The Marquess of Westmeath
, in presenting a petition from the Grand Jury of Westmeath against any alteration of the Corn-laws, stated, that the greater portion of the population of Ireland, at least 5,000,000, would be thrown out of employment, and reduced to ruin if the present law were repealed. He begged to know whether the 566 noble Earl (Earl Fitzwilliam), who had large possessions in Ireland, had duly considered what the effect of his proposition, with respect to the Corn-laws, would be upon that country.
§ Order of the Day read.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
said, he should be exceedingly happy to answer the question of the noble Marquess as well as he could; and, perhaps, he could not better preface what he had to say upon the subject than by expressing, very humbly indeed, his doubt whether the noble Marquess had taken a very correct view of the effect which an alteration of the Corn-laws would have upon the prosperity of Ireland. But then there was a very important preliminary consideration, namely, to define distinctly what their Lordships, and particularly the noble Marquess, meant by the term "Ireland." If the noble Marquess meant by the term "Ireland," the 6,000 or 7,000 persons who owned the soil of that country, or if he meant the somewhat larger, but still not very numerous class of persons who were the lessees of the owners in fee of the soil, then it was quite possible that the noble Marquess might take a correct view of the effect of the Corn-laws in Ireland. It was just possible, though he did not admit it to be necessary—nor did he believe that for a very long period of time it would be found to be true—it was just possible, that the effect of an alteration of the Corn-laws might be to reduce the rent of the landlords in Ireland. But that it would have any bad effect upon the condition of the people of Ireland, he entertained an opinion diametrically opposed to that of the noble Marquess—diametrically opposed to the opinions of those who said, that the interests of Ireland were opposed to the motion he was about to make; because if there were any part of the population of the empire—if there were any class—any section of society in the United Kingdom who were interested in having the means—the good, and wholesome, and useful means of subsistence placed within their reach (which at present they had not),—it was the great mass of the population of Ireland. The noble Marquess talked of there being 5,000,000 of people engaged in agriculture in Ireland. He could only say, that he wished there were any thing like that number of persons engaged in any thing that could be called agriculture in that 567 country. There might, indeed, be 5,000,000 of persons, and more, who lived upon the land in Ireland; and who, so living upon the land, paid all the surplus beyond the short means necessary to a wretched existence to the landlords of that country in the shape of rent. But to say, that there were 5,000,000 of persons engaged in any occupation that could be dignified by the name of agriculture, was to commit one of the grossest mistakes that mortal man could fall into; and if any of their Lordships, who were unacquainted with Ireland, should run away with that idea, and think it their duty, on that ground, to resist the motion with which he should have the honour of concluding, he could only say that they would, in his opinion, take a most erroneous view of the interests of that country. So much for a subject which certainly would not naturally have been the one with which he should have commenced his address to their Lordships upon the subject of the Corn-laws. The great variety of petitions which had been presented to their Lordships that day, as well as on the previous evening, and since the commencement of the Session, and the great contradiction of the opinions expressed in those petitions, showed, no doubt, that there was a great variety of opinions entertained in the country upon this great and important subject. It was only natural that such a variety of opinions should exist. Their Lordships, he was assured, in common with all other men, were too apt to form their opinions according to their wishes, and to form those wishes according to their interests. The interests of various classes of men were various, and thence it was, that upon this question there was so great a variety of fancied and supposed interests, although he firmly and sincerely believed, that there was only one real and solid interest. The duty, then, which it appeared to him their Lordships had to perform upon this occasion was to discuss and consider the various opinions which had been expressed upon the subject—to endeavour to separate (if he might so express himself) the wheat from the chaff—to ascertain the opinions which were based upon a solid foundation—to adopt those opinions as the ground of their own proceedings, and to discard those opinions which should appear to be founded upon erroneous views. With respect to the 568 different classes of the community, as divided by rank and station, he certainly was not one of those—on the contrary, upon that point he entirely concurred with the noble Duke (Rutland)—he was not one of those who were at all disposed to disregard the opinions of the labouring classes. He believed, that many of them were capable of forming correct and sound opinions. At the same time, it was not to be denied, that in proportion as the education of any class of persons was more or less extended, so would be the value greater or less of their opinions; and if, as he was afraid was the case, the agricultural labouring population in this country was the class which, in education, perhaps, was the least advanced—which had the fewest opportunities of arriving at sound opinions, which men could not arrive at unless they had the opportunity of comparing their own pre-conceived opinions with the opinions of others—if again that portion of the labouring class which were engaged in agriculture, were, perhaps, more likely to act according to the suggestion of their employers than any other class of operatives—then, undoubtedly, the opinions of that class were not those most entitled to their Lordships' attention and respect. This attention, within no very long period, had been a good deal attracted to the condition of the islands in the South Sea. By one of those marvellous dispensations of Providence which we sometimes witnessed, Christianity seemed to have taken a great stride in those islands, and to have based itself upon a foundation which he trusted would never be thrown down. In the footsteps of Christianity, civilization would follow. Now, if when generations had passed by, any of the inhabitants of this country were to read in the history of one of those islands, that the importation of yams, plantains, and bread fruit, from any of the other islands had been prohibited, and under no circumstances was the import of those yams, plantains, and breadfruit to be admitted, unless the price of these articles of food had previously risen to a very high rate—undoubtedly the reader would say, that those islanders had acted upon a very false principle; nay, would he not conclude, if that island should be visited with the evils and horrors of famine, that it was owing to the false legislation which had excluded from its shores the abundance of the neigh- 569 bouring islets. Now, he was afraid, that in dealing with the Corn-laws, that England did in the year 1815 act pretty much in the same manner. By the law passed in that year the importation of foreign corn was positively prohibited unless the average price of wheat in this country had previously attained to 80s. a quarter. But the extraordinary part of the story was, that the persons in whose favour it was over and over again stated the law was passed were by no means contented with it. From 1815 down to 1828, during which that law was practically in operation (for the change in 1823 was a change only under contingent circumstances which never came into operation); from 1815 down to 1828, we were actually living under a law which positively prohibited the importation of foreign grain, unless British wheat had previously arrived at 80s. a quarter. What was the effect of that law upon the agricultural interest? Was there to be found in the history of that interest a period during which louder, and, he believed, better-founded, complaints of its distress were repeatedly, almost continually, poured forth? It became obvious, that that law could not stand. It was accordingly abrogated; and instead of that law the wisdom of 1828 devised the system under which we were now living. He admitted, that the law of 1828 was a great improvement upon the law of 1815. He thought, that the modified system adopted in the former was a great improvement upon the absolute prohibition of the latter; but, nevertheless, the new law appeared to him to possess a great deal too much of the prohibitory character. Had agriculture uniformly flourished under that new law? had there been no agricultural petitions presented to Parliament?—had there been no complaints of distress? was there no agricultural committee in 1833, and again in 1836, appointed to investigate the evils of which the agriculturists complained? There was no man who would not be compelled to answer those questions in the affirmative. Then it appeared, that neither the prohibitory law of 1815, nor the regulatory law of 1828 (for he knew his noble Friend opposite would not allow him to call the present a prohibitory law—he knew his noble Friend would tell him that it was a law not to prohibit—not to raise prices; but simply to regulate them—he should be glad if it had had 570 that effect)—it appeared, that neither of these laws had procured prosperity for the agricultural interest. If any of their Lordships had a watch which went too fast or too slow, he apprehended he would take it to a watchmaker to make it go faster or slower, according to the fault of which it was guilty. The watchmaker would regulate it and correct its vice. Was that the effect of the Act of 1828? A regulatory act ought to have the effect of lowering the prices when they had a tendency to rise, and of raising them when they had a tendency to fall. The act of 1828 had had no such effect. If it had had any such effect he should be exceedingly glad—nay, he should be most grateful to any of their Lordships to point out to him the time, the period, and the circumstances under which it had had either of those effects. He confessed it always appeared to him, that there were some elements in the law itself which had a direct contrary tendency, and particularly with regard to the ascending scale. Their Lordships would recollect—taking 63s. or 64s., it did not matter which, as the standard price—that in the descending scale the duty increased one shilling for every shilling that the average price diminished. Not so with the ascending scale. There, indeed, the duty did diminish one shilling for every shilling in the increase of the average price for two or three stages; but in a short time the duty diminished two shillings for every shilling in the increase of the average price; a little way further it diminished three shillings for every shilling of increase in the average price; and, finally, it diminished four shillings for every increased shilling in the average price. Now, if each of their Lordships would just for one moment consider himself a corn-factor—a person holding a considerable quantity of corn in bond, he would see how this kind of scale operated. It operated in this way:—When the price of corn was 68s., if the factor could get it up to 69s., an increase in price of one shilling only, there would be a diminution of two shillings of duty; if he could get it up from 69s. to 70s., an advance of only one more shilling, he would have the advantage of a reduction of three shillings in the duty; and last of all, the last stage of the ascending scale, if he could by some contrivance raise the price only one shilling more, namely, to 71s., he would be benefitted by getting rid 571 of 4s. of duty. He thought, that each and all of their Lordships, being corn-factors—having a large quantity of corn under the Queen's lock in London or Liverpool—would be very apt to look closely to their own interests. What would their Lordships do under such circumstances? Was there any doubt that any one of their Lordships who was a large holder of bonded corn would conspire to raise the price with the view of diminishing the duty. This was an inevitable consequence of the existing Corn-laws, a consequence of which they could not be divested. Their Lordships must see, from what he had just stated, that the effect of the Corn-laws was not to regulate prices by lowering them, but actually to give a temptation to a considerable body of persons to do everything in their power to raise them. Than this he could conceive nothing more vicious in the operation of any law that human ingenuity could devise, unless, perhaps, the mischievousness, the criminal mischievousness of the law of 1815, which prohibited the importation of foreign corn altogether. And what was the result of all this vicious legislation? Had the agricultural class been prosperous? Had the law operated as a wholesome regulator of prices? In 1833 there was a Committee of the House of Commons upon agriculture, at the head of which was a most able and distinguished Member—a great Friend of his—not now, he was sorry to say, in the ranks of the Government, where he thought, both for himself and for his credit, he had better be. What did that Committee say? At the conclusion of their report, they lauded the act of 1828, and proclaimed to the country that under the operation of that act, the fluctuations of price had been exceedingly small. Happy and most fortunate Committee, to have sat in 1833! The Committee which sat in 1826 expressed no opinion at all; for if they had, they could not have concurred with the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond), in his praises of the law of 1828. They could not have proclaimed that under that law the prices had been steady; still less could they have made this declaration, if instead of sitting in the year 1833, they had to make their report at the present moment. That Committee had stated, that there were no fluctuations, or no fluctuations to signify, under the operation of the act; and they assumed this 572 fact on a calculation of the cycle of the preceding five years, showing the fluctuation to be 45 per cent. No doubt this was found exceedingly mischievous both to growers and consumers. But what had been the fluctuation since? Why, if they had to report now, instead of saying that the fluctuation was 45 per cent., they would have to announce it at 119 per cent. So that this bill had most signally failed of regulating the price of corn. But it had not failed to raise the price of corn. It had raised it, and in a most mischievous manner. Did any man alive believe, that that law had not the effect which we should have seen, if we had the good fortune to be living under the old free trade of England? ["Oh, oh!"] Aye, he repeated, if we were living under the old free trade of England—for the present system commenced only in the year 1815. Could the noble Earl who cheered just now, say that it commenced earlier?—[Earl Stanhope: In the reign of Charles the 2nd.] There were, no doubt, Corn-laws at the earlier periods of our history, but they were for the purposes of giving a bounty on the export of corn. He knew, that there were laws, too, which imposed duties on the import of corn: that there was what was called the high, moderate, and low duty. The noble Earl did not suppose that he was not acquainted with all this.