§ The Duke of Wellington
, in moving that this bill be read a second time, said, that the principle of it was to regulate the introduction of Foreign Corn into the home market, by a scale of duties, instead of by an entire prohibition under a certain price, and was thus the same principle which the House had adopted in the bill of last session. It ought to be observed, that the principle of prohibition was a new principle, until the act passed in 1815. Now, it appeared to him, that the corn trade ought always to be regulated by a scale of duties, rather than by means of a prohibition; and it was undoubtedly true, that from 1815 down to the present time, the system of prohibition had been found exceedingly inconvenient. Indeed, on a variety of occasions, it had become necessary for the government to interfere to introduce corn by proclamation into the country, to prevent, on the one hand, the price of it from rising to such a height as would inflict distress upon the consumer, and on the other such a subsequent influx of it from foreign ports, as would be prejudicial to the grower. On that ground it was, that the resolution to let in foreign corn by a scale of duties, rather than to keep it out by a system of prohibition, was 1334 adopted; and the trial which had been made of the plan by the bill of last year, had been sufficient to show that the alteration of our system had been productive of advantage to all parties. The various interruptions which it had been found necessary to give to the old system of Corn-laws had been equally inconvenient to the government and to the corn growers. They occasioned great complaints on the part of the people at large; occasioned great jealousy on the part of the agriculturists; and no small remonstrances from foreign powers. For these reasons, he was anxious that the House should adopt a system which would leave the trade in com to regulate itself, rather than continue to act upon a system which compelled the minister of the day to refer occasionally to the illegal practice of letting in corn by a proclamation of the Crown. He had stated on a former occasion, that, in his opinion, the scale of duties was sufficiently high. The bill of last year provided for the taking of the averages every three months; the present bill provided for the taking of them every six weeks.
The Earl of Lauderdale
said, he gave his noble friend full credit for being convinced that this measure, under all the circumstances, was the best that could be devised; and he trusted that his noble friend would give him equal credit when he said, that he would not stand up to oppose his noble friend's measure, unless he was convinced that it would be prejudicial to the best interests of the country. He was sure he should not hear from his noble friend—indeed he doubted whether he should hear from any of their lordships—a repetition of the calumnies uttered on former occasions, when any one rose to 'advocate that side of the question which he was then going to advocate; namely; "that we are led, from interested motives, to secure a profit to ourselves as landholders, at the expense of the poorer classes of the community; in other words, that we are seeking to establish for ourselves a monopoly in the trade of corn." A monopoly ! In whose favour? In favour of the agriculturists? Could he be told, that a monopoly which was established in favour of the country at large, was productive of the injurious effects which attended private monopolies? He had never accused any public men of acting from private views of interest or ambition. He had himself never acted but 1335 upon one view and upon one principle, and that was—what were the best means of maintaining the wealth and prosperity of the country, and of procuring for the poor a plentiful supply of grain at a cheap, and, above all, at a steady, price. He had always contended, that, whatever the price of grain might be, no matter, so long as it was a steady price, for things would naturally accommodate themselves to it: but that, if it were unsteady, it was equally fatal to the grower and to the consumer. A sudden augmentation of the price of grain induced the labourer to do more work in a given time, in order to continue in possession of his usual luxuries: the increase of labour diminished the price of wages, and the diminished price of wages, aggravated the other evils under which the increased price of corn made him suffer. A sudden diminution in the price of grain was equally injurious to the farmer. It was in this point of view that he had first considered this question in 1813. He had then published upon it; and a noble earl, whose absence he lamented, from the melancholy cause which produced it—for he would say this, that he loved and respected the noble earl as an individual, and had never met with a fairer opponent on matters of political difference—that noble earl had told him, that the view which he had taken in his publication had been under the consideration of government, and that ministers were resolved to protect the agriculture of the country by prohibition up to a certain price.—With that view of the question (continued the noble earl) I told the noble earl, that I should be most anxious to afford him every assistance. The noble earl then told me, that his determination was to put an end to the question, as far as he could, by declaring his intention to make the law which he then had in contemplation, the permanent law of the country during the continuance of peace. I knew the necessity for establishing such a law, and I stated it distinctly; for I knew how soon the country would accommodate itself to the circumstances of it. Well; the noble earl's Corn-bill was passed; and the first attack which was made upon that permanent law was by the agriculturists themselves. On that occasion I was the first man to say, that the petition which Mr. Webb Hall and others presented should be scouted, and that the interests of the country imperiously de- 1336 manded that we should adhere to the law which we had deliberately enacted. My advice was, however, neglected; and, since that time, we have had various laws, of all sorts and descriptions;—we have had recourse to proclamations, to admit foreign corn into our markets. I do not rise to advocate the interest of the landowners against the interest of the lower classes, but with a belief, that their interests are combined, and cannot be separated; and that, to give, as a security to agriculture, a prohibition of the importation of foreign corn, is the best means of getting for the labouring classes the lowest and the steadiest price of corn.