§ Earl Fitzwilliam
, in pursuance of his notice, and in compliance with what he understood to be their Lord-ships' wishes, rose to call the attention of their Lordships to a subject of the greatest importance, and one which he was sure their Lordships would consider to be worthy of their most serious attention. Their Lordships would no doubt think, that many apologies were due from one who had been the most recently introduced into their Lordships' ranks, for presuming, so shortly after taking his seat in that assembly, to call on their Lordships to listen to his voice. Their Lordships might be assured that he should not have presumed so to do, if 1162 there did not press upon his mind a conviction the most intimate and the; most solemn that this question was one which was not yet settled, and one which, if not settled, called upon both Houses of Parliament to enter into a consideration of its merits, with a view to such a final adjustment of it as would make, ultimately, all classes of his Majesty's subjects consent to that adjustment. He remembered well the last time when this question was discussed in the other House of Parliament; he remembered that, upon that occasion, it was introduced to the notice of the House by an hon. Gentleman who was now the Representative of the county of Middlesex; but what he particularly remembered, and what he was particularly desirous to draw their Lordships' attention to, was not so much the arguments of that hon. Gentleman as the course which was adopted in resisting the proposition which that hon. Gentleman made. At that time the office which called upon him who filled it to address the House on all questions of trade was filled by a Gentleman, whoso subsequent accession to an Irish peerage removed him from the House of Commons, without raising him to a seat in their Lordships' Assembly. That Gentleman was a man of great ability and, consummate talent, and he remembered well, that in the whole course of his speech he never ventured to defend the law as it at present stands, though at that time only one year had elapsed from the period when it was passed. What inference could be drawn from such an omission on the part of Lord Fitzgerald, but that when he found it necessary to draw the attention of the House, not to the merits of the law, but to the imperfections in the statements of his opponents, he drew attention to those imperfections with the hope he might deduce an argument from them in favour of that system, which, on its own merits, he could not successfully maintain. He should not, however, content himself with quoting the statements, or rather the non-statements of Lord Fitzgerald on that occasion, but would have recourse to other authority; and he hoped his noble friend, of whom he was going to speak, would not think, that he did it with any unkindness, or that he intended to draw a contrast between opinions then and opinions now; indeed he did not know whether it would turn out that there was any change of opinion in the noble individual he alluded to. In 1163 the House of Commons, in the year 1815, where the first of these ill-omened measures was proposed, he remembered what fell from his noble friend who now held the office of the Keeper of his Majesty's Privy Seal—he remembered it well indeed, without the means he had taken to refresh his memory; but as he had taken those means, he would call the attention of the House to an extract from his noble friend's speech on that occasion. 'In looking to the principles which should guide their decision, the House ought to recollect, that they were not now in the situation of arguing, for the first time, whether they should act on the principle of restriction or not. For not only on the subject of corn, but on all great branches of trade in this country, they had, from time immemorial, proceeded on a system of restriction. And therefore he con-tended, they were not now placed in a situation of discussing first principles. They were not now, for the first time, to inquire whether they were to act on this principle or not. The system had been acted on for a long period, and we could not depart from it without encountering a frightful revulsion, which it would be dreadful to combat. It was not, there-fore, a question between restriction and non-restriction, but how they were to apply principles that had been long called into action, to the existing circumstances of the country. This was the only ground on which he would now recommend the measure he was about to submit to their consideration.'* The principle of that law, as it appeared from that statement, was restriction; but he did not quote these authorities to support that view which he supposed no noble Lord would deny, but to request their Lordships to compare it with the system which had been since introduced. He asked their Lordships to compare it, in order to see how it formed a part and parcel of the present system. Before he had done with authorities, he would take the liberty of quoting one more, of a more recent date, and equally distinguished. Their Lordships would probably recollect, that the present Act was passed in 1828, and that it was a substitute for that Bill which was rejected in 1827, which it nearly resembled. Their Lordships would recollect, that the* Hansard, xxix, p, 801.1164 Bill of 1827 was proposed by Mr. Canning, and that in 1828 the propositions were submitted to Parliament by his right hon. friend (Mr. Grant) the President of, the Board of Control; and it was superfluous in him to say, that whatever fell from that right hon. Gentleman was worthy of attention. In 1828, that right hon. Gentleman said: "In moving these Resolutions," and their Lordships would observe, that the Resolutions spoken of were the basis of that Act, "he had spoken of these Resolutions as an introduction to something better; but in one point of view they were permanent. They were permanent until the minds of men could be led to entertain juster notions on the subject, and would be changed only as the notions which at present prevailed were altered for the better."* He had, therefore, the high authority of his right hon. friend, and there could be none higher, that the Resolutions, which were the base of the present system, were not the best which could be devised. Permanency, indeed, could hardly be required; and his right hon. friend contemplated the law as permanent in relation to the Legislature, only till men's minds were brought to entertain juster notions. Their Lordships might be assured, that he should not now agitate the question, if he had not a well-founded conviction, as well as the conviction derived from the opinions of men of high authority—men, indeed, for whom he entertained the highest reverence—that this question was not settled. It was that conviction which induced him to call their Lordships attention to the subject. He said, it was a question which must be opened. The question could not even now be settled, and there must be before the final adjustment of it, repeated discussions. If he were to state what period should be chosen for the discussion of this question, he would say, that it would be wise and prudent to enter into a calm consideration of the question when there was no agitation. He knew that the question of these laws and regulations were a subject of extreme delicacy; he knew that, and he asked his noble friend who cheered him whether it were not better to discuss the question when there was no agitation and no anxiety on the subject? "Their Lordships might be disposed to say, why* Hansard (new series) xviii. p. 1385.1165 agitate the question now, when it excited no interest? That was the very period for discussing it, for there would be much danger in discussing the question—and none of their Lordships could say, that time might not arrive—when corn was at 90,s. or 100s. per quarter. Their Lordships might depend on it, if the question were discussed, under national excitement, they would not come to a wise and prudent determination, or settle the question as it ought to be. He was afraid he must offer some excuse to their Lordships for some of the terms he might use, and he would not use them if he could express his ideas by other words. Let him then ask their Lordships what was the object of the Corn-laws? [A Noble Lord: To promote the cultivation of the land, and feed the people.] He understood his noble friend. His noble friend said, to procure the cultivation of the country, and that the people might be fed. He wished also to see the people fed; but had their Lordships examined the Bill under this aspect? Had their Lordships examined the various papers laid on the Table of that and the other House of Parliament? The object of the Corn-laws was to secure for the country an independent supply of food. Had their Lordships looked at the quantity of corn imported last year, and at the quantity imported every year since the Bill was passed? The noble Earl (Earl Malmesbury) had moved for a series of papers, not to show that we were independent of foreign countries, but to show the immense quantity imported from abroad, and that the farmers and landlords were ruined by the importation; in fact the country was not independent of foreign supply. It might have been independent at the beginning or middle of the last century; but with a metropolis containing 1,300,000 persons, and with a country covered with vast cities, it was impossible, that this country should ever