on rising to move the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill, said, that if he asked, on the present occasion, for their lordships' patience and indulgence, he could assure them that he did so, not as a mere matter of form, because, independently of the intrinsic importance of the question itself—independently of the great interest which it was calculated to excite in all classes of the community—independently of the vehement feelings, he might almost say passion, with which the present proposition was regarded by its friends and by its opponents—independently of the extravagant views of benefit foreseen on the one hand, and of danger apprehended on the other—independently of all these considerations, he could not but recollect in whose place it was his lot to stand. For if, by the infliction of Providence, his noble friend who had lately been at the head of the king's government had not been rendered unable to take part in their lordships' discussions, upon him would long since have 985 devolved the duty of explaining the principle and the details of the present important measure. And when he recollected the number of years during which that noble lord had taken so active and distinguished a part in their lordships' discussions—and when he recollected the capacities with which he had been endowed, to explain, with a clearness and distinctness almost peculiar to himself, the most difficult and complicated subjects—and when he recollected that there was no man in their lordships' House whose personal and public character had obtained for him a larger share of the respect and confidence of their lordships, it was impossible for him not to feel oppressed by the weight of those considerations, and to admit his own immeasurable inferiority. But, though he was fully sensible of that inferiority, and though there were many reasons on account of which he felt compelled to seek for their lordships' peculiar indulgence, yet there was one point, he would venture to say, upon which he did not yield to his noble friend; and that was, in the deep and sincere conviction which he felt, in common with what he knew to have been the sentiments of that noble lord, that the present measure was one which was calculated to produce great advantages to all classes of the king's subjects, and to no class, in his judgment, so much as to that class to which their lordships' belonged, and which looked up to their lordships, as it was natural and proper they should, in all cases, for protection and support. He was fortified by that conviction, which was the result of no small consideration paid to this subject by his noble friend; and he was not without a strong hope, whatever prejudices might have prevailed on the subject, and whatever doubts might have been entertained as to the policy of the measure—he had the most sanguine expectation, that those prejudices would be overcome, and that the present measure would be allowed to pass into a law. If he was fortified by what was the conviction of his noble friend, he had also the satisfaction of being supported, on the present occasion, by those noble friends who had recently become connected with the king's government—a connexion which he would always maintain was founded on principles which no man could justly impeach, and which enabled them to give to their king and the country the benefits of their dis- 986 tinguished talents, without compromising their consistency, much less their integrity, or lowering the dignity of their character in the eyes of their lordships.
He did, therefore, presume to ask their lordships to listen to him with patience and indulgence, while he endeavoured to explain the grounds upon which he thought they were all interested in the success of the present measure. He knew that much blame had been cast upon his majesty's government, for having agitated this question at all. He well knew, that there were many considerations which would naturally deter any government from interfering with the Corn-laws; but, if government had interfered, he begged the House to recollect circumstances which had occurred, since the bill of 1815 was passed; and he would then call on the House to say, whether the government had wantonly and unnecessarily hastened into the discussion of this question; or whether they had not been compelled, by the force of circumstances over which they could exercise no control, and of events which had directly originated among that very class of persons, who were now the most vehement opponents of the present measure. After the bill of 1815 had passed, it came immediately into operation; and the ports were closed until the 16th of November, 1816. They were then opened, after one of the worst harvests known in this country, and after one of the most unfavourable seasons ever known in Europe, and which affected the produce of corn in every part of the civilized world. The ports remained open from the 15th of November, 1816, until the 15th of February, 1818. The harvest of 1817 was a very scanty one; and, during the whole of the time that the ports continued open, and while importation was taking place to a great extent, the price of wheat continued at an enormous height, until the year 1818, when the average was reduced below 80s., and the ports closed for three months. They closed, he believed, on the 15th of February in that year, and remained closed for no more than three months; and the price rose at the cessation of importation, manifestly indicating a state of great scarcity. The ports opened at the expiration of the three months, and remained opened until the 15th of February, 1819. Now, the harvest of 1818 had been of a very different nature from that of the two preceding 987 years. The season was remarkably fine, and wheat abounded in every part of the United Kingdom and Europe, and was gathered in in the finest possible condition: but it did so happen, that the ports remained open on the 15th of November, 1818, by the simple fraction above the average price of 2d.; and though there was no want of a productive harvest in 1818, the ports remained open till the 15th of February, 1819. In the course of all the years, since the passing of the act of 1815, the quantity of foreign corn imported into the country, under the operation of that act, was very considerable indeed; and a large proportion, and the most inconvenient and useless portion, was imported during the latter part of the year 1818, and between the years 1818 and 1819.
What was the effect of all this upon those who were most interested in the operation of the law? It filled them with the utmost dismay. It had the effect of exciting terror in every part of the country, and strong feelings of hostility against the principle of the bill of 1815; which we were now told was the palladium of security to the agricultural interest: and the consequence of these feelings was, that the utmost efforts were made, by persons competent to excite feelings of such a nature, to unite in one focus those feelings which prevailed among the agriculturists; and through the medium of what he might call an agricultural parliament, which sat in the very neighbourhood of their lordships' House, they came to an unanimous resolution of unqualified condemnation of the principle of the bill of 1815, and stated in the said resolution, not only that that bill was not calculated to promote the end for which it had been established, but would have quite an opposite effect; and in 1819 they laid down an unanimous resolution, that the principle upon which a Corn-law ought to be founded, was a free and permanent admission of foreign grain, subject to certain duties, on account of tithes and other taxation on the cultivation of the soil. Directly and unanimously—and he believed that they spoke the sentiments of the agriculturist—they laid down the principle of that law which was now opposed by the same class of persons who thought that the law of 1815 was necessary for the salvation of the agricultural interest. They who opposed the present bill could not but feel that they were going in an opposite direction to the first step 988 of condemnation taken by that body; and could not lay any blame upon government for an alteration in the law. He remembered, that so strong was the feeling excited in the country by the course of proceedings adopted at that time—and he did not wish to say that he either approved or complained of it—so strong was the feeling excited, that it naturally and necessarily set afloat all the opposite feelings, and excited sentiments of a different nature on the other side, and made all parties, even those who were most disposed to be quiescent, take an active part against the Corn-bill at that time.
At the opening of the session of parliament in 1819, so strong was the impression which prevailed in the country on the subject of the Corn-laws, that government was compelled—whether such was their intention, or whether they had no such intention—as he could assure their lordships was the case—to make an inquiry into the state of the law; after which no further step was taken. This agricultural parliament, however, were so active, that from the session of 1819 to 1821, they got up the greatest number of petitions ever presented to parliament upon one subject. Petitions, to the number of one thousand two hundred, were presented to the House of Commons, all of them complaining of the principle and operation of the law of 1815, which was condemned by the bill now introduced into that House. Such a number of petitions exhibited a pretty strong indication of the state of the public mind; but, as that took place before the most important question of the currency, which was necessarily, and in no small degree, connected with the corn question—since these petitions were presented before that question had been brought to any settlement by the decision of the legislature—ministers thought it an injudicious step to take any measure with a view to consider the Corn-laws, or to call upon parliament to give effect to the prayer of those one thousand two hundred petitions. In 1820, all this anxiety for an alteration of the law, on the part of the agriculturalists, proceeding, as he had stated, from a conviction of the inutility, and inefficiency, and total inadequacy, of the law, their declamations against it were continued in full force, and a proposition was submitted to the other House of parliament, to form a committee, to inquire into the statements of those petitions. 989 What were the principles, and what the grounds laid down in all those petitions, but a condemnation of the law of 1815, and a demand, that the legislature should adopt a different principle? It had been his duty to oppose the policy of forming a committee; but the government was unsuccessful in their efforts; and the result was, that a committee was appointed. It was true, that their powers were limited to consider the question of averages; but it was pretty clear, from the success with which the motion for that committee had been carried, that it would be impossible for government to abstain from prosecuting inquiry, if such prosecution should be insisted upon; and accordingly in the following year, 1821, when the proposition was renewed, his majesty's government felt it to be impossible to refuse its acquiescence to the forming of that committee. From the state of feelings of all parties concerned at that time, and the government would not have done their duty, if they had not given their consent to that investigation, which led, by the most direct process, to the admission of the principle of the present bill, in contradistinction to the law of 1815. The committee of 1821 made a most elaborate report, and the committee did condemn by reason and facts—by reason à priori, and by facts from experience—the principle of the law of 1815. That report had laid the foundation of the present bill, and with that consideration he submitted the bill to the consideration of the House.