—The noble earl then proceeded to review the different opinions which had been held upon the corn trade. There were some who contended, that a free trade in corn ought to exist; whilst there were others who, with him, contended, that there should be a prohibition of foreign corn to a certain price, or a protecting duty to such an amount as would form a prohibition. He thought that the distinction which his noble friend had drawn between a scale of protecting duties and a prohibition under a certain price, was a distinction without a difference; for if the scale of protecting duties was high enough, it amounted to a prohibition exactly as much as if it were called so. Now, for a century past, the law had been, to protect agriculture by prohibitory duties, and you might as well enact a prohibition at once, as create a scale of duties which prevented its importation. Of late years this system had been altered, under the auspices of a set of modern philosophers, who, in their eagerness to carry their theories into execution, cared little for the results of experience. He had himself been often held up to public view as a mere theorist; but he defied any man to say, that in any legislative measure which he had ever introduced, he had not mixed up his theory with the consideration of practical results. Against the bill of last year a successful opposition had been formed; and he could wish that a similar opposition would be raised against the bill of this year; for though the scale of duties was more favourable to the agriculturists than it was in the bill of last year, in other instances it was more unfavourable to them; and therefore he thought that the two measures ought to be classed together. There could not, in his opinion, be a more prejudicial idea entertained, than that of 1337 establishing a free trade in corn. It was impossible that it should exist; it would starve the community; and therefore the nearer our system approached it, the more strongly would he reprobate and condemn it. If this country was to have a free trade in corn, the mere circumstances of its being more taxed and less favoured by climate, than other countries, were sufficient to show any man of discernment what the result would be. The consequence of it would be, that the country would be gradually thrown out of cultivation; and so we should go on, till we became dependent on foreign nations for our supply of food—a system which had always been productive of fatal effects. The supply of grain drawn from the provinces into Italy, proved the ruin of the Roman empire. Varro said, that in his time the return of corn in Italy was as ten to one; but Columella, who wrote some years afterwards, said, that the return of corn at that time was as four to one, in consequence of the abundance of grain imported from the provinces. Let their lordships also look at the treaty which the king of Spain had made with his subjects in 1665. In the preamble to that treaty, it was stated, that the agriculture of the country had been destroyed by the superabundant importation of foreign grain; and the covenant was, that agriculture should be protected against such importations; for that otherwise Spain would be dependent on foreign nations for a supply of food. About the year 1735, a vizier of Turkey encouraged the exportation of corn from that country to such a degree, that three hundred French vessels were waiting at one time in the Bay of Smyrna, to take up cargoes. But the Janissaries interfered to prevent so much corn from leaving their country; and the consequence was, that the visier lost his head. The next visier prohibited the practice; and the consequence was, that in France the price of corn soon fell, in consequence of the impulse given to French agriculture by cutting off the supply from the foreign market. To come to modern times he would refer their lordships to the report made by consul Foy, on the corn trade of Sweden. Though Sweden had long been an importing country, a prohibition was issued, in his time, on the importation of foreign grain. The consequence was, that a great stimulus was given to the agricul- 1338 tural interest of that country; that in a few years it produced a supply superior to its wants; that in one particular year two hundred thousand quarters of grain, being part of its superabundant produce, were distilled, there being no other way of disposing of it; and that a great plenty of grain had been found in Sweden ever since the enactment. With these examples before his eyes, he could not help reprobating the introduction of a system, likely to destroy the agricultural interests of this great empire. We were placed, in a particular situation, as related to the trade in grain. There was one part of the empire which had increased its growth of corn, in consequence of its knowledge of the amount of supply necessarily required to meet our demand. We were bound to encourage the growth of corn in Ireland, because it was not a manufacturing country. We were bound to look to Ireland for our supply, in the first instance, and not by encouraging foreign grain, interfere with the prosperity of that country. What loss had been sustained by the country in consequence of the act of 1815;—that act, which, in the opinion of his noble friend, had done so much mischief? Look at the price of grain for the last ten or twelve years. When he had supported that act on its first being proposed, he was told that he was seeking to enact a minimum for the price of corn, and to pass a measure prohibiting it from being sold at less than 80s. a quarter. To that assertion he replied, that he was going to enact 80s. as a maximum price of corn. Had not that prediction been justified by events? The average price from 1814 to the present year had never exceeded 65s., and during the last year it was not more than 57s. a quarter. Was that a price which required the whole system of our Corn-laws to be changed? What, then, was the motive for repealing the existing Coin-law? Had the agriculturists asked for it? No; they wished for the continuance of the present law. Were there any petitions from the manufacturers on the subject? No such thing. Some years ago petitions of that nature had been presented to their lordships; but they were all got up in the way in which he could get up petitions upon any subject. He believed that all the petitions which had been formerly presented against the Corn-laws contained a clause on the 1339 hackneyed subject of parliamentary reform, or on the necessity of retrenchment and economy, or on the propriety of reducing the salaries of the public officers of the government. He had seen that the salaries of various officers had of late years been reduced; and that to a greater extent, than was fitting with the objects of a wise government. In the early part of his life he had concurred in the celebrated vote of the House of Common, that the power of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished; but at present he should not be able to support such a vote; for he believed the power of the Crown to he too much diminished. Did not their lordships therefore see that this measure emanated