HC Deb 09 February 1842 vol 60 cc201-36
Sir R. Peel rose,

and moved that the paragraph in her Majesty's Speech relating to the Corn Laws be read.

The motion being agreed to,—

The Clerk at the Table read the following paragraph in the Speech from the Throne:—" I recommend also to your consideration the state of the laws which affect the import of corn, and of other articles, the produce of foreign countries."

Sir R. Peel

next moved, that the House resolve itself into a Committee to consider the laws relating to the import of corn.

The House accordingly resolved into Committee, and Mr. Greene, the chairman of committees, having taken the chair,—

Sir R. Peel

again rose, and spoke as follows:—Sir, I rise in pursuance of the notice which I have given, to submit to the House the views of her Majesty's Government with respect to the modification and amendment of those laws which regulate the import of foreign corn. I should consider it a reflection on this House were I to prefer any claim on its patience and indulgence. Whatever demands I might have to prefer, and however unqualified I may be to relieve a subject necessarily one of detail, necessarily abstruse, by any illustrations of fancy, yet I am convinced that the paramount importance of the subject itself will induce the House to lend me that patient attention for which, under other circumstances, I might have deemed it necessary to appeal to its indulgence. I am aware of the difficulties which encompass the subject I am about to bring under the consideration of the House. With regard to a matter in respect to which such adverse opinions prevail, it is difficult to discuss it without snaking statements or admissions which will be seized on by those who entertain opposite opinions; but I feel that the best course I can pursue is to submit to the House the considerations which influenced the judgment and decision of her Majesty's Government, and to leave them to be decided on by the reason, moderation, and judgment of Parliament. I am confident that the course which her Majesty's Government have pursued in bringing forward this measure, whatever may be the differences of opinion as to its nature—I am confident that that course at least will meet with general approbation. If her Majesty's Government deemed it right to submit a measure of this character to the consideration of Parliament, it was due to the importance of the subject that the attention of Parliament should be called to it in the Speech from the Throne. It was due also to the importance of the subject that her Majesty's Government should undertake, on their own responsibility, to propose a measure for the adjustment of this question, and that no interval which could be avoided should be allowed to elapse between the recommendation contained in the Speech from the Throne, for consideration of the subject by Parliament, and the proposal of the measure itself. The only object which I shall aim at, in bringing this subject under the consideration of the House, will be to state as clearly and as intelligibly as I can the considerations which have influenced her Majesty's Government in reference to the nature of the measure I am about to propose. One other object I shall aim at—namely, to discuss this question, affecting such mighty interests, in a temper and spirit conformable with its great importance, bearing in mind how easy it is, on each side, to raise exaggerated apprehensions, and find inflammatory topics by which the feelings of the people may be excited. Her Majesty's Government have deemed it their duty to consider the Corn-laws with a view to their modification and amendment. They undertake the consideration of this question at a period when there is commercial distress, and when there exist great suffering and privations connected with that distress. But I feel it my duty, in the first place, to declare that, after having given to this subject the fullest consideration in my power, I cannot recommend the proposal which I have to make by exciting a hope that it will tend materially and immediately to the mitigation of that commercial distress. While I admit the existence of commercial distress—while I deplore the sufferings which it has occasioned, and sympathise with those who have unfortunately been exposed to privations, yet I feel bound to declare that I cannot attribute the distress—to the extent in which it was by some supposed imputable—to the operation of the Corn-laws. I do not view with those feelings of despondency, with which some are inclined to regard them, the commercial prospects of this country.

I do not believe that the resources of our commercial and manufacturing prosperity are dried up. I do see a combination of causes, acting concurrently and simultaneously, sufficient, in my opinion, to account, in a great degree, for the depression which has unfortunately prevailed among the manufacturing and commercial interests of this country; and I have that reliance on the native energies of this country, and I have had such frequent experience of preceding depressions and revivals almost as sudden and extraordinary as the depression which has recently occurred, that I do entertain a confident hope and belief that we may still look forward to the revival, by the operation of natural causes, of our commercial and manufacturing prosperity. It is impossible, I think, to take a review of the causes which have affected that prosperity without perceiving that there have been in operation, during the last four or five years, several causes, the separate effect of which would have been considerable, but the concurrent effect of which is sufficient to account for the depression which has taken place. If you look at the stimulus which was given, partly, I think, by the facilities of credit, to great undertakings in 1837 and 1838; if you look to the connection which existed between the directors and parties concerned in joint-stock banks and the manufacturing establishments; if you look at the immense efforts made for the increase of manufactories and for the building of houses for the reception of those who were to labour in those manufactories; if you look at the immigration of labour from the rural districts into districts the seats of manufactures, and the immense increase of mechanical power which took place in consequence in the years 1837 and 1838, you will hardly be surprised to find that the result which has before attended similar excitement and stimulus should again ensue. The same causes which operated here to produce depression operated also in the United States at the same time. The derangement of the monetary affairs of the United States has acted powerfully on the demand for our manufactured produce, and, concurrently with the depression in this country, has had the effect of diminishing the demand for British manufactures. There has been at the same time an interruption of our amicable relations with China, which has been the cause of a considerable deficiency in the exports to that country of our manufactured goods within a recent period, as compared with previous periods. There have been also up to a recent period an alarm of war in Europe, and that stagnation of commerce which, in some degree, is inseparable from such a state of things. The united effect of these causes goes far, in my opinion, to account for that depression in our prosperity, which has created so much regret. I am admitting the extent of that depression; and 1 am equally disposed to admit the extent of the privations and sufferings which have resulted; but I feel bound again to declare that I cannot recommend the measure which I am about to propose, by exciting a hope that any alteration of the Corn-laws will be a remedy for some of the evils which, in a great manufacturing country like this, seem inseparable from the system. Extend your foreign commerce as you may, depend on it that it is not a necessary principle that the means of employment for manual labour will be proportioned to the extent of your commerce. Whatever may be the extent of your commercial prosperity, whatever may be the demand for your manufactures, it is impossible not to feel that coincident with that general prosperity there may exist in particular districts the severest partial distress.

