§ Sir William Clay
might as well commence what he had to state to the House, by at once confessing his inability to reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Knaresborough; even had he the ability he should not have the inclination to do so. He would not willingly do any thing which could damp the ardour of that hon. Gentleman, any thing which should check him in his career, and thereby deprive the House of the amusement that career was sure to afford, or the party to which he (Sir William Clay) had the honour to belong, of the advantage of the hon. Gentleman's hostility. He turned with satisfaction to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade,—a speech which needed not the contrast afforded by that to which he had just alluded, to enable all who heard it, justly to appreciate the talent, courtesy, and moderation it displayed. He (Sir W. Clay) thought the conclusions at which the right hon. Gentleman arrived unfounded, he trusted to prove to the House that they were so; but that was most assuredly to be attributed to the untenable nature of the position he had to maintain, and not to any defect of ability in him who made the attempt. Before replying, however, to the right hon. Gentleman, he would refer for a moment to the speech of the right hon. Baronet, on introducing the motion, the amendment to which they were now discussing. That speech, unlike all others, he had ever heard from the right hon. Baronet, was more remarkable for its omissions than for what it contained, affording far less matter for reflection, by what was, than by what was not, to be found in it. Those omissions indeed were so remarkable in a carefully digested speech by the first Minister of the Crown,—introductory of a motion of such moment, and under very grave and anxious circumstances, that it was impossible, looking at the great abilities of the right hon. Baronet, his eminent skill as a debater, and his well known prudence, not to feel satisfied that the points he had abstained from defending, were incapable of defence. The currency for instance. The right hon. 449 Baronet could not be ignorant that there was an all but universal opinion among the men best acquainted with that subject, whether theoretically or practically, among the best informed commercial men, the profoundest thinkers, and the ablest writers, that the existing Corn-laws, did injuriously affect the currency,—did mainly tend to produce those fluctuations in its amount,—those alternations of expansion and contraction, which we had of late years so frequently witnessed and which, by their consequences, spread bankruptcy and ruin through the land. The right hon. Baronet could not but be aware of the prevalence of this opinion; he was bound either to show, that it was false, or that his proposed modification of the Corn-laws would remedy the evil. He did neither: indeed, he (Sir W. Clay) believed, that in a speech of three hours duration he did not even once mention the subject. Again, it was charged against the Corn-laws, that they went far to prevent all sound and wholesome commercial relation between this and other countries, that they rendered dangerous and uncertain, and greatly reduced in amount the trade between this country and the corn growing countries of Europe which would otherwise be our best customers, whilst with America they prevented a trade in corn altogether, that they thus converted customers into rivals, friends into enemies. The impression to this effect was universal among the manufacturing and commercial classes; proof of its truth was understood to have been recently brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. Did he allude to it in his speech? Did he attempt to show that the change he proposed would be sufficient to relieve our trading intercourse with other countries from the embarrassments created by the present laws? No, he was silent; and his silence, where he beyond all doubt, would so gladly have spoken, could he have afforded consolation or held out hope, spoke volumes, and was of itself sufficiently significant. But perhaps the most remarkable of the right hon. Baronet's omissions, was his omission of all notice of Mr. Meek's report, a gentleman expressly sent out by himself to obtain "information concerning the cost and supply of agricultural produce in several parts of northern Europe."Rumours of this mission had got abroad prior to the assembling of Parliament. The adherents of the right hon. Gentleman out of doors had said, "Ah; you see 450 our chief is not going to do business in the hasty unworkmanlike style of the late men—he will bring forward no crude undigested measures—see the pains he takes to procure information—he is not content with all the blue books we have already on corn—he has sent his own agent to collect facts and to furnish unanswerable data for a new Corn-law."The House and the public were on tiptoe with expectation; Mr. Meek's report is laid on the Table—of course the right hon. Gentleman refers to its details as the basis of his calculation of the protecting duty, it would be necessary or wise to place on corn—not in a single sentence does he allude to it, and from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, the world would never have been aware of the pains he had taken to procure information, or even that such a personas Mr. Meek was in existence. Seriously, there was but one mode of accounting for this omission, namely, that Mr. Meek's report took away every shadow of justification for the scale of protection which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give to the agricultural interest, by showing beyond the possibility of doubt, that the British agriculturist, if his energies were not cramped and his capital misdirected by the effects of monopoly, could successfully complete probably without, but certainly with, a moderate fixed duty, with the foreign grower of corn. He now turned to the speech of the right hon. the Vice President of the Board of Trade. That right hon. Gentleman boldly faced the difficulties which the right hon. Member for Tamworth had shrunk from meeting—but he (Sir W. Clay) doubted whether the discretion of the right hon. Baronet was not better advised than the valour of the right hon. the Vice-President. The right hon. Gentleman had assumed throughout his speech, that the question was between the sliding-scale and a fixed duty of 8s., the question raised by the noble Lord's amendment might certainly be said to be between a fixed duty and a sliding-scale, but the noble Lord gave no authority in his speech for saying what was the fixed duty he had in view. He indicated the principles on which it should be calculated but did not name the rate. He said it ought to cover the exclusive burthens borne by the agricultural interest, if any such there were. Now he (Sir W. Clay) was quite sure, that any such calculation would not result in a duty of 8s. When in 1837, lie moved the repeal of the Corn-laws, be had looked 451 very carefully into this subject, and being really anxious to find a justification of the duty of 5s. the quarter on wheat, which for the sake of conciliation (being no great believer himself in the necessity of any duty for the protection of agriculture), he meant to propose, he could not (and that was prior to the Tithe Commutation Act) make out any exclusive burthens borne by the landed interest to nearly the extent of 5s. per quarter. The noble Lord, had stated another ground for the imposition of a protecting duty, namely, the danger which might attend too sudden a change affecting so large a mass of capital, and so great an amount of labour. This ground for protection was less capable of exact estimation, he (Sir W. Clay) did not rate it highly, he had no means of knowing at what rate it was estimated by the noble Lord, nor knowing whether he still thought that 8s. would be a fair amount of duty. He meant only to remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House, that a rate which his noble Friend and his colleagues might properly and fairly have proposed as a compromise between contending interests last year, did not of necessity preclude them to all future time, from taking a new view of the amount of protection it would be just and wise to give to the landed interest. He was however, content to meet the right hon. Gentleman on his own ground, and to argue this question as between an 8s. duty and a sliding scale. There was one feature in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which he thought must have struck other Gentlemen as forcibly as himself, namely, that whilst he carefully disclaimed all similarity of principle between the proposed and the existing Corn-laws, the arguments used by him, as well indeed as by the right hon. Baronet, completely proved an identity of principle between the two. The reasoning of both being so completely a defence of the existing laws, that he should think it must often have occurred to their agricultural supporters why, if those laws were so good and they asked for no change any change should be attempted. Fluctuation of price for instance.—The right hon. Gentleman argued, not that the new laws would not cause fluctuation, but that the existing laws had no such tendency—that was a bold proposition. The Corn-laws not only produced fluctuation of price by the irregular and capricious mode in which they permitted the introduction of foreign corn, but by tempting 452 the farmer by the expectation of high prices to sow a greater breadth of any particular grain than he otherwise would, and the increased breadth of growth coinciding with favourable seasons, produced, a depression of price, to be succeeded, of course, from an inevitable reaction, by a corresponding advance. The right hon. Gentleman would find abundant proof of this fact in the evidence given before the Committee of 1836. He would only trouble the House with the evidence of one witness:—Thomas Bowyer, farmer and maltster, of Buckden, Huntingdonshire, says,There has been a great increase in the produce of wheat in our neighbourhood; but even now, from the relative prices of wheat and barley, one-seventh less wheat sown this year and considerably more barley. From 1833 to 1836, little but wheat grown on strong clay soils, farmers have thus gone into an extreme of wheat growing because it paid them best in former years. The old system, many years ago, was, as many acres of barley as of wheat; now we sow three acres of wheat to one of barley, on the clay soils. The number of acres lately sown with wheat bears no proportion to what it was twenty years ago, it was then, perhaps, as three to five. Speaking of wheat and barley within the last three years, there have been three acres of wheat to one of barley.The right hon. Gentleman to show that the Corn-laws were not, by limiting the supply of corn from foreign countries, the cause of fluctuation in price, referred to the prices of rye in successive periods in Prussia, in which greater fluctuations of price had occurred, than in wheat during similar periods here. This appeared to him (Sir W. Clay), a most unfortunate reference. The right hon. Gentleman said the prices of rye in Prussia were not affected by foreign demand; in respect of rye, Prussia was a country depending on itself for its supply of grain; the price of rye was regulated solely by supply and demand within the country, and see, said the right hon. Gentleman, how great has been the fluctuations—why that was his case! The opponents of the Corn-laws contended, that exactly in proportion as they extended the circle from which they drew their supplies of grain, would they diminish the chance of inequality in that supply. The annual produce of one field would be less regular than of a whole farm—of a farm than a county—of a county than a kingdom —of a kingdom than the world, and if by a free-trade without or with a moderate fixed duty, 453 they enabled themselves to obtain the produce of every variety of soil and climate, they reduced in a very high degree the chances of inequality of supply, and consequently, of fluctuation, in price. He had next to advert to the gallant attempt,—that attempt from which the right hon. Baronet had shrunk,—to show that the Corn-laws had not that injurious effect on the currency which had been attributed to them, and that the change to a fixed duty would not tend to make the currency more secure. His argument was this. If you had au open trade, and every year, instead of consuming 20,000,000 quarters of home grown wheat, consumed 18,000,000 of home grown and 2,000,000 of foreign, you would still be subject to the effect of years of short growth, such as the last four, and would want an additional 2i- millions of quarters per annum,—and the payment for this extra quantity must as now be in gold, and would equally, as at present, derange your currency. The fallacy into which the right lion. Gentleman had fallen, arose from his not having observed the vast difference between creating or only extending a market for our manufactures. At present we were in the former predicament. After a long interval perhaps, during which the Corn-laws have suspended all trade in corn, a sudden deficiency compels us to ransack the world for supplies, to avert famine. We go to some corn growing district,—Egypt,— Odessa,—the fertile valley of the Mississipi, —for instance,—but we find there, neither a knowledge of our goods, nor consequent desire to possess them, nor dealers in them, nor the machinery necessary for distributing them,—all which things are absolutely essential to constitute a market, and we have consequently no means of paying for the corn we want, but in the precious metals, the general medium of interchange. But suppose the case reversed,—suppose in western America, for instance, a steady trade in corn with this country to the amount of a million of quarters, and that, under such circumstances, we wanted an increased supply. In the first place there would be far longer time for preparation—for collecting and shipping the increased supply under a system of free-trade than at present. In the next, the merchants in America—would, on the one hand, find customers among their neighbours perfectly ready if they had more means to increase their use of the articles of our manu- 454 facture; on the other, manufacturers in this country, perfectly aware of the nature and quality of goods suited to that particular market. The American merchant, finding the prices of goods somewhat lower here, from a partial cessation of the home demand, would willingly extend his orders, and it may be greatly doubted whether, under such circumstances, any amount of the precious metals worth mentioning would be required to pay for the extra supply of corn we wanted. Nor would the new Corn Bill of the right hon. Baronet remedy this state of things. Up to 60s. probably, but certainly to 58s., under the new scale, the duty was prohibitory, and years might occur, as between 1833 and 1838, when all importation of corn must cease, and all such commercial intercourse as he had supposed be absolutely put an end to. Yet hardier, perhaps, was the attempt of the right hon. Gentleman to show, that under the new Corn-law, trade would be as free as with a moderate fixed duty. It was of the very essence of a mutually beneficial trade in any article between two countries, that it should be always open, should always form one of the channels of commercial interchange, on which the merchants of either country could rely. With a fixed duty this is the case, with regard to corn; with a fluctuating duty it is not, and the mere statement of that fact, was, with any persons acquainted with the nature of commerce, decisive as to the merits of the two systems. His noble Friend and his colleagues, could they have carried their bill—might have said to the people of every country, "Bring to us that grain which you can raise more cheaply than us, and we will give you in return the articles of use or enjoyment we can produce more cheaply than yourselves. At all times, you shall receive a cordial welcome, our ports shall be open to your ships, and you shall not be entrapt into loss, by variations in our fiscal regulations which you cannot foresee, and of which no prudence would suffice to avert from you the ruinous effect."Could the Government of the right hon. Baronet use such language? No. They dare not, for very shame propose to foreign nations to give us in exchange for our goods the very article we most want and they can best produce. It will still be the fate of the people of England under the new as under the existing law, to know that there exists plenty of which they may not par- 455 take—to pine with want in the midst of abundance—and with the harvests of the world at their command, to find themselves restricted to the supply which at high prices their own limited territory can produce. The right hon. Gentlemen had intimated doubts of the correctness of the noble Lord's assertion, that the duty of 20s. would be prohibitory. He (Sir W. Clay) knew not on what such doubts were grounded.—Mr. Meek had stated, that the price of wheat in Poland (the great source of supply to Dantzic) was 23s. per quarter, the cost of transit to Dantzic 12s.—together 35s., and the freight, profit and charges to London 10s. or 10s 6d. The noble Lord said, that no considerable importation could take place until the price reached 60s. or at all events 58s., and in that opinion he fully agreed with his noble Friend. The right hon. Gentleman would find if he referred to the able reports of the late Mr. Jacob, that he did not conceive that wheat could be shipped from Dantzic—on the average of years at so low a price even as was stated by Mr. Meek, and Mr. Jacob's report it should be recollected referred to a period at Dantzic, prior to the range of high prices at that port which the state of our markets had brought on. There was left for him, lie believed, only one other point of moment to notice in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—viz., the remarks on the noble Lord's suggestion, that his fixed duty should cease at some point of price above 70s. It was very evident that this suggestion of his noble Friend, was felt to be a great God-send by hon. Gentlemen opposite—and was received with proportionate demonstrations of exultation by benches of Gentlemen, who up to that portion of the noble Lord's speech, had not manifested any particular cheerfulness. He (Sir W. Clay) would frankly confess, that he doubted of the expediency of the noble Lord's suggestion. He doubted whether it would be worth while to make provision for a contingency, which would so rarely occur as wheat rising to 73s. under a free-trade—even at that price or at any price he should propose to maintain the duty, believing that the remission at those times would benefit not the home consumer, but the foreign grower. But, if this were not thought practicable or safe, he would rather trust to the discretion of the advisers of the Crown, who might assemble Parliament, or act on their responsibility. Such would be better in his opinion 456 than the plan hinted at—for it was scarcely proposed by the noble Lord—but even that would be incomparably better than the plan of the right hon. Baronet, inasmuch as it might, possibly, to use the words of the right hon. Gentleman, "torture"the people with uncertainty as to the supply of corn once or twice in fourteen years, whilst the proposed law would keep them in perpetual "torture."It was impossible to conceive that the measure proposed had any other object than to relieve the landed interest from the gratuitous obloquy to which it was exposed by some of the absurdities of the existing scale. And such was the measure, which after six months of deliberation, after the admission of unexampled distress among the people, borne with unexampled fortitude — after the mention in the Speech from the Throne of an intended change of the Corn-laws after an all but universal expression of opinion among the commercial and manufacturing classes, that their distress was, in great part, owing to those laws, and by the abrogation of those laws might be relieved, such was the measure which the right hon. Gentleman, in the name of the Government, brought forward. A measure of which its proposer shrinks, and wisely shrinks, from saying that it will revive our drooping trade—a measure which does not even affect to grant the prayers of the people for a reduced price of the necessaries of life. The right hon. Gentleman expressly disclaims any such intention—he had taken as his sole guide for adjusting his sliding scale, the average price during the existence of the present law. He says, we do not ask this protection upon any calculation of the exclusive burthen borne by the land (and most discreetly does he say so, for difficult indeed would it be to show them); but he says to the people of England, such and such has been the average price of corn under the laws you loathe and detest, and such is the price which I will endeavour by my new law, more steadily to maintain. Bitterly did he (Sir W. Clay) deplore that such was the right hon. Gentleman's determination, did he feel merely as a party man, he should rejoice, because he was satisfied that it sealed the fate of the right hon. Gentleman's Administration. No doubt, if he persisted, lie could now carry his measure through Parliament; but it would be out of his power, or that of any Minister to maintain it, it would be out of the power of the legislature; in fact, the question was already virtually out of their 457 hands. The people of England had taken it up, and like every question they had ever taken up with earnestness, would assuredly carry their purpose regarding it into effect. Let hon. Gentlemen look at the progress the question had made. But five short years since, when he himself brought the question under the consideration of the House, he had scarcely any support out of doors; now, but one feeling pervades the manufacturing districts, and is fast spreading even in the agricultural. He would implore the House to pause before they rejected the amendment of his noble Friend. It was as certain as that tomorrow would succeed to day, that the measure proposed by the right hon. Gentleman could not endure. It would last only long enough to prevent the landed interest getting that degree of protection which a moderate fixed duty would bestow. He was himself no believer in the necesssity of any duty for the protection of British agriculture. He declared solemnly, that if every shilling he had of income in the world arose from land, he would prefer a free trade in corn without duty. But he had assented, and would yet assent to the imposition of a moderate fixed duty to allay the apprehension of the agricultural classes, and prevent any possible danger from making suddenly so great a change. He assented to it also, because he was satisfied, that it would both relieve our trading and manufacturing interests, and tend greatly to render our currency secure. Hon. Gentlemen should recollect, too, that precisely in the degree they could show a fixed duty to be impracticable in the same degree they proved there could be no duty at all—for to retain the sliding scale, they might rest assured was out of their power. A vast amount of irreparable evil had already been effected. He was no longer so confident as he was in 1837, of the benefit which would flow from a change of system, or of the future fortunes of the country; but some danger might yet be averted by concession, some terms yet be made between the powerful classes who upheld these laws and the people; but that period was fast elapsing—the ground under their feet was insecure, as sand before the advancing tide; and it was his firm conviction, that if the measure now before the House past into a law, it would ere long have to he rescinded, amidst a storm of popular passion in which it might not be the Corn-laws alone which would be swept away.