from the philosophical spirit of discontent that was abroad; and that it had been forced upon ministers, in spite of their wishes? What benefit should we derive from it? The agriculture of a country was not an institution that could be reared in ten days, and completed in six weeks. On the contrary, it depended on a system of steady growth and of long duration, and if once broken up was ruined for ever. In Scotland, where the population were shrewd, calculating, and provident, all the farms were let on lease. Now, unless there could be some established data, on which the landlord and tenant could both make their calculations, the agriculture of Scotland must speedily be ruined; for no farms could be let. How was he, under the difficulties which this new law would present, to calculate the amount of rent which he ought to receive? How was he to proceed under a system which rendered the price of corn uncertain, and which, in another of its ramifications, reduced the price of wool from 18d. to 7d. per lb? How was he to desire his tenant to calculate the profits which he ought to realize from his farm, and to tell him what share of those profits ought to belong to him, as owner of the farm?—The uncertainty of all agricultural calculations was further aggravated by its connexion with the warehousing system. Indeed, the two systems combined destroyed all the protection formerly granted to the agricultural interest. Why? Grain was, of all commodities, that of which the value depended upon its abundance or scarcity. It was an article of the first necessity, and not a luxury, which might be dispensed with. Grain was wanted as food; and 1340 therefore there was no check upon its price except its abundance. Now, this bill went to bring against the domestic produce of one year, the foreign produce of other years; and as nature never afforded the same quantity of produce to the same country for two years together, this new system augmented the chances, that the farmer would have a year of foreign abundance, competing with a year of domestic scarcity, in such a manner as would prove ruinous to his interests, A year of domestic scarcity enhanced the price of the corn which the farmer had on hand; but his chance of profit from such a year would be entirely destroyed, if he had to contend with a year of foreign abundance, stored up in this country by the warehousing system. That system, if continued in, would inevitably ruin that system of agriculture by which nineteen-twentieths of our population had hitherto been supported. Both those systems were supported by an appeal to the frequent alterations which it had been found necessary to make in the Corn-laws. But here again another great question arose; how far had those alterations been made from necessity or from choice? He believed, judging from the price of corn for the last fourteen years, that there would have been no extravagant price of corn in Great Britain, had the laws remained unaltered. In June, last year, ministers let in to the country from four hundred thousand to five hundred thousand quarters of wheat. At the time they thought they foresaw that there would be a deficiency of wheat in the country, before the ensuing harvest was got in. But what was the case? Before September, the spring corn was reaped and in the market, and the deficiency predicted never took place.—He would, therefore, say to the noble duke, "Leave all interference as to the importation of foreign corn to parliament, if it be sitting, and to the privy council if it be not; and you will thus, on the one hand, prevent the population from being brought to a dearth or the fear of it; and, on the other, preserve the agricultural interest from ruin, by a superabundant supply of foreign grain. You will thus give to the ministry of the day the security of forming an opinion with the facts of the case before them, instead of the insecurity of compelling them to form it, in perfect ignorance of all the circumstances on which they ought to 1341 ground their decision."—He recollected that when the noble duke had brought forward these resolutions, in that open and decided manner, which had procured him so much credit with the country, he had said, that he was sure no one could suppose that he would propose any measure to injure the agriculture of the country, because he knew that great sums had been expended upon it. The noble duke had said, that, for the same reason, he would not injure the warehousing system. Now, lie was quite sure that the different counties of England would, if they regarded their own interests, gladly subscribe the sum necessary to make good the capital expended on those warehouses, supposing that by so doing they could get rid of the injury which those warehouses were calculated to inflict upon the agricultural interest. His reason for opposing the present bill was, that he was convinced that if once passed into a law, the manufacturing interest would be the first to complain of its fatal consequences. With respect to the agriculturists, who were so bound up with the prosperity of the country, he would boldly say, that there was no measure which would be beneficial to the country which would not be gratefully received by them. But he had heard that this bill was not only a compromise, but a stepping-stone to something else. He wanted to know what resting-place there would be for the manufacturer, if they rendered him dependent on the foreign trade in that important article of consumption. Where could his resting-place be, if the commodity which formed four-fifths of his consumption was to be at the mercy of speculators? It was upon these grounds that he rested his opposition to the present measure.—But this was one of the measures on which it was intended to acquire popularity. At least, it was a branch of that principle of free trade, of which they had heard so much. He remembered the occasion upon which his noble friend (lord Goderich) had said, that he, for one, concurred in opinion against the regulations against smuggling. If the present bill was enacted, it would operate as a restriction of the most, obnoxious kind; for it would be a restriction upon the industry of the country. He would remind his noble friend how much he was disposed to reduce the coast blockade. But he would ask, after all, was this a time for England to abandon her former system, 1342 when all the other countries of Europe were beginning to adopt it? If the object was to set the question at rest, the present was a most unfortunate course, as there was no one more calculated to produce frequent discussions, and to impose the necessity of frequent revisions. A prohibitory system, with a power to the privy council to alter or relax it, as circumstances might demand, was a system most likely to be practically beneficial. For the reasons he had stated, he should feel it his duty to oppose the bill.
