§ Earl Fitzwilliam
was quite ready to move the order of the day, but so many whispers had come to his ears that he rather expected that there would have been some proposition to him to postpone the consideration of the subject. He understood some noble Lords were of opinion that it would be more complimentary, and decorous to her Majesty not to proceed under existing circumstances to any other business, after agreeing to the Address. He confessed that, individually he thought they would be paying her Majesty a very bad compliment in supposing that she would desire that any important business should be postponed.
The Marquess of Londonderry,
suggested to the noble Earl whether, under circumstances so extraordinary, it would not be more decorous to postpone the subject, more especially as all the precedents were in favour of that course?
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
really wished only to do that which was most satisfactory to the great mass of their Lordships, and he thought that the general feeling was that he ought not to postpone the subject. His own opinion was, that it would be best to proceed. He gathered, too, that it was the wish of the House that he should at once proceed with the motion of which he had given notice, and he was at all times desirous to comply with that wish, when to do so was in his power and it involved no sacrifice of principle. He was well aware that in approaching this subject, and in bringing it under their Lordships' consideration, he was mooting a question—he would not presume to say upon which their Lordships had made up their minds, although such an assertion had been made, but upon which he thought he might say that much prejudice existed, or on which at least very strong opinions were entertained in a direction opposed to the conclusion which he advocated. But he trusted that upon this occasion, as upon all others, their Lordships would not so much consider the individual who 992 addressed them, as the hundreds, the thousands—nay, he might say the millions, of whom he was the organ. He did not exaggerate when he talked of the millions whom he represented, because he believed that the actual number of petitioners at the bar of Parliament exceeded the number of a million. Nor was it unnatural that their Lordships should be so addressed under the present circumstances. In some of the conversations which had formerly taken place upon this subject, it had been his lot to maintain that the people of England had been for many months suffering from severe privation. He would not say, that that proposition had been denied, but there had been an endeavour at least made to show that he had taken an exaggerated view of the subject. In support of the contradiction given to his statement, reference had been made to the average prices of corn, as returned in the Gazette. Those averages, however, did not present to their Lordships a fair view of the prices of bread, corn, or of the rate at which the people of England were fed. It had been the misfortune of this country to have recently experienced two, if not three, bad harvests, but certainly two of them were exceedingly bad. Their Lordships would see that a scarcity might arise from various circumstances— from the crop being bad, although the harvest was good—from the harvest being bad, although the crop should be good— or, lastly, from a combination of the two evils of a bad crop and a bad harvest. The crops of last year were not deficient, but the harvest, their Lordships knew, was unfavourable, and the consequences had been, first, that a very large proportion of bad corn had been introduced into the markets; and, next, that the averages had been brought down far below the point, at which the people of England were supplied with food. The average prices had not been extravagantly high, but had ranged about the prices at which the framers of the present law conceived probable—between 65s. and 70s. per quarter—during the last winter. Those prices, however, did not at all represent to their Lordships the means which the people of England had had of supplying themselves with food. If their Lordships would turn to any of those periodical papers, in which statements were made as to the prices of corn in the leading markets of this country—he meant mar- 993 kets of consumption, as contradistinguished from those of production, those which provided for the support and sustenance of the great masses of the people of England, such as those of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Wakefield, they would find that when the average price had been perhaps about 65s. or 68s. per quarter for the best corn, he meant that description of corn of which the bread usually consumed was made—the price quoted was as high as from 77s. to 80s. There had been much greater differences, as would naturally be the case, between the average prices as returned in the Gazette, and the highest prices of corn during the last year, than they would ordinarily find. In many years they would find that the highest priced corn was not more than from 5s. to 6s. above the Gazette averages, but during the last year it had ranged at from 10s. to 12s. above the averages. He dwelt upon the subject, because it had struck him in meeting the question before, that it was one which had not before presented itself to their Lordships' minds in this point of view. It was a curious fact, and one to which it was most desirable that they should pay attention. There had been often a sort of dispute, rather of words than of facts, between him and some other persons, as to what had been the intentions of the Legislature in enacting the Corn-laws. He had sometimes presumed to state, that the design of the Legislature had been to raise the prices of corn, and he had been corrected. He had been told that it was not so; that the Legislature would never do anything so improper, and that their object was not to raise the price of corn, but to regulate it. Now, if that were really true, it did not appear to him that legislators had been remarkably successful in their endeavours. It would be necessary here to revert, not merely to the present state of the law, but to the law for which the present law was substituted; and he must say, that he thought that the present law was an improvement upon that which had before existed, although it was of the same character, and tended in the same direction towards the same point. He begged first to draw their Lordships' attention to the fact, that the present system of Corn-laws was perfectly novel to this country. The elder portion of their Lordships must be aware of that circumstance from their own knowledge 994 and recollection, while the younger portion of their number must have learned it from their reading, and from those sources, of information which were open to them. It never before was the system of this country to endeavour to exclude foreign corn, either for the purpose of regulating or of raising the price of corn, he did not care which, from this country until the year 1815. The law of that year, their Lordships knew, was prefaced by a committee of the House of Commons, which sat in the year 1814. The whole gist of the inquiry by that committee was to show, that we could not introduce corn into this country at less than 80s. per quarter. The object of the law of 1815, was to secure the English farmer the price-of 80s. per quarter, and they all knew how that law had been carried into effect or rather how the object sought to be attained had failed. While the law was in its full vigour during the disasters of 1821 and 1822, the prices fell to below 40s., and in those years the great mass of the farmers were ruined, and the landowners themselves were so far involved as to be obliged to reduce their rents. Thus the law itself had been productive of the greatest possible injury to the interests it was designed to protect—the agricultural interests. He was not desirous of troubling their Lordships by reading long extracts, but, lest this should be thought to be a dictum of his own, he begged to read two or three pieces of evidence on this point which had been given before the Committee of the House of Commons in 1836. These pieces of evidence were well worthy of attention, for they came from a class of persons from whom the best and soundest information had always been obtained on agricultural questions—he meant the farmers of the southern part of Scotland. To a witness of the name of Hope, who lived somewhere in the county of Haddington, this question (No. 9,661) was put—Were the money-rents fixed under the operation Of the law of 1815?His answer was,Yes, under the expectation that the price of wheat would be maintained at something like what the Corn-law proposed.But the price proposed was not maintained: on the contrary, while the Corn-law proposed 80s. in the year 1821–22, the price was not above 39s. The Corn- 995 law therefore never had—it never could, and never would, attain the object proposed. The witness was next asked—Then, how has the Corn-law disappointed the expectations of the farmers?He answered,Because it led those who took farms at money-rents to give much higher rents than otherwise they would have done.No doubt it did; the Legislature had by that law held out great expectations to the farmer; it had induced false hopes, and under those false hopes, one-half of the farmers of England had been ruined. It was an ill-advised act of friendship thus to deceive them. A noble Friend on the cross-benches reminded him of the state of the currency question at that time. But had the currency anything to do with the present state of things? Certainly not. In 1821, after the Currency Bill of 1819 had passed, there were some grounds for saying, that the currency had something to do with the distress and disasters which at time existed; but what had the alteration of the currency to do with the distresses which affected the agricultural classes in 1831, 1832, 1834, 1835, and 1836? Absolutely nothing, and therefore, he was warranted in saying, that the alteration in the currency was not even a cause, still less the main cause, of effecting those distresses. To another question put to him, the same gentleman (Mr. Hope) answered,I think, by the present working of the Corn-laws, that prices may run too high, in years of scarcity, for the interests of the farmers.This was a very remarkable operation of the Corn-laws upon those who were paying corn-rents.Before any foreign corn can be introduced prices may run up so high as to be prejudicial to the farmers, because, in 1831, they could not grow so much wheat as would pay their rent. This is prejudicial to those who paid money-rent, because I am sure, that if they had not believed the Corn-laws, they would not have paid so much money-rent.He had frequently stated this in that House, and it gave him great satisfaction to find, that he could support his own statements by the evidence of farmers, because it had sometimes been said that he was not the farmer's friend, while he was a better friend to the farmer than those who deluded the farmer by endea- 996 vouring to make him obtain prices and pay rents he never could obtain or pay. The next witness to whom he would refer was Mr. Howden. This gentleman, who lived in East Lothian, had given evidence before the same Committee, and having in the early part of his statement declared, that the farmers in his neighbourhood were ruined, he was asked,What is the reason of the farmers having all gone away?Now, let their Lordships mark his answer. His answer was:—Money rents were exacted from them. They all conceived, that they were to have 80s. per quarter, and their calculations were made upon that supposition. It soon appeared that these expectations could not be realized, and the rents were not converted into corn rents, and ruin has been the consequence.And so it would be always, as regarded the manufacturer or the agriculturist alternately, so long as Parliament persisted in maintaining the present system of laws; and he said, "the present system of laws," because it was not the law of 1815, for that was a part only of the system; and he declared his belief again, that so long as the existing law continued, we should never experience any real prosperity. It was said by one of the early writers upon political economy, that when "it was well with the land, it was well with trade." Their Lordships had had the singular misfortune of so contriving-their legislation as to render this coincidence of good fortune absolutely impossible. Since 1815 it had never taken place; and he thought, that, he was not presuming too much in saying that it never would occur. Whenever the farmers had prospered, as during the last year, the manufacturers had complained, [a laugh] The noble Earl opposite (Earl Stanhope) smiled at that, but it was the fact. [Hear, hear! from Earl Stanhope.] The noble Earl admitted the truth of what he had said. Mr. Howden was afterwards asked:—In your opinion, did the Corn-law of 1815 deceive both the landlord and the tenant?