This must have been the case at periods of the greatest commercial and manufacturing prosperity. The necessary consequence of the sudden employment of machinery, diminishing the demand for manual labour, must be to expose in certain districts of the country those who depended for support on manual labour to great privations and suffering. You find hundreds of persons occupied in a great manufacturing establishment. Their reliance for subsistence has been placed on their labour in that establishment; but by an exercise of ingenuity some improvement in machinery is suddenly devised, and copied by others, which has the effect of depriving those who have relied on manual labour for subsistence of employment. This has been the case with the handloom weavers, and with many parties engaged in manufactures. It is the hard condition, inseparable from a manufacturing country, that there must be such revulsions in the demand for manual labour; and it is not an impeachment, therefore, of any commercial system that great privations and sufferings exist. Let it not be supposed that I am deprecating the exercise of skill and the improvement of mechanical power. It would be madness to attempt to check them. It would be folly to deny that in the aggregate this country has derived a great source of strength from such improvements in manufactories. The attempt to obstruct them would have the necessary effect of encouraging competitors and rivals, already too formidable. In referring to instances of distress, inseparably connected as it appears to me with such development of skill and improvement in machinery, I do not do so for the purpose of impeaching that skill or deprecating that improvement, but for the purpose of discouraging the too sanguine hope that any extent of legislative interference can exempt you from the occasional recurrence of distress. In proportion to the manufacturing excitement—to the stimulito which I have referred—the stimuli of speculation—of facilities for undertakings created by undue advances and credit—in that proportion must you expect that in certain districts those privations to which the attention of Parliament has been called will occur. But looking at the general state of the commerce of this country, I neither see grounds for that despondency, with which some are in the habit of viewing it, nor can I see any ground for imputing to the operation of the Corn-laws, as some do, any material share in the evils at present existing. I think we are too apt to assume that there must be a constant and rapid increase in the amount of our exports to other countries, and we are too apt to despond when we find any occasional check in the amount of our exports. We decline to compare the extent of our commerce in the last year with a period of time more distant than the preceding year. We insist on comparing it with the year immediately preceding; and if there appears a decline we are too apt to apprehend that the sources of our prosperity are dried up. At all periods of our commercial history there have been these alternations of prosperity and depression. The latest period to which the returns respecting our trade are fully made up will include the year 1840, and comparing the state of trade in 1840 with its condition in preceding years, during the operation of the Corn-laws, I see no ground for the inference sometimes drawn, that the Corn-laws are the cause of our misfortunes, and that the repeal or alteration of them will supply an immediate remedy. In 1840 the exports of British produce and manufactures to all parts of the world exceeded the exports of 1837 by 9,355,000l. I am speaking now of declared value. The exports of 1840 exceeded those of 1838 by 1,345,000l. and fell short of the exports of 1839 by 1,827,000l., a falling off sufficient no doubt, to create anxiety and unpleasantness. But the causes of that falling off are amply accounted for, by referring to the state of commercial transactions with the United States—a country with whose prosperity our own was so intimately interwoven. There, during that period, there were causes operating, connected with the monetary derangement, sufficient to account for the cessation of the American demand. I have stated that in 1840 as compared with 1839, there was a deficiency in our general exports of 1,827,000l. declared value. But in 1839 there was an export to the United States of goods to the value of 8,839,000l., whereas, in 1840 the total amount of exports to that country was only 5,283,000l. thus showing a diminution of our exports to the United States in 1840, as compared with 1839, to the extent of 3,556,000l. That fact, therefore, is sufficient to account for the falling off in the general amount of exports in the year 1840 as compared with 1839. The falling off in the amount generally was greatly less than that in the amount taken by America, and the difference was consesequently made up by an extension of our commerce with other parts of the world. It is very satisfactory, Sir, for example, to view the progress of our colonial trade. In 1837 the exports to the colonies were 11,208,000l. in value; in 1838 they were 12,025,000l.; in 1839 they were 14,363,000l.; in 1840 they were 15,497,000l. Let us look also to the state of our commercial transactions with those countries in Europe which are the chief sources of our supply of food. Let us look at the state of our export trade with Germany, with Holland, and with Belgium. In 1839 the value of our exports to those three countries, the chief sources of our supply was 8,742,000l.; in 1838 it was 9,606,000l.; in 1839 it was 9,660,000l.; in 1840 it was 9,704,000l. So that even with respect to those countries from which we derive our chief supply of grain, when we stand in need of it, which are supposed to be such formidable competitors in manufactures, and from which the the demand for British produce and manufactures is supposed to be so rapidly diminishing, on account of our exclusion of their products, it still appears, on the whole, that there has been a progressive increase in the amount of our commerce carried on with them. I cannot, therefore, infer that the operation of the Corn-law is to be charged with the depression which is at present so severely felt in many branches of trade; I see other causes in operation which are sufficient, in a great degree, to account for the evils no one can deny to exist. In considering then, Sir, those modifications of the Corn-laws which it may be desirable to effect, it is important to review the proposals that have been made for this end. Various opinions are entertained with respect to the Corn-laws. There are some who will admit of no modification whatever in those laws as they now exist. My firm belief is, that that party in this country is exceedingly limited in number. I do believe that among the agriculturists themselves there is a prevailing feeling that the Corn-laws may be altered with advantage.

So far as I can collect that feeling from the communications which have been made to me, I must say I think that the impression among the agriculturists is in favour of modifying those laws in certain respects. There are others who entertain a decidedly opposite opinion, who will not hear of a modification, but insist on the immediate and absolute repeal of the Corn-laws. Sir, it is impossible not to feel that those who advocate the repeal of every impost of every kind upon the subsistence of the people are enabled to appeal to topics which give them a great advantage—to urge that there is a tax upon bread, a tax upon the subsistence of the people—to urge that that tax is maintained for the protection or advantage of a separate class. He who urges arguments of this kind must, of course, make a considerable impression upon those who listen to him. A comparison is made between the dearness of food in this country, and the cheapness of food in some other countries, and the inference is immediately drawn, that the people of this country ought to be placed upon the same footing in respect to the articles of subsistence, and that their condition will be benefited by the reduction of the price of food to that rate at which it can be purchased in other countries. Sir, it appears to me that any conclusion founded upon such a position will be altogether erroneous. The question is, can you infer the comfort and ease of the people from the price which they pay for their food? Reference is made to the price of food in Germany, and to the facility which the low price of sustenance gives for the establishment of manufactures; and the inference is hastily and unwisely drawn that the people of this country would be placed in a situation of greater comfort if the price of food should undergo a corresponding reduction, if it should be equalized with the price prevailing in Germany. Now, I apprehend the true question is, not what is the price of food, but what is the command which the labouring classes of the population have of all that constitutes the enjoyments of life, whether these be necessaries or luxuries, partaking, in point of fact, from the universal prevalence of consumption, of the nature of necessaries. Now let us compare the condition of the labouring classes in this country, under the operation of the Corn-laws, with their condition in other countries in which, I admit, the price of provisions is greatly less. There is nothing to impede the cultivation of corn in the Prussian states, in which its price is greatly lower than in this country. But can it be thence inferred that the condition of the people in the Prussian states is preferable to the condition of the people in this country, or that the consequence of an immense reduction in the price of various articles, and particularly in the price of food, must necessarily lead to a great increase in the comforts and enjoyments of the labouring classes in this country? Sir, there are means, from sources I apprehend of unquestionable authority, for forming a judgment as to the comparative degree of comfort enjoyed by the people of the two countries I have mentioned; and, before you determine that a low price of provisions is necessarily essential to manufacturing industry, general consumption, or to the comforts and enjoyments of the people, it will be well to weigh the materials of which you are possessed for forming a judgment on the subject.

