§ Order for Committee read.
§ Class 5 of Annual Finance Accounts (presented 23rd March), and Account of Monies in the Exchequer (presented 4th July), referred.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. HERRIES
then said, he should not have interrupted the current of observations on the subject before the House, if he had not believed it was decidedly the 745 general wish to discontinue a discussion which had already been more protracted than, perhaps, was necessary. Having said thus much, and as he was upon his legs, he proposed now to submit for the consideration of the House a Motion which he deemed to be of the greatest importance that could at the present time come under their notice. The subject was, undoubtedly, of very great importance; and although he felt he could not do it justice with such abilities as he possessed, he yet hoped, with the attention and indulgence of the House, to proceed to lay the subject before them; and, in doing so, he promised to compress into as short space as possible the observations he had to make. He said it would seem from his Motion that the subject he was about to lay before them was of a purely financial character. He said it was his intention to keep out of the statements which he might make, and the arguments by which be sought to support them, all consideration of a question which might appear to be mixed up with this subject—he meant the question of free trade. There were two motives which induced him to address the House on this subject. The first of these motives was derived from the statement of the finances of the country which was recently submitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It certainly was not by any means very flattering at the best—very far from it; and he confessed that the more he looked at it, the more was he satisfied, with every disposition to do no more than justice, that I the right hon. Gentleman had taken a more favourable view of the financial state of the country than he ought to have done. If that was the case, and if it was true that he endeavoured to exhibit the best side of the picture, and that, at best, such was the state of the finances, that they could only hope, by the right hon. Gentleman's own admission, to squeeze through the year upon which they had entered, they were necessarily led to consider whether there was yet any additional source of income remaining, and to avail themselves of that source. He said he was not going to enter upon a critical examination of the right hon. Gentleman's budget statement; for if that had ever been his intention, he thought it ought to have been done at an earlier period. But allow him to say, that the accounts submitted to the House since that statement was made, had not exhibited a more favourable view of the public expenditure than those laid on the table 746 before; they rather tended in the other direction. When he looked to the year ending the 5th of July, 1849, when he looked at the income and expenditure of the country, and when he considered on what the hopes of the right hon. Gentleman rested, he must say, although himself one of the most sanguine as to the finances of this country, that the probable deficiency of the income, as compared with the expenditure, would be greater than the right hon. Gentleman seemed to expect. He said, to illustrate his meaning, he should point, for instance, to the first item in the Revenue Account—the Customs. Under that head, he found, for the year 1848, the sum of 19,883,000l., and for 1849, 20,827,000l., giving an apparent increase of 1,000,000l.—an amount which would have been taken as indicating a prosperous state of the finances. But when he came to deduct from both sides of the account the amounts which for several items were received in both years, the case was different. A comparison of the amounts received for duty on corn during both years, showed not an increase but a diminution. He was very far from pretending to prophesy evil from this day forward; but he did not see that there was any room for the exultation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Again, taking the Excise, he found there was a falling-off in that last year, as compared with the former. When the right hon. Gentleman estimated what would be the probable amount of the Excise next year, he accounted for the difference between this and the last year on the ground that the hop duties were postponed, and also the malt duties. But whatever arrears might have been due on the 5th of July, 1849, let him say, with respect to the hop duties, that these were not merely postponed, but that with such a season as they had had, there was nothing like the amount for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer took credit that would be received. He confessed his belief that the difficult position in which the right hon. Gentleman found himself, was not likely to be improved as the season advanced. but, on the contrary, he thought it was likely his difficulties would be increased and complicated. Under these circumstances it was that he approached the subject which be was more especially desirous of introducing—the question of a fixed duty on corn, whereby an addition might be made to the public income of the country, without imposing 747 any additional burden upon the people. This, he said, was more peculiarly a favourable time for this question. We had suddenly ceased to have a duty, and corn was imported free. In the course of the debates upon the corn laws, it had been repeatedly argued that a moderate duty would enhance the price to the consumer; and the noble Lord at the head of the Government must have been of that opinion; for in 1841, in his character, quâ protectionist, he proposed a duty of 10s., especially because it would keep up the price of corn to between 50s. and 60s. The noble Lord made that proposition for the purpose of doing justice to the landed interest, the argument then being that a moderate fixed duty would enhance the price. It happened, however, that there was the evidence of facts of a remarkable nature to the contrary. In January and February, 1848, there was no duty upon the importation of corn; whilst in March and the subsequent months there was a duty of 7s. and 8s.; but he found that the imports in January and February did not vary to any material extent from the imports of the four subsequent months. For example, the imports in January were 82,000 qrs.; in February, 97,000 qrs.; whilst in March, they were 84,000 qrs.; in April, 116,000 qrs.; in May, 121,000 qrs.; and in June, 112,000. Nor was there any material variation of price, comparing the months when there was no duty, with the rest of the year. For instance, the average price in January was 50s., and in February, 50s. 2d.; whilst in March, when the duty was 7s., the price was 50s. 9d.; in April, 50s. 5d.; May, 50s. 3d.; June, 49s.; July, 47s. 7d.; August, 48s. 7d.; September, 50s. 11d.; October, 54s. 2d.; November, 51s.; and December, 51s. 9d. And in January, 1849, the last month in which there was any duty—for on the 1st February it fell to 1s.—the price dropped to 48s. 2d. There was then a duty in January of 9s., and in February, of 1s. From that time the price had scarcely varied, being, in January, 48s. 2d.; in February, 45s. 5d.; in March, 46s. 1d.; in April, 44s. 11d.; in in May, 44s. 9d. During this period there had been an equal importation, and nothing to vary the price; so that the duty had not affected the interests of the consumer so far as concerned the price. Such were the conclusions of experience, and he ventured to say, they had opened new lights, of which advantage ought to be 748 taken. He wished to argue this question without introducing the subject of free trade. He wished to argue it not as a protectionist, but as a plain straightforward reasoner. He hoped to be met in the same spirit, in order that it might be ascertained whether it were true or not that a moderate duty upon the importation of corn could be levied without altering the price. This was the question; and the facts, as he contended, supported his view of the case. It happened, too, that theory justified and supported the facts. Between the price at which corn could be produced in a foreign country and brought to this, there existed, and would always exist, a considerable difference. It was not necessary for his argument that he should make any assumption of a price at which it could be grown and brought to this country; but if he took it at 32s., there would be still room, after payment of duty, for a profit. If there was such a margin that a fixed duty could be paid, and a profit still remain sufficient to draw the corn to this country, the effect would be produced which was produced every day under our own eyes. He might be told that many persons had lost by importing corn. That might be so; but the question was, what arrangements they had made with the producer? It was in the nature of things that the producer in foreign countries would endeavour to adjust his prices to those which could be obtained in this country, and that he would not allow British speculators to take all the profits. We knew from experience that a singular fact had occurred in confirmation of this view. When in March, 1848, the duty of 7s. took effect, there occurred a corresponding diminution in the demand of the foreign producer of the price at which he would sell at Dantzic and other places. In other words, there was a fall in price at the place of production corresponding with the additional charge or duty imposed in this country. This was a fact of great importance, and one that should be well considered in any opposite view that might be taken of the subject. It led him to consider the effect of the imposition of a fixed duty for revenue only upon the importation of corn. The only effect a fixed duty could produce, he apprehended, would be a diminished price. Supposing the price to rise greatly in this country, the more easily would the importer support and pay the fixed duty; and the question was, if prices descended so low as to be below the price at which it could be pro- 749 duced abroad and imported hither, paying all charges, it could pay a fixed duty without deterring importation. Ought this to deter us from the adoption of such a mode of raising revenue at the expense of foreign countries, and only at the expense of part of their produce? He admitted, that if prices went down 8s. or 10s. below their present amount, the effect of a fixed duty would be to repress importation. Whatever duty was imposed, 8s., 6s., or 5s., whenever prices hero came pretty nearly those of Franco and Belgium, undoubtedly no importation could be expected; but all other countries of a cheaper character would still come to us, even with a fixed duty. He wished then to impress this fact upon the Government—that if we could derive from the importation of corn, of which we always required some, an accession to the public income, perfectly free from all inconvenience to the consumer, not laying the weight of a feather upon any, but taken only from the profits of the foreigner sending the corn, or of the importer taking advantage of his means of getting it, it was their duty to adopt it. Even if it were only 100,000l they ought to consider it; but the truth was, it would amount to millions. What right had we to cast away unnecessarily the smallest amount, especially of that which came from the pocket of the foreigner? Reckoning the profits of the foreigner or the importer to be 25 per cent, why not take 10 per cent for the public treasury? A handsome profit would still remain; and he contended, that in the present state of the Exchequer it was an object of no small importance to give relief, if it were only to one interest now suffering from taxation, by placing the burden where it ought to be—upon the foreigner. To illustrate this he would remind the House that in January, 1849, there were imported 754,386 quarters of grain of all sorts, and 695,283 cwt. of meal and flour of all sorts. A 10s. duty upon wheat, and corresponding duties upon the other articles, would, he calculated, have produced no less than 530,000l. or 540,000l. In the succeeding four months—February, March, April, and May—the imports were very considerable. Of grain of all sorts they were 3,294,456 quarters; and of meal and flour of all sorts they were 1,414,330 cwts. If the duty which existed in January, 1849, had continued through the succeeding months of February, March, April, and May, there would have been derived from them a revenue of 1,700,000l. At 750 the average duty of the last four months it would have produced 750,000l.; but the actual receipt had been, at the 1s. duty, about 210,000l.; so that in those four months there had been lost to the country about 540,000l., or at the rate of 1,500,000l. This 540,000l. might have gone into the Exchequer, without the slightest effect upon the British consumer. He was not about to recommend any particular duty, but if he assumed it at 5s. for wheat, and 2s. for all other grain, he believed the produce would have been 750,000l., being 540,000l. more than had actually been received from the 1s. duty. The more he considered this subject, the more deeply was he impressed with the conviction that a great benefit might be derived from a fixed duty upon the importation of foreign corn, and that without pressing upon the consumer. It was hardly necessary for him to point out the enormous sums we had paid for foreign corn in the last two years. