§ Mr. Cayley
*—Before I proceed to direct the attention of the House to the subject of the Motion with which I shall conclude, I will take the liberty of shortly stating the reasons which have induced me to persist in bringing it forward, against a prevailing wish in the House, that the subject of Corporate Reform should have precedence. Sir, I know I stand on unpopular grounds with many Members on account of what they may term my obstinate determination in this respect: and I feel I owe, and am ready to make, an apology to the House, for thus interfering between it and so important a measure, as that of Municipal Reform. If I were actuated by any private or personal considerations, I should be ashamed to find myself standing where I am at such a juncture; but feeling that I am guided on this occasion by a sense of public duty, and by that alone, I confess I feel relieved in a great measure of the responsibility. It is not that I underrate the importance of Corporation Reform; but that such is the fallen state of British agriculture, that I can conceive no Question of such pressing importance. I appeal to every Member around me who knows the condition of the farmer—not by hearsay, merely, but who has seen his distress, as it were, bodily before his eyes—whether I am not justified in my resolution. I think, moreover, I ought not to be condemned for an obstinate perseverance in this Motion, before the case is fully understood. I gave notice of it on the first day of the Session, for the 19th of May; at that time, the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, was not in the House, and at the request of my right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) I postponed it—very unwillingly, indeed, as he will testify—on the ground that it would be inconvenient to the Ministry to have it brought forward in the noble Lord's absence. At the same time, there was a distinct understanding between my right hon. Friend and myself, that I should have every facility from the Government in bringing the Motion forward this day. Besides, this was the*From a corrected Report.245 second occasion, in the present Session, on which I had given way to the Government on a question affecting the interests of agriculture.
I may also state, that last Session, I gave notice of a Motion similar to the present, which I was prevented from bringing forward by the unusual length of the Easter vacation, and subsequently to that I had no opportunity of doing so. I trust the House will be satisfied with this explanation. It must always be a matter of extreme regret to any one, to have to resist what appears to be the wish of the House. The subject of my Motion is of a painful nature in itself, and it would be rendered still more painful to me, should I have to force it upon the attention of a reluctant audience. No person, Sir, can be more fully aware than myself of the difficulties which attend the execution of the task I have undertaken, or of my own inability to cope with it. I have, however, directed my attention to the subject for some years; and I only wish that my powers of commanding the attention of the House were, in any degree, commensurate with the anxiety I feel, to obtain some measure of relief. I trust, however, to its patient indulgence, for I am aware of the tedious nature of a discussion of this kind, since the statements, which I shall feel it my duty to make, must be borne out by reference to documents. Feeling, therefore, that this Question admits of no delay—being convinced that things cannot remain as they are without extreme danger—not only to the agricultural interest, but to all other interests connected with it, and from the spirit of discontent and dissatisfaction which is generated by distress, even to the institutions of the country themselves—I am induced to persevere, in the hope that I shall obtain the attention which is due, not to myself, but to the importance of my subject.
This is no party Question, and I trust that it will not be treated in a party spirit, for if the subject of agricultural distress could be discussed, on either side of the House, in a party spirit, the situation and prospects of the agriculturists would be lamentable indeed—even more so than I, unfortunately, have reason to believe them to be. Some of the difficulties, however, with which I otherwise should have had to contend, in bringing this Question forward, have been removed by the ac- 246 knowledgment which three of the highest authorities in this House—namely, the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, and the right hon. (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) made the other evening, when the noble Member for Buckinghamshire brought forward his Motion, "that the agricultural interest cannot hope to obtain substantial relief from any additional remission of local and general taxation." But are not these the very modes of relief to which our attention has been always directed by our rulers? And now at the eleventh hour, we are deliberately informed we have nothing to expect from these sources, or so little, as to afford no hope of perceptible improvement. Am I not justified, therefore, in inferring, that this is an opportune occasion on which to propose another species of relief—a species of relief, too, which has never yet been tried without success; whilst that from remission of taxation has had no visible influence whatever. The right hon. (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) boasted, that within the last fifteen or twenty years, which have elapsed since the Peace, the agricultural interest has been relieved from 8,000,000l. of taxation. I could not but regret the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman made that statement, because it seemed to say, "we have done so much for agriculture, we cannot afford to do any more." Now, what does all this remission of taxation (with agriculture getting worse and worse, in spite of it) prove, but that we have gone the wrong way to work, and that private incumbrances and engagements have pressed on the agriculturist as much, or more, than public ones. The right hon. Gentleman also referred, with an air of triumph, to the fact, that the agricultural interest was not so heavily taxed, in comparison with other classes now, as in various reigns to which he alluded. What does this prove? Why, that the agricultural interest was better able to bear a greater amount of taxation at those periods than it is now: so that my right hon. Friend has only furnished another lamentable illustration of the agricultural distress.
The noble Secretary, for the Home Department, told the House, the other night, that, in 1833, the Agricultural Committee recommended that the Legislature should not interfere on the subject. 247 This was very far from being an unanimous opinion on the part of the Committee, besides the Question of the Currency was excluded from the consideration of the Committee which was the only efficient way in which to interfere. The Report went on to say, that it was a perilous thing to try experiments on the farmer. This is also very true; but having brought him to death's door by one experiment, may not we bring him to life by another? and, at all events, he cannot be in a worse state than he is in now; for I ask whether the agricultural interest is not now in a worse state than it was in 1833? The price of wheat in 1833 was 54s. a quarter, whilst now in some districts of the country it is not more than 34s. I hold in my hand the Mark Lane Express, by which it appears that on the 27th of April last the average price of wheat was 38s. 10d. per quarter.
Mark Lane April 27th.
The weekly aggregate average price of wheat throughout the kingdom did not exceed last Thursday 38s. 10d., which, according to Winchester measure, is equivalent to 37s. 8d., being lower than the average for the last fifty-five years, when in 1779 and 1780, the rates were 33s. 8d. and 35s. 8d; and in analyzing the averages of the past week we find, that in Lincolnshire the quantity of wheat returned as sold, is 5,373 quarters, and the price 36s. 10d.; in Northumberland, 3,701 quarters, and price 35s. 5d.; in Huntingdon, 582 quarters, at 35s. 5d.; Oxford, 233 quarters, at 36s. 1d.; Northampton, 477 quarters, at 36s. 9d.; the higher averages being for small quantities in Wales and Cornwall.
§ In 1833, when wheat was 54s., it was 10s. under the remunerating price, but since then there has been a fall of 20s. more. This tremendous fall in the price of wheat began at the close of the scarce seasons 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831. It had, indeed, begun in 1827; but those wet years caused a scarcity price, and so concealed the effects of the preparation for and the final extinction of 1l. notes in 1829. Many Gentlemen, and amongst others the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, near me, seem to think that the agricultural interest is not so badly off as is represented, because barley and oats and wool sell well at present. Any person, however, acquainted with agriculture, knows the cause of this, and that it is accidental.
§ During the two last years dry Springs have prevailed, and it is an incontrovertible fact, (which I may state for the benefit 248 of those who are in the habit of passing judgment on agriculture, although unacquainted with rural affairs), that a dry Spring is invariably accompanied by the failure of the barley and oat crops. It was in this spirit the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, spoke, when my noble Friend (Lord Chandos) brought forward his Motion for a Repeal of the Malt-tax. He argued as if the present was to continue to be the price of barley in any ordinary season; that this being the case, the barley lands did not want relief, and therefore the Malt-tax ought not to be repealed. All this was in total ignorance of the fact, that both the last years, and especially the last, was not more in most districts than half a crop of barley, and of oats the same. Of course a rise in price must be the consequence: but to suppose that any advantage accrues to the agricultural interests generally, from scarce seasons, is not only untrue, but a thankless blasphemy: a partial deficiency of crop may be advantageous to such parties as escape it, because they reap, with a full crop, the benefit of a scarcity price. Then the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets goes on,—this inequality in the prices of wheat, barley, and wool, proves that the change of the currency has had nothing to do with the general fall in prices: the hon. Gentleman, it should be known, is one of those who tell us that the Bank of England issue more of their notes when they have to answer them in gold, than they did when they were a legal tender; and of course he must argue, to be consistent, that a larger or smaller quantity of currency makes no difference in prices. But what is the fact as to barley and wool? Before the wet seasons began in 1828, that is to say, in 1826–7, after the 1l. notes were withdrawn in 1825, wool fell down to 8d. per lb., and barley, also, so low, that it was matter of debate with many practical farmers, whether it was worth occupying a farm which only produced barley and wool. I remember this the better, because I occupy a farm myself of this description. At that time many of the old sheep walks, in consequence of the late introduction of bone-dust as manure, were ploughed up; and those light, poor soils, from being the least profitable, have, from the smaller comparative expense attending their cultivation, become lately the most safe to culitvate.249
§ When the Question of Agricultural Distress was brought forward last year, the noble Lord who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Lord Althorp) talked much in the same strain as the Member for Tamworth; it is, I suppose, the usual official language; he said, it was true that wheat sold badly, but wool sold well. What was the reason of that? From 1828 to 1831, there was a succession of wet seasons, which created the rot amongst flocks on soils where it had not been known for 50 or 100 years before. It was calculated that one-fourth of the sheep flocks in the kingdom was swept away by this disease. The aggregate number of sheep is estimated at 32,000,000, and therefore a deficiency of 8,000,000 had to be supplied. And as far as my own knowledge and inquiries have gone, I do not think this, by any means, an exaggerated estimate. It was only the uplands that escaped this scourge, in the lowlands entire flocks were carried off. Of course mutton and wool rose to a scarcity price; and beef also, to supply the place of mutton. But wool rose highest, in proportion, because the sources of supply-are more limited. England alone can furnish the long wool, whereas the carcase of the sheep could be fetched from the hills of Scotland; but the wool could not be supplied from that quarter. Thus mutton and beef were prevented from rising to the same extent as wool, and the immense importation of Irish pigs (which are always largest under low prices) conduced to the same result. And another reason why wool sustained so high a price was the necessity of our manufacturers preserving their place with woollen goods in the foreign market, at any cost, because the market once lost, would with difficulty be regained. There can be no greater proof of the inordinate scarcity of wool than that, in 1833, the importations of wool exceeded those of preceding years, by 10,000,000lbs., while the export of woollen goods has been stationary. Now no one will pretend to say that this additional 10,000,000lbs., has been consumed by the home-market, which is in so depressed a state from the adversity of the agricultural interest. On the contrary, it was a general complaint on the part of the witnesses summoned before the Agricultural Committee of 1833, that the clothes of agricultural labourers, which had formerly been woollen, had now become changed to cotton, an alteration 250 arising out of necessity (cotton being cheaper) and much to be deplored; because in a variable climate like this, and especially in winter out-of-door employment, woollen was much more suitable, and much preferred. Are we, then, to be surprised at the extraordinary rise in the price of wool—when we know the cause—a rise from 8s. or 10s. a stone in 1827–8, before the rot commenced, to 24s. and 30s. in 1833–4? But we may rely upon it, that in proportion as the scarcity is filled up, the price will fall; it had already fallen at Christmas last thirty per cent; and the deficiency would much sooner have been made up, if it had not been that the capital of the farmers had been so exhausted before the loss of their sheep, that they had scarcely anything left to purchase new flocks with. To be sure they had the power of taking in the flocks of those capitalists who choose to speculate in sheep; and this has been done to a considerable extent. Then the fall in the price of meat also is very marked since last year. Stock has not paid for keeping the last winter. I hold in my hands a letter from a very intelligent farmer in my own district (near the wolds of Yorkshire), which is notorious for barley growing, stating the comparative prices of a great number of agricultural articles in February, 1834, and February, 1835. He gives the returns of two markets, Leeds, a manufacturing, and Malton, a purely agricultural one:—
|Leeds, February 18th, 1834.|
|Average price per quarter.||Per stone of 14 lbs.|
|Beans||1||13||7¼||Pig for salting||5||0|
|Malton, February 15th, 1834.|
|Average price. per quarter.||Per stone.|
|Beans||1||10||6||Pig for salting||4||3|
|February 17th, 1835.|
|Average price per quarter.||Per stone of 14 lbs.|
|Beans||1||16||7¼||Pig for salting||4||9|
|February 14th, 1835.|
|Average price per quarter.||Per stone.|
|Beans||1||13||2½||Pig for salting||3||9|
You will perceive that wheat has again fallen in price this year, more than the full amount of rent now paid, notwithstanding the reductions which have taken place the last ten or twelve years. The price of barley, oats and beans may appear to the philosophers to contradict this; but from inquiry of many farmers in this district, and men occupying different soils, I find that the average of barley will not be two quarters per acre, oats four quarters, beans two quarters—produce of last year (1833) on an average—barley nearly four quarters, oats six quarters, and beaus two quarters. Bean crops in 1831 and 1832 averaged four quarters at least. If you calculate the value this year, by the quantity of barley and oats per acre, you will find though prices are higher than last year, there is a serious loss to the growers from the falling off in quantity.
§ Such is the condition of the landed interests of this country at this moment. And I ask, and I ask boldly, is this state of things to continue. Land cannot be cultivated at the present prices; let Parliament declare once for all whether it will encourage a system which has brought this distress upon us. It is for Parliament to say how much land is to be thrown out of, or to remain in, cultivation. Let it go to work in a business-like manner; let it address his Majesty to send out a Commission to inquire, and to report, after minute investigation, how many acres of arable soil there are in Great Britain, that will pay a profit at 5s. per bushel for wheat. My firm conviction is that the Report, if faithfully made, would state that nineteen acres out of twenty, would not pay a profit at such a price; and I am as confident that it would report that one-third or fourth of the arable soils could not pay a profit under 7s. or 8s. a bushel for wheat. If we had a report of this kind, we should know on what ground we stood; we should then see what sort of Ministers those were, who, with these facts before them, dare perpetuate a system, that will lay waste the greater part of the cultivated soils of the kingdom. No, Sir, it could not be; I am convinced it is ignorance alone of the real state of the farming 252 interests which causes such an apathy on the part of our rulers, with respect to proposals for relief. This ignorance is confirmed by a mistaken notion on the part of some members whose estates are in a great measure confined to the upland districts, that the results of the wet seasons, which have been so favourable to them for three or four years, are likely to continue. They probably come to the Minister and tell him that all this history of extreme distress is exaggerated, that they know from their own experience, that rents are very fairly paid, and so on. This is all very agreeable to the Minister to hear, for he his afraid of giving offence to other interests, and especially to the monied interest, by appearing to take too great an interest in the rise of agricultural produce. But what can be more shortsighted and contemptible than such a view; which not only betrays an ignorance of the cause of the uplands having a temporary, and that a very temporary, advantage; but also a cold-blooded indifference to the sufferings of those, from whose sufferings alone, those upland soils, have been preserved from destruction.
§ Again, there are some who imagine all must be prosperous because they are. I know an instance of a Gentleman who always wonders at hearing any complaints of distress:—"His rents are well paid, and he is as rich a man as ever;" and he appeals to his agent in testimony of the truth of this statement. On inquiry, I found that great part of this estate had been actually brought into cultivation by means of bone dust, about ten years ago; that a large lime-quarry, which served almost the whole neighbourhood, had lately been opened on his estate; and that a rail-road had sprung up close to him: while the steward, notwithstanding the fall in prices, had never had his salary reduced. Here was cause enough for prosperity: had it not been for these adventitious circumstances, what would have been the condition of that estate? What could have prevented that Gentleman and his tenants sharing the fate of their neighbours? I repeat, Sir, that if wheat is to remain at 36s. or 38s. a quarter, and there is no hope of a rise except from some action on the monetary system, at least half the arable land in the country will be unable to bear any rent at all. I mean arable land disconnected from pasture land, the latter of which has lately had 253 advantages from the rise in wool and stock. We are come to a pretty pass indeed, if an acre under the plough cannot pay its own expenses. Arable land ought to pay a profit, per se, independent of all connexion with grass; but I ask whether, during the last four years, three-fourths of the arable land could have paid rent, if the whole had been farmed without the intermixture of grass land? Every one knows, who knows anything of farming, that for those years the profits on wool and stock have only covered the loss on the plough. I would here call the attention of the House to some calculations as to the profits of farming, drawn up by a more practical agriculturist than myself, (although I am one),—I mean Lord Western. I see that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer smiles, because, I suppose, he thinks that Lord Western entertains an opinion similar to mine on a particular point,—the evils arising out of the change in the currency. The right hon. Gentleman may smile; I can only say, that if Lord (then Mr.) Western's views on that subject had been acted upon, and his Motion granted in 1822, thousands of broken hearts would have been spared, which have descended from comfort and competence to the workhouse and gaol, and have there quitted the scene.
§ My noble and right hon. Friends now occupy the Treasury Benches, and I rejoice that they do: but I never held an opinion more strongly in my life than that they would not have occupied those places but for the misery, destitution, and discontent arising out of the change of the monetary system in 1819. It was this which was the fruitful source of dissatisfaction with all established things, and it was natural that such should be the consequence: for what value can the productive classes have for any Government, or system of
|Wheat||-||-||-||25–3½||per acre||30s. per qr.||-||-||-||131||15|
|Barley||-||-||-||25–5||per acre||20s. per qr.||-||-||-||125||—|
|Beans and Peas||12½–3½||per acre||20s. per qr.||-||-||-||42||—|
|Turnips & Tares||12½—||-||-||-||-||-||-||12||—|
|Acres 100.||£325 15|
If the landlord reduces 15s. per acre, or, in other words, reduces his rent from 175l. to 100l. the tenant has 75l., to set against 325l.; if the landlord sinks his rent 20s. the acre, and, instead of a rent of a 175l., puts up
Government, which does not protect their property and promote their comfort? I do not mean to infer that Reforms were unnecessary. I have been pretty constant in my support of most of the measures of Reform introduced by his Majesty's Government; but I cannot conceal from myself that the popular excitement in favour of these Reforms has sprung from uncomfort and distress; and although I may rejoice in this result, I cannot but deeply lament the cause; especially since, if it continue, the best of our institutions may be as insecure as those which have no foundation to stand on. In my opinion, therefore, he who was the most able opponent of the Reform Bill, being the author of the Act of 1819, was himself the foremost cause of the success of that Bill, The following is Lord Western's calculation:—
I suppose a farm of one hundred acres, of fair, good, arable land, well cultivated upon the four course system, the produce of the wheat, at 3½qrs. per acre, barley, 5qrs., beans and peas, 3½qrs. Wheat, during near a quarter of a century (from 1797 to 1819) had averaged 80s. the quarter; fifteen years preceding 1816 85s.; the rent founded upon these data I take at 35s. per acre; the moment the Bill passed the markets fell 30 or 40 per cent., and in the fifteen years succeeding, the average price has been, as near as may be, 55s.; it has subsequently fallen still lower, and is, I believe, now only 40s. I therefore consider the price of wheat to have fallen, on the average, 30s. per quarter; barley, 20s.; beans and peas, 20s. Upon these grounds I estimate the reduction of the money receipts of the farmer upon 100 acres to amount annually to 325l. The reduction of price upon clover, tares, and turnips, is loosely estimated, but moderate. I take no notice of the change of price of various minor articles, the produce of such a farm. This aggregate and enormous difference in his return, I think I clearly establish, upon the following calculation;—I take the produce on the four course system to be as under:—with a rent of 75l., the tenant has 100l. to set against 325l. I will not stop to comment upon the situation of the landlord under such circumstances—it must be too obvious to need any observations. I will go on to suppose
the entire rent done away: the tenant will still be under the necessity, singular as it must appear, to reduce his expenditure in other ways to the extent of 150l., to make up, with the rent of 175l., the loss of 325l., to put himself upon the footing on which he stood prior to the year 1819. I cannot discern where he can look to for means at all adequate to effect this reduction, even if I give him the malt-tax wholly repealed into the bargain.
§ Now, this calculation is in reference to land of a superior qnality; bearing 3½ quarters of wheat per acre; (the average of the kingdom being certainly not more than 2½ quarters), and 5 quarters of barley, which is 1½ quarters more than the average crop. If such are to be the consequences, from the fall in prices, to soils of this superior description, what is to become of others inferior in quality to this? And not less than two-thirds of the whole are inferior. What is to become of the labourers—what of the tenantry? I cannot conceive how the Legislature can allow such a state of things as this to continue. Nothing can be more alarming in this respect, than a statement which I heard the other day, unparalleled, I believe, in the history of agriculture. I do not see the hon. Member for Inverness in his place, otherwise, I am sure, he would bear me out in this statement, that in Scotland they are at this moment adulterating oatmeal with wheat flour. The straw on an acre of land, I am informed, has actually sold lately in London for a higher price than the wheat itself. The landlords, Sir, have their necessities as well as others, I believe, if the rent paid for the last five years had been graduated according to the amount of profit arising from the produce, they would scarcely have received any rent at all for their land. I have even heard of cases this year, where the whole half-year's rent has been foregone; and other cases where the landlord has been compelled to cut down young trees of under fifty feet of wood, in order to make up some compensation for the loss of his rent.
