§ Sir W. Molesworth
rose and said—Sir, I trust the House will pardon my trespassing upon their patience in consideration of the great interests I represent, and of the anxiety felt by my constituents on this subject. I am convinced, that I give utterance to their sentiments as well as to my own feelings, when I declare that, in supporting and in voting for the motion of my hon. Friend, I do not merely seek the abrogation of all restrictions on the importation of food, but that I have in view the far more important object of establishing the principles of free trade in this country. That is my object. I acknowledge the evils of a Corn Law; I desire its repeal on account of its injurious effects; but, above all, I wish it abolished because it is the chief barrier to free trade; and if that barrier were removed, then the most powerful classes in this country, namely, those who possess and cultivate the land, would at once perceive how deeply their immediate interests are concerned in the removal of all other commercial restrictions. I desire freedom of trade on account of two very different classes of benefits—the one of an economical kind, affecting the production and distribution of wealth; the other of a moral and social kind, affecting the relations between members of this community, and the, relations of this country with the nations of the globe. The economical advantages of free trade can best be shown by tracing the mischievous consequences of a contrary course of policy. With this object in view, I must refer to certain facts, alluded to by those highly intelligent and respectable petitioners, who lately sought permission to give evidence at the bar. I sin- 442 cerely regret, that the House deemed it inconsistent, with due regard to public business, to accede to that petition. For, instead of being able to appeal to their high authority in confirmation of my opinions, I am now obliged to rest my statements upon my own assertions. Sir, after a most careful examination of parliamentary returns, and especially of those valuable tables of revenue and population, which we owe to the zeal and the industry of Mr. Porter, I think it can be proved beyond a doubt, first, that during the last twenty years the aggregate value in money of the exports of British produce and manufactures has not increased in anything like the same ratio in which the population and capital of this country have increased, or even in proportion to the wealth and population of those countries which are our chief customers; secondly, that the greater portion of any increase, that has taken place, in the aggregate value of our exports does not consist of highly manufactured goods, the cost of whose production mainly depends upon the wages of labour, but is composed of commodities, little removed from the state of the raw material, and which are sent abroad to form the bases of many of the best continental fabrics; and, lastly, that whilst there has been but a slight increase in the aggregate value in money of our exports, there has been a very great increase in the quantities exported, accompanied consequently with a general and progressive fall in the prices of our staple manufactures; and in addition I must observe that, according to the unanimous testimony of the best authorities, during the same period there has been a very considerable reduction in profits. In order to convince the House, if possible, of the accuracy of these statements, I have carefully compared the aggregate value and quantities of the chief exports of this country at the present period with the exports at the end of the two previous periods of ten years each. To avoid the anomalies which arise, and the objections that may fairly be urged, when a single year is selected, I have taken the averages of four years as the basis of comparison. I have compared, therefore, the averages of the four years ending with 1818, namely, 1815, 1816, 1817, and 1818; the four years 1825, 1826, 1827, and 1828; and the four last years, 1835, 1836, 1837, and 1838. I find that the value of our exports, on the average of the four years ending 1818, was 45,403,000l.; on the average of the four last years, 40,645,000l.; a de- 443 crease, therefore, since the period of 1818 of 4,758,000l., or ten and a half per cent. During that period there has been a very great increase in the aggregate value of the half-manufactured goods exported. The increase in cotton yarns amounted in value to 4,260,000l.; and that of our exports of linen yarn, woollen yarn, wool, and of the different kinds of iron and steel has exceeded 2,100,000l.; making, in all, an increase of 6,360,000l. in the value of the exports of commodities, that have gone through the first stage of manufacture; an increase of above 180 per cent. in the same period, in which the whole value of our exports has fallen off ten per cent. Results of a similar description are to be obtained by a comparison between the periods of 1828 and 1838. On the average of the four years ending with 1828 our exports were 35,368,000l.; on the average of the last four years they were, as I have already said, 40,645,000l.; showing an increase, therefore, of 5,277,000l. or of about 14 per cent. But of that increase 3,094,000l. worth was of cotton yarn, and 2,000,000l. of linen and woollen yarn, wool, iron, and steel; making in all 5,940,000l., or a little less than the whole increase of our exports from 1828 to 1838. Whilst, therefore, the aggregate value of all our exports has only increased 14 per cent., the increase of the primary materials of foreign manufactures had increased 107 per cent., or eight times as much. These facts are much more striking, when similar comparisons are made with regard to each of the great staple manufactures of this country. I will, therefore, with permission of the House, read a Table which I have drawn up upon this subject:—*
Thus it appears, on comparing the four years ending with 1838 to those ending with 1818, that there has been an increase on the aggregate value of the exports of cotton goods of only three and-a-half per cent.; during the same period the increase on the aggregate value of the exports of cotton yarn has been 185 per cent., or fifty times as great. Comparing the four years ending with 1828 to the four last years, the increase on the value of our trade in cotton goods has been twenty-two per cent., on cotton yarn ninety per cent., or four times as great. The same facts, with respect to the small increase, during the last twenty years, on the aggregate value of the exports of the higher descriptions of* See Table.444 goods, and with respect to the great and continual increase on the aggregate value of the exports of those commodities which have merely passed through the preparatory stages of manufacture, may be observed with regard to productions in iron. Comparing the last four years with the four years ending with 1818, the aggregate value of hard wares exported has increased only six one-third per cent., but the aggregate value of iron and steel exported has increased ninety-three per cent.,
445 or about fifteen times as much. In the same manner, comparing the last four years with the period of 1828, the exports of hard-wares have increased thirty-two per cent. in value, those of iron and steel eighty-nine per cent., or twice as much. During the last twenty years the aggregate value of the exports of woollen manufactures has decreased twenty-four per cent. The exportation of woollen yarn and of British wool was prohibited till the close of 1824; comparing the averages of the four subsequent years with those of the four years ending with 1838, it appears that, whilst the aggregate value of the exports of woollen manufactures has increased but sixteen per cent., that of woollen yarn has increased 939 per cent., and of wool 1,161 per cent; that is the ratio of the increase on the exports of the raw material and of the half-manufactured commodity has been fifty times as great as that on our once highly-esteemed cloths. To Germany, Holland, Belgium, Russia, and France these materials of manufacture are chiefly sent, and, in return, the latter country especially sends us back our own wool and woollen yarn, worked up into articles of a description superior to those which we can produce at the same price (such, for instance, as the mouse line de lame), and undersells in London our manufacturers, notwithstanding a protecting duty of fifteen per cent. That protecting duty I for one would wish to see repealed, and in making this declaration I express the sentiments of thirty-three thousand of my constituents, whose petition for free trade my Colleague and myself had the honour of lately presenting to the House. Our trade in linen seems on the whole to have been the most flourishing one. From the period ending with 1818 to the present time it has increased in value sixty-two per cent.; since 1828 it has increased in value forty-two per cent.; but, even in this case, the increase of the aggregate value of the exports of the half-manufactured commodity is still more remarkable, than in any other case. The trade in linen yarn has grown up since 1832; in that year the aggregate value of linen yarn exported was only 8,705l.; in the next year it was 72,000l.; in 1834, 136,000l.; in 1835, 216,000l.; in 1836, 318,000l.; in 1837, 479,000l.; and in 1838 it amounted to 655,000l., an increase of about fifty per cent. per annum for the last five years. Almost the whole of this article has been sent to France, and 446 every person is aware, how impossible it is for us to compete with that country in the finer descriptions of the linen manufactures, such, for instance, as cambrics, lawns, &c. These facts, therefore, fully confirm the statements, that I have made with regard to the very great increase, that has taken place on the exports of those commodities which have merely gone through the incipient stages of manufacture, compared with the increase on the exports of those commodities which have reached their final state. These statements are still more fully confirmed by an examination of the quantities of our exports, during the last twenty years; and a comparison of those quantities with their respective values shows, how great a fall has taken place in the prices of almost all the chief productions of our manufacturing industry. Of this fact, I think the following table will convince the House. I must, however, remark, that on account of there being no returns of the quantities of the exports later than 1837, I am obliged to institute my comparison with regard to the four years ending with 1837, instead of taking the four last years—*
Average of the Years 1815–16–17–18. Average of the Years 1825–26–27–28. Average of the Years 1835–36–37–38. Increase per Cent. on the Averages from 1818 to 1838. from 1828 to 1838. Value of Exports of Cotton Goods £15,754,000 £13,373,931 £16,318,514 3½ 22 Value of Exports of Cotton Yarn 2,293,000 3,459,000 6,553,000 185 90 Value of Exports of Hardwares and Cutlery 1,663,661 1,334,679 1,768,000 6 1–3 32 Value of Exports of Iron and Steel 1,009,217 1,123,189 2,132,000 93 89 Decrease. Value of Exports of Woollen Goods 8,122,415 5,366,000 6,232,000 24 16 Value of Exports of Woollen Yarn 32,853 341,634 939 Value of Exports of Wool 26,520 334,429 1,161 Increase. Value of Exports of Linens 1,751,000 1,983,000 2,841,000 62 42 Value of Exports of Linen Yarn 417,603
From the period ending with 1818 to that ending with 1837, the increase on the quantity of cotton goods exported has been 147 per cent., whilst on cotton yarn it has been 569 per cent., or four times as great as that of the former. Since 1818 up to the present time the fall in the prices of cotton goods has been fifty-nine per cent.; of cotton yarn, sixty-one per cent. I must observe, however, that these calculations, with regard to the fall in the prices of cotton and other goods, are founded upon the supposition, that the average quality of each description of exports has been nearly the same in the two periods compared; or, at least, that their quality has not deteriorated. From the period ending with 1828 the fall in the prices of cotton goods has been thirty-one per cent.; of cotton yarn fifteen per cent., the increase on the quantity of the exports of the former having been seventy one per cent., on the latter 105 per cent. The same facts may be observed with regard to hard wares and iron as those which I have just stated with regard to cotton and cotton yarn. The quantity of hard wares exported has increased forty-five per cent., since the period ending with 1818; during that interval, however, the increase of the quantity of iron and steel exported has been* See Table following page.447 more than four times as great, namely, 208 per cent.; in the same time the depreciation in the value of hard wares has been twenty-eight per cent., and of iron, &c., forty-six per cent. Comparing the four last years with the averages of the four years ending with 1828, it appears that the exports of hard wares have increased in quantity fifty-seven per cent., with a fall in prices of eighteen per cent.; and those of iron and steel have increased in quantity 128 per cent. with a fall in prices of twenty-
448 nine per cent. I have already stated, that the value of woollen manufactures exported is less than it was twenty years ago; during that time there has been an increase in the quantity of piece goods exported of no less than forty-five per cent., with a fall in their prices of probably about forty per cent. From the years ending with 1828 to those ending with 1837, the increase on the quantity of the exports of woollen manufactures has been eleven per cent., of woollen yarn 929 per cent., of wool 524 per cent.; during that interval in woollen goods prices have risen three and a half per cent., in woollen yarn they have fallen fourteen per cent., and in wool they have risen sixty-nine per cent. With regard to our linen manufactures, there has been a great increase in the quantity as well as in the value of our exports, with a fall in prices of about eleven per cent. since the period of 1818, and no alteration since that of 1828. I will read to the House an account of the amazing annual increase in the quantity of linen yarn exported since 1832. In that year 100,0001bs. weight was the whole quantity exported; in the next year it increased nine fold; in 1834 it amounted to 1,500,0001bs.; in 1835, to 2,600,0001bs.; in 1836, to 4,500,0001bs; in 1837, to 8,300,0001bs.; and last year it probably exceeded 10,000,0001bs. At the same time there has been a considerable fall in prices to the extent of more than twenty-five per cent. These statistical details, which I have collected with much care and trouble and which I believe to be perfectly correct, prove beyond a doubt the general accuracy of the statements, that I have made with reference to the alterations, that have taken place in the commerce of this country; namely, that the aggregate money value of our exports has increased little or nothing during the last twenty years, certainly not in proportion to the increase of capital and population; likewise, that there has been a great and extraordinary increase in the aggregate value and in the quantity of the exports of those commodities, which have merely undergone the first and preliminary processes, and which are exported to be, as it were, the raw material, on which the foreign workman may exercise his skill, ingenuity, and taste. No less certain is it, that the prices of most manufactured commodities have greatly decreased during the last twenty years. I am not prepared to assert, that these facts are of so alarming a nature as some believe, or that they threaten immediate ruin to our trade and manufac- 449 tures; nor will I take it upon myself to decide, that they are all to be attributed to the single operation of the corn law alone, to the exclusion of every other of those various causes, by which each political economist according to his peculiar doctrine, and each class according to its particular interest, attempts to explain every change that takes place, for good or evil, in the economical state of this country. Other causes, besides restrictions on trade, have probably contributed to the production of the results, which I have just mentioned. For instance, the fall in prices has been accounted for by a supposed appreciation in the value of money; by some persons that appreciation is attributed to the well known measure of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth; by others to a diminution in the supply of the precious metals from the South American continent. This appreciation in the value of money has been estimated so high as 100 per cent.: and if so, it would account for a fall in prices of fifty per cent., about what has been asserted to have taken place. According to this doctrine, not the value, but the quantities, of our exports should be considered the test of the state of our trade; and our commerce would, therefore, be very flourishing, for it would have increased in a far greater proportion than population. Again, the fall in prices has been said to be the consequence of the great increase in the productive powers of industry, brought about by improvements in machinery, which have enabled the manufacturer to produce the same amount of goods at a much less cost, and, consequently, to sell them much cheaper than formerly. In so far as this cause has operated, its effects must, on the whole, have been beneficial, by economising human labour and increasing the means of human enjoyment. On the other hand, some, I believe, of the petitioners, to whom I have already referred, contend that the decrease in the prices of the different descriptions of commodities exported is to be accounted for by the inferior quality of the goods now exported; an alteration in our trade to be attributed to the fact of our being undersold by foreign competitors in the finer fabrics, which require a greater amount of human labour to be expended upon them. Amongst the other assigned causes for the fall in prices during the last twenty years, may be reckoned the succession of favourable seasons since 1818; the great improvements that have taken place 450 in agriculture, particularly in Ireland the diminution in the price of the raw material, in consequence of the removal of obstacles from the several sources of foreign supply; the extension of those sources; the discovery of new ones; and the great and increasing facilities in external and internal communications. It is true, that the causes, to which I have just alluded, may account for a portion of the fall in prices, but they do not explain the accompanying fall in profits. That a great and gradual reduction in profits has taken place is, I believe, an undoubted fact. In order, therefore, to support my assertions on this head, I shall content myself with merely referring to the evidence given before the committee on commerce and manufactures, by two gentlemen of the highest authority in all matters of commerce, Mr. Samuel Gurney and Mr. Lewis Lloyd. Both of those gentlemen referred to the low profits of trade at the present time. The former stated, that there existed "severe competition in every direction," and to that competition he attributed the distress of the smaller shopkeepers. Mr. Lewis Lloyd said, "The profits of trade are so small, that, in order to be realized, a man must go to work in the best possible manner; and, if he is to sell at a profit, he must lay in his goods cheaply and well, and to do this he must buy them with ready money." Mr. Lewis Lloyd likewise gave it as his opinion, "That there is an overgrown capital in this country," and "a great superfluity of money," Sir, I contend that the low profits of which these high authorities have spoken, the "severe competition," the "overgrown capital," and the "superfluity of money," to which they have borne witness, can all be clearly traced to the effects of restricted trade, in limiting the field for the productive employment of labour and capital, or, in other words, to the fact, that capital and labour are in excess compared to the means of profitably employing them. This position requires the attentive consideration of the House, as low profits are the source of general uneasiness to all classes, who do not positively live, as the saying is, from hand to mouth, but who possess funds, however small, and the smaller, the greater their suffering from low profits. Therefore, with the permission of the House, I will now make a few observations with regard to the excess of capital compared with the means of profitably employing it, and show how the result is chiefly to be attributed to restricted 451 trade, especially to the Corn-law. The long continuance of peace, with the attendant security of person and property, has caused a vast accumulation of capital. To find profitable employment for capital has been the difficult problem, which every possessor of capital has had to solve. Even under favourable circumstances there is always a disinclination to embark in new fields of speculation, the ignorance with regard to which produces apprehensions, which can only be overcome by the prospect of considerable gain. Consequently capitalists are inclined, in preference, to invest their capital in the well-known fields of production, the certainty with regard to which is held to compensate for the lesser amount of profit. Thus even in the natural course of things, underanged by the operations of the Legislature, capital has a strong tendency to flow into the long-established branches of the industry of a country, and in those branches to augment production, and to produce competition. This competition occasions a fall in prices, and likewise of profits, unless, in proportion to the influx of capital, the demand for the augmented produce is increased by the extension of old, or the opening of new, markets. The operation, however, of restrictions on trade is to add to the uncertainty with regard to the employment of capital in new fields of production; thus to augment the tendency of capital to flow into the old channels of production, and at the same time, unhappily, it prevents both the extension of old markets and the opening of new ones. This is, more or less, the effect of all restrictions on trade, but especially of the Corn-law, as I shall attempt to show, and as briefly as I can. There can be little doubt, if the Corn-law were repealed, that large quantities of British capital would be invested in agriculture abroad, thus opening a new and profitable field of employment for capital. In order to pay for the corn we should receive, more manufactures of the kind we now produce, and probably other descriptions of manufactures, better suited to the tastes of our fresh customers, would be required; thus the home field for the employment of capital and labour would be extended. At the same time we should want larger supplies of the raw materials of those manufactures, for instance, of cotton, wool, &c., in the production and procuring of which other and new means would arise of productively employing our capital. The position cannot be too strongly laid down, that, with our enormous capital, far ex- 452 ceding that of any nation—perhaps not much less than that of all the civilized nations of the earth together—with inexhaustible means of working up the rawmaterial—with workmen unrivalled in skill—all we want is customers, all we require is markets. Of customers and of markets the Corn-law deprives us. It would have been shown at your bar, had not hon. Gentlemen feared to listen to the language of reason and experience, that the Corn-law has prevented various nations, especially of the north of Europe, form buying as much of our manufactures as they would have done, had they possessed the means of purchase. Their chief means of purchase being food, they have been unable to extend their dealings with us. They have had, therefore, but two alternatives, either to do without the manufactures they required, or to become manufactures themselves. Notwithstanding the great disadvantages under which they laboured, they have been enabled to adopt the latter alternative, and are beginning to supplant us in their home markets. Notwithstanding, I say, the inferiority in the skill of their workmen, compared with ours, and inferiority, be it remembered, which each day is decreasing; notwithstanding their distance form the raw material and their want of elementary power; yet on account of the low price of labour, they are now able to compete with us in many of those fabrics, for the production of which a large amount of human labour is required; and they can finish up, at a far less cost, and in a far better manner, those half-wrought commodities, of which we export, as I have already shown, so vast and yearly increasing a quantity. Moreover, though the productive powers of a foreign labourer are much less than those of our labourers, though the quantity that the former can produce in a given time is much less than can be produced by a British workman, yet so small is the wage of labour that the share remaining to the capitalist, which constitutes his profit, is much greater than the rate of profit in this country. By a small reduction in that profit, in the form of a reduction in price, the foreign manufacturers have been able, to a certain extent, to undersell us in many of ht natural or common markets. This foreign competition aggravates the home competition which, I have already stated, exists amongst British manufacturers, reduces prices in those fabrics in which there is foreign rivalry, and thus occasions a further fall in profits. There, however, the 453 effect of competition does not terminate. Profits cannot permanently fall in one trade, and not fall, likewise, in every other trade carried on in the same community, without capital, when it can be done, being withdrawn from the less profitable, and invested in the more profitable, employments. But in the state of things that I am now describing, with every employment overstocked, and with fierce competition from abroad, the withdrawal even of a considerable amount of capital from one branch of industry tends but very slightly to raise prices in that particular branch, from which the capital is withdrawn; because prices depend upon the relation between demand and supply in the markets of the world, and the latter, on account of the great extension of foreign manufactures, no longer mainly consists of the supply from this country. At the same time, the effect of such investments of capital in the trades which are somewhat more profitable, is only to aggravate competition in those trades, The consequence is, an universal fall in prices of all the productions of our industry, accompanied by a fall in profits. That a fall in prices has taken place I have demonstrated beyond a doubt. I have already assigned a variety of causes, to whose complex action, I have no doubt, a portion of that fall may be attributed. It appears to me equally evident, that the remainder of that fall is the result of the competition, to which I have referred. As little can it be denied, that there has been a general fall of profits, a portion of which, I think, is satisfactorily explained by what I have already shown, namely, by the competition arising from the limitation of the field of production, in consequence of restrictions on trade. In addition to all this, I think, that the Corn-law has had some, and certainly will have, if unrepealed a more special influence over profits, in the following manner. In consequence of the necessity of finding subsistence for an increasing population, this country has, on account of the Corn-law, been obliged to produce food on inferior soils, or to have recourse to inferior means of production, so that the productive power of labour in producing food had decreased; and, in consequence, the quantity raised by the labour of an individual is less than it was; therefore, the amount to be divided between the labourer and the agricultural capitalist is less than it was; and supposing, that the wages of the labourer have not decreased, the remaining share of the agricultural capitalist must 454 evidently be less than it was—or, in other words, the profit of the farmer must have decreased, and, according to the law of the equality of profits in all trades, the profits in all other trades must have equally fallen. But I should observe, that in consequence of the great improvements in agriculture, which have of late enabled the farmer to raise a greater quantity of produce than formerly, with the same quantity of labour and capital, on soils of the same degree of fertility, I do not think, that the increased demand for food has occasioned anything like that fall in profits, which, it might be easily demonstrated, it would have done, had those improvements not taken place, and the present system of prohibition been adhered to. It would be useless now to speculate on what would have been the result of a different order of things, were it not a means of deducing conclusions with regard to the future, and of warning us of great and impending evils. It seems to me very improbable, that the improvements in the productive powers of agricultural industry will continue to be such, that in this limited territory the increased quantity of food required for an increasing population will continue to be raised without more than a proportionate increase in the quantity of capital and labour expended on such production; and if this improbable even do not occur, then there must inevitably be a fall of profits, or of wages, or ultimately of both. The latter result I will presently show, is the most probable one, but before I do so, I will make a few observations on the grievous effects of low profits on every class of the community. Low profits occasion general uneasiness. Small capitalists find it difficult, with their utmost exertions, to realize such returns as will enable them to maintain a scanty subsistence. Distress among such persons is intense, and numbers become bankrupts, especially of the small farmers, whole generations of whom have been swept off, and converted into agricultural labourers. It is only the owners of very large capitals who can well maintain themselves on the small profits of their enormous capitals, and the difficulty they find in obtaining profitable investments has induced them to enter into occupations, which belonged exclusively to small capitalists; for instance, into the retail trade, where by the most skilful arrangements, by the most comprehensive, as well as the most minute division of employments, by carefully watching the markets, so as to purchase at a favourable op- 455 portunity, and by other means only in the power of the possessors of large capitals, they are able to undersell the small retail dealers, and to dispose of their goods at a price so low as to ruin their competitors who do not enjoy the same advantages. It is this fierce competition, this struggle for profits, however small, which explains a fact, that seems anomalous, namely, the increased investment of capital, and the establishment of fresh machinery and mills in several branches of industry, which, according to high authorities, have ceased to be profitable. When, however, the subject is carefully examined, it will be seen, that the same circumstances are taking place in this case as in that of the retail dealers; that large capitalists are availing themselves of the superiority, which the masses of their capital give them, to effect such small savings, as enable them to undersell their competitors, and, at the same time, to realize a trifling profit. In this manner the doctrine, that the Corn-law, by confining continually increasing capital within a limited field of investment, occasions low profits by means of competition, is supported by facts, which have been adduced as proof, that the Corn-law has no injurious consequences. That doctrine, I say, is supported by the vast and constant increase of manufacturing capital in the shape of mills and machinery. Competition is so great, and profits are so low, just because of the great increase of capital within a limited field of investment, which increase of capital some persons would urge as a proof, that the Corn-law has not retarded the prosperity of the nation. I admit that the Corn-law has not prevented the increase of capital, but I attribute low profits, and all the evils attendant thereon, to restrictions on the means of investing this continually increasing capital. Of these restrictions the first and most mischievous is the Corn-law. This restriction is so injurious, chiefly because the capital is so great. It follows that the pro-Corn-law argument, which is founded on the increase of capital, may be good for nothing, and may even be used as one of the most forcible arguments against a Corn-law on account of its producing "an overgrown capital," "a great superfluity of money," and "severe competition." In making these observations I desire not to be supposed to speak against the principle of competition. I know, that it has bestowed great benefits upon mankind. I am aware, that it produces great evils, 456 especially of a social and moral kind, for which probably no complete remedy will ever be devised, or has ever been imagined, except by some of the wildest of speculators. My object is to point out the extent, to which the evils of competition are unnecessarily aggravated in any particular society by the limitation of the field for the productive employment of labour and capital. I have shown in what manner it injures all classes who live upon the profits of capital; it is equally pernicious to those who are maintained by the interest of stock; for it is evident that the amount of the latter is in proportion to the rate of profits: by a similar mode of reasoning, it would be easy to prove, that from the same cause great and injurious competition exists in every profession and employment. I will now proceed to show how mischievous restrictions on trade are to those who subsist upon the wages of labour. First, by occasioning low profits they deprive the industrious and frugal of the means of profitably investing their scanty earnings. In illustration of this fact, I may remark that, in former times, it was a common thing for servants of various classes, who had saved wages, to embark in some branch of trade, and to succeed as capitalists. This, I believe, is now seldom known, and when attempted, it seldom succeeds. Secondly, the limitation of the field of employment tends to lower both the real and the money wages of labour. The money wages of labour depend upon the relation between the supply of labour and the demand for it; or, in other words, between the number of labourers and the means of profitable employment. If the number of labourers