—[Earl Stanhope: It does not appear that you are.] If, however, their Lordships took into consideration the circumstances of those times, they would find that these laws had no practical operation. The law of 1803 had no practical effect; neither had the law passed during the administration of Mr. Pitt, in 1790. The price at home during these periods was high, and the people of England were enjoying all the advantages of a free trade. It was, therefore, his perfect conviction, that in the year 1815, it entered, for the first time, into the contemplation of the Parliament of England to attempt the exclusion of foreign corn, for the benefit of the landed interest. That attempt had most signally failed. His noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Ripon) stated, that the object of these laws was not to raise but to regulate the price of corn. His noble Friend was extremely jealous on this point; but if the object of them had not been to raise the price, what was the meaning of the hundreds of petitions praying not to repeal those laws? It was 573 quite obvious, under whatever auspices they were introduced, from all the evidence that was ever given on the subject, that the real object of these laws was to raise the price of corn. ["No, no!"] If it were not so, he claimed the vote of the noble Lord who cried "no"; but the noble Lord must know full well, that the object of these laws was what he had stated. He would not say, that the supporters of those laws wished to raise the price of corn beyond what it now was, for we had gone a little too far; and now felt, that the whole basis of those laws was trembling under our feet. And whatever noble Lords might say in the course of that debate, and whatever vote they might come to, he was satisfied that there was a deep-rooted feeling in the minds of many of them that this question must be reconsidered, and that there were elements at work in the political and social frame of society, which, if not attended to this Session, would force their Lordships to the consideration of this question at a time when it must be entered upon under circumstances much more difficult and trying than at present, and still more difficult than they would have been five or six years ago. He was convinced, that among all their Lordships who really reflected upon the question, there was a deep-seated opinion that it was impossible to go on with this system of prohibition under the present circumstances of the country, or under those which we had reason to anticipate. But to return to the point which he had been discussing. Though this was called a bill for regulating the price of corn, it was practically a prohibition on the import of foreign corn. Could any man believe, that when wheat was 63s. and the duty was 24s. the quarter, that any corn would be imported? Why, they knew perfectly well that no corn could be imported for home consumption at that price and a duty of 24s. per quarter. It was perfectly clear, that the foreign dealer could not import at that price; and he was, therefore, warranted in saying, that when wheat was at 63s., the duty was a prohibitory one. The price of 63s. was quite as serious to the consumer at the present time as 80s. was in the year 1815. If, therefore, when wheat reached the price of 63s. the duty was prohibitory, the practical effect was just the same, as if a clause had been introduced into the Act of Parliament actually prohibiting the importation of foreign corn. Now, why 574 were they to have an Act of Parliament to raise the price of corn? What were the grounds on which it rested? He knew one which was a great favourite. It was one which almost all the advocates of the law had recourse to, which we read in the evidence of the witnesses before the different Committees that sat upon this subject, and particularly of that class to which land surveyors and all such persons belonged. All of them agreed in this, that because a great revenue was raised in this country, it was, therefore, necessary to endeavour to raise the price of corn. He confessed it appeared to him the most preposterous argument that ever entered into the mind of man to say, that because the people paid a large amount of taxation it was essential to their well-being to burthen them still more; and what was the law to raise the price of corn but an additional tax upon the people? If by the operation of an Act of Parliament they kept up the price at 64s., which would otherwise be but 54s.—or at 74s., what would, but for this Act, be 64s.—what was the extra 10s. which we paid on every quarter of wheat but a tax on the people to that amount? And, if the consumption of wheat in this country was ten or fourteen millions of quarters, the operation of this law was to levy a tax on the people of England of 6,000,000l. or 7,000,000l. a-year. But the argument which he had noticed proceeded upon an assumption which he felt ashamed that the landed interest of England should have recourse to. They talked as if they paid the whole taxation of the country. They argued—they voted—they legislated—as if they alone paid taxes. They made the circumstance of this country paying a great quantity of taxes on other articles the foundation for asking Parliament to raise an additional tax on corn, with a view to attain an object which was anything but creditable. But this scheme had failed of securing rent to the landlord or profit to the farmer; and it must have failed, and had failed in giving good wages to the labourer. The last was one of the strongest predictions of the supporters of the measure. He was at a public meeting the other day, at which attended various classes—merchants, bankers, country gentlemen, and what might be considered the representatives of labourers, though he did not know whether there were any of that description of 575 persons present. He had heard it said, that a certain law, discussed at that meeting, was a law for the benefit of the labourers. It would have done their Lordships' hearts good (to use a homely phrase) to have observed how all the landed gentlemen applauded that expression. Their Lordships would have rejoiced to see what a deep interest these gentlemen took in the welfare of the working classes. He confessed, that he, as an humble auditor, was astonished at this expression, but he was still more astonished at hearing it proceed from a person of great authority, of great weight, and who was respectfully looked up to by a large part of the country. He thought their Lordships would be very much surprised when they heard that the law which was thus spoken of was a law to raise the price of corn; to raise the price of the farmer's produce and to keep up the rents of the landholder. But after his having heard all these encomiums on the law in question, it turned out that the law which this person was be-praising to the skies, and in his commendations of which he received the congratulations of all those connected with the land, was the identical Corn-law the subject of his motion. This bill, a bill for the labourers! Why, in spite of the half dozen signatures of labourers which were appended to the petition which the noble Duke (Rutland) that night presented, to tell any assembly of well-educated men that this bill was meant as a benefit to the labourers, would be to insult the understandings of every one of them. The direct effect of this bill was to raise the price of the labourer's food, and to make the difference between the price of his food and his wages the least possible. If he were to frame a bill for the benefit of the labourer, he should take care so to draw it up as that the effects of it should be, that there should be the greatest possible difference between the price of food which the labourer consumed and the amount of wages which he received. The price of corn during the last few months had risen to a height so alarming, that it, was necessary to raise the wages of the labourer. But the rise in the wages of the labourer did not at all keep pace with the increased charge brought upon him by the increase in the price of corn. But then there was another object which he always understood was the professed aim of the framers of this 576 law, and that was, to supply the people of England with a sufficient quantity of home-grown corn. Well, it had failed in that respect; for, otherwise, why was it necessary to have such large importations of foreign corn as unquestionably came into our market, though under circumstances not so beneficial as if there had been a regular and steady trade kept up with regard to that article? They had not secured to the people of England a supply of corn of the home growth, nor could they expect to secure that. Since 1765 it was manifest that the population had been outgrowing the power of production in the country, and therefore instead of being an exporting country, as we had been in the previous century, we had necessarily become an importing one. But it was said that the price of corn must be raised, to enable the farmer to bear all the charges which were imposed on him. No later than this morning he saw it stated, that for land which produced three quarters of wheat per acre, and four quarters of barley, the rent assumed to be paid was a guinea, and the tithes 10s. If calculations of this kind were to be those on which they were to proceed, they must not have the Corn Act of 1828 or of 1813, but they must fix a minimum price of corn, and go back to the system acted upon in the first reigns of the Tudors and the Plantagenets; for at the end of the fifteenth century a wiser plan was adopted. In the report of the committee of 1833, to which he had adverted, it was stated that in the previous five years the fluctuation had been 45 per cent. Since that period it would be recollected it was 120 per cent. In the chief port of Holland, Rotterdam, at the same time, the fluctuation under a perfectly free trade was only 40 per cent. It was impossible to conceive anything more strongly illustrative of the mischievous effects of our law. He was quite convinced that it would be impossible to conceive the existence, under a free trade, of any such fluctuations in prices as had taken place under the existing law. There was another effect of the Corn-laws which he would wish to point out. If their Lordships were to consult the evidence of farmers, agriculturists, and land agents, upon the subject—if they were to go back, for instance, to the report of the commissioners of 1821, the most able report, perhaps, that ever emanated from Parliament 577 —they would find, that those parties had been in the habit of valuing their lands upon a calculation of 80s. being the average price of corn. But 80s. was not the price realized; and the consequence was, the farmer could not pay his rent; and one of those struggles took place between the landlord and the tenant, which, unless the former was a very kindly-intentioned man, very desirous to promote the interests of his tenants, and with sufficient knowledge of the subject to enable him to do so, must always end to the disadvantage of the latter. The Act of 1828, however, took 64s. as the average price of corn; but even that was not realised—the price having fallen as low as 36s. He believed the highest yearly average for any complete year since that period, taking what was called the harvest year, which commences on the 1st. of October, was 67s.; this was in the year 1831. The average of the last broken portion of a year, namely, from the first of October last, was 70s. 4d. Now, if they then fixed rents upon a calculation of an assumed corn value of 80s., whereas in 1832 it fell below 40s., and now upon an assumed value of 63s., whereas it had also fallen to 40s., it was true the difference in the latter case was not so great as in the former, but still the result must be of a very mischievous tendency to the agricultural classes in general. He thought, therefore, by these facts alone that he was authorized in saying, that if any class of the community had suffered under the existing law, the agricultural interests had suffered most. He was in this, of course, alluding only to the immediate effect of the law upon individuals. With regard to its effect upon the commercial and manufacturing interests as bodies, it was not so much the immediate mischief which injured them, but what they had reason to apprehend as the result of the principle. The commercial and manufacturing points of view of this question he should purposely abstain from entering upon on the present occasion. His wish was, to draw their Lordships' attention to the effect of the law on the price of corn, in regard to fluctuation, because, as he apprehended that this was one of the great grounds upon which the law was framed, namely, the prevention of fluctuations, he ought to rest his attack upon it, upon the ground that under it there had been very great fluctuations. That was the point upon which the law 578 pretended to supply a remedy, and therefore it was upon that point that the signality of its failure was the greatest. He should therefore conclude by moving a resolution, "that the Act of 9 George 4th, cap. 60, entitled, 'An Act to amend the laws relating to the importation of corn,' has failed to secure that steadiness in the price of grain which is essential to the best interests of the country."
The Duke of Buckingham
said, that he was content to take up this question on the noble Earl's own ground, and to defend the Corn-laws as they now were. The noble Earl had stated, that the Corn-laws were a landlord's tax, imposed solely for the purpose of increasing the rental, and producing no good to the labourer. Now, though that might be the opinion of the noble Earl, he did not think it was an opinion which prevailed very much among the landed gentry, farmers, or agriculturists in general of the country. He did not know how the noble Earl would attempt to make it out, that if the landlord and farmer had no protection, the labourer could hope for a living. He, for one, had always heard and understood that the distresses of the farmer had always produced a proportionate effect upon the interests of the labourer, and that if the farmer did not obtain returns sufficient to enable him to pay his labourers' wages, it was impossible but the latter must suffer. The noble Lord said, that the present law had not succeeded in obtaining that steady, fixed, and firm price which they were devised to obtain; but he would ask the noble Earl whether any law could insure a fixed and steady price? [Earl Fitzwilliam: No Act of Parliament. But why not let things alone?] The noble Earl said, let things alone, whilst the noble Earl himself was one of those who would not let things alone. It was because people would not let things alone that an agitation had been got up throughout the country upon this subject, creating ill blood between the agriculturists and the rest of the people, which was greatly owing to the course taken up by Ministers on this question. The agriculturists had never interfered with the manufacturing interests; and when the former were in distress some years ago, did they call for or receive any assistance from the latter? He believed, that the only benefit conferred upon them upon that occasion was the reduction of some trifling items of 579 taxation, and amongst the rest the never-to-be-forgotten duty on shepherds' dogs, which he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer need not be ambitious of having appended to his history. But he was really surprised to hear the noble Earl coming forward to-night with this resolution, as in 1815 the noble Earl had then expressed, as found reported, opinions very different, in the course of a debate in the House of Commons. Though the work from which he was about to quote these observations was one which the Members of her Majesty's Government might not recognize as authority, he hoped the noble Earl would allow him, on the present occasion, to read a quotation from Hansard's Debates.Lord Milton said, that not having yet taken any share in the debates or votes upon this subject, in consequence of not being able in his own mind to come to any satisfactory determination, and having now arrived at something like a decision, after duly weighing both sides of the question, he wished to state it to the House. The question lay between two evils; and although in the abstract he was friendly to a free trade, yet in this case, as it would not depend upon ourselves alone, he was inclined to favour a measure, the object of which was, to render us independent of foreign assistance. He could bear witness, from his own personal experience, to the severe distresses of the labourers in husbandry, to whom the cheapness of corn (so much wished for by those who argued on the other side) was a disadvantage, because that very circumstance threw them out of work: he was informed that in the Bedford Level, half the population were receiving parochial relief. Although the adoption of this Bill might be partially disadvantageous, he was convinced it would be generally beneficial, and without it he thought that the farmer would be ruined and the labourer starved. Considering, however, how many conflicting interests were involved, he could have wished that it had been deemed expedient to resort to a temporary measure, since the establishment of a permanent system in matters on which the wisest men differed, was inexpedient. It was not without pain that he had come to the conclusion he had stated; and even now he could scarcely say, that he had absolutely decided what relief ought to be afforded, though he was convinced that some immediate assistance to the agricultural interest was required. Whether the restricting price should be 72s., 76s., or 80s., was a matter of less moment, although under all the circumstances he was in favour of the higher sum, as giving due encouragement to the farmer, without which he could not contend with rival and foreign markets."** Vol. xxix., p. 1220.580 These were the opinions of the noble Earl in 1815, in which he (the Duke of Buckingham) entirely concurred, and deeply did he regret to find, that the noble Earl put forth a different opinion in 1839. It was impossible for their Lordships not to be aware of the dangerous tendency of agitation upon questions of this kind out of doors, in the hope and intention of unduly influencing their Lordships' decisions in that House, and in the present instance most deeply did he regret to find that the manufacturers had so far lost sight of the great object they should have in view, the general interests of the community. Let them rest assured that if the farmers were reduced to distress, the manufacturers would soon have to rue the day which brought it upon them. Of this point he was sure, that although the agitators of this question would be foiled of their object to alter these laws, the system of agitation which they had adopted would, if persevered in, succeed in poisoning people's minds to such an extent that it was not for him to say what events might result from it. But this he did maintain, that upon a question of so much importance as this, the Government of the country ought not to have allowed it to be an open question, but one upon which their views, as a Government, should have been well determined. Under the present law, the agriculture of the country was improving every day, and poor lands were brought into cultivation which never would otherwise have been cultivated at all. They might be told that if poor lands could not be profitably cultivated under an alteration of the Corn-laws, they should only cultivate the richer sort of land. But he could prove to their Lordships from the evidence and experience of farmers that if the poorer sorts of lands were to be thrown out of cultivation, not only would the general profits of the land be very greatly deteriorated, but a very great number of labourers would be thrown out of employment. He would take the example of 400 acres of poor land at a rental of 5s. an acre, and compare the profits under the two systems of pasture or corn cultivation.