said that a measure like the present was one which, in its consequences, would be most important to all classes of the community. Let them look to what was the state of opinion with respect to this question. On the one hand they had the great bulk of the manufacturing classes clamorous for the total repeal of the Corn-laws; on the other hand, they had a considerable party, headed by the noble Lord opposite, who were in favour of a moderate fixed duty. At the other side, in opposition to those, they had the agricultural body, and particularly the Conservative portion of the community, in favour of the sliding scale. On the present occasion it was not his intention to endeavour to combat the arguments used by the noble Lord in favour of a fixed duty. He would confine himself on the present occasion to the sliding duty, which had been proposed by the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government. He begged to state that he did not abstain from answering the arguments used at the other side of the House from any feeling that these arguments were not worthy of the attention of every Gentleman in that House. He believed they were worthy the attention of all who argued on this subject—because they were opinions entertained by many men of high station and attainments in the country, backed by large classes of their fellow-countrymen. But, as on a former occasion, he had contended for the principle of the sliding scale, he had seen nothing since to change his opinion in favour of that scale. He thought he would best represent the wishes of those who sent him to that House, by more immediately confining himself to the scale proposed by the right hon. Baronet. Since that scale had been promulgated by the right hon. Baronet, he had attended an important meeting of farmers which took place at Aylesbury. He saw an hon. Member opposite smile at his statement. Now, he did not appear in that House as the mere delegate of any body of men, however respectable or intelligent; but he thought the House would admit that, when a measure of this importance, materially affecting the interests of those gentlemen was brought forward, their opinions and statements were entitled to attention. At the meeting in question, the farmers present agreed to a resolution, which they had placed in his hands, with a view that 459 he should bring it under the notice of the House. The resolution was to the following effect:—That it is the opinion of this meeting that the farmer should be protected to the extent of 60s., whilst the scale proposed by the right hon. Baronet extended the protection only to 55s.The gentlemen who attended that meeting were of opinion that the effect of the measure would be to decrease the farmers' capital twenty per cent. The farmers who attended that meeting thought that the maximum duty should not be higher than 20s. the quarter, though in certain cases the protection proposed by the right hon. Baronet was not as full as could be wished. An amendment had been announced by the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire, which would afford the protection between the figures of 55s. and 60s. not supplied by the proposal of Government. The hon. Member for North Lincolnshire commenced his scale with a duty of 25s., and, in reference to the point he had just adverted to, he thought the amendment better than the Government plan. If he looked to his own personal interests, he should probably support the amendment, and afterwards vote with Government on the general question. But he would not take any indirect course. He preferred, on a question so important as this was, looking to what was the best plan on the whole view of the case instead of confining himself to particular points. Before the meeting of Parliament, and when hon. Gentlemen not in the immediate confidence of the Government were as yet unacquainted with the scale that was to be proposed, he had conversed a good deal with practical farmers, as to the scale which they would prefer. He had seen a scale which, he believed, was forwarded to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. That scale was drawn up by Mr. Druse of Norfolk, of whom many members of that House had heard. It commenced by making the duty 20 shillings, when the price was under 52s. But he ought to premise, that the gentlemen who proposed that scale contended for a certain amount of fixed duty —five shillings—at the termination of the sliding duty. The plan he had alluded to commenced, as he had stated, with a duty, when the price was 52s., and under. When the price was 60s., the duty would 460 be 12s.; and there was only one rest until the price came to 71s. That was the scale proposed by a person in whose judgment he (Captain Hamilton) had great confidence. But though he was aware many of his constituents could prefer a higher rate of duty than that proposed by Government—though he thought that the right hon. Baronet demanded a great sacrifice on the part of the agricultural interest ["Oh, oh"] Did the hon. Member who cried "Oh,"consider a sacrifice of twenty per cent. nothing? If so, he differed from that hon. Member. He believed that the right hon. Baronet, when he demanded that sacrifice, had calculated on the well-known forbearance, loyalty, and moderation of those from whom he asked it; and he believed that the demand would not be made in vain. He would not tell his constituents that it would not affect their interests; but he would advise them to submit to it, and to support the proposition of Ministers, because he believed that, in the present circumstances of the country, some such sacrifice to the manufacturing interests had become necessary and proper. He candidly acknowledged that he should not vote for the amendment of the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire; but that he thought that in doing so he should be inflicting an injury on the very persons whom he wished to serve, and he believed that the right hon. Baronet was placed in a situation which made it necessary for him to bring forward his present proposition. He was not unmindful of the distress that existed amongst the manufacturing classes of the country. He admitted and deplored this distress, though he was prepared to say that it was not attributable to the Corn-laws. When distress and depression existed in trade, a high price of provisions would tend to aggravate the suffering. But he denied that the present system of Corn-laws was the cause of the distress. The distress had been clearly shown, by the right hon. Baronet and other speakers on that side of the House, to have arisen from over-trading, from the great employment of machinery, from causes operating in foreign countries, and from other sources unconnected with the Corn-laws. Agreeing, then, with the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire, that a somewhat higher protection might be afforded to agriculture, without inflicting injury upon the consumer, he still thought that he should be 461 doing his duty to his constituents, as well as to the country at large, by looking at the proposed scale in its entire effect, and voting for it in preference to any amendments of which notice had been given.
§ Mr. Childers
had listened with great attention to the speeches made on the other side of the House by the First Lord of the Treasury and the Vice-President of the Board of Trade. With the speeches of both he was much gratified; but that of the First Lord of the Treasury he especially thought would be of great use to the country. It had been of particular use in dissipating the notions and destroying the prejudices that existed with regard to the system of averages. Both in that House and out of it he found the Conservatives constantly declaring that the system of averages must be changed—that they must be made by the sellers and not by the buyers. It was impossible to drive that notion out of their heads until the speech delivered the other night by the right hon. Baronet. He had met several of them since then, and they all agreed now that it was quite right that it was the buyers and not the sellers that ought to make the returns. But now as to the immediate question before the House, he confessed that he could find very little difference between the plan proposed and that which already existed. Both contained that great principle—that of continuing the averages up to the higher numbers of 71s., 72s., and 73s., and neither could cause a relaxation as to the mode of foreign corn coming into the country. He had looked carefully through the returns that had been laid before the house, as to the corn that had been entered for the last few years, and he found that almost in all instances it had only entered when corn had reached a great price. When it entered at the higher price, the duty ceased, and there was no advantage to the consumer. He should try to explain his meaning on this subject. Corn had been entered at 10s. 8d., at 6s. 8d., and at 2s. 8d., but when was that effected. Not when the prices were rising and the duty was falling; but, on the contrary, when the prices were falling and the duty was rising, and at times when it was shown that there was corn enough in the country to supply the demand. He found, from 1829 to the present year, that when the prices were rising and the duty was falling, the quantity of corn entered at 10s, 8d. 462 was very small. It was not more than 17,000 quarters; but when the duty was rising, and the prices were falling, there were 789,000 quarters entered. He then took the quantity entered at 6s. 8d. duty, and he found that when the prices were rising, and the duty was falling, there were entered 30,000 quarters; whereas, when the prices were falling, and the duty was rising, the quantity entered was 1,892,000 quarters. This was a system that, he was afraid, would be continued by the present scale. Let him suppose that a man had 20,000 quarters when the price was 60s.; that person knew that every shilling it rose beyond that, gave him 1,000l. in point of duty. That would be well known to him, and of course he would take advantage of it. The pressure came in the summer, and before the harvest came in. At that time the price was high, and if persons thought they were to have such advantage from the sliding scale they would hold hack their corn. He remembered being told by Lord Spencer that he was deceived as to the operation of the last corn bill. When it passed, his Lordship said, he supposed that when a man had realized a certain profit, by holding his corn for a certain time, that then he would be inclined to sell it. Very possible the person would do so, and bring it into market; but, then, it often happened that instead of bringing it into the market he sold it to somebody else, who was inclined to carry the speculation further. A man who made 3,000l. or 4,000l. by the rise of price, instead of bringing the corn into market, disposed of it to some one who went on with the speculation in bond. In this way, he feared, the present scale of duties would act against the consumer as the old scale had done. It was under such a feeling as this he very much preferred the fixed duty. Under a fixed duty he looked to a constant supply of corn, and a more equable range of prices. The great injury of the sliding scale was the variation of the prices by which it was attended, going up and falling down again, to the great injury both of the producers and the consumers, and this raising and lowering took place without any very apparent alteration of the averages. To show this he would state, that in 1838 the prices at the beginning of the year were as low as 50s. or 60s., but a sudden rise took place in August, and in September it became such as to reduce the duty to 1s. 463 1,200,000 quarters then came in, and the price sank rapidly, but, again, by the 7th state, of leases, for of December ensuing, it rose again to 75s. Such was also the case in 1840, showing, in an extraordinary manner, the great fluctuations and injury consequent on the sliding scale. According to a statement of Mr. Hubbard, it appeared that in August, 1841, corn was 70s. the quarter, and the duty was 18s. 8d., a great deal of corn being in the country at the time. In the ensuing week the price fell to 1s. In the ensuing week the price fell to 63s., and in the following week to 61s.; such variations in the price and in the duties following each other in such rapid succession must be attended with the most injurious consequences. He did nor hesitate to say, that although favourable to a fixed duty, he considered it only as a step towards the repeal of the Corn-laws. He believed, that with a repeal of the Corn-laws, on an average of several years, prices would very little vary from the present rates. He was much strengthened in this opinion by the authority of Mr. Meek, and he must confess his surprise that they had heard so little from the other side of the House respecting the services of that gentleman, who had procured information so highly valuable relating to the trade of the continent. Mr. Jacob, too, had formerly been sent on a similar reception. A gentleman connected with the agricultural interest remarked in his reports, that the words were the words of Jacob, but the hands were the hands of Esau. He perceived, from the statement of Mr. Meek, that the average prices of wheat at Rotterdam was 55s. a quarter, and at Ostend 50s. a quarter. Prices in the Low Countries appeared so high as to surprise him after the exaggerated accounts current with respect to the cheapness of bread on the continent. The truth appeared to him to be, that in a rich country, such as Holland or England, the price of corn would never be very low. He was satisfied that the monopoly had really been injurious to the farmers of this country. It had rendered them less attentive to their business, and less anxious to increase their produce. Wherever agriculture was best understood, as in Scotland, the Corn-laws were least thought of. Farmers in such districts, if you spoke to them on the subject, said they did not care about them. In Eng- 464 land agriculture was in a more backward owing to the scarcity there could hardly be any good agriculture without a system of leasehold. He would mention a fact he had lately heard, which had astonished him much. A person sliding scale. According to a statement in Scotland, who held a farm of 7001. under a lease of fourteen years, had expended 7,000l on improvements. The proprietor offered to renew his lease for seven years more, if he would lay out 3,000l. in addition, and the farmer at once consented. To him (Mr. Childers) it was perfectly astonishing that any man should consent to such an outlay on the prospect of so short an extention of his lease. He (Mr. Childers) never should advocate a repeal of the Corn-laws on the principles maintained by the delegates of the Anti-Corn-raw League. He was convinced that under a free trade prices would be so little reduced as not to affect the prosperity of the agriculturists. He regarded the abolition of the Corn-laws as removing the great obstacle to free trade over the whole country, and supported it on the principles of political economy, as laid down by so many great writers. He did not doubt that the measure of Government would pass, but how long could it be maintained? Not beyond the next dissolution of Parliament. Gentlemen on that side of the House would walk into the places of Ministers, unless they would consent to come forward with a larger plan of reform. He hoped the time would at length come when England would no longer depend on her Navigation-law or an ill-judged system of Corn-laws, but look to her steam power, water power, and improved machinery, for the maintenance of her manufacturing supremacy.
§ Captain Rous
said, that the question before the House resolved itself into three distinct heads, namely, the original proposition of the right hon. Baronet, the amendment of the noble Lord, and the motion in petto of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. Those who advocated the abolition of the Corn-law, or a tax upon food as a measure opposed to the commands of God and the inalienable rights of man, could not consistently vote for the proposition of a fixed tax, which the noble Lord intended; while those who supported a fixed tax as proposed by the noble Lord, had, he hoped, too high a sense of honour to vote for the motion of the hon. Member for 465 Wolverhampton, which would go to remove all protection from agriculture, and all restraint upon foreign corn. With respect to the motion of the right hon. Baronet, he should only quote in its favour the testimony of the amiable Nobleman who was at the head of the late Government—a nobleman, who had but one fault, which was accepting office—namely, that "considering all the circumstances of the case, the man who would do away with the Corn-laws was only fit for Bedlam" —or words to that effect, with which sentiment he (Capt, Rous) most cordially agreed. With respect to the amendment of the noble Lord, he had quite made up his mind, that as long the Almighty gave uncertain harvests to this country, so long should there be a certain duty upon foreign corn; but if there should be a worse harvest one year than another, then it it stood to reason, and no one would oppose it, that there ought to be a reduction in the amount of that duty. With respect to the opinions of his constituency, he could assure the right hon Baronet that his measure was perfectly satisfactory to all those, the most enlightened, the most respectable, and the most excellent among them, and they believed that it was founded on the principle of live and let live, and that the interests of the farmer, the manufacturer. The merchant, and the working classes, were taken into full consideration in its concoction. A French diplomatist said, that "words were given to conceal thoughts," and he (Capt. Rous) believed that such was the case in the course of the debate as regarded the speakers on the other side of the question. When hon. Gentlemen opposite expatiated on the heavenly prospect of bread being 2d. cheaper on the 4lb. loaf, he would take leave to ask them the simple question, into whose pockets did they expect that 2d. would go? Into their own pockets, or those of the poor man? The whole value of the argument depended upon the answer to that question. He had been about the world a great deal, and he had always found that the price of wages depended upon the price of food. He did not mean in new countries, but in old; and as this was a question respecting an old country, the argument fairly applied. In India, for instance, the most fertile and populous of our possessions. With eighty millions of inhabitants, the wages of labour was only 2d. a day and a valet de place in Madras, 466 Calcutta, or Bombay, only got five rupees or 10s. a month, for which he fed, clothed, and lodged himself—all because food was cheap. In France, too, there was cheap bread, but not a word about cheap wages. And yet the reason that 100,000 English families resided there from choice was because, not food, but labour in all its forms was far cheaper than in this country. In England, in 1795, when corn was 72s.11d. the quarter, the wages of mechanics were 3s. a day, and those of mechanics' labourers ls. 8d. In 1812, when corn was 122s., the wages of mechanics ranged from 30s. a week, or 5s. a day, to 60s. a week, or 10s. Could any one imagine that as long as that these men cared for a penny in their loaf. On Saturday night the English mechanic and his wife had their two pounds of rump steak, their two pots of porter, and their quartern of gin to wind up with; but, if the plan of the noble Lord were in be adopted, they would have bread, an it might be onions, alone, and a good su[...]k at the pump to wash them down with. The tradesman would be also greatly injured by it; for the destruction of the agriculturists, which it would inevitably entail, would be the destruction of his best customers. It would be the same likewise with the merchants. A deal had been said in regard of the cheapness of food, but nothing of the cheapness of labour. It was true that a ship, for instance, could be built in Hamburgh or Dantzic for 2,000l. which in England would cost 3,000l., but then the wages of mechanic in Hamburgh were only Is. 8d. a day, while in England they were 5s. The Hamburgh artisan lived on his crust of bread, while the Englishman required beef and beer. Then a foreign crew —good men, too—could be got for 15s. a month each, while their rations cost little or nothing in comparison with those of an English sailor; but our fellows would not go to sea without 40s. a month, and each man of them must be fed with a pound of beef, or a pound of pork every day, besides other food, and grog. With this disparity of expense, 70s. to 22s. a month per man, arising from difference of wages and food, the English captain must be clever who could compete with the Hamburgher. Last summer there had been no fewer than thirty Norwegian vessels in the river, laden with timber. Formerly the shipowners of Hull and Sunderland had to employ their vessels in that trade, but, in, 467 consequence of the difference in the price of wages and the scale of rations, there and here, they had found it quite impossible to compete with the Norwegian shipowner, and they could not longer afford to send their ships on that service. The logs, too, which used to be cut up here, now served to employ the sawyers in Norway, who would work at a much lower rate of wages. He mentioned these small matters, because they were part of the boasted effects of free trade. His opinion was, that they ought all to act upon the principle of live and let live. The boots which he wore cost him here 2l. 8s., though he could get them in Paris for a guinea. The stonemasons who were at work at the Houses of Parliament earned 5s. a day; but, if free trade was introduced, what should prevent him, if he were a contractor, from bringing over 300 Prussians to work for half that money? Nothing but the natural aversion of an Englishman to such conduct. He firmly believed that if they had free trade there would be no specie in the Bank. Secondly, that the small tradesmen would all break; and, thirdly, that the artificers of this country would be involved in the general ruin, and their right hand would have lost its cunning. That was his opinion of free trade. Hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side were very fond of drawing comparisons between this country and America, which was a new country, whilst this country was burdened by a debt for which they meant honestly to pay interest, and capital if they could, but he (Captain Rous) would ask them to look at their American friends. They borrowed your money, and promised to pay you large interest. They sent you large orders, but how many did they pay for? When the Opposition told the House of the great defalcation in the American trade as the consequence of the Corn-laws, they forgot to add that the main cause of the present depression of trade was in consequence of the Americans not paying their bills. What was more common than for an American to come to a young man, who bad just started in business, and say to him, "I'll give you an order for 2,000l. worth of your goods; half I shall pay for at once, and the other half afterwards?"But was there a single instance in which the latter part of the promise was kept? Never, let the same finger of contempt be pointed at an Englishman, as the Ameri- 468 can became fairly subject to for such conduct. While the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) pursued the broad path of his duty, equally disregarding the murmurs of the aristocracy and the noise of a deluded populace, he might retain his position as long as he pleased. He was sure the right hon. Baronet would never tarnish his laurels by attacking, as others had done, a poor old man with one leg in the grave. So long as the right hon. Gentleman acted on the principles by which his conduct was now regulated, he might rest assured that he would secure the good of his country and his own advantage.