again be independent of a foreign supply of corn. That being the fact, the only object of consideration was, on what conditions and terms corn should be imported. Let it be remembered, that it could be excluded only by checking the increase of the population. If they prohibited the importation of corn they must check the growth of population. In order, then, to promote the cultivation of the country, and make it worth while for the occupiers to till the soil, they must 1166 take measures to check the growth of the population. He looked upon these as identical propositions. But how was the stimulus to cultivation to be produced? It was undeniable, that it was by enhancing the price of corn. To ensure a certain price, they laid restrictions on importation, and the consequence of that was—and he begged their Lordships' pardon, for the term he was about to use—was to cause a modified scarcity of corn. He said, a modified scarcity of corn; for if that were not caused, the price would not rise. If that were not the operation of the Act, why did they not throw open the ports? It was impossible not to see, that the means by which the ulterior object of cultivating the country was obtained, was of raising the price of corn, and causing a modified scarcity. Those who entertained that opinion took an erroneous view of the causes of increased cultitivation. The next point he came to was, how had the Corn-laws operated? There was not one of their Lordships who did not know, that the period between 1815 and 1833 was not one of prosperity to the various interests connected with agriculture. His noble friend near him (Lord Western) assented to the remark that this period had been one of suffering. During that period they had had the exclusive Corn-law of 1815. The object of that law was, to impose restrictions on the importation, and raise the price higher than in other parts of Europe. In that law two classes were interested—the agricultural or farming interest, and the consumers. How had the law operated for the farmers? With respect to the law of 1815, it was one of the most signal instances of failure to be found in the history of legislation. That law was passed by a great majority of the other House, and in their Lordships' House it had passed without any opposition. It was therefore the joint effort of both Houses of Parliament. Their Lordships would, however, recollect, that in 1821 and 1822, they were alternately assailed by the agriculturists and manufacturers complaining, the one of privations, and the other that corn was too cheap. Their Lordships would recollect, that in the winter of 1821–22, wheat fell below 40s. the quarter, though the law said, that there should be no importation till the price rose to 80s. By that law the farmers were deluded to believe, that 80s., as was promised by legal enactments, would be 1167 secured to them. On that delusion they offered and promised to pay rent in proportion, expecting to realise the full price of 80s. In 1821, the price dropped, from an abundant harvest, from previous importations; and the farmers, who had made their contracts, and promised rent, expecting 80s. the quarter for wheat, obtained only 40s. What was the inference? Why, that this system could not be maintained. It was adverse to the nature of things. Providence would not permit such a scheme to succeed, and those who promoted it saw their plans most signally defeated. No person acquainted with the state of the agricultural interest in 1821 and 1822, but would admit, that the law of 1815 was a most complete and signal failure. Many of their Lordships, he believed, had let their land to their tenants, and their tenants had promised to pay rents upon the supposition, that corn would be 80s. per quarter. Their Lordships had made a mistake—he did not say, that it had been done from rapacity; but their tenants had entered into engagements which they could not possibly fulfil. He would boldly assert, that there never was a period of modern times, in which the agricultural interest suffered so much as in 1821 and 1822, when they had all the advantage which the law of 1815 could confer on them. That law, then, was good neither for the landlord, the farmer, nor the consumer. At length Parliament grew more enlightened; the Corn-law of 1822 was passed but never acted on, and therefore, in fact, from 1815 to 1828 the corn trade was regulated by the law of 1815. In 1828 Parliament had grown much wiser, it passed the present law, which he considered infinitely better than the law of 1815. He did not hold that opinion out of any respect to the sliding scale of that Bill, but because it lowered the importation price. The first price of that scale was, he believed, 63s., which bore the same relation to the Act of 1828 as the price of 84s. bore to the law of 1815. Had the law of 1828 worked well to the agricultural class? To that class the great object was steadiness of price. In his opinion it was neither high nor low price which the agriculturists wanted so much as steadiness of price. The noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Wellington) would probably argue that the Act of 1818 contributed to effect a steadiness of price, but he would show, that was not the case. 1168 Steadiness of price, it should be remembered, was in this instance required for the agriculturists, and he would examine that question not by the general average of prices in the general market, but by the prices of corn in what he might call markets of production. [A noble Lord asked, what did the noble Earl mean?] He would illustrate his meaning. Markets he thought were fairly divisible into two kinds—markets of production, and markets of consumption. Devizes was a market of production. Wakefield and Manchester were markets of consumption. To show what he meant, he would take the average price of corn in some market of production, and not refer to the general averages. It was in such a market that prices ought to be steady, if this Act had worked well for the farmer. Their Lordships all knew the town of Stamford, on the great North Road, which though not the greatest, was a very considerable market of production. On October 30th, 1827—that was before the Bill passed, but it would serve to show the working of the law—and on January 15th, 1828, the price was 5s. 10½d. per bushel. On October 28th, 1828, after a bad harvest, the average price was 9s. 10½d.; thus there was in a few short months a difference of between 5s. 10½d. and 9s 10½d. On November 24th, 1829, the price fell to 6s. 10½d.; in January, 1830, it was 6s. 8½d. and on February 15th, 1831, it was 9s. 11½d.; again in the June following it was 8s. 2d.; and in December 6s. 10½d. Nothing, then, could be more erroneous than to say, that this system kept prices steady in the markets of production. The next statement of prices, to which he would refer was a very considerable market, one of the most considerable markets, indeed, of the north of England. In Malton, the average price in November, 1827, was 44s. 11d. per quarter; in March, 1829, it was 82s. 8d.; in March, 1830, the average was 51s. 1d.; in September, 1830, it was 73s. 11d. From that it had fallen down to 56s. and 54s, That showed that steadiness of price had not been obtained by the Act of 1828, and he knew that it never could be obtained by legislative enactment. He was aware of the influence of the seasons as well as other noble Lords, and he therefore condemned those who wished to obtain that by legislative enactments which could not be obtained. In fact the law had left the 1169 farmer exposed to all the fluctuations of the seasons, while it had cheated him by making him believe, that he would invariably receive at least 80s. per quarter. He must next touch upon another branch of the subject, that which referred to the effect which the existing law had upon the consumers at large. He might, perhaps, here state, that he had not had much intercourse with their Lordships, except with a few who were his private and personal friends; but he could not help stating, that from what he had seen, heard, find read, their Lordships' House was not the place in which the importance of the manufacturing and commercial prosperity was estimated at the highest rate. The prosperity of those interests was not pursued here in the manner in which, according to his humble judgment, it ought to be; and if he was asked his reasons for this statement, he should say, that the present Corn-law was a proof of the allegation. He would tell those who disbelieved this statement to consider what had been the effect of this measure upon the price of commodities, and the further effect of creating a high rate of wages, so injurious to the manufactures of the country, as connected with foreign competition, even if it did not tend to the abolition of the commerce of the country. There were certain persons in this country, who said, that machinery was so improved that it mattered not what was the price of manual labour. These gentlemen could not have visited the workshops, manufactories, or the counting-houses of the merchant, or they would find that even now, with all the assistance of machinery, wages formed a great item in the price of every manufactured article, and enhanced the difficulty of competition with foreign manufacturers in the markets of the world; and he would take leave to say, that it would require great ingenuity to show, that it signified nothing to the prosperity of