§ 1838, 378,019,6541bs.; 1839, 460,756,023; an increase in one year nearly double the consumption of any year in the war; in 1801, 54,203,433; in 1814, 53,777,8021bs.
§ This last return served also to show that the consumption of cotton wool had remained stationary during the war; a circumstance totally lost sight of by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton and the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, when they vaunted of the rapidly increasing manufactures of the country having been the most powerful instrument in our hands for carrying through the last expensive war. No doubt, by the increase of prices during the war, and in consequence of the manufacture being, where it was carried on by means of the steam engine, in fewer hands, and often only in the hands of patentees, great individual fortunes were made; but the great progress has been made since the war, when the country has evidently been in a less fit condition for carrying on a war than it was then. Could the export manufacturers of the country bear the expense of the last war now; even when their operations were threefold what they were during the war? According to their own account they would be able to carry on a war three times as expensive. It is plain, then, it was the internal resources of the country stimulated as they were by the depreciated money of the war, and the vigour by that means infused into the landed interest and the home trade which carried us so triumphantly through the 410 war. I obtain the following returns to illustrate this view, from Mr. Porter, of the Board of Trade (a gentleman hostile to the views I entertain) except in the instance of the return of broad and narrow cloths which are from M. Cesar Moreau's statistics of British woollens. In some of the articles, silk and linens, Mr. Porter gives no account earlier than 1820, and I only adduce them to show that neither of them could have materially assisted the prosecution of the war. I have stated that the consumption of cotton was 54,203,4331bs. in 1800; and in 1814, 53,777,802lbs. It did not materially vary in any of the intervening years except one. I now refer to the following returns, to show what had been the increase of trade in different branches during the war, and since that period.
|EXPORTS OF BRASS AND COPPER MANUFACTURES.|
|1805 (the earliest year of which we have any record)||cwts.|
|PRODUCE OF THE CORNISH TIN MINES.|
|1750 to 1754||2,585||1800 to 1804||2,676|
|1780 to 1784||2,667||1810 to 1814||2,339|
|1790 to 1794||3,405||1830 to 1834||4,047|
|BRITISH LINEN EXPORTS.|
|HARDWARE AND CUTLERY EXPORTED.|
|EXPORT OF BRITISH IRON IN AN UNMANUFACTURED STATE.|
§ The value of woollen goods exported from England in 1700 was about 3,000,000l.; in 1738, 4,158,643l.; but in 1776 had fallen to 3,068,053l.; in 1800 they had risen in value to about double what they were a century before; but as 411 the price of wool was double, it is probable the quantity had not increased.
§ Account of the Number of Yards of Broad and Narrow Cloths milled at the several Fulling-mills in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
|Broad Cloths.||Narrow Cloths.|
§ It is clear from the foregoing returns, that the great extension to our export trade did not take place during the war; for these are the chief articles of export; and it is equally manifest that to our export trade we were not indebted for our power to carry on that war. But is it equally manifest—acknowledging as I do the immense individual fortunes that have been made under our manufacturing system—that the population have been happier or in a state of greater comfort, since the late great extension of our export trade? Take the poor-rates as a sample—
|Population||6,500,000||England and Wales|
§ Population double—Poor-rates ten fold.
§ This manufacturing system, therefore, however great an advantage to a country, in its due proportions, cannot be considered without certain drawbacks of difficulties and incumbrances with which it is attended; it is consequently prudent, in a country, not to rest its security for wealth or happiness on that basis alone. I am ashamed to have trespassed so long on the kind indulgence of the House. I will only touch, and that very shortly, on one topic more, and that is in reference to the man who has to earn his daily bread.
§ There is great delusion in the argument for a repeal of the Corn-laws as it affects the working class. Cheap bread is the best for the labourer, and so it is at once concluded that, an inundation of foreign cheap corn must benefit it. But cheapness is only a relative term, relative, that is to the means of purchasing. Has the Prussian labourer, living in the midst of cheap corn, the means of purchasing more than the English? Hear what Mr. Jacob says. By Mr. Jacob's Report on the Corn trade, written ten or twelve years 412 ago, it appears that the average price of the quarter of wheat for five years ending with 1824, was 27s. in Prussia. The average price of Britain was 55s. for the same period. The wages of Prussia are stated to be 2s. 6d. per week, and of Britain 10s. per week. The real wages, therefore, the quantity of wheat the labourers could purchase, was double in Britain what it was in Prussia. It is not an unusual ad captandum mode of putting this question, in order to excite the prejudices of the working class against the Corn-laws, to paint a small loaf in juxta position with a larger one; as if the cheaper corn countries had a larger loaf, a delusion which is laid bare by the account Mr. Jacob gives; and also as if, when cheap foreign corn came here, they would necessarily have the means of purchasing the larger loaf. But do the parties who adopt this mode of dealing with the question (an unfair one, as I must think) ever propose to put the larger wages into the scale along with the smaller loaf, snd then weigh it against the larger loaf with the smaller wages; or do they ever exhibit the black bread of Russia in juxta position with the white bread of England? The truth is, and it cannot be concealed, the labourers of the corn districts of Europe are very little advanced in civilized habits. They are content to work for the coarsest food, and if we compel our labourers to compete with them, they must exchange their white bread for the black bread of Russia, and be driven a century or two backwards in civilization. If the foreign labourer lived as the English labourer has been accustomed to do, they would not be able to sell their labour much cheaper. Mr. Alexander Galloway, before the committee on artizans and machinery, in 1824, stated, "Wages are higher in London than Paris; but I have heard from Englishmen who work at Paris that the difference is not so great in the expenses of living, if they indulged in English habits." The same testimony is borne, in the letter referred to by my Nottingham correspondent, by five English working stockingers lately returned from Germany: they declare that house-rent and firing are extremely dear in Germany, and that, taking every kind of provisions as to quantity and quality, they are not ten per cent. cheaper than in Nottingham. The letter goes on to state, "A letter from a bobbin-net lace-maker at Chemnitz has 413 been shown to us, in which the writer, whom we believe is in the employ of Mr. Rawson's Saxon gentleman, complains of his being deceived by the persons who seduced him to leave his country, about the price of provisions at Chemnitz, as he avers that it does not make a shilling a-week difference to him in his living." So that it is plainly the habits of the English workman which are the great difficulty in the way of our manufacturers in this foreign competition; and God forbid that these advanced habits of life should be altered for the worse. In consequence of the difference in the habits of this and other countries, their wages are proportionally different. Mr. Greg of Manchester is reported to have compared them as follows:—
§ Operatives are paid in
|France||5s.||8d||per wk. of 72 hrs.|
|Switzerland||4s.||5d.||per wk. of 82 hrs.|
|Austria||4s.||5d.||per wk. of 76 hrs.|
|Tyrol||3s.||9d.||per wk. of 88 hrs.|
|Saxony||3s.||6d.||per wk. of 72 hrs.|
|Bona, on the Rhine||2s.||6d.||per wk. of 84 hrs.|
§ The average wages being a fraction under 4s. per week; the average wages paid to hands similarly employed in England, but for fewer hours, being 12s. a-week.