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that since 1847 the cost had been nearly 30,0000,000l. In 1848 it was about 12,000,000l., and about the same sum in the first five months of 1849, taking the average price at 45s. Now if there were a profit to that extent, it was clear that the advantage was not obtained by the consumer. He found that France had sent corn to this country last year, when the price was 45s. and the duty 10s., which was a proof that oven a duty of that comparatively large amount still left the French corn-merchant a profit which he thought it worth while to realise. The result to which he arrived was, that last year three millions of English money, and in the first five months of the present year three millions more, had gone as profit, to be divided between the foreign grower and the importer. He did not mean that the foreign grower and the importer were to have no profit; but what he submitted was that the profit which they now derived left a sufficient margin to allow ample remuneration to both the grower and the importer, and at the same time to leave a considerable balance that might be brought into the Exchequer of this country; and his belief was that the Government and the House would neglect the interests of the country if they did not take advantage of the circumstance to increase their revenue. They ought not to forget the distress which prevailed in this country, and which could not be relieved in consequence of the low state 751 of the Exchequer. When the hop growers went with his noble Colleague to ask for relief, they were told that the state of the revenue could not allow it to be given. When this subject was understood by the country, he was satisfied that the Government would not be allowed to persevere in their present policy. What were their objections to this most obvious mode of mending their financial condition? Their first objection was, that it was a tax on food. That was, no doubt a popular cry, but it was easy to detect its fallacy. They did not hesitate to put a tax on tea, on sugar, on coffee, on malt, all of which were equally articles of food. But the question was this, was not the present arrangement a tax on the English people for the benefit of the foreigner? It did not infringe in any way on the principles of free trade; for they all admitted that taxes laid on for the purposes of revenue did not interfere with those principles, and they had no other means of supplying the revenue except by laying on such taxes. Now, if he had made his statement sufficiently clear, he thought he had shown that the proposition which he submitted of a moderate fixed duty would not have the effect of preventing the importation of corn—that it would not interfere with the principles of free trade—and that its only effect would be to place in the Exchequer a portion of the profits that now went exclusively to the foreigner. Another objection put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite on all occasions when a proposition interfered in any way with their views was, that such things were to be regarded as the small end of the wedge, and that its admission should therefore be resisted, lest it might lead to the re-establishment of the corn laws, and of protection. He admitted there would be some weight in this objection, if he did not discriminate between putting on a duty for the purpose of revenue, and putting on a duty with a view to limit the importation of corn, and thereby to raise the price of it to the consumer. If statesmen could not stop between these two distinct propositions, the affairs of this country must be badly managed indeed. He had not mixed up the subject with the great question of protection. The measure which he advocated would afford no protection to the home grower, except in the sense which he had before stated, of deterring large importations from abroad when prices were extremely low. The measure was what it proposed to be, one for increasing the revenue 752 alone. His object was to maintain the wisdom of taxing others when possible instead of their own countrymen; for he was not so fond of the universe in general as not to prefer his own country to foreign States. He feared, however, that their policy had latterly been such as to have the effect of injuring their foreign commerce. His belief was, that it was the duty of that Legislature to maintain English interests, and not foreign interests—that they were there for that purpose—and that if they did not act upon that policy, they did not perform the duty for which they had been selected. He strongly and earnestly recommended his suggestions to the attention not only of the Government but of this House. He was not in the position of making the proposal which he should otherwise make for the imposition of a fixed duty on foreign corn. It was not within the power of a private Member of the House to make such a proposition; and although he might have done so in an indirect way, by a declaratory resolution that it would be wise and politic to adopt that mode of increasing the public revenue, still he thought it best to state his views in the manner he had done, and to urge them as strongly as he was able to do on the attention of the Government, of the House in general, and, if he were permitted, on the country also. The opinions which he advocated appeared to him to be incontrovertible, and, if true, they would sink into the minds of the public, and create a feeling which in due time would undoubtedly end in the adoption of a measure such as he now suggested. He hoped it would be admitted that he had avoided all controversial points connected with the subject, and that he had confined himself strictly to the one point to which his Motion referred. The question was one admitted of great importance, and when Her Majesty's Ministers and the House and the country became convinced of its truth, as he had no doubt they ultimately would be, then he trusted that such a result would follow as would lead him to feel that the attention which he had devoted to it had not been in vain.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he was sure the House would concur with him in paying the right hon. Gentleman the tribute of admitting that he had stated his proposition in the clearest and fairest manner, avoiding all those topics that might give rise to angry discussion; and in this respect it was to be 753 hoped that hon. Gentlemen who might follow him would imitate his example. He wished, in the first place, to allude briefly to the notice which the right hon. Gentleman had taken of his statement of the probable income of the year. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was a little mistaken in his view respecting that statement. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, that the customs duties had fallen off as compared with last year; whereas the receipt from customs, excluding corn, for the year ending 5th April, 1849, exceeded the receipt for the previous year. He hoped that the news which they had just heard of the probable raising of the blockade in the northern ports, would tend to promote the activity of trade in the manufacturing districts, and would thus contribute to improve the revenue. With regard to the apparent falling-off in the excise duties, he had only to repeat what be had said before, that it was a postponement, and not a failure, of receipt. He had thought it advisable to postpone the receipt of the hop duty, amounting to about 190,000l. from May to Autumn; and, owing to the lateness of the malting season this year as compared with last, the receipt of about 200,000l. of malt duty became due so much later this year as not to have come into the accounts of last quarter. The account of the charge of the excise duties, with the exception of Ireland, was most satisfactory. He would repeat that, judging from the experience, not of last year only, but of former years also, which was a safer criterion to take, he felt confident that the revenue from all sources would not fall short of the amount which he had stated to the House some weeks ago. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be very desirable that he should have another million in the Exchequer; but he did not think that, in order to effect that object, it would be desirable to impose any further taxes at the present moment, still less the tax upon corn, which the right hon. Gentleman recommended. He had so frequently and so recently stated his reasons against the imposition of a duty on corn, that he would not now repeat them. He must, however, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the country on the opinion, expressed by him this evening, against the imposition of any duty which would have the effect of enhancing the price of corn. Occupying the prominent position which the right hon. Gentleman 754 did amongst his own party, and entitled as he was to the greatest deference from them, on commercial and financial matters, from his experience and intimate acquaintance with such subjects, it was most gratifying to him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to hear him disclaim—and it was impossible to do so in stronger terms—all idea of reverting to a protecting duty on corn. He had based his proposition this evening on the ground that the imposition of a duty would not enhance the price of corn, and expressed his conviction that the good sense and intelligence of the country would speedily arrive at the same conclusion. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was opposed to any duty on corn, but he was quite content to leave the question in the position in which the right hon. Gentleman had placed it. He was quite willing that the duty should be imposed when the good sense and intelligence of the country were convinced that the price of corn would not be raised by a duty on its importation; and he felt, on the other hand, the most perfect confidence that it never would be imposed until they had arrived at this conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman's arguments, however, were not very consistent, and one of those was a complete answer to his main proposition. He deprecated, very strongly, conclusions from pure theory without experience; but he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) must object as strongly to that experience which was drawn from a very limited number of facts. The conclusions of the right hon. Gentleman were drawn only from last year's experience, in which year no doubt the price of corn fell after the duty revived; but other circumstances had operated in that year which he had not taken into account. The importations of 1847 were notoriously very large; the harvest of 1847 was remarkably abundant; and these circumstances depressed the prices in the spring of 1848. They rose again towards autumn, and were subsequently brought down by the inferior character of the harvest of last year. These circumstances, entirely omitted by the right hon. Gentleman, must nevertheless have produced a material effect during that period. The right hon. Gentleman adduced as conclusive proof of his position, that a mode-rate fixed duty on the importation of corn would be paid by the foreigner, the circumstance that, on the duty reviving in 1848, the price of wheat at Dantzic fell; 755 and he stated that, in the same manner, the price of wheat in the United States had fallen when the charge for freight happened to rise. Both of these things might probably have happened, but they afforded no proof of the correctness of the right hon. Gentleman's position. The price of corn at any one time, as that of any other article, was regulated by the relative supply and demand; and the state of the supply at the time when those circumstances occurred, there being no greater demand in England, might be such as to render it worth while for the holders of corn at Dantzic and the United States to take a lower price for it at those periods. The right hon. Gentleman could not, however, infer from this anything as to the price at which corn would be permanently supplied. He must know, as everybody in the House did, that this must be determined by the cost of producing it. The cost at which foreign corn could be sold in this country depended upon the cost of production in the country where it was grown, and of the freight to our ports. It never could be permanently sold for a price which would not cover these two items. Any additional charge upon it must enhance the price, and a duty on importation would be an additional charge, just as much as an increased charge for freight. Nobody can doubt the truth of this; and indeed it is perfectly evident, from an admission made by the right hon. Gentleman himself. He stated that if prices were low here, a duty on corn would deter importation. Now, how would this he done? This effect could only he produced in consequence of the duty so imposed raising the charges on the imported corn so much that it could no longer be sold, except at a loss, for the price which other corn, of the same quality, brought in the market. This would deter the foreign grower from sending his corn here, and this was the only mode in which the imposition of a duty could prevent importation. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, was conclusive in favour of the argument that a duty on corn must necessarily enhance its price. He would not follow the right hon. Gentleman through his various statements, in which he had so mixed up facts and speculation, that it was not very easy to distinguish one from the other; and he was unwilling to detain the House on what appeared only in a theoretical shape. If the right hon. Gentleman thought that he could satisfy 756 the people of this country that, as a practical queston, the imposition of a duty on the importation of corn would not raise its price, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) wished him joy of the task he was about to undertake. For himself, being convinced that the proposition submitted to the House was inexpedient, impolitic, and, he had almost said, unjust, he could not hesitate to refuse his assent to it. But he willingly left the question to be decided by the good sense and intelligence of the country, as the right hon. Gentleman proposed. Until, however, the majority of the people were satisfied that a tax upon corn would not enhance the price to the consumer, he must oppose the suggestion which was submitted to the House for the imposition of such a duty.