Sir, in the report of the committee which sat for the revision of the import duties, there is evidence upon this point given by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Bolton, whose attention has been directed to this subject, who has collected the materials of information and comparison, and who, before that committee, as well as in the report which he made on the Prussian League, on the state of our commercial relations with Prussia, and the laws which exist in that country with reference to trade, has made statements as to the comparative consumption of the people of this country and the inhabitants of the Prussian states. Let us look to the great articles of consumption. I will begin by admitting that meat is dear in this country; that corn is dear; and that the other great articles which constitute the sustenance of the people and add to their comforts are dear; that they are much higher in price in this country than in Prussia; but, as I said before, it appears to me that the true test is not the comparative lowness of price, but the command which the people have over all that constitutes comfort and enjoyment. I will begin, then, with meat, and I will quote no authority which can be suspected—I will take my information from a perfectly unobjectionable source. I will refer to one who differs entirely from me with regard to the operation of the Corn-laws, and who is a decided advocate for their repeal. Dr. Bowring's calculation with respect to the consumption of meat was made in 1840, and given in his report on the Zollverein. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke on a state of things in this country when the Corn-laws had been in operation for nearly thirty years, affecting, as they must have done, if it was their tendency to produce such effects, the comfort of the people, and consequently the means of consumption within their power. Dr. Bowring then says, that in Prussia,—and I beg the House will remember that the means of ascertaining the exact proportion are believed to exist, — 14,000,000 inhabitants consume in one year 485,000,000lb. of meat, that is, 35lb. per head. The hon. and learned Gentleman says again, that in this country 25,000,000 persons consume 50lb. per head yearly; that the quantity cannot be less than 50lb,; and that it has been frequently estimated at 100lb. I take the lowest calculation, from which the House will observe it appears that while the inhabitants of Prussia consume but 35lb. per head, those of the British empire consume at least 50lb. I am not attempting to deny, by the quotation of these facts, the severity of that distress which prevails in many parts of the country. I could not have attended the discussions which have taken place without feeling a perfect conviction that in Paisley and many other places there is a fearful amount of distress. Do I mean to say, for instance, that the 17,000 persons in Paisley who are supported by charitable contributions consume meat to any thing like the extent I have stated? Not at all; but it is impossible to argue on this subject without drawing general inferences from general statements. I must not be taunted with the remark that individuals at Paisley, Stockport, and other places do not consume 50lb. of meat per year. I admit they do not; but in drawing general conclusions, with reference to legislation, you have no other alternative than to deal with general averages and general results. I ask you again, before you determine that high prices are necessary evils, to compare the consumption of sugar in this country with that of other European States. I rely entirely on the authority of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. Member states the consumption of sugar in France at 4¾lb. per head annually; I will say 5lb., as there may be some increase which he has overlooked. In the States of the German League, it is 4lb.; in Europe generally, 2½lb.; while the consumption of Great Britain is calculated by the hon. Gentleman at 17lb. per head. Taking next the consumption of wheat, I find that Mr. Deacon Hume, a gentleman whose loss I am sure we must all sincerely deplore, states the consumption of this country to be one quarter of wheat for each person. Dr. Bowring calculates that 24,000,000 of inhabitants in Great Britain consume 45,000,000 quarters of all kinds of grain. I beg the House to recollect, that 1 take the estimate of two gentlemen possessed of ample means of information, and entertaining views on this question which free their testimony from all suspicion. Mr. Hume, then, made our consumption one quarter of wheat per head. The hon. Gentleman (Dr. Bowring) allows nearly two quarters of grain to each individual. In the Prussian States, he says, 14,000,000 of inhabitants consume 13,000,000 quarters of grain, being less than one quarter to each person. Again, while Mr. Hume allows one quarter of wheat per head in England, the hon. Gentleman calculates that of the one quarter of grain which he assigns to each individual in Prussia, three fourths at least consist of rye. Throughout the Prussian States, the consumption of rye to wheat, he says, is in the proportion of from three and four to one. In 124 towns of the League he estimates the consumption per head of 65 lb. of wheat, and 241 lb. of rye; that is to say, each individual consumes very little more than one bushel of wheat, instead of one quarter. In England, the hon. Gentleman states the consumption of tea at 1 lb. per head, annually; in the Prussian states at only ¼lb. The consumption of salt, he says, is 16½lb. in Prussia, and 22½lb. in England. The annual consumption of cotton goods in Prussia, he says, is about 4⅓lbs. for a family of five persons, which is about half the amount supposed to be used in England. The consumption of woollen cloth in Prussia amounts, he says, to 2⅛ ells for each individual; in Great Britain, it has been estimated at 5¶ ells. The consumption of tobacco appears to be greater in Prussia than in England, it being 3 lb. per head in the former country, and 1 lb. in the latter. Of butter 2 lb. per head are used in Prussia, and only 1 lb. in England. But, taking the other great articles I have enumerated, it is shown, that the consumption of them by each individual in this country, for the year 1840, was very much greater, although, in that year, the price of corn was exceedingly high, compared with the price in Prussia. So that, looking to the command enjoyed by the laborious classes, of the necessaries and comforts of life, it is found to exist to a far greater extent in England than in Prussia, although there, the price of grain scarcely exceeds half that which it bears in this country. I do not mean to say, that this forms any argument against increasing that amount; I do not wish to push my conclusion further than the point to which it can he legitimately brought. My argument goes to show, that it is not fair to appeal to the diminished price of food in other countries as proving increased comfort in the people in proportion as the article is low priced.

Additional information has been very recently laid on the Table, with respect to the condition of the working classes in Belgium. I invite the attention of the House to the prices of manual labour there, as stated in this document. The average prices of labour are, for agricultural labourers, 11d. a-day; for weavers, 1s. a-day; for masons, 1s. 3d. a-day; for locksmiths and carpenters, 1s.d. a-day; for operatives, working in manufactories, 1s. 3d. a-day; for operatives, working in quarries, mines, &c., 1s. 4d. a-day; for jewellers, goldsmiths, and others, 1s. 8d. a-day. That is the rate of wages in Belgium. Now, what is the price of corn in that country? Last year, at Ostend, wheat was from 51s. 9d. to 53s. a-quarter; at Antwerp, it was 51s. to 51s. 2d. a-quarter. Taking the general average prices of labour in Belgium, and comparing them with the amount of wages received by the labourers, it does appear to me, that notwithstanding the amount of the manufacturing wages, and notwithstanding the amount of the agricultural wages, which are received there, it does, I say, clearly appear to me, that those wages do not give the labourer there such a command of subsistence, as that given him by the rate of wages usual in this country. I refer to this for the purpose of confirming my impression, that to look for any rapid or great change in the condition of the working population of this country from any extensive change of the Corn-laws, would subject you to great disappointment. My firm belief is — I am now speaking with reference to those who wish for an absolute repeal of these laws—that if the House of Commons should be induced to pledge itself to a total repeal, which we on this side of the House deprecate so much, without relieving permanently the manufactures of the country, you will only super add the severest agricultural distress. Any such disturbance of agriculture as must follow from a total repeal of the Corn-laws would, in my opinion, lead to unfavourable results, not only with respect to the agriculturists themselves, but also to all those numerous classes who are identified with them in interest.