said, he knew not in what class of politicians the noble lord might be disposed to place him, according to the distinction which, with a mixture of good humour and severity, he had drawn upon the present occasion. The noble lord had described the difference of their respective opinions with perfect accuracy; but though he (lord Goderich) had maintained, both there and elsewhere, the principles of free trade, he was not such an absolute philosopher, as not to compromise the principle when it was necessary that he should do so in order to bring it into partial operation. But that compromise did not show that he was the less confident in the principle which he professed; for, though he differed totally in the view which the noble lord took of the present law, he would allow that it was impossible for this country to adopt the abstract principle of free trade, under all the complication of interests which had grown up with the wealth and resources of the nation. His opinion was, that the laws ought to be revised, with a view to bring them back to the state in which they stood before the late war. Therefore, he feared no charge against him as a theorist, or as one who did not care what became of the agricultural interest; nor did he fear that he could be fairly charged, upon the other hand, with having deserted the principle of free trade, of which he was an avowed and sincere supporter. The noble lord had argued as if they were now legislating upon a principle entirely new, and as if the policy which he supported was that which the country had always maintained; but nothing could be more fallacious than such an insinuation. In 1804, the high duty was first proposed up to the price of 54s., and the change was sudden from the high prohibitory duty to half-a-crown. There was no graduated scale of duties His opinion always was, with respect to the 1343 operation of these laws, that 80s. would be the maximum, not the minimum; for, if the ports were thrown open, from whatever accidental cause, the moment they were open any quantity might be admitted, without reference to the general state of the market; whereas, if the ports were allowed to be open only for three months, every individual would pour in grain as expeditiously as possible, if there was not some graduated scale introduced into the bill. Such a course was much better, in his opinion, than the bill of which the noble lord appeared to be so much enamoured. The bill recommended by the noble lord would be placing too much in the hands of the government. The noble lord had alluded to the steps which were taken, during the present law, to keep the prices steady; but he would defy him to state any case, in which there had been such fluctuations as since 1815, when the favourite system of the noble lord was in operation. In fact, it was absurd to expect that any law could effect a steadiness in price. All he contended for was, that the law now proposed was more likely to do so than the other. The noble lord had alluded to an intention, on the part of his majesty's former government, to make out a case against the law as it stood at present. It was easy to make charges of this nature, but he would take the liberty of denying the fact. He would say, that the proclamations alluded to were never intended to answer such a purpose—a purpose which, if entertained, must render their authors unfit to appear in that House or any where else. The warehousing system took place in 1822. That system was totally revised; but he would utterly deny that any of the proclamations were intended to answer the miserable considerations, which the noble lord had assigned as their origin. The measure which he had presented to their lordships was intended but for a year. The principle of that measure was one which their lordships had then recognized. He maintained his former opinion still; and he suggested the present measure, because he was desirous that the law should be settled on this subject, as the greatest inconvenience arose from uncertainty. They were not now making an eternal law, binding on the country under all circumstances, but were legislating to suit the present occasion, and upon that ground be gave his support to the bill.
