§ The Order of the Day for the adjourned Debate on the Liverpool Petition having been read,
§ Mr. O'Reilly
rose to offer a few observations on the very important subject before the House. The argument which he thought had been urged with most force for the continuance of the present system was, that the repeal of the Corn-laws by lessening the means of the agricultural capitalists, would have the effect of limiting his power to give employment to the same number of labourers as he employed at present. The produce of the laud of Ireland had been quadrupled 523 in value by the labour of the people, and not by the expenditure of money capital, within these forty years. The same effect would follow in England if the large farms were broken up, which they would be if it ceased to be the interest of large capitalists to hold large tracts of land. Let the Corn-laws be repealed, and there would be plenty of employment for agricultural labourers by the breaking up of large farms. It was the desire to consolidate farms which occasioned the destruction of life and property so much to be lamented in Ireland. There were no Poor-laws in that country; so that when the poor peasant was turned out of the little farm which had yielded him and his family subsistence, the unhappy man only thought of taking what he considered a just vengeance on his oppressors. Another argument which had been urged against the repeal of the Corn-laws was, that the capital already employed in the manufacture of land would be left unprotected; but he would ask hon. Gentlemen who argued in this way was this capital at present protected? Did the Corn-law ensure such a price to the cultivator of land as could be considered a protection? But it was said, that we were in a state of transition, and that things would yet improve. Why we had been in this state of transition for the last seventeen years, and yet this promised improvement had not taken place. The price of corn had been declining year after year, slowly he was free to admit, but yet it was gradually and speedily diminishing, and still the farmers were told that, although the preceding year had not been so productive, yet that the next would compensate them for their losses. This was the language used by the landlords, who affected to despise the argument of political economists. The decline in the price of corn could not be attributed to the influx of foreign corn, because none had been admitted within the last three years; neither could it be attributed to the non-employment of the manufacturers, because never was there a period when this class of the community were more fully employed than at present. There was, then, a sufficient home demand. To what, then, was to be attributed the low price of corn? The fact was, that the protection afforded to corn, instead of benefiting the agricultural labourer, was positively injurious to him. This view of the case would be borne out by a reference to Ireland. He was about to refer to the protection afforded to the linen trade in Ireland. That trade was carried on to a great 524 extent, and flourished in Ireland, but not in large towns, or through the medium of large manufactories. It flourished in the hands of men who were partly agriculturists and partly manufacturers. They first sowed the flax, they then pulled it, and subsequently with their own hands manufactured it. These men, then, called for protection from the Irish Parliament, and they received it. Their trade was especially protected, because it was the staple trade of the north of Ireland, which was considered the most civilized because it was the most Protestant part of that country, and was therefore looked upon as the link between England and Ireland. But the consequence of protection was the destruction of the trade, and the linen-weaver was driven to seek employment in England and Scotland, where the importation of foreign yarn was not prohibited. At length the protection was removed, free trade was established, and the manufacture of linen cloth was revived. As soon as the importation of foreign yarn was permitted, that trade received so great a stimulus that it became profitable to sow flax where, five or six years before, corn and potatoes were grown. So that it had been found that the moment the linen-trade was relieved from all restriction, it had returned again to the place from which it had previously departed, and was now likely to prove prosperous as before. The plain deduction from all this was, that those restrictions called "protective" were no protection at all; but, on the contrary, a great injury to every interest, and especially to the agricultural. Besides, they never did, and never would, support a remunerative price for corn; and they were, moreover, fatal to the best interests of the country in all its social relations. The last argument he should touch on was one on which the supporters of the Corn-law restrictions mainly relied. This was the supposition that to take away the inducements which agriculturists had to grow corn, which would be the effect of a repeal of the restrictive laws on the importation of corn, would be to make this country entirely dependent for a supply of the prime necessary of life upon foreign countries. Nothing could be more preposterous than this. That a great manufacturing country like England could ever be independent of foreign countries was not to be thought of; at least that she should not be able always to command a sufficient supply. What was the situation of the country at present? Had the quantity of corn in- 525 creased? He held that it had not, and as a proof he would only adduce one fact, that when wheat brought 120s. the quarter, as much of it was grown as had been since it varied from 48s. to 50s. per quarter. It had been proved by the failure of the joint-stock companies started a few years back, that such large bodies could not compete with the private trader. Neither could a large farmer, employing the labour of others for wages, compete with the man who tilled a small farm himself with the assistance of his family. This was established by the experience of Ireland, where land let in small portions always yielded the landlord more than that let in large farms. For his own part he had no interest that was not bound up in the prosperity of the land, but he thought the landed interest mistaken in supposing, that they derived any advantage from the present protection, as it was called. That protection was really injurious both to the agricultural labourers and to the landed proprietors.
