HL Deb 20 March 1815 vol 30 cc259-63

On the order of the day for the third reading of the Corn Bill,

The Marquis of Buckingham

protested against the Bill, against its principle, the mode of carrying it into practice, and against the precipitation with which it had been hurried through the House in defiance of the petitions of the people. His lordship characterized the measure as a bribe given to the landed interest to induce them to acquiesce in the maintenance of war establishments in a time of peace; and considered it as most unjust to the other classes of the community, that the landholders should thus have secured to them in a time of peace the high prices which they had obtained during a period of war.

The Earl of Westmoreland

said, he wished, as Nero did of the Romans, that England had but one head, or that all its heads, and those of London especially, could have been present at the former discussions of the question. They would have found all the argument on one side; for to his mind, nothing in conviction could be more conclusive than the speech of the noble earl (Liverpool) beside him. He disapproved of the language that called Ireland a foreign country, or placed her on the same footing with the Continent as to our protection. The effect of the system of protection was remarkable in that country. Forty years ago, she was unspeakably wretched; corn bounties were introduced, and they made her one great agricultural country. The opinion of noble lords seemed to be, that such a diminution in the price of corn should take place, as would throw about a third part of the land out of cultivation. The produce of that third was about 12 millions of quarters; now where were we to get such a quantity? The value of those 12 millions would be about 50 millions sterling: we had never in the worst of times been forced to buy more than 3 millions' worth in the year. But supposing we could find the corn, how were we to bring it home? We might reckon that 3 quarters occupied a ton of freightage. Here we must use 4 millions of tonnage. Now the greatest quantity of tonnage that had ever entered the British ports in a year was not more than 3 millions and a half.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

also argued in support of the Bill, contending for its necessity, with a view to the encouragement of agriculture, in order that we might insure a steady supply within ourselves, and animadverted upon the language used by his noble friend (the marquis of Buckingham), which he considered as calculated to misguide the public mind.

The Marquis of Buckingham

, in explanation, disclaimed any intention of misguiding the public mind.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

denied any intention of throwing blame upon his noble friend's motives.

The Earl of Carlisle

objected to the Bill, as being calculated to excite great discontent, without any advantage being shewn that could be derived from it.

Earl Stanhope

said, he could not help laughing at the noble Premier's ideas of British superiority as arising from fuel, credit, and machinery. When the workman ran away to foreign countries, he carried off his money; so much for permanent capital: as to fuel, he should tell the noble Premier, that there might be machinery worked without fuel. The noble prime might stare at this; but though he (earl Stanhope) would give way to him where he had his official papers beside him, he would tell that noble prime that as to machinery and such like matters, the noble prime was not fit to tie the latchets of his shoes. Conceiving this Bill to be grossly injurious to the poorer classes, he felt it his duty to move, that it be rejected.

Lord Redesdale

defended the Bill, contending that it was for the advantage of all classes of the community to encourage the growth of corn; taking the import at one-fortieth part of the consumption, thirty-nine parts must be provided for within ourselves. The landholders besides, whose rents instead of increasing had really diminished, though there was a nominal rise, ought to be maintained in their relative scale in society.

Lord King

considered the argument of the noble lord regarding the landholders to be speaking out upon the subject, and shewing the real nature of the Bill. The measure was to operate by a monopoly, and must have the effect of raising the price of wheat.

The Earl of Harrowby

contended, that the Bill would operate to the real ad-advantage of the consumer, including of course the whole of the poorer class; and that even if the effect was to raise the price of grain during the next year, the ultimate result would be to render it cheaper, and produce a full supply at a moderate rate.

The Earl of Darnley

warmly supported the Bill, and contended, that the measure would not be more beneficial to the agriculturist than to the manufacturer. It was not to be wondered at that the table was loaded with petitions from the manufacturers, who were crowded in great towns, while the feeling of six millions of people in Ireland, and many in this country, employed in agricultural occupations, could not be collected, though decidedly in favour of the Bill. It was of little importance to their lordships, whose rents were in general so moderate, that the fall in the price of corn could not lower them, whether the Bill passed or no; but it was of great importance to the labourer that the price of bread should be steady.

Lord Grenville

thought, the effects of the Bill would be precisely contrary to the predictions of his noble friend (the earl of Harrowby), and he took that last opportunity of opposing it, and of renewing his entreaties to their lordships to pause, to consider, and inquire, before they passed the Bill. The effect was to raise a tax on the community to support the rents and the profits of the farmers. It was thus an act of injustice; and it was an act of impolicy, inasmuch as it caused loss to the country, by diverting capital from its proper channel. Even if he were so sanguine as to the future good effects of the Bill, he did not think that the present was the proper time for trying a perilous experiment, and of submitting to present evil for the sake of future and contingent good.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, that the only charge he could bring against himself was, that he had not urged the passing of such a Bill as that before the House in the last session of parliament. Much evil would thus have been avoided. If the Bill produced evil, it might be repealed; but the evils which might be produced by neglecting to pass it would be irreparable. If one quarter of the wheat land of the kingdom was thrown out of cultivation, no foreign supply could possibly make up the deficiency in the quantity of food.

The Earl of Lauderdale

denied, that any precipitation had been shown by the supporters of the Bill. He thought the arguments of the opposes of the Bill went entirely on the unfounded supposition, that the corn trade was a free trade, and that the price of provisions would be raised by the Bill; both of which assumptions he thought entirely false, because, from the excessive taxation of this country, a bounty was at present paid, in effect, to foreign corn-growers.

The House then divided on earl Stanhope's motion, that the Bill be rejected: Contents, 21; Not-contents, 128. The Bill was then read a third time, and passed.

List of the Peers who voted for the Rejection of the Corn Bill.
Sussex Torrington
Gloucester BARONS.
Somerset King
Buckingham Grantley
Douglas Grenville
EARLS. Dynevor
Carlisle Wellesley
Essex Proxies.
Stanhope Duke of Devonshire
Warwick Earl Spencer
Fortescue Marq. of Blandford