The Earl of Malmesbury
said, that up to a certain point it was always his opinion that prohibition should exist. The right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson), who might be considered the father of the free-trade system, had admitted the miscalculation which he had committed in the first instance, in taking the average too low. When that was the case with respect to so experienced a judge, might he not suppose that, in the present year, the same mistake was committed? Supposing they had been last year legislating for a permanent measure, what would the consequence have been?—that they had taken a wrong average. Was that no argument for exercising caution now? It was surely not too much to ask that this country should be placed in the same state as other countries, with regard to that great article of consumption, corn, which could only be done by a contract between the grower and the consumer. It was not too much to expect from the consumer, that he should say, "I will give you a certain price, which shall be sufficient to protect you against the foreign grower." The ways in which foreign corn might operate against the grower of this country were various. He would give one instance. Suppose certain merchants had speculated in foreign corn to the amount of 300,000l. or 400,000l. Suppose that some stagnation took place in the sale, and their creditors forced them to sell at any price they could get, the original sellers must suffer as well as the speculators. But there was another body who would suffer; namely, the agriculturists of this country, whose article would be depreciated, by the quantity of cheap corn in the market. In the measure of last year, oats and barley, in which Scotland and Ireland were so much interested, had not obtained sufficient protection. In all cases, the averages were taken too low. There was also a great error, with respect to Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man. The repeal of the act of 1822 would place Guernsey and Jersey, in the same situation with the Isle of Man; the effect of which had been experienced in the month of February, when so much foreign wheat was introduced into Liverpool. All these circumstances rendered it incumbent on the legislature to proceed with caution; for they might depend upon it, that the Liverpool merchants would take advantage of any omission. But the present bill would not only operate against 1345 the landed proprietors and their tenants, it would also operate against the little owners, possessing to the amount of 40l. or 50l. a year. They, if they were not already ruined, would be completely destroyed by this bill. He would ask, what had happened since the year 1822, to justify the diminution of protection? It was unwise to discourage the resource which they had in the granaries of Ireland. He was sorry to oppose any measure proceeding from a government in which he had such confidence; but, feeling as he did upon that great question, he must vote against the bill.
said, he was somewhat in doubt as to whether he should oppose or support the bill; and that doubt arose from the measure not going far enough, as he thought, to weaken the monopoly of the landed interest. A noble lord had expressed his surprise that that should be called a monopoly which he said was for the benefit of the whole country. He, however, thought it was a monopoly for the advantage of one order of the state to the injury of every other. The only part of the bill he really liked was that which repealed the bill of 1815. He would take that opportunity of giving his parting malediction to that iniquitous measure. In his opinion, justice had never been done upon that old culprit. Even at that moment he felt surprised at the impudence with which that bill had been introduced. The object of those who introduced that measure was to keep the price of corn at 80s. in this country, whilst it was only 30s. or 40s. on the continent. Some persons imagined that there was a contest going on between the landed and the commercial interests. Now, his opinion was, that the contest was between the landed interest and the prosperity of the country. To increase the price of corn tended more to check the prosperity of the country, than any other measure. What was it which limited the progressive improvement of any country? An increase in the price of food, which necessarily increased the cost of its production; and in the same proportion the progress of the accumulation of wealth was retarded. A noble earl had complained of certain visionary politicians, whom he called political economists. He could assure the noble earl, that he was not one of the political metaphysicians. He would readily give to the Devil all the Scotch metaphysicians that ever existed, 1346 He could not help thinking that the noble viscount (Goderich) was something of a heretic. He separated and confounded substances too much. That was his heresy. The true faith was to allow free trade in every thing: that, indeed, was not only true faith, but good works. It had been said, that the bill was a compromise between the landed and the commercial interests. He thought the measure ought rather to be described as a compromise between two parts of the same government; and he was not sure that the noble duke had not gained the advantage, for he had got the high prices, and had only conceded the warehousing system. Finally, he must protest against an unchangeable high duty. He could never consent to consider the present measure as a permanent one. He thought it was only a step, which would be followed by a great many more in the same course.