British commerce whether wages were high or low. He did not wish to insist that the price of corn exclusively regulated the price of labour; but in the long run it must have an effect, unless another circumstance, which no individual would wish to see, took place—namely, a deterioration in the situation and condition of the labourer. There were but two alternatives in the event of a rise in the price of corn—either to raise the price of wages, in order to continue the labourer in the same condition, or his condition must 1170 be deteriorated, in order to enable the British manufacturer and merchant to compete with foreign manufacturers. That was a proposition which he believed it was impossible to overthrow. The whole of the manufacturing interests then were implicated, for if on a rise in the price of corn an increased rate of wages must follow, the manufacturer must either sacrifice his profits or be driven out of the foreign markets. No man would desire to see any such results. If this were a country which had no commercial intercourse with foreign nations, it would not matter what the price of corn might be; but as a great commercial and manufacturing nation, they should be careful not to pass laws which enhanced the difficulty of competition and lowered the profits of the manufacturers. There was no other alternative. Either the condition of our labourer must be deteriorated, we must be driven from the foreign market, or the profits of stock must be lowered. He remembered that he had a few weeks before seen an answer given by a noble Earl, not now in his place, to a proposition made to him for the formation of a political club in the county of Worcester. That noble Earl was stated to have answered, that he saw no reason for a Conservative club, because his rents had been well paid, and the three per cents were extraordinarily high. It had not occurred to the noble Earl, that in stating the high price of stock he was stating one of the great grievances under which the country laboured: the high price of stock—for instance, the three per cents at 90l.—was neither more nor less than a low state of profits. This was the great cause of the grievances about which both Houses were assailed, and he believed that if the small tradesmen with a capital of 2,000l. to 3,000l. could realize a profit of ten per cent, nothing would have been heard of a repeal of the House and Window-tax, or of agricultural distress. To a man of 100,000l. capital a diminution of profit would not be ruin, though his profits were reduced from 8,000l. to 300l. or 400l.; but to a man with 1,000l. capital, by turning which he might realize an income of 100l. per annum, a diminution to 30l. or 40l. would be absolute ruin. Their Lordships were no doubt aware that a great difference of opinion existed as to the cause of capital bearing a low rate of interest, and that the opinion of Adam 1171 Smith was, that the lowness of profit arose from abundance of capital. Others had argued differently, and with much plausibility had asserted, that high taxation was the most efficient cause of lowness of profit. If that were true and it appeared probable, because profits were low in England, and taxation very high, let their Lordships look at the effects of the Corn-laws. It must be admitted, that the Corn-laws were as much a tax upon the community as was the Malt-duty, or any other impost, and there could be but little doubt that their operation tended to increase the price of wheat somewhat about 8s. or 10s. per quarter. Now, if the fact were so, and the consumption of wheat were 16,000,000 quarters per annum, that was at once a tax of 8,000,000l. levied on the country. He had not the shadow of a doubt that the sum was at least that. But let not their Lordships suppose, that the whole of the sum was saved to the agricultural interest. A large portion of it went for the increase of the expense of cultivation, and, he believed, that the community was injured to that extent. He thought, therefore, that the landed interest inflicted an injury on the other classes for a profit which was not worth contention. He had no doubt the operation of the Corn-laws effected a taxation of 8,000,000l. annually, which was no small capital, and if it had been in the power of the Government to come down at the commencement of the present Session and offer a reduction of 4,000,000l. he believed there would not have been an individual who would not have felt deeply indebted; and how much more so, if, instead of 4,000,000l., the reduction had been, in the way he had thrown out, 8,000,000l.—the obligation would have been enhanced. This would have been effected by the alteration of the existing Corn-laws, which were as much a tax as any paid into his Majesty's Exchequer. The Corn-laws were not only a vexatious direct tax, but they were a vexatious indirect tax; they operated, for instance, in making his noble friend there pay more for his white waistcoat, and made him pay more for his dinner and for everything else; for the high price of corn, of course, raised the price of labour, and thus every thing became dearer. It was a matter of no consequence to the man who paid it, whether the additional price went to the King, in the shape of revenue, or to the 1172 landowner in the shape of rent. Noble Lords said, indeed, that they must keep up rent. But why? It seemed rather an extraordinary proposition. One did not, at first sight, perceive why they should so particularly make that one class of persons an exclusive object of regard. But there was a reason—and what was it? That landlords were oppressed with a great variety of burthens—with tithes—with Poor-rates—with county-rates—with mortgages—and other private debts; and that, therefore, it was necessary to keep up rents in order that they might be enabled to bear all those charges. If that were the object, then the rent of land was to be kept up by raising the price of corn; and the real object of the Corn Bill was, to raise the rent of land. He defied any man to deny that proposition. But why should this peculiar regard be shown to the landowners? He entertained a great respect for the landed gentry of England. He thought them as respectable as any other class of the community, but he would not pay them the compliment of saying that they were better. Vice and virtue were, according to the dispensation of Providence, equally distributed amongst all classes of society, and he believed that the landowners of England were as good as the weavers or chimney-sweepers, or any other class of the general community of this country, but not a whit better. He saw no reason that could be called a reason, in the proper sense of the word, why a law should be passed giving to the landed proprietors of England, at the expense of the rest of the community, a larger capital than they would otherwise possess. It might be said, that they had passed laws to protect trade and manufactures, but they had repealed those laws. His noble friend near him said "No" to that assertion, but he would repeat it, and was ready to prove it. [Earl Grey was understood to say, that the prohibitory duties on manufactured articles had been only reduced to thirty per cent]. Well, his noble friend admitted that there had been a reduction to thirty per cent. Was thirty per cent the amount to which they taxed themselves, in regard to the importation of foreign corn? No such thing. His noble friend was well aware that it was not thirty per cent, but sixty or seventy per cent. He would maintain that it was. If it was not, the whole of the argument on the other side of the question was at an end. 1173 What was the price of corn at Dantzic? The medium price was about 30s. per quarter. [The Duke of Wellington—" 35s."] Well, he would take it at 35s. What was the amount of duty on foreign wheat at the present moment in England? About 30s. If their Lordships would refer to the Corn-law at present in existence, they would find that 63s. per quarter for wheat in England was the medium price which it selected, and at that price the duty on foreign corn was 23s. 8d. per quarter, according to the provisions of the Act. He was well aware that that was not the duty levied; but that fact constituted in itself another argument against the provisions of that Bill. But when stating the duty, he was entitled to take it at 23s. 8d., and that amount of duty upon wheat bought at 35s. per quarter was equivalent to a duty of from sixty to seventy per cent. Was there any sense of justice in such a proceeding? Was it fair—was it honest towards the people of England—that they should be told that they should not eat foreign corn until it was taxed double the amount of any other commodity imported into this country? He for one doubted the wisdom of imposing a duty of thirty per cent upon foreign manufactured articles; but he would not go into that subject now. He would say, that it was neither just nor wise that they should tax the principal necessaries of life at a far higher rate than silk and cotton, and other such commodities. They had reduced the duty on silk to thirty per cent, and what had been the effect of that measure? Why, that we actually became exporters of manufactured silk, not only to the Continent generally, but even into France itself. But it would be said, that the land owners were oppressed. Why, the whole country, all the classes—all the interests in it—were oppressed. But then it was asked, "Will you throw the labourers