HL Deb 20 March 1815 vol 30 cc263-5

On the third reading of the Bill it was moved, "that this Bill be rejected;" which motion having, on a division, been negatived, the following Protest was entered:

"Dissentient, 1. Because we are adverse in principle to all new restraints on commerce. We think it certain that public prosperity is best promoted, by leaving uncontrouled the free current of national industry; and we wish rather, by well-considered steps, to bring back our commercial legislation to the straight and simple line of wisdom, than to increase the deviation, by subjecting additional and extensive branches of the public interest to fresh systems of artificial and injurious restriction. 2. Because we think that the great practical rule, of leaving all commerce unfettered, applies more peculiarly, and on still stronger grounds of justice as well as of policy, to the corn trade than to any other. Irresistible indeed must be that necessity which could, in our judgment, authorize the Legislature to tamper with the sustenance of the people, and to impede the free purchase and sale of that article, on which depends the existence of so large a portion of the community. 3. Because we think that the expectations of ultimate benefit from this measure are founded on a delusive theory. We cannot persuade ourselves that this law will ever contribute to produce plenty, cheapness, or steadiness of price. So long as it operates at all, its effects must be the opposite of these. Monopoly is the parent of scarcity, of dearness, and of uncertainty. To cut off any of the sources of supply can only tend to lessen its abundance; to close against ourselves the cheapest market for any commodity, must enhance the price at which we purchase it; and to confine the consumer of corn to the produce of his own country, is to refuse to ourselves the benefit of that provision which Providence itself has made for equalizing to man the variations of season and of climate. 4. But whatever may be the future consequences of this law, at some distant and uncertain period, we see, with pain, that these hopes must be purchased at the expense of a great and present evil. To compel the consumer to purchase corn dearer at home than it might be imported from abroad, is the immediate practical effect of this law. In this way alone can it operate. Its present protection, its promised extension of agriculture must result (if at all) from the profits which it creates by keeping up the price of corn to an artificial level. These future benefits are the consequences expected, but as we confidently believe erroneously expected, from giving a bounty to the grower of corn, by a tax levied on its consumer. 5. Because we think that the adoption of any permanent law, for such a purpose, required the fullest and most laborious investigation. Nor would it have been sufficient for our satisfaction could we have been convinced of the general policy of so hazardous an experiment. A still further inquiry would have been necessary to persuade us that the present moment was fit for its adoption. In such an inquiry we must have had the means of satisfying ourselves what its immediate operation will be as connected with the various and pressing circumstances of public difficulty and distress with which the country is now surrounded; with the state of our circulation and currency; of our agriculture and manufactures; of our internal and external commerce; and above all with the condition and reward of the industrious and labouring classes of our community.

"On all these particulars, as they respect this question, we think that Parliament is almost wholly uninformed; on all we see reason for the utmost anxiety and alarm from the operation of this law.

"Lastly, Because if we could approve of the principle and purpose of this law, we think that no sufficient foundation has been laid far its details. The evidence before us, unsatisfactory and imperfect as it is, seems to us rather to disprove than to support the propriety of the high price adopted as the standard of importation. and the fallacious mode by which that price is to be ascertained.

"And on all these grounds we are anxious to record our dissent from a measure so precipitate in its course, and, as we fear, so injurious in its consequences.