded altogether by the amendment carried in the other House. He was quite satisfied that, if the government of that day had thought that such a measure as was now proposed would have been likely to meet with the concurrence of the other branch of the legislature, his right hon. friend who had introduced the resolutions, and his right hon. friend on his left (Mr. Huskisson), would have modified their propositions, so as to render them conformable to the views of both Houses of Parliament. He was sure that his right hon. friend 1403 would not have hesitated to relax the details of his theory, by any modification not incompatible with his principles, provided he could have obtained that which was so pre-eminently desirable—a permanent settlement of this question. For these reasons he thought it did not argue the slightest inconsistency on the part of any man who attached a high importance to the settlement of the question, to acquiesce in the proposition of his right hon. friend, and to receive it with gratitude at his hands, if it appeared likely to pass into a law, which would bring us out of the state of uncertainty in which we had been so long placed. He did not support the resolutions merely because he thought them calculated to pass into a law, but because he considered them reasonable and just in themselves. At the end of the last session, the legislature, despairing of the accomplishment of any permanent measure, permission was given for the admission of the foreign corn then bonded, applying to it the scale of duties determined upon by the bill introduced in that House. Now, the question to be considered was, whether that permission had been taken advantage of? It certainly had been acted upon to a certain extent: a portion of the corn was admitted, but the attention of the House had not been yet distinctly called to the amount admitted in the several weeks, and the duty paid upon it. He was aware that any conclusion must be attended with uncertainty, if the profits of the seller were not ascertained in the account. One great advantage of a permanent law would be, that it would lead to a gradual importation, and would prevent that violent and sudden supply caused by a fluctuating and unsettled system. It appeared, then, from returns of the quantity of wheat taken out for home consumption under the act of last year, that in the week ending the 13th of July, when the duty was 24s. 8d. a quarter, thirteen thousand quarters were introduced. In the week ending the 20th of July, when the duty was 22s. 8d., the quantity introduced was forty-seven thousand quarters. In the week ending on the 27th of July, when the duty was still 22s. 8d., there was an importation of nearly fifty thousand quarters. In the next week it was thirty-six thousand quarters; in the following week twenty-six thousand quarters; and in the next thirty-eight thousand quarters. In 1404 the ensuing week, which brought it to the 24th of August, when the harvest was approaching, one hundred and seventy-eight thousand quarters of wheat were admitted, at a duty of 22s. 8d. The duty rose in the following week, which ended on the 31st of August, to 24s. 8d., and there were then eighty-two thousand seven hundred quarters introduced. In the following week the amount was thirty-seven thousand quarters; and in the next, when the duty was again 22s. 8d. thirty-two thousand six hundred and fifty-five quarters were admitted. He acknowledged that no distinct conclusion could be reached, without knowing the proportion of profits at these different periods; but the general result of this calculation would be found favourable to the establishment of a permanent system, as a protection not only to the manufacturing, but to the agricultural population. The law should be prospective and permanent; and it should be founded on the principle of a duty, and not of a prohibition. The hon. gentleman who spoke last had professed a sentiment, in which he fully concurred; namely, that under the present state of society in this country, and considering the vast amount of property employed in the cultivation of land, as well as with reference to the other interests of the community, it was impossible for the House to apply any rigid abstract principles. The hon. gentleman had justly said, that there were other considerations to be attended to besides that of vested interests. He had said that, under a limited monarchy like this, it was of importance to maintain those interests which rendered so much assistance to the government and to the state. He concurred in this observation. He should be sorry to purchase a depression of the price of bread at the risk of interfering injuriously with those vested interests, which were so essential to the maintenance of the other classes of the state.