§ Mr. Cobbett
rose to expose a few of the grave mistakes which Gentlemen fell into when talking upon this subject. The hon. member for Lambeth had on a former day referred to America as illustrating the blessings of free trade. He said, that if we took American corn they would take our manufactures; but let them see the example which America had set them. In that free country, where Congress really represented the bulk of the people, a duty of twenty-five per cent was imposed on the Winchester bushel of wheat. Now twenty-five cents. was one quarter of the price of wheat in America. Indeed he had rarely known wheat continue long at a dollar per Winchester bushel. Fifteen cents was the duty imposed on oats, which, as the oats there were very bad, except when raised from English seed, was one-half of their price. They went further than this, however, for they imposed a protecting duty on seeds, which seeds they could not do without. The duty on seeds of all sorts was twenty-five per cent ad valorem, including flax and hemp seed, as also flax and hemp themselves. The duty upon cheese was, in English money, as much as 3½d. per lb.; and on butter he believed, but he spoke only from memory, it was about 4½d. per lb. On bacon and hams the duty was 3d. per lb., on pork 1d., and on wool fifty per cent ad valorem. Now, this free Government of America, which, it was admitted, consulted the real interest of the whole community, imposed a duty of fifty per cent 526 on foreign wool; and not a word of complaint was heard from any party against that protecting duty. Why, therefore, was all this outcry about the duties which were enforced in this country for the protection of the land, and which, after all, was no protection at all? The facts which he had stated ought to be known to the right hon. member for Manchester, and to the right hon. Secretary to the Treasury, and the latter Gentleman ought to be in his place to explain or refute them. A little publication called The Quarten Loaf, had been put into his hands as he came down to the House, and he believed that it had also been put into the hands of every other Member. At the head of this paper was a picture or ornament having as gross a falsehood as ever was invented annexed to it. There was a picture of a quartern loaf, and on it was inscribed, "Flour and baking 4d.; landlord's tax, 4½d.; Total 8½d." Now, he denied, that there was any truth in the assertion that the landlords had a clear profit of 4½d. out of them. The fact was, that for rent and cultivation, the landlord, the farmer, and the labourer, had no more than that 4½d. divided between the whole of them. The rest was—what? Why the rest was added by the miller and baker. He did not charge the bakers with extortion; nothing like it. Look to the year 1792. What did the four-pound loaf cost then? Why, 6d. It was now 8½d. Why? Because we had the fundholder to pay. Had we then the Malt-tax, or the Window-tax? No; in 1792 we had only 13,000,000l. of taxes; now we had 50,000,000l., or nearly. So that the landlord and farmer had nothing whatever to do with the increase in the price of bread. If the petitioners were rational persons, they would not have asked for cheap bread; they would have asked for a reduction of those taxes that caused the bread to be so high. Cheap corn! Why, they had it. An hon. member from Scotland told him the other night, that they could have in Scotland the best flour at 27s. the sack. This, however, he knew, that they could get wheat from Ireland of the very best quality yielding sixty pounds of flour, to the bushel. at 35s. the quarter. Corn was not so cheap in 1792, or ten years previous, as it was now. He did not know but he ought to vote for the repeal of the Corn-laws, upon account of their foolishness, their utter absurdity, and inefficiency. He explained all these things to his constituents, who were just as fond of a cheap loaf as the people of Liverpool, 527 or any other place. He said to them, "Don't go to the landlords to ask for cheap bread, because they cannot give it you. Go to the Government, and tell them to take off the taxes, that the baker may be enabled to give you cheap bread." This was the language he addressed to his constituents. He recollected perfectly well when this Corn Bill was first brought forward he gave it his most strenuous opposition, not because he objected to the principle of the Bill, but solely because he conceived it would be wholly inoperative—that it would not in fact enable the farmer to get 10s. a bushel for his wheat. In 1822 wheat was down so low as 46s. a quarter, although there was not a handful of wheat imported for three years before. Therefore it was quite clear that this Corn-law was no protection to the farmer. He would, therefore, as he said before, be almost disposed to vote for the abolition of this law on account of its inefficiency. To be sure the repeal of the Corn-law would be attended with great injury for a time, but it would have some good effects; it would compel the landlords to hold their purse-string tighter, and might prevent them from sending their surplus rent abroad.
