HL Deb 07 June 1827 vol 17 cc1139-44
Lord Goderich

moved that the House resolve itself into a committee on the Corn Bill.

The Marquis of Londonderry

wished, before the House went into a committee, to ask the noble lord, whether, since the majority which had recently taken place on a clause in this bill, certain noble lords had received intimation, that if they did not alter their votes, and conform to the wishes of ministers, they would not be allowed to remain in his majesty's household? The House and the country ought to understand whether, during the progress of this bill, steps had been taken to intimidate noble lords from discharging what they felt to be their duty to the country, and especially to the agricultural interest.

Lord Goderich

believed the noble marquis had exhibited the first instance ever known, of calling upon a minister of the Crown to state what advice he had given with respect to persons holding offices under the Crown, before such advice had been given and taken. He, for one, would not compromise what was due to the king's prerogative by answering the question. It was competent to the king to appoint whom he pleased to situations in his household, and to remove whom he pleased from those situations; and he did not conceive it to be at all a part of the duty of the government to state, why his majesty had exercised his undoubted prerogative. He thought he could refer the noble marquis to a case in which no such explanation had been given.

Lord Delawar

owed it to their lordships and to himself to state, that, in consequence of the vote he had given on the question of the amendment of the noble duke (of Wellington), he had felt it his duty to follow up that vote, by resigning the situation he held in his majesty's household. But he had taken that course, without receiving any intimation from any person whatever.

The House then resolved itself into a committee on the bill.

The Earl of Malmesbury

referred to a suggestion which he had thrown out on a former night, of admitting foreign corn by instalments. He thought it would be very possible to admit monthly instalments, to be regulated by the price. For example, if the price were 66s., let three hundred thousand quarters be admitted for home consumption. Let this continue monthly, so long as the price continued at 66s.; but the moment the average was under that sum, let no further limitation be permitted until it rose again, and so on. The odious measure adopted last year showed that it was possible to limit the importation; for there it was limited to five hundred thousand quarters. If it had been possible to limit it then, why not hereafter?

Earl Stanhope

said, that as it was admitted that the object of the bill was prohibitory, the suggestion was perfectly consistent with it. According to the opinion of sir Claude Scott, no importation of corn was necessary for the consumption of this country; which could grow enough for its own necessities. Whatever quantity of foreign corn, therefore, was imported, would put so much British corn out of the market.

Lord Ellenborough

remarked, that there was one mode in which the difficulty might be obviated, but it was a mode which no political economist would approve, though it had been adopted with advantage by several of the smaller states on the continent, and some even of the larger. That mode was, to make the state the sole depository of foreign corn. The necessary regulation would be, that it should be lawful for government to buy always at a certain low price, and sell always at a certain high price, until the market price was reduced below it. This mode would obviate all the difficulties attendant on the admission of foreign corn, and it had the recommendation of having been uniformly successful wherever it had been tried.

Lord Holland

said, that those who were connected with the land would doubtless feel much obliged to the noble baron for his suggestion. For his own part, he could imagine no project more subversive of their independence. If it were adopted, there would be an end of any body deriving his income from the land venturing, under any circumstances, to vote against the government. All their chance of receiving any rent would depend on their conduct towards the government. He could not understand how any noble lord could reconcile it to his notions of the constitution, to throw out a suggestion so directly subversive of the liberties of the people.

Lord Ellenborough

complained, it was exceedingly convenient for any noble lord to take only one half of a speech made by another, and to mistake a suggestion for a proposition. If the power of sale was limited by the average price, and the time of sale also, he believed no danger could accrue to the landed interest. Without trading in corn, surely the noble lord was aware, that government had other means of securing votes in parliament.

The amendment was negatived.

The Earl of Westmorland

rose, also, to suggest a proposition. We were now, he said, within two months of the harvest; the season was a promising one, both here and on the continent: wool was in a state of depression, which must naturally lower the price of corn. Now, under such circumstances, if six hundred thousand quarters of wheat in bond were introduced into the market, and all the ports of Europe thrown open at the same time, he was apprehensive that the bill would be injurious, unless the admission of corn at the present period was very guarded. The holders of the six hundred thousand quarters of bonded corn had a strong claim upon the justice of the House; and it was, therefore, desirable that that should be got rid of, before this bill came into full operation. What he should propose, therefore, would be, that the bill should immediately take effect as to warehoused corn; but not as to other corn, for six months more. He, therefore, proposed the introduction of these words: "Provided also, that from and after the 16th of August, 1827, it shall and may be lawful for the holders of warehoused corn immediately to bring the same into consumption under the provisions of this bill; and, that the provisions of this bill take effect with respect to other corn on the 1st of January, 1828."