—It did. I believe, that the calculation which they made at that time was almost universally 4l. per quarter.Then, the Corn-law having promised the price of 80s. failed in performing that promise?—Yes.Their Lordships might suppose, that this was a set of questions put to the wit 997 ness, in order to entrap him into answers favourable to some particular view of a Member of the Committee; but who was it that had put them?—Mr. Cayley, the Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire, whom he might describe as protection personified. These were not answers wrung from an unwilling witness, but they came from a person boldly and unhesitatingly, in answer to questions put by an individual whose opinions tended in a direction opposed to the tenour of the replies which were elicited. This examination related to the effects of the law of 1815, he would next advert to the law of 1828, under which we were now living. The witness was asked, in reference to the law of 1828:—You have spoken of some of the evils of the Corn-laws of 1815, are you well satisfied with the present Corn-law of 1828?His answer was:—That is a subject which I am not able to grapple with; but as far as I could form a judgment I was pleased with the scheme before it was put in action; but now it has been of no benefit to the farmer, for the last three years, I confess I should have preferred a moderate fixed duty, but that is a subject into which I shall not enter.[A Noble Lord: What is the date of that evidence?] It was given before a Select Committee of the House of Commons which sat in 1836. He would only read one more piece of evidence as to the same point. Mr. Ellis, a grazier near Leicester, said:—I think, the present duty is too high (that was in April, 1836, when the prices and the duties were correspondingly high), for this reason, that I think it gives a fictitious value to land. It gives the farmers an expectation of something to come to their relief, which can never arrive, and therefore, it gives land a fictitious value.Most perfectly did he agree with that expression of opinion. He had seen the failings of rent in 1821 and 1822; there was a rally in 1824, and then he saw many gentlemen raise their rents. The question was entirely one of rent. It was misunderstood, he believed, grossly misunderstood, by the landed gentry, and the Peers of England. They did not comprehend their own interests. They looked lo the next rent day, without referring to their own interests, or to the interest of those who rented land under them. He did not believe, that they did it with any 998 improper feeling or motives, and in all that he had ever said, he had always declared, that he thought, that they had not considered the subject beyond its very surface. They did not enter into the real question in dispute. They did not examine into all the ramifications of it, and they did not see how the value of the land was operated upon by its connection with the great mass of the population. They did not act upon the wise principle so well expressed by Sir Josiah Child, that "when it was well with trade, it was well with the land." That the prosperity of both could not be coincidental was to be attributed to the artificial mode in which the price of land and the price of food was raised. Nature was contravened, and an artificial system was established, and, therefore, the prosperity of both interests did not, and could not, go together. Let them, then adopt a more natural system; let them take courage, and not yield to wretched apprehensions. They might be assured, that there existed no real cause for apprehension. The poor land of England would never be thrown again out of employment, it could not be again thrown out of cultivation—Lincoln Heath would never appear again, and Norfolk and Suffolk can never be again reduced to the condition in which it was described to have been, when it was said, that there was one blade of grass, and two rabbits fighting for it. But what made this impossible? It was the two millions of people within. I the bills of mortality—the 200,000 people in Glasgow, and more than double that number congregated about Manchester. This was a reason which made it vain to seek any other cause. They might look for it in every other source which presented itself, but they would never secure the coincidence suggested, so long as they had such a state of things as was now in existence. That state of things it was impossible to exaggerate. He had warned the noble Viscount at the head of the Administration, on the first day of the Session in that House, and subsequently in private, that there had been no improvement at all, and he would be bound to say, that if they were now to institute a committee for the purpose of inquiring into the state of the manufacturing districts, they would discover a state of things to exist, much worse than they could otherwise imagine. Were the Corn-laws the cause of that? He did not say that they were the im- 999 mediate cause; but he said that they had a great deal to do with producing that state of things, which was the immediate cause. He said that the Corn-laws had been active agents in producing the present state of things between this country and America, and he was warranted in so stating, because our representative in America, Mr. Addington, wrote home expressly to declare, that the present American tariff was caused principally by our Corn-laws. The Corn-laws might not be the immediate cause of distress, but when distress was caused by other circumstances, that the Corn-laws were a grievous aggravation of that distress, it was impossible for any human being to deny. The price of flour was now 3s. a stone, and that was the consequence of the Corn-laws, which it was said were not intended to raise the price of corn. If, however, they did not raise the price, the support of the Corn-laws was absurd. If they were meant to benefit the farmer, they must obtain for him a higher price for his corn; and if they did not do this, what were they for? He said, then, that they did raise the price of corn under certain circumstances. Mind, he did not say under all circumstances. What were the circumstances under which the Corn-laws could have the effect of raising the price of corn? Would they raise it when there was an abundant harvest, when they had more corn than they wanted, when they had an overflow? No. They did not at such a time raise the price. In 1834, 1835, and 1836, they did not raise; the price. In 1835, indeed, the price was lower than it had ever been since the year 1793. But they did raise the price of corn when there was a scarcity. Exactly at the moment when it should be the object of a wise legislature to diminish the price of corn, in came the Corn-laws and raised the price. The unhallowed alliance between the Corn-laws and scarcity had raised the price of corn as much as 12s. or 14s. He said, then, that, the Corn-laws were a grievous aggravation of the distresses of the people; that they were a grievous aggravation of the distresses of the manufacturing capitalists, that they were a grievous aggravation of the distressed state of the manufacturing labourers. They involved the manufacturing capitalists in difficulty because they stopped the course of our trade with other countries; they aggravated the dis- 1000 tress of the manufacturing labourers, because they raised the price of that commodity on which they must be maintained. Let them not imagine that the effect on the agricultural labourer was much better. The agricultural labourer at 8s. or 9s. per week knew well that a high price of corn did not raise wages. In language more honest than complimentary, Mr. Burke had said that, "the squires of Norfolk had dined when they gave it as their opinion that wages might fluctuate with the price of corn." They did no such thing. It was the mere gift of the farmer when he raised his wages with the increased price of corn. It was no sound arrangement of the proper price of wages between the employer and the employed. The increase was not made in every part of England. In many parts of England he believed that the wages of the labourers did not rise in consequence of the high price of provisions. The agricultural labourers, therefore, received no more benefit from the high price of corn, than did the manufacturing labourers. True it was that the agricultural labourers received only 8s. or 9s., whilst the manufacturing labourers received from 12s. to 13s., and it might be said that the manufacturing labourer ought to think himself very well off because he got the larger amount. So some persons might say, that if their Lordships' incomes were reduced to hundreds a-year instead of thousands, they ought to think themselves very well off. But well off was a matter of comparison as to what a man was used to, and what the demands of his state of life were. The manufacturing labourer had many calls upon him for expense which the agricultural labourer had not. Again, the manufacturing labourer was engaged in a very disagreeable occupation, which always had an influence in regulating the price of wages, whilst the agricultural labourer was engaged in an employment that was very agreeable. Such considerations always affected wages; thus they must give more to a scavenger than to a ploughman, because the former was a very disagreeable occupation. It would not do to say, therefore, that the manufacturing labourers had actually higher wages, for they had not even nominally higher wages, because, in consequence of manufacturing distress, it was necessary to employ the manufacturing labourers in occupations to which they were not used, 1001 and in which, consequently, they could not earn high wages. He, therefore, took leave to say that the Corn-laws were at the present moment operating with great severity against the people of England. He said, further, that their Lordships had the means of alleviating this distress; and he ventured humbly to think that they ought to do it; whether they would do it, he did not know. He believed that at that instant they might alleviate this suffering. Were their Lordships aware of the amount of the debt due to this country from the United States of America? He did not know the exact sum, but it amounted to several millions. He knew, however, that America had the means of discharging that debt. He knew, also, that they had the will to discharge that debt, and although their Lordships were not connected with the manufacturing interests, he would venture to say that some of them knew this to be the fact. He said, therefore, that their Lordships might do a great deal by an immediate consideration of the law towards the relief of the manufacturing and commercial capitalists. He was aware that appeals of this description were not listened to with any great affection in that House. In matters of indifference, he would always endeavour to do what was agreeable to their Lordships, if he could, but he would never think merely of pleasing their Lordships, if it was necessary that he should state the truth. The fact was, that their Lordships were indisposed to entertain this question; they did not like that it should be mooted; they did not like any conversation to take place upon it; the still small voice within them told them that the present system could not last, unless they were prepared to brave the execration of their fellow-subjects. He said boldly, that unless they were prepared to brave a great degree of dislike, to submit to general opprobrium, they must abandon the present system. How long it would last he could not tell. It might