§ Mr. Lambert
agreed with the hon. member for Oldham, that the Corn-laws did not afford a sufficient protection to the agricultural interest. It appeared also to him that those who advocated free trade and the removal of all sorts of restrictions in that House confined themselves to abstract theories, with the most magnanimous disregard of practice or precedent. He would ask the advocates of the system of free trade, was it on that the prosperity of England was founded? No person would have the hardihood to answer in the affirmative. The prosperity of England had been founded on a system of commercial laws mainly restrictive. These were he admitted now-a-days considered defective; yet England had arisen to undoubted prosperity under them. But the free-trade theorists, in reference to the decaying state of the country since the restriction on commerce had been removed, would no doubt say, "If it be not prosperous, it ought to be so." And to those who suffered by the change, they would say, "Console yourselves, you ought to be prosperous." That was very poor consolation, and not at all that with which he would be satisfied. He did not like such consolation. The perseverance in these theories would, he was convinced, have the effect of causing a continuous bankruptcy 528 of the national resources, and the reducing of this great country to the condition of a third or fourth rate political power in the scale of European nations. He did not consider the present Corn-laws a sufficient protection to the agriculturists. He had voted for them because they were the last bulwarks between the country and a social convulsion. It might be said out of doors, by those who had nothing to lose, but much to gain, "If convulsion be necessary, let it come: why struggle to avert it?" To this, however, he would answer, "It is not necessary, in the first instance; and, in the second, I have some property left to lose, which I am not at all anxious should pass out of my hands yet awhile." There was a subject to which he would advert briefly; that was the evidence taken by the Committee on Agriculture last year. In that evidence, Mr. Jacob, than whom there could be no higher authority, had stated that if there were such another harvest as that of 1816, there would not be corn for the people of this country in all Europe. He (Mr. Lambert) knew perfectly well, that the theory of cheap bread was a very attractive one to the multitude; but he denied, that cheap bread, unless the means to purchase it were also given, would be a boon to the poorer portion of the community. But the removal of restrictions on trade would have the effect of reducing wages commensurate with the reduction of the price of corn; and consequently the poor man could not then purchase the same amount of bread at a proportionate share of his wages as he did before these restrictions were removed. He therefore would much rather have the quartern loaf 2s. while the labourer had 6s. per day, than 6d. when the labourer had not sixpence in his pocket wherewith to purchase it. There were measures at work which, if not counteracted, he asserted, would end in the destruction of the country. One of these was the currency alteration. He was fully convinced that it was quite sufficient to point at any one in that House, and say, "That is a currency man," to have him marked out for general odium: but he (Mr. Lambert) would not shrink from denouncing that measure as one of the most unjust, impolitic, and profligate pieces of legislation ever achieved. He attributed to it all the evil consequences which had flowed, and were likely to flow, to the total destruction of this great country. He wanted a just and satisfactory measure to arrest the progress of 529 ruin. In calling for such a measure he would not allow himself to be told that he looked for public plunder. His property had been taken from him to the amount of fifty per cent, and the measure by which that spoliation was effected was as dishonest a transfer of property as one effected on the highway at midnight, and designated a robbery.
§ Mr. Harvey:
More wholesome, though not in all things palatable, truths, have been uttered in the debates of the last three mornings, as to the real state of the country, than fell from hon. Members, when this subject was recently before the House, two of whom consumed five hours in propounding their conflicting nostrums. If I were called upon to define the meaning of a deliberative assembly, such as I have now the honour to address, I should say, it means "a body of men who decide without reason, and reflect afterwards." It would seem, that senators are of the feline breed—it is a long time before their eyes are opened, and things can be clearly discerned. We only appear just to have stumbled upon matters with which the public out of doors have long been familiar. We might continue to delude ourselves a little longer, but the time to delude the people has passed away. It is, indeed, admitted, that some difficulties exist; but they partake more of the character of inconvenience than of positive evil. Of this tone of feeling, was the King's speech. Manufacturers were congratulated upon a state of prosperity, which no one, except wealthy capitalists, like the hon. member for Ipswich (Mr. Morrison) could discover, while the agriculturists were expected to be abundantly satisfied and gratified with the assurance that the royal mind was deeply afflicted by their privations; at the same time, his Majesty's Ministers gravely told the farmers, they had no other comfort to offer them. But my chief object in rising is to revert to a numerous class of persons who seem to be entirely overlooked. We abound in champions of free trade, and corn monopoly—but not a word is uttered as to the national creditor except here and there a startling sound is heard, which, if carried out to its consequences, would instantly occasion a fall in the funds of at least twenty per cent. Much has been said about the land, but not one word about the two hundred and eighty thousand persons who are the creditors of the country, and are constantly receiving their half-yearly