400 acres, at 5s. per acre, as in pasture, would produce,— 400 lambs, bred on the land, at 20s. per head £400 400 fleeces, at albs each, at 1s. 6d. per lb. 90
The produce of the land cultivated as follows: 100 acres in turnips, 100 in barley, 100 in clover, and 100 in wheat, was £1,665; and the consumption of the hands employed, £.96 16s. Deduct from.£.1,665 the £.96 16s. will leave £.1,566 4s., the net return of cultivated land. From that deduct the £.477 produced on the sheep land, and it would leave a balance in favour of the cultivation, per annum, of £.1,089 4s. Now, supposing they were to throw out of cultivation all these poorer sorts of land, they would not only lose so much corn and profitable return for capital, but entirely cripple the resources of the farmer and those who were employed by him. He, for one, should never wish to see this brought about; for sure he was, that if they gave the farmer that extent of protection to which he was fairly entitled, his labours would be persevered in to the advantage of the community at large, but if they tampered with the question, and broke the confidence of the agriculturists by agitating this question from one day to another, their spirit of enterprise would be paralysed, and the most disastrous consequences be the result. When the noble Lord talked of free trade, he would ask, was the noble Lord prepared to see the principles of free trade really and fairly acted upon? Was he prepared to say that free trade should be the law of the land; and were the manufacturers of the country prepared to acquiesce in that arrangement? The Corn-laws were called a tax; but what are the protecting duties upon the manufactures of the country—were not they equally entitled to that denomination? He was not one of those, however, who would deny the rights of the manufacturers to this protection any more than he was prepared to give up that which the agricultural interests now enjoyed. He hoped that their Lordships' decision this evening would be such as to show that the Corn-laws were not to be done away with. He believed that the agricultural labourer was as much concerned in this question, and as anxious for protection as the landowner, convinced 582 that without it, not only would the farmer be driven close to ruin, but the agricultural labourers reduced to a state of degradation to which he (the Duke of Buckingham) thought they ought never to be reduced. With these views he was determined to give the noble Earl's resolution his most uncompromising opposition, and should conclude by moving the direct negative.
Brought forward £490 One man, shepherd's wife, and three children, employed in its cultivation, consume one quarter of wheat per head annually, at 54s. per quarter 13 £477
§ The Earl of Ripon
said, that though there were some circumstances which would induce him not to go into this question at any length, yet he could not refrain from occupying some small portion of their Lordships' time on the subject, after the manner in which he had been referred to by his noble Friend who had brought forward the motion, and after the controversy on the subject, in which he had taken a part, in 1833 and 1815. He had no desire to go into the various corn-laws which had been passed, and by which the importation of corn had been more or less restricted. He would, however, say one word of the Corn-law of 1815—that, whatever might be said of it, it was not intended to raise, and had not the effect of raising, the price of corn to 80s. the quarter, nor did he believe that a prospect of realising that price had been held out to the farmers upon that occasion. Indeed, so little did he believe that it would have any such effect, that he had reduced his rents to his tenants, who had been quite satisfied, and had paid their rents regularly ever since. One thing had surprised him in the argument of his noble Friend: it was, that it had no conclusion. He had asked of their Lordships to get rid of the present law, but he did not say what he would apply as a remedy. He would admit, that as an individual, his noble Friend was not bound to point out a remedy, that was the duty of a wise and prudent Government; and it was the more the duty of the Government to do so, when great agitation and excitement existed in the country on the subject. They ought not to have allowed a proposition of the kind then before the House to come under discussion, without having made up their minds upon it one way or the other; but if they did not take such a course, it was the duty of the Legislature to take it. What, then, was the alternative before them? If they repealed the present law, they must act on the principle of no protection of any kind to 583 the farmer or the manufacturer; and, indeed, that was the course pointed out by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) on a former evening. His noble and learned Friend had said, that he spoke the sentiments of manufacturers, petitioners at their bar, who were willing to give up all protection. But he (Lord Ripon) would contend, that the thing was not practicable. Did his noble and learned Friend on that occasion speak the sentiments of the woollen manufacturers of Yorkshire—of the cotton manufacturers of Manchester and Glasgow—of the linen manufacturers of Ireland—of the iron manufacturers of Birmingham? He apprehended not. If such a proposition were seriously entertained for a moment by the Government, he should not like to be the President of the Board of Trade, and to stand the badgering which he would have to undergo from deputations from those several bodies deprecating the adoption of this "no protection on principle." If they adopted that, what right had the sugar-grower in the West Indies to complain against sugar being admitted from other parts of the world duty free, or the manufacturer of rum to complain of being put on a level in point of duty with the manufacturer of British spirits; or what right would the latter have to complain of the reduction of the duty on all foreign spirits? Would the West-India planter be satisfied to have his produce put on the same level as to duty with that of slave labour? Yet, to that extent must the Government go, if they once adopted the rule of "No protection on principle." There must be no exception, What would the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, who seemed to rejoice in the agitation produced by this question—what would he say to the complaints of these several parties against the application of this principle to their cases? Would he tell them, that, on principle, he must reduce all those duties? And if he did, what would become of the revenue now derived from all these duties? Why, this would produce a complete revulsion in the collection of the revenue, or rather in what little of revenue would be then left. Why the tax on two items, constituted above a third of our whole Customs' revenue; those two items were tobacco and sugar. In order to enable the Government to raise about 6,000,000l. on sugar, 584 they were obliged to tax the cultivation of the soil. He did not mean to say to what extent it might be possible to carry the cultivation of beet-root sugar, but this he knew, that it was prohibited, and for no reason upon earth but to prevent the revenue being injured. And, by the way, the taxing of sugar from beet-root was an Act of three years' standing; and the President of the Board of Trade, he had not the least doubt, brought that Act in on that account, because principles were nothing in those days. He had taken the liberty of objecting to it; and what had his noble Friend said to that? Why, "If my noble Friend will give me 4,000,000l. from any thing else, I should not be opposed to the making of beet-root sugar." That was a very good reason, but it destroyed the idea of this Act being founded on an abstract principle. Having been driven away from the general subject, he would endeavour in what remained for him to say, to advert a little more particularly to the arguments of his noble Friend. The great principle which his noble Friend seemed to have calculated upon, and upon which he relied, and upon which he thought that his argument was made out—namely, a reference to facts, would be found to make out the opposite case. His noble Friend's statement was, that this law had not produced steadiness of price. In the first place, before that question was settled, they ought to understand what was meant by steadiness of price. He did not suppose that his noble Friend was so absurd as to mean uniformity of price. With such a multitude of accidents and injuries from weather, nobody in their senses could be so preposterous as to think they could by any law obtain uniformity of price. The very utmost they could look for (and he contended they had got it), was as much steadiness of price as in the nature of things it was possible to expect. He would show their Lordships what the fluctuations had been, and then he would show them what had been the fluctuations in price in other articles of universal consumption, the importation of which into this country was unfettered by law, and which came in in immense quantities from every part of the world; and if he could show them, that in those articles there was more fluctuation than in corn, it was preposterous and absurd to attribute the fluctuations in the price of corn to the 585 Corn-laws, which were the fluctuations of nature. Now, let them look at some of those facts. His noble Friend had referred to a paper on the Table, which he (Lord Ripon) had taken the liberty of moving for, but not to all the facts contained in it, and from which his noble Friend would make it appear, that this law produced great evil by variation. Now, during the first year after the bill was passed, in 1829, the highest price of corn in that year was 75s. 3d., and the lowest price was 56s. 3d. The return from which he quoted this, was called, "An account of the average prices of wheat, by which the duty on foreign wheat was regulated." He admitted, that there was great difference between 75s. 3d. and 56s. 3d., but in order to estimate the full extent of the fluctuation of that year, it would not do to take two single weeks; they must take the general rate, and adopt the intermediate rate. It had so happened, that there was but one week in which the larger average had amounted to 74s. 3d. on the 6th of February, and the week in which it was the lowest was as distant from that as the 27th of November. The real average between all the intermediate weeks was the fair medium between those extremes. So they found, that in 1830 the price fluctuated between 72s. 11d. and 56s. 1d. But there again the low price was the high price of two weeks, the 29th of February and the 6th of February, and the higher price existed on the 27th of August, which was no doubt attributable to considerable apprehension on account of the harvest. In the following year the fluctuation was from 73s. 5d. to 63s. 5d., less than the former year. In the year 1832 the fluctuation was reduced again. Now, here they were arriving at the time from which his noble Friend was to prove his case; but, on the contrary, it proved the case of his noble Friend's opponents; because in that year, the fluctuation was only a fluctuation between 55s. 5d. and 49s. 10d. In 1834, the fluctuation was between 49s. 6d. and 41s. 5d. In 1835 the fluctuation was between 42s. 10d. and 36s. 8d.; and his noble Friend relied more upon the year 1836, when the fluctuation was more considerable, being altogether from 60s. 3d. the highest price, down to 36s. 3d. the lowest price. In 1837, the fluctuation was between 59s. 7d. and 52s. 6d. In 1838, there was still a greater fluctuation 586 certainly, but to draw an argument from that which was an unusual circumstance, would be absurdity; for not only was there a deficiency in the harvest here but all over Europe, and in the United States of America. But what he had stated was sufficient to show to their Lordships that during six out of ten years, the fluctuation had been only a few shillings, between 50s. and something, and 40s. and something. That was quite enough to show the reverse of all his noble Friend (Lord Fitzwilliam) thought he had proved. But if they took the fluctuations as operating over a more extensive period, which was, perhaps, the most fair way, from the 1st of January, 1832, to the 1st of January, 1834, two entire years, the price of corn fluctuated between 63s. 5d. and 49s. 10d. There was undoubtedly a considerable difference—rather more than 20 per cent. Then in the two years and a half which followed, from the 1st of January, 1834, to the 17th of June 1836, the fluctuation was from 62s. 11d.2 to 47s. 8d., being certainly rather more than 25 per cent. But then came this question—how much of that fluctuation could they in reason ascribe to the Corn-laws? He did not say, that the prices would have been exactly the same; he did not say the variations would have been exactly the same if there had been no such law; but they must prove, that those fluctuations were the consequence of this law. Then he came to another part of the argument; and was prepared to show, whatever fluctuations there had been in the price of corn, there had been equal fluctuations, if not much greater, in other articles, in respect to which there was no restriction. He had documents with him, which were not official, but which he believed to be of good authority, and he would undertake to prove what he had said, though he would not trouble their Lordships with a mass of figures. In the articles of hemp and flax, on which there were no restrictions, and which came here from every part of the world where they were produced, and which, he believed, were at one time protected—in these articles they found fluctuations far exceeding the fluctuations which he had shown had existed in the price of wheat. So again, with respect to the article of China raw silk and other articles, which in the last twelve or fifteen years, used to have a very high duty upon them, which had been taken 587 away. In these articles they found the same extraordinary fluctuations, which could not be ascribed to any similar law to the Corn-laws. but were the result of natural causes which could not he controlled. They would find, that in January, 1825, the price of one particular species of this raw Chinese silk was 25s. 6d.; the following year it had gone down to 19s. That was a greater fluctuation than appeared to have taken place in the price of wheat during that time to which he had referred. In 1828, they would find again, that the price was 29s. 9d.; in 1829 it was 28s. 2d.; in 1833 it was at 15s.; in 1834 at 21s; in 1836 it had got up to 24s.; in 1837 it was at 23s.; and in 1838 at 24s. All this variation was not attributable to any restrictive law. So again with respect to cotton, the same thing occurred. Then he came to an article which appeared to be of peculiar importance with respect to this question; it was the article of wool, because it stood in the same relation to this country as corn. It was not in the same situation as those productions of foreign countries, of which we had none ourselves; but we grew an enormous quantity of wool in this country, which had gone on increasing to an immense extent. Wool for several years had been freely imported; but what was the fluctuation in the price of British wool? They would find the fluctuations far more remarkable than the fluctuations in wheat. Between the years 1826 and 1827 there was a fall of 25 per cent.; between 1829 and 1830 there was a rise of more than 50 per cent. Between 1829 and 1833 four years (and his noble Friend had argued on that sort of average as regarded the fluctuation in the price of corn), there had been a variation in the price of British wool of no less than 150 per cent. In 1829 it was selling at 9d., and in 1833 at 2s. In the following year there was a fluctuation of 8 per cent.; then of 20 per cent.; then a rise; and in 1836 and 1837 it fell more than 33 per cent.; then from 1837 to 1838 the rise was from 1s. 5d. to 10d., exhibiting far more fluctuation than existed with respect to corn, and quite independent of the operation of any law. Now, then, before they could affirm that the Corn-law had not produced its object—its object not being to produce uniformity, but to endeavour to control as far as possible the variations of the seasons, by alternately admitting and excluding 588 foreign corn when they found in those articles there was much greater fluctuation, they ought to show that it had not counteracted the natural tendency to fluctuation, or produced that greater steadiness observed in the price of wheat over the price of other things, Till that was done, they could not ascribe that fluctuation which did exist in corn to the Corn-law. He was not going to enter into the question how far the Corn-law was a landlord's and tenant's question. There was a very great deal of abuse, he thought, heaped upon those whom some called—with a sort of sneer not very indicative of noble natures—the aristocracy, whom some persons had described as being a burden on the earth. These were silly phrases. He did not like the word "aristocracy," nor did he think that it was at all necessary for them as landed proprietors, to vindicate their characters and conduct from the low and vulgar abuse which had been heaped upon them with regard to this measure. There were one or two arguments insisted upon very much, to which he should allude; one was, that this law, in prohibiting foreign nations from sending their corn here, prevented them buying in return our manufactures, and the consequence bad been, that the manufacturers of other countries had greatly improved their manufactures, and had attempted to drive us out of some foreign markets which we formerly supplied. He would deny, that the foreign manufacturers having improved was any proof that it was owing to any act done by us. After the derangement of every interest in society which took place during a war of twenty-five years, and the great stimulus which had afterwards been given for the employment of capital and industry, that man must have been very short sighted indeed, who did 'not take it for granted, that human ingenuity and industry would cause to spring up in every part of the world, as well as in our own country, manufactories of all kinds, which in time would rival us. And he did not think that an evil. Why were we to grudge the success of other nations in the production of all that was useful in life? He was convinced that in the long run and taking the whole country together, it would be highly advantageous to us that the rest of the world should run on in the same race of honest and useful industry. He believed, that we should find our account in that. They heard a great deal of 589 the Corn-laws affecting labour in this country as compared with the manufacturers in Belgium; and they were told, that the reason why the cloth of Belgium was so much cheaper than English cloth, was the Corn-laws—it was allowing to the Corn-laws of England. But, then, those who argued in this way, forgot that there was a Corn-law in Belgium. If then the Corn-law in England had such very bad effects, why had it not the same effects in Belgium? The Corn-law in Belgium was a more complicated, bad, and ill-constructed law than it could be affirmed the Corn-law of England was. But it was absurd to say because England had Corn-laws, that Belgium surpassed it in any branch of manufactures because of these laws, when the Belgians themselves were under the operation of a Corn-law. And, then, as respected France, they heard a great deal about the progress of France. In the manufacture of cotton there could be no doubt that France had made great progress, for the French article was remarkable for the beauty of pattern, in the goodness of material and the durability of colours, and, therefore, going into a common foreign market, France was found to rival this country. But to what was that to be ascribed? The manufacture was carried on by English artisans, and almost the whole of the machinery was made in this country. It was not the Corn-laws that sent their artisans to France—it was not the Corn-laws that exported the machinery—it was not the promised blessing of cheap bread and high wages—because there was a Corn-law in France, and one, too, that was more complicated, more absurd, and more objectionable than the Corn-law of Belgium. It was not the Corn-laws of England that defeated manufactures in countries which were themselves under the operation of Corn-laws of their own. Then there were Saxony and Switzerland. They were told there was great improvement in certain branches of manufacture in Saxony, and that was ascribed to the English Corn-laws! It would not arise, whatever improvements were made—it could not come to pass from any force of circumstance—it was to be ascribed completely to the Corn-laws, because these laws excluded the corn of foreign countries. Now, he should be glad to know, what was the amount of corn which Saxony grew? They grew no corn for export in Saxony? As 590 far then as regarded the proscription of foreign corn tending to the improvement of foreign manufactures, he asked what had corn to do with it, when they could not import it from Saxony? What corn then could they import from Switzerland? They did not grow wheat.