§ On the Order of the Day for resuming the debate on the Corn-laws,
§ Lord Worsley
said, that when he considered that this was the third night of the present debate, he thought, that he should not shew due respect to the House if he detained it for a long time, not only because he could not presume to offer much that was valuable, but because, also, although they had had two days' debate, if he detained the House for any lengthened period, he would run the chance of protracting the debate to another night. There were, however, some parts of the 629 question which had not been touched upon, and which, as he thought, were very important. When the mover of the present question, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, introduced it to the House, he declared that the House, upon a recent occasion, and on the same subject, had decided the motion without due consideration; but he voted in the majority on that occasion, because it was acknowledged, that the repeal of the Corn-laws was the real object of the motion for hearing evidence, and he was decidedly of opinion, that the repeal of these laws would be detrimental to all the interests of the country, whether agricultural or commercial. The hon. Gentleman had told the House, that the advocates of the Corn-laws exaggerated through their fears the injury they would receive from their repeal, but he, on the other hand, thought that the manufacturers were at least as greatly exaggerating the benefits which they would receive if the laws were altered. It was stated also by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Wolverhampton, that the advocates of these laws in that House acted through fear; now he did not know to what fears the hon. Gentleman alluded, unless it was the fear which might be entertained by hon. Members of voting against the wishes of their constituents; and if this were what was intended, the observation could not apply to himself, for he thought, that the House would recollect he last year voted for the corn-grinding bill introduced by the hon. Member for Dartmouth, which was a question on which he differed from his constituents, and although the hon. Member for Wolverhampton stated the other night, that the farmers were an ignorant class, and that they did not dare to express their opinions, yet, if that hon. Gentleman had been with him after the vote he had last year given, he would have found that they were a very different class from what they were represented, and that they did dare to express their own opinions. Although, therefore, he did not in that case hesitate, and would not on any other occasion hesitate, to vote contrary to the opinions of his constituents if he thought that they were decidedly wrong, yet if he had the misfortune to differ from a large majority of his constituents on what they considered a most vital question, as they did the alteration of the Corn-laws, he thought that he would only do his duty in 630 resigning his seat, and again offering himself, that they might have an opportunity of deciding if they would re-elect him when they knew those opinions, which it might be fairly presumed they were not aware of when they elected him. It so happened, however, that upon the present question his own views and the opinions of his constituents perfectly coincided. It had been said, in the debate of last night by the noble Lord the Member for Northumberland (Viscount Howick), that there was no doubt that the labourers were now in great distress, and that it was impossible for their wages to rise with the rise in the price of corn; he thought, however, that he would be able to prove not only that the labourers' wages had been raised to a sum equal to the rise in the price of, corn, but that they were actually now receiving better wages than could be required by any increase in the value of bread. He would prove this to the House by reading a statement which he had received from an authentic source. The noble Lord read the following paper.
§ One quarter of the best wheat will yield about 23 stones of flour after the miller's toll has been taken.
|Wheat at 80s||per quarter||per stone.|
|is equal to||per quarter||2s.10½d.|
|—||70s.||per quarter||2s. 6d.|
|—||60s.||per quarter||2s. 1½d.|
|—||50s.||per quarter||1s. 9½d.|
|—||40s.||per quarter||1s. 5½d.|
|—||35s.||per quarter||1s. 3d.|
§ Besides this, at the time the labourers were receiving the low wages, he had received information from a farmer of great respectability, and on whom he could rely, that several labourers were out of employment, and that at the present time, on the contrary, there were no labourers unemployed; and that, indeed, the women and the children could now find work; and during the last winter, out of three unions in Lincolnshire, except in one for a short period, there were no able-bodied labourers out of employment. In his opinion also the repeal of the Corn-laws would be most dangerous, because it was impossible, with the great expense the English farmers were at, for them to grow wheat so cheap as it could be imported from abroad, for he believed, that the price would be much lower than what had been calculated by the advocates of repeal. He was willing to grant that the price abroad might rise in consequence of the demand in England, but he thought that this rise had been much over estimated. He objected to the repeal, therefore, and he objected also to a fixed duty, because it would never answer in practice, and because it could never be enforced.
§ The following however were the facts of the case as he found them in a
|Return of the Price of Wheat, as inserted in 'The London Gazette' for every week in the Year, 1838, and a similar Return for each of the four preceding years,||a quarter.|
|It appears that in the months of October, November, and December, 1837, the average price of wheat in England was||53s.|
|And in the months of October, November, and December, 1838, the average price, was||72s.|
|Being a variation of||19s.|
|In October, November, and December,1837, good wheat was free on board at Dantzig at||28s.|
|In October, November, and December,1837, good wheat was free on board at Stettin and Konigsberg||26s.|
|In October, November, and December,1837, good wheat was free on board at Kiel, Rostock, Wismar, and Lubeck||25s.|
|In October, November, and December,1837, good wheat was free on board at Hamburg||29s.|
|And in December, 1838, and January, 1839, good wheat was free on board at Dantzic at||58s.|
|And in December, 1838, and January, 1839, good wheat was free on board at Stettin and Konigsburg||55s.|
|And in December, 1838, and January, 1839, good wheat was free on board at Kiel, Rostock, Wismar and Lubeck||57s.|
|And in December, 1838, and January, 1839, good wheat was free on board at Hamburg||65s.|
|Being a difference of, at Dantzig||30s.|
|Being a difference of, at Stettin and Konigsburg||29s.|
|Being a difference of, at Kiel, Rostock, Wismar, and Lubeck||32s.|
|Being a difference of, at Hamburg||36s.|
§ Average freight from Hamburg to Hull, 3s. per quarter; from other Baltic ports, 4s. 6d. to 6s.
§ He was anxious to come to a proper consideration of this question, even without reference to the wishes of his constituents. He had tried to think that the repeal might be for the benefit of the manufacturers, but he had found it impossible to do so. But if this country were to suffer by repeal, what would become of Ireland? She would suffer more. He found by the returns that the import of grain from Ireland had been gradually rising since 1836. He held in his hand a paper which he would read. The noble Lord read the following:—
|ACCOUNT OF GRAIN EXPORTED FROM IRELAND TO ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND IN THE YEARS 1836, 1837, AND 1838, ENDING OCTOBER 10.|
|Year:||Total Quantity of Corn and Grain.||Increase:|
|1836||1,982,968||37s. over 36s.||92,298|
|1837||2,075,266||38s. over 36s.||329,591|
|1838||2,404,857||38s. over 36s.||421,889|
|Year.||Total Quantity of Meal and Flour. In Cwts.||Increase:||Decrease.|
|1837||1,901,398||38s. over 37s.||481,093|
|1838||2,382,491||38s. over 36s.||322,275|
§ In his opinion, the effect of the repeal of the Corn-laws would be to put an end to that importation, and so would be extremely prejudicial to Ireland. Having only last year passed a law for relieving Ireland from the burden of tithes and a law to impose a Poor-rate on that country, it became the House to be very cautious in what way they legislated for that country upon this important subject. An hon. Member the other night had charged the farmers of England with ignorance. He could only suppose that arose from the refusal to answer the long string of questions sent to them by the anti-Corn-law delegates. Some had answered the queries from which it would be seen that the charge of ignorance could not be fairly attributed to them. The farmers had also had queries put to them by the Central Agricultural Society; each was specifically asked how long each had been a farmer, and how long he had occupied his present land, so that there could be no deception, and any one who would look at the replies would find, that the questions were not answered by ignorant men. Although much had been said upon this question by persons anxious for an entirely free trade in corn, and although the noble Lord, the Member for Northumberland, was the only person who had not urged the total repeal, yet from the information he (Lord Worsley) had received, he believed that the number of persons who wished for a repeal was not so large has had been supposed; he believed that even the manufacturers were divided upon the subject, and that very many desired a fixed duty. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had said, that he had heard many farmers say, that they were against the present system, and so had he, but he had never heard one who wished for a change who did not seek for a fixed duty, and when asked what that duty should be, who did not declare that they could not afford a less duty than 20s. What chance, however, had they of obtaining a fixed duty like that. The question was one of great importance to his constituents; he had endeavoured, however, to come to an impartial consideration of it, without special reference to them, and he hoped that it would not be said that because he was against repeal he was afraid to exercise his own opinions.
Sir Hussey Vivian
having presented several petitions from his constituents 634 against any alteration in the Corn-laws, and feeling that he could not consistently adopt their request, and support their petitions, would be wanting in respect to himself and to them, if he hesitated to express the grounds on which he had formed his opinions. He confessed that nothing had surprised him more than the arguments of the advocates of the Corn-laws. It would be supposed from their speeches that this law was of long standing, that it was perfect, and that the agricultural interest had greatly prospered under it; they seemed to forget that there had been very many years of agricultural distress, that it had often formed subject of comment in speeches from the throne, and that various taxes had been got rid of for the purpose of assisting the agriculturists; and last of all, it would have been supposed that the law had succeeded in what had been stated to have been its object, in the maintenance of this country by the produce of the industry of England, and by our own harvests. Was it not known that even now, were it not for the importation of foreign corn it would be imposssible to support our people? The law had given rise to committees to inquire into agricultural distress, and he could not understand on what ground the arguments of those who objected to all inquiry as required by the manufacturers were founded. At any rate, he hoped that if they were not allowed to go into committee, they would never hear again of agricultural distress. He thought that the agriculturists could hardly come to that House praying it to inquire into agricultural distress after the rejection of the motion for a committee advocated by the commercial interests. The hon. Member for the county of Lincoln last night adverted to the part the agriculturists and their labourers took in maintaining the honour and the glory of our arms during a time of great difficulty and in the last war, and he asked whether it were intended to throw them, when prosperous, into the same state of abject misery as the workmen in manufactories. Now he might be supposed to know something of the first point, and he assured the hon. Gentleman, without disparaging in the slightest degree agricultural labourers, for he knew well the part they had taken and the part the yeomen had taken, and how they had always exerted themselves—that the manufacturers took their full share of the toils of the British 635 army, and that they were no less effective, as British soldiers, in maintaining the honour and glory of our arms than were the agricultural labourers. As to throwing the agricultural labourers back to the same state of poverty as the manufacturing districts were described to be, he could only say that if the fact were that there did exist this misery among the manufacturers, it should have induced his hon. Friend to have asked the House to go into an inquiry and see whether some means or other could not be devised to rescue them from this poverty. For himself, he was sorry that the inquiry at the bar, asked by the manufacturers, had not been gone into; be thought that they ought to have inquired whether the fact were that manufactures were leaving the country, and whether if this were the fact, it had been caused by the high price of corn; and he would have liked to inquire whether, by any alteration of the existing laws, there was any probability of this being avoided. The House, however, would not go into the inquiry, and they had now only to come to a decision upon such information as they already possessed, and upon the evidence which had been advanced by hon. Members on both sides. He would go into the question on general principles, and he had no hesitation in saying that his opinion had long been, that the system of protection and prohibition was only the taking the money out of the pockets of one set of persons to put it into those of others. He knew that under this law great establishments had grown up in this country; but his firm conviction was, that of all countries on the face of the earth, England was the last which should throw anything of the description of prohibition in the way of trade. It was stated last night that the manufactures of this country amounted to 150,000,000l. of which 100,000,000l. were consumed by the agriculturist, and that, consequently, the agricultural interests were those of the manufacturer; but if there were but two parties in this country, the manufacturer and the agriculturist, the exchange of their commodities would be matter of barter between them, and no matter of price. There was a large portion of the population, however, who were manufacturing for the foreign markets, and they would not allow them to exchange their manufactures for the produce of those foreign countries. There was another ground 636 upon which he thought that great objection existed to the present law—that of its fixing a maximum on the produce of any man's property. It was at the moment that the price of grain arrived at a certain amount that foreign corn was admitted into the market, and he said that this was a disadvantageous mode of proceeding to the grower. They should let things take their course, but they should not allow measures to continue which did good in good seasons, but which produced infinite mischief in bad seasons, when, therefore, their effects were peculiarly felt. He thought that the law was prejudicial to the agriculturist as well as to the manufacturer, and he thought that by a change being made, the position of both would be improved. All attempts to regulate the prices were extremely objectionable, and while the manufacturer had a right to cry out against any efforts being made to raise the price of corn, the agriculturist was also entitled to complain of any attempt on the part of the manufacturer to raise the price of labour. He would merely say in conclusion, that he had risen only to state the opinion which he entertained honestly and sincerely, and he firmly believed, that the manufacturing and the agricultural interests were so mixed and bound together, that one could not flourish and the other fail, and that he believed most sincerely that the present laws were equally objectionable to the farmer and the agriculturist, as well as to all classes. He could not, therefore, do otherwise than support the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton.
§ Mr. E. Tennent
said, that as one of the representatives for that part of the kingdom which would be most materially affected by any alteration in the present system of Corn-laws, he felt himself called upon to make a few observations, which, as the debate had hitherto been carried on entirely in reference to England, he would confine to the peculiar case and condition of Ireland. The obvious and inevitable effect of the abolition of the protection against foreign grain, indeed that which was proposed and anticipated, was to diminish the receipts of the farmer and the landed proprietor. However unsuitable the condition of the agricultural interests of England might be to encounter such a reduction, it was impossible to regard its effects on the agriculture of Ireland other wire than with anticipations of 637 utter ruin. There could be no question, that under the system of protection and encouragement which had been afforded to it by Great Britain during the last thirty years, the agriculture of Ireland had prodigiously improved, and would still continue to make rapid advances. But, notwithstanding this incipient amelioration, it was notorious that the state of agriculture in Ireland was still the most backward, the most depressed, and the least remunerative in Europe. And whether they regarded the state of agricultural science, the deficiency of capital, or the low rate of wages and of prices, it was impossible to arrive at any other conclusion. Now, what was the state of Irish agriculture as compared with that of Great Britain? The number of cultivated acres in Great Britain, according to tables laid before the Emigration Committee of 1827, amounted to 34,014,000 acres, and, including about 240,000 acres since reclaimed under enclosure acts made a total of 34,254,000 arable and pasture, at present under cultivation. For this there were 1,0.55,892 agricultural labourers, who raised annually produce to the value of 150,000,000l. sterling. In Ireland, on the other hand, the total extent under present cultivation was 14,60.5,000 acres, tilled by no less a population than 1,131,715 agricultural labourers (exclusive of 95,339 occupiers of land who gave employment to others), and producing an annual return of only 36,000,000l. sterling. Thus, while the agricultural families of England formed one-fourth of the population, those of Ireland were in the proportion of two-thirds; and whilst Ireland furnished five agricultural labourers for every two employed upon the same extent of land in England, so backward was the science and practice, even of that art on which they were utterly dependent, that, although occupying a richer and more productive soil, the Irish farmer could barely extract from it one-fourth the produce which it yielded to his British competitor. With a branch of national industry thus reduced, as it was in Ireland, to the lowest possible ebb, compatible with the engagements of the farmer, and the bare existence of the labourer, with a calling attenuated almost to starvation point, what further experiment in the way of reduction was it possible to attempt with safety, much less hope to carry into effect? The desperate nature of that attempt would be the more 638 apparent when, in addition to the fluctuating expenses of the land, those out goings which it was in the power of the farmer to incur or to curtail as his income disposed him, they took into account the permanent burdens which, whatever be the diminished value of its produce, were still leviable off the surface of the soil—such as the rent-charge, now secured upon the land by the best title in the empire, in lieu of tithes; county cess, year by year increasing; the expenses of maintaining the stipendiary magistracy and constabulary; and that impost which now promised to be the most formidable of all—the rate for the relief of the poor, now leviable, and leviable only, off the occupiers of the land in Ireland. With an interest so critically poised, and already so heavily loaded, he did hope that the Legislature would pause before they ventured upon any immaturely considered experiments. It was morally impossible that Ireland, with her heavily taxed land, and heavily taxed commodities, should hold the market for any length of time against rivals who were not repressed by the same restrictions, and who, if not at less cost, at least an equally low cost of production, could send into Great Britain grain of a quality superior to that which the moist and variable climate and imperfect agricultural skill of Ireland enabled her to produce. The result of the experiment must be, sooner or later, to the disadvantage of Ireland, and in the present reduced state of her agriculture to reduce it lower would be to annihilate it, at least as a branch of national industry and national wealth. He had already said, that the prodigious improvement which had taken place in Irish agriculture during the last thirty years had arisen from the protection and encouragement of England, and when it was considered that no other country afforded her a market for her produce, the effect was assignable to no other cause. The facts were these—even after the completion of the legislative union, and for some years subsequent to it, the Irish trade in corn was continued on the footing of a colonial trade, its importation being discouraged by many impolitic restrictions. These were, however, done away with in 1806, when an act was passed (the 49th George 3rd., c. 109), by which a perfectly free trade in grain was established between the two countries. From that hour forward Ireland had be- 639 come to England what Sicily was to Rome—her granary and stock-farm. The increase in her agricultural exports in every subsequent year had been immense, tilll Ireland, which half a century ago imported from England corn to the amount of half a million sterling per annum, now exported to Great Britain agricultural produce to the amount of 12,000,000l. The export of Irish corn alone to England was in the year 1800, 3,238 quarters, and it gradually rose, until in 1838 it was 3,424,302, showing an increase in one article of commerce between two countries for which the annals of commerce would fail to furnish a parallel. And the most convincing proof of the effect which this increasing supply from Ireland had in releasing us from a dependence for food upon other countries was afforded by the decreasing importation of foreign grain in every year since the opening of the Irish trade. The importations of continental wheat were, on an average of five years, from 1800 to 1805,686,560 quarters, gradually decreasing, until between 1830 and 1835, when it was only 398,509; and the fact of this diminution from 686,000 quarters to somewhere about half that amount was the more striking when considered in connexion with the fact that the population of Great Britain, which was in 1801 10,942,646, increased within the same period to 16,539,818 in 1831, creating, of course, an annually increasing demand simultaneously with an annually decreasing foreign supply. And on this point, on the probable influence of Irish agriculture under the existing system, ultimately liberating England altogether from a dependence upon the continental powers for her supply of food, he could not appeal to a more unobjectionable authority than Mr. M'Culloch (himself an anti-corn law advocate), to a passage from whose works he would beg to call the attention of the House. Mr. M'Culloch, in his Dictionary of Commerce, says:—Previously to 1806, when a perfectly free corn trade was for the first time established between Great Britain and Ireland, the yearly imports into England did not amount to 400,000 quarters; whereas they now (1832) amount to 2,400,000. Any one who has ever been in Ireland, or is aware of the wretched state of agriculture there, and of the amazing fertility of the soil, must be satisfied, that a very slight improvement would occasion an extraordinary increase in the imports from that country! and it is believed by those best qua- 640 lified to form an opinion on such a subject, that the settlement of the Catholic question, and the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders, by promoting the public tranquillity, and taking away one of the principal inducements to the pernicious practice of splitting farms, has, in this respect, already had great influence, and that it will eventually lead to the most material improvements. Hence it is by no means improbable, that the growing imports from Ireland may at no distant period reduce our prices to the level of those of the continent, and even render us an occasionally exporting country.But it was not in the article of grain alone that the agricultural interests of Ireland had benefitted by the Union with Great Britain, and by the equality on which it placed her in the English markets. Every other species of agricultural produce had received an equal impetus and manifested a similar increase. He would go no further back than to compare the Irish exports of some articles of agricultural produce to Great Britain in the year 1825 with the exports of the same articles in 1835. Ireland exported to England—
|In 1825||In 1835|
|Flax and tow||54,898||—||163,947||—|
And the amount of her entire agricultural exports to Great Britain in 1835 above that of 1825 was no less than 2,850,450l.—an advance of nearly 3,000,000l. sterling within 10 years. Nor was this all. The advantages Ireland had derived were not confined to the raw produce of her soil alone; but the impetus of prosperity had been communicated to all those branches of manufacture which were immediately connected with or dependent upon land, and of which fifty years ago Ireland might be said to be altogether destitute. He referred to the immense trade which had recently sprung up in grinding flour and oatmeal in malting and brewing for export, in distilling, in the manufacture of starch, and in short in every department dependent upon agricultural produce. To take one of these branches, so late as 1792 there was but one considerable flour mill throughout the whole of the north of Ireland, and down to a very recent period the mills of Bristol and Liverpool, enjoyed a monopoly of the trade of converting Irish wheat into flour.
