The Earl of Westmoreland
said, he felt it his duty fairly to take his share of responsibility, however serious it might be, for the principle of this measure. It would not be necessary for him to enter at large into a defence of the bill, as that had been done ably by his noble friend (lord Goderich). It would be extremely improper in him to follow his noble friend in the same line of argument. It would be sufficient for him to say, that he generally 1087 agreed in all that his noble friend had stated, and that he differed as much from all that the noble marquis (Lansdown) had said also, in support of the bill. The ground he took in defence of this measure was, that, with reference to the times and circumstances of the present day, it was right, proper, and beneficial to all classes of the community, agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial, that some settlement should be made of this great question. He contended that, if a settlement of this great question was necessary, it was more particularly so after the late crisis in the financial world, which had done mischief to none more than to the agriculturists. In the course of the recent debate on this bill, it had been said, that a settlement was necessary to all parties, but especially to that interest which their lordships represented; and some insinuations were thrown out, that, if their lordships did not accede to this measure, they were influenced by a prejudice in favour of the landed interests, which might be supposed to be injured by this measure, as they were most interested in the protection of agriculture, and the cultivation of the country. Now, he maintained, in opposition to this doctrine, that however all classes were interested in the protection of agriculture, the classes were to be considered in an inverse ratio, and that the agricultural proprietors should be counted last. The parties most deeply concerned were those classes whose food depended on their daily labour, and who would be the first to suffer in case of famine. The next class interested in the protection of agriculture was the monied and financial party. In support of this opinion, he would quote a writer (Cobbett) who, though he did not look up to him as an authority on all subjects, had undoubtedly the ability of enforcing his arguments strongly. This writer was an enemy to the Corn-laws; but he said, "Let us have wheat at five shillings a bushel, and the thing is at an end." What he called "the thing," meant the financial interests of the country, the funded debt. It was not without some degree of reason that he predicted, that if he could get wheat at that reduced price, the landed interest would be destroyed, and with it all the other interests would fall to the ground, and a different settlement of public affairs would arise from the ruins of the constitution. The third class interested in this measure were 1088 those who represented the agricultural body. They naturally were deeply concerned in the due cultivation of the land, on which the independence of the nation rested. But, although all other interests might be nearly swept away, the land, at least, would remain. Grievous and alarming such a consideration is! All classes should unite to preserve and encourage the cultivation, and protect the country from such a calamity. He trusted the country would never depend for its food on foreigners, as he had heard the noble marquis assert it might with safety. He had read, as all their lordships had, ancient and modern history, and political writers, and he had invariably found a general concurrence on this point, that the strength of a country, either for attack or defence, national independence or internal tranquillity, depended on the cultivation of the soil, and the growth of food sufficient for the maintenance of its population. The first question to be ascertained was, whether a country should grow sufficient to maintain its population. No doubt on this point had been started, until of late years. It was necessary that, with an increasing population, we should have an increasing cultivation; and that object was the intention of this bill. On the total danger of relying on foreign supplies, he would not dwell in his own language. He would give his opinion in a few words from an author, whose sense and judgment had been admired by all men, since his works had been known to the world. He alluded to the historian Tacitus, who, explaining the causes of the decline of the Roman power, ascribed it chiefly to their latter practice of relying on foreign supply for their food. In the early days of the republic, agriculture was encouraged to such an extent, that the Romans exported corn largely; but when the new system was adopted of importing it from Egypt, the state became feeble and degenerate. In the time of Tiberius, by the prevalence of contrary winds, Rome was reduced to twenty-four hours provisions. The words of Tacitus, in concluding this passage, were:—"At Hercule! olim ex Italiæ regionibus longiuquas in provincias commeatus portabant: nec nunc infecunditate laboratur, sed Africam potius et Ægyptum exercemus, navibusque et casibus, vita populi Romani permissa est." He trusted that, after carrying this measure, their lordships would persevere in the principle on 1089 which it was founded. On looking at the tables that had been drawn up, it appeared to him, that no great quantity of foreign