increase in a greater proportion than the means of employing them, money wages fall. Now, I have already shown, that restrictions on trade, by limiting the field of production, diminishes the means of profitably employing labour and capital, and occasions low profits, in consequence of which, capital in this country does not increase as rapidly as it would otherwise do. In addition to this, the hope of finding more lucrative investments, together with the great facilities of communication, is causing a considerable and yearly increasing quantity of capital to be sent abroad. The capital so exported, instead of being expended in the most beneficial manner for this country, for instance, in producing articles of exchange in return for the produce of our home Industry, and thus in enlarging the home field of production, is too 457 frequently either squandered in foreign loans or in the wildest speculations, or is invested in producing, with British-made machinery, and under the superintendence of British workmen, those very fabrics with which we could both best and cheapest supply the world, were it not for the restrictions on our trade. In consequence of the operation of these causes, it appears to me certain, that the means of employing labour are prevented from increasing in the same ratio as the supply of labour, and therefore that the money wages of labour are less than they would probably be, if the Corn-laws and other restrictions on trade were repealed. But the most important question for the labourer is not the money value of his wages, but the real value of his wages; or, in other words, the number and nature of the things, that he can buy with his wages. That is the consideration upon which his happiness depends. The labourer may be said to be well off, when, with a moderate degree of labour, he is well fed, well clothed, and well lodged, and there still remains a surplus both of his time and of his earnings to be expended in amusement and recreation. Such, Sir, is not the state of the majority of British labourers. With an immoderate degree of toil they are frequently only able to obtain just food enough to appease their craving appetites, and, in so doing, their whole time and energies are expended. This arises from the high price of food. Open our ports, thus diminish the price of food, and in proportion to the fall in the price of food the real value of the wages of labour will increase, and the labourer will be comparatively well off. Some persons contend, that with a repeal of the Corn-laws there would be a considerable diminution in agricultural employments, in consequence of which many agricultural labourers will become manufacturing labourers. Then, they say, there will be a great increase in the supply of labour to the manufacturers, which will cause a fall in money wages. I must first observe, with regard to this supposition, that unless the fall in wages be greater than the fall in the prices of food, the real wages of the labourer will not be diminished, and he will, at the worst, be the same as he was before. But I am convinced, that there will be no fall in money wages by a repeal of the Corn-law, both by the reasons I have already stated, and likewise because of the increase of employment, which must necessarily arise in consequence of the increase in the exports 458 of our manufactures, that must take place to pay for the food we should import. What will be the effect of a repeal of the Corn-law upon the landlords? I believe that with free trade such an impulse would be given to the productive energies of our manufacturing industry, that both capital and population would very rapidly increase; that there must arise a great increase in the demand for the products of land; that in consequence of such a demand the value of all lands in the vicinity of towns, or of thriving villages about to become towns, would greatly increase; so likewise would be the case with pasturage and many other descriptions of land, in consequence of the increased consumption of animal food, and of other kinds of agricultural produce, that could not be imported from a distance. The possessors of such lands evidently would be benefited by a repeal of the Corn-law. Though I am convinced, that in a short period of time, for the reasons I have just assigned, new and profitable employments would be found for all descriptions of British land, yet some persons may assert, that there are certain lands on which corn only can be reared, and that the possessors of those lands would be permanently injured by a considerable reduction in the price of corn. I do not, by any means, deny that this may be the case; but I must remark that, unfortunately, even the best alterations cannot be effected without some injury to individuals—an injury which we may deplore, but ought not to hesitate to inflict when the interest of the public demands it. What, it may be asked, will be the positive reduction in the price of corn in consequence of free trade? On comparing the averages of the last five years with the price of corn on the Continent, taking into consideration the difference in the qualities of corn, the expense of carriage, insurance, &c., the loss on the voyage by heating, and other causes, the probable rise of price in consequence of any considerable demand from this country on account of the difficulty of extending foreign agriculture in its present imperfect state, I am compelled, though reluctantly, to come to the conclusion that the fall in the price of corn, which would be the consequence of free trade, would be far less than many persons imagine, and that a very inconsiderable fixed duty would, in most cases, amount to a prohibition. There is another reason which leads me to believe, that a repeal of the Corn-law would not be as injurious to 459 the landlords as many think it would be. It is this—that in every trade which has been opened to foreign competition, that competition has stimulated invention, caused the introduction of new and more perfect modes of production, and given rise to discoveries, by which the home producer has been enabled to compete successfully with his foreign rival. It appears to me by no means a chimerical supposition, that similar results would, in some degree, follow the opening of our ports to foreign corn. For, when I consider the difference in the state of agriculture in various parts of this country, how much superior in skill and knowledge are the farmers of Scotland over those of most of the counties in England—["No, no!"]—I would refer those hon. Gentlemen, who have so loudly contradicted me, to the evidence taken before the agricultural committee, of which the noble Lord opposite (Darlington) was undoubtedly a distinguished member, there they will find the clearest evidence of the just superiority of the Scotch over the English farmer; and be convinced, that if any cause, such as a repeal of the Corn-law, were to stimulate the now inert agricultural population, and to compel them to adopt those improvements in the cultivation of the soil to which I have referred, a much larger portion of food might be raised at much less cost than at present. The social consequences of unrestricted trade, seem to me of even greater importance than its economical benefits. I have assigned my reasons for supposing, that the aggregate wealth of this country is by no means so great as it would be with free trade. This, indeed, seems to me a self-evident proposition, for it country is rich or poor in proportion as it possesses a greater or less amount of those menus of human enjoyment, which constitute wealth. The only modes, by which a large community can acquire wealth, are either directly from its own territory, or indirectly by exchanging its productions for those of other countries. Therefore, the wealth of a nation is in proportion to its productive powers and to its facilities of exchange. If these positions be allowed, and it be the avowed object of Government to contribute to the material wealth of the State, it is difficult to conceive upon what plea impediments to commerce can be justified. I am, however, far from believing, that the happiness of a community depends entirely or even chiefly upon its aggregate wealth; on the contrary, I am firmly con- 460 vinced, that it depends much more on the mode, in which wealth is distributed amongst its members. For a community may possess an enormous amount of wealth, yet the great majority of its citizens may be most unhappy; and this will happen, when all that wealth is accumulated in a few hands, for whom the rest of the people are compelled to toil in squalid misery and wretchedness. On the other hand, the wealth of a community may be much less in amount, but, being nearly equally distributed amongst its members, there will be no persons possessing very large fortunes, but all in a state of nearly equal comfort, This is the social state a really good Government would desire—this result is to be obtained, not by any positive laws, but by abstaining from making such laws as tend to produce inequality in fortunes. Inequality there always will be, arising from the difference in the intellect and character of individuals, an equality stamped upon them by the Author of Nature. But it behoves the Legislature carefully to abstain from augmenting that natural inequality by means of positive laws. Now, consider what, in this respect, is the effect of the Corn-law. It gives to the possessors of the soil a larger share of the wealth of this community than is naturally due to them—it gives to them a monopoly of that article which the rest of the community must purchase, whatever be its price. The owner of British land has enormous advantages over the foreign producer; first, he resides in the immediate vicinity of the best markets in the world, those of this densely-peopled country—a consideration of the utmost importance with regard to so bulky a commodity as food; secondly, he can obtain at a low rate of interest any amount of capital for the purpose of improving his land and cultivating it in the best possible manner; and, lastly, his productions are of a kind, for which there is and ever will be a steady and pressing demand, for nothing is more absurd than to suppose that any very considerable portion of the food of this country can be imported. Not content with these natural advantages, which must at all times make the landowners the most powerful class, they have availed themselves of political power in order to grasp an undue share of the wealth of the country. For whom do our manufacturers toil early and late? for whom do they compel their unfortunate children to work even in their tenderest years—for whom do our merchants cover the seas with their fleets—for whom 461 do they collect from every portion of the globe the luxuries of every clime? For the owners of the soil—for those who, possessing the monopoly of food, can and do compel all others to minister to their wants. This it is, that causes this country so frequently to offer the spectacle of the two extremes—of splendid wealth, and abject misery; a contrast inconsistent with any considerable degree of social well-being. I will not trespass upon the patience of the House by tracing the moral consequences of this great social inequality, of the general uneasiness, of the severe competition, of the low wages, low profits, and other mischievous consequences of restricted trade; nor will I refer to the antipathies and jealousies thence arising, pervading every class in the community, estranging them from one another, and causing mutual hatred and distrust; as is especially the case between the employers of labour and the employed; the former striving, in vain, to augment their profits at the expense of their labourers, and the latter endeavouring, with equal ill success, to increase their insufficient wages from the profits of their masters. Sir, I will now conclude with observing, that I desire a removal of all restrictions on freedom of exchange; because thereby, in my humble judgment, new and more extensive markets would be opened to our commerce, the means of productive employment would be increased, our sources of enjoyment augmented, and a vast addition made to the wealth of this country. At the same time, there would gradually be brought about a more equal distribution of wealth, and a greater equality in the condition of our population; and equality, I firmly believe, is the first and most important element of social happiness, and without it a community can never be really prosperous or well governed. I desire free trade for the sake, especially, of the poorer classes—for the sake of those who subsist on the wages of labour, whose well-being should be the first care of a provident Government. I desire it for their sakes, in order that they may earn more with less labour, that they may enjoy greater comforts, and be able to devote a portion of the time, now spent in unremitting toil, to self-culture and to the elevation of themselves in the scale of humanity. I desire free trade for the sake, likewise, of the employers of labour, as being the only means of allaying the hostile spirit, unfortunately existing between them and their labourers, which arises out of the 462 long-continued but unavailing struggle between wages and profits. I desire it for the sake of those, who live upon the profits of capital or upon the interest of stock, or who belong to any trade, profession, or employment, all of whom are injuriously affected by the severity of the home competition, produced by the limitation of the field of employment. And, lastly, I desire the abandonment of all commercial restrictions for the sake even of the landlords, in order that they may no longer be held up to public indignation as the spellers of the community—as men whose ignorant and selfish prejudices, combined with their unjustly-acquired power, are the chief impediments to the rapid advance of this country in material wealth and social improvement. My reasons, therefore, for desiring an immediate and total repeal of the Corn-law are, in addition to its intrinsic advantages, that such an alteration in our commercial system would almost instantaneously be followed by a removal of all other restrictions on trade; and so powerful would be the moral effect on public opinion throughout the world, if this, the wealthiest, the most commercial and manufacturing country on the earth, were to open its ports and to declare itself in favour of free trade, that I am persuaded, that few civilised nations would be able long to abstain from imitating the example of England. Then, by the gradual operation of those laws of human nature, in virtue of which men desire to buy at the cheapest and to sell at the dearest market, each nation would take to itself that share in the general production, for which it is best adapted by the nature of its soil and the genius of its inhabitants. Civilised nations, instead of being separated, as now, by commercial restrictions, would form one vast social system, cemented together by similar wants, by interests closely interwoven, and by mutual dependence upon one another. The extended intercourse thence arising, facilitated by daily improvements in the means of conveyance, would soon obliterate those noxious jealousies and hateful national antipathies, the fertile sources of wars and their attendant evils, to which may mainly be attributed the slow moral and social improvement of mankind. And now let me humbly beseech the House to ponder well over these great social and economical advantages of unrestricted commercial intercourse, and let me earnestly implore this Assembly to prove on the present occasion that it represents the Com- 463 mons of England, by not permitting itself to be led away by the interest-begotten prejudices of a class, however powerful, and however respectable.
Average of the Years 1815–16–17–18. Average of the Years 1825–26–27–28. Average of the Years 1834–35–36–37. Increase per Cent. on the Averages Fall in Price per Cent. from 1818 to 1887. from 1837 to 1837 from 1818 to 1837. from 1828 to 1837. Quantity of Exports of Cotton Goods yards 230,223,000 333,084,000 570,565,000 147 71 59 31 Cotton Yarn lbs 13,110,000 42,553,000 87,834,000 569 105 61 15 Hardwares cwts. 243,820 225,740 354,575 45 57 28 18 Iron and Steel tons 60,982 81,930 185,453 208 128 46 29 Woollen Goods pieces 1,445,414 1,758,912 1,988,681 45 11 rise of decrease 48 3 6–10 Woollwn Goods yards 8,770,817 6,505,605 7,436,626 16 14 fall Woollen Yarn lbs. 225,086 2,316,761 929 14 rise Wool lbs. 550,830 3,377,901 514 69 increase fall Linen Goods yards 32,019,000 51,852,000 71,581,000 122 38 11 1–10 Linen Yarn lbs. 4,273,000
§ Mr. Christopher
hoped he should receive the indulgence of the House while he stated as briefly as possible the reasons which induced him to oppose the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He could assure the House if it were not from the circumstance of his being the Representative of a very large agricultural constituency, and of his feeling very strongly the injustice and impolicy of the hon. Member's proposal, he would not, suffering as he was from a severe cold, attempt to offer himself to the notice of the House. He rejoiced that the hon. Member had at last brought this question fully and fairly under the consideration of the House, and although the hon. Gentleman had framed his motion with a view to secure the votes of hon. Members who held conflicting opinions on the subject of Corn-laws, yet he did not complain of the hon. Gentleman for taking that course; because, after the division which would take place upon his motion, the question would be decided, not as to whether the House was in favour of a total repeal of the Corn-laws, or whether it was in favour of a fixed duty in preference to the present graduated scale, but whether the House of Commons was prepared to sanction any alteration at all in those laws. It was because he was opposed to any alteration whatever in the present system, because he considered that that system had been conducive to the benefit of the community at large more than any other measure he had yet heard proposed, either in or out of that House, and believing as he did, that it afforded in time of scarcity a fair protection to the consumer, and in time of plenty a remunerating price to the farmer, that he resisted the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He had said that he did not complain of the course taken by the hon. Member; but he did complain, and he thought the agriculturists throughout the country would complain of the conduct Her Majesty's Ministers had pursued in reference to this subject. They had heard only a short time ago from the organ of the Government in that House, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that ever since the formation of Lord Grey's Government the Corn-law 464 question had been an open question in the Cabinet. Now during the last eight years, since the formation of Lord Grey's Administration, this was the first time he had heard a declaration of the kind made to Parliament; and he must confess that it appeared to him rather extraordinary that two other noble Lords who had been members of that Administration were quite of a different opinion. One of those noble Lords, whose mind must have been particularly alive to the consideration of this question, having for a long time held the office of President of the Board of Trade, and who, he believed, had been instrumental in introducing into that House the Corn-law of 1815—he meant the Earl of Ripon—had publicly declared that he did not understand that the Cabinet of Earl Grey had been formed on any such principle. Another noble Lord (Lord Brougham), who entertained very different views upon the subject, whose object always had been to modify or repeal the Corn-laws, had likewise declared that during Lord Grey's Administration their mouths were sealed upon the question. He could not avoid saying, therefore, that the conduct of the Government in reference to a measure of such great importance, and which, it was admitted on all sides of the House, materially affected the well being of the country, was highly censurable. An attempt had been generally made by the advocates of a repeal of the Corn-laws to enlist upon their side the suffering portion of the working classes, by drawing an analogy between their situation and that of the hand-loom weavers. Now, he was prepared to show, if the Corn-laws were repealed to-morrow, the state of the agricultural labourer would bear no resemblance or analogy to that of the handloom weaver. The handloom weaver became distressed, not from the withdrawal of protection from manufacturers, because that protection was the same now as it was when they were in full employment, but from the application of machinery to manufactures instead of manual labour, by which many persons were thrown out of employment, and by which means, also, the master manufacturers were enabled to realize from 20 to 120 per cent. on their capital. If they were to apply the same principle to agriculture, and if they were by some means to enable the farmer to grow twelve quarters of wheat on land which ordi- 465 narily produced only three quarters, and to employ twenty labourers instead of one, and if they enabled him to realize from 12 to 20 per cent. on his capital, instead of from 3 to 4, then might their argument and analogy be good and sufficient to justify a demand for a modification or repeal of the Corn-laws. He was prepared to show also that the protection afforded to agriculture, under the very low rate of profit with which agriculturists were satisfied, was nothing more than the protection which was afforded to manufacturers. The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, had said last night, that if they would only go into Committee, he would propose a measure to enable the consumer of this country to have corn at a lower and more regular price. The right hon. Gentleman also endeavoured to form an analogy between the state of agriculture and manufactures, and though he did not propose any plan to the House, he said that he had a plan which would enable them to regulate the price of grain in the same manner as they regulated the price of manufactures. But, give him leave to say, that the agriculturist had much greater difficulties to contend against than the manufacturer. The manufacturer could at all times limit the supply to the demand in the markets, while the agriculturist was obliged to depend upon the chances of the season. In that respect it was impossible he could compete with the manufacturer. He was, besides, always obliged to cultivate his land to the greatest possible advantage, in order to produce the greater quantity of grain. In 1815 Mr. Huskisson said, in reply to Mr. Baring on this question, "If this was an untaxed country; if we had no poor-rates; if a perfect freedom of trade existed in every branch of commerce, the arguments of the hon. Gentleman would be irresistible." And in 1825, on Mr. Whitmore's motion, Mr. Huskisson expressed himself in the following terms:—"But it was said, that to withdraw our protection from the manufacturers of the country, and to continue it to the growers of corn, was acting upon an erroneous system. He denied this position entirely, and contended that reasoning from analogy in a case like the present must necessarily lead to an erroneous conclusion. In the first place, we could manufacture cheaper than every other country; but every other country could grow corn cheaper than we could. In the next, we exported to the amount of thirty 466 millions of cottons annually, and not thirty bushels of corn. Then there was no accumulation of cottons on the continent, but there was an accumulation of corn. When there was an accumulation of cotton, the manufacturer could contract his supply; but could a similar measure be adopted by the agriculturist, when there was an accumulation of corn? Beside these considerations there were several others applying to agriculture, and not to manufactures, which were sufficient to convince any impartial man that the argument founded upon this analogy was anything but logical."* Now, although the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade seemed inclined to dispute the position that the agriculturist had much greater burdens to bear than the manufacturer, he, without at all refering to the antiquated argument of the malt-tax, maintained that such was the fact. The agriculturist in very many cases, and nowhere more so than in the county he had the honour to represent, was obliged to pay a very large amount of local taxation to keep his land in cultivation, and was, besides, heavily taxed, having to pay a larger share of the poor-rate than the manufacturer, and also the highway and county-rates. He would take the poor-rate in 1833, the time at which it was highest, to show in what comparative degree it was contributed to by the agriculturist and the manufacturer in England and Wales. Taking into consideration the amount of the population respectively concerned in each, he found that in that year the poor-rate in England and Wales amounted to 8,606,501l.; the number of families employed in agriculture to 834,000; the number of families employed in trade and manufactures, 1,226,000; and the remaining number of families employed in all the other occupations to 848,000. Now, out of the 8,606,50 Il. of poor-rate, he found that the land alone had contributed no less than 5,434,895l.; that the manorial profits contributed 183,874l.; dwelling-houses 2,635,257l.; and mills and factories only 352,479l. So that upon adding the mills, factories, and dwelling-houses together, it appeared that the amount they contributed to the poor-rate was only somewhere about 2,980,000l., while that paid by the land was 5,600,000l., or thereabouts. He should now proceed to take* Hansard, New Series, Vol. xiii., p. 285, 286.467 another view of this question. He should admit, for the sake of argument, that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had been borne out by facts in the course of his statements, and that his deductions from those facts were perfectly sound and tenable. He would admit with him, and with other hon. Members, that our manufactures were in a declining state. Assuming that condition of things to exist, he begged to know in what manner that evil would be remedied by a repeal of the Corn-laws. Could the mere decline of manufactures, of itself, and without reference to other circumstances, warrant the conclusion that the Corn-laws ought to be repealed? Surely there could be no sound legislation in coming to such a conclusion without first referring our whole commercial, manufacturing, and agricultural condition to a Committee, and considering maturely the expediency and practicability of taking all restrictions off trade. It had been said, and as often as it was said, it had been admitted, that a repeal of the Corn-laws must produce the effect of throwing a certain quantity of poor land out of cultivation. He need hardly suggest, that a consequence of that would be greatly to depress the agricultural interest; and on whom then could the manufacturer depend for his home trade? Before any Member of that House got up in his place to propose a repeal of the Corn-laws, he ought first to move for a Committee to review our whole system of taxation. If the poor lands were thrown out of cultivation, it was evident that the manufacturers' home market must, in a great measure, cease; for if the working classes were put upon coarser food, they would be compelled to content themselves with inferior clothing, and he would call upon the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce at Manchester to say what would be the probable effect of such a change upon the fine goods manufactured in the town with which that hon. Gentleman was so intimately connected; what also would be its effects upon English cotton hosiery? He would now briefly allude to a remark which fell from the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, in reference to the landlords of England. He conceived that the notice which that hon. Member took of the landlords, conveyed upon them a reflection which they did not deserve. The description which the hon. Member gave of the landlords of England might 468 apply to himself, and perhaps to some of his friends, but he must say, it did not apply to the landlords of England generally, and especially he would say, that it did not apply to the county with which he was connected. He did not know a tenant throughout the country who would not reject such accusations with indignation and scorn. A great deal had been done to show that this question was a landlord's question; and that the farmer and the labourer were in no degree affected by it. He did not deny that it was a landlord's question to a certain extent; but that it was purely so, he altogether dissented from any such assertion. It was a landlord's question, and an occupier's question, and a labourer's question combined; but it affected more materially the smaller holders of land, and the persons employed by them, than it did either the large holders or the landlords. From experience he was convinced, that the lower the individual was reduced in the scale of wealth employed in the cultivation of the soil, the more intense would be his suffering, if anything were done towards repealing the Corn-laws; and of all classes connected with the land he believed that of the labourer would then be the most deplorable. He did not wish to argue the question on the grounds of exclusive support to one national interest over another, but if it came to a decision on these grounds, he should not hesitate to say, that he would be very unwilling indeed to exchange the manly habits of the bold, healthy, and independent peasantry of England for those of the wretched, filthy, and squalid inhabitants of the great manufacturing districts. But that the question was more a tenant's question than a landlord's question, he should be able to show by calculations, and he confidently asserted from personal knowledge, that the condition of the agricultural poor under the present system of management in this country, in the best cultivated districts, was infinitely better than under the most improved system in Scotland. The capital expended on the cultivation of the soil bore a very large proportion to the amount of rent paid by the tenant. Indeed, the rent, in most cases, was very much less in proportion than a fair calculation would fix it. But he would read a calculation made from the results of his own experience:—The following statement shows the probable profit upon a farm of ordinary land., upon the four-field system of husbandry, 469 exclusive of the profits of live stock—a system most commonly used in the Lincolnshire wolds. The expenses are deduced from certain and correct data, and the produce is calculated from the very best practical experience. Wheat is taken at three quarters per acre, price 56s. per quarter. The price is what the grower has made the last ten years. The average, as taken by Government, is about 60s. Barley is estimated at four quarters four bushels per acre, price 30s. Turnips, net value, or what they would sell for, 50s. Seeds, or clover, the same. Oats might be sown instead of barley, but it would not alter the account. There is no calculation for straw, as it is an ascertained fact, that the cattle requried to convert it into manure leave no profit; and by the same rule there is no charge for manure, only the leading from the fold-yard to the fallows' where it is required. There is a charge for bones in the turnip-crop, also for earth, ashes, as some artificial manure is requisite to keep the land in condition. Lime is sometimes used, and chalk, and marl, but any of these would cost about the same sum. The average distance of land from market is considered, and in this calculation, about seven miles:—
Expense of producing, and value of produce, upon four acres of arable land upon the four-field system. TURNIPS £. s. d. Ploughing four times, 7s. per acre 1 8 0 Harrowing, do, 9d, 0 3 0 Bones, twelve bushels, 2s. 7½d. per bushel 1 11 6 Leading same, seven miles 0 2 6 Ashes, burning, riddling, &c. 0 5 0 Seed, 31b. at 8d. per lb. 0 2 0 Drilling 0 2 9 Manure, leading, five loads 0 7 6 Hoeing 0 4 6 Rent 1 1 0 Tithe 0 5 0 Poor, church, highways 0 4 0 Repairs, insurance, fences, draining, gates, tenting, moleing, interest, &c, 0 8 0 Total expense 6 4 9 Net value of crop 2 10 0 CLOVER. £. s. d. Seed, clover, 141b. 8s. per stone 0 8 0 Ray and other grasses 0 3 0 Sowing 0 0 3 Rolling and harrowing 0 1 3 Rent 1 1 0 Tithe 0 5 0 Parochial rates 0 4 0 Repairs, insurance, fences, gates, draining, tenting, moleing, interest, &c. 0 8 0 Total expense 2 10 6 Net value of clover 2 10 0
BARLEY. £. s. d. Ploughing once 0 8 0 Harrowing three times, 9d. 0 2 3 Seed, four bushels, 3s. 9d. per bushel 0 15 0 Drilling 0 2 6 Weeding 0 1 0 Cutting or reaping 0 6 0 Carting and stacking 0 5 0 Thatching 0 1 0 Thrashing 4 qrs. 42 b. at ls. 6d. per quarter 0 6 9 Dressing do. at 8d. 0 3 0 Delivering do, at 1s. 4d. 0 6 0 Rent 1 1 0 Tithe 0 8 0 Parochial rates 0 4 0 Repairs, insurance, fences, gates, draining, tenting, moleing, interest, &c. 0 8 0 Total expense 4 17 6 Four qrs. four bushels barley, at 30s. per quarter 6 15 0
WHEAT. £. s. d. Ploughing once 0 8 0 Harrowing four times, at 9d. 0 3 0 Seed, three bushels, at 7s. 1 1 0 Drilling 0 2 0 Rolling 0 0 6 Weeding 0 0 6 Cutting and reaping 0 7 0 Carting and stacking 0 5 0 Thatching 0 1 0 Thrashing three qrs. at 3s. per qr. 0 9 0 Dressing do., at 8d. 0 2 0 Delivering do., at 1s. 6d. per qr. 0 4 6 Rent 1 1 0 Tithe 0 10 0 Parochial rates 0 4 0 Repairs, insurance, fences, gates, draining, tenting, moleing, interest, &c. 0 8 0 Total expense 5 7 3 Three qrs. wheat, at 56s. per qr. 8 8 0
The profit appears to be about 5s. 9d. per acre for the agriculturist to support himself and family with, and to pay him for his enterprise and capital (except five per cent. charged in the sundry expenses), so that a man farming one hundred acres, has an income from his farm of only 28l. 15s. to live on if he depended on the tillage of his farm alone. The inference to be drawn from this result is, that, to 471 give fair remuneration to the farmer, wheat should make more than 56s. per quarter, barley more than 30s. per quarter, and oats more than 21s. per quarter, otherwise he must be a loser, and waste his capital. Very productive seasons would be exceptions. There are other systems of management, but it is questionable (except, perhaps, upon the very best lands) whether any better can be adopted, as it is well known that upon ordinary land, when white crops are taken oftener than alternate years, they often fail, unless the land is supported by an equivalent outlay in artificial manures."