be for another year, or for three or four or five years, but so long as it remained they would have constant alternations of prosperity and distress. They could not have the prosperity of the two classes at the same time; the concurrent prosperity of both was impossible under the present system. Therefore it was that he thought their Lordships would act with great wisdom, if they would agree with him in reconsidering this subject. When 1002 the corn-laws were passed, he remembered that a right hon. Friend of his, who was now a Member of their Lordships' House, though he regretted that he was not present, whose duty he believed it was to move the question in the House of Commons, or at any rate who took part in the debate, had said that the law which he was then proposing "was a good temporary alteration of the then law." He never said that it would be permanently good—he was a man of too large a range of intellect to be of that opinion. It was undoubtedly a great improvement of the law as it at that time existed; and although the right hon. Gentleman did not propose it technically as a temporary measure, he certainly did not offer it as the best system under which corn could be permanently imported, but as the best amendment that could at that time be made in the existing system. In that alteration, he had then concurred, and he thought that he, and those who acted with him, had done right. He thought that it was a useful change of the preceding system; but the question now was, not whether the present system were better than the preceding, but whether it were a system to which they could permanently adhere? It was not the system of 1815; it did not pretend to cause absolute exclusion, but it did in effect cause such an exclusion by means of the high duties which took place at particular periods, and so increased the price of corn, as to have practically the effect of excluding foreign corn from this country, till the home-grown corn had arrived at a very high price. Any one who had examined the operation of the present duties, who had looked into the price of corn in foreign ports, the costs of transhipment, and the vicissitudes of the voyage, would see that no one engaged in the foreign corn trade could afford to sell at a less price than 64s. or 65s. a quarter. The corn-laws had, therefore, the effect of causing a practical exclusion of foreign corn, till the home corn reached that price. And here, if his noble Friend on the cross-benches (the Duke of Richmond) were to say that there was some effect produced by the currency, he would admit that, to a certain degree, he thought there was. In that view 64s. in 1838 implied a great deal more than 64s. in 1815. For taking Mr. Ricardo's, which was the lowest estimate of the depreciation of the currency, and setting 1003 it at five per cent, only, 64s. or 65s. in 1838 would be equal to 67s. or 68s. in 1815. They were thus excluding corn up to about 70s. in price. True it was that the former law of 1815 made an absolute exclusion up to 80s., and the amount was thus lowered by the present law; yet the practical effect of the law was the same at both periods; namely, to exclude the foreign corn. The principal argument in favour of the exclusion of foreign corn was propounded at that time by an eminent man out of Parliament, and was adopted by many persons in Parliament, he meant Mr. Malthus—who proposed the exclusion of foreign corn, because he wished for a national independence, and to make us independent of foreign supply, we must secure for ourselves a domestic supply. There might or might not be sound policy in that view. He was not going into that question. His noble Friend said, that it was an important question; it might have been an important question; but when all experience had since shewn them that they could not do without foreign corn, there was an end of the importance of the question. He had lately heard the head of a republican Government on the other side of the Atlantic, lauded in quarters which were not wont to praise republican institutions or democratic presidents, because he had said, that the worst evil that could befal a country was, to be dependent on other countries for a supply of corn. Now he thought that the President of the United States was in the best possible place to deliver such a dictum. The President of the United Sates, whose land was most plentiful, might, without inconvenience, say, that one of the greatest advantages a country could possess was, that it should be independent of other countries for a supply of corn. Therefore he could not depend on the authority of Mr. Van Buren, although he was a most respectable and able man, quite so much as if he were the first governor of a country in which it might be necessary occasionally to introduce foreign corn. The fact was, that we had not, for many years, been able to do without foreign corn, and we could not. And let their Lordships mark what was the condition of the farmers when, for a year or two, little or no foreign corn was imported. We did without foreign corn in 1834, in 1835, and 1836. What was the consequence? The farmers appeared as suitors at the 1004 bar, and prayed for an alteration of the corn-laws. They did all that they could to induce the other House of Parliament to appoint Committees to inquire into the cause of the agricultural distress, and the last thing they desired was, an alteration in the corn-laws. If they came to the legislature for amendment in their condition, they must wish for some alteration of the existing law, but what was the exact change they wished he did not know, and he believed that the farmers did not know themselves. Now, the very same parties came forward, and said that they did not want any change. That was the the strange part of the subject. When, like the United States, we were doing without foreign corn, they had the farmers at their bar complaining of agricultural distress. Now that we were importing corn they had the manufacturers at their bar complaining of manufacturing distress, and ascribing the evil directly to the corn-laws. Particular and excellent advice was given in 1836 to the farmers, to which he was most desirous of calling the attention of their Lordships. It came with great weight, and as things of great weight ought to come, at the peroration to the labours of the Committee for that year. The very last part of the evidence before the Committee was worthy of the high authority from which it proceeded; it was a most wise piece of advice, it was most honestly given, he hoped that the farmers had listened to it with the respect that was due to the giver, and he trusted that it had sunk deep into the minds of those to whom it was addressed, so that if, by the blessing of Providence, in 1840 we should have an abundant harvest, and, as one good harvest would not do, since they they might depend upon it there would not be a low price of corn in England till after the harvest of 1840, if the next harvest being abundant it should be succeeded by abundant harvests in 1841, 1842, and 1843, he sincerely trusted that the persons to whom the wise admonition of 1836 was addressed would recollect it, and not appear again at their bar, complaining of agricultural distress. He hoped also that the most statesmanlike advice which closed the evidence to which he had referred, would sink deep into their Lordships' minds, and that they would get rid of all attempts to interfere with the trade in corn. Every Wednesday their Lordships were now interfering with every market in Eng- 1005 land, and he did expect that they would attend to the oracular opinion to which he was now about to refer. After the whole of the questions to be asked by Members of the Committee had been exhausted, the chairman, who was now the Speaker of the other House, put this question—Can your Lordship suggest any legislative measure, unconnected with the currency, by which the interests of the agriculturists can be relieved, without prejudice to the other interests of the community.To which the noble Lord to whom the question was put (Lord Ashburton) thus answered—I really do not know anything that can be done for the agriculturists, but to tell them honestly, that no parliamentary relief is possible. I am not aware of anything that can be done for agriculture by Parliament.Most sincerely did he (Earl Fitzwilliam) subscribe to that opinion. He was too well aware of what was the effect of all these mischievous attempts to benefit the agriculturist at the expense of the other interests of the community, not to concur fully in that opinion. It was that opinion which he was desirous to enforce upon their Lordships. [Lord Ashburton.—May I ask the noble Earl, is that my answer that he quotes?] Yes. He was certain that the true system was contained in that answer. It was with that view he asked their Lordships to consider whether their weekly interference with every market in England was wise, and after disposing of the general question of the propriety of interfering with all interests to benefit one, to say whether they did really, by such interference, benefit agriculture itself? Non-interference was the old view which ought never to have been departed from. He remembered that he had been told, on former occasions, that there had always been corn-laws. No doubt there had. Some persons doubted whether he knew that fact. He knew it full well, but he knew also that they had never had any corn-laws in this country with the present object. They had never had such laws till 1815, when, in an ill-omened hour, the country gentlemen of England thought that they were all going to be ruined by the return of peace [the Duke of Richmond: No.] No, said his noble Friend. Why, the whole gist of the legislation of of 1815, the whole view of those who passed, the corn-laws, was to maintain the 1006 landed interest. He was happy to say, however, that this interest was so rooted in the affections of the great part of the community, that it needed none of these wretched attempts, these miserable plans, to prop it up. The agricultural interest rested upon too stable a foundation to lack any such assistance. After all, however, the Legislature did not do what they attempted. They told the farmers in 1815, that they were to have corn at 80s. They did not have it at 80s. and they were ruined. They told the farmers in 1828, that the price of wheat was to be 70s. per quarter, it had fallen to 35s. They had not attained their object—they had only tried the most monstrous system that had ever been attempted by an enlightened body of men. They might succeed in years of scarcity, but when there was an abundant harvest, the power was at an end, the bounty of Providence took the power entirely away from them, and the agriculturists were ruined under the law of 1828, that was to be their protection. These were the reasons why he believed that it would be wise to reconsider the law; he believed that till their Lordships did reconsider it, they would, year by year, have this alternation of the complaints of one class, and statements of the prosperity of the other. The two classes could not go on prosperously together, for, however closely they might be linked together under a natural system, yet the moment they established an artificial system, the concurrent prosperity of the two classes was impossible. Therefore, his strong recommendation was, being desirous of benefitting the agricultural class as well as the manufacturing, and not caring a snap of the finger between the two, and being sure that these laws injured both, they should cast aside their wretched fears and alter the present law. As to the independence of the country, he recollected that, in the midst of a most inveterate war; he remembered that in 1810, when the continent seemed more closed against this country than it had ever been, and when there was the most inveterate personal hatred, now happily got rid of, between the citizens of this country and the citizens of the country on the other side of the British channel—he recollected that even at that time a supply of French corn came into the English market. That it was essential to the political independence of this country that we should ex- 1007 clude foreign corn was a notion that might have been impressed on the minds of some parties during the progress of