The object of the repeal of the Corn-laws, is to reduce English and Continental wages to a level, and it is almost inferred in the argument, that the Corn-laws produce the difference. Now what is the fact? I have entered into this estimate very minutely as to the effect produced on wages by the Corn-laws, and the following is the result; the degree being so minute, the estimate is obliged to be made in facthings. I have assumed, what the delegates have frequently assumed, that the Corn-laws add 15s. to the price of the quarter of wheat. 1s. is equal to 48 farthings, if it were equal to 50 farthings, one farthing in the shilling would be 2l. per cent.; half ditto, 1 ditto; ¼. farthing 10s. ditto. Suppose a man's wages to be 50l. per annum: 15s. addition on the quarter of wheat would be 30s. in the 100l., or 1½ per cent. Now,¾ of a farthing is 1½ per cent. of a shilling. This tax, then, on an operative's wages would be ¾ of a farthing in a shilling; or 2 farthings and ¼ in 3s., supposing that to be his wages per diem. But, as the average of wages, in the manufacturing districts, of men, women, and children, will be nearer 10s. per week, the taxation would be proportionally
higher; or 1d. and ½a farthing in 3s. 10s. a-week, however, is only equal to 1s. 8d. a-day; the practical tax, therefore, by 15s. addition to the quarter of wheat from the Corn-laws, on the consumption of bread by the operative, is only 2½ farthing per diem, equal to 12¾ farthings, (or about 3d.) per week; double this for meat, and it will be about 6d. per week. The increase to the price of the goods from 15s., added to the quarter of wheat, is illustrated thus. 15s. is ¾ of 1 per cent.; or 1/132 part, and the buyer would have to distinguish between goods worth 132l. and 133l. Supposing the produce of a man's hands with 50l. per annum wages to be worth 100l. Will the foreign market, (it is said) beating us by 10, 20, 30, 50 per cent., be recovered by a saving of ¾ per cent., or would the manufacturer be fairly entitled to make any material reduction in the wages of his operative under a repeal of the Corn-laws. But would not the manufacturers attempt it? And would not the operative be consequently a considerable loser by the change? Not trusting to my own estimate alone, I asked a gentleman most conversant with commercial matters, and who happened to be going down to Manchester at the time, to get the same question solved there; it was a gentleman well known to many Members of the House as perhaps the best writer on commercial subjects of the day, Mr. Burgess, of the banker's circular. The following is his answer:—
It may be set down that fifteen shillings per quarter on wheat could not affect the price of the commonest goods, say such as are worth about double the price of the most ordinary unbleached calicoes more than a quarter of one per cent. It is the addition or remission of a tax about equal to a banker's commission on a running account. One half, at least, of the cotton manufacturers of Lancashire and Yorkshire have voluntarily imposed upon themselves a tax of equal amount by opening banker's accounts with joint stock banks, they never having such before 1826.
§ Such, Sir, appear to be the real effects of the Corn-laws on goods and wages; such the terrible results of the so much abused system of Corn-laws.
§ I had intended, but have not the time, to go into the question of the probable consequences of our being shut gradually out of many foreign markets; and how this country should prepare itself to avert that prospect. At present the greater part 415 of our manufacturing embarrassment arises from home rather than foreign competition. The increase to the credit system in this country and America between 1833 and 1836, led to a great demand for goods, and for enlarged means of producing them.
§ The number of power looms in England and Scotland were, in
|1820 about||14,000||near 700 per cent. increase.|
an assistant Poor-law commissioner, in a report to the central board, dated July 22, 1835, stated, that 3,753,000l. was at that time in the course of being laid out in mills and factories in the cotton districts of Lancashire and its immediate vicinity, and would be in operation in two years and a half.
When the Bank of England in its effort to protect itself, towards the close of 1836, to preserve inviolate the standard of value, withheld from the great American houses, and in other ways restricted accommodation, the panic which ensued, and especially the embarrassment in the United States, contracted the demand for English manufactures just at the moment when all these new mills and factories were coming into operation. This caused a temporary over-production and a fall of profits; but this is a cause, I trust, shortly to be removed. I have stated, before, that under these embarrassments of our foreign trade we still have the most valuable resource in the home trade; and I give here from Mr. Mc Queen's able and elaborate letter to Lord Melbourne the proportions in the principle articles of export between the home and foreign trade.*
Thus showing that our main reliance is on the home trade: Ireland, also, is a rapidly growing source of demand for our manufacturers, and we have still 15,000,000 acres in the United Kingdom fit for cultivation, and now uncultivated, out of which customers to our manufacturers must gradually spring up. Our colonies also are a fertile and increasing source of demand: and in India alone there is 100,000,000 population under the immediate rule of this empire, with 50,000,000 of tributaries who merely await ordinary justice and the commonest facilities which are due from the governors to the governed, to afford a tenfold larger custom* See Table.416 for our manufactures than any we have yet possessed. Let us cultivate these resources within our own control; abolish the despotic uncertainty of the land-tax in India, and rule our colonies with a paternal and fostering sway, and I have no fears for my country for generations to come.
Sir, I have now done except to repeat in two words the grounds of my defence of the Corn-laws. I uphold them, 1st, as a means of occupation, employment and custom to five-sixths of the population; 2nd, as a protection to the cultivator under the greater direct and general taxation he bears, in comparison with other countries; 3rd, As a protection to the property of the owner and tenant invested in the soil. And I think I have shown, how in tending to effect these results, the comparatively small (if any) injury the Corn-laws inflict on the other classes of the community. In treating this great question Sir; I have endeavoured to do it dispassionately and calmly, and if in the course* Comparative Value of the Home and Foreign Trade of Great Britain in certain articles.