§ MR. G. SANDARS
said: Mr. Speaker, I feel called upon to offer a few observations on the question now before the House, having incidentally alluded to it on a former occasion, and having been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford, who has so ably and temperately explained his views to the House, that those who differ with him must admit the fairness, clearness, and moderation with which he has introduced the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his reply to my right hon. Friend, has treated the question with much flippancy. He looks upon it as a subject of so little importance as to be beneath his notice to attempt to controvert the facts so ably laid down by the right hon. Gentleman below me. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might be overflowing with wealth, as he treats a plan to increase his "ways and means" some millions per annum with perfect indifference, if not with unbecoming levity. As much has been said in favour of practical views contrasted with theoretical, and having had some twenty-five years' experience of the corn trade, and having been a largo importer of foreign grain the greater part of that period, having watched narrowly the effects of that import on the prices of grain of home growth, I feel myself qualified to offer an opinion upon this question of a practical nature. I have no hesitation in declaring it as my firm conviction, founded on my past experience, that a moderate import duty on wheat would not in usual seasons advance the price to the consumer in this country. But, to fortify my opinions upon this point, I have, since I last named it to the House, taken some pains to ascer- 757 tain the opinions of practical men. I wrote to a friend in Liverpool to ascertain the views held there by gentlemen largely engaged in the corn trade. I hold in my hand his letter in reply. He gives me the names of twenty of the leading merchants in the Corn Exchange of Liverpool; out of these twenty, thirteen agree with me that a moderate fixed duty would be paid by the producer, five that it would enhance the price to the consumer, and two that it would depend on supply and demand, and would be partly borne by the foreign producer, and partly by the consumer. Thus, as far as the practical men of Liverpool are concerned, I have a majority of thirteen to five, which in this House would be considered a very satisfactory one. I next proceeded personally to wait upon the leading merchants in Marklane. I inquired from some fifteen to twenty of them their views, and, to my satisfaction, with only one exception (and he a Member of this House), all agreed with me in opinion that a fixed duty of 5s. per quarter on wheat, and other grain in proportion, would be borne by the foreign producer, and would not enhance the prices to the consumer in this country. These are the opinions of practical men, and which I believe the House will value more highly than the theoretical opinions of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I wish to impress upon the House that a duty on corn is not regulated by the same principles and rules that a duty on other imports is, such as tea, coffee, sugar, or even timber; the great hulk of our consumption is grown in this country. It is estimated that our consumption of wheat annually is 20,000,000 of quarters, and of other grain at least 30,000,000—say a grand total of upwards of 50,000,000 of quarters of grain. Now, what has been our annual import previous to the Irish famine of 1846? I will take the ten years previous imports, and I find it—
or an average of 2,100,000 quarters per annum, which is some 4 per cent on our consumption of all grain, or some 7 per cent on wheat alone. Is it then probable that this small comparative import governs the price of home-grown corn? I have already on a previous occasion alluded to the fact that in March last year, when a 758 duty of 7s. per quarter was suddenly re-imposed on the importation of wheat, the price did not advance here, but it declined abroad fully as much as the duty, and the importer was as well oft' after paying this duty as he was before when he had no duty to pay. But, it is said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this is an isolated case, and that inductions drawn from a limited number of facts were as erroneous as pure theory. I deny that it is an isolated fact. On the contrary, it is the usual course of the trade. Scores of similar instances may be adduced; and I may say from my own knowledge and experience of the workings of the foreign corn trade, that it is the rule and not the exception, that as the duty advances here, the price declines abroad, and as it declines here, the price advances there; or, in the language of an old and experienced member of the trade, "Prices in all the foreign markets are ruled by the prices current in the English, or the highest, market, less the charges and duty. This is as true and general a law as that water will rise to its own level." I, therefore, come to the conclusion that a moderate fixed duty would not enhance the price of corn to the consumer in this country, but that it would in usual seasons come out of the pockets of the foreign producer or exporter. I say in usual seasons, for I admit there may be times and seasons when it would have a contrary effect—namely, when prices of wheat came so low hero as to prohibit importation, and thus limit the supply for prices of corn are governed more than any other article by supply and demand, and what checks the supply will necessarily tend to advance the price. But to show to the House at what a low rate we may expect to meet with foreign competition. I hold in my baud a Parliamentary return of June 29th, 1849, No. 439, moved for by myself, which shows the following results:—In 1843 we bad thirty-eight weeks when the duty was 20s.; in 1844, twenty-three weeks at 20s.; and in 1845 there were thirty-one weeks when the duty was 20s.; and in these three years the importation of corn was above six millions of quarters. Now, this was under the Act of 1842, which gave us a maximum duty of 20s. a quarter, when the price was below 50s. per quarter; but the price was for a considerable period as low as 45s. per quarter, yet a 20s. per quarter duty was paid, leaving the foreigner a net return of some 20s. per quarter. I tell hon. 759 Gentlemen few of them have any idea what prices will come to when we have a succession of good harvests here and abroad. I stated in my place last year that I believed we should see prices down to 35s. to 40s. per quarter, so soon as we had good harvests, and I see no reason to change my opinions upon more mature deliberation and reflection. But to return to my subject. I was saying when prices here came very low, the duty would act as a protection to the home grower by checking imports, for if the foreigner could not meet our prices (after paying charges and duty), he would not naturally sell it at a loss. Thus by limiting imports, prices might be prevented declining so low as they otherwise might have done: it might possibly in some years prevent prices declining from 40s. to 35s., or in years of great abundance from 35s. to 30s. per quarter. But, I ask, would any man, be he high or low, be he free-trader or protectionist, object to a duty of 5s. per quarter on wheat, bringing in upwards of one million per annum to the revenue, when it enhanced the price some 4s. to 5s. per quarter only in years of great abundance and cheapness? And what would this increase at those occasional periods amount to? Why, 5s. per quarter is one halfpenny on the quartern loaf; and supposing a family to consume six or eight loaves per week, that would be an increase of 3d. to 4d. per week for a poor man's family. I ask, what is that in comparison to the reduced wages he must expect from a low and unnaturally depressed price of corn?—why, it is as 3d. to 2s. I have given my own opinion on the question introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford—I have also given the opinion of practical men in the corn trade in London and Liverpool, and if I am not wearying the House—[Cries of "Go on!"]—I will road an extract from the work of one who used to be no mean authority amongst the freetraders, and quoted by Gentlemen opposite. It is from a treatise on taxation, by Mr. M'Culloch, published in 1845. He says—
Wheat, qrs. 15,000,000 Barley, qrs. 3,200,000 Oats qrs. 2,800,000 Total 21,000,000It has been objected to a fixed duty on corn that it could not he collected in years when there was any unusual deficiency in our harvests, the price of corn even without any duty being then oppressively high; but though it may seem paradoxical, it is entirely true that prices in such years would not be influenced by the payment of a moderate duty, and that they would be quite as high were it repealed or suspended as it would be were it allowed to exert its full influence. The 760 moment, however, it is ascertained that any serious deficiency has taken place in our harvest, the price of corn rises probably to 70s. or 80s. per quarter, and upwards. But when such is the case, the duty ceases to have any perceptible influence over the price, which is then wholly deter-mined by the proportion between supply and demand without reference to the cost of the corn. Under such circumstances the duty becomes in fact a deduction from the profits of the foreigner, so that its suspension would only add to the latter without depressing prices. Every one engaged in the corn trade knows that when prices are 65s., 75s, or 85s. per quarter, the fact of there being a duty of 5s. or 6s. on importation would have no perceptible influence over the quantities imported. The circle whence corn is brought in years of scarcity is too vast, and its margin too ill defined, to be cither sensibly expanded or circumscribed by adding 5s. or 6s. to, or deducting the same sum from, our prices.I must say, Sir, I quite agree with the views thus so ably expressed by Mr. M'Culloch. I am satisfied if it be desirable to increase our taxation, no tax would be less felt than a moderate tax on corn. It would bring in annually a large fund to the revenue, without in usual years enhancing the price to the consumer: The truth is that this is the great market that foreigners have to look to for the sale of their surplus produce. And would it not, I ask, be preferable to have such a duty, and take it off tea, soap, sugar, coffee, or some other necessary of life to the poor man? I am not advocating a return of protection, nor an immediate imposition of a fixed duty. I wish to give the free-trade policy, particularly in corn, a fair trial. It is one thing to retain a duty, but quite another to reimpose it when once abandoned; but there may come a time when it may be desirable to impose a moderate duty on the importation of grain. Why, the noble Lord at the head of the Government himself admitted this the other evening. He said, "however true were the principles of free trade, circumstances might justify a moderato fixed duty upon that article." I agree with the noble Lord, that though this may not be the proper time to impose such a duty, the time may come when it will be both necessary and expedient, and when I can refer with satisfaction to the opinions I have expressed this day as founded on facts and practical truth. Before I sit down, I wish to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the great importance of a system of agricultural statistics. It is a disgrace to us as a great mercantile nation to have no means of ascertaining what is our production and 761 what is our consumption of corn. This is not the case in France or in America, They know pretty nearly their position; but with us it is all guesswork, and in such an important article as the food of the people, I contend we ought to have some plan of agricultural statistics, so as to be able to arrive at some approximation of the truth. I have again and again impressed this upon the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade; but the answer I receive is, "I admit its importance, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer won't find me the money." I have myself laid before the Board of Trade a plan to effect this object, which would not cost the country more than 10,000l, to 12,000l. per annum; and yet the Government spend enormous sums, as this House decided by its vote last night, in "needless places," "extravagant salaries," and "unnecessary works and establishments," Then, surely, the right hon. Baronet might for such an object spare the small comparative sum of a few thousands per annum. I observe the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding is anxious to address the House; he will tell us that his object is that England should buy her corn at "the world's price," and he says that I have admitted to him that if Holland and England both wanted corn, and we imposed a duty of 5s., and Holland none, that we eat our wheat at 5s. more than the Dutch. True; but he forgets to tell you that Holland has a protective duty of, I believe, some 9s. per quarter on the introduction of foreign corn. So has France, so has America, and, in fact, almost every great country has a duty on the importation of corn, I beg to apologise to the House for the length of time I have trespassed upon them, and to thank them for the attention they have given me.