§ Sir, the agricultural interests will be in a much worse condition, when the prices of wool and stock find their level. Before that visitation of providence, of which I have spoken, took place among the sheep, in 1828, and the following years, wool was down at 8s. and 10s. a stone, and mutton down at 3½d. and 4d. per pound. When these prices again arrive, which they will, as surely as winter follows 256 summer—when the present scarcity is supplied—then, and not till then, will the full measure of the agricultural depression be perceived. Blind and infatuated are those who rest supine, awaiting this tremendous crisis, and who seem resolved not to lend an effort to avert the impending storm. When it is too late to rescue thousands of innocent men, who have been ruined by no act of their own, but by a deliberate act of the Legislature, they will begin, perhaps, to repent of their selfish indifference. But my noble Friend, the Secretary for the Home Department, gives us this consoling advice: he told the noble Marquess (Marquess of Chandos), the other night, that the only way to relieve the farmer is to reduce his rent. Before the Agricultural Committee of 1833, it was shewn that rents had been reduced, on an average, about twenty-five per cent since the war, and that if wheat remained so low as 54s. per quarter, another reduction of twenty-five per cent must be submitted to. But now we are reduced to 35s. per quarter for wheat, and the whole rent on half the soils in the kingdom, must be swept away altogether, if this price is allowed by the Legislature to continue. I ask, why is the landlord to be called upon to sacrifice his rent, which is as fairly due to him, (being the interest on the capital he has invested in the land) as the interest of any other capital is to any other capitalist? Why is not this species of public property to be protected, as well as any other? The landlord made his investment in the land, upon the calculation of realizing three per cent for his money; and he consented to receive that low rate of interest on the principle, and on the pledge that land was absolute security:—and is he not to get one per cent on it? or is he to be called upon to forego the whole? What plea has the fund-holder more than he? The fund-holder bought into the funds, speculating on a higher profit; he expected he had a great risk to run, but he was willing to run the risk for the immediate advantage of a higher rate of interest; he got five per cent, when the landlord was willing to receive three; the landholder bought his land calculating on a less per centage, on the principle that he was to have the least possible risk to run. He was to have less immediate gain, but that gain was to be absolutely secured, and to be permanent; the fundholder was paid to run the risk; 257 he received the price in exchange for less security, and now he receives all the price, and all the security likewise;—while the landlord, who paid him to encounter this danger, has had all the danger to incur himself, and has lost his property in the bargain to that very party he had paid money to, to protect it. We are coolly told we must come down to the level of 1792—the times before the war. Would to God we were allowed so to do! 1792, with its higher prices, and lower taxes! What was the situation of the landlord in 1792? I have now before me an abstract from the books of an experienced agriculturist, on which reliance may be placed, which has been continuously kept by his father and himself since 1792, on a farm of 600 acres. The following are the results:—
|1814 Higher than 1834. Per Cent.||1834 Higher than 1790. Per Cent.|
|Tea, Sugar, Candles, Malt, &c.||67||30|
|Domestic Servants and Education||29||66|
The prices of agricultural produce in 1813 were, on the average, 100 per cent higher than 1834, (taking into the account an unnatural price in wool, stock, barley, oats, and hay from the rot three or four years ago, and the last two dry springs). Yet, with a diminished price in his produce of 100 per cent, the British agriculturist has experienced a fall of only 258 thirty-five per cent on the wages he has to pay; thirty-four per cent in his household expenses; while he has to pay an increase of forty-nine per cent local taxation, with 100 per cent less price of produce.
Again, taking the same temporary causes into account for a rise in certain articles at the present time (as in the previous case) and no one practically acquainted with agriculture will deny that such exception must be made to come to a fair conclusion; the prices of agricultural produce in 1790, testing them by wheat, were as 49 to 42, or 15 per cent. higher than 1834: yet the agriculturist in 1834, although receiving 15 per cent. less for his produce, has to pay for his
more than the agriculturist of 1790.
§ Now, Sir, it appears that the rent of these 600 acres of land at each of these periods, if levied really according to the rate of prices and expenses of cultivation, would be:—
The state of distress, Sir, which I have feebly endeavoured to portray, has existed with very slight intervals ever since the peace; there have been, indeed, occasional gleams of prosperity since that period; however, they were but of short continuance. The best estimate perhaps of the long continuance of this dreadful
pressure maybe formed from the Speeches which have been delivered from the Throne on the opening of the Sessions of Parliament, which have intervened. In 1815, distress was stated generally; and the Prince Regent's Speech, on the 28th of January, 1817, states,—
The distresses consequent upon the termination of a war of such universal extent and duration, have been felt with greater or less severity throughout all the nations of Europe, and have been considerably aggravated by the unfavourable state of the season.
From the end of 1817, to the beginning of 1819, however, there was a recurrence of prosperity; then from 1819, to 1822, a recurrence of adversity; and again from 1823 to 1825, a recurrence of prosperity; and lastly, from 1825 to the present time, another recurrence of adversity; these changes and alterations, therefore, could not have sprung from the mere transition from war to peace, because, at various periods subsequent to the termination of the war, prosperity had arisen; shewing that prosperity should exist in time of peace.
§ There have been many causes assigned at different times for the prevalent agricultural distress; sometimes it has been over-production. The Prince Regent says, in 1817, it was under-production: first comes over-production then under-production then over-population,—as if overpopulation, and over-production were not the two things exactly adapted to each other; and, besides these delusive theories, we are told it is in consequence of a great supply of corn from Ireland. This is not the first time in our history, when distress, arising from a scarcity of money, has been attributed to the importation of Irish produce: to this, perhaps, I shall allude hereafter: but such reasons are vain and mischievous, and I verily believe they are only fostered and encouraged by designing men, who make a profit of our distress, and whose interest it is to deceive the suffering agriculturists into hopes that never can be realized.
§ As a corollary upon the Speech of 1817, there was a deficiency in the revenue—considerable excitement and disturbance throughout the country—the Prince Regent was personally attacked—and petitions for relief from taxation and for Reform were numerous. Sir, notwithstanding the smile of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 260 when I mentioned, a short time ago, that distress was the parent of Reform, there does thus appear to be a close connexion, and sympathy between the distress of the people and their desire for Reform; and what I had conceived as a probable result, is thus confirmed by history.
§ In February, 1818, the Speech announces a revival of trade and a removal of distress. It is well known that, upon the suggestion of the Government in 1817, the bank of England put 3,000,000l. or 4,000,000l. more of its paper into circulation; and consequent upon that were the higher prices of agricultural produce, and the removal of distress. I know it will be advanced by some that the rise in corn in 1817–18 was from deficient harvests; I am aware that 1816 was a deficient harvest: but we never have prosperity among all classes in a time of famine: whereas, in these years, the Speech from the Throne lays particular stress on the well-doing of trade; besides, all other prices as well as corn rose in 1817–18, which shows that other causes were at work. We find it stated again, in January, 1819, that "trade, commerce, and manufactures were in a most flourishing condition;" but mark the contrast in a few short months. On November the 14th, the House was called together on account of seditious practices in the manufacturing districts, and a spirit manifested for the "subversion of the rights of property, and of all order in society." This was at the end of the year after Mr. Peel's Bill had passed, although by the Prince Regent's Speech, in January of the same year, it appeared that "trade, commerce, and manufactures had been in a flourishing condition." Here we see the consequence of restricting the circulating medium, by which both the manufacturing and commercial interests were thrown into a state of depression. Here we have again corroborated the principle, that distress and discontent travel hand-in-hand.
§ In 1821, the Speech from the Throne declares "distress to be still pressing upon a large portion of the country;" "the foreign trade also in a state of depression." Gentlemen who remember the low prices of 1821, and who are clamorous for a lower price of corn for the benefit of the foreign trade, should also bear in mind the effects of low prices upon the foreign trade in 1821. On the 5th of February, 1822, the Speech states that the revenue 261 was increased, the more important branches of commerce and manufactures in a flourishing condition; and the king proceeds to say, "I must at the same time, deeply regret the depressed state of the agricultural interests." On the 4th of February, 1823, the king declares the "continued depression of the agricultural interest," and the "flourishing condition of commerce;" and "there is a surplus revenue."
§ On the 3rd of February, 1824, the tone of the King's Speech was entirely changed. I had not the honour of a seat in this House at that time, but I doubt not there are some hon. Members present who remember the "prosperity Speeches" of his Majesty's then Chancellor of the Exchequer. His Majesty also states the "prosperous condition of the country, (wheat, remember had risen 20s. a quarter);—trade and commerce were extending themselves at home and abroad; and increasing activity pervading every branch of manufacture; increasing revenue; agriculture recovering from the depression under which it laboured, and a cheerful spirit of order pervading all classes of the community." Here is another illustration of the fact, that when the people are comfortable and prosperous, they do not trouble themselves much about reform. The prosperity of 1824, it is well known, proceeded from Lord Londonderry's One-Pound Note Act, and the pushing out of 3,000,000l. or 4,000,000l. of paper by the Bank of England; Lord Londonderry publicly declaring that he promoted these measures with a view of restoring prosperity.
§ The Speech on the 3rd of February, 1825, declares "A continued improvement in the state of the agricultural interest, the solid foundation of our national prosperity" (a doctrine which, I am afraid, has been lost sight of during the last few years). "All the great interests of the nation in a thriving condition; and a feeling of content and satisfaction widely diffused throughout all classes of the British people"—"Ireland participating in the general prosperity." Ireland, too! It seems in these times they had discovered the secret of assuaging the discontent of that country also.
§ The Speech from the Throne, on the 2nd of February, 1826, deplores the late pecuniary crisis; and proceeds—"Some of the causes to which this evil must be 262 attributed, lie without the reach of Parliamentary interposition; nor can security against the recurrence of them be found, unless in the experience of the sufferings which they have occasioned." This is the sort of general mode in which we have always dealt with money and banking concerns; we slur them over, or lay the blame at the wrong door, and refuse all inquiry into the cause of any mischiefs arising from their operation. I may probably hereafter have occasion to speak of the causes of this panic, and shall be enabled to show, that it might have been prevented by Parliamentary interposition, and that it arose not out of a larger quantity of paper circulating, but because Parliament had neglected to provide a sufficient basis on which it could rest.
§ On the 21st of November, 1826, Parliament again met. In the Speech, depression and suffering in trade and manufactures are regretted—abating but slowly; and certain sorts of foreign grain, not then admissible by law, were admitted in September, under (I think) orders in Council. An amendment was moved to the Address, and rejected by 170 to 24. "That the cause of the existing distress is 'an excessive taxation, disproportionate to the reduced value of property, and to the diminished return for the capital employed in the land, in manufactures, and in commerce.'" Parliament appears to have begun at last to think that the transition from war to peace had not been the cause of all the distress.
§ The Speech on the 29th of January, 1828, states, that "A considerable increase in the export of the principal articles of British manufacture had taken, place, indicating the continued abatement of commercial difficulties." That was the time when the Duke of Wellington was at the head of affairs, and Lord Althorp sat on this side of the House. I remember his speech upon that occasion: he stated, that though the distress appeared to have met with some abatement, he feared it was only temporary. Now I do not mean to insinuate that a seat on the other side had any effect on the noble Lord; but still, when he was sitting on the Treasury Benches, only a short time afterwards, his opinions seemed to change with respect to the character of the distress, showing that gentlemen in office either have not time to investigate into distress, or that they have one test to measure it by in office, 263 and another out of office. Lord Stanley also declared, in 1828, that he believed the improvement to be superficial—the distress deep and lasting.
§ In February, 1829, the Speech speaks merely of the "improvement of the revenue." On the 4th of February 1830, it is declared—"That the exports, in the seven last years of British produce and manufactures, exceeded those of any former year; his Majesty regrets that, notwithstanding this indication of active commerce, distress should prevail among the agricultural and manufacturing classes." The cause assigned is—"unfavourable seasons, and other causes, beyond the reach of legislative control." An increased export, therefore, seems to form no criterion of the prosperity, in this case, even of the manufacturing interest, but certainly not of the agricultural interests; for, in the year 1822, when the petitions of the agriculturists were so numerous for relief, Mr. Huskisson stated that, notwithstanding these petitions, the exports for the last three years were increased. In 1830, also, when his Majesty deplored the continuance of agricultural distress, Mr. Huskisson made a speech to the same effect, namely,—that the exports for the last three years had considerably increased. To this day, it is the fashion with a certain party to boast of increased exports, to console the farmers for their distress; and I may remind my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, that his speeches, on other occasions, have been quite consistent with those of Mr. Huskisson: for, in 1833, when the agricultural interest complained that distress had been going on so long among them, he quoted long tables of the increase of exports, to show how flourishing they ought to be. Poor comfort! I trust we shall hear no more of the exports being a test whereby to measure the degree of agricultural distress or prosperity. On three separate occasions it has failed of success; which shows, however great the identity of interest may be (and I believe it to be entire) between the agricultural interest and the manufacturers for the home market, that the export trade is in a great measure independent of this connexion, and may exist distinct and apart from it.
§ Parliament met again November 1830. The Speech remarks upon the "spirit of discontent and dissatisfaction among the 264 people—breaking of machinery," &c.; so that Lord Althorp seems to have been right, out of office, when he stated the improvement to be temporary. This was about the time that the great cry for reform was so rife.
§ June 21, 1831, Parliament re-assembled. The Speech alluded to "local disturbances;" the desire for reform remaining unabated.
§ January 1833. The Speech laments the distress; and talks of peace affording the best and most effectual remedy. This was the meeting of the first reformed Parliament. Many petitions were presented complaining of distress. My hon. Friend, the Member for Whitehaven, brought forward a Motion for a Select Committee to inquire into the distress, and into its connexion with the changes in the monetary system, which had taken place since the war. This was resisted by the Government, and defeated by a tremendous majority. But two Committees were granted, subsequently—one to inquire into the state of agriculture; the other into the state of manufactures, trade, and commerce. Great distress was proved on the first; nothing was done to relieve agriculture; no report was made from the other; prosperity was attempted to be proved, but it failed. The one body; whose distress was undoubted, had no relief granted; the other, which was said to be doubtful in its situation, received immediate relief in the shape of a remission of the House-tax; and this was consistent with the manner in which applications for relief have generally been received in this House.
§ On the meeting of Parliament on the 4th of February, 1834, the King "laments the continuance of distress amongst the proprietors and occupiers of land." In 1835, he repeats the same, and hopes a remission of local taxation will relieve them. Thus the distress of the agricultural interests has now existed almost without intermission for eighteen or twenty years. I cannot but think it, therefore, to be the most important duty of this House to apply itself without loss of time to the consideration of some really effectual means of relief. No one denies the distress, although some perhaps are not aware of the awful extent to which it has proceeded. Is the country to submit to it any longer? It is no longer to be put off by such delusive apologies as the transi- 265 tion from war to peace. Low prices are peculiar, under ordinary circumstances, to war rather than to peace. Peace, from generation to generation, has been typical only of comfort and blessings; now our philosophers would have it a by-word for
|The War of the Revolution from 1683 to 1697||2||10||8|
|1698 to 1701, Peace of Ryswick||2||12||6|
|1702 to 1712, War of Spanish Succession||2||4||11|
|1713 to 1739, Peace of Utrecht||2||0||4|
|1740 to 1748, War of Flanders||1||15||5|
|1749 to 1754, Peace of Aix la Chapelle||1||18||2|
|1755 to 1762, War of America||2||1||10|
|1763 to 1774, Peace of Paris||2||9||5|
|1775 to 1782, War of America||2||1||11|
|1783 to 1792, Second Peace of Paris||2||6||2|
§ Making on the whole the price of wheat in peace higher than in war.
§ So that it is evident there is nothing in the nature of war to cause a rise of prices, unless some other peculiar circumstances are in operation to produce that rise. The peculiar circumstances, in operation during the late war were the Bank Restriction Act of 1797, which empowered the Bank of England to issue its notes without being called upon to exchange them for gold. Of course they increased their issues, and just as the issues increased, prices of every description rose. In 1819, the Restriction Act was put an end to, and the Bank compelled to pay their notes in gold; so that they withdrew their issues, and prices fell in proportion; and this was done in defiance of all the engagements which had been entered into at a rate of prices double to those that must ensue; and notwithstanding the actual doubling, in consequence, of the national debt. Here is the true secret of all our distress; and because we want a palliation of the mischief, it is said we want to go back to an inconvertible paper currency. We want no such thing, and the accusation is wilfully made to produce an invidious impression against us. We are convinced that the way to remedy an evil is to look to the cause of it; and, therefore, we seek and expect some mitigation of our distress, only through some modification of our monetary system.
§ But what has been done since 1815, when the distress began? We passed a prohibitory corn-law that year, making 80s. the pivot price. Did that raise the price of wheat? No it fell immediately after. We passed another corn-law in 1822, making 70s. the pivot; wheat immediately rose. We passed a third corn-law in 1828, making 64s. the pivot; wheat rose for two 266 ruin and desolation. What were the prices at the different periods of peace and war during the last century? The following statement was made by the late Marquess of Titchfield in the debate on Mr. Western's Motion in 1822:—
§ or three years after. It is evident, therefore, that corn-laws have not had the effect of raising the price of corn. What, then, has been effectual in raising the price and removing distress since the war? The facts are distinct and acknowledged. In 1817, the Bank of England, having withdrawn about 3,000,000l. of its notes, to prepare for cash-payments, again, at the suggestion of Government, let out 3,000,000l. or 4,000,000l. more of its issues, with the express object of relieving the distress. It did relieve it; and prosperity continued until the Bank of England notes were again withdrawn in 1819. From that time adversity continued until 1822, when Lord Londonderry, with the express pupose of relieving the distress, prolonged the existence of the 1l. notes. The Bank of England again increased their issues about 4,000,000l., and we again had relief and prosperity. These issues were again withdrawn after 1825, and we have had adversity ever since. The higher prices of wheat of the three years succeeding 1828, were entirely owing to deficient crops. I may be taxed, from what I have said, with being an enemy to the corn-laws; I am no such thing.
§ As I understand it, Sir, at a certain given amount of currency in the country, you can only have a certain price for wheat. Now, supposing that to be 40s. per quarter, I maintain that no corn-law can raise it beyond that price. The effect of the corn-law, is to prevent foreign corn coming into the market at a cheaper rate, so as to depress it below the natural currency price of (say) 40s. If foreign corn can come in, duty-free, at 30s. per quarter, it will lower wheat in this country from 40s., its currency price, down to 30s., there or 267 thereabouts; so that in the supposed case of 40s. being the remunerating price, the corn-law would be a protection of 10s. a quarter; but supposing we had a currency price of 60s. a quarter, the corn-law might then be a protection of 30s. a quarter. Let us not hope, therefore, that corn-laws alone will raise prices, or expect any mitigation of our distress, until the causes of it are removed. Effects will only follow causes, and until the causes be removed, the effects will never cease.
§ What, however, has been done since the year 1815 for the relief of agriculture? An Agricultural Committee sat in 1820, 1821, 1822, and they made several Reports; the first of which was July, 1820, with respect to the rumours of smuggling from Guernsey and Jersey; and this was the programme of what is going on now. The farmers cannot be expected to go very deeply into the causes of their distress, especially when it arises from so difficult a source to be understood as the operations of the monetary system. They know that when a greater quantity of corn than ordinary comes into the market, that it depresses the price; they therefore look about them for such an occurrence. They are told that Guernsey and Jersey have the privilege of sending corn here, duty-free, and also of
|From Ireland into Liverpool.||WHEAT. Qrs.||OATS. Qrs.||BARLEY. Qrs.|
|Total Import from 1st Oct., 1832, to 1st Oct., 1833.||421,414||331,561||18,280|
|Ditto from 1st Oct., 1833, to 1st Oct., 1834.||344,174||282,100||22,382|
|Increase or decrease during the 12 months ending 1st Oct., 1834, compared with the preceding 12 months||77,240||49,452||4,102|
|From Ireland into Liverpool.||BEANS. Qrs.||MALT. Qrs.||FLOUR. Bags.|
|Total Import from 1st Oct., 1832, to 1st Oct., 1833.||13,629||5,042||293,665|
|Ditto from 1st Oct., 1833, to 1st Oct., 1834.||15,283||1,506||270,357|
|Increase or decrease during the 12 months ending 1st Oct., 1834, compared with the preceding 12 months.||1,654||3,536||23,308|
§ The supply of wheat last year, it thus appears, is deficient nearly 20 per cent. from Ireland into Liverpool; the port to which more than half the Irish corn is sent. And yet, in the face of this diminished supply from Ireland, wheat has fallen 10s. 8d. per quarter within the year.