—But there was another circumstance which had not been adverted to during the present discussion. It could not be denied that, in consequence of the growing population of this country, there was a necessity for looking to other countries for a supply. It was impossible not to see that, in proportion to the increase of population of late years, the quantity of land employed in the production of corn was diminished; but it was appropriated to the production of more profitable arti- 1405 cles. The increase of manufactures might diminish the growth of corn; but it did not follow that agricultural property was thereby depressed. The land was devoted to the production of milk and butter, and other articles yielding an equally profitable return. If it were proved to him that at any particular time there was less corn grown in the country, he would not, therefore, admit that agriculture was less flourishing. He would first inquire whether other articles were not produced in its stead, which furnished a suitable price. The land, for instance, in the neighbourhood of London and Manchester was not now applied so generally as heretofore to the production of grain; a great portion of it was devoted to pasture. It was quite clear that Great Britain did not produce sufficient corn for her own consumption. But let it not be forgotten, when they were legislating with a view to the general interests of all portions of the empire, that there was, in conjunction with this island, another country, which did not flourish so much in manufactures, but which possessed great fertility, great powers of production, and vast capabilities of improvement, to which he looked forward for a material addition to the prosperity of the nation at large. It should be considered that, the more the House unduly encouraged the importation of foreign corn, the more it interfered with the supply from Ireland. He did not see what difference should be made between the agricultural interests in Ireland and here. The more agriculture was extended in Ireland, the more the demand for British manufactures would be widened. He did not mean to argue, that agriculture in Ireland should be encouraged to the exclusion of foreign nations, but the House should not forget its importance in the scale, and its great powers of production and improvement. He repeated, he did not give his assent to these resolutions because they were a concession to unfounded apprehensions or prejudice, but because he conceived them to be founded in wisdom and justice. He thought them an equitable adjustment of this great question. They appeared to him a fair and reasonable arrangement, as regarded the commercial and manufacturing interests, and certainly afforded a just and proper protection to the agricultural classes. He knew of no measure more likely to engage a general approval. No system that he was aware of would be so 1406 well calculated to prevent the prejudicial changes to which the country had been subject, and to fix a permanent state of things. Much had been said of a remunerating price, and of the standard of 60s., but that could not be secured by any resolution of the House. The price depended upon important causes, over which they had no control.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that, differing as he did with the right hon. gentleman, he could not give a silent vote on this occasion. The right hon. gentleman, in denominating this a just and equitable proposition, and. one which the country should receive with thanks, had omitted to show in what respect it bore that character. If the right hon. gentleman meant to say that its merit consisted in legislating for the benefit of one class of the community at the expense of the rest, he would be right. The right hon. gentleman considered the measure as constitutional, and of great importance— constitutional, because it tended to support the aristocracy of this country, which was subject to a limited monarchy. Now, what was he to conclude from this statement? That the aristocracy were, by this bill, to be insured a higher price than they would otherwise obtain, and that this increased price was to come out of the pockets of the poor. This appeared to him to be contrary to all constitutional principles. For what was the constitutional object of government? Was it not to promote the prosperity of the many? But the: right hon. gentleman would convert it into the aggrandisement of the few. The right hon. gentleman said, that if the House did its duty by agreeing to a certain rate of duty, they would have to apprehend that the Lords, as they had differed from them before, might again differ from them now. This, too, appeared to him an unconstitutional mode of legislating, and such as ought not to be allowed. It was true, that a measure, in order to pass into a law, must meet with the concurrence of the other House: but had it not often occurred that the other House, after having differed from the Commons on various points, had been obliged to come round to their views. He had heard with regret the speech of the right hon. gentleman who had introduced this proposition, because it was evident, from every sentiment he had uttered, that the measure was not one of which he approved. He 1407 had been obliged to bring it forward in the hope that prejudices would in time be removed. But how did this agree with the statement of the right hon. gentleman, and with the speech of the right hon. Secretary, who had just sat down, that this was to be a permanent measure? Was it possible to believe that the manufacturing and commercial interests would endure such a monopoly as this bill would confer upon the agricultural class? The government was not regulating its measures on this subject on the same principles by which the trade in other articles was regulated. If the right hon. gentleman claimed credit for justice and equity, and