§ MR. MITCHELL
said, that he considered that the opinion of merchants in Liverpool, London, and other places, on this question, was a most fallacious test, inasmuch as the trade was a gambling one, and tended to concentrate the business within a few towns. As to the doctrine laid down by the hon. Member, that a fixed duty would not be paid by the consumer, he never heard anything so monstrous in his life. Such may be possible in a case where another country may have a surplus over from the previous year, and England may be the only purchaser. Such a case, however, could not occur. Let the House recollect that a 5s. duty did not mean a revenue 762 of 1,500,0000l, alone, as some hon. Gentlemen stated, but 10,000,000l, besides in the pockets of the English grower. The hon. Member opposite quoted a case where foreign corn paid a duty of 20s. a quarter. That was in the year 1843 or 1844, when the English corn was harvested in such a wretched condition that it could not be consumed by itself, and therefore foreign corn had to be bought to mix with it, in order that it might be fit for human food. The stock of corn in this country was now lower than ever it was known to be, and wheat was rising in price in the face of the most beautiful weather—a tiling that was never experienced before. That was caused by the low stocks in hand, notwithstanding the large importations which had taken place. One cause of that was owing to the increased consumption of the country. The consumption of flour had increased one-third—that was to say, in consequence of the abolition of the corn law, the people had it in their power to consume one-third more corn. There was now a prospect of an abundant harvest, and if the farmers realised 45s. or 50s, for their corn, of which there was a prospect, they would be better off than they over had been in any year of protection?
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
observed, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed to raise 2,000,000l. by an income tax, but he did not consider it worth while to procure 1,000,000l. by an import duty on corn; and, in fact, it seemed to be a matter of slight importance whether or not the duty went into the pocket of the foreigner, or remained at home. Her Majesty's Ministers had on the previous night been loft in a minority on a question of taxation, and yet they were that day told that it was a matter of no importance whether they added a million to the revenue. The intention and the object of the free-trade policy was to reduce the price of corn in this country to the Continental level. The whole of their argument was this—that the price of corn would fall so low as to make the 5s. duty operative—that is, it must fall to something like the Continental level, 30s, or 35s, per quarter. Such then was the end and aim of the free-trade policy; and it was to be understood that if the Government were willing to sacrifice 1,000,000l. of the revenue, it was to attain that object. Now, a less evil might be incurred to attain a desirable end; but here there could be no mistake as to the end; and 763 that end was this—that the price of corn might be reduced to the Continental level. According to the showing of the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman opposite, there must be a price at which a 5s. duty would be operative, and according to their showing, that must be from 30s. to 35s. a quarter. In considering these circumstances, they ought not to overlook the fact that the agriculturists formed the largest class in England. The heads of families employed in agricultural occupations were more numerous than any other. There were as graziers and farmers alone an enormously large number of persons, as compared with those engaged in the cotton manufactures. By the census of 1841 there was a far larger number of farmers and graziers, than of adult persons employed in the cotton trade. If it was for the benefit of the cotton trade that the present system was to be maintained, then it should be understood that they were sacrificing the interests of the farmers and graziers to those of operatives in the cotton trade. The duties had been reduced of late years upon other articles, and what bad been the effect? In the article of cheese, for instance, in the year prior to the reduction of the duty in 1848, there had been imported 267,400 cwt., at a duty of 11s. per cwt., the market price being 48s. and the price in bond 40s. In 1848, the quantity imported was 444,032 cwt., the duty being 5s., the market price 35s., and the price in bond 50s., showing a clear rise of 7s. on the market price, and in the price in bond of 10s., the foreigner thereby clearing 3s. per cwt. The duty on butter had been reduced between 1845 and 1848 from 1l. 1s. to 10s. per cwt., and in the latter year the market price was 96s., and in bond 85s.; while in 1845 the market price was 85s., and in bond 70s., showing that while the market price had only increased Us., the price in bond had increased 15s., the foreigner pocketing the advantage of the whole reduced duty But then it was said that the farmers benefited by the increase of price. Assuredly hon. Members would not desire that it should be otherwise. He rejoiced that the right hon. Member for Stamford had brought forward the Motion in the shape in which it was presented to the House. The hon. Member for the West Riding understood the principle of agitation, and comprehended that a broad question forced itself on the attention of the public. This 764 was the course adopted in the present instance. But this system had its limits—people grew tired of the iteration of the same proposition, and reverted to the good sense which characterised them. According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a million of money had been wasted in the first months of the present year for no useful purpose.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down paid him the compliment of calling him a skilful agitator. It was true, indeed, that to agitate at all successfully one must be in earnest, and, if with a good cause, one must succeed; but even with a bad one, he would be respected for his perseverance. Now, the fault he found with hon. Gentlemen opposite was, that they showed no earnestness in the course which they pursued. It was quite impossible to know if they were dealing with realities, they were so often called upon to deal with shams. What was the course pursued by hon. Gentlemen opposite during the present Session? A few days before the assembling of Parliament the Duke of Richmond had a meeting of farmers, in which he shadowed out to them the great efforts that were to be made to restore the principle of protection, and to prevent free trade from coming into operation. Well, the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire came down to the House, and, as the leader of the protection party and of the farmers out of doors, who thought he was about to fight their battles, he moved an Amendment to the Address, but it did not contain one word about protection, and the Amendment was never put to a division. On another occasion after that the poor farmers were brought up in great numbers to Willis's-rooms. There was a great display of party eloquence, which ended with three cheers for the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, the leader of protection. Well, the hon. Gentleman brought forward his Motion about local taxation; but in the very beginning of his speech he said he did not mean to discuss the principles of protection. On the next occasion there was a large cavalcade to Drury-lane Theatre, and another great move was to be made in the House. The farmers' hopes were raised, the principle of free trade was to be reversed, and protection was to be re-established. The hon. Gentleman again came down to the House with another Motion, but not one word in it about protection. He talked of everything else, the foreign 765 and domestic policy of the Government, but there absolutely was not one word about renewing the corn laws. But the Session must not end without doing something to keep up the delusion, and so the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford brought on the present Motion; and what for? The general impression out of doors was that the right hon. Gentleman was asking for a fixed duty on corn. But the right hon. Gentleman made no Motion. The right hon. Gentleman made some excuses about its not being in his power to make this Motion; but he was too old and experienced a Member not to know that it was quite practicable for him, if he liked, now, before the close of the debate, to propose that at a future time it was expedient that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, for the purpose of imposing a fixed duty of 8s. a quarter on corn. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman take that course? It was trifling with the time of the House to make a Motion like the present, and it was a monstrous delusion on the tenant farmers. The matter before them had such little reality about it that no person seemed to regard it in the least. The appearance of empty benches opposite, and the non-attendance of protectionist Members themselves, showed that there was no reality about the thing; and that the Motion was a pure waste of the time of the House. The proposition, if any, that was before the House was, that they could levy a fixed duty on corn, without raising the price of corn in this country. When he was told that they could impose such a duty, and make the foreigner pay the tax, the first feeling that arose upon such a proposition was instructive. Even if practical, he should doubt of the justice and morality of such a proceeding. He should doubt whether the providential scheme of the world was quite moral, if it was possible for them thus to levy a tax on the antipodes, for instance, without giving them any voice in the legislation by which it was imposed. The first feeling, therefore, that arose in view of such a proposition was instructive. But what was the argument that they could do so? The hon. Member for Wakefield, who had been for twenty-five years engaged in the corn trade, but who argued from the experience of the sliding-scale, said that the foreigners would pay the tax; but if, with the jumps and starts of the sliding-scale, he had found that the price of wheat abroad sympathised with high 766 and low duties here, that afforded no ground to estimate what the permanent effect of a fixed duty would be. But the hon. Gentleman admitted that the people of this country would pay a higher price for their corn, with a duty of 5s., than those who paid no duty at all. That was the whole case. What he contended for was, that the people of this country ought to have