417 of my argument I have uttered anything to hurt the feelings of any class, I sincerely regret it. Arguments certainly have been urged against the Corn-laws, which are calculated to excite a degree of warmth, and I may have been guilty of it, for instance, such as would depreciate the value and importance of the landed, with a view of exaggerating that of the manufacturing interest. To hear the language which is spoken by some who advocate the repeal of the Corn-laws, one would almost imagine, that this isle of ours, in all its richness and beauty—the offspring of centuries of British liberty, energy, and industry, had sprung into existence but yesterday—the creature and spawn of Manchester; that history was a fiction, and the monuments of the dead forsworn. [Loud cries of hear, hear, hear!] What! was England, not England in the time of our Edwards and our Harrys, of Cressy and Agincourt—in the days of Elizabeth and Burleigh, of Cromwell and Blake, of William and of Ann, of Marlborough, and Blenheim, and of Chatham—of whom it is said that not a gun could be fired in Europe without his permission? And was she relatively less respected or feared, less envied or admired than in these latter days, even of Wellington and Grey, of Russell and of Peel—in those days of frugal industry and sober earnings, as in these of grinding competition, iron-hearted philosophy, and of a frigid and gambling hypothesis. The foreign trade, as an offset, is doubtless a most valuable adjunct to the resources of the State, while it continues innoxious to the interests of industry at home; but, Sir, I will not consent to place the whole exertions and employment of my countrymen on so insecure and treacherous a base as that of a foreign trade, daily, we are told, slipping from under our feet, and hourly at the mercy, of the caprice, the tyranny, the necessity of other Powers. And who are the advisers of a policy like this? Those who declare they owe no allegiance to this soil. In the list of their moral obligations they do, indeed, seem to have excluded gratitude for having been nurtured, fostered, even fondled into existence, at many a temporary sacrifice of those on whom they would now turn again to rend them. "Owe no allegiance to the soil." Sir, then far, far distant—aye, and cursed be the day, when they and their schemes shall preponderate in the councils of this 418 Empire; schemes which would place the welfare and happiness of our people on a foundation, to-day expanded to a world, to-morrow contracted to a point; reducing us to the condition of a pyramid inverted on its apex—vibrating, reeling, tottering to our fall; with no stability for our institutions—no protection for our poor. No! give me the broad lands of England and Ireland on which to rest the solid and lasting fabric of our national greatness. Hold we and abide we by them, who will hold and abide by us, rather than by those who boast of their power to fly from us—who are "the tenants of a day, and have no interest in the inheritance." Yes, Sir, the land and the labour, of our country have thriven together for many a good long day, and with God's blessing they will yet again; yielding to us the same symbols and the same fruits which they have heretofore developed—a happy, grateful, contented peasantry—a joyous, open-hearted, open-handed yeomanry—a liberal and hospitable gentry; each in their place and degree, and through the wide ramifications of society and industry to which their influence extended—dispensing peace and good-will to all around them; and forming, in the close identity of interest which they exhibited, and in the high honour and devotion of character which they displayed—the noblest and strongest bulwark against external invasion or internal oppression, that ever existed in any age or any country. The hon. Member concluded by moving the direct negative to the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton.
SUNDRY MANUFACTURED ARTICLES. Produced. Exported. Home trade greater than Foreign Trade in the shief articles of Export. 1834. Cotton goods £52,513,586 £20,513,586 260 pr cent. 1834. Woollen goods 44,250,000 5,736,871 770 1834. Linen goods 15,421,186 2,579,658 600 1834. Silk goods 13,425,510 637,013 2,100 1834. Iron, hardware, and cutlery 38,170,600 2,869,437 1,300 1834. Brass and copper 4,900,192 961,606 510 1834. Cabinet wares, papers, &c. 14,000,000 377,941 3,700 Totals 170,537,459 33,666,112 500 pr cent.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson.
—Sir, I suppose it is not likely that the present debate will terminate this night, but I rise for the purpose of addressing the House, because I shall not be able, I fear, to take another occasion of doing so on the present subject, in consequence of the indisposition under which I labour. I therefore must, however late in the evening, throw myself upon the indulgence of the House, but in return, I will endeavour to compress my observations, and the arguments I mean to bring forward upon the present occasion, into the smallest possible compass. It would, indeed, be extremely difficult now to say anything new upon a matter which has already been so much discussed, and which has been canvassed so frequently both in and out of this place. Before I proceed, however, I I must say that I rejoice that this question 419 is at last brought before the House in the manner in which it has been introduced by my hon. Friend; that it has been placed on those grounds on which I think it ought alone to be discussed, with reference to the general interests of the community, and not of any particular class. I have never disguised my own opinion from those Gentlemen, many of them Friends of mine, who, to their credit, began the agitation on this subject—I have never disguised my opinion from them, that they rather injured their own cause, and the objects they seek to accomplish, by narrowing the grounds on which they pressed their claims. I am not surprised that, feeling as they must naturally do, their own interests deeply involved, affected as they were in their own own pursuits and their own business, they should have so narrowed the grounds upon which they stood; but, for my part, I confess I never wished to treat the subject in any other way than with reference, as I have before said, to the general interests of the country. I was glad to find, that my hon. Friend, the Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire, had at first been inclined to meet the question, now under our consideration in an equally fair and manly manner. That hon. Gentleman has, yielding to the advice of others, which no doubt he has reason for doing, and acting upon what are doubtless prudential considerations, flinched from the proposition which he himself announced—he has retreated from his own position, and now means to meet that motion with a negative, and not to press the resolutions of which he has given notice. I own I can understand very well why he does so with regard to the first resolution which stands on the Notice Book; I have thought it likely that but very few supporters would probably be found for that resolution which my hon. Friend originally meant to propose. It was too absurd to find friends. But with regard to his second resolution, although he withdrew it, I can see no reason why it should be withdrawn, unless my hon. Friend is prepared to vote with me. I know no grounds on which it is possible to refuse to go into a Committee of the House, unless we are prepared to agree to what my hon. Friend had at first intended to say, namely; that the law as it at present stands is good, has worked well, has answered its purpose, and ought to be maintained. Now I am prepared to contend for the exact reverse of that proposition, and to say, that these 420 laws are injurious to the general interests of the community, and it is for that reason, and with a view to change them that I agree to the proposition of the hon. Mover. It has been stated, that it is the object of my hon. Friend, the Member for Wolverhampton, in making his present motion, to repeal totally and immediately the existing Corn-laws. Now I have heard nothing to that effect fall from my hon. Friend. I know the opinions which my hon. Friend entertains, yet when he goes into Committee on the subject, it does not follow that the House will be bound to assent to them. If I were asked whether it would, in my opinion, be beneficial to this country to abolish the Corn-laws, my answer would be, that it would. If I were asked whether it might not be better to have even a free trade in corn, I would reply in the affirmative also. But when I state this I am perfectly aware, that there are considerable and weighty interests to be looked into, which can not be lightly treated; and that they must be all fairly considered, and equitably dealt with, and time given gradually to effect a change. I, therefore, taking a practical view of the subject, am ready to go into a Committee upon it in the hope, that we shall be able to introduce such a practical change in the existing system of laws, as may prove really beneficial to all parties, and which will not injure any interests whatsoever, and I contend that all those who may not be inclined to support my view of the alteration requisite, but who yet do not go the whole length of maintaining that the law has worked well, and is the best which can be established, are bound to go into committee with me, because there and there alone they will have a full and ample opportunity of opposing or supporting the propositions which may be submitted to them. There they may propose their own schemes if they please or they may assent to mine. [Cheers.] I would ask my noble Friend (Lord Stanley), who cheers, if, according to the forms of this House, it is possible to introduce any change in these laws in any other manner than by going into committee? There and there alone we shall be fully able to discuss the various expedients which may be deemed necessary in this instance, and there I shall be prepared to submit to them my own particular plans, to be adopted or not, as the House thinks fit. But having said thus much, I feel bound to assert now, 421 that there are parts of the speech of the hon. Mover with which I am not prepared to agree, particularly with reference to what my hon. Friend had stated, about the price of corn. To these slight differences, however, it is not necessary particularly to allude.
The question has been put fairly, in this simple way, who is for, and who is against, the present system of Corn-laws unaltered, as they stand.