corn could be brought with a profit to market, except, perhaps, from a few distant ports. There still was danger, he was aware, from the operations of corn-dealers. They might enter upon great speculations, and having their capital embarked, would prefer losing ten or twenty per cent to get out of their difficulties; and, by this means, a large mass of foreign corn might be thrown on the market at a cheap rate, to the great injury of the home-grower. There ought, therefore, to be some regulation, by which the importation of corn could be prevented, until the price had risen to a certain pitch. On all hands it was admitted, that the home-grower could not be adequately protected under 60s. In the former legislation on this subject, care had always been taken, that corn should not come in too hastily, but only at certain times, and in certain quantities. In like manner, he thought some period should be fixed before which this bill should not begin to operate; and, when it did, the bonded corn should be admitted under such regulations as his majesty's government might deem it proper to impose. Those who had come with an early supply, when the country was in want of food, had a just claim to be preferred to later arrivals. Supporting the principle of the bill, he nevertheless should feel himself at liberty in the committee to propose a regulation to that effect. He did not wish to see too great facilities to the importation of foreign corn, to the prejudice of the home-grower; and he could not view without alarm, any prospect of the country becoming dependent on foreigners for its supply of food.
The House having resolved itself into a committee,
said, with reference to the amendment, that the law as it now stood between Great Britain and Ireland, prohibiting the importation of flour, was an act of the Irish parliament. That prohibition had not been altered by the acts of 1804, 1806, 1815, or 1822, and the amendment, if adopted, would not be beneficial to any class. By documents, it appeared that the importation had never amounted to any degree of importance, except when the harvests all over 1090 Europe were bad. In 1801, a quantity of flour had been imported from the United States, but the advantages derived from it were inadequate to the risk. If that was the result, when the temptation to introduce it was so much greater, there could be now no danger from the measure. The amendment would only have the effect of throwing into the hands of a few opulent millers in the neighbourhood of town a monopoly of the supply of flour.
supported the amendment, as an Englishman looking to the interests of Ireland. There was a large capital sunk in that country in the corn and flour trade, and he would give Ireland a monopoly, up to a certain extent, to protect the capital invested in that trade.
§ Earl Stanhope
was at a loss to know on what principle they could refuse the benefit to the people of that kingdom, which they derived from the existing laws. Their lordships were well aware that, if flour was in a good state, it would bear the longest voyages.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
could not think that, for the sake of the millers of Ireland, their lordships ought to exclude all foreign meal and flour from this country. The principle of the Corn-laws had always applied equally to flour as to wheat. But even were it otherwise, would their lordships, particularly under present circumstances, impose a prohibition on the importation of that article which constituted the most considerable of the exports of the United States, and thus deprive them of the principal means by which they were enabled to purchase our manufactures.
The Marquis of Salisbury
supported the amendment. It had always, he said, been the object of the legislature to encourage the Irish miller.
The Earl of Malmesbury
said, he wished to see Ireland a wheat-growing country, and there was no expectation of seeing that, unless it became a consuming country. He could not agree that flour and wheat ought to be placed on the same footing. Flour was a manufactured article, and, as a manufactured article, it ought to be protected beyond a raw article. As to the United States, their conduct towards us had exemplified any thing rather than a feeling of sympathy.
§ Lord Redesdale
supported the amendment, and argued against the principle of the bill. The system on which it proceeded was, that the farmers were not to receive a 1091 greater price for their corn than 55s. Now, in bad seasons, that, so far from being a remunerating, would be a ruinous, price to the farmer. With respect to ground corn, whenever the country imported an article in a manufactured, instead of a raw, state, she threw away an advantage which she ought to retain to herself. The general effect of the bill would be, to produce a regular importation of foreign corn, and thereby the British farmer would be ruined. Whenever a season came, which yielded him but half a crop, being obliged, nevertheless, to sell this half crop at the same price as if it produced him a whole one, he must be a loser that season. By diminishing the price of corn, the farmer would be obliged to diminish his stock; and, by diminishing his stock, he would be unable to manure as much land as before. Thus the operation of the bill would be, to defeat its own object; for, by throwing land out of cultivation, it would, of necessity, render corn dearer.