The aspect of affairs was now widely different; that process was performed at home, and there was scarcely a county in Ireland which was not supplied with extensive mills. The number of registered flour mills in Ireland in 1835 was 1,882, and they were still rapidly increasing, at a pace, of which some idea might be formed from the fact, that whilst the exports from Ireland of wheat-meal, flour, and oatmeal, was in 1825, 599,124 cwt., it was, in 1835, 1,984,480 cwt., being an increase of 1,390,000 cwt., within the short space of ten years. Closely connected with this, was the process of malting for distillation and brewing, and the exports in the latter department, which was comparatively of very recent date, form not the least surprising item in the history of Irish trading prosperity. In 1825 the export to England of malt liquor from Ireland was almost unknown: it had grown up entirely within the last few years; but in 1835, the quantity of ale and porter entered in Great Britain was no less than 2,686,688 gallons. Distillation had advanced during the same period with amazing rapidity, as well as every manufacturing process for converting the raw produce of Ireland into articles of commerce; nor was it possible to contemplate without alarm and dismay, the probability of a change of policy on the part of England, which would have the effect of throwing them back, without feeling that the confusion, the ruin, and destitution which must ensue to Ireland, would be infinitely more formidable than the original condition of poverty and inaction, from which British connexion and British encouragement had been the first to awaken her. He was prepared to be here met by the same argument by which the protective system had been assailed in England, namely, that even admitting the prosperity of those manufactures in Ireland which shared in the favour and protection shown to agriculture, still this afforded no inferenee as regarded those other branches which were not dependent upon agriculture, but which were represented (in England at least) as oppressed and endangered by the protection afforded to it. So far, however, from this being the case, these very manufacturers were in Ireland participating largely in the general prosperity, and advancing pari passu with their common parent and patron of all, the agriculture of the country. Indeed when they
regarded the enormous proportion of Irish manufactures consumed by her home market alone, there was no difficulty in perceiving that the prosperity of that branch of her national support must rise and fall with her agricultural elevation or depression. Without producing any statistical evidence on this point, he would merely say, in answer to this argument, that the silk trade of Ireland had not been so flourishing for years as it was at this moment; and that her woollen trade though diminished in apparent amount, was stated by Mr. Willans, of Dublin, one of the most enlightened capitalists in the kingdom, to be at this moment in a sounder and more healthy condition, both as regarded the process and the market, than it had been in any year since the removal of the duty upon English woollens imported into Ireland, which took place in 1823. Besides, any apparent diminution of production in this department was more than compensated by the surprising increase in importation during the same period. Thus they imported from England, in 1825, 3,384,918 yards of woollen cloths, and in 1835, 7,884,000. In the like manner the manufacture of cottons, which in Ireland was almost confined to Belfast, had not latterly been increasing. But the change was most satisfactorily accounted for in two ways; in the first instance, by the extraordinary increase in our imports from England. These were in 1825 4,996,885 yards; and in 1835, 14,172,000 yards; and as this increase was altogether for the consumption of the home market, no circumstance could more strongly point out to the English manufacturer the paramount importance of the agricultural market of his own country. But the other fact which most satisfactorily accounted for the apparent withdrawal of capital from the cotton trade was, that it had all been transferred to the new and most profitable manufacture of linen yarns for the British and foreign markets, a trade which had sprung up entirely within the last few years, and which now promised to become at no distant period one of our most lucrative branches of continental commerce. In addition to nine cotton mills of about 350 horse power, they had in Belfast at this moment, or in its immediate vicinity, no less than 28 mills for the manufacture of linen yarn, working about 120,000 spindles, every one of which had been erected or converted from a cotton to a linen mill
within the last seven or eight years; and this trade, so utterly new in Ireland, had within the last three years, opened for itself a market in France and on the Rhine, which, unless crushed by prohibitory duties, seemed likely to become one of the most prolific branches of British trade. But he was prepared also to encounter another and a different species of argument, which had already been repeatedly urged—namely, that agricultural encouragement accorded to Ireland was a positive pecuniary loss to Great Britain; that whilst her labour market was overstocked by Irish immigration, her produce was reduced in value by Irish competition, and that it would in every way be more desirable, that the Irish labourer should stay to consume his own produce in his own country, and thus be securing a remunerating price to the farmer of England. Nothing could be more erroneous. But before proceeding to an easy proof, that the advantage was on the side of England, he would beg attention to one very brief extract which he would read from the third report of the Commissioners for Poor-law Inquiry in Ireland:—
Those who complain," say the commissioners, "of the introduction of Irish produce into England, should be informed that it takes no money from England, that part of it goes to pay the rents of Irish absentee landlords, and that the rest is exchanged for English manufactures; that if it did not go into England, English manufactures would not go into Ireland; and that there would not be one penny more than at present applicable to the purchase of the agricultural produce of Great Britain. In proportion as the quantity of Irish produce sent into England was reduced, the quantity of English manufactures sent into Ireland must be reduced also, and the English manufacturer's means of purchasing any agricultural produce must contract accordingly. The price, therefore, would not rise, but the quantity consumed would diminish, and the effect would be to throw the English labourer who works for the Irish market, and the Irish who work for the English, both out of employment, to the destruction of them, the injury of their employers, and the general deterioration of the interest of both countries. All that may be shown, not msrely by general reasoning, but by an appeal to facts. As the import of Irish produce into England has increased, so has the import of English manufactures into Ireland.
Now he (Mr. E. Tennent) had appealed to facts, and their evidence most satisfactorily attested the accuracy of the proposition; and it would be found, that in
every instance, precisely as Irish exports to Great Britain had increased in amount, precisely in the same proportion had British manufactures found a market, and a ready consumption created for them in Ireland. He would earnestly beg the attention of English Members especially connected with manufacturing districts to the following facts:—
|Irish Exports to England.||English Exports to Ireland.|
|In 1825.||In 1835.|
§ Sir Henry Parnell
said, the hon. Member for Belfast had certainly made a very able and satisfactory statement concerning the great progress of improvement in Ireland; but he was at a loss to discover how it was applicable to the present question, for that improvement was not owing to the Corn-laws, but to various other circumstances. With respect to the repeal of these laws, the Irish landlords had less reason to entertain any apprehensions than the landlords of England; because, as Ireland was opposite the port of Liverpool, from which the great manufacturing districts derived their supply of corn, the charge of freight from Ireland would be less than from the Baltic to Liverpool by at least 5s. a quarter; for, while the freight for foreign corn to London would be 10s. a quarter, the freight to Liverpool would be 15s. Besides, the Irish landlords should take it into their consideration that higher rents could be paid than the present rents, even with lower prices of corn, if the methods of managing land were improved by introducing green crops and other advantages. But, to come to the question immediately before the House, the hon. Baronet said, he must begin by observing, that it appeared to him that all those Gentlemen who had addressed the House in support of the Corn-laws, had wholly omitted to make anything like a careful inquiry into the 648 two main points on which the question rested,—namely, the home price of corn and the foreign price of corn. It was on the difference between these prices that the general conclusion depended how far the landlords would be injured by the repeal of the Corn-laws, and how far the public would be benefited; but, although this was evidently the case, the most vague notions were generally entertained by the advocates of the Corn-laws as to what this difference amounted to; and consequently the most exaggerated statements were made as to the injury and ruin which would be inflicted on the landed interest if foreign corn were allowed to be freely imported. The most remarkable circumstance connected with the question was the change that had taken place in the price of corn since the present laws were enacted in 1815. From that time there had been a gradual but regular fall of price, until the home price was not a great deal higher than the price at which foreign corn could be imported. For the first six years after 1815, the average price of wheat was 3l. 15s. per quarter; for the next ten years, 3l.; and for the next six years, to 1838, 2l. 10s. This latter price may be considered as the settled average for the present, and more likely to fall still lower than to advance. Now, as this reduction of price from 3l. 15s. to 2l. 10s. had happened while a very great increase of population had taken place, and while, of late years, very little foreign corn had been imported, it is evident that the quantity of corn grown now in this country must have increased prodigiously since 1815,—a circumstance to be accounted for—by the influence of former high prices to increase the amount of capital vested in farming, and to the improved processes of husbandry which have been introduced. Now, on the other hand, if we examine carefully what the price is of foreign corn abroad, and what it can be sold for after having been imported, it will be found that it is not very far below the price of 50s. a quarter. When the hon. Member for London said, last night, that the prices of foreign markets, with the charges on importation, would not allow foreign wheat to be sold at less than 45s. a quarter, several hon. Members exhibited a disposition to treat this statement, not only as unfounded, but as altogether ridiculous. If, however, those hon. Gentlemen would take the trouble of 649 making inquiries into the prices in foreign markets, and of reading those books, which are allowed to be of established authority on these matters, they will find that the hon. Member for London was quite correct in the statement he made. Those hon. Members have only to look info Mr. M'Culloch's Commercial Dictionary to learn that, for a period of forty-nine years to 1819, the average price of wheat at Dantzic was 45s. 4d.; and that, for the ten years to 1832, the average price was 33s. 5d.. Now, taking this lower price, and adding 9d. a quarter for the charges of loading at Dantzic, and 10s. a quarter for freight and other charges for bringing corn from Dantzic to the English market, the price here will be 44s. 2d. It may be said, that the prices are lower at other parts of the Continent than at Dantzic; and such is in fact the case; but it will always be found that the difference in the quality of the corn will account for the difference in the price of it. As the quality of Dantzic wheat is, on an average, the same as the quality of British wheat, also taken on the average, the general conclusion which may be drawn from a reference to the prices of foreign corn is that which has been come to by the Member for London, that, one year with another, the price of foreign corn in this country would not be less than 45s. a quarter, if the trade in corn was quite free. Some Gentlemen have referred to the low price of wheat at Odessa, as if that was a fact which invalidated this conclusion; but, although the price there is as low, as has been stated, at 24s. a quarter, there must be added to that price 15s. for freight, which makes 39s; and from 7s. to l0s. is to be further added, in consequence of the inferior quality of this grain. In looking to what would be the effect of opening our ports permanently to foreign corn, it will be found, on examining the whole quantity of corn which those countries annually export that are in the habit of exporting corn, that it is impossible, at least for a great number of years, that any such quantity could be imported as would very materially interfere with the home growth of corn. Dantzic on an average exports only about 250,000 quarters of wheat a year,—Archangel about 80,000 quarters,—and Odessa about 400,000 quarters; so that the whole being about 700,000 quarters—if it all came to this country—it could have but a slight effect 650 upon a consumption amounting to fifteen million quarters a year. In consequence of the quantity of corn for exportation abroad being so limited, any new demand for it raises the price very much: a few years ago when the United States imported corn from the Baltic, the price then rose 7d. a quarter. In stating, that the injury which the landowners would sustain, under the present circumstances of the home and foreign prices of corn, would be very small, it is but fair to admit, that the injury inflicted by the Corn-laws on the public at large is much reduced from what it formerly was; and it is also proper to allow that, even if the Corn-laws are not repealed, there is a probability that the home price will be still farther reduced. Green crops are not yet introduced, on a regular system, in Ireland: If they shall hereafter be, and other improvements, there can be no doubt that three times as much corn might be produced in that country as it produced now. In regard to England, if the system of farming were assimilated to that of Scotland, the produce might be nearly doubled; and, now that tithes have beem commuted, there is every reason to expect that a great deal more capital will be applied to farming in England. The right hon. Baronet proceeded to say, that this greatly increased production of corn was what he had looked forward to when several years ago he had advocated the principle of giving protection to agriculture. He had, however, done so, not with the view of forcing up prices, but entertaining then, as he did now, the opinion, that a low price of corn was the proper object of legislation. He would read a short extract from a pamphlet which he published in 1814, to show that what he now said was borne out by what he had written at that period. In this pamphlet he stated, that "enough had been said to show, that the object of the bill (for imposing a duty) is not to enhance the price of corn, nor to sustain exorbitant rents; but, on the contrary, the object of it is to prevent, in the first instance, the injury that would follow from allowing free trade all at once, and to give a fair opportunity to the capital of these countries to produce in agriculture the same effects it had already produced in manufactures—that is, a greatly increased production, attended with diminished prices." At this period peace had just taken place, and it was obviously de- 651 sirable to prevent a sudden influx of foreign corn. As to the practical soundness of the views he then entertained of securing low prices of corn, by the same means that low prices of manufactures are obtained, he was now ready to allow he was mistaken, and that he had not sufficiently considered the various obstacles in the way of the investment of large amounts of capital in carrying on the business of cultivating land. The general result had nevertheless come about, although after an interval of several years, as was proved by the present moderate price of corn in comparison with what it was in 1814. But, although the price had been so much reduced, and the evil of Corn-laws proportionally lessened, there was still so large an extent of evil remaining that they ought to be repealed. For his part, he did not wish to see the price of wheat so high as 45s., the price at which it might now be imported; but thought, that 41s. a quarter would be quite sufficient to secure the landowners ample rents; for it had formerly had this effect, the average price for 100 years to 1793 having been 40s. a quarter. The hon. Members who support the present system wholly overlook the great injuries which the nation at large suffers from it. He would not, after so much discussion, go into any length of detail to point out what these injuries were; but it was necessary they should be brought distinctly under the consideration of the House. The first great injury he would mention was, the immense waste of national capital that annually took place, by cultivating inferior soils instead of exporting manufactures to purchase foreign corn. If, instead of sending cotton goods to Poland to the amount of 1,000l., and getting corn in exchange, it required an expenditure of 1,500l. to obtain the same quantity of corn of the home producer, here was a clear waste of the capital of the country to the amount of 500l. by Forcing inferior soils into cultivation. But this kind of folly was constantly going on: Nothing, therefore, could be more ruinous than the forcing of the cultivation of bad land, rather than importing corn. The means of accumulating capital were reduced, and also the means of employing labour on other pursuits, or of purchasing the produce of labour. Another very great injury arose from making the price of corn higher than it naturally would be. To obtain supplies of food at a low price, to 652 facilitate production, and make all commodities cheaper, are the proper objects of commercial legislation; and no laws ought to be supported that in any respect obstruct these objects. Taking the quantity of all kinds of corn consumed in these islands at fifty-two millions, and the advance in price, in consequence of the Corn-laws, so low as 3s. a quarter, 7,500,000l. more money is taken out of the pockets of the buyers than if no Corn-laws existed. But so much more cannot be paid for corn than is necessary without great national loss. The increased price diminishes the money applicable to produce or purchase other necessaries and conveniences, and the national wealth and comforts are proportionally diminished. A third injury is the commercial jealousy which our refusal to import foreign corn creates among the governments of the world, and which leads to the prohibition of the importation of our manufactures. This is an evil of the most extensive magnitude, but it is one that is so intelligible to every understanding that it is unnecessary to dwell upon it. A fourth great injury arising from the Corn-laws is the fluctuation in price which they produce. Hon. Members have brought forward instances of great fluctuations in the prices of articles that are not subject to any restrictions; and it is no doubt true, that such fluctuations take place, and also that, if corn were free, still there would be considerable fluctuation in the price of it; but the mischief the Corn-laws do is, to render that fluctuation which is unavoidable, many times greater and more frequent than it would be under a different state of things. There can be no doubt that, the larger the surface from which a country draws its supplies of food, the less likely is it to be injuriously affected by the variations of harvests. Hence