There is, however, another portion of those who wish for an alteration of the existing laws who would not go the length of total repeal, but desire a substitution for the present, at least, of a fixed duty. With respect then to the ground as thus narrowed, they who are favourable to a fixed duty on corn admit that the agriculturist of this country is entitled to some protection, and therefore they seek to impose a duty invariable in its amount on importation of foreign corn. Now, with respect to this proposition, it must be remembered that whatever odium attaches to the imposition of a variable duty must apply with equal force to the imposition of a fixed. (A cry of "No, no," from the Opposition benches.) Hon. Members do not seem to apprehend my meaning. I was not saying that exactly the same objections apply to a variable as to a fixed scale of duty. I was only saying, that so far as odium attaches on the imposition of any duty at all, to that extent odium attaches to the imposition of a fixed duty. There might possibly be advantages in a fixed duty which did not apply to the case of a variable duty, but the argument against the imposition of any duty what ever on the importation of the subsistence of the people applies equally to the imposition of a fixed duty. Either the one or the other is imposed on the ground that the agriculturist needs protection. On principle, however, the imposition of a variable duty. Together with my Colleagues, and in concert with them, I have given to the question of a fixed duty the fullest and most patient attention; and if I could have come to the conclusion that for the variable scale of duty it would be better to substitute a fixed duty, I hope I should—considering the obligations under which I act as Minister of the Crown—I hope I should have had the moral courage to avow my conviction, and to propose a fixed duty for the adoption of the House; but, under the actually existing circumstances of the country, I cannot reconcile it to myself to propose to the House that measure for its adoption. But I do not see how to propose such a fixed duty as shall be sufficient for the protection of' the agriculturists of this country. I agree that for the last four years the average supply of this country has been unequal to the demand; but in considering this question it becomes important to ascertain what is the probability that this country from its own resources can be able to supply its own population. Now, I am not prepared to admit that this country is unable in ordinary years to supply its own population. If I formed my judgment from the circumstances of the last four years, I should have been compelled to conclude that we were dependent on foreign supply the for a great proportion of our consumption; I should have been compelled to come to this conclusion, because the average of the last four years importation of foreign corn into this country was 2,300,000 quarters. But if we take a longer period—if we take twelve or thirteen years, then it would appear, that on the whole, the annual average importation of foreign corn was very considerably smaller. In proof of this I beg to state, that taking the quantities of wheat and wheaten flour imported in those years, it appeared that the whole did not amount to more than 12,000,000 or 13,000,000 of quarters. I will state it more particularly since the year 1828. From July the 5th, 1828, to January the 1st, 1841, the whole quantity of wheat and wheaten flour entered for home consumption was 13,475,000 quarters; and thus I think it must be admitted, that if you take any period of ten years, or taking a somewhat shorter period even, you cannot hope for fixed duty rests on the same grounds, and any period of anything like ten years to must on principle be defended by the pass without seasons occuring within it during which you must be dependent on foreign supply. You cannot hope for an absolute freedom from all dependence on foreign supply some time in the course of a period of ten years, and therefore in that sense you are not now independent of foreign supply. Looking, then, at the question from this point of view, I retain my opinion, which I expressed some time ago, that it is of the utmost importance to the interests of this country, that you should be as far as possible independent of foreign supply. By this I do not mean absolute independence, for that, perhaps, is impossible; and nothing I think would be more injurious than to pass such laws as would give rise to a general impression that it was intended to keep this country in absolute independence of foreign supply; hut, speaking generally, I say that it is of importance in a country like this, where the chief subsistence of the labourer consists of wheat, if we resort to foreign countries for supplies, to take care that those supplies should be fur the purpose of making up deficiencies rather than as the chief sources of subsistence. Again, if I draw my inference from the last four years, I should be bound to admit, that this country, on account of the increased population, was dependent on foreign countries for a considerable amount of annual supply, because, as I said before, the amount derived from foreign countries in those years was as much as 2,300,000 quarters. But take the last ten years, and what do we find? With respect to the first six years, the produce in those years was sufficient to supply the consumption, or very nearly so; for, in the first six years of the last ten, the average annual importation was only 137,000 quarters. Taking, however, the years 1832, 1833, 1834, 1835, 1836, and 1837, it would be too much to infer, that the population has so rapidly increased with reference to the production of subsistence, that you must abandon altogether the hope of deriving your supplies from your own fields. Within the last ten years the increase of population has exceeded any thing that has ever hitherto been known in this country, and during the last four years the demand for foreign corn has been much greater than usual; but for the greater part of the ten years, the produce of the country has been found equal to its necessities. Therefore I cannot bring myself to the conclusion, that there must be periodical, or even an annual importation of foreign corn, in order to supply the wants of the country; and therefore, in determining our course on this occasion, we have to provide for the case of the produce of comparatively abundant years, as well as for years of comparative scarcity. Now, six years of good harvests may again recur consecutively, in which the produce of the country shall equal its necessities. If they do occur, then, what I fear from your fixed duty would be, that the unlimited right of import at a given amount of duty, which you could always maintain in periods of scarcity, would expose this country to great suffering and distress from producing by excess too great a fall in the prices of agricultural produce, and the remuneration of agricultural labour. It has been observed by writers of great authority, that favourable and unfavourable seasons return in certain cycles; that a year of abundance does not follow a year of scarcity, but that you will find five or six years of the one followed by five or six years of the other. Now, the effect of a fixed duty will be at all times, and under all circumstances, to admit foreign corn to our markets, the produce of a favourable harvest on the continent generally corresponding with that of a favourable harvest here. The great producing countries are within the same parallels of latitude, and are affected by the same causes, and you will generally find that an abundant harvest here has been contemporaneous with an abundant harvest in most countries on the continent. Now, whenever there is an abundant harvest, a slight addition to the amount of corn brought into the market produces a difference in the price very disproportionate to the extent of such addition.

Mr. Tooke,

in his History of Prices, lays down the position that prices vary in a ratio very different from the variation in quantity, and that the difference of ratio between quantities and prices is liable to alter according to the nature of the commodity, but is greater probably in the case of corn than in that of most other articles of extensive consumption. Mr. Tooke also institutes a comparison between the produce of deficient and productive harvests on the continent, and states that a deficient harvest here is accompanied generally by a deficient harvest in the countries from which our supplies are usually derived, and that an abundant harvest here is usually accompanied by an abundant harvest there. If that be so, then, when the harvest in this country is sufficient, or very nearly sufficient, to afford a sufficient supply of food, clearly we shall not stand in need of importation from abroad; but if there comes a series of deficient harvests, in that case it appears to me, that there will be such discouragement given to the national agriculture, as must ultimately lead to that dependence for subsistence on foreign sup- ply which I should most earnestly deprecate. But it is argued on the other side by the advocates of a fixed duty, that a fixed duty will prevent these great alternations, and that though it might be difficult to support the fixed duty in times of scarcity, yet the tendency of this duty will be to preserve the country against the occurrence of such contingencies, during which, it is admitted, it would be difficult to maintain it. Now, it appears to me, that such fluctuations of prices are continually taking place, in consequence of the variations of the seasons, as it will be impossible to provide against by legislation, and that no law which you could pass for the establishment of a fixed duty would, in case of a deficient harvest here and on the continent also, prevent a rise to such prices as would render it impossible to maintain the fixed duty. Look to the case of the United States; they are not subject to Corn-laws, yet there you will find fluctuations in the prices, arising out of the variation in the seasons, altogether as great as takes place here. In Prussia, I find that the price of rye, a grain not subject to the operation of the Corn-laws, is liable to fluctuations as great as wheat is subject to under the operation of those laws. In fact, fluctuations in price, must depend so much on the seasons that no law, in my opinion, can guard against the occurrence of high prices. But, if high prices occur, will you maintain your fixed duty? If you impose a fixed duty of 8s. or 10s., and if you do not authorise some relaxation in periods of scarcity, then, supposing prices to rise to 80s. or 90s., I retain the opinion which I expressed last Session, that no Government in such a case could undertake to enforce the payment of the duty. If that be admitted, then you must make some provision for a relaxation of the duty; but if you intrust this power to the Executive Government, you introduce uncertainty into the system, you introduce a power difficult to exercise, and liable to abuse; and you destroy altogether the grounds for looking forwards to permanence of mercantile arrangements, which is the great secret of commercial success. I have again, therefore, after considering this subject with the fullest attention, come to the conclusion that it would not be advisable for Parliament to legislate on the principle of applying a fixed duty to the importation of foreign corn.

The alterations of the law which I shall propose will proceed on the principle of retaining a duty upon corn, varying inversely with the price of the article in the home market—i.e. the principle of the existing law. The retention of that principle necessarily involves the maintenance of a system of averages. It has, indeed, been said that there would be a great advantage in sweeping away altogether the system of averages. It is quite obvious that whether it may or may not be desirable to abandon the system of averages with respect to the imposition of a duty on corn, you must nevertheless maintain a system of averages because the whole of your proceedings under the Tithe Commutation Act are founded on the system of averages. It is impossible for you to abolish the system of averages, because the annual payments on account of tithes are founded on calculations connected with it; and it does appear to me, that as the averages must be maintained for the purpose of the payments under the Tithe Commutation Act, it would not be expedient to adopt any other system of averages materially varying in principle from that for determining the duty on corn. I hope I shall not be misunderstood. I am not saying, that because there is a system of averages for fixing the payments to be made under the Tithe Commutation Act, therefore you must apply a system of averages for the purpose of determining the duty on corn. That is not my argument. I am merely stating that you cannot dispense with a system of averages while your present Tithe Commutation Act continues in force. The averages must be taken, in order to determine the payments under the tithe law; and I say, that as you have to determine the amount of payment applicable to tithe by averages, and also the amount of duty to be imposed on corn, it would be inconvenient on the one hand to have two systems of averages prevailing in the country at the same time; while on the other hand, it would be inconvenient and unjust to depart materially from that principle on which the averages with respect to tithes are determined. I propose, therefore, as a necessary incident of a varying duty, to retain a system of averages. Now, there is a very general impression throughout the country that there have been very great frauds in respect of the averages. There is a very general impression, par- ticularly on the part of the agricultural body, that very great frauds have been practised with regard to the averages, a very extensive combination being supposed to have been entered into for the purpose of influencing the averages, and procuring the release of corn at a lower rate of duty than it ought to have paid. I am not disposed to deny, that such a combination may, in some cases, have been entered into, and that in some instances frauds may have been practised; but I very greatly doubt, whether they have been practised to any such extent or with any such effect as is generally supposed. It is generally supposed, that the returns for London unduly influence the averages, and that in Leeds, Wakefield, and other great towns in Yorkshire there have been great and successful combinations for the purpose of unduly influencing the averages. As I said before, I am inclined to think that the impression on this subject may not be altogether without foundation, but still the apprehensions entertained have been greatly exaggerated. Taking the aggregate averages of the kingdom for the six weeks in 1841, ending August the 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th, September 3rd and 7th, the price of wheat was 73s. 1d.; and if I exclude the London market from the averages altogether, the general average would be 72s. 8d. in place of 73s. 1d. If I exclude the Yorkshire markets, the average would be 71s. 10d. It is possible that by raising the price in London, or some of the great corn markets, you create an influence which will raise the price in the other markets of the kingdom; but, so far as you can judge from figures and returns, I think the apprehension that there have been extensive frauds with respect to the averages is, as I said before, if not altogether unfonnded, at least very greatly exaggerated. The difference in the aggregate averages, excluding London, amounts in these six weeks to only 5d. excluding Wakefield and the other Yorkshire markets, the difference in the average is only 1s. 3d. and if London, Leeds, and Wakefield be excluded, the difference is 1s. 1d.