their corn as cheaply as any other people in the world. He did not mind what the natural price of corn was—all he desired was that the people of this country should buy it at the same price as any other people. No person, in the multitude of speeches which he had made on this subject, ever heard him make use of the argument that they were going to benefit by an excessively low price of corn. That was the argument of the protectionists. What he wanted was to have corn at its natural price; and the hon. Member for Wakefield, in admitting that they could not have it with a fixed duty, had admitted the whole case. But more than that, the hon. Gentleman admitted the justice of his (Mr. Cobden's) argument in another way; for he said that if Holland did not put on a duty of 5s., and we did, Holland would get its corn 5s. cheaper from Dantzic than we should; but then he said that England would have the advantage of the duty if Holland put on a fixed duty of 5s. It was admitted that Holland, if free, would get corn cheaper than this country; and that, in his opinion, was a bettor way of putting the question than it could possibly be put by any corn-factors, who, of course, had a greater commission if they sold wheat at 65s. than if they sold at 55s. He much preferred such a proof to the corndealers of Liverpool and Mark-lane. They, of course, were the best judges of what was best for themselves; and be had heard that if it was only made the interest of any body of men, they would set about proving that two and two make five. The hon. Gentleman opposite said, they were now in favour of a fixed duty. It seemed to him to be an extraordinary thing for any hon. Member to propose a tax of any kind to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for their business was to prevent him from imposing taxes. He, therefore, took the hon. Gentleman to task on that ground. But the hon. Gentleman was a bad witness for the right hon. Gentleman in another respect; for when the right hon. Gentleman said that the duty might take effect at 35s., the hon. Gentleman raised it a little, and said 767 that it might take effect when the price was 40s. "What is a farthing in the price of the loaf?" said the hon. Gentleman. What is 4d. a week to the labouring man? it is only 17s. a year. But if the hon. Gentleman spread that farthing in the quartern loaf over 6,000,000 of families, how much would it amount to? The hon. Gentleman never calculated on getting more than about 1,000,000l. from his 5s. fixed duty; but 4d. a week from the 6,600,000 families of this country would produce 5,000,000l. But how could they pay that when the right hon. Gentleman only proposed to levy 1,000,000l. on foreign corn? It would be done by raising the price of the corn which was grown in this country. All the corn consumed in this country was consumed at the same price. And the same duty, therefore, would, in reality, he paid for all, whether home or foreign, because no corn could be admitted except at the price of the corn of domestic growth. If they meant to propose a tax on corn, lot them do it honestly, and let it be done at the mill; because, then, with a duty of only 1s., they would raise a revenue of 1,000,000l. And if they chose to impose a duty of 5s. they would raise a revenue of 5,000,000l. But the right hon. Gentleman said that he would not lay a feather's weight of taxation on the community by this proposition, and that the consumers would not have to pay any dearer for their bread. Well, if that he so, what became of their professions to the farmers, that they intended to raise the price of their produce? They had no petitions for a fixed duty as a matter of revenue. He had seen a petition from the West Riding, presented by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, praying for moderate protection to all interests, and for a moderate fixed duty on corn. They said that they would impose the fixed duty for the sake of the revenue; but then they told the farmers that it was with a view of giving them protection. This was the new dodge. No persons petitioned that House for the sake of the revenue. No person petitioned for any tax. The thing was ridiculous. But the farmers had no objection to protection, and this was the only way in which they, as a party, could bring forward the question at all; and, therefore, he expressed to his friends right and left, when he heard the right hon. Gentleman so blandly declare that he did not intend to propose one farthing extra on the price of wheat in this country, 768 and that on this occasion he did not wish to refer to "that other question," his utter astonishment how the protectionists had power of face to behave so. One might suppose them to be actors on a stage, who whispered aside to each other, and assumed that they were not heard by the whole audience; because their language within the House was so different and so much at variance with their language out of doors, that unless they had some notion that they were invisible and unheard, they could not possibly talk in the way they did. He did not understand how any of them could talk to the farmers during the next autumn. What a question on which to get up an agitation! If the right hon. Gentleman came to him, he would give him a lesson in agitation. He absolutely pitied them for their want of tactics. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire was the head of a great party. A great party wanted some principles. They would not have protection—they had not courage to fight that battle. The only principle they had was a bread tax. Only think of a great party going to the country and appealing for support, on the ground that there ought to be a tax of 4d. a week on the bread of the labouring man. The hon. Member for Warwickshire seemed to think that there would be a universal uprising of the people. He said, in rather solemn tones, that the people would soon recover their judgment in this matter, and that the day was not distant when they would see the advantage of paying 4d. per week more for their bread. It was no wonder that the idea of a universal uprising for such a bread tax should be glowing in his breast. Now if they took a little piece of advice from him, he would recommend them, instead of trying to get into power by contending for this miserable tax on the prime necessary of life, to set about reducing the expenditure and taxation of the country. No party could get into power without doing something popular, and they would not get into power without doing something popular. They would never bridge over the separation which existed between them and that intellect of the House which was seated by their sides, above the gangway, unless they found out some other question besides this one of protection. Let them, instead of washing to tax the bread of the people, rather struggle for a reduction of the expenditure of the country. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire 769 had not shown the best tactics of a general in his last speech, for he let out a little hint, which he thought would make the country ten times more resolute than before against protection, for he said, if he (Mr. Cobden) understood him correctly, that he would never join in the cry for retrenchment, as long as the principle of protection was not admitted. He hoped the country would take that hint. The hon. Gentleman opposite had talked as though the farmers would be ruined under this system of free trade. He wondered then how they could face the formers when they went to receive their rents. They told the farmers that they; would not get 35s. a quarter for their corn. He wondered how they could receive the rents if they believed anything of the kind. This was how they suffered and injured themselves. They had two sides—one side for this House, and another for the farmers out of doors—one for the rent audit, and another for the hustings. Were any of the farmers ruined by free trade? There was a prospect of a good crop this year, and of high prices, and therefore he did not see any cause to grumble, It seemed that there were not largo stocks on hand, which was a sign that there was prosperity amongst the labouring class, and that the manufacturing class was in a state of ease. Was it not better, instead of trying to make the farmer complain that he did not get more than 45s. a quarter for his corn, that they should encourage the farmer to look to the right side of the question, stimulate him to make exertions, and employ more labour? If hon. Gentleman took the right view of this question, they ought to be glad that the question had boon settled at the time it had been. With the excitement abroad, and a state of great suffering in this country, how could they possibly maintain a fixed duty on corn of any kind? He looked upon it, therefore, as a chimera. He hoped they would never hear it mentioned in that House after that night, and that they would henceforth see that, whether they represented manufacturers, or whether they represented agriculturists, they had all one common interest, namely, that of securing the most efficient, the most economical, and the most prudent Government.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, the hon. Member for the West Riding had been so kind as to offer to give them (the Protection Members) 770 a lesson in the art of agitation; and he (Mr. Disraeli) was willing to admit that if they wished to attain any knowledge of that pursuit, they could scarcely have recourse to a more consummate master. The hon. Member excepted to their conduct by saying that they had one language in that House, and another in other quarters. But if he remembered aright, a celebrated oration which was made by that same Gentleman in another place, he had the ingenuous frankness to admit that that was one of his own universally acknowledged characteristics. He said it was a general accusation against him that he made use of one tone of sentiment and one kind of expression in the House of Commons, and employed different language when addressing his countrymen in other places, and that he believed there was some justice in the charge. The great master of agitation, therefore, if his present allegation were true, should, instead of sneering at their tactics, accept them as proofs that they had become worthy of having such a master to lead them. The hon. Member had told them that they could not possibly succeed in having their opinions accepted by any great party in this country, because there was a want of earnestness in the manner in which they advocated them. If the accusation were true, there was a precedent for the course which they had pursued. If it were the fact that they bad not boldly advanced in that House during the Session opinions which they professed in other places—which he unequivocally denied—he wanted to know v. whether there were not other politicians who, after declaring that they were ready to propound certain measures as absolutely necessary for the interests of the country, the moment Parliament met were as calm, as quiet, and as docile as if they were prepared to sit behind the Treasury bench for the rest of their career? He wanted to know what those Gentlemen who called banquets in the north of England, and wrote letters which were State papers to financial societies of Liverpool, had done during these six dreary months to vindicate their opinions and to maintain that policy, the prosecution of which was considered necessary for the salvation of the country? Why, less troublesome opponents to a Government, less ardent, or less earnest advocates of a political theory, he had never met with. It was with the greatest possible hesitation that the other night, on a very tender Motion for finan- 771 cial reform, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding went into the same lobby as his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire. Even the very partial and limited scheme of a reduction of 10 per cent on salaries frightened the great Apostle who had come forward to regenerate the country by an immediate reduction of its