§ How can it be said, then, that the fall of price is to be attributed to Irish importations—and where shall we go next for a subterfuge to conceal the true causes of the ruinous effects which are in operation? The Third Report was in April, 1822, concerning the proposed change in the corn-laws. The Fourth Report in May, 1822, related 268 importing foreign corn, duty-free. So they, naturally enough, suppose that fraud may take place. But they will cease to dwell on this as the cause of their distress, when they know that the investigation now going on before a Committee of this House, proves that the whole of the wheat imported from the Channel Islands into this country does not exceed 3,000 or 4,000 quarters. In 1821, there was another report made, dwelling chiefly upon the causes of the distress, which were in a great measure attributed to the change in the value of money. This Report was understood to have been drawn up by Mr. Huskisson; and it complained of the increased importation of Irish corn, and we are now repeating the same complaint; and we did so 150 years ago, under distress arising from a scarcity of money. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, on every occasion, takes great pains to attribute the fall in the price of corn to the importations from Ireland; and yet it is an extraordinary fact, that in the year 1834, wheat fell 10s., though there was much less both of wheat and flour imported from Ireland than in the year preceding, as the following account from Liverpool will shew:—
§ to warehousing corn under the King's lock The next committee which sat upon the state of the agricultural interests was in 1833. I had the honour to sit on that Committee, and I never heard more faithful evidence given than was given on that occasion; and this evidence was not exaggerated in the Report which was made to 269 the House: it was drawn up by the Chairman, the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, who was then in the cabinet, and the picture of distress was anything but overdrawn. I will not weary the House by going into the details of the evidence now; the general tenour of it proved that the land had become depreciated in point of produce, in consequence of the necessities of the farmer having induced him to overcrop and scourge it, whilst his poverty disabled him from enriching it with manure—that the tenants were, three-fourths of them, insolvent—that there was a scarcity of live stock, because the necessities of the farmers were so great that they were obliged to dispose of them at two years old instead of waiting the proper age—that agricultural labourers were thrown out of employment, and that a better price for produce would bring them back again into full employ—that even at the then price of 54s. per quarter, the cold clays (the ancient wheat soils of the kingdom) must go out of cultivation; besides many other disastrous circumstances with which I will not now trouble the House. I feel bound to state, that instead of these evils having been relieved since that period, they have become tenfold aggravated. Sir, what are the real causes to which we are to attribute this distress? I have stated that the corn-laws have failed to remedy them. I am not prepared to say that I am ready to part with the corn-laws, because, as I have stated before, at a certain point, they are a protection, though they will never give the advanced price which our circumstances require. The true causes of the distress are to be traced, and traced alone, to the change in the currency in 1819.
In 1822, Lord Western told us that the distress which prevailed was owing to the change which had taken place in the value of money, and he brought forward a motion on the subject, which was lost by a large majority; but on every succeeding occasion in which the currency has been introduced into the House, there have been increasing numbers in favour of that having been really at the bottom of the distress. I have stated shortly before, how the farmers were affected by the change in the currency. By a larger issue of paper the war prices arose,—by diminishing that paper, prices were reduced one-half,—and there is no other method of raising prices again, but by some modification of the present money laws, except from scarcity, which is good for neither grower nor consumer. The general principles of this question are so well known
to the House, that I will not dwell further upon them, except to say that no one has traced more clearly the connexion between an increased issue of paper, and an increase in prices, than the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland (Sir James Graham). I know not how he will vote upon this occasion; but I refer to a well known pamphlet of his, entitled Corn and Currency, published some years ago, which demonstrates how prices have been affected by changes in the amount of the circulating medium. During the debate upon this question, brought forward by Mr. Western, in 1822, there were sentiments delivered by Gentlemen of high character in this House, which we should do well to call to mind. Among others, Mr., now Sir Robert Peel, stated—
Strong as his objections were to the inquiry, he could conceive a state of distress such as would require it; and if he believed the change in the currency had already caused such disasters, and was about to cause still greater disasters, he would then, though reluctantly, acquiesce in the motion.
Now, Sir, what have been the disasters to which the landed interest has been exposed since that time? Have they not been such as to call for strong measures,—such as to warrant inquiry? And yet the right hon. Baronet has always refused it. The noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, said, the other night that the Committee of 1833 recommended the House not to interfere, quoting the words of Mr. Burke, that it was a "perilous thing to try experiments on the farmer;" but I say, Sir, that experiments have been made, and have been the source of mischief incalculable; and I ask, are experiments only to be made one way—to produce ruin? Is Parliament to be omnipotent for evil, and impotent only for good? What were the opinions of Lord (then Mr.) Brougham, at that time? What were his reasons for supporting the motion of Lord (then Mr.) Western, for an inquiry into this subject of the currency? He spoke thus—
His reasons for supporting the proposition for inquiry were these,—Parliament had done that which gave the country a right to inquire,—Parliament had been the great actor in that portentous plot, the unravelment of which formed the subject of the present discussion;—in that plot, the full effects of which the country had not yet lived to see, but which was the cause of the evils under which, at present, it was labouring.
These were the opinions of Lord Brougham
on the distress of the agriculturists in 1822: he goes on to say, complimenting a speech which had been made by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. M. Attwood), how absurd it was, now talking of an immutable standard after the violation of it for twenty five years: and after every one must have concluded that Government never intended to return to cash payments; adding, that if inquiry was not granted then, it would be forced eventually. In the same debate, Mr. Ricardo stated, "that if in 1819, the currency had been depreciated to 14s. from 20s., he would have coined 14s. into a sovereign; but now, (after immediately before confessing that, the appreciation was owing to the operations of the Bank of England, which brought down the price of bullion) he would, as the depreciation was only 5 per cent. in 1819, adhere to the present standard." Now, Mr. Ricardo was the great oracle followed upon this occasion; and on very good authority, he is reported to have been subsequently convinced that he had been mistaken in his opinion, that the depreciation had been only 5 per cent.; on the contrary, he was satisfied that the depreciation had been 25 per cent.; then 15s. according to Mr. Ricardo's own principles, ought to have been coined into a sovereign; in other words, all debts and engagements ought to have been paid with 15s. instead of 20s. Debtors have thus been defrauded to this extent; but in fact, instead of 25 per cent., the depreciation had been 50 per cent. at least, measured in the prices of commodities, which were the true test; and all the misery consequent on the change of the currency, has been owing to the complete ignorance of the legislature on the subject; and we have been allowed to do nothing in any shape to rectify or modify the mistake, although the whole landed interest was sinking under it. I ask any candid man, if Parliament, in 1819, did not legislate under error? I ask any of the right hon. Gentlemen now before me, if that Bill of 1819 had again to be brought before Parliament, whether they would vote in the same way now as they did then? I am morally confident they would not. I ask whether they would return to cash payments, at the price of 3l. 17s. 10½d., for gold? thereby doubling all public and private debts; and lowering prices one-half. I ask if they would not have coined the sovereign out of 14s. instead of 20s.? I think I know one noble Lord, of great authority in this House, the last time the subject was discussed here, and who then
occupied the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer (I mean Lord Althorp) who would have done so. I think I have heard that he has stated precisely what Mr. Ricardo stated, that if he had known in 1819, what he knew now, he would have coined the sovereign out of 14s. Now, Sir, I am no friend to an inconvertible paper, I merely want a palliative for the existing mischiefs—I want no more. When a mistake has been acknowledged by the perpetrators of that mistake, are they to go on blindly and cruelly acting upon that mistake, because they have fallen into it? or, because some are too proud to acknowledge their error, is the country to be exposed to ruthless misery in consequence? One of the witnesses before the Agricultural Committee of 1833, said, referring to the ruin of half the farmers, that "half the forest had been felled, and that we must patiently await the felling of the other half." But are we to take this advice, and tamely submit to be filched of our properties? God grant that there be spirit enough left among a British public, to resist such an outrage on their rights, and their common sense. As Sir Francis Burdett said in the above debate in 1822, "It is not to be permitted that the people should die under it, because the King's Ministers did not choose to incur the responsibility of a remedy" Another motion was brought forward in 1830, on the same subject, but without success. In the debate upon that occasion, Mr. Poulett Thomson is reported to have said, that he "greatly preferred a silver to a gold standard (but not a double one); and he thought depriving us of a paper currrency by the Act of 1826 (this was for extinguishing 1l. notes), was driving us back into a state of barbarism. But he thought we had paid the price of these changes, and so he should vote against reverting back." Paid the price indeed! Had we paid the price in 1830, when no one denied the general distress? Had we paid it in 1833? Had we paid it now, with wheat fallen from 80s. to 35s. per quarter?
§ Sir, there are some who appear to think that because they are never tired of receiving this price, we are never to tire of paying it. If by the term, "paying the price," Mr. Poulett Thomson meant that the ruin consequent on the Bill of 1819 was at an end, no mistake was ever more glaring and mischievous. There is still a last price to pay; half the farmers in the country, in spite of all who have been previously swept away, at this moment are 273 living on their farms by sufferance—a modification of Mr. Peel's Bill would give them the means of going on: to refuse all alteration is to drive them from their homesteads—to break up the kindly associations of generations—to bring them to the parish, or to expel them their country. Is this no additional price to pay—is not this a catastrophe worth the consideration of a beneficent Government to avert? Lord Howick (and I mention the last two names, because they are Members of the present Cabinet) said, on June 8th, 1830, I think on Mr. Attwood's Motion for a silver standard and 1l. notes, that "he would have gone into an inquiry upon a silver standard and 1l. notes, but not vote for the specific measures." I ought to state, that one cause assigned by Lord Londonderry, why he would not consent to Mr. Western's Motion, in 1822, was, that the change had so lately taken place,—so that it appears it was too soon in 1822, and it was too late in 1828, 1830, and 1833; and we shall hear the same doctrine repeated, I doubt not, to-night, in 1835.
§ If this were the only period in history when distress had followed upon raising the value of money, and increasing the pressure of fixed engagements, we might be the more doubtful of the cause of our present difficulties; but reference to our own history, even, will show this not to be an isolated case; and also that the country, ignorant of the cause of its distress, attributed it to a hundred delusive causes, rather than the right one.
§ In 1670 (says Mr. Taylor, in his History of the Money-System of England) such continued to be the scarcity of money, that when the Subsidy Bill for granting one-twentieth of all estates was read a second time in the House of Lords, his Majesty being present, Lord Lucas spoke to the following effect. He began by stating, that all those hopes had been disappointed, under the impression of which his Majesty had been recalled to the exercise of the regal power: that the burdens of his subjects, instead of being lightened, had been increased, whilst their strength to support them had been diminished; that in the times of the late usurping powers, though the taxes were great, yet there was plenty of money throughout the nation to pay them with; but now (continued his Lordship) there is nothing of this: brick is required of us, and no straw is allowed to make it with. For that our lands are thrown up, and corn and cattle are of little value, is notorious to all the world, and it is as evident that there is a scarcity of money.
Now, only let us change the words "since
the Restoration of Charles 2nd" for "since the restoration of peace in 1814," and for the "late usurping powers," insert the words "the late war," and we shall have an accurate description of all that has been happening for the last twenty years. Sir William Petty, also, speaking of the extreme scarcity of money in Ireland, about this time says—
It would have been easier for the Irish labourer to have contributed forty-nine days' labour for the use of the State, if taken at seasonable times in the course of the year, than to raise 2s. for his hearth-tax at one period, and just when the collector called for it. This extremity of hardship appears to have been produced by the narrow policy of the British Government. The agricultural interest in England suffering greatly from the scarcity of money, was carried away with the impression that the introduction of Irish cattle into the English market was the cause of the farmer's distress; and Parliament was accordingly induced to prohibit the importation of Irish cattle into England.
Here was the same story—a change in the value of money the cause of the fall in prices—the farmers not understanding that there could be any other cause of a fall in the price of their cattle, except more cattle coming into the market, very naturally attributed the fall to the importation of Irish cattle; they had to learn, as many of them have at this day, that prices depend quite as much on the quantity of money in the market, as on the quantity of cattle or produce. The quantity of money and produce remaining the same, prices will remain the same. Increase the quantity of produce, the money remaining the same, prices will fall; decrease the quantity of produce, the money remaining the same, prices will rise. Increase the quantity of money, the produce remaining the same, prices will rise; decrease the quantity of money, the produce remaining the same, prices will fall. If the farmers will keep this invariable rule in mind, they will never allow the sort of adversity to come which they have so long experienced; and if it should come, they will know the cause and the remedy. But it is not modern history alone to which we may refer for the mischiefs done to a country by a rise in the value of money, and fall in prices, that justly celebrated and profound German historian of Rome, Niebuhr, speaking of the calamities arising in Rome from an appreciation of its standard of value, goes on to say—
There are but too many countries where a
like state of things is to be found; where most of the landholders, though nominally they continue to be so, were they to discharge their debts, would have nothing over; and, till that time comes are farming their estates for their creditors, as the Roman debtor farmed them for the usurer.
In speaking of the depreciation made in the Roman money, Niebuhr says:—
The deterioration of the coinage, in the manner usual among barbarous nations, and in ages of ignorance, is mostly to serve very stupid, nay, profligate ends; nevertheless there may also be a state of things in which it is wise, and even necessary, to adopt a lower standard. Through a nation's own fault its own smaller currency, or through circumstances that could not be forestalled, lighter money from abroad may have become predominant, and have driven the heavier out of circulation; the wish to restore it were to swim against the stream, and can breed only mischief and disgrace. If a State have fallen into the unhappy system of paper money, if this sinks in comparison with silver, then should a juncture of fortunate circumstances furnish the means of re-establishing a metallic currency, in a case of this kind it is altogether absurd, nay absolutely disasterous to do so, in such a manner, that the metal shall resume its place with the standard unchanged, and yet, that the sums in all contracts shall abide by their nominal amount; while it is impossible to keep up prices at the same height at which they stood in the time of the paper circulation. Nay, if even without paper money, all prices have been forced up for a course of years by extraordinary circumstances, far above the means of those which prevailed during the preceding generations, if the expenses and burdens of the country have increased at the same rate, and then the feverish condition should subside, and everything drop down for a continuance to the lowest average price; in such a case there is no hope of safety, except in a proportionate reduction of the standard, and to this result common sense has, in former times, led men; whereas theory and delusion now raise their voices against it.
At Rome the exigency was still more pressing. As in the middle ages, from the constant and unreplaced efflux of money towards the East, silver became scarcer and scarcer on this side of the Alps, and all prices kept progressively falling; so at Rome, as we have seen, copper gradually grew dearer in comparison with silver, and consequently with all other commodities; and this, although Rome had no national debt, and her citizens no hereditary mortgages, must still have produced extreme hardship and distress in a number of instances. The pay to the horsemen and footmen stood fixed at a stated number of As's; though the countryman received a fewer number of As's for his crop, his tribute, not-
withstanding, came to the same sum as money were not worth more than formerly.
Can anything be more applicable to our own case than these observations of Niebuhr, a historian, than whom no one stands in higher repute at the present day?
Would to God we had followed the example of America; during her struggle for independence with this country she found it necessary to depreciate her money to carry on the war. Owing to some cause or other, England, during that struggle, appreciated her currency; and this was the main cause of our ill success in that contest. During the late war, however, we depreciated our money; which, and which alone, I believe enabled us to resist successfully the gigantic power of Napoleon. But what was the respective conduct of England and America under the circumstance of their depreciations? America paid off the debts she incurred, in depreciated money,—in money of the same value,—that is, in depreciated money: in other words, she paid as much as she borrowed, and no more. England, on the contrary, acted on entirely opposite principles. Instead of paying her depreciated debts in depreciated money, she is paying them in appreciated money. In other words, she is paying two bushels of wheat where she borrowed one; 600,000,000l. of public depreciated debt instead of 300,000,000l.; and she is paying in the same ratio, and to a far greater extent, I believe, her private debts. And what is the condition of England now, and what that of America? Is America accused of a breach of public faith because she paid only what she borrowed? In other days, Sir, England did not conduct herself so foolishly. In the reign of William 3rd. the currency had become so depreciated that the sovereign went for 30s. They appreciated the currency, it is true; but the old debts and taxes they allowed to be paid in depreciated money. It was Mr. Pitt, Sir, who was the author of the restriction on cash payments in 1797: he was aware of its full effects: would that he had lived to the year 1819! for I have it from a Member of this House, who heard it from a private and confidential friend of Mr. Pitt (I would repeat the name, but I do not feel justified in so doing), and in office with him, that Mr. Pitt had declared to him his intention of ascertaining the degree of depreciation on the return of peace, and adapting the standard of value to that state of depreciation. Had this been done 12s. or 14s. would have been
coined into a sovereign; we should have had to pay very little more than we borrowed, but we shall have paid as much; no creditor could have suffered; while all debtors and tax-payers, which in fact are the millions, would have known the blessings of peace when peace came. Instead of which we have been bound, hand and foot, to the stern, implacable standard of 3l. 17s. 10½d. per oz. for gold, which has pulled down prices, and brought on ruin. I seek, Sir, for a palliation of these tremendous evils. In my opinion we have seen enough of the effects of the gold standard. Surely, Prince Hal must have had it in his contemplation, in his speech to his dying father, when he said—
Therefore, thou best of gold art worst of gold;
Other, less fine in carat, is more precious;
But thou, most pure, most honour'd, most renown'd,
Hast eat thy bearer up.
§ I know I shall be told that it is too late to go back. Sir, I am not asking to go back: and they who accuse me of it, know it; but they know, also, that when they cannot answer a fair argument, they can injure a cause by throwing inviduous aspersions upon it. What I am seeking for is, a palliation of the evils which took place in consequence of Mr. Peel's Bill. I wish to go into a Select Committee to try if we cannot secure some substantial relief to the agriculturists of the United Kingdom. All the other plans have failed except such as have conduced to a larger circulation; and I wish a Committee to decide the question whether Parliament still has the power to afford relief. I contend that it has: it may say that it does not choose to adopt the remedy. But let the people know whether their Representatives have the power to relieve them or not. If they cannot in any way relieve them, then they will cease to hope, and, at last cease to be disappointed. If they can, yet hesitate to adopt the remedy, it is for the people, and the people alone, to decide whether the remedy shall be adopted. What some persons are afraid of is, that the people should get possessed of the knowledge that Parliament has the power to relieve, because they are convinced that they will never rest satisfied until relief be granted. I ask, as an experiment, and by way of palliation, for a silver standard; because I know, and no one can deny, that more Bank of England notes would be issued, and much more safely issued, than at present; and prices would rise as a necessary consequence. I 278 am only asking for the ancient standard of the country,—that which was in existence up to the year 1816, and which Lord Liverpool abolished; and for what? merely to satisfy an abstract theory, which he and his father held in common, that gold as the richer metal ought to be the standard of a rich country. The fallacy of this argument is obvious. Why is a country rich? Because of the number of its commercial transactions. Now, can any one imagine that a scarce metal can carry on a great number of transactions as well and as easily as a metal which is fifty times more plentiful? But Lord Liverpool took his ground very much on the fact of this country having, during the last century, voluntarily adopted gold as the medium of payment. The fact is true enough: but why did this country adopt that course? Only because, from accidental circumstances, silver was comparatively scarcer during the greater part of last century than gold; and having the option of paying in either metal, debtors, of course, paid in the cheaper metal—which was gold. But the same reason for adopting gold then, ought to lead us to adopt silver now, because silver is the cheaper metal; and the debtors of this country have been robbed (in addition to the confiscation arising out of the Bill of 1819,) from 5 to 10 per cent., by the mere change in the standard from silver to gold.
Nothing will shew more clearly the comparative value of silver, during the last century, than the following statement. At George 3rd.'s succession to the Throne, 1760, the coins, especially silver, were in a very imperfect state. The crowns and half crowns had disappeared, although nearly 4,000,000l. of them had been coined since the general recoinage of William 3rd. Now, this fact of the crowns having been abstracted from the circulation is an evidence of their value, for if there had not been an advantage in withdrawing them, it would not have been done. The Mint sending silver out at a low price, when the market price is higher, will always make it a profitable concern for individuals to melt the coin, and sell it at the market price as bullion. At this time shillings and sixpences were principally current (in silver): 4,000,000l. of these, also, had been coined within the same period: every stamp and impression had worn away; there was probably one-sixth deficiency of weight in the shillings, and one-fourth in the sixpences. But what shews the preference of the people for gold during the last century is the fact, that
from 1717, (when Sir Isaac Newton made his report on the relative value of gold and silver at the Mint, and in the market), up to 1760, silver had been brought to the Mint to be coined, only to the amount of 584,575l. 14s. 11½d.—a period of forty-three years, which plainly shews the dearness, (in comparison) of silver; for if the market price had been beneath the Mint price, there would have been a gain in taking silver to the Mint to have received back the higher price paid by the Mint. I have said that silver was the ancient standard of the country, the standard price being, from the time of Elizabeth, 5s. 2d. per ounce. I should, however, have qualified this statement, by saying, that in consequence of the wearing away and debasement of the coin in the last century, as a temporary measure passed from year to year, from 1774 silver was a legal tender in tale only to the amount of 25l.; but in weight at the rate of 5s. 2d. per ounce, to any extent whatever. The real standard practically, therefore, in the last century was, in consequence of the debasement of the silver coins, equivalent to about 5s. 6d. per ounce of our present money; that is to say, supposing the present market price of silver to be 5s. per ounce, the standard of the last century was easier for the debtor by 10 per cent. than the existing standard; and supposing the price of silver in the market to be 4s. 9d., which it has been within the last three or four years, the disadvantage to the debtor now compared with the time previous to the war is 15 per cent.—I mean in consequence of the change from silver to gold. But at 5s. 2d.—the old standard price—we should gain great advantage indirectly, as well as directly. We have the first authorities on our side in favour of silver as a standard. Mr. Locke stated that silver was the only fit commercial measure of value, and that gold ought to be allowed to find its own agio, or premium, in the market. He did admit, it is true, that gold might be suffered to be coined; but it was merely an admission, not an opinion, in its favour. Before the Bank Charter Committee of 1882, many of the witnesses were favourable to a silver standard. Among these Mr. Horsley Palmer, then Governor of the Bank, is asked,—
What is the par of exchange between two countries, one of which has a gold, and the other a silver currency?—In this country, it is the price of the gold currency in the foreign market at the moment.
Then anything like a permanent par of ex-
change between countries, one having a gold and the other a silver currency, cannot be?—It cannot exist.
Now this is of great importance as bearing upon the exchanges, for I shall endeavour hereafter so shew how seriously industry suffers in this country frequently through the operation of the exchanges.—
Again, Mr. Rothschild is asked,—
Would silver regulate the exchange precisely as gold?—Certainly; and in France and on the Continent, rather more.