—[Lord Holland: They do not eat wheat.]—If in Switzerland they did not grow wheat, they had it not to sell. It was, then, absolutely impossible that these Corn-laws could have any effect upon the manufactures of Switzerland. But, then, it might be said, that it was not so much the countries in which the improvements of manufactures took place that were affected by those laws, as that the effect of the Corn-laws had been to induce certain other countries not to take English manufactures, and, consequently, to prefer the manufactures of certain other countries, such as Saxony and Switzerland. But he did not know why the countries to which the Swiss sent their manufactures should on this account be preferred. He did not think, for instance, that the Bavarians could be more favourable to the admission of Swiss in preference to British cotton, on account of the English Corn-laws, and because the English took no corn from them. It could not arise from that circumstance, for he should be glad to know how much could be the wheat exportation from Bavaria? It was impossible that the Corn-laws could be the cause of that preference. And then as to Wirtemburg, he thought he did hear of its having been said somewhere, that some Wirtemburg minister had said, "How can you expect us to take your manufactures if you will not take our corn?" Now, the Wirtemburg minister who said that, must have been a rusé diplomat indeed; because there was no corn to be procured from Wirtemburg. It might also be said, that the Corn-laws excluded our manufactures from Austria. The population of Austria was between forty and fifty millions, and it certainly would be an important matter for the British manufacturer if he could find a ready access to the markets of Austria. He was not, however, sure, but that Austria had a Corn-law of its own; he was pretty sure that there was a Corn-law in Austria. But at all events, Austria gave no facility to the introduction of Saxon or Swiss manufactures as contradistinguished from English. At least they had heard 591 a deal about a recent treaty which had been signed by Austria, which would open new facilities for our commerce and trade, and the introduction of our manufactures into Austria. If that were so, then it was plain that Austria did not consider the English Corn-laws an objection to her entering into a treaty which was to be so advantageous to England. Then they came, after all, to the consumption of their manufactures by Prussia; and the argument was, that as they did not take the corn of Prussia at all times, and at all prices, that Prussia would not take an unheard of, and incalculable amount of English manufactures, and the ready mode of accounting for this was, the existence of the Corn-laws. It appeared to him that it was a most extravagant proposition. [The Duke of Cambridge—She does.] It appeared then agreeably to what was his own impression of the practice of Prussia, from the confirmation of that impression which his Royal Highness had the goodness to supply, that Prussia did actually impose heavy duties on our manufactures. But the existence of the Corn-laws was not the motive for the imposition of those duties, nor of the imposition of any other duties which might be levied by any other of the Powers of Europe. All those Powers were, and had been for many years, using every artificial means to encourage the manufactures of their own subjects, and this they did by imposing high duties on the importation of the corresponding manufactures of other countries. He thought, then, that his noble Friend opposite not having succeeded in showing, that the Corn-laws caused those fluctuations of price which he believed were in truth inevitable on such an article, and to be attributed to the dispensations of Providence, had entirely failed to make out the proposition to which he asked their Lordships' assent. At the same time he begged to assure his noble Friend and all their Lordships, that there were very few persons who were less bigotted to the present system of Corn-laws than he was; he certainly thought, that the law of 1815 was a failure, and he rejoiced when it was altered; and if his noble Friend would prove to him, that these present laws had proved a failure, that they were prejudicial to the interests of the country generally—if his noble Friend would do that, in whatever degree it might affect his private interests, and he was not at that moment prepared to say 592 how far his interests would be affected by such a change, there would be found no person more ready, and he was well, aware, that their Lordships were ready, to sacrifice all considerations of a private and personal nature to the general advantage; but thinking that the course proposed by his noble Friend would do harm, and finding, too, that his noble Friend was wholly unprovided with anything in the shape of a substitute for the present system, which his noble Friend's motion was the first step to abolish, he thought their Lordships could not do better than put a stop to his noble Friend's measure at once, by giving a distinct negative to the motion.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that after the powerful speech of his noble Friend who had just sat down, he was almost ashamed to rise for the purpose of giving their Lordships the same recommendation with which his noble Friend had concluded—viz., to reject the proposition of the noble Earl. This he recommended to their Lordships; but, above all, he most earnestly recommended them not to attend to the threats which the noble Earl had held out to their Lordships. He was sure, that their Lordships were disposed to attend with respect to everything which fell from the noble Earl with the exception of those threats, and them he earnestly recommended their Lordships to treat with anything but respect. He hoped that to those threats the House would not give any attention at all, but that they would take the proposition of the noble Earl on its own ground, and vote with his noble Friend, the noble Duke near him—that was to say, he hoped they would reject the proposition. In fact, the resolution proposed that night embraced but a very small part of this important question; but let their Lordships observe this, that if they adopted this resolution, they would be called upon to go forward still further, not perhaps by the noble Earl, perhaps by none of the noble Lords opposite, but by others who would found themselves on this resolution. After what had been so ably said by his noble Friend who had just sat down, it was scarcely necessary that he should address their Lordships at any length on the substance of this resolution. The noble Earl opposite, in stating that the prices had not remained steady under the operation of the present system, of course did not mean, he was certain the noble Earl could not mean, by the term 593 "steady," absolute steadiness; he must mean steadiness comparatively to the prices of corn in other countries at the same time. But his noble Friend who had just sat down had made his comparisons on the supposition that the word "steady," as used by the noble Earl opposite, meant absolute steadiness, and had contrasted the fluctuations in the price of corn in this country, with the fluctuations in the prices of other articles. Now he (the Duke of Wellington) would compare the steadiness of the price of corn in this country with the degree of steadiness of price in the same article at different points of time, in different countries. He spoke from recollection, and from having lately seen papers on the subject in the hands of noble Lords, when he said, that comparing the effect of these laws with the changes resulting from the former laws in various parts of the country, it would be found, that the variations of the prices under these laws from the period of their enactment up to the present time, were greatly less than had been the fluctuations and variations of price under any other system. But he would go a little further and say, that on comparing the alterations of prices under these laws in this country, with the variations of the prices of corn in other parts of the world, in which there happened to be no Corn-laws—taking, for instance Dantzic, Hamburgh, and the United States of America, where there were no Corn-laws, it would be found that the variation of the prices of corn at Dantzic, at Ham-burgh, and in the United States of America, have been frequently greater than in this country during the operation of the existing Corn-laws. The statements from which he derived these facts were available to the noble Earl, and he would refer the noble Earl to them. If the noble Earl looked at the returns, he would find, that he (the Duke of Wellington) was correct. Now, this went to destroy the noble Earl's argument of instability, and, that, it would be seen, was the only ground of the resolution. This was the only ground on which the noble Earl asked their Lordships to consent to a total alteration of the present system, and it failed him entirely; and therefore it was absolutely impossible for their Lordships to vote for the noble Earl's resolution. The system which it was the object of this law to establish, was a system of encouragement of agriculture—a system which was 594 established at the termination of the last century, and under which he would venture to assert, without fear of contradiction from the noble Earl, or from anybody elsewhere, that the agriculture of this country had made a progress, and had risen to a degree of superiority, throughout the country, greater than existed in any other part of the world, not excepting even the Netherlands. Under this system of encouragement to agriculture, large sums of money had been laid out and invested in land and property relating to land, and great sums were at that moment in the course of investment in the same way, and he called on their Lordships not to agree to any resolution, or to any measure of the Government, if they should think proper to propose any such measure, which would have the effect of withdrawing from agriculture that protection, and thus putting a stop to those great improvements which were at present in progress, and which he said had had such an effect upon agriculture, that the amount of produce raised in this country was thereby greatly increased. He believed that the produce of the country had been immensely increased, and particularly in the valuable article of wheat, the annual produce of which was now nearly equal to its greatest annual consumption. Such was the supply of wheat, that the very lowest order of the people subsisted mostly upon it, which was not, he believed, the practice in any other country. The practice of living on wheaten bread was not known any where else; it was not known in France; it was not known in Germany; it was not known in the Netherlands, nor was it the case anywhere else. In fact, the lowest orders lived upon wheaten bread in no country of the world except England. He entreated their Lordships to bear this in mind; he entreated them not to break down a system which had carried cultivation to such a pitch, that an amount of produce was raised in England alone which was found to be nearly equal to her greatest annual consumption. He was happy to say, and he thought that before he sat down he should be able to prove to their Lordships' satisfaction, that in proportion as the agriculture of the country should improve, the annual amount of produce would increase. This was his firm belief; and he was confident that with the increase of produce there must come, and come naturally too, a corresponding de- 595 crease of price, and it was to that consequence that he looked, as being the solution of all the difficulties which at present attended this question. But, let their Lordships recollect, it was absolutely necessary to keep up this encouragement in order to arrive at the desired result of the reduction of price. Very lately, when wheat in this country was at 73s. a-quarter, and the duty on importation was a merely nominal one of 1s. a-quarter, was there any such quantity of foreign wheat introduced as was sufficient to lower the price? Not at all. The moment the ports were opened, the merchant importer stood on the same ground as the farmer; and he would not sell his corn for ls. less than the price of the day. Did they ever hear of corn coming in from abroad, and being brought to market at a cheaper rate than it was selling for in this country? Never. But look to the operations of the law prevailing in the former part of the war; the prices varied from 70s. a-quarter to 150s. a-quarter. Did they ever hear of foreign corn being sold for ls. less than what could be got for it in the general markets of this country? It must be sold by the merchant importer at the very same price as by the farmer. ["Hear, hear!"] It was all very fine to say that the price would be exceedingly low if these laws were abolished, and corn were allowed to be introduced without restriction. It certainly would be low if the price of corn raised in this country were low, for the foreigner could not get more for his corn here than the farmer; but if the price of home-grown corn was necessarily high, the introduction of foreign corn would not reduce it. It was very important to look at this question with reference to the interests of the commerce of the country, and also to consider the effect of the abolition of the Corn-laws on the price of provisions, and on the price of manufactures. Now, if they discouraged agriculture to such a degree that any large body of persons and a great amount of capital came to be withdrawn from it, the price of native produce must rise; there would be so much less produce raised than before, and its price, the price of the native produce he meant, must rise. Now, the price of the corn imported would be the price of the diminished quantity of the home-raised corn. Would the manufacturing labourer profit by that? Would the manufacturer find any advantage in it, 596 hen the diminished value of wages forced the labourers to raise the market upon him. Would the merchant exporter gain anything by the change? Would it not be found that in proportion as the manufacturer must pay a larger amount of wages, the prices of his manufactures must be augmented, and therefore the disadvantages of competition with merchants abroad augmented likewise? But there was another view of the question which he besought their Lordships to take—he meant the question of our dependence on foreign produce for a great part of our annual consumption, which would be induced by the abolition. On looking over the papers which had been produced on former discussions of this subject, he had seen proofs that in certain countries, duties were laid on the exportation of corn when it was sent from those countries hither; and that statements were made by the Sovereigns of those countries to this effect—"As the corn is wanted by Great Britain, and her subjects can afford to pay the duty, therefore they shall pay it." That duty must come out of the pockets of Her Majesty's subjects, and be taken into account in the price of the goods of the manufacturers. They had heard a great deal, both to-night and on a former evening, upon the competition of foreign manufacturers with our own in foreign markets. He certainly was one who did not despise the consideration of these subjects, which, on the contrary, he thought of very high importance; but this question was a large one, and it was necessary to judge it on rather broader grounds. This consideration might be material with respect to some countries of which we had been the creditors, but he did not see how our relations with those which were not corn countries could be affected by any change in the Corn-laws. The means of taxation, which would be thrown into the hands of foreign Powers, in the event of the repeal of the Corn-laws, constituted in his view a most important feature of the, case. Suppose we were involved in an arduous competition with Prussian or Russian manufacturers for the supply of a particular article. If we should make up our minds to rely entirely on those countries for a supply of corn, as we were called upon to do by the opponents of the Corn-laws, and if the success of our manufactures depended on the abundance and cheapness of corn 597 among our population, must we not expect, according to the usual course of mankind, that the corn exported from those countries would be taxed so as to render the food of our manufacturers as dear as it would be under any other circumstances? If that were likely to be the case, he would strongly advise them to agree to no measure which should render this country dependent upon others for its supply of bread. Let them persevere in those measures which had been successful in raising the agriculture of this country and increasing its produce; let them increase its produce to the utmost possible degree, and render all the articles of food as cheap as they could be, and then let them see what they would do with reference to commerce and its interests, but let them, he entreated, begin by securing to her Majesty's subjects a supply of the best food from the produce of her Majesty's dominions.