The first point then is, what is the present law? and here I agree certainly with the hon. Member for the North Riding, who has made no real difference between the law of 1828 and that of 1815, or 1822. Whatever might have been the intention, practically the effect has been the same. My own argument is, that the two laws are practically the same. The present law professed to afford a remedy for the fluctuating prices which had been found so injurious to different interests in the country, and it accordingly proposed a fluctuating scale of duties instead of the prohibition up to a certain price and free admission afterwards as fixed by the law of 1815, and the law of 1822. Its object was, to a certain degree, to place the corn trade something upon the same footing as the other branches of trade in the country, and to allow the importation of corn not merely at the price where under the former law prohibition ceased, but at a price far below that point. Now, that result has not been obtained, for, although it professed to allow corn to come in at a lower rate, yet the result has not answered expectations, and in this respect matters stand nearly in the same position with respect to the import of foreign corn as under the old corn-law. The corn of foreign countries is not brought into the market when the price is such as the present law contemplated. It is only when the price is such as would have permitted foreign corn to be sold under the old law, that foreign corn is brought into the market. This is clearly proved by a document I hold in my hand. Since the law came into operation in July, 1828, up to the 31st of December 1838, there have been 6,788,000 quarters of corn imported. Now, we have frequently had corn at very high prices in this country during that time, and if the law had operated according to what the framers of it at the time expected (the price of 70s. being considered by the law of 1822 as the famine price), it would be supposed that a considerable quantity of 422 corn would have come in at a lower price; whereas, of the 6,788,000 quarters of corn, 5,089,000 quarters came in paying a duty less than 6s. 8d., the duty when the price was 71s., the rate at which prohibition ceased under the old law having been 70s. So that under the present law 75s. per cent. of all corn imported came in at a price above 70s., and only 25 per cent. came in at a lower price. It stands to reason, that it should be so for it must be known by any one who watches the operations of the corn-market, that when corn begins to rise, all persons holding corn in bond do not bring out their corn, paying 16s. or 20s. duty, but what they do is this, they wait, and operate on the market, till at last the price rises to 73s. and corn comes out at 1s. duty. Is this a benefit? But before I come to this point, I turn—having stated the effect of the law—to the hon. Members opposite, and ask what were the intention and views of the framers of it? What was the declared object of the committee of 1821? The great object to be secured was to obtain a steady price for corn; a price free from fluctuation. The admirable report, framed by the committee of which Sir Thomas Gooch was chairman, was written by Mr. Huskisson, and introduced under the auspices of the chairman—that admirable report, setting out with a statement, clear and convincing as to what the law should be, required above all things that prices should be steadied and fluctuations prevented; and I am astonished that in the Corn-bill of 1827, or the law of 1828, the recommendation of that report was not followed up, and that the fluctuating scale was introduced. I hold in my hand a document which will prove beyond a possibility of doubt that the object contemplated by the framers of the present law was the prevention of the fluctuation in the market, and I shall take the liberty of reading that document to the House. I hold in my hand an extract from the speech of the author of the bill of 1827; and what did Mr. Canning say, in introducing that bill?It seems to me desirable, that if there is to be a trade in corn at all, it should be conducted as far as possible on the principle of other trades, in a sober regular course, and not by perpetual jerks and impulses, arising out of extraordinary emergencies. I am persuaded that if importation be always free, taking sufficient security against an inundation of the home market, it will flow in a regular equable current, supplying the real wants of the country without overwhelming it; instead of ren- 423 dering the trade, as now, under the principle of prohibition, a perpetual series of alterations between a drought and a deluge. I think this project will tend to equalize the prices, and keep that equalization of prices steady. The market will, indeed, assume such a steadiness, that, instead of a fluctuation between 112s. at one time and 38s. at another, the vibrations will probably be found to be limited within the small circle of from about 55s. to about 65s. The plan will provide against the mischief arising from sudden gluts in the market at one time, and sudden dearths compelling us to legislate occasionally in contradiction to our general system of legislation at another.Now, what I ask is whether these expectations have been fulfilled? Can any man who has attended to the prices of corn in this country pretend that such has been the result? I hold in my hand a statement of the highest and lowest prices of corn in each year, from 1828. In 1828, the highest price of wheat was 76s. the lowest, 51s.: the difference, 49 per cent. In 1829, highest price 75s., lowest 55s.; the difference, 37 per cent. In 1830, highest price, 74s. lowest 55s.; difference 35 per cent. In 1831, highest price 75s. lowest 59s., the difference between the highest and lowest prices was 27 per cent.; in 1832, highest price 63s., lowest 51s., 24 per cent.; in 1833, highest price 56s., lowest 49s., 14 per cent.; in 1834, highest price 49s., lowest 40s., 22 per cent.; in 1835, highest price 44s., lowest 36s., 22 per cent. In 1836, the highest price was 60s., the lowest 36s.; the difference 68 per cent. In 1837, highest price 60s., lowest 51s.; difference 17 per cent. In 1838, highest price 78s., lowest 52s.; difference 49 per cent. Between 1836 and 1839 there was a difference of 116 per cent. between the highest and lowest prices. I ask whether the object as explained in the passage I have read from Mr. Canning's speech has been attained? I can show, by returns with which I will not now trouble the House, that under another state of the law dissimilar to that which exists at present, the fluctuations during ten years were never half so much.
But my hon. Friend has said that we must look to other considerations with reference to other interests,—tenants, labourers, and others. I am ready to examine the question upon that ground, and I am prepared to contend that, as the law stands, it is most injurious to all these interests. But, before I go on with this part of my argument, I call upon the* Hansard New Series, vol. xvi. p. 770.424 Gentlemen on the other side to say, why corn should have a duty different from all other articles. There are not fluctuating duties upon wine, or timber, upon silk or cotton; why then upon corn? On what principle is it that, after the system laid down by Mr. Canning has so signally failed, we continue to apply a different law to corn from that applied to other articles? For whose interest then, I ask, is all this done, for the tenant? who can deny that fluctuation of price must be most injurious to him? He can never tell what he ought to pay for his land, what return he ought to get for his capital. To the uncertainty which already exists in all farming operations, you super add an additional amount of uncertainty and you call that a good law for the tenant.
With regard to the landlord, instead of entering into an argument to show how, on theory and on principle, the law must be injurious to him, I must be permitted to advert to a document, respecting which there can be no dispute, which will be a good test of what the agriculturist has experienced from the law. If the law be what it has been represented by its advocates, we have a right to expect that its effects on agriculture will be beneficial; but I find, from the records be before me, that since 1828, there has been no less than five King's Speeches in which reference was made to the depressed state of agriculture, and which called the earliest attention of Parliament to the subject, with a view of devising relief. Upon the 4th of February, 1830, his late Majesty, in his Speech from the Throne, said—His Majesty laments that, notwithstanding this indication of active commerce, distress should prevail among the agricultural and manufacturing classes in some parts of the United Kingdom.But that, however, was not considered strong enough, and an Amendment was moved by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Kent, opposite, the tendency of which was to describe the distress which prevailed, in more forcible language. In 1831, upon the 6th of December, the King, in his Speech from the Throne, said—I deeply lament the distress which still prevails in many parts of my dominions; and for which the preservation of peace both at home and abroad will, under Divine Providence, afford the best and most effectual remedy.In 1833, there was no mention of the 425 subject, but committees were appointed to inquire into the state of trade and agriculture. In 1834, the King's Speech contained the following paragraph:—"I have to lament the continuance of distress amongst the proprietors and occupiers of land.In 1835, the Speech from the Throne said—I deeply lament that the agricultural interest continues in a state of great depression.In 1836, his Majesty said—I lament that any class of my subjects should still suffer distress, and the difficulties which continue to be felt in important branches of agriculture may deserve your inquiry with a view of ascertaining whether there are any measures which Parliament can advantageously adopt for the alleviation of this pressure.There were five King's Speeches and a Committee of the House in one year, when the subject was not mentioned in a King's Speech, within a few years, all indicating an increased or continued distress amongst the agricultural class; and after that we are told, that the present system works well, and that the law requires no change! Really I know not how posterity may read history, but I think it must seem hereafter that those Gentlemen who so recently complained of their condition, and then boasted that the law under which they suffered was the best that could be enacted, must have committed some great mistake.