EXPENSES £. s. d. Turnip crop 6 4 9 £19 0s. 0d. upon 4 acres, £4. 15s. per acre. £0 5s. 9d. profit per acre. Barley 4 17 6 Seeds 2 10 6 Wheat 5 7 3 VALUE OF PRODUCE. Turnips 2 10 0 £20 3s. 8d. upon 4 acres, £5 0s. 9d. per acre Barley 6 15 0 Seeds 2 10 0 Wheat 8 8 0
Other hon. Gentlemen were of opinion, that if a certain quantity of poor land went out of cultivation, the landlord might lose by it, but that the commercial interests would have the advantage arising from that loss by the diminished price of butcher's meat; but no doctrine could be more unsound, for the succession of crops which the present system of tillage created, would then be lost for the use of sheep and cattle; for, let the system be changed, and there would cease to be the supply of turnips and clover which now existed. No such increase of grass lands as could reasonably be expected would anything like make up the deficiency. He believed, that so far from butcher's meat being at all lowered in price by the repeal of the Corn-laws, it would rather be raised. He entertained the strongest possible conviction, that, without the present system of tillage, it would be impracticable to maintain anything approaching to the present amount of live stock. In the county which he had the honour to represent, there were 2,700,000 sheep fed annually, a very small portion of which ever had natural pasture, and without clover and turnips, he professed himself unable to understand how they could be maintained. Unless they had barley and wheat, they could not have clover and turnips in the quantities now grown upon those grounds; therefore, he contended, that to deprive the agriculturist of a proper protection, so far from lowering, would enhance the prices of butcher's meat. To repeal the Corn-laws would be to make England dependent on the Continent not only for corn, but for butcher's meat likewise. One of the most important considerations connected with this subject was the difficulty of finding employment for those agricultural labourers who would be thrown out of work by an alteration in the Corn-laws. Did any one suppose that persons accustomed to the pure air and 472 healthful occupations of the country could be transferred to crowded cities?—sent, during the night, into the wretched dwellings of the poor?—confined in heated manufactories for fourteen hours of the day?—exposed to the evil example too freequently to be met with in dense populations?—did any one suppose that all this could take place without a material deterioration of the national character, and even without great and immediate injury to the manufacturing classes themselves, whose labour-market would then of necessity be overstocked? He was aware that some hon. Members would meet this by saying, let us have emigration on an extended scale; but what right had they to make arrangements with the full knowledge that their immediate and certain effect must be to drive the agricultural labourer from his native country? By their Reform Act they had secured Representatives in that House to the manufacturers, the commercial classes, the landlords, the yeomanry; but they had provided no direct representation for the agricultural labourer; he had no direct voice in returning Members to that House. Did not that circumstance of itself impose upon a generous House of Commons the especial duty of attending to the interests of so large a portion of their fellow-subjects? The attachment of this class of Englishmen to the soil was as strong as that of any other, and there was no imaginable reason why their feelings should be disregarded. Their patriotism was as warm, and their rights as indisputable, and their character as unsullied as those of any class of the community. Serving in the army and in the navy, they had frequently repelled invaders from our shores, and bore the standard of England in triumph through many a well-fought field—were those the men whose rights and feelings the House of Commons proposed to disregard. The advocates of abolition looked not to the interests of the great body of the community, but to the advantage of a class; instead of legislating upon a sound and extended basis, they proceeded upon sordid and selfish views. If they were to have a free trade in corn, let them also have a free trade in manufactured goods. If the Corn-laws were repealed, there ought to be an end to restrictive duties. He should be glad to hear what the President of the Board of Trade or the Chancellor of the Ex- 473 chequer would say to any proposition of that nature. If they repealed the Corn-laws, they must alter the whole financial policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But how could that be done? If it were, they could not keep faith with the public creditor, for they then must knock down every custom-house and every excise-office throughout the country. He believed that the hon. Member for Kilkenny was the only Member of Parliament who would contend that our establishments were too large in the present state of foreign and domestic relations; and if a reduction of our establishments could not be made to such an extent as would enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to keep faith with the public creditor, his right hon. Friend would be compelled to resort to a property tax as his only alternative. He was of opinion that, in that case, the mill-owners of Nottingham, and Manchester, and Leeds, would be the first to complain of that inquisitorial system of taxation which would expose their pockets to the invasion of his right hon. Friend. There was only one other view of this question which he would place before the House, and that related to the danger to which the population of this country would be exposed, if they were left dependent upon foreign nations for their supply of food. Hon. Gentlemen in arguing against that danger might, perhaps, avail themselves of the argument which had been urged in refutation of it by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. They might say, that if the Corn-laws were repealed, the interests of all nations would be so united and identified as to secure almost for ever the relations of peace and amity with each other. He was most desirous of seeing such a consummation, but he thought that it would be a most dangerous thing for the population of this country to rely for its supply of food on the peace and friendship of our commercial and political rivals. What had been the effect of the present rise in the price of corn even in these piping times of peace? About three months ago the price of corn rose in this country to 85s. a quarter. Now you could buy it at home for 71s., and import it on payment of a duty of ls. a-quarter. Some persons thought that it would be a good speculation to import corn from France, and had in consequence sent to Rochefort to purchase corn. Even in time of peace the excitement of the French 474 population on hearing of these purchases, was so great, that the King of the French had been obliged to issue an ordinance prohibiting the exportation of corn. If the purchase of corn by British merchants in a foreign port produced such an effect in time of peace, what would it not produce in a time of war? Our best security for peace was, to be prepared for war; but if the Corn-laws were repealed, foreign nations might insult our flag with greater impunity than at present, and might adopt whatever measures they pleased to check the progress of freedom either in their own or in other countries. They would then have a cheap means of carrying on a system of warfare against us. They would not have occasion to raise armies or to send fleets against us—they would only have to close their ports—a measure which would carry famine and disease into the heart of our population, and which would compel us, in consequence, to comply with any demands which they might think proper to exact. Then would it be said hereafter—Finem anima—Non gladii non saxa dabunt nec tela.They would only, he repeated, have to close their ports to force us into compliance with their terms, however unjust they might be, or however injurious to our interests. The right hon. President of the Board of Trade had last night complained of the fluctuating prices of corn in this country under the present system of Corn-laws. It was only that morning that he had found on his table a return made to her Majesty's Government by Dr. Bowring respecting the price of grain in the Italian States. He there found it laid down as an undeniable position, that one reason of the present flourishing state of Tuscany was, that it enjoyed a free trade in corn. Now, looking at the average price of corn for the last ten years at Leghorn, where the corn trade existed in all its freedom, he found that the fluctuations in it were nearly as great as those which had taken place in this kingdom. For instance, the price of wheat at Leghorn in 1826 was 28s. a-quarter; in 1827 it was 39s. a-quarter. That was a considerable rise. In 1828, it was 2l. 1s. 10d. a-quarter. That was another rise. In 1829, it was 2l. 6s. 3d. a-quarter. That was another considerable 475 rise. In 1830, it was 1l. 18s. 4d. a-quarter. In 1831, it was 2l. 4s. a-quarter. In 1832, it was 2l. 1s. a-quarter, and so on. From this return it appeared that the highest price of wheat at Leghorn in the last ten years was 2l. 6s. 3d. a-quarter, and that the lowest price was 1l. 8s. a-quarter. Now, these facts showed that if the repeal of the Corn-laws was to be advocated on the ground that it would render prices steady, the ground for the repeal was completely cut away from the advocates of it. He had to thank the House for the patience with which it had listened to his statements, and, in conclusion, he must declare that he should resist the motion for going into Committee on the ground that such a proceeding would be detrimental to all classes of the community, whether they were engaged in manufactures, in commerce, or in agriculture.
§ Mr. Grote
addressed the House as follows:—The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has talked in emphatic language of the sordid and selfish feelings embodied in the Motion for repealing the Corn-laws. Considering that he is defending a law which, whatever be its other merits, has at least two effects, that of taxing every man in the community in the consumption of his daily bread, and of putting high rents into the pockets of the landlords, I must say, that it is not from the hon. Member's side of the House that imputations of sordid and selfish feelings ought to emanate. Both the hon. Member for Lincolnshire, and those Gentlemen who have preceded him on his side of the question, seem to me to have been remarkably sparing in their explanations of the benefits which have been actually derived from the Corn-laws. He tells us that the Corn-laws have protected the grower against low prices, and the consumer against high prices. How is this consistent with the fact? A few weeks ago the price of wheat was 85s. per quarter. Does the hon. Member deny that this is a high price? In 1835 the price of wheat was 36s. per quarter. Does he deny that this was a low price? Is it then true, that the existing law protects the grower against low prices, while it at the same time gives the consumer a protection against excessively high prices? I agree with the hon. Gentleman, that this is a question of very serious importance, But important as it appears to me at all times, I must confess 476 that it never seems to me so awfully momentous as when I have been listening to a speech delivered by an advocate of the agricultural interest, If I could admit the fidelity of the picture which the agriculturists commonly draw—if I could acquiesce in the statement which they present to us of the effects of the present Corn-laws, as contrasted with those of a free trade in corn—if I could admit the basis of fact upon which they reason, I should regard the matter in dispute as involving not merely serious loss and obstruction to our prosperity, but even as pregnant with danger to the future repose and tranquillity of the country. For what is the case as the hon. Member for Yorkshire and agriculturists state it? He tells us that under a system of free trade we should be inundated with cheap corn, which could be procured from the Continent at something like one-half of the price at which it is grown in England: He tells us that under a free trade in corn, a very large proportion of the land in these islands would be thrown out of cultivation, and a very large proportion of the farmers who cultivate it would be utterly ruined. He contends that the farmer is only guarded from entire impoverishment and destruction by a system of restrictive laws, which causes every man in the country to pay twice as much for his daily bread as it could be procured for from the Continent. Assume this state of the facts to be correct, and every tittle of it is constantly either asserted or implied in the speeches of advocates of the Corn-laws—assume it to be correct, and I maintain that a more fearful and perilous position of affairs can hardly be imagined. It appears that we are condemned to the melancholy alternative of choosing between the ruin of the British farmer and landowner on one side, and the imposition of a tax of about one hundred per cent. on the nourishment of every labouring man in the community on the other. If this be really the state of the case, and if there be in truth the alleged collision of interests to this extent between the farmers and the remaining community, it is impossible not to believe that awful calamities are in store for the country. For no reasonable man can imagine that the great mass of the community will submit for any length of time to a tax of such vast amount as that which is implied in the statements of the agri- 477 culturists themselves, equal to a duplication of the price of their nourishment, for the purpose of eating homegrown wheat in preference to foreign wheat. If the agriculturists are right in asserting that all the capital which is now invested, and which is constantly in course of being invested in the cultivation of the land, is only preserved from loss and destruction by the factitious prices kept up by the Corn-laws, I say that they are upholding a system which cannot end in anything but ruin, and which will only end in greater and more widely-spread ruin the longer it is persisted in. The very arguments which the agriculturists employ as points of attraction to the farmer are, in reality, points of intolerable repulsion towards every other member of the community. And if I could admit in their full extent the premises of the Corn-law advocates, I should draw from those premises the very opposite conclusion—I should be driven to the conviction that the principle of the Corn-laws was full of nothing but peril and uncertainty for the present, and prospective ruin for the future—I should regard it as a matter of imperative necessity to desist from encouraging the investment of additional farming capital under such hazardous contingencies, and to seek forthwith the safest means of abandoning an ill-chosen and calamitous policy. Even on the showing of the agriculturists themselves, the rational conclusion seems to me to follow, that the Corn-laws are alike unjust in principle and untenable in practice, and that the difficulty, whatever it be, attending their repeal will be only aggravated by postponing the moment of abandoning them, inasmuch as our population is increasing, and more capital is daily and yearly invested in land. But I do not adroit the accuracy of the case as it is set forth by the advocates of the Corn-laws. I do not agree with them in their statement of the degree to which the price of wheat would be lowered by free-trade, and of the extent to which British agriculture would be ruined. As I do not estimate so highly as they do the fall in the price of wheat, so neither do I rate so highly the correlative and inseparable fact—the extent of benefit which would accrue to the great body of the community as consumers of wheat. But though I think the agriculturists exaggerate both the gain to themselves and the loss to the general community which the Corn-laws occasion, 478 I see quite enough of reality in the case, by whomsoever or when so ever stated, to make me a decided friend to a free trade in the prime articles of human nourishment. It is perfectly undeniable—indeed it is admitted on both sides of the argument—that the Corn-laws do raise the price of human subsistence more or less. The degree to which they produce this effect I shall presently examine. Such rise of price during years of average home crops, or of only moderate deficiency, is an indisputable fact. In the farmer's vocabulary it is styled protection, and is extolled as the main benefit of the law. In the language of the consumer of corn, who petitions against the law, it is treated as an unjust imposition for the exclusive benefit of a particular class. This artificial enhancement of the price of corn is not only the great benefit, but the only benefit conferred by the Corn-laws upon the favoured class. It is the main evil, but it is far from being the only evil inflicted by these laws upon the mass of the community. We suffer not merely an enhancement of the price of corn positively, but an enhancement of its price comparatively with the continental countries; and this imposes upon all our exporting manufacturers a factitious burden and disadvantage as compared with those continental rivals with whom they are compelled to compete. Nor is this all. As if the causes of variation in price were not already grievous enough, and numerous enough in the unavoidable variety of the seasons, we have opened an additional source of uncertainty, entirely of our own creating, in the fluctuations of the scale of duty. We have deranged the evenness and steadiness of our continental trade by this intermittent opening and shutting of the ports. We have rendered ourselves liable to be called upon, on occasions when it may be in the highest degree inconvenient, for a sudden export of bullion, in such manner as greatly to complicate the management of our currency, if not to endanger its stability. And we have done everything in our power both to suggest to continental nations the idea of establishing manufactures of their own, and to afford to them the facilities of doing so. All these are great and serious additional mischiefs, over and above the leading mischief of imposing upon every man in the community the necessity of purchasing the primary sustenance of life at a higher 479 price; for it is this which I must consider to be the leading mischief, bearing, as it does, with more or less of hardship upon every man without exception: and I cannot but remark that this question is sometimes too exclusively argued, as if it were a manufacturer's question and nothing else—as if no one suffered from the Corn-laws except the exporters of cotton and woollen fabrics. If I considered this debate as a mere question between manufacturers on one side and agriculturists on the other, assuredly I should not feel near so strong an interest in it as I do at present. But I am firmly persuaded that the mischievous effects of the Corn-laws are far more comprehensive and pervading, and reach over a large majority of the entire nation. I know, Sir, that it was contended the other night by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tam worth, and the assertion was repeated by the hon. Members for Yorkshire and Kent yesterday, and by the hon. Member for Lincolnshire to-day, that the question of the Corn-laws is a labourer's question—that the labouring classes generally are gainers, and not losers by a high price of provisions. When Gentlemen so confidently assert this proposition, I should be glad to know how many of the artisans, the journeymen, and the operatives generally, who inhabit this vast metropolis, they will persuade to agree with them? The price of wheat in December 1835, was 36s.; in December 1838, it was 78s. Let gentlemen ask of any artisan in this metropolis whether the variation in his wages has been such as to enable him to command as much of the necessaries and comforts of life in the last of these periods as in the first? This is a question simply of matter of fact, and I rejoice that it has been distinctly put in issue in the present debate, Our speeches in this House will be read by artisans and journeymen, and will be discussed at their various meetings. The hon. Member for Yorkshire said truly last night, that on this point the labourer's experience was worth more than any theory; and I shall be quite content to leave it to the judgment of any artisan or labourer who may read these debates, whether his condition was better in December 1838, when the price of wheat was 78s. than in December 1835,when the price of wheat was 36s. per quarter. This is a point which every artisan and every labourer will be able to determine by means of his own feelings and his own recol- 480 lection, and it will then be seen which of the parties is most accurately informed of the real condition of the operative classes. But, Sir, if I should for a moment admit that the wages of artisans and journey men have increased to such an extent as to make the artisan as well off in December, 1838, as he was in December, 1835, at whose expense must this variation have taken place? At the expense of his employer. And out of what fund is the employer to be compensated? He can neither claim nor obtain any compensation whatever. Take it which way you will, the hardship must fall somewhere—upon one or other of the two parties—either upon the artisan, if wages do not rise, or upon the employer, if they do rise. I believe, Sir, that the hardship does, in part, press upon both, but far more upon the artisan than upon the employer. From all the inquiries which I have been able to make among my constituents and elsewhere, I have not been able to find that wages of artisans or journeymen are at all sensibly higher now than they were in 1835. Sure I am, that the cases in which they have been raised, in any degree approaching to the rise in the price of provisions, are cases of rare exception. Now I am sure that Gentlemen will see that the difference in the cost of the loaf, between 1835 and 1838, must be most painfully felt in the household of every artisan in the metropolis. The rise of the loaf from 7d. to 10d., looking at the large proportion of an artisan's income which is spent in bread, must abridge the comforts of himself and his family to a material and distressing extent—to an extent which would appear to every Gentleman present insupportably calamitous, if we were to enlarge the figures representing increased cost to the dimensions requisite for adapting them to the higher incomes. And this is a comparison which is but too apt to escape our notice, from the small proportion of an opulent man's expenditure which is devoted to the purchase of the actual necessaries of life. I am aware that hon. Members attempt to escape from this conclusion by asserting, that there is less employment for the labouring classes, and a greater proportion of them deprived of work, when provisions are cheap; and that there is greater and more constant employment for them when provisions are dear. Assuredly the hon. Member ought 481 to be perfectly certain of his ground upon this matter before he ventures upon the very grave measure of artificially increasing the price of their food—he ought to be perfectly certain that the source of compensation which he professes to open to them will be both sufficient and infallible in its operation. Has he any reason to be thus certain? I maintain, that there is the best possible reason to be certain of the contrary. The aggregate means of employing labour throughout the community are never increased, but always diminished, by a rise in the price of provisions; they are never diminished, but always increased, by a fall in the price of provisions. Admit for a moment, that the rise of corn enables the tillage-farmers to employ more labourers, let me ask, from what source the tillage-farmers derive these augmented means? Simply from the greater sum paid to them by the consumers of corn—in other words, by a general contribution at the expense of the entire community. Surely, then, if the farmer possesses increased means, every other person in the community has diminished means. The additional sum handed over to him is no new creation, but simply a deduction from the means of others. The aggregate fund cannot, by any construction, be made out to be larger; it is, on the contrary, decidedly smaller; for, not to mention other reasons, the maintenance of the agriculturists themselves and of all those dependent upon them, as well as the maintenance of all other possessors of capital, becomes more costly under such a state of things; and thus much, at least, is a total and uncompensated loss. The increased means of the farmer, putting aside all consideration of the injustice of the transfer, are very far, indeed, from adequately compensating the diminished means possessed by the remaining community. And let us even look at the question simply as it regards the farmer and the agricultural labourer, which is the point of view in which the advocates of the Corn-laws delight to put it. You tell me that the agricultural labourers are better employed, better paid, and more comfortably off, when the price of corn is high than when it is low. I ask in reply, what does history say in respect to this assertion? At what period was it that the abuses of the Poor-law first began? Was it not in 1795 and 1796, when the price of corn first rose, 482 partly in consequence of bad seasons, partly in consequence of the increased cost and difficulty of importation occasioned by the war? Is it not matter of undoubted record, that the difficulties and privations of the labouring classes, agricultural labourers as well as all others, were, at that time, greater than they had ever been before, to such a degree, that the allowance system was then first resorted to, under the fatal effects of which the country continued to suffer more and more until the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act in 1834? And how came the allowance system to be resorted to? Simply because the farmers would not raise the wages of their labourers to any thing like the extent required by the rise of provisions. Such was the condition of the labouring classes at that time that propositions were made in Parliament by Mr. Whitbread and others, to fix the rate of wages by law: and various other suggestions were offered, which, whatever we may think of their impolicy as remedies, indicate, at any rate, that the condition of the labourer had become materially worse from the rise in the price of provisions. Now, Sir, having adverted to the period when the abuses of the Poor-laws first attained alarming magnitude, let me call the attention of the House to the period when they were terminated. The Poor-law Amendment Act was passed in 1834, and first came into efficient operation in 1835. Now, it was just at that time that the price of wheat was at the lowest point at which it has ever stood throughout the present century; and therefore, according to the theory of those who defend the Corn-laws, it ought to have been precisely the period in which the labouring classes were least employed, and in the worst possible condition as to pay. But has any one ever adventured to assert that such was the fact in 1835? On the contrary, do not the Poor-law commissioners tell us in their report, that the task of introducing the new system, and the stricter administration of relief, was greatly and signally facilitated as well by the extensive demand for labour as by the unusual cheapness of bread? The arguments held by the opponents of the Poor-law were even more decisive still in proof of the point which I wish to reach. The opponents of the Poor-laws said—the commissioners could never have found it possible to introduce any system so harsh and so full of priva- 483 tion to the labouring poor if they had not been singularly favoured by the circumstances of the moment—if they had not begun to introduce it at a time when the labouring classes were remarkably well off, and remarkably well employed. I wish you to turn your attention well to this contrast. I wish you to contrast the extreme suffering of the labouring poor during the high prices which ranged between 1795 and 1801—sufferings attested by all the writings and speeches of the time, as well as by the still more decisive evidence of the unhappy allowance-system to which they gave rise. I wish you to contrast this state of things with the condition of the labourer during the year 1835 with its unusual cheapness of bread. How is such a comparison to be reconciled with the theory of those who teach us that cheap bread diminishes both the employment of the labourer, and his command over the necessaries and comforts of life, and that dear bread is to him a time both of more employment, and of more food and clothing? It results indisputably from the evidence taken by the committees of this House, which were appointed both in 1833 and in 1836, to inquire into the subject of agricultural distress, that whatever grounds might exist for complaining of distress among the farmers, there was no ground whatever for believing that distress existed among the agricultural labourers, The testimony taken before those committees proved, that the labourer, so far from being worse off than usual, was comparatively better off. And if any gentleman will consult the records of our population—if he will consult Mr. Mylne's Treatise on Annuities, or the valuable work on the progress of the nation, by Mr. Porter, he will find that the aggregate number of marriages throughout the country is greatly and sensibly reduced during a period of dear corn, and that the records of the disastrous years 1800 and 1801, present a striking confirmation of this remarkable fact, attesting as it does so powerfully the diminished comfort of the labouring population. And if we inspect the table of the wages of various descriptions of labourers and artisans given by Mr. Porter in page 252 of the second volume of his work, for the period between 1800 and 1836, we shall find that this theory of the better condition of the labourer when bread is dear is totally opposed to the facts of the case. I lay the 484 greatest stress on the question of the Corn-laws as it bears upon the well-being of the labouring classes. I do so, because I consider this beyond all comparison the most interesting point of view in which the question can be looked at. I am quite content to meet the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, and to argue this as a labourer's question. I desire no better than to have it determined upon a review of the condition of the working people generally, during a high price and a low price of bread. Out of the 15,000,000 quarters of wheat consumed in this country, by far the greater portion is consumed by the labouring classes? and it will require an ingenuity surpassing even that which is possessed by the right hon. Member for Tam worth to demonstrate that they, the chief consumers, are better fed and more comfortable when they have to pay Is. for their loaf than when they can purchase it for 6d. Besides, let me ask, is it intended to apply this same doctrine to the other articles which the working man consumes? Is it alleged that the labourer is better off when fuel is dear, when clothing is dear, when soap, candles, tea or sugar are selling at a high price? Would it be a good thing for the labourer if woollen stuffs were as dear now as they were a century ago, and if soap were subject to as high a duty as it was during the last war? If dear corn be so very good a thing, why do agricultural gentlemen complain so much of the dearness of malt and beer, arising out of the malt tax? I believe we have not yet discontinued the old and primeval feeling of gratitude and satisfaction when our harvest is abundant, and mournful anxiety when it proves defective; but if the doctrine contended for by the hon. Member for Yorkshire were just, that the general body of labourers are worse off and less comfortable when the price of corn is low, most certainly an abundant harvest would be a national misfortune; the more un skilful our husbandry, upon this supposition, the better would it be for the country. For what is the meaning of good and skilful husbandry, except the insuring of a large return of produce in exchange for a small cost? And chat is the whole scope and purpose of improvements in agriculture except the augmentation of the return and the diminution of the cost; in other words, the reduction of the price of corn and other products of land? If it be once admitted 485 that a diminished price of corn deteriorates the condition of the labouring classes—if it be true, as hon. Gentlemen allege, that the labourer in Russia and Prussia is miserably off, because the price of provisions is so very low in those countries; if this be true, I say, then all your improvements in agriculture are injurious instead of beneficial. The hon. Member for Yorkshire has told us that the agricultural producers in this country require protection, on account of the heavy debt and taxation which presses upon them, against the competition of untaxed produce from other countries. Let me remark, in passing, that this is an argument altogether at variance with the argument which I have before been combating—altogether at variance with the argument which represents dear corn as a good thing in itself, and the actual operating cause of an increased measure of comfort to the labouring classes. When the hon. Gentleman touches upon taxation, he throws overboard altogether the pretended interest of the working classes in maintaining a high price of corn—he represents the high price of corn to be an evil in itself, but an evil brought upon us by the pressure of heavy and unavoidable taxation. So far I agree with the hon. Member, that the amount of taxation which the country is called upon to pay is a serious burden, and calls upon us to employ our most anxious care in maintaining unimpaired the resources of the nation which is to bear it. But I cannot at all concur in his assertion, that the existence of this burden is either a reason as matter of expediency, or a justification as matter of equity, for imposing duties on foreign corn. He calls it a reason for protecting the agriculturists; I call it a reason for protecting the whole nation—for protecting them against loss and mischief from every quarter; but especially against that which is among the heaviest of all losses—the obligation of paying a higher price than is necessary for the primary nourishment of the people. The national debt and taxation is a burden upon all of us without exception, equally and indiscriminately. The protection which is to aid us in meeting it ought also to extend to all, equally and indiscriminately. Both he and I, and every man in the community, are to bear our shares of the joint burden—neither of us can have any rightful claim to throw his portion of 486 the burden on another. Now, my complaint against the hon. Gentleman's scheme of protection is, that it is not equal and indiscriminate over the whole nation—that it does not comprehend all alike—that it is protection only to a few, and that, too, at the expense of the rest. You protect the seller of corn, but at whose expense do you protect him? At the expense of the buyer—your own countryman also, whose purse and whose comforts ought to be just as dear to you as those of the seller. You profess to make the seller of corn more able to pay taxes, by enabling him to obtain a higher price for his produce. Do you not see that by the very same act, and at least to the same degree, you render the buyer less able to pay taxes? The seller may be the richer for your interference, but the buyer is most assuredly the poorer; and how then is the aggregate power of paying taxes—seller and buyer both included—at all increased by your interference? By enabling the seller to augment the price of his produce, you relieve him either wholly or in part from the weight of taxation; but you only accomplish this object by casting a double burden on the shoulders of the buyer. Let your national debt and taxation be as great as it may, such protection can in no way augment your aggregate capacity of paying it: in point of fact, it sensibly lessens your capacity of paying it, because the productive industry of the nation comes to be worse and more unnaturally distributed. In order to cram and pamper one member of the great national family, you steal away the nourishment, and stint the growth, of the remainder. But the bon, Gentleman would induce us to believe that the national taxation falls upon the agriculturist not only in common with the whole country, but even to a greater degree than it falls upon any other person in the country. He tells us that the raising of corn from the land is more heavily taxed than the fabrication of manufactured goods, or than any other employment of capital; and from this excess of taxation he draws one of his arguments in defence of the Corn-laws. I can only view this argument as an indirect censure upon the actual distribution of taxation. If the hon. Gentleman can prove that an undue proportion of our existing imposts fall upon the cultivation of the land, let us rectify that erroneous distribution forth- 487 with. Let us alter our system of taxation, and re-assess it in a manner less unequal and exceptionable. Surely this is the proper quarter to seek for a remedy, instead of providing a dubious and pretended compensation by means of Corn-laws. If my property in a parish is assessed beyond its proper value, to the poor-rates, or other local tax, I am fairly entitled to complain, and to have the assessment rectified. But what reasonable judge would dream of granting me redress by decreeing that the original inequality should be maintained unaltered, but that I should be allowed by way of compensation to help myself to a certain portion of the produce of my neighbour s lands. If then I could go along with the hon. Gentleman in affirming that our existing taxation presses unduly and unequally upon the cultivation of the land, I could not agree with him in adopting the Corn-laws as the