The Earl of Radnor
said, that the noble Duke had referred to threats which he said were uttered by the noble Earl who had brought this question under the consideration of their Lordships. He (the Earl of Radnor) was not aware that his noble Friend had uttered any such threat; he had heard none, and he was sure that none were intended, and therefore he must conclude that the noble Duke's indignation was founded on misapprehension. The noble Duke, in the course of his speech, had referred to the price of corn in other countries for the purpose of showing that greater variations in price had taken place in those countries where there were no Corn-laws than in Great Britain. The noble Duke had specified the United States, but without any particulars as to years or sums; he believed no other country was mentioned. [Several noble Lords, "Dantsic."] The noble Duke, he believed, mentioned Dantzic, but no other. [Several Peers, "Hamburgh."] With respect to the United States, it was impossible, without some more definite information, to give such an answer or explanation as circumstances might admit of; but as to Dantzic and Hamburgh, they were only ports of transit, and the rate of prices there must depend, not only on the demand from England, but on the quantity of grain raised in the corn countries exporting through them for the supply of this country. As there were no great corn-growing countries in 598 the vicinity of Hamburgh, no argument could be drawn from the state of matters there with respect to the variation of prices. But if the noble Duke had made inquiries relative to another country which had never been a corn-growing country, which was one of great opulence, which had engaged in extensive wars, and which depended entirely on foreign countries for its supply of corn, he would have found that at Amsterdam, up to the year 1815, when our Corn-law being passed, disordered the commercial regulations of all Europe, the prices of corn had been for 150 years as uniform as in any other part of Europe, and he believed lower than in most corn-growing countries. That fact was of itself sufficient to overturn the argument on which the noble Duke had laid so much stress at the close of his speech. As to the evil of being dependent on other countries, it was one often used by the supporters of the Corn-laws, and in their hands it assumed a very horrible shape. But could the noble Duke really entertain any fear, even if this country grew hardly any corn, and we were reduced to a state of complete dependence on other countries, that our supplies would be cut off? The argument was, that if we encouraged importation our arable land would be thrown out of cultivation, and, no corn being grown, we should be left to the tender mercies of our enemies, destitute of food. But, in the first place, if the arable land were thrown out of cultivation, it was not to be supposed that it would be left entirely waste; it would be converted into pasture, Then again, at no period when there was an importation of wheat had there been a large importation of barley; so that really the calamity would not be so very great if we were left on a short allowance of barley bread, with good butter and cheese. Those who talked of the danger of having our supply of corn cut off seemed to forget that we required for the consumption of this country 72,000,000 quarters. He would assume, for the sake of argument, giving his opponents all the advantage they could desire, that 52,000,000 quarters were supplied by foreigners at the low price of 30s. This would give 78,000,000l. sterling as the sum to be paid to foreigners for bread. He would ask those persons who were so much afraid of falling into the hands of the enemy, was it credible, that those who received so enormous a sum would con- 599 sent, for the sake of inflicting an injury on us, to forego the advantages of such a traffic? Let us make it the interest of other countries to supply us, and we need have no fears that they would refuse to do so. How would the people of Manchester receive the proposal of passing an Act forbidding the exportation of foreign twist? Was it to be supposed that they would submit to it? It was just as inconceivable, that the people of corn-growing countries would comply with a law forbidding the exportation of corn. He was putting the case of the whole supply coming from abroad, though he looked on that as impossible. The noble Duke, however, had said, that the Neapolitan government had passed an edict prohibiting the exportation of corn, and that the French government had laid a heavy tax upon it. He admitted the fact, but how had it arisen? For a great number of years we had refused to take the corn of those countries, so that the lands which would otherwise be employed in raising a supply of corn for this country were thrown out of cultivation. At last came a year of distress and scarcity—he wished it might not prove one of famine—and we asked them to let us have their corn. But just at the time they had it not to spare, for their own harvest had not been very favourable, and their supply was proportioned only to their own demand. They had hardly enough for their own use, and it could not be expected, that they would willingly part with any to the English who at every other time refused to take it. If we would consent to enter into a regular intercourse with those countries, to keep up constant communications, and look to them constantly for a part of what we required, no doubt they would extend their cultivation with a view to provide for our wants, there would always be a supply equal to both their demand and our own, and no such prohibition as that enforced by the temporary edicts alluded to would ever take place. His noble Friend, in his remarks on the variation of prices, quoted from certain papers, he did not know of what kind. They were not official papers, and the noble Earl's quotations were certainly different from the statements of an official paper from the Board of Trade, which he had received that day. He could not help thinking it would have been rather more fair to take a larger compass than a year in considering the varia- 600 tions of prices. In 1829, according to his paper, the variation of price between different weeks of that year was 26 per cent. In the former year there was a rise of 31 per cent. in the price, and in the year following, 1829, there was a fall of 18 per cent. He thought, however, that both 1829 and 1830 should be left out of consideration, inasmuch as they were probably disturbed by the operation of the new law. In the five years following 1830 there was a remarkable variation in the price, which regularly fell; in the year 1831, wheat was 67s. ld.; in 1832, 60s. 8d.; in 1833, 53s. 6d.; in 1834, 48s. 6d.; in 1835, 40s. 7d. In none of these years was there any very remarkable variation within the twelvemonth; but the variation between the different years of the scale was very remarkable—from 1829 it was 43 per cent. The noble Duke had talked of the protection and encouragement given by this law to the agriculturists. The noble Duke must mean the farmers; how, then, did it work for them? The farmer embarked his capital in agriculture in 1829 or 1830, in the confidence, as he was assured by the promoters of the new law, that it would maintain prices steadily, and at not less than 60s. So far from this, in 1835 the price had fallen from 70s. to 40s. Of course the farmer, who had calculated on prices being steady at 60s., must be exposed to ruinous losses. The noble Duke who spoke early in the debate had throughout confounded protection to the landlords with protection to the farmer. The present law might protect the landlords, by keeping their rents unnaturally high; but it was mere delusion to suppose that it protected the farmer, still less the labourer. But it did not protect the landlord; for if the farmer went to ruin, as he must do, did not the landlord suffer? After the expiration of the five years there was a regular rise in the price. In 1836 it was 43s. 11d.; in 1837, 56s. 3d.; in 1838, 59s. 10d.; and last year, 74s. The consequence of all this fluctuation was, that the business of the farmer had become a mere gambling speculation, utterly devoid of certainty or steadiness. Monopoly always produced uncertainty and fluctuation. The hop trade was a complete monopoly, hops being grown in few parts of this country, and their importation being prohibited; and it was composed of a series of gambling transactions from the insertion of the plant in the soil to the 601 sale of the produce in the market. He thought the apprehensions entertained as to the ability of the British agriculturists to compete with foreigners were much exaggerated. Their Lordships would recollect, that some years back a measure was introduced by a noble Lord opposite, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the diminution of the prohibitory duty on foreign silks. Now, what was the effect of that bill? In the five years before the reduction of the duty on foreign silk imported into this country, the quantity entered for home consumption amounted to 2,656,000 lbs., and was there any falling-off in that amount in the five years subsequent to the passing of the bill to which he had alluded? On the contrary, he found, that during the subsequent five years the quantity imported rose to 5,189,0001bs., or very nearly double what it had been before the reduction of the duty. Again, with respect to the quantity of manufactured British silk exported to other countries, he found that during the four years before the reduction of the duty the value of the silk exported was 384,389l., and during the last four years it had risen to 722,102l., or about double the first amount. It was clear, therefore, that the reduction of the duty on foreign silk imported into this country had not been productive of injurious consequences, but that, on the contrary, it had contributed largely to increase the trade. Therefore the argument which had been used by the noble Duke opposite, that the repeal of the duty on corn would injure the British grower, he held to be totally at variance with experience, It was the same argument which had been used by those who supported the monopoly in silk, and which had been proved fallacious by the results of the reduction of the duty on that article. Again, with respect to wool. The wool-market had also been opened to the foreign wool-grower, and with precisely the same results as in the case of silk. Up to the year 1824 there had been a protecting duty on foreign wool, and when it was proposed to reduce that duty, the wool merchants of this country raised an outcry that they should all be ruined if such a course were followed. The duty, however, had been reduced, and no ruinous result had followed that step; but, on the contrary, the quantity of wool imported into this country rapidly increased when 602 the protecting duty on foreign wool was in a great part taken off. He found that in the five years previous to the reduction of the duty the quantity of foreign wool imported into England amounted to 17,000,000lb., and that during the five years subsequent to the reduction of the duty upwards of 50,000,0001b. were imported. Then as to the quantity exported, he found that in the five years before the reduction of the duty the value of the woollen export was 530,000l., while in the five subsequent years it increased to 2,640,000l., and the price, he believed, was not lowered in the least degree. He admitted there had been considerable variations in the price of wool, but looking at the price during the five years previous to the reduction of the duty, and comparing them with the prices of the five years subsequent to that reduction, they would find that the price had not been reduced. Now, if such had been the results of a reduction of the duty on silk and wool, what reason was there to suppose, that the importation of foreign corn would prove injurious to the English agriculturists? It was clear from the statement he had made that the reduction of the duty on silk and wool had not injured the English manufacturers, and that the trade in those articles had increased, and he was persuaded, that the free importation of foreign corn would be attended with similar results. Why should not the English agriculturists and landlords be able to compete with those of other countries? They had as sturdy husbandmen as other nations; they had better cattle, better implements of husbandry, better markets, and better roads, and he could see no reason why the agriculturists of England should not be able to compete with those of other nations. For himself, he was persuaded that a free trade in corn would, instead of injuring the agriculturists, be of essential advantage to them. He had no hesitation in saying, that in his opinion the existing Corn-laws ought to be altogether repealed, and that there ought to be no protecting duty on foreign corn. It was asked why they should not protect corn, when on other articles of foreign produce there was a protecting duty? They were told that the effect of the Corn-laws was to insure a better article; but for himself, he was persuaded that it would be better for the people, and that they would have better corn, 603 were there no protecting duty at all. The natural effects of competition in every article of trade or commerce was to improve the quality, and no branch of trade went on well without competition. Competition set every thing right; and if the farmers were left without protection, and if they were placed in active competition with the corn-growers of other countries, he was of opinion, that such a state of things would be advantageous both to them and to the landlords, and that a supply of better corn would be secured to the consumers. Protection made the farmers gamblers, and he had already shown how the price of corn fluctuated under the existing system. It had been said, that a protecting duty was an advantage to the labourer; but in his opinion the contrary was the case. It was, in fact, a great grievance to the labourers to have corn dear, and it could not fail to be otherwise, for although it was contended, that when the price of corn was high wages rose in proportion, yet a rise in wages was by no means a consequence of a rise in the price of corn. Wages did not depend on the price of provisions. He admitted, that a rise or fall in the price of provisions would ultimately produce a rise or fall in the wages of labour, but not immediately. Wages would be affected by a rise or fall in the price of provisions, but that effect would follow, not immediately, but after a lapse of perhaps three or four years. The rate of wages depended not on the price of provisions, but on the demand and supply of labour, and was not affected, at least not immediately, by the price of corn. Besides, the labourer was a consumer, and therefore a protecting duty and a high price of corn could do no good to him, but must, in fact, operate injuriously, by reducing the number of comforts, which, with cheaper provisions, he would be able to command. In truth, a protecting duty and high priced corn, did no good to any one but the landlord. It was not an advantage to the farmer or to the labourer, and in his opinion the duty on corn ought entirely to be repealed. He had understood, that the noble Duke opposite intended to move the previous question, but he found that the motion of his noble Friend was now to be met with a positive negative; but how their Lordships could agree to such a resolution, he was utterly at a loss to conceive. How they could deny that the existing system had 604 failed to secure the objects which the framers of that system contemplated, he could not comprehend. The argument of his noble Friend was, that the Corn-laws had not produced steadiness of price, and it had been shown that in the seven years following, the adoption of the present laws, there had been a fluctuation in the price of corn of upwards of 70 per cent. He therefore, trusted that their Lordships would not oppose the resolution which had been moved by his noble Friend.