As to the labourer, I cannot understand how the labourer can be otherwise than benefitted by a change of the law. The only thing which he can bring to market is his labour, the price which he obtains for it, depends upon the ratio which the supply has to the demand in the market. Whatever increases the demand for labour, raises his wages,—whatever diminishes it, reduces them. I do not advert of course to what may be the case in some agricultural districts, where, owing to the difficulty of transporting labour, and the effect of the old Poor-law, the labourer is reduced to the mere minimum of subsistence; but in a healthy state of society and generally through this country, no one will deny that my position is correct. How does your Corn-law then operate upon him? By diminishing the means of employment, it lowers the wages which he receives. By raising the price of food, it makes his money wages of still less value to him. I may be told, indeed, that he would lose employment by so much less British corn having 426 to be cultivated; but if so (which I do not believe to be the case) a greater quantity of foreign would come in because it was cheaper, and it must be paid for by something; the labour of this country which would take the place of the labour thus displaced. If foreign corn were, therefore, admitted, it would be manifestly for his benefit. If corn became cheap, the labourer's wages would be of more value, and the effect would be to increase the demand for labour, whilst it decreased the price of the labourer's food. But above all, a greater equality of prices would ensue, which would have a tendency to benefit the labourer, inasmuch as he is always a sufferer from the fluctuation of prices. If any man, indeed, more than another has an interest in the alteration of the Corn-laws, with a view to avoid fluctuations, it is the labourer. It is well known that the wages of labour do not rise or decrease as rapidly and in the same proportion as the price of provisions, and it is this fact which made the present system inflict great injury on him. In 1835 and 1836, when the prices of corn were low, the wages of labourers in the agricultural districts, where there is often a supply greater in amount than the demand for labour, were decreased to match the price of corn; and when an increase, and a rapid increase, took place in the price of corn, there has not been a corresponding increase in the amount of labourer's wages, so that he has nearly the same amount of money to receive for his labour when the price of corn has been doubled; therefore I maintained that no class of persons are more interested in the subject than the labouring class, nor is the condition of any class more influenced by the Corn-laws. My hon. Friend said that one of the objects which would be achieved by a change in the law would be to reduce the wages of the labourers to 4s. per week, and in this resolution he included manufacturing as agricultural labourers—I entirely deny that. Now, what are the demands of the labourers? They say they want employment—they want the means of getting a livelihood—they want to be placed in a position which will enable them to earn their bread. That is one reason why I felt that a change is necessary, because I am convinced that if the Corn-laws were changed there would be an increase in the demand for workmen, and the rate of wages would be increased with the increased demand for their labour.
427 The next point to which my hon. Friend (Mr. Cayley) adverted, was the effect a change in the present system would have upon the trade of the country. It is not my intention to follow my hon. Friend through those minute calculations into which he has gone with regard to the prices of cochineal, indigo, cotton twist, and other articles; for to attempt to compare the variations in the prices of commodities of that kind, which depend upon so many various and conflicting circumstances, with the price of the great necessary of life, seems to me to be quite beside the question. All the commodities to which my hon. Friend has alluded are subject, in consequence of the moderate amount of the supply, to speculation in the market to a great extent; they are subject to the chances of different markets in Europe far more than corn can possibly be. But my hon. Friend has said—and here I ventured to differ from him very considerably—my hon. Friend has said, Why, your home trade is the only trade you have got to look to, and I would not see the country sacrificed for the sake of a foreign trade." Now, I must tell my hon. Friend that it is a little too late to talk of this nation being independent of other countries; my hon. Friend might have said such was the case one hundred, or at least seventy or eighty years ago; but the time is past, and now England has a large population dependent altogether upon her foreign trade. I do not say that the home trade is not beneficial to this country, and I cannot conceive bow the home trade is to be lost, nor hap any attempt been made to shew that it would, but now that millions and millions of the population of Great Britain are dependant upon the foreign trade [Cheers.] I beg to ask hon. Gentlemen who cheer me whether it is not too much to talk lightly of that trade, which supported so large a proportion of the population of the Country. Do hon. Gentlemen know the amount of the exports from this country—do they known what the foreign trade is? Why, the country scarcely imports any thing but raw materials; it imports of them to the extent of between 25,000,000l. and 30,000,000l. for the purposes of home consumtion or for manufactures of be sent away again. What I complain of in the existing Corn-laws is this—that this country has by those laws raised against it many of the other nations of the world—not because we do not 428 take corn from them, but on account of the uncertainty which is thrown into the trade with them in consequence of our system of duties, which declare that England shall never apply to foreigners if she can possibly help it, by which we have done every thing that is possible to shut the markets of Europe and America against the British manufactures, and have induced nations to adopt a hostile policy in commercial matters which would never have occurred but for these laws. Do I speak without book when I state this? An hon. Gentleman behind me has moved for the production of whatever correspondence had taken place between the Government of this country and those of other nations on the subject of the Corn-laws, or for any propositions made or notices given by foreign countries willing to trade with this country, provided the present system of Corn-laws were done away with. Those documents I shall produce to my hon. Friend and the House, but I must at the same time mention that they are a class of communications which do not generally take place in an official form; they are more generally the result of private letters, and therefore the information contained in them is not so full as I could desire. But some time ago a gentleman, Mr. M'Gregor, was sent to Germany to inquire into the condition of the German League, and I have with me letters I have received from him, bearing on the subject now before the House, and which I will read. This is dated in 1836. He says:—I am perpetually told, that England must reduce her own tariff before she can reasonably expect Germany to do so.And in reply to Mr. M'Gregor, the foreign minister for Wurtemberg thus expresses himself:—I am opposed to anything like particular protection given to any branch of industry, being convinced that such protection is a general tax on the community.We have few articles besides coarse linens and natural produce, as corn, and cattle, and probably some of the wool, which we send by the Neckar and Rhine to Holland, that would find their way to your markets at reduced duties; but, settle the preliminaries of a commercial treaty with Prussia, and I presume there will not be much difficulty in Wurtemberg adhering to it.I will read another extract in relation to our commerce with Prussia:— 429M. Kuchné, the Prussian Commissiary, is a gentleman of intelligent views, and seems fully to comprehend the importance of a commercial treaty with England, but argues our Corn-laws are the supreme obstacle. He is at the same time said to be the most skilful member of the Congress.And, again—Baron Smit, the Wurtemberg Minister at the Bavarian Court, the proprietor of the Germanic Union tells me that he can discover no objection whatever in meeting the views of foreign States to a reasonable extent in reducing the high duties in the Germanic tariff, provided that such States will act with something like reciprocity towards Germany; but he also contends, that the British tariff ranges much higher than the Germanic tariff as twenty to thirty per cent. compared to ten per cent., and on linens, and every article from Germany, as wood, corn, and some other natural produce, much higher.On the 14th July M. Kuchné said,—If any arrangement be entered into, you must begin at Berlin, and a reduction of your corn duties to a fixed rate must be preliminary to any understanding as to a reduction on our part of duties on your commodities." "Without saying how such an arangement could be effected, I alluded to the proposed reduction of the duty on timber, and such as would probably be made on some other articles, as linens, Nuremburg wares, mineral water, &c.; but he took his stand upon corn, saying the other reductions were but of little consequence.Those extracts with which I have troubled the House will show how our foreign trade has been affected by the Corn-law system, which has been said to work so well, that no system can be better devised. So much with regard to their effect. But we have been told, that some protection is necessary. I would not, if such were the opinion of the House, object to a fair protection; but what I object to is, the present mode of administering this protection, and I contend, that it produces no advantage.