said, that many Irish lords seemed disposed to vote for this bill under a mistaken impression. They thought they derived an advantage under this bill, in having a concession made to them with respect to oats. Now, he entreated them not to separate the interests of that country from those of England; for, whenever they did so, it would turn out to their prejudice. But did this bill afford them an advantage over the bill of 1822? It was true that, under the present bill, when oats continued for three months at from 28s. to 29s. there would be an advantage of 9d. over the bill of 1822; but, except when that contingency occurred, there would be a loss. He entreated the people of that country to look more to the export of wheat. Just now oats constituted a more important object with them than wheat; but let them look at the history of their agriculture, and they would find that wheat was a new invention in Ireland. It was not long since there was not a loaf of wheaten bread to be had in Belfast; and those who first attempted to sow any wheat were looked upon as making a most extravagant experiment; yet now they produced wheat of the finest quality. He entreated the noble lords connected with that country to afford every encouragement to the cultivation of wheat.
The Amendment was negatived.
§ Earl Bathurst
objected to the words "at all times." He contended, that these 1092 words were in contradiction to the principle of the bill. It stated, "that it was expedient that corn, &c., should at all times be allowed to be imported" upon payment of certain duties. Now, these duties were prohibitory duties. Was it common sense, then, to say, that at all times these articles should be imported at prohibitory duties? He denied that the principle of the bill was prohibitory. The duties were partly prohibitory, partly restrictive, and partly nominal. When the price of corn was under 60s. they were prohibitory; when it was at 65s., they were restrictive; and when it reached 70s., they were only nominal. When he first read those words, they appeared to him to be of great importance; but they appeared still more so, since he had heard the noble marquis (Lansdown) declare, that this country should be dependent on foreign nations. Now, he denied that such was intended to be the principle of this bill. With respect to the principles of free trade generally, he denied that the measures of the late government were founded on principles of free trade, any more than this bill was founded on the principle of a free trade in corn. It proceeded on principles of prohibition, regulated by restrictive duties. They might as well talk of a free press under a censorship, as of free trade in grain under graduated duties. He concluded by moving for the omission of the words "at all times."
§ The Earl of Harrowby
said, that the chief merit of the bill lay in fixing the prohibitory duty at such a point as would satisfy all parties.
The Earl of Malmesbury
disliked the bill, because it was a clumsy plan of prohibition. He pointed out the hazards with which the native growers were threatened by speculations in foreign grain; and asked, why the government should not, instead of the bill, protect the agriculturists by a plain prohibition? He would move the substitution of 64s. instead of 60s., which was proposed as the remunerating price, at the proper opportunity.
The Marquis of Lansdown
said, it was impossible for him to have stated that it was desirable for this country to be dependent upon others, for any considerable portion of her grain. What he had said was, that it was in the nature of things that a rich country should be so dependent on others, and that this tendency could not be checked, without injuring the wealth 1093 of the richer country, and, consequently, in our case, without injuring the capital which was to remunerate the agricultural interests. But it was utterly impossible for him to agree with those who thought that the country ought to be wholly independent of foreign countries for any portion of the food of the population. He thought it was highly desirable to get rid of the word prohibition from our commercial code; and, though there were many restraining duties which acted as prohibitions, and which, in the present artificial state of the affairs of the country, could not immediately be done away, yet it was something to get rid of the term prohibition.
The Earl of Lauderdale
said, that the object of the bill was to lower the prices of grain; and, as high prices argued an increased state of enjoyment, and a better remuneration to all the operative classes, low prices were any thing but desirable.