appropriate remedy. But is the fact as he states? Is it true that there exists this peculiarly severe and unequal pressure upon the cultivators of land? I must dispute the fact. I look in vain for any existing impost of which this can be truly predicated. The hon. Member talks of the malt-tax. Why, the farmers might have some reason to complain of the malt-tax if we were allowed to import or to make malt, duty free, out of foreign barley; but so long as all malt is charged alike, from whatever barley it may be made, I contend that the farmer has no more right than any other consumer of beer to complain of the pressure of the tax. In my eyes, I confess, there seems no objection to the malt-tax, other than that which belongs to taxation under any and every form. But if the continuance of the malt-tax is to be made a pretence for upholding the Corn-laws, let us discontinue it forthwith, and let us come to a property-tax at once. This will be but a small price to pay for the great national benefit of a free trade in corn. But then the hon. Gentleman tells us, that to permit a free trade in corn, is to be dependent upon foreign nations for our subsistence. Certainly the word dependance has a terrific sound; but if it be so overwhelming an evil to be dependant upon foreign nations for our supplies of corn, does the hon. Gentleman pretend, that our present Corn-laws emancipate us from this evil. Are we not dependant 488 upon foreign importations at present? Yes; it will be admitted, we are dependant upon foreign importations at present; but this is only a special emergency. Under our present Corn-laws we are only occasionally dependant upon foreign nations not habitually. So much the worse, Sir, in my opinion. Occasional dependance is the very worst and most dangerous species of dependance. No man is so likely to be disappointed of his supply as the occasional buyer, who refuses to open any regular trade, who gives no notice of his wants—who avowedly and scornfully repudiates everything like mutual interest and reciprocal benefit from the intercourse. Habitual dealing ensures preparation for your wants and creates on the part of the seller a necessity for your custom; occasional dealing gives you the last chance instead of the first, and brings you into the market as the unexpected and intrinsic invader of a stock intended for others. If dependance upon foreign importation be really an evil, I contend, that we sustain it now in the worst possible form and under the most hazardous contingencies. We wantonly throw away the benefit which dependance would carry with it—we exaggerate all the possibilities of evil with which it is accompanied. Our Corn-laws do not make us independent of foreign supplies; they render us more painfully dependent than we should be under a free trade, because the dependance is less reciprocal and less binding upon the foreigner. Connected with this view of the question, there is another evil of serious magnitude which arises out of the Corn-laws, and which I am the more anxious not to omit, as it obtrudes itself forcibly on the attention of all commercial men. I allude to the periodical derangement which the Corn-laws occasion in our monetary system. The effect of our present Corn-laws is to interdict any regular and steady import of corn, and to leave us in seasons of ordinary productiveness, with a very low stock of corn at the moment of harvest; so that when our harvest falls short, we become large and sudden purchasers at extravagant prices. These purchases are certain to produce a powerful effect upon the exchanges, and to cause a great and continued export of the precious metals. Such a disturbance cannot take place without being seriously felt throughout all the trading classes in the community, who find themselves 489 cramped and restricted in their ordinary sphere of borrowing, by the necessity imposed upon the Bank of England and other bankers, of adjusting their loans so as to meet this sudden drain from abroad. Let me impress upon the House, that this is in itself an inconvenience of no light magnitude, pressing upon the trading community at large, upon the prudent, as well as upon the imprudent. But it is an inconvenience which might well be aggravated into a fearful national calamity, if the drain for foreign corn should arise at a moment when other circumstances are of themselves tending to produce a drain upon the coffers of the Bank. If, for example, we had experienced the misfortune of a bad harvest in 1825, so that the drain upon the Bank, which was at that time going on, had been aggravated by sudden importations of corn from abroad, it is very certain, that the difficulties of the Bank must have become all but insurmountable. And if we refer back to a period still more recent—to the commercial embarrassments which marked the close of the year 1836—I feel very sure, if we had had a bad harvest in that year, and if the Bank of England had had to contend with the additional difficulty of a large export of gold arising from this specific cause, that the pressure upon our money market, and upon the trading interests generally, would have been most severe and calamitous. It has so happened, hitherto, that the demand for gold in payment for large imports of corn has not coincided in point of time with other causes of drain upon the Bank of England. I hope most sincerely, that no such coincidence will take place; but we have no right to presume, that it will not; and, if unfortunately it should take place, Gentlemen must make up their minds, that not only will the state of trade become most calamitous and distressing, but the danger to the Bank of England itself will be extreme. I entreat the House to keep this consideration carefully in mind, in weighing the general bearings of the Corn-laws; it will be too late to take precautions when the moment of pressure actually arrives. To all these arguments, demonstrative of the impolicy of the Corn-laws, the hon. Gentleman will oppose his statement of the extent of land which will be thrown out of wheat cultivation, and the extent of distress which will be occasioned among the various parties 490 connected with agriculture. I have taken some pains to acquaint myself with the prices of foreign corn, and with the quantities which might be obtained at those prices; for these two circumstances ought on no account to be separated in looking at the question of the foreign corn trade. At Dantzic and Odessa the real price is regulated by the demand for export; when there is no demand for export the quoted prices are merely nominal for they represent no real transaction between buyers and sellers. In order to form an opinion of the extent of import which would take place under a free corn trade we must look at the foreign prices as they stand during years when the demand for export is efficient and extensive. Now, judging according to these data, and assuming a quantity of one million of quarters of wheat to be demanded abroad for the English market, I am firmly persuaded, that such a quantity could not be brought to England under 45s. a-quarter, if the trade were free and all duty abolished. If you wanted a larger quantity, the price would be higher still. To show that I have here stated a low price as the minimum at which foreign wheat could be imported, I will quote from a paper which I hold in my hand, containing a tabular series of the annual average prices of wheat at Dantzic. I find that the average price of wheat at Dantzic in 1829 was 47s. 1d.; in 1830, 42s. 2d.,; in 1831, 50s. 2d.—the three years averaging 46s. 5d. Now, all these three years were years of real demand for exportation; and I contend that it is only according to the standard of such years that you can safely judge what the prices would be under a system of free trade; and the prices quoted during years when there is no demand for exportation, are in truth merely nominal and illusory. It will be seen, therefore, that in estimating the probable import price under a free trade, assuming 1,000,000 quarters at 45s., I make a large allowance for improvement and extension of culture in foreign lands. It is my impression that, under a perfectly free trade in corn, a quantity of about 1,000,000 quarters would be supplied from abroad in ordinary years out of the 15,000,000 quarters which we habitually consume in these islands; and that this supply would come at a price of about 45s. I repeat, that as an opponent of the Corn-laws, I should think that I had a stronger case if I could make out 491 that the price would be 35s. or 25s. And I leave it to the sober consideration of Gentlemen who support the Corn-laws, whether they are really adding to the stability and permanence of the restrictive system, by impressing the people with a belief that free trade would at once lower the price of corn to so vast an extent. For my part, I neither wish to overstate the case as regards the buyers, nor as regards the sellers; I think it of importance that the case should be understood, as regards both of them under its true colours. Though I sometimes hear the case exaggerated as respects the gain to the buyer by a free trade in corn, yet I much oftener hear it exaggerated on the other side. I hear far more extravagant apprehensions expressed as to the amount of loss which will be sustained by the seller. I am very far from believing that the British soil is so barren or niggardly, or the British cultivator so helpless, in comparison with the Pole or the Russian, as many persons represent, and I am glad to find myself on this point in agreement with the hon. Member for Yorkshire. The cultivator in Poland may have a greater abundance of uncultivated or unexhausted land; but this is his grand and primary advantage—I may say, almost his only advantage. For though he pays smaller wages to his labourer, yet the labour which he obtains in return, being allied with a much less efficient apparatus of agricultural capital, is far less productive than that of a labourer in England; and it has been asserted frequently by land surveyors, that a day's work of an English labourer in Middlesex, paid at 2s. 6d., comes cheaper to them in the end than a day's work of an Irish labourer in the South of Ireland, paid only at 6d. The English agriculturist, on the contrary, has the advantage of more capital, of better agricultural implements, of the best roads and communications which exist in any country of the world, of a more abundant supply of manure, and of the most certain and accessible markets almost at his door. It is quite unquestionable that, with all these advantages, combined with the cost of transport of foreign corn from abroad, the British agriculturist, even under a free trade in corn, will furnish the vastly greater part of the corn consumed in this country. And I will go farther and say, that if the British agriculturist chose to turn all his advantages to full account—if he chose 492 to avail himself of all the improvements in agriculture, and of all the ameliorated systems which are practised by the best cultivators in England and still more in Scotland—if, I say, the British agriculturist would turn his resources to the best account, he might undoubtedly grow corn cheap enough to render the importation of foreign corn in ordinary years very inconsiderable indeed. In token of what remains undone, and of what might well be done by the British agriculturist, for the amelioration of his present system, I will only appeal to a very valuable and instructive pamphlet, published in 1836 by the hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Handley), under the title of a "Letter to Lord Spencer on the formation of an Agricultural Association." The hon. Gentleman in this pamphlet contrasts the small improvements which are perceptible in our agriculture with the immense improvements which have distinguished our manufactures; he is no partisan of the doctrine of finality, now so popular on both sides of this House, in respect to other matters; he tells the English agriculturists that they have much to learn, and he points out to them where they may learn it; he admonishes them, amongst various other matters, that bone manure, in spite of its proved and vast utility, is throughout the greater part of England unknown and untried. Moreover, he adds, that if prices had remained as high as they were, and farming as easy and as profitable as it was during the war, the English agriculturists might safely have remained indolent and unimproving; but that the times are so trying now as to call upon them for their best efforts, and for the employment of the most efficient methods of production. Two points I would particularly notice as to this statement—first, that while our agriculture remains so much behind what it ought to be, we have no right to say, that our farmers cannot compete with the foreigner; secondly, that the way to accelerate agricultural improvement in England, is not protection and high prices, but free and open competition and low prices. I do not hesitate to say, that the trade of agriculture will never repose upon its just and natural basis until it is left entirely free, and divested of the delusive protection which it now enjoys at the expense of the remaining community. So long as the bargain between farmer and landlord is ad- 493 justed on the supposition of an artificial enhancement of price of his produce, which is sure in the nature of things to break down and fail periodically—so long will agricultural distress be of constant recurrence. For protection to the farmer differs in one essential respect from protection to any domestic manufacture. The manufacturer can determine beforehand what quantity of goods he will produce; he makes what is sufficient for the supply of the market, and he makes no more. The farmer can never know beforehand what will be his year's produce; the inequality of the seasons forbids it; and when years of abundance arrive, he finds that his protection is altogether illusory, while his rent and the charges upon him have been calculated as if the protection was real. It is the seasons of general abundance which are seasons of loss to the farmer, and under the system of protection they are doubly losing to him, because he is precluded from any exportation of his surplus produce, which would find its vent naturally in other countries, if our prices were left to preserve their level, as they would do under a system of free trade. Whatever interest the landlord may have in a system of protection—though even to him it promises far more than it performs—I am persuaded that the farmer has no interest in it whatever. Low rent, no artificial protection, together with that consciousness of stability in our legislation which a free trade alone can impart—these are the circumstances under which the application of capital to land will become the most steadily and permanently profitable, and which will insure the most rapid increase in the home demand for landed produce. Several Gentlemen who disapprove of the present Corn-laws are favourable to the substitution of a fixed rate of duty. I confess, Sir, that this is not my opinion. I agree with my hon. Friend, the Member for Wolverhampton, that the trade in corn ought to be perfectly free, merely at a nominal duty, for the purpose of registration. I shall not, indeed, deny, that a small fixed duty would be an improvement upon our present system; but I can find no satisfactory reason for retaining any duty at all, and I think there are very forcible reasons against it. Sir, I fear that my view of this question will not be found in concurrence with that of the majority of the House; but, impressed as 494 I am with a strong sense of the vices of our present legislation, I cannot refrain from urging it most earnestly upon their attention. They may depend upon it that this is a question which will never be finally at rest until it is placed upon its true and solid basis, its real centre of gravity, equal justice, equal protection, perfect absence of all favour or preference between the buyer and the seller of corn. The working of our present law is most mischievous: the scope and purpose of it is worse than mischievous, it is full of partiality and unkindness and injustice—it lays a heavy tax upon the buyer of corn for a very dubious benefit to the seller. I know, indeed, that this purpose cannot be thoroughly worked out, and constantly attained: abundant harvests will lower the price of corn, in spite of any Corn-law; but the purpose of the Legislature is not the less exceptionable, because it is occasionally defeated by the bounty of Providence. We are trying to impose an artificial minimum upon the price of corn, to the detriment of the buyer. What would be said if we tried to impose an artificial maximum to the detriment of the seller—if we copied the law of the maximum, proposed by Robespierre in the French Revolution, by which every seller of corn was forbidden to ask above a certain price for his produce? The one proposition is a tax upon the buyer, the other a tax upon the seller; both are alike unjust in principle; but our Corn-law is assuredly not the least unjust of the two, because the great mass of the community are and always must be buyers and not sellers of corn. Be assured, Sir, that this is a principle to which the great body of the people will never be reconciled; and however the discontent upon the subject may slumber during periods of abundance, it will break forth with renewed violence and intensity during periods of scarcity, in such a manner as to leave neither peace or certainty to the agriculturist. This, Sir, is a melancholy prospect; but the man who is enabled by unjust legislation to obtain possession of the property of others, will find himself compelled to sit with anxious eye and sword drawn to watch it. Nor is it only discontent and clam our against which the defenders of the Corn-laws will have to contend. For when, in addition to the unjust principle upon which these laws rest, we sum up, the practical inconvenience and national 495 loss which they occasion—the augmented price of every man's subsistence—the impediments which they cast in the way of our manufacturing industry—the restriction which they interpose to the sale of our exports—the derangements which they are sure to produce periodically in our monetary system—the powerful influence which they exercise in engendering exclusive feelings among other nations, in alienating and dissociating the great family of mankind, and thus destroying one main guarantee for the continuance of peace—when we sum up the various mischiefs which are involved in the practical working of the Corn-laws, I feel well assured that the defenders of these enactments will have to contend, not only against periodical bursts of indignant discontent, but against the quiet and efficacious march of disinterested reason. Gentlemen will not forget that this question is now undergoing a keener discussion than ever it underwent before—that it is talked of and agitated in town and in country, among manufacturers and artisans as well as among farmers: and I entertain a confident belief that the result of this discussion will be, to demonstrate how vast and real are the evils of the Corn-laws—how delusive their promises of benefit. I am persuaded that the conviction will become more and more general among all classes—that, whether we look to the aggregate prosperity of the nation, or to the harmony of our citizens among themselves, on both grounds our true and solid interest consists in a free trade in corn.
The Earl of Darlington
said, that the Gentlemen who advocated the abolition of the Corn-laws were not content with the extent, great as it was, to which this country pushed her manufactures; nothing would serve them but to make this country manufacture for every other country in Europe, if not the whole world; they would not allow any country to manufacture for itself. But he contended, that this, in the present state of Europe, was impossible; and if it were possible, it would not be just. Now hon. Gentlemen were accustomed to say on this question, that it ought to be considered as affecting the interests of every class; unless, therefore, it could be shown, that to make this country a manufacturing country would be advantageous, or, at the least, not detrimental, to the interests of the 496 people generally, they could not consistently argue in this way. He for one was quite ready to estimate the manufacturing interest at its full value, but he saw no reason why the manufacturing interest should be predominant. But this was the object aimed at by the repealers of the Corn-laws, and he maintained, that by making the country a manufacturing country, they would very much injure the resources from which it derived its wealth and its prosperity. Only let those two great interests, the agricultural and the manufacturing, go hand in band, and he held that nothing could injure them. They were twin brothers, and ought not to be parted. He did not know the cause of the display of hostility which was made by the advocates of repeal against the landed interest; the landed interest stood strictly upon the defensive—they made no attack—their motto was, "Live and let live." They wanted to injure no man; but, when motives for their conduct were most unjustly and unfairly attributed, they were prepared to stand forward and defend themselves. The speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had astonished him greatly, but especially that part of it where the hon. Member pronounced this to be strictly a landlord's question, and declared, that the farmers had not anything to do with it. Now, with all due deference to the hon. Gentleman, and to his knowledge on other subjects, he thought he knew as much from personal experience, and from habits of acquaintance with the farmers, of the true interests of the agriculturists of this country as the hon. Member, and he certainly did most completely differ from the hon. Member's views as to that point. But before addressing himself to the arguments of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, he would first take notice of two parts of the argument of the hon. Member for London (Mr. Grote) in which the hon. Member appeared to have most completely contradicted himself. The hon. Member had set out by saying, that the effect of the Corn-laws was to double prices; he afterwards declared, that if the present system were abolished, corn could not be imported under 45s. a quarter. Now, if as the hon. Member assumed, the first effect of abolition would be to reduce the price of bread, so as to enable the labourer to get it at half its present cost, and if, as was the fact, the average of the pe- 497 riod between 1833 and 1838 had not been more than 48s. a quarter, making a difference of only 3s. over the importation price, as stated by the hon. Member, what became of the labourer's being enabled to eat his bread at half its present price, in consequence of an abolition of the present system? There was a great contradiction, he thought, in these statements of the hon. Member. The Chamber of Commerce at Manchester had adopted the most unjust means of agitation on this subject; they had end eavoured to excite the people almost up to the point of taking arms; and in his opinion, but for their efforts, the House would not have heard a single word more this year than the last. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets stated on a former occasion, that great apathy had prevailed on the subject, but that was previous to the late agitation of the question of abolition. Every means of conducting that agitation, as applied to the House of Commons, resolved itself into getting up a great pressure from without; but at all events all the means used, and the attempt at pressure from without among the rest, had signally failed. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton said, that the result of the Corn-laws, by causing high prices, was to cast a greater number of agricultural labourers into the labour market, and thereby to bring down the rate of wages. He did not see how the effect of the system was to cast more labourers into the market: he had always understood, that the labourers were not so much of wandering beings as to be in the habit of repairing from one market to another; that they were, as it were, domesticated, and might almost be considered as heirlooms on particular estates; and that, except in those unfortunate cases where they were obliged from disastrous circumstances to sell up their little all, and remove from their cottages under the pressure of bad times, they were a most stationary class. In short, he was perfectly at a loss to know how the result of the Corn-laws could be to cast a greater number of agricultural labourers into the wages market, because the agricultural labourers were fixed to the spot, and their numbers neither increased nor diminished. Again, the hon. Member said, that the maintenance of the Corn-laws did not keep the agricultural labouring classes in employment. Did the hon. Member, however, mean to say, that the abolition would cause an increase 498 of employment? If this was not the hon. Member's meaning, he (the Earl of Darlington) did not comprehend him, especially as he did not go into details in proof of his assertions. It was true, that agricultural labourers were not distributed equally throughout the country; in some places they were more abundant, in others there was a scarcity; and it was very likely, and very natural, that emigration might have taken place from the former districts. But that was the strongest argument why they ought not to suffer any land to fall out of cultivation. It was a strong reason, if on no other ground, still on considerations of humanity alone, for keeping the present amount of land in cultivation, in order to give the agricultural labourer employment at home. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think, that great numbers of agricultural labourers had been thrown out of employment when the thrashing machine came into use, and he argued, that that event and its consequences were soon forgotten. "And such would be the case," said the hon. Member, "if the Corn-laws were abolished, and a great number of acres thrown out of cultivation, and consequently a number of agricultural labourers disemployed, for we should shortly hear no more about their case than we do now about that of the sufferers by the introduction of thrashing machines." With regard to the thrashing machines it had been stated that they did away with the employment of a great many labourers; yet still there was not so much difference as people would expect, if the corn had continued to be thrashed by flails. The improvements in agriculture had certainly led to the employment of more labourers. Every farmer who used to employ ten labourers now employed fifteen, owing to those improvements, and, therefore, there were more labourers employed than had actually been employed before the invention of the thrashing machines. It had been said that the home consumers were not the landlords; they were not the landlords alone; but it must be allowed that they were the chief consumers; the farmers came next, and he believed that, taking the farmers and the landlords, and those who depended upon them, they consumed the greater part of the manufactured produce. Now, the real question came to this: however desirable it might be to extend your foreign trade, he would 499 merely ask this—if as much as they extended their foreign trade, they did not decrease their home trade? He looked at that as quite certain, inasmuch as they increased the wealth of the foreigner, in order to purchase their manufactures; in the same ratio did they diminish the wealth of the home consumer. Did any Gentleman pretend to say, that the quantity of articles consumed at home did not in a great measure depend upon the wealth of the consumer? Then was it to be supposed, if they reduced their income (which it was admitted that they would do of both the landlord and the farmer) to a considerable extent, no matter whether to one-third or one-half, was it to be supposed that they could be purchasers of manufactures to the same extent as now? That followed as a matter of course. He asked what was the greatest value at that moment of home-made articles and what was the amount of the foreign trade? So far as he had seen, the value of our manufactures was 150 millions; of that there was only forty-eight or forty-nine millions on the average of the three greatest years exported. The quantity consumed at home, then, was of the value of 100 millions; just double the quantity exported, Supposing that instead of 100 millions of our manufactures being consumed at home and fifty millions abroad, that we only consumed fifty millions at home—what effect would that have? Certainly not to encourage the labour of your own countrymen in preference to the labour of foreigners. Then the hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the landowner was the only party opposed to the repeal of the Corn-laws. At least 3–5ths of the population, or 4–5ths, were at that moment in favour of the existing Corn-laws. But whom did he include with the land-owners? Surely, the farmers, the labourers, and all those depending on them had the same interest as the landowners. Those dependent on them were the whole of the retail shopkeepers in country towns, who were wholly dependent upon the farmers. In this great metropolis the landowners were considered the best customers of the tradesmen. Under these circumstances, taking it for granted that their prosperity depended on the prosperity of those belonging to the landed Interest, how could they say but that that result depended upon the present system of the Corn-laws? It was really prepos- 500 terous to suppose, in the first place, that either the farmer or the landlord could have any separate interest. He knew that it had been attempted to be proved; but it was perfectly well ascertained that their interests were so inseparable and interwoven, that it was impossible to disunite them: and never was there an instance that he had heard of in which the landlords were in prosperity, and the farmers were in a state of adversity. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had stated last night, that although it was not many years ago since we had heard of agricultural distress, and although we had had agricultural meetings, and the right hon. Member the President of the Board of Trade had said that in five of the speeches from the Throne, within a few years, agricultural distress had been alluded to—although farmers could not pay their rents, yet still he had not heard that there was any distress amongst the landlords. He could only say, that if he made that assertion, and the hon. Member for Sheffield agreed in that opinion, he could only say that the inquiries he had made must have been very limited. Amongst the landlords there were different classes. The generality of landlords were not men of large property; there were some among them of large property. In regard to very large landowners, men of 20,000l., or 30,000l., or 40,000l. a-year, although at the time their tenants were distressed, did the hon. Member mean to say, that in consequence of that distress they did not make great reductions in their rents, because he knew they did? He would only mention one instance, and he knew a great number; he should not mention the name, and he hoped he should not be called on to mention it, that a landed proprietor had allowed his tenants a return on a scale of from eight to twenty per cent.; no tenant had been returned less than eight per cent.; some so far as twenty per cent. But although a very rich man, certainly his income had been diminished by so doing, yet still, from the amount of tenancy he possessed, and the rents he still received in point of quantity, he did not feel that diminution of income lower his means to such an extent as to make any considerable reduction in his establishment. But if a man of 3,000l. a-year was obliged to reduce his income twenty per cent., it did make a very material difference with regard to him; he would 501 be obliged to reduce his establishment, he could not keep up the same appearance. But with regard to the way in which this question was proposed to affect the landlords, and not to affect the farmer, as many people had imagined, and even as he had heard it frequently asserted in that House, "let the landlords reduce their rents, and the lowering of the price of corn can make no difference to the farmer, in as much as that his rent is reduced, he is just as well off when corn is at a low price as if it were at a high one." In order to prove that argument, they must compare the amount of rent with the amount of gross produce; and what was the amount of rent in proportion to the amount of gross produce? He merely spoke of England and Wales, because in Ireland and Scotland it was different; there wages were lower. But in England and Wales he could speak to the amount of rent as compared with the gross produce, and it was in no instance more than one-fourth, in very few instances more than one-fifth. He would for the sake of argument take it at one-fourth; and suppose they took a very small farm, say a farm of 200l. a year; suppose they reduced the amount of rent from 200l. to 100l. a year, And the amount of gross produce was reduced in the same proportion from 800l. to 400l. Of the component parts which made up this gross, one-fourth went as the rent, the second-fourth went to the expense of labour, the third-fourth to the account of rates due and other expenses, and the remaining fourth went for the farmer's profit. This was, perhaps, not always the proportions; in some instances the farmer received greater profit. But what he meant to deduce was, the amount of rent was not greater than one-fourth of the amount of the produce. If they reduced the amount of rent one-half, from 200l. a year to 100l. a year, and if they reduced the gross produce from 800l. to 400l., he thought it could not be stated that the farmer received too much if he paid 100l. for rent, when he received 400l. gross produce instead of 800l. Now, with regard to the present Corn-laws, he must say, first of all, that he thought there were many erroneous impressions as to what was the original object proposed to be attained by them. Many people supposed that the original object of the Corn-laws had no other effect than to force up the price of grain unnaturally, and to keep 502 it at a much higher level than it ought to be, and, in short, to make the consumer pay nearly double the price to what he ought. Now, if that were the object of the Corn-laws, no doubt it had completely failed; because they all knew that since this Corn-law had been in operation—which was now a period of eleven years—during this period all sorts of prices had existed; very low prices, average prices, and this last year very high prices. He had the good fortune to be in Parliament at the time that this Act was framed; and he believed that there never was an Act of Parliament in which the framers of the Act took more pains—in which they were more anxious to make such a measure as should be efficient, and such a one as should give satisfaction both to the producer and to the consumer. Such, he said, was their object. The subject was at that time fully discussed—and debated by the most able statesmen on both sides, and the result of that debate was an immense majority in favour of the Corn-laws. Now, he said, if the object of the measure which he had just described was intended to force up the price of corn, the Corn-laws certainly had completely failed; but he maintained that such was not the fact. The first object was, to insure to the consumer plenty—to insure at all times and under all circumstances the greatest possible abundance, and likewise to insure that abundance at such a rate as that the grower should receive an adequate compensation and remuneration; and at the same time that the consumer should not pay a higher rate than he had a right to pay, compared with the price of labour. Now, in that respect, he said the present Corn-laws had been completely successful. In his opinion the Corn-laws had completely succeeded, because in the eleven years in which the law had been in force it had not always been advantageous to the grower, as they knew; neither had it always been advantageous to the consumer; but in the separate seasons it had been advantageous to both one and the other. Now, in certain cases, it had been supposeo to have been of no use to the farmer, because for a period of years the corn was at a very low price. What was the cause of that? It was the superabundance of grain. If, then, at that time the superabundance of corn did not keep prices high, would it not follow, that if the Corn-laws had not existed, that super- 503 abundance would have been considerably increased by the admission of foreign grain? He did not see how it was to be denied, that if already they had more corn than they would consume—if an addition were brought into the market at that time, it must glut the market to a greater extent. The object of the Corn-laws, as he conceived, was this—so far as you could to encourage your home-growth to such an extent as that you may satisfy as nearly as possible the wants of your population without going abroad for grain. Now, how far could that be done by the improved mode of cultivation now in use, and by the additional quantity of land now brought under cultivation? Why, it had been proved that in an abundant harvest the country grew more corn than the people could consume, notwithstanding the increase of population. In those abundant years, what remained over and could not be consumed was purchased by speculators, and laid up in warehouses. That warehoused corn was brought into the market in average seasons, which, added to the quantity grown in those average seasons, was sufficient for the population in those average seasons. Well, then, was it desirable or was it not, if they could grow corn enough in this country to supply the population in every period except in a scarce season like the present—was it well that they should altogether repeal those laws, which, in his opinion, had worked so admirably, and which in every respect had realized the hopes of the framers of those laws? Was it desirable to repeal those laws and have recourse to the experiment of deriving their supply of corn from abroad? and which must be always precarious, and from which they could derive scarcely any advantage whatever? Because the only argument the opponents of the existing Corn-laws had made use of, even if the Corn-laws were abolished, amounted to this, that they did not believe it would make corn much cheaper. Then, if it would not, in the name of God what advantage were they to derive from the repeal of the Corn-laws? They knew the injury it would inflict on a number of people of all classes; and having that before their eyes, and knowing how the Corn-laws had worked to the present moment, having experienced their advantage a great number of years, was it wisdom or good policy to risk to experiment the unsatisfactory theories of 504 mere political economists? He wished to make one allusion to the farmers. It might be said, that if they could persuade the labourer that by purchasing his corn from abroad, instead of from the producer in this country, he could have his loaf at half price, and have the same wages, and consequently double the income that he now had. If that were to come to pass, there could be no doubt but that he would be a very great gainer by the transaction; but would it be the case? Before he spoke of the agriculturist, he would speak of the manufacturer. The whole argument of the manufacturers who were making this great cry against the Corn-laws, and stating that their profits were diminished, was this—not that they cared one farthing for the operative, but they said that their profits were not so great as they used to be during the war; and, therefore, it was for that reason alone that they wanted to have the Corn-laws repealed, because by purchasing foreign corn, foreigners would purchase their manufactures in return. Now, he would but ask this question—was it intended to give the artisans the same wages? In no single instance had he heard them say, that if foreign corn was to be purchased at half the price of English corn, they would still keep the labourer's wages at the same level in the country. The only way in which the English manufacturer could keep the position abroad which he had obtained was, by manufacturing cheaper, and underselling the foreign manufacturer in his own market; and that could only be done by manufacturing at a cheaper rate of labour. If this were the case, then' he would ask in what way the operative was to be benefitted? If he were to have his bread cheaper, he was to have his wages lowered in proportion. The operatives knew that the repeal was not intended for their advantage, and, therefore, they said, "We must remain as we are." But with regard to the agricultural labourer, they all knew that the condition of the agricultural labourer depended on the condition of the farmer, because he had to depend on the farmer, and on him alone, for his employment. It was known, as he had already stated, that when the farmer was in the best condition he could employ labourers to the greatest extent; when he was poor he employed fewer labourers, and they were in great distress also. That must always be the case; but at the same time 505 the wages of the agricultural labourer always kept pace with the price of provisions. Therefore, in order that he might have bread cheaper, the argument to the agriculturist was this, that "dear bread and high wages were better than cheap bread and low wages." So the labourer's wages had always been increased in proportion to the high price of bread. He was alluding only to this very year to what had taken place. This was the first year in which we had had any scarcity, and corn had been very high. He only spoke of the country about Lincolnshire, and several Gentlemen would bear him out. The average wages of the agricultural labourer for several years past, exclusive of harvest, was from 10s. to 12s. per week. This amount of wages this present winter had been increased to 13s., and afterwards to 13s. 6d. per week; and that was in consequence of the high argument that the wages of agricultural labourers were always proportioned to the price of corn. He had mentioned all the points on which he had intended to call the attention of the House. He begged to thank the House for its attention. He did not often address the House, but he could not pass over the present opportunity of giving his opinion on a subject on which he had thought much; but, at the same time, though he was in favour of the present system of Corn-laws, he would say that, if he found the majority of the country against him, he would, however injurious to himself, individually give up his opinion in favour of that four-fifths of the people were in favour of the present system, and confident that it would not be detrimental to the prosperity of the country, he would uphold it until the contrary were shown. Till then he would continue to hold his present opinions, and not succumb to faction or yield to clamour.