a war unequalled in the annals of modern Europe, but to suppose, upon a calm consideration, that our national independence would be affected by the necessity for an importation of five hundred thousand or a million quarters of corn, was one of the wildest notions that had ever entered the mind of any individual. Then, with respect to the effect of an alteration of the Corn-laws upon cultivation. In those districts in the country which were best cultivated, where the landowners and occupiers were the most intelligent, and in which the greatest amount of practical knowledge and of theoretical science was brought to bear upon agriculture, there was the least desire for the maintenance of the Corn-laws. But in proportion as they went into counties which were little advanced, in which there was the least knowledge of the theory and practice of agriculture, and in which the culture was in the lowest state, they would find that the desire for these laws was the strongest. It would be invidious to enumerate particular districts, but if their Lordships would look at the petitions that had been presented to that House in favour of these laws, he would venture to say they would find the greater portion came from those counties which were not naturally the poorest, but from those which were the worst cultivated; and that the smallest portion came from those districts which were best cultivated. He thought that he might say that this would be found to be the fact. There was no rational ground, then, for fearing either for the independence of the country, or of the poorer lands being to any extent, by any conceivable diminution of price, thrown out of cultivation. There was no rational ground for apprehension on that point. He would not deny that it was possible that the rent of some of the worst lands of England might necessarily be lowered. He thought it possible, but he believed that even that would be to a very limited extent. What during the last twenty-five years—that was, since the enactment of 1815—had been the changes introduced in practical and theoretical agriculture? There had been a greater advance made in this country in agricultural science, aye, and in the practical application of that science, in the cultivation of the soil, than had been 1008 made in a century before. The effect of it had been to make what was once very bad land, pretty tolerable land. He would not say that the worst lands of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Nottinghamshire, were equal to the deep loam of Shropshire or Warwickshire; but he would say, that such an advance had been made in the application of manure and of practical science to those lands, as to make the supposition, that those districts would ever be thrown out of cultivation by any change of the Corn-laws, or even by the sweeping them all away this moment, perfectly ridiculous and absurd. He entertained not the least doubt that quite as much corn would be grown in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Nottingham, in time to come, were the Corn-laws abolished now, as was raised in those counties at present. He did not say that it would not be necessary to reduce the rents of those lands, but that was another consideration, a consideration which their Lordships must put far from them. If the tenth part of the lands of the eastern counties were to be thrown out of cultivation, he did not conceive it would at all affect the essential interests of the country. It might be a matter of consequence to a few individuals, but after all the landowners were a very small body compared with the great bulk of the population. They were a very respectable body, a very influential, and a very wealthy body. There were many owners of small portions of land, of four or five acres or so, but these, though numerous, could not be properly called landowners, nor could their holdings be called land, in the sense in which the cultivation of it was matter of consequence. The owners of agricultural land were a very small body of persons. He apprehended there were not more than 30,000 or 40,000 persons who could in any sense be considered as owners of land in England; he repeated they were very wealthy, very powerful, and very respectable persons, but they were not numerous; therefore, when their Lordships were considering what was good for the nation at large, the landowners were, perhaps, of all persons the last to be considered in that point of view. Admitting their respectability, their wealth, and their power, still they were not numerous—they were not a class sufficiently great for their Lordships, as legislators, to be justified in sacrificing other interests to that of the land, And yet their Lordships did sacri- 1009 fice other interests to it. The whole argument in favour of these laws was founded upon the necessity of maintaining what was called the landed interest. That was, at once admitting, that their Lordships were to maintain that interest at the expense of other interests; and that, in fact, they did deal with the landed interest in a more favourable manner than they dealt with any other interest. They gave no similar boon to any other class of the community; they gave no similar boon to the fundholder; they gave no similar boon to the manufacturer; they gave no similar boon to capital of any other description. They said to the capitalists of other descriptions, "Exercise your trade: we will admit foreign commodities to compete with you.'' ["Hear, hear" from Lord Wynford,] The noble and learned Lord did not like to be touched there, because, when he had presented a petition upon this subject, the noble and learned Lord put this question to him: "Will the manufacturers agree to give up the protection which they have?" He answered, that he had not been in communication with those persons, still he knew pretty well that they were prepared to give up that protection. But could the protection which the manufacturers had for a moment be compared with the protection which the landed proprietor enjoyed? The very attempt to institute a comparison between the two cases was monstrous. What was the scheme of Mr. Huskisson and Mr. Wallace, now Lord Wallace, and a Member of their Lordships' House? They proposed that the manufacturers of this country might have a protection duty of thirty per cent. It was very difficult, he knew, to calculate these things exactly, but that was the object of the law. But what was the protection which the farmers had? Why it was exclusion. It was exclusion at 64s. or 65s. a quarter, effected by a duty. If their Lordships, after comparing the amount of duty which was levied upon foreign corn with the price of that foreign corn, should tell him that it was not much more than thirty per cent., it would only show, that on the part of those who maintained that doctrine there was very great ignorance upon this subject. To say that a duty from 20s. to 25s. a quarter upon foreign wheat was not a great deal more than thirty per cent, upon the price of wheat coming from Dantzic or Odessa, was perfectly ridiculous. It 1010 was a great deal more. Taking the price of wheat at Dantzic at 40s. a quarter, a duty of 20s. would amount to a protection of above fifty per cent.; but it was not merely a duty of fifty per cent,, which these laws gave, that constituted the great grievance, but it was that during a great range of prices the laws amounted actually to an exclusion of foreign corn. There was a total difference between a duty without exclusion, and an exclusive protection effected by means of a duty. Therefore he was warranted in saying, that the Legislature had dealt much more favourably with the landed interest, and it thought it dealt more favourably with the agricultural interest, than it did with any other class in this country. It might be wise so to do; it might be just so to do; but he confessed, that neither the wisdom nor the justice of it was very perceptible to him. He could not for his life understand why they were to give greater advantage to the landowner or the farmer, than to any other class of the community. That an additional benefit was conferred on the landowners by the law could not be denied. Upon the ground of justice this ought not to be; but he would not appeal to their Lordships upon that ground. He contended, that upon the ground of true policy, they ought to revise the law. It had been in existence for twelve years. The preceding law had a sort of ricketty existence, and after lasting a short time it was altered, and the present law substituted. The object of the Legislature, when passing laws in relation to corn at former periods, was to keep down the price of corn; but the object of the present law was to make corn scarce. That was the immediate object of it no doubt. He was aware, that some persons would say it was not the ultimate object. The ultimate object, he feared, was so very far off that it required a telescope to perceive it. The whole argument, he knew, of the supporters of the law had been, that it was intended to regulate the price of corn. That might be the case; but it was to regulate it at a higher price than it would otherwise be. That was the whole object of the law. ["No, no."] Not the whole object? At least, it was the immediate object. ["No, no."] O, dear! not even that. The operation of the law depended upon whether they had an abundance of corn in the country or a scarcity. If there were 1011 an abundance, the law did no harm to the consumer, and it did no good to the farmer. None whatever. It left the farmer where he was. Not exactly so, indeed; for it put him in a worse condition than he expected, for it held out to him a promise of 68s. a quarter when there was abundance, whereas he only got 65s. But with respect to the consumer, its effect depended on whether there was a scarcity or an abundance. If there was an abundance it was the better for him; but if there was a little bit of scarcity—that was to say, if instead of there being 100 quarters in the country, there should be only ninety-nine or ninety-eight quarters, then he knew perfectly well the law began to tell; and it was only under those circumstances that it could tell. But it did tell. He would put it thus; supposing when there was precisely that quantity of corn in the country, which was sufficient for the maintenance of the people—neither more nor less—(say 100 quarters) — the price (which would then be the natural price) should be 50s. a quarter. Now, if you reduced the quantity of corn to ninety nine quarters, there would be a deficiency of one-hundredth part as to the quantity. But the effect of that deficiency upon the price of the corn would be considerably greater than that of increasing it by a hundredth part; that was to say, it would not merely increase the price of a quarter of wheat to 50s. 6d., but it would raise the price in a much greater ratio, to which extent it was impossible to say a priori, but it might be to 52s., 53s., 54s., or 55s., depending on circumstances, so that no one could exactly say to what. But having arrived at that point, the Corn-law then interfered and said—"You shall not import foreign corn unless you pay a certain high rate of duty." Thus, the rise in the price of corn was not that which ought to take place in consequence of the deficiency in the quantity of corn, but it was much greater; and, therefore, it was that he said that the Corn-laws aggravated the distress of the people, and, therefore, also it was that he contended the object of the Legislature was to create that slight degree of scarcity which should keep the price up to what they conceived it ought to be. But it was an object inconsistent with all wise legislation for this country. These matters were too subtle for them to deal with. They could not regulate them with the 1012 nicety and exactness which these things required; and if so, it appeared to him much better not to endeavour to regulate them at all. They had endeavoured to accomplish this object for the last twenty, five years, but the effect had been, that prices were sometimes more, and sometimes less favourable, but they never during the whole period produced any satisfactory result. They never had, and they never would. He would conclude by moving— "That it is expedient to reconsider the laws relating to the importation of foreign corn."