out of employment?" He would do no such thing. He would ask in reply, "Did the present Corn-laws keep them in employment?" Would any man say they did? Let their Lordships look for a moment to the report of the Poor-law Commissioners, and they would there see how far it could be said that the labouring classes were employed at present. Let them look to the reports from Cambridge, Buckinghamshire, and Sussex; and they would see, that the present Corn-laws had no such effect. Would they continue them with the hope that 1174 they would produce an effect which, long as they had been in operation, they had not brought about? For his own part he doubted whether the landed interest as a particular class was more oppressed than any other class of the community. He would next draw their Lordships' attention to the effect which the rise in the price of corn had upon the Poor-rates. They could see, that in different parts of England it had the effect of directly increasing their amount. There were one or two facts of such a remarkable nature connected with this part of the subject, that he could not avoid stating them to their Lordships. In the year 1816 we had one of the worst harvests ever experienced. In the summer of 1817 the price of corn rose to 117s. the quarter. It fell, in the subsequent part of the year, but the average price of corn in that year was 94s. 9s. a-quarter. He would just state the average price of corn for three consecutive years, and then the amount of the Poor-rates during the same period in one of the agricultural counties, the county of Sussex. The average price of corn was—In 1816, 75s. 10d.; in 1817, 95s. 9d.; in 1818, 84s. 10d. The Poor-rates in the county of Sussex were—In 1816, 280,000l.; in 1817, 330,000l.; in 1818, 314,000l. It would be thus perceived, that in the county of Sussex the amount of the Poor-rates varied exactly in the same ratio as the rise and fall in the price of corn. The same observation would apply to the manufacturing districts. The noble Earl read a tabular statement, to show that a similar variation in the Poor-rate, depending upon the price of corn, had taken place in three different districts in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the population of which was as great as that of the average of the agricultural counties; therefore it was, he said, plain, that the rise in the price of corn did not increase the employment of the labourers. The amount of the labourers employed depended upon the rise in the profits of stock in the country, and the principal and most effectual way to accomplish that object, was to get rid of the Corn-laws. The Report of the Poor-law Commissioners proved demonstratively, that the Corn-laws had afforded no assistance towards producing employment for the agricultural labourers. Why, then, anticipate from them a better effect in future? Of this he was certain, that, in this country, there was no opening to be found for the better 1175 employment of the people but in the extension of manufacturing industry; their Lordships should not underrate the value of manufacturing and commercial enterprise. He might be mistaken—he hoped that he was—in supposing that that House did not place as high a value upon the application of such branches of industry, as those which were more immediately connected with their Lordships. That the fact was so he had not the smallest doubt. Now, one of his objects in bringing forward this Motion was, to impress upon their Lordships, the expediency of their not doing anything in legislating that should be injurious to manufacturing industry, and that the Corn-laws were so he hoped to be able to show to their Lordships. One other argument against the free importation of foreign corn was, that it would destroy the independence of this country in maintaining within itself a sufficient supply of corn. He well recollected the effect of a speech upon that subject delivered in the other House by a right hon. friend of his noble friend near him—he referred to the speech of Mr. Elliot, which, at the time it was made, produced great alarm. The result had shown how unfounded were the fears which that speech was calculated to excite with regard to the importation of foreign corn. How visionary were the apprehensions that the importation of foreign corn would destroy the independence of this country, so as to place us in the power of other countries, more especially of France! If it were possible to conceive the manufacture of an instrument to measure the intensity of hostility between this country and France, he was sure it would show, that it was in 1810 that hostilities had risen to their highest point. Now, in that very year 1810, there was a large importation of foreign corn into this country. At that very period, when Buonaparte was in full power on the throne of France, and when the noble Duke opposite was fighting his generals in the Peninsula—at that period, when the war had assumed its worst and most destructive aspect, as would be seen from the admirable description of it in some of the chapters of that book which was far above his praise—he meant Colonel Napier's History of the Peninsular War,—at that very period, when England was the special object of the hostility of France, and when the Berlin and Milan decrees were in existence,—at that very period 1176 there was an importation into this country of 1,500,000 quarters of foreign wheat, the great proportion of which came from France itself. That fact showed, that it was most idle and absurd to entertain any apprehensions with regard to the independence of this country in supplying itself with corn. Such a large importation at such a period proved such fears to be quite groundless. [The Duke of Wellington across the Table: It was without duty.] True, there was no duty then, but the fact showed the absurdity of a duty. The average price of corn at the time was 100s. the quarter, so that, if the present duty had even been in existence then, it would have had no operation whatever. The fact, he repeated, proved that the fears about the independence of the country as to the supply of corn were entirely visionary. It was morally and physically impossible that this country, with its great metropolis and studded as it was with other great towns, could do without the importation of corn. Thank God the time was gone by when that importation could be absolutely prohibited. It was our prosperity that prevented us from being independent of that supply, and those who would make us independent, must first destroy half the cities and towns that ornamented and enlightened this great country. If the law, then, did not secure the farmer against those fluctuations to which nature rendered corn liable, while it tended to raise the price of corn in this country much higher than it was in the other countries of Europe, was not that sufficient to pronounce a condemnation of the Corn-laws? This country, under the present system, could not compete with Holland and Belgium, because the price of corn was much higher here than it was in those countries. He might be asked if he would propose that the price of corn should be kept as low as it was at Dantzic and Odessa. He would propose no such thing, for this, amongst other reasons, that it would be absolutely impossible. The state of our wealthy population rendered it physically impossible. He did not want to have corn as cheap as it was in countries where there were no manufacturers; but he wanted to have it cheap as compared with countries, which were, like ourselves, manufacturers, importers, and consumers. Why should we continue a system that raised the price of corn, the food of man, ten or twelve per cent, higher than it was in the countries 1177 on the banks of the Rhine and the Elbe? For his part, he must confess his inability to discover the wisdom of such a course of proceeding. He could not see the usefulness of making people of this country eat their bread at a dearer rate than those, who, like ourselves, were obliged to have recourse to other countries for a supply of a portion of their food. Till that was made out—till the wisdom and justice of such a proceeding were established, the Corn Bill of 1828, as well as the Corn Bill of 1815, like which, though not so bad, contained within it the same evils, stood self-condemned. Was it possible that any man, taking a fair view of the prosperity of the country, would say, that it derived any advantage from the factitious rise in the price of corn. The argument in its favour was, that it was necessary to keep up the price to its present level in order to keep in cultivation some land which would not pay the expense of cultivation, if the present Corn-laws were abolished. He admitted that there might be some few spots of land which would not pay the expense of cultivation if those laws were abolished; but he could not admit, that they ought to tax the whole of the people of England, in order to keep in cultivation a few sterile furlongs. He had no doubt that spots had been brought into cultivation during the late war, in consequence of the high prices; but he thought that no man in his senses would wish to keep up the war price of corn, in order that those spots might continue to be cultivated. If he had continued a Member of the other House, he would have adopted a different course in bringing the Corn-laws under consideration; and he should have looked forward with something bordering upon hope to the adoption