Lord J. Russell

These differences would make a material alteration in the rate of duty to be paid.

Sir R. Peel

Undoubtedly the difference, although so very slight, would affect the amount of duty; but the price of corn in London is much higher than in the country; and therefore I maintain that it is not necessarily to be taken as a ground for the imputation of fraud that the London average exceeds the country average. I will now take the average in 1838; from the 13th of August to the 7th of September the weekly aggregate average of the kingdom was 73s. The exclusion of the London market would have made no difference. In 1840, the aggregate average from July 24th to August 28th was 72s. 1d.; the average, exclusive of the London market, was 70s. 11d.; but that difference greatly affected the amount of duty, because when the price is 72s. and under 73s.,the duty per quarter is only 2s. 8d., while the exclusion of the London market would have raised the duty to 10s. 8d., the price being above 70s. and under 71s. At the same time, as I said before, we cannot, I think, fairly infer fraud from the higher average of the London market. Now various proposals have been made with respect to the amendment of the law of averages—proposals which have received the utmost consideration from her Majesty's Government. I think there will be a general agreement in this, that whatever system be devised, fraud should as far as possible be excluded, and that all should be fair and legitimate. It is advised by some that returns should be made by the growers only. That proposal has been made by many. I think it impossible to adopt such a suggestion. At present Irish and Scotch corn are admitted into the averages of this country; it would be impossible, therefore, to have in these cases a certificate from the grower, and the exclusion of Irish and Scotch corn from the averages would have a material effect in raising the price of corn. I must also state that I think we ought to guard as far as we can against fraud, but I do not think we ought to attempt to increase protection by any indirect operation. If a certain amount of protection be requisite, and if the Legislature will consent to give it, let it be given directly and openly. It would not be fair to procure an indirect protection and encouragement for domestic agriculture by any suggestion with respect to the averages which had not immediately in view the prevention of fraud and collusion. Various alterations in the law of averages might be made which would have that effect, and which, if they are necessary for the purpose of guarding against fraud, ought, in my opinion, to be introduced, but for the purpose of getting an indirect protection for agriculture I would not be a party to the proposal of any. It has been suggested by some that the seller should be required, under a penalty, to make a return of the corn sold. It is difficult to foresee what might be the effect of an enactment of that kind, requiring under a penalty every party who might sell a certain proportion of corn to make a return of the quantity sold. The great and only effectual security against fraud in the averages is to take away the temptation to commit it. If you deprive the parties of any motive of self-interest to combine, you take the best and most effective security against the commission of fraud. The proposal of her Majesty's Government with respect to the taking of the averages will be this:—They will propose to take the average in the present mode from the factor, miller, and purchaser of corn—the party who, under the existing law, makes a return at the close of each market day of the whole of the purchases he has made during the preceeding week. Upon the whole, we can see no advantage in departing from that principle in taking the averages—making the buyer of corn return the amount of sales of the preceding week, and trusting to the alterations we may make in the levying of the duty for the purpose of effectually preventing fraud. We shall propose that the duty of collecting the returns shall be devolved upon the excise. The excise is perfectly competent to undertake it. That department has an officer employed in each market town—an officer qualified for the discharge of the duty—an officer who has other important cognate functions to perform, and who will be enabled at a very small comparative increase of expense to overtake this additional duty; while his general ability, his habits of business, and the responsibility be incurs from being a public officer, afford a greater security against fraud than could be taken by intrusting the duty to private individuals. We propose, therefore, that the averages should be taken as at present; that they shall be returned to an excise officer acting under the authority of the Board of Excise. Another security we propose to take is to widen the range from which the returns shall he received. At present there are 150 towns named in the Corn Act from which returns are received. From that number of 150 many considerable towns are excluded, in which, since the passing of the present Corn-law, markets have grown up, where considerable quantities of grain are disposed of. We propose, therefore, not to give a discretionary power to any executive officer for the purpose of adding towns from which the averages should be collected; but in the bill which we shall introduce, we propose to name specifically the towns having corn markets to be admitted within the range, but which are now excluded from the list of 150.

It appears to me, that the more you widen the range from which you collect the corn returns, the greater security you take against the averages being influenced by combination and fraud. The best means of determining what is the real average of corn, is by ascertaining its price in a greater number of markets. At present the towns selected are towns in England and Wales, and although I propose to add to their number, I should still restrict them to towns in England and Wales,

Lord Palmerston

Can you state the number to be admitted?

Sir R. Peel

At present there are 150. I propose to enlarge the range by adding others where corn markets have grown up, and the towns to be so admitted, shall be specifically named in the act. The precautions we propose, appear to us most effectual against combination for the com, mission of fraud. Our first proposal is to widen the range from which the averages shall be taken; the second is to employ a responsible officer, acting under the authority of a public department, for the purpose of collecting the returns; but the main security we rely on as a prevention of fraud, is such an alteration of the duty as shall diminish the temptation to commit fraud. I trust I have made sufficiently clear to the House the nature of the alterations we shall propose with respect to the taking of the averages. I now approach that more important—by far the most important part of the subject— viz., what is the amount of protection we propose to give to corn the produce of this country, and the manner in which we propose to levy the duty upon foreign corn. At present the House is aware, that the duty payable upon corn is levied in this manner. At 59s. and under 60s. the duty is 27s., diminishing 1s, with 1s. increase of price, until corn arrives at the price of between 66s. and 67s., when the duty is 20s. 8d. The duty then falls 2s., when corn is between 68s. and 69s. At 69s. the duty is 16s. 8d.

Lord J. Russell

Not exactly so. Between 69s. and 70s. the duty is 13s. 8d.