expenditure, amounting to not less than 10,000,000l. The practical agitator and the great tactician, the man who, having a great knowledge of human nature, never agitated but with that consummate art which ensured success, who never frittered away his resources, and who came forward with a scheme which was immediately to touch the national heart and obtain general support, vanquish a Ministry and conciliate a Parliament, talked of shams and dodges! Alas! that they should have arrived at a period when, in the House of Commons, still held to be a classical temple of our language, they should have to listen to such words as "shams" and "dodges." But, talking of shams and dodges, he wanted to know what could be found in the history of political agitation in this country more ostentatious in the commencement, more violent in assurance, more lame and impotent in the achievement—what more lacking in earnestness, enthusiasm, and fervour, than financial reform? But then the hon. Gentleman fell back upon political economy; and, travelling out of the record for the evening's discussion, as it was drawn by his right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford, and seizing upon a haphazard, almost an episodical observation of the hon. Member for Wakefield, he said, "What, are you prepared to levy a bread tax amounting to 5,000,000l. upon the people? Is it possible that you can come forward at the present day with such a monstrous proposition?" Why, after all, supposing the people had to pay 5,000,000l. a year as a tax upon their bread, what was that after obtaining the enjoyment of all these new foreign markets—after the great expansion of commerce which they had realised by the repeal of the corn laws? What was 5,000,000l. per annum to a nation whose domestic expenditure, we are told, has been reduced to the extent of 2,000,000l. per week? It was very well to come forward professing factitious sympathy for the people, after they had lived to feel, during three years, all the bitterness of disappointment, as the result of believing in those who prided 772 themselves on being adroit political tacticians, and successful political agitators. The hon. Gentleman said that he (Mr. Disraeli) and his Friends near him, were insincere in their professions out of doors. He denied the charge; but even if it were true, were they the only culprits? Why, he saw before him a Gentleman who, in giving a programme of the party of which he was a most efficient Member, promised to reduce the Church Establishment, and offered a catalogue of political and ecclesiastical changes which he intimated to his audience he was going up to Westminster to effect; but they had since heard nothing of them. He denied that the protectionist party had on any occasion, and particularly on the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding had referred, done anything inconsistent with the general tenour of their opinions. What was the Amendment to the Address? They were called upon to declare that the country was in a highly prosperous state. In mild and moderate language they protested against any such declaration; and hon. Gentlemen opposite, if sincere and earnest in their representations to the people, ought to have supported the Amendment. Well, then, the hon. Gentleman said that out of doors they had told the farmers that nothing but a recurrence to the system of protection could redeem their fortunes, and yet, in the teeth of that declaration, had brought forward a Motion for an inquiry into the burdens upon real property. What inconsistency was there between the dogma out of doors, and the Motion in that House? A considerable time had now elapsed since the Motion was proposed, and so far as he could observe the signs of public opinion, he saw no cause to regret the course which he had pursued, embalmed as it was in a resolution which he believed that House would in substance ultimately adopt. Well, then, the hon. Gentleman said that with equal inconsistency, they (the protectionist party) brought forward a Motion with reference to the state of the nation. They did so; and considering before whom they sat—remembering that Ireland was never mentioned without five-and-twenty Gentlemen getting up and almost threatening to impeach the Ministry—remembering that an equal number were equally prompt to rise and tell the Government that unless financial reform were conceded, they must instantly withdraw their support—remembering that another section strongly dis- 773 approved of the administration of Foreign Affairs; and considering that it was universally admitted that there was a great and increasing amount of agricultural distress—he wanted to know what proposition was ever made, at any period in the history of this country, which was more defensible than that in question, calling upon the House to inquire into the state of this nation. And though the attempt was made to ride off on the limited and partial issue which the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had the courage and the prescience to avoid, let it be remembered that hon. Members opposite thereby voted confidence in the Government, whom on the previous night they were all ready to put in a minority. Consistent politicians!—adroit tacticians! successful agitators! The hon. Member for the West Riding—a great doctor in the political art, a Gamaliel at whose feet they were all to sit—speaking of him (Mr. Disraeli) as in a position which he really had never had the ambition to occupy, and pretended not to occupy—speaking of himself and his friends, he said, "You'll never get on with all this want of earnestness and sincerity; I'll give you some good advice: you must have a principle. You have a great principle, but you shrink from avowing it—that principle is protection." Yet within ten minutes afterwards the hon. Gentleman said, "You'll never succeed; you'll never catch the floating intellect of the country until you get rid of the nonsense, the rubbish of protection." Such was the inconsistent language of the adroit politician who offered to give them (the protectionists) lessons. Why he (Mr. Disraeli) would be ashamed to meet a mob at the hustings with such rhetoric, to say nothing of the House of Commons, still a classical assembly, though addressed in such language as "shams" and "dodges." He would now consider the question more immediately before the House. Throughout the discussion he had observed that the line taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite was that of an attempt made in a crude and clumsy manner, to convert the subject into what was termed a corn-law debate. How was this question introduced? His right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford examined the quarter's revenue on the eve of the prorogation of Parliament, and after a severe analysis his impression was that the revenue of this country was in a highly unsatisfactory state, and that it was necessary to replenish the coffers of Her Majesty. 774 Purely on fiscal principles he suggested that a tax should be levied on the importation of foreign corn. He admitted that if it could be shown that the consumer would be taxed by its adoption, the whole proposition fell to the ground. He had never heard an argument put more temperately, more calmly, with more severity of logic, with more concinnity of expression. It was a masterly argument—the exposition ample, but not too long. Well, how was his right hon. Friend met? The first person who replied to him was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and considering that the right hon. Gentleman had a good deal to go through, and recollecting also the length at which, he had recently addressed the House, he did not wish to criticise his reply. He was willing to pass it by, for he confessed he did not see a single point that called For the slightest remark. The right hon. Gentleman shuffled off the question. He made a few vague and desultory observations, and then appeared as if conscious that he bad done his work for the Session. He admitted that no man did his work more readily or more cleanly; but it was not to be expected that at the end of July he should answer satisfactorily the full, elaborate, and, he believed, still unmet argument of his right hon. Friend. Well, then, what followed? There was a scuffle between two Gentlemen of rival experience in the corn laws. It was proverbial that doctors seldom agreed, and they might safely leave the question raised to be decided in Mark-lane or the Liverpool corn market. To come now, or rather to recur, to his ancient antagonist, the Member for the West Riding. He would ask whether that hon. Gentleman had grappled with the facts. He (Mr. Disraeli) thought not. His right hon. Friend had stated, not as matter of theory, but as matter of fact, that in the commencement of February this year the duty was taken off the importation of foreign corn, and that the price was not affected by that circumstance. On that point, indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer pleaded the stereotyped explanation, "exceptional circumstances." Exceptional circumstances! Why, had not the experiment been tried on a largo scale, and had it not been spread over a long period? Had not millions and millions of quarters of corn been sent here from every country, and from every clime, during a period of a year and a half? Was not the result as certain as science? And what had occurred? He would 775 not say that that which they had predicted had come to pass—for he agreed with his right hon. Friend that it was on this occasion best not to recur to former controversies—but it had been practically demonstrated, that up to a certain point it was in the power of the Legislature of this country to make the taxes be paid by the foreigner, and not by Englishmen. When he was asked whether they (the protectionists) would go to the country and ask the people to pay 4d. a week more for their bread, he would reply with the statement he had just made, and abide the decision of his countrymen with perfect contentment. That was his reply to the agitator who wanted to give them lessons. He would toll him that he would have nothing to do with his stale tactics. He might go back to his banquets where the meats were cold; he might go back to programmes which were never followed up in that House. [Mr. COBDEN; I divided the House.] Instead of following the hon. Member's example, he would fight him with his own weapons, and with those weapons he would beat him. The hon. Gentleman had not attempted to grapple with his right hon. Friend's facts. His right hon. Friend bad first adduced certain phenomena, and then a theory in explanation, showing that there was a margin within which they might tax the foreigner, without interfering with supply. Placing a scientific argument before the House, he was met with—to use the Member for the West Riding's phrase—rubbish. He suggested a measure for the relief of the people of England; for anything which filled the Exchequer without imposing new contributions on the subject, was eminently a measure of relief to the people of this country. Who would say that, under the circumstances, with an exhausted exchequer, with the sanction of practical men, and considering also his own public position, his right hon. Friend was not justified in making the suggestion that he had done? Who would attempt to justify the to no in which the proposition had been received; the arguments, as only by courtesy they could be called, with which it had been met by the adroitest agitators, connected as it was not only with fiscal considerations, but also with national feelings of the most interesting character? Nothing could be more gratifying to the people of this country than to be able to replenish their exchequer at the cost of the foreigner. The proposition was, to 776 reduce the surplus profits of the foreigner, and that was the light in which the people of England would view it. The question was, whether, under any circumstances, corn should be an exception to the category of imports, and whether, under the circumstances stated, the arrangement proposed would not be a remunerative one? Do what they might, so long as there were hostile tariffs the adjustment of taxation must he an affair for statesmen to manage. They could not, by abstract resolutions, divest themselves of their responsibilities, or shift their burdens. His own opinion was, that the suggestion which had been made that night was a politic suggestion, and would soon be a popular one. Its adoption might be mortifying to the vanity of individuals in that House; it might hurt and offend the self-love even of political parties. He deeply regretted that circumstances should have precipitated such a proposition; but considering that there was not even an imaginary balance in the exchequer, they (the Protectionist Members) were bound to leave on record—and the best record in the world was a free discussion in that House—their opinions on the present state of the exchequer, and the best means of replenishing it. They had done that with sincerity. They would pursue their own course, Notwithstanding the taunts so often repeated by hon. Gentlemen opposite, they would maintain their own opinions. They were not prepared to take lessons either from the hon. Gentleman opposite, or from that floating talent above the gangway to which they were advised to recur; but they would, under all circumstances, maintain the opinions which they had maintained, trusting to the confidence and support of the people of England.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