of a change in the system; but considering that, in this House, the subject had not been discussed for years, he would adopt the course which he considered would be most conducive to the interests of the country, and the convenience of their Lordships, and merely move that their Lordships should enter into the consideration of the Resolutions which he had had the honour of introducing on a former evening. He was desirous of breaking ground, and bringing those laws under discussion, for the purpose of having them finally set at rest. He did not mean by setting them at rest that they should be settled in such a manner as to benefit any 1178 particular class of the community exclusively—he meant that they should be settled so as to benefit all classes. And, certainly, no class was more interested in the final settlement (and no settlement could be final but one based on the principles of free trade) than the occupiers of land. As long as the Statute-book contained a law which held out to the owners and tenants an idea that prices should be maintained at a greater height than was natural, or than could be maintained at all times (as in the instance of an exuberant harvest), so long would the occupiers of land be in difficulties. Such an unnatural state of things deranged all the relations between landlord and tenant. The landlord would always look to a price for his land, according to the Corn-law. He looked under the Corn-laws, as they formerly stood, for 80s.; and under the present laws 64s., was taken as the standard by which he valued the price of his lands. But these prices the tenant did not realize, and he consequently became distressed. Whether he looked, therefore, to the interest of the agriculturist (that was, the cultivator), or of the manufacturing population, or to the ultimate interest of the proprietor of land (he said ultimate interest, because he admitted that there might be a temporary advantage to the proprietor in a continuance of the present system), he would say, that that House could not confer a greater benefit upon the country, or perform a duty which would be received with greater gratitude out of doors, than by going into a consideration of the laws which regulated the duties upon corn. The noble Earl concluded by begging pardon for having detained their Lordships so long, and hoped that the magnitude of the question would be his excuse. He begged leave to move the first Resolution.
§ The Earl of Ripon
said, that having brought forward the Bill in the other House, which had been so severely condemned by the noble Earl and most inaccurately described by him, and having-been a party to the Bill brought forward by the noble Duke opposite in 1828, he felt a great anxiety to state to their Lordships the opinion which he had formed on the Resolutions proposed on a former evening by the noble Earl. He admitted that the noble Earl had not over-stated the importance of the subject; and he thought it of so much importance that it should be set at rest, that he considered 1179 it the duty of the Government to state directly and unequivocally the views which they entertained upon the subject. Before proceeding to the consideration of the Resolutions—Resolutions which he thought it impossible that their Lordships could pass—he wished to advert to an expression made use of by the noble Earl. That noble Earl had said, that he was addressing an assembly which did not adequately feel the conflicting interests which prevailed concerning this question.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
said, that he had not said so. He had merely said, that that House did not fully appreciate the importance of the subject to the manufacturing classes.
§ The Earl of Ripon
thought the sentiment was identically the same; and he must say, that if their Lordships did not fully appreciate the importance of the subject to the manufacturing classes, they were not fit to appreciate the proper force of the different conflicting interests which were involved in the subject. And when the noble Earl told them of the different course which he would have pursued if he had continued to be a Member of the House of Commons, he said, that he would then have at least a glimmering hope that the subject should be attended to. In that House, however, he had no such hope; he was surrounded with the impenetrable darkness of the House of Lords, and he had not even a glimmering hope that he could penetrate it. He heard such a statement from the noble Earl with great pain. It was but too much of a piece with opinions stated elsewhere, and was calculated to create much mischief; and he had heard such a sentiment expressed by a Member of that House with much regret. He would now go into the consideration of the argument by which the noble Earl had endeavoured to support his Resolutions; and in which, in his (the Earl of Ripon's) opinion, he had totally failed. The noble Lord had said, that they greatly deceived themselves, if they thought that the question of the Corn-laws was settled. He (the Earl of Ripon) would ask if any question was settled so far, that no change could be made in it? All that a statesman could do was, to lay down a set of principles, and to legislate according to those principles. Every statesman knew that a measure could not be considered as settled in the view stated by the noble Earl. With regard to the Resolutions 1180 proposed by the noble Earl, he would beg leave to ask what plan the noble Earl meant to substitute for the system which he wished to abolish? As far as the Resolutions went, and as far as he could gather from the noble Earl's speech, the noble Earl had no plan, at least he had suggested none. He told them, indeed, that the question could not be settled, except upon the basis of free trade. But that was all. Now he (the Earl of Ripon) had often considered what free trade was, and had spoken to many other persons on the subject, and he never could get an answer to the question. If the noble Lord meant that there was to be no duty, he could understand him; but he had admitted at the same time, that there might be a duty, and argued in favour of a fixed duty. If the proposal of the noble Earl were acceded to, the public opinion would very soon overturn the fixed duty. Nay more, there had not been a single argument brought forward by the noble Earl in favour of the Corn-laws as they now stood, which would not apply with tenfold force to the plan approved of by the noble Earl. He objected to the noble Earl's Resolutions; in the first place, because the time and circumstances were not favourable to the discussion; secondly, on account of the gross fallacies on which the Resolutions were founded; thirdly, on account of the fallacious conclusions drawn by the noble Earl from those false premises; and finally, because the noble Earl proposed to pull down the present structure without being prepared with a plan and materials for a better building. The noble Earl said, that this was a proper time to take the subject into consideration, because there was no clamour about it, and the subject could be taken calmly into consideration. He admitted the strength of that argument, if the noble Earl had made out the necessity of any change; but he denied that a case of such necessity had been made out. He would go further; he would say, that in his premises the noble Earl was wrong, for the present was a most dangerous period to introduce such a subject. He thought this, first, on account of the present situation of England; secondly, on account of the situation of Ireland, which the noble Earl did not appear to have taken into consideration at all; and thirdly, on account of several possessions of this country abroad, which were deeply interested in 1181 the subject of the Corn-laws. With regard to this country, he thought the discussion at present improper on account of the effect which it would have upon the situation of the agricultural population. It would make a complete change in the system of the Poor-laws, and they had seen, from the Report of the Poor-law Commissioners how important a subject that was. He could not allude to that Report without slating, that he considered it one calculated to create the most uneasy and anxious feelings in the hearts of those who considered it, and one which called for the serious consideration of all who heard him. He objected, therefore, to the present Motion, because it tended to unsettle everything connected with the labouring poor, at a time when they had evidence before them that their situation was full of uncertainty and danger. To him it appeared madness to attempt a change fraught with so much danger. Then, with regard to Ireland, the noble Earl had not even adverted to that country. He had not adverted to the great quantity of corn imported from Ireland, or to the effect which the change proposed by him might have on the state of that country. He certainly was not prepared to say, that the abolition of the Corn-laws would have the effect of extinguishing the cultivation of wheat in Ireland, but it might have that effect; and he would ask, if they ought even to risk such a result in the present situation of that country. It was dreadful to contemplate the situation of the peasantry even at the present time; but if the cultivation of wheat were abandoned, the employment of labourers would be diminished, and it was fearful to contemplate the result of such increased want of employment. It