You have said, that when any of the Continental powers wish to supply their military chests, they always make a demand for gold?—Certainly.
Does not that produce considerable fluctuation in the price of gold?—Not very much, because gold in general is not so much wanted on the Continent as silver? silver is the regular coinage of those countries.
Do you think that the value of silver is as little subject to variation as the value of gold?—Silver has no variation, because there is a coinage of silver; so that there can be no difference in silver, except at some times when it is wanted by any European Government for particular purposes.
Has there been a great export of gold from France at different times, for the purposes of foreign war?—Certainly: in general the gold is bought up in France, before it goes from this country; and if there is a scarcity in France, then it is fetched from here.
Does the demand for gold from France produce a scarcity of money in France?—No.
Why is that?—Because the gold is in general in private hands; it is merchandise there.
If there was a demand for silver from France, would not that produce a scarcity of money in France?—Certainly, because it is the coinage of the country.
Then whenever there is a demand upon a country for a metal which is the standard of value, it will produce a scarcity of money? —Certainly.
§ This evidence is of great value at the present moment: gold is the standard and currency of this country, but of no other country under the sun, unless Portugal have lately adopted it. Now, gold is the most convenient for export, and therefore the metal most in demand for export, when any balance of trade has to be rectified, or when it is wanted for army chests in case of war, or other purposes. Silver not being required so much for these purposes, retains its place as currency in a country where silver is the standard; and this is of incalculable benefit to trade, as a means of sustaining an equilibrium of prices, because every time the standard money is 281 withdrawn, the paper also is withdrawn which depends on the presence of that standard-money for its convertibility,—and then prices fall. But where gold is the standard, it is perpetually exposed to fluctuations. The Bank of England is bound by law to pay all its notes in gold. It is alarmed, therefore, whenever gold is leaving the country. This was the cause of the panic in 1825. That panic has been mischievously attributed to one-pound notes. It is true that one-pound notes had an influence in raising prices, and that had a tendency to drive gold abroad; but if silver had been the standard, at the old standard price, no panic would have ensued. It was the gold standard that caused the panic. The farmers want one-pound notes, but they ought first to have a silver standard as a safe foundation for them.
There was a rule laid down by the Bank of England in 1832, that they should keep as much gold in their coffers as corresponded with one-third of their liabilities, that is, if their liabilities, were 30,000,000l.— they would have 10,000,000l. of gold in the Bank ready to answer their notes and other engagements; and they declared they should not be safe without this proportion. But what is the situation of the Bank at this moment; their liabilities are near 30,000,000l. while their bullion is only 6,000,000l. There has been a drain of gold from this country in consequence of changes taking place in the currency of Portugal and the United States, for the last year; the Bank of England are drawing in their notes, and refusing accommodation,—all of which is most injurious to agriculture and trade,—because they are alarmed for their own safety. But ought this to be the footing on which our monetary system should be based? I ask for a change from a system so perilous and destructive as this, especially under the circumstances of the supply of the precious metals from the mines for the last twenty years, being only in the proportion of one-half of the supply of the twenty years preceding, which is of itself sufficient ground for requiring greater facilities in obtaining the measure of exchange. We have no means of knowing the actual price of gold, because we coin it here at an arbitrary fixed price of 3l. 17s. 10d. per ounce: it is always to be had here at that price. When foreigners want it, therefore, they would be great fools to give more than 3l. 17s. 10½d. for it, when they
can get it here for that sum. The market price of gold is therefore always kept below the English Mint price, except under circumstances the most extraordinary. We know not, therefore, whether, in consequence of the change, from silver and gold, to gold alone, we have not a standard at this moment 20 per cent. more appreciated than we had last century—in addition to all the far greater pressure occasioned by the change from paper to gold in 1819.—In favour of silver as a standard, there another authority I shall quote, whose opinion has always had great weight with the House on subjects of this nature—and deservedly so—because no one has been more extensively engaged in trade, or has prospered more in it, or studied its principles more deeply: I mean Mr. Alexander Baring, now Lord Ashburton.—It may not be generally known to the House, that a Committee on Coins was appointed in 1797, which continued to sit at various times, and is supposed still to be in existence. They sat in 1797, and had various meetings, the Minutes of which have been preserved, but not printed, except those of 1828, when they sat again. The right hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn), was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and at the suggestion of my hon. Friend, the Member for Norfolk (Mr. Wodehouse) these were allowed to be printed for the use of Members. It appears from the Minutes of the Evidence, that the subject of silver as a standard was the main object of their sitting; and I will just mention the names of the Committee in order to show that others, besides those who complain of Mr. Peel's Bill, can entertain the question of a silver standard without being taunted as friends of inconvertible paper. The Committee, which sat in 1828 was composed of the Duke of Wellington, the Earl of Dudley, Mr. Huskisson, Mr. Peel, Earl Bathurst, Lord Ellenborough, Mr. Arbuthnot, Mr. Herries, Lord Bexley, Lord Maryborough, Mr. Grant, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Goulburn, the Earl of Aberdeen, Viscount Goderich, Lord Farnborough, Mr. V. Fitzgerald, Mr. Wilmot Horton.—Mr. Alexander Baring was summoned before this Committee, and I will take the liberty of reading part of his evidence, and if I do it largely, it is because I attach, and I am sure the House will attach, much importance to evidence from such a source on such a subject.
Is it your impression that it is possible and desirable to maintain in this country a silver
currency as a legal tender, founded on the proportion of silver to gold, established in the currency of France; or something very near it, at the same time that we maintain our present silver currency, which is obviously not in that proportion, and that there would be an advantage in that system?—I have always thought so, and certainly think so still. I have no doubt about it.
Mr. Baring goes on to say—
A sudden change from peace to war, a bad harvest, or a panic year arising from over trading and other causes, immediately impose upon the Bank of England, which is the heart of all our circulation, for the purpose of protecting itself, to stop the egress of specie, sometimes even to bring in large quantities into the country. These indispensable remedies are always applied with more or leas restriction to the circulation, and consequent distress to those who have been for some time trading under expectations of the ordinary facilities of circulation and banking. No care or prudence can enable the great Bank, on which all smaller ones rest in the day of trial, to avoid occasional resort to those measures of self defence; and that system of currency is the best, which admits of their being made the least frequently and with the least possible effort and derangement. Now it is evident that the Back, wishing to reinforce its supply of specie, can do so with infinitely increased facility, with the power of either drawing in gold or silver, than if it were confined to only one of the metals. The choice is already much but the circumstance that silver is the practical standard of Europe, more than doubles the certainty and facility of procuring a supply.—Bills on Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburgh, &c., once taken, secure silver, in which they must be paid; but if gold alone will answer the purpose of the Bank, gold is a merchandise which you must go into the market and buy. It may be forestalled by others speculating upon the Bank's known necessities, it will always be enhanced in price by them, and the real increased difficulty acting in an increased ratio upon the apprehensions of a body of Directors, whose characters are at stake, will lead to extravagant precautions, the tendency of which will always necessarily be to cramp and reduce the circulation, and to increase the existing distress.
That the efforts of the Bank for self-preservation in 1825 made great havoc among its dependents through the country, is well known, and I believe it is equally so, that while it was rummaging every corner of Europe for gold, which could alone answer its purpose, it was sending large sums of silver from its coffers, which were perfectly useless. The wants of the Bank, when they occur, interest speculators and jobbers of every description, and, independently of operations to derive a profit from the price of the gold wanted, there will be persons interested in thwarting the Bank and preventing its supply. A large capitalist
might do this with effect, a combination of three or four might do it almost with certainty, and it should be here stated that the Banks of France and of Amsterdam both make advances at a very low rate of interest on the deposit of gold? I believe they advance the value less 10 per cent. By this means an advance of 100,000l. would lock up 1,000,000l. and 1,000,000l. would lock up 10,000,000l. It will easily be seen what advantage this circumstance affords for the combinations I have mentioned. All this is avoided by adopting the same medium of circulation with the rest of the world; by that alone you can go to the common stock for that occasional aid which no precaution can prevent your sometimes wanting, for it would be uselessly extravagant for any country to hold permanently that supply of the metals which occasional accidents may render necessary. To be safe, you should make yourselves one of the general community of the world, for this purpose; any attempt at peculiarity deprives you of the benefit to be derived in the hour of need from the uniformity of the thing needed and the consequent facility with which it can be procured. The greatest facility would be attained by being able to use the two metals. That they can be so used, the example of France abundantly proves. But if it be desired that only one should be taken, I should certainly prefer silver for the purpose of conformity with other countries, and thereby opening to ourselves a more certain supply when needed. It has been somewhere said, that the more precious metals suited the richest countries. I cannot understand the meaning of this. If this country has a more than ordinarily artificial existence, an enormous debt, an artificial price of food, a very extensive internal and external trade, while the precious metals, which are to be the basis which is to carry and secure the circulation necessary for such a bloated mass, are not materially increased; if, above all, a large portion of this circulation must of necessity be paper; we should surely be the last people to narrow the base of all this, by refining upon a question more suited to philosophers than practical men, as to the mathematical precision of a metallic standard, and content ourselves with that which satisfies and answers the purpose of the rest of the world. The difficulties we make about the possible variations between gold and silver, of an almost imperceptible fraction, leads us to overlook the really important variations which occur in the value of money as composed of its two elements, paper and metal, every time the fetters of these restrictions lead the Bank to the forced operations which I have described. These operations, in 1825, made probably a real fluctuation in the value of the pound sterling of 15 or 20 per cent.—in many cases, perhaps, much more—a large portion of which may be fairly ascribed to our pedantic attachment to the supposed perfection of the standard of a single metal.
It is further to be recollected, that the larger portion of the silver of the New World passes through our hands, which would give us a great facility for that constant supply, which, under the system I recommend, would enable us to maintain most effectually an equable value of the pound sterling; for, as I have already said, the value of this compound of paper and specie is more affected as compared with commodities, by the sudden changes in the amount of paper abroad, than by any other circumstance.
Justice between debtors and creditors throughout the country is best done by keeping the value of money as compared not to one single article, but to all, as nearly equal as possible. Now, it is well known that any extent of paper we can find the means of keeping in circulation must be still inferior to what has existed before our return to cash payments; further, we have enhanced the value of money in Europe by our demand of gold for that purpose. Every consideration, therefore, of justice, of policy, and of economy, recommend the encouragement of as much paper as can be suffered with entire safety, and consistently with the avoiding those shocks and convulsions which are the inevitable consequences of any material excess. I believe this to be best attained by building upon the base of the double standard, or if not of the double, of the single silver. With this, I believe, the Bank will work with more ease and confidence, as will consequently all those subordinate establishments which partake sympathetically, but infallibly, of its ease and quiet as of its ailings and apprehensions; and if this be true, it is equally so that the Bank, having an easier recourse to the means of reinforcement, could safely afford to work with a smaller ordinary deposit of specie. The power of easily acquiring is equivalent to possession, and in this manner by removing impediments to the means of supply, you make a real increase of wealth.
These reasons have invariably induced me to think that we made a great mistake at the last settlement of our currency, in departing from our old system of the double legal tender. The events in 1825 strongly confirm that opinion, and I feel confident of the entire un-safety of our present system. We should acquire much present ease and facility by the change, and give to our paper circulation that power of contraction and expansion within reasonable limits, which is essential to its healthy action. Without it, I feel a strong conviction that we should not get through two years of any expensive war, without a renewal of the catastrophe of 1797, and a people so heavily laden as we are, would not easily recover a second time from such a misfortune.
Would not the weight and inconvenience of a silver coinage either give a great preference to gold, and occasion an agio upon it, or introduce a greater circulation of paper?—
I think it would. In speaking of the facility that a system of this sort would give the Bank (and when we talk of facility to the Bank, it is facility to the country), it would be well for your Lordships to consider the increased facility which has arisen to the exportation of coin, from the two circumstances of the perfection of the present coin, and the repeal of the law which formerly prohibited its exportation; because, although the change may be beneficial—and on the whole I think it is, though one is perhaps sometimes a little disposed to lose sight of the practical working of measures in favour of general principles—I think we cannot well object to the perfection of the coin, and the law which permits the free circulation of it; but there is no doubt that the machine moving with less friction, the coin goes out of the country much more rapidly than it used to do in old times; a person then collecting the gold, with all the imperfection of it in weight and risk of counterfeits, was materially clogged in his operations; and if you add to this, that the fact of its being illegal to export the coin prevented all persons of character doing it, the exportation was reduced to persons who would violate the law, the difference of easy actual exportation under one law and the other must be very considerable.
I think also the Bank would derive considerable advantage from silver being less easily moved and used than gold; that the facility with which persons can carry off thousands of pounds in small bags in the case of gold, and the difficulty of doing the same thing in the shape of silver, creates mechanically a security to the Bank, and gives to the institution more time for preparation.
The consideration of the greater extent of our transactions and engagements, as compared with France, and especially of our greater use of paper in them, lead me to the conviction that we require the larger base of the two metals. Undoubtedly, for practical use and comfort, our present currency is convenient; but I cannot divest myself of the apprehension that our present is a fair-weather system, which the first clouds will endanger. This was proved in 1825; for although that crisis may in some degree have been brought about by mistakes, if we legislate on the presumption of absolute wisdom presiding over the Bank and the Government of the day, we shall be frequently disappointed. I am convinced that we shall not easily see two campaigns of any expensive war, without another suspension of cash at the Bank; and I am willing to put up with some inconvenience and apparent imperfections in our current coin, for the more essential security to property, which I believe to be connected with the essential permanency of our standard.
§ I fear I have wearied the attention of the House by making these large selections from Mr. Baring's evidence; but it was of 287 importance to my Motion that this House should not be in ignorance of the opinion of so high a practical authority. There is more of the evidence which is well worth attention; but I will not detain the House by going further into it. To my mind, the great principle of our legislation on this subject should be—and this view is corroborated by the authority I have just quoted—to secure the certainty of ultimate convertibility, but to place obstacles in the way of a conspiracy of individuals, arising either out of panic or design, coming suddenly on the Bank with demands too large for the Bank to pay at once in gold. The legal-tender clause in the late Bank Charter Act was intended to prevent any internal drain upon the Bank, that is, through the country banks. No one now has a right to demand gold at a country bank for any sum above five guineas, being obliged to receive Bank of England notes in its place. This very effectually protects the Bank of England, and yet is perfectly satisfactory to the public; for, as Mr. Baring said, facility to the Bank of England is facility to the public. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, was very determined in his opposition to this legal-tender clause, saying, that it struck at the root of convertibility. Who does not now see that this was an extravagant and theoretical alarm? He also said that it would be impossible for it to be carried into operation without the re-introduction of one-pound notes. There again he was mistaken. At the same time I shall not be sorry if it in any way tend to bring back the one-pound notes; but I wish them to be on a sure footing. Greater facility to the Bank of England in conducting its operations—the great and constant plenty of silver on the continent of Europe, where it is the general currency—the less liability to export, and so standing in the way of those fluctuations in the quantity of the circulating medium which have such an effect upon prices, and are so ruinous to trade, and which are the bane of the present system; these seem to be the chief advantages of a silver over a gold standard. Sir, there is, however, another reason why some change is necessary in the present system, and in the present standard. I ask, what is the state of the Bank of England at the present moment? Last Friday, Exchequer bills were at par, having been at a premium of 47s. two or three months before—an occurrence which has not been known since 1825.288
§ Mr. Cayley
The right hon. Gentleman says it was a mere accident. It was no accident: it was the result of a vicious system. Whenever the Bank, it is well known, wishes to enlarge its circulation, it buys up Exchequer bills, sending out its notes in their place. On the other hand, when it wishes suddenly to diminish its circulation, it sells Exchequer bills. It has lately been selling them, because its gold has, for the last twelve months, been gradually reduced from 10,000,000l. to 6,000,000l. To sell Exchequer bills is the last resort of the Bank under such circumstances. It has been unable to recover its gold. At last it resorted to the sale of Exchequer bills, in such quantities as to lower their price, and to cause them to sink to par. But it did not get the gold for them after all. Such is the absence of profit in any productive investment, that there are about 12,000,000l. of deposits in the Bank of England, lying there without interest, watching every opportunity in the market to make some profit. These depositors, finding Exchequer bills falling in value, and coming down nearly to par, buy them as the most profitable speculation; but they pay the Bank not in gold, but by a check on itself, in consideration of the whole or some part of their own deposits with the Bank. Thus the deposits have greatly diminished, without increasing the Bank's hoard of gold. All these difficulties would be lessened by a silver standard.
It is no theory of mine, that the Bank is in an unsafe position. What is the language even of its own officers? At the meeting of the Bank proprietors, in March of the present year, the Governor said—There was no doubt that the efforts which the Bank of England had been making during the last twelve months to prevent the drain of gold, by contracting its circulation, had been counteracted by the course pursued by other banks of issue, During the period to which he had referred, the circulation of those banks had increased in the same proportion as that of the Bank of England had decreased. If this state of things should continue—if something should not be done to remedy the evil—it certainly would throw a heavy responsibility upon the Bank of England, and render it almost impossible for them to go on under the existing regulations.No wonder that the Bank is in a state of alarm. What is the amount of bullion in its coffers at this moment? Their returns say 6,000,000l.; others, apparently on good 289 grounds, assert that it is nearer 5,000,000l.; when, according to their own principles, it ought to be 10,000,000l.; and hon. Gentlemen talk of the security of immediate convertibility under the present system! Why, the depositors at the Bank alone could cause it to stop payment in three days. Let us compare the present amount of its bullion with a period even when there was no practical necessity for its having a store of it at all. The amount, according to the statement rendered by the Directors to the Bank Charter Committee, stood in several of those years as follows:—
What a dangerous state of things! not only for the Bank, but the country—a few days may produce all the evils of the panic of 1825. The mischief, I repeat, of the present system, is, that it affords too great facilities for ill-disposed and mercenary individuals running to the Bank for gold; it does not in the least secure ultimate convertibility, better than another system; it affords facility for the mischief, and no better security for the good. Now, silver, although equally as good a security for convertibility, would be an obstacle either to sudden or frequent runs upon the Bank, and thus prices and commerce would fluctuate less. I do not deny that part of my object is, that a larger Bank circulation could safely exist on a silver, than on a gold standard; for higher, as well as less fluctuating prices, are my object. But one mode of inducing the Bank to issue more notes, would be a security against these runs upon them. It is related by the Chevalier de Johnstone, in his History of the Rebellion of 1745, that in consequence of a rumour of the Pretender marching straight up to London, there was a run upon the Bank, which was staved off by their paying in sixpences. Before the sixpences were half gone, the Pretender was gone, 290 too; and nobody thought of coming upon the Bank any more for coin. If they had been compelled to pay rapidly in gold, instead of slowly in sixpences, there would have been a panic; and the danger to the country from the Rebellion would have been tenfold.
Average amount of Coin and Bullion held by the Bank of England in the years 1798 £6,187,520 1799 7,282,340 1800 5,647,350 1801 4,487,690 1802 4,022,365 1803 3,684,625 1804 4,625,665 1805 6,754,150 1806 6,101,105 1807 6,313,595 1808 6,935,705 1809 4,070,590 12)66,112,700 5,509,391 8/12 ths.
Again, during the three days of July, the Revolution of Paris in 1830—there was a great run on the Bank of France, it was staved off by paying in crown pieces; if payment could have been demanded in gold, the store would have been gone in one-fourth of the time. And all are agreed, that if the public are determined to press for payment in coin, and continue to press for it, no effort of any Bank or Government can resist it. Only conceive all the paper out circulating in this country—Bank of England notes, country bank notes, bills of exchange, checks, and all other species of paper, amounting at least to 200,000,000l., all demanding payment in gold; besides the national debt of 800,000,000l., which is all by law convertible into gold;—only let us conceive even a hundredth part of this demanded in gold, on any sudden emergency! The Bank of England has 6,000,000l. of gold to answer this demand. The property of the parties issuing the paper might be all-sufficient, if time were given, but in gold, each party, if all had an equal share, would get about three-pence in the pound of it. And yet, for a system like this, we sacrifice the best interests of the country. I remember the great objection of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, (Sir R. Peel,) to the legal tender clause in the last Bank Charter Act was, that it stood in the way of immediate convertibility.
I have before shown how immediate convertibility of all the paper circulating, is, by the confession of all parties possessing any knowledge on the subject, wholly impossible, if all are resolved on pressing for it. It is for this reason that I venture to differ in principle from the right hon. Baronet. I maintain that having ultimate convertibility always in view, that is the best medium of exchange, or standard, which throws obstacles in the way of any sudden caprice for a run upon the Bank. Under these circumstances, I think it highly expedient that the public should be accustomed, in ordinary times, to deeming paper, of a certain description, secure of convertibility; because, when an extreme crisis arrives, instead of looking for gold, which cannot be had, they will be 291 satisfied with this paper, which is morally certain of convertibility, and so the panic will be staid in its progress. Silver would facilitate the operation of this principle—it would prevent many a crisis arriving, and would impede it in its progress when it did arrive. The United States have just fitted the price of their gold to that of their silver standard, at a sacrifice, I believe, of six or seven per cent. without a murmur upon the subject. It is upon no abstract principle, I ask, therefore, for this Committee, as Lord Liverpool asked for and obtained the gold standard in 1816, without any one desiring it; but it is with a view to alleviate the misery which now exists, and has existed so long. My firm conviction is, that we shall see no material rise at present in the price of agricultural produce, without some modification of the present standard of value, which alone has caused the great fall in all prices. We neither can, nor is it safe, to go on as we are. It is our duty to tell the farmers whether we have the means of relieving them or not; and if, after having exercised our best judgments upon the question, we find that there are no means whatever of producing effectual relief, then excited hopes would no longer be disappointed. But if, on the contrary, we find that there is a mode of relieving the distress, it is not for us, but for the people themselves, to judge whether they will have it adopted. The refusal of a Committee will only look like a fear to have the subject investigated.