there are four great evils directly occasioned by the Corn-laws,—waste of national capital by cultivating bad land—waste of national capital by adding to the price of corn—foreign commercial jealousies and increased fluctuations in the price. The question that arises out of this state of circumstances is, in what way do the public derive compensation for these evils? All the advantages they are ever said to produce is the bettering of the condition of the landed interest; but, when these advantages are carefully sifted, they will be found to consist in one beneficial effect alone, 653 namely, the raising of the rents of landowners. It is a complete delusion to suppose and assert, that farmers snd labourers are benefited by the higher price of corn which is the result of the Corn-laws. But that point, had been so often fully discussed, and recently discussed by several Members in that House, that he would not repeat the arguments which establish it. The farmers were in fact capitalists, just as manufacturers were; and they depended more on the rate of rent they paid than upon a high price for corn. As to the labourers, the Corn-laws were a direct tax upon them; for if they were repealed, their food would be cheaper, while their wages would not be lowered, as these depended on the demand and supply of lalabour, except on an average of many years and not on the price of food. In order to assist the case of forcing up rents, the landowners advanced several excuses—for they do not deserve the name of arguments. Amongst these, they are continually saying, that the dividends on the national debt could not be paid if the Corn-laws were repealed; but on examining what portion of the revenue the land provides, it will be found, that this excuse has no foundation. Taking the gross revenue at fifty millions, of these thirty-six millions are yielded by the Customs and Excise, which are not taxes on land, but taxes on profits and capital. Of the stamps and taxes, not more than half of them is paid exclusively by the land. The Post-office duty and miscellaneous taxes make up the remainder, and not more than one fourth of them can be said to be paid by land; so that out of the whole revenue it is not correct to say, that the land pays more than six millions a-year. With respect to the statement so often repeated, that our taxation raises the price of corn, this on examination will be found to be, for the most part, erroneous. Those who make this statement never bear it in mind, that no tax can raise the price of corn, but such a tax as falls directly on the production of it. It must be paid by the cultivator, who is repaid by the consumer in the shape of an advance in price. Of those taxes, which are general taxes, and paid by all, none fall on the production of corn, and, therefore, they mus be excluded from the calculation; and of those taxes which are usually supposed and said to fall on land, the greater part of them fall on rent and not on the production of 654 corn, and, therefore, they do not add to the price of it. The land tax is a tax on rent. Now, that tithes are commuted in England and Ireland, they are a tax on rent. A great portion of the poor and county rates does not fall on land, namely, that portion which is assessed on buildings not belonging to farmers and landlords, on mills and factories, on profits of navigation and on other profits—this portion amounts to nearly one third of the whole; and there is also another portion of these rates which do not fall on the production of corn—namely, that portion which is assessed on rent and not on land. The whole of the highway rates do certainly fall on the production of corn; but this, together with the portion of the poor and county rates, which really falls on the production of corn rind raises its price, cannot be taken at more than 5,000,000l. a-year, which sum, upon the total value of the corn, that is grown is about five per cent., and would show, that the whole increase of price occasioned by taxation ought not to be taken at more than about 2s. on a quarter of wheat. Looking, therefore, said the hon. Baronet, to the proper object of legislation—that is, to what will most promote the prosperity of the nation—and seeing that this depends upon the progress of wealth, and this on the facilities which exist for accumulating capital—and also seeing, at the same time, how great an annual waste of national capital takes place in consequence of the existing Corn-laws—he would most cheer- fully give his support to the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton.
§ Viscount Maidstone
protested against the pertinacity with which the opponents of the Corn-laws persisted in agitating the country on that subject. He hoped that if any hon. Member had any thing to say against the Corn-laws, he would say it then, in order that the next time that this question was mooted, it might be met with a silent negative. He fancied, that this question had been settled last session: for if a majority of 200 against the repeal of these laws was not a sufficient settlement of it, he was at a loss to conceive what would be considered sufficient. He was glad to find that this question had been discussed in that House in a calm spirit of philosophy; for out of doors it had been treated very differently. There the Corn-laws had been denounced as a bread-tax—as a code intended to starve the poor 655 and pamper the luxuries of the rich—as an insult to God, and as an injury to man. It would not be difficult to prove that the Corn-laws were none of these things. They were nothing more than a protection which a wise Government had given to the production of Corn within its own boundaries, with a view of insuring the independence of its inhabitants—an object which would be cheaply purchased at the expense of millions. The effect of the present system of Corn-laws, was to lower the prices, and to make them steadier. Who were they who asked for a repeal of them? Not the working classes but the manufacturers, and especially the master manufacturers. Commerce was allowed to be in a very flourishing situation.["No,no!"] He contended that commerce must be in at least a favourable situation. The question was a difficult one. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had put the question for the first time, in a new point of view. Formerly it had been contended that a repeal of the Corn-laws would be a boon to the manufacturers; he had now said that it would be as beneficial to the agricultural as to the other classes. The agriculturists, indeed, would look at his arguments with diffidence, seeing the shops whence his materials came. It was not fair to leave the landlords out of legislalation. He wished the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was a landed proprietor: though he had acted rather scurvily towards the landed interest, he wished some one would leave the hon. Member a landed property, and he would find that landlord's rents did fall in times of difficulty and distress. Had he never heard of rents being reduced 45 per cent. since the war? The hon. Seconder had spoken of suicides committed by farmers in times of distress; but if he succeeded in his object, there would be no farmers to commit suicide. The repeal of the Corn-laws would at the same time injure the commercial interest, for a body of men would be sent into the manufacturing market, who would work at the smallest wages, and who would be the gainers? The merchant manufacturers; the operatives would gain nothing. He should wish to ask the Government why they made this important question an open question? What was the use of a Government if they made all these great questions open questions? Neither party—the repealers nor the anti-repealers of 656 the Corn-laws—were satisfied with them. He had expected that this question, as well as other questions, would have been met by the Government in a different manner—that they would hang together and keep together. If the present Government did not do so, he hoped another would.
§ Mr. Ward
said, that he differed from the noble Lord as to the finality of the Legislature on this subject as well as on almost all the other topics that he had touched upon in the course of his speech. He doubted whether the prevalence of the opinions put forward by the noble Lord, would give any satisfaction to the country. On the contrary, he was impressed with the opinion that the speech of the noble Lord, as well as those of other supporters of the Corn-laws, would go far to convince the country that the subject was under trial before a packed jury in that House, and that they were only giving foregone conclusions on this subject, and that there was very little hope that it would meet with a fair consideration at their bands. He did not believe that any person in that House connected with the commerce or manufactures of the country, would agree with the noble Lord as to the state of prosperity which he alleged it to be in. He was ready to confess that his own opinion on the corn question, had undergone a great change, and that change had been the result of deliberate conviction slowly formed. When he first came into Parliament, he voted in 1833, with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Pembroke, (Sir J. Graham) on this subject, under the impression that the landed interest was entitled to protection, as they were liable to peeculiar burdens pressing on them. Since that time he had turned his attention to the subject, and had gone with great care into its consideration. He was deeply interested in the welfare of the land, and he had fully considered how it would be affected by a change in the law. He, in the first place, asked himself what it was that caused the broad and obvious distinction that prevailed between the landed interest in this country and the Continent. The result of his examination was the conviction that the high rent in England did not arise from having the monopoly of the home market, but was the result of foreign trade. It was not the mere cultivation of the broad lands of England that led to this result, but it resulted from the 657 population which manufactures created, and which depended on our foriegn and colonial trade. Thus the landed proprietors of this country received a greater rental than those of any country in Europe, and the difference between here and the Continent, where rent was, comparatively speaking, unknown, arose entirely from our foreign trade. In many parts of Germany rent was entirely unknown, and the very best land in the north of Germany was not let for more than five shillings an acre. The generality of farms there let at from ls. 8d. an acre to 5s. In this country the same state of things formerly obtained, and the rent arose in consequence of the great exportation of the manufactures of this country. Where were our crops consumed? At Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, and Birmingham, and other large towns, all of which existed by means of the foreign trade they carried on. Was it not, then, suicidal policy if we should persist in a course which would ultimately destroy our manufactures, and drive them from the continental markets? His right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, stated the other night, that whenever application was made to Saxony, or Wurtemburg, or Prussia, or any other German state for an alteration of the tariff of duties, they were constantly met with, that, in the first place, England must make an alteration in her Corn-laws. The result of the policy that we had pursued on the subject of the Corn-laws, had been to force manufactures into existence on the continent, and it was almost impossible now to contend against the competition which was excited against our manufactures in the continental market. The fact was, that prices were fixed by cost in all the markets of the world, not by the price of wheat in the English market; whether 40s. or 80s. a-quarter, it was equally immaterial. The consequence of the Corn-laws, however, was, that it was necessary that we should receive more for our woollens, and cottons, and hardware than the manufacturers of other countries, and the result was, that there was a much heavier pressure upon the capitalist and labourer. It was evident to every commercial man of experience that, with low prices and profits, the labouring man never received high wages; and that to afford any profit, it was often necessary to draw the gain from the sinews of the 658 labouring man. He was called upon to do more work and received less money, and he feared this evil was on the increase; and that now they were called upon to work fourteen or sixteen hours a-day in a factory, instead of eight or ten, as was the case a few years ago. On this point he appealed with confidence to the hon. Member for Oldham, The effect of this was not at first clearly seen, but it was now obvious, as we had forced other nations to become manufacturers, and we had now to deal with the competition which we had ourselves created. No one could doubt for a moment that the whole character of the exports of this country had undergone a great alteration of late years—that an export of raw materials had been substituted for an export of manufactured goods. The hon. Member for Leeds had shown this in reference to the trade of the town he represented, and he (Mr. Ward) could state the same fact of the trade of the industrious and skilful constituency whom he had, the honour to represent. The community of Sheffield had not much machinery to assist them in their labour; the 120,000 inhabitants of that town subsisted entirely by their skill and industry exercised in manual labour; and Sheffield yearly, monthly, daily, found these foreign markets of which it had once the monopoly, gradually closing more and more against it. To the United States, which had once consumed five-eights of the manufactured goods of Sheffield, that town now sent little more than the steel which the Americans worked up for themselves; and the retenion of this branch of trade the people of Sheffield owed to their present monopoly of the Dannemora mines. Though a reduction in prices amounting, in some instances, to seventy per cent., had been made in Sheffield manufactured goods, the manufacturers found it impossible to retain the trade. In every species of goods manufactured by manual labour, they were met and beaten by Belgium and Germany. It was said that prices would be ruinously reduced by a repeal of the Corn-laws, but he was prepared to contend that the Corn-laws were not the cause of high prices, but that it was in spite of these laws that prices were kept up in any case. The object of the Corn-law of 1815 had been to keep the price up to 80s., but that object had not been attained. Indeed, had that price been 659 sustained for any number of years, the effect that would have inevitably followed, would have been to reduce the price to the continental level, for it would have caused us the total loss of all our foreign trade. It was argued that free trade would be found a dangerous experiment; it had been tried in Tuscany and utterly failed, and the report of Dr. Bowring had been cited to confirm this statement; but fact of the matter was the reverse, and Dr. Bowring distinctly stated this, and he repeated the declaration of the Finance Minister of Tuscany, that the free trade system had been found most beneficial there, and had put an end to the mischievous fluctuations of price which had prevailed under the old monopoly system. The Minister's own words were these:—The final and most triumphant result in contrasting our present illimited liberty of commerce with the restrictive policy which preceded it, may be seen in undeniable facts. The population augmented—the produce of coin increased three and a-half millions of staja (equal to 337,600 quarters)—the export trade in agricultural produce increased 116,670l.—we have suffered little from rise of prices, which have soon regulated themselves, and have never undergone the enormous fluctuaations to which they were formerly subjected.The noble Member for Shropshire insisted, in common with many other speakers, that this was more a tenant's question than a landlord's, but his clear conviction was, that it was a landlord's question. Great stress was laid upon the phrase, remunerating price; and here arose the question whether the tenants rightly understood their own interests or not. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, that the tenantry of England were, as a class, an upright set of men, and very intelligent, in their own sphere, but it must be remembered that this sphere was a very contracted one; they looked to their own business, and to nothing beyond it. It was well known that almost universally they received, with the most entire credulity, all the landlords, thought fit to tell them—that they fully believed that the Legislature could keep up prices by Acts of Parliament, and a large proportion of them had entire faith in the hocus pocus, as it had been called, of the currency. That Parliament could not keep up prices ought to have become manifest to them long ago by the whole course and effects of the legislation on Corn-laws. 660 When hon. Gentlemen talked of a remunerating price, he was at a loss to understand exactly what was meant. Was it a remunerating price for good or bad husbandry ["For both!"] That was a most curious answer. Did hon. Gentlemen mean a remunerating price for England, or a remunerating price for Scotland. These were two very different things, as appeared from the evidence before the agricultural committee of 1836. The English farmers before that committee were almost unanimous in declaring that farms must be thrown up in despair; that no improvements in cultivation could possibly take place; that there must be a constant diminution of agricultural produce with the price of wheat under 64s. This was the English farmers' estimate of a remunerating price. When the Scottish farmers came to speak, they, with a worse soil, and a worse climate than the English farmers enjoyed, but with infinitely more intelligence and industry, declared themselves well contented with 40s. as a remunerating price. Yet in Scotland there was a great competition for farms; agriculture was steadily improving, drainings of the most expensive kind—more expensive than had been entered upon in England, except under very peculiar circumstances, were every where proceeded with, and all at a remunerating price of 40s., while the lowest remunerating price for the better situated English farmer was 64s. Mr. Robert Hope, one of the Scotch witnesses, said he considered the Corn-laws had been the very reverse of beneficial to the Scotch tenants; and Mr. William Bell, another Scottish farmer, said he should prefer a fixed duty to the fluctuating scale, and expressed an opinion that wheat could be raised at 6s. a bushel. The House ought by this time to have been convinced that tampering with prices by Acts of Parliament was a most dangerous principle, they ought to have become convinced that any attempt to enforce a continuance of a monopoly in this article would be ineffectual, unless they had the power to destroy the surplus produce of good years. When he mentioned the destruction of surplus produce he was not stating a monstrosity hitherto unheard of, or which had never been recommended to the agricultural interest of England. The plan of enhancing prices by the narrowing the supply of produce had been suggested to the agriculturists 661 as one which ought uniformly to be acted upon. Now, it appeared to him that the scheme of thus making an artificial scarcity of the first necessary of life in a country teeming with a fast increasing population, and with its foreign trade depending on the price at which articles similar to our own manufactures can be brought into the markets abroad, was an idea the most extravagant, the most monstrous, that could enter the mind of man, and one which, if ever acted upon, must irresistibly produce the most awful convulsions. It was a fearful sight to behold this determination on the part of a small portion of the community to turn God's blessings into a curse, rather than give up in the slightest degree what they most fallaciously considered their interests. Then as to the effects which were to be produced by a change in the present system. He, for one, was no believer in the theory that its effect would be to inundate