§ Mr. W. Williams
was not one of those who expected any enlarged plan for the settlement of the Corn-law question from the right hon. Baronet. But he had expected, that the right hon. Baronet would have taken a statesmanlike view of the difficulties by which the trade and commerce of this country were at present beset, and that he would have introduced a measure upon this subject, which would have afforded some relief. He agreed, however, with the hon. Member for Maldon that the proposition of the right hon. Baronet would make, practically, very little difference in the present law. The country had looked for something of a very different kind, especially as the subject of the Corn-laws, had been so prominently introduced in the Queen's Speech. Indeed, he could not help thinking, that the Government were chargeable with great blame for putting words in her Majesty's mouth, which they must have known would beget mere delusion, and end in the severest disappointment. The proposition of the right hon. Baronet was certainly better dressed up than the present system, and removed much of its deformity, but his opinion most decidedly was, that except, perhaps, at the very commencement of its operation, it would be productive of no substantial benefit. He was quite prepared to expect, that shortly after its coming into effect, if there happened to be a large surplus of foreign corn, a considerable quantity would be introduced, in consequence of the inducements held out by the corn factors in this country, and forced on the market at low prices, but as soon as the first operations had been performed, and when the. foreign merchant understood the exact operation of the law, the loss he must sustain, would teach him never to repeat the experiment, and the new law would then come pretty 469 nearly to the level of the old law. He had hoped, that the right hon. Baronet would have abandoned the resolution he had expressed last year, of abiding by the slidingscale. He was perfectly convinced, that the sliding scale was most mischievous to every interest in the country, except to the landed proprietor. Rather than he subject to it, he believed it would be the interest of the people to pay a fixed duty of 20s., the maximum protection sought by the right hon. Baronet to the landowners, for every quarter of wheat they produced. A great deal, he thought, would be saved by such an arrangement; the people, at all events, Would know how much exactly they had to pay; but it was impossible to estimate the amount of the loss incurred under the present system. To show the working of the system, he should state of his own knowledge a circumstance that would show how our markets were watched abroad. In the beginning of August, 1838, he arrived at Hamburg, on his way to the north of Germany. No sooner had the steamer arrived, than a gentleman made anxious inquiry what sort of weather they had, when they started. He answered, that for some days before there had been much rain, and that great apprehension was entertained as to the effect which it would have on the crops. This gentleman seeing him the next day informed him, that a considerable stock of corn was in Hamburg, and that he and some others bad come there for the purpose of purchasing it. When these gentleman went to the holders of the corn, after the arrival of the steamer, they were told, "Oh, we have advices, as well as you, and we can make no sales at present."He stopped for four days, and he was told by this gentleman, that he could not get a quarter of corn, unless he paid 20 per cent. more for it, than was asked five days before. The poor felt the pressure of the Corn-laws to be very severe in raising the price of food, but their most ruinous effect, was their operation on the currency. Within the last four years, 10,000,000 quarters of corn had been imported into this country, to pay for which not less than 15,000,000l. had been sent out of the country in bullion, which compelled the bank greatly to reduce its circulation, which depressed the value of commodities and property of every description. This spread ruin and bankruptcy amongst manufactures and commercial men, caused masses of the working people to be thrown, out of employment, 470 and a great reduction in the wages of labour, which has produced the present suffering and distress. We had paid, on an average, from 50 to 75 per cent. more for foreign corn than we should have been obliged to pay, if the trade had been open. Besides their oppressive effects upon the people generally, any laws based upon the principle of the present must apply injuriously to several important interests in the country. The merchant sustained loss by the damage done to corn in the warehouses where it was stored, in consequence of their operation, and our shipping suffered in consequence of the employment of foreign craft, because, even if a merchant had a ship of his own in port, if she could not be got ready in a day almost, he would prefer chartering a foreign vessel to running the risk of not securing the lowest duty. The right hon. Baronet laid down a proposition, which startled him (Mr. Williams) the other night, and that was, that the Corn-law was not a tax paid by the consumer. For whose benefit did the right hon. Baronet keep the average price of corn at 54s. to 58s., if it were not for the landlord? What was this, but a tax on the consumers, and who were the consumers, but the millions of the working classes. He, therefore, maintained, that this was a direct tax, as much as the house-tax or the window-tax, and that it went as immediately from the pocket of the consumer into the pocket of the landlord. The right hon. Baronet had referred, as a main argument, to the relative consumption of articles of food in Prussia and this country; and, introducing his statistics with great form, he said the authorities from which lie derived his information were unquestionable, that no one could doubt their authenticity, and that means, he believed, existed, of ascertaining their exact truth.
§ Sir R. Peel:
I quoted Dr. Bowring's report, in which it is stated, that "there exist the means of procuring accurate statistical information." I did not speak of the accuracy of the statements.
§ Mr. Williams
had taken down the words of the right hon. Baronet at the time, and they were these, "I will quote an authority which cannot be suspected; I will take my information from a perfectly unquestionable source." These words appeared in three of the newspapers, and the right hon. Baronet added, "I beg the House to remember, that the means of ascertaining the exact proportions, are supposed to exist."
§ Mr. Williams
had taken down the words as he had read them. The right hon. Baronet on the authority of these statistics stated, that in Prussia the consumption of meat was 351b. of meat to each individual per annum, while in this country it was, according to some 50lb., and according to others 100lb. to each, a difference, taking the meat at 7d. per lb., of no less per annum than 12,000,000. sterling. Then he said, on the authority of Dr. Bowring, that in Prussia each individual consumed rather less than a quarter of corn, and that each individual in this country consumed about a quarter of wheat per annum, while according to the authority of the other gentlemen referred to, the annual consumption was nearly two quarters per head; and, therefore, taking the cost at 51s. per quarter, the difference represented no less a sum than 40,000,000l. sterling for England and Wales alone. He also stated, or. the same authority, that each person in this country consumed 5¾ ells of woollen cloth, and that in Prussia the consumption of each was only 2⅙ ells. The right hon. Gentleman made these statements in defence of the sliding scale; but had he any means of ascertaining the consumption by individuals of those articles? Was it worthy, then, of any gentleman of his high station to make these statements without proper authority? [Sir R. Peel" The authority is paid for it.") Well, lie would ask that authority, or any Gentleman in the House, whether he could undertake to state the consumption of those articles by himself and those dependant on him, or by any of his next neighbours? Having been in Prussia, he was able to state, from his own experience, that the working classes there, in reference to the relative amount of wages and the prices of the necessaries of life, were better off than the working classes in England; and in Switzerland and France the working classes were in a still better state than in Prussia. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the United States of America, and had stated that one cause of the distress existing in this country was the derangement of the monetary affairs of that country. Now whatever the effect of that derangement might have been on England, he happened to be in America at the very period referred to, and he certainly saw no evidence of distress there. He saw no class of people there 472 that were not well fed and well clothed. He saw no human being in distress; but he felt shame at seeing the 3,000 newspapers published in that country, abounding with statements of the awful distress and misery existing among the working classes here, and drawing a comparison between the misery and destitution of the people here and the happy condition of the people of the United States. In that country he observed a most extraordinary advancement in manufactures; and lie understood that, in the previous year, they had exported 3,600,000 dollars' worth of cotton manufactures to neutral markets whilst the value of the cotton goods imported from England in that period very little exceeded that amount. And the impression produced on his mind was, that unless we placed the working classes of England in a position to purchase their provisions—nearly as cheap as the working classes of other countries engaged in the race of competition with us, our manufacturing trade must decline, and that to a serious extent. He believed that a free admission of corn into this country would, in a great degree, relieve the pressure on our manufacturing industry; but he also believed that more than that must be done, and the people must be relieved from a considerable amount of taxation, before they could sustain their proper position in the race of competition. He could not look at the extraordinary progress in manufactures which Switzerland, some parts of Germany, and the United States had made in the last seven years, and anticipate that they would make the same progress for the next seven years, without feeling great apprehension as to the probable consequences. Hon. Gentlemen should remember that the Swiss were paying no taxes, whilst the people of England were most heavily taxed. In the expenditure of their wages for necessaries one half went in taxes. Hitherto the people had regarded the aristocracy with every feeling of respect; but they were now beginning to examine the ground of their claim to tax the rest of the community—the qualifications upon which they presumed to tax the other classes. What did the middle classes say of the aristocracy now?—the middle classes, who had always been their shield. Why, that when they looked at the aristocracy they found that they were not their superiors, either in physical or mental qualities, or in virtue, morals, or otherwise. They said that this 473 aristocracy, who were levying taxes on the food of the people, were not in any way superior in mental acquirements to the great body of the middle classes, and that they had no right to tax the people's food. They had no objection to their enjoying their property; but they said that to create a large amount of that property by taxing food, was an injustice they would no longer submit to, and he believed the time was fast approaching, when, if they continued to pursue this course of injustice towards the middle and working classes, the pretensions of the aristocracy would be inconveniently inquired into. He did not say this for the purpose of prompting those classes to the inquiry, but for the purpose of warning hon. Gentlemen of the effects likely to result from the course they were pursuing. They could not maintain this tax without the middle classes being with them, not even if they depended upon the support of the military and constabulary. He asked them then if they would run the risk attendant on placing themselves in a hostile position to the rest of the community. He should vote for the proposition of the noble Lord, the Member for London, because he thought a fixed duty was preferable to a sliding scale under any circumstances, though he objected most decidedly to both; and he should vote for the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, as the only measure that ought to be adopted.
Mr. Ormsby Gore
said that he had not been idle during the recess, and that, with the assistance of an able neighbour of his, he had ascertained to a fraction the consumption by thirteen families, consisting of sixty-nine individuals, all of them labourers in his immediate neighbourhood. They were labourers in constant employ and well off, making no complaint, and in the receipt of the full amount of the average rate of wages in the country. The consumption by these thirteen families was eight bushels and a very small fraction, imperial measure, per head per annum. For the convenience of calculation he would omit the fraction, and take it at eight bushels, or one quarter, at the average which had been assumed of 56s. 9d. per quarter. The consumption at 56s. 9d. the quarter for twelve months would be 1s. 000BE;d. per head, per week. Now, how much would the duty amount to on that consumption? The average duty amounted to 5s. 9d. per quarter, which 474 would be the amount per annum, per head; and that per month was 54d. so that the whole sum to he deducted for duty out of the wages of the labouring classes for the space of one week was not quite l l½d. per head; and it was on account of this l½d per head per week, they were told that the tax was destroying them, and that the only means of relief was in a repeal of the duty on wheat. But t he labourers were much too wise to believe this, He granted that an agitation had been got up in the country; he granted that they had issued violent circulars—formed violent Anti Corn-law Leagues, and had endeavoured to raise, and had raised, a large sum of money in a most extraordinary manner to carry out their views. They had various means of working on the feelings of the people to induce them to believe that the repeal of the tax would give them cheap bread; but here was the fact, that the labourers only paid a duty of not quite 1½d. per week on the consumption of eight bushels a year. If they looked at some of the pamphlets of the opponents of the corn law, they would find that the consumption per head per annum was stated to be seven bushels.—And what would the duty on that quantity amount to? Why, less than five farthings per week! And it was for five farthings per week that they shook the island to its centre—and that for party purposes. He would read a letter from an operative in the manufacturing districts, with whom he was not acquainted, but who had written to him in consequence of knowing he had taken an active part on the Corn-law question. The writer said,Consult the working man, who is, unfortunately, the greatest sufferer, and he will tell you that the great and prominent cause of all his distress has been left unnoticed. Be will tell you that neither corn, currency, nor banks, can at all affect him, while his labour remains untouched, for the power that destroys his labour destroys him likewise. He knows, by painful experience, that all the distress is alone to be attributed to the unlimited extension of machinery—and its substitution for manual labour. This is the cause that has, within the last two years, thrown thousands out of employ; the same cause is still daily adding to the number, and, unless timely checked by legislative enactment, it will, in the end, bring down ruin upon the heads of those who are now so anxious for its further extension. It cannot be supposed that you can be at all conversant with the details of a manufacturing establishment; therefore, in order to show the ruinous effects machinery is producing on 475 hand labour, I will beg to bring under your notice a few facts connected with the establishment in which I was last employed, my trade being that of a cotton printer; and this will serve as an illustration of the whole system. I was last employed under Messrs. Gisborne and Wilson, their establishment consisting of 140 printers and 14 machines. These 14 machines printed upwards of 630,000 pieces during the last year. The printers during that period being partially employed upon fabrics chiefly for the home markets, were not earning on an average more than 7s. per week. Had the number of pieces that these machines produced been done by hand labour, it would have afforded regular employment for twelve months to 1,010 men at 24s., and as many boys at 3s. a week; whereas each of these machines requires the attendance of two men and a boy only, whose united wages amount to but 15s. a week.So he went on arguing upon the same ground. He would not have risen to trouble the House on this occasion if it had not been for the challenge which had been thrown out. He had gone into the question of the Corn-laws at considerable length in the year 1840, and to every opinion then stated he rigidly adhered. The question which was before the House had been divided into three parts-namely, a fixed duty, a sliding scale, and the proposition for no duty at all. For his own part, what he had declared two years ago he was prepared to carry out at that moment. He had then stated his opinion, and he was confirmed and strengthened in this opinion by what he had seen and heard since; and if he had had any doubt when he entered the House at the commencement of this debate, what had fallen from the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) and the hon. Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring) would have served still more strongly to confirm his previous opinion. He gave Credit to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. P. Villiers) for his honest strait forward English manlike conduet, in coming forward for the repeal of the Corn-laws, because he believed that that hon. Gentleman felt that it was against the interest of the country that they should exist; but when the noble Lord acknowledge that a fixed duty was a deceitful intention, he found in deceit, and that its working would be impracticable. If that should be adopted, the agriculturists would soon have cause to say to to its authors:— 476Be those juggling fiends no more believ'd That palter with us in a double sense; That keep the word of promise to our ear, And break it to our hope.He, as an Englishman, denounced the principle as one which was not applicable to that honest, upright, manly, English-manlike system of legislation which it ought to be founded upon. Now, with regard to the repeal of the Corn-law altogether, he had confessed at the time it was proposed that he would much sooner support that measure than a fixed duty. He had hoped that this deception had gone to the tomb of its ancestors. Our home trade consumed two-thirds of our manufactures, and if they destroyed the means of the agricultural labourers, to that extent must the country suffer. He did not believe that the lower classes of this country were so stultified as to give up a ready money trade for what they might have a chance of receiving elsewhere. He should have future opportunities of going further into the subject, and therefore would not intrude further on the patience of the House on the present occasion.
§ Mr. Ward
said, the House was very much indebted to the hon. Member who had just spoken for setting at rest one point upon which great difference of opinion had existed in that House and in the country—namely, as to the precise amount at which, by the consent of the gentlemen themselves for whose benefit the Corn-laws were enacted, this impost ought to be placed on the people. The hon. Member had entered upon this question, and had analyzed it in a way which was to set at rest all manner of disputes upon it in the country. He had told them the amount of duty imposed by the Corn-laws was a thing not worth contending for. He had taken the consumption of each individual at eight bushels per annum, and said that that amounted, at 5s. 6d. per head—the increase of price produced by the effect of duty—in a family of six persons, to 33s. per family, which in a population such as ours, of 25,000,000 against the interests of the country that would produce something about 5,000,000l. they should exist; but when the noble sterling per annum, and that was admitted Lord acknowledged that a fixed duty was by one of the leading Members of the agricultural interest as the tax which he had hitherto levied, and hoped to levy still, by means of a sliding scale. That was an admission for which the House could not be too grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He did not know, however, that the right 477 hon. Baronet would be at all obliged to him for making it; but the admission was there in his own figures.