§ Viscount Goderich
said, that they were justified, by the experience of a century, in concluding that this country must, from time to time, be dependent upon others for a supply in times of scarcity. He admitted that, in some sense, they must have prohibition; because, for reasons of state, the native grower could never be allowed to have the full benefit of high prices, and therefore he must be protected from the effects of very low prices; the supply of the food of the population having to depend upon the agricultural classes. He had never contended for an entirely free trade, even in other commodities, without paying any duties; but he thought it desirable to modify the duties, according to the reduction of expenses in manufactures, especially as many of those duties had operated as prohibitions, though never intended to be such by the legislature. The House had only to reflect, that many of those duties were mere exigencies, to which the government had been driven by the expensive operations of the war.
advised ministers to hold several cabinet councils, and agree upon some understanding of certain terms of political economy commonly in use, such as those of prohibition and free trade. He thought that the view held out by the noble marquis, and those who acted with him, was the most mischievous that could be entertained. Were there no other considerations besides wealth, in the practice of government? This country was an agricultural as well as a commercial coun- 1094 try. Great and superior wealth did not imply national strength. Let their lordships look at the growth of mercantile wealth in this country. Had the happiness and morals of the people been increased?—on the contrary, had not misery and crime increased with their increased numbers? A wise government should no more devote all its energies to the increase of wealth than a wise man. He preferred either of the bills of 1815 or 1822 to this; which he declared to be an anomaly in the law. It was impossible ever to effect a free trade in corn; and it was absurd to talk of putting food upon the same footing as commodities which were not of prime necessity. The noble marquis had said, that the country ought to be; or must be, dependent upon others for some portion of the supply. What portion would the noble marquis name, as that which it was desirable, under the present arrangements of capital, for the country to draw from abroad? The country could not prosper when the prices of grain were very low. The noble lord went on to object to the fixing a maximum of corn in England, and especially to the fixing it at such a point as must be below a remunerating price in seasons of scarcity. If the price of corn was not to rise when the crop was deficient, how was it possible for the farmer to be paid? He was perfectly ready to call into immediate action the bill of 1822; and even to attach a graduated scale of duties to that bill. Or he would make an alteration in the importation prices of 70s., fixed by that bill. But to the bill before the House he was decidedly adverse. The former bills had been bills of compromise between the two interests, which were supposed to be opposed to each other; but the present bill was one of capitulation, and it should never have his consent. He saw no reason for departing from the provisions of the bill of 1822, unless it were to introduce some measure of increased protection to the agriculturists. The price of gold in 1822, when that bill was passed, had been below the Mint price. The distress of the country had been greater in 1822 than it was at present. The only difference was, that the agriculture of the country required more protection now, because it had been longer in a state of depression; and yet, here was a call at once upon the landed interest to reduce their corn 10s. a quarter. 1095 The motion for omitting the words "at all times," was negatived.
then rose to move an amendment to the effect which he had just stated. The words which he wished to have inserted were taken from the bill of 1815. His motion was, that after the words "for home consumption," should be inserted the following words—"whenever the average prices of the several sorts of British corn, made up and published according to law, shall be at or above the prices herein after mentioned."
§ Viscount Goderich
was desirous to know to what price the noble lord's scheme of prohibition was meant to extend.
said, that if the House sanctioned the principle of his amendment, the question of price could be settled afterwards.
The House then divided: Not-Contents 82; Contents 39; Majority 43.
The Earl of Farnham
proposed an amendment, by which the prices of Irish and Scotch grain should be embodied in the averages. It was difficult, he said, to know how to deal with the measure before the House, from the uncandid manner in which it had been introduced, detached from another bill which was now in progress through the other House, and with which it was closely connected.
said, that the introduction of the prices in Ireland and Scotland would alter the rate of duties affixed by other parts of the bill.
The Earl of Stanhope
said, that the course pursued by ministers had been neither fair nor candid. The measure which was fraught with such bitter consequences to the agriculturist, appeared to him to be merely the precursor of other measures of a similar tendency. It would have been more frank to have embodied at once all that was meant to be proposed.