dividends at the Bank. Some gentlemen have talked of the burthen of the 530 debt, and others have alluded to the private incumbrances of the landowners. But, with respect to the latter, those who have mortgages on their estates, as they received the money when the mortgage was made, it is rather strange, to say the least of it, for them to complain that they are doubled taxed in having to pay both principal and interest. As regards the public debt, I must say the landed interest are beginning to be somewhat ungrateful, particularly in my own county. It has been my lot occasionally to address large assemblies in the county of Essex, where I have endeavoured to explain the real state and condition of the country. But I have always been met by the charge of ingratitude. I have been reminded that though the debt is great, and the interest inconvenient, yet that the sum of 800,000,000l. and the annual payment of 30,000,000l., are of little moment compared to the mighty benefits which that outlay has secured—a splendid Church establishment, and an invaluable system of civil government—and what can we want more?—a Church abounding in religion, and a State overflowing with revenue; yet, in the midst of so much delight, there is much of delusion. We have been repeatedly assured, during this discussion, that the interests of the landlords and the tenants are identical—that they are one and the same person—both committed to the same boat, and must sink or swim together; and, moreover, the farmers have been assured, in all sincerity, that rent has very little to do with their inconveniences. Now, both these positions I venture humbly to deny. It has been said by some hon. Gentlemen, and by the hon. member for Oldham among the rest, that rent is of little consequence to the farmer; that lessening its amount will be no relief; that when a farmer takes two hundred acres of land, and calculates his outgoings upon it, rent is an item of which he makes little account. It is singular to observe how successful the landowners has been in inculcating this doctrine upon the farmers who, when spoken to upon the subject, repeating this lesson admirably, say, "Oh, sir, if we were to pay no rent at all it would be no relief." Let them now see the amount of absurdity in this argument. The agricultural mind is intent at the present moment upon the relief which a modification of the Poor laws will afford. The outside amount of this burthen upon the land is 6,000,000l. 531 a-year, which, if abolished to-morrow, would recoil upon the farmer to the extent of one-half at least, in the shape of increased wages. But, presuming it to be otherwise, and that the farmer would reap the full benefit of the relief to the extent of 6,000,000l., would he not feel its effect in the increased rent he would be called upon to pay? Is not a tithe free farm worth all the difference between the amount of the tithe and no tithe at all? But concede if you will, that no advance is made in rent—in what way, I ask, can the repeal of the Poor-rate assist the farmer more effectually than a remission of rent? Each is a money payment, and whether it goes into the belly of the pauper, or the pocket of the landlord, it must be much about the same thing to him who pays. If the repeal of the Poor-rate of 6,000,000l. is to work such wonders, I will ask whether a repeal of half the rents, which now exceed 30,000,000l., will not work greater? I do not adduce this fact to show that rents ought to be done away with as well as Poor-rates, but to show the absurdity of the assertion, that the amount of rent is of no consequence to the farmer. No mistake can be greater than to suppose that the interests of the tenants and the landlords are the same, for they are diametrically opposed to each other. The landlords have had their day of prosperity—their Pitt and Church and State system; but the day of retribution is now at hand. It is idle for them, now that they are called upon to pay, to say, that if they suffer, the fundholder will not be paid. If the landowners were all swept away to morrow, it would be nothing to the fundholders unless they could carry the land with them. Let them not receive a farthing of rent, the fundholder, the creditor of the country, who has lent the country money in its time of need, will not be the worse off. Every acre of land in this kingdom, everything above and below it, the mines, the forests, are mortgaged to the public creditor; and when the landowner can no longer pay the interest of the mortgage, the fundowner will be in the position of a private mortgagee; he will walk in, and the landlord walk out. I repeat, that every acre of land in this country is mortgaged to the fundholder, and to that, as a Liberal, or Radical, I would keep the landlords. The radicals are constantly, taunted with wanting to rob the fundholder, to shrink from the payment of that debt, which was con- 532 tracted with their eyes open for what the gentlemen on the opposite side contended were great national advantages; but I am not one of those, and am prepared to maintain, that when it shall appear that the interest of the debt can not be paid—that the 30,000,000l. a-year can not be paid—they must let those who, advanced the principal money into possession, unless they can do what it is for them to propose, and which I think it would be wise in the fundholders to accept, viz. come to an equitable adjustment. Gentle-men seem to startle with horror at the bare idea of national insolvency; but did none of them ever hear of private insolvency? My professional experience has supplied many instances, and I have often smiled at the shifts and vagaries which the pride of debtors suggest; but reflection soon tells them that a speedy settlement is the most satisfactory, and I appeal to the merchants and tradesmen around me, whether, in these days of declining business, a dividend of 10s. in the pound is not considered a very handsome composition? To be sure it would be a motley and mighty meeting to see 280,000 dowagers and housemaids, peers and benefit societies, men and minors, of all ages and countries, brought together