The Marquis of Bristol
said:—My long and near connexion with a noble earl now unfortunately secluded from public life, with whom this measure is known to have originated, and under the sanction of whose name it was first brought before the public, has made me watch its progress with peculiar interest, and as there is no individual who would have seen with more regret any modification of it inconsistent with the principles on which it was founded, I am anxious to take this opportunity of stating my entire satisfaction at the shape in which it now appears, and feel bound in candour to acknowledge, not only that the bill is substantially the same as the one proposed by lord Liverpool, but that the alterations in the scale of duties are practical improvements, and tend to secure more regular supplies and less fluctuating prices. Whatever difference of opinion, however, may prevail as to the measure itself, all must, I think, agree that the frequent debates upon this subject, and the long attention bestowed upon it, has been productive of infinite advantage, for it is notorious that all classes now take a far juster view of the question than they did last year. I feel confident that, notwithstanding every attempt to set one half of the country in hostile array against the other half, we shall all of us come out of these discussions, merchants, manufacturers, and agriculturists, with a fuller knowledge of our true interests, and with kinder feelings towards each other; above all, with a constant recollection that no one of the 1347 great natural classes of society can ever profit by the depression of another of those classes; and with a growing conviction which will, 1 hope, take root in the minds of every farmer, and every manufacturer, in England, that farmers and manufacturers are not rivals, but partners in one great firm, and thrive by each other's prosperity. Nothing can be more unfounded than the idea that landlords have any peculiar or separate interest in this question. I never will admit that on this or any subject, landlords have or can have an interest at variance with the general interests of the country. The author of "The Wealth of Nations" has stated his opinion in these remarkable words:—"The interest of landowners is strictly and inseparably connected with the general interest of the society." This is undoubtedly true; and I will take upon myself to assert that, if there is any one proposition in political economy which may be affirmed without qualification, and which admits of no exception, it is this, that the interests of landlords, properly understood, are absolutely identified with the general interests of the country. Why, my lords, how can this be otherwise? Landlords have no interest in high prices—high prices raise rents nominally and in appearance; and now and then some temporary advantage may be obtained from them, for which landlords will always pay afterwards with more than compound interest: but rents can only be raised largely, permanently, and beneficially, to landlords by one of two causes, both of which are equally conducive to the prosperity of all other classes; first, by improvements in agriculture, which leave a larger surplus produce after the expenses of cultivation are defrayed; and, secondly, by improved and extended markets. Now, all improvements in agriculture which increase the surplus produce of the country are obviously a direct addition to the public wealth.—And how are markets improved and extended? By new communications, roads, railways, canals, but principally by the continual rise and increase of large towns within our own empire, rendered rich and prosperous by thriving manufacturers, and by all the improvements in skill and machinery connected with such establishments. The best job, then, for the landlord is the prosperity of trade in all its branches: as the best job for trade is a prosperous state of agriculture. There is nothing to make 1348 the inhabitant of the town and the cultivator of the soil jealous of each other—quite the contrary; for the more each produces, the more he will have to exchange with the other; and this is the foundation of that great internal trade, which is worth one hunched times more than all the foreign commerce of the country put together. It is equally the interest of all classes to make the produce of the country as abundant as possible, and whatever system most effectually accomplishes this object is the best for the country. What the poor man really wants, what true and enlightened philanthropy seeks to secure to him, is not cheap bread, but plenty of it. The question of the mere price of food is one of very secondary importance either to the grower or the consumer; for, whatever that price is, all bargains and transactions, wages, exchanges, &c. will be regulated accordingly. The principle of vital importance is this; that in all ordinary seasons the soil of the empire should be made to feed the inhabitants, and from this principle you cannot depart materially without injury to every class and every individual in the community; for you cannot depart from it to any considerable extent without producing great fluctuations in the price of corn; an alarming uncertainty in the supply of it; without undermining the most solid foundation of all wealth; and without really endangering your independence as a nation.
It is not, then, as a landlord, but as an Englishman, that I feel anxiety upon this subject. Secure me against a large dependence upon foreign corn (and, if once it is a large one, it will also be a rapidly increasing one), and I care not how cheap you make the agricultural produce of the country; all things will find their level accordingly—but I see ideas afloat, and I hear measures advocated, which would go to make a very large portion of the English people, not occasionally and in bad seasons, but habitually and permanently, dependent upon foreign corn; and which would increase indefinitely the manufacturing population of the country. Against such a system I protest as strongly as the most decided agriculturist, because I know that it involves in it the inevitable surrender, at no distant period, of that proud and independent station which we now hold amongst the nations of the world. If know, besides, which is the healthiest, which is the happiest, which is the most virtuous, 1349 part of the population; and I will never consent to apply artificial stimulants to the sole and separate increase of that part which is the least so. As long as we hold to the principle of making the soil of the empire feed the inhabitants, the increase of the agricultural population must always bear its due proportion to the increase of the manufacturing population; and, by thus following the order of things established in nature, the diseases of luxury and civilization, and the antidotes destined to correct them, will always keep pace with each other; but fatal indeed would be the consequences of that system which would raise up new Manchesters and new Birminghams in every corner of the country, and leave them to be fed by precarious supplies drawn from distant countries over which we have no control, and raised by a foreign yeomanry, who contribute nothing to the peace, order, and well-being, of the community.