would necessarily impose on the Legislature the necessity of adding to those melancholy laws which it had become their duty lately to pass. And he was sure that every Englishman would regret the passing of any measure which might render it impossible to restore to Ireland the full benefit of a free Constitution. Then, with regard to the interest of the colonies, were they not encouraging the poor of this country to emigrate to those countries; and even extending pecuniary aid to them to enable them to go to those colonies? And he would ask what drove the people to desert their country and their friends, to go to a distant and unknown land? Was there 1182 anything but the chance which they had of enjoying comforts there which they had failed to obtain at home? And on what, he begged to know, had they to depend for those additional comforts? On nothing but that very wheat which the noble Earl wished practically to exclude, by permitting the introduction of the wheat of all other countries. He thought, that the plan of the noble Earl, if adopted, would be the most deadly blow ever aimed at those colonies. There was another objection to the Resolutions proposed by the noble Earl which he wished to allude to—namely, that the Corn-laws had been changed three times already within the last eighteen years; that, however, he (the Earl of Ripon) would not consider a sufficient reason for not changing them a fourth time; but he thought that it imposed a greater necessity on the noble Earl to make out a necessity for any additional alteration. He would now call the attention of their Lordships to the Resolutions themselves. The first Resolution contained a statement of the prices of corn at certain periods, and was intended by the noble Earl to show the great variation of the prices of corn and the consequent inefficiency of the present laws; but the noble Earl had made his calculations from the result of single weeks, instead of taking the average of six weeks, which was the system on which the duties were regulated under those laws; and, had he calculated the result of every six weeks, he would have found, that the fluctuations would be much less than had been stated by the noble Earl. He thought, therefore, that the first Resolution, as it did not prove, that the fluctuation was nearly so great as that supposed by the noble Earl, went for nothing, and should be left out of consideration entirely. Even if the calculations of his noble friend were true, they would militate against what he wished to establish, for they would prove, that the result of what he proposed would be a tremendous fluctuation in the price of corn. Of all the fallacious calculations that could be brought forward, was that of taking the ports of Havre and Marseilles for data to prove the small fluctuations in the price of corn in France. Indeed, it would be impossible that anything like an equalization of prices in corn could be established in that country, because the difficulties of transport, and many other local and incidental difficulties, 1183 should be taken into consideration, and they could never be calculated fairly. Though the fluctuation of prices, taking Havre and Marseilles as data, might be comparatively trifling, the fluctuations in the price of corn in the inland towns of France were so great, that the noble Lord could never rely on those he drew from the prices in the above-mentioned seaport towns; consequently, that part of the noble Lord's Resolution was deserving but of very little confidence. In 1832 the fluctuation in France was much greater than here. In the spring of that year the prices in this country, from the 6th of April to the 6th of July, varied from 59s. 2d. to 62s. 3d. What was the case in France? In April, the price at Havre was 52s. 1d., and in July it was the same. In Marseilles, the price at the same period was 64s. 3d. But, what was the case in other parts of France in the same year? He quoted from a French publication L'Echo de la Halle des Bles regularly published in Paris. On the 31st of May, in the town of Aries, the price was 72s., with an alarming deficiency of corn. There was no deficiency here at the time. At Rochelle the price was 77s. 4d.; at Challons, from 63s. to 75s.; at Metz, 72s. 6d. on the 17th June, with a great deficiency; at Strasburgh, 64s. 2d., with great disturbances in consequence of scarcity. At Paris, the price varied from 69s. to 72s. 2d.; at Nantz, 89s. 3d.; Strasburgh, 87s. Now, in these instances, there was a much greater fluctuation than took place here during the same time. There was, however, a Corn-law in France, but it was a very bad one. These facts went far to overturn the deductions which his noble friend would draw from his Resolutions. The next Resolution of his noble friend, the 4th, related to a duty on corn. He was not quite aware what his noble friend meant by that statement. The deduction which he drew from the facts which had transpired since 1828 was, that we had got a large supply of foreign corn at an average duty of 6s. 8d. the quarter. It was higher at times, but this was the average. After all the clamour made against the law, the result showed, that it had neither caused excessive fluctuations, nor kept the supply short, nor had it imposed a heavy burthen on the people. He never heard any person propose a less duty than 6s. 8d. The least was 12s.; yet, practically, foreign corn was introduced at a less rate of duty, 1184 and, by the graduated scale, the supply was regulated by the wants of the market. The object of the law of 1815 was not to raise the price of corn. When he brought forward that measure, he avowed that such was not the object, and contended that the effect would be to make 80s. the maximum and not the minimum of price. It was utterly impossible entirely to prevent fluctuation in the price of such an article as corn, though it might be and had been so regulated by the law of 1814 as to secure a supply when required, and at the same time to prevent the ruin of the farmers. For his part he could not imagine a more satisfactory system than this. If the noble Lord looked to a duty on corn as a permanent source of revenue, he would oppose any such proposition totis viribus. No Government could stand five days which attempted to extract a revenue from the import of corn; that would be indeed trifling with the feelings of the people, and justifying the imputations which had been thrown on the Legislature as desiring to starve the people in order to keep up rents and taxes. The seventh Resolution was one of no importance, though he would object to it on technical grounds. In fact, it assumed too much, for it asserted that nothing was more injurious to the cultivator than fluctuations in price, which, though injurious, were not quite so mischievous as many other things. In the 8th Resolution, his noble friend admitted that fluctuations could not be altogether prevented in the price of an article the production of which was necessarily affected by the variations in the seasons; at the same time, the noble Lord went on to say, that it did not appear to the House that the existing regulations for the trade in foreign corn had succeeded in diminishing those fluctuations, but that, on the contrary, they had a tendency to aggravate them. The way to try this question was, to look at the fluctuations which took place under former laws. He held in his hand documents which showed the prices of corn for the last twenty years, taking periods of three years each. The documents to which he alluded were the Gazettes. Now, how did the case stand? Taking from the returns which had been made to Parliament compiled from the Gazettes, the price of wheat, during the last twenty years, in periods of three years, he found that in 1813,1814, and 1815, the highest 1185 price was 120s. 8d., the lowest 54s. 8d.—a fluctuation of 119 per cent. In 1816, 1817, and 1818, the highest price of wheat was 112s. 3d., the lowest 52s. 1d.—a fluctuation of 111 per cent. In 1819, 1820, and 1821, the maximum was 78s. 4d., the minimum 46s. 2d,—giving a fluctuation of eighty-five per cent. In 1822, 1823, and 1824, the highest price was 67s. 7d., the lowest 38s. 1d.—a fluctuation of fifty-six per cent. In 1825, 1826, and 1827, the price ranged from 69s. 8d. to 49s. 2d.