to take into consideration the amount of a great National Debt. I should like to be present to watch the faces of the opposite parties. I wonder who would first break silence. However, this and all such matters will be easily arranged. At present the suggestion is novel—but these discussions will work marvellously. They will have the effect of opening the eyes of the people to their true condition. It is impossible to prescribe with effect until we are acquainted with the origin, as wall as character, of the disease. At present the people feel as some of my country-folks feel who live in the marshy regions of Essex—low spirits—shaking limbs—something that is indescribably oppressive—some call it ague—others intermittent: and all sorts of quackery are suggested, in which nothing appears certain but death. But we must go to work with cool heads and fixed resolution, and then, take my word for it, this fine country may yet be prosperous and happy. But, before all things, we must throw away delusion: there has been too much of that. Tenants must be made to understand their own real interests, and not be hood-winked at the tables and in the halls or their landlords. It has been insinuated that landlords are a race of men peculiarly 533 tardy in their intellects. I do not think so—no men better understand their own interests, or pursue them with more success. Let us trace their history. In 1814, the landlords and tenants both agreed that a remunerating price was indispensable, and as this could only be obtained through an Act of Parliament, that measure was obtained, and 80s. a quarter was the protecting price. Here the delusion began. The farmers thought that a clause meant corn—that an enactment meant price—as if consumers could pay without means—as if a law and its realization were the same thing. Well, with the Act of Parliament in their hands, the farmers did not find 20l. a load in their pockets, and some of them, bolder than the rest, said as much at the great rent-audit. The landlords or their agents rebuked them for their impatience, in expecting that an Act of Parliament could work wonders in one year; seasons and the grub had something to do with it; yet with patience, and under Providence, the thing wood work well. And by way of quieting their fears, and above all to generate a spirit of independence, the landlords tossed them back 10l. per cent of their rents, with the gratifying assurance that the times would mend. The next year arrived without the promised blessings, and 5l. per cent was returned, which, making 15l. per cent, it formed a very pretty paragraph of lordly munificence in the provincial journals. At the same time the kind-hearted yeomanry were assured the thing would have been better but for the unprincipled clamour of the Reformers, who were throwing every thing into disorder, and who had the daring to talk of the corruption of the Church—to denounce tithes as a nuisance, and even to propose the abolition of pensions and sinecures. While the farmers were thus deluded, the landlords were chuckling, and squeezing the last shilling of the impoverished tenantry. I believe, that the landlords understood the state of things very well; but it would not do for them—for men who could look back upon a long line of ancestors—to make the first movement. They must get humble men like myself to be their pioneers—to grope the way for them—to be their feelers. "They left it to men like me to tell the world that something must be done. In fact, the thing can not be denied, that the aristocracy of this country are destined to be saved by the Radicals in the House of Commons. It so happened, on the other night, I voted for an inquiry into the 534 present Corn-laws, which is the first vote I ever gave on that subject, because, though my views upon this subject have ever been the same, I could not conceal from myself the peculiar relation in which my constituents stand to this great subject. Colchester is the metropolis of a large district of country, peculiarly agricultural. The farmers feel, and justly, that with the present amount of burthens—among which I will maintain rent is the heaviest—that they cannot compete with the foreign grower—while the tradesmen feel, that if the farmers, who are their customers, have no money, they must stand in their shops, full indeed of goods, but empty of buyers. Free trade to them, unaccompanied by suitable arrangements, must be their destruction. All farmers under covenant must have the option of vacating their leases. But of this both farmers and tradesmen may be assured, that things cannot go on as they are—without substantial relief, their little properties will melt away—farmers will become labourers—labourers will become paupers—paupers must become criminals. However, I am glad to see that the eyes or the people are open. A meeting has been lately held in the county of Suffolk, for petitioning against any alteration in the Corn-laws. This meeting was attended by the aristocracy of the county, and persons of all classes agreed to merge their political differences to promote their common object. A shoemaker from Ipswich, however, moved the adjournment of the meeting, and the entire aristocracy of the great county of Suffolk dispersed at the beck of the shoemaker. Before I sit down, I may be allowed to say a few words as to the landlords, and the effects of a free trade upon them. For the man of moderate income—those whose estates vary from 500l. to 2,000l.—great suffering is at hand, especially where the income is largely anticipated by incumbrances; but the men of mighty incomes—those who have 100,000l. a-year—will be able to weather the storm, if they can condescend to live upon half that amount. Men must adapt themselves to events which their madness has made inevitable. It is of no use to deny it. The lords of the soil have had their day. For more than thirty years they triumphed over and trampled upon every body, and every thing, and they must be prepared for that day of retribution, which, in this world, as well as the next, awaits him who does wrong. In my humble judgment, the reckoning is not distant.