I do not object to that fair protection being given which may be demanded by those additional burthens which it is supposed the land pays. I wish for protection to that extent, but what we quarrel with is the mode in which the law gives the present protection, which I contend is of no advantage to the interest it is intended to benefit, while it is a detriment to others. At the same time my hon. Friend has made a most exaggerated statement of the amount of the protection 430 required in consequence of what he has been pleased to call the burthens on land; but I confess I cannot follow my hon. Friend's calculations, so as to be satisfied with the correctness of that statement. I am, however, willing to admit that there have been burthens which press exclusively upon land; many of them, however, have bean removed, and I should, therefore, like to examine into them in Committee; and if the grievance be substantiated, then to give a fair protection. The burthen which has chiefly been alluded to is the poor-rate.
Now, the returns for the year 1833, showed the proportions of all burthens on land and other property; and of the poor-rate and highway-rate, land paid, it appeared, sixty-five per cent., and houses and other property paid thirty-five per cent. Now, taking the same proportion in 1838, the whole amount of poor-rate, highway-rate, and other imposts, was about 5,186,000l., of which land paid 3,275,000l., and other property paid 1,911,000l.; or again, taking the poor-rate alone, it amounted last year to 4,123,000l., of which land pays 2,604,000l., and houses and other property paid 1,519,000l. I state this to show that those burthens do not exclusively fall on land, and that other property pays very considerably towards them, and I must remark, that when a balance comes to be made out of the account on both sides, the probate and legacy duty of 2,284,000l., which is paid exclusively by other interests, must be taken into account and set against the other charges.
It has also been said, that the Malt-tax is a burthen on land. I regret that the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tarn-worth, was not in his place to answer that assertion when it was made—answer it he could, for I have heard the right hon. Baronet make a speech on the subject of Malt-tax (and I have voted with the right hon. Baronet in consequence of that speech and the doctrines therein laid down), in which he established irresistibly that the Malt-tax was not a tax on land, but a tax paid by the consumer. Undoubtedly, by limiting consumption, it affects the distribution of crops, and is a grievance to that extent, but to that extent only.
Then, I must ask, why it is that the House refuses to make any alteration in the existing Corn-laws, Is that refusal 431 from a fear of lowering the price of corn? My own opinion is (and I do not state it now for the first time), that by a change, the prices, on an average of years, would not be much lower than they are at present; it is my firm belief, that wheat could not be imported to be laid in at 30s., 32s., or 33s, per quarter, as has been most erroneously asserted—that is, in my judgment, perfectly out of the question; if there were a regular demand for it, and the supply was steadily taken, it would be impossible, from any calculation that has been made, that wheat could he brought into this country under 40s. or 50s. per quarter. The House ought to remember, that this country has this circumstance to contend with—that the further from rivers or the sea-shore, or other means of communication we go to procure our supplies, the greater will be the expense; and not only a greater expense according to common progression, but according to an infinitely increasing progression. In my travels I have known, in a province of Russia, for instance, wheat sell at 5s. per quarter, but such was the expense of carriage and the charges of transport, that it could not be carried to a neighbouring province at a less price than 20s. or 25s. It is not many years ago since in that country, which forms such a bugbear to the hon. Gentleman opposite, I mean the South of Russia, when the crops failed, it was found to be cheaper to send the population to the food in a distant province, than to transport the food to them. But if hon. Members are so afraid of lowering the price, I must be permitted to ask them to go back and see how little their fears on other subjects have been justified by the events which have ensued. I will, as an instance, take the article of wool. Hon. Members will remember the debates which took place when a proposal was made to admit foreign wool into this country, and when it was declared by a noble Friend of mine in another place, that the sheep farmers of this country would be utterly and entirely ruined, that it would be impossible for them to compete with those flocks which produced wool so cheaply abroad. Now, what was the result? Why, that the sheep farmer in this country now receives a higher price for his wool than he did before the change took place.
This will appear from the following statement of the average prices of Leicester 432 long wools from the years 1821 to 1838, inclusive, per tod of 28 lbs.:—Average price in 1821, 32s. 6d.; in 1822, 29s.; in 1823, 26s.; in 1824, 29s.; in 1825, 40s. 6d.; in 1826, 28s.; in 1827, 26s.; in 1828, 24s.; in 1829, 21s. 6d.; in 1830, 21s. 6d.; in 1831, 30s.; in 1832, 30s. 6d.; in 1833, 38s. 6d.; in 1834, 46s.; in 1835, 39s.; in 1836, 41s.; in 1837, 37s.; and in 1838, 38s. The high range of prices for the last six years is to be ascribed to the increasing export. Although the trade was thrown open in 1826, it was some time before the export was sufficiently great to affect prices. It was the speculation induced by the over-issue of paper in 1825, previous to the panic, which occasioned the high prices of 1825. If the export of wool were prohibited, as formerly, it is the opinion of well-informed persons that the price of Leicester long wool would not exceed 25s. per tod; the free trade in wool has, consequently, given the agricultural interest a clear advantage of 15s. per tod for the last six years on the whole of the long wool growth of the kingdom, which is estimated at 300,000 packs of eight tods each, or equivalent to 1½ million sterling. And this great advantage was literally forced on the agricultural interest, who anticipated from free trade in wool the absolute ruin of the wool grower. This, then, was the result of their apprehensions—this was the effect of throwing open the trade in wool.