§ Lord Western
was anxious to say a few words on the subject, and to deny that the object of the Corn-laws had ever been to raise the price of corn. The act of 1815, to which the noble Lord had so particularly referred, had not that object. The object of that act was to protect and extend agriculture, and render the country independent of foreign supplies. The whole successive acts of the Legislature, from the reign of Charles 2nd down to the present moment had had the same object. The act of 1815 certainly placed a higher import duty than any former act, but those who supported it never entertained the vain expectation, still less did they instruct their tenants to expect that the price of wheat would be maintained at 80s. a quarter. No such thing. The reason that price was fixed upon was, that the average price for the twenty years preceding had amounted to 80s. a quarter, and the price for the last five years prior to 1814 was about 100s. a quarter. The act of Charles 2nd was more stringent than the present law, reference being had to the value of money at that period, and to what it was now. The object he had ever had in view, as far as he had been instrumental in passing these protecting laws, had been to prevent British agriculture from being extinguished by allowing the importation of foreign corn from untaxed countries— countries where the people were content to live upon the offal of corn upon which the people of this country could not exist, or, at least, would not consume. If the people of foreign corn-growing countries were in a situation to eat bread corn such as the people of this country did, they would not have much corn to spare; but they lived upon rye meal, barley meal, and other inferior kinds of food, and that it was that gave them the opportunity of supplying this country with the best wheats. He 1013 did not think, any more than the noble Earl, that the Corn-laws were necessary to sustain the agricultural prosperity of this country, or were intended to keep up the high price of corn or keep up the rents. He looked to the commercial and manufacturing prosperity of this country to sustain the prosperity of the agriculturists, by sustaining that legitimate price which they were entitled to expect for their produce. Why was the money price of corn in this country so much higher than in continental countries? It was not always so. At one period corn was as cheap— nay, cheaper in England than abroad, for it was exported. Why, then, was it higher now? It was the accumulated debt and the vast amount of taxation that had produced that effect. It was the artificial condition in which this country was placed, If it were not for that higher money price, the honour and independence of this country could not be maintained. Supposing they could reduce the present average price of corn to the continental prices —that was to say, the average of the last ten years being 57s. a quarter; supposing it were reduced to 40s., what would be the consequences'? Away would go rents, and away would go all interest upon the farmer's capital, and away would go the revenue for paying the dividends to the public creditor. He had read with great interest the report issued by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce a few months ago. In 1837 that body assembled under similar circumstances to ascertain the cause of the distress they were then labouring under, but after pondering long upon it they separated without coming to any conclusion, stating that they could not arrive at any conclusion as to the real cause of their distress. A few months ago, however, when they sat again, after long inquiry, they at length attributed their distress to extensive fluctuations in the currency, but said not a word about the Corn-laws. There was no doubt that much distress had prevailed among the manufacturing classes; but there was no just ground for attributing these distresses to the Corn-laws. He could not think that those laws had worked ill, when he saw how they had prevented that influx of foreign corn which would have come in if the duty had been taken off, and have altogether overwhelmed the agricultural population, already labouring under a mass of taxation. He was convinced that if the projects of the noble 1014 Earl and others who entertained the same Utopian views could be carried out to the lowering the price of corn, they would produce much greater misery in this country than had ever before been felt. The noble Earl seemed desirous of inducing the people to think this a landlord's question—a question of rent—but it was no such thing. It was the general prosperity of the country that he had ever had in view in considering this question, and which he fully believed the Legislature had always had in view when they enacted the protecting duties complained of. He could answer for it that this was not considered a landlord's question, a question of rent, in Essex, one of the most agricultural counties in England. Of the many petitions he had presented from that county in support of these laws, nine-twentieths came from farmers, and the anti-corn-law gentlemen had not been able to persuade the Essex farmers that this was a landlord's question; they knew very well that it was a farmer's question. They knew very well that no reduction of rent could compensate to them for a reduction of the market-price of the gross aggregate growth, not even were rent to be annihilated altogether. Among the landlords and occupiers of that county there was but one view and one feeling, a sense of the injury that was inflicted on them by these annual persecutions, and of indignation at the means taken to bully and overawe the Legislature.
The Earl of Rosebery
regarded this as a question of all others which ought to be considered apart from party bias, from all selfish and narrow interests, and to be decided only with a view to the general welfare of the community at large. Yet on both sides many mistakes and misapprehensions seemed to prevail with reference to it. On the one hand the present restrictive system was attributed entirely to the cupidity of the landlords, and represented as seriously injurious to all other classes, while the same reasoners at another time most inconsistently ridiculed the agricultural body for adhering to a system which must be injurious to their own interests. Again, he very much doubted whether, if there were a free trade in corn, the labouring population of this country would derive the benefit of a proportional reduction in the price of bread. That was another fallacy which pervaded the speeches, of many corn-law repealers. Although wages might not fall with the price of corn in abundant 1015 seasons, because that reduction in the price of provisions was necessarily of a temporary character, yet if bread were permanently low in consequence of an unrestricted importation duty free of foreign corn, the wages of labour would infallibly sink in a corresponding ratio to the fixed low price of corn. Nor was it fair to represent the agricultural body as enjoying a monopoly in the article of food; the large importations of foreign corn which had taken place during five out of the eleven years of the existence of the present law proved beyond contradiction that such was not the fact. Still he was bound to admit that delusions existed to a considerable extent on the other side. He was surprised to find a noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond), who usally sat on the cross-bench, encourage the exaggerated notion that, if the present system of Corn-laws were altered, a great portion of the land would be thrown out of cultivation, and an immense number of agricultural labourers out of employment. Such a result he could by no means anticipate. Another proposition which had been advanced by some whose opinions were entitled to great weight was this—that even a gradual modification of the present system would be inexpedient and injurious, because by such an alteration the contract between the landlord and tenant would be changed. But if such a doctrine could be maintained as a general principle, if it could be maintained that an act of Parliament could not be changed, when contracts had been entered into upon the faith of it, there would be an end of a great part of the legislation of the country. No doubt I the existence of such contracts was a reason for taking great care in the enactments by which the law was to be changed, and for making their operation so slow as to afford time for the re-adjustment of the arrangements which had been entered into by individuals; but it was no reason for persevering for ever in a pernicious system which was opposed to reason and experience. Another opinion which had been advanced stated it to be the duty of Parliament to take care that the farmers received a remunerating price for their produce. He did not quite understand this proposition; if it meant that the farmer sought to be relieved from those charges which pressed particularly on the agricultural body, he admitted that to that extent they were entitled to the protection of Parliament, but he thought that the remuneration afforded by any branch of industry should 1016 be left entirely to be settled between the individuals engaged in it. There was only one more of the propositions which had been advanced to which he would advert, and it was this—that the present system could not be considered prejudicial to the commercial and manufacturing interests, inasmuch as those interests had continued to advance and prosper under the existing law. He admitted this to be a proof that the present law had not paralyzed and destroyed the manufacturing and commercial interests; but it did not follow that they would not be more prosperous and flourishing under a different system. Having stated these different opinions, and his reasons for not agreeing with them, it might be supposed that he remained neuter, and had formed no opinion on the subject. He had, however, formed a pretty strong opinion. He thought it a very great evil of the present system, that under it there was an entire prohibition to importation for a series of years, and then of a sudden the duties were so rapidly changed, that an enormous supply entered the country, inviting and encouraging every sort of speculator to come forward to make a false impression on the market. That was the real evil, to which a remedy ought to be applied. It contracted our commercial intercourse with every part of the world; it produced all those derangements of the foreign exchanges which arose from enormous exports of bullion, and it enhanced the price of freight and carriage at the very time when it ought not to be enhanced at all. It had prevented the importation of good wheat to be mixed with our own inferior wheat. All these evils would be avoided by the adoption of a proper scale. He desired to see substituted for the present scale one which would be an approximation to that contained in the bill which was introduced into the House of Commons in 1827, by Mr. Canning, and which was known to have been framed by the late Earl of Liverpool. Besides the benefits which he believed this scale would produce by only prohibiting importation when prohibition was desirable, the change would put an end to the hostility between the two great interests of this country, which ought to feel they had only one common interest in the general prosperity of all. If no such change was adopted, there were only two courses which could be taken— one was the unlimited importation of foreign grain free of duty, and the other was the substitution of a fixed duty for an 1017 ascending and descending scale. The former of these was so wild and impracticable a scheme, and so injurious to property of a very large amount, as well as to the interests of the country at large, that he would not detain their Lordships by stating any arguments against it; but with regard to the latter alternative, he wished just to mention one or two objections which rendered it by no means expedient to be adopted. In the first place, he could not figure to himself that it would be possible to bring the two great conflicting interests to anything like an agreement as to the amount of fixed duty. That was a preliminary objection which appeared fatal to the scheme; but supposing it could be got rid of, there would arise this great evil— that upon every recurrence of a bad harvest or inferior crops, stronger efforts would be made than were made even now to induce their Lordships to alter the existing law and to reduce or repeal the fixed duly. Thus, instead of a real there would only be a nominal fixed duty, and there would be all the disadvantages of a fixed duty, and those of a varying one too. Besides many advocates of a fixed duty, avowed the reason to be, that it was the most ready step to the abolition of all duty, which he considered would be an unwise, impolitic, and anti-national course. Considering, therefore, that great caution was necessary in disposing of a question of the greatest domestic importance, but considering at the same time that it would be impossible to maintain much longer some of the most important provisions of the existing Corn-laws—being persuaded that it was more wise, politic, and judicious, as well as more just, to determine in time what the change should be, and to make a fair compromise between the parties who fancied that they had separate and hostile interests in this great question, rather than to wait until a great and sweeping change was forced on at an inconvenient period, he did not hesitate to vote for the motion of the noble Earl, under a strong impression that the best change would be to continue the present principle of a scale of duties varying in amount according to the price of grain, but with such alterations in the scale as would render the commercial intercourse between this country and the continent of Europe, and between this country and America, more steady, equal, and certain than it was at present, while for the purpose of putting an end to gambling speculation he would propose that the scale should not descend 1018 lower than 2s. 6d., leaving it to the Government to interfere in extreme cases by an order in Council, and to come to Parliament for indemnity.