§ Mr. Baines
was surprised to hear the hon. member for Oldham say, that the Corn-laws had not been of any benefit to the agriculturists; if so, they ought to be wiped from the Statute-book, for assuredly they were of no use to any body else. The right hon. member for Tamworth certainly made a most able speech on this subject; but although he admired the right hon. Baronet's speech, he could not arrive at his conclusions. An hon. Baronet, the member for Shoreham (Sir C. Burrell), said, that the debate ought to have concluded at the end of the right hon. Baronet's speech. No doubt the hon. Baronet thought so, but it would not have been well for the ends of truth and justice that the debate should have ended there. The right hon. Baronet said, that in discussing this question, they ought not to lose sight of Ireland. In this statement he agreed, for his opinion was, that the more consideration was given to Ireland the more likely were they to make this country happy and prosperous. The right hon. Baronet observed, that a free trade in corn would be utterly ruinous to this country. His opinion was exactly the reverse of that. Previous to the establishment of the Corn-laws, the landlords and farmers were comfortable and happy, and now they were in comparative distress. What gave prosperity at one period was calculated to give it, at least in a degree, at another. He admitted, that the debt had been increased since the imposition of the Corn-laws; and it might be said to be a drag on the prosperity of the country; but a very large proportion of that debt had existed in 1810, previous to the passing of the present Corn-laws, and yet the country, particularly the agricultural portion of it, was then prosperous. The agricultural depression at the present period was unexampled; and yet the corn-trade of the country had been cumbered with protection laws since 1815. With respect to the debt itself, he was not in favour of any equitable adjustment of the claims of the State creditors. As the debt had been contracted, it ought to be paid; and he was sorry to hear any doubts expressed on the subject by any hon. Member of that House. No man could be more averse than he had been to contracting that debt—no man could be more opposed at the time to the causes which led to it; but now no man would more strenuously oppose any undue or improper interference with it than he would. He would repeat, as the debt had been contracted, so 536 should it be honourably and fully discharged; and he would resist to the last any attempt to interfere between the State creditor and the payment of his just demands. Another of the arguments of the right hon. Baronet opposite, which had been well replied to by the hon. member for Oldham, was, that in other articles as well as corn, departure had been made from the principles of free trade. He admitted that. But, because we had done wrong in some instances, and in some descriptions of merchandise, were we to do so in all? The argument was good no further than that, and therefore it was not good at all. He was sorry that the hon. member for Oldham had adduced the example of America, and held it up for the imitation of England. Was it because America did so, we should do so? Should not England be the example held up to America—the example which America should follow rather than the contrary, as he was surprised to hear the hon. member for Oldham assert? It was impossible to expect prosperity in the country until a metallic currency and free trade were fully and firmly established. The principles of free trade were the principles of sound legislation, though he did not assert that we ought to begin with corn, and we ought to encourage every nation to trade with us by receiving their commodities on such terms as would be mutually beneficial.
§ Sir John Tyrell
thought it an unfair statement of the case to represent the agriculturists as enjoying an exclusive protection. The fact was, that they were by no means as much protected as the manufacturers. The right hon. member for Tamworth read yesterday a numerous list of articles which were taxed from twenty-five to fifty per cent for the protection of the manufacturers. When the latter, therefore, came to the House to complain of the protection given to the agriculturists, they ought to come with "clean hands." If the protection were to be taken away from the land, it ought not to be continued to manufacturers; and he believed that, if both were exposed alike to foreign competition, the capital of the manufacturer would be swept away, whilst the agriculturist would outlive the struggle, and his property be as fixed and endurable as the oaks which were planted by his ancestors. He was glad, that the hon. member for Leeds did not agree to what was called an equitable adjustment, but what he called an iniquitous appropriation. The 537 hon. and learned member for Colchester had perhaps stated correctly what had occurred at the meeting in Suffolk. But he remembered a meeting in the county of Essex where the Whigs and Tories were assembled to consider their common grievances, and where the hon. and learned Member, with that talent which always distinguished him, succeeded in misleading the multitude, persuading them that all their distress was attributable to tithes and the Church. He did not think, that Gentlemen met the question in the most satisfactory way, when they argued about the currency, the poor-rate, tithes, and the national debt. It would be much better to bring the question before the House in a distinct and definite shape, than to raise a desultory discussion upon the presentation of petitions. He would say, in conclusion, that the principal part of his income was derived not from land but from houses, and the greatest relief that could be given to him was the repeal of the House-tax; but he felt it to be his interest, in common with the rest of the nation to protect the argriculturists.
§ Lord Henniker
rose to correct an error into which the hon. and learned member for Colchester had fallen. The meeting in Suffolk was not adjourned in the manner which that Gentleman had represented. A petition, not against the Corn-laws, but praying for relief to the agriculturist, was seconded by the very respectable person to whom the hon. member for Colchester had alluded, who certainly was a shoemaker, and was carried unanimously.