Sir, there is no safety in standing still; the whole of the home trade is affected by the ruined state of the agricultural interest, which is the foundation of the whole. My opinion is, that the numbers connected directly and indirectly with the agricultural interest is very much underrated, in order to give undue importance to the export trade. I contended last year that 20,000,000 out of 25,000,000 of the people of these islands are directly interested in the well-being of agriculture, and in its relief from its present depressed state, in consequence of the fall in prices. I did it on these grounds, taken from the Population Returns of England. Scotland, and Wales:—
Agricultural occupiers 1,500,000 Agricultural labourers 4,800,000 Mining interest 600,000 6,900,000 Manufactures 2,400,000 Millers, takers, and butchers 900,000
Now, taking the manufacturers at 2,400,000 in round numbers, as one-third of the 6,900,000 agriculturists and miners, I apportion the 6,406,398 individuals last mentioned as interested in, or employed, two-thirds by the agriculturists, and one-third by manufacturers. This will add 4,077,000 to the agriculturists and 2,316,000 to the manufacturers; making 10,977,000 agriculturists, and 4,716,000 manufacturers. But of this number of manufacturers, half, at least, are employed (it is generally said four-fifths) by the agricultural body and its dependencies; this will deduct 2,358,000 from the aggregate manufacturing interest, and leave only 2,358,000 as the purely, or rather export, manufacturing body, whilst it makes the agricultural body and its dependencies amount to 13,335,000. But, here, Ireland is left out of the question, which may be called a strictly agricultural country—Ireland, whose very existence almost depends upon supplying us with corn. Add 8,000,000, the population of Ireland, to the above 13,335,000, you have a total of 21,335,000 as the real agricultural interest of Great Britain and Ireland, compared with not more than 3,000,000, at the outside, of the export trade, And the whole of this body of 21,000,000 is interested in a remunerating price for agricultural produce; and yet we hear nothing but "monopoly," when anything is said of protection to agriculture. If it be a monopoly, the monopolists are 21,000,000 out of 24,000,000; and it will be difficult for the minority to persuade them out of the monopoly. The 3,000,000, whom I have stated to be the strictly export manufacturing body, have undoubtedly an interest in exchanging their produce for foreign corn, and they have an interest separate from the great body of the community, which consists of upwards of 20,000,000, and whose interests are strictly identified, as they supply each other with the necessaries, comforts, and luxuries of life. Of this great body, British agriculture is the basis; and thus is the whole bound up with remunerating prices to our agricultural produce; and yet the hon. Member for Middlesex asserts that this is essentially 293 a manufacturing country,—by which he means that everything is to be conceded to the export trade. 1, on the contrary, on grounds which I think indisputable, contend that its essential basis is agriculture, and that the encouragement of agriculture should be our first consideration, being the source of employment, as it is, to 20,000,000 of our population.
Artificers builders &c 650,000 Tailors, shoemakers, and hatters 1,080,000 Shopkeepers 2,100,000 Clerical, legal, and medical 450,000 Disabled paupers 110,000 Proprietors, annuitants 1,116,398 6,406,398
These are the numbers that are affected by our present ruinous policy; and can it be safe to stand thus doggedly out against them and their prosperity. In my heart, I believe that the present unsettled temper of the minds of the middle and working classes, springs from nothing so much as from their poverty and distress. To them, the institutions of their country are worth nothing, but as they produce comfort and competence; when they fail to obtain these, they become—and reasonably become—dissatisfied with their institutions—first with those that really require reform, next with those that cannot be improved. But we have been governed by men who have only export theories, or who consult only those interested either in the export trade, or for increasing, more and more, the value of money. I have before shewn, that the export trade is no test, and that it has been proved, on three separate occasions, to be no test of the prosperity of the home-trade, and especially of the agricultural interest. I implore the country Gentlemen, in this House, to protest against the export trade being made the test of their well-doing; at least, if they do not wish to see the transfer of their estates into the hands of the monied interest finally consummated.
Such, then, is the condition of the majority in this country. The farmer bankrupt; the landlords in the way to be expatriated; many of them gone; the labourer thrown out of employment; the shopkeepers without custom. These parties cry aloud for relief; but if they ask for it in the only mode in which it can come to them, they are taunted with a breach of public faith. Sir, they seek only public justice. They have been cruelly dealt with; publicly robbed; their estates and their labour confiscated. They appear at the Bar of this House; at the Bar of a reformed House of Commons, to have that justice conceded to them: they ask not for full redress, but for some palliation merely of their misery. And I trust they ask not to represent the House affecting not merely in vain from opinions, but a House purporting to be resolute in its determination 294 to remove the grievances of its constituents,—grievances now of twenty years' standing,—grievances which have no parallel to them in a free country, in the annals of history,—grievances which, in point of cruelty and oppression, throw those of Nero and Caligula altogether into the shade. These parties now demand redress at your hands: you may refuse it; but let us not delude ourselve with the idea that they will cease in their efforts to obtain it. Never till lately have they been aroused to the conviction of what the real cause of their misery was; the opinions which they held before of the cause were founded in error. As the errors were successively discovered, they ceased to press for relief in those ways. Already have the farmers of Cambridgeshire, Kent, Suffolk, Sussex, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Yorkshire, and others, declared their conviction that the change in the currency is at the bottom of their distress; and, in proportion as they are right, will they gather strength to back their opinion, until he will be not merely a bold Minister, not merely a powerful one, but in the last degree short-sighted and insane, who shall persist in saying nay to their just demands. You may tell me you cannot relieve the distress: I contend that you can; and I ask to have the truth of my assertion disproved before a Select Committee. If you can relieve, and won't, it is fit the country should know it; if you cannot relieve, as I said before, you will not only free the distressed from suspense, but prove that you have done your utmost for them. But it is in our power to relieve the distress. Mr. Pitt was anticipating some great reductions in the returns of industry, when he said—At such a crisis, Parliament, if it be not then sitting, ought to be called together; and if it cannot relieve you, its powers are at an end. Tell me not (continued Mr. Pitt) that Parliament cannot protect—it is omnipotent to protect.Sir, in seeking this mode of relief for the agricultural interest, I seek it at the expense of none of the other productive interests; on the contrary, they would all receive a stimulus and encouragement. If I look back to the year 1821–2, I find manufactures, and commerce, and labour generally languishing under the depression of agriculture. I find all of them springing up invigorated and refreshed by the increased currency of 1823–4–5. All was then prosperity; there was no dissentient voice. I propose to produce the same re- 295 suits by different means,—means that shall secure us from the fatal effects of the panic of 1825. That panic was foreseen by all who understood the subject of currency, and was the consequence only of ignorant legislation. I know I shall be taunted with the "breach of national faith." Sir, I seek no breach of national faith; faith has been broken with the public, and I seek to palliate the effects of that injustice. It will be said, the fixed annuitant will suffer from a rise of prices. From the rise of prices which I am aiming at, he will have no reason to complain. Wholesale prices have fallen one-half; it is those which I wish to raise, for these employ labour, and wages would rise in proportion to the fulness of employment; on the contrary, retail prices have only fallen one-fourth, so that the rise in articles of consumption would not be near in proportion to that in articles of production; and it is the good of producers generally which I am seeking. In this way, the fixed annuitant will suffer far less than the producer will gain; for his income is spent on retail articles. Besides, whatever change takes place in prices, only affects the income of his fixed annuity.
Now, under any of the changes which I am about to state, the annuitant would have had no reasonable ground of complaint. Parliament passed a corn-law in 1815, making 80s. the standard price for wheat: it is true it neglected to secure this price to the agriculturist, or rather took effectual means to prevent it, by the change in the currency; but if Parliament had substantially secured 80s. for the quarter of wheat, whether by a change of currency, or by any other means, the annuitant would have had no just cause for complaint; for the prices before 1815 were higher than 80s., so that he first received his annuity under the expectation of prices equivalent to at least 80s. for wheat. Again in 1822, the parliamentary basis of the wheat price was made 70s. per quarter. Any Act of Parliament that had really and effectually secured that price to the farmer, would have committed no injury on the annuitant, because he had no reason to expect a less price. Then, in 1828, 64s. was made the parliamentary basis of the wheat price: for three or four years subsequent to that period, deficient harvests created a price equal to 64s., and it is only the last two or three years that the annuitant has began to expect a lower rate of prices than 64s. for wheat. Any change, therefore, now, which affected that 296 price, would commit no real injury upon any party; while to the whole body of producers it would be an incalculable good, and would prevent the sweeping away from their homesteads full half the farmers of the country, who are now living on them merely by sufferance.
In conclusion, the mere monied interest although so sanguine in its gain from the continuance of the present system, would not lose, because the rate of interest, driven down by the absence of profit in all productive investments, to 2½ and 3 per cent would, by the change proposed, rise to 4½ and 5 per cent. the moment there was a prospect of profit in agriculture and the home trade. I have proposed the experiment of a silver standard in the hope of its producing these beneficial effects. Some change is absolutely necessary, for the country cannot go on as it is; nor ought we to allow it; for I contend with Mr. Burke, "that the foremost consideration of a Government is the property of the citizen;—the first creditor of the State is the plough," Sir, I beg to thank the House for its kind and patient attention, and to move,—"That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire if there be not effectual means within the reach of Parliament to afford substantial relief to the agriculture of the United Kingdom, and especially to recommend to its attention the subject of a silver, or a conjoined standard of silver and gold."
§ Mr. Wodehouse
rose to support it, and expressed his conviction that all other remedies than those which it proposed would prove utterly ineffectual, although he knew that it would be objected that that argument came too late. The present Question involved the whole question of the pressure of taxation, and it was his opinion, that it was not only idle to expect that remonstrances on this subject should cease, but also that they should be from time to time repeated with increasing importunity. He had been one of the Committee which sat in 1822 upon this subject, and he had been one of a small minority who were opposed to the adoption of their Report, on the ground put forward by Mr. Huskisson, that it did not sufficiently take into consideration the altered value of money. He had been impressed with the necessity of that point being duly considered from reading the opinions which had been advanced by Mr. Huskisson several months before, and especially in 297 his celebrated treatise of 1810 upon the Bullion question. It had been the policy of that House hitherto, unfortunately, to reject every measure in the shape of relief to the country upon that point—as when, upon the occasion of the withdrawal of the country bank notes, the proposition had been made that the Bank of England small notes might be allowed to circulate. When the question for the House to consider was, whether it would appoint a Committee with the view of altering the present standard of value in this country, he could not help referring to the opinions pronounced upon the Question of the Currency by those who were considered perfectly conversant with the subject. He referred to the evidence of Mr. Horsley Palmer and Mr. Baring, now Lord Ashburton; the former of whom stated, when a proposition was made for (as we understood) the withdrawal of small notes in Scotland, that if we could be sure of procuring and maintaining, under all circumstances, a sufficiency of gold for the whole empire, he should have no hesitation in saying that a circulating medium of gold ought to be generally adopted; but he was bound honestly to confess, notwithstanding the new lights which had been attempted to be thrown on the subject, that he had strong doubts upon the question; and it was for that reason that he thought, in his poor judgment, it was better to leave the Scotch currency undisturbed. This was the opinion of a Gentleman whose testimony on this point should have great weight with the House, for he had been the confidential adviser of the Bank of England for a long series of years. It was in consequence of the high opinion which he (Mr. Wodehouse) entertained of the advantage which would result from making the opinions of Mr. Horsley Palmer generally known, that he had pressed the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to have his evidence published and distributed. The sentiments which Mr. Baring then expressed strongly confirmed the opinions of Mr. Palmer; for he contended that situated as this country was, with its enormous debt, with an artificial price of corn, and having most of its large mercantile transactions carried on through the medium of a paper currency, it should be the last to send representatives to that House to divide on questions more suited to philosophers than practical men— 298 namely, the expediency of adopting a metallic standard; and that it would be a much wiser course to rest content with that species of currency which was then established, and which seemed to be essential under the peculiar circumstances of the country. He was perfectly conscious that he was incapable of making any but a feeble attempt to impress upon the House the views which he entertained on this question in seconding the motion of his hon. Friend; but he could not hesitate to do all in his power to accomplish the object which they had both at heart, convinced as he was that the present state of the currency had already done incalculable mischief, particularly to those connected with agriculture, and still threatened to overwhelm them with immeasurable ruin. He had, therefore, cheerfully come forward to second the proposition of his hon. Friend, under the firm persuasion that it would, if assented to, be the means of arresting those evils under which those connected with agriculture had so long suffered.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, that before he made the few observations which he intended to address to the House, he was desirous that the Resolution which had been come to by the House upon this subject, in the year 1833, should be read.
The Clerk at the Table accordingly read the following Resolution:—
"That it is the opinion of this House, that, any alteration of the monetary system of the country which would have the effect of lowering the standard of value, would be highly inexpedient."
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
resumed:—He had thought it right to recall this Resolution to the memory of the House, as there were many Gentlemen present who might not have been Members during the last Parliament, and therefore, perhaps, might be unacquainted with it. That Resolution was adopted by the House after three nights' debate, and after a solemn and important discussion. He had more particularly called the attention of the House to it, because, although it had been difficult for him, though he had listened to the speech of the hon. Member with the utmost attention, to make out definitively what the hon. Member's object was, supposing the House granted the Committee he proposed, still it had seemed to him, if he was aiming at anything, that the hon. Member must be aiming at 299 a change in the monetary system, or the standard of value of the country. He must be permitted to say, that it had always appeared to him, and he believed it had always been the opinion of this House, that when any Gentleman made a Motion for a Committee of Inquiry, he was bound to show the object he had in view, and what plan he would wish to see adopted by the Committee; but he must say, that he was nearly as much in the dark now as to what the hon. Member's object really was, as he was at the beginning of his speech; and he believed there was no hon. Member who did not find himself in nearly the same situation. There might be many Gentlemen indeed, within the House, who had vague notions, that some change was to take place, either in the paper currency, or in the standard of value in this country; they might think they could distinguish the object to be obtained by the Committee; but he did not believe, from anything which had fallen from his hon. Friend, they could tell whether it formed part of his intention or not—and yet it was not possible to suppose, except he had had some such an object in view, as a change in the standard leading to depreciation that he could hope to obtain any benefit from his inquiry. What was the Motion of his hon. Friend? He proposed a Committee to inquire into agricultural distress, and especially to turn their attention to the propriety of adopting a silver standard, or a silver conjointly with a gold standard. His hon. Friend had devoted by far the greater part of his speech not only to a statement of the agricultural distress which existed at present, but to the history of that which had unfortunately prevailed in past times. No one felt for or sympathized with that distress more than himself, and those with whom he had the honour to act, and he was sure there would be no objection on the part of his Majesty's Government to accede to the Motion for a Committee, provided its labours were to be limited to an inquiry into that distress, and they could hope that any benefit would arise there from. But what was the language repeatedly held in the House, and even so lately as within the past week, with reference to an inquiry into this subject? In the year 1833, a solemn inquiry took place into the state of agriculture—the Committee was well attended—the 300 inquiry was conducted with the greatest possible care—and a Report was drawn up and agreed to by them; and what was the opinion of that Committee? Why, they reported, that more relief was to be expected from the forbearance of Parliament, than from any active measure of interference. ["Hear, hear."] The Gentleman who cheered, might differ from him—but that Committee was composed of Members most deeply interested in the agricultural interests of this cquntry—of those who might justly be considered to be its best friends—and after a solemn and deliberate inquiry, they themselves came to the Resolution he had mentioned to the House. He was not quoting any opinion of his own, he was quoting the opinion of the Committee, which was solemnly registered in the Records of the House. Another Committee had been subsequently appointed on this subject—one which was not less well-attended—whose inquiries were not less carefully conducted. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, was some time Chairman of it, as well as his noble Friend, the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and after having considered if any practical relief could be afforded, they only came to the determination which was read in the House the other night, relating to county rates, and the Government was prepared with a measure for the purpose of carrying that recommendation into effect. These things considered, then, he asked any friend to the landed interests—any Gentleman representing the agricultural interests in that House—whether he would think it desirable to have a Committee for the purpose of inquiring into the agricultural distress, which at present unhappily existed, provided the Committee were to be limited to that object, and to that alone. He apprehended that all would say, they did not. Having disposed thus, as he thought, of that portion of the Motion of his hon. Friend, he would come to that which was now adjunct to it—namely, that the Committee should have power to inquire into the propriety of adopting a silver standard, or a standard conjointly of gold and silver. He would presume the discussion to be confined to this point—and he must say, that he had been in hopes the advice so properly urged by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, on a preceding night, would have been listened to; he 301 was in hopes that the House would have been told by the hon. Gentleman, definitively, what it was he wanted; that he would not have connected this Motion with agricultural distress merely for the purpose of rendering it palatable to the tastes of some hon. Gentlemen, and so catch a few more votes by it, and that if he did really intend to propose a depreciation of the standard, that he would have come prepared to state plainly and manfully what that was to be. He was in hopes that the hon. Member would have enabled the House to understand whether such were his purpose, if it was, whether he had coupled it with the subject of agricultural distress (which the whole tenor of his speech seemed to imply) for the purpose of making that distress a ground for the depreciation, the hon. Member's desire being to disturb that Resolution to which the late Parliament came, and plunge the House into either an inquiry respecting a depreciation of the standard, or an issue of paper to an extent, of which his Motion furnished no clue as a panacea for all that suffering. But the hon. Gentleman had done nothing of this kind—he had only entered into a long argument to show that the silver standard was preferable to the gold standard; and the hon. Gentleman had done him the honour to quote his opinions upon that point, delivered in 1833. He adhered to the opinion he then expressed, and he should take now precisely the same course he took then. If they were called upon to discuss the question of the respective merits of a gold and a silver standard, and if they had now to fix either upon one or the other, he should be inclined to prefer silver. That was his opinion then, and was his opinion still; but, if the hon. Gentleman thought that that circumstance would make the slightest difference in the vote he should give, which would be the same as that he then gave, he was mistaken most completely. The question of the respective merits of gold or silver, as the standard of value, was one thing, and the views and objects of the hon. Gentleman in proposing a change, were quite another. The first was a question (as Mr. Baring stated in his evidence before the Committee of the Privy Council, quoted by his hon. Friend, the Member for Norfolk), of almost philosophical nicety. It did not, except in a very slight degree, include the Question of depreciation. If either metal were 302 exposed to the chance of depreciation, or the reverse, he should say, that that would be a good reason for excluding it as a standard; because the greatest desideratum in fixing that by which all other things were to be measured, was the least possible fluctuation in its real value. The superiority of one of these metals over the other, as a standard, was in his opinion, to be decided solely with reference to that consideration, and to another—namely, the greater or less facility afforded to the Bank, in case of a drain of specie, for meeting that demand. The first of these properties—the greater fixity of the real value of the metal—depended upon the production of the mines, upon which there was but very meagre information; and, certainly—measuring the fluctuations by the relative value of one metal to the other, during many years past—one being, as regarded this country, a mere article of commerce—he could not say, that he saw much reason to believe that the real value of either had much varied, and on this ground he did not see much reason for giving silver the preference to gold. On the second point, he certainly saw some advantage from using silver, and that, as well as the consideration, that gold is more frequently wanted on a sudden for military chests, in the event of any European hostilities, led him rather to give the preference to silver as a measure of value, and would incline him, if the whole system were now to begin, to adopt it instead of gold. But these were nice and subtle distinctions, and there was no reason to consider them, for we had fixed gold as our standard; and to attempt to change it, would bring consequences with it, far outweighing any trifling and distant advantages attending the greater security of the other metal. They were points, too, which had nothing in common with the great and important object which the hon. Gentleman asserted he had in view—namely to afford a panacea for the distress of the landed interest. It was impossible, indeed, to suppose that the hon. Member proposed a change from one standard to another simply, on either of the grounds which were discussed before the Committee to which he had alluded; but the hon. Gentleman's view appeared to be clearly to obtain some advantage by a change—he had told the House so, for he had stated, "it is impossible that the present price of wheat can go on, and, therefore, I bring 303 forward my Motion;" so that, it appeared, he aimed at a depreciation by the change he proposed to effect, and through that step to agricultural relief. But what, in that case, did the hon. Member mean to do? Why had he not told the House whether he meant to take silver at 60s. or at 62s.?—the only standard to which the hon. Member referred; or whether he meant to go to the present rate at which silver was coined, and at which it was not a legal tender, namely,—66s.? He concluded that if the hon. Gentleman wished to effect his own purpose, that was the standard to which he must resort; but then they came again to the old question of depreciation, and the hon. Member must be prepared to shew this House (which he had yet failed to do), that the agricultural interests would be benefited by such a change, and that he would not be producing a general mass of confusion from one end of the country to the other, and adopting a course by which the creditor would be defrauded, and the debtor a gainer in the same proportion. He should like to know on what principle the hon. Member would advocate a standard of 66s.,—it certainly would benefit the debtor about 10 per cent.; but upon what possible principle of justice could it be done? The hon. Member for Oldham, who had given notice that he intended to propose an equitable adjustment, would step in and say, "Before you pretend to take that as an arbitrary measure of depreciation, let me bring my plan of equitable adjustment before you. Let me show what would be a just and fair depreciation, and one which would act equally, in every way, upon all classes." Now, if the hon. Gentleman said, that a standard of 66s. was not his proposition, and that he means to take the old standard of 62s. which would produce a difference of only about 3½ per cent., was that, he asked, a consideration for which he would derange all contracts that had been entered into, and all the calculations on which property had been settled, since the year 1819? And what benefit did those Gentlemen who advocate this proposition, on the ground of benefiting the agricultural interests, expect to derive from it? If they expect that it would raise the price of wheat, let him tell them that a sun-shiney or a rainy day would make more difference than any proposition connected with a silver standard could possibly effect. ["No, 304 no!"] The hon. Gentleman behind him said, "No, no!" but what, he asked, was the argument urged with regard to the price of oats and of barley? Why, they had been told to-night, that the high price of those articles was caused by the scanty supply; and why was one argument to apply to oats and barley, and another to wheat? If they were told that the price of oats and barley was high because there was a deficient quantity, might we not, in our turn, say that if the price of wheat was low, it was because, there was a redundancy. Why, was it not notorious that the price of corn had acted as a barrier against any importations for the last three years? Was it not notorious that the price, then, must depend upon the quantity grown in the country? He was correct, therefore, in stating, that one sun-shiney or rainy day, or anything which would tend to affect the quantity of wheat produced, would have more effect than any change of 2½ or 3½ per cent, which the hon. Gentleman's plan proposed to make. But, how did the hon. Gentleman propose to benefit the farmers by his plan? Did he suppose, that if he could succeed in nominally raising the price of wheat, for they could do nothing more than nominally raise it, be would not nominally raise the price of other commodities also, and that the price of wheat would not bear the same proportion to the price of all other commodities which it did now?—if so, the hon. Gentleman would find himself mistaken; for the quantity of wheat which purchased a certain quantity of commodities would only purchase an equal quantity under any change which he could effect by altering the currency. If the farmer got 41s. instead of 40s. for his wheat, in consequence of a change in the standard, he would not be able to command any more labour, any more clothing, or any more food than at present. If he was under lease, it was true he might be benefited for the remainder of his term, but then it would cease. He was free to admit, that the Bill of 1819 pressed very hard upon the debtor; but, at the same time, he was satisfied that the Parliament would not have consented to any other measure than a return to cash payments at the old standard, for when a proposition was only talked of to lower the standard down to 4l. 10s. or 5l., the proposition was scouted out of the House. Whatever mischief was 305 done, was done in 1819; though he denied that any injustice was done; because it was always the declared intention of the Legislature to return to cash payments. He admitted, that there was some hardship inflicted at the time; but because they then inflicted a hardship, were they to turn round and inflict a tenfold hardship, not for the purpose of restoring to those who suffered at the time, that which they were deprived of, but to inflict a new injury upon entirely new parties, and to give a new benefit to parties who then received no injury? He regretted, that this Question was not brought forward boldly on the only grounds on which it could stand—namely, a measure for the relief of debtors; if so, he should have been prepared to meet it, as an act of the grossest injustice and impolicy; but it was mixed up with a question, with which, in his opinion, it had no connexion whatever, he meant the distress of the agriculturists, with a view, he was sorry to say, of exciting a feeling in favour of the measure, in the minds of those who, if they would take the trouble to look into the subject and carry it out in all its bearings, would not be otherwise inclined to support it. But the hon. Member had quoted the language of Mr. Pitt, when he said, that Parliament was omnipotent. But Parliament was not omnipotent in the price of wheat; it could not determine what the price of wheat should be. He did not wish to go beyond the immediate point under discussion—he had not attempted to say one word about the Corn-laws,—they did not, come into this question,—but it was in vain for the hon. Member for Yorkshire to appeal to Parliament as omnipotent and bound to raise the price of wheat—he must appeal to a different and to a higher power than any Parliament, and not rely upon any change which could be effected in the monetary system of this country. He begged, now, to call the attention of the House to the inevitable consequence of acceding to the proposition of the hon. Member. Let them imagine the Committee named upon his suggestion, and the hopes which would be raised in the minds of the whole body of agriculturists in this country; into what a delusion would they be led, if they were induced to believe that this Committee, by a change in the standard, could afford them the necessary relief. What would be the effect in the 306 Money-Market to-morrow, should it be understood that the question was to be agitated in Parliament, whether the standard of value were to be changed or not, and whether the depreciation should be 3½ or 10 per cent., or whether there should be any depreciation at all. The probable result of the appointment of such a Committee would be, that for six weeks or two months everything would be in such a state of uncertainty, that a creditor having 100l. owing to him, when he went to bed at night, would not know whether he was to rise with only 90l. owing to him tomorrow. That, then, was, of all others, the last subject which ought to be referred to the consideration of a Committee. If it were deemed advisable to adopt a silver standard, let the advocates of that measure bring down a plan to the House;—let them state whether they proposed a standard of 60s. or of 66s., and let the subject be discussed within these walls; and if the Resolution were carried, let the news of the decision of the House be conveyed, as fast as the post could carry it, over the country. If the House were willing (which God forbid!) to rescind the Resolution of 1833, and should think it proper to alter the standard- of value, let the matter be decided at once, and let not the country be kept in suspense from week to week during the deliberations of the Committee. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to the Money Market, and he asked what must be its state when, on such a day, Exchequer Bills were at par; but was not this an argument to deter the House from tampering with the monetary system? And was it not a proof that we ought not too hastily to adopt the plan of submitting a measure of this importance to a Committee of the House? He contended, and he hoped a large majority of the House would affirm the proposition—that nothing could be so dangerous as, on the one hand, to hold out fallacious hopes of relief which could not be realized—or, on the other, to introduce into the complicated pecuniary concerns of this country an element of insecurity, which must pervade the whole of our monetary system—(a system which entered into every transaction)—and which would tend to the almost immediate ruin of many of the most important classes of the community.