this country with foreign corn. What had the agriculturists to fear? When it was considered that wheat was a very bulky article, that but a very small proportion of it, comparatively on an average not more than 250 quarters, could be brought in one vessel; that the range of the exporting countries was very small, he could not understand what the agricultural interest had to apprehend from a change, which, besides, could not be brought into full operation till after a long series of years. Which were the exporting countries? France, with a population of thirty millions, and a bad system of agriculture, arising greatly out of a too minute subdivision of land, could never be an exporting country to any considerable extent. Spain, and the other southern countries of Europe, from want of internal communications and other circumstances, could not for a very long period, if at all, export any very large quantity of wheat. From Belgium and Holland we had nothing to fear, Sweden and Norway did not grow sufficient for their own consumption. Coming to Russia and the Baltic what were the facts? The largest exports from the Baltic in those excellent years, 1802, 1810, and 1818, with the price at Dantzic at 64s. 11d., never exceeded 680,000 quarters. The largest imports in one year, in 1802, were 680,494 quarters; in 1810, 267,277 quarters; and in 1818, 355,769 quarters. The average exports from Dantzic for 662 eleven years was 314,450 quarters, equal to about one week's consumption here. The average annual exports from the same place for a period of 166 years had never exceeded 117,963 quarters per annum. As to Poland the total amount in that period was 19,581,947 quarters. Mr. Jacob, in his report on the corn trade, stated that "ten years of unexampled prosperity were required to enable the agriculturists in Poland to attain the point which it reached between 1801 and 1805, when 549,365 quarters was the amount of wheat annually exported thence;" and the same authority added, that it would require ten years more of the application of the same powerful stimulus to reach to 550,000 quarters, about equal to the consumption of this kingdom for ten days. As to prices, the average at Dantzic, from 1791 to 1825, was 45s. 1ld.; without the years in which there was an English demand, 33s. 6d. At Berlin, 36s. 6d. The price at Warsaw, from 1815 to 1824, was 28s.; at Cracow, 22s. The charges to Dantzic from Warsaw were 20s. per quarter; from Cracow, 23s.; so that the total cost at Dantzic could not, even under the most favourable circumstances, be less than from 35s. to 45s., to which would have to be added the freight and charges to this country. Corn was cheaper, no doubt, at Odessa; but the amount of conveyance thence would be three times greater than in the other case; for, besides the freight, there would be the probable damage of much corn in the transit, not to mention that, even at Odessa, it was impossible to say what the price would be raised to, when the enormous amount of English demand came into the market there, where the supply was comparatively so limited. Besides, they had no stock, no farming implements, no manures, no well devised plan of cultivation, and a very small population. When, therefore, on the other hand, he turned his consideration to the skill, enterprise, industry, and material of this country, he could not imagine how there should be an exaggerated apprehension of the effects of foreign competition in the minds of the British agriculturists. If it were urged that foreign produce might be increased, his reply was, that it would not increase in a greater ratio than the population of this country increased. There were seven millions of mouths more to feed here now than there were in 1815, 663 and if the cheek prevented by the Corn-laws were removed, it was impossible to say in how much greater a proportion the population would increase in future years. Besides, however great the reduction in the price of wheat, the landlords would proportionably gain in every article of their own consumption. There was not an item connected with the establishment of a landowner of this country upon which he would not be a gainer by a repeal of the Corn-laws. It was manifest that whatever advantages were to be derived from a free trade in corn, could not arise under the present system, since everything now was calculated upon the artificial basis of a high price of wheat. But, looking to the moral and political bearings of the question, how vast and important were these. The hon. Member for Norfolk, in enlarging upon the impolicy of a dependence upon foreign Powers, had given in illustration, a most convincing refutation of his own arguments. The hon. Gentleman had told the House that Napoleon in 1810 was the first to relax in his continental system, and to allow of a large importation of corn into this country, at a time when it was most required, because even he, in the plenitude of his power, found it impossible to withstand the general demand for the blessings of free trade. The dependence of nations on each other was an essential principle, and was the great secret of the continuance of the blessings of peace. The great security for a continuance of peace between this country and a great north-eastern Power, notwithstanding the question of a very critical nature was pending between them, was the interest which the landed proprietors of Russia had in keeping open a great market for their produce; and, so again, the security we had that the boundary disputes between the provinces of Maine and New Brunswick would not be productive of serious results—results which every one must deplore, and which he trusted the Legislatures of both countries would do everything in their power, by prudence and calmness, to avert—our great security as to such results was the immense trade which existed between this country and the United States. Considering the many interests by which the two countries were bound together, no trifling cause could give rise to any interruption of the amicable intercourse which now existed between 664 them. Taking moral considerations still, and following them up, he would ask the House to look at home? He would ask them to look at this country, and the vast proportion of its population, who had no interest whatsoever in land—who had no stake, no means of subsistence but their labour? These classes, comprising so large a proportion of the population, were deserving of more serious consideration than had been given to them hitherto in the course of the debate. He knew he might be met at once by the allegation that those classes did not take the same view of their own interests that he did. Advantage might be taken of the error into which a portion of the community had been led by the efforts of reckless politicians. But he apprehended there was nothing clearer than that to the working classes cheap bread and steadiness of price were vital considerations. If there were great fluctuations in the price of corn, everybody, on both sides of the House, must admit that wages followed very slowly. Whether it was a rise or a fall they did not find their level at once. The noble Lord, the Member for Shropshire (the Earl of Darlington), and the noble Lord, the Member for Lincolnshire (Lord Worsley), had indeed dwelt considerably on the fact, or the alleged fact, that the depressing effect upon the working classes of the great rise in the price of corn had been counteracted by a corresponding rise in the wages of labour. He knew that the noble Lords were on that point high authority, but he had made inquiries on the subject. He could speak from his own knowledge of Herefordshire, and he had that day inquired into three or four other counties. He would appeal to the hon. Member for Essex, who seemed inclined to take part in the debate, to state whether in the agricultural districts which he represented, there had been a rise of wages in any degree corresponding with the rise in the price of corn? He knew that in Herefordshire, and he believed that in Cambridgeshire, Sussex, and Surrey, the rise of wages did not exceed 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week. Where men were earning 10s. or 11s. in 1838, they were now receiving 11s. or 12s., or 12s. 6d. at the very most. He would ask, then, whether, if corn was the principal article of subsistence, a rise of 10 or 12 per cent. in his wages was any compensation for so large an increase in the price of his food? 665 The distress which the labourer now felt came at a time when he was brought under the severe operation of what he (Mr. Ward) believed a most beneficial change in the Poor-laws, but which for a time was producing most cruel hardships in many parts of the country. All the evils of the rise in the price of bread were enhanced by the suspension of out-door relief. The new Poor-law made very little allowance for those who had married under the old system, and were endeavouring to bring up large families without the assistance to which they had been accustomed. They were told to rely on their own resources; they were told not to trust to the public purse. They were told, that even for sickness and old age they ought to provide out of the wages of their labour. They were told this, and at the same time there was a tax put upon their bread. The two laws were perfectly incompatible. The Poor-laws threw the labourer on his own resources, and the Corn-law told him, that he must not turn those resources to the most advantageous account. That the Corn-law was a tax no man would deny. It was a very heavy tax, and a tax laid on in the most disadvantageous way. It was a tax, which on the supposition, that corn would fall 10s. a quarter by the repeal of the Corn-laws, amounted to three millions and a half on the community at large. Had landed proprietors—had a land-owning Parliament a right to impose such a tax? The rights of labour were natural. The rights of property were acquired and conventional, and only existed on the supposition that they were beneficial to the whole community. It was said that, taking into account the inferior soils which were under cultivation, there was a necessity for giving them protection. They were really no more entitled to protection than any description of bad machinery. The landed interest, in supporting the Corn-laws, claimed a reimbursement in the worst possible way from the whole of the community for the taxes they paid. He thought the burdens which attached to the landed interest might, along with the whole system of taxation, fairly come under consideration. The manufacturers had formally declared, that they needed no protecting duty for any article of British manufacture, if the landowners gave up the protecting duty on corn, they did not claim that protection for themselves which they 666 would take away from others. They wanted that an equality of position should be established, but it was an equality of freedom, and not of monopoly. They wanted an equality of perfect liberty, not an equal and uniform restraint on the industry of the country. When the landowners showed themselves disinclined to meet such demands as these in a fair spirit, he would warn them against the consequences of the course they were going to pursue. He hoped he should not be accused of wishing to encourage agitation on this question, or of making an appeal to the fears of the House, if he ventured to prognosticate consequences which he was convinced must result from a perseverance in the system adopted of late years. He thought it a system of imposition. He thought it impracticable, detrimental to the interests of the country at large, but pressing most cruelly on those who were lowest in the scale. When he was told, that that system was essential to the interests of the landowners, he would beg them for one moment to reflect whether they were not exposing the right of property itself, by unjust usurpation, to the greatest possible danger. Did they reflect sufficiently on the grievance which existed in the manufacturing districts, or the extremity of distress sustained by many of the working classes? He held in his hand a declaration, or statement, of a plain matter of fact. It was the case of a labourer, stated by himself, at what was called a convention of the delegates of the working classes. It was the case of a weaver in the very town to which the noble Lord, the Member fur North Lancashire, had so confidently appealed the other night—he meant the town of Preston. If this poor man, and others in similar circumstances, traced, or believed they could trace, their sufferings to the enactments of the Legislature, and if they believed that they arose from the predominance of the landed interest in that Legislature, such feelings were dangerous to the peace and stability of the institutions of this country. The House, perhaps, would indulge him for a few moments while he read the statement. It was not exaggerated. It breathed a spirit of deep and just complaint—a sense of hardship, overpowering and overwhelming to the mind, but nothing unfit fur that House—nothing that it ought not to hear. The hon. Gentleman read as follows:— 667The effect of these reductions upon the comforts of the weavers had become such as to render their privations intolerable. A young fellow often fancied that he could appear much more respectable than most married people whom he saw around him; but the appearance of a child or two soon undeceived him, and he is found presently in the same miserable condition as most others who, similarly situated in life, had entered the married state—a condition from which all his exertions were inadequate to relieve him till his children were grown sufficiently large to be able to assist in their maintenance. Having been confined to the paltry pittance which his best exertions affords, the casualties of life were wholly unprovided for, and a change of work, a bad kind of work, or a little sickness, destroyed all his credit; and if without friends, in these emergencies, a state of horrid privation commences. He is found frequently toiling an entire day without food; journeying home with a piece of cloth which he hath just finished—if living in the country, a distance of three, four, or five miles, with a pair of clogs on his feet, and clothing in which he is ashamed to appear, for which piece of cloth only 4s. or 5s. is due, and the greater part of a coming week to provide food therewith, though hungry to commence with, and debilitated in frame by previous privation. Hunger, long endured, and the opportunity, when work is finished, to fill for a moment the belly, is destructive of all physical energy—and a day will frequently pass over after such an opportunity, when preceded by severe privation, with scarcely any consciousness of how the time bath passed. The neighbours, who know not what it is to feel these privations, will charge the man in such circumstances with idleness; the sources of pity are thus in a great measure dried up, and the sufferings of the unfortunate family thereby increased; though were it not for the kind aid afforded by those whose condition is but one remove from the state here depicted, not a week would pass over without hearing of some one having died from starvation. The following cases of suffering are a part of those which have come under his own observation within the last six months;—James Colbert had his wife brought to bed, at a tune when he had not one morsel of food in the house. He applied in this state to a shopkeeper with whom he had before traded, but nothing could be had. He next went to his employer—there also he failed. To his poor neighbours he then applied, and found in them the good Samaritan. There was another case—that case was his own, He had frequently had two or three days to get over without any food whatever provided, or any knowledge of the means by which it could be obtained. A little meal borrowed here, a few potatoes procured there, with occasionally the scraps of the last meal from some kindhearted neighbour, who had a knowledge of his state, or a few pence in the way of loan, 668 were obtained. But this was not always the case, and when himself and his family were thus unfortunate in their applications to the poor neighbours around, then the suffering was indeed great. On Tuesday his father-in-law, who then lived wtth him, failed to get his work out of the loom, as had been hoped, and they went to rest that night supperless. Breakfast time, on the Wednesday, passed away, and still they had nothing to take. Night at length made its appearance, and all the schemes to realize a little food were abortive, having nothing which they could pledge. Such had been their destitute state for a considerable length of time previous. The agony of his own feelings was at this time indescribable, not so much for his own sake as for that of his more unfortunate partner, who had the whole of the day a strong healthy child lugging at her breast, and which had shown itself much more ravenous than usual, owing to having no other food to direct it there from. During the night he frequently entreated her to remove the leech from her (for by that name he recollected having designated his own child). Once, on awaking from a brief slumber, he inquired how she felt herself, and found that she had fainted. He immediately arose, took the meal-bag, turned it wrong side out, and shook it over the table; the few grains detached there from he collected, and made of them a bowl of water-gruel, and with this, he really believed, her life had been preserved. How many were present at some ball or masquerade, the expence of admission to which would have victualled his little family a month or more? But how little do such men, although deriving the whole of the abundance they enjoy, care or feel for that condition which their own pride or avarice bath alone created.If the smallest portion of this suffering could be ascribed to the wealthy aristocracy of England—if they said that such a state of things was essential for their support, in what a position did they place themselves? They placed themselves in the position of the old French nobility. They claimed exemption from their share of the contributions demanded by the State. And where was that nobility now. There was an end of their career and their exactions. He believed that there was great truth in the remarks of an historian, who he believed he might say belonged to the other side of the House, in speaking of the condition of the working classes before the French revolution, which every one knew was distinguished by such fearful excesses. The writer he referred to said—What is the constitution to them (the people but bread to eat? Fancy five millions of gaunt figures a starting up to ask their 669 upper classes, after long unreviewed centuries, virtually this question—'How have ye treated us? How have ye taught us, and fed us, and led us, while we toiled for you?' The answer can be read in flames on the nightly summer sky. This is the feeding, and leading we have had of you—emptiness of stomach, of pocket, of head and of heart! Did ye mark amongst your rights of man, that man was not to die of hunger while there was bread reaped by him? It is amongst the mights of man, and so will ye find it Such an arrangement must end; but oh! most fearful is such an ending! Let those to whom God, in his mercy, has granted time and space, prepare another, and a milder one, before it be too late!These were the words of Mr. Carlyle. He was deliberately of opinion, that a striking similarity was growing up between the portions of the landed interest in this country and that of the landed interest under the old regime in France. He could not look without deep alarm at the consequences of a perseverance in the present system. He did think that the connection between it and the sufferings which the working classes endured could be clearly, palpably, and distinctly traced. His own means of subsistence depended wholly on land, and yet they would talk of his being prejudiced, and of his pandering to popular passions. He would rest his support of the motion on a principle of self preservation and also on a principle justice: and if the House came to the decision to which they ought to come, to which a regard for their own character and for what was due to the interests of the community would lead them, they would be acting on a principle not only of justice, but of common sense.