But I now come to the last argument which had been urged by my hon. Friend, viz.—the dependance of this country upon foreigners in case a change were made in the present Corn-laws. I must repeat, that it is now too late to urge that argument, for, according to the report of the committee of 1834, this country is even now dependent upon foreigners in this respect; and the question really is, in what a state does this country stand now, under the present condition of the law with respect to this point? Why, this country has found that foreigners were inclined to shut their ports, to prevent the export of corn, because Great Britain is not a steady regular customer—that foreigners find they can carry on no beneficial trade with her, and that her demand is inconvenient instead of advantageous to them. That is one of my main arguments for wishing to change the present law. I contend, that 433 foreigners may be made as much dependent on England for the sale of their corn as England is now dependent on them for the supply of that commodity. I contend, that if a regular fixed and steady trade was established with them, they would be no more able to prevent their corn from coming to the British market than the Americans are able to prevent their cotton. Is not this country dependent now upon America for cotton? It is true cotton is not a necessary of life, but still there are 1,500,000 people in this country dependent for their bread upon the cotton trade. I again repeat, that if there is not that mutual interest raised which will make each country dependent on the other, then there will be as much danger from the situation of a population engaged in all the great articles of foreign produce brought here for manufacture, as ever there could be from being dependent on foreign nations for a supply of corn. But the fact is, that at present foreigners look on the demand made on them by this country for corn, rather as a nuisance than otherwise; occurring only at seasons when corn is scarce it deranges the whole of their markets by its irregularity. Corn may be grown by them in expectation of some demand from here; it may be sent to the ports, where it sometimes lies for years, at heavy charges for warehouse-rent and loss of interest on the capital locked up all the time, until a sudden demand comes, and it is taken perhaps at a loss to the grower, the additional price being merely for those charges of rent and interest on capital. But what does the English purchaser pay? Why, because he wants the corn in a time of necessity, he must pay those additional charges, and the extra price is thus just as much thrown away as if so much of the corn were thrown into the sea from the ships which transport it to this country. On the other hand, foreign countries themselves, even suffer from the sudden rise of prices. All their relations are disturbed—the price of corn, perhaps low, is suddenly converted into a high price, and their own population suffer from the effects of the demand from this country. How different, however, would be the position of both if a regular steady trade were established! I will not trouble the House further; I have, imperfectly I fear, but as well as I am able, expressed my opinion with 434 regard to the existing Corn-laws. I have contended, that the law in its present state is injurious to the landlord, inasmuch as it produces uncertainty to him—I have contended it is injurious to the tenant, inasmuch as he never knows what he is about under the great fluctuations in prices—it is injurious to the labourer, because it deprives him of the employment he would otherwise have, and it is injurious to the manufacturer, because it fetters his industry and promotes foreign competition. This is my view of the case. It is upon these grounds that I recommend the House to assent to the motion of my hon. Friend. I will not attempt to use further argument, but I will venture, in conclusion, to address you in the words of one, my right hon. Friend, the Member for Pembroke, (Sir J. Graham); and I beg particularly to address them to those who, acting under a fear of low prices, pretend to seek protection for our corn. His words are these:—The public opinion must be hostile to the present Corn-law. The receivers of rent are a very small body. Backed by public opinion they are almost omnipotent—in violation of public opinion they cannot long retain an exclusive advantage. The contest is fearful, for on what ground will it be decided? On the very topic which inflames to madness, that hunger, which breaks through walls, will be arrayed against them. The barriers of society will be broken down, and estates, distinctions, honors, swept away in one resistless torrent. Let those who seek high prices at all risks remember the words of Tacitus:—'Vulgus ad magnitudinem beneficiorum aderat, stultissimus quisque pecuniis mereabatur; apud sapientes cassa habebantur, quæ neque dari neque accipi salvâ republicâ, poterant.'In conclusion, I would say, that I only asked the House to go with me into Committee, and I shall then establish my case. I ask you to let me propose in that Committee the alteration I think beneficial; and I implore the House not heedlessly to reject a motion on which, I believe in my conscience, depend the welfare and the stability of the material interests of this country."
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
spoke amidst many marks of impatience, and was understood to say that he trusted the House would indulge him with a few moments attention. He was perfectly aware of the difficulty of following a Gentleman who had made this subject his own. He thought, however, that some remarks of that right hon. Gen- 435 tleman called for special observation. It had been asserted that there was—there could be—nothing novel in the present discussion; but, however, that observation must apply to the arguments, he thought there was great novelty in the position in which they now approached the matter. He had heard that night, with astonishment, a Minister of the Crown declare that agitation was the only way in which a change in the Corn-laws could be effected. On a question of this kind, in which the feelings, the interests, of the whole country were raised, he was amazed to hear a Minister of the Crown promulgate such doctrines. Were Ministers prepared to act in obedience to agitation? He had listened with the greatest attention to the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in hopes of hearing what modification of the present laws he intended to propose in committee, but the right hon. Gentleman had given them no information whatever. They were asked to go into a committee of the whole House to consider the operation of the Act regulating the trade in corn, but not one word could they hear of the intentions of Government on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the speech of Mr. Canning in 1827. But what had been Mr. Canning's conduct? He had proposed a well-digested measure upon this subject, and proposed it boldly, upon his own responsibility. Why was not Mr. Canning's conduct imitated on the present occasion? He could tell the noble Lord opposite that the country expected that on a matter of this kind of great public moment, the Government would not shrink from the responsibility belonging to their official situations. Now, they not only declined to do so, but they would not even condescend to favour the House with an outline of their plan—if in point of fact they had any. What a contrast there was between the conduct of the Ministers of the Crown and the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the motion, who had acted in a manner bold, manly, and intelligible—the very reverse in every respect of the Government. The manufacturers had declared it to be their object to obtain the total and unqualified extinction of Corn-laws. They had not shrunk from stating their intention to withdraw from the landowners of the country every vestige of protection—to repeal the existing law, and to substitute no other, The right 436 hon. Gentleman had not disclosed his plan, but co-operating with the originators of the motion made him cautious and suspicious, and would prevent him giving his assent to going into committee, lest he might be exposing himself to a coalition of the Government and the originators of the motion. The right hon. Gentleman had read a letter from a Prussian correspondent advocating a fixed duty—was that his plan? He had Mr. Canning's authority for saying that such a duty would be absurd. Mr. Canning said, that such a duty must be either too low or too high. If too low it would afford no protection, if too high it would go at the first moment of pressure. But the right hon. Gentleman would not follow the authority of Mr. Canning—he would keep them all in the dark and would ultimately attempt to establish a free trade in corn. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Why not treat corn as every other foreign article is treated?" He would answer this question of the right hon. Gentleman in two words. Because corn is the staple article of human sustenance, it would be madness to become dependent for its supply upon foreign countries. The real question was, whether they were to have protection or not? He begged that hon. Members would bear that in their minds. He told them that if they gave way on this occasion, the fixed duty, as it was termed, would not last two or three years. On this question he expected the support of many hon. Members opposite. He thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to side with them, for there was no part of the country in which the matter was more anxiously considered than in that with which the right hon. Gentleman was most immediately connected. But hon. Gentlemen might depend on this—that if they adopted the motion before the House, and allowed the introduction of foreign grain without payment of duty or a free trade in grain, they must also remove protection, and throw open the trade in all other articles of consumption in the country. For himself he could not understand how it was that the landlord could prosper whilst the tenant was in a state of adversity. He believed that their interests were closely mixed up together, and that it was not possible for one to prosper and the other to suffer. It was said also that the price of wages should be lowered, and that then the labourer would be more prosperous. 