Mr. Ward continued
He was not responsible for the hon. Gentleman's figures; but by his own admission that was the sum he was entitled to draw from this impost. It was a species of poll-tax, which he levied on every person who was not a landed proprietor in this country, and which he told them he levied, but that it was so small it was not worth contending for. The hon. Gentleman said, that it was for mere party purposes that there was any agitation about this miserable affair, and then read extracts from a letter which he had received from some working man, who said, he did not consider that the Corn-laws were the cause of the distress in the country; but that machinery and improvement in manufactures were at the bottom of it. On that point he was as much at issue with the right hon. Baronet, as he was with hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House, for the right hon. Baronet disclaimed any of those theories which had been advanced by some hon. Gentlemen on his own side of the House, and especially by the hon. Member, in the very unseemly speech with which the debate of the previous night had closed — he meant the speech of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, which went as far as any speech he had ever heard in that House to arouse angry passions at a time when it was desirable for all excitement on this subject to be allayed. ["Oh ! oh !."] He did not mean to deny that observations of a similar character had been made by hon. Members on his side of the House, but they were outside of the House, and not within those walls; and the first instance in which all usages of Parliament had been disregarded, and the question before the House had been converted into one of mere personal attack, had proceeded from the other side of the House, and not from his. If it had proceeded only from one Gentleman sitting there, he should not have been surprised, nor should he have Made any remarks on it; but he heard the most marked passages of that speech cheered in the most marked manner by a noble Lord who had refused office on account of his sincere, but, as he thought, 478 foolish devotion to a certain question, and to those wild theories which would take us back to savage life, if they were acted on. The hon. Gentleman said, there were really three questions, then before the House—namely, the fixed duty, the sliding scale, and no duty at all; but he (Mr. Ward) would deny, that that was in any way a correct statement of the matter. He knew that much was done on the previous night to mix up and confuse those things with the question which the noble Lord had submitted to the House; but by the proposition of the noble Lord they were not called upon to decide between a fixed duty and a sliding duty; they were not called upon to give an opinion between an 8s. duty and the sliding scale proposed by the right hon. Baronet, for the noble Lord never mentioned the 8s. duty as a part of his proposition. [Laughter from the Ministerial benches.] No, he never mentioned the 8s. duty as a part of the proposition which he submitted to the House, and upon which the House was to pronounce its judgment. But the noble Lord said, that to the extent that anything might be proved to be a burden to the agriculturists, so would he give them a compensation in the way of duty. They were not called upon to give any opinion as to the extent of that compensation and as to the burdens of the agriculturists, he himself last Session gave notice of a motion (which he should take an early opportunity of bringing before the House, and which he hoped would meet with no opposition from the other side of the House), for a committee to inquire what were the peculiar burdens which pressed on the agricultural interests of this country, and whether there were any at all. As to those burdens, the noble Lord argued that there were only two ways of dealing with them. The one was, to endeavour to remove them by a perfectly free-trade in corn, and the other was by a fixed duty. Now, he should prefer the former, because the other must operate unfairly; but at all events, the noble Lord peculiarly guarded himself against giving any opinion as to the amount of the fixed duty, signifying his preference of a fixed duty to a sliding scale, but without committing himself to any particular amount of fixed duty. But his opinion was, that the time for even a fixed duty was rapidly passing away, for if great parties on great questions, committed great mistakes, the 479 public would benefit by them. Now, it was a mistake of hon. Gentlemen opposite that gave them the Reform Bill. If Birmingham had been enfranchised at the right time, he doubted whether the Reform Bill of 1832, would ever have been carried; and he saw no reason why the mistake of the right hon. Baronet—for he thought the right hon. Baronet had made a great mistake in proposing his present scheme—should not end in the same way as the mistake of hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1831 had ended with regard to reform —namely, by giving them a total repeal of all duty on the importation of food, because hon. Gentlemen opposite did not choose to agree to that which they might have gained with the concurrence of all parties. He was very much of opinion, that on future discussions of this subject they should have the Birmingham reform acted over again with regard to the Corn-laws. But he did not like that perpetual agitation of great questions. [Cries of "Oh, oh !"and laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen seemed to think that he must have a positive interest in agitation, when he really had none; but he said distinctly, that he went down to that House on Wednesday last with a very foolish faith certainly in the right hon. Baronet, and disposed to believe that he was going to make such a proposition as he (Mr. Ward) could consent to, and which might have settled this question for some years at least, with the concurrence of all parties in that House. His constituents had laid on the Table of that House, one of the most reasonable petitions that had been presented on this subject, and with the largest number of signatures, but they had left him perfectly free to take such course with regard to it as he should think proper; and his hope was, that the right hon. Baronet might have made a proposition which would have enabled him to say to his constituents it was likely to prove a great alleviation of the distress and difficulties of the country. When they talked of continuing privileges, and the protection enjoyed by one particular class in this country, they ought to have some very strong public grounds to rest upon; they must not have a positive tax justified by vague reasons. They must have something better than the prescription of 140 years, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newark, talked of on the previous night; they must have some better ground than that for the pro- 480 tection of a 20s. duty on foreign wheat. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newark, in the singularly able and lucid speech with which he had favoured the House on the previous evening, had endeavoured to show that the sliding scale was a great security against the fluctuations of price, and tried to prove it by the example of Prussia, where the price of rye had fluctuated more than the price of corn in this country; and he seemed to regard as a mania the opinion of a man of very great acuteness, he meant Mr. Wilson, that the Corn-laws could add to the fluctuations of prices in this country, and so aggravate the evils which they were intended to regulate. He had been induced by those observations to refer to the work of Mr. Wilson, and he confessed he went entirely with that Gentleman in his arguments, for he thought that the Corn-laws, if not the sole, had been one of the many causes of the fluctuation which had existed; and he thought that the Legislature had held out to the farmers of England hopes which, by the admission of the right hon. Baronet, it was impossible for any legislative act to realize. The farmers had been led on by the most fallacious supposition; they had brought into cultivation for corn land which ought never to have been cultivated; they had sown guineas and reaped only shillings, and so they had gone on from year to year; then came the years 1828 and 1829, and the excessive high prices of that period tended to produce an extent of cultivation which absolutely ruined the farmers by the excess of their own produce. Mr. Wilson said,—We have already seen how the high prices of 1817 and 1818, of 1828 and 1829, accompanied by prohibitory enactments to secure their continuance, had the effect of increasing the production and supplies; now it is clear this increase could only have been accomplished by a greatly-increased application of labour and capital, in reducing poor lands into cultivation, and in forcing the productiveness of those already in cultivation. This was all done by the farmer, stimulated by the natural hope of securing the high prices which the Legislature in effect promised should be permanent; a natural competition arose for farms, and the rents accordingly advanced;—the farmer went on year after year improving and cultivating, but he found that year after year the prices were lowering. With a view of paying his enhanced rent and his increased expenses, he pressed his production further and further, to make up in quantity what he lost in price. 481 His efforts, however, only recoiled upon himself; his increased quantity only produced greater and greater depression, until he arrived at the points of 1822 and 1835. He now found, that all along the object of his pursuit had eluded his grasp, and that to go on would only have sunk him deeper and deeper in losses; that the investment of capital—that the extraordinary application of skill and labour to secure what had been held out to him at the commencement of his efforts as the sure reward of his industry and enterprise—had all ended in losses and disappointments, and, in many cases, in utter ruin and despair.And afterwards Mr. Wilson went on to say,—It will be seen, therefore, that while the English grower, by the operation of these laws, secures to himself the supply of the whole of Great Britain when the prices are ruinously low, he compels the foreign grower to hoard up his surplus produce until a scarcity arrives; and then the English farmer, having only a very limited quantity to sell, allows the foreign grower to participate in all the advantages of the high prices. It is, therefore, so ingeniously contrived, that when prices are high, the English grower shall be only to a very limited extent advantaged thereby, and when prices are low, the whole loss and ruin shall devolve upon him.He entirely went with the writer in his arguments, for by some fallacious means the farmers had been led on by the hope that high prices would be permanent, and great competition had arisen for farms. He knew something about it; and he would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether, if they had any farm to let, there was any want of tenants; and whether, on the contrary, they had not been placed in a difficulty in choosing between the different applicants. To whatever extent they got rid of that false stimulus, he would say, that the scheme of the right hon. Baronet, or any modification of the sliding scale, would be good; but it was unjustifiable on the part of the Legislature to hold out hopes and expectations which they never could realize. But, as the right hon. Baronet justly observed the other night, the Corn-laws, as they had hitherto stood on our statute-book, had not prevented the variation of prices, whilst the highest duty amounted to a prohibition; and the right hon. Baronet had, in the scheme which he had just laid before the House, simply adopted a well-known principle in mechanics—namely, that he did not waste his powers. The right hon. Gentleman had found out, after fifteen years, that there was a great waste of 482 power in the former bills. The duty of 38s. was a thing which was never realized; it was never paid, and hon. Members must all remember when the right hon. Baronet came to that alarming sound of 20s., the look with which he turned round to the hon. Gentlemen about him, as much as to say, "It's quite useless to ask for any more." He well remembered it, because the right hon. Baronet spoke under considerable nervousness and anxiety, and very natural was it that he should do so. considering the very sulky ratification of his proposal which was given by the hon. Gentlemen around him. The right hon. Baronet disappointed them; but he reasoned better than they. He told them, it was useless to waste power—it was useless to incur, as the right hon. Member for Newark had said on the previous night, a surplusage of odium; and therefore lie had fixed upon the point of 20s. for his maximum duty. Taking credit, therefore, for his liberality, the right hon. Baronet had virtually left the prohibition as high as ever. Now, the farmers looked to two things only. First, to the intentions of the Government; and secondly, to the machinery whereby foreign competition was to be excluded by this bill, What, were, then, the intentions of the Government? The right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, told the House last night, that the intention of the Government was to secure to the English agriculturist the possession (the sole possession—the word "monopoly" was avoided, but the thing implied was the sole possession and monopoly) of the home market, "whenever the state of the market itself proved their ability to supply it." This was a most unintelligible proposition. He defied anybody to extract a definite idea from it. Now, however, he would come to the machinery of the bill, the object of which had been thus described by the Vice-President of the Board of Trade. But certainly the speech of the right hon. Baronet, the other night, gave a most beautiful theory on the subject of price, which had only one fault—that of its being entirely destitute of foundation—at least, of any foundation that he could discover; of course, the right hon. Baronet had some foundation for it. The House had been told by the right hon. Baronet that his object was—the desideratum which he had in view was, that corn should range from 54s, to 56s, or 483 58s. And, according to the version of the right hon. Vice-President, when corn was at 56s., the agriculturist was to have a monopoly of the borne market. But the bill deprived the country of any hope of that; the present bill operated not by allowing foreign corn to come into competition, which was the only practical check. As to this abstract notion of what price ought to be—this pretty theory of beautiful evenly-floating prices, about 56s.; this was worth nothing; and in looking at the Government scheme, they must regard, not the machinery by which the theory was to be realized, and the way in which it was likely to work. He assured the House, that he did not wish to detain them with statistical details. Every Gentleman had the facts before him in Parliamentary documents, and those facts might be combined into an infinite variety of shapes, by common ingenuity and industry on the part of those who might relish the amusement. At the same time, he was bound to look to the papers furnished by the Government themselves, as exhibiting the grounds on which a judgment might be formed of their scheme; and he found, in the report of Mr. Meek(drawn up with great ability), the most unqualified testimony to the great exporting towns of Europe were exhausted, that there was no large supply were now wanted by us, we could not obtain it; and further, that all the increase in the quantity available for importation into this country must proceed from the application of capital to canals, railways, and other improvements in conveyance, which could not be expected to advance in a greater ratio than the increase of our population; so that, as we had imported for the last few years about 2,000,000 quarters of corn annually, that was the utmost quantity which could be expected from European markets even at high prices, the three principal exporting towns being Hamburgh, Dantsic, and Stettin; he gave the probable export—from Hamburgh, as 530,000 quarters; from Dantsic, as315,000 quarters; and from Stettin, as 250,000 quarters; further, Mr. Meek stated, that the price in all these towns would average 40s., and that the feeight would vary from 3s.to 5s.—an average pf 4s.9¾d. per quarter from any of these 484 ports to any of the English ports whence our markets were supplied. The price, therefore, it was obvious, in this country, could not be much less than 45s. This was the statement of Mr. Meek, the right hon. Baronet's own agent, and well worthy, he doubted not, of credit. The account, of Mr. Meek, then, was, that corn could not be imported into this country under 45s. [Lord Stanley intimated dissent.] The figures had been given. [Lord Stanley, "No."] Well, the noble Lord could correct him if he was wrong,—the opportunity would occur, doubtless, to the noble Lord; for himself, he believed in the accuracy of the statement he had made, that no corn in any considerable quantity could be purchased abroad for our use under 45s. But allowing for freights, insurances, &c., there would be an addition of 4s. The price of the imported wheat in our markets would be at least 49s. But, under the new scale, 56s. was the point at which the right hon. Baronet wished to preserve the price of wheat. How, then, did the new scale work? He might observe, in passing, that the 8s. fixed duty would here have well, answered the very end which the right hon. Baronet proposed to himself; for 8s. added to 49s. would give a price very near 56s.; and even under the new scale, had the duty been 10s. instead of 20s. at 50s. a quarter, he could have understood how the price would have attained something like the level desired by the right hon. Baronet. But instead of this, the duty at 54s. was 18s., which added to the 49s. would raise the imported corn to 67s. The duty at 56s. was 17s., which would be equivalent to a price of 66s. on the foreign corn. Without, however, going through all the slides, it might be enough to say that at 60s. it was, that the duty would fall 11s., bringing the price of the imported corn then (and not till then) to 60s., giving a miserable profit of 1s. per quarter to the importer. This, too, according to the showing of the Government agent. [Lord Stanley—"No, no."] The noble Lord, who denied his having quoted Mr. Meek correctly, would have an op-530,000 quarters; from Dantsic, as portunity of demonstrating his error; 315,000 quarters; and from Stettin, as this, however, he believed, that if he (Mr. 250,000 quarters; further, Mr. Ward) at all understood the Dantsic trade, 40s. would be the price only when there was an absolute stagnation in the corn market there, and whenever there had been a demand for foreign wheat in 485 the English market there had been a rapid rise in the foreign prices, the first indications of a demand creating a rise, and the probability of a bad English crop adding 10s. a quarter in no time. So that, although a few hundred quarters might be bought at 40s., 50,000 or 100,000 quarters would be a demand that speedily would raise the price to 50s. Then there was to be the new scale coming into operation at these increased prices, and adding most grievously to the difficulty of procuring supplies. He was willing to admit, that after the pike of English wheat reached 64s. (the point at which the two leaders of party seemed to come into contact) there was a great improvement in the scale, and that the whole scale was far superior to that now existing. And he was bound, further, honestly to say, that he liked it better than the plan proposed by the noble Lord (J. Russell); for in that speech—in the principle of which he concurred—to every sentiment of which he assented—the noble Lord had allowed himself to be caught in the trap skilfully laid for him by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, from which trap he must leave the noble Lord to extricate himself, seeing that, connecting himself with the sliding scale at a certain point, the noble Lord had placed himself in a position in which he begged to say that he could not accompany him. Now, the Government told the House last night that all the great prices in the Corn-law lottery were "cut down" by the new scale. But the principle of all these sliding scales was that of giving inducements to hold out for the smallest possible duty and create the greatest possible scarcity. Now, he did not think that with a fair trade in corn there would be the slightest reason to apprehend, from any possible combination, that wheat would come within the range of "starvation" prices. The thing of which Gentlemen opposite were most afraid, was, that the price would, under a fixed duty, often render that duty impossible to he maintained. But with a regular admission of foreign corn there would arise so certain a supply that prices would never reach such extreme points. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had said, that the revenue at all events would reap the benefit, under the new scale, of such duties as those of 14s., 16s. and 18s. The right hon. Gentleman, indeed, had not given for this own authority, but 486 that of some corn traders. Against suck conjectures, it was sufficient to state the simple fact, that never, hitherto, except in extraordinary circumstances, had such duties been paid. There had been only a few cases, within the last four years, of these high duties being paid. In 1833, 11. had been paid on 1,144 quarters and no more; in 1834, 19s. was paid on 263 quarters; in 1836, 14s. was paid on 972 quarters. There was another case: in 1837, 28s. was paid on 210,000 quarters. But why was that? Because the market had for some preceding years been stagnated, corn becoming such a drug that it could be had, in fact, at a merely nominal price; and any duty could the speculator afford to pay under such circumstances. But if there had been a regular demand for corn during the interim corn could never have arrived at a price warranting a duty of 28s. The average duty on the 13,500,000 which had of late years been imported into this country—the average duty had been only 5s. 9d. The idea, then, of duties like 14s. or 18s. was purely visionary. Now what, let it be inquired, was the effect of the sliding scale law on the people? On this subject it was impossible not to animadvert on the scandalous levity displayed last night by the hon. Member for Knaresborough. [Order.] He repeated it—the scandalous levity displayed in reference to the situation of the people. There had been the most impressive admissions made by men of the greatest weight as to the extreme distress pervading great portions of the people; by none had that distress been more pathetically represented than by the hon. Seconder of the Address (Mr. Beckett); evidence, too, had been brought forward from Leeds, Glasgow, Paisley, Nottingham, Leicester, and all the great emporiums of our industry, exhibiting the greatest distress. With regard to Sheffield, which had been somewhat better off, perhaps, than other places, perhaps the House would allow him to read a short statement, showing the exertions of the working classes, and their present condition. It appeared that for the last five years, the artisans had subscribed among themselves to a fund for keeping the members of their body off the parish. The edge tool grinders, for instance, had (being in numbers 121 men and seventy-eight boys) subscribed during that period 1,958l. The forgers (310 of them), 4,000l. and up- 487 wards; the sawmakers (254 men, and twelve boys), 2,5391. Without going further into details, he would state, that these poor operatives had, within five years, subscribed actually 29,1661. with the laudable and independent motive of precluding the necessity of parochial relief; but now they found the sources of employment exhausted, and their means of maintenance restricted, they were compelled to retrench their food, to stint themselves in clothes, to deny their children education; and now it was that 3,100 houses were uninhabited in a town where, in 1837 (he could vouch for it), there had not been one unoccupied. Such was the situation of these artisans, after all their honest exertions—such were the privations which the right hon. Baronet himself had stated were endured by them, with the greatest patience; and now their only hope was in the change of the existing laws. It might be mentioned as a strong confirmation of his argument, that the only thing which had in the least ameliorated their condition, was the indirect intercourse by the exchange of corn from America through Canada, by which a valuable trade had been fostered, which would be entirely destroyed, if the Government measure were to pass, and that portion of the bill would, therefore, if it were persisted in, meet his strongest opposition. A great deal of flour had, undoubtedly, come in by Canada, giving rise to a most profitable trade, which would be stopped if the Government carried the 3s. duty on importation of corn from America into that colony. This 3s., too, let it be remembered, was to be a fixed duty. He should like to hear the right hon. Baronet explain why the people of Great Britain were not to have the fixed duty which was vouchsafed to Canada. He did hope that the great landed aristocracy of England would rise above the jealousy—the mean jealousy—of anything like foreign competition, and that the Government would not persevere in the measure. The Government had given no reason for the excessive precautions they took against the introduction of foreign corn except, indeed, this—that the "import of foreign grain must, of course, throw out of the markets, in an equal proportion, home-grown wheat." Now, why "of course?" There was no "of course "in the matter. It was proved that this country could receive 1,000,000 quar- 488 ters annually with advantage; nay, that such an import was often absolutely necessary. The great complaints made were of want of food, and want of work; work could not be procured, because you would not take the food; if the food were taken we should have the work; and out of the simple exchange for the commodity of corn, would grow up together in harmony most salutary the content, the comfort, and the happiness of the people in all countries. It was said, that it was well to be careful in these things, that we had gone too far already, that "over production "was at the bottom of the depression, and the distress. And the right hon. Baronet himself lent the sanction of his authority, not indeed to the sentiments expressed at the close of the debate last night, but to the idea that the depression of trade was to be traced to joint-stock banks and over-production. Now, he firmly believed that the evil was want of power to consume. He was aware of the statements which had been math by the right hon. Baronet as to the growth of manufactures by means of joint-stock companies in 1835 and 1836. But was the right hon. Baronet aware that the rate of increase in the cotton manufactures during those years was less than it had been in the four preceding years? What had in fact been the increase in the cotton manufactures? The hon. Member quoted the following statement:
|Number of Bales Manufactured.
|Increase in four Years.
|Increase per Annum.
|1821 to 1824 inclusive
|3½ per cent.