§ Sir James Graham
said, that it was because he did not believe that the proposal was founded on a principle, either just, necessary, or true, that he could not give it his assent. He could not advocate any measure which, in his conscience and judgment, he did not believe conducive to the general interest of the whole community. He was hound to say, that he approached this subject with the greatest reluctance. He was not disposed to treat it on the narrow grounds on which some hon. Gentlemen attempted to put it, as if it were only a landlord's question. On the contrary, when he considered that it was of so large and extensive a nature, branching into such various ramifications, and bearing on so many of the springs of national industry, he became painfully 670 conscious of his own inability to grapple with it in the manner that he thought it deserved, and he almost shrunk from the task of discussing it. Yet he could not remain silent on the present occasion. He had been repeatedly referred to in the course of the debate, and although he feared he could say nothing worthy of the attention of the House, he would make amends by compressing what he had to state into the narrowest limits. In the first place, he could not but remark, that, in his judgment, there was no operation which the Legislature could perform more critical, or more dangerous at all times, than any attempt to alter the established laws which regulate the supply of daily food for the people, in as much as it was a subject on which the minds of the people could be most easily excited, on which the strongest prejudices existed, and the utmost irritation prevailed. There was this additional danger attendant on legislation on this subject, that the disposition to legislate was always strongest at a time of comparative scarcity, when passion was most excited, when inflammation was greatest, and, consequently, when danger was most imminent. If he wanted an illustration of the dangerous spirit likely to be prevalent at such a time, he would refer to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and especially to the topics with which he had concluded—the sufferings of a hand-loom weaver at Preston. When it was quite notorious that the circumstances of the hand-loom weavers were peculiar, he had compared them to the situation of the population of France before the French revolution, and to the nobility of the same period he had deliberately compared the aristocracy of England. Such was the inflammable nature of the topics used at such a time. It was true that the price of provision was high. It was a misfortune. He admitted it. But was it within the control of the landlords? Was it within the control of the Legislature? That was the question, and to that subject he meant to address his remarks. Art hon. Member whom he saw opposite, and whom, notwithstanding political differences, he hoped he might still call his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Bridport, had used expressions on a former occasion with which the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield exactly tallied; something similar in effect had 671 also fallen from the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets. The hon. Member (Mr. Clay) had talked of the necessity of pressure from without. The hon. Member for Bridport told them, that there could be no hope from the landlords of England until they were operated upon through their fears. The hon. Member for Sheffield had said the same. Now hon. Gentlemen who contended for a free trade in corn might denounce the landlords for selfishness; they might hold them up to public execration as interested monopolists; they might regard them as blind or as stolid as the oxen they fed; he defied them to dissemble or conceal this striking truth, that they were powerful, and had possession of the soil of England. He contended that they were an honourable body of men—that they were willing to listen to reason—that they would hearken to argument, and if it was proved to them that the exclusive burdens which affect land were considerably reduced, he did think they would be willing to consider a re-adjustment of the duties on corn. But if the advocates of free trade expected them to yield to fear, he mistook their character greatly, if he could not confidently pronounce, that from such motives as these, they ought not—so they never would act. But as to the danger of this species of agitation, he would just remark, that if this conflict were pushed to extremities, there might be some doubt as to what would become of the present owners of the soil, but the land would remain. Commerce—credit floating capital, were exotics, which flourished in the sunshine of national tranquillity; and if a struggle, such as was contemplated on the other side, were pushed to extremities, the very manufactures which they sought to encourage, would make to themselves wings and fly away to lands where they might hope that national peace would be preserved, and life and property be secured. He must be permitted to observe, that if there was danger in the operation of legislation on such a subject, and at such a time, it was on that account the paramount duty of the Government of the country to put some restraint on the pruriency of the disposition to legislate, and, above all, to put some restraint on themselves. What, therefore, was his astonishment the other evening, when he heard the President of the Board of Trade declare that he had 672 encouraged agitation—a declaration well worthy, as it appeared to him, of the Member for Manchester; but utterly unworthy of a Minister of the Crown—a declaration which gave some authenticity to a report which had considerable currency in the north, to the effect, that when the right hon. Gentleman visited his constituency in autumn, his parting injunction to them was to work the Corn-law question—a declaration which, if it had no effect on Gentlemen sitting on the other (the Ministerial) side of the House—if it did not awaken them to some sense of their impending danger—then he would say that their eyes were blind and would not see, their ears were closed and would not ear, until party spirit led them to their own destruction. He would make, upon the subject of the motion, this general observation:—If he did not mistake, the balance between consumption and production was the regulator of the price of any commodity. Those who would seek to destroy that balance, and by force of law provide that for a diminished consumption there should be no compensation in an increased price, laid the axe at the root of production itself. If home grown corn were such a commodity, and if they endeavoured by force of law to establish that, in a year of comparative scarcity, the home-corn grower should not have a price which would cover the cost of production, they aimed a deadly blow at British native agriculture, which, after all, depend upon it, was the foundation of national power and prosperity, and the mainstay of national greatness. He was bound to say that the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this question, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, the hon. Member for the city of London, the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, who had just sat down, had argued the question with perfect fairness. They had frankly avowed their intentions. Their arguments were equally strong against a fixed duty, and against the present scale of fluctuating duties. They had manfully and plainly avowed that their object was a free trade in corn, because without a free trade in corn national prosperity could not be secured. But there was a preliminary question which he wished to ask—he was peculiarly entitled to ask what were the intentions of her Majesty's Government when they gave their votes for going into committee. He 673 had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade on a former evening, but could gather nothing from it as to the ultimate views of the Government; they seemed about to go into Committee with no distinct purpose, as if some stray votes might be caught by leaving the matter in uncertainty. To their plans, indeed, he might apply the line of Pope, with the alteration of a single word. They were indeed,A mighty maze, but all without a plan.He could not divine what was their object, whether it were for a fixed duty of a greater or less amount; and he was infinitely more bewildered when he remembered the declared opinion of the head of her Majesty's Government—of Lord Melbourne—upon this question. With regard to that noble Lord's opinion there was no doubt whatever. It stood recorded. He would read to the House the opinion which Lord Melbourne had expressed in Parliament, at the end of last Session, with regard to any change whatever in the existing system of Corn-law. That noble Lord was reported to have spoken as follows:—"The present system having been in operation now ten years, he felt bound to say, that in his opinion it had acted well for the interests of all parties, much better than was expected, and much better than could have been anticipated by any one." Now, when the President of the Board of Trade referred to the speech of Mr. Canning, who introduced the measure of 1827, when Lord Melbourne was his colleague—at least he was a colleague of the Duke of Wellington in 1828—and was no doubt cognizant of the views of those who introduced the present Cornlaw—when, as he said, the right hon. President of the Board of Trade referred to Mr. Canning's speech to show, that the expectations expressed in it were falsified by the event, he (Sir James Graham) would refer to the head of the present Government, who was a party to the introdution of this measure, and who said the expectation of its framers was not falsified, but that their most sanguine hopes had been exceeded. Lord Melbourne further said, that "the present system had operated well, and it was dangerous to touch it. He was afraid that if they touched the system they would lose all the advantages it was calculated to pro- 674 duce, and that, without gaining any other advantage, they would incur evils of the greatest magnitude." He (Sir James Graham) was glad to offer to the noble Lord opposite, representing her Majesty's Government in that House, the opinions delivered at the close of last Session by the head of the Government under which the noble Lord was serving. The noble Lord under whom he served foresaw dangers of the greatest magnitude in touching the question at all. The noble Lord opposite was now about to give his vote for going into Committee, and for disturbing the settlement of that question. He would be glad to learn, and he thought the country ought to learn, from the noble Lord, what change of circumstances between the time when that speech was made and the present moment, induced her Majesty's Ministers to think that there was danger in touching in July, that which it was right and expedient to enter into and unsettle now. Indeed, he apprehended that this was only a part of the practice of her Majesty's Ministers, who were loosening and disturbing everything, and winding up and settling nothing. It had been said, that this was with Lord Grey's Government an open question. He (Sir James Graham) begged leave, so far as he was concerned, to deny any knowledge of such being the case. It had been distinctly denied by his noble Friend the Duke of Richmond, on whose honour he thought implicit reliance might be placed: that noble Duke said, that if the question had been so considered, he would not have remained one hour a member of that Government. He was well aware that there were certain members of Lord Grey's Government who were not members of the Cabinet—who, having come in under certain pledges to their constituents, were permitted by Lord Grey, without tendering their resignation, to fulfil their pledges. But to the best of his knowledge and belief, Lord Grey would not have allowed a member of the Cabinet, in 1834, when he had the honour to defend the existing system of Corn-laws against the motion of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, to have voted in favour of an alteration in those Corn-laws. Had he no ground for saying this? Let any hon. Gentleman refer to the speech of Lord Althorp on that occasion, and he would find that he spoke evidently under a duress of the most stringent description imaginable. 675 The noble Lord said to the advocates of the motion, "You know my previous opinions—that they are in favour of alteration; but I cannot admit them into this question. I cannot answer those against whom I mean to vote, and I cannot speak in favour of those with whom I mean to vote, but with whom I differ in opinion.' If any doubt could be entertained of the strong compulsion under which the members of Lord Grey's Cabinet acted, the arguments urged and the assertions made by Lord Althorp on that occasion, would set the matter at rest. Even in that speech of Lord Althorp, his usual good sound common sense made its appearance. He said, "I reconcile this vote to my conscience for this reason: in determining upon a measure, I not only look how it is to commence, but before it commences, I look at the chances of carrying it through." He asked the noble Lord who was now about to vote for going into Committee this night, whether he had first used the precautions recommended by Lord Althorp on that occasion? The noble Lord might go into committee with a view of enacting a measure on this subject; but He believed he would find a great difficulty in carrying it through. He passed now to matters of more importance. He would venture to ask the hon. Gentlemen who had advocated this measure, to state expressly what their intentions were with regard to the price of corn. The question might be involved in an inextricable labyrinth of reasonings, and great knowledge of political economy might be displayed upon it; but, after all, it must come to plain common sense, and frank, open declaration. What were their intentions with regard to the price of corn? Did they mean to raise the price of corn? for even that had been intimated. It was said, that the advocates of the Corn-laws were altogether wrong, and misunderstood their own interests. They were told that if the laws were repealed, there might be a little falling of in the first instance, but they might depend upon it that the price of corn would be ultimately raised. Hon. Gentlemen might remember that sometime after the middle of the last century, about the year 1776, there was a free trade in corn. We ceased to be an exporting country, and we became an importing nation, and the effect was, that the average price was raised at once 14s. Yet hon. Gentlemen would not fairly tell 676 the House what was their object. Was it their object to raise the price of corn? If it were, they would ultimately raise the price of wages, and diminish the rate of profits, and thus entirely counteract the intention of the manufacturers. Was it their object not to raise the price of corn? Let them frankly tell the House whether this was their intention. If they desired a low price of corn, let them explicitly declare their intention, and he would tell them at once that they desired to produce a low rate of wages. They sought, in fact, to lower wages, and let the agricultural and the manufacturing labourer thoroughly understand that low wages would certainly be the ultimate effect of the low price of corn, that the price of corn, however, would be uncertain; the repeal of the laws would throw upon the market for manufacturing labour a large addition of hands when the price of corn was low, and when, after a lapse of four or five years, the price of corn should rise, because we shall be dependent upon foreigners, and because large quantities of land had been thrown out of cultivation—in vain would the unhappy labourers seek for a rise in the rate of wages. He would, therefore, argue this as an agricultural question, and he would declare that nothing could be more dangerous to the real interest and the future welfare, comfort, and independence of the labourers. But hon. Members would not be explicit in their statement, they would not declare whether it were intended to raise, or whether it were intended to lower wages. Hon. Gentlemen would not tell them this, but they delighted in what they called equalization. And here he might be allowed to say, that he was extremely glad to see, the other day, the electioneering squib, written from Downing-street, to the independent electors of Stroud; but, for himself, he confessed he agreed rather in the expressions used in the noble Lord's letter from Woburn Abbey, and his thought turned at once to "the wretched horses, the wretched ploughs, and the wretched men;" and when hon. Gentlemen talked of equalizing the prices and equalizing the profits, he thought of equal beggary, of equal wretchedness, and of equal want. The same law held good in politics as in physics; it was easy to pull down that which was above, but it was extremely difficult, to raise that which was below; and it was generally found 677 that the levelling system ended in sinking both the high and the low together, somewhat below what the lowest was before. That was the effect of the equalizing process. An argument had been used by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the repeal of our laws would raise the price of corn on the Continent, that this rise in the price of corn abroad would raise wages, and that this rise in the wages would enable our manufacturers to compete with the manufacturers of foreign countries; but the whole of this argument proceeded on an entire fallacy. The hon, Gentleman, the Member for Sheffield, had rightly told them that the price of bread would ultimately regulate the price of wages here, but that it would do so slowly; he, however, contended that the price of wheaten bread on the Continent would do nothing towards regulating wages, though it might in England inasmuch as wheaten bread was an article of necessity in England; the argument failed if it were applied to other countries in which wheaten bread was not an article of necessity, as it was not in Germany or in the greater part of the Continent, except France, Spain, and Portugal—on the Continent the labourers generally eat rye bread, or bread formed of a mixture of rye; and it was as well to say, that the price of rice or the price of tea regulated the rate of wages at Canton as that the price of wheaten bread on the Continent of Europe, except in France, Spain and Portugal, regulated the price of labour there. Therefore, it was not a necessary consequence of the rise of the price of wheat on the Continent, that the rate of wages should increase. If the effect of the repeal should be to lower wages in England, it would degrade the character of the labourers. Let them look over the whole world, and they would find, that a low price of food led to a low rate of wages, and that a low rate of wages produced great degradation in the character of the labourer. Let them look at the Hindoo, the price of food to him was low, the rate of wages did not exceed three rupees, and there was not a more wretched, a poorer, or a more degraded nation, than the Hindoo. Again, what was the condition of Sicily? It possessed some of the most fertile land in the world; its climate was most genial; and, having passed some time there, he could speak from his own experience, that though bread was cheap, wages were extremely low, and there was 678 not, in Europe, so poor, so wretched, and so degraded a people, as the inhabitants of Sicily. They were told, that if they did not relax the Corn-laws, we should lose the advantages of reciprocity with other nations, who were now in league against us, and it was said, that their repeal would lead to an extended continental intercourse. Some vague hope of this kind had been held out by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade; but he (Sir James Graham) must say, that the evidence adduced by that right hon. Gentleman was most meagre. He thought, that he should have produced some documents to show, that representations had been made by foreign Powers, and that proposals had been submitted to the Government; but what evidence had he produced? Why, he had read only three letters from a gentleman named Gregor; only one of these letters bore upon this question, and that only slightly touched the, case of Prussia; but the two others related to that most important corn-growing country, Wirtemberg, with which we maintained the most extended commercial relations. He remembered, that in a former year, in the debate of 1834, when, being the colleague of the right hon. Gentleman, he experienced all the advantage of this being an open question, for if hon. Members looked to that debate they would see, that he received from that right hon. Gentleman, a most severe castigation, which he seemed so rejoiced to inflict, that his right hon. Friend, now no more, (Mr. Ferguson) declared, that his right hon. Friend delighted in finding one open question, to enable him to pour out the vials of his wrath against his colleagues, and when the result was such, as must always happen when there were open questions, for when Members of the same Government differed on subjects of primary importance, they could not argue them with that composure, and that perfect self-possession, which was necessary to maintain an united and a cordial administration—he remembered, he said, that upon that occasion his right hon. Friend had told them, that the French people were knocking at the doors of the Legislature of that country with a force, that could not be resisted and that the French government must acquiesce in the establishment of a free commercial intercourse. The House was enraptured at the prospect; a commercial 679 treaty of vast importance was immediately expected, and what had resulted from it? Why, a noble Friend of his, who then had a seat in that House—a man of first-rate sagacity and of great experience in commercial transactions—he meant Lord Ashburton, then Mr. Baring—had foretold precisely what would happen. Mr. Baring, who had a perfect knowledge of France, had in that debate told them, "they will receive you with great attention. Your great philosopher, Dr. Bowring, will be puffed from one end of the Continent to the other in their newspapers, as the greatest genius that ever came amongst them; but you will get nothing else from them." That great philosopher, would be received with extacies by the people of Nantes who would agree to sell him their brandy; the people of Bordeaux would gladly supply him with their wines; and the manufacturers of Lyons would be most ready to induce him to put down the silk trade in England; but let him try the cotton manufacturers of Rouen, let him go to the hardware manufacturers in the south of France, and the great philosopher would find an insuperable objection to such doe trines, he would be received with sugared words, and with the best assurances of a desire to promote mutual interests; but these manufacturers would never consent to a relaxation of their tariff. But his noble Friend, said, moreover, "even if the right hon. Member for Manchester, and the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. Hume), were to join their exertions, and thus complete the trio, to those of the illustrious doctor, they would fail to persuade either France, or Prussia, or the small states of Germany to make any concessions on those important points." If great talent and equal zeal for the public service would have succeeded, the exertions of the Earl of Clarendon would have succeeded, but they had failed. Since that, the nephew of Lord Ashburton, the late Vice-President of the Board of Trade, had been on the same mission, and perhaps he would inform the House whether he had succeeded any better than the eminent philosopher, Dr. Bowring. Then, with respect to the dependence on foreign supply, hon. Gentlemen were very little inclined to enter into a reasonable argument; but, where it was difficult to answer a statement, nothing was so easy as to turn it into derision and contempt The idea of any danger arising from our 680 being dependent on a foreign supply of corn, was scouted as a complete fallacy—as an idea that no rational man now entertained, He, however, had yet to learn that this was an imaginary evil. He had, indeed, heard something of an argument on this point. It was said, that if a country which imported corn, suffered a loss from the stoppage of the supply to which it had been accustomed, the community which expected the corn would experience even more from the suspension of the trade, and that this continued channel of trade, and that this balance of interests was a security against any chance of danger. He could not refer to this branch of the question without expressing his great deference to the opinions of Mr. Huskisson. He knew that a single passage in a speech made by that right. hon. Gentleman in the year 1830, against the Corn-Laws, had been quoted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but they could not set this casual expression in a single speech, uttered in the heat of debate, against the whole policy of the right. hon. Gentleman's long and most useful life. That right hon. Gentleman was a party to the agricultural committee of 1821, and he (Sir James Graham) knew of his own knowledge, and in this he could be confirmed by Mr. Jacob, that the present plan of a diminishing scale was of Mr. Huskisson's invention, that Lord Liverpool had adopted it, that it had received the assent of Mr. Canning in 1827, and that Mr. Huskisson assisted in its completion in the year 1828. The argument of our mutual independence was so ably handled by Mr. Huskisson, that he entreated the House to listen with attention to what Mr. Huskisson had said, when Mr. Huskisson, in 1820, urged the same argument as the hon. Gentleman opposite. The argument was quite conclusive, and it was expressed much better than in any language of his own. On the 30th of May, 1820, Mr. Huskisson said, "Another object, which appeared to him of more importance than it did to the hon. Member for Portarlington, was, that this country, in its peculiar circumstances, should not be dependent, to too great an extent, on foreign countries for the necessaries of life."