§ The Duke of Wellington
in explanation said—My Lords, the noble Earl opposite, has entirely mistaken the argument which I used. It is true that I called your Lordships' attention to the effects which the protection afforded to the agricultural interests of this country during the last half century had produced, and I stated at the same time, that this protection applied equally to all other interests. My Lords, I also expressed it as my opinion, an opinion founded on unquestionable evidence, that enormous sums have been laid out during the last twenty years in the improvement of land—an improvement which I said, tended to the benefit of the whole country, and which the noble Earl himself admitted in so many words to be the case—and I entreated your Lordships not to consent to a resolution which led to the first step towards the abolition of the present system. The noble Earl talked of the Corn-laws as a monopoly; and he described them as a system favourable only to the landlord, and not to the farmer or labourer. My Lords, I know nothing about either landlord, farmer, or labourer, when advocating any question in your Lordships' House—and I beg noble Lords to understand that when I come down to this House, that I come here for the public interest, and for the public interest alone. In the discharge of my duty as a Member of your Lordships' House, I have no more to say either of landlord, farmer, or labourer than the noble Earl himself; and what is more, my Lords, I am thoroughly convinced that there is not a noble Friend near me who does not look at the question wholly on public grounds, that is, with a view to the general interests of the country, and it was on that ground that I myself argued the question, throughout the whole time I addressed your Lordships. The noble 605 Earl (Earl Ripon), who sits near me, argued the question in this way. He said, that there had been a great variation in the price of wool, although that article was unrestricted, and he went on to show that there could be no reason why there should not be the same fluctuation with respect to corn, even if the trade in corn were thrown open. The noble Earl, therefore, mistook the argument of my noble Friend; for so far from my noble Friend contending that the Corn-laws had not produced uniformity of price, what he said was, that with respect to wool, in which the trade was free, the same thing occurred. At the period the restrictions were taken off wool, the home producers complained, whether with or without reason, I will not stop now to inquire, for that is another question, but when the exportation of wool was allowed, although the experiment succeeded entirely, uniformity of price was not obtained. My Lords, the noble Earl has misunderstood me in another point. He seems to suppose that I said it was not desirable to import corn from foreign nations; but, my Lords, I said no such thing. What I said, was, that in the time of war it was important that we should be able to supply ourselves; but I first stated, and gave proof of the fact, that the price of foreign corn had always been the same as the price of that of home growth. No difference, I said, was made by the merchants who dealt in foreign and English corn, with reference to price, and, therefore, that there was no cheapness resulting from the introduction of foreign corn, My Lords, at the same time that I made this statement I also said, that during the war, an instance had occurred in which a foreign power had laid an additional tax upon the exportation of corn to this country, on account of the high price obtained for corn here at that period; and that we had not only to pay the advanced price for what we required for our consumption, but also the additional tax imposed by the power to whom I alluded. This, my Lords, was my argument.
§ The Duke of Richmond
said, the vote which he meant to give on this occasion would be against the resolution of his noble Friend, for he could not consent, like the noble Earl (the Earl of Radnor) to nibble a little in the hope of gettiing more. He was surprised at the observations of the noble Earl, and, if he objected 606 to the Corn-laws, why did he not move for their repeal at once? His conduct was unlike that of an English Nobleman, or of the honest hardy peasantry of this country, who instead of this nibbling system, were in the habit of going boldly and directly to their purpose. If they had an object in view, they would go straight forward to attain it, and not descend to mere nibbling. He wanted to know how a free trade in corn would reduce the price of bread? He denied, that the corn tax was a landlord's tax, and when they saw what had been the result of the removal of the duty on wool, how could their Lordships' suppose, that a free trade in corn would lead to a reduction in the price? The argument, as it seemed to him, was untenable. He had' heard declarations with respect to the advantages which operatives, the labouring classes of England, would derive from cheap bread, but their Lordships had not yet been told of what this cheap loaf was to be made. Was it he should like to know, to be made of barley? This was a question which the Gentlemen who went about the country getting up petitions on the subject should answer. He felt convinced, that the effect of the repeal of the Corn-laws would be to oblige the operatives and labourers of this country to return to barley bread, and there could be no doubt, that the object of the manufacturers in wishing these laws repealed was to reduce wages. When he said manufacturers, he did not mean the respectable manufacturers, because he believed they as a body were favourable to agriculture; but a number of large mill-owners, who not being satisfied with moderate profits, were anxious to lower the prices of labour, in the expectation of being better able to compete with foreign manufacturers. Nothing could be more delusive, than to suppose, that foreign countries would not keep up prices so long as they found a market for their corn; and, seeing the advantages of manufactures, could it be doubted, that they would foster and encourage them by every means in their power? But suppose the Corn-laws abolished, what would be the effect on the labourers of England? Why, that instead of this country consuming corn produced by British labourers, they would have to depend for their supplies on the Polish serfs. They would run the chance of throwing out of cultivation large tracts of land; and if such a thing were to take 607 place, what, he asked their Lordships' would become of the English labourers? The agitation of this question, and the violent speeches which had been made upon the subject, had prevented men from attempting to improve their land; and he thought his noble Friend would admit, that while this agitation continued, capital would not be employed in this way, and that the labouring population must consequently suffer severely. He was surprised to hear his noble Friend say, that farming in England was not so good as it ought to be, but he was not a good sample of a British farmer when he could hold such an opinion as that when land was thrown out of wheat, its cultivation would be laid down in grass. The truth seemed to be, that his noble Friend knew little about either in this country or in Scotland. He believed, that this was a landlord's, a farmer's and an agricultural labourer's question, and he also believed, that it was a question in which both the operatives and the manufacturers were equally concerned. If these laws should unfortunately be repealed, the consequences would be as destructive to the manufacturing as to any other interest, and if the effect of such a step would be bad in England, what would it be in Ireland, where thousands depended for employment on agriculture? The agricultural interest paid a larger proportion of taxation than any other interest in the country, and if they were to change place with the manufacturers, and call for a reduction of their profits of from twenty to thirty per cent., what, he should like to know, would be said of them? Why, it would be said, that they who were taxed could not compete with those who were not taxed. He heartily concurred in the motion of the noble Duke, and he should perform his duty better by supporting that motion than by giving his sanction to such nibbling as the noble Lord advocated. For himself he could only say, that if protection were not afforded to agriculture he would rather transfer his capital to another country, where, with skilful labourers and machinery, he could render it profitable, than allow it to remain where he could hope for no benefit to accrue from it.
The Earl of Radnor
, in explanation, said he had said nothing from which the noble Duke had a right to infer, that if the Corn-laws were repealed, the labourers of this country would be reduced to 608 the necessity of eating barley bread. The noble Duke seemed to think, that if protection were taken away, and this country had to depend on foreign countries for corn, the labourers would be reduced to the extremity of resorting to barley bread; but that was not the argument which he had used. What he had said was, suppose that to be so, and that wheat could not be obtained, why then that barley, of which there had been no importation, would be no bad thing for the population to fall back upon, especially when barley bread would be accompanied by good butter and cheese, and roast beef and plum pudding. [Great Laughter.] Noble Lords laughed; but he saw no absurdity in this.
§ The Duke of Richmond
said, he had not heard of the roast beef and plum pudding before! but the noble Lord had forgotten to state how the plum pudding was to be made, and whether it was to consist of barley flour.
§ Viscount Melbourne.
My Lords, I feel that I ought not to vote on such an important subject without saying a few words in explanation of the course which I mean to take. Though on the subject under your Lordships' consideration, I can hope to add nothing new to the discussion which has already taken place, and being less familiar with it than with other subjects, I feel that it is not in my power to add to your Lordships' information, or to throw any new light on a subject which has been so amply considered. My Lords, a great deal of observation has been made in the course of the present debate, on the conduct pursued by a right hon. Friend and colleague of mine, who is understood to have expressed in another place, that he was not displeased at the subject having at length been brought under discussion. My Lords, I do not hesitate to say to your Lordships, that I entertain a strong objection to the agitation of this subject; but then I cannot help thinking, that agitation is nothing more than a modern word to express public discussion or public feeling in the way that it has always been expressed in this country. My Lords, my right hon. Friend seems to be of opinion, that the subject is of very great importance to commerce—that commercial interests are deeply involved in it, and, therefore, so far from thinking, that the course which he has taken is open to surprise or anything but candid remark, I 609 see nothing improper in his having declared, that he was satisfied at finding, that his hon. Friend had brought forward such a motion, and made observations which amounted to nothing more than the expression of his wish, that the truth might be discovered. I must say, my Lords, with respect to the whole discussion, considering the delicate nature of the subject, and the interests and feelings which it touches, that it does not surprise me, that some degree of violence and indulgence in bitter reflections should have been used on the one side as well as upon the other. On the whole, I cannot look at the debates which have taken place as either intemperate or violent discussions; and I do not think, therefore, that what has occurred can in any manner endanger either the public peace or security of the country. My Lords, it is perfectly natural, considering the position in which my right hon. Friend stands with regard to the commercial interests of the country, that he should have expressed himself as he has done. My Lords, I do not hesitate to say, that I differ from my right hon. Friend on this subject; that I am extremely sorry this question has been agitated and brought under discussion, because it was of a peculiarly unpleasant and disagreeable nature, setting as it did one class in array against another, and producing invidious and bitter reflections, which would be much better avoided. My Lords, I say I am extremely sorry this question should be agitated at the present moment. I am sorry that any parties in the country should take advantage of a temporary high price of provisions for the purpose of promoting their desire with respect to a repeal of the Corn-laws. My Lords, I know it would be in vain to appeal to their forbearance. The discussion is therefore unavoidable, because we are all aware, that when persons have an object to serve, they will seize every opportunity which presents itself, of urging it forward at the time which appears to them to be the most convenient and suitable to the purpose. The noble Lord has on the present occasion adverted to a matter of importance which was noticed in the debate of last Session, and that is the impolicy of this country being left in a state of dependence on foreign nations for an unlimited supply of corn. A noble and learned Lord, however, took this argument up, and asserted, that it had been long 610 since exploded and refuted. My Lords, I own I am not entirely satisfied, that this is the case—or that it would be wise or expedient to subject this country to the caprice or whim either of the Government or the Legislature of any foreign country. I cannot, however, say, that I agree in that opinion of the noble and learned Lord. I will suppose that we were in a situation, "in which, by the way, no country is, or ever was, or ever will be;" but for the sake of argument I will assume the possibility of our being in a situation in which we might legislate with a tabula rasa, a blank sheet of paper before us. I will suppose, that we had no interests to protect, and, that we were told, that this was to be a great manufacturing country, great in wealth, in prosperity, and in population, and I should even then very much doubt whether it would be wise to establish laws which must make a large manufacturing population dependent upon foreign countries for a supply of corn. But when I consider the situation in which we stand, when I consider the various and complicated interests which we have to protect, when I consider the peculiar nature of our financial position, and find my noble Friend proposing to leave the whole agricultural interest without protection, I declare before God that I think it the wildest and maddest scheme, that has ever entered into the imagination of man to conceive. The real fact was, that the manufacturers lay very much in velvet upon this. "Oh"; said they, "throw away all duties, we do not want protection, but however for God's sake, take care the public revenue does not fall off." But they knew very well, that they were perfectly safe in throwing down the gauntlet and saying, that they were quite ready to part with protecting duties. My noble Friend behind me, the Earl of Radnor, said, "Suppose you have a great deal of corn from foreign countries. Your demand creates a supply, and gives growth to a great interest there, and if the sovereigns of those countries attempt to prohibit the exportation of corn, they will never be permitted to do so by their own people." But who could recollect what this generation had seen, and entertain such views for an instant? We know not what may be done by the caprice or ambition of an individual? Who, in 1792, ever thought of hearing of the Berlin and Milan decrees, the measures which Buonaparte adopted, 611 and of seeing the remorseless application of the means placed at the disposal of one man to ruin the trade of this country. It is, my Lords, in my humble opinion, not a desirable thing for ns to be dependent for our nourishment on foreign supplies, and I think it would be wise even to sacrifice something of commercial prosperity to the national safety and independence. This, my Lords, is my strong feeling, and I have great doubt whether our commerce has not been increased by our agricultural prosperity. I entirely agree, my Lords, with my noble Friend, that any change in the present system would be an evil; and if the effect of the agitation of this subject has been as the noble Duke observed, to interfere with the employment of capital, and the improvement and sales of lands, I am ready to confess, that I think it is better that we should make no alteration. With respect to the resolution of my noble Friend I cannot, my Lords, vote for its adoption, but still I am bound to say, that I should have preferred meeting it with the previous question, to meeting it with a direct negative. Unquestionably the facts stated in the resolution of my noble Friend are not true, and not thinking, that such a proceeding should appear on the journals of your Lordships' House, I must, if it be pressed, give my vote for the motion of the noble Duke. In my opinion, the resolution of my noble Friend condemns the present law, without substituting anything for it; and although steadiness in the price of corn may be a great thing, still it is not so essential to the country as to justify the adoption of a proposition of this kind. If prices he steadily high, the poor have a difficulty in obtaining bread; and, if steadily low, the land is thrown out of cultivation; and that, certainly my Lords, is not a consummation which I wish. I say, therefore, my Lords, that the resolution of my noble Friend is incomplete; and my reason for voting against it is, that I think it is not only unwise but inefficient—that it does nothing, in short, while it condemns the present system. My Lords, I am not prepared to pledge myself to say, whether the existing Corn laws are the best that can be adopted, or whether they ought to be annihilated; but, thinking the course taken by my noble Friend imprudent, I cannot adopt his proposition.
