HC Deb 20 February 1834 vol 21 cc569-72
Mr. Shawe

presented a Petition from the Owners and Occupiers of land in the Hundred of Carlford praying for the Abolition of the Duty on Malt.

Mr. Leech

supported the prayer of the petition, and said, he had a statement in his possession, by which he could prove that the average price of wheat was now less than it had been for the last forty years, excepting only two years. Since the year 1815, the average price had been 10s. less than for many years previously. At the same time the Poor-rates had increased three-fold, and it was quite impossible that the agricultural interest could bear such increasing burthens under such diminishing prices.

Mr. O' Connell

wished to say one word upon this subject. It was his duty to take notice of it, on account of the great difference of opinion which prevailed amongst those with whom he generally acted. It was supposed that Ireland derived a great benefit from the Corn-laws This was not his opinion, and if it were, the principle applicable to these laws would induce him, for the sake of giving cheap human food to the poorer classes, to desire their repeal. The question was whether they were to have cheap bread— whether the family which now had but one loaf was to have two loaves? When the question was thus presented to his mind, upon the same principle that he disregarded the rights of private property in abolishing slavery, he, for one, had no notion of balancing the interests of the landlords against those of the poor, and he would support any Bill which would make bread cheap to the labouring classes. But in his judgment the agricultural interests would be benefited by the repeal of the Corn-laws, as they would be better supported by the manufacturing classes, and the corn fields would be turned into gardens. But whatever would be the result, any plan to make food cheaper for the poor should have his decided support. He would gladly relieve the landowner by annihilating two-thirds of the tithes, by repealing the Malt-tax, and the taxes upon agricultural horses; and, indeed, from every possible burthen, provided that he could make food cheaper to the poor.

Mr. Finn

said, that the hon. member for Dublin differed on this question from almost every other hon. Member. He was at a loss to know how Ireland, with no manufactures, could be benefited by the repeal of the Corn-laws. On the contrary, in his opinion it would throw nearly all the land out of cultivation. This was the only advantage Ireland derived from its connexion with this country, and in his opinion in repealing the Corn-laws they would be in fact repealing the Union.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

also differed in opinion upon this question from the hon. and learned member for Dublin, and thought that the Corn-laws, ought not to be disturbed. So far from giving cheap food to the poor, the repeal of the Corn-laws would, in his opinion, render it more difficult for the labouring poor to get bread at all, as there would be, comparatively speaking, no employment. He would oppose the repeal of the Corn-laws.

Mr. O'Connell

considered that the hon. Gentleman mis-stated what he had said, though, perhaps, not intentionally. What he said was, that by rendering food cheaper, land would be improved, and ground in the neighbourhood of large cities, which was now under corn, would then be turned into gardens. The advantage of dear food was all on the landlord's side. All his interest was landed interest—it was to be sure very small, compared to the great landed proprietors of that House, but still to increase his rent-roll ought to be his object, and yet he was for the cheapness of bread to the poor.

Lord William Lennox

was of opinion that the proportion which wages bore to the price of bread was what should be looked to, for if a poor man earned but 6d. a day, and got his loaf for 3d., it would be the same as if he earned Is a day, and paid 6d. for it.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

said, that hon. Gentlemen seemed to think, that the public faith was pledged to the fundholders, and to them only, but, he contended, that it was pledged also to the land-owners, and that the farmers, whose property was twisted out of their hands by the acts of that House, had stronger claims upon the House than the fundholders, whose paper loans had been paid in standard gold. If some measure were not speedily adopted for the relief of the agricultural and commercial classes, for the effectual relief of the distress and exasperation under which the industrious classes now laboured, he was afraid no property would be safe. He was prepared to prove, that within a very short period (he would not say when, for prophets were cursed for boding ill, and had often been disappointed)—but he was prepared to prove that the national debt would shortly fall under the ruins of its own making. One-half was the reduction which common honesty required.

Mr. Ayshford Sanford

said, it was the duty of the House to adopt some measure for the relief of the agricultural interest, but he protested against any encroachment on the public funds, that being, in his opinion, injurious to the agricultural and commercial classes, and to every person of property. If a portion of the local taxation were removed, it would greatly benefit the agricultural interest, for it was by local taxation that it was most severely oppressed; and if it were more generally thrown upon the country, it would greatly relieve that class. He was confident, that it was not the wish of the agricultural interest to be relieved at the expense of the public creditor.

Mr. Ruthven

said, that from the pressure of taxation on the country, he had little doubt, unless some measures of relief were afforded, the forebodings of the hon. member for Birmingham (Mr. T. Attwood) would prove but too true. It was impossible for the country to keep up all its establishments, and at the same time pay the enormous interest of the National Debt. The House should do something, and that speedily, to secure the stability of property; and as to the National Debt, he thought it would not be any extraordinary sacrifice if the national creditors gave up ten millions, in order to secure the other twenty millions. There should be a substantial reduction of the interest of that debt, and until that was done, there would be bickerings and agitation in this country, as well as in Ireland.

Petition laid on the Table.