§ Mr. Clay
said, the interest he took in the question before the House was so well known, that it would scarcely be expected he should give a silent vote. It would not, however, be necessary for him to0 trespass at much length on the attention of the House. When, two years ago he brought forward a similar motion, he had the opportunity of stating fully his opinions on the policy of the Corn-laws Those opinions remained on record; and not gelling that he could add much tom the general 506 views he then submitted to the House, he should content himself on the present occasion with commenting on some of the principal arguments adduced by hon. Gentlemen who had preceded him in the debate. In so doing, he should compress his remarks into the smallest possible compass; and that he might do so, he should confine himself strictly to the question before the House. What was that question? "That the House resolve itself into a Committee to take into consideration the Act of 9 Geo. 4th, regulating the importation of grain." The subject for their consideration, therefore, was simply whether there were sufficient grounds for a change in the existing law—if reasons sufficiently cogent against the maintenance of the present system could be advanced to induce the House to go into committee with a view to devise some better system, then would be the appropriate time to discuss the subsidiary questions that must arise our of the nature of the alteration to be proposed. It appeared to him, therefore, that his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, was perfectly justified in saying that all those who disapproved of the present Corn-law, might with propriety, and, indeed, ought to vote for the committee. Of those who asserted the necessity of protection to the corn-grower, there were very many who thought the necessary protection might be far better and more usefully afforded by a fixed duty than by the present ascending and descending scale Hon. Gentlemen so thinking might surely, with perfect propriety, vote for the committee, and in committee state their views as to the amount of duty necessary or desirable for the purpose of protection. Those views might be then with far greater accuracy and with the opportunity of much closer discussion contrasted with the views of others who advocated a perfectly free trade. At present that discussion might more conveniently be postponed. Thus, for instance, it appeared to him that all details bearing on the cost of raising corn abroad and of transporting it to this country on the one hand, or on the precise degree in which taxation enhances the cost of its production in this country on the other, were mainly our of place in the present debate. It would be well to go into both these considerations, but to do so satisfactorily would required of itself a long debate, and the House had first to 507 decide whether there were or were not a primâ facie case in favour of some alteration. He should, therefore, strictly confine himself to considering whether the present law had so far answered its objects, and held out such prospects of future advantage as to induce the House to maintain it untouched, or whether, on the contrary it had not so miserably failed in its avowed and intended object, and threatened dangers so grave to the best interests of the country as to call imperatively for instant revision. Before applying himself, however, to this question, he must notice a reference on the part of the noble Lord who had last spoken, to what had fallen from him last year on the subject of agitation. It was quite true he had then said he did not believe the repeal of the Corn-laws would ever he carried except by pressure from without. He said it now, although he said it with regret. But he would ask the noble Lord, how was this momentous question treated by this House when there was no agitation out of doors? Was it not treated with the most contemptuous indifference? Was even a decent semblance made of opposing repeal by reasoning or discussion? Were not the opposite benches empty when the question was to be met by argument, and full only when it was to be decided by numbers? He did believe, therefore, that the repeal of the Corn-law would only be carried by agitation, and that the landholders would in this case add one more to the long list of proofs that no privileged class ever willingly surrendered power, and that they would only concede when concession should have lost all its grace and almost all its healthy efficiency, He came now to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire, the Mover of the Amendment; and if he commented chiefly on what that hon. Gentleman had said, it certainly was not because he had been particularly struck by the force of the arguments or the peculiar pertinence of the facts the hon. Member had adduced. He noticed the speech of that hon. Gentleman because he was evidently the selected advocate of the supporters of the Corn-laws, and stated their case. Certainly he had never heard any case more weakly supported; but he said this without intending any want of courtesy to the hon. Gentleman; he had no doubt the hon. Gentleman had used the best arguments 508 of which the case admitted. What were those arguments? Why, the old fallacies, which were invariably repeated in every Corn-law debate with as much confidence as if they had not been a thousand times refuted, First, we were not to be dependent on foreign countries; on the contrary, the whole aim of a wise statesman should be to make us as dependent as possible on foreign countries. He repeated, to make us as dependent as possible on foreign countries, in the full persuasion that foreign countries must then be dependent on us. So would the most beneficial intercourse between the nations of the world be established—so would friendly relations be maintained—so would the whole happiness of the human race be increased, and the unspeakable calamities of war be rendered of less probable occurrence. Then, said the hon. Gentleman, how could you get high taxation with low prices? The hon. Gentleman might far more reasonably have asked how could it be got without low prices of food? From what positive source did the hon. Gentleman suppose that taxation could be derived, except from the surplus income of the community?—from the profits of capital and the wages of labour, after defraying the cost of subsistence of the capitalist and the labourer? Under what circumstances did the hon. Gentleman think that surplus would be largest—when food was cheap, or when it was dear?—when the cost of subsistence was high, or when it was low? As an individual could best bear a burden on his finances when his necessary expenditure was lowest, so could a community best support taxation when food was the cheapest. But did this conclusion rest on theory alone? It was established by the unanswerable logic of facts. When two years ago he brought forward this question, he laid statements before the House, which he had really flattered himself would have prevented this fallacy, at least, from resuscitation. He had shown that the rise and fall of the revenue, and the rise and fall of the price of corn, had for twenty years been in an inverse ratio; that when corn rose the revenue declined, and that when there was a lower price of corn there was a flourishing revenue? In one part of the hon. Gentleman's speech—in a very eloquent peroration—the hon. Gentleman had talked of the flourishing condition of England under the Edwards and the Henrys; in another part he had 509 said the people of England formerly lived on rye bread—the two passages were not very compatible—nor did he (Mr. Clay) exactly see how making wheaten bread cheap was to force the people to go back to rye. But let that pass. He would ask how it happened that the hon. Gentleman, who had paid much attention to this subject, should not recollect when it was, that the people of England began to substitute wheaten bread for rye? Could he be ignorant that the change took place, and the people began to live better, in the early part of the last century, much about the period when we were beginning to be a manufacturing country? Again, the hon. Gentleman said, that if we did permit the free importation of foreign corn, the growers would not take our manufactures in exchange—they would only take gold; he was really almost ashamed to reply to such an argument. How did the hon. Gentleman suppose we could get gold, except by sending our manufactured goods to the countries that produced it—in which case the increase of our trade by the repeal of the Corn-law would be equally secured? But, most extraordinary of all, the hon. Gentleman said, by way of explanation of the failure of the Corn-law to keep up steadily the price of corn, that it was never intended to sustain the price of corn; and again, that it had answered its object in respect of the fluctuation. How?—by preventing the price from ever rising very high or falling very low? No, but by protecting the consumer under high, and the grower under low prices. Why, in the name of common sense, if it were enacted neither to sustain the price of corn, nor to prevent fluctuation, for what was it enacted? To guard the British corn-grower against foreign competition, said the hon. Gentleman, and the noble Lord who spoke last seemed to be of the same opinion. But a protection against foreign competition which permitted wheat to fall to 36s., and a protection against high prices which permitted it to rise to 80s., was one of which he confessed he could not see the utility; and not a few of the interested parties would seem to have been of the same opinion with himself; for when wheat was at 36s., their Table groaned under the weight of petitions from agricultural districts, praying for more protection; and now the consumers of bread seemed to be as little satisfied 510 with the protection they were enjoying. But was it not in truth notorious, that the main object of the bill of 1828 was to keep corn steadily at a price which it was supposed would remunerate the English growers? Was it not equally notorious, that in effecting that object the bill had utterly failed? The fluctuations since 1828 (not to mention the yet greater fluctuations under the law of 1815) had exceeded 100 per cent. In truth, it might he shown by reasoning, to which he believed no reply could be given, that the inevitable tendency of a protecting duty on corn was to cause fluctuation in price. He stated in 1837 the grounds on which that conclusion rests; but, as he was not aware that those grounds had ever been stated by others, and as the conclusion, if just, was of the highest importance, he would take the liberty of briefly re-stating the argument to the House. If you raise the price of corn in this country by preventing its influx from other countries, either by absolute prohibition, or by a duty so high as to be really prohibitory, you force an extended cultivation; because it is absolutely certain, that, in preference to all other occupations, as much capital will be devoted to the production of corn as can be employed with the ordinary rate of profit. This result is inevitable, for bread is an article of the first necessity—the consumption is less than of any thing else checked by high prices; the people suffer, but they must be fed, and they buy dear bread if they cannot get cheap. In ordinary years therefore you will, at a price above the level of other countries, produce enough, or very nearly enough, for the consumption of the community. But the growth which in years of average produce was enough, in abundant years is too much. You have a surplus of corn; that surplus can only find a market abroad, and must therefore fall to the price of foreign countries less the expense of transit, and, as at home, you cannot have two prices; the price of all the corn in the kingdom falls as much below the average price of other countries as you had attempted to raise it above. What is the effect of so great a fall? Why, that the farmer is ruined or discouraged—a less breadth of corn is sown—the smaller growth coincides with a less favourable season—the prices rise again above the level of other countries—wild hopes prevail again among the growers of 511 corn—and you recommence your miserable cycle. The best chance for securing steadiness of price was in aiming to accomplish that which was also the most advantageous to the landholder, viz., that this shall be always an importing country. We have done as much as in us lay to render it absolutely certain, that it shall at intervals be an exporting country. You can by no possibility regularly maintain a price much above the level of other countries. Supposing even it were for your interest to do so, you can only produce that which you have produced—a ruinous fluctuation. But if the Corn-law failed in maintaining a price of corn above the level of other countries, was it on that account to be viewed as merely useless? On the contrary, he believed it to be fraught with evils of the very gravest kind to the best interests of the community, whether agricultural or commercial. On the evils with which it afflicted the agricultural interests he need not enlarge, as, if he were right in the view he had taken of its working, the prospect of protection it held out to the corn-grower was illusory, whilst its tendency to destroy agricultural capital was certain. But did it affect injuriously the commercial and manufacturing interests? In his opinion the dangers with which it threatened those great interests were of the most formidable kind. It was not his intention to go largely into this branch of the subject—it was the part of the question which had been most elaborately argued by his hon. Friend, whose statements, coming as they did from men deeply interested in ascertaining the facts of the case, were in a high degree worthy of the attention of the House. But whatever degree of credit the House might be disposed to give to those statements, there were, in his opinion, considerations, not dependent, or doubtful, or resting on disputed evidence, but resting on the admissions of the supporters of the present system, which were decisive against the propriety of maintaining it. The object of the Corn-law was greatly to limit at all times the importation of foreign corn, and under certain circumstances to stop it altogether—its uncontested effect was, from the uncertainty of admission into our market, to prevent corn being expressly grown for our use. But there is no one article produced by human skill and industry which will bear comparison with corn as a valuable object of commercial interchange 512 between this and other countries—the demand for it would be larger than the demand for any other article, and the capability of its production is spread over a wider portion of the earth's surface. Other of our chief articles of import—such as sugar, spices, tobacco, tea, wine, are objects of luxury, rather than of necessity—they are the produce likewise of limited portions of the globe, and those mostly distant from our shores; corn, on the contrary, forming the staple of human subsistence, there is scarcely any limit to the demand—if it were at a price within the reach of the labouring classes, and a great demand for our manufactures and full employment consequently afforded them the means of purchase. How wide, too, were the regions, how vast the population, with which a free trade in corn would permit us to maintain a beneficial intercourse! There were few climates in which corn could not be produced, whilst it was almost the only staple which could be offered to us in exchange by countries, the vicinity of which, would render commercial intercourse the most beneficial, and with which it was most important to us to preserve friendly relations. Almost the whole of central and northern Europe, by soil and climate, was fitted for the production of corn—throughout the wide regions watered by the Elbe, the Weser, and the Vistula, corn may be grown with advantage and would be grown for our use, if we would permit its importation. And would this effect only be produced by destroying the growing manufactures of the countries with which this intercourse would take place? Must our increased prosperity be built upon the decay of our rivals? He had no such impression—he entertained no such wish. He had never said, for he had never thought, that the growth of foreign manufactures was wholly to be attributed to our Corn-laws. He had never said, that it would be stopped by the repeal of those laws. In as much only as the manufactures of continental Europe are forced into unnatural existence by our Corn-laws, in so much only would they be checked by their repeal. Those manufactures for which any natural facilities existed would thrive in spite of the freest competition with us; and far be it from him to wish that it should be otherwise. But did hon. Gentlemen imagine, that because we should not supplant our manufacturing rivals, or rather 513 let him say our manufacturing brethren on the continent, that therefore we should find no market? Never could there be a more false assumption—with the new market we should afford for the produce of corn growing countries, new wants would arise which we should be called on to supply. The manufacturers of England would obtain a wider market; the manufacturers of the continent a more natural, and therefore a safer and better market. The manufacturers of each country would take the especial direction which the natural genius of the people and the peculiar aptitudes of soil and climate pointed out, and the result of the whole would be a vast increase of human happiness. The plough would turn more furrows in Silesia, in Poland, in Bohemia; the loom would be busier in Yorkshire, in Lancashire, and in Scotland. Our artizans would eat more bread; the German or Polish peasants would have better and cheaper raiment. It was at least clear, that as regarded the continent of Europe, our system of Corn-laws had shut us out from a wide field of beneficial enterprise—that it had converted friends into enemies, and customers into rivals. But a question of yet graver import, perhaps, remained. Did that system tend to render us less capable of competing with our manufacturing rivals in those markets where we met on equal terms? We have wilfully and designedly, by enacting these laws, shut ourselves out to a great extent from European markets. Have we, by the same enactment, endangered our transatlantic markets? Now, in considering this momentous question, let them again take only the admission of the supporters of the Corn-laws. The manufacturers say food is fifty per cent. cheaper on the continent than here; wages are consequently materially lower. At this disadvantage we cannot compete with our manufacturing rivals in American or Asiatic markets. The supporters of the Corn-laws, admitting, that food is cheaper abroad (as indeed they must, for it is their very proposition that it is good it should be so), reply yes; but your larger capital and greater skill, and the greater energy of our operatives, more than countervail this advantage, and it is not true, accordingly, that you cannot compete with the foreigner; and they refer us triumphantly to the increasing exports of manufactured goods. Now, in this view of the case, as 514 stated by the parties respectively, there is one thing very remarkable, viz, the perfect coolness with which, on their own showing, the supporters of the Corn-laws would appropriate to their own profit, that which is not theirs, viz., the whole advantages accruing from the superiority of the British manufacturer. They say you can make a piece of calico for 50s., which costs the Swiss or German manufacturer 60s.; therefore you can give us the 10s. difference, and yet subsist If the price of provisions in both countries were equal, you, the British manufacturers, would divide the extra 10s. among you, in the shape of larger profits to the master and greater comforts to the operative, inasmuch as though wages might be something nominally lower, they would command more food; but you shall give the whole difference to the operative, in the shape of higher wages, and we will take it from him in the shape of higher-priced food. That was the case of the supporters of the Corn-laws as stated by themselves, and upon that statement alone he thought the manufacturing population would be entitled to demand the repeal of those laws. Up to this point the Corn-laws would seem only to be unjust; but would their effect cease here? Was not their injustice coupled, as in almost all cases, with the grossest folly—folly which would cause that injustice to be visited on the heads of its perpetrators? Could it be seriously believed that we should always retain that superiority of capital and skill which enabled us at present to make head against the disadvantage of dearer food? If we could rely on the assertion of those who ought best to know the fact, we are already losing it; but he required no evidence to convince him that we could not long retain it. Capital would flow to the region where profits were largest—skilful workmen will migrate to the land where their wages will procure for them the largest share of enjoyment. The difficulty of transferring manufacturing capital, and attachment to their native land on the part of our operatives, might retard this process, but its result was certain. It was no answer to this argument to say that our export of manufactured goods was increasing. The wants of the new world were so vast that without our aid they could not at present be supplied. But of this the House might be assured, as a result from which there 515 was no escape, that if by maintaining the price of subsistence here greatly above the level of other manufacturing countries, they persisted in giving to the manufacturers of those countries a superiority of profit, they would at a period more or less remote see all our great staples transferred to other lands. The main feature of manufacturing industry as contradistinguished from agriculture was this—that, whereas in agriculture the highest cost of production governed the price of the produce of the soil in manufactures, the price of the article produced at the lowest cost governed the price of all similar articles. Wherever, therefore, any manufacture can be carried on at the least cost, there will be its ultimate seat—elsewhere it will languish and decay. When the time shall come, as come it must, that the capital and skill of foreign manufactures shall equal ours—one of two things must happen—either you must wholly lose your manufactures, or the wages of labour must subside to the level, or nearly so, of those paid by our foreign rivals. The natural advantages of England, in the possession of coal and iron for instance, and perhaps the native energy of her people, may always enable the capitalist to give somewhat higher wages here than elsewhere, but not to such an extent as to make up to the operative for any excessive difference in the price of food; and here he could not but advert to the monstrous doctrine that the labouring manufacturer had no interest in the repeal of the Corn-laws, inasmuch as if the price of food fell, wages would fall with it. That this opinion should be really and sincerely entertained by any persons—even by those whose humble station had afforded but little opportunity for mental training, was to him matter of surprise; but that it should find a voice with in the walls of the House of Commons—above all, that it should find a supporter in the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, as must be inferred from his speech on the motion for hearing evidence at the bar, was to him the subject of unbounded astonishment. This most extraordinary proposition rested on the assumption that the capitalist has some power over the wages of labour. Nothing can be more certain than that he has no such power. The price of labour is regulated wholly by the supply and demand. If there be an advantageous 516 field for the employment of capital, and the master-manufacturer have many orders to execute, he will, in the fear of being outbid, give wages up to the very highest limit that will afford him a profit on his capital, and this he will do, however cheap may be the price of provisions. If, on the other hand, there be a limited field for the employment of capital, and the master manufacturers have but few orders to execute, there will be great competition among the workmen, and whatever be the price of food, they will bid against each other for employment, down to the point of starvation. To talk, therefore, of the effect of a free importation of corn—and consequent reduction in the price of food—being to reduce wages, is to betray an entire ignorance of the laws by which the price of labour is governed, to mistake the effect for the cause, and to confound the necessary order of events. Wages would not fall because the price of food fell, but because in the struggle on which we were entering with the foreign manufacturer wages must of necessity approximate to the foreign level. The repeal of the Corn-laws would mitigate to the English operative the effect of that struggle, possibly by giving a healthy impulse and just direction to the manufacturing industry as well of other countries as of this; it might be the means of averting that struggle altogether. The maintenance of the Corn-laws, on the contrary, would render that struggle inevitable, and anticipate and aggravate its worst evils. The tendency of those laws is to lower the wages of labour, and increase the price of food; the effect of their repeal would be to raise the rate of wages whilst it lowered the price of food. In conclusion, he would entreat of those hon. Gentlemen who more especially represented the landed interests in that House to consider well whether it were prudent to reject year after year such motions as the present. This counsel proceeded from no unfriendly adviser. No one, if he might be permitted to advert for one moment to himself, could have less personal or selfish interest in this question. Utterly unconnected now, whatever he might once have been, with either commerce or manufactures, he had no other interest in the settlement of this great question than inasmuch as his fortunes were mixed up with the fate and fortunes of the country. He would go further; he could say with 517 perfect truth, that if there were one class in the prosperity of which, beyond all others, he should be disposed to take an interest, that class was the landed aristocracy of England. He believed the existence of such a class to be essential to the stability of the constitution—of that mild and tempered form of monarchy which beyond all other forms of Government was capable of combining the utmost extent of freedom, whether of person or opinion, with the supremacy of the laws, the security of property, and the highest degree of social refinement. But it was precisely because he thought so highly of the value of the land hold ers asa class, that he was alarmed at the pertinacity with which they clung to these useless—these worse than useless and disgraceful laws. "Look," said the hon. Gentleman, "at the advantages of the position in which you stand. Reflect whence those advantages are derived, and consider well whether by insisting on the maintenance of these laws, you do not place them all at hazard. The growth of the manufactures and commerce, and with them of the wealth and population of England, within the last three quarters of a century, is without a parallel in the history of nations—vast cities have grown up on barren heaths—every quarter of the land is filled with a thriving and wealthy population." Now, on what class of the British people does this unheard-of prosperity confer the greatest benefit? Beyond all doubt on the landholders. As proprietors of the soil of Britain you possess the greatest natural monopoly that the world ever saw. Every extension of trade, every advance of manufacturing skill, tends directly to your benefit. Every addition to the miraculous powers of the steam-engine, every improvement in the spinning-jenny or the powerloom—is an addition to the value of your estates. "Vos sed non vobis," might almost be your language to the ingenious men by whom such improvements are effected; for the profits of any new invention can only be retained by the inventor until the knowledge of it is diffused; but if it add to the general health and population of the country its permanent benefit is yours. It would scarcely be possible to over-estimate the effect of the commercial and manufacturing prosperity of England in the value of English estates; he believed it would be stating it too low to say, that it had within a century quadrupled 518 the rent and value. Did hon. Gentlemen know what was the value of good land in England a hundred years since? And what was its value now in the countries less auspicious to landholders than England? The rack-rent of good land in England a century back did not exceed 5s. per acre; and now, with some very rare and trifling exceptions, it did not amount to one half, or even a third of 5s. in any part of Continental Europe; indeed, over the greater part of Europe, as in the countries of the new world, rent could not be obtained, and the proprietor was forced to cultivate his own estates. To what circumstance could this difference of value be attributed, or why was an estate more valuable now than it was an hundred years ago in England, or than it now was in Silisia, or in Upper Canada? Could they imagine there was any other cause than the vast demand for every varied produce of the soil—not corn alone—which the wealth and population consequent on commerce and manufactures had created? It was well worthy of the observation of those who supposed that the rent of estates depended on keeping up the price of corn, that rent had risen altogether out of proportion to the price of corn; the average price of corn for the ten years since 1828 was 55s. 10d., an advance of not more than 37 per cent, on the price of the fifty years at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of last century, viz., from 1675 to 1725, which was 40s. 8d.; whilst rent had risen 300 per cent. What, then, was the obvious interest of the landholder? Above all things to protect, to preserve, to foster the commerce and manufactures of the country; but in maintaining the Corn-laws, as he had shown, by the admission of the supporters of those laws they cripple the growth and endanger ultimately the existence of those great interests. They limited the market for our manufactures in Europe, they endangered our possession of transatlantic markets. But higher considerations than such as could be drawn from appeals to the selfish interests of any class ought to influence the House in disposing of this question. Might not the continued existence of the Corn-laws tend greatly to enhance any danger to which our institutions were exposed, and to precipitate rash and ill advised change? Did they think, that the Corn-laws might be safely retained, because all classes of the people 519 were not at present united in demanding the repeal?—because the great masses of the labouring population would not join in the agitation on this question? Why, he confessed their holding aloof was with him the very strongest reason for immediate concession. Had the House remarked why they would not join the middle classes in demanding the repeal of the Corn-laws? Was it that they approved of those laws—that they were even indifferent to their existence? On the contrary, one of the very first acts of a Parliament elected according to what was called the People's Charter would be the sweeping away of those laws; and they abstained, they said, from petitioning for the repeal, because, in a House constituted as was the present House of Commons, the success of such petitions was hopeless. Again, they said, If we refuse to join the middle classes in procuring the repeal of the Corn-laws they will join us in demanding the People's Charter. Let the House beware lest it make good this prophecy—lest, in the utter hopelessness of seeing justice done in this matter, it drove the middle to make common cause with the working classes, and to force on a change in our form of Government as the only means of ridding themselves of what they felt to be an intolerable oppression. Never yet in the history of this country had those classes combined without achieving the object at which they aimed. As yet the Members of that House had the time to prevent the alliance—as yet they might withdraw all the better portion even of the working classes, the honest and the well-intentioned, from the guidance of the visionary, the fanatic, the revolutionist, and the incendiary. But it was mainly by their conduct on this question that their faithfulness and competency as legislators would be tested. If they showed, that, although chiefly belonging to the landed aristocracy, they looked in legislating to the interests of the whole community, they might preserve our present form of representative Government. If, on the contrary they clearly showed, that they would regard only the interest or supposed interests of that class from which the representatives of the people of England have hitherto been taken—then, as he believed, some great convulsion must ensue, and perhaps at no very distant period, in which assuredly it would not be the Corn-laws only that would be swept away.