§ Upon this increase the cotton manufacturers were fairly entitled to reckon, not only from the extension of the foreign trade, but also from the increased consumption reasonably to be anticipated from an increased population. But had this increase gone on? The cotton manufactures consumed at home amounted, in 1838, to 173,000,000lb.; in 1839, to 117,000,0001b.; in 1840, to 175,000,000lb.; and in 1841, to 103,000,000lb. He had taken these figures from Mr. Greg's tables, and, in matters of fact, he placed the greatest confidence in that gentleman's accuracy. In addition to this there was a similar falling off in other manufactures, as wool, &c.: a diminution, then, of 28 per cent. 489 had befallen the home consumption of manufactures generally, and the surplus commodities being sent abroad, because unsaleable at home, had produced the additional depression of our foreign markets, so vaguely ascribed to "over-production." Now, the right hon. Baronet had said it would be madness to dream of retracing our steps, or of trying to check the march of manufacturing improvement; the right hon. Baronet threw overboard, therefore, all who agreed with the hon. Member (Mr. Ferrand) and his solitary cheerer (Lord Ashley), and denied the possibility of any new combination of interests which should enable us to check the progress of machinery. But the right hon. Baronet had no choice, if he repudiated such ideas—he had no choice, but that of enabling industry to open new fields for its exertions and its enterprise, by enlarging our trade abroad. What then did the new scale do towards this? If it could be shown that the measure proposed would introduce beneficial modifications into the existing scale, a different view might be taken; but it was a servile copy of that scale. He was aware that he had spoken of it as an improvement, but it retained the principle of prohibition. The speech of the Premier was good against all modification of the law. The right hon. Baronet knew that it would meet with opposition from all parties. Well, if the right hon. Baronet were so confident in his own opinions, opposed as they were to the feelings of all behind him as of all before him, he congratulated the right hon. Baronet, and trusted the result would justify him. For his own part, he believed that the measure would excite political animosities, and excite inquiries of an invidious nature into the constitution of that House, and the particular interests governing it. There was not a man living who knew the state of public opinion who could for a moment doubt that the flimsy cobwebs under which they sought to screen themselves in that House were seen through by the mass of the intelligent population out of doors. He repeated that they were most clearly seen through, and when the division lists came to be analyzed, it would be evident to the public that not one man gave a vote in favour of this poll-tax who had not an interest in seeing it carried. The existence of such motives could not be concealed, and the effect of their being 490 allowed to operate could not fail to have a demoralizing effect upon the country. The operation of those motives fully explained all that had been passing in that house during the last two years; it explained the late dissolution, it explained the majority possessed by the right hon. Baronet, a majority, however, which he was not likely to keep unless he used it for much better purposes than those to which he had hitherto applied it. That he had up to the present time grossly misapplied it, he believed there was no competent and impartial judge who would be found to deny. His measures had disappointed every reasonable man; nevertheless, he would carry those measures. The right hon. Baronet could at present carry any measures that he thought proper to propose; but, though conscious of that power, the head of her Majesty's Government well knew that there was a power beyond that House. The right hon. Baronet fully understood his position, and there could be no sort of question that he would have given the country a better scale if his supporters had permitted him so to do. The right hon. Baronet had made great sacrifices for the sake of the party of which he had the misfortune to be the leader; he had made sacrifices, and had reluctantly followed those from whom he differed for the sake of maintaining a forced semblance of union which did not exist in reality. He, for the reasons which he had at some length stated, felt bound to condemn the measure of the right hon. Baronet by voting for the motion of the noble Lord, and by supporting the views of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
said, that though he could not imitate the confident tone of the hon. Member who last addressed the House, yet he must be allowed to take the liberty of briefly and frankly stating the opinions which he entertained on the important subject then before the House. His hon. Friend who preceded tile last speaker, had entered into some calculations, which he conceived had settled many doubtful points connected with this subject, but it would seem, from the remarks which the House had just beard, that the whole of these calculations were a mere delusion. It was not necessary, that he should then stop for the purpose of inquiring whether those calculations were right or wrong, he should only, on that 491 topic, make this remark, that if he and his Friends had receded from extreme opinions, hon. Members now on the Opposition side of the House, had distinguished themselves, by a far greater degree of retrogression, and by inconsistencies immeasurably more glaring. For example, the hon. Member for Bolton had last night told the House, that the bread-tax amounted to 50.000,000l. Of course, he knew nothing of the data on which that calculation was founded—he was not adopting it—he was merely stating it as the assertion of the hon. Member for Bolton. But to-night, another hon. Member of the same party told the House, that the tax did not exceed 5,000,000l. Those two Members, supposed to be acting in concert, must reconcile as they best could, this vast discrepancy. As to what the last speaker had said, respecting the speech of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, it was not necessary for any other Member to reply to his observations — the hon. Member for Knaresborough was able to defend himself, and to vindicate the doctrines which he maintained; but if any justification were needed of the speech of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, it was to be found in the language held by the hon. Member for Sheffield. Without, however, detaining the House by any further observations, respecting what had fallen from other Members, he should advert, simply and directly to the question then under consideration. They had heard an attempt just made to bring before them the scale which had been proposed, and prematurely to discuss the merits of that scale. He apprehended, that it would be much better to postpone that part of the subject till they got into committee, than to urge it forward at the present stage of their proceedings. He was aware, that it could not be strictly called irrelevant even then, and he should not at that time feel any objection to go into it, if the House would suffer it to be then decided. Still, he thought it would be very much better to discuss and deal with it in committee. So much for the time and manner of settling the question; but what had the House heard on the subject of the sliding scale? It would not be forgotten, that the hon. Member for Sheffield had told the House, that the noble Lord never meant or intended, that his 8s. duty should be a substitute for the sliding scale proposed by the Government. In making that remark the hon. Member for Sheffield clearly did 492 not treat the noble Lord very kindly; it was impossible to avoid thinking, that the noble Lord did not experience from the hon. Gentleman all the courtesy which he had a right to expect. It was clear, that the noble Lord, in proposing the 8s. duty, did intend one of two things, either really to levy that duty, or to establish a law which it was never intended to carry into execution; but the noble Lord, as often happened on other occasions, left the House very uncertain as to what he did mean. If the noble Lord expected, that the landed interest would place confidence in his views and intentions, he was likely to find himself very much in error; if he thought anything of the sort, he would find himself greatly and essentially mistaken. No doubt, the opinions and doctrines of the noble Lord might be acceptable in some quarters, but the scheme of the noble Lord would never obtain for him the confidence of the class, which he was proud to represent; for when the noble Lord talked of an 8s. duty, there was no man of common sense in the country, who believed, that it would be possible to levy any such duty, or to maintain any restriction proceeding upon such a principle. They had heard some quotations from Mr. Hubbard's pamphlet, but he would bring the question to this short issue—if there could be imposed a clear, positive, and definitive duty, he should call that a far better scheme, than the plan now proposed by the Government. He certainly should consider a simple, positive, and definite duty, far preferable to any other plan, provided it were possible to retain such duty. It was admitted by the noble Lord opposite, that when corn attained to a certain price, they could no longer continue to levy a duty—the duty must be removed—and, therefore, did he say, that he gave his support to the plan of his right hon. Friend. It was said, that twenty years might elapse before corn rose to the price at which it would be impossible to levy the duty. This could hardly be the case; but he admitted, that corn might not attain such a price above once or twice in the course of twenty years, and who could tell at what part of the twenty years, that occurrence might take place? It might be at the very commencement of the period. He, therefore, should feel it his duty to warn the agricultural interest to beware of consenting to any plan having a tendency to place them in such a situation. For his part, he never could accede to any 493 such plan. He would not agree to any measure which did not give full and ample protection to the farming interests—which did not give ample security to their property, and afford them the means of maintaining that position in society, which they had up to this time occupied. [Cheers from the Opposition Benches.] He would repeat what he bad said—ample security for property, and a maintenance of their present position in society—an object to be attained consistently with all the other interests of the country. [Hear, hear !] Some hon. Members appeared to cheer that, as if there was something in what he said which could be thought inconsistent with the well-being of society. Ben. Members opposite now put themselves forward as advocates of classes labouring under present distress, but the, agricultural representatives in that House felt as did the Members returned from manufacturing districts. Some years back, the agriculturists were labouring under difficulties, they craved assistance, but did they do so at the expense of the manufacturers? On the contrary, they relied on the justice of the Legislature. The manufacturers were now in difficulties, and they sought to bring the agriculturists into the same position. Under such circumstances, he saw no reason why the declarations of the agricultural interests should be scoffed at. He saw no reason why they should not meet with the sympathy so readily conceded to others. The agriculturists now wished to give relief to their fellow-countrymen, but they wished, at the same time, to save themselves from the distress of which the manufacturers complained. The hon. Member who spoke last, had said, that there was great distress in the town which he represented, but the House should remember, that the trade of that town was principally carried on with America, and there could be no doubt, that the difficulties on the other side of the Atlantic, had materially contributed to the distress which prevailed at Sheffield. He, of course, earnestly hoped, that that occasion of their difficulties would soon cease, and that sound and amicable commercial relations would soon be established between this country and America. He was sure, that that was the anxious desire of all parties in that House. Some hon. Members appeared to think, that the land suffered under no peculiar burdens. There could not be a greater or more dangerous error. He remembered, not long since, conversing 494 with a farmer, who said, that he thought a free-trade in corn would be a very good thing. Astonished at such an opinion, from such a quarter, he asked the farmer what he meant? "Why," said lie, "it would be very well if before the free-trade commenced, I could sell all my stock and lie by till the effects of the change had passed away, and then commencing on a new system, I should like a free-trade in corn very well." He then pointed out to the farmer the impossibility of all agriculturists being able to manage in that way. "Then," said the farmer, "I think we had better remain as we are." It was well known, that at present wheat could be grown on poor land; if there were no protection to British corn, what would become of the farmers and labourers now occupied on the poorer lands? They could not engage in manufactures, and they must necessarily starve—they, themselves, and their families. If there was one part of the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield more objectionable than another, it was his peroration—it was that part in which he accused the agriculturists of being actuated by motives of private interest. No accusation could be more unjust. He certainly very much esteemed the good opinion of his constituents, much more than he did any advantages which office could confer, but he valued the public good much above either. If he desired the advantage of the British farmer, he desired also the good of the British manufacturer; and in saying that, he felt that he enjoyed the full concurrence of those with whom he generally acted. Did hon. Gentlemen opposite mean to contend that the subject should be considered simply and exclusively with reference to those classes which were employed in manufactures? Were those engaged in agricultural pursuits, and dependent upon agriculture, whether more or less, to be forgotten? He had not any hesitation in declaring, that such a view of the question would be most partial, because, and it could not be denied, people of every description were more or less dependent upon the prosperity of the agricultural interests of this country, and those who were positively so, far outnumbered those engaged in manufactures. He could not help saying, that those who partially and vehemently argued this question, as if the manufacturers were the whole people of England, and as if they ought to carry everything before them, proceeded in a 495 manner which was most unjust, both to the subject and to the people generally. The hon. Member for Bolton had spoken of the distressed state of the manufacturing classes, and it would appear that some of the accounts, though the state of distress was bad enough, represented it to be worse than it really was. Allusions had been made also to the opinions of Mr. Huskisson, and if the House would permit him, he would just read the sentiments of that great statesman, which were, he was happy to say, upon his side of the question. Mr. Huskisson, in 1814, said, respecting the dependence which this country ought to have upon foreign ports, and he did not Bee why Mr. Huskisson's opinion in 1814 should not be as good authority at that date as at any other upon abstract questions of this kind, as upon any other question:—Let the bread we eat be the produce of corn grown among ourselves, and, for one, I care not how cheap it is—the cheaper the better. It is cheap now, and I rejoice at it, because it is altogether owing to a sufficiency of corn of our own growth. But, in order to insure a continuance of that cheapness and that sufficiency, we must insure to our own growers that protection against foreign import, which has produced these blessings, and by which alone they can be permanently maintained. The history of the country for the last 170 years clearly proves, on the one hand, that cheapness produced by foreign import is the sure forerunner of scarcity; and, on the other, that a steady home supply is the only safe foundation of steady and moderate prices.He had still another authority to quote, that of a late Member of that House, who took great interest in this question—the hon. Member for Birmingham. After arguing that a free importation of corn would produce a proportionate reduction in wages, he said, in one of his letters "upon Corn and Currency,"—Then, you will say, only take off the Corn-laws, and the labourer is relieved; but, remember, that the trade of the country is two-thirds borne trade, and the removal of the Corn-laws would reduce the prices of the home trade more than the advantage gained by the artisan in the reduction in the price of corn; that the present amount of taxes, rates, and tithes, would have to be paid out of seriously reduced means, and that a further reduction must be calculated upon our reduction of export prices. Thus we might gain a little advantage upon our export trade, which was one-third of our whole trade, and lose greatly upon our home trade, leaving a very poor chance for the improvement of the condition of the unfortunate artisan.496 It was his earnest hope that the decision of the House would be in support of the view which he had now taken of this question, and it was his anxious desire to discharge his duties in such a way as that the interests, not of one class, but of all classes, should be fairly and justly considered and attended to. He would conclude then by declaring his determination to adhere to the opinions he had expressed, and by expressing his confidence that the proposition of her Majesty's Government would be carried by a large majority of that House.
§ Dr. Bowring
rose, amidst some cries for Mr. Labouchere, who rose at the same moment, and begged to say one single word by way of "personal explanation." When the hon. Members had heard him out, he thought they would admit that he was entitled to ask this favour. It was quite true that whets he spoke of the condition of Bolton, reading a document which had been put into his hand, he had stated out of fifty mills there, no less than thirty were unemployed. He had come down to the House, and explained the matter, and he could appeal to the Chair as to the incorrectness of the fact, that he stated that the document had been incorrectly copied, but that part was left out, and that on referring to the original document from which the copy was taken, it appeared that the expression was "thirty mills were working short time." He came spontaneously down to the House, and did everything that depended upon him to correct the error.