* And Mr. Huskisson then came to the argument urged by the Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House.* Hansard, vol. i. New Series, p. 478.681 "The hon. Member for Portarlington had stated, that there would be suffering on both sides, if the country which raised corn for us attempted to withhold that supply. But the contest would not be an equal one. To the foreign nation the result would be a diminution of revenue, or a pressure on agriculture; to us the result might probably be revolution and the subversion of the State." This was said in 1820; but had any change taken place in Mr. Huskisson's views in 1827? In that year Mr. Huskisson laid down a general principle, when Mr. Canning brought in the bill which had now become the law of the land, and which gave protection to the home produce. The right hon. Gentleman at that time said, "I think nothing so dangerous to this country as to rely too largely and too frequently on foreign countries for supplies of corn. I wish to make this country independent of the foreigner, commercially as well as politically. You may rest assured, that as long as it is the interest of the foreigner to produce distress, or cause us political discomfiture, they will end eavour unceasingly to do so." Mr. Huskisson never receded from his declared opinion that—"Whatever arrangement was made respecting the Corn-laws, we must take care not to put ourselves in the power of foreigners." * The authority of Mr. Huskisson showed, then, that the argument of the hon. Gentleman opposite was the grossest fallacy that was ever entertained by a rational people. He was, however, yet more surprised by another argument of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, which contained a fallacy that was still more astounding; that the law of 1828 was identical with the law of 1815. If ever there were two things that were more opposite, if ever light differed from darkness, there were no two things more directly opposite to one another than were these two laws. What was the law of 1815? It was a law of absolute prohibition, till the price of wheat rose to 80s., and when it arrived at 80s., then there was to be an unrestricted importation, and the averages were to be taken only once in three months, so that when the ports were once opened, there was an unrestricted importation for three months. What, however, was the law of 1828? Importation was at all times per-* See Hansard, New Series, vol. xvii. p.1335.682 mitted upon paying a varying rate of duty; there was no prohibition, and the averages, instead of being taken every three months, were taken every week. Was it possible to conceive, therefore, two laws that were more opposed to one another. There was no greater difference between the system of what was erroneously called free trade, which had been attributed to Mr. Huskisson, and the old system of total prohibition at one time, and unrestricted importation at another, and the present system, when the ports were at all times opened. It appeared to him, that, for a state of the power and the magnitude of Great Britain, deliberately and voluntarily to place itself in a state of dependence on foreign Powers for its daily food, was the most foolish thing that could be imagined. It was like placing the country in a state of siege—all the supplies were to be drawn from without, and if they were stopped, there would be a state of dearth which would lead to absolute desperation, and there would be this destruction if our supplies could be cut off by any foreign Power. If we placed ourselves in that position, there were enemies so jealous of us, that they would readily cut off the supplies, and reduce us to the greatest extremity; and when he heard such a proposition pressed, he could but consider it most dangerous and most unwise. After all it was not in the power of any human legislation to prevent occasionally a deficient harvest. Neither was it possible for any legislation to prevent a deficient harvest from being a national calamity. Since the year 1801 he believed that we had not been visted by a harvest so deficient as we have experienced in the present year. The present law had in the course of ten years, therefore, been exposed to trials of the most opposite character. The year 1834 was one of a most abundant harvest, and prices fell, but not to a very great extent; and this year this law which had been so much abused had had to contend with a crop more deficient than had occurred in England since 1801. He held in his hand an account of the state of the corn-market in Mark-lane on Saturday last, written by a gentleman on whom the greatest reliance could be placed, and what did he say?A very considerable fall—as much as four or five shillings per quarter—has taken place at Mark-lane in the prices of wheat, which is attributed to the large importations of 683 foreign corn. We believe that there are other causes leading to the same result, which we shall presently notice. In the meantime the following may be taken as a tolerably accurate sketch of the present state of things. There has been less corn threshed out than is usual—less even in proportion to the deficient quantity produced at the last harvest. The smaller farmers have been compelled to sell, but the more opulent class have held back firmly, under an erroneous calculation that prices would be enormously high. In these circumstances the millers in the interior have found it difficult to keep their mills in work. There have been unusual supplies of foreign wheat sent into all parts of the country within seventy miles of the sea ports. These efforts have produced a temporary glut in the stock of flour in many parts of the country. The alarm concerning scarcity which prevailed throughout the month of December and during the first week in January, caused rill manufacturers of corn to make great exertions to lay in stock. The Irish millers especially, with their prodigiously increased mechanical power employed in this trade, have been able to send forth supplies that have glutted all markets on the western side of this island. Flour is become a drug, and sales cannot be forced till stocks are reduced and prices fall, for all retailers, influenced by the same motive, have made similar exertions to keep up their supplies. They are consequently full of stock, especially in the densely peopled districts of the north, their funds are exhausted, and they have no power to purchase largely. In these circumstances all speculation for a rise must for some weeks cease. We believe the importations since the first of September, including what was then taken out of bond, now amount very nearly to 2,500,000 quarters of wheat,So that this law which had been lately so much traduced, had, in a year of great scarcity, and in seven months allowed an importation of no less than 2,500,000 quarters, although he (Sir James Graham) did not believe that under any other law in the course of a whole twelve months there had been more than two millions of quarters imported. Not only had this been the case, but further supplies were coming from abroad, the prices had fallen twenty per cent, and thus he defect in the existing harvest had been met under the present laws by the largest importation of foreign corn that had ever taken place within a like period. Other Gentlemen had treated of the effects of a law upon the manufacturing interests of a law upon the manufacturing interests much better than he could do; but he must observe that the declared value of our exports had increased; thus the assertion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was negatived by the facts. The declared value of our 684 exports, in articles of manufacture was not only as large this year as in any former year, but it was actually larger, and moreover this took place under the present law, with extreme scarcity existing and a very deficient crop. It was extraordinary also that the exports of manufactures into which the largest portion of manual labour entered were increased this year, and this after it had been proved that in no former portion of our history had there been so large a quantity of foreign corn imported in so short a time. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had referred with great satisfaction to the dependence of this country for a supply of raw cotton on a foreign country, and he had contended that a supply of food might be relied upon with equal safety. Seeing, however, the large amount of our population dependent upon the state of our cotton manufacture, and looking at the position of affairs in the only quarter of the globe where any large quantity of the raw material was grown, he feared that we could not always depend with equal certainty on the supply. He had always hoped that instead of attempting to extend the limits of our territory in the cast, and to stretch the bounds of our Government there; and instead of being diverted by war, we should cultivate there the arts of peace, and that we should devote our attention to the better raising of the cotton plant, to its better growth, and to its better packing; and he could conceive nothing more worthy of the attention of the right hon. Baronet, the President of the Board of Control, than emancipating this country from the necessity of relying on the United States for our supply of cotton. It was in his opinion an evil to be dependent on any country for a supply of cotton, but, if we were, with the dense mass of our population, dependent for our bread also on a foreign country, we should be running greater risk than the Legislature seemed to contemplate, and in his conscience he believed that such a change would be fatal to our manufactures and to the independence and the prosperity of the country. Something had been said about the taxes which fell upon agriculture. A return had been made up to 1833, of the proportion of local charges paid by the agriculturists, and his hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall had moved a continuation of the return. Up to 1833, however, they knew accurately how much the 685 agriculturists paid. The return was made up to the 25th of March, 1833; at that time, the poor and the county-rates amounted to 8,600,000l., of this sum the landed interest paid 5,439,000l., or five-eighths of the whole burden; and of the remaining three-eighths imposed upon dwelling-houses by far the greater portion was discharged by the landlords, or by the shopkeepers and other persons dependent upon or connected with the landowners and farmers in rural districts. The highway rates amounted to 1,485,000l., and of this sum the persons connected with land paid in money or in labour 939,000l., or two-thirds of the whole sum. The county rate in 1793 amounted to 184,000l., and, in 1833, it had increased to 757,000l. To take a specific instance of the rapid increase of those local burthens, he might refer to the county of Stafford. In the year 1792, the sum required for the repair of bridges in the county of Stafford was 298 l., in 1832, the amount required for the bridges only was 5,667l. In 1792, the cost of gaols and the maintenance of prisoners was 2,600l., but it had risen, in 1832, to 7,108l.; in 1792, the expenditure on prosecutions was 1,020l., but in 1832, they cost 6,500l. He admitted that the malt-tax was principally paid by the consumer, but he thought that even the hon. Member for Lambeth would admit that, though directly the tax was paid by the consumer, yet that indirectly it affected the landlord. It enhanced the price of beer—this enhanced price of beer diminished the demand for it—the diminished demand caused a smaller quantity of barley to be cultivated, and the lessened price of barley was pro tanto a tax upon the barley land, or as Adam Smith, he believed, said, it had the same effect as if the barley land were stricken with barrenness; that if five quarters could be grown according to the usual nature of things with the malt-tax, only three quarters would be produced. He was convinced, however, that if they repealed the Corn-laws, the malt-tax would not survive a single year. The Gentlemen opposite said, that if there was to be a free trade in corn, there should be a free trade in all articles of consumption, and he (Sir J. Graham) felt certain, that if this were carried out, no power on earth would be able to maintain the malt-tax for another year. If all restrictions were removed, why was the 686 landlord to be precluded from cultivating tobacco in this country. Why should a tax of 1,200 per cent. be imposed on its growth? They might thus go on in other articles, and if they came to this, the whole system of finance must go, This was not a time to think of such a thing, or to attempt such an experiment, for whether they looked to the state of our possessions in India, whether they looked to our relations with the United States, whether they turned their attention to Canada, whether they thought of the proceeding at Buenos Ayres, or whether they looked to our own shores, they would see many reasons for supposing that an increased expenditure would be necessary, and an attempt at such a time to alter the whole of our financial system was little short of madness. The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, had, on a former occasion, quoted from a work which he attributed, though erroneously, to him (Sir J. Graham); and in the present debate the right hon. Gentleman had referred to a work of his in 1826; in fact, he thought that his work formed a regular stock in trade for the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to commit to memory a passage of the last work, but he bad so halted in the delivery, and he had so marred the quotation, both the English and the Latin, that Tacitus himself, in a society of Romans, would not have been recognized. In that work, he (Sir J, Graham) bad recommended a fixed duty on corn; he would not shrink from the avowal of it; but it was under the law then in force that he had recommended a fixed duty—that fixed duty, however, was 15s. a-quarter; and it was to be accompanied by an entire alteration of our financial system. He had, moreover, recommended that the taxes on consumption should be removed, and he had adopted that recommendation from an essay by Mr. Hume, not the hon. Gentleman opposite, however, but Mr. Hume, the able historian and the essayist; and he had proposed to alter all the taxes imposed upon land. But he would not allow that there was any inconsistency in the course he had adopted. He had supported Mr. Huskisson in 1821, and Mr. Canning, in 1827, when he brought forward a fluctuating scale of duty, which was directly opposed to the then existing law, and which, in lieu of a prohibition, proposed 687 an unrestricted power of importation; he had agreed in it; although opposed politically to the Duke of Wellington, he had supported him in his bill of 1828. He went into the Committee on the state of agriculture in 1833, and he had had the honour of drawing up the report then agreed to. In 1834, when a member of Earl Grey's Government, he took his full share of responsibility in defence of the existing Corn-laws; and in 1836, he had again taken part in the agricultural inquiry, together with the noble Lord, the Member for Stroud, the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, and the noble Lord, the Secretary at War; and when those hon. Members, on the persuasion of the noble Lord, tried to introduce into the report a recommendation of a fixed duty, he (Sir J. Graham) took the sense of the Committee against the recommendation, and carried it against the three members of her Majesty's Government. So much for the inconsistency; but he would not stand on so low a ground. He wrote the work which had been referred to in the year 1826, immediately after the great crisis of 1825, just when the Small Note Act, which had been introduced in 1822 by Lord Londonderry, for the purpose of staving off the effect of the bill of the right hon. Baronet of 1819, was about to be suspended, and he argued that the restoration in our monetary system on a sudden, would have a fatal effect on the agricultural interest. He had failed in impressing his views upon the House or the country, and he now said, with respect to the currency, that that line of conduct, which might have been everything that was just, and everything that was equitable in 1826, might be full of the greatest fraud in 1838. He was not vain of his own work; there were, he knew, many errors, in it, and he had since had the benefit of an enlarged experience; he bad since acquired a more intimate knowledge of public affairs, and he might be allowed to say that his judgment had been somewhat matured by the acquisition of subsequent knowledge, and of subsequent experience. To quit the subject of the books, he held himself no longer bound by any part of that publication, and he should always endeavour to deal with all questions that should be presented to his attention, and which involved considerations of public policy, in such a way as he thought the 688 necessity of the case and the interests of the country demanded. He was satisfied, and the character of the noble Lord opposite was a sufficient guarantee of the fact, that this motion for departing from the existing Corn-laws had been adopted and taken up by him on a sudden. The noble Lord shook his head, but he was really giving him credit for being a man of honour and integrity, and he was convinced that he did not contemplate any change a short time ago, and he thought that no consideration should have induced the noble Lord to introduce the English Tithe Commutation Act into that House if he had then intended to sanction any departure from the existing Corn-law; but if, on the contrary, the noble Lord should state to the House that such had been his object, he (Sir J. Graham) could find no milder mode of expressing himself than in saying that a gross fraud had been practised upon the House. He would call the attention of the House to the bearing of that measure upon the owners of land. The bill was introduced in 1835 by the noble Lord, in order that a permanent commutation of tithes in England might be effected, and it directed that the commutation should take place upon a calculation of the value of the land during the seven years previously to its enactment, and in order to explain more distinctly his meaning, he would state a supposititious case to the House. Supposing the case of a landowner in Kent, in which county, probably, if the repeal of the Corn-laws were effected, land would first be thrown out of cultivation, who possessed the whole of a parish, and that his rent was 2,000l. per annum, and that that rent was one-fourth of the value of the whole produce of the land, which therefore, amounted to 8,000l. a year, and that this was the average value during the last seven years—the amount of his tithe would be' about 500l. a-year, or somewhere about 200 quarters of wheat, and that must remain the tithe commutation for ever. But, suppose that this law were repealed, and that, in consequence, a great portion of his land would be thrown out of employment, by which a fall of one-half would be produced in the value of his land—that the amount of his rent dropped from 2,000l. to 1,000l.—that of the produce of the land from 8,000l. to 4,000l., would the tithe also fall in amount? No such thing—then 689 the 200 quarters were fixed as the commutation to be paid, and nothing could alter it. But it appeared to him that the course which was proposed would inflict the greatest injustice on Ireland; and he looked at the consequence of the change in that country with the utmost alarm. What had been the operation of the measures passed during the last century relating to that country? Take the case of a landlord who had made the usual covenant that the occupier of the soil should bear all the burdens on the land, which of course would include tithe composition, as well as all others. What did the House do last Session? They imposed a burden on the landlord which he not only had never contemplated he should be compelled to pay, but which he had actually covenanted he should not pay; and in the very same year when they imposed a poor-rate upon that country, they provided that he should bear one half of that impost also. The result of the debates which had taken place on the subject of Ireland, showed this—that no man whowa a landlord, however religiously and carefully he might perform the duties which fell to his share, was secure against assassination—that he was unable to maintain his legitimate rights, and that the ejectment of tenants from the dwellings which they held there was no longer possible—now if the same system which had been introduced in Ireland were introduced here, why should not England be placed in the same condition as that unhappy country? The Irish tenant would not long be able to pay rent—he could not be ejected, as he had already stated—and he thought that the repeal of the Corn-laws would be neither more nor less than an agrarian law, procuring the ruin and extinction of all landlords, and making them outcasts and penniless. These arguments had turned much upon the relative prices under every Corn-law and under every former system. He had no longer the advantage of official documents which in 1833 he had possessed; but upon the question of steadiness of price, he had drawn up a comparative statement of the fluctuations which had taken place between the years 1797 and 1833, which he had inserted in the report which had been published, and which he had framed as he had before stated. He had drawn the comparison between various periods, which be had marked out for himself, and he 690 found that in the first period, which embraced the years from 1797 to 1802, the variation was 220 per cent.; from 1802 to 1806 it was 100 per cent.; from 1807 to 1811 it was 74 per cent.; from 1812 to 1816 it was 183 per cent.; from 1817 to 1821 it was 143 per cent.; from 1822 to 1826 it was 81 per cent.; and then, since the operation of the existing law, from 1828 to 1833, the variation which in the antecedent period had been 81 per cent.; fell to 49 per cent.—the smallest variation ever known in this country during any other corresponding length of time. He had not been able to bring his comparisons down to the present time; but he had obtained such information as enabled him to do so to the year 1836, and he found that from 1833 to 1836, when the highest price of wheat in England was 56s. 6d., and the lowest 36s. 6d., the variation was just 19¼ per cent. The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, had carried on the subject to the present year, and he had shown great fluctuations to have occurred since the date to which he had referred; but he had already stated that that might be the effect of the bad harvests which it was too well known had visited this country. But excluding that from their consideration, no period could be produced in which it was well authenticated that a fluctuation had taken place so small as that which appeared during the last nine years. But there was a remarkable circumstance which he hoped the House would allow him to call to their attention as bearing upon the subject, and showing that a fixed duty did anything but produce steadiness of price. In the United States there was a corn-law with a fixed duty, the amount of which, in New York, was 8s. 4d. per quarter, and he would read to the House the variations in the price of flour which had taken place there. The right hon. Baronet here read the following statement:In the 'American Almanack' there is a table, said to be carefully compiled from authentic data, of the prices of flour for the first three months in every year from 1796 to 1837, both inclusive. Taking the January quotations, they stand thus:—
|1834||5||dollars||25 cents per barrel.|
|1835||4||—||87 — per barrel.|
|1836||6||—||50 — per barrel.|
|1837||11||—||0 — per barrel.|
§ The writer remarks, that the whole table 691 'indicates great and sudden changes in the market, and shows, that notwithstanding the price of flour was unusually high in 1837, yet it had been repeatedly still higher within the period embraced in the table.' Thus in
|1816||the price was 9||dollars||0 — per barrel.|
|1817||13||—||50 — per barrel.|
|1818||10||—||0 — per barrel.|
§ There is nothing in the history of Corn-law prices in this country to compare with the violent fluctuations which the whole American table exhibits, and yet there are no Corn-laws in America, as everybody knows, and we are often reminded; it is the country, par excellence, of the economists, for cheap bread, good wages, and no taxation, and yet bread is not very unfrequently higher priced there than here. The fact results clearly, therefore, that however the scale be modified, it is to the principle of the ascending and descending scale, that the more moderate fluctuations comparatively, and the equilibrium in the corn prices of this country are to be attributed. The facts are there to bear us out; let the Corn-law agitators controvert them if they can."