§ Mr. Wodehouse
was perfectly convinced that the changes proposed by way of protection for agriculture were delusive, but he begged, at the same time to state, that if the present Corn-laws could not be shown, on a fair calculation, to be advantageous, not only to the landed interest, but to the commercial, manufacturing, and agricultural interests all combined, and to work well for the general good, he was ready to admit, that the sacrifice of the those laws ought to be made, though unquestionably, that sacrifice would be attended with heavy calamities. He maintained, however, that the law of 1828 had been most unfairly dealt with. At the introduction of that law, it was distinctly declared, that the object of it was to give increased facilities to import; and he ventured to assert, that that object had been attained. But when the President of the Board of Trade told the House, quasi Minister, that he rejoiced in agitation on the subject; and when another Cabinet Minister, the Secretary at War, declared, that if the present Corn-laws were maintained, public tranquillity was in danger—he asked whether those expressions, proceeding from Cabinet Ministers, did not hold out a premium to agitation? If out rages did not take place, such a result could not be owing to the wisdom displayed by the Executive Government on the occasion. The assertion, that foreign manufactures had increased in consequence of the British Corn-laws was an obvious fallacy. It was well known that the ruin of the manufacturing industry of England was one of the objects which Bonaparte had most at heart, and for this purpose he gave advantages to the provinces in the interior of Germany which he had conquered, and which he hoped by such means to retain under his dominion. The same sort of spirit was displayed by the King of Prussia, and, therefore, the argument could not be sustained, that our Corn-laws had been the cause of the increase of foreign manufactures. The House should always bear in mind that the rapidity with which British commerce gained an ascendancy in the world was without a parallel. In the short interval between the year 1794, when the action in the channel took place on the 1st of June, until the last action of Nelson at Trafalgar—a period scarcely exceeding ten years—every hostile navy was destroyed, and the facilities thus afforded to 521 British commerce led to an almost unlimited increase in the manufactures of the country. But it was not to be supposed by any man of common sense that advantages such as these could last for ever, and that, when peace was restored, foreigners would not begin to compete with British manufacturers. He was anxious to show, that the effect of the present Corn-laws had been misrepresented, not only in that House, but also out of it. In an address to British landowners, Earl Fitzwilliam, at whose instance the House of Lords was summoned to discuss the question of the Corn-laws to morrow—and at the rate at which they were going on it seemed likely, that the other House would be the first to come to a decision on the subject—in that address the noble Earl stated, that the object of the present law appeared to be to raise the price of corn to the level of 63s. or thereabouts. Now, he begged to say, that the act of 1828 had no such purpose, for it was distinctly declared in the course of the debate on the law, that if on a fair average of years the price of 60s. was maintained, every reasonable rent might be paid. The noble Losd proceeded to say, that the statistical documents of the Russian states acknowledged distinctly the injury which they experienced from the English Corn-laws, and it had become a proverb in Russia, that they manufactured wheat for England when England manufactured sugar and coffee for them, but that the Corn-laws had put an end to their manufacture of wheat, and, by the same blow had annihilated the manufacture of English sugar and coffee for Russia. The noble Earl next called upon his readers to examine calmly how the matter stood; and he stated, that for several years there had been little or no import of foreign corn for home consumption; that a moderate quantity had been constantly kept in bond, but that only a very small portion had been taken out for home consumption. Now, he wished, that that noble Lord, instead of consulting the statistical papers of Russia, had examined the official documents belonging to his own country. If he had done so, he would not, perhaps, have made the assertion, that there had been little or no import of foreign corn for home consumption. On referring to the Lords report of 1836, to which was appended an account of foreign grain brought into consumption from 1815 522 to 1835, he found, that during the first ten years, the quantity of foreign grain brought into consumption amounted to 7,000,000 quarters; but that in the last ten years of the period which, of course, excluded the years 1836, 1837, and 1838, the quantity equalled 13,000,000 quarters. He did not think, that any Gentleman would deny, that agriculture might fairly be considered as one of the great sinews of the national strength, and it was under the confidence which the British grower now enjoyed that agriculture had prospered, and he trusted, that no vote would be come to, the effect of which must be to to shake, if not entirely destroy, that confidence. He contended, that it was impossible to conclude merely from the price of corn what would be the tendency to import. It could be shown, that Ireland, during the six years from 1819 to 1824, when the price of wheat was between 50s. and 60s., exported to England considerably more wheat than she did in the preceding twenty years, when the price ranged from 80s. to 90s. on the average. He, therefore, thought it incumbent on Parliament to encourage the cultivation of the arable land of this country. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had referred to the year 1795, but that was a year of great pressure, arising from scarcity, though the pressure had been mitigated by the extraordinary activity of the Government, at the head of which was Mr. Pitt. The next instance of a period of scarcity to which the hon. Member had also referred was in 1801; and he wondered, that the conduct of the King of Prussia at that time seemed to have escaped from the memory of the hon. Gentleman. The King of Prussia took that opportunity of imposing a duty on the export of corn, and when the merchants remonstrated against the measure, he told them plainly that i was their own fault that they had not sent their corn to England before; and that as long as the price in England remained high he should keep up the export duty, but that he would lower it if the price in England fell. It had been contended, that any danger arising to this country from a dependence on foreign corn was merely chimerical; but let him ask what had been the case when the navigation of the Baltic fell under the dominion of France, from 1806 to 1813? It might be shown, that on the average of those 523 eight years (omitting from the calculation the year 1808, when a large import, amounting to above 1,000,000 quarters, was admitted into this country by the special connivance of Bonaparte, who allowed his generals to turn smugglers and contraband dealers in wheat)—the import was little or none. The average import of wheat and other grain, including the year 1808, was only 300,000 quarters; and excluding that year, only 150,000 quarters. Now, he asked, what would have been the condition of this country if the heart of agriculture at home had not been maintained? During those eight years, the people of this country were sustained by their own agriculture, though there was no impediment in the way of importation. It was a peculiar circumstance, too, that the year 1811 was a year of dearth, not only in this country, but also throughout Europe; and he, therefore, apprehended, that the idea of danger to this country from a dependence on other nations for the means of subsistence, was not wholly chimerical. He had referred particularly to the year 1811, because it was a year of peculiar character, and was distinguished by the passing of the Orders in Council. Now, a very few years ago he remembered having had a conversation with a person of considerable authority on subjects of this nature, who was formerly a Member of that House—he meant Mr. Frankland Lewis. The conversation to which he alluded related to the New Poor-law, and Mr. Frankland Lewis asked him how he thought it would work. He (Mr. Wodehouse) said, that he thought it would ultimately work well; but that he feared it might be accompanied in the first place with a stagnation of employment. Mr. Frankland Lewis's reply was, "Stagnation of employment! Why, who can suppose it possible that a stagnation of employment can occur in less than seven years?" Now, it so happened, that stagnation of employment did occur in less than seven months after that conversation, and when he reminded Mr. F. Lewis of his observation, that gentleman said, "True, but then there was the crisis in America." He admitted, that there was a crisis in America, but we might also have a crisis elsewhere. We might have a crisis in France—we might have a crisis in India, and in other parts of the world; and when the manufacturing population became discontented, they would find 524 their difficulties increased tenfold, with a scarcity of subsistence as well as a scarcity of employment. Upon these grounds he should decidedly oppose the motion.
§ Viscount Howick
* spoke as follows:—Sir, I can assure the hon. Member who has just sat clown (Mr. Wodehouse), that I give the fullest credit to the assertion with which he concluded his speech, that if he were satisfied that the existing Corn-law were really injurious to the community at large, he would offer no opposition to its repeal, however severe might be the sacrifice which such a measure would involve of the interest of the owners of land. I am convinced that this is the real feeling both of the hon. Gentleman and of the great body of the landed proprietors of this country, and I cannot, therefore, refrain from observing that, though I have perceived with satisfaction, during the course of this debate, a great improvement in the tone of those who have advocated a repeal of the Corn-laws, and much less of imputation upon the motives of their opponents, than we have heard upon former occasions, still, I do think, that the Gentlemen connected with the landed interest have great right to complain of the manner in which, out of doors, they have been represented, as resisting any change in the Corn-law, from the most sordid and selfish motives; as obstinately maintaining a system which they are well aware is deeply injurious to the nation at large, for the sake of their own personal advantage, totally regardless of the sufferings they thus impose upon others. I must say, that I consider this to be a most unjust accusation against the landed interest. I think, indeed, that those connected with this interest are much mistaken in clinging to what is called the protective system, but we ought not to forget that if this is an error, it is one sanctioned and countenanced by the whole course of our policy and legislation up to a very recent period; the exclusion from our market of every article which could compete with the productions of our domestic industry was, for 200 years, the principle universally acted upon, and so little is it true that the principle of protection has been applied by the landed interest for their own exclusive benefit, that, as was truly observed last night by* From a corrected report, published by Ridgway.525 the hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cayley), they have passed a great number of laws imposing high protecting duties upon many articles of which they are themselves the principal consumers. It is only within a very few years that even an approach has been made to a system of greater commercial liberality, and we must not forget that, till very lately indeed, a great majority of those very persons who now charge the landed proprietors with such extreme selfishness for maintaining the principle of protection with regard to corn, themselves insisted upon adhering to the very same, principle in respect of those manufactures in which their own interests were concerned. Surely, then, it is most unfair to ascribe to nothing but selfish and sordid motives, the refusal of the landed proprietors at once to abandon a system which had so long been approved by all parties, and more particularly by those who are now most clamorous for a change.
But, Sir, though I think the Gentlemen connected with the landed interest have been most unfairly and unjustly attacked, I trust they will not suffer these attacks to have the effect of preventing them from giving their calm and deliberate consideration to this momentous question; I hope that the hostile spirit in which a change of the existing law has too frequently been demanded, will not lead them hastily to conclude that such a measure must necessarily be injurious to them, or that it must be supported for the purpose of being so. I must beg leave to remind them, that, in advocating a change of the existing law, I at least cannot be suspected of any views or feelings hostile to the landed interest. I have the honour of representing the northern division of Northumberland, a district exclusively agricultural, and I believe I may confidently assert, that no county in the kingdom stands before it for the skill, the energy, and the success with which its inhabitants have prosecuted this great branch of national industry. That influence, therefore, which the wishes and interests of our constituents always have, and ought to have, upon the views of their Representatives, must dispose me to wish well to agriculture, and certainly my personal interests are not less deeply involved in its prosperity. I must be supposed to be worse than insane by any Gentleman who can imagine that I am 526 actuated by any feeling of hostility, or even of indifference, towards the landed interest. I may be wrong in my judgment, but, in forming it, I certainly have not been influenced by any sinister interest; I may be mistaken, but at least the opinion which I entertain has been formed without bias, upon much consideration of this momentous subject, and has been confirmed by my observation of what has actually been the effect of the existing law.
Sir, I consider this as a question which ought to be judged of far more by experience than by mere abstract reasoning. I wish, therefore, to bring it practically to the test of experience; to look back at what has occurred since the law of 1828 was passed, and to compare the results by which it has been followed with the anticipations of those by whom that measure was recommended to the adoption of Parliament.
Now, Sir, what were the grounds upon which it was so recommended to us?—The first consideration which was urged, and that which was most strongly pressed by the advocates of the measure, was, that it would ensure great steadiness in the price of corn. The hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cayley) denied that the law was expected to produce this effect; he asserted, that no Corn-law could possibly ensure steadiness of prices, and that we had no right to look for impossibilities. I confess I was surprised to hear this statement, which certainly is by no means in accordance with the arguments advanced by the proposers of the present law, at the time it was brought forward. My right hon. Friend (Mr. P. Thomson) last night quoted the language of Mr. Canning, who said, that he expected as a consequence of the measure, that the price of wheat would range from 55s. to 65s. a quarter. All the most distinguished advocates of the plan expressed a similar opinion; and, more than this, I find that when the law had been nearly five years in operation, Lord Ashburton, then Mr. Baring, on the occasion of a motion brought forward by Mr. W. Whitmore, on the 17th of May, 1833, expressed his conviction that the law was not only intended to ensure great steadiness of price, but that it had actually succeeded in doing so. The following is an extract from his speech upon that occasion;— 527I know it has been stated that prices have fluctuated between 52s. and 71s. during the last five years; but these must be extreme points, and I am sure that if the price ever reached 71s. it was only for a short time. Every body connected with agriculture knows that the price has continued steadily at about 60s.—sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower.Let me ask how this confident prediction of Lord Ashburton's has been realised? Is it true, that the price of corn has not fallen below 52s., and that if it has reached 71s., this must have been its extreme point, and one at which it would be maintained only for a very short time? On the contrary, the average price of wheat for the whole year, 1834, was only 45s. 11d.; for the year 1835, it was 39s. 5d., and at one time, at the close of the same year, it was as low as 36s. a quarter; on the other hand, instead of 71s. being, as Lord Ashbuton stated, the extreme rise which would ever take place, and a price only to be sustained for a very short time; the fact is, that the average of the whole period, from the month of August last, to the present time, has been 72s. 8d., and in the month of January, the average of one week was as high as 81s. 7d.
Then, Sir, the next effect the law was to have, was that of making the trade in foreign corn equable and steady, instead of our being exposed to what Mr. Canning described as an alternate deluge and drought. But what has been the effect of the law in this respect? Instead of a regular and moderate influx of foreign corn, for six years the entries for home consumption were reduced almost to nothing; and then again, in a single week, nearly a million and a half of quarters were entered at a nominal duty. We were also told that the measure was to cause the capital of the country to be employed in dealing in British, rather than in foreign corn; and here again the result has been precisely the opposite of that which we were taught to expect. Lastly, we were told, that by the operation of the law, the consumer on the one hand and the farmer on the other, were to be effectually protected from the distress to which these classes are exposed from very high or from very low prices. Instead of this, we know that the great body of our population are at this moment, suffering most severely from the high price of food, while 528 the extent of the distress to which farmers have been exposed from the opposite extreme of low prices in many of the years which have elapsed since the passing of the existing Corn-law, is too well known to admit of dispute. I hold in my hand a record of this distress, in extracts from speeches delivered from the throne, which I will refrain from reading to the House, as they were last night quoted by my right hon. Friend. But there is one description which has been given of this distress of greater authority even than theses speeches, inasmuch as it was founded upon a careful examination of evidence, with which I must be permitted to trouble you. The report of the committee upon agricultural distress, of 1833, contained the following passage—The committee of 1821 expressed a hope 'that the great body of the occupiers of the soil, either from the savings of more prosperous times, or from the credit which punctuality commands in this country, possess resources which will enable them to surmount the difficulties under which they now labour.' Your committee, with deep regret, are bound rather to express a fear that the difficulties alone remain unchanged, but that the savings are either gone or greatly diminished, the credit failing, and the resources being generally exhausted; and this opinion is formed, not on the evidence of rent-payers, but of many most respectable witnesses, as well owners of land, as surveyors and land agents.Sir, I think the advocates of the existing Corn-law can hardly deny the accuracy of the statement I have now made,—they can neither controvert the facts, nor dispute the wide difference between these results, and those which we were assured in 1828, would follow from our passing the bill which was proposed to us. It is possible they may be able to account for what has happened; they may be able to shew, that without this law, we should have been in a worse situation than we actually have, and that its provisions have, in no degree, tended to produce that alternate distress of the farmer and the consumer, which we have witnessed: they may be able to do this, but, at all events I think they must admit, that in all fairness of reasoning it is incumbent upon them to do so; that at first sight, at least, there is an apparent failure of the law to produce the effect anticipated, which it is necessary for them to account for. But, though several Gentlemen, advocating the the maintenance of the existing Corn-law, 529 have entered most elaborately into the whole question, they have one and all avoided touching upon this point, the right hon. Baronet in particular, who spoke last night (Sir E. Knatchbull), having been challenged by my right hon. Friend near me, to account for the difficulties to which the landed interest had been exposed, had only this answer to make, that the agricultural committees of 1833 and 1836, had not attributed the distress of the agriculturists to the existing Corn-law. This is perfectly true. But the right hon. Baronet must remember, that in the committee of 1836, the draft of a report was prepared by my hon. Friend, the chairman, (Mr. Lefevre), in which an alteration of the existing Corn-law was recommended, and, although this draft was rejected at a meeting of the committee, where, if I mistake not, seventeen out of twenty-three gentlemen who were present, were connected with the landed interest,—no attempt even was made to assign any other cause by which the then existing distress of the agriculturists could be accounted for.
I think then, that, as the advocates of the law have shrunk from the attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction between that which has actually taken place since it has been in force, with the predications of its authors, this circumstance alone, in all fair reasoning, would justify us in pronouncing that it has failed. But, Sir, I am prepared to go further; I think it can be clearly shewn, not only that the Corn-law has failed to avert the inconvenience which has been occasioned by the great fluctuations in the price of corn during the last ten years, but that it has greatly aggravated, if it has not produced, this evil. I think that we can trace, by a reference to facts, the operation of the law, both in further depressing the price of corn at the time when from favourable harvests, it must at all events have been low, and also in still further increasing the dearth which the present deficiency has produced.
In the first place, I will endeavour to show how it is, that, at the present moment, the inconvenience occasioned by high prices is increased by the provisions of the law. We know that the chief argument in favour of the fluctuating duty, was, that in case of a deficiency of our home-supply, it would enable the consumer to obtain foreign corn unburthened by any 530 duty, and thus give him all the benefit of a free trade in Corn. Now, this argument is obviously founded upon the assumption, that there is always to be found abroad an unlimited supply of foreign corn, ready to flow into this country whenever it is wanted, if we are willing to receive it. This assumption is utterly unfounded. Corn can no more be grown in foreign countries than it can here, except to meet an anticipated demand; and if it is grown upon the expectation of a demand which does not arise, the consequence must be, an extreme depression of its price, and great distress amongst the agricultural classes. But the effect of our fluctuating duty, is, to render it matter of extreme uncertainty whether the foreign grower can calculate upon a demand from this country or not. In the first five years, which followed the passing of the law, there was so high a range of prices, that the ports were never closed for any long period together, and the whole amount of foreign wheat, entered for home-consumption, was no less than 5,725,000 quarters; but, in the six following years, up to last harvest, the averages were constantly so low, that the duty was always kept above the rate which would admit of any profitable importation. What must have been the necessary consequence of these changes? The supply required in the first five years, must have created abroad an expectation of a demand in this country, and, when afterwards the ports were practically closed for so long as six years, it is impossible that the want of the anticipated market should not have occasioned very great distress to the cultivators and dealers in corn in other countries.
From reasoning, we may conclude, that such must have been the case, nor would it be difficult to produce evidence that it really was so. I hold in my hand a document, which I will not trouble the House by reading, which shows what was the effect abroad of the state of things I have described. It is an extract from a Hamburgh newspaper, of the year 1836, stating in much detail, the inconvenience occasioned to the holders of corn in that port, from the length of time for which they had in vain waited for a demand in this country, and strongly recommending that other channels of trade should be sought for, abandoning all idea of deriving any benefit from the corn trade with England under our present system.