§ Mr. Pease
had the most unshaken belief, that no amount of duty would serve as an adequate protection to the agriculturists. There was a power in other countries to inundate England with corn at prices which had never yet been boldly stated in that House. There was a great confusion of opinion out of doors upon this subject; but he believed, that the discussion which had taken place the last two days, had done a great deal to correct the errors which prevailed. He was quite certain that the constituency which he represented, and which was as much interested as any other in the kingdom in the cheapness of corn, was satisfied that if the incomes of the landlords and farmers were reduced, they themselves would have empty shops, as well as the people of Colchester. They all agreed with him as to the necessity of protecting the agriculturists, and they all knew that corn could 538 not be sold cheap unless it were grown cheap. If he were to agree to the abolition of the Corn-laws he must be content to see a great quantity of land in his neighbourhood go out of cultivation. In what state, then, would the manufacturers be if the agricultural labourers were thrown upon them for support? He was a manufacturer, and he could truly say, that the manufacturers did not want an increase of hands. Why, they were constantly inventing machinery to reduce manual labour; and how could it be expected that manufacturers should be anxious for more hands? He would conclude by stating, that he was satisfied that the destruction of the landed interest was going on with the greatest certainty that its most bitter enemy could wish: and if the slight protection which it yet enjoyed were withdrawn, that interest would be ruined, and the Constitution overthrown.
Mr. John Maxwell
said, that no argument which the hon. Gentleman could adduce would satisfy the people that a monopoly should be upheld for the benefit of one class to the injury of another. He hoped, therefore, that his Majesty's Ministers would make some alteration in the present system. He did not call upon them to repeal the Corn-law, but he did call upon them to try the experiment of a fixed duty upon some one description of corn—barley, for instance. Let them do this, and watch the effect it would produce; then, and then only, could they be able to arrive at anything like a correct view of this important question. The hon. member for Colchester had taunted the landlords with a desire to break faith with the public creditor. For his part he did not think this a question between the landholder and the fundholder, but it was a question between the fundholder and the people of England, between the fundholder and his poor constituents, who were working for 10d. a-day. He should be opposed to the public creditor so long as justice was not rendered to the public debtor.
§ Mr. Thomas Attwood
said, that Locke had long ago pointed out the evils of a contraction of the currency. He compared a nation suffering under such a contraction to five children lying in a bed. No sooner did one little fellow pull the clothes than he uncovered another; and so they went on squabbling till their father enlarged their covering. That was the state of this country at present; the farming interest was calling out for a free trade in goods, 539 and the manufacturing interest for a free trade in corn; but if they were to have all these things without a change in the Money-laws, it would only be giving up the land, the manufacture, the capital, the industry of the country, into the hands of the monied interest. It was the monopoly of the monied interest which had scattered so much ruin amongst the agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing classes of the country; but the day was approaching when that system would fall under the pressure of the ruin it caused. It was the interest of all these classes to unite for their common security against the common enemy. He would remind the House of the fable of the lion and the bulls. Three bulls grazed in rich pastures; they were fat, sleek, and rich, and the lion felt anxious to devour them; but whilst they remained united they were powerful, and the lion durst not approach them. The lion called to his aid the fox (a cunning little fund-holder), and he went amongst the bulls and sowed dissension and distrust amongst them, so that each looked upon the other with suspicion. They separated, and each retired into a different corner of the field, remote from each other, until the lion came upon them thus weakened, and at his mercy, and devoured them at his leisure. It was the combination of monopolists that produced those evils which the country was now suffering. They had made a grand mistake in the Bullion Report of 1810, and they had obstinately persevered in endeavouring to prop up that mistake ever since. It was this system that affected all classes of the country, and from which all but the monopolists were suffering. A great many of the monied interest were always ready to do anything which would break down the landed interest. Both had a morbid pleasure in the degradation of each other. The manufacturers and merchants he knew entertained that feeling; they felt a delight at the degradation and want of prosperity among the agricultural interest; and he believed the landed interest was not at all behind hand in reciprocating the feeling. He attributed the passing of the present system of Money-laws in 1819 to two causes; first, the selfishness of certain individuals; and, secondly, the wish of the monied and mercantile interests to degrade the landed interest. With respect to the Corn-laws and free trade, the hon. member for Liverpool would forgive him for saying that he was surprised and sorry to see among the many petitions on these subjects 540 sent forward by the Gentlemen of that borough, none for breaking down the monopoly of money, the monopoly of taxes, rents, pensions, mortgages, &c. If monopoly was to be broken down in one case it should be broken down in all, for the very circumstance of its being so broken down was an assertion of the principle of its inutility and injuriousness to the community. If the land in this country were to be brought down to the continental level, so also should all other contingent sources of expense to the country. He was certainly of opinion that the Corn-laws should be abolished, and he should support the abolition for two or three reasons. They were inefficient for the protection of the agriculturist, and injurious to the country; but his principal reason he should confess was, that he believed them to