The Earl of Falmouth
fully concurred in the principles of protection laid down by his noble Friend who had just addressed the House; but that principle he conceived to be entirely at issue with the doctrines of the noble Earl who opened the debate, and who had so framed his motion as to catch all the loose fish, all the modifiers, et hoc genus omne. Now, inasmuch as his noble Friend opposite advocated the principle of protection, and therefore only differed from those who were opposed to any change in the present Corn-laws upon the mere question of degree, his noble Friend could not so consistently vote with the noble Earl as with those who opposed the noble Earl's motion. As for the hostility which was said to exist amongst the people to the present Corn-laws, he had only to say, that if he could believe it were not artificial, he should attach great weight to it. But the clamour which had been raised against the Corn-laws did not, in his opinion, spring from the natural feelings of the people; it was the work, the un-English, mischievous, and he would add, disgusting, work of agitators. Those who did not agree with the Anti-corn-law league were held up to public obloquy; the circulars of that body were founded upon falsehood, and by this means an artificial cry was raised in the country against the existing Corn-laws. He could not compliment the noble Earl who opened the debate either upon the novelty or soundness of his speech, for he had merely repeated what he had stated over and over again in his writings upon the subject, and incidentally upon presenting petitions. He did not, however, complain that the noble Earl had brought forward the subject, for he was of opinion that the more the question was discussed the better, and that if those lecturers who went through the country were met in a proper and vigorous manner, a year would not pass before their Lordships would have the operatives in their favour. The charges made against the present Corn-laws had already been dealt with in a most masterly and conclusive manner by a right hon. Baronet, who had in fact exhausted the subject. That right hon. Baronet had divided those charges into three principal heads—first, that the Corn-laws had been 1019 the cause or much derangement in the monetary system; next, that they had been the cause of fluctuation in a higher degree than before; and thirdly, that they had caused a great falling-off in the manufactures of the country. With regard to the first charge, the right hon. Gentleman had shown that there was a considerable draught of bullion in 1836, when there was no importation of corn, and that a similar derangement of the currency had existed in America and France, which were exporting countries. With regard to the charge of creating fluctuating prices, he had shown that, although it was not within human power to prevent them, since they depended so much upon the seasons, yet that fluctuations had been less under the present system than under any previous system. That right hon. Baronet had shown that of the 145 months during which the present Corn-laws had been in operation, the price had been moderate for nearly 100, and that for only forty-five of those months had it gone beyond the average of 65s. If they looked to the average prices, they would see that on the first of January, 1839, it was 55s., and that it was only since then it had been ranging between 60s. and 67s. If that Were the fact, if it were proved that the fluctuations had been less under the present than under former systems, had they not a right to say, that, comparatively, the present system was the best, and one which should not be interfered with, unless the strongest necessity for doing so could be proved to exist? Then, with regard to the falling-off of manufactures, the fight hon. Baronet had shown that on a comparison between 1838 and 1836, the exports of the country had increased in the amount of nearly 2,000,000l., and that the number of shipping, as well as the Excise and Customs' duties, had likewise increased. What, then, became of the argument that the exports abroad had risen from the diminution of the home consumption? Why, it was proved to be wholly unfounded. The Anti-corn-law league, however, had dealt most unfairly with the arguments of the right hon. Baronet to whom he alluded. They had taken an isolated passage of his speech, and circulated it about the kingdom, so as to make it be believed that it was intended by the right hon. Baronet to draw an invidious comparison between the manufacturing and agricultural inter- 1020 ests, and that at the expense of the former the latter were to be protected and encouraged. Now, without admitting that any such intention existed on the part of those who supported the existing system, he implored of their Lordships to be cautious how they pulled down the remunerative prices of agriculture. A quarrel between the manufacturer and agriculturist might be attended with serious disadvantage to the former, both were undoubtedly united by interest, and any one who attempted to separate them he could only regard as an enemy to his country. If we were to depend upon foreign nations for our supply of corn, if we were to beggar the agriculturists of the country, as was proposed, he was convinced that the price of corn would be infinitely higher than it was at present. Mr. Van Buren, in speaking of the agriculturists, said, that no class possessed such means of individual comfort, no such certainty of competence, and that nothing could compensate them for being made dependent upon others for the bread which they ate. The same authority further added, that it was the duty of a good government to encourage the agricultural class. Mr. Jacob was also favourable to the encouragement of a home growth of corn, as without it he considered no foreign supply would be found sufficient. Indeed, it was dangerous to depend upon a foreign nation for a supply of any article, but much more for a supply of food. The supply of sulphur furnished an instance of this, for the sulphur was raised from 7l. to 12l. 10s. The noble Earl had quoted the authority of the Earl of Leicester and Lord Essex, but there were authorities quite as good on the other side of the question, and in addition to this the great body of the agriculturists were with them. It was said that they were ignorant of their own interests, but surely noble Lords who spent their whole time in Spain, and only breathed the atmosphere of Bergara conventions, were not the best judges of what was or what was not most conducive to the agricultural interests. There were good grounds of complaint against Government for having made this question an open one; and if the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne) opposite felt now as he felt last year, he should have come down to the House and told those in it over whom he must be supposed to exercise some influence, that he 1021 would have no more such open questions mooted there, but that he was prepared to afford to agriculture its due protection, and not tamper lightly with the great interests involved in the question of the Corn-laws. If the noble Viscount did so, he would have the support of that House, and of the country in opposing what he himself had on a former occasion designated as a mad and a wicked scheme. If there was insanity in the project, the discovery was not his, it belonged to the noble Viscount.
§ The Earl of Clarendon
rose to repel the very uncourteous allusion made to him by the noble Earl, when his unfitness had been spoken of by the noble Lord. The noble Earl had alluded to him when the noble Earl said, that a person occupied in Bergara conventions, and one who had passed his time in Spain, was not one to whose opinions much attention ought to be paid. This not very courteous allusion to himself justified him in making at least a few remarks to their Lordships.
The Earl of Falmouth
explained. What he had said was, that a person who lived in the atmosphere of Bergara conventions, and who had spent his time in Spain, was not such an authority upon this question, as those who in this country had devoted their attention to the working of this measure.