In the year 1822, another committee was appointed, which reviewed the report of the former committee, but did not dissent from it. From the report of the committee of 1822 resulted a practical measure. What was the principle of that report? A certain modification of the existing law of 1815. But the committee never pretended to say that the law of 1815, or a modification of that law, ought to be considered the permanent principle upon which the Corn-laws should be established; but they confirmed, in a more or less direct manner, the principle laid down in the former report, and only suggested a more modified change, as a step to a more entire and permanent change. And it was impossible for him not to recollect, at the time the law of 1822 was under the consideration of parliament, which was the law, by which it might be supposed the corn question was governed; that, in 990 point of fact, the law of 1815 was the existing law, because the operation of the bill of 1822 could not come into effect, until the price of wheat rose to 80s.: and he did not know whether their lordships were to look to the time when that bill would come into operation; coming into operation as it would at a degree of price prejudicial to the country; and he thought no man would maintain, that there was any reason for inflicting—for infliction it would be, under the present circumstances of the country—a price so high, before the law could come into operation. It was impossible for him not to recollect, that, when he proposed the third reading of that bill, one of the most distinguished members of the agricultural body, celebrated for his practical knowledge, general information, and unwearied zeal on all subjects connected with agriculture—known for all those qualities which were calculated to give weight to his opinion—rose to say—what? Did he say that the law, as it then stood, ought to be maintained—that it was something sacred, which no man should presume to touch? No. He rose to give what he called his hearty malediction to the bill. If he, therefore, wanted authority to appeal to on the present occasion, he should appeal to that authority; and he was certain he never could appeal to one of more weight.
He had alluded to the petitions which had been presented from the agriculturists, but their lordships were not to suppose, that they were the only persons from whom petitions were presented to parliament. As many petitions were presented from the manufacturing interest, expressing their sentiments with the same warmth and earnestness. He should like to know, then, whether government, upon a question which affected the subsistence of the people, would have been justified in turning a deaf ear to the complaints of both classes of the community, who joined in condemning that measure which parliament had confirmed, and requiring a revision of the system upon which the Corn-laws were founded? He therefore thought that government, in bringing the present measure before parliament, consulted the true interests of both parties, and had done nothing but what they were in duty bound to do; and, of all reproaches which might be cast against government, the very last he should expect would be that of a hasty tampering with this important question. 991 But, if government was justified, and compelled to take this question into consideration, had no other circumstances taken place since the year 1815, as applicable to this subject, which placed the question in a predicament, entirely new and different from the state in which it was at the time the law passed? He had already alluded to circumstances connected with the currency. At the time the Corn-bill of 1815 passed, the act to continue the Bank restriction also continued. He did not know whether the putting an end to the state of things which existed before produced immediate good or injury; but he knew that such a state of things as then existed was calculated to produce mischief of the most serious consequences. Whatever pressure the recurrence to a sound system of currency might have occasioned, no pressure, he thought, could be compared with the danger and mischief, which the continuance of the former system was likely to produce, and which never would have been established, if its consequences had been fully perceived: and he hoped that a measure of that kind would be proposed, for he thought it not proper to obtain temporal ease and benefit at the sacrifice of permanent welfare. The recurrence, however, to a sounder state of currency affected the Corn question, because the system of 1815 was justified by the state of the currency, which affected the price of labour and the cost of production, and raised the price of every article. The government had, therefore, delayed agitating the Corn question, until the prices should be reduced to a legitimate standard by the recurrence to a sound currency; with which the Corn question was connected, and upon which it was necessary for it to be founded.
But there were other points. He had heard great stress laid on the difficulties occasioned by our system of taxation, which was founded on our national debt; and he was ready to admit, that it was impossible for such a high rate of taxation to exist, without occasioning a severe pressure on the cost of produce. In 1815, the debt, and charges arising out of it, amounted to 47,000,000l. What was it now? Including the same items which, in the year 1815, amounted to 47,000,000l., the debt and all its charges at present amounted only to 34,000,000l.; being a reduction of no less than 13,000,000l., or thirty per cent, on the whole charge. In 1815, the property- 992 tax was in operation; and, without going into a long detail to show how that tax operated for the benefit of the agricultural interest, he would venture to say, that that reduction operated to the benefit of the cultivators of the soil, by enabling them to bring their produce to market with less risk.
Under the altered circumstances of the country, their lordships were now called upon to look to the Corn-laws, to see if their principle should be maintained or not. A most important change had taken place which should not be lost sight of. The view which his majesty's government had taken of the subject, the principle of the measure, and the means by which it would be carried into effect, had been greatly misunderstood, and had excited the most painful apprehensions. It was not a question of protection or no protection;—it was not a new or unheard of theory, that they were about to recommend. It was not the system of a cold-blooded political economist, but a system under which the agricultural interest had flourished. For he was as ready to admit as any one, that it would not do in this country to abandon the protection that had heretofore been afforded to the growers of corn. He had no intention to refer to any abstract theory. It was impossible to apply it to such a question. He was, therefore, ready to give the agricultural, or any other interest in the kingdom, such a share of protection, as would not be injurious to the other classes of the community. He repeated, that it was not a question of protection or no protection; and he was sure their lordships would see the difficulty of fixing what that protection ought to be. He was therefore not now disposed to enter into the general reasons for supporting the interests of the cultivators of the soil, but would at once refer to the law of 1815; which was, in fact, the greatest innovation on the Corn-laws that had ever taken place. Until that law passed, the prohibition of foreign corn was never known in the history of this country. Their lordships had experienced the effects of that law, but that measure, whether wise or not wise, was not now the question. The question was, whether it was wise to maintain it. So far from the measure now proposed being a new theory, it was a system under which the agriculture of this kingdom had flourished for upwards of a century. It was not, therefore, just to charge govern- 993 ment with bringing forward a theory, unheard of before, when the results of it must be in the recollection of many of their lordships. He knew not what political economists might think of the measure: he could not pretend to excessive wisdom; but the plan he now proposed was not an unheard-of system—was not the speculation of any cold-blooded political economist; and he could assure their lordships, they would never find him to advocate a change of that description.
If, then, government was not deserving of reprehension, but was entitled to support, for bringing this question under consideration, now that the circumstances of the country were different from those which produced the law of 1815, which was founded on the principle of exclusion to a certain price; and if he was right in saying, that they were only recurring to a system which for years had existed, he had come to that point which would require him to say a few words to satisfy their lordships, that the law proposed to be altered involved results which were prejudicial to all classes of the community. The noble lord then proceeded to comment on the effects of the law of 1815. The object, he said, appeared to be alternate prohibition and unrestrained importation. The law of 1822, as well as that of 1815, had the same effect, which made it impossible for the corn-grower, the merchant, or the corn-dealer, to know in what situation he was likely to be placed by circumstances which were alike beyond his control or calculation. The fact of placing the import price higher, although it gave an artificial stimulus to the agriculturists, of necessity gave a corresponding stimulus to all those who wished to avail themselves of the first opening of the ports; and the consequence was, that for three months they took the opportunity of pouring into the country, all the corn that could be collected from every part of the world. From the year 1815, to which he alluded, to the 15th of November, 1818, that opportunity was afforded, by the small sum of two-pence; and he would venture to say, that no man could be found who might not be disposed to think, that such an effect might be produced by combination and fraud. All the evidence which had been obtained on that question ascertained, that the distress of the agriculturists, during the years 1820, 1821, and 1822, was the result of the importation which commenced in 1815. 994 He was sure, with such proof of the evils of this system, their lordships would see the necessity of an alteration of the present laws. No man could fail to see the monstrous evils resulting to the cultivation of the soil under it. Suppose indications were now to present themselves, of an unfavourable harvest during the present season, and that the price should rise to 80s. per quarter; then, foreign corn would be admitted without limit, at a time, of all others, the most injurious to the small farmers—the period between harvest and winter. The consequences no man could doubt. The effect of that importation would be to spread dismay over the face of the country. His objections were founded, therefore, on practical experience, which had demonstrated the evils of the present laws—evils which he had never heard denied. It might be said, that they were met by the alterations of the law in 1822. That alteration effected no such thing. What was the law of 1822? Their lordships would suppose the question of price disposed of. The ports by that law were closed till the price attained to 70s. per quarter; they would then open at a duty of 17s. per quarter for the first three months. The object of that was, to check the importation. If wheat could be, as was stated, purchased abroad at the low price of 30s. per quarter, with 10s. expenses added to the duty of 17s., it would appear that corn could be imported at 57s. per quarter, after payment of all expenses, while it would be sold here at the price of 70s. So far, then, the protection would only occasion a further importation. If the duty had been raised higher, it might operate as a check; but that would be contrary to the principle of the law, which assumed, that 70s. was the price at which foreign corn should be admitted. He could not, therefore, consider the law of 1822 as productive of any other advantage over the law of 1815, except mitigating the severity of it.