Sir R. Peel

I am reading from a printed statement, and I believe it to be correct. Between 70s. and 71s. the duty per quarter is 10s.,. 8d. It then falls 4s., when the price is between 71s. and 72s. It falls 4s. more between 72s. and 73s. and when the price of wheat reaches 73s., or upwards, the duty is 1s. only. The objection to that mode of levying the duty, which has been urged in various quarters, is this—that the reduction of duty is so rapid that it holds out the temptation to fraud; for instance, at 60s. the duty is 26s. 8d., at 73s. the duty is 1s only; therefore between 60s. and 73s. there is an increase of 13s. and a decrease in duty of 25s. 8d., operating as an inducement to retain corn, or combine for the purpose of influencing the averages, if parties are inclined to combine, amounting on a single quarter of corn to 38s. 8d. So far as pecuniary inducement can go, it is impossible to be placed higher, either to retain corn, or practise on the averages. Take again prices which are nearer to each other. At 66s. the duty is 20s. 8d,; between 66s. and 73s. the inducement to retain corn is 7s. rise in price, and 19s. 8d. in duty, being a total amount of pecuniary inducement to retain corn of 26s. 8d. Take prices still nearer, between 66s. and 70s. At 66s. the inducement to retain corn in the hope of its rising to 70s. is 4s., and 10s. in duty, forming a total pecuniary inducement of 14s. Again, between 70s. and 73s. there is, besides the difference of 3s. in price, 9s., in respect of duty, forming an inducement of 12s. to retain corn at 70s., in the hope of its reaching the price of 73s. Now it has been argued that the consequence of that very rapid decline of the duty is injurious to the consumer. to the producer, to the revenue, and to the commerce of the country. It is injurious to the consumer, because when corn is at a high price (between 66s. and 70s.), and when there would be public advantage in the liberation of that corn for the purpose of consumption, the joint operation of increased price and diminished duty induces the holders to keep it back, notwithstanding the already high price and pressure in the market, in the hope of realizing the price of upwards of 73s., and paying a duty of only 1s. It operates injuriously to the agricultural interests, because it is a temptation to keep back corn until it can be suddenly poured in at the lowest amount of duty, and when agriculture loses the protection which the law intended it should possess. It is said to be injurious to the revenue, because, instead of corn coming in when it must under a fixed duty or other modifications, have been entered for home consumption, it was retained until it could be introduced at 1s., the revenue losing the difference between 1s., and the amount of duty which would otherwise have been levied. It is also said to be injurious to commerce, because where the corn is grown at a distance, in America for instance, the grower is subject to this disadvantage, that before his cargo arrives in this country, the sudden pouring in of wheat at 1s. duty from the countries nearer England, may have so diminished the price, and increased the duty, that his speculation may have turned out, not only a failure, but ruinous. These objection have been urged against the rapid transition and decline in the duty inversely with the price of wheat. Now our object will be, in applying the scale of duty to corn, as far as it may be possible, consistently with the principle for which we contend, to diminish the temptations to fraud, or undue holding back of corn. And the agricultural interest ought to observe what has been the effect of the law permitting the importation of corn at certain prices, at a duty of 1s. the quarter. In 1838, the total amount of wheat taken for home consumption was 1,728,000 quarters in the course of the year. Of that amount 1,261,000 quarters were entered at a duty of 1s. In 1840, the total amount of wheat entered for home consumption was 2,020,000 quarters, of which 1,217,000 quarters were taken at a duty of 2s. the quarter, But it is important that we should observe, not only the amount of corn taken in these years at the low duties of 1s. and 2s. the quarter, but also the period of the year at which this took place. In 1838, the corn so taken at that duty of 1s. was taken out one week following the 13th of September. In 1840, the corn taken out at 2s. 8d. the quarter was taken out on the 3d of September. In each or those two years by far the greater portion of the wheat taken out was at the low rates of 1s. and 2s. 8d.; but it was also at that critical period of the year, just when the farmer in the greater part of the counties of England had thrashed his corn; it was for the purpose of meeting the British farmer in the market when he was thrashing, or had thrashed his corn, for the purpose of producing his rent.

And this tells unfavourably, more especially to the farmer in Yorkshire, who, while compelled to defer the sale of his corn to a later period, is exposed to the disadvantage of the sudden influx of corn whenever the price shall be such as to admit it at the lowest rate of duty. This consideration alone ought to prevail with those most determined in favour of the protection to agriculture to listen with favour to any proposal that has for its object the modification of the existing laws; for it appears to me that some modification of those laws in this respect would be equally as advantageous to the agricultural interest as to any other class. I will now, with the permission of the House, proceed in the course of a few moments to read the scale of duties which I propose should be applied to corn. That scale, Sir, has been devised with a sincere desire to afford to agriculture and the agricultural interest every protection which they can legitimately expect. It has, at the same time, been devised for the purpose, when foreign corn shall be required, of facilitating, as far as possible, commercial intercourse with respect to corn, and subjecting the dealing in corn, as far as possible, consistently with the principle on which the duties are to be levied, to the laws which regulate ordinary commerce. Nothing can be more difficult than to attempt to determine the amount of protection required for the home producer. I am almost afraid even to mention the term "remunerating price," because I know how necessarily vague must be the idea which is attached to it. The price requisite in order to remunerate the home-grower must necessarily vary; a thousand circumstances must be taken into account before you can determine whether a certain price will be a sufficient remuneration or not; and the same difficulty occurs when we attempt to determine on adjusting the scale of duties. The two great points to determine, if we wish to give a just and sufficient protection to domestic agriculture, are, first, what is the price which, on the whole, taking a comprehensive view of the cir- cumstances attending the growth of corn, and viewing the general production of the country, may be supposed to constitute a sufficient encouragement to the growth of wheat or any other kind of agricultural produce. Another element of that consideration and of that determination must necessarily be the price of foreign corn brought into the country, under competition with domestic produce. To attempt to draw any accurate conclusion on both of these two elements of the question must be difficult, from the various opinions that prevail, and the conflicting nature of the details. I have drawn a conclusion as well as I could, without being able to say, that I feel it to be corn pletely accurate. But with regard to the price of wheat in this country, there are some elements, at least, towards determining what may be considered a fair average, speaking of the country at large. Now, if we take the average of prices of wheat which determines the commutation of tithes, the principle on which the Tithe Bill passed, taking the average of seven years, we find the price of wheat during those seven years to have been 56s. 8d.