§ Mr. Labouchere
next rose, and commenced by expressing his regret, that this discussion should take up so much time, but, notwithstanding that feeling of regret, he could not content himself with giving a silent vote upon so important a question. He might be well content to let the motion of his noble Friend rest upon the grounds upon which he had urged the House to receive and adopt it, and upon the arguments of others on the same side of the House who had supported it, if indeed be did not feel and know well how little be might hope to add any variety or force to the arguments which had been already offered to the judgement of the House. But, having lately occupied an official station under the Crown, connected with the commercial interests of the country, he could hardly reconcile it to his sense of duty to those interests, nor to express his opinions, however briefly, upon 497 so important a question. He assured the House, however, that in soliciting from it that patience and indulgence which could alone enable him to express the views he entertained, he would endeavour to repay the favour by rendering his observations as terse and brief as the nature of the subject would permit. He had listened attentively to the speech of the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down. He had long known the right hon. Baronet in that House as one of the most unflinching advocates of high protection to the agricultural interests; and he must say, that the speech which the right hon. Baronet had that night delivered as a Minister of the Crown, was in no degree at variance with the opinions which he had heard from him on previous occasions, when he spoke only as a county Member. He rejoiced, that the right hon. Baronet had at last given to the House what he thought it had previously greatly wanted; namely, a clear definition of what was the object and principle of the ministerial proposition. The right hon. Baronet was perfectly plain and explicit upon that subject. He told the House, that the object of the proposed bill was to keep up the value of the estates of the landed interest, and to preserve to that interest its station in society ["Hear, hear," from the Ministerial benches, responded to by loud cheers from the Opposition.] And lest there should be any mistake upon the point, any misapprehension as to what be really intended to say, the right hon. Baronet repeated his words twice over. It was acknowledged, indeed, by the cheers of the Gentlemen around him, that the right hon. Baronet's words conveyed a fair exposition of their own views upon the point. Now he conceived, that the first object of a Corn Bill was of a totally different nature. He conceived that the object which the House of Commons—representing all the various classes of the community of this great empire—should have in view in passing a corn bill, was to arrange the subject upon such a basis as should be for the advantage of the whole community. Not certainly, excluding the interests of that which he admitted to be a valuable and important part of the community—the proprietors of the soil; but still that the first, main paramount object of the Legislature should be that which he held to be incalculably greater than the mere interest of the landowners—he meant the interest of the great majority of the people, consisting as that majority did, of the 498 labouring and middle classes. That he held to be the first and legitimate object of a Corn Bill; and he had the satisfaction of remembering that in that view of the question he was supported by the high authority of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir It. Peel). He lamented to remark, however, that he thought the principles expressed by the right hon. Baronet in that and other parts of his speech were very widely different from the practical measure which he had proposed to the House. But he had the satisfaction to agree with the right hon. Baronet that in arranging this question it would be unbecoming and disgraceful in the Legislature to say, that the first or chief object should be to keep up the rental of the landed aristocracy, or to promote exclusively the interests of any one class of the community. He should be as sorry as any man to see the ruin or embarrassment of the landed proprietors of the country; but, at the same time, he must repeat that what he mainly looked to in the adjustment of a question which involved the bread of the people was the interest of the community at large. The right hon. Baronet in introducing the subject to the House, justly denominated it "a question of awful importance." In truth to a country such as England, or, indeed, to any country, the laws which regulated the price of its food, must be a matter of the deepest importance. There were, however, many considerations why, in a country where the state of society was so highly artificial as it was at this moment in England, the laws affecting the supply of corn should be regarded as of peculiar importance. Before be proceeded to any other part of this subject, he would take the liberty of very shortly calling the attention of the House to the state in which this country actually stood, and to the prospects of the country, with regard to the supply of corn. The right hon. Baronet admitted, that it was true that in some years England was obliged to import large quantities of food to supply the wants of its population; but "in favourable seasons," said he, "we grow enough for our own consumption." Now, the question for the House to consider was this—not whether the home growth was sufficient in one year and insufficient in the next, but whether upon an average of years, it was equal to the supply of our own people. If it were true that it was in bad years only that we wanted a supply of foreign corn, and that 499 in good years we had more than enough, and were capable of becoming an exporting country, he could understand much of the reasoning which the right hon. Baronet bad advanced upon this subject; but he thought that the reverse of that fact would be easily demonstrable. He did not apprehend that there would be any difficulty in proving that, upon an average of years, there was a deficiency in the supply of home-grown corn, and that the importation of foreign corn, necessary to supply that deficiency, was annually increasing to a very great extent. He would very shortly refer to figures to put the House in possession of the actual state of the country with regard to the supply of corn. He held in his hand a return of the annual average importation of foreign and colonial wheat into this country, in each consecutive period of ten years, from 1760 to 1840. From that return it appeared, that the annual average importation was, from]
|1761 to 1770
|1771 to 1780
|1781 to 1790
|1791 to 1800
|1801 to 1810
|1811 to 1820
|1821 to 1830
|1831 to 1840
§ Thus, if it were allowable to argue for the future upon the experience of the past, it was perfectly manifest, that, notwithstanding the great increase in the productive power of agriculture, the wants of the population of this country had outstripped the means of supply. Therefore, in dealing with the Corn-laws, the House was bound to remember that the question could only be rightly considered by regarding this country as one in which a large and annually increasing importation of corn was necessary to the supply of its population. He found from the date furnished in the return from which he had just quoted, that if our wants increased in the same ratio during the next ten years that they had done during the last ten years, we should require, in 1850, a foreign supply of no less than 20,500,000 quarters, being rather more than an average of 2,000,000 quarters annually. There was another point connected with this subject to which, as it had not been much adverted to, and as it had really an important bearing upon the question, he should take the liberty of calling the attention of the House; he meant the present state and 500 prospects of the corn trade between Ireland and this country. He knew that there were Gentlemen who conceived that Ireland was an inexhaustible granary, from which the wants of England might be supplied. That, however, was far from being the case. If Gentlemen would only look to what actually took place, as related to the import of Irish corn into this country, they would find this remarkable fact, that up to 1833, he was speaking of the import of wheat only, up to 1833 the supply from Ireland was steadily and considerably increasing. In that year it reached the highest amount ever attained. According to a return which he held in his hand, it appeared that since that period, the quantity of wheat and wheat flour imported into Great Britain, from Ireland, stood thus:—
If the stimulus of high prices in England could have induced a greater supply from Ireland, it certainly would have been derived during the last two years; but it would be seen from the figures he had just quoted, that notwithstanding the great enhancement of price in the English market, the Irish supply had been less than at any previous period. He was happy to say, that he believed this was owing, not to any distress in Ireland, but, on the contrary, to causes closely connected with the prosperity of that country. The truth was, first, that Ireland now consumed more wheat than she was formerly wont to do — a fact which clearly told for the argument he was using—and next, that since the facilities afforded by steam-boat communication between the two countries had been established, it was found to be more profitable to the Irish: agriculturist, to direct his attention to the extension of grazing and the rearing of cattle, rather than to the cultivation of grain. These he believed to be the true causes of the diminution of the supply of wheat from Ireland; but, however that might be, no one, he apprehended, could doubt the fact, that for the future it would be vain to look to Ireland for such a supply
of corn as the land hitherto afforded, It was under this state of things, at a period of acknowledged distress, that the right hon. Baronet, the first Minister of the crown, came forward and announced to the House, and to the country, that, in his opinion, the Corn-laws ought to be altered. He perfectly agreed with what he had frequently heard from the right hon. Baronet upon the subject, namely, that the law upon a matter of this kind, affecting the food of the people, ought not to be altered except upon grave reasons. But if reasons so grave as to call for an alteration of the law occurred, then it became of immense importance, that the alteration should be so far satisfactory to the country, as to give a reasonable chance of its enduring for some time. He had examined, as well as he was able, the new scheme propounded by the right hon. Baronet; and he would begin his comments upon it, by pointing out those parts of it which he conceived to be good. He was sorry to say, that this part of his task would be despatched in a few words. He admitted to the right hon. Baronet, that there was a great deal of apparent amendment, and some practical amendment, in the substitution of a sliding for a jumping scale. He thought that the evils of the jumping scale bad been too clearly demonstrated to need a word of condemnation from him. He also believed that, under the plan proposed by the right hon. Baronet, it was probable that the protection given to agriculture would produce something more of money to the revenue than was derived under the existing system. In these respects he thought the plan an improvement; but, he must say, that the more he looked into the subject the more he doubted whether, in point of relief to those interests which considered themselves aggrieved by the present law, and upon whose account it was deemed necessary to interfere with the existing system—in point of relief to those interests, the more he looked into the subject, the more he doubted the efficacy of the plan proposed by the right hon. Baronet to afford a practical benefit. He did not believe that it would afford to the great interests now enduring so much privation and distress any benefit worth mentioning. Before he said anything about the scale suggested by the right hon. Baronet, there was one very important preliminary part of the subject to which he begged to direct the attention of the House, more especially as he did
not recollect to have heard it adverted to in the discussion which had already taken place. When the right hon. Baronet's figures were looked at and compared with the figures of the old scale, there was undoubtedly a very considerable diminution; but before the House felt assured that the new scale was quite what it appeared to be, it was absolutely necessary to take into consideration some attendant circumstances which were of a very important nature. The right hon. Baronet proposed to do several things at the same time that he introduced the new scale. The right hon. Baronet proposed to alter the system of taking the averages, by adding no less than 156 towns to the 150 from which the averages were now taken. He proposed, further, to take the task of making the returns, upon which the averages were founded, out of the hands of the corn inspector, whose business it had hitherto been to prepare them, and to transfer that duty to the officers of Excise. Of course, a great deal must depend upon the effect of this alteration. It was difficult to speak very confidently of what that effect would be, but he had been at some pains to ascertain the opinions of practical and experienced men upon it. First of all, it was to be observed that the 156 towns which it was proposed to add to the 150 from which the returns were now made, were chiefly small agricultural towns, bearing no comparison, in point of population and wealth, to the towns with which they were to be united. Now, it must be obvious, that the effect of this—persons might differ as to the extent of it—but it was obvious that the effect of this change must be in some degree to affect the averages—in some degree to lower the amount of the advertised averages. The right hon. Baronet also proposed that the returns should be made by the excise officers. It was an undoubted fact, that the returns as at present made were prepared in a very careless and inaccurate manner. He was told that in the small agricultural towns it frequently happened that the returning officer did not very narrowly watch all the sales that were made, and that his returns in consequence were very far from being correct. Could it be doubted, then, that if these returns for the future, through the agency of excise officers, were made in a more perfect and stringent manner, that the effect of the alteration would be to affect the general averages? He was not saying that these proposed alterations would not
be improvements, but what he contended was this, that however much they might improve the machinery by which the averages were to be struck, it was necessary to take into calculation the probable bearing and effect which they would have upon the averages themselves. The right hon. Baronet declared, that in adding the 156 towns to the 150 towns from which the returns were now made, and in placing the duty of making the returns in the hands of the excise officers instead of the corn inspectors, he had no intention of indirectly affecting the averages. Now, he was assured that it was the opinion of practical and experienced men, that the effect of these alterations, together with the effect of other alterations to which he (Mr. Labouchere) would presently advert, would be to cause a decided reduction in the advertised averages of no less than 5s. a quarter. He saw a smile of incredulity playing upon the countenance of the right hon. Baronet. He was quite sure that the right hon. Baronet intended that the new machinery which he proposed should have no indirect effect upon the averages, but when he heard the arguments upon which the right hon. Baronet supported his opinions, he owned he could not help doubting the accuracy of the conclusions at which the right hon. Baronet arrived. The right hon. Baronet stated, that he had examined into the alleged frauds in the London averages, and that, as far as he could make out, the difference between the prices returned in London and the general average price throughout the rest of the country was only very slight. He did not think, that upon reference to the documents which were on the Table of the House, that statement of the right lion. Baronet could be borne out. On the contrary, he thought it was clear, from a paper to which he should presently more particularly refer, that even in the very last year the London speculators, by means of fictitious sales, had managed to make a difference of no less than 4s. a quarter in the London average, as compared with the averages of the rest of the country. Of the fictitious nature of a portion of the London sales, the quantity reported to be sold afforded a sufficient proof. In the six weeks, ending in August, 1839, there were sold in London 21,634 quarters. In the corresponding period of 1840 it was reported in the returns that 89,000 quarters were sold. In the former period the difference between the average price of London, and that of all the other
markets of England and Wales varied from 2s. to 2s. 9d.; in the latter period it varied from 6s. 8d. to 8s. 6d. The effect upon the duty on wheat was a reduction from 6s. 8d. to 2s. 8d. He thought, therefore, that if the right hon. Baronet succeeded in putting a stop to these frauds, and if he made his scale more stringent by the admission of 156 additional towns, and by the employment of excise officers instead of corn inspectors—although these might be great improvements in themselves—yet the right hon. Baronet ought not to be startled when he was told that, in the opinion of practical and experienced men, the effect of these alterations in the existing system would be to produce a reduction in the advertised averages of at least 5s. a quarter. If that were true, the same derangements would take place under the proposed as under the old system. Now, one of the evils most complained of in the sliding scale was the evil of the great fluctuations in price which it had caused. In former debates he had heard the fact denied; but lie did not think that, on the present occasion, any gentleman had denied that great fluctuations had been caused by the working of the present system. It was no answer to say, that in other parts of the world the fluctuations had been greater. Looking to the great commercial trade which this country carried on with every quarter of the globe, he had no hesitation in saying that, under a sound system of Corn-laws in this country, would be found, he would not say the lowest prices, but certainly the steadiest prices. That was an advantage which this country could not afford to throw away, any more than she could the other advantages which Providence had bestowed upon it. The right hon. Baronet opposite had quoted the price of rye in Prussia as a proof that in other countries the food of the people was subjected to greater, or at all events to as great fluctuations as it was in this country. He wondered that it had not occurred to the right hon. Baronet that those fluctuations in the price of rye in Prussia had been caused by the operation of the Corn-law in this country. The food of the people of Prussia consisted principally of rye, but it also consisted in wheat; and was it not obvious, that the moment this country began drawing her supply of wheat from Prussia, a great rise in the price of it would take place. The consequence was, that wheat became scarce, and the people were compelled to resort to
rye, which of course also rose in price. The argument, therefore, of the right hon. Baronet on this point was very feeble. The right hon. Baronet also said, that he felt confident that the alteration which he proposed to make in the scale, would prevent the great fluctuations that had hitherto taken place; because, said he, the more gradual scale applied to barley, beans, and oats had produced less fluctuation in the price of those articles than the present scale had done in the price of wheat. He was surprised to hear the right hon. Baronet compare two things which did not admit of comparison. Wheat was the food of the people, and there was always a demand for it; but such was not the case with barley, beans, and oats. It was therefore impossible to compare them with wheat. He could not make out how the new scale proposed by the Government, could in any way materially remove or mitigate those evils which sad experience proved to attach to the present system. The right hon. Baronet laid great stress on the falling off in the American market; and he said, that the reason for his proposing an alteration in the Corn-laws was, that the field to which this country could go for a supply of food might not be limited. But did the right hon. Baronet really believe, that his scheme would enable this country to deal with America for wheat any more than the present scale did? It was an utter delusion to suppose that it would. His noble Friend, the Member for Liverpool, shook his head, and appeared to hold a different opinion. He was surprised to perceive his noble Friend offer such a contradiction, for he held in his hand a document of far more value than any thing he could say on this part of the subject. It was a petition presented by the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool, from a body of merchants engaged in the American trade, and the House, he thought, would agree with him as to the value of the testimony of these Gentlemen. The petitioners stated, that the trade in flour and wheat with the United States laboured under great disadvantages in consequence of the working of the sliding scale, and that they were in this respect only nominally on the same footing as the most favoured nations. The petitioners went on to say, that a moderate fixed duty would materially benefit the trade between the two countries. They alluded to the extension of the exports of the domestic manufactures of the United
States, which had greatly increased within the last few years, and this they attributed to the restrictive policy that now existed. They stated, that the whole question of the tariff would soon be discussed by Congress, and they expressed a fear that unless this country relaxed in the present system, retaliatory measures would be adopted. These were the sentiments of a great body of gentlemen in Liverpool engaged in the American trade, and highly as he valued the opinion of the noble Lord, he confessed that on a question of this kind he was inclined to defer to the opinion of the petitioners. The right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, had made use of an argument which, lie confessed, he had heard with great surprise—he meant his allusion to the state of our commerce with Russia, and to the threat of Russia to establish a new tariff more hostile to British manufactures than that which now existed. The right hon. Gentleman had used this as an argument in favour of a sliding scale, but he should have come to a very different conclusion; he should say, that if it were true, and he believed it to be true—that if Russia, mainly owing to our own restrictive policy, was about to issue retaliatory measures against us, that this was a strong reason to induce this country to take care before they adopted a system of Corn-laws, the effect of which would be to limit the Corn-trade with those countries. He said, that they ought to take great heed before doing this, for their care should be to adopt some system which should include in a corn trade every quarter of the world. The sure way of being independent of any particular country for a supply of wheat was to have commercial intercourse with all. That was their only security. If it be true what had been stated by the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, that here. after they must expect their trade with the Baltic to suffer a diminution—if this be true, could they do anything more pernicious than to legislate on the principle of a sliding scale, unfavourable to a trade with those parts, and especially unfavourable to more distant countries, such as the United States of America? These considerations, and others which had been advanced from that side of the House, had convinced him that any Corn-law founded on the principle of a sliding-scale would be ruinous to the commercial interests of the country. It seemed a strange thing that one law should be thought applicable to all
other commodities, and another law to corn alone. Those who advocated the sliding-scale inverted the ordinary principles of taxation, and it rested with them to prove to the House and to the country the advantages of such a system. The common principle was to proportion the duty to the value of the commodity, but by the sliding scale there was a high duty on wheat when the article itself was low, and a low duty when the article was high. The result of this was, of course, to make the trade a dangerous and a speculative one to those who embarked in it. Allusion had been made to certain parties who approved of the present state of things. No doubt, they would always find merchants of a very speculative turn. No doubt, many of these ingenious and active men had made large sums under the old law, and no doubt they expected to make large sums under the new law also. He believed, that the plan proposed would offer as wide a field for speculation as the scheme for which it was intended as a substitute, but he did not believe that prudent men would embark more under the new, than they had done under the old scheme. The effect of the law in this particular had been so clearly stated by Mr. Hubbard, that he would read to the House an extract from that gentleman's pamphlet. It was as follows:—
Within my own knowledge, an individual upon some importations of wheat realized a profit of 100 per cent (the slide had reached its lowest point, just as the wheat arrived); at another period, wheat which he had ordered in time of scarcity arrived only when the slide bad risen to a prohibitory duty; it remained many years in granary, and he lost 50 per cent. He gave up the trade, for he was one of those old fashioned merchants who prefer safety and moderate profits, to the enormous gains, or ruinous losses, of a speculative trade. Were there no other objection to the sliding scale this ought to suffice, that it forces those engaged in the corn-trade to encounter risks equal to those of gambling; and the agriculturist cannot justly ask to be protected by means which operate so injuriously upon another class of his countrymen.
It would appear that Mr. Hubbard differed from the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Kent, as to the object of the Corn-law. There was another point to which he would briefly refer—he meant the effect it had on the shipping interest of the country. The importance of this interest was admitted by all, and he begged to call their attention to the effect which the
Corn-law or any similar law had on the shipping interest. The effect of it was to throw the carrying trade with corn into the hands of foreigners. At this moment the trade in corn between this country and Prussia, the most important of all corn trades, was carried on three-fourths in Prussian vessels, and one-fourth in English. In consequence of the gambling nature of the trade, and the hurried way in which the demand was occasioned, it was found impossible to have recourse to British ships for carrying it on. On this part of the subject he found most valuable testimony in the papers which Government had lately laid on the Table of the House. He held in his hand the communication made by a most competent witness, Mr. Macgregor, the consular agent at Elsinore. To that gentleman this country was deeply indebted for the manner in which he had conducted his regard to the Sound dues, and which he had, by his intelligence and ability, brought to a satisfactory result. This is what that gentleman, in answer to Mr. Meek, says is the effect of the sliding scale on the shipping interest:—
If the trade in corn was made constantly open in England, the natural consequences would be, that the British merchant would again become the principal agent for the regular supply of his own country with corn directly from the place of growth, and British shipping would be employed to a much greater extent in the carriage of grain than it is at present. The English Corn-laws have a general tendency to disturb the ordinary course of trade, and, as regards this country (Denmark), in particular, they have had the effect, first, to make this Government persevere in its system of high duties upon British manufactures, and secondly, to throw the trade of Denmark into the hands of the Hanse Towns, which now almost exclusively supply her with colonial produce and manufactures, and receive the surplus of her corn in return, to meet foreign orders in their own market. Ham-burgh, in particular, thus becomes more and more the centre of trade between the states of the German Custom-house union and the northern countries, and it is a positive fact, that the Danish corn market is no longer at Copenhagen, but at Hamburgh.
Among the many other advantages which would result to this country from a corn trade established on sound principles, he believed that London would be greatly benefited thereby, inasmuch as it would become a great &pelt for the supply of corn to all other parts of the kingdom; and he need not say how much employment this
would give to the various branches of trade. It was not true, as had been said, that the question to be decided was, whether a sliding scale or a fixed duty should be adopted. The question which they were called on to decide was, whether they would adopt a principle which experience had proved to be unsound and faulty, or one which would not be liable to the evils flowing from the present system. He did not say this for the purpose of concealing his own opinion, for when he had the honour to serve the Crown he heartily joined in the proposal calculated to advance the interests of the nation, and which he believed was founded on a principle not inconsistent with the commercial prosperity of the country. He did not seek to conceal from the House, that in giving his vote against the motion of the right hon. Baronet opposite, he did not do so with any intention of throwing the trade in corn entirely open. It had been said that the arguments used against a sliding scale told equally against a fixed duty, but he begged the House to recollect that they had tried the one, and they had seen how it had worked; it had been abandoned even by those who were once its most strenuous supporters. Before he came to deal with the objections that had been urged against a fixed duty, he wished to say a few words in reference to the authorities quoted during the debate on this question. M'Culloch and Ricardo had been quoted as advocates of a fixed duty, while, on the other hand, they had been told that Mr. Huskisson was a decided opponent of a fixed duty, and various passages had been adduced from his speeches to this effect. He had watched the conduct of that eminent man, he knew the progressive character of his mind, and he felt how much more valuable were the opinions of his latter than those of his earlier years. That statesman had been quoted as an advocate for the present system of Corn-law or for something like it; but on the last occasion on which Mr. Huskisson addressed the House on the subject, he spoke in the following terms:—
It was his unalterable conviction that we could not uphold the Corn-laws now in existence, together with the taxation, and increase the national prosperity or preserve public contentment.