§ Mr. Clay
was convinced, that a large majority of the Members had been much surprised, and that a large majority of persons out of doors would be much more surprised at the explanations with which the hon. Member for Yorkshire had accompanied his Motion. He (Mr. Clay) had supposed, when the notice of the Motion was given, that it related to some particular protection to be given to agriculture; and he was greatly surprised, therefore, to find that the proposition was to make an alteration in the currency, which, if productive of good at all, might be productive of it to the whole community; but he was utterly at a loss to conceive how it could be exclusively productive of good to agriculture. He would not follow the hon. Member into his details respecting agricultural distress; but would confine himself to the question, how the mode proposed would tend to the alleviation of that distress; and even on that point he had been anticipated by the admirable speech of the right hon. President of the Board of Trade. There were one or two small matters left, however, to which he would advert. He must say, that after listening most attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for Yorkshire, he had been unable to discover the precise nature of its bearing, or how the measure proposed could have a beneficial effect on agriculture. If the hon. Member proposed merely to return to the old English silver standard, and to coin the pound of standard silver into 60s., the change would not exceed a-half per cent, or about 4d. in the sovereign. He was quite ready to admit, that he should prefer a standard of silver to a standard of gold; and that he thought an error had been committed in 1816, in not establishing a silver standard. If, therefore, the hon. Member confined his proposition to such a measure, without committing any breach of national faith by departing from the ancient English silver standard, he would agree with the hon. Member, but it was evident that the hon. Gentleman intended much more than that. As he had before said, a return to the ancient silver standard would not produce a change of more than 1½ per cent. By the most accurate calculation ever made of the relative value of our gold and silver coinage prior to 1816, it was ascertained that the proportion of fine gold to fine silver in our coins, was as 1=15 2/1 0/0 9/0 6/0; in other words, that a given weight of gold was considered equal to 15 2/10 its weight of silver. By the calculation of the French Mint it is 308 15 5/10, the difference between the two calculations being 3/10; and it being generally understood, that the French calculation was nearer to the relative value of the metals than any other, it might be assumed that the proportion of 15½ to I was the average of the market-price. This would give a difference between the gold standard and the old silver standard of about 3 per cent, a necessary deduction from which, for the expense of coinage, or for seignorage, would reduce this 3 per cent to 1½ per cent, or about 4d. in the sovereign. Again, the present value of standard silver in the English market was ¼ under 5s. per ounce. With 19s. 11d. therefore, four ounces of silver might be bought, which would, under the old Mint regulations, have been coined into 20s. 8d.: there would be, therefore, an apparent difference of 9d. in the sovereign between our gold and silver standard—but a deduction of 1½ per cent, or about 4d. in the sovereign being made (and it would be absurd that it should not be made for seignorage:)—by another process the same result was reached—namely, that a return to the old silver standard would not occasion a greater difference in the price of commodities than about 4d., or at most 5d. in the sovereign. This advantage of 4d. or 4½d. in the sovereign, which a return to the old silver standard would produce, was the utmost then, that could be attained by the change; and it was impossible to suppose that the hon. Gentleman meant no more than to return to the ancient standard, but he must mean either to resort to the plan of 66s. to the pound, or to some other standard, It must be borne in mind, that in 1816. 66s. was not taken as the standard by the Committee, for coin of that measure of value was considered only in the light of tokens. But if the hon. Member proposed by a larger amount of circulation than there was at present, to raise the price of corn, the hon. Member ought to show, that there was that connexion between the currency and the price of grain, on which alone, for the purposes of this Motion, any plan of that description ought to be based. An hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Wiltshire, charged him on a former evening, with being the only person in the country who did not know why it was that the prices of barley and oats were not equally affected with that of wheat; and the hon. Gentleman informed the House, that the price of barley and oats were kept up solely by deficient harvests; but the fact is, 309 that almost every other article, and not barley and oats only had risen in price. Cotton, for example, had risen since the last year from 7d. to 9½d. per lb.—a rise of 30 per cent. Now, this rise could not have taken place in consequence of any diminution of the quantity, because the quantity also had increased from 268,000,000 of lbs., the quantity imported in 1833, to 308,000,000 lbs., imported in 1834. Moreover, during the last five or six years, the price of wheat had, as if purposely to confound the theory of the hon. Gentleman, made it a point not to agree with the fluctuations of the currency. In 1829, the amount of the Bank currrency was 19,700,000l.; and the price of wheat was 60s. 3d. In 1830, the Bank currency had increased one-sixth per cent, or to 20,000,000l., but the price of wheat had fallen to 64s. 3d. In 1831, the currency had decreased again to 19,000,000l.; but the price of wheat had risen again to 66s. 4d. In 1832, the currency certainly had decreased to 18,500,000l.; and the price of wheat was 58s. 8d.; but in 1833, the Bank circulation increased again to 19,000,000l.; while wheat fell to 52s. 11d. In 1834, the Bank circulation was 18,800,000l.; but the price of wheat had fallen to 46s. 2d.; the currency of the country banks also, having, in 1834, increased 500,000l. The facts, therefore, were opposed to the position of the hon. Gentleman. The price of almost everything but wheat had risen, up to the present day; and the currency did not increase, but decreased concurrently with the rise in the price of wheat, when the price of that article rose. In connexion with this subject he might allude to a memorial that was presented to Earl Grey in the year 1831 from the ironmasters of Staffordshire, setting forth the then depressed state of that trade. They represented that pig iron had fallen from 8l. to 3., and bar iron from 15l. to 5l.; that the trade had practised every species of economy; but that still their profits were falling-off, and that it was the opinion of the memorialists, that all their distresses and difficulties arose from the attempt that was made to render the engagements and obligations of the country convertible by law according to a standard value of 3l. 18s. for gold. It was prophesied at that time by the memorialists, and many others, that the prices of iron could never again rise. Yet before twelve months had elapsed, without any alteration of the currency, pig iron rose to 5l. 10s., and bar iron to 7l., and he believed that no Gentleman would 310 deny that at present the iron trade was in a most prosperous condition. His own opinion was—and he should set up his prophecy upon the point, in opposition to any of the other prophecies that had been throw n out—that unless some alteration was made in the Corn-laws; the effect of those laws in the end would be to throw away all the wealth and prosperity of the country. The reduction in the value of the standard of currency would tend undoubtedly to increase the wages of labour and the rents of lands, perhaps 10 per cent, but it was a most mistaken notion to suppose, that it would give any stimulus to trade. Hume in his Essays, said, that the effect of a stimulus of this nature was only to produce a temporary prosperity, but no lasting benefit to a country. It might mitigate for a time the pressure of taxation, but it would not enable the Government to take off any taxes. He was fixed in the opinion, that the worst thing that could happen in any country was a breach of faith with the national creditor. Such a measure had never been resorted to even in the most barbarous nations, except under the pressure of severe necessity—a case that could never arise in this country. With respect to what the hon. Member who introduced this Motion had said as to the effects of the transactions of the Bank of England upon public credit, he should leave that to be answered by his hon. Friend, the Governor of the Bank; but he would remark, in passing the subject, that since the Bill of 1819, the average circulation of the Bank was greater in proportion to the price of wheat than it had been before. At the same time, if the hon. Member for Yorkshire were to propose a regulation of the Bank issues, he (Mr. Clay) would join with him. The hon. Member concluded by reading a passage from Locke, reprobating the injustice of causing a depreciation of the currency.
§ Mr. Benett
said, that the ingenious speech which they had heard from the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade would have been of much greater value had it been delivered in the year 1816 or in 1819. Nobody thought anything then about the robbery that was committed upon the debtor, although so much was now said about robbing the creditor. The poor man was then robbed without remorse; but now the rich creditor must not be touched. He denied that the present Motion was calculated or intended to depreciate the standard of value. By going back to a silver currency no such effect 311 could be produced. The object of the Motion was two-fold: to prevent the appreciation of the gold standard, which, in fact, was nothing but a gambling standard, for as wealth increased the demand for gold increased accordingly, and that demand might go on until every ounce of gold should be swallowed up. There was not so much gold to be had as would pay off the National Debt of England, while, on the other hand, silver was to be had in abundance. If a silver currency were established there would be no occasion for the Bank of England to keep such large stores of that metal in its coffers as it did at present of gold. The great evil of a contracted currency was, that it raised the value of fixed payments. He was not arguing for a depreciation, but against an appreciation, and therefore in favour of a silver currency. To this he felt satisfied they must come at last, for gold would become so scarce that it must be given up as a general circulating medium. As to the agricultural interests, nothing had been done for years to relieve them, and they were well entitled to this attempt in their favour; and the Motion, if for this reason alone, should have his support.
§ Mr. Richards
said, that it was with extreme regret he heard the opinions expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (the President of the Board of Trade) in opposition to the present Motion. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed his sympathy for the condition of the agricultural interests; hut if he felt this sympathy, why did he oppose inquiry? He expressed his sympathy, but he resisted inquiry, because, as he said, the hon. Member for Yorkshire had laid no grounds for his Motion. Who was it, he would ask, that looked at the disturbances that prevailed in the agricultural districts of the country—who was it that looked at the fires in Kent and other counties, or who witnessed the misery and distress of the agricultural labourers—that did not see that there was ample ground for the present motion? Surely this deep distress ought to be attended to by the House. When he came down to the House that evening he inquired what was the cause of such a full attendance of Members that he could scarcely get a seat, and he was told that it was the expected discussion on the Wolverhampton riots. He had great deference for the judgment and discretion of the House, and therefore could not think of doubting the propriety of everything it did. He found that the inquiry demanded as to the Wol- 312 verhampton transaction had been conceded, and was the House prepared, he would ask, to refuse an inquiry into the agricultural interests of the country, applying for some relief in forma pauperis? Did not the right hon. Gentleman know that the farmers were paying their rents out of their capital? The landowners had waited patiently, hoping for some legislative relief, but time and patience had done nothing for them. They must, if not relieved shortly, retire from the seats of their ancestors, to make way for Jews and jobbers. Every Committee that had been hitherto appointed to inquire into the situation of the agriculturists, arising out of the measure of 1816, had been bound hand and foot. He could not help thinking that there was something wrong in the education of Gentlemen—as connected with this subject. Why else was all their compassion wasted upon creditors, and none reserved for the poor debtors? He believed that when the present standard was adopted it was not understood. The late Mr. Ricardo, for example, who had supported the Bill of 1819, upon the supposition that the very utmost effect which the changes produced by it in the existing burdens of the country would be no more than 3½ per cent., acknowledged some time before his death to a learned friend of his (Mr. Richards), who was formerly a Member of that House, that its effects had extended to upwards of 30 per cent., and that had he foreseen such an extensive alteration he would never have lent the Measure his countenance. The real fact attendant upon the passing of that Bill was, that it was wholly prepared and drawn up by Mr. Huskisson and Mr. Ricardo, in conjunction, and it was then committed to the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), whose talents and eloquence highly qualified him to be the agent and spokesman on its behalf. He was at a loss to understand upon what principle it was denied that any fluctuations or changes were now produced by large commercial and influential bodies upon the circulating medium; when it was notorious that the Directors of the Bank of England daily afforded people the broad fact that they were constantly tampering with the currency by making at one period large issues of their paper, and at another, and closely following epoch, restricting their issues within the very narrowest bounds. Nay, was it not now said, that the recent fluctuations, agitation, and panic that had occurred in the Stock-market were caused 313 altogether by the operations of the Bank, and was he not, therefore, justified in looking at them as the chief instigators of these changes. In support of the arguments in favour of a depreciation of the currency it might be observed that David Hume was strongly of opinion that a depreciation of the currency, although it might, and most probably would, affect the non-productive classes, yet would produce very beneficial results to all the labouring and productive classes, inasmuch, as while the price of provisions was concomitantly altered, the rate of wages was very much raised. The real question for the present consideration of the House was, whether the agriculturists were not in a wretched state, and whether also the prospects before them were not much worse? If such was acknowledged to be the case, was it not the duty of the House to institute an inquiry into the causes of distress and the means of relief? Had not such been the constant practice of the House? Indeed were they to refuse to grant the motion of the hon. Member for so important an agricultural district as that which the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Question represented, he should leave the House in a state of the deepest astonishment that night. He believed the House was much too honourable and disinterested to regard the degree of interest which, taken as individuals, they had in the question of rents and prices, of produce and labour; but, at the same time, if they persisted in neglecting to institute an inquiry as was demanded, he would for once turn prophet and declare that the time would come when wheat would be at 4s. the bushel, that after ruining successively the landlord, farmer, and labourer, to the utter disorganization of all society, it would then rise to the cost of production, and a famine would ensue, not because of the corn-laws, not because of the ports not being open, but because of the burden of those fixed payments to the public annuitants and others, which render it utterly impossible for the farmer to get back the price which the corn costs him in producing it, and thus depriving him of all stimulus to grow it. The question which next chiefly called for an inquiry was the cause of this state of things, and to this he did not hesitate to reply that it was entirely caused by the Bill of 1819. That bill he repeated, had wholly failed to answer the anticipations even of its supporters, and Professor M'Culloch, in his evidence before the Committee which sat upon the subject of 314 poor laws for Ireland, had declared that if Mr. Ricardo were now living, he would have the candour to admit that such was the fact. When the bill was introduced in 1819, it was said that the alteration which in its operation the measure would effect would not be more than three or three and a half per cent. But the experience of subsequent years had shown that the alteration brought about by the measure of 1819 now exceeded 30 per cent., and would, perhaps, reach 40 per cent.—Such was, however, the state of things, and in spite of the supposed relief to be derived from the Poor Law Amendment Act, it would be impossible for the farmers of this country successfully to raise wheat. That being so, the next question was, what was the remedy? He might here enter into an elaborate view of the various modes by which to relieve that distress, but he would refrain, because that was the proper subject of inquiry before such a Committee as the present motion demanded.—One of the reasons urged by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. P. Thomson), as a ground for refusing the Committee was, that the very fact that such a Committee, with such an object in view had been appointed, would tend to shake all commercial confidence, and would reduce the mercantile, funded, and commercial world to a state of constant alarm and fluctuation.—Now he looked upon all such objections, coming from the quarter whence these proceeded, to be so many cock-and-bull stories, to amuse and divert attention. He himself was a merchant, and he knew something of the Money-market, and he would therefore state of his own knowledge, upon 50 years' experience, that none of the effects predicted by the right hon. Gentleman would ensue from the appointment of the Committee. If, however, this fear was so great as to be unconquerable in the minds of hon. Members, let the proceedings of the Committee be kept secret from the public at large, and let the result of their labours and inquiries alone be made known when they had terminated them. That there was something rotten in the monetary system could not be doubted when it was obvious to all, that the public annuitants and the fixed creditors of the country enjoyed advantages over the productive classes, which rendered the latter wholly unable to compete with them. He had already uttered one prophecy, and he would, though not in the habit of doing so, offer another, which was, that if the present Members of 315 Government persisted in refusing a Committee of Inquiry, they would not long sit upon the benches now occupied by them. They surely did not think that the country would defer to their superior wisdom upon a point like the present, nor could they surely think that they had been preferred personally to the right hon. Member for Tamworth and his colleagues? No, the causes for those changes were to be found in the pressure which existed throughout the agricultural classes, and which made them anxious to support any Government which would attend to and redress their grievances. He would therefore, plainly tell the Government that if they were not prepared to bring forward some distinct plan for the relief of the agricultural distress, they would not long keep their present places, and he most certainly in such case hoped to God they might not.