If, then, this system, which appeared pregnant with so much inconvenience, was to be altered, what regulation could be adopted? It might be proposed to afford protection by fixing a high permanent duty; and he thought there was something deserving attention in the notion of fixing a permanent duty, without reference to averages; only the danger was, that if their lordships made it high enough to protect the agriculturist when the price 995 was low, it would produce the most injurious results to the rest of the community in times of plenty. Another proposition which had been made was, to vest in his majesty in council the power of altering the duty according to circumstances—a power which he considered as most objectionable, as placing in the hands of government the power of dabbling with the great interests of the country—a power the most dangerous and injurious which could be placed in the hands of any ministers—a power which, if they did not use for any purpose of their own, they might be forced into using by the pressure of external circumstances. He would venture to say, that it would be impossible for any government to continue an act under such a power, or that any parliament would permit the country to labour under the evils of such a system. He was, then, unable to conceive, how a fixed rate of duty could be adopted; and if their lordships did not adopt it, nothing remained to be done but to establish a graduated scale of duties; and that was the principle of the present bill. The only difficulty was, to guard against the evils of the former laws.—The noble lord proceeded to state, that, according to the law of 1815, the transitions were so sudden, and the advantages so great to all persons disposed to speculate in the importation of foreign corn, that it was impossible that any vigilance could guard against frauds by fictitious sales, and the consequent sacrifice of capital which followed. The only course that could be adopted was a graduating duty, which would take away the temptation for speculation, by lessening the profits to be derived from it. He could not say what effect might still he produced on the averages by the sacrifice of capital; he was unwilling to impose any restraint on a free trade in that which was the necessary subsistence of the people; but, feeling the difficulties under which they laboured from the established laws—feeling the indispensable necessity of taking away from the grower of corn the power of inflicting a high price in the moment of scarcity, and at the same time the propriety of affording him protection from loss from the operation of a low price in the moment of plenty, he thought their lordships ought not to reject the present bill. He did not think it was necessary to go into the details of the bill, which would speak for itself: the principle was intelligible enough 996 to any one who would take the trouble to read it.
The noble lord then said, that there were two points to which he wished to advert, which had given rise to the most extravagant expectations and fears in the adversaries to the present bill. The first was with regard to the importation of foreign corn from the port of Odessa. It was from that port that this country was to be overwhelmed with foreign corn. The idea of such a supply of corn from Odessa was the most visionary that could well be imagined, by any one at all acquainted with the climate, the natural history, statistics, and all the circumstances connected with that part of the world. It had been proved in evidence, that, in order to obtain a cargo of wheat from Odessa, it would be necessary to send a British ship, and that, on that voyage, she would be absent eight months. Looking to the nature of such a speculation, what man would have the madness to embark in it? He therefore thought that the idea of getting wheat from Odessa was blown out of the water. There was not, he thought, the smallest probability that any man of sense would embark a farthing of capital in the importation of wheat from Odessa. In the next place, it would be found, that a great part of the surplus wheat, which might he obtained at Odessa, was of that description which would be entirely unsaleable in this country; and that, for any surplus which might be saleable in a foreign market, there was an ample demand in the Mediterranean. The British merchant, therefore, if he went to market there, must come into competition with the Italian merchants; the consequence of which would be the impossibility of purchasing at that low price that would admit of a remunerating profit. If, therefore, they were even to rely on the supply from Odessa, he could not conceive what ground there was, to suppose that an overwhelming importation would come from that quarter.
Another part of the question on which he wished to say a few words was, with regard to importation of corn from our North American provinces. Their lordships would recollect, that a bill had passed through the other House, for the purpose of giving greater facilities for importing foreign corn. He always thought it reasonable, that such facilities should be afforded to our own colonies—to a people who emanated from the same country, spoke the same 997 language, adopted the same laws, and were imbued with the same principles of attachment to the Throne of these realms. He said imbued with the same principles of attachment, because, when government was threatened with the invasion of a foreign enemy, the king had not, in any part of his dominions, a more loyal or more devoted people. He could not conceive on what principle their lordships were to treat them as a foreign country. If the colonies were to be retained, he would treat them the same as Ireland, as brothers and not as enemies. That measure was founded on the fairest principle; and he was happy to see it included in the bill now on the table.
The noble lord said, that the object, at all times, had been to afford the greatest facilities for warehousing corn in this country. The important object was, to make this country the emporium, and so it had become; and he hoped their lordships would not be too hasty in departing from those principles; Which, with reference to our external strength and power, would be the most powerful blow they could strike. He trusted that they would pause ere they laid the axe to the root of that principle, which it had been their object to cherish. It was the policy of the Dutch and French governments to encourage the warehousing system; and he trusted their lordships would give every facility to it here. Their lordships, however, would find, that it would be impossible to keep corn out of the country, and that any measures which might be adopted for that purpose would be attended with no benefit to those on whose behalf they opposed its introduction. Indeed, the argument advanced on this subject was most strange and inconsistent. If it was argued, that they ought to exclude it altogether, that was an argument against the principle of the bill which they had already agreed to. He hoped, however, that their lordships would not by a side-wind defeat the whole measure, to which the House bad given its concurrence. It would be better to oppose it altogether upon principle, than to alter it in a way which would have the effect of rendering it totally inoperative.
He feared that he had exhausted their lordships' patience, as he had his own strength. He would therefore not attempt to add any thing more to the statement which he had addressed to the House, 998 except to press upon their lordships' minds the necessity of a fair and temperate discussion of this most important subject. He had beheld with regret, on recent occasions, a greater degree of warmth and excitement than accorded with the dignity of their lordships' House. He trusted that such would not be the case on the present occasion—that their lordships would not treat the question as a party one. Their lordships might naturally be induced to consider themselves as the representatives of a particular class of persons [Cries of "No"]. It was natural that they should; nor was it any reproach to them if they did. It was the very essence of the constitution of this country, that the aristocracy should be connected with the land. But he would not, therefore, do them the injustice to suppose that, because the agriculturists looked up to them for support, or even protection, they would lose sight of the claims of every other class. It would he a libel upon the character of their lordships—upon the character of English gentlemen—to suppose that their lordships would be actuated by any other motives, in the consideration of this question, than a desire to adopt that course which they believed, in their consciences, was the best calculated to promote the interests of all. He should feel deep regret if their lordships did not accede to this measure; because he believed it to be most essential to the interests of the country. If he did not consider it calculated to promote the welfare of every class of his fellow-subjects, he would not be found advocating it. The interests of the agriculturists ought certainly to be guarded; but their lordships would remember, that there were other classes whose interests were also at stake, and who had claims upon their consideration, particularly at present; for their lordships were aware of the great pressure of distress which they had endured for some time past. Never did he recollect distress to press so heavily, and produce so little complaint. In a period of suffering like this, their feelings might have been wrought upon, and their passions inflamed; but, so far from that, they had borne with fortitude and resignation, privations which, not unnaturally, might have excited their warmest feelings. He did not mean to say, however, that it was to the existing Corn-laws, that any portion of the present distress was to be ascribed. At the same time, he felt assured, that, in the success 999 of this measure, the interests of every class of the people were included.