—showing a fluctuation of forty-four and a-half per cent. He should leave out 1828, the year in which the law had been altered, and proceed to 1829, 1830, and 1831, during which period the highest price of wheat was 75s. 11d., and the lowest price 55s. 4d.; the fluctuation being only thirty-eight per cent, the least of the whole scries of years. In 1833 the price ranged between 63s. 7d. and 51s. 1d., showing a fluctuation of but twenty-three and three quarters per cent. Here were strong grounds on which to argue, that the tendency of the Bill of 1828 was to prevent and limit, instead of causing and aggravating, the fluctuations in the price of grain. If he were to apply the same test to the variations in the price of corn from the commencement of the 18th century, the result would be practically the same. He repeated, that were he to take the whole period, beginning at 1701, and dividing it into terms of five years, only two quinquennial periods would be found in which the fluctuations in the price of corn had been less than during the five years that had elapsed since the passing of this Act. Perhaps this did not show that a Corn-law was a good thing, but it at least proved, that the present law was not liable to the charge of aggravating fluctuations, which had been brought against it by his noble friend. He would here remind his noble friend, that one of the principal fluctuations had taken place after the bad harvest of 1828. After these calculations he thought that the law was tried by experience, and that, though it was not to be considered the best in the world, still it was not liable to the charges brought against it by his noble friend. It was not necessary for him to argue on the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, Resolutions, because their substance was summed up in the 13th Resolution. His noble friend stated, in his 13th Resolu 1186 tion:—"That the manifest effects of the Corn-laws are to leave the agricultural interest exposed to all the difficulties which arise from frequent and sudden fluctuations in price—to discourage the export, and consequently production of British commodities—to increase the cost of cultivating the soil, and of producing the manufactures of the United Kingdom—to render the industry of the nation less capable of competing with that of other nations, and to make the people less competent to support the several burthens, which the various exigences of the State have imposed upon them." That was his noble friend's last Resolution, and the conclusion which he drew from his former statements. But he could not consent seriously to affirm, in a resolution to be recorded on the Journals of this House, that there had been such sudden fluctuations in price as his noble friend here alleged. In one sense, indeed, the fluctuation had been sudden, but the question was, whether there were not other causes to which it might be ascribed—such as the variation of the seasons operating differently in the same year, in different parts of the United Kingdom, rather than the mere effect of a law which, be its defects what they might, could not be proved to have produced it. And then his noble friend, comparing the price here with what would be the price under a new system, said that we could obtain our supplies at 30s. per quarter, His noble friend took a very erroneous view of that part of his subject. It was impossible that foreign corn could get to this country at so low a price as 38s, per quarter. This was allowed by Mr. Macculloch himself, the Coryphœus of the advocates of free trade in corn. This Gentleman in an elaborate article in his commercial Dictionary admitted, that foreign corn could not be brought here at a less price than 50s. In the face of these facts and admissions there were people who talked of a starving population, occasioned by the operation of the present law which admitted corn at an average duty of 6s. 8d. At present too, the average price of corn was 54s. 4d., only 4s. higher than the price at which Mr. Macculloch said foreign corn could be imported. Now supposing the duty of be 12s. the quarter, it was clear that foreign corn could not find a market here at all. Then his noble friend said, that the 1187 effect of the Corn-laws was, to discourage the export, and consequently the production of British commodities; but his noble friend had neither produced nor asked for documents to confirm that statement; and he should shortly prove, that the facts of the case did not bear out his noble friend's assertion. If his noble friend were correct, there ought to appear some great falling-off in our exports to Russia, Denmark, Prussia, the Netherlands, our North American colonies, and the United States, the principal countries from which we imported corn, returning them, of course, our own commodities. But our exports to those countries had gone on increasing since the passing of the Bill of 1828, we getting from them at the same time all the corn we wanted. The exports of British productions to the countries in question, according to the official value amounted in 1828 to 21,235,000l.: in 1830 to 24,299,000l.; in 1831 to 27,896,000l Here was a falling-off If to these items our exports of colonial productions, &c. during the same periods, were added, the totals would be found to be 27,430,000l., 29,684,000l., 35,340,000l. These facts directly contradicted his noble friend's Resolution. According to the argument of his noble friend a very good harvest would be a very bad thing, for in that case foreign corn would not be required, and of course foreign countries would not take our manufactures. His noble friend alleged that the effect of the Corn-laws was to increase the cost of cultivating the soil, and of producing the manufactures of the United Kingdom. Now he did not very clearly see bow that process was brought about by the present system, under which we had had comparatively steady and moderate prices. His noble friend bad said a great deal upon the rate of wages caused by the Corn-laws. He was perfectly convinced that the effect of the price of corn on wages was very much exaggerated, and that the fall in wages was to be attributed to many other causes besides. If the question were to be minutely examined into, it would, perhaps, be found that the only effect it had was upon very highly-finished manufactures, and that the amount of that effect was no more than one or two at most per cent. So that upon this point he could not come to the same conclusions with his noble 1188 friend. His noble friend had said a great deal about the low rate of profit, but if that were a sign of evil, and the contrary were a sign of prosperity, then no country in the world should be so prosperous as Ireland, where the rate of profit on agricultural capital was highest, and the wages of labour lowest. Another argument the noble Lord had made use of was, a reference to the Poor's-rates, showing their increase in years of high and fluctuating prices in corn. He took the Poor's-rates in Sussex during the years 1816, 1817, and 1818. Very well; if the price of corn had any effect upon them, its effect must have been tremendous during those years when corn was excessively high. In those years there must have been, according to his noble friend's arguments, an aggravated amount of Poor's-rates. Now he would look to the amount of the rates in those years of high prices, and compare it with the rates of the present year, when corn was far from being at so high a price. Of course he took the Poor's-rates of Sussex for those years. In 1816 they amounted to 235,000l.; in 1817 to 280,000l.; and in 1818, to 267,000l, In the year 1832, of course, it would be expected to find the Poor's-rates less in Sussex; whereas, the fact was quite the reverse. The price of corn in 1832 was two-thirds less than in 1818, and yet the Poor's-rates in Sussex for the year 1832, amounted to 284,000l., consequently to more than they were in any of the three years of the highest prices. His noble friend on introducing the question had quoted several authorities. He had done him the honour of mentioning him (Lord Ripon), and also Lord Fitzgerald, and the President of the Board of Control; but his noble friend had entirely overlooked one very high authority on the subject—namely, his noble friend himself—for, in a well written and ingenious pamphlet published by his noble friend, several statements were contained which certainly did not support his present speech. In the pamphlet referred to, his noble friend observed, with respect to the condition of the working classes at various periods, that in 1797 the rate of wages was 7s. a-week, and calculating that the excess of wages over the price of two-thirds of a bushel of wheat (the quantity necessary for consumption) was the sum which ministered to the labourer's other wants and comfortable subsistence, 1189 he found that in 1797 the price of two-thirds of a bushel of corn was 4s. 4d. leaving a residue of 2s. 8d. to the labourer for the purchase of other necessaries, &c. In 1828 wages were 11s. a-week; the price of two-thirds of a bushel of wheat was 5s.; the difference being 6s. Now he would maintain that a working man could buy more necessaries and comforts with 6s. in 1828, than be could obtain for 2s. 8d. in 1797; and, therefore, that so far from his condition being deteriorated by the Corn-laws or any other cause, it was improved. In 1829 the difference between the rate of wages and two-thirds of a bushel of wheat was 5s. 6d. and in 1833 it was 6s. 6d. Thus, his noble friend's own pamphlet showed that he was erroneous in ascribing an imaginary depression of the labourer to the Corn-laws. Perhaps he, and those who thought with him on this subject, might be called heartless and rapacious tyrants, oppressors of the people, and enemies to their welfare. He denied the justice of any such accusation. In taking the view which he had done of this question, he was swayed by no mean, he was influenced by no party, motives. He took that course which his judgment pointed out to him as the just and the correct one. He knew that, with respect to this subject, much popular clamour prevailed. Public opinion—true public opinion—he respected; he would give to it his best attention but popular clamour he would resist as long as he had the power of doing so. His sentiments, and the sentiments of those who held the same opinions with himself, might be liable to misrepresentations; but he was well assured that no misrepresentation, that no calumny, that no attempt to hold their Lordships up to public execration, would over induce them to swerve from the line of their duty.