The bill on your lordships' table, whilst it meets to a reasonable extent the feelings and expectations of the consumer, appears to me to provide adequate securities against these dangers. It gives facilities to the introduction of foreign corn upon the very first indications of a deficiency in the home supply (and this was the principle for which lord Liverpool chiefly contended); it effectually prevents the introduction of foreign corn as long as the home supply is really sufficient for our consumption. This is as it ought to be, and I shall therefore give it my cordial support, under the firm persuasion that by so doing I shall best promote the public interests, most effectually allay the jealousies of the manufacturing classes, and, I trust, secure to the country that which it most wants, a permanent system of law upon this important subject—but I beg the friends of agriculture to be assured that, if I did not firmly believe those securities to be fully sufficient to guard us against dangers of such a magnitude, no consideration on earth should induce me to vote for this measure, notwithstanding the deep and anxious wish which I feel to give to its lamented author this proof of my undiminished confidence and attachment; and to see adopted by parliament this last recommendation of a statesman; who, as long as singleness of heart, simplicity of character, deep and unaffected piety, truth, candour, fairness, integrity, and moderation, are virtues peculiarly dear to the 1350 English people, will lire in their hearts, cherished and revered as he will do in mine, to the last moment of my existence.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, it was certainly necessary, as had been well stated by the noble duke, to give a due and adequate protection to the agriculture of this country, not only on account of its own importance, but also on account of the immense capital invested in it, and the vast numbers who were interested in its prosperity. He might consider that proposition as much better proved by the noble duke, than he could prove it; but, admitting and admiring, as he did, the doctrines of the noble duke, he could not but be surprised at the conclusion at which he had arrived. This was a dangerous innovation on the system which had preceded this new plan of graduated duties: for what was the former system? It had been said, that it was a system of monopoly; but he contended that it was not a system of monopoly, but of protection. In his view of the subject, however, these duties would not be prohibitory, and he would endeavour to show, when the bill came to be committed, that the duties would not be prohibitory, and that there was the strongest ground for apprehension, that the measure would prove injurious to the rents of the landlord, the constitution, and the government. The noble marquis had admitted, that the prosperity of the country depended upon its own supply of the necessaries of life for its own population; and in this he was confirmed by the opinion even of Mr. Jacob, who distinctly stated, that the country ought not to be dependent for the supplies of the necessaries of life upon other countries, but that we ought to look for those supplies, if not exclusively, yet chiefly, to our own country. The system of protecting our own agricultural produce from the too great pressure of foreign competition was of a very old date, much older than the time of Charles 2nd; but, in that reign, when the price of wheat was 56s. per quarter, the duty on foreign importation was 8s. per quarter—a very high duty at that time. And what was the consequence? The consequence was, a great improvement in the agriculture of this country, so as to enable us to export corn to foreign countries instead of importing, and the price of corn was reduced in the home market. That system was disturbed in 1766; and what was the effect of the alteration? It was this— 1351 that the prices were higher by 16s. per quarter, than they had been during the thirty-one years preceding. He contended, in opposition to the noble viscount (Goderich), that the system now proposed; was a system of fluctuation; and maintained, that the system of 1815 was a much better protection to the agriculture of this country, than that which laid open the warehouses so frequently. The system now proposed was a compound of foreign and home prices; and therefore would perpetually produce confusion. The farmers would know the home prices, but they could not know the foreign prices. They could not send their Mr. Jacob abroad, to ascertain them; and therefore the system was and must be attended with great fluctuation. The noble duke himself was not, he was convinced, the real author of the measure. It had been prepared by some one who wished to make it an object of revenue; and the fact was, that during the six months of its existence last year, it had brought five hundred thousand quarters of foreign grain into the country, and thereby had occasioned a ruinous depreciation of price; but it had brought 600,000l. into the Exchequer.—Much had been said about free trade; but he could inform their lordships what free trade was. It was a trade, the effect of which was to drive British produce from the market, as it had done the article of wool; the growers of which had been almost ruined. The question undoubtedly was, in a considerable degree, a question of currency; and looking at it in that light, there could be no doubt but that the taxes now paid by the country were raised hundreds of thousands of pounds beyond the war taxes of 1812. At this moment it took seven millions and a half of quarters of wheat to pay the taxes, more than it did to pay them in 1812.—This measure had been recommended by some as a measure of experiment; but he contended that this was not a subject for experiment. What would any noble lord think of setting his house on fire, merely as an experiment, to try how much the fire would consume? This appeared to be adopted as a measure of finance. It had certainly brought 600,000l. last year into the revenue; but at the same time it had injured the agriculture of this country to the amount of more than 1,800,000l. The government ought to be cautious how it intermeddled with the interests of agricul- 1352 ture, and exhausted the agricultural capital. A noble baron had said, that he did not look on this is a permanent system: neither did he; and in the course of the next session he hoped to see their lordships' table loaded with petitions against it. He would give his zealous support to the government as now constituted, as far as he conscientiously could; but he could not give his assent to this measure. He was opposed to the principle of the bill; and should move, as an amendment, that it be read a second time that day six months.