§ The Earl of Clarendon
felt much obliged to the noble Earl for repeating what he had just now said. Although he was free to admit, that what he might say would prove the truth of that which the noble Earl had asserted, as to his unfitness to form a correct opinion on such a subject, and as to his being a person to whom a petition on such a question ought not to be entrusted from Liverpool; yet, conscious as he was of his incapacity, he assured their Lordships he did not rise influenced by the presumption that he could add anything to the weight of what had fallen from the noble Earl in support of his motion, nor with the hope that he could aid by any influence of his own, the very powerful and convincing speech which the noble Earl had addressed to their Lordships, for the purpose of inducing them to reconsider the laws regulating the importation of corn. But this, in his opinion, was a question increasing in every year in its magnitude and importance; and as it was in this year forced with greater energy on their Lord- 1022 ships' attention than before; and as this was the first opportunity that he had of speaking on such a question, he hoped for the indulgence of the House while he endeavoured to state the reasons which induced him to give his support to the resolutions moved by the noble Earl. He thought, that there could be no doubt entertained that this was a question which was annually increasing in importance, whether they regarded the mighty interests that were involved in it, or whether they looked at it in the point of view it was presented to them by the noble Earl; or whether they looked to the mode of attack and defence by which the dispute was conducted by those who on either side entertained extravagant opinions on the subject. In such circumstances it was the imperative duty of Parliament to regard a question like this with perfect impartiality, to examine into its principles, and to consider its various circumstances. It was the imperative duty of Parliament to consider the situation both of the agricultural and the manufacturing interests, as unfortunately, but unavoidably, they were now arrayed against each other; to propose that which would destroy the violence and resistance to each other. Upon the one hand, they found the agriculturists exaggerating the advantages they enjoyed under the present system; they asserted, that without these laws they would not be able to maintain the obligations imposed upon them; and, on the Other hand, the manufacturers declared that by continuing the price of food so high— that price regulating the wages—manufactures were injured, and trade most seriously affected. The agriculturists exaggerated the advantages on one side: they said, that without these laws the country would not produce one-half sufficient to feed the population; and by such a course they whetted the eagerness of their adversaries in their opposition. The advantages of these laws were as much exaggerated by the agriculturists as by the manufacturers themselves. The manufacturers, too, mistook the evils, as much as the agriculturists on their side overrated the advantages. Some of the manufacturers were found to say, that every improvement in manufactures in their continental rivals was to be attributed to the Corn-laws — that if the Corn-laws were abolished the price of labour would 1023 be reduced—the price of food would be greatly lowered, and that an unrestricted trade in corn would lead to the reduction by one-half of the taxation. This, in his opinion, was a lamentable state of things; and it was because he wished to put an end to delusion upon both sides, that he desired that the Corn-laws should be reconsidered. He certainly agreed with the noble Earl, who had spoken last, that this was not a question between the manufacturers and the agriculturists alone; and he also agreed with him in saying, that whoever set these two classes one against the other was an enemy to his country. It was, then, for this reason that he desired to see the Corn-laws reconsidered, and because he thought it was an indispensable preliminary to a just settlement of the question that they should bring both parties to have a just view of their own interests, and those of the community at large. He wished to make them feel that the general interests of the community were dependent upon its component parts, and that they could not sanction a principle by which one portion of the community was to be injured, and another benefited; or that one was to be benefited at the expense of another without really inflicting injury on the whole. Such reasons made him desirous for a reconsideration of the Corn-laws; for by that means truth would be made to appear, and many injurious fallacies dissipated. He believed, that it could be proved, that the Corn-laws were injurious to all classes, but more particularly to the agricultural interest. Nothing in his opinion could be more injurious to the producer of any article than inequality and fluctuation in the price. He contended for it, that if there was any feature of the law more distinctly shewn than another—if there was any thing more distinctly proved, it was this very fluctuation. This inequality was acknowledged, and it was to put an end to it that the law of 1828 was passed. Had that law fulfilled the intention of those who proposed it? They had tried the experiment for twelve years, and in that time the price had varied from 36s. to upwards of 80s. Their Lordships should remember that it was the quantity which regulated the price, and the land could not produce the quantity required. It was the great fluctuations in the price that made farming a gambling transaction 1024 The effect of the law was this, the English grower certainly participates in a very high price when the prices were high; but then he had hardly any corn to bring into the market. These laws secured the market to the English farmer when prices were low, but when prices were high in England the farmer had very little benefit from it; the greater portion of that benefit was enjoyed by the foreign grower. Then, when the prices were low, the losses fell upon those who were now for maintaining the Corn-laws. How often, he asked, had noble Lords been obliged to remit 20, 30, and sometimes even 40 per cent, of their tenants' rents? English landlords were obliged to do this in order that their tenants might not be ruined, and the cultivation of the land thrown upon themselves. The noble Earl could not deny, that such losses had fallen upon the landlords. When prices were low, all the lands let at that time were let at a low rate; and according to the depreciated state of agriculture, and the loss of capital, the less was produced from the land; for then the farmers could employ less men. He thought that it would be very important if they could have any thing like an accurate estimate of the loss sustained by agriculturists, in consequence of the inequality in the price. From the looseness of statistical details in this country, it was very difficult to ascertain this; but, looking at the corn-market, and the operations of Mark-lane, they might make something like an estimate of the loss sustained. He would refer on this point to the very able and instructive work by Mr. Wilson. He begged to say, that he entirely agreed with Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson assumed 52s. 2d. as the natural price for wheat, as being the average price of wheat for seven years—he supposed that to be the remunerating price. Mr. Wilson showed that anything over 52s. 2d., in the seven years must be so much profit, anything less than that was so much loss. He showed then that the loss in three years on the quantity of wheat sold in Mark-lane, was 501,000l., the profit in three years 355,000l,; and the loss on the whole 150,000l. against the landed interest. This, then, tended to show what must be the tremendous balance against that interest on the consumption of the whole kingdom. This applied only to wheat, the annual consumption of which was 1025 sixteen million of quarters annually. The annual consumption on all grain was about fifty millions of quarters. It was certainly stated, in the speech of the right hon. Baronet who was referred to by the noble Earl (the Earl of Falmouth), that it was to their manufacturing interest they owed their greatness as a nation, and it was by that interest that it was to be sustained. The commercial greatness of the country was principally owing to the cheapness with which we were enabled to produce commodities, and it would be very much endangered when foreign countries surpassed us in this latter respect. As an instance of the operation of the present corn duties, he would merely take the year 1838–9, which was a remarkable one, and in that year it appeared that there had been five million quarters of corn imported, at an expense of 12,000,000l. It was found also that the amount of bullion and deposits in the Bank always varied precisely according to the quantity of foreign corn required in the market. In October, 1839, the amount of bullion had been reduced from 5,000,000l. to 2,500,000l., and it would have been reduced much lower but for the credit which the Bank of England opened with the Bank of France. Now, if this large importation of corn had taken place in conjunction with a money crisis, what tremendous consequences must have ensued. With respect to the indefinite power of foreign countries to supply us with corn, he had a very few remarks to make. Prussia was the chief market from whence we could derive a supply, and it appeared that the average price of corn for the twenty-two years from 1816 to 1838 was 28s. 4d., and that the cost of carriage from the point of growth to the Dantzic market was about 6s., making the average price at Dantzic 34s. 4d. during that period. With respect to the cost of conveyance to this country, he had seen several calculations, varying from 20s. to 9s. a quarter. He would not pretend to say, which of these estimates was the correct one, but he certainly thought that when all the dues and charges of shipment were considered, it would be impossible to put foreign corn down in our markets at less than 10s. a quarter. Besides this, a great deal of the corn imported would be found to be totally unfit for making bread, and this being added to the original price of 34s. 4d., together with the cost of freight 1026 and a moderate duty, he thought there could be very little ground to apprehend that the British grower would be superseded to any very great extent. But then it was said also, that we must not import foreign corn, because that would make us dependent on foreigners for bread, for the first necessary of life. This was said, too, in careful forgetfulness of the enormous quantities of corn we now imported from abroad, and in forgetfulness of the fact, that the Bank of England had lately been all but broken by paying for foreign corn; forgetting also that we had now at home 1,500,000 people daily dependent upon a foreign country, not for bread, but for the means of purchasing it—1,500,000 people employed in manufactures, who depended upon the punctual arrival of cotton from America, and upon the equally punctual departure of an almost equal amount of their manufactures for America. Did any one doubt the continuance of this traffic? Could any one think that a different system would obtain were we regularly to trade with foreign countries for corn? Could any one doubt that the very principle and essence of trade is, to create in distant countries an interest in the happiness and prosperity of each other? Could any one doubt the power of such interest, and that every advance in mutual prosperity was a fresh bond of union, and a renewed pledge of peace? Having now very imperfectly, though he feared at much too great length, adverted to a few of those reasons for which he thought the present Corn-laws were injurious to every class of the community, and