The Earl of Rosebery
defended the mode of taking the averages; which was conformable to the system of 1815 and 1822.
The Earl of Lauderdale
observed, that the proposed mode of taking the averages would be a fraud upon the public.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells
was of opinion, that the effect of the bill would be to throw a large portion of poor land out of cultivation, and thus to deprive numbers of the labouring classes of occupa- 1096 tion and bread. This consideration induced him to express his disapprobation of the present bill; and he was anxious that their lordships should rightly appreciate the motives which actuated him in the discharge of a painful duty.
The Earl of Malmesbury
said, that, whenever an importation should take place, foreign corn would be sold in our markets. How, then, could this be called "British" corn? It would be better to leave out this word.
said, he had no wish to set up his opinion against the sense of the House.
It was then agreed, that the word "British" should be struck out.
The Earl of Rosslyn
moved, "That the several rates of duties specified in the table to be affixed to grain imported into the United Kingdom should be charged and collected at the time of such grain being entered for home consumption."
observed, that the effect of this amendment would be, to annihilate the warehousing system. Now, if corn were not warehoused here, it would be warehoused at the nearest foreign ports. The state of the markets here could, by the rapidity of the present communications, be conveyed to Ostend, Flushing, or Antwerp, in little better than twenty-four hours; and this would lead to a sudden and enormous glut, which would be better guarded against by the preservation of the warehousing system in this country.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, he must object to the clause proposed by the noble earl, because he should always feel disinclined to place the warehousing system—a system in which property to a considerable amount was embarked—on any other than a secure foundation. Having attended the committee on the corn trade, and having carefully read over the evidence taken before that committee, it appeared to him absolutely necessary, that something should be done, to prevent the warehousing system from being made a pretext, and converted into a means, of practising those frauds which, it not only appeared from the evidence, were carried on, but which he challenged any noble lord who had attended the committee to say how they could possibly prevent while the present system was continued. He had reason to believe that his noble friend (lord Goderich) would not be indisposed to accede to another measure which he 1097 intended to propose to the committee—a measure which would have the double effect of placing the warehousing system on a secure footing, and of remedying any frauds which might occur in taking the averages. He should therefore oppose the clause of the noble earl, and propose, by way of amendment, that "foreign corn in bond should not be taken out of bond, until the average price of corn shall have reached 66s." [hear].
said, that his noble friend had very much misunderstood him, if he supposed that he had ever expressed himself in favour of such a clause. The fact was quite the reverse; for he was of opinion, that if the clause of the amendment were adopted, its introduction must, as a necessary consequence, lead to the rejection of the bill altogether [Cries of "no, no," and laughter, from the Opposition benches.] He was somewhat at a loss to know what noble lords intended by these expressions of merriment; but this much he would say, that those noble lords should not laugh him out of his opinions. He felt it his duty to oppose the amendment of the noble duke, because he felt that it was at direct variance with the principles of the bill, and would tend at once to encourage that prohibition which the bill was calculated to remove. It was somewhat singular that his noble friend, who had had ample opportunities, should not have discovered the imperfections of this bill until the present occasion [hear, hear].
§ The Duke of Wellington
explained. He had never been a party to the framing of the bill, which he never saw until it was printed. He had supported its general principles, with a view to the good of the country, but without pledging himself to support all its clauses.
said, he wished to stand fairly with his noble friend. He understood his clause to be this—that no corn in bond, in warehouse, or on shipboard, should be taken out of bond, until the average price of corn amounted to 66s.
§ The Duke of Wellington
expressed his assent, and added a few words in explanation, which were inaudible below the bar.
withdrew his amendment. Strangers were then ordered to withdraw; and shortly after, the result of the division to which their lordships had come to was announced by the loud cheers of that side of the House in favour of which it had taken place. Their lordships continued in 1098 debate for some time after; and, when the doors were again opened, we found the numbers to be:—Contents 78; Not-Contents 74; Majority in favour of the duke of Wellington's Amendment 4.
The chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again on Wednesday.