§ Sir Robert Peel
I feel it my duty to take my share of any unpopularity that may attach to the refusal of this Committee. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has made a strong appeal to the feelings of the House, and has expatiated on the distress of the agricultural interest—which distress I admit. The hon. Gentleman also dwells on the hardships of a refusal to inquire into the distress. But, Sir, the hon. Gentleman knows, as well as I do, that the main object of this Motion is not inquiry into that distress, but that the purpose of it—not avowed in direct terms, but in the escape of those candid confessions which have fallen unawares from every speaker in its favour—is the depreciation of the standard of the currency. By every Gentleman who has spoken it is admitted, that, try what remedies you please, unless you give relief to the productive classes, by diminishing the fixed and permanent burdens of the country, through an alteration of the standard, no other remedy will give relief. What is the natural inference to be drawn from this language, but that depreciation is intended? If I resist the granting of a Committee of Inquiry into Agricultural Distress, it is because I know that no effectual relief would result from it. We had, in 1832, a Committee fully and fairly appointed on this very subject. They directed their best attention to the state of the agricultural interest. Every possible evidence was afforded to that Committee. That evidence received the amplest consideration, and the result was, that the Committee tendered their advice to the House, that they should, above all 316 other things, abstain from interfering with the currency of the country. The hon. Member has referred to the Bill of 1819, and has again kindly attempted to relieve me from the responsibility attached to that measure. He says that those who are convinced of their errors, ought to be candid enough to admit them. I do not deny the proposition of the hon. Gentleman; but there can be no reason why persons not believing themselves in error, are to be called upon to make confessions of repentance. That the Bill of 1819 did increase the distress of the country to a certain degree, I do not deny; but it was utterly impossible to escape from the evils of an inconvertible paper currency, continued for above twenty years, without the infliction of some pressure and distress on the country. The question was, whether we should submit to a temporary evil and occasional injustice, which a return to a better system of currency would at first produce, or continue and persevere in a course which would ultimately lead to ruin? It is not just to attribute to the Act of 1819 the whole of that reduction in prices, which has taken place in agricultural, and, in fact, in almost every other description of produce. There was, certainly, concurrently with the resumption of cash payments, a great reduction in prices, and the distress of the agriculturists was, in part, aggravated by that reduction. But a great reduction in the price of agricultural produce was inevitable, even if cash payments had not been resumed. It must have followed the cessation of that monopoly which had been enjoyed by agriculturists during the war,—the cessation of that stimulus to agricultural speculation, which was peculiarly the effect of a war, such as that in which this country was engaged from 1793 to 1815. The return of peace, had there been no inconvertible paper currency, no practical depreciation of the standard during the war, must have materially affected the agricultural interests. Nearly concurrently with the return of peace the restoration of the standard took place. It aggravated, to a certain extent, the pressure which arose from another cause that came into simultaneous operation; but many assigned the whole effect to the restoration of the standard, and will make no allowance for the consequences of the other and more powerful agent in the reduction of prices, and in the disappointment of those who had speculated on their continuance. The question to-night, is 317 not whether we shall inquire into agricultural distress, but whether we shall now attempt to remedy the alleged evils caused by the Bill of 1819. The mode by which relief can be given, must either he by returning to an inconvertible paper currency, or by a depreciation of the standard. The first method is disclaimed by many, the whole tenor of whose reasoning is in its favour; the second, if it were a just measure, and an expedient one, could only be enforced, with any prospect of advantage, by some sudden act of authority, which should leave no time for deliberation as to its probable results. Under a perfectly despotic form of government, a depreciation of the standard may take place, which, no doubt, will inflict injustice on all creditors, but need not cause that utter coufusion in all commercial dealings, which would be the inevitable result of depreciation to be adopted after long previous warning of the intention to depreciate, and as the result of a protracted investigation before a Committee. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, being aware of this evil, says—"let us have a Committee, the result of which shall never be known to the public." There, certainly, can be no objection to a Committee which is never to have a result. The hon. Gentleman corrects me, and says he means that the proceedings in the Committee should not be known. But I say, that it is the expectation of the result that would agitate the public mind. It is of no use to conceal the daily proceedings of the Committee from the public, if you let them know beforehand the end you have in view. If depreciation is to be the result of the inquiry, it is useless to conceal the progress of the inquiry from the public. If the public mind is led to expect that, after three months' sitting, the result of the Committee will be a depreciation of the standard, of what avail will it be that the Committee should conduct in secret the inquiries which are to lead to that result? What would he the case of every debtor and creditor, if the public knew that the payment of existing debts would be placed on a different footing after the lapse of a given time;—that debts contracted in one currency were to be paid in another? Does the hon. Gentleman expect that any transaction would take place in the mean time? Does he not know that the result would be the demand of every debt which could be promptly demanded,—a total paralysis of commerce,—and a total cessation of all dealings on credit? The 318 hon. Gentleman asks, why we have so much pity for the creditor, and none for the debtor? and argues, in the same spirit which dictates the question, that creditors are generally rich men, and entitled to a smaller share of indulgence. Now, can such a proposition be generally affirmed as to creditors throughout the country? Every person who has advanced money to the public, from confidence in the public faith—every one entering into any commercial transaction where money is not forthwith paid—is a creditor; liable to be affected in the recovery of a just demand by a depreciation of the standard. How absurd to class all creditors together, and to disregard their interests on the assumption that they are comparatively a rich body? The hon. Gentleman who made the Motion, employed rather a curious argument. He maintains that the person who has speculated in the purchase of land, has as good a right to expect an adequate return, as he who employs an equal amount of capital in the public funds. But is not there a palpable difference between the two transactions? The latter lends a thousand pounds to the public, and the public credit is pledged to him for the repayment of his debt; in the case of the former it is a mere speculation without any guarantee against failure given to him by the public. It shows a great confusion of ideas to place a mere pecuniary speculation on the same footing with a positive contract, and to contend that I have the same right to be guaranteed against loss when I make a purchase, as I have when I lend money with a promise of repayment. I affirmed that the express object of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Richards)—of my hon. Friend, if he will allow me so to call him)—is a depreciation of the currency. My hon. Friend does not admit this—but what did he mean when he said that the hon. Member for Wiltshire has thrown greater light on the effect of this measure than anybody else? What was the light, thus thrown by the Member for Wiltshire, illustrating so clearly the consequences of his Motion? It was this, that the agricultural interest would be benefited, because the fixed engagements and incumbrances of this country would be diminished. But how could they be diminished in this sense, excepting by discharging them in a depreciated currency? Well, indeed, may my hon. Friend say, that the Member for Wiltshire has stripped the Motion of its false colours, and exhibited it in its true light. This proposition, so far as cur- 319 rency is concerned, directs itself to one or other of two objects: either it has in view the correction of the defects of the existing system of currency apart from any project of depreciation, or it means to give relief to the debtor by a depreciation of the standard, and a diminution, pro tanto, of the public burthens caused by the amount of the national debt. Let us examine separately each of these objects, and submit each to the test of fair reasoning. First, then, is there any defect in an existing monetary system? I remember it was prophesied, that if we returned to what was called the antiquated standard, there would be an end of the commerce of the country; but I have seen, that since the resumption of that antiquated standard, the commerce and manufacture of the country have been carried on to a much greater extent than at any former period. I repeat, that under the present monetary system, there has been a greater amount of commercial transactions—there has been more manufacturing industry employed—a greater export trade—a greater spirit of local improvement—than at any former period; even than at that of inconvertible paper. I do not apprehend that the state of our manufactures is such as to require any change in the monetary system of the country, and I cannot conceive what interest the agriculturist can have in lowering the standard, apart from the consideration of relief from debt by depreciation. I am keeping that matter distinct. It is said, indeed, that all interests prosper under a constantly depreciated currency; and the opinion of Mr. Hume has been referred to in support of such a position. But no sane man—much less a philosopher of the acuteness and intelligence of Mr. Hume—could ever have meant to advocate the constant and indefinite depreciation of the standard. Mr. Hume was speaking of the stimulus to trade which progressive reduction in the value of the precious metals would afford, but this is a matter totally distinct from actual depreciation of the standard by authority. If such depreciation is to be indefinite, where, I would ask the hon. Member, is such a system to find an end? If Parliament were to make a declaration, not only that the standard shall be altered now, but that the value of the currency shall be continually lowered by a constant future depreciation, it would be tantamount to a declaration, that there shall be no credit, and no commercial dealing in this 320 country. If paper is not to be inconvertible, and if there is to be no depreciation of the standard, what separate interest can agriculture have in a change of the monetary system—and why connect the proposal for a change with inquiry into agricultural distress? Some Gentlemen, indeed, argue, that a silver is, abstractedly, preferable to a gold standard; and there might, possibly, be some reason for that preference, if the whole matter were res integra, and we had now to choose, unfettered by any previous choice, between a gold and a silver standard. But suppose we had adopted a silver standard in the year 1819, and made paper convertible into silver instead of gold, the same pressure and distress would have occurred as that which followed the resumption of the gold standard. I see no advantage in the substitution of a silver for a gold standard. It appears to me that at present our system of currency is as nearly perfect as it can be. We have gold as a sole standard, and we use silver coin as a token. You coin a pound of silver into 66s. instead of 62s. the Mint price, or 60s. the real price, at present; but you do not permit it to be a legal tender for any sum above 40s. Now, if we proceed to alter the currency, the first question would be, shall we have a double standard of gold and silver conjointly, or shall we simply alter our standard from gold to silver? I cannot see any advantage derivable from the institution of a double standard,—you cannot make a double standard without first defining the ratio which is to exist between the nominal values of the two metals. To say that every man shall pay his debt in silver or gold, whichever he might please, without defining their relative value, would be absurd and impracticable. We might, certainly, have a double standard, defining the relative values of gold and silver, and leaving it to the option of a party who had money to pay, to make his payment either in gold or silver. But this very option seems defeating the object of a standard, and introducing, unnecessarily, uncertainty into contracts. It appears to me a much less simple course than that of adhering to a single standard, and a course unaccompanied by any advantage, countervailing the loss of simplicity. Gold and silver seem to have some necessary connexion, from being so frequently united in common parlance; but there is no more reason that they should be united in a standard, than that gold and lead, or gold and copper, should be so united. To unite two metals, the value of 321 which is not in a fixed ratio, and cannot be—in a double standard, is to diminish the value and advantage of a standard. The more simple the standard the better—the very name implies unity and simplicity. It is the measure of value—and why not have one measure of value, as well as one measure of length or capacity? The hon. Gentleman proposed to take silver as the standard, leaving gold to find its own value. I know that the subject is a dry one, and that the attempt to argue it, without having recourse to any exciting topics of party interest, must weary the patience of the House—but I will be as concise as possible. The hon. Gentleman, then, is inclined to take silver as the standard, and to leave gold to find its own value, in the same way as copper, or lead, or coin, or any other article of commercial traffic. Now what does he gain by this for agriculture? At what rate is silver to be estimated? At the former mint rate of 62s. to the pound, or at its present value in the market—namely, about 60s. to the pound? To take the silver standard at 66s. the rate at which the silver token circulates, would be barefaced depreciation of the standard, and certainly if you are determined to depreciate your currency, the best and simplest mode of depreciation will be to do it openly and avowedly. Do not attempt to cover your design, but declare at once that the sovereign shall in future pass for 25s. or 30s. or any other sum you prefer. Such a plan would, at least, have this advantage—it would save the expense of calling in the present and of issuing a new coinage. And it would also have another advantage—it would be doing that openly and fearlessly, if not honestly, that is often proposed to be done under other pretences. Whenever the House shall determine upon a depreciation of the standard of value—or in other words, whenever you determine that the public creditor shall be defrauded, and that the debtor shall not pay what he has engaged to pay,—depend upon it, the best and simplest mode will be to say, that the sovereign shall remain a sovereign in name, but that it shall pass current for a larger amount than 20s. To adopt 66s. for the value of silver as a standard, because it has now that value as a token, would, I again repeat it, be a clear depreciation of the standard. I do not, however, understand that the hon. Member is for taking 66s. as his standard for silver, when the price of silver is at present only about 60s. The sole object for which the hon. Member pro- 322 fesses to want his Committee is, to inquire whether it is expedient to substitute silver at 60s. or 62s. as a standard, instead of gold at 3l. 17s. 10½d. the ounce. To estimate silver as a standard, at 62s. when its value is only 60s. would be depreciation on a small scale. The gain would be hardly worth the odium. If depreciation be disavowed altogether—and if silver be adopted as a standard at its present market value in relation to gold—I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman would make a good bargain, even with his own views of a good bargain, for the agriculturist. I doubt it, because if the substitution of the standard took place, there would be an immediate rise in the value of silver. Those who are the most opposed to the principle of the Act of 1819, should be the persons least sanguine in their expectations of great benefits to be derived from the substitution at present of a silver, for a gold standard. If silver be substituted for gold, as a standard, there must be, according to their doctrines, a material rise in the price of silver. Gold being no longer required for coin, might leave the country, and might be depreciated in value,—for England would not then want the millions of gold which are now necessary for its circulation. Silver, on the other hand, being wanted, instead of gold, having been substituted as the standard—as the sole legal tender,—England would appear in the market, as a purchaser of silver, which would, therefore, be more in demand, and would, consequently, rise in price. If this should be the case to any extent whatever, where would be the relief, to the debtor or mortgager, from an alteration in the standard? It may be said that there is a greater probability that silver will fall in value, on account of increased production from the mines, than that gold will. I doubt, however, whether a reference to the productiveness of mines, would not prove that gold has been of late years produced, relatively, in much greater quantities than silver. If hon. Members will consult the works of Baron Humboldt,—if they will advert to the returns, imperfect as they must be, obtained from our consuls and diplomatic agents in South America—if they will look at the statements contained in Mr. Jacob's work,—they will probably see reason to doubt whether gold is not now produced, taking into account the new supply from North America, from Russia, and from Siberia, in larger quantities, relatively to silver, than it has been heretofore. I doubt whether the hon. Member, if he 323 were to attain his object of introducing, not a conjoint, but a silver standard, singly, at the present rate of silver, would not find that his efforts had been productive of more harm than good to the interests which he hopes to serve; and whether he would not, ere long, be awakened to the conviction that he had made a worse bargain for those of the agriculturists who are suffering from debts and incumbrances, than that which exists at present. So much for alteration of the standard of value unconnected with depreciation. Now, let us consider it in connexion with depreciation. By depreciating the standard, the prices of all commodities would be raised; the agriculturist would receive a greater price for the corn which he has to sell, but he will also have to pay a greater price for all the articles which be has to purchase for himself and his family; and thus, the apparent and nominal advantages which he would reap as a seller, will be counterbalanced by the greater prices which he will be obliged to pay as a purchaser. There is, however, one point in which he would undoubtedly be a gainer at first from the depreciation of the currency. The rate of labour would, for a time,—perhaps a considerable time, be lower; but in that case, who would be the sufferer? Who but the agricultural labourer? I say, the sufferer by the depreciation of the currency is sure to be the labourer. The rate of wages would not be increased simultaneously with the reduced value of money. I know the argument that is used with regard to the general prosperity which is to revisit the land, and the demand for labour which would be the consequence of it: I know that the advocates of depreciation attempt to supply the deficiency of their arguments by the magnificence of their prophecies; but the truth is, the price of labour does not vary so rapidly as the price of commodities; and depend upon it that the first and chief sufferer by depreciation of the currency is he who is supported by the wages of manual labour. All, then, that the agriculturist would gain from depreciating the standard would be the amount of his savings by defrauding the public creditor, and pinching the agricultural labourer. "But," said the hon. Gentleman, "the agricultural interest has a claim to the advantages which may arise from depreciating the currency, and from diminishing the pressure of the public burthens; because the Members of it contracted their debts in one currency, and are now called upon to pay them in another." 324 Much has been said of the injustice done to those who, having made their engagements in a depreciated, were called upon to fulfil them in an improved, currency; and no doubt there has been hardship in peculiar cases: but was it possible to devise any just scheme of general adjustment? It clearly is not fair to take one period only into account, or one class of sufferers from fluctuations in the value of the currency. If there is to be an attempt at the equitable adjustment of contracts, it must be on a very comprehensive principle, and extend over a very long period. We hear much of the injustice inflicted on the man who, having borrowed money during the period of a depreciated currency, has been called upon to repay it in one of increased value. But what say you to the case of those who, having lent money previously to the year 1797, that is, previously to the suspension of cash payments, were compelled to receive their principal or their interest in that very currency, the depreciation of which is said to have been so great? Were not they, at least, as great sufferers as the others? and can you open one of these accounts for equitable adjustment, and close the other? The question is,—"Can justice be done, now, by altering the arrangement to which Parliament came in the year 1819?" In 1819? No; I have already said, that that arrangement was decided on by Parliament in the year 1816. I repeat, that the arrangement was, in reality, made in 1816. I do not mean that cash payments were legally established in 1816; but I mean that, owing to natural causes, in consequence of the return of peace—the cessation of the stimulus of war—the free intercourse in all commodities—and the improvement in machinery, common to all manufacturing countries—that reduction of prices, and that contraction of currency, took place in 1816, which are attributed almost exclusively to the Act of 1819. It is necessary to separate the operation of that Bill from these effects, which were produced by the natural causes which I have enumerated, and by the engagement into which Parliament had entered, to revert to cash payments on the conclusion of peace. Nineteen years have now elapsed since 1816, and, with trifling exceptions, all contracts now in existence were formed under the existing system of currency, and in full confidence that this system would be continued. Those who formed them had not only the faith of ordinary law to depend on, but had also the knowledge that repeated at- 325 tempts were made in this House to obtain an alteration of that law, and were as repeatedly resisted and refused. The Act for the actual resumption of cash payments passed in 1819. In 1821, the House came to a solemn resolution, that it would not consent to any alteration in the standard. In 1826, it repeated that declaration; and, again, in 1833. What justice, then, I ask, would there be in now depreciating the standard, and in making all contracts formed since 1819 conform to a depreciated currency? So far from redressing any injustice inflicted by former fluctuations, how many parties are there who would be double sufferers—who have closed the transactions—who have paid the debts in respect to which the former hardship was sustained—and have entered into new contracts, by the derangement of which they would again suffer? How small a portion of the contracts formed before 1816 remain now unfulfilled, compared with the number which have been formed since? In how many cases, to which law did not reach,—leases, for instance, and contracts for fixed payments,—has compensation been made by voluntary compacts between the parties? What injustice would you not inflict on those who have entered into contracts on the faith of your acts and of your resolutions, solemnly made, and as solemnly reiterated, if you now compel the derangement of them, by depreciating the currency in which they were formed? For these considerations, and without troubling the House by the introduction of extraneous topics—believing that the agriculturists have no real interest in the proposition, apart from a depreciation of the currency, and thereby robbing the public creditor,—and feeling it to be inconsistent with the honour and integrity of the House of Commons to lend itself to any measure that would have that result—I shall not permit the pretext of a vague inquiry into agricultural distress to blind me as to the real objects of this proposition, which is neither more nor less than, through a depreciation of the standard, to seek a relief which would not, I believe, be effectual; and which, if effectual, would, I am sure, be dishonest.