declared that he should therefore, vote for a re-consideration of them, he would now only humbly beg leave to remind their Lordships, that their proceedings this night were watched with intense eagerness by millions of their fellow-countrymen, with an eagerness and anxiety which he believed was without parallel; for, as he said before, this question was annually, daily, becoming one of more fearful interest and importance. Let him humbly remind their Lordships of the new features that it was constantly assuming— that it was not a party question—that men the most opposed in politics had united upon the necessity of some change in the present system—that the petitions to the House of Commons had been signed by 1,500,000 people—that every chamber of commerce in the kingdom had petitioned Parliament against the present Corn-laws, 1027 and that the principal bankers and merchants of the city of London, of the most opposite political opinions, but all men having vast interests at stake, had petitioned Parliament, under a conviction of the danger with which they are threatened by the present system. All these various classes of petitioners had their different specifics for the evils of which they complained, but they all implored a revision of the Corn-law. He would remind their Lordships, that the events of 1838 and 1839, and all the evils they had given rise to, and the dangers they rendered imminent, were if ever events were, worthy of the deepest consideration of the Legislature — that our population, increasing at a rate of 1,000,000 every three years, was more and more pressing upon the means of subsistence—that the Corn-laws, in their present state, precluded any provision being made for this increase—and that their continuance was almost on all hands allowed to be but a question of time. Was it, then, to be wondered at, if their Lordships' proceedings on that night should be viewed with intense anxiety, and that the greatest excitement should prevail, as to whether their Lordships would adopt the resolution proposed by the noble Earl; a resolution which pledged the House to no specific change, to the admission of no principle, but which would merely recognise the necessity of their Lordships having before them, for their consideration, all the circumstances and facts connected with the operation of the Corn-laws. It was impossible not to feel, that upon this most important subject,—one which, more than any other, affected the interest of all classes of the community,—it was impossible not to feel that the grossest exaggeration was likely to exist, that facts were misunderstood or perverted—that effects were attributed to causes which were not the real ones; in short, that the truth had yet to be discovered and acted upon. Surely, then, a fresh and full consideration of this question was necessary, and, he might add, was worth while. An investigation had been made into the Poor-laws, which presented difficulties apparently invincible, but the question was patiently and impartially examined, and the present Poor-laws afforded abundant evidence that they were framed upon searching inquiry, and that perfect knowledge of facts which was indispensable to successful legislation. Could the Corn-laws 1028 be less important than the Poor-laws? Were there a dozen men either in or out of Parliament, who could assert that their information concerning the Corn-laws was so complete, that they wanted no more, and if not, would there be any reason why the Poor-law should be inquired into in the fullest way, and that a re-consideration of the Corn-laws should be peremptorily denied? It would be untrue were he (the Earl of Clarendon) to say, that he had any hope or expectation that their Lordships would agree to the noble Earl's motion, but he should still deeply regret a contrary decision, because negativing the resolution would affirm that the present law required no change, and therefore admitted of no consideration; that whatever evils it might have imposed upon the community at large, it had at least worked to their Lordships' satisfaction, and that so long as it produced its present results, neither change nor modification could be hoped for by the country.
§ Lord Ashburton
said, he should not trouble their Lordships to any great extent at that late hour; but, from the extreme importance of the subject, and from the view taken of the question by her Majesty's Ministers, he could not refrain from expressing his opinion. The question was in itself, however, perhaps the most momentous that could arise in this country, and it was made of additional importance by the conduct of her Majesty's Government. With the complicated relations that prevailed in this country—more complicated than any where else—it was absurd to speak of any one interest as being able to do without the other—as well might a man try to find out which limb he could do without. Therefore, if any one "interest" could satisfactorily show that the Corn-laws injured them, that was sufficient reason for repealing them. He, however, did not believe that to be the case. He denied that the present Corn-laws gave the landlords a private interest adverse to the interests of the other classes. Having watched the course of events with great anxiety and care, he did most conscientiously say, that in the present state of affairs, he saw nothing in the existing law that called for alteration; and he was quite sure that the most imprudent and most impolitic course which their Lordships could take would be to do that which he was sorry to see her Majesty's Government were ready to do, 1029 namely, to have no opinion in the aggregrate on this subject, and thereby to scatter doubt through the country, and set conflicting interests by the ears in the way that the noble Earl had described. He would not go into the question whether the duty should be a shilling more or a shilling less, but he contended, that the general system of affording protection to the home growth of corn, in the present circumstances of this and other countries, was founded on justice. If the principle of protection were granted, and he were then asked to go into Committee to inquire into the degree of protection, he might perhaps bend; but when he was called on to say, that the whole system of protection to agriculture was wrong, he could not consent. The uncertainty and fluctuation in the price of corn was one of the points most strongly insisted on, and it was contended that the fluctuations inflicted great injury on all classes, and that they arose wholly from the Corn-laws. From its nature the food of man was liable to fluctuations in price beyond all other articles. He believed they were less than would otherwise arise from the natural fluctuations of the seasons. All the principal articles of commerce were liable to fluctuations in price as great as corn. Cotton, wool, iron, hemp, flax. Every article of commerce had within a short lime been subject to fluctuations in price of one or two hundred per cent. What reason, therefore, could there be for referring the fluctuations in the price of corn to the operation of the Corn-laws? It was necessary to give the agriculturist such a protection as would encourage him to carry the cultivation of the land to the highest pitch of perfection—in order to enable him to provide for the contingency of a deficient importation, and also to compensate him for the disadvantages under which he laboured in consequence of the burdens which were imposed upon him; and he certainly had in addition, a right to an equivalent protection with other producers. This was admitted by most political economists. Mr. M'Culloch admitted that the corn-grower was entitled to a protection equivalent to the peculiar charges imposed on him, and this protection Mr. M'Culloch estimated at 7s. per quarter. One word as to the charges on the agriculturists. The corn-grower had to bear the burden of supporting all the surplus labour of the 1030 country. The manufacturer could take up a thousand men one day, and if he found he could not profitably employ them, he could the next day throw them upon the parish. He knew a case in Wiltshire, in which a manufactory had been erected in an agricultural village, and labourers had been collected from all parts of the country by advertisement. The speculation had turned out an unprofitable one. The manufacturer had removed to the north, attracted by the cheapness of coals, the labourers had been thrown upon the parish, and the rates had been consequently increased to seventeen shillings in the pound. There were also other charges which had been thrown upon the agriculturists. The Secretary of State had recently been encouraging the introduction of a general system of police, which in some instances had doubled the county rates. What had rendered this police necessary? They did not want a police to keep people from stealing turnips. It was the towns, which the late Mr. Cobbett had designated the large wens, which had rendered the introduction of the police necessary. Then, again, there was the burden of tithes. How could the corn-grower in this country be expected to enter into competition with the corn-grower of France and Italy, where this burden of tithes was unknown. Then there was the charge of the old land-tax, the greater part of which had been redeemed. The home corn-grower was entitled to some protection on that account. Stock-in-trade, it appeared by law was liable to be rated to the poor. What was the consequence? The towns had raised an outcry upon the subject, and a bill was now before Parliament, to exempt stock-in-trade from rates. He did not object to this; he thought it was very expedient as subjecting stock-in-trade to rates, would be investing persons with an inquisitorial power, which would be intolerable in this country. But then the corn-grower was entitled to some protection as an equivalent. Again, the corn-grower could not go to the cheapest market to purchase his commodities. Sugar, for instance, might be considered as almost a necessary of life, and the English corn-grower had to pay 300 per cent, more than the resident in Hamburgh for that commodity. Free trade was a subject on which every body talked, but which in reality, existed nowhere and they were not called upon to legislate for 1031 what this country ought to be, according to the fine theories of the philosophers, but according to the circumstances in which it actually was placed in 1840; and they found, that so far from other countries being inclined to agree to this liberalism, all those countries in which there were popular bodies of representatives actually repudiated free trade. They could carry on negotiations on the subject, but they all ended in nothing. If an Ambassador of Louis 14th had agreed to a commercial treaty, they might have reckoned on his carrying his country with him; but they could not do so with an Ambassador of Louis Philippe, as the Chamber of Deputies in Paris would be very likely to refuse to accede to any such treaty. Then, again, in North Germany, there was the Commercial League, which, according to Dr. Bowring, might have been put an end to, had it been attempted at the commencement by the Government, but which it was now hopeless to think of breaking up. They had adopted the system of protection in its fullest extent, and it was useless to think of knocking at their doors in the hopes of obtaining terms. Under these circumstances, what equivalent could they offer to the corn-grower by way of protection? The noble Earl had attributed the recent derangement in the currency to the operation of the Corn-laws. He did not deny but the circumstances of the Corn-trade might have contributed to that derangement, but he thought it was much more attributable to the conduct of the Bank, and besides, it was incumbent upon the noble Earl to have shown that this derangement could not have taken place under any other system of Corn-laws. The Bank had suddenly raised