for acting upon principle, he should show that the importation of corn was to be regulated by the same principles as that of other commodities. There were two ways in which duties were ordinarily regulated. They were either imposed as permanent duties, or ad valorem duties. This was neither the one nor the other, and its effect would be to render the means of subsistence unattainable to the poor. The right hon. gentleman had said, that it was impossible for this country to do without the importation of corn. This was as large an admission as he could wish from the right hon. gentleman. It went so far as to concede, that if land could be better employed in the production of milk, butter, or other articles, the right hon. gentleman would be content to look to other countries for a supply of corn. But the right hon. gentleman did not seem to recollect that, in proportion as he raised the price of provisions, he cramped the manufacturing and all the other interests, and even, by a natural re-action, the agricultural interest itself. The hon. member for Wiltshire had said that, in proportion as we imported a million quarters of foreign corn, labourers would be thrown out of employment. Now, he did not believe that this would be the result. He believed it would be quite the reverse. Labourers would be employed in manufacturing and other pursuits, to pay for that importation. He contended that the true interests of the country required that we should admit as much corn as we could to feed the people, and improve the condition of the country, by giving employment and wages to those whom the monopoly of the agricultural interest would deprive of the opportunity of industry, It was said, that these measures 1408 were to be founded on a principle of duty and not of prohibition. For his part, he could not see the value of that theory, if the duty amounted in effect to a prohibition. It was changing names without changing the relative situation of the country. One hon. member had said, that the agricultural interest imperiously demanded such a protection as the present measure would afford them. Now, he should be glad to know what right the agricultural interest had to demand any particular rate of duty. The commercial and manufacturing interests had as much right, he conceived, to demand as fair and just a rate. It was the duty of the House to look equally to all the relative interests, and not to suffer itself to be dictated to by one, to the prejudice of the other. But such was the situation in which the government was now placed. The right hon. gentleman would not have proposed this measure of his own accord, but the influence of the landed interest was necessary to be considered. The cabinet was now taking the part of the agricultural against the manufacturing and commercial interests. It was impossible that the country should remain quiet under the operation of such partial and unconstitutional principles. It was said that, with a debt of 800,000,000l. it was impossible for us to have cheap corn. But was it not a gross inconsistency that the public, who were so heavily taxed to pay the interest of this debt, should also be taxed in the high price of corn? If the agricultural interests paid more in the shape of poor-rates, tithes, and for the support of the clergy, than the other classes, let them make their charge and prove their account. He should be willing not only to allow it, but also to consent that ample provision should be made for their protection. The increased value of the currency, owing to the disappearance of the small notes, had not been taken into account, on the present occasion. It should have been considered, in reference to this measure, that what was last year calculated at 60s. would now amount to 63s. or 64s., in point of the tax upon the country. He considered that the importation of corn should be placed upon the same footing as that of other articles. The present system would only produce dissatisfaction, and the House would be perpetually called on for alterations of it. As the right hon. gentleman had said that this was the time for gen- 1409 tlemen to state any proposition which they might have to submit, he would beg to make known the notions which he entertained on the subject. He was of opinion that a rate of duty should be fixed, which he would at present consent should exceed any thing that the agricultural interests had a right to demand, and which should gradually decrease, until it reached a certain standard, at which it should be permanent and immutable. He should be prepared to prove that the agricultural classes had no right to a greater protection than eight or ten shillings a quarter; but he would consent to its being fixed, for the first year at fifteen shillings, which should be diminished by one shilling a quarter until it descended to ten shillings, and there it should be fixed. He would propose that barley should be imported for the present year at a duty of nine shillings, and should decrease by one shilling at a time, until it was settled at seven shillings, The same principle he would apply to oats, and other species of corn. He was aware that even improvements, if too suddenly introduced, might be turned into injuries, and he therefore proposed this gradual reduction to avoid the ill effects of too sudden a change of system.