The Earl of Malmesbury,
after expressing his deep regret that the noble earl, recently at the head of the Treasury, was not present to prosecute the measure he had introduced, declared that no party spirit should govern his conduct. He entreated the House to look upon the present, not as a party, but as a national, question, which embraced the interests of all classes of the community. As to the coalition between noble lords on one side of the House or the other, he was certainly not disposed to express any opinion; but, if he had been, this was not the moment he should have selected. When the bickerings and heart-burnings of the present day had subsided—when the events of the last six weeks, which had attracted so much attention, had been forgotten—when the individuals who were concerned in them were mouldering in their graves, the country would deeply feel the effects of the system now attempted to be established. The moment the legislature departed from the great principles which ought to govern what was commonly called the Corn-question, the country sooner or later must suffer the consequences of the deviation. He had hoped that the opinion of the House would have been taken, before the plan was embodied in a bill; and, for this reason, also, he regretted that the resolutions of lord Liverpool had not, in the first instance, been brought forward. He now opposed the bill on principle, which had its true origin in a speech delivered by the President of the Board of Trade, in March, 1825. Then it was that Pandora's box had been opened—then it was that the doctrines of free trade had been broached, and those doctrines had been applied to grain. He dated the measure now offered from that period; and wished, in the outset, to be informed why the noble viscount, who supported the bill of 1815, now abandoned it; and why he objected at present to the restrictions he then advocated? He was not a stickler for the existing law. He had been willing to meet the noble viscount, and to adopt such changes as would render the system more perfect; but, if all the evils the noble viscount had detailed existed in 1815, and had been continued until 1822, why in 1822 had he persevered in the principle of the objectionable measure of 1815? All 1000 those evils must then have been before his eyes; and the noble viscount, on taking a review of them this evening, had minutely detailed the facts up to the year 1822, but had omitted them afterwards. He (lord M.) had very anxiously watched for the expression of some opinion on the operation of the existing system since 1822; but he had watched in vain; and in order to supply the deficiency, he would state to the House the average prices of wheat for the last four or five years. The average on the whole five years, since 1822, was barely 56s. per quarter: it had never been higher than 66s., and never lower than 51s. 9d. As the average was only 56s., on the principle of the noble viscount, that price was too low; since it was admitted by him, that 60s. was not more than a remunerating price. If there was any blame arising out of these transactions, it belonged to those who had been tampering with the existing system; and, under all the circumstances, it was surprising that it had worked at all. What had been done since 1822? The first thing was the passing of that bill, commonly called Peel's bill, respecting the currency. This was followed by the Canada Corn-bill, passed in the very teeth of the present law. The noble viscount had been warm upon the last measure, and had complained of wild and groundless apprehensions from importations which last year had not exceeded twenty-six thousand quarters. He admitted the fact; but, when the noble viscount compared Ireland with Canada, he might have seen how the importations from Ireland had increased within a few years, and might have judged from thence how, in as short a space, they might increase from Canada. In 1807, the importation of corn from Ireland was only forty-five thousand quarters; in 1808, it was only forty-three thousand. In 1809, it increased to sixty-six thousand quarters; and, between that year and 1821, the quantity rose to no less than five hundred and sixty thousand quarters, or ten times its former amount. The same thing might happen with regard to Canada. The population, certainly, was not equal in both; but this was rather a reason for not encouraging Canada versus Ireland. Another point was material. Canada at present exported a considerable quantity of produce to the West Indies: but, if by any accident the United States interfered, and furnished the West Indies at a cheaper 1001 rate, the produce they could not sell there, the Canadians might transmit to this country.—He remembered a noble lord remarking, that if he followed his own inclination, there should be no duty at all upon grain from Canada. Now, the mother country certainly ought to be protected in preference to the colonies; for the mother country was taxed far beyond her colonies. But the Canada Corn-bill was not the last measure which tampered with the existing system. Government had released all the corn that for several years had been in bond, and this without rhyme or reason. In the year following, a noble baron had asked the noble earl, then at the head of the Treasury, when he meant to bring forward the Corn-question? The answer was, that he should introduce it in the manner which was most convenient, and at the time when it was most likely to succeed. The year 1826 was gone through under the declaration, that nothing was to be done to disturb the existing Corn-laws. Half a dozen times the question had been asked, and as many times answered, that it was not meant to alter it. "Do you mean to let out the bonded corn?" was the next inquiry; and the distinct and repeated answer was "Certainly not." A noble friend, in reference to the disturbances in the northern parts of England, had put the question, whether government intended to advance any public money for the relief of the distressed? What had been the answer of the noble earl (Liverpool)? "That he did not mean to grant any of the public money; but left the distressed to the charity of the public." He had not left them to that charity in vain; and the so-much-abused agriculturists had contributed their full share. The most material part of the noble earl's answer came afterwards, when he said, that he meant to bring forward two measures—the one to let out all the wheat in bond in the kingdom, and the other to give government the power to admit five hundred thousand quarters, whenever it was considered expedient. The five hundred thousand quarters had, in fact, never been brought into the market; but they had hung like a black cloud over it, and had occasioned a depression of four or five shillings per quarter. This was followed by the Order in Council as to wheat—a very proper measure, only he wished it had been extended to oats, barley, and peas. 1002 Afterwards, the importation of them had been allowed. He had already said, that he was not a stickler for the existing law: adhering to the principle, he would have corrected the machinery, and, among other regulations, he would have admitted foreign grain by instalments. Suppose the average were taken monthly, and that average, in September, were 66s., he would then allow a quantity of wheat to be brought into home consumption, not exceeding three hundred thousand quarters. If, in October, the average still remained at 66s., he would admit a further quantity of three hundred thousand quarters of wheat; and so on as long as the price continued high. Thus, in five months, as much grain would be imported, as had been yet brought in under any act. The principal advantage would be, that the danger of a glut threatened by the bill now offered would be avoided; so that such a remedy might properly be called a national alternative.—If he did not object to the present measure on principle, he should complain of it as a regular Money bill. It imposed a revenue duty upon the first article of subsistence. A noble lord had well said, that the motto, as applied to grain, ought to be, "noli me tangere;" but the present was strictly a Commercial bill, and he maintained, that corn ought not to be treated as an article of commerce and barter. In opposition to the preamble, he insisted that corn should not at all times be allowed to be introduced into the country. He objected to the bill also, because it contained a reciprocity clause, which ought not to be applied to grain. If the country were reduced to the state of wanting bread, no earthly restriction, no reciprocity clause, ought to delay its introduction. If it were not wanted, not a bushel ought to be permitted to be imported. There ought to be an implied contract between the consumer and the grower. "I will buy my food of you, as long as you supply me upon fair and reasonable terms; but when you cannot do so, I will go elsewhere."—He would now advert to the remunerating price; and he must complain, in the first instance, that the bill bore on its face a different character to that which, when analysed, it appeared to deserve. It was the professed object of government to give the grower the remunerating price of 60s. per quarter: that was the lowest sum that would pay, but still, if that were secured to the farmer, 1003 he would be satisfied. But, if the object really was to give a remunerating price of 60s. why was, that made the point of departure in the new plan? Dr. Kelly had drawn up some accurate tables regarding the prices at which grain could be grown abroad, and the expenses of importation. It appeared from them, that in 1826 the average cost of wheat at Dantzic, was 21s. 6d. the charge of conveying it to London was 12s. per quarter, and adding 20s. for the duty, it could be sold for 53s. 6d. per quarter, while English wheat was at 60s.,leaving the merchant a profit of 5s. 6d. per quarter. From Liebau it might be imported for 30s. and from Konigsburgh at the same price; so that, with the addition of 20s. for the duty, 10s. per quarter would be left for the profit of the importer. This did not look much like giving the British agriculturist protection to the extent of 60s. per quarter. A paper upon the table shewed the weekly average price of wheat, for the last four years. The House was aware, that, for every shilling which the average rose, 2s. were deducted from the amount of the duty; and he thought, that a premium upon speculation was thus offered. Now how many times in four years had the weekly average been at or near 60s.? In 1823, the average price of wheat had been remarkably low, only 51s. 9d.; yet, in that same year it was twice at 63s., and seven times at 60s. Hence, under the new system, it might have been introduced twice at a duty of only 16s., though the average on the whole year was only 51s. 9d. In 1824, the average price was 62s. and it was thirteen times at 65s. and upwards. The duty on importation would, therefore, have been reduced to only 10s. and 8s. per quarter. At that date, there were six hundred thousand quarters of wheat under the king's lock, and no less than thirteen times in 1824, that quantity of wheat might have been poured in at a duty of only 10s. and 8s. per quarter. Under these circumstances, it was ridiculous to talk of securing to the grower a remunerating price of 60s. In 1825, there was no week in which wheat was not from 60s. to 68s. per quarter; and in the last year the average was 56s. 11d., and eight times, it had been 60s. and 61s. This afforded a clear proof, that under the new system, if the scale of ministers was adopted, foreign importations might be made to an immense extent, and to the extreme detriment of the home- 1004 grower.—But the subject presented itself in another point of view. It had been said, that these effects had not been produced by natural means only—that artificial expedients had been resorted to; and that the markets had been affected by individuals who had gone into them with comparatively small capital. He hoped that the rates of price and duty would at least be made the same; and that where the one was raised but 1s., the other would be lowered in the same proportion. There was another evil likely to result from the admission of foreign grain into this country, arising out of the very good quality of Dantzic corn, which was equal to the best Essex, while it could be grown at a lower price—a fact which rendered it highly probable that Dantzic corn, at a small duty, would be imported in such quantities as to ruin the industrious farmers of the county he had mentioned. Did they want a proof of that probability, he called on them to look to the effect produced on the wool trade by the admittance of the importation of that article. That was another reason which deterred him from consenting to the present bill.—He would now say a few words upon the importation of corn from Odessa, which was supposed by some persons to be enormous. For himself, he did not fear that importation; but he looked with apprehension to one nearer home. To explain what he meant, he would refer their lordships to a report made to the king of the Netherlands in 1822. In that report, it was stated, that Holland had been the great emporium of grain, collected from the ports on the borders of the Baltic. When a call had been made from any parts of the Mediterranean for corn from the north, it had formerly been shipped at the ports of Holland; but now a little Turkish village had started up into a town of importance, and monopolised the trade of the Mediterranean; having exported to different places from there nine hundred thousand quarters of corn, within a period in which the exportation from Holland had not been half so considerable. After stating that fact, what did the report go on to say? Why, that the corn thus left in the ports of Holland was liable to be thrown back at any moment upon the country, unless those laws which prevented its importation into England were repealed; and when they were, and not till then, Holland would be relieved from its 1005 burthen. He called upon noble lords to mark well that passage in the report; and then to say, whether they did not agree with him, that it was to be feared that the corn of the Baltic would be poured into this country.—Another subject, to which he wished to call the attention of their lordships, related to the power of production among the nations of the continent. That power had been recently manifested to an extraordinary degree in the article of oats. Upon that subject there existed much ignorance in this country. After the orders in council were issued by his majesty's government last year, there had been a strong feeling in the country, that a full supply could not be obtained from the continent. There had been as great a drought in the other nations of Europe as in England; and, as the crops of oats had been generally very small here, and in many places had failed altogether, it was supposed that the same circumstance would be found to have occurred in the nations on the continent. Yet, what was the fact? Although the average price then was hardly 6d. higher than what it was at this moment, there had been, within the last six months, no less a quantity than one hundred and fifty thousand quarters of oats introduced into this country, and the importation within the last month, amounted to forty eight thousand quarters. These facts shewed how differently the productive powers of the continent ought to have been estimated; and how little the people of this country had been capable of estimating them, when they feared an inadequate supply. The enormous importation to which he had alluded, was going on at this moment as rapidly as during any part of the preceding six months.—His lordship next adverted to the warehousing system as applied to corn; which, he admitted, might be good as to the purposes of re-exportation, to which the noble viscount had alluded; though in other respects he thought it an abominable system. One of the circumstances which did not seem to be properly considered, was the depreciation in the value of land—a depreciation which, he thought, would be so increased by the proposed measure, as to bring the landlords to ruin. That depreciation might be found in an account of the average prices of British grain during the last seventeen years. That period he had divided into three series; the first of 1006 which was formed by the last five years of the war, and the remaining twelve years he had divided into two equal portions. In the last five years of the war, the average price was 99s. In the first six years of the peace, the average was 76s. being a diminution of twenty-three per cent; a diminution which was naturally to be looked for, as the consequence of a transition from war to peace, and a change of system throughout the political relations of the country. In the second six years of the peace, the average had been 56s. Now, he called on their lordships to look at the difference between 99s. and 56s. and they must see that the interest of the landed proprietors had sustained a depreciation of forty-four per cent. The right rev. prelates opposite, who intended to give their support to the present bill, were, of course, prepared to make a sacrifice of their own interests on this occasion; but he begged to remind them, that they ought to look upon themselves as the guardians of the parochial clergy. Considering their responsibility in that respect, he called on them to look closely into this bill, before they gave their assent to it. Parliament had very properly increased the stipends of that body of men, and large sums had been voted by the country, for that purpose; he therefore called on their lordships to pause before they passed a bill, which would injure those interests they had before tried to protect. The peers of Scotland would state better than he could the evils which might result from the measure to the clergy of their country; he should, therefore, merely allude to that part of the subject. He thought, however, that with respect to averages, Scotland ought to be included in the present system; and a fortiori, in the one now proposed, if it should pass into a law. The noble lord intreated the House to consider the great magnitude of the question. Their lordships were the hereditary protectors of the rights and liberties of the people. They had been appealed to on the present occasion, to come forward and do their duty; and he hoped that the appeal would not have been made in vain. He should sit down by moving, "That the bill be committed this day three months."