had hoped that he should not have felt it necessary to address 612 their Lordships on the present occasion, but when he looked back at the whole debate which had taken place, he felt an irresistible and over-whelming temptation to call on their Lordships to reflect on the manner in which they had treated his motion for hearing evidence at the bar of the House, and to that temptation he at once abandoned him [Laughter.] Their Lordships might laugh; but he doubted whether they would laugh two minutes by the clock, unless indeed it were matter of laughter and merriment to statesmen, and individuals calling themselves legislators, that they had, placed themselves in a position unheard of before for a dereliction of the sacred duties they owed to their country. If that were a matter of self congratulation, they might enjoy their merriment, and hug themselves in their own complacency. His motion was for inquiry into alleged facts to be proved by evidence at the bar; and he had called upon their Lordships either to admit those facts, to assert that they were incapable of proof, or to affirm they were utterly immaterial and deserved no investigation. The investigation, however, was denied by their Lordships, who had turned a deaf ear to the petitions of the people. He could have established on oath, every fact which he had alleged; but it was otherwise with the noble Earl, for all that he had stated was denied, not only by the noble Duke but by two other noble Lords, indeed the noble Lord who had brought forward statements against the proposition of the noble Earl differed so completely in their facts, that it was no very difficult matter to controvert them. Was that or was it not an argument for inquiry? Was it or was it not a reason for making their Lordships regret negativing without a division his motion on Monday three weeks? Was it or was it not a reason for making their Lordships pause and reflect on their conduct three weeks ago, and for making them begin at least to suspect that it was barely possible that there might be more ground for the proposition for inquiry than they seemed to admit? But, above all, let him remind them of the position in which they were now placed, and, compared with which, that was, in his opinion, a proud, rational, consistent, and dignified position in which they appeared last Monday three weeks. They were actually, and it was hardly credible, about to vote by a large majority, a 613 majority on which they plumed themselves—yes! they were exulting in the expectation of an instantaneous triumph—but a triumph, he must remind them, over themselves—a triumph over their own character as men of sense and consistency, as he should presently demonstrate—ay, and demonstrate to their own satisfaction. He had thought their Lordships at least knew the meaning of the English language, but it was now plainly proved that they did not. It appeared that their Lordships were even under-read in their own tongue. He said so with the greatest possible respect; but he used the word "satisfaction" to mean that he would prove it so that it could not be denied. He did not mean that it would be very pleasant to their Lordships; but he would prove, if they preferred it, to their own conviction—to the perfect conviction of their Lordships—that they were about to place themselves in this position—they had refused an inquiry, they would not go into committee, they had rejected the tendered evidence, they would not allow witnesses to be examined, they had rejected his motion, they had hooted it from that House, though that motion was for permission to prove the facts of the case or to have them disproved, because if the allegations which he and those who thought with him had made were incorrect, they might have been disproved. That was all his motion went to, and that they had refused. Well, they rejected proof, they refused the evidence tendered, they would not allow witnesses to be examined, they preferred to be in darkness on the facts of the case rather than to be enlightened by the evidence which was offered, and yet they were now ready, on these disputed and most important facts, to do what? To inquire now? to decide now whether those were right who affirmed, or those who denied, the existence of certain facts? No such thing; but to vote on one side of that disputed proposition of mere fact. That was what they were about to do. Was that the conduct of rational men? And he did not think that it made an irrational act more rational because they laughed who had been convicted of that irrationality. He was old-fashioned enough to think directly the reverse. The noble Viscount who spoke last hail felt the absurdity of the position in which they had placed themselves—he felt what he was about to do—he knew that he was about to 614 vote that which was not true, in fact; that was an awkwardness which he felt, and it would have been a relief to him, as he candidly confessed, if the noble Duke had, as he was once minded, moved the previous question; but, said the noble Viscount, "I am not very nice; that is, I am not very nice whether I affirm by my solemn vote as a Peer of Parliament what in point of fact is not true." It came to this, the noble Viscount had declared "one party said one thing, another party another. I don't know which is right; whether the facts on the one side or the other are proved or disproved I care not, I shall vote one way." Now, some men were more and others less nice; but this was the least possible degree of nicety—which he had ever heard of any one, particularly a Minister of State, being troubled with. He knew that nothing he could say would egg their Lordships back from the course which they were pursuing—the headlong course which he thought without reflection, they were pursuing; still it was his duty—he used no threats, and he had beard none used that night—still it was his duty to warn their Lordships, without any threat, that it was a course which rational men ought not to wish to be recorded to after-times, or to be seen in their own age; that all men would not hold these matters so lightly; all men would not laugh at the inconsistency of their conduct, who, having refused inquiry and proof as to disputed facts, yet decided on the subject matter of these facts; all men would not be so little nice as to the conduct of others as some men were as to their own. It was very easy for persons not to be nice as to their own conduct, but not so easy to induce others to be the same; and, as all men could not see their conduct in the same light as it appeared to their own eyes, he could assure thorn that that Assembly which he then had the honour to address was the only place in the whole of England, Scotland, and Wales in which precisely the same satisfaction would be felt with regard to the conduct upon which they all seemed to congratulate themselves so much. He had heard to-night the most extraordinary arguments used, on the other side both by the noble Duke and the noble Earl—the grossest, if he might be allowed, without disrespect, to use the term, the most singular and unintelligible misstatement of facts which he had ever 615 heard on any great question. It was no business of his to defend the statements of any Minister in another place; his colleagues who had spoken had not thought it necesary to do so; yet common charity, common benevolence, when one persona—a brother colleague—was rudely assailed for anything he had said might be expected to operate, and those feelings had operated on his mind to induce him to say a word on behalf of a misrepresented and misjudged, not misjudging, individual; and he did so more readily because he totally differed in opinion from that right hon. Gentleman, as that right hon. Gentleman differed from other Members of the Government who had various shades of difference amongst themselves and did not appear to be very nice or discriminating. But so far did he differ from that right hon. Gentleman that he thought that anything was better than a fixed duty. It was the greatest absurdity; it was a monstrous, extravagant, and absurd proposition. He should like to see the man who would venture to propose it; and still more he should like to see the Minister who, if the price of corn got up to 90s., would dare to keep up a fixed duty and convert a scarcity into a famine. What Minister would venture to say, "The price of corn is 90s.; I'll make it 10s. more?" It was impossible. If Parliament were sitting at the time when there were such prices the standing orders would be immediately suspended, and by an unanimous vote they would allow the importation of foreign corn duty free; but if Parliament at such a time were in vacation, an order of Council and a bill of indemnity would be the consequence; and therefore, to talk of a fixed duty, which they must know that they could not maintain, was the greatest and most monstrous extravagance. However, he agreed in most of what had been said by his right hon. Friend. He subscribed to his statement of facts and to the opinions which he founded on these facts, but his noble Friend opposite had entirely mistaken the drift of their argument. Their argument was, that the effect of the Corn-law being to raise the price of labour in England, and to lower it on the Continent unnaturally, whether that was effected in three or in thirty years it mattered not, the effect was, that our own manufacturers had to undergo a cruel inequality in the competition with foreigners. That was the 616 drift of the argument; and one of the answers was, that other countries, that France for instance, had a Corn-law. Why, that made no difference. Suppose France had a Corn-law, how did that alter the case,—how did that remove the ground of their complaint that the Corn-law here gave a benefit to the foreigner over our own manufacturer? Then, again, it was said, that no grain was exported from Saxony, and therefore the argument did not apply to the hosiery of Saxony; but how did that affect the argument? They went to Poland with their hosiery, and in the market of Poland, therefore, they interfered with our manufactures, and Saxony and Poland got manufactures considerably lower than we could supply them. So it was said in Switzerland, and then the case came nearer to the argument; but what they contended was, that over the whole surface of Europe the effect of the Corn-law was to make the price of corn abroad fall below the ordinary level, and to raise the price in our markets above that level, and that the consequence was to subject them to the greatest evil, injustice, and hardship in all the markets, where they had to contend with an unfair and unequal competition. Besides, the noble Lords forgot that the market of the Baltic had only grain and timber to give; and if we would not take their timber because of our Canadian possessions, nor would take their grain, they had nothing to give in exchange, and therefore could not take our manufactures. He only now ran over these topics slightly, because he had already stated his opinion on the subject, and he was aware of the lateness of the hour. The noble Duke had said that there were no Corn-laws in Dantzic. To be sure, no more than there was a sugar law in Jamaica; and why? Because there was no importation of corn into Dantzic, of sugar into Jamaica, or of coals into Newcastle—but did they believe that our Corn-law had no effect on the Dantzic market? The fluctuations which they found in that market arose from our Corn-law. Our market was as much the market of Poland as Dantzic was the market of the more remote districts of that country. The noble Duke on the cross bench (Richmond), with whom he always entered into controversy with feelings of the greatest respect, had expressed the same sentiments as he had broached the other night, incidentally 617 on the presentation of a petition, when the noble Duke referred to a resolution passed by a body called the Chamber of Commerce in Glasgow. He had since that made some inquiries about that resolution, and he would give their Lordships briefly the history of the body from which it emanated. This Chamber was founded in Mr. Pitt's time, in the year 1785, and amongst its original resolutions he found one which stated, "that it shall be a particular object of the foundation and of the exertions of this Chamber to exercise a control over and to protect the manufacturer and the trader from the operation of the Corn-law." Now, as the best institutions fell off from the objects of their establishment, and as sinister motives and interests interfered with the well-working of the best establishments, by backslidings innumerable, though chiefly confined to the last few years, this Chamber had come into the hands of a few individuals, who elected themselves. That resolution was the resolution of the directors, who were thirty in number, of whom one-sixth part (five) went out annually, and the remaining twenty-five, by always voting together, secured the re-election of the other five. So certain was that, that nobody ever thought of attending; and at the last election fifteen only were present. Consequently, the Chamber was entirely in the hands of those individuals, who, though no doubt they had interests as traders, had much greater zeal and interests as politicians. They were most pure Conservatives, that was to say, they were of the most pure principles in politics—the noble Duke would understand what he meant—and they thought it a better thing to pass that resolution than to keep to the original direction of the institution for the purpose of protecting the manufacturers from the Corn-laws. That was the history of this resolution; it was in the very teeth of one passed shortly before by the same body; and that resolution itself did not purport to be final—it did not agree with the requisitionists—but it expressly stated, that if they would bring forward any definite proposition, that proposition would be taken into consideration by the Chamber. But he had now a more important thing to come to—the noble Duke's own opinion, which was more consistent and generally of greater weight; and the noble Duke said, if there was to be free trade in corn, let there be free 618 trade in all other commodities. He was furnished with an answer to that from all the respectable delegates who were here, and who were not, as had been stated that night, a few great mill-owners, as he was ready to show, or would have shown if they had allowed him to produce proof; but let them look at the leading man amongst them, his excellent friend Mr. Sturge, of Birmingham. What was he? He was a corn-merchant—and he supported the repeal, not for the purpose of lowering the price. But the noble Duke had forgotten his argument the other night; he has argued that the effect of the Corn-laws was to cramp and stifle the corn trade, which was declared by the Legislature in its own Act to be an object worthy of encouragement. Then he came to the unanimous resolution not only of corn-dealers and millowners, but of dyers, calico-printers, and manufacturers of every kind, calling not only for a repeal of the Corn-laws and for free trade in grain, but for the repeal of all protecting duties whatever, and for free trade in all commodities which they now pretended to protect and encourage. They had come unanimously to that resolution, and upon no other ground would they ask or accept the alteration of the present law. But, said the