§ But, after all, there was some inconsistency in saying, that the price of produce in this country would be lowered by an alteration of the law. He was convinced, that the immediate effect of such a change would be to throw out of cultivation a large tract of inferior soil; and after that there would be a large increase in the price of corn, consequent upon British land being thrown out of cultivation by the introduction of a foreign supply. But had nothing been done under the existing law to insure the steadiness of the home supply? He knew that a passage had been quoted which showed, that even in ordinary years, this country was dependent for a part of its supply upon foreign countries; but every year he lived he was opposed more and more to placing dependence upon speculative calculations. In 1836 he had intended to move an amendment to the report of the Committee which had sat, but he had omitted to do so; yet he held in his hand a copy of that amendment, and, with the permission of the House, he would read it.
§ "In the report of the agricultural committee of 1833 an opinion is expressed, that The United Kingdom in years of ordinary production is partially dependent on the supply of wheat from foreign countries;' and that 'a diminished supply of home-grown corn, with 692 an increasing demand, has rendered this nation now annually dependent for a portion of its supply on importations from abroad.'
§ "It is necessarily involved in doubt and obscurity, since the average annual amount of produce depends, in some degree, on the varying cycle of seasons, and still more on the fluctuating application of fresh capital and of increased skill and industry to the cultivation of the soil. But your committee, on a careful review of the opinion expressed by the committee in 1833, are disposed to believe that it requires modification, even if it be not erroneous and contradicted, by evidence in proof before your committee. The crop of 1834 was not greater than an average; but the crops of 1833 and 1835 were not unusually large, yet throughout this period, and for several antecedent years, no foreign wheats had been admitted for home consumption. The population in the meantime has rapidly increased; manufacturing prosperity and a higher rate of wages have led to the more general use of bread corn; nevertheless increased production has kept pace with the growing demand; nay, more, it would seem even to have outstripped it; improved means of communication with more fertile and distant lands—the extent to which under-draining has been carried—the larger use of manure consequent on sheep feeding in districts which now send fat cattle by steam to London, and to the crowded marts of a dense population, but which heretofore exported only live stock to be grazed and fattened in the southern districts of England—all these and other circumstances have contributed to the supply of a larger quantity of home-grown wheat at a diminished cost of production and not on the probability of accuracy to the original assertion of the agricultural committee, of 1821, 'that the annual produce of corn, the growth of the United Kingdom, is upon an average crop about equal to the annual consumption,'
§ "In the highly artificial state of this country, where skill, capital, and enterprise combine with industry to overcome natural difficulties, at different periods with varying success; it is never safe to pronounce absolutely on conjectural points of this abstract nature; and, warned by the example of two antecedent committees, your committee desire to indicate opinion, rather than to declare a decided judgment.
§ "The price of wheat for the last three years has not, on the average, exceeded 46s. ld. per quarter; the highest price within the same period was 56s. 5d., the lowest 36s.; and the average rate of fluctuation calculated on the current price amounts only to 19 1–3 per cent.
§ "Thus a price most moderate for the consumer, and steady for the grower, continues to be coincident with the present system of Corn-laws; and your committee are confirmed in the opinion expressed by the committee of 1833, 'that this steadiness of price which unquestionably has prevailed, may fairly be 693 ascribed to the Corn-laws as now established.'"
§ This was the amendment which it had been his intention to have proposed to the House to the report of the committee of 1636, had it been presented. Subsequent experience confirmed the view which he had taken then; from the period of the enactment of the present Corn-laws, the progress in the growth and cultivation of corn had had the effect of producing annually a greater quantity of corn at a reduced price, and that result was produced notwithstanding the increase of population. He should then say, if they would but "leave well alone," this country might, for an indefinite period, maintain its own population, and secure to them an abundance of bread corn without the aid of any foreign supplies. He now felt that he was approaching the most important part of this most important subject—namely, its effect in the displacement of labour—of course, he alluded to its effects in the displacement of agricultural labour. There could not be a more gross error than to suppose, that the lands now used for the growth of wheat, were lands recently brought into cultivation for that purpose; facts showed the reverse of this. The greater portion of the wheat lands of England were old lands used for that purpose during very many years. It could not be disputed by any one having the least acquaintance with the subject, that the old lands were those now in use for the production of wheat. It was equally certain, that the cultivation of those lands required a great amount of manual labour; that every fresh improvement in agriculture increased the demand for that labour, and that, in this respect, agriculture and manufactures presented a striking contrast; for, whereas every fresh improvement in manufactures had for its object to dispense with a certain quantity of human labour, every improvement in agriculture gave employment to additional hands. In his judgment, there could be no greater benefit conferred on the country than measures which had a tendency to increase the demand for agricultural labour, and he felt most strongly persuaded, that if the Poor-law Amendment Act could be said to have one quality more than another, it was that of a direct tendency to increase Vie demand for manual labour. After the best reflection which he could bestow upon the subject, and, viewing it in every possible 694 light, he did not hesitate to declare his conviction, that a free importation of corn must produce the same effect in England that the law of agistment had produced in Ireland. He saw opposite to him the son of an illustrious father, who, in the last century, foretold all the evils, or at least a large portion of the evils, which had since befallen that unhappy country; he said, that the law of agistment would prey upon its own authors with a hundredfold force, and that peace would flee the land. There was truth in these words; for no man possessing a competent knowledge, and free from prejudice, would deny, for a moment, that that law of agistment had laid the foundation of those predial disturbances which ever since had proved the source of so much misery in that part of the United Kingdom, and which had reduced it to its present unhappy state. The conversion of arable land into pasture, would, he had not the shadow of a doubt, have the same effect in this country. Let them but once diminish the consumption of British grown corn, and from that moment the consumption of iron, of hardware, of cotton, and of woollens, must decline. There would come a fresh displacement of labour, and a fresh lowering of wages; and discontent, disturbance, and misery, would prove its inevitable consequences. The noble Lord opposite, in his letter upon this subject, addressed to his constituents, had told them, that it would only be a new diversion of capital, a transfer of it into other channels. The noble Viscount, too, (Howick) said, it would be only directing labour into new channels. The President of the Board of Trade, in the lofty phraseology of the economists, spoke of labour as a commodity, and as though labourers were without feelings, habits, or attachments, independent of the influence of early associations, or the ties of kindred; that they might be dealt with as machines, or at best as animals of an inferior order, who, as long as they could find employment, would be content to receive it in any part of the country. Oh! let the House well reflect before they took any step which directly or indirectly tended to these displacements of labour. Little did did they know the suffering and the sorrow which lay hid beneath these "quietly flowing waters." Little could they estimate the wretchedness which sprang from change of habit, of house, of manners, of the mode of life itself. What change more 695 cruel could despotism itself inflict than a change from "the breezy call of the incense breathing morn," to a painful and grievous obedience to the sad sound of the factory bell—the relinquishment of the thatched cottage, the blooming garden, and the village green, for the foul garret, or the dark cellar of the crowded city—the enjoyment of the rural walk of the innocent rustic Sabbath, for the debauchery, the temptations, the pestilence, the sorrows, and the sins, of a congregated multitude? Where were their moralists that their voices were not raised against the fearful consequences which the proposed change brought in its train? Talk to him of sending the Poles to Siberia, or the Hill Coolies from the Coromandel to the Mauritius; the authors of the intended change contemplated the perpetration within the limits of their native land, of a cruelty far more atrocious. It was the first step towards making England the workshop of the world, dependent for its daily food upon continental supplies. He hoped that the proposition would not be successful. Were it to succeed, he should say, with his Friend Lord Ashburton, that this was the last country which he should wish to inhabit. The evil itself was of the most fearful character; but the next worst thing to its actual infliction, was the apprehension of its advent—the fear of the change, was almost as distressing as the actual change itself—he, therefore, could not hesitate to give his cordial and decided opposition to the motion.
§ Lord John Russell
spoke to the following effect: During the many years that I have had the honour of holding a seat in this House, and frequently as I have heard the question of the Corn laws discussed, I do not think that it has ever happened to me that I have addressed the House, upon that subject, preferring to listen to others, whom I thought more competent to address the House upon the subject than I am, and to instruct it by the examination they had made into the various details, as well as the great principles which the question involved, than to attempt to take a part in those debates myself. I therefore enter with great diffidence on the consideration of this subject, but at the same time I feel that upon this question I cannot agree with either of the two parties who take extreme views upon it. When Mr. Canning spoke in 1827, be said that extreme views were enter- 696 tained by different parties, some of whom were advocates for the total repeal of the Corn-laws, and entirely free trade; while others contended for the opposite extreme in supporting the then existing law. There is nothing new, therefore, either in the proposition of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, or in that which is contended for by hon. Members who have spoken from the other side of the House, and who propose to maintain the existing law. But I do not feel that I can agree with either of these parties, and therefore I conceive that what I have to say will be received with little favour by the great majority of hon. Members of this House. I have, however, to allude to reproaches cast upon me first by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Kent (Sir Edward Knatchbull), and secondly by the right hon. Member for Pembroke, who has just sat down, that I in 1822 wrote a letter to my constituents, which contained a different opinion to that which I now entertain, and in support of which I propose to give my vote. But in that respect I received much consolation from the right hon. Baronet who last spoke, when he said he considered himself no longer bound by the work he had written in 1826, for I too am entitled to profit by experience, and to take advantage of my mind being matured by reflection and the knowledge which I have since gained. I admit the justification which the right hon. Baronet has given of his own conduct, and I was glad to find that he had so great sympathy for those who were in the same situation with himself; and surely if the arguments which he has used form a sufficient ground of exemption for him from an opinion expressed in 1826, surely I may hope to be permitted to be exempted from an opinion expressed by me in 1822; for if I were not allowed to gather those benefits which he has described from experience and reflection, and which he is allowed, the measure of justice dealt out to me would be hard indeed. There was, I believe, a great and eminent painter of this country who, after travelling many years in foreign countries, and gaining much experience in painting, said, upon seeing one of his early productions, that it was mortifying that he had not made much greater progress than he appeared to have done, Now I hope that I have not to feel that mortification; and in respect to my letter of 1822, I have drawn some advantage 697 from experience and reflection; and that having given that opinion, as I did, most honestly and conscientiously to my constituents of that time, I may be allowed to withdraw from an opinion which political observation and the laws which have since been enacted lead me to believe was erroneous. There is another observation of the right hon. Baronet, who has just sat down, which likewise gives me some excuse for the opinion which I now hold. He tells us that if it can be shown that the burden on the landed interest is diminished, the landowner will be ready to reconsider the scale of duties of 1828. Now, if that be admitted, as those burdens have been lessened, I am justified in thinking that this will be a proper time of reconsidering this question. Whatever may be the just opinion with respect to the Corn-laws—when agricultural distress and the Poor-laws weighed upon the landed interest with aggravated burden, it was desirable not to enter into the question with a view to the alteration of the law, which might aggravate the distresses, and increase the burdens, but now when the burden has been much diminished since the enactment of the New Poor-law. ["Oh, oh!"] Some hon. Gentleman seems to doubt the fact, but I may venture to state, on the authority of a gentleman, whose name, I am sure will satisfy the House of the truth of his statement, that land which he possesses has since the enactment of that law fetched a price equal to three years' purchase more than he could previously have obtained for it, I think I am entitled to make the allegation which I did; wherefore I say that with regard to the diminution of the burdens upon the landholder, that is one of the reasons which induced me to believe, that the question may be now fairly entered into. There is another point upon which I disagree with the right hon. Baronet, but upon which also I found my opinion, that this is the proper time when the question should be re-considered if it ought to be re-considered at all. The right hon. Baronet has stated, that the last year was one of almost extreme scarcity, but I cannot agree to that allegation. The inquiries which I made after the last harvest did not lead me to that conclusion, and I am fully persuaded, that if it had not been for some fine weather at the time of the harvest, that the crop of wheat which was otherwise good, would 698 have been far more injured than it was. I have also received a letter from a gentleman, who was formerly a Member of this House for the county of Nottingham, in which he told me, that the farmers in his neighbourhood had generally a good crop, averaging forty bushels an acre; and, therefore, I say, that the harvest has not been so remarkably deficient as the right hon. Gentleman would wish the House to believe. This is the time, then, at which you may come to a decision upon the question, which at another period you may be unable to do. If you persist till the harvest has been far more deficient, or till it shall have failed generally, and wheat reached famine prices, it will be impossible to legislate in any other way than by refusing to interfere at all, or by acceding to the total repeal, and not adopting any modified duties. Now with respect to the present Corn-laws, I differ also with the right hon. Baronet as to his conception of the nature and operation of the law, and the manner in which it has answered the intentions of its authors. The law, previously to 1827, was founded on the principles of prohibition. Mr. Canning proposed a new enactment, on the ground, that the principle of prohibition was not recognized in respect of other articles; and he stated, that his object was, to produce a steadiness of price, and he selected 60s. as the medium price, which was to vary accordingly, between 55s. and 65s. Now, my argument is, that the law has not answered this expectation of Mr. Canning; for, instead of the price fluctuating between those sums he mentioned; it has varied from 36s. to 82s., instead of being a steady price, it has been one continually varying, and instead of its having caused a regular trade, the effect of it has been, as my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has stated, that three-fourths of the corn admitted has been at a low duty, not exceeding 6s. per quarter. Now, that shows that the anticipation of Mr. Canning has not been realised, and if the effect of the law has been different from that which was expected, and if the high duties have had the effect of almost prohibiting the importation of wheat under the scale which he proposed, his object has not been answered. With the view, therefore, and the intention of the law itself before us, we should go into a Committee of the House, in order to consider whether we cannot introduce some law more in ac- 699 cordance with the principles and feelings of the original framers of that statute which is now in existence, and although I do not believe, that the law of Mr. Canning introduced in 1827 will answer the present purpose, yet I think, that if the Act, which was altered in 1828, were taken into consideration, a determination might be arrived at upon the subject which would realise the wishes of those who consider the present laws as productive of great evil. If it be true, then, as I think it is, that this law has not insured the object which its framers had in view; if it have all the faults of the former law pointed out in the report of the Committee of 1821—faults which consisted, in the first place, of the obstruction of trade, in the next place, of placing capital in unprofitable employment; and in the last place, of injuring the very persons themselves for whose advantage the prohibition was made; then, I ask, whether the manufacturers are not entitled to call on you to consider their case? and whether you are not called on to admit whether they have suffered considerable disadvantage from their having been compelled to take your corn at your own prices. You may say, that there is still a considerable advantage in their favour, and that manufactures are still flourishing; but I do not see in that fact anything to induce me to say that I will not go into committee to consider this law, because if manufactures are still prosperous to a great degree, yet if it is sure, that a great foreign competition is arising against us, which is becoming more formidable every year, then the present state of the manufacturing interest, so far from being a reason for not considering the subject, becomes at once one of the most cogent reasons, that can be urged for proceeding without loss of time to consider it. We should consider ourselves fortunate that no great distress had as yet overtaken our manufactures; but if we find, nevertheless, that although no ruinous effect has hitherto arisen,—yet if we find foreign manufactures increasing, our own driven from the neutral markets, and our manufacturing population starving and without employment—if, I say, instead of the present comparative prosperous state of our manufactures, our case was, that we were utterly unable to meet the competition of foreigners, and consequently, that we were in a state of the utmost distress, 700 then there would be, indeed, a reason for saving, that we had committed a great error in the enactment of this Corn-law, and for retracing our steps without delay, if it were not too late. We might then wish to regain the ground we had lost, but it might be then beyond our power, for the foreigner would already have thoroughly established his manufactures; the advantageous market would already have been preoccupied! and it would then be in vain to hope, by a change in the system of the Corn-laws, to re-establish that prosperity which would have departed from us for ever. Then, Sir, I say, that instead of the present comparative profits of our manufacturers being urged as a reason for keeping things as they are, on the contrary, the fact of a foreign competition having risen up, even although it have not become completely ruinous to the manufacturer at home, affords the strongest possible reason why, at this moment, we