The Earl of Rosebery
was desirous of expressing his sentiments on a subject so important as that of the Corn-laws. He thought that there were errors on the side 1007 of the opposers as well as the advocates of the present system, but was disposed to support the bill now before their lordships. The first point to which he should call their attention was the assumption, that it was a great hardship to force the poorer orders to eat dear bread; and that their condition would be improved, in the same proportion as the price of corn was reduced. If the price of food was permanently reduced, assuming that the supply and demand of labour continued the same, wages would be lowered in proportion. Thus, the manufacturer would not gain, while the agriculturist must have his condition decidedly deteriorated, by the vast importation of foreign grain. The second principle adopted by persons who advocated the new system—a principle which he considered erroneous, because pushed into an extreme—was, that farmers and landlords were as deeply interested in having the price of corn low, as the rest of the community. He thought that the entire proposition was unsound; he did not believe it was true, that the vendor of grain was interested in the cheapness of the commodity; at the same time he admitted, that farmers were more interested in obtaining an advance on the price of corn than landlords. He should only trouble their lordships with one other doctrine of the same side of the question, which he considered equally erroneous; it was the proposition, that to place a large portion of the population in a state entirely dependent on the foreigner for a supply of corn, would be, to produce that commodity at a cheaper rate, than if the entire population were obliged to depend upon the supply afforded by this country. This would be placing a large body of the people at the mercy of the foreign grower; and would, no doubt, be disadvantageous to the supply which could be brought into the markets.—He had troubled their lordships with some doctrines adopted by one side, which he considered exaggerated, and of which he disapproved; he should not detain them long with a few remarks upon some opposite opinions, equally erroneous. It could easily be proved, that the existing law was only to be maintained by constant relaxations and changes. The law of 1815, and 1822, had been justly stated to be one and the same. Within the space of not quite five years, which had elapsed subsequent to the passing of the law of 1822, three million, three hundred 1008 and eighteen thousand quarters of foreign wheat had been admitted into this country. This fact proved that the exclusive system could not be maintained.—Having taken some of the extreme points upon both sides, he was at liberty to say, that he thought the present bill stood between both extremes, and was calculated to benefit all classes of the community, one branch of which could not suffer without another being sure to suffer in its turn. One advantage had been derived already, from the very introduction of the bill. It had conciliated the animosities previously existing between two interests, that ought never to be separated—the agricultural and commercial. He was sorry to be obliged to say, that these classes had been set in array against each other; but he confidently hoped, that the present measure would have the effect of reconciling them.—He should now maintain that principle, which he considered as forming the best basis for sound legislation on the subject of the Corn-trade. This principle tallied so entirely with that of the bill before their lordships, that he felt it impossible, in stating it, not to give his entire assent to the measure, and to convert the statement into an argument conclusive in favour of the bill. The principle he was disposed to advocate was, to fix such a duty on the importation of foreign grain, as would at once protect the farmer and the land-owner from ruin and injury, and preserve the consumer from the mischief that must ensue, if he were entirely dependent for support upon foreign countries. At the same time, by regulating the importation of foreign corn, according to the price of home produce, any thing like scarcity would be prevented. This was a better system than the existing one; which made it frequently necessary to resort to the interposition of parliament, or government—an interposition always delicate, and sometimes mischievous. Now this was the principle of the bill, and on this ground he felt bound to support it. He had looked at the scale of duties proposed, with great attention. Perhaps in the original schedule the price of oats and barley were not in proportion to that of wheat; but these two had been subsequently altered. If it required any argument to shew the fallacy of fears which existed in the minds of many, it might be found in what they had all witnessed since September last, when foreign oats were ad- 1009 mitted into our ports. They had already been admitted to an enormous amount, and, as the noble lord stated, the importation was going on at this moment, to a great extent. Yet it had not considerably lessened the price of the commodity in the home market. The fact, that upwards of a million quarters had been introduced, at a duty of 2s., and that the duty levied at the present hour was not more than 8d.—a duty which was merely nominal, while the price of the grain in question was higher than most persons could desire it to be—was the strongest argument in favour of the proposed law. At the same time, there were some of the provisions of the bill which appeared to him susceptible of improvement. His impression was, that there were certain parts, a proper alteration of which, at a proper moment, would tend to its amendment. But he did, at the same time, distinctly avow his decision to be, that if the measure were of that peculiar nature, that the alteration of any of its clauses, although desirable, would endanger the success of the bill, he would not be a party to this indirect mode of overthrowing a measure, the fundamental principles of which fully met his views.
The Earl of Mansfield
rose, for the purpose of stating his objections to the bill. He was ready to admit, that some alteration of the Corn-laws was desired by all classes of the community—by the commercial and manufacturing interests, for reasons which were sufficiently known; and by the agriculturists, because the protection promised by these laws was not attended by the intended effects. Their repeal was desired by the labouring classes generally; because, from it they looked for a reduction in the price of bread, without a corresponding reduction in the rate of wages. The objections of the agriculturists were not directed against the principle, but against the operation, of the law; and, for its defects, they conceived an adequate remedy might be found. He objected to the present bill, because it did not afford proper protection to the agriculturist. He thought the best protection for the British agriculturist was to be found in the exclusion of foreign grain, except in times of scarcity—that scarcity to be denoted by the price of corn in the home market. What he proposed, he was satisfied would be beneficial to all classes of the community. There were two defects in the bill of 1815, which re- 1010 mained unaltered in that of 1822. The first was an ineffectual protection afforded to oats; the price of which ought to be kept up to 30s. or 32s. The second defect was in respect to the averages. Viewing importation as only justifiable in case of scarcity, he objected to taking the averages in some particular districts, without reference to the whole country. It was inconsistent to deprecate scarcity as an evil, and assume its existence on inadequate information. What objection could there be to the bill of 1822? Had the importing price, which it fixed, raised the price of corn? The returns on the table negatived the supposition. An objection brought against the bill of 1822 was, that it had not prevented fluctuation in prices. Certainly it had not; but when he looked back to the averages of the last two hundred years, he found variances of forty or fifty per cent frequently occurring. Since 1822, the fluctuations had not been so great as previously; yet, if they had, there were other circumstances which might have occasioned them independently of the bill. Had the measure of 1822 been the cause of the present manufacturing distress? Certainly not. In considering the circumstances which gave rise to the distress, the change in the currency ought not to be omitted. He maintained that a high governing importation price did not raise the price of corn in the home market. The manufacturers had learned, by sad experience, that the necessity of importation had crippled the resources of those who were the best, and ought to be the preferable, consumers of that produce. The bill of 1822 had been stated to be inadequate as a protective measure; but he contended, that no proof was afforded, that the principle of exclusion ought to be abandoned. It was said, that the bill now proposed was no innovation, but a return to the ancient system. Whichever it was, he considered it equally erroneous in principle. He wished to guard against being supposed to object to the present measure, on the ground of its novelty. It was upon quite different considerations that he felt it to be his duty to resist the progress of it. He conceived that the best course had not been taken to arrive at a sound decision on the question. The object which the framers of the bill had in view was, it was stated, to afford protection to the agriculturist. Obviously, the judicious mode of proceeding in such a case would have 1011 been to institute an inquiry into the cost which, in this country, attended the production of corn; and a similar inquiry into the cost attendant upon its production abroad. It was only when in possession of such data that parliament could, on safe grounds, proceed to fix a rate of duty. Now, instead of adopting this course, parliament proceeded to legislate in ignorance of both. They commenced their legislation, and then called for evidence as to the cost and means of production abroad. But, though the inquiry he mentioned would have supplied much useful information, it would prove insufficient. An inquiry into the state of the currency ought to accompany it; for nothing could be more manifest, than that the condition of the currency had the effect of elevating or depressing the prices of corn. The sudden expansions and contractions of the currency, which a certain condition of it necessarily involved, affected every production of the country, and, more especially, the productions of the land. The uncertainty which measures such as the present introduced, was most destructive to the agricultural interest. Nothing that was, in its nature, certain, could be worse than the unstable system which the present measure would have the effect of introducing. He attributed the clamour that had been raised against the Corn-laws to the depressed state of trade and manufactures. If they once revived, the legislature would hear no complaints. In every view of the subject, it was his full persuasion, that the present measure would prove most mischievous.