said, that he did not rise to question the policy or the popularity of the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford. He believed the House would acknowledge, whatever their abstract principles might be upon the subject, that the right hon. Gentleman had very ably argued the question. Although no question had been submitted to the House, it had been neither a useless nor an uninteresting discussion. But when the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire charged the Chancellor of the Exchequer with having evaded the question, he bogged to remind the hon. Gentleman that there was no question before the House. But he (Mr. 777 Osborne) considered the debate now to have come to an end; and as be should not have another opportunity of drawing attention to a subject which he deemed of equal importance to this "will-o'-th'-wisp" corn duty held out tonight, he begged, in accordance with the question he put the other day to the noble Lord at the head of the Treasury, respecting the fact of Russian troops having entered Transylvania. He intended to conclude with a definite Motion on the subject.
§ MR. COBDEN
rose to order. He put it to the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether the present was a suitable time for entering upon so important a question.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
said, he was in the hands of the House, and would take whatever course they might think best. He would, therefore, postpone his observations for the present.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that during the discussion that evening, several reasons had been assigned as those which had probably induced the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford to bring the subject before the House; and, as he believed that all those reasons had been repudiated, either by the right hon. Gentleman himself or by his friends, he had been endeavouring to discover what could have made the right hon. Gentleman—without wishing, as he said, to bring back protection, or to lay any burden on the people of this country—so anxious to invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase the taxation which the people were now called upon to pay. He had recollected that the right hon. Gentleman was, some twenty years ago. Chancellor of the Exchequer himself—and that there had of late been a report that he might possibly become Chancellor of the Exchequer again—that old habits, and, per-haps, hopes recently revived, might have led him to try his hand at a matter of finance and taxation, although he had not been regularly called in and asked to prescribe. Now he (Mr. Bright) was not disposed to shirk the consideration of the question which the right hon. Gentleman had placed before them. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire said that they had not met the question, whether this small fixed duty would be a burden on the people of this country, and whether foreigners could be induced to pay it. He should put the question in a very simple form, but he thought a very conclusive one. Let it be observed that we drew 778 our supplies of corn from all parts of the world under free trade. We brought supplies from the nearest European ports—we brought some from Spain, some from various parts of the Mediterranean, a large quantity from the Black Sea, a large quantity from the United States of America, some oven occasionally from India, and he believed some had come from our Australian colonies. He asked the right hon. Gentleman, whether a duty' even as small as that which he was reported to recommend, would not, to some extent, circumscribe the surface from which our supplies would be drawn. at any given rate of price in this country, and whether at a, certain price we might not bring corn from China and India, and at a certain other price from the Black Sea, and at another price from the Tinted States, and at a certain other price from the Baltic and near ports. The tax which the right hon. Gentleman would impose, would necessarily reduce the limit and make the circle less. It would, therefore, diminish the sources from which we should be supplied, and of necessity it would diminish the supply; and if competition had anything to do in regulating price, or if supply had anything to do with regard to price, it must of necessity follow, that the price of grain to some extent would be raised in this country; and he knew no reason whatever, and no proof was offered, that it would not be raised equal to the amount of duty which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to levy. The hon. Member for Wakefield referred to 1847, and said that if we had a duty then, the price of corn would have been no higher in this country. That might have been true if we had been the only nation buying corn; but as all other nations were buying it at the same time, as a matter of course, if they had no duty, and we had a duty, the price of corn must have been higher to us than to those nations. France suspended her duties at the same time that we did; but if she suspended the corn duties, and we levied a duty, we must have purchased to a disadvantage compared with France, to the whole amount of duty which we levied, and which she did not levy. He now came to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. As to the question of economy, he asked the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, whether this was not the fact, that during this Session every Motion for economy, with the exception of one or two within 779 the last fortnight, had been opposed by those hon. Members who formed his support in this House; and when they went to the country, he hoped they would learn from the farmers, that their conduct in this Session on that point had been watched, and that the farmers were aware that if as many Members on that side of the House had been in favour of economy as on this side, the Government could not have resisted the propositions which had been made in favour of a great reduction of the expenditure. He thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite should learn not to place much trust in protectionist leaders. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth was a great protectionist leader at one time; he was not so now. Lord Stanley was a great protectionist leader now; but it was not long since he was in favour of a Bill called the Grinding in Bond Bill, which was opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite as a free-trade measure. He also supported, if he (Mr. Bright) was not mistaken, the Bill for allowing corn to come from Canada, which was called a destructive measure by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Lord Stanley had changed his opinion; he was a free-trader once; he was a protectionist now; he might be a free-trader next Session. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, on one occasion, declared that free trade was the great policy of the old Tory party; at least he (Mr. Bright) had a recollection of some such expression as that coming from his lips. The hon. Gentleman now, although he sat at the head of the protectionist party in this House, repudiated protection almost in express terms; and he had a very sanguine hope that, after this Session, the hon. Gentleman would never again stand up at that table and advocate a principle which he must see to be hopeless, if he did not already believe it to be unsound. His hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding had been taken to task because he gave hon. Gentlemen opposite some advice. He thought it very important that all Members in the House should, when they spoke, at any rate speak only in favour of sound principle and sound doctrine, because a large portion of the people of this country were much influenced by what they read of what was said in this House. He was anxious that hon. Gentlemen on both sides should preach in this House and to the country the true doctrines of political economy, because he believed them to be as essential to the 780 permanence of property as to the honest and fair remuneration of industry; and let it be borne in mind that, before long, the power now ruling this country would be changed. Instead of the power being altogether, or almost all, in the hands of the proprietary class, it would be transferred, to a large extent, to a far more numerous class in the country; and it was of the utmost importance that as democratical principles extended, they should be accompanied by sound economical principles, for it was only false economy, on the part of democratic governments, that could in any degree be dangerous to any valuable institutions in a country. Hon. Gentlemen had a notion that plenty was no great advantage; that cheapness and abundance were a bad state of things. They seemed to forget that half the revolutions that had taken place in all countries—that nearly all the insurrections which had arisen—sprang from the sufferings of the people, which had been caused by the scarcity of food. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, who often referred to history in this House, would recollect that a Roman Emperor on one occasion was hustled on the forum, because there were but fifteen days' corn in Rome; and the first French revolution, and the last revolution too, were to be attributed to a very large extent to the sufferings of the people, caused by a period of scarcity of food. He did not regret that this question had been brought on to-night; he hoped that, as they were approaching the end of the Session, they were approaching the end of discussion on this question of free trade. For himself, he was confirmed in his belief in the truth of the principles of free trade. It would be a consolation to him so long as he lived, that he had been, in the smallest degree, instrumental in causing the adoption of those principles by the people and the Government of this country; and now, whatever poverty existed in the country, he never passed a man, woman, or child, however poor, however wan, however suffering, but he felt a consolation that his voice had been raised against a system which had made them more poor, more wan, and more suffering; and he believed that, as the seasons passed over us, we should find there would be, on both sides of the House, and in every portion of the country, not only a general acquiescence in the principles of free trade, but a clinging to them so firmly that no political party would ever be able to change 781 the policy which this House had so wisely adopted in 1846.