If we take the average of wheat for the last ten years, we shall find that the price has been about 56s. 11d. But in that average is included the average of the last three years, when corn has been higher certainly than any one would wish to see it continue. Allowing for that excess of price, however, 56s. 11d. was the average price for the last ten years. Now, with reference to the probable remunerating price, I should say, that for the protection of the agricultural interest, as far as I can possibly form a judgment, if the price of wheat in this country, allowing for its natural oscillations, could be limited to some such amount as between 54s. and 58s., I do not believe, that it is for the interest of the agriculturist that it should be higher. Take the average of the last ten years, excluding from some portion of the average the extreme prices of the last three years, and 56s. would be found to be the average; and, so far as I can form an idea of what would constitute a fair remunerating price, I, for one, should never wish to see it vary more than I have said. I cannot say, on the other hand, that I am able to see any great or permanent advantage to be derived from the diminution of the price of corn beyond the lowest amount I have named, if I look at the subject in connexion with the general position of the country, the existing relations of landlord and tenant, the burdens upon land, and the habits of the country. When I name this sum, however, I must beg altogether to disclaim mentioning it as a pivot or remunerating price, or any inference that the Legislature can guarantee the continuance of that price; for I know it to be impossible to effect any such object by a legislative enactment. It is utterly beyond your power, and a mere delusion, to say, that by any duty, fixed or otherwise, you can guarantee a certain price to the producer. It is beyond the reach of the Legislature. In 1835, when you had what some thought was a nominal protection to the amount of 61s., the average price of wheat did not exceed 39s. 8d., and I again repeat, that it is only encouraging delusion to hold out the hope that this species of protection can be afforded to the agriculturist. To return, however, to the subject; I again say, that nothing can be more vague than to attempt to define a remunerating price. The different qualities of land, and a thousand other considerations enter into the question; and I must say, that the same difficulty exists to a much greater extent as to determining exactly the rate at which foreign corn can be brought into this country. Here, again, you must first ascertain the quality of the corn, the cost of freight, the distance of the country the corn is brought from; all these considerations ought to enter into the calculation; and, therefore, it is almost impossible to determine what should be the exact price at which foreign corn shall be admitted into the market. With these observations I will now at once proceed to read the scale of duties which her Majesty's Government propose as a substitute for the existing scale. We propose that when corn is at 50s. and under 51s. in price, a duty of 20s. shall be taken, but that in no case shall that duty be exceeded. We propose that when the price is 51s. and under 52s., the duty shall be 19s.; and after this we propose that there should be what I should call a rest in the scale. That at the three next items of price the duty should be uniform. Thus it would be:— When the price is 52s. and under 53s. the duty should be 18s.; when 53s. and under 54s., 18s. and when 54s. and under 55s., still 18s. When the price is 55s. and under 56s., we propose that the duty shall be 17s.; when 56s. and under 57s. that it shall be 16s.; when 57s. and under 58s., that it shall be 15s.; when 58s. and under 59s., that it shall be 14s.; when 59s. and under 60s. that it shall be 13s.; when 60s. and under61 s., that it shall be 12s.; when 61s. and under 62s., that it shall be 11s.; when 62s, and under 63s., that it shall be 10s.; when 63s. and under 64s., that it shall be 9s.; when 64s. and under 65s., that it shall be 8s.; and when 65s. and under 66s., that it shall be 7s. At the three next items of price I propose another rest in the scale similar to the former. I should propose upon the next three a duty of 6s., that is to say, when the price is 66s. and under 67s., when it is 67s. and under 68s., and when it is 68s. and under 69s.; in each of those cases the duty would be 6s. When the price is 69s. and under 70s., I propose a duty of 5s.; when 70s. and under 71s., a duty of 4s.; when 71s. and under 72s., a duty of 3s.; when 72s. and under 73s., a duty of 2s.; and when 73s. and upwards, a duty of 1s. the quarter. When that price is arrived at, I propose that the duty should altogether cease. The sum of the proposition then, is this, than when corn in the British market is under the price of 51s. the quarter, a duty of 20s. shall be levied, which duty shall never be exceeded, for I am quite satisfied that it is useless to take any greater amount of duty. [" Hear, hear," from the Opposition benches.] I mean when British corn is under 51s. the quarter, that duty of 20s. the quarter shall be an effectual protection to the home grower; not, of course, excluding the taking for home consumption some small portion of foreign corn, but taking care that the protection shall be a valid one. Thus, when the price is 56s. and under 57s., the duty will be 16s.,and when 60s. and under 61s., the duty will be 12s. Now, it is apparent that this scale will have the effect of diminishing the temptations to practising on the averages, and producing a fall of the duty, as its operation will be gradual; and when corn shall have arrived at 60s. or 61s., there will be no inducement to the holding back of corn for the purpose of getting higher prices. It is when markets are rising, and when under the present system there is a prospect of being able to force corn up to a price of 73s., that alone the inducement exists to keep corn back in order to obtain additional prices. I have attempted to remove altogether that inducement to fraud by rendering it useless; and the scale is so regulated that there shall be no inducement to parties to combine to hold hack corn and defraud the revenue for the sake of being able to produce a sudden reduction of the duty. I will now call the attention of the House to what has been the effect, with regard to the articles of oats and barley, of having applied the principle of more gradually reducing the duty as the price rises. In the case of wheat, where the fall of the duty was so rapid, the temptation to hold back until the lowest amount of duty shall have been realized has been very effectual, and by far the greater part of the wheat has been taken out at the least amount of duty.

In the case of barley and oats, where the fall in the amount of duty was more gradual, the same results have not occurred. In the case of oats, of 3,513,000 quarters, 248,000 quarters were taken at a duty of 1s. 9d., 695,000 at a duty of 3s. 3d., 243,000 at a ditty of 4s. 9d., and 940,000 at a duty of 6s. 3d. That was the effect of a gradual fall of 1s. 6d. in the scale of duties, the same principle which I propose to apply to wheat, with the exception that in no case will the fall in the duty on wheat exceed 1s. I consider that there is a fair ground to entitle me to assume, that, by applying that principle of the gradual fall of duty to wheat, there is a fair prospect that wheat, like oats, will be taken out at a higher rate, that the revenue will profit proportionably, and that the consumer and the agriculturist will be equally benefited by corn being taken out when the legitimate demands of the market may require it, and not to answer the objects of speculators. With respect to the other articles of grain, I propose to adopt the proportion of value and duty which I find in the present law. Valuing wheat in the proportion of 100, barley in that of 53, oats in that of 40, and rye, peas, and beans in that of 58; if it be assumed that at the price of 56s. for wheat the duty would be 16s., then the duty on barley, when at 29s. would be 9s.; on oats, at the price of 22s., there would be a duty of 6s. 3d. and on rye, peas, and beans, at 32s., there ought to he a duty of 10s.d. These are the proportions under the existing law, and I am not aware of any reason for altering them with respect to the other kinds of grain. For this reason, in adjusting the scale of duties applicable to these other kinds of grain, the proportions under the existing Corn-law will be adopted, and the scale itself will correspond with that in the relation of price. In the case of foreign oats, I should propose a maximum duty of 8s. (I do not need to enter into all the details)—that it should fall with the increase in price to 7s., and then continue at 6s. for three items of price, that is to say, 22s, 23s., and 24s. When the average price reaches 25s. it will be reduced, as the price increases, by 1s. The extremes of duty would be 8s. on the one hand, and 1s. on the other, the duty of 1s. being the minimum, and continuing so long as the price of oats exceeds 28s. In the case of barley, when the price is under 26s., the duty I propose is 11s. per quarter, that being the maximum price. When the price is 26s. and under 27s., I propose that there shall be a duty of 10s.; that when the price is 29s, and under 30s., the duty shall continue at 9s.; that when the price is 30s., and under 31s., the duty shall be 8s., and so on till the price is 37s. anti upwards, the duty decreasing 1s. for each gradation in price of the same amount. With regard to rye, the same proportion will be observed.