The Duke of Somerset
said, that the unfortunate situation in which this country had been placed by the Corn-laws, had caused a division between the agricultural and the manufucturing interests, and had formed the nation into two great parties. Steps had been taken which never should have been taken, and which could be but slowly retraced. In 1815, he opposed the introduction of those laws, perceiving their pernicious tendency, though not to its full extent. In the last session, he advocated their immediate revision. Subsequent events had shown the necessity there was for such a measure, as the distresses of the country had obliged government to do, by an Order in Council, that which might more beneficially have been done by enactment. It was at last proposed to afford, by enactment, a relief to one part 1012 of the community. For this purpose, a bill had been brought in by the late administration. This bill had not been hurried through parliament. Not only the representatives of the people, but the people themselves had had full time to consider it. Public meetings had been called; the press had teemed with observations; and the table of that House had been loaded with petitions. At last the bill had come up, amended and revised by the statesmen and agriculturists of the other House. It might, therefore, have been expected to have been received as a measure that, of all others, was the most wanted; but, instead of this, it was assailed as most pernicious. It was assailed by arguments that had long ago been answered, by facts that had been long ago explained, by prejudices that had been long exploded, and by feelings which should not be found in a British House of Parliament. One principal objection which had been urged against all measures of this kind was, the vast debt under which this country laboured. Now, the way to make a heavy debt supportable, was to increase the resources which were applicable to the payment of its interest or principal. The admission of foreign corn, on payment of a duty, tended to this increase in various ways. It promoted manufacturing industry: it afforded a direct revenue to the state. Then, by tending to reduce the prices of all home-made commodities and articles of British produce, it encouraged the trade of exportation, and increased the wealth of every consumer of those articles. Viewed in this light, the magnitude of the national debt were strong arguments in favour of the admission of foreign corn. Again, it had been urged, that foreign corn was always paid for in money, and not in manufactures. The insisting upon this argument was reverting to the exploded doctrine about the balance of trade; as if it were of any consequence to a country in what way it paid for its imports—as if, in the traffic between nations, gold and silver were not mere commodities, to be bought and sold like others, and only estimable, in proportion to their quantity and relative value. Oh! but, it would be said, "this is political economy," and it had been of late the practice to inveigh against political economy altogether. There were in this country those who, in their dread of innovation, would prohibit all improvement. Mr. Burke was sufficiently adverse 1013 to the French Revolution; but he neither proscribed improvement, nor thought ill of political economy. He called it a new science; and he acted upon its principles with regard to this very subject. At his suggestion, those old restrictive laws were repealed which shackled the internal trade in provisions. Mr. Burke did not reason like our modern sticklers for old regulations. He could distinguish between a rational improvement and an extravagant attempt. The political world owed a great deal to political economy. The writers on that subject had promulgated several important discoveries. Amongst the most important, was the doctrine of free trade. In former times, we had had great sovereigns and great statesmen; but neither Henry 7th nor Elizabeth ever thought of free trade. Neither Bacon nor Burleigh ever thought of free trade. It was a discovery reserved for the eighteenth century. Henry 7th's restrictions upon agriculture, and the monopolies authorized by Elizabeth, would not be endured in modern times. And why? Because such a policy had been exploded by the political economists. It was to those men, reviled as they had been, both in England and in France, that we owed our security against the return of such absurd regulations. It was illiberal and unfair to dwell on the defects of the political economists, without considering their merits. If they had been too dogmatical—if their doctrines had been too unqualified—if they had been seduced, by their subject, to carry their reasonings to an unwarrantable length—what valuable facts had they collected, what large views had they taken, what precision had they introduced into a subject which was not previously supposed to admit of it! Instead of inveighing against, it would be wiser to study, and not to reject altogether, a science, which, from its novelty and extent, must have still many defects, but which nevertheless contained many important practical principles. If some of those principles were discoverable in the spirit of the present bill, he should not think the worse of it on that account. It was concise, simple, and intelligible. The duties payable by the schedule were so adjusted, as to ensure a supply, and to exclude a redundance, of each sort of grain. And they admitted of being developed in tables of easy reference and undoubted accuracy. And its having undergone alter- 1014 ation without being rendered nugatory, or perverted from its purpose, was a proof of the solidity of its basis. Now that it had been thus adapted to the circumstances of the different portions of the United Kingdom, it seemed to be the only feasible settlement of the great difference which had been long subsisting between the agricultural and the manufacturing classes, by ensuring profit to the one, and plenty to the other. It promised to do this without any such sudden change as might immediately and perceptibly alter the subsisting relations between different portions of the community. Any change which it proposed to effect was both gradual in its progress, and limited in its extent. It abstained from attempting to reach the ultimate perfection of a principle; and wisely left to future times the consideration of a nearer approach to it. He concluded by expressing his decided intention to vote in favour of the bill.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, that the time at which it had been attempted to introduce this measure was most unfortunate; for the agricultural interest was labouring under a heavy pressure of taxation, which was aggravated by the late change in the currency. A noble lord had designated the agricultural association which assembled in London, an Agricultural Parliament. He wished the parliament of the empire had displayed as much wisdom as that association. The law of 1822 had never come into practical operation. No foreign corn had been introduced, until the violation of that law took place. The principle of the present bill was completely subversive of that of 1822, which was adopted by parliament, after deliberate investigation. The present measure went to allow importation at all times subject to a fluctuating duty. The state of uncertainty in which the agricultural interest would be kept under such a system, must be productive of great evil. Farmers would providently reduce their expenditure to the lowest possible scale, and employ no more labourers than were absolutely necessary. The consequence would necessarily be, an augmentation of the poor-rates. It never could happen, except under extraordinary circumstances, that 60s. would prove a remunerating price. Let their lordships, then, consider what would be the consequence on admitting the importation of corn, subject to a duty of 20s., when the price reached 60s. Two witnesses had 1015 proved that, in the course of last year, foreign wheat was brought to this country, including all expenses, at 22s. per quarter. Therefore, when the price should arrive at 60s. in this country, that wheat might be imported, duty included, at 42s. per quarter. There were two circumstances which ought to have deterred ministers from bringing forward the present measure. One was the act passed a few years since respecting the currency; which a high authority in that House had properly called an edict of confiscation; and the other was what had happened from allowing the importation of foreign wool. The consequence of that permission had been a great decline in the export of our woollen manufacture. The market, also, was at present so stocked with wool, that it was become almost an unsaleable article. He did not mean to dispute the power of parliament; but that power ought to be exercised only for the benefit of the people. If their lordships should pass the present bill, they would not be acting for the benefit of the community. The consequence must inevitably be, a diminution of the number of persons employed. He could prove, from the petitions on the table, that in some districts, and those by no means the worst, one fourth of the labouring poor had been deprived of employment, in consequence of the low price of corn. The immediate effect of this measure must be to raise the poor-rates. The profits of the farmers must be reduced; the rent of the landlords would fall off, and ultimately cease. With an increasing population, there would be diminished means of employment; pauperism would be seen stalking through the land, exciting in the first place discontent, and in the next, open disaffection. This was his honest conviction: and his first wish was to avert such evils as must necessarily ensue, if the bill passed into a law. He was sure that those by whom it was proposed did not intend it should have such an effect; but nothing that he could imagine would so effectually accomplish the wishes of visionary reformers and radicals. A revolution in the state must be the necessary consequence of a revolution in the property of individuals. The beginning of such a revolution was to be found in any measure which tended to impair the security of property; and nobody, he thought, could doubt that this bill had that tendency. He would admit, 1016 that if any measure was advantageous to one class of the community, it would also produce a beneficial effect on the whole; but this alteration in the Corn-laws, he contended, was useful to no class of the people. He called upon their lordships, as they valued the happiness and property of all the subjects of this realm; as they would preserve unimpaired that constitution of which they were so proud; as they would maintain those institutions which were justly the pride of the nation; as they would save the country from the horrors of revolution and national bankruptcy, to give this measure their most decided opposition.
