HL Deb 18 March 1839 vol 46 cc798-801
The Earl of Mountcashell

presented a petition from the County of Cork against any alteration of the Corn-laws. As he had not had an opportunity of expressing his sentiments on this important subject on a former evening, he trusted their Lordships would permit him to make a few observations in regard to the effects which he conceived a repeal of the Corn-laws would produce as respected Ireland. Ireland would, in his opinion, be the greatest sufferer by a repeal of the Corn-laws, because Ireland was not a manufacturing country, and was dependent almost entirely upon agriculture. If sufficient remuneration were not afforded to the growers of corn in Ireland, a great number of farms would be laid down in grass, and the people would, in consequence, suffer severely, as they would not be able to export such a quantity of agricultural produce as they had hitherto done. But a large portion of land would inevitably be thrown out of cultivation altogether, and the effect of such a step would be to throw a large number of labourers out of employment, and in Ireland the difficulty of obtaining work was very great. The land, too, being turned into pasture, the price of potatoes would increase, and as potatoes were the chief means of subsistence of the poor, the labourer, while he had less employment, would also be less able to provide for himself and family, because of the increase in the price of provisions. But that was not all, for if a number of labourers were thrown out of employment, the price of labour would be reduced by the competition which would take place, so that while there was little employment, and while provisions were at a high price, their means of obtaining the necessaries of life would at the same time be greatly diminished. He had little hesitation in saying, that the effect of a repeal of the Corn-laws would be to reduce the already low price of labour in Ireland by 3d. or 4d. per day. Their Lordships were aware of the advantages which the poor in Ireland derived from the rearing of pigs, but if the quantity of potatoes raised was diminished on account of the number of farms turned into grass, and if the price of all other kinds of agricultural produce were increased,—and such would be the effects of a repeal of the system of Corn-laws,—it would be no longer possible for the poor to rear the same quantity of pigs as before, and they would suffer very severely in consequence. It was, however, argued, that the landlords must reduce their rents; but those who knew anything of Ireland must be well aware of the difficulties in the way of such a step. A great number of the Irish estates were heavily encumbered, and the landlords had to maintain their families, to pay the interest of mortgages and debts, so that in many cases a reduction of rents would be attended with very great hardship. In his opinion a repeal of the Corn-laws would, cause some degree of suffering to the landlords; but the farmers would suffer still more, and the labourers and poor most of all. Such, in his opinion, would be the effects of the repeal as regarded Ireland. With respect to England, he thought the manufacturers themselves would ultimately suffer more from a repeal of the Corn-laws than the landlords or farmers. It was allowed that the home market was by far the most valuable for the manufacturers, and who were the purchasers in the home market? In the home-market the landlords, farmers, and labourers, were the chief consumers, and if the income of the landlords, farmers, and labourers were diminished, it would be impossible they could continue to consume the same quantity of manufactures as they did at present. It was impossible they could do so; and it was clear, that in proportion as their means were diminished, the less would they consume of the manufacturing produce of the country. It was plain, therefore, that although the agriculturists would suffer in the first place, the manufacturers would ultimately suffer, and more severely. A repeal of the Corn-laws would, he was persuaded, be ruinous to the country. It was calculated that the landed property of the United Kingdom was worth 3,258,000,000l., and if the Corn-laws were repealed, and the rents diminished but one third, what would be the effect as regarded property? In such a case the value of the whole landed property would be reduced one-third,—that is, the value of the land would be reduced by upwards of 1,000,000,0001l., or 200,000,000l., more than the amount of the national debt. He begged their Lordships to consider what the effect of such a reduction would be on the national debt. A great number of foreigners had invested their capital in the English funds, and if the value of the land were diminished to such an extent, would not a question arise with those foreigners whether their security was not so greatly decreased as to make it prudent for them to sell out? And what would be the effect of such a step? The inevitable consequence would be a large fall in the price of stock, so that the English capitalists would suffer severely. But there was another point of view in which the question ought to be considered. A repeal of the Corn-laws would diminish the consumption of all articles on which Customs and Excise were levied, and the consequence would be a falling-off in the national revenue, and Ministers would have nothing to pay off the interest of the debt, and support the various institutions of the State. For these reasons he could not but think, that the repeal of the Corn-laws would be a measure equally impolitic and ill-advised. If there was not enough of corn raised in this country, he wished they would give some encouragement to our American colonies; and if the duty were considerably reduced, and colonial corn admitted, such a course would be of the greatest advantage to Canada.

Petition lard on the Table.