He might be told that though this might be an emphatic condemnation of the present Corn-law, it did not follow
that Mr. Huskisson would not have supported the plan proposed by the present Government; but, he asked, could any man who had heard the sentiments of Mr. Huskisson believe that that statesman, after condemning the present law, would have been prepared to support one containing such slight modifications as that proposed by government? He did not pretend to say, that he claimed Mr. Huskisson as an advocate of an absolute fixed duty. He did not wish to press the argument further than it would fairly go. But Mr. Huskisson totally condemned the principle of the Corn-law now in being, and was certainly an advocate for a very great alteration of the present system; and if he were not an advocate of, he very closely approximated in opinion to the principle of a fixed duty. But having quoted the authority of a great statesman whom they had no longer amongst them, he would now quote the opinion of one who fortunately was still able to assist in and adorn their deliberations. He (Mr. Labouchere) was not generally fond of bandying personal attacks across the Table, but there were some occasions on which it was difficult for flesh and blood to withstand it. The noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, in the course of last year made a memorable speech to his constituents at Lancaster. He, on reading the report of that speech, could not help asking himself whether it was the same Mr. Stanley whom he recollected in earlier days, by whose side be had the honour of sitting in the year 1828, and to the expression of whose opinions he had listened when the Corn-laws were the subject of discussion at that period? Although he was prompted to ask the question, he was afraid there was no doubt of the identity. In 1828, when the present Corn-law was passed Mr. Stanley took part in the debate, and said, he had yet to learn the reasons which induced—[Lord Stanley made an observation which induced Mr. Labouchere to say, "Shall I read the whole?"]—Mr. Stanley, then, on that occasion, said that
He was certainly inclined to the opinion of those who abstractedly supported a fixed permanent duty, but feeling that it was impracticable to carry such a measure, he felt that the next best plan would be, to adopt such a scale of duties as would keep the price of corn as low as possible, at the same time giving to the agriculturists a fair profit.
[Cheers from the Ministers.] He was at a loss what those cheers could imply.
What the noble Lord on that occasion, in effect, said was this; that he preferred a fixed duty to a sliding scale, and that the only reason he did not then support a fixed duty was, that he was afraid there did not exist the means of carrying his opinion into effect. But, now, circumstances had altered.
Turne, quod optanti divum promittere nemo Auderet, volvenda dies en attulit ultro!
He really should not despair, if the noble Lord would join his efforts to theirs in defeating the measure of the right hon. Baronet who now sat near the noble Lord, and if the House were to come to a conclusion not to give protection to agriculture in the shape of a sliding scale, he would not despair—aided by the noble Lord and those whom he could influence—of carrying the proposition for a fixed duty, or, if considered better, a proposition for no protection at all. Would the noble Lord, joined by those very numerous troops whom he could bring over with him, side with them, he would be enabled to carry that principle which, in 1828, he was only decided against because he had not the means of practically carrying it out. But they were told that, however fair the proposition of a fixed duty might appear to be in theory, and that however strong might be the objections that might be urged against a sliding scale—however much a fixed duty might be in consonance with the ordinary principles that were applicable to commerce—yet there were grave objections of a peculiar kind which counterbalanced all that might be said in favour of it. He would very shortly allude to those objections. He believed that they might be resolved into two main propositions. The first was, that in a time of plenty, a fixed duty would be ruinous to the agriculturist. He believed the answer to this objection was, that in a season of plenty, the agriculturist would find a compensation in the quantity of his produce for the diminished price of that produce. That, he believed, would be the natural compensation under those circumstances. But the other objection was one upon which much greater stress was laid. It was asserted, that in a time of scarcity, it would be grievous to the consumer, and that it would not be possible to maintain the duty at all. He believed, that this objection was equally unfounded. He did not think, except in circumstances of the very rarest occurrence, that there would be any difficulty
in maintaining a fixed duty, nor did he believe such a duty would operate grievously or injuriously. It appeared to him as clear—clear as any demonstration could make it—that if under all common circumstances, they had a fixed duty, and they were called upon to abandon that duty, in consequence of high prices, the only effect of the abandonment of it would be to make a present of the duty, either wholly, or almost wholly, to the corn-holders and speculators, without the consumers deriving the smallest benefit. He had that confidence in the good sense of the commercial intellect of this country, that when this came to be understood, there would not be that clamour for the abandonment of a fixed duty, which many appeared to apprehend. His noble Friend near him (Lord John Russell) alluded to this part of the question in his speech, and hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to think, that they had a very great triumph in consequence of what fell from his noble Friend on that subject; but he (Mr. Labouchere) was perfectly prepared to take the same view of the question, as his noble Friend had done. He quite agreed with his noble Friend, as a matter of compromise, if it was found, that those fears really were the only reasons which prevented a majority of that House from adopting a fixed duty, and if some means could be devised by which that duty might in seasons of extreme high prices, be made to vanish, that it would be worth while to purchase so important an improvement in the law by making that compromise. But he had no hesitation in saying, that if such a concession were not made for obtaining a great good, it would, in every other sense, be not a good, but almost an unqualified evil. Hon. Gentlemen might say, that if it were allowed, it was possible, that circumstances might occur, in which it might be necessary to relax a fixed duty in cases of high prices, then they ought to make some provision for that case. It was quite possible, that circumstances might occur, when it would be desirable to discourage the importation of foreign grain into this country but his opinion was, that this power of relaxation of the law might be fairly left to the discretion of the executive Government, acting upon its own responsibility under a state of things which was so unlikely to occur. He was not advancing any new or unconstitutional doctrine in saying this. The executive of this country had frequently, in various
periods of its history, been empowered to make special provisions under special circumstances. ft had been done recently in two cases, with regard to the article of sugar. Upon all questions of trade, when a duty operated prejudicially to the public weal, the maxim "Salus populi suprema lex," must prevail. The executive must set aside the law, and trust to Parliament for their justification. The more he considered the subject, the more confirmed he was in the conviction, that the Legislature might, with perfect safety, adopt a fixed duty, and that if the executive discharged its obligations as it ought, to do, namely, not insist upon exacting that duty when prices were high, it might, under such circumstances of rare and occasional occurrence as could alone arise, be left to the executive to relax the law without any special provision. He did not wish to detain the House at any greater length. He would say, that however important he might consider the question of the Corn-laws to be at any time, there was one circumstance which made the consideration of those laws peculiarly important on the present occasion. The right hon. Baronet had announced to the House and the country—agreeing in that respect with the late Government—that he was not bringing the question of the Corn-laws forward as an isolated measure, but that he was prepared to follow it up with a general revision of the tariff, with a view to see whether the protection hitherto given to certain branches of trade ought not to be relaxed with due regard to the general prosperity and welfare of the country. He always felt that the adjustment of the Corn-laws, if not a preliminary measure, was an absolute concomitant of any measure of revision of the British tariff. He always felt that no revision could be made that should affect the great colonial interests, and the home interests—the mining interests, for instance, with any justice—he had almost said with any decency—unless they at the same time applied a similar principle of revision to the greater landed interests. He confessed that the measure of the right hon. Baronet excited in his mind this fear—either that the other measures which he proposed to bring forward in connection with it would be of the same unsatisfactory nature as that which was now lying on the Table, or that, having dealt timidly with the great question of the Corn-laws, he would go so fully into the reform of the other portions of our
commercial system which he proposed to revise, that it would be thought that his different conduct in those cases was mainly attributable to the superior power of other considerations, rather than to the desire of doing justice to all. He certainly did not mean to add—if anything that fell from so humble a source could add—to the irritation which prevailed throughout the country in reference to this subject He saw now in progress that which he had always considered to be most dangerous to this country—he meant Englishmen arrayed against each other, not on the old grounds of party attachments, which, when kept within due bounds, he regarded as perfectly consistent with a healthy and satisfactory state of the country, but arrayed, he really believed, in a contest of classes. There was nothing he so much deprecated as such a result. He could say, as a Member of the late Government, that there was nothing that they had so much at heart as by a fair and reasonable compromise to stay the progress of these feelings; and he would say now, that if the right hon. Baronet, coming forward there as the first Minister of the Crown, had proposed a series of measures which he had thought were calculated to effect that great object, no trifling differences of opinions, still more no mean or party objects, should have prevented him from giving his perfect support to those measures. To give such support under such circumstances he held to be one of the greatest, one of the most patriotic duties of a statesman. As for the plan itself, he had little doubt that it would become the law of the land, and he heartily hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be justified in the result, and that his proposition would work well for the protection of the agricultural, the commercial, and the manufacturing interests of the country; but he must say, that with the experience of the past, he could not fairly expect it. He felt that he had already trespassed too much on the indulgence of the House, and he sincerely thanked them for the attention with which they had listened to him. He should give his sincere support to the proposition of the noble lord.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
wished to say one word in explanation, which was rendered necessary by a remark that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. He had said not one single word as to the object of the measure of the Government being 515 the raising of rents or the maintaining of the value of land. No such words had ever fallen from his lips.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, always spoke in such a manner, that in proportion as it was agreeable to listen to him so it was disadvantageous to follow him; and he certainly should not have followed hint if it had not been for some expressions which he let fall, and which were of such a kind, that to use the right hon. Gentleman's own expression, flesh and blood could not resist the temptation of following and replying to them. He must first, however, observe, that though his respect was profound for the rules of the House, and for the clearness and equity with which those rules were expounded by the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, yet the exceedingly strict adherence to forms did sometimes occasion serious deviations from the rules of common sense. The course they were then following well illustrated this. A great number of hon. Members on the opposite side of the House were decidedly of opinion that no protection to agriculture ought to be permitted; that the trade in corn ought to be wholly free, and, in fact, that any protection was unreasonable, and ought to be withdrawn. But what was the House then discussing? On the proposition of the noble Lord, the question was not whether there should be any protection; that was assumed and conceded by the noble Lord; and what was to be the kind of protection that they were to grant was the real question they were then discussing. Such was the effect of too strict an adherence to these forms. He should proceed to address himself, in the first place, to one of the closing topics of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, that there was something threatening in the present aspect of affairs, and that discussions had been opened throughout the country which he thought had something dangerous in them. But would the right hon. Gentleman allow him to ask who was responsible for opening these discussions, causing this threatening aspect of affairs? When the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, had, in June last, come down to the House and announced to the people of this country that the time had arrived when the existing Corn-laws ought to be revised, and when, having failed within the walls 516 of Parliament, they made their appeal to the people by a dissolution, he asked was it possible that this question should not be agitated from one end of the country to the other—was it possible, that to use the words of the noble Lord, the very foundations of society should not be shaken by the agitation thus produced? And though the right hon. Gentleman had said that the late Government were ready and desirous to stay the progress of this array of class against class by means of a fair and reasonable compromise, that he absolutely denied could be predicated of the proposition of the late Government, while it was the precise definition of that which had been tendered by his right hon. Friend near him. The right hon. Gentleman had asked what was the real nature of the proposition of her Majesty's Government, and he had inferred from something that had fallen from the right hon. Paymaster of the Forces, that the proposition was a partial one, and that it was intended to operate in favour of some particular class. Now the fact was, that his right hon. Friend, in bringing forward the proposition, had distinctly announced that he and his Colleagues would not have been parties to the plan, had they not been distinctly of opinion that it would be a benefit to all. So the matter stood on the statement of his right hon. Friend, and so it stood on the disclaimer and explanation of the right hon. Paymaster of the Forces. With respect to the remarks that had been made by the right hon. Gentleman on a passage in a speech of his noble Friend, the Secretary for the Colonies, delivered in 1828, he would adopt then the view which his noble Friend took in 1828, and he would reproduce the present measure of the Government, as giving the lowest amount of duty which her Majesty's Ministers considered to be consistent with an adequate protection to the native industry of this country. The noble Lord who had proposed the resolution on the Table asserting the propriety of adopting a fixed duty, and who always was fond of using an antithesis—and no one used an antithesis more neatly—had said of the proposition of his right hon. Friend, that it conceded, but did not conciliate; that it disturbed, but did not settle. Now, he asked, could he more adequately describe the fixed duty which the noble Lord proposed? He saw the hon. Member for Sheffield opposite. He knew not whether 517 the hon. Member had been present at a meeting at Leeds, on the subject of the Corn-laws, which was held about a year ago, but he believed that on one of the banners displayed at that meeting there was an inscription that a fixed duty was a fixed injustice to the people. So much for "conceding without conciliating." Now, with regard to "disturbing, but failing to settle," how far would the fixed duty of the noble Lord bear that test? He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, was present in his place, but if he was not, he was quite sure that he should accurately quote an expression which that right hon. Gentleman used lately as applied to an8s. fixed duty. The right hon. Gentleman thought the 8s. fixed duty was desirable on the principle of instalment. He said, "Give us the 8s. duty to begin with, and I tell you that six months after its enactment we shall get rid of it altogether." So much for disturbing, but failing to settle. But with the experience which he had had during recent years, he really must say that he was decidedly of opinion, that in the times in which they lived, "finality," as it was termed, as a principle to be applied to legislation for the people of this country, was a phantom. He had himself been a fellow-student in the finality school together with the noble Lord opposite. That noble Lord and he, had had, he thought, some experience with reference to bringing forward large measures, larger, perhaps, somewhat, than strict right might, in the opinion of those affected by them, have rendered either prudent or necessary; and yet these measures had been made large, in the hope that their finality would be established, and that the concession thus made would stay further demands. But he profiting by his experience, had endeavoured faithfully to fulfil the purpose for which those measures had been brought forward. Having declared for their finality, he had endeavoured to give effect to them. He had not been one of those who, having declared for the finality of those measures, had been the first to promote further progress—that course he had firmly and constantly resisted; but having taken that course, and having, as he had said, profited by his experience, he for one would never again be a party to recommending for the adoption of the Legislature any measure in the nature of a con- 518 cession larger than he should think either prudent or just, in the vain expectation that by going beyond those bounds of prudence and justice, he should succeed in establishing such a measure as a piece of final legislation. Now, therefore, in looking at this question he should not support any proposition for the adjustment of the Corn-laws with any view to what is called a final settlement of them; he certainly should not do so as willing to disturb, in the hope possibly of being able to settle—he would not concede, in the hope to be able to conciliate; but, looking at the great interests of this country that were involved in the question now under discussion, throwing all consideration of finality aside, and all idea of possible conciliation, and indeed every other minor consideration, he would be disposed to tender this settlement on the present occasion as that which he considered due to the consumer on the one hand, and as what he believed necessary to the maintenance of the real interests and safety of the producer on the other. The noble Lord had enunciated with great perspicuity some first principles as to trade in general. The noble Lord, in the first instance, laid it down as a general principle that trade ought to be perfectly free, and that protection was the exception, and not the rule. The noble Lord had made that enunciation of principles with his usual ability; but he had on record, on part of the noble Lord, a doctrine laid down with decidedly greater precision than any speech in that House would allow. He found in a work of the noble Lord, published many years ago, that doctrine laid down with great consistency and accuracy, and he must say that, as it was given there, it appeared to him to be the right doctrine. He alluded to the noble Lord's work, Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe since the peace of Utrecht.' In that work the noble Lord laid it down thus:—The first rule on the subject of trade is to allow a general freedom of commerce, but to this rule there must be an exception made.(Here it was clear what the noble Lord had in view.)When the protection of the manufacture of a particular article is necessary to the strength and greatness of the country, economical reasons must then give way to political, and some wealth must be sacrificed to security 519 and independence. Or where a particular branch has been very much favoured by law, and a protection has been given, then it must be taken away very gradually."