§ Lord Bexley
said, it was extremely unjust to call this measure one of confiscation. It was no more a measure of confiscation than the measures of 1815 and 1822. A noble earl had said, that corn had been imported at 22s. per quarter. It was true, that some corn had been imported at that price; but it was of bad quality, and greatly damaged. It was proved, before the agricultural committee, that the foreign growers had been reduced to despair by the resolutions adopted by this government. Very extensive seizures had been made by the foreign government, to compel the repayment of advances which they had made to the merchants, and the sellers had consequently been compelled to send corn of any description to this country. In all the laws on this subject, prohibition had proved merely a snare for the consciences of people—a net for frauds and perjuries. This measure, without going the length of prohibition, afforded as great protection as the grower could require. With respect to Ireland, the change in the system had been sensibly felt. In the three years ending 1816, the average exports had amounted to 3,012,000l.; for the last year, they amounted to 7,000,000l. The present measure was calculated to extend these advantages; and, by promoting agriculture, to improve the condition of all the other manufactures, on which the prosperity of that country mainly depended. As to the effect on the woollen-trade, he wished the House to keep in mind the fact, that wool was not here, as it was in other countries, the principal part of the produce of the sheep, or the chief source of the grower's profit. In 1822, previous to the reduction of the duty, Southdown wool sold for 16d. a pound, which made 1017 the whole fleece worth just 3s. 4d., while the mutton of the same sheep fetched 40s. In 1826, the price of wool had fallen to 9d., the fleece was worth but 2s. 2d., but the mutton sold for 2l. 6s. 8d., so that the value of the whole sheep had considerably increased. He was convinced that none of the Corn-laws which had been introduced had ever deserved to he compared with this. It went by a regular process, from higher to lower prices; and, by the duty increasing as the price fell, such a check was placed upon it, as must altogether check any rapid fall. For his own part he confessed that he was very much attached to this measure. He looked upon it as the last which had been produced by his noble friend, (lord Liverpool) whose services were now lost to the country; and he regarded it in the light of a legacy from that noble lord. He knew that he had attached to it the utmost importance, and that a great part of the last summer was employed by him in investigating profoundly and minutely all the details of the subject. After he had given it his earnest consideration, he laid it before the government, and having been fully discussed, it was approved of and submitted to the House. He was far from saying that the measure was altogether perfect; but he was convinced that it was infinitely better than any which had before been brought forward.
The Marquis of Salisbury
said, he should feel very happy if he could take the same view of the state of the farmers, with respect to their sheep, as the noble baron who had preceded him. He was convinced that prices such as the noble baron described would produce a material effect upon rents, if such prices could be realized. The noble marquis proceeded to animadvert upon the inconsistency of the noble viscount (Goderich), and contrasted the opinions of that noble lord in 1822, with those he had expressed that night. He characterized the opening of the ports last year as a robbery upon the landlords, and an almost irreparable injury to the farmers. The agriculture of the country was able at that time, as at all others, to supply all consumption at a moderate rate. No objection had been made by any party; and the course then pursued could only be considered a wanton meddling with the interest of agriculture. When it was known that a farthing in the pound produced a difference of nearly 30s, an acre to the agricul- 1018 turist, he thought there was some reason for complaint. The noble marquis then read an extract from a letter formerly written by lord Goderich, in order to prove the difference between his opinions then and now. The letter stated, that "there was no security, either in peace or war, for a constant supply of the article of grain for the consumption of the people of this country, if we depended on foreigners; and that the only course to be taken therefore was, to encourage our domestic agriculture, which had been so conducive to our prosperity." A few years had made a strange alteration in the noble lord's opinions. Much as he disapproved of this bill, he did not mean to oppose its going into a committee; but he entreated their lordships to pause before they advanced too far into the "march of intellect," or gave themselves up to those visionary theories, which were unhappily too much the fashion, but which produced misery and distress wherever they were tried. For his part, he considered the interests of agricultural and manufacturing production to be the same; and was sure that such an injury as this bill would inflict upon the one must be highly prejudicial to the other. In his opinion, the better plan would be, to fix the duty at the time of the importation, and not at the time of its being taken out of bond.
agreed with the noble viscount who opened the debate, that the present bill was susceptible of considerable improvement; but he couldnot go so far as the noble lord who had spoken last but one, that it was one of the most perfect productions of the human intellect. He was obliged to consider the bill as one brought there for amendment and improvement. It was not his intention now to propose the alterations which he thought necessary; but he should postpone, until it was in the committee, the design he had formed for making the bill what it ought to be. In its present shape, it would have his most determined opposition; and also at the third reading, unless he should succeed in introducing the improvements he alluded to, and of which, as the noble viscount said, it was so susceptible. If the noble viscount had known this House better; if he had been better acquainted with its quiescent nature, its sedative habits on all subjects, he would have known that, on no occasion whatever, was the acrimony of party feeling allowed to 1019 interfere with the discussion of momentous topics, and that his deprecation of such acrimony was altogether unnecessary. But if, in this respect, he had shown himself to be a young peer, he had in other respects proved himself to be also a young statesman; for, in the conclusion of his speech, he had alluded to the distress which had been recently experienced by the manufacturing classes, and had expressed a conviction, that those sufferings were of a temporary nature, and about to be relieved. Yet the noble viscount, having this hope and this belief, thought that, on these grounds, he was entitled to ask their lordships to pass a permanent law, in order to relieve distresses which he had made a strong point of insisting were only temporary. The noble viscount had, moreover, done that which was by no means rare in these times; and he had recanted all that he had said on former occasions. The noble viscount could not have forgotten that in 1815, when petitions from every part of the country against the then Corn-law loaded the tables of both Houses, he resisted all inquiry. The universal complaint and outcry of the nation produced no effect whatever on his mind. He adhered to his resolve, and nothing could shake it. In 1820 his mind was changed; but that change was effected by a circumstance which was always found to have considerable influence on a minister, however determined he might be—he found himself in a minority. From that period, his affection for his bill of 1815 was turned to hate; and, among all the attacks which had been made against that bill, none had been more acrimonious than that which the noble viscount had himself made that night. But let him remember all the circumstances which had taken place since 1815. Let him consider the effects of the fluctuation of the currency, and the alteration in the manner of taking the averages, and he would find that those alone were causes sufficient to account for all the difficulties which had been found in the progress of the measure. Then came the bill of 1822; the effects of which, notwithstanding the delay which had taken place, had been, in some respects, not disadvantageous. In 1815, the principle of prohibition had been called into operation: in 1822, they had conceded to the scheme of a graduated scale. With respect to the present scale, he was much disappointed at the shape in which it pre- 1020 sented itself. It was, however, his earnest wish to remedy the evils which surrounded the subject of the Corn-laws; and, since no other opportunity was afforded him, he must make one by proposing alterations in this bill. This question was not like one affecting the sale of any manufactured articles: it was a great constitutional question. No question was more deeply interesting to the country, than that which involved the agricultural interests; because, on the preservation of those interests, depended the constitution of the country. No one could look at the increasing manufactures of the country, without seeing that a great power was growing up, which set up a preference over the agriculture; and it was obvious that the measure now brought into the House had for its first object, the advantage of the manufacturing over the agricultural interests. That increase, which tended of itself to disturb the balance of the national interests, would be aided, in the accomplishment of that object, by this bill. Feeling that this topic deserved deep and serious consideration, and that it was fraught with dangers, which were not to be appreciated at the first glance, he could not observe without apprehension, the measure to which their lordships' sanction was now asked. Another point of importance was, that the question was a great Irish question. The imports from that country had been gradually increasing for the last eighteen years. The improvement in agriculture had been of the most striking and satisfactory kind. The increase of manufactures had been the natural consequence of that improvement; and to these their lordships must look as the means of increasing the prosperity of Ireland. He was not, he confessed, bold enough to look unconcerned at an act which might shake that prosperity. He did not say that this consideration would of itself be enough to induce him to negative the bill; but it made him regard it with serious apprehension. He could not consent to place in the power of any foreign nation, the supplying of the English people with corn. He repeated, that he did not propose to reject the bill altogether, although he had great apprehensions of its results. The object of the bill of 1815, and all the measures for half a century preceding it, had been the preservation of the independence of this country, on the subject of its food. The object of the legislatures of 1021 that day was to render the country independent of a foreign supply of grain; and he could not now consent to give to foreign states,—jealous of our wealth, jealous of our liberty, and jealous of our advantages,—the power of starving England. No temporary increase or decrease in the price of corn was, with him, to be compared to one year of the famine, or one hour of the national degradation, which might result from the present measures.—The noble lord here made some observations upon the state of the currency; and observed, that no man, not even the earl of Liverpool, when he last addressed that House on the subject, considered the question as finally settled. This question ought to have a great influence upon their decision. Nothing could be more false than the representations which had been made respecting their lordships' motives and opinions; and, although he was one of the last men who could be induced, from any opinion entertained of its unpopularity, to abandon what he considered the right course, he felt that, as their lordships had, at all times, exercised a powerful influence upon the fortunes of the country, they ought to shew, in the very onset, that they were willing to conciliate the affections and deserve the confidence of their fellow-subjects, by displaying their determination to watch over the interests of every class of the community. Their lordships were fortunately placed on an eminence, whence they could look down on all the petty feelings which might agitate the subordinate interests of the country; and he trusted they would, from that high station, pursue a path at once honourable to themselves, and advantageous to the country. He did not agree with the noble viscount, that their lordships were bound to consent to the bill as it came up from the other House. He was not to be influenced either by the name or the object of the bill, to give his unqualified consent to any measure, unless he was convinced of its propriety. He respected the privileges of the Commons, but he felt what was due to their lordships; and he was convinced that a full and fair discussion of any measure which came before either House was as essential to the well-being, as it was agreeable to the purposes, of the constitution. He would not be deterred by any threats of the fate of the bill elsewhere from making what alteration he thought fitting and expedient; and, with these feel- 1022 ings, he would sit down, declaring his determination not to oppose the motion of the noble lord.