regretted, that his noble friend objected to the principle of the measure. Now, it was his perfect conviction, that ministers could not have discharged their duty if they had brought before their lordships any bill respecting the Corn-laws, founded on any other principle than that which was generally adopted by the two Houses last year, and upon which the present bill was founded. His noble friend had stated, that he (lord E.) had given his consent to the measure of last year as a temporary measure, and as an experiment. That was perfectly true it was only as an experiment that he could have consented to that measure; but, having had the example of that experiment, he had now applied the benefit of that experience to the bill before their lordships, His noble friend had dealt more harshly with the measure of last year than he was disposed to do. He had attributed the whole of the reduction in the price of wheat, which had taken place in the six months subsequent, to the introduction of five hundred thousand quarters of corn, which had come into the home market under the operation of that act. His noble friend forgot that the price of corn, subsequent to the introduction of the five hundred thousand quarters, could not have been solely affected by the introduction of that known small quantity of corn, but also by the unknown quantity of the whole harvest. If his noble friend, and other noble lords, were determined to oppose every measure which should not have the character of permanency, he feared, it would be impossible to introduce any measure which could secure their support. A permanent measure on the subject of corn was, in its very nature, impossible. If any measure should be founded, as proposed by a noble lord, on the extreme principle of free trade, the ruin which that principle 1353 would introduce, would force their lordships, at an early period, to abrogate it: if founded upon the principle of absolute prohibition, with certain modifications, which had been proposed, the protection given by that measure would be entirely delusive to the farmer, and it would be impossible for their lordships to enforce them, when the home-grown corn grew to a high price. Their lordships were, therefore, driven to the principle of a duty proportioned to the price of corn in the country; and, if they adopted that principle, it was perfectly impossible, with a view to give equal protection at all times, that the duty on that principle should not vary. Under such a principle, the duty must vary in reference to the circumstances of this and other countries, in which corn was produced—with respect to the taxation of this country and other countries—and with respect to the population. To do justice, it was impossible to have a permanent measure on the subject of corn; but he did think, that the present bill had about it more character of permanency than any other measure which had hitherto been proposed. He would own that his prepossession had been in favour of a measure of prohibition up to a certain point; but, after the decision for the two Houses, it would have been idle to attempt to force the opinion he entertained in opposition to that decision. So convinced was he of this circumstance, that he had declared, at the close of the discussion, that he was willing to agree to a compromise, and give up the principle of prohibition. The bill then before their lordships was, in fact, such a compromise. The scale of duties was such as to amount, at a certain stage, to a prohibition. If the principle of the bill were not adopted, what principle would their lordships adopt? The noble lords who opposed it, on the ground of giving too much protection to the agriculturists, and those who opposed it on account of its permitting sufficient protection, had not agreed to any other principle, which they would submit to their lordships. A noble earl had objected to the warehousing system; but, under the present bill, and the scale of duties, the corn would be allowed, as it had been stated, to ooze into the market, and would not be brought in so as to cause great fluctuations in the prices. The objection he had stated to the bill of last year, grounded on the opinion, that 60s. was 1354 not a sufficient remunerating price, was provided for by the higher protecting duties of this bill. Another objection he had also made to the bill of last year was founded on the incorrect method of taking the averages; but this objection was also removed by the mode adopted in the present bill of taking the averages. By this bill, also, Ireland would receive protection equal to that afforded to England, while she had not so great a burden of taxation. The greatest care had been taken in drawing up the details of the bill; particularly with a view of securing the independence of our corn trade. After the principle of the measure had been approved of in both Houses of Parliament, ministers did not expect that it could have encountered any material opposition. They thought, improved as it was in its details, that it would be accepted by both parties as a reasonable means of reconciling the interests of both. He believed, indeed, that this was the case; for, though some petitions had been presented against the measure, they were not numerous nor very urgent. Both parties seemed desirous of such a settlement of the question, as would enable them to carry on their business in peace and tranquillity. He trusted, therefore, that their lordships would allow the bill to be read a second time.
§ Lord Redesdale
said, he disapproved of the system, because it promoted speculation; which was what he most dreaded. They should always remember, that what was produced in a country cost it nothing; but that what was brought from other countries must be paid for. Applying this principle to the Corn-laws, he contended, that it was wise to produce as much as possible of those things to which the climate and soil of a country were adapted. It was right to encourage the productions of our own country; for they supported whatever trade we had. If our own country were to become barren, or to cease to produce, even our people must perish.
After a short reply from the duke of Wellington, the House divided: For the Motion, Present 53; Proxies 33; Total 86: Against the Motion, Present 12; Proxies 7; total 19: Majority 67.