noble Duke, and with him other noble Lords, there were taxes, besides the protecting duties, which pressed heavily and unfairly on the land. Now, as that was the only part of the subject which he had previously left untouched, and as it was a matter which had been very much dwelt upon both there and out of doors, he would stop to say one word on the subject, and it was the last with which he was about to trouble their Lordships. He denied the proposition of fact, that these taxes did fall on the land; and he trusted that he should be able shortly to prove to them that those taxes were not paid by the land. Now, to grapple at first with the strength of the noble Duke's argument, he would single out the malt tax, and he denied that the malt tax was paid by the land. He even took the land tax itself, and the Poor-law, which came nearer to the case than any other; and he said, that to talk of the five millions and upwards which was raised by the malt tax as being paid by the farmer or the landlord, or as falling on the land, except so far as the landlords were consumers, was about as rational as to say that his 619 noble Friend near him (the Marquess of Sligo), who was a Jamaica planter, paid the tax on sugar. He might suffer by it—it might tend to diminish his profits—but the consumers here paid the tax; for the tax which was laid on the producer in the first instance was thrown by him on the commodity, and paid by the consumer. That was a proposition which admitted of no dispute. Suppose a bale of cotton yarn were taxed; suppose that, with a degree of madness which could hardly be found to have seized any brain, the bale of cotton twist were taxed 5l., what would be the consequence? Did the Manchester cotton-spinner pay that? No; he laid it on the price of the materials, and instead of 5l. he laid on 10l., because he must first be recompensed for the additional expenditure occasioned by the tax itself, and next for the diminution in the consumption; so that when a tax was laid on sugar and rum the consumers of these commodities in this country paid for that tax. The malt tax was paid by those who drank the beer, and by the unhappy wretches who consumed the gin. Not one of those miserable phantoms who were to be seen entering the gin palaces which abounded in this city, to the injury of their fortunes, to the ruin of their health, and to the degradation of their character, and the reducing them almost to the level of the brutes that perish—not one of these miserable phantoms who did not contribute to pay that tax. Let them talk no longer of the landlord and the farmer as being the only persons on whom these taxes were burdensome. He went over these points lightly, not because he undervalued their importance, for he thought that they went to the very root of the whole question, but because he was sure with intelligent men a mere allusion to them was sufficient to make them understood. He said the land tax also was not paid by the land, and he had a high authority on that subject. Their Lordships were aware of the great school of political economy which bad given rise to all the great improvements which had been recently made in that science—he meant the school of Quesnay—who had introduced such improvements into all branches of civil polity, but who went into schemes too theoretical, which were, however, afterwards filtered through the practical hands of Smith and others. To that school, thus altered and purified of 620 its extravagances, a great statesman, universally beloved and admired, and for whose great talents and noble eloquence he had always the highest admiration—who had nothing mean in his feelings, principles, or propensities, any more than he had anything even moderate in his views, from which he widely differed—a man who was used to be most highly respected—he meant the late Mr. Pitt—became a convert, a disciple, and, practically, an apostle of that school; and it was one of the doctrines of that school, that there ought to be no tax but a land tax; and did Quesnay, the founder of that school, or Mirabeau, who had adopted it, or Turgot, the Minister, who was a convert and an apostle of that school in that country, as Mr. Pitt was to its mitigated form in this—did those individuals—did M. Turgot, for instance, who was prepared to act on that doctrine, really believe that were he, as he intended to do, to abolish all other taxes, except a land tax, then all the taxes would be paid by the land? This doctrine was as irrational as those other doctrines in political economy were sound. Their doctrine was, to establish a despotisme legale, but they had no wish to suppress the landed interest. They wished to resolve every tax into a land-tax, because they held that it must be succeeded by the repartition, and that every one who used bread would pay the tax. Last of all, the advocates of the Corn-law talked of the poor rate. He denied that the land paid all the poor rate. The manufacturer and the inhabitant of the town paid their share. Let them look at Lancashire and the other manufacturing districts, and see what a proportion was paid there. Suppose a man who was proprietor of a mill worth a thousand pounds a-year chose to occupy it, and make a profit of 9,000l. a-year, he was rated only for his profits; but so was the farmer also. If their Lordships rejected this resolution he should divide the House on the question of going into committee to inquire what was expedient to be done with respect to the Corn-laws.
A Noble Lord
asked the noble and learned Lord what remedy he proposed for the Irish population, who would be thrown out of employment by an alteration in the Corn-laws?
said, that such a question was extremely irregular, and the only way to meet it would be to give the noble 621 Lord no answer at all. However, he would tell the noble Lord what his opinion was. It was true, there was no part of the empire whose interests ran so little risk of being neglected in that House as Ireland, because, although he did not grudge it, it appeared to him that nine out of ten days any time during the last twenty years had been occupied with Irish interests. He should just as soon expect, what was almost a miracle, that the interests of Scotland would be neglected.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
said, that if the noble Duke opposite had not withdrawn his motion of the previous question, he should not have been obliged to address their Lordships in order to explain the vote which he was about to give. He felt bound, however, to state, that if he voted against the motion of his noble Friend, it would not be because he wished to preclude the present or any other Government from considering at any time whether it might be expedient to substitute a more efficacious and less objectionable form of protection to the agriculturists of this country than that which now existed, if any such could be found, but because he saw no convenience or advantage in entertaining this question now without being prepared to follow it up by the substitution of some other mode of protection, which the advocates of the motion did not appear prepared to propose, as he might fairly conclude, from the silence studiously observed on that subject. They certainly appeared unprepared to propose such a system, and that must arise either from the impossibility of doing so, or from a total disagreement as to what the system should be. The noble Earl behind him had said, that he should vote in favour of this motion only as a first step; but had he said what his second step would be? How could he, therefore, vote for the first step, without knowing what the second was, which was proposed to be taken? He could not entertain any such proceeding. The objections he felt to this motion were, that if it implied an insulated repeal, it involved consequences which could not be contemplated without apprehension—namely, that there should be no Corn-law whatever, and that the utmost competition of the foreign grower should be allowed against the home grower, instead of the latter sharing that amount of protection to which the producers of all commodities were entitled. To remove the present system of Corn-laws would be 622 to grant a bounty on all applications of capital, except that which was applied to land. Had any Government of this country ever sanctioned a proposition so monstrously absurd as this—that capital was to be forced from application to land, and diverted into every other channel? To take such a course, would be to subvert that system from which the country had derived so much benefit—the application of capital to the progresssive improvement of land. As to the other proposition that had been alluded to—namely, that protection should be withdrawn from the manufactures of the country, he fully concurred in what had been said by a noble Earl, his noble Friend (the Earl of Ripon) opposite—that the thing would be altogether impracticable. The produce of our manufactories, as well as of the land, were in an artificial state of taxation; the country istelf was involved in financial trammels, which, though they impeded, he thanked God, did not arrest, its progress; and, of course, all our produce, whether of agriculture or manufactures, were more or less affected by them. Now, when noble Lords talked of removing that financial pressure from any one, or from all, of the articles of our produce, he should like to be informed how the deficiency which would be thus created in our revenue would be supplied. Let noble Lords who took a different view of this question, from that which he did, show him the source from which the deficiency in the revenue was to be made up, and he would then go into the consideration of the subject; until that should be done, he must object to any proposition which would tend to remove that protection which every article of our produce enjoyed. It was said, that land was less taxed than any other property to which capital was applied. If it could be shown, that it gave a greater share of protection or a greater exemption from taxation, he would admit, that it would be a fair ground for a further consideration of the subject. Under all the circumstances, and there being no substitute proposed for the present law, he must say, that he could not vote for a proposition so indefinite as that before the House. Whenever a definite and tangible proposition should be brought forward, he should be be disposed to give it his best consideration. He must say, however, that if a resolution were proposed, that the present Corn-law had created steady prices, or prevented fluctuation, 623 he could not vote in the affirmative of that proposition; and if it could be shown, the law had a different effect, that it had caused prices to fluctuate and be unsteady then he admitted, it might be worth while to consider whether some means might not be devised to remedy that evil. It might happen, that the application of too great an artificial stimulus to the production of corn, so as to come up to the full consumption of the country, might, by being continued, create an overflow in the market, for which the comparative cheapness of other countries would afford no vent without a ruinous fall of price, and from the injurious effects of which the farmer would not recover for years—a circumstance which would be worse to him than the occasional introduction of some hundred thousand, nay, or even a million quarters of foreign corn. In conclusion, he would observe, that he should feel satisfied if due protection were extended to all the great interests of the country; more he should not desire. If any partiality were shown to the landed interest beyond any other, it must in the first instance, recoil on that interest itself, and that would react unfavourably on the manufacturing interest, for the two were so interwoven and connected that it was impossible the one could be seriously injured, without affecting the other.
The Marquess of Northampton
was understood to say, that he objected to the principle, that because a committee was asked for, it must therefore be granted. It should not be given unless some ground had been laid for it, something definite proposed. Unless that were done, the going into a committee would be only a waste of public time, which would be better bestowed in attention to the important public business of the country. What the House was prepared to affirm by its vote was he thought this, that the noble Earl had not proved his case—but they would not say that a counter case had been proved.
maintained, that who ever negatived the proposition of his noble Friend (Lord Fitzwilliam) must affirm the contrary.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam,
in reply, said this subject must come before the consideration of Parliament, which must lead to some new modelling of this law. A part of his noble Friend's (Lord Lansdowne's) speech had supplied many of the deficiencies in his (Lord Fitwilliams) speech, In 624 describing the difficulties in which the agricultural interest was placed, what in common parlance they should call the blessing of consecutive abundant harvests became, according to his noble friend, the curse of plenty. The price of corn in this country was such that when you had this curse of plenty upon you, it operated as a curse. The farmers of England reaped no benefit from the price which corn obtained in this country over every other. They could not have the advantage of exporting the article which they reaped in such abundance. This was one of the great evils of the system, and one from which they could not escape, so long as they were pleased to keep up the protecting duty on corn. With regard to the question of the noble Marquess opposite, as to how those who wished to alter the Corn-laws meant to provide for Ireland, he could only say that he had as great an interest in the prosperity of Ireland as anybody could have. But it appeared to him that they took their own fears and apprehensions, as he thought a great many other persons did, to reason upon, instead of reasoning upon facts. The assumption, of course, was, that the effect of altering the Corn-laws would be exceedingly detrimental to Ireland. He had desired in an early part of the evening a definition of what Ireland meant, because it did not mean the interests of the landlords of Ireland, but it meant what was the interest of the great mass of the population. He believed, that no change in the Corn-laws would inflict any evil upon the population of Ireland. One of the great evils of Ireland was, that good food, which might be called luxurious food, was beyond the reach of the population of Ireland, and was mainly put beyond their reach by its price. Let them lower the price of grain, and the people of Ireland were not so enamoured of potatoes but that they would eat bread if they could. But that the landlords of Ireland might have their rents reduced by it was just possible; though on that point he was not at all satisfied.
§ Their Lordships divided:—Content 14, Proxies 10–24; Not-Content 111, Proxies 113–224: Majority 200.
|List of the CONTENTS.|
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS.|
|His Royal Highnes the||Longford|
|Duke of Cambridge||Wicklow|
|The Lord Chancellor||Clare|
|Cardigan||Bath and Wells|
|Kinnoul||Willoughby de Eresby|
|Oxford||Say and Sele|
|Hill||Stuart de Rothesay|
|Winchilsea||Willoughby de Broke|
|St. Germans||De Saumarez|