maintained, that the interest of the agriculturists and manufacturers were closely identified, and could not be severed, without detriment to one or the other. He therefore disapproved of the attempt which was too often made in that House to set them in opposition with each other. As to the hon. member for Aberdeen's system of fixed duties, it never could be acted on, because, in years of scarcity, duties would be, as they had always been, set aside to meet the wants of the country. He was of opinion, that the scale proposed on the present occasion was a considerable improvement on that of last year. Such being his view, he would declare his intention of giving the bill founded on these resolutions his support. He apprehended little danger from any attempt to excite popular feeling with respect to this question. The lower classes were beginning to find out that they were not so materially interested in the question of cheap bread as it was wished to make them believe they were. They were now pretty generally convinced that low bread brought low wages.
§ Colonel Trench
was of opinion, that these resolutions would be very beneficial 1410 to Ireland, and have a strong tendency to restore peace and happiness to that country.
Sir F. Burdett
said, he was prepared to maintain that a free trade in corn would be found most advantageous to the agricultural interest as well as to all the other great interests of the country. After having listened attentively to the speeches of the Secretary for the Colonies, the President of the Board of Trade, and the Secretary for the Home Department, he was persuaded that they were strongly inclined to take the same view of the question that he, did, though they, in their discretion, did not feel justified in avowing their opinions altogether so openly as he did, who was unconnected with office, and free from responsibility. He would not trouble the House further on this point at the present moment; but he wished it to be understood, that he would bring the question substantively under the consideration of parliament before the close of the session. It, however, appeared to him that most persons mistook the real nature of the question which they were called upon to consider. It was not so much a question of corn as of currency; and it was impossible to talk about the price that things would bear, unless persons were prepared to look at the state of the currency, which was the measure of that price. He was satisfied that the distress of the country was in a great measure, fictitious. He saw, that in the midst of substantial wealth, of improvements of every description, the agricultural, manufacturing, mercantile, trading, and shipping interests, were equally distressed,—were all affected by one and the same cause. There could not be a more mischievous mistake than holding out to the people at large, that different ranks of society, different professions and callings, had, in fact, a divided interest. That was not the case, and nothing could be so false as to imagine that the manufacturing interest could flourish if the agricultural interest were depressed. What was the manufacturing interest but the surplus produce of the agricultural interest worked up into various shapes? All other interests grew out of the agricultural interest, and all flourished and prospered together. The expenditure, the great debt of the country, had been framed on a high-price system. The country could only be raised to the state of prosperity from which it had fallen, by a de- 1411 parture from what he conceived to be a mistake in legislation. Cheap bread, as it was called, was no advantage to the poor; who always received wages in pro portion to the price of corn. If the currenscy were still to be contracted, he was satisfied the result of that measure would be to throw the country into the same degree of distress front which it had a little recovered. There never would be permanent prosperity until the country was placed in the situation in which it stood before the distress was felt, and in which persons would be enabled to pay the: taxes which pressed upon them.
§ Mr. Ward
declared his approbation of the bonding system, which had been objected to by an hon. member. That system had received the support of Pitt, Fox, and Liverpool. The whole question was, whether goods should be warehoused on this, or on the other side of the water. If they were warehoused abroad, they might, in case of war, be made: available to the purposes of the enemy. It was estimated that the goods warehoused in France last war would: have required one bundled thousand tons of shipping, and six thousand or seven thousand seamen; to transport them to this country. This, it should be observed, might happen, at the moment when the government was called upon to use the utmost exertions to man the navy, and when insurances would be high. He hoped the agriculturists would not be able to defeat the present measure, as they had done that of last year.
§ Mr. Monck
agreed, with the hon. member for Westminster, that the greater share of the difficulties the committee had to contend with, arose out of the last enactments relative to the currency. He also thought with, him, that if it were not for the national debt and the burthens it entailed on the public, it would be of comparatively little consequence whether a certain quantity of wheat were one shilling or ten shillings in price. The question was altogether one of price; and the state of the currency must determine the point at issue.
§ The resolution was agreed to, and the chairman reported progress.