ought not to lose another year in the consideration of the subject. There is, however, another most important branch of the question, which is, that growers of corn, for whose benefit the laws were intended, have been losers by them, to a very great extent. My right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, showed, in the early part of this debate, that for several years past, in addresses from the Throne to Parliament, the distressed state of the agricultural classes has been adverted to—that committees were appointed, which, from time to time, reported, that those distresses were very great. And is there no cause for all this? Yes, there is a good reason; for if you shut the ports against foreign corn, and, at the same time, tell the British corn-grower, that by your laws you have secured him a permanent high price, you induce him to over-cultivate; and then, there being no vent by which he can sell his produce, he becomes the greatest sufferer, by that which was devised for his protection and benefit. Now, if this be the case with regard to this law, I think, we are in the position in which we were with regard to some other articles of trade as to which the policy of the country was changed by the advice of Mr. Huskisson. It was formerly an opinion, that agriculture and manufactures should both be fostered by prohibitory duties. That policy was adopted. Those manufactures did 701 not flourish, exposed, as they were, to continual reverses, to the alternations of prosperity and distress. Mr. Huskisson proposed to Parliament to make a change in that respect, and to allow, on the payment of a moderate duty, the introduction of foreign manufactures. One of the first articles on which the change was proposed was that of silk. I remember, that it was stated in this House by a great authority—no less an authority than Lord Ashburton—that to do away with the prohibition and substitute a duty of thirty per cent., would be ruinous to the manufacturers. The same statement was also frequently made after the change had taken place. Now, what is the actual result? I have inquired into the extent of our consumption of raw silk for our manufactures imported from foreign countries in consequence of that change. The average imports of the years 1820, 1821, and 1822 were 2,621,543 pounds; of 1836, 1837, and 1838, 5,407,666 pounds—being an increase of 108 per cent., notwithstanding the introduction of foreign silk manufactures. There is another article on which prohibition used to b e the rule—gloves. I remember a petition being presented to this House, from a firm in the West of England, wherein the petitioners stated, that the French made their gloves much cheaper and better than we did, and they, therefore, prayed the House to ordain, that the people should continue to buy their gloves dear and ill-made, because, if the better and cheaper articles of foreign manufacture were allowed to come in, they would be ruined. But what has been the result? Of kid skins and lamb skins for gloves the average imported during the years 1820, 1821, and 1822 were 2,016,436; and during 1836, 1837, and 1838, 3,169,552, showing a clear increase of 57 per cent. I remember, too, an in stance of a similar kind given by Arthur Young in his travels in France, after the Treaty of Commerce in 1786. He mentions, that the French manufacturers of earthenware, so dreaded the introduction of English earthenware, that they declared it would ruin them; but within two years afterwards, instead of that result, their manufacture of the article was improved, for they had, in the mean time, copied English patterns, and were able at last to enter into a successful competition with the manufactures of this country. With these facts before me, I must at once con- 702 fess, that I think, that if other articles—corn for instance—were allowed to be regularly imported at a low fixed duty, the effect would be the same as in the instances of silk gloves, wool and earthenware, and, moreover, I am quite convinced, that the result would be the improvement of agriculture. I feel assured, that agriculture has suffered by the operation of this monopoly which it has been attempted to give them, and which was not intended by the bill of 1827. Indeed I think it is a proof of this fact, that my noble Friend, Lord Spencer, thought it necessary last year to put himself at the head of an association for the improvement of agriculture. I think if there were greater freedom, the farmers would pay more attention, and exercise greater skill, and I have the concurrent opinions of Lord Spencer and many others of the greatest weight and name in the agriculture of the country, that such would be the case. Indeed it is impossible to drive through the country without perceiving the great difference between the farms of intelligent, skilful farmers, and those who are careless; and I think there can scarcely be a doubt, that the increased competition would cause an increased activity on the part of the farmers. There are two or three other reasons which are urged by those who oppose a change; one of these most prominently put forward, is, that in case of repeal we should be rendering ourselves dependent on foreign countries for our supply of corn. I own I cannot understand how such an argument can be considered conclusive in a country like ours, which is not a country shut out from all the world, but one depending for its flourishing conditition upon its great imports of raw material for the purposes of our manufactures. The advocates of the present system say we could not get corn enough from foreign countries; but, surely this can scarcely have any weight with the House, when we remember, that we have almost the whole world to draw supplies of corn from. We can, hardly, Sir, he rationally in fear of being in such a situation, after having gone through a great revolutionary war, during which the whole of the ports of the Continent were shut against us. Surely, there would be some place on the face of the globe from which we could obtain corn. Mr. Huskisson, in one of his last speeches, stated, that two millions of the popu- 703 lation of this country were dependent for their activity on the imports of cotton from foreign countries, and, that half a million more were dependent in like manner on the importation of silk. Now the first of these articles we derive from America, and the latter chiefly from France, and it would require nothing more than a combination of these two powers to reduce this country to the greatest distress—to starve by their mere fiat, two millions and a half of our population. If you are to have no dependence whatever on foreign countries for the supply of the articles of import which you want, you have lost the opportunity of rectifying yourself, because you have allowed yourself to become utterly dependent on foreign countries for articles, the non-supply of which would throw two millions and a-half of the people into distress and poverty. If those countries were to do anything so unnatural to their own people as to prohibit the exportation of cotton and silk, I will venture to say, that my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would find, on presenting the next budget, a considerable failure in the revenue. The best security against any such conduct on the part of foreign governments is, that it is against their own interest. The rulers of those countries would never enact laws so injurious to their own people, and that would be the security of this country against the apprehended evil. It is true, that when, in times of scarcity, you have gone to foreign countries for your corn, you have found that, on the particular occasion, the exportation has been prohibited, because your sudden and unusual demand, if complied with, would be inconvenient to the growing country itself. To buy that corn you would be obliged to export bullion, greatly to the deranging of your exchanges; but if you had once established a regular settled trade, no foreign Power could put a prohibition upon exportation; and instead of having to export bullion in exchange for the corn, you would be called upon to supply manufactures. There is another danger on which the right hon. Gentleman has likewise laid great stress—the danger that a great portion of our own people now engaged in agriculture would be thrown out of employment by the country being partially thrown out of cultivation. That assertion proceeds on the supposition that there would be at 704 once an immense deluge of foreign corn, which I apprehend, would not be the case, as there is not at present, land under cultivation abroad to give us any such supply. You also suppose, that the population of this country will always be stationary. Assuming your statements to be the fact, I admit there might be some danger of the evil apprehended. But what is the state of the country as regards population? Why, it is continually increasing. With such an increase, why should the land be thrown out of cultivation? How would the Corn-laws apply when the population had increased one-third, and when it had doubled? Do you propose that the same land which is now able to produce corn for the existing population, should be made to produce food for double the number? In 1800, the population in Great Britain was 10,900,000. In the present year, calculating the increase in the same ratio as in the ten years prior to 1831, the population must be 18,521,000; and in four or five years, if the increase should proceed at the same rate as during the ten years from 1821 to 1831, we shall have double the population we had in 1800. Therefore, what you require is not only security that the same amount of land shall be cultivated, but that the people continue to be fed by the same soil, even though it be required to produce twice as much. And now, as I have alluded to the population in 1800, I will refer to what the law of 1821 proposed. If I mistake not, it fixed a very high duty until wheat was up to 63s.; when it arrived at 63s., the duty was immediately reduced to 2s. 6d., and when it reached 66s., it was to be reduced to 6d. The law of 1821 proposed to permit the importation of corn for a population of upwards of eleven millions, at a duty of no more than 2s. 6d. Yet, at the present moment, by your laws, with a population in Great Britain rapidly progressing, and not less now than eighteen millions, you do not allow corn to be imported without duty till the price reaches 73s. per quarter. It would be consonant to my own views to have a Corn-law resembling that which you had in former days. Let us, at least, go back to the system of 1801. Do not say, in 1839, in the present state of manufactures, and with the great increase of population all over the world, you will have a more strict prohibition than you had thirty-eight years ago. Sir, I am of 705 opinion, that the best system would be one of a moderate fixed duty. That was the inclination of my mind in 1828, when the present law was proposed. The Government of that day proposed a different law, however, and I did not feel confidence enough in my own opinion to oppose a measure which had the sanction of Mr. Huskisson, in order to vote for that which I myself preferred—a fixed duty. But I must say, that what has passed since 1828 has shown me that the object then proposed—that there should be a constant trade in corn, has not been attained, and that the law has in that respect failed, and I, therefore, come back to my original opinion, and say, I think it would be far better to change the system, and make a considerable reduction in the present rate of duty. The right hon. Baronet opposite has alluded to my opinions formerly expressed to my constituents in Devonshire. I certainly know that when I was Member for Devon, as now, when I am Member for Stroud, my constituents never objected to the principle of a fixed duty, though, as regarded what should be the amount of that duty, there was a considerable difference of opinion. I will now add a few words on the subject which was also alluded to by the right hon. Baronet, and by the right hon. Baronet who last addressed the House—I mean the subject of the Government leaving the Corn-law an open question. The right hon. Baronet, when he made so direct and broad an attack on the Government of this country, with regard to important questions being made open questions, and individual members of the Government being allowed to vote on such questions as they thought proper, can hardly have sufficiently considered the political history of the country on this subject. In the earlier period of the last century, much unanimity and accordance of opinion among the members of a government does not seem to have been thought necessary; but if you look back to the past parliamentary history, you will find that there was scarcely an administration that was not divided on some great question. The administrations of Pitt and Fox were both divided on the great question of Parliamentary Reform. The Administration afterwards established by Mr. Pitt was divided on the subject of the slave trade, and he himself was constantly left in a minority on that question; and you will find, that after his death, 706 the Administration of 1806 agreed not to press the Catholic question at that time, being divided on that question. It is true that from 1806 to 1812 this country had the benefit of an Administration that was not divided in opinion; but that was an Administration to which I am not accustomed to look back with feelings of great gratulation. In 1812 came a declaration that the Catholic question was to be considered as an open question, and the same principle was acted on until 1829. But in 1827 the Catholic question being an open question, Mr. Tierney and Mr. Abercromby entered the Administration on the understanding that they were to give their votes in favour of Parliamentary Reform. The Ministry that succeeded was for a year divided on the subject of Catholic emancipation, which continued until 1829, when that division of opinion ceased. Now Sir, all these Administrations may have been wrong, but I think, seeing that many great men have from time to time joined Administrations on the principle of allowing Members to entertain separate opinions on important questions, the more candid interpretation will be, that there must be something in the state of our constitution and of our representative government which makes it very difficult to form any Administration of individuals entirely of the same opinion on all the great questions that come before Parliament. I will at once confess that I think division of opinion on great questions such as Parliamentary Reform and the Roman Catholic question greatly to be deplored. I think the division of opinion on the Catholic Question, though justifiable up to 1812, ceased to be so before the dissolution of that Administration; but then it was a question of immense difficulty and importance, and I well remember that when I urged it against Mr. Canning, the answer of the right hon. Gentleman was, that it was impossible to adopt the principle of agreement of opinion; because, if he were called upon to act in one way as regarded Catholic emancipation, or abandon his party, he must then either join no party at all or act with others as regarded Parliamentary Reform, to which he could not agree. I think, therefore, that in the present day it is impossible to construct a Ministry, the members of which will not differ on some great question. As regards the present question, when I came into Parliament, I under- 707 stood that it was considered a question on which the Government could not take a line, and I well remember the reproaches cast by the country gentlemen on Mr. Rose, because of the pamphlet which he wrote on the subject while he was Treasurer of the Navy—a pamphlet which the country gentlemen designated as seditious. In the next year the Government, however, did take a line on the subject of the Corn-laws. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last said, that as far as he was aware, the question of the Corn-laws was not an open question in 1834. [Sir J. Graham: In the Cabinet of Earl Grey]. In the Cabinet of Earl Grey! Now this is really a question of mere words. Lord Althorp declared on the first night of the Session, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Lincolnshire, that the Government was not prepared, as a Government, to propose any alteration in the Corn-laws. That was a course adopted by him for the purpose of intimating that some Members of the Government were prepared to vote on this question differently from others. In the subsequent debate on that question, the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, declared, that in opposing the First Lord of the Admiralty, he did so because the question was an open question; and when the division came, sixteen Members of the Government voted with my right hon. Friend for an alteration in the Corn-laws; fourteen other persons dependent on the Government voted for the Corn-laws; and surely this was a sufficient evidence that the question of the Corn-laws was considered an open question by Lord Grey's Government. This I know, that Lord Spencer considers that it was known to be an open question. Indeed, were it otherwise, he would have been disgraced to have allowed sixteen Members of the Government to vote against him on so important a question. On the other side there is the authority of my Lords Ripon and Richmond. [An hon. Member: And Lord Brougham]. Yes, and Lord Brougham. But I really think if those noble Lords considered the question of Corn-laws was not an open question in Lord Grey's Government, it must be in consequence of some abrogation of the custom by which we allow a breach of privilege to be committed, and our debates to be reported—I say, some such unusual exclusion of strangers must have occurred; 708 and those noble Lords, therefore, could not have had the opportunity of reading in the public papers reports of the debates in which the declaration of Lord Spencer and the debate on which the division I have referred to occurred. On no other ground can I reconcile the declarations of those noble Lords. Because, had it been otherwise, the sixteen Members of the Government who voted for the repeal of the Corn-laws on that occasion would have resigned. Having thus traced the history of open questions so far back, I see no reason why the same principle should not continue in operation in the present day. At the time of Lord Spencer's declaration some of the Cabinet were for the Corn-laws, and some against them. The time of the proposed change in 1824 was then most inconvenient, being within six years of the passing of the Act under which the restrictions were enforced. But in the course which I took on that occasion, I certainly never meant to bind myself not to consider the question at some future time with a view to effecting, if possible, an amelioration of the law. Nor do I now see any reason why tire Government of to-day should not pursue the same course as was pursued by Lord Grey's Government on the subject of the Corn-laws, and by almost every Government on various great questions during many years. I have now concluded the various topics on which I meant to address the House, and have expressed very imperfectly I am aware, my own opinions. I trust, although what I have said may have wanted force to induce Members of this House to change their opinions, I have not used any of those arguments which I am sorry to have heard used by different Members on both sides of the House—imputations against Members of this House, that, because they are landowners on the one hand or manufacturers on the other, they have a personal interest, and that on that personal interest they give their votes. There are, no doubt, a great number of the Members of this House connected with the land, and more interested in the prosperity of the land titan the manufacturers, and I am quite sure that they will come to a conscientious opinion on this subject—I believe that they will take care that any interest they may have shall not blind them to the general public interests of the country—and that the fact of their having an interest will make them the more 709 cautious in coming to a decision; and will make them give due weight to all the arguments in favour of change. The question is of very great importance to the country. I do not mean to say, as some say, that instant ruin must follow a determination not to agree to repeal, or that increased prosperity would at once follow the adoption of the contrary course. This country has still to bear enormous burdens caused by the wars in which she thought herself bound to engage—burdens, the weight of which can not be got rid of without a breach of public faith, which I trust will never be recommended by any Member of this House. But it is in your power in some respects to lighten those burdens, to give freedom and scope to the energies of the country, to afford the means of activity to our manufactures by promoting trade with foreign nations; and I trust, if you can be prevailed on to adopt this motion, that you will do so regardless of whatever private interests may or may not be influenced by your decision. Several Members rose to address the House amidst loud cries of "question!" and "divide!"
§ The Speaker
While such disorder is allowed to continue, it is utterly impossible to gather the sense of the House as to its future proceedings. Any such attempt to terminate such a debate as that in which the House has been engaged, can reflect nothing but discredit on the House.
§ Mr. Milnes
then proceeded to address the House for some time; but in consequence of the noise, hardly a sentence could be heard. He expressed himself strongly against the motion.
§ Debate again adjourned.