437 Judging from his own experience, however, he would say that the condition of the labourers was better when corn was tending to a high price than when it was low. It seemed to be the wish of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton to obtain a low price of corn that the wages of labour might be low, and that thus the expenses of producing manufactured articles should be reduced. But how low would the hon. Member reduce the wages? Did he not know that a great portion of the labourers' wages was expended in food, and supposing that the labourer now received 12s. a week, 6s. of which were expended in corn, he would have the remaining 6s. to purchase other articles; if, however, the rate of wages should be lowered from 12s. to 6s., and the price of corn should also be lowered one half, the labourer would have 6s. wages and 3s. to pay for corn, leaving him only 3s. instead of 6s. to expend in other articles; and he would ask the House and the country under which system they thought the labouring man would be best off? And he would also ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer under which system the produce of the taxes would be greatest, under the existing regulations, or upon the principles advocated by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton? There was one other question connected with this to which he wished to claim the attention of the House. He alluded to the Act for the commutation of tithes, which had been passed, with the almost unanimous concurrence of that House. If they deprived the growers of corn of their present protection, he presumed that the Tithe Commutation Act must also be repealed. The hon Member concluded his speech with declaring, that there were three incumbrances which it was necessary to remove, the establishment, the debt, and the aristocracy. With respect to the establishment, the hon. Member had said little—with respect to the debt, he did not know how, with the repeal of the Corn-laws, they could pay the interest on the debt; and he could not help expressing his own confident conviction that in such case the debt of the country could not be liquidated. And when the hon. Gentleman dealt so tenderly with what he called the aristocracy, a large class of her Majesty's subjects, under any point of consideration, he would like to know who the hon. Member included among his 438 class of aristocracy. He took it that the nobility were included in that class, that the clergy were also included, and any person who was the owner of any considerable quantity of land; but might not smaller owners be included, and would the hon. Member advocate the extinction of this large class? He would, if his doctrine were carried out. If the doctrine were persisted in, he was sure that all well-wishers of their country would resist it by all the means in their power, for it would only produce such misery, ruin, and confusion, as had never yet been seen in this country. The aristocracy, as they were called, however, merited at the hands of the country a better consideration. It was not true, as the hon. Baronet who seconded the motion asserted, that the landlords had raised the price of the necessaries of life, and that, in order to do so, they had oppressed her Majesty's subjects. He would contradict this assertion with all the energy he could; and he would maintain that nothing could exceed the high and unblemished character of the landed proprietors in this country. He thought that the most secure course for the House to take, was that recommended by Mr. Huskisson, who had said that "the history of this country for the last 170 years clearly proves on the one hand that cheapness produced by foreign import is the sure forerunner of scarcity; and on the other, that a steady home supply is the only safe foundation of steady and moderate prices." Did the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Poulett Thomson) mean to say that this country was now dependent upon foreign countries for a supply of corn? He maintained that we were not, and that we ought not to become so. He hoped, therefore, that the great majority of the House would vote as he would do, and declare that the people of England should not be injured. His right hon. Friend at the conclusion of his speech had quoted the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Pembroke, delivered some time since, and he (Sir Edward Knatchbull) would also conclude by reading an extract from the writings of a person of high authority in that House, and throughout Great Britain; it was the production of the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell). It was in full concurrence with his (Sir E. Knatchbull's) own opinion. The letter which he would read could not give the noble Lord the oppor- 439 tunity of stating, as he had done in a late letter, that he had altered his opinions, for the sentiments contained in the extract he was about to quote were general and universal, and applicable at all times. The letter was written by the then Member for the county of Huntingdon, and he did not think that the noble Member for Stroud at the present day could differ in opinion from the noble Member for Huntingdon in 1822. The letter was datedWoburn Abbey, Jan. 14, 1822.It being impossible by means of the Corn Bill to restore the war prices, I beg of you seriously to consider whether a new Corn Bill is likely to do you at present any good whatever. Supposing you were allowed to frame it yourselves, or that the Legislature should enact a prohibition at all times to import any article, the produce of the soil of Great Britain, would your distress be at all relieved? I think not. I think also, if you agree thus far, you must also agree with me that any efforts in this direction are not likely to be attended with benefit to yourselves. For the truth of this I appeal to the best of all tests—the experience of last year. By active petitioning you obtained a committee on the state of agriculture. And what was the result? Evidence proving the distress beyond all doubt, and a report suggesting no relief but time and patience. Time has not yet brought you any consolation; and, as for patience, you surely did not require twenty-one Gentlemen to sit three months for the purpose of recommending that well-known virtue.But the committee have also advised an alteration of the Corn Bill. That is to say, they recommend a lower importation price with a duty. Whether such a law as a permanent system might not be better than the present I am not quite prepared to decide. But it is clear that lowering the importation price would bring you no relief for present distress. And I am inclined to believe that, with many sugared words, the framer of the report intended to lay the foundation for subverting the principle of the Corn Bill altogether, and introducing foreign corn at all times into the market; for the principle of admitting foreign corn when our own prices are low being once granted, it would be extremely difficult to counterbalance the taxes paid by the English farmer. A duty of 40s. or 50s. a quarter upon foreign corn could hardly be enacted, and if enacted, certainly would not be persisted in. But I am inclined to think, that if foreign corn were admitted, even if you had scarcely any taxes to pay, it would not be easy for the farmers of England, who require to live in a certain degree of respectability and comfort, to compete with the Lords of Poland and Russia, whose vassal peasantry are unacquainted with the wants of a civilized state. Cora is a manufacture (to use our new phrase- 440 ology) cheaply produced in a fertile soil, by wretched ploughs, wretched horses, and wretched men.There is a party amongst us, however, distinguished in what is called the science of political economy, who wish to substitute the corn of Poland and Russia for our own. Their principle is, that you ought always to buy where you can buy cheapest. They repeat with emphasis that the nation pays a tax of 25,000,000l. yearly to the growers of corn. They count as nothing the value to the country of a hardy race of farmers and labourers. They care not for the difference between an agricultural and manufacturing population, in all that concerns morals, order, national strength, and national tranquillity. Wealth is the only object of their speculation; nor do they much consider the two or three millions of people who may be reduced to utter beggary in the course of their operations. This they call diverting capital into another channel. Their reasonings lie so much in abstract terms, their speculations deal so much by the gross, that they have the same insensibility about the sufferings of a people that a General has respecting the loss of men wearied by his operations.It is to these men, I suspect, that our Ministers are about to give up the question of trade in corn.It was to these men that the Ministers now meant to give up the Corn-laws, it was for these men that the House was now called upon to interfere. He was sure, however, that the House would do its duty, and he trusted that the noble Lord opposite would, upon reflection, consider that the sentiments of the noble Member for Huntingdon in 1822 were infinitely more politic than those which had lately been expressed in that House. He would not trouble the House by going into a statement of details which had been fully discussed by others; but he earnestly asked the House, and he required of the Ministers, to refrain from giving up "the question of the trade in corn to this class of men."
§ Debate adjourned.