said, that if the right hon. Baronet's views were right, an inquiry could do no harm; but, if they were wrong, it was natural that those who entertained them should shrink from inquiry. If the House looked back to the calamities produced by the Bill of the year 1819, they would feel the necessity of the inquiry now 326 called for. A more destructive Bill—a more iniquitous Bill than that of 1819 had never been introduced. There never had been a measure more fatal to this country—there never had been a measure so fatal to Ireland. From the year 1797 we had had a paper currency, and all contracts were made under that system. In 1819 an alternation was made. The right hon. Baronet had played rather fast and loose with dates. The change was not in 1816. It was said that the persons who made contracts in that currency were apprised, that at one time or other we must come back to a gold standard. That was very true; but had not the very same Parliament declared that a guinea in gold and a pound note and a shilling were of equal value? Therefore the people must naturally have thought that the Parliament could have no motive in altering the standard. That was the situation of the country in 1819; but that was not all. We owed 900 millions in the currency of that period. There was no pressing necessity for the measure of 1819. It appeared to him absolutely as if concocted in insanity, and for no other purpose than to make a mighty experiment on the power of human suffering, to see what weight it could bear. He knew well the load of suffering which that Bill had caused. He remembered persons having valuable interests in land leased to others, who had also interests, and all were swept from the face of the land by the effects of that Bill as by a plague or pestilence. To be sure, Ireland was peculiarly circumstanced. It was a debtor country. She felt the effects of that Bill to this hour. The more because, she being an agricultural country, when there was but a small price given for agricultural produce, a greater proportion of it must be exported. Thus a man, instead of reserving three pigs out of six for his own use, was obliged to send the whole of them out of the country, and hence it ensued that misery was brought home to every cabin door. As to the public debt, could it be denied that the amount of that debt had been doubled? And, that being the case, was it not clear that the monied interest had a strong motive for upholding the present system? He, however, must protest against it. The right hon. Baronet had said, that those who bought lands were speculators, and that those who invested money in the funds were not. Now, was this the fact? Why, those who lent the Government 1,000l. expected to get 2,000l. for it; that was, those who purchased three per cents. 327 at 50l. expected to get 100l. instead of 50l. by employing their capital in that way, and, therefore, if this proved anything, it went to show, that the man who dealt in money was as much a speculator as the man who dealt in land—that there was really no distinction whatever between them. He maintained that the public creditor was as much a speculator as the person who had purchased land; and that, if there was any difference between them, the industry of the country was left to make good that difference. But what was the remedy proposed? Now he was not un can did enough to deny, that the remedy proposed must of necessity effect a depreciation to a certain extent; but then, it was his opinion that the country at large would derive very great advantage from a cheap currency. It was said, however, that a depreciation of the currency would prejudice existing contracts; but for his part, he should like to know how it could affect contracts which were made in the year 1819. The right hon. Baronet had said, that 1816 was the period when paper and gold were at par; but did he forget that in the following year, 1817, the issue of paper was greater than in the previous year, although both 1817 and 1818 were years of agricultural prosperity? For those three years, then, he had a right to take credit. But did the Government go back to a metallic currency in 1818? Undoubtedly they did not, for in that year the Bank of England issued no less than four millions of paper, and, of course, the currency was by that means increased. Well, then, in 1816 there was distress; 1817 and 1818 were years of prosperity; but in 1819 that prosperity was checked. In 1821 they had their resolution against a paper currency. And then came 1826, when it was resolved that they should go to a gold standard. But he would ask them whether there had been one year of prosperity since, or if agriculture had prospered from 1826 down to the present hour? The evidence was decisive on the point, and he would defy any man to deny that since they had resolved, in 1826, not to alter the currency, agricultural distress had been constantly on the increase. From that period to the present that House had done literally nothing, and, it would seem, meant to do nothing. To be sure in 1833 they passed a resolution, but what was the effect of that resolution? Why it was as much as to say that the play of Hamlet was to be played with the part of Hamlet omitted by parti 328 cular desire—for the subject of the currency was altogether passed over. In short they had done nothing; they had afforded no relief; and 1835 had come, and what was the result? Why, that wheat was from 4s. to 4s. 6d. the bushel. But was that, he should like to know, any relief to the agricultural interests? Now he was glad that this was not a party question. The Government took part with the right hon. Baronet opposite, and the great monied aristocracy, and he regretted it; but this he could tell them, that although it was not a party question in that House, it was considered so out of doors. Many a vote had been canvassed against the Government on the subject of agriculture, and he must therefore say that he was sorry they should allow the monied interest a species of domination which rendered them unable to do as they would wish; but would this feed the hungry, or afford that relief to the country which was expected at the hands of the present Ministers of the Crown? By their own admission the agricultural interests had been going back year after year for the last eleven years; and in 1833 that House went the length of declaring that they could do nothing with a view to relief, although they admitted the distress. Let them deny the existence of distress in England if they pleased, but he would go to Ireland, and show them, that there, at least, distress prevailed. Indeed the fact with respect to Ireland could not he denied; and, that being so, he would ask if that House would so far stultify itself as to repeat the declaration of former years, that it would pass no measure for the alleviation of this distress? He acknowledged that a change in the present system would give relief to the debtor, and to that extent diminish the means of the creditor—not, however, the mercantile creditor—for it could not operate prejudicially to the man who was both a buyer and a seller. On this head he differed from the sentiments of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, as he did upon many others, and he must say that the fair way to take the inquiry was as between debtor and creditor. He could not help thinking that there was something wrong about a gold standard—that it was injurious in a variety of ways besides rendering dear the rate of exchange. It had a sensible effect upon the productive labour of the country; and it was his belief that without a cheap currency productive industry could not be put into such active motion as would increase the value of pro- 329 perty to an extent which would compensate for the loss which the change might produce. In proof of this he would adduce a familiar illustration. Suppose in the back settlements of America it were declared that no man should cut down a tree except with a golden hatchet, what would be the result? Why, that little ground would be cleared and brought into a state of productiveness. But suppose another Act were passed by which it was said that none but good Birmingham steel hatchets should be used in clearing the woods, what would the case be then? Why, that trees would be rapidly cut down, and land brought under cultivation, so that the man with the gold hatchet would throw it out of the window and betake himself to the more useful implement. A paper currency was designated by all sorts of contemptuous epithets. Vile rags—worthless assignats, were the terms applied to it. He recollected Mr. Canning in his figurative language, speaking of "a mountain of paper irrigated with gold at the base." He (Mr. O'Connell) would irrigate it with silver. He would have a metallic currency to act as a check when the paper exceeded a proper quantity. It was impossible to suppose that the right hon. Baronet opposite, in the introduction of his measure, could have been influenced by any other than a laudable motive. His fame and his fortune were too intimately bound up with the prosperity of the country to suppose that his motives could have been otherwise than pure. But the experiment which he originated was a most dangerous one, the effects of which had been already felt—which were at present in operation, and which, he feared, many would yet have to deplore. He was for the Motion of the hon. Member, and he regretted that his Majesty's Ministers did not agree with him in the view which he took upon the subject. He wished that they would even hold out a hope by the appointment of a Committee, that something might be done to remedy the evils which at present existed. Then they might disregard the clamour which had been raised against them in the distant counties, of indifference to the agricultural distress. What interest could they have except in the prosperity of the entire country? He disagreed with the observations of the Member for Knaresborough, with respect to the Ministry, and deprecated their tendency.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that after the arguments which had been 330 adduced by the right hon. Baronet opposite, there remained, practically speaking, but little for him to say; at the same time he must beg, in the first instance, to advert to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Knaresborough, the whole current of whose argument was, that in all his Majesty's Ministers did, and in all they proposed, they evinced a determination to refuse all relief to, and withhold all sympathy from, the agricultural interest. The hon. Member had mixed up a variety of propositions, which were in themselves entirely different and distinct. They were not now refusing any application for inquiry into agricultural distress, with a view to its relief; on the contrary, the very same individuals who acquiesced in the appointment of a Committee for that purpose, were now opposing an inquiry into the standard, which, as had been already stated by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, meant nothing more nor less than a depreciation, for the purpose of paying less than they had promised to pay. That was the practical question at issue, and, on which the division would be taken. He must say, in behalf of that interest, with which he had the honour to be connected, the agricultural interest, of which he never could speak but in terms of the highest respect, that it belonged less to them than to any other class to advocate a depreciation of the standard, because, by reason of the transactions connected with lands, mortgages, contracts, family settlements, and on jointures, they were the individuals of all others in the whole community who had to answer the largest claims on account of fixed engagements, and in whom, therefore, it would be infinitely less creditable and honourable than for any others to come forward and ask for relief by depreciating the currency. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had referred to the Resolution of 1833. It was not the only one upon the subject. In former and earlier times, and under nearly similar circumstances, the reign of King William, in 1696, the House of Commons had the honour and the honesty to come forward and to refuse their assent to such a proposition as the present, in the following Resolution:—"That the House would not alter the standard of the gold and silver coin of the realm in value, weight, or denomination." The same Resolution was afterwards moved as an Amendment, on a similar proposition by Mr. Huskisson; and one to pretty nearly the same effect had 331 been moved by his noble Friend in 1833. It was said that they were paying the public creditor more than they had contracted to pay. He denied the fact absolutely. The loan had been contracted at a period of the greatest depreciation, and they were now paying in gold, at 3l. 19s. 10½d; and had it not been a special article of the contract with the public creditor, that within a certain period after the restoration of peace, he should be paid in full? If the principle now sought to be established were once adopted, what was the situation in which he might chance to find himself placed? Let the House but once affirm the principle that they had a right to deal with these contracts, and to pay the public creditor less than they had contracted, and in the course of the present Session it might be his duty to apply to that monied interest which had been spoken of to raise a loan with which to meet the exigencies of the State. But how could England hope to raise such a loan if the British Parliament were to set to the nations of the earth the example of violating her contracts, and departing from her most solemn and long-recognised engagements? At what period, too, were they called upon to take this step? Why just at that time of all others when other nations had been setting a better example, and pursuing a far nobler course even in danger and in
332 difficulties. Portugal herself had been making efforts for the improvement of her currency—and America, a free state, had been making one of the greatest and most difficult efforts ever made by a nation to restore the character of her currency. Was this the moment for England, the first of all nations in a commercial point of view, to set an example to all who lived within its dominions, and to the nations of the earth, for the first time in her modern history, of a violation of faith? Was this the period for acceding to such a proposition, when they had just accomplished, by legitimate means, the reduction of the interest on the national debt, and after inducing the public creditor to keep up the value of the securities, to turn upon him at last, and by forcible robbery deprive him of his fair and just remuneration? Gentlemen who talked about pressure would have them believe that it rested exclusively with the landed interest. Was that the only interest that suffered? Gentlemen connected with commerce would tell them that there had been no inconsiderable reduction in profits generally. Let them look to the condition even of the public creditor; a paper he held in his hand showed that since the peace a saving of 2,355,845l. had been effected in the interest of the debt in the annual payments. The following was the paper referred to:— 333 It might be said, that every other interest would derive an equal benefit from the reduction. He denied that it could take effect except upon fixed engagements. Again, did Gentlemen pay the same interest now on mortgages as they had done in past times? The hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. Benett) had addressed the House upon this subject. He should like to know what account the hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. Benett), when he came freely to discuss this measure with his constituents, would give them of the opinion which he had expressed that night. What reply would he give, when asked as to the amount of benefit which he would receive, and the amount which the agricultural labourers would obtain? All purchasers would be called upon to pay higher money prices, and he should like to know whether the hon. Member would be prepared to pay them wages of a greater amount than he now paid? Every one knew that wages were the last to rise after an alteration in the currency; and the agricultural labourers would therefore be pinched just in proportion to the extent of the change. What was the result of the depreciation in 1797? Was it not the act, which of all other acts, produced the greatest agricultural distress and misery, and was there any ground for doubting that a similar depreciation now would not be attended by the same results? His hon. Friend could only reply, that those who had fixed engagements would be better off after, than they were before, the change. But what could he say of those who had no such engagements, and who were only able to earn a daily livelihood, and who, in consequence of the change, were taxed by a general rise in the price of all provisions? The hon. and learned Member for Dublin (Mr. O'Connell) had alluded to the state of Ireland, as having exhibited since the year 1819 great agricultural distress. He did not mean to deny that the Irish agriculturists had felt the change in a manner peculiarly severe, but then he was also bound to remember that the agriculturist had now no war prices, nor the benefit of public contracts, nor any of those advantages which during the war were possessed more than by any other class in the United Kingdom, by the Irish farmers. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would refer all the existing distress to the depreciation of the paper currency, he, in return, would refer him to the time when Ireland had a paper currency—a time which the hon. and learned Gentleman must recollect well—and to all 334 that that paper currency produced. Every Gentleman who had spoken on this subject had referred to the fluctuations which had taken place in the currency, as the greatest of public calamities; they had alluded to 1797, 1816, 1819, 1822, and 1826. Many of these Gentlemen had deplored the lamentable effects of these fluctuations; and then they concluded by calling on the Government to take the very step which must open the door to a repetition of the same fluctuations and the same effects. Moreover, they would do this and unsettle the whole of the public interests without the concomitance of any, or at least but a very slight degree, of the advantages for which former sacrifices were made. It was not to the year 1819, that they were justified in looking back, it was to the year 1797, when that measure was passed, which, however necessary it might have been at the time, although upon that point there existed much difference of opinion, had led to the many subsequent changes and distresses which all concurred in admitting and deploring. That measure, which was not passed at the desire of the Bank of England itself, but for the convenience of the then Government—vested an enormous power in an irresponsible body, and gave them an unlimited authority to vary at their own will and pleasure, all the contracts of the country. True it was, that power had not, according to expectation, been abused, an instance of moderation which, perhaps, of all the miracles in modern times stood forth as the greatest. No one could deny the distressing consequences of that measure. Let them travel on to 1819, and then they viewed the multiplied pressure and cases of misery which, although he thought much exaggerated by some hon. Gentlemen, were yet of considerable magnitude. Well, what was the decision? Why, notwithstanding all your distress and all your pressure, you determine to fulfil your engagements. And after this settlement would you, in 1834, resolve upon a violation? Would you take a step which, though hon. Gentlemen recommended it by arguments relating to the state of the country in 1797 and at the time of depreciation, had no direct connexion with that period, it being well known that ninety-nine out of one hundred, nay nine hundred and ninety-nine out of one thousand, or any greater proportion of numbers, were not affected in their contracts by the depreciation of the last century. On these grounds he trusted that to preserve the public credit 335 and the public honour a strong majority would declare their opinion as to the necessity of adhering to the present standard. Some hon. Gentlemen had represented the fundholders as the monied interests—a mistake which, before he sat down, he thought it fitting to rectify. The fund-holders did not belong to the great and wealthy classes, but to the middle ranks of society—as was evident in the first glance at a paper showing what interest the monied men, or leviathans of wealth, possessed, and what the middle classes had in the public funds. He would, with the permission of the House, refer to one paper, from which it would appear how small a portion of this property was possessed by the great leviathans of wealth whom the right hon. Gentleman supposed to be the objects of their exclusive protection. It was to the following effect:—
An Account of the Saving accrued to the Public by the Conversion of Stock from a higher to a lower rate of Interest. Capital. Interest on the Capital. Saving. At the highest rate of Interest. At the highest rate of Interest. £ £ £ £ 1822. Capital £5 per Cents., after deducting£2,794,318 dissents 149,627,825 7,481,391 .. 1,197,022 Capital of the New Stock, 4 per Cents., including the bonus of £7,481,393 1826. 157,109,218 .. 6,284,363 Capital £4 per Cents., after deducting£6,149,246 dissents 70,105,403 2,804,216 2,453,619 350,597 Capital £3 10s. per Cents., the same, 1830. Capital £4 per Cents., after deducting£2,649,366 dissents 151,021,728 6,040,869 .. 755,110 Capital £3 10s. per Cent 150,344,051 Ditto £5 per Cent. 474,374 1834 150,818,425 .. 5,285,759 Capital £4 per Cents. The same Capital in £3 10s. per Cents. 10,622,911 424,916 371,800 53,116 TOTAL..£ 2,355,845
Dividends payable 5th June, 1834 181,469 persons
The middle classes then, it appeared, were the great proprietors in the funds, and, therefore, he had a right to tell his hon. Friend that if the object of the motion were effected it would be the destruction not of the large monied interest, but of those whose stake individually was little, but which little comprised their all. He should not further trespass on the patience of the House, being mindful of the pledge which he had given in the outset.
Not exceeding 5l. 56,236 Not exceeding 10l. 29,202 Not exceeding 50l. 63,482 148,920 Not exceeding 30l. 32,549
§ Mr. Gillon
moved the adjournment of the debate and the gallery was cleared for a division.
Strangers were excluded for some time. Mr. Gillon consented to withdraw his motion.
§ Sir Charles Burrell
addressed the House, and read an extract from the late Sir R. Peel's pamphlet on the currency, in which the advantage of an abundant over a restricted currency, was pointed out, with a view to the promotion of national prosperity. The ill effects occasioned by a diminution of the currency in 1819 had been foreseen, and it was justly argued that distress must arise from taking 3,200,000l. out of circulation in the space of a single year. No country but this could have stood the shock thus occasioned, and we were now suffering severely from its effects. He 336 could only look for relief to an extension of the currency, a measure in which he thought that the fundholder himself, was interested, and by which he would ultimately benefit, for though he might suffer a temporary loss of interest and capital, even he would be compensated by improved security, and by the general improvement of which he must be a partaker. On these grounds, as a benefit to the agricultural and other classes of the community, he supported the Motion.
§ Mr. John Maxwell
rose merely to protest against the stigma which was constantly applied to Members who supported inquiry into the monetary system. The motion was always narrowed into personal interests, into a question of Gentlemen creditors and Gentlemen debtors; and the condition of 24 millions of industrious persons, whose means of employment have been wrested from them given to parties living on the taxes, is wholly overlooked He (Mr. Maxwell) as a representative of those 24 millions, demanded that any mistake which had deprived them of employment, by taking away part of the means of their employers, should be inquired into, and, if possible, rectified. He wished that no part of the funds which gave them work and bread should be transferred unjustly, or from erroneous legislation, to others—more particularly to placemen, pensioners and fundholders, who had no right to them. Many of the working classes who had by their savings built, or purchased a house, had all swallowed up by the increased value of money. It could never be too late to discover truth and to do justice, and whatever stigma might follow his vote, it should be given to an inquiry to relieve agriculture, by relieving those who consume, as well as those who produce agricultural produce.
§ Mr. Cayley
Sir, I know that, according to the strict rules of the House, I have not—as my motion is, in fact, an amendment on going into a Committee of Supply—the right of reply; I trust, however, to the indulgence of the House, to allow me to say a few words in explanation. I have been taxed with a desire to injure the working-class by a rise of prices. Sir, I repel the charge with indignation. If there be a class in the community to whom I wish well—for whose benefit I would labour day and night—and whom I seek more than another to benefit by the measures I propose—it is the working-class. What is the value of low prices to that class, with- 337 out employment, and without wages? I challenge inquiry into their condition now, and when prices were higher.
§ Mr. Cayley
Then, Sir, since I am not allowed to say more—although there are many points to which I should have wished to address myself—I will only add, in two words—the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken against the Motion have entirely misapprehended or perverted its object. Whatever my opinion of the necessities of the case may be, my motion does not ask for a depreciation of the standard of value; and whatever their opinion may be of the results of the measure I propose to the labouring class, my firm conviction is—that that class, and their employers, would be equally benefitted by it.
§ The House divided, on the motion:—Ayes 126; Noes 216; Majority 90.
|List of the AYES.|
|Agnew, Sir A.||Eastnor, Viscount|
|Allsager, Captain||Eaton, R. J.|
|Alston, R.||Edwards, Col. J.|
|Astley, Sir J.||Elwes, J. P.|
|Atwood, T.||Fellowes, Hon. N.|
|Bailey, J.||Ferguson, G.|
|Barlow, H.||Fielden, J.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Finch, G.|
|Barrow, H. W.||Finn, W. F.|
|Bell, M.||Folkes, Sir W.|
|Benett, J.||Forbes, W.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Gore, W. O.|
|Blunt, Sir C.||Greisley, Sir R.|
|Bodkin, J. J.||Grimston, Hon. E. H.|
|Borthwick, P.||Hallyburton, D. G.|
|Brabazon, Sir W.||Handley, H.|
|Brady, D. C.||Hanmer, Col. H.|
|Bridgman, H.||Hanmer, Sir J.|
|Brudenell, Lord||Harland, W. C.|
|Bruen, F.||Hawkes, T.|
|Buller, Sir J.Y.||Heathcote, R. E.|
|Burrell, Sir C.||Hector, C.|
|Chandos, Marquess of||Henniker, Lord|
|Chetwynd, Captain||Hindley, C.|
|Clayton, Sir W. R.||Holland, E.|
|Codrington, C.||Holdsworth, T.|
|Corbett, T.||Irton, S.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Jones, W.|
|Crawley, S.||Kelly, F.|
|Crewe, Sir G.||Knight, G.|
|Curteis, H. B.||Locke, W.|
|Dare, H.||Long, W.|
|Darlington, Earl of||Lewis, D.|
|Dillwyn, L.W.||Manners, Lord R.|
|Dugdale, W. S.||Maxwell, J.|
|Duncombe, Hon. W.||M'Cance, J.|
|Dundas, R.||M'Lean, D.|
|Dykes, F. L. B.||Miles, W.|
|Neeld, J.||Smith, A.|
|Norreys, Lord||Stanley, E.|
|O'Connell, D.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Owen, H.||Townley, R. G.|
|Palmer, R.||Trevor, Hon. A.|
|Parrott, J.||Tulk, C. A.|
|Pease, J.||Turner, W.|
|Pelham, J. C.||Turner, T. F.|
|Pelham, Hon. C. A.||Vere, Sir C. R.|
|Pigot, R.||Verney, Sir H.|
|Phillipps, C. M.||Wallace, R.|
|Plumptre, J.||Walpole, Lord|
|Poulter, J. S.||Weyland, Major R.|
|Praed, J. B.||Wilks, J.|
|Price, S. G.||Wilkins, W.|
|Pryme, G.||Williams, Sir J.|
|Pusey, P.||Wilmot, Sir E.|
|Richards, J.||Winnington, H. J.|
|Rickford, W.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Rushbrook, R.||Yorke, E.|
|Ruthven, E.||Young, Sir W. L.|
|Sanderson, R.||Young, G. F.|
|Scott, Sir E.|
|Scourfield, W. H.||TELLERS.|
|Sheldon, E.||Cayley, E. S.|
|Sibthorp, Col.||Gillon, W. D.|
|Bulkeley, Sir R.||Ainsworth, P.|
|Duffield, T.||Buller, E.|
|Euston, Earl of||Clements, Viscount|
|Fitzroy, Lord C.||Denistoun, A.|
|Fleetwood, P. H.||Ferguson, R.|
|Foley, E.||Johnstone, Sir J.|
|Grimston, Viscount||Kerry, Earl of|
|Goring, H. D.||North, F.|
|Kemp, T. R.||Paget, Captain|
|Mandeville, Viscount||Poyntz, W. S.|
|Sanford, E. A.||Smith, J. A.|
|Scrope, G. P.||Stewart, Sir M. S.|
|Scholefield, J.||Thomson, P. B.|
|Sinclair, G.||Westenra, Hon. H.|
|Whalley, Sir S.|