("Hear.")What! a cheer from the hon. Member for Sheffield, and from the bon. Member for Kendal! He had thought those Gentlemen, though they agreed with the noble Lord to-night on his fixed duty, were free traders—he thought those hon. Members were for a total repeal of the Corn-laws. How were those cheers which he had just heard consistent with those views. But to conclude the quotation from the noble Lord:—That protection must be taken away very gradually, lest the people should suddenly be reduced to famine and starvation.But the noble Lord had not been satisfied with laying down the principle to which he (Sir J. Graham) had referred. He had thought it not beneath him to indulge in somewhat of a sneer at what he called, "that inimitable invention," the sliding scale, and yet the noble Lord had himself paid a just tribute to that "great invention." Had not the noble Lord himself also paid some tributes to the principle of the sliding scale? He had had the honour of serving with the noble Lord in the Cabinet of Earl Grey; and, if he was not mistaken, he had had the advantage of voting with the noble Lord in 1833 and 1834, when that inimitable invention the sliding scale was supported by the government of Earl Grey. But now the noble Lord, sitting near the noble Lord the Member for London, told them that there was something slippery in the character of the sliding scale. Now, had not the fixed duty of the noble Lord something of the principle of lubricity about it? Had not it, also, something of the character of slipperiness about it? In the month of June last Her Majesty's then Government had been as distinctly pledged as any Government could be by their statement in Parliament, that an 8s. duty was brought forward with a view not of disturbing but of settling. In that month, therefore, the measure was considered by the noble Lord and his colleagues as one that would take its stand and have a permanent operation. But both the noble Lord and those who acted with him had, in the course of the discussion during these two evenings, endeavoured to glide away from the 8s. duty. They were, no longer, it appeared, for a duty of 8s. The duty was now to 520 be made dependent upon the amount of separate charge upon the land which the landed interest might be able to prove was borne by the land more than by other interests. The hon. Baronet, the Member for the Tower Hamlets—and yet he supposed he (Sir J. Graham) must be mistaken, for he thought he heard the noble Lord distinctly mention 8s. as the amount of duty, but the hon. Baronet disclaimed altogether stopping there; he seemed to think the noble Lord had almost been guilty of an indiscretion in (as he thought) naming the 8s. as the amount of fixed duty—the hon. Baronet thought the noble Lord's colleagues were by no means bound to the 8s. duty—that they had, in fact, slipped away from that proposition of the 8s. duty, and substituted for it such an amount of duty as he, on hearing the proof which the landed interest might be able to give of the burdens pressing upon them, might think an equitable one. So much for the stability of the fixed duty. But, then, as to the duration of it. He had understood on a former occasion that the system of averages was to be preserved, in order that there might be a remission of the duty when the price rose above a certain amount. When the noble Lord first announced his adoption of the theory of a fixed duty, he at the same time also declared that he was in favour of the maintenance of the system of averages, for the purpose of remitting the duty when prices rose to a certain amount. But last night the noble Lord, though he was not quite distinct as to the point on which the duty would be altered, yet could not be mistaken as having declared that up to 73s. or 74s. he would maintain the fixed, never mitigated, unvaried, fixed duty. After that the duty was to fall to ls. Whatever could be said with regard to the disadvantage of the graduated scale, with a sudden fall in duty, coincident with a sudden rise in price, all those arguments applied à fortiori to the proposition last night made by the noble Lord; and upon this point he had been very much struck by the view taken by Mr. Hubbard. He had read that gentleman's pamphlet with great attention, and to a certain extent it had carried conviction to his judgment. He had discussed this question with his right hon Friend near him, and the remark he had made was, that the fixed duty might be satisfactory until the price of corn 521 came up to a certain price; and that then any alteration of the duty would be fatal to the success of the scheme, because it was clear that the supply of corn being defective in this country, foreign corn must be introduced, and it was clear that no foreign corn would be brought into the home market until the given point when the 8s. duty was to cease had been attained. The argument was so neatly put by Mr. Hubbard, that with the permission of the House he would quote it. He said:To establish a fixed duty, with its reduction made contingent upon the averages reaching a certain price, or even to allow the expectation of such a reduction as an act of the ministry, would be to foster the grasping spirit which would then hold out for that price, as surely as it has hitherto held for the crowning price of 73s. In the present year, even Sir Robert Peel's hypothesis might have been realized; and had an 8s. duty been decreed in May last, the price might have risen to 90s. in September or October. But why would it have risen? Not because in July and August there was not an abundance of foreign corn in our warehouses; not because it could not be profitably sold at the prices then existing; but because, relying on the opinion which Sir Robert Peel has again and again expressed, 'That when prices rose, a fixed duty could not be maintained,' the holders would have driven up the price by keeping back their corn (they would have created the scarcity by which they were to profit), and when an Order in Council' had kindly remitted them the duty, they would have exacted the utmost which the people would give rather than starve. It would require no combination to effect this, the certain benefit of the result would induce unanimity, nor could those interested be blamed for their accordant action: the blame would attach to the system which invited and rewarded it.That was a conclusive argument against either of the plans proposed. The right hon. Gentleman, who had just sat down had said, salus populi suprema lex; but a dispensive power should be exercised over the law itself in dealing with this question on their own responsibility. He was satisfied that whoever would look to the past debates on the subject of the Corn-laws would find, however great might have been the difference of opinion on other subjects, that on that of the Corn-laws the uniform opinion was, that the executive Government ought not to be armed with such a power; that it would be dangerous in the extreme, arid leave them open to the suspicion on the 522 One hand of having too long delayed the exercise of it, and on the other of having exercised it too soon. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, referred with considerable boldness to the disputed authority of Mr. Huskisson on this subject, and quoted a passage in one of his speeches which touched on the subject, and which, as far as it went, certainly threw some doubt over the principle of protection itself—of any protection being afforded to the growth of home-grown corn. But he would call the attention of the House to what he conceived must be taken in connexion with a circumstance of that kind—namely, that Mr. Huskisson referred to the preference he was disposed to give to the original proposal of Mr. Canning in 1827, as contradistinguished from his proposal of 1828. He would read to the House the opinion expressed by Mr. Huskisson when this question came directly under discussion for the last time, and when Mr. Huskisson was a responsible Minister of the Crown. On the 22d of April, 1828, Mr. Huskisson, not indirectly, but directly, dealt with this question of a fixed duty in these words:An hon. Gentleman opposite had spoken in favour of a fixed duty. Abstractedly that might look well enough; but, when they regarded the circumstances of the country and the wants of the people, they would see the impossibility of adopting such a principle. If a high permanent duty were imposed, then, in periods of scarcity, the poor would be exposed to sufferings and miseries, the infliction of which no claims for protection on the part of the home corn-grower could ever justify. For the advantages, then, which the grower foregoes when corn is high, by the admission of foreign grain, he receives compensation by the imposition of a high rate of duties when corn is at a low price. He receives, in fact, only that remuneration to which he is justly entitled. When legislating upon this subject, they were bound to look to the different and varying circumstances of the country, and to the wants and necessities of its inhabitants. A permanent fixed duty was, therefore out of the question.Now, could any Gentleman say after that, that a doubt ought to exist as to the opinion of Mr. Huskisson upon the principle of a fixed duty, as distinguished from that of the sliding scale? A fixed duty was here absolutely pronounced by him to be impossible. The hon. Member for Sheffield had asked what would be the effect of the measure proposed by her 523 Majesty's Government on the price of wheat? To answer that question, he thought it necessary, in the first instance, to come to an understanding as to what in common years might be the price at which foreign wheat could be landed in bond, and all charges paid in the British market. If that point were settled, or put upon anything like a fixed foundation, the explanation of the precise working of the proposed scale would not be very difficult. He would not rely on this occasion exclusively upon the information supplied by Mr. Meek, but would take the evidence of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton. Striking out from his column of prices of the article of wheat in foreign markets two of the items—namely, the prices at Rotterdam and Antwerp, which were almost nominal prices, which were higher than those of any other ports of Europe, and which could not fairly be included, as England was not supplied from those places; if any hon. Gentleman would strike out those two prices, both of which were 55s., he would find that the average price of wheat on board was somewhere about 36s. He (Sir J. Graham) would assume, communibus annis, that the price on board was 40s. On account of the trade in ports at great distances being but slight, while the cost of conveyance was great, if, as he proposed, they struck out Palermo and Odessa, they would find, that instead of the average cost of conveyance being 4s. 6d,, it would be reduced to between 3s. 6d. and 4s. He assumed, therefore, that the cost of transportation, communibus annis, was 4s. That added to the average price of corn on board brought it into bond in the English market at 40s., and if the price at home was 58s. a quarter, the duty under the proposed plan would be but 14s., thus showing that foreign wheat could come fully into competition with home produce as soon as its price rises to 56s. It appeared from Mr. Layton Cooke's pamphlet that the present scale, whatever might be the intention of the legislature, protected the English farmer up to 56s. per quarter. If they reduced the prohibitory point of the present law from 65s. to 56s. when foreign wheat would compete with the home grower, this was, as he conceived, a great reduction made to the consumer, but one to which he believed the consumer was fairly entitled. For, notwithstanding all that had been said against the existing 524 Corn-law, he did contend that, under the shelter and protection of that law, the grower of home corn bad, by the expenditure of capital, and by the use of artificial manure and various other appliances, so improved the productive power that a considerably lower price than when the late Corn-law was framed was now a remunerating price. He had shown that the point where protection began was considerably lower under the proposed law; this was in favour of the consumer, but he thought it was a reduction which could be made without the slightest danger to the home grower. Now, the hon. Gentleman himself who had just sat down had made a most important admission, clearly showing that this would be the case. He said "there were some advantages in this scale, and among others it would yield a larger revenue to the state." If it yielded a larger revenue to the State it necessarily must bring a larger amount of foreign corn into the market, and at a time when it was most wanted. The natural effect also of the present law was to hold out expectations to the holders of corn, that by continuing to hold it they would get it admitted at a low duty. By the new scale there would be a larger introduction of foreign corn, but it would be introduced gradually at the varying scale of duties, and not as at present at the lowest duty. But this very system, which had been so much condemned, had been very severely tried in the last three or four years. We had had three or four consecutively defective harvests. In the three or four antecedent years, so far from being dependent on other countries for our supply of corn, from 1832 to 1837 this country had produced as much corn as the inhabitants consumed. The evidence of the last four years showed considerable deficiency in the harvests, and much corn had been required, and notwithstanding all the advantages of the 1s. duty for the admission of foreign corn, the high prices which led to the ls. duty had been of short duration. The public had had the advantage of the admission of large quantities of corn at a nominal duty, and during the last three years the quantity introduced had averaged about 2,250,000 quarters annually, the price of which in bond had averaged 43s. In the report made by Mr. Huskisson on this subject, he had spoken highly of the bonding system. He (Sir J. Graham) could conceive no greater ad- 525 vantage than that of having great quantities of foreign corn waiting the necessities of this country. Mr. Huskisson had anticipated that advantage, and said thatHaving warehouses filled with foreign corn in this country has this great advantage —it places the supply of our wants out of the reach of foreign states, putting it out of their power, in seasons of scarcity, to aggravate those wants by prohibiting the exportation of Corn.That which Mr. Huskisson clearly descried the present system of the Corn-laws practically effected; and he (Sir J. Graham) did contend that the warehouses of foreign corn in bond, ready to be brought into the market for home consumption (whatever might be the loss to individuals), had all the advantage of public granaries to this country at the cost of individuals. But a great deal was said about the gambling nature of the corn trade. He had yet to learn why if a speculation were unfortunate, it was to be termed a gambling transaction, but if fortunate, was to be said to be a mark of great prudence and foresight; the speculation was the same in its nature, whether successful or unsuccessful. He did not perceive any unwillingness in the parties to engage in speculations on account of their gambling character. They had heard nothing of the dangerous character of the opium trade with China from hon. Gentlemen opposite, although he confessed that he entertained strong opinions on the subject; but when the subject was adverted to, allusions were made to the great profits attendant on the trade, and which also was attended with losses, and something more than losses; but still there were advocates for the trade, and very strong advocates of it, amongst Gentlemen opposite. He was satisfied that, under the proposed change of the Corn-laws, the country would obtain the largest possible supply of corn, at the most regular rates, and at the smallest loss to the consumer. The perpetual fear that existed under the graduated scale that foreign corn would be introduced, kept the grower of the home market in check, and compelled him to bring his supply to market before he incurred the risk of the continental corn coming in. On the other hand, there was the perpetual hope of introducing foreign corn at a profit which operates on the foreign corn factor, to induce him at all times to import corn 526 largely, and wait the turn of the British market, and that led to all the advantages of granaries for the public. He would now glance at the evils of a fixed duty. In years of abundance it was asked what became of the good of their demand on the continent, and if they failed to exclude foreign corn, what became of their protection? This was in years of abundance; but let them try it in years of scarcity. If the Government levied the duty, what became of their cheap bread? If they failed to levy it, what became of their protection? In short, he should say, with a high duty it must be a prohibition, except in dear seasons, and then the steadiness of their trade was destroyed. Then, when the price was lowest, and the necessity of protection to the home grower was the greatest, their protection failed, the greatest injury was done to the British agriculturist, and from that the greatest confusion in their home markets followed. His right hon. Friend the Paymaster of the Forces had been somewhat taunted, as if he had drawn some distinction between the agricultural class and the rest of the community. He might ask, though not invidiously, whether the majority of the whole community was not directly interested in the culture of the soil. His belief was, that the great numerical majority of the population of the United Kingdom was directly or indirectly deeply interested in the cultivation of the land. But, even if it were not so, still he contended that no great infliction could take place affecting the prosperity of the landed interest in all its ramifications which should not be fatal to the home market of the manufacturers. When they had formerly discussed this question, they had always been used to have the test applied of the exports and trade of the country. Hon. Members who wished to show the bad effects of the Corn-laws, showed deficiency of exports. It was very difficult to argue this question. He (Sir J. Graham) had argued it in 1833, when prices were low. The hon. Gentleman had told them. "All your apprehensions with respect to a change in the Corn-laws are absurd; if you consent to a change, your present prices will be raised, and the general effect of free-trade in corn will be to raise prices." Now, it was their misfortune to argue this question when, from deficient harvests, prices were high, and they were told, that "if there were a revision of the Corn-laws, 527 cheap bread would be the certain consequence." That was not the only inconsistency. The test used to be the falling off of the exports. Now, indeed, the value of the home market was discovered. It was not contended that the exports had fallen off; for the returns showed that they were increasing. The noble Lord had quoted Adam Smith as an authority in support of the views which he entertained with respect to the Corn-laws. Perhaps he might be permitted to call to the recollection of the noble Lord the testimony which his own authority, Adam Smith, bore to the value of the home market for the produce of manufactured articles, and how strongly that writer dwelt upon the importance of the trade which was carried on between town and country. When this was taken into consideration, it was of the greatest consequence that the House should use the utmost caution in taking any step which could affect so important a branch of the industry of the country. When there was a deficiency in the home market for the consumption of manufactures, care should be taken not to interfere with the resources of those who were described by Adam Smith as a country's best customers. He felt that he was called upon to apologize to the House for attempting at that hour to enter upon details, yet he felt it his duty to point out as briefly as he could some circumstances which the hon. Member for Knaresborough had been blamed for adverting to on the previous evening—he meant the effect which the extensive application of machinery had worked in superseding manual labour. He had in his hand a report with respect to this point which had only that day been laid upon the Table of the House, and the matters detailed in it were founded upon no questionable authority. It was the report of Mr. Horner, the inspector of the wo011en, cotton, silk, and flax mills in the county of Lancaster, and the West Riding of Yorkshire; and there were certain facts contained in that report to which he wished particularly to call the attention of the House. In the first place, the report stated, that in the county of Lancaster, that there were 1,541 mills employed in those four branches of manufacture. The greater number of these worked eighty-seven per cent of work, seventy-two of the mills worked full time, sixteen worked various amounts of time, and of the whole number of the whole of 528 the mills engaged in the four branches of trade, which he had specified, there were only thirteen not employed. Then, with respect to the quantity of work done by these mills, the report went on to show, that the increase in machinery had effected an enormous increase in the production. With respect to cotton, Mr. Homer stated, that the quantity of cotton worked up in this country, in 1837, was 36,000,000lb.; in 1838, 41,000,0001b.; in 1839, 38,000,00011).; in 1840, 45,000,000lb.; in 1841, 43,000,000lb. The quantity of cotton consumed at the close of the war was less than the excess that had taken place in the consumption of 1841 over 1837. He repeated, that during the last four years, the increase had been greater in amount than the quantity of cotton before 1814. He did not mean to say, that the increase of the manufacturing produce and the distress which prevailed throughout the country, stood to each other in the relation of cause and effect, but he pointed out the fact that an enormous increase in the single article of cotton had taken place within the last four years under the operation of the existing Corn-laws, which were alleged to be so fatal to the industry of the country. It should be remembered, too, that these four years were years of severe trial, arising out of deficient harvests, which no foresight could guard against, and which no human power could avert. It might be said, that the manufacturers had not carried on their works at a profit, but this did not appear to him to be the case. The hon. Member for Leicester seemed to dissent, and appeared to hint that these were old mills; but it appeared that, since 1839, there had been an increase of ninety-one mills. These mills possessed machinery of 3,581 horse power, and gave employment to 16,050 persons. He understood, also, that the old mills were being worked; but he wished to have some explanation from the opposite side as to the decline of our trade within the last few years, when it appeared that since 1839, not less than ninety-one new mills had been erected, of 3,581 horse power. But was nothing to be said with respect to the increase of power in the old mills? He found it stated in this report of Mr. Horner, that inducements were held out to the proprietors of the old mills to adopt machinery of greater power. It was stated 529 that in one mill the drawing frames had been improved to such an extent, that for every two drawing frames which occupied six persons each in 1839, a single drawing frame had been substituted which employed two persons to work it. It appeared, then, that in this one mill only, the power of machinery had been increased six-fold; the result, therefore, was, that for every six persons employed in it a few years ago only one was employed now. To what extent, then, has manual labour been superseded by machinery? The same authority dwells, in another part of his report, on the extent to which this has been carried. He states that in one mill at Manchester, a few years ago, there were eight mules, each having 328 spindles; but the length of the mules had since been doubled, each having 658 spindles, and by this change in the machinery one-half the labour formerly employed had been superseded. It was stated also, in a paper appended to this report, the amount to which wages had been reduced. This return was taken from the wages book of one of the largest mills at Manchester. The first return stated that on the 12th of January, 1837, the number of persons employed in the mill was 487, and the amount of wages they received in the course of the week was 350l., and that they worked up 2,313lbs. of cotton; that in the week ending the 14th of January, 1841, the same mill, with the same proprietor, and under the same management, and carrying on similar work, employed 354 persons, who received only 2271. wages; and that instead of working up 2,3131bs. of cotton, they used 2,7591hs. There was 103l. less per week paid for wages of workmen, whilst there was a slight increase in the quantity of the article produced. He was not one of those who contended that the ultimate effect of improvements in machinery was not conducive to the benefits of the working classes; but the first effect was to displace manual labour, and to substitute female and infantile for adult labour, and such displacements did at first inflict hardships upon the working classes. He would now support this measure, in the first place, because it abandoned a high scale of protection; in the next place, because he thought it would diminish greatly the frauds in the averages, by the only mode in which they could certainly be diminished; by diminishing the temptation; in the 530 next place, because it would give a degree of certainty to the speculation in corn, by fixing a maximum duty, the absence of which was a great defect in the present scale; and because it would enable the holders of foreign corn to bring it to market before the shipping duty had reached its highest point. He thought that this was a great concession to the wants and the wishes of the parties who had most complained of the existing law, whilst it, at the same time, afforded such an adequate protection as would enable the home-grower to proceed in that course which he deemed most salutary and most conducive to the national wealth—to proceed step by step in the improvement of the land under cultivation, so that in any future time, notwithstanding the large increase of population, he might be enabled to offer an increased supply of home-grown corn without requiring an increased price. He thought that, in all these respects, it was infinitely preferable to a fixed duty, which, indeed, he held to be absolutely dangerous.
§ Debate adjourned.