be co-existent with the Monetary-laws, and consequently that the destruction of one necessarily involved that of the other. The cause of the Corn-laws lay deep in the Money-laws. In 1815, when there appeared at the peace a very great prospect of a decline of prices in all agricultural products, certain individuals having an interest in the continuance of things as they then were said to themselves, "How shall we keep up prices at their present rate? Time taxes protect our dividends in the funds, how shall we protect our rents?" The consequence of their consultation was the Corn-laws; a measure which created a general state of starvation throughout the country, that a few rich landholders might continue to receive the same amount of revenue as they enjoyed before. He should have thought the proper way of keeping up remunerating prices was by increasing consumption. Gentlemen must remember there were two ways of keeping up prices; one was by diminishing production, and the other by increasing consumption. Doing the latter, increased the comforts and gratifications of the mass of the people, and allowed them to multiply indefinitely; but to cause a rise of prices by means of an artificial famine was only to scatter misery and discord through the nation, at the same time it dug the ground from under its own feet. But although the people might be stinted in their food by the Corn-laws, the latter would not keep up prices unless they were accompanied by a law to compel gold and silver to come to this country, and afterwards another law to compel them to remain. If he were a landowner; he should wish to get rid of the Corn-laws as fast as he could. 541 They hurt the landlords; but they had been the ruin of hundreds of thousands of farmers who had trusted in them, and the same delusion was still going on, as far as could be judged from the agricultural associations formed in different parts of the country to keep up prices. All the Corn-laws in the world would not bring gold in this country nor keep it here so long as a premium was given for gold to be kept out of the country. He wished the Corn-laws to be abolished, because the consequence would be the abolition of the Money-laws, and thus new prices would be obtained by the landlord, the farmer, and the agricultural labourer; and, what was of more importance, full and complete labour would be given to all classes of persons. An hon. Member said, that they should be content to pay their just debts. He had no objection to this, but he objected to their paying three times the amount of their debts, as they were now doing. They were now giving three bushels of corn instead of one, and three yards of Manchester goods where they ought only to give one. He wanted an honest debt. But he was told that they had contracted to pay this debt in the present standard of value. This he most unequivocally denied, and he had on former occasions, by referring to the various Acts of Parliament on the subject, proved this argument unjust. Lord Liverpool, in bringing in the Bill on this subject, said, that it was a matter of national convenience; but the fact was, that the passing of the Bill led the country to its own destruction.
§ Mr. Ewart
, in reply, said, he would promise two things—first, that he would not speak five minutes; next, that he would confine himself closely to the point. He must begin by thanking the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) for having virtually supported the petition from Liverpool. The whole tendency of the right hon. Baronet's arguments merely went to show that other monopolists existed, as well as landed monopolists. He had proved, not that they were not monopolists, but that they were not the only monopolists. The Liverpool Petition prayed for relief from monopolists generally, as well as for especial relief from a monopoly of the supply of food. The general principle, therefore, of the right hon. Baronet's speech was favourable to the case of the petitioners rather than to the landed interest. But besides, he apprehended that the right hon. Baronet had erred in detail. In the table 542 of duties to which the right hon. Baronet referred, the number of items was 1,149. Of these about 800 were for food and raw materials, intended either for purposes of revenue, or for the protection of the landed interest. Of the 349 remaining items, fifty-eight were for distinct manufactured articles (the rest being varying duties on the same kind of article.) Of these fifty-eight items, the greater part were not protections of British industry. In the staple articles of cotton, wool, silk, and iron, we wanted no protection. The rest might be consolidated in one term, which he (Mr. Ewart) would borrow from the right hon. Baronet, and call "the walking-stick interests." The hon. member for Beverley had said, "By altering the Corn-law you will not diminish our burthens, you only shift them." The advocates of repeal answered, "We may not lessen your burthen, but we may increase your power of bearing it; we may not at once reduce your debt, but we may better enable you to pay it!" With respect to the other arguments advanced on behalf (as it was erroneously said) of the landed interest, he (Mr. Ewart) would adopt a quotation already made on the other side, and say, "The land has bubbles, as the water has, and these are of them."
would not delay the House for more than two minutes; the question had been so fully discussed he would not touch on its merits; he merely rose as an Irish Member, fully persuaded that a repeal of the Corn-laws, without a corresponding remodelling of all the other interests in this kingdom, must bring certain destruction on Ireland; and he also believed on the landed interest of England. Many of the supporters of this measure admitted that all men of moderate fortune must be annihilated by it; that none but the overgrown proprietors could stand it; and that it must be accompanied by a cancelling of all existing contracts between landlord and tenant. Were Members really prepared to agree with that proposition? He was anxious to state the reason so few Irish Members had taken part in this debate. It was not owing to their not taking a deep interest in the question; it was solely caused by their being unavoidably absent, attending their several assizes; and he could assure the House that the majority of the Irish Members, and the majority of the Irish people, felt that the repeal of those laws, under present circumstances, must destroy their only means of existence, the agricultural interest of Ireland.
§ Petition laid on the Table.