Lord Goderich

feared that the proviso of his noble friend, if adopted, would be encompassed with technical difficulties. It would postpone the period for admitting corn to he imported on payment of certain duties, and so keep those duties which were granted by the bill out of his majesty's Exchequer during that interval.

The proviso was withdrawn. On the question, that the schedule of prices and duties stand part of the bill,

The Earl of Malmesbury

wished to know from the noble lord opposite, in what way it was proposed to secure to the agriculturists a remunerating price for their commodities? Taking 60s. as the point of departure, he did not see how that end could be effected. He should therefore move, that, in lieu of 62s., the importing price mentioned in the schedule, 66s. be substituted.

Lord Goderich

felt, that nothing was so difficult as to demonstrate at what particular sum corn ought to be imported. It was also evident, that nothing could be more difficult than to demonstrate what was or was not a remunerating price. The noble earl wished to know whether 60s. could be secured to the agriculturist. To this he answered, that neither that nor any other particular price could be secured: 60s. had been taken, on the ground that it was equivalent to 80s. in the law of 1815. Considering the alteration which had taken place in the currency, and the reduction in the amount of taxation since that period, he thought a fair proportion had been maintained between the price formerly agreed on, and that now proposed.

The Earl of Lauderdale

said, he looked on the bill as a juggle, and warned noble lords of its dangerous tendency. It contemplated as a principle the necessity of this country depending for its supply of grain upon other countries. From the beginning of time down to this day, there was no instance of a country doing that, for a continuance, with impunity. It was that which brought the Roman empire to decay. They would find in Cicero and Columella the proofs of that gradual decay of native agriculture, which had brought the use of the plough down to the least profitable occupation of the lands of Italy. The abundance of Sicily and Egypt proved the bane, after being the sustenance, of the Romans. Let their lordships look at the fate, very similar, which had overtaken Spain. The progress of this decay, arising from depressed agriculture, was strongly marked by laws passed to prevent importation, and to stimulate native agriculture.

The Earl of Darnley

was of opinion, that the agriculturists ought to have a protection against the corn now in bond. If the amendment carried by a noble duke a few evenings ago went further than this, it went too far. He therefore intended to move, when the report was brought up, by way of amendment to the proposition of the noble duke, "that the corn now in bond should not be brought out for home consumption until the price reached 66s.; and that all corn imported afterwards should be subject to the provisions of the bill."

The Marquis of Bute

said, that his impression of the speech of a right hon. gentleman on this subject in another place, was, that the bill was intended to afford a fluctuating price of between 55s. and 65s. Now, his impression was, that the bill would never afford a greater price than 58s. or 59s.; and he should certainly support the amendment.

Lord Redesdale

was firmly convinced, that, if this bill passed into a law, it would have the effect of degrading the agriculture of the country to the greatest degree. He denied that the price of provisions affected the manufacturers, whose wages were nearly double those of the agriculturists. A voice had gone forth from another place, saying, that the landed interest must be put down; but he could only characterise it as the language of conspiracy, or revolution. The whole plan of the bill was radically wrong. It was in vain to attempt to fix a standing price for corn in this country. It seemed to him, that noble lords wished to bind down nature; but, if they attempted it, "the winds and the rains would laugh them to scorn, and the frosts and the snows would hold them in derision."

The Earl of Harrowby

said, that the accusation that this was a measure of revolutionary tendency, was misplaced; and, with respect to the expression which the noble and learned lord had alluded to, he would not believe that it had ever been used, until he was told by that noble lord that he had heard it; and he refused to believe it, because he thought that a general cry of indignation would have followed the expression of such a sentiment. This measure was not one by which it was sought to attempt to disturb the operations of nature, but to endeavour, as far as could be effected by legislature, to procure an equable supply of corn, at as undeviating a price as possible. The old law could never effect this: the prices under it had been proved to be extremely fluctuating, and, during the last six years, the depression of agriculture had been very great. The measure was not the offspring of a prurient desire of reformation, but one that had forced itself upon the government. The noble earl, after commenting at some length upon the existing regulations respecting the corn trade, said, that if they persisted in these regulations, he must warn them how they endangered a recurrence to a paper currency; which he conscientiously believed would be the consequence. He was not one of those who had wished to abandon so hastily the paper currency; but now that it had been done, he could never wish that those steps of difficulty and danger should be retraced.

The amendment was negatived. The remaining clauses were agreed to, and the House resumed.