The Marquis of Lansdown.
—After the full, able, impartial, and convincing statement laid before your lordships by my noble friend (viscount Goderich), of the grounds upon which he calls upon your lordships to assent to the commitment of this bill, and more especially after the intimations which you have had from the noble baron who has just sat down, and the noble marquis who preceded him, of their intention to acquiesce in the motion before your lordships, I should think it unpardonable in me, at this late hour, to occupy your lordships' time for more than a few minutes, with any statement or argument in support of the course which you are now called upon to adopt. I shall, however, in the first place state, that the noble baron who spoke last did very much misrepresent my noble friend, when he said that my noble friend adverted to the state of the manufacturing districts, and made it the foundation of the measures which he proposed. When my noble friend spoke of the manufacturing districts, and of the distress which has unhappily prevailed among them, although now fortunately diminished, he adverted to it only as a ground—if he wanted any ground—for the interference of parliament upon this subject. He did not, however, bring them before your lordships for the purpose of arguing, that the interests of the agricultural classes of this country ought to be sacrificed to the commercial.—No. My noble friend knows the importance of that class too well to contemplate such a project. The noble baron has observed, that there is no difference between this measure and those of 1815, and 1822; and he has asked, why those measures might not be tried, rather than enter upon any new and unknown project? But, my lords, there is a great difference. Those bills held a prohibition to be absolutely necessary in every case short of famine; while the present measure permits importation under a graduated scale at all times, and yet affords effectual protection to the British agriculturist. I am ready, however, to admit the principle laid down by the noble baron, that this country might depend upon other countries for support; and I am ready to contend, that the richest country in the world ought, in some degree, to depend upon other countries for some of the 1023 articles of its consumption; because, if it can apply its capital in such a manner as to produce those things which are almost absolutely necessary to other countries—if it can bring its capital to bear in the support and encouragement of other trades, the country is benefitted by this employment of its capital, and the very class most interested is benefitted by the re-action of the capital in such trade. The arguments of prohibition which I have heard upon this subject would, in a great degree, apply as much between county and county in England, as they would between Great Britain and other parts of the world. A noble lord has asked whether this bill is intended to benefit the agricultural class, or the general interests of the country? It is, my lords, a bill for the advantage of all: and such, I am convinced, it will be found, when its provisions are maturely considered. But, a bill even for the advancement of particular interests, may prove disadvantageous to those whom it was intended to benefit. A state of forced encouragement which outruns consumption—a succession of favourable seasons—various circumstances, may combine to produce a glut, and the effects which I have described. This state of things has been repeatedly produced in this country. We saw it in 1822, in which year, in spite of a state of law, affording every protection to the agriculturist, the greatest distress prevailed among the landed interest of the country, and the whole of the agricultural population were absolutely left almost without the means of subsistence. In a country like this, where so much larger capital is vested in manufactures, and where an equally larger capital is vested in agriculture, free inter-communication with other countries can alone enable either to flourish, and prevent those disastrous transitions between a glut and a scarcity, which we witnessed in 1815, and at other times in this country. A noble lord has observed very properly, that there is no class in this country which has not complained of distress, and applied for relief; a clear proof, in my opinion, that from the two sides—if there be two sides in the question—there is equal danger to be apprehended from the state of the law as it exists. In that state, either side is alternately placed in a state of jeopardy, and the rise in their production, consequent upon too great encouragement, must lead to a glut as pernicious as a scarcity. It is true, that 1024 every class have called upon the government to consider the state of this question. So called upon, I have, in common with others, supported this and those other measures of the government connected with the reciprocity of national advantages. I pressed it upon the attention of the government then, and I support it now; because I think that there is not a more natural or fit time in which we can be called upon to discuss the question. But then we are told, what is there wrong now? are not prices such as you wish? why not wait and see how matters turn out? why not wait the result of the labours of the Finance Committee? Are we then, my lords, to lose the present opportunity, and wait till famine or distress drives us upon considerations of relief? Is it when the passions are aggravated, that we are to debate this subject? Are we to wait for the time, when all are interested, or prejudiced, or intemperate within doors, and when all is violence and mis-statement without? The change which we now contemplate, has been long expected, and required from us. This, then, is the time to deliberate, when all are attentive and acquiescent; and when the feeling out of doors is such, that it would be almost impossible to obtain such a state of things at any other period. The noble marquis proceeded to say, that the principle of the bill went to admit, by proper gradations, a free introduction of foreign grain; and, for the present, a power of admission, beyond that which existed under the law of 1822. It had always been understood, that the principle of that bill was not permanent, but that the measure was to be finally adjusted, so as to admit foreign grain, without detriment to the interests of the home-grower, and with a protection to him corresponding to the weight of taxation. That taxation was considered fully in the provisions of the present bill. He would add, that if he thought that, under the operation of the present bill, any considerable quantity of land—if he could bring himself to believe that any considerable number of agricultural labourers—would, under its operation, be thrown out of employment, no earthly consideration should induce him to give it his support. He was as sensible as any man of the inconvenience and danger that might result from the rash application of the principles of free trade in an artificial state of society; but the bill 1025 before their lordships would cause no risk to the great interests now brought into opposition to it; for it would leave the mass of agriculture where it was at present. Reference had been made to Ireland in the course of the discussion. He must be allowed to know something of that country; and, he was convinced that, instead of injury, the bill would be productive of benefit to it, and, in referring to Ireland, he begged noble lords to recollect what had been said, that the country which could produce a redundancy of food for its inhabitants was the most happy. If that were true, then was Ireland in the greatest possible state of blessedness! The infusion of a small portion of our capital and of our manufactures into Ireland would, however, give to that country more life than any of the other experiments which persons were in the habit of recommending for her improvement. Taxation and the national debt had been referred to, in the course of the discussion; but the present was not the moment at which to enter upon those topics. He hoped their lordships would go into the committee, with a determination to give to the country the great benefit of closing this question—a determination to confer on parliament and the country the gift of setting the question at rest; so that every man, in making a bargain, might know the extent of his interests, and thus, too, prevent a necessity for interfering with the laws, similar to that to which government had been reduced on a late occasion.
The Earl of Rosslyn
contended, that the country would be exposed to great danger if it depended for its supply on the produce to be derived from a foreign state; and that we ought, upon principle, to draw as few supplies as possible from abroad; and only when corn was at an unusually high rate at home. He regretted that so much had been said and done to excite the manufacturing classes, and to induce them to petition against the Corn-laws. His objection to the measure was, not that it would greatly affect the agricultural interests of the country, but that it would tend to discourage agricultural labour, and to make the arrangements between landlord and tenant more unsatisfactory than ever they had been. It would also, in his opinion, materially discourage the employment of capital in agriculture.
§ Lord Redesdale
said, that the measure before the House would produce the most 1026 dangerous effects in case of a bad season. The encouragement of the agriculture of the country was of such paramount importance, that he was astonished to find any one daring enough to interfere with it. The bill, he thought, went upon a wrong principle, and would devour agriculture, as the insect devoured the growing corn; and he would, therefore, give the measure his strenuous opposition.
The Earl of Carnarvon
supported the bill, and denied that the country ran any danger from drawing its supplies of corn from foreign states. As soon as we created an open trade, the people from whom we purchased wanted our market as much as we could want their grain. He supported the bill, because he was convinced that even the price of 60s. was one which, under existing circumstances, the country would not be able to sustain. Sixty shillings would be a higher price at this moment than 80s. was a short time ago.
The Earl of Darnley
supported the bill, and was of opinion that it gave competent protection to the agriculturist.
The House divided: For the committee 120; Against it 63; Majority for the bill 57.