§ MR. WODEHOUSE
could not help expressing his regret that this Motion had not been brought forward in some other shape, when the sense of the House might have been taken distinctly upon it; but he hailed this proposition, pro tanto, as an auxiliary measure in favour of protection. The noble Lord at the head of the Government should remember that the agriculturists never accepted anything as a measure of concilation, but they claimed what was founded on equity and right. He recalled to the recollection of the hon. Member who had just sat down, a former period of our history, when it pleased God to afflict this country with famine—he alluded to 1800. Did the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding forget that half a century had passed away since there had been any famine; and to what had the people been indebted? Mainly to the cultivation of their own soil.
said, he rose only to point out to the attention of the House, as they possibly did not observe the important admission which had been made by the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, because it seemed to him to be an admission that would put an end to all projects or Motions of this kind ever after. The hon. Gentleman was one of the oldest, most sincere, and most intelligent of that body, who had agitated on the subject of protection for fifty years; and if any one knew what protection was, and what would raise the price of corn, it was the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman then thought he would not have the shabbiness to look upon this Motion as more or less than a protection measure, which would have the effect of raising the price of food, and would be in some way or other a substitute for protection. He would only add one word as to what had occurred in another place with regard to a fixed duty. A noble Lord who was very much respected for his extremely high character (Lord Winchilsea) said, in addressing the House, if ever such a project as a fixed duty were proposed to this country, he trusted in God that the people of this country, as one man, would rise and resist it.
§ SIR W. JOLLIFFE
said, that a proposition was now made most easily to replenish the Exchequer, and that proposition emanated from his right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford. It would be thankfully accepted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; 782 but he was forbidden to do so by his friends behind him. The hon. Member for Manchester had said, that he congratulated himself that every poor man he met would have been worse off than he was if it had not been for his measures. It was clear that hon. Member walked about Manchester, but did not walk in his (Sir W. Jolliffe's) part of the country; for he could assure him that the condition of the people was infinitely worse than it had previously been, and that there, at any rate, his congratulations would be anything but satisfactory. From what quarter should the Chancellor of the Exchequer receive advice in this House? for he looked on the matter as a mere question of advice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was always assuring the protectionists that he was one of the country gentlemen, and that he sympathised with them; he took a very sanguine view of things; his labourers earned 14s. a week, and nothing could be more prosperous than his part of the country, except the state of the Exchequer. He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer took his advice from the wrong quarter, and he should very much like to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer a very short piece of advice. He could not venture to give that advice if it were his own; but he should go to higher authority, and recommend him to take the advice of the class to which he himself belonged, and not altogether that of the manufacturing classes of the country. He had heard the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tam-worth say that Adam Smith was more quoted than he was read; he had had some occasion to look into his works, and the perusal had only induced him to study them the more. Adam Smith said—The merchants and master manufacturers are the two classes of people who commonly employ the largest capital, and who, by their wealth, draw to themselves the greatest share of the public consideration. During their whole lives they are engaged in plans and projects; they have frequently more acuteness of intellect than the greater part of country gentlemen. As their thoughts, however, are commonly exercised, rather about the interest of their own particular branch of business than about that of society, their advice, even when given with the greatest candour, which has not been the case on every occasion, is much more to be depended upon with regard to the former of these objects than with regard to the latter. Their superiority over the country gentleman is not so much in their knowledge of the public interest, as in having a better knowledge of their own interest than he has of his. It is by this superior knowledge of their own, that 783 they have frequently imposed on his generosity, and persuaded him to give up both his own interest and that of the public, from a very simple and honest conviction that their interest, and not his, was the interest of the public.He was astonished last night to hear the opinion of the First Lord of the Treasury as to the national debt: that noble Lord laid it down very broadly that nothing was to be done with the debt, and that nothing could be done but in perpetuity pay the interest. He thought that such a proposition, coming from such a high quarter, was likely to produce a most serious effect upon our monetary system. The hon. Member for Manchester had said, look at the peace and tranquillity you enjoy. If it had not been for this cheapness of food, how different it might have been. When he traced the recent distresses of foreign nations to the dearness of provisions, he (Sir W. Jolliffe) must entirely differ from him. He traced every one of these disasters to monetary and financial difficulties. In every case the revolutions had been preceded by defalcations in the Exchequer and by continually adding to the national debt. Was not the same thing going on in this country?
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, at this period of the Session they might have been doing something for the benefit of the country by passing some of the many Bills now lying on the table, but they had passed the time in a discussion rather more suited to a debating club. There was no proposition before the House which the Government could deal with; there was no proposition before the House upon which any private Member could give an opinion; but they had been called upon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford, who had grown grey in the service of the public, on the 20th July—at the time there was the greatest pressure of business—to discourse upon what, he was pleased to say, was a simple proposition respecting the finances, and the taxation which should be imposed. The right hon. Gentleman was going to bring forward a proposition, but he found his courage not equal to the task, and he shrank from his proposition by merely making a suggestion. Was there anything so valuable as precious time, and was anything so disrespectful to a rational House of Commons? What was the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman? He was an old Chancellor of the Exchequer; he had come forward with an abstract proposition, which he would not discuss, because 784 he had respect for the House. If he had proposed it to the House, they would have discussed it. He thought the right hon. Gentleman himself would have done well to have shown those who were younger the sort of blessing which experience should have taught him of the great value of time. They had no matter before them which could be brought to a rational conclusion, and in order to raise a question before the House, he would move that the House do now adjourn.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ MR. SPEAKER
, in putting the question, observed that the House would remember that on a Motion of this nature, a Committee had recommended that the practice of the House should be adhered to, and that every Member should speak only to the question before the House.
§ MR. BANKES
did not rise to second the Motion for adjournment, but to speak on the question of adjournment. He would put it to the hon. and learned Member, whether he thought it would promote the despatch of public business; and if he did not, he thought he might without difficulty induce him to withdraw the Motion. The only reason the hon. and learned Gentleman had given for adjournment was, that the right hon. Gentleman had grown grey in the public service—that he had been a successful Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Mr. ROEBUCK: I did not say successful.] Well, then, that he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that he had uselessly occupied the time of the House when he made a proposition to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the present day, which was, that finding there was a deficiency in the Exchequer at the present moment, he suggested a method of supplying it. These were the arraignments brought by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield against the hon. and learned Member for Stamford. The whole gist of the argument was in favour of his Motion for adjournment. There had been a discussion which nobody but the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield thought misapplied. It was a suggestion which, favourably received, was a fit question for discussion before the conclusion of the present Session. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield was known to entertain peculiar opinions, and to advocate them in a manner peculiar to himself; but he would not succeed in expediting the business of the House if he 785 pursued this course. He hoped the House would now hear the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for Middlesex, which might as well be submitted to the House. The interposition of the hon. Member fur the West Riding had not, in the slightest degree, facilitated the object of the debate.
§ On the suggestion of the CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER,
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On the Question that Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair,
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
said, that as probably he should not have another opportunity, he would now bring forward his Motion. If they wished that he should do so To-morrow, he would do so; but he gave way on a recent occasion, not because he thought the question had been sufficiently discussed, but he felt that the question he was about to submit to the notice of the House, was so important in its nature that he did not wish to organise those Gentlemen who generally went under the designation of the Manchester school, in hostility against the Motion which he was about to bring forward. He would sooner have been silent on the question he was about to submit to the House, than he would have precluded the question by acting in opposition to any part of the House. They had had an important discussion to-night; he did not underrate the importance, but at the same time, in bringing forward the Motion which he was about to submit to the House, he would take leave to tell the House and the country at large that it was one fraught with consequences not only important to this country, but to the civilisation of Europe at large. He was perfectly willing, if the Government would prefer it, to bring on the question on the report To-morrow, at twelve; but when so many representations had appeared in the public press of this country, and so many misconceptions in the public mind, he hoped the House would bear with him. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Give notice for To-morrow.] In compliance with the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman he would give notice, that, on bringing up the report To-morrow, he should move for any papers connected with the advance of the Russian troops into the kingdom of Hungary.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ The House adjourned at half after Two o'clock.