531 The landholders in those parts of Poland, whence, in previous years supplies had been drawn for our market, are stated to have experienced very great difficulties, in consequence of the extreme depression of the price of their produce. But it was, of course, impossible that the foreign merchants or growers should long persist in a losing trade, the unnaturally low price of grain, occasioned by the glut arising from the failure of an expected market in this country, could not, therefore, be of long continuance. But I must observe in passing, that while it lasted, this state of things must have acted as a premium to our foreign competitors in manufactures. The unnaturally low price of food must have had all the effect of a bounty upon the productions of the foreign manufacturer, and though it is true that this is an advantage, he could not long enjoy it,—we know that the first moment of entering upon the field of competition with an established trade, is always that of the greatest difficulty; so that the effect of our fluctuating duty must have been to help our rivals through the critical period of first getting up their infant manufactures. I do not, however, wish to dwell upon this part of the subject, which has already been sufficiently noticed by preceding speakers. I wish rather to point out that the effect of the long closing of our ports must necessarily have been to compel the foreign growers gradually to abandon our markets, and to cause new channels of trade to be opened, so that when we were again in the last autumn in want of a supply from abroad, we could not expect any preparation to have been made for meeting a demand which had been so long interrupted.
Under such circumstances, it was in vain that, with the rise of the averages, we had a reduction of the duty upon foreign corn; this was now too late to be of any real service to the consumer. The sudden opening of our ports, no supply having been raised in foreign countries in anticipation of such an occurrence, produced a great rise in the prices of wheat abroad. The unexpected demand of so rich and populous a country, in a season of defective production at home, coming upon the European market without any preparation, had necessarily a very powerful effect in raising prices generally, and thus both depriving our own consumers of the benefit which it was anticipated they would 532 derive from the opening of the ports at a nominal duty, and producing much inconvenience to the consumers of those countries from which we draw our supplies.
A regular and constant trade in corn with this kingdom would be of inestimable advantage to the great agricultural countries of Europe; a supply would be created to meet the anticipated demand, and the intercourse would be mutually beneficial to both parties: but the case is widely different when, under the existing law, a demand arises from a deficiency of our own harvests, and our ports are, consequently, opened. The supply we require can then only be obtained by drawing upon that which foreign countries raise for their own consumption. Our superior wealth enables us to do this; we can afford to pay a price for wheat which attracts it from all quarters; but, in doing so, it necessarily also raises the price abroad far above its ordinary level. So sudden an increase in the price of food cannot take place without inflicting very great distress upon the foreign consumer, and thus the capricious and the irregular admission of foreign corn into our markets becomes almost as great a nuisance to the countries from which it is drawn, as our at other times refusing to receive the produce which has been raised in expectation of our demand. The hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Christopher), adverted to the riots which lately took place in some ports of France, to prevent the shipping of corn to this country, as an illustration of the danger to which we should be exposed, by making ourselves dependent upon other countries for a supply of food. In my opinion, it would have been impossible to have adduced a stronger proof of the very dangerous dependence upon foreign countries to which we are now exposed. I confess that I am in no degree astonished at the conduct of the French populace, or of the French Government, in this matter: what has occurred is the natural consequence of our own legislation. If we refuse to conduct a regular trade in corn with foreign nations, and thus prevent them from growing a supply for our market, is it to be supposed that, when the supply is defective, and when the people of other countries are suffering from the high price of the chief article of subsistence, it will in such a time of general scarcity be endured that England should come forward, 533 and, by her superior wealth, run up their prices, already high, 100 or 200 per cent. above the level of ordinary years? Such a system would be intolerable to other nations, for the prices, so raised by the superior wealth of England, would be famine prices to the people of other countries. I contend, therefore, that the effect of the existing law is to raise up difficulties in the way of our obtaining a supply in the time of our utmost need. The House will do well to recollect that we are, at this moment, shut out from the grain market of a very extensive part of the Continent. If I am not greatly mistaken, corn is not now permitted to be shipped for England, from any of the ports of the northern and western coasts of France, from those of Belgium, and of the greater part of Italy, including the Austrian dominions in that country, the territory of the Pope, and the kingdom of Naples. From none of these places is the exportation of corn to England now allowed, and the prohibition is, in my opinion, the direct and natural consequence of our own law.
But, independently of the interference of foreign governments to prohibit the exportation of corn, and of the insufficiency of the supply provided to meet an unexpected demand, the existing law further operates to raise to the consumers the price of foreign corn when it is wanted, by the extreme uncertainty and hazard which it produces in carrying on the trade in corn. When the duty, after having been for a long period, at a very high rate, falls by a rise of the averages to one that is merely nominal, there is always the greatest doubt how long it may remain at this amount, and consequently there is a sort of struggle amongst speculators, to enter for home consumption, the largest possible quantity in the shortest possible time. Owing to this, freight (there being an urgent demand for it,) rises to an unusual price, and all the other charges of importation are increased in a similar manner. The holders of corn, knowing that time is all important to the speculators, and that, therefore, the competition of corn which has to be brought from a greater distance can have little effect, are enabled to insist upon higher prices than they could otherwise obtain, Upon this point, I confess I was surprised to hear one of the advocates of the existing law, gravely quote as a proof of the advantages 534 of the system, a letter from the Continent, in which it is asserted that some of the Prussian merchants were anxious for the continuance of our Corn-law, because it enabled them, whenever our ports opened, to realise higher prices than they could otherwise obtain. No doubt such is the effect of our system of duties, but, however advantageous it may be in these cases to the Prussian merchants to be relieved from all effective competition, from those of Odessa, or other distant markets, and to be thus enabled to insist upon higher prices than they could otherwise expect; surely this is any thing but an advantage to the consumer in this country, by whom these higher prices have to be paid.
It is true, that, with such a deficiency as we have this year experienced, supplies are obtained from Odessa, and other distant places, but in importing from these quarters, the merchant is exposed to the risk of having the duty again raised, before he can bring his cargoes into the market, and for this danger he must, of course, be compensated by an additional profit, if the adventure should succeed. Thus the uncertainty of the continuance of the low rate of duty raises the price of foreign corn to the consumer, whether that corn has to be brought from a distance, or can at once be entered for home consumption, because, in the latter case, the holder is not exposed to effective competition, and because in the former, the merchant, though he may buy cheap, incurs so much risk that he cannot venture to carry on the trade, except with a view to high profits.
Nor is this the whole extent of the burthen, thrown upon the consumer, by the uncertainty in the trade, occasioned by our varying duties. It is a principle so clear, that, but for some of the very extraordinary arguments and doctrines, put forward by the supporters of the Corn-law during this debate, I should hardly have thought it necessary to state it, that no trade can be carried on, for a series of years, to a loss; if in any particular branch of commerce, great losses are at times experienced, they must, of necessity, be compensated by corresponding profits at other times, or the trade must clearly be abandoned. Hence it becomes a point of much importance, to ascertain the extent of the losses sustained by speculators in corn, during the period that a prohibitory 535 rate of duty was maintained, since these losses, must, sooner or later, be made good by the consumer. If we can discover the amount of loss, incurred while the ports remained closed, we shall be able to judge in some degree, what must have been the additional charge thrown upon the consumer, when the averages rose so as to allow of the admission of foreign corn at the low duty.
One of the witnesses examined by the Agricultural Committee of 1836, estimated the losses which had even then been incurred in this way, in the few preceeding years at not less than 3,000,000l. I have every reason to believe that this is no exaggerated calculation, but as hon. Members opposite may not be inclined to attach the same credit that I do myself to a general estimate, of which the particular grounds have not been stated, I have endeavoured to ascertain from data, which can hardly be disputed, what may be considered the lowest amount of expense which must have been incurred in holding foreign corn in bond in this country during the six years preceding the last harvest. It is obvious, that this expense can form only a very small part of the losses incurred in the trade in foreign corn for our market; many other very heavy items of loss would still remain to be ascertained, but without reference to these I am anxious to show to the House, how very large an expense must been incurred by the importers, during the time that the high rates of duty were maintained, under the single head of keeping foreign corn in bond in the ports of this country. With a view to calculate the amount of this expense, I have obtained a statement, skewing the quantity of foreign wheat imported, the quantity taken out of bond, and the quantity remaining in bond, at the end of each half year, from the 5th January, 1833, to the 5th July, 1837. From this statement, it appears, that there were 507,764 quarters of foreign wheat in bond, on the 5th January, 1833, and that in the nine following half years, to the 5th July, 1837, there were imported, 611,749 quarters more, making in all 1,129,513 quarters, which had passed through the bonding warehouses during the period in question. Of this quantity there were taken out of bond, during the same time, 545,079 quarters, and as the duty in these years, was constantly at a prohibiting rate, and only the small, quantity of 6,472 quarters, were 536 consequently entered for home consumption, the wheat taken out of bond must have been for re-exportation, except that which was destroyed, a mode of disposing of wheat that had been kept a long time in the warehouses, which the return moved for, by my hon. Friend, the Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines,) shews, in some cases, at least, to have been adopted. Whether re-exported or destroyed, it is obvious that no profit whatever could have been obtained by the importers, to make up for even a part of the expenses incurred in warehousing that corn to which I now refer, on the contrary, an additional and very considerable loss must have been incurred in disposing of it, beyond the charge of keeping it in bond. But confining my attention to the amount of this last charge, I find that the length of time for which the wheat thus unprofitably taken out of bond, must have been in warehouse, was, upon an average, 47½ months. I arrive at this result, by assuming, that the corn, first imported, was always that first taken out of bond, of course this would not be really the case, but in calculating the average time, that the whole remained in bond, no error can result from the assumption, since if some parcels of corn would be taken, as having been longer in warehouse than they really had, others would be in consequence, taken as having been so for too short a time, and the average obtained, will, therefore, be correct.
The cost of keeping corn in warehouse has, I find, been very variously estimated; the highest calculation I have seen, is 10s. a quarter annually, and the lowest 5s., and I am led to believe, that in taking it at 6s., I am not exceeding the truth. Upon this calculation, the actual charge for keeping in warehouse, 545,079 quarters of wheat; for an average time of 47½ months, will amount to 649,474l., and in the 4½ years, in which our markets were entirely closed against the admission of foreign grain, a loss to that extent must have been incurred by the importers, under this single head of expense. But of the 1,129,513 quarters of foreign corn, which, as I have said, had been at different times in warehouse during these years, there still remained in bond, on the 5th of July 1837, 584,434 quarters; of this quantity, about two-thirds were entered for home consumption, some at a high rate of duty in the following half year, and the re- 537 mainder in the course of the last autumn; upon the same principle of calculation as before, I find that the average period for which it had been in bond, before it was taken out, to have been nearly 30 months, at an expense of 419,762l., making a total charge incurred in keeping in bond, the 1,129,513 quarters, which had been imported during the time our ports were closed, of no less a sum than 1,066,236l. or about 19s. a quarter.
Sir, I am aware it may be said, that so far as regards that portion of this wheat, which was eventually entered for home consumption, at a low rate of duty, the calculation I have just made is fallacious, in as much as under any mode of conducting the corn trade, wheat imported, must be kept very frequently for considerable periods in warehouse, and the charge so incurred upon this part of what was imported before July 1837, cannot therefore be regarded as a loss occasioned by the existing law. I am not disposed to deny altogether the force of this answer, I am aware that the whole expense of keeping this wheat in warehouse, cannot fairly be attributed to the operation of the law, but far the larger part of it undoubtedly must be so, and against the amount, whatever it may be, by which I may have overestimated the loss incurred under this head, there has to be set all the very much heavier loss which must have been thrown upon the importers, by being compelled at a great sacrifice to dispose of the very considerable quantity of wheat, which, I have shewn, they were compelled to re-export, and some of it actually to destroy. When it is considered that I have allowed nothing for any loss of that kind, or for that sustained upon corn ware housed in foreign ports, on account of English capitalists, though I have reason to know that there were considerable stocks of wheat held at a very serious expense in some of the foreign ports of exportation, it seems to me impossible to doubt that the loss incurred by the dealers in foreign corn since 1833, must far have exceeded the sum of 1,066,236l. at which I have calculated it,
I will, however, take it at this amount only, and I contend, that in seeking to ascertain what is the direct charge which has been imposed upon the British consumer of foreign corn, by the existing law, we may fairly assume, (upon the principle, that the loss incurred in the trade at one time, must be compensated by a corres- 538 ponding profit at another) that this sum, together with the actual amount of duty received, must have been repaid by the increased price put upon foreign corn, admitted for home consumption. But the amount of duty received upon foreign corn, in the last two years, has been 439,963l. which, added to the loss I have calculated at 1,066,236l., will give a sum of 1,506,199l. as the whole direct charge upon the foreign wheat admitted for home consumption, since July 1837, and, as the number of quarters entered for consumption, from that time, to the 5th January 1839, has been 1,941,990, the impost cannot be considered at less than 15s. 6d. a quarter, in addition to the further and very heavy tax which we have had to pay, in the shape of increased price to the foreign holder of corn, and of increased charges for importation, arising from the uncertainty of our system, in the manner I have already shewn.
There is another mode of estimating the charge, which the existing law has thrown upon the country, under the circumstances of the last season, notwithstanding its having admitted of the importation of a considerable quantity of foreign corn, at a nominal rate of duty.
It is now about six months, since the deficiency of our home supply of wheat became apparent and produced a considerable rise of price; in September, the averages attained the point at which the duty is reduced to its lowest amount, yet in consequence of the restricted supply obtainable from abroad, the importations were only able to lower the price of wheat for a short time; the temporary fall which followed the entry of a considerable quantity of foreign wheat, was soon more than recovered, and the average price of the last six months has been about 72s. Now, Sir, it is, I think, quite impossible to suppose, that so high a price could have been maintained for so long a time, under a different system of Corn-laws, and if we assume, that while the Is. duty has been generally chargeable, the want of a more abundant supply of foreign wheat, has raised our market prices only 5s. a quarter beyond the rate, which, under a more certain system, might have been expected to prevail, I am convinced, that we shall very greatly indeed under estimate the amount of the burthen thrown upon the consumers of wheat, in one of those periods of scarcity, during which it was 539 the great argument of the advocates of the law, that by the contrivance of the varying scale of duties, we should enjoy all the benefits of a practically free trade. But, as the annual consumption of wheat in this country, is estimated at from 12 to 14 millions of quarters, it will follow, that, at the lowest calculation, an addition of 5s. a quarter, to the price of wheat, during six months, must have been equivalent to a tax levied upon the consumers, of no less a sum than 1,500,000l.
These considerations seem, to me, clearly to establish the conclusion that the relief which it was supposed the consumer would derive, from the reduction of the duties upon foreign corn by means of the varying scale, has been proved by experience, to be altogether fallacious and imaginary; we impose on the contrary, as heavy, or rather, a much heavier burthen upon the country, than if we levied a high fixed duty upon Corn, the only difference is, that while we impose the burthen, we carefully contrive to do it in such a manner, as to bring in no revenue to the State. Surely this can hardly be defended as a wise arrangement; it may perhaps be true, as I have heard some Gentlemen assert, that we ought not to levy a revenue by a tax upon the food of the people, but the objection to such a tax is surely not the revenue it brings in, but the burthen it imposes, and if we are required to submit to the burthen, we should at least take care, that we do not lose the revenue; I cannot, therefore, regard it as otherwise, than a decisive objection to the existing law, that it imposes a charge upon the country, at least as severe as a fixed duty, which in the last few months, would have brought in 1,000,000l, or 1,200,000l. to the Exchequer, while it has been comparatively unproductive of revenue. Can we regard it as otherwise than a most improvident and thriftless waste of the resources of the country, to throw away so large a sum which might have been realized and applied towards the reduction of some of our other burthens, without throwing the slightest additional charge upon the people?
Sir, I will now proceed to that which I consider a yet more important branch of my argument, and I will endeavour to shew, that if in a time of scarcity our fluctuating duty presses heavily upon the consumer, in periods of abundance, it has pressed no less heavily upon the farmer; 540 in the one case it enhances the too high prices, and aggravates the difficulties of such a season as the last; in the other, it increases to a degree absolutely ruinous to the producer, that fall of prices which an unusual plenty must at all times occasion. The very fact, that in unproductive years, our Corn-law, as I have endeavoured to shew, restricts our supply from abroad, and thus enhances the price of wheat in the home market, must, of necessity, produce the opposite effect upon a recurrence of seasons of a contrary description, from the unnatural stimulus which the high prices must give to an increased growth of wheat. The first four or five years after the passing of the Act of 1828, we required from the deficiency of our own crops a considerable supply of wheat from abroad, and, under these circumstances, the effect of the law was undoubtedly both to raise the prices of wheat higher than they otherwise have been, and to inspire the producers with false hopes, that these prices would be maintained. A powerful stimulus was thus given to the increased cultivation of wheat, and favourable harvests having followed, there was a redundant supply, which produced the great depression of prices and agricultural distress, which were so severely felt from 1833 to 1836. I am aware, that this statement is not in accordance with that made by the Agricultural Committee of 1833; in the report of that Committee, it is asserted, that the produce of wheat in this kingdom had fallen off rather than increased since 1821. Sir, I should not have the presumption to ask the House to prefer my authority to that of the Committee, but the authority of facts is before either, and this is in favour of the statement I have made. In 1821, it was shewn, that upon an average of years we did not at that time produce as much wheat as sufficed for our own consumption; but from the harvest of 1832 our consumption was, for six years, almost entirely supplied by our own produce, the amount of foreign corn entered for home consumption, during that time, having been too trifling to deserve notice. Yet, between 1821 and 1831 our population had increased from 21,193,000 to 24,271,000, and the consumption between 1833 and 1836, was augmented far more than in proportion to the increased population, owing to the cheapness of corn, and to the high wages, which, from the 541 commercial prosperity that prevailed during the greater part of the period, were paid in the manufacturing districts. It is notorious also, that wheat, in consequence of its very low price, and the comparatively less abundant supplies of other sorts of grain, was used to a considerable extent for malting, and also for feeding cattle and sheep. This immensely increased consumption, which, for six years, was supplied by our home produce, without any assistance from importation, that deserves to be noticed, affords the most conclusive proof of a very greatly increased production of wheat; this increased production sufficiently accounts for the depression of prices during the period in question, and can itself only be attributed to the artificial stimulus caused by the high prices, which immediately followed the passing of the existing law, and by the hope this law encouraged, that similar prices would be maintained.
Sir—I perceive that the hon. Gentleman (Col. Wood) admits the fact of the greatly increased production of British wheat in the period to which I refer, but implies that this increase must have been a benefit to the nation. Undoubtedly, if the increase in the growth of wheat had been a natural and healthy increase, it would have been a great national advantage, but the forced and artificial increase which took place, not of cultivation generally but of the growth of wheat, too often in place of other crops, and to the permanent injury of the land, was very far indeed from being in any respect beneficial to the country.
But this is a point upon which I do not wish now to dwell; the unnatural stimulus which had been given to the growth of wheat was certainly one powerful cause of the very low prices, which for some years prevailed, but it was not the only, nor, perhaps, the most injurious mode in which the existing law operated in this direction. It appears to me impossible to doubt that the discouragement of trade in British corn, by the varying duties upon foreign corn, must have had a very great share in producing the extreme depression of the price of wheat from 1833 to 1836. The tendency of our present scale of duties so to discourage trade in British corn is sufficiently obvious, since the very object of the progressive reduction of the duty upon foreign corn with every rise of the averages, is to check that tendency to a 542 rise in the markets, by which alone the speculative purchaser can hope to obtain a profit. It may be contended, indeed, that at the very low prices to which British wheat fell at the close of 1835, the present scale of duties upon foreign corn could not have had any effect in discouraging speculation, since there was ample room for profit between 36s. or 40s., at which wheat might at one time have been bought, and 66s. or 67s. to which at least the average price must have risen, before the rate of duty could possibly allow any considerable quantity of foreign wheat to be entered for home consumption. I should certainly have been inclined before hand to suppose that such would have been the case, and that the existing law would have had little effect, at very low prices, in discouraging the trade in British corn, but experience has shewn the fact to be otherwise. This may, perhaps, be accounted for, partly by supposing that the disadvantage of dealing in British corn at particular prices, from the rapid reduction of the duty on foreign corn as the averages rise, produces a general dislike to the trade, which does not cease to operate even when this reason for it no longer applies; and still more effect is probably produced by the large amount of capital locked up in foreign corn to which it is attracted, by the much higher profits resulting from a successful speculation in this than in British corn. A rise in the markets, it is obvious, only adds to the value of British corn to the extent of that rise, but it adds to the value of foreign corn in bond, not only to this extent, but to the much greater extent of the reduction of duty it occasions. It is true that these high profits are only to be obtained by incurring a proportionate hazard of loss, but I fear that a trade is not rendered less attractive to the generality of men by holding out the prospect of great but uncertain gains, rather than of moderate advantages and diminished risk. Be the explanation of the fact, however, what it may, there is no doubt that during the time the existing Corn Law has been in force, the trade in British corn has languished, and that the want of speculative purchasers has greatly contributed to depress its price. We have the concurrent testimony to this effect of very numerous witnesses, of the most opposite pursuits and opinions, some of them farmers, others corn dealers, some opponents, and 543 others advocates, of the existing law. I will only refer to the names of Mr. Hodgson, Mr. Sturge, Mr. Scott, Mr. Calthorpe (a great advocate of the existing Corn-law), Mr. Evans David, and of Mr. Blamire, whose practical acquaintance with all that relates to agriculture, and whose sound judgment upon questions of this kind cannot fail to be appreciated by this House, of which he was so lately a Member. These witnesses, and many more whom I might mention, all concur in stating that there has been a marked absence of speculation in British corn under the existing law. I will not, however, trouble the House by reading the evidence they have given, but there is a short extract from the evidence of one of the witnesses examined in 1833, which seems to me so clear upon this point, and so important, that I must venture to call your attention to it. The witness to whom I allude is Mr. Low, Professor of Agriculture at Edinburgh, and a Land Surveyor, extensively employed, as it appears, in the celebrated corn district of the Lothians. His evidence is as follows:—11453. What are the advantages you contemplate from a fixed duty, which a shifting scale does not afford? I think that one of the practical inconveniences of the present system, is, that the attention of the trader in corn is directed more to the foreign trade in corn than to the home trade in corn. In the case of the foreign trade, there are two contingencies to calculate on; the decrease of duty, and the increase of price. In the case of home produce, the trader only calculates upon the contingency of the increase of price. Therefore, there appears to be a greater inducement to invest capital in the foreign than in the home produce; and I think that experience has shewn it to be so, since the operation of the law. And I conceive this practical inconvenience may be the result. When a farmer is threshing out to supply a present necessity, there is no capital between him and the consumer; whereas, if the capital of the trader in corn was more directed to the home produce, the farmer, at such a period, would be relieved.11454. The result of your experience, leads you to think that the speculators in corn, under the present law, speculate entirely in foreign corn, and not in home-grown corn?—Not entirely, but certainly more, comparatively, in foreign than in home-grown corn.11455. Have you observed the effect that has been produced on stocks in hand at harvest, either in the hands of the farmer, in his granary and stack-yard, or the miller and jobber; are the stocks as large as they used 544 heretofore to be?—I think not, on a series of years.11456. In average years, the farmers in Lothian have as much wheat on hand in harvest as they used to have?—No, I do not think the farmers have the same stock in general at harvest that they used to have.11457. Has it diminished materially?—It has diminished to a considerable extent.Sir, I think this evidence sufficiently proves both the discouragement of speculative trade in British corn, by the existing law, and the great injury which results to the farmer from this discouragement. But what most particularly, in my opinion, deserves the attention of the House, is the statement as to the diminution of the stocks of corn usually left in the country, when a new crop comes in. Mr. Low's evidence on this point was confirmed by that of a very great number of witnesses; and the committee were so satisfied of the fact being as it was represented, that, in their report, they adopt the conclusion, that the usual stock of British corn, left at harvest, which used formerly to be about equal to six months' supply, had not, of late years, been more than a fortnight's consumption. I am convinced, that this statement of the committee is correct; indeed, when we remember, that their report was drawn up by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke (Sir J. Graham), one of the ablest advocates in this House of the existing law, it is very little likely that any such statement should have been adopted upon insufficient grounds, or that any conclusion, making against the present system, should have received the sanction of his authority, unless it had been most clearly and satisfactorily established. I assume, then, that under the operation of the Corn-laws, the stock of British wheat, usually in reserve at the time of harvest, has been reduced, as stated by the committee, from a supply equal to six months' consumption, to one sufficient for a fortnight only; and I would call upon hon. Members, who wish to maintain the law as it stands, seriously to consider how important are the inferences to be drawn from this fact. It affords the most conclusive proof of the degree to which our existing law has tended to discourage that natural and healthy trade in British corn, which if left to itself, would form our real security against either the extremes of high, or of low prices.
The diminution of the stock of wheat usually kept in hand, can only arise from 545 a decrease of the speculative purchasers by which such a stock is accumulated, and by which, at the same time, a supply of more than usual abundance is prevented from causing a ruinous depression of the markets. This must be highly injurious to the farmer, in times of plenty, but it is a still more serious consideration, how greatly the effects of a deficient harvest must thus be aggravated. It is reckoned a very great and unusual deficiency, when the crop of wheat is one fourth below that of an ordinary year; the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Wood), says such a deficiency would be almost a famine. Sir, my fear is, that under the existing law, it might turn out to be, not almost, but quite a famine, and though, happily so great a deficiency as I have mentioned, is a very rare occurrence, it is one by no means unexampled; the failure of the crop in 1816, has, I believe, upon the best authority, been considered as having been not to a less extent. I ask the hon. Member, then, to consider what would be the situation of the country, under the visitation of such a crop as 1816, under a system by which the usual stock of corn at the time of harvest, has been reduced from a six months' to a fortnight's supply? With a six months' stock in hand, it would require two successive harvests, deficient to this extraordinary degree, to exhaust the resource we should thus possess against a deficiency of food, even, though we were to fail in obtaining any supply from abroad; but with only a fortnight's stock of corn before hand, a single harvest of this description, would render it necessary for us to import at least two-and-a-half millions of quarters to avert all the distress of a positive want of the first necessary of life. The habitual existence of a considerable reserve of corn in the hands of the farmer, and of the merchant, is what alone can effectually mitigate that pressure upon the population, which a defective harvest must always to a greater, or less extent occasion, and yet the existence of any such reserve, it is, upon the showing of the advocates of the Corn-law themselves, the effect of that measure to prevent. Sir, we are at this moment suffering from this operation of the law; our present high prices are owing not merely to the restrictions of the supply of foreign corn, to which I before adverted, but to a deficiency of British wheat occasioned both by the 546 discouragement of trade, of which I have just endeavoured to show the effects, and also by the diminished cultivation of wheat, which is known to have been caused by the low prices, from 1833 to 1836; for the hon. Member, who regarded as a national advantage, that increased production of wheat, to which he admitted, that I correctly attributed the very low price which prevailed four years ago, would do well to remember, that this increased produce, and the glut which it occasioned, were necessarily followed by a subsequent contraction of cultivation. Thus, in every way, the existing Corn-law acts and reacts in aggravating the inconvenience which results, either from a dearth, or from a glut.