And now I must enter into a short explanation respecting colonial wheat. The law with respect to it is to this effect—. that British colonial wheat and flour shall be imported into this country at a duty of 5s. whenever the price of British wheat is below 67s.; that when the price of British wheat exceeds 67s., it shall then be admissible at a duty of 6d. I propose to give the same advantage to colonial wheat, respecting the reduction of prices at which it shall be admissible, as is given to other descriptions of wheat. But, considering that the sudden drop in the prices from 5s. to 6d., on account of the difference of 1s. in the price, is at variance with the principle of the law, which seeks to establish as equable and uniform a reduction of duty as possible, we propose to make this arrangement respecting colonial wheat—that when the price of British wheat is under 55s., the duty upon every quarter of British colonial wheat shall he 5s.; that when at 55s. and under 56s., it shall be 4s.; when at 56s. and under 57s., it shall be 3s.; when at 67s. and under 58s., 2s.; and when at 58s. and upwards, it shall be 1s., thus taking away that sudden fall in the amount of duty levied upon colonial wheat which takes place under the existing law, but giving to the colonial wheat that advantage in the reduction of the price which is given to other descriptions of wheat. With respect to flour, I propose to maintain the same calculation as exists with respect to wheat, so as to allow it to be admitted upon the same relative terms. I believe the House is now in full possession of the nature of the proposal which it is the intention of her Majesty's Government to submit. If you compare the reduction in the amount of duty with the existing duty you will find that it is very considerable. To those who have appeared to think that the modification which I propose to make in the existing law is of no importance, I shall only say, compare my scale of duties on the admission of foreign corn with the existing scale of duties. When corn is at 59s. and under 60s. the duty at present is 27s. 8d. When corn is between those prices, the duty I propose is 13s. When the price of corn is at 50s., the existing duty is 36s. 8d., increasing as the price falls; instead of which I propose, when corn is at 50s., that the duty shall be only 20s., and that that duty shall in no case be exceeded. At 56s. the existing duty is 30s., 8d.; the duty I propose at that price is 16s. At 60s. the existing duty is 26s. 8d.; the duty I propose at that price is 12s. At 63s. the existing duty is 23s. 8d.; the duty I propose is 9s. At 64s. the existing duty is 22s. 8d.; the duty I propose is 8s. At 70s. the existing duty is 10s. 8d.; the duty I propose is 5s. Therefore it is impossible to deny on comparing the duty which I propose, with that which exists at present, that it will cause a very considerable decrease of the protection which the present duty affords to the home-grower, a decrease, however, which in my opinion, can be made consistently with justice to all the interests concerned. If the agriculturist fairly compares the nominal amount of duty which exists at present with that which I propose, he must perceive, that he will still be adequately protected, notwithstanding that the reduction which I propose is considerable. I certainly feel bound to say, that I think the agricultural interests of the country can afford to part with a portion of the protection they now receive, and that it is only just that that protection should be diminished. Whatever arrangement can be made, tending to facilitate the introduction of corn when corn is required, consistently with the ordinary principles of commercial intercourse, it ought, in my opinion, to be made. The protection which I propose to retain, I do not retain for the especial protection of any particular class. Protection cannot be vindicated on that principle. The only protection which can be vindicated, is that protection which is consistent with the general welfare of all classes in the country. I should not consider myself a friend to the agriculturist if I asked for a protection with a view of propping up rents, or for the purpose of defending his interest or the interests of any particular class, and in the proposition I now submit to the House I totally disclaim any such intention. My belief, and the belief of my colleagues is, that it is important for this country, that it is of the highest importance to the welfare of all classes in this country, that you should take care that the main sources of your supply of corn should be derived from domestic agriculture; while we also feel that any additional price which you may pay in effecting that object is an additional price which cannot be vindicated as a bonus or premium to agriculture, but only on the ground of its being advantageous to the country at large. You are entitled to place such a price on foreign corn as is equivalent to the special burdens borne by the agriculturist, and any additional protection you give to them I am willing to admit can only be vindicated on the ground that it is for the interest of the country generally. I, however, certainly do consider that it is for the interest of all classes that we should be paying occasionally a small additional sum upon our own domestic produce, in order that we might thereby establish a security and insurance against those calamities that would ensue, if we became altogether or in a great part dependent upon foreign countries for our supply. My belief is, that those alternations of seasons will continue to take place, that whatever laws you may pass you will still occasionally have to encounter deficient crops, that the harvests of other countries will also at times be deficient, and that if you found yourselves dependent upon foreign coun- tries for so important an amount of corn as 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 of quarters, under these circumstances, and at a time when the calamity of a deficient harvest happened to be general, my belief is, that the principle of self-preservation would prevail in each country, that an impediment would be placed upon the exportation of their corn, and that it would be applied to their own sustenance. While, therefore, I am opposed to a system of protection on the ground merely of defending the interests of a particular class, I, on the other hand, would certainly not be a party to any measure the effect of which would be to make this country permanently dependent upon foreign countries for any very considerable portion of its supply of corn. That it might be for a series of years dependent on foreign countries for a portion of its supply—that in many years of scarcity a considerable portion of its supply must be derived from foreign countries—I do not deny; but I nevertheless do not abandon the hope that this country, in the average of years, may produce a sufficiency for its own necessities. If that hope be disappointed, if you must resort to other countries in ordinary seasons for periodical additions to your own supplies, then do I draw a material distinction between the supply which is limited, the supply which is brought in for the purpose of repairing our accidental and comparatively slight deficiency, and the supply which is of a more permanent and extensive character.

This is the proposal I am authorized on the part of her Majesty's Government to submit to the House. This is the proposal which, taking a review of the whole question, looking to the extent of the protection which, for a long series of years past, the laws of this country have afforded to agriculture, adverting to those Acts of Parliament which have assumed a given price of wheat as the basis of rent, and the foundation of great legislative propositions, considering also the importance of deriving your supply, as far as you can, from domestic sources—this, I say, is the proposal which Her Majesty's Government, prompted by no other interest but that of the country at large, driven by no other pressure than that of their own judgment, consider it most for the advantage and welfare of the people should meet with the sanction of the Legislature. Sir, this is not altogether an unfortunate period, in my opinion, for the adjustment of the question. In the first place, there is no such amount of foreign corn available to the supply of this country as need excite the alarm of those who dread an excess; and, in the next, there has been, during the period which has elapsed since the separation of Parliament, concurrently with great commercial distress, as much of moderation, of calm, and of disposition to view with moderation and calmness a proposal for the adjustment of this question, as could possibly have been anticipated. There may have been excitement—there may have been attempts to inflame the minds of the people—but this I must say, that the general demeanour and conduct of the great body of the people of this country, and of that portion of them who have been most exposed to sufferings on account of commercial distress, have been such as to entitle them to the utmost sympathy and respect. There is no difficulty, then, in the shape of violence interposed to the settlement of this question; and it appears to me to be perfectly open for legislation at the present moment. I earnestly trust that the result of the proposal which I now submit to the House, whether it be acceded to or not, will at all events be to lead to some satisfactory adjustment of the question. The adjustment we propose, we propose under the impression and belief that it is the best which, upon the whole, and looking to the complicated state of the various relations and interests in the country, we could submit for the consideration of the House, consistently with justice to all classes of her Majesty's subjects. If it is the pleasure of Parliament to affirm that proposal, it will, of course, pass into a law. If it be the pleasure of Parliament to reject it, I still hope that the question may be adjusted. Whatever may be the determination of Parliament with respect to it, I shall conclude by expressing my most earnest and solemn hope that the arrangement, whatever it may be, may be one most in concurrence with the permanent welfare of all classes, manufacturing, commercial, and agricultural, in the country.

Lord J. Russell

did not intend to give any opinion at present on the plan which the right hon. Gentleman had explained to the House, but thought it necessary that they should come to the discussion with as much information as possible; he did not mean of a general statistical nature, but information with respect to the measure itself. It seemed to him advisable that they should have a list of the towns which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to include for taking the averages. It would make the greatest difference whether there was a small or a greater number of towns, or whether they were to be towns of large size and population or small country places. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be able to lay the list on the table to-morrow.

Sir R. Peel

would endeavour to give the information by Friday. The principle determining the selection of towns would be the importance of the places. He found that a considerable number of small towns were now included, and he thought it advisable to make an addition which would render the returns more perfect. This was not done in the slightest degree with the view of influencing the averages. He altogether disclaimed the idea of any indirect operation on the averages, and lie only proposed additional towns to ensure a more full and complete return.

Mr. Cobden

would not now enter into any argument on the merits of this important question, but he should not be doing justice to himself or the constituents whom he represented, if he did not take the earliest opportunity of declaring that he had heard not with astonishment, but with regret, the proposal submitted to the House and the country by her Majesty's Government. He felt no astonishment at it, for although he had waited, in conformity with the generally expressed desire, until the administration had proposed its measure, he did not expect that that measure would be such as to benefit the country. Looking at the constitution of the present cabinet, he did not expect it. He did not expect to "gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles." Without entering into the argument now, he would venture to denounce this measure as an insult to the suffering people—a people whose patience had been extolled by the right hon. Baronet who proposed this measure—and a people whose patience deserved very different treatment from the landed aristocracy, and from the Cabinet which was the instrument of that aristocracy. This measure proved that the landed aristocracy would, if the people of England permitted them, perpetuate a system of selfish policy, tending not very remotely to the utter destruction of every interest in the country.*

The House resumed, the Chairman reported progress, the committee to sit again.