said, that after the very able and convincing speech of the noble Lord who had just sat down, he should not have intruded on their Lordships, were it not for one observation which fell from the noble Earl (Fitzwilliam) affecting the legislative capacity of their Lordships, and the insinuation that they were not competent to treat in a proper manner questions affecting the general interests of the country. For his part he must declare, that on no occasion had he seen their Lordships influenced upon any great public 1190 question by selfish considerations. Nothing could be more injurious than a frequent change of those laws which affected the great interests of the nation. The noble Earl, in the course of his speech, seemed entirely to have lost sight of a most important point—the support which the poor derived from the agriculture of the country, and the support which it gave to manufactures. Three-fourths of the manufactures of the towns were consumed by the agricultural part of the population, and to destroy that, therefore, must be most injurious to the manufacturing interest. He never saw greater distress among the manufacturers of this country than when meat was at three-pence the pound and the quarter of corn at forty-two shillings. He would support the Amendment of the noble Earl. They had had experience of the present law for five years, and it was found to work well.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, that he would not occupy much of the attention of the House after the eloquent speech of the noble Earl. The question for the consideration of their Lordships was, whether they would or would not adopt the theory of the noble Earl (Earl Fitzwilliam) a theory which was embodied in the latter Resolution. As regarded that proposition, he would trust to the arguments of the noble Earl himself to prove its futility. If the theory of the noble Earl were well founded or correct—if it were desirable that this country should have a free trade in corn under certain restrictions—he would ask what would be the consequence to Ireland if a sudden stop were put to the intercourse between the two countries? The result must be an increase of the commercial distress which now existed. He could not indeed avoid expressing his astonishment, that the noble Earl should not, in the course of a long speech, have alluded in any way to Ireland, which formed so considerable a portion of the empire, and the interests of which were so intimately bound up with this question. If the theory of that noble Earl were put into practice, what must be the lamentable effect upon that country, the produce of its soil was its only saleable production? Why, Ireland must of necessity be placed in such a situation as no country in Europe ever had been. Ireland might be considered in relation to England, as Sicily had been to Rome, the great granary of the empire. Now, if the recommendation 1191 of the noble Earl were followed, they would drive Ireland into a state of barbarism. The noble Earl concluded by again expressing his surprise, that the noble Earl (Earl Fitzwilliam) should have neglected to mention that country in which he had so many large possessions.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
said, he could not help adverting to one fact mentioned by his noble friend, that went to corroborate and strengthen the case he had endeavoured to establish. His noble friend quoted an account of the distress which prevailed in parts of France, in consequence of the dearness and scarcity of corn; but his noble friend forgot, that that part of France was, at the time, under a similar law to that which existed in this country. This, therefore, could not be urged by his noble friend, with any consistency, as an argument in favour of a Corn-law. There was one other point which he hoped their Lordships would allow him to notice. In the year 1830, there was a remarkable ascension of prices, from the commencement of the year up to the period of harvest. The price began to ascend in the month of February—in the month of April there was a small oscillation of price;—for one or two weeks they rose, and the duty fell. What was the consequence? Between 200,000 and 300,000 quarters of bonded corn were thrown into the markets. The fall of prices was merely temporary—prices began to rise again, and continued to do so until the beginning of harvest. Now, during the whole of the period that prices were rising, no foreign corn was brought into the market; the whole of the bonded corn remained in hand until the price had risen to 75s. a quarter, though the duty had before fallen to 2s. 8d. What was the result? All at once (the price having attained its height), not less than 1,200,000 quarters of corn were poured into the market. Now, during the period that prices were thus gradually rising, tills corn was either in bond, or was capable of being imported from abroad. Was it not clear, then, that the dealers in foreign corn had the power to withhold it from the people until the price had risen far beyond what would be a remunerating price to the importer? Had this corn been introduced at an earlier period, the consumers of corn in this country would have been exempted from a rise in the price to 70s. and 75s. a quarter. That 1192 rise of price was an unmixed evil to the consumer, and of no benefit to the farmer; because it was well known, that just previously to harvest the farmer holds very little corn and could not therefore derive any advantage from the advance in price. The noble Earl, who last addressed their Lordships, complained of his having wholly overlooked the consequences which would result to Ireland from an alteration of the Corn-laws. But that noble Earl would give him leave to say, that whatever effect a free trade in corn might have upon the landowners of Ireland, no injury would be sustained by the people of that country from such a measure. The noble Earl would concede that to him, that if there be one benefit which, rather than any other, it was desirable should be conferred upon the people of Ireland, it was that they should cease to be eaters of potatoes, and become eaters of, as well as dealers in, corn. The noble Earl would also give him leave to remark, that diminishing the price of corn in England would not tend to prevent the cultivation of corn in Ireland, because in Ireland that cultivation was exceedingly cheap. Whatever might be predicted of the effect of the measure in England, he had no doubt of this—that, as respected Ireland, corn might be raised in that country at a price which would enable the farmer to compete with any other country in the world. The effect of the measure he recommended, would be, to lower the price of corn; and the consequence of that would be the lowering of rents; but it would not injure the people of Ireland.
§ The Resolutions were put seriatim, and negatived.