Sir, this is a result at which we have in my opinion, no right to be surprised, when we reflect that the natural course of trade, with which I have shewn, that the cumbrous and complicated regulations of our law, so greatly interfere, is the instrument obviously designed by Providence, for regulating the supply of food to society, and for moderating, as far as they can be moderated, those inequalities in the prices of the produce of the soil, which the varieties of the season are calculated to occasion. To judge of the full importance of this effect of trade, we should look to what occurs in those states of society, where it is able to exercise but little of its salutary influence. In rude and barbarous countries, where the want of capital and security cripple the energies of commerce, the fluctuations which take place in the prices of corn, are found to be very great; because on the one hand, as the producers must sell to meet the charges to which they are liable; while the consumption of food can never undergo a very sudden and considerable extension, where there is little demand, except that for immediate consumption, a comparatively small excess of supply, must produce a more than corresponding depression of price, from the competition of sellers; and on the other hand, as the consumption cannot without extreme inconvenience be much restricted, when there is no reserve in the hands of capitalists to meet a deficiency, even a small deficiency may occasion a great rise of prices, from the general struggle of all to obtain their usual amount of subsistence.
Accordingly, where, by any circumstance, the operations of trade are sub- 547 jected to great difficulties and discouragement, it has often been observed, that the price of grain varies very much, not only according to the different degrees of productiveness of different seasons, but with the different periods of the year.—Very low prices immediately after harvest, and very high prices before a new crop comes in are, in such a state of society, almost habitual, while the extreme cheapness of productive seasons is most fatally compensated by the corresponding intensity of dearth which a single season of scarcity is sufficient to produce.
In those parts of the world in which civilization has made but little progress, examples of this are to the present day to be found. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Thomson), last night, stated, that he had known wheat in some parts of the interior of Russia, to sell for only 5s. a quarter, and it was in the very same part of that empire, that two or three years ago, there prevailed a dearth so severe, that it might almost deserve the name of a famine.
In the earlier periods of our own history, instances of the same kind are not wanting; the prices borne by wheat in this country, in many years of the 13th and 14th centuries, have been recorded, and I will take the liberty of reading to the House, some instances which I have selected of the very violent alterations from high to low prices, which in those days took place.
In the year 1244, the price of wheat, in money of the present day, according to Adam Smith, was 6s. a quarter; two years afterwards, in 1246, it was 48s. a quarter; in 1270, it is said to have reached sixteen guineas. I need not observe, that at this period, it did not constitute the food of more than a very small part of the population.
In one part of 1288, the price was as low as 3s., and in another it rose to 28s. It was in 1289, 36s.; it fell in the same year to 6s., and rose again to 60s. In 1317, the price was 72s., fell to 42s., rose to twelve pounds, and fell again to 20s.
Sir, I might quote many other years in which similar alterations of price took place, but it is needless to do so, those I have given sufficiently exemplify their violence at this period. I need not say that these are extremes of prices, to which in these days, and even under our existing law we have seen no approach; they go 548 far beyond what occurred even in the calamitous period at the commencement of the present century, when we had an alternation of productive seasons, with others of almost unexampled severity, of which the effect was aggravated by the desolation of so large a part of the civilized world, by war and commotions. Nor need I observe, how grievous to all classes of the community must have been the distress to which such irregularities as these in the supply of food, must necessarily have given rise. And to what is it that we owe our exemption from the same evils? Simply to the dealings of the trader; it is by these, and by these only, that we have secured to us the inestimable blessing of the comparative steadiness in the price and supply of food, which in these days we enjoy. The manner in which commerce operates in producing this effect, is one of the most important discoveries of modern times. We now understand that the merchant in buying corn, when it is plentiful and cheap, though he may be looking only to his own advantage and future profit, is in fact performing the most essential service to the community? By the additional demand, he thus brings into the market, he checks that fall of prices, which to the great loss of the farmer, and therefore to the ultimate injury of the consumer, must inevitably take place, if with an extraordinary supply, the only purchasers were those for immediate consumption, And while he thus checks the ruinous fall of prices in plenty, he is at the same time making the best provision against future scarcity, and by bringing out upon such occasions, the reserve he has before accumulated, he mitigates the severity of the distress which the diminished supply of food must otherwise occasion. Nor is this all, by causing a timely rise of price as soon as a deficiency is known, he enforces a wise economy of consumption during the whole year, and thus arrests the horrors of a famine at its close.
Sir, I greatly regret that I have been compelled to trouble the House with these general remarks on the nature and effects of trade, but I have thought it necessary to advert to these, now well-known, principles, because they are of vital importance in considering the subject now before us, and my whole argument on the effect of the law in discouraging trade, entirely hinges upon them, while they seem to have 549 been completely lost sight of by the speakers on the other side.
And, in speaking of the manner in which the supply of food to a large and civilized community is regulated by trade, I am reminded of the argument of the noble Lord, the Member for Shropshire, (Lord Darlington), that the present high price of corn caused no distress to the labourer, because his wages had risen in the same proportion. Surely the noble Lord would have perceived that this is utterly impossible, had he reflected that the rise of prices, which always takes place in consequence of a deficient supply, is nothing more than the effect of that natural mechanism of society, which seems to have been contrived by Providence for the purpose of guarding us against the evils of famine; it is by high prices that such an economy in the consumption of food is enforced, as may enable a short crop to last until another can be obtained. Now, if wages rose in proportion to the rise in the price of corn, this object would be defeated; it is, therefore, quite impossible that a rise in the price of corn should produce an equivalent rise of wages, and the very statement of the noble Lord shows that, in the case to which he refers, it had not done so. The usual wages, he tells us, of a labouring man, in that part of Lincolnshire in which he resides, were, in 1835, 12s. a-week, and they have now risen to 15s. Sir, I fear that this increase is by no means general; that the country with which the noble Lord happens to be acquainted has been, in this respect, unusually fortunate; but even in this favoured district, the increase of wages which has taken place is but twenty-five per cent., while the price of wheat has risen one hundred per cent. in the same time. An hon. Member opposite asks whether a labouring man spends all his wages in bread. Certainly not; nor did I mean to argue that, in order to enable him to have the same supply of food as before, his wages ought to have risen one hundred per cent. because the price of wheat had risen to this extent; but I do mean to say that, considering the proportion of his earnings, which an agricultural labourer is usually compelled to spend in purchasing bread for himself and his family, his wages ought to have risen, not twenty-five, but more probably seventy-five per cent., to prevent him from being exposed to priva- 550 tions by the present price of wheat, as compared to that of the winter of 1835.
But, Sir, this is a topic to which I did not intend to allude, and on which I will not further remark; my aim, in the observations I have addressed to the House, was, as I stated in the outset, to show that the evil of too high and of too low prices which we have experienced at different periods within the last ten years, has, in both cases, been aggravated by the operation of the existing law; and I think I have now proved this to have been the case. It appears to me clearly to follow from the facts and arguments I have stated, that this law, of which the object and avowed intention was to secure, by its complicated regulations, a forced and unnatural equality of prices, has, on the contrary, in its practical effect, tended to increase and aggravate those fluctuations in the price of the produce of the soil, which the variations of the season must always, to a greater or less extent, occasion. It has done this by impeding and interrupting the course of trade, which is the natural regulator of prices, and thus carrying us one step backwards in civilization—one degree nearer to the irregularities in the supply of food, which, in barbarous countries, where trade is not permitted to flousish, I have shown to occasion so much inconvenience.
Sir, I am persuaded that such will ever be the result of our interfering, by means of complicated and artificial regulations, with the natural order of things, and with that beautiful mechanism of society, which seems to me to bear so clearly the impress of unerring wisdom and divine benevolence. That more mischief has not ensued from our legislation may well, I think, be matter of congratulation; and it is a new proof how admirably contrived and adapted to its intended objects is the constitution of human society, that greater disturbance has not been produced, even by such ill-judged and perverse interference with its natural arrangements, as that of which we have presumed to be guilty. Yet let me not be misunderstood, as saying that much harm has not been done by our legislation upon this subject. Far from it; great evil, though less, I think, than we have well deserved, has resulted from the existing Corn-law; and the greater part of that evil, as I believe will always happen in such cases, has fallen upon the heads 551 of those for whose special benefit the law was intended.
Sir, I say the greatest share of the evil consequences of the law has fallen upon those for whose benefit it was intended; and, in support of that assertion, allow me to read the account which was given of the manner in which the agricultural interest has suffered under its operation by one of the witnesses examined in 1833. Mr. Cooper, a land-agent, and also himself a proprietor of land, gave the following evidence:—9667. Amongst the farmers that are made insolvent, are there many of industrious and prudent habits?—Yes.9668. Men that had at the outset a capital adequate to the cultivation of their farms?—Quite equal to it.9669. Is that class very numerous?—Yes, that class is numerous who had a property quite equal to the capital required upon their farms, but now their capital is diminished, and, in many cases, gone.9670. Do you think those men, in taking their farms, acted with the average prudence, or were there instances of improvidence in taking farms?—The value of a farm has been very difficult to ascertain, both as regards the land and the produce; because the prices of produce have been so fluctuating, that no man could value land accurately.9671. It is hardly possible for a man to judge at what price he would be safe at taking land?—No.9673. Has the farming of land been a kind of lottery lately?—Yes.9674. Was it the custom at former periods for farming to be a dangerous trade?—No.9675. Was it considered as being a safe pursuit?—Yes.9692. Do the farmers generally keep as great a stock of grain as they did formerly?—No.9693. Is that visible in their yards and in their barns?—Yes.9694. To a considerable extent?—Yes, to a very considerable extent it is visible.Such is the description, given by a witness entitled to the highest credit, of the practical consequences of the system we have pursued; and I cannot too earnestly call upon all who are interested in the welfare of agriculture seriously to reflect upon this statement, of the issue of the fatal experiment in which we have now for four-and-twenty years persisted. For that long period we have now given the fullest trial to the principle of what is termed protection; in 1815 this principle was carried to its furthest possible point, and a Corn-law was passed in strict con- 552 formity with the wishes of the agriculturists; it turned out that in granting them what they had asked, the most fatal boon had been conferred upon them; and it was after a few years all but universally admitted by all parties that the law of 1815 had proved an utter and complete failure. Accordingly in 1828, another and the most approved method of applying the same principle of protection was adopted, a new Act was passed, and in framing it the agriculturists, the advocates of prohibition, and the friends of artificial regulations, were again the parties who were listened to, and whose views were adopted. And what has again been the result? I have shown that during the period of ten years, which has since elapsed, the time of Parliament has been occupied at least half of those years in listening to the loudest, the bitterest, and I must say the justest complaints of agricultural distress. The first years after the passing of the Act, deficient crops produced high prices, and these prices, with the false hope that they would be maintained, with which our legislation inspired the farmers, gave an unnatural stimulus to production; more wheat was sown, higher rent was offered for land, and a delusive appearance of agricultural prosperity was for a time created. But favorable harvests succeeded, and notwithstanding the complete monopoly of the home market the prices of wheat continued to fall; the farmers could no longer pay, or could pay only out of their capital the high rents which had been promised upon the expectation of those prices which it was the professed object of the Corn-law to secure; and one common and wide-sweeping distress involved both the landlord who had calculated upon receiving the rent for which he had let his land, and the farmer who struggled to the last to fulfil his engagement.
I appeal to those Gentlemen who served upon the Agricultural Committees of 1833 and 1836, whether this is not an account far from exaggerated, of the distress of the agriculturists from the great depression of the price of wheat in those years; and how, I ask, is this distress to be accounted for in a period of profound peace, of constantly diminishing taxation, and generally of great commercial prosperity, except by the operation of our ill-judged legislation. But now the landed interest is in a more prosperous situation. 553 The hon. Member for Lincolnshire, (Mr. Heathcote), said, the other evening, that the landed interest was just beginning to revive, owing, I suppose, to the blessing of a deficient harvest. If this is so, what must be the state of things in which the landed interest can only prosper from a deficient harvest, which used justly to be reckoned one of the severest visitations with which Providence could afflict a nation?
Such has been the issue of an experiment of four-and-twenty years of the protective system; let us contrast with this result that which has followed from a different system. My right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, last night adverted to the case of the Wool trade; but that case is so strong that I must make one or two observations upon it. The House must be aware, that in 1819 a heavy duty was imposed on foreign wool; it was a fixed duty, indeed, and, therefore, unlike our mischievous and fluctuating duty on corn, it did not interfere with the trade in wool of our own growth. Still it was a heavy protecting duty. In 1825 it was repealed, and soon afterwards, from causes, as I believe, quite independent of this repeal, there occurred a very great fall in the price of wool. The utmost alarm was excited amongst the gentlemen of the landed interest. In the year 1828 innumerable petitions were presented to this House, all complaining of the competition of foreign wool. The Members for the great wool growing counties, in presenting these petitions, most earnestly supported their prayer; amongst others, I remember well, that my hon. Friend, the Member for Wiltshire, (Mr. Bennet), whom I now see listening to me, predicted the absolute ruin of the South Down farmers, unless the high protecting duty upon foreign wool were again imposed. In the other House of Parliament, a Committee was appointed to inquire into the subject, and witness after witness was brought forward, from amongst the farmers and owners of land, all declaring that the low price was entirely occasioned by the glut produced by the large importation of foreign wool, and that unless this importation were restrained, there must be an end of the growth of wool by the British farmer. It was asserted that there were large districts on the Continent in which the land would immediately be devoted to the production 554 of wool, and one of the principal witnesses examined, Mr. Elman, declared, that no lower duty than one of 33 per cent. would be sufficient for the protection of English wool.
No less fortunately for the agriculturists than for the country at large, these gloomy predictions were not listened to, and the Legislature refused to re-impose the former heavy duty upon foreign wool. And what has been the result? Has the ruin they anticipated fallen upon the growers of wool? I hold in my hand a statement of the prices given for different descriptions of wool, in each year since the Peace, by one of the most eminent dealers in the North of England, who purchases a large proportion of the produce of wool in the county which I have the honour to represent, and in which, sheep farming, as it is well known, is carried to a very great extent.
From this statement, it appears, that the average price of Leicester wool during the six years from 1819 to 1824, when the high duty was in force, was 13d. to 13,½. per pound. At Midsummer, 1828, the price had fallen, and was from l0½d. to 11d., while the average of the last six years is from 17½d. to 18d. This, as compared to 1828, when we were told, that without the re-imposition of the protecting duty, a further and ruinous fall must take place, shews an increase in the price of this description of wool, under the system of free competition, with foreign wool of no less than 63 per cent, and of 30 per cent, as compared to the period when the heavy duty was in force. Cheviot wool, from 1819 to 1824, was sold on an average at from 8½d. to 9d. per pound. At Midsummer, 1828, the price was from 4¼d to 4¾d., while for the last six years the average price has been 10d. to 10½d., being, as compared to the former period of the same number of years, an increase of 17 per cent. South Down fleeces have only for the last six years maintained the same average price as during the six years of the protecting duty; the average of both periods having been 17½d.; but, as compared to the year 1828, the rise of this kind of wool is also very great; the price at Midsummer in that year having been only 8½d; the average of the last years shewing, therefore, an increase of 106 per cent. Such, Sir, notwithstanding the free competition of foreign wool, which was so greatly dreaded by our agricultu- 555 rists, has been the extraordinary improvement in the value of their own produce, and this improvement has taken place while, at the same time, the importations from which so much mischief was apprehended, have increased from thirty to sixty millions of pounds; and thus it has turned out, that Parliament, by refusing to listen to the unfounded fears and urgent demands of the landed interest with regard to wool, has both benefited that interest and preserved an important branch of our national manufactures from the ruin which must inevitably have fallen upon it, from the re-imposition of the heavy duty upon the raw material with which it is carried on. I think the case I have just stated is very strong, as proving the utter extravagance of the apprehensions which are so often expressed of the effect which foreign competition would produce upon our agricultural interest; but I have one which seems to me still stronger, to which I would call the attention of the House. In the Agricultural Committee of 1836, Mr. Fison made the following statement:—12701. There is an immense quantity of land on the continent that might be appropriated to the growth of rape seed. Rape seed is now bearing a good price in England; I suppose from 60s. to 64s. a quarter; which is fully as high as the average price, when there was 20s. a quarter protecting duty upon it.I see, Sir, that hon. Gentlemen opposite consider rape seed a very trifling article, but in the year 1836, when the statement I have quoted was made, we imported considerably upwards of half a million of bushels, while English rape seed, as it appears, still bore a very fair remunerating price. How, let me ask, could this have been, if, as we are told, the foreign grower can so completely undersell? Surely the same land and the same labour, which might be employed in the growth of wheat for one market, might equally be employed in the production of rape seed; and if the apprehensions of hon. Gentlemen, as to the effects of foreign competition, were well founded, it would be impossible for the English farmer to attempt the cultivation of this article, unprotected as it is.
Looking to these considerations, if the question this night before us, were, whether we would maintain the existing Corn-laws, or would consent to the total repeal of all duties on foreign corn, I should unhesitatingly say, that, even 556 regarding this in the narrow light of merely a landowner's question, and not considering the other great national interests which it involves, I should give my vote in favour of a total repeal. But this is not the question before the House; and I will fairly tell the hon. Member who brought forward the motion, that I shall not vote for going into a committee with any view to the total repeal of these duties, falsely, in my opinion called protecting. It is true, the whole system of what is called protection, I consider to be grossly delusive, and most injurious to all classes of the community. I should much wish to see the time, when no duties whatever should be levied in this country for any purpose but that of revenue; but though this is the opinion as to what would be best for the country, which I most sincerely entertain, and which I therefore will never shrink from avowing, still, Sir, I cannot help feeling that it is necessary to consider the artificial condition to which, by our long perseverance in a bad system, this country has been brought, and, more especially, the amount of our taxation, and the necessity of raising a considerable revenue by duties upon imports. Looking to all these things, I think that the proper course for the Legislature to pursue, would be that of establishing a moderate fixed duty upon corn; and this is the object which I have in view, in supporting the present motion. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Kent (Sir Edward Knatchbull), last night, taunted the supporters of the motion, with the absurdity of asking for a committee of the whole House instead of at once stating the measure we should propose to adopt; and, I believe, he alluded to some arguments which I ventured to address to the House, on a former evening, against a proposal for taking evidence at the Bar.
But truly the right hon. Baronet must be well aware, that what we propose, is not a mere committee of enquiry. He must know, that by the forms of our proceedings, our going into a Committee of the whole House, is a necessary preliminary to any alteration whatever, of the existing law, and the vote which we are now to give, will be, in fact, simply on this question, whether we are prepared to adhere to the Corn-law, as it now stands, without any alteration whatever; whether we are determined to maintain our present system of fluctuating duties, or whether 557 we will endeavour to effect any kind of improvement? The hon. Member for Lincolnshire, (Mr. Christopher) fairly admitted that this was the point at issue, that it really is a question of whether or not we shall declare our unreserved and entire approbation of the existing law. This being the question, let me remind hon. Members who agree with me in wishing for a fixed duty, but who are alarmed by the manner in which the present motion has been brought forward, that if we should go into committee, there is but little danger of our being out-voted by the advocates of a total repeal of all duties upon foreign corn. Surely no one can suppose that the temper of this House is so adverse to the landed interest, that there is the slightest danger of the fair claims of that interest, not receiving, under all circumstances, the fullest, and most favourable consideration. I trust, therefore, that hon. Members connected with the landed interest, will not be deterred from supporting the present motion, by their dread of any extreme measure. I attribute the greatest importance to their votes upon this occasion, because I believe, that such votes would have a powerful effect upon those who look up to them, and are disposed to follow their opinions. By supporting this motion, they will be telling the farmers of England, that there is no ground for their extravagant apprehensions of foreign competition, which they have been taught to entertain, and that they ought not to trust for their future prosperity to a delusive system, which has produced, and can only produce disappointment, but that, on the contrary, they ought to rely upon their own industry, their own energy, intelligence, and enterprise. I am convinced, that they are not the true friends of the British farmer, however fond they may be of arrogating that exclusive title, who would inculcate upon him, a reliance upon the artificial regulations of Acts of Parliament, instead of upon his own exertions. Nor, can I help observing, that it is not a little remarkable, how much louder have been the complaints of agricultural distress, in former years, and how much greater the clamour for the maintenance of the system of protection, from those districts of the country which art most behind hand in their system of cultivation. From the agricultural counties of Scotland, from the county I have 558 the honour to represent, and from the north generally, Parliament heard comparatively little of that cry of distress, which was raised so loudly in other parts of the country, from 1833 to 1836. Undoubtedly, the distress which then prevailed, did make itself felt, and felt, I am sorry to say, severely, even in the districts I have mentioned, but the clamour for further protection, and the expectation of obtaining relief from legislative measures, instead of from their own exertions, were chiefly confined to some of the southern and midland counties. Now, let the House for a moment compare the state of agriculture in these, and in the northern counties. Look at the inartificial system of cultivation pursued in the southern counties, their antiquated rotation of crops, their heavy and clumsy plough, hardly improved from the ancient instrument, of which, as schoolboys, we have read a description in the Georgics, and, I ask, how can those who adhere to such a system as this, who are so backward in improvement, expect to compete with the northern farmers, with their improved modes of husbandry, their amended rotation of crops, their light and well constructed plough, doing more work, in a single day, with one man and two horses, than the other can accomplish in two days, with a man and a boy, and with three or four horses following each other in a string.
It is by carrying into agriculture generally, the intelligence, and the enterprise, for which some districts are already distinguished—It is by thus increasing the productiveness of the soil, and diminishing the expenses of cultivation, and not by being bolstered up by protecting duties, that the prosperity of the landed interest must be secured.
Is this, Sir, only my opinion? No—it is one which rests upon far higher authority upon agricultural matters, than I can pretend to. I allude to Lord Tweed-dale, one of the most distinguished agriculturists, as the House is aware, of the present day. Some months ago, I saw with great pleasure an account of the proceedings at an agricultural dinner, in the south of England, at which that noble Lord was present. Some of those speeches so usual with certain gentlemen, upon such occasions had been made, calling upon the farmers to defend their rights; to resist the slightest change or modification of the 559 Corn-laws and so maintain their claim to protection; when Lord Tweeddale administered a reproof to those who held this language, of which the satire was not the less from its having been, I believe, too fine to be perceived by those against whom it was directed. He told his audience, that what really deserved their attention, was the improvement of their system of agriculture; that in many important points, they were greatly behind hand, and that, if the farmers of England exerted themselves, they would soon make two ears of corn grow, where one grew now, and that by doing so, they would practically repeal the Corn-laws. Lord Tweeddale's advice was right, and it is remarkable that in the committees of 1833 and 1836, of which I was a member, I observed almost universally, that those witnesses who seemed to have carried on their farming operations with most spirit, and most success, were those who the least relied upon the artificial protection of the law. Three gentlemen, Mr. Bell, Mr. Hope, and Mr. Howton, who gave a most interesting account of the highly improved system of cultivation, which they had carried on in the Lothians, concurred in objecting to the present Corn-law. Some of the English farmers who have entered upon the same career of improvement, expressed a similar opinion; I will mention only Mr. Crowther, who farmed, if I am not mistaken, 2,000 acres of land in Leicestershire, and Mr. Ellis who had an extensive farm in Leicestershire. All these gentlemen, whose success in their agricultural pursuits was the best proof of their skill, expressed a most decided opinion as to the unfavourable operation of the existing Corn-law upon the interests of the farmer. I do not mean that they all agreed precisely as to the change which should be adopted; some proposed one alteration of the law, and some another, but they all were agreed as to the fact, that the present Corn-law is not really beneficial to the enterprising farmer.
In conclusion, I have only to entreat hon. Gentlemen to consider how deeply important is the question they are about to decide. It is now in our power, in altering the Corn-law to substitute one resting upon a sounder principle, and, at the same time, to avert any sudden or violent change. But, if we neglect this opportunity, who can tell what may be the result?
560 If, after the high prices of the present year, and the stimulus which I am informed this price has already given to the increased growth of wheat, we should have two favourable harvests in succession, the table of this House will again groan beneath the burthen of petitions complaining of agricultural distress. But if, on the contrary, we should be visited with the misfortune of another bad crop, the consequences will be far more serious. We have been more fortunate than we deserved in this year, obtaining, even at the high price we have been compelled to pay for it, the supply we so greatly needed. But we may rest assured, that while we maintain our fluctuating duty, the foreign grower, after the losses already sustained, will not venture to make any preparation to meet a demand for our market. If, therefore, now that the stocks of foreign corn before accumulated are exhausted, another deficient harvest should compel us again to seek for a supply from abroad, is it improbable that this demand may cause so much difficulty in the chief grain-growing countries, that they may all follow the course which has this year been adopted by France? In such an event, we might be exposed to an absolute deficiency of food, and can any man contemplate, without the most serious apprehension, the possible effect of such a state of things in our densely-peopled manufacturing districts? Even that degree of scarcity under which we are now suffering, with the high prices it occasions, if it had fallen upon us only a year ago, when we should have had, at the same time, to struggle with the difficulties arising from the stagnation of trade, would have produced an extent of distress in those districts which would have been a source of the utmost danger.
The question then is, whether we are needlessly to incur so great a hazard; whether we are to leave such interests as these to the chances of the seasons, or whether we are to avail ourselves of the opportunity we now have of securing ourselves, as far as it is possible to do so, against the ruinous fluctuation in the price of corn to which we have been exposed, and against the alternate distress thus occasioned to the commercial and agricultural classes of the community, by once more putting the trade in corn upon a sound and natural footing, free from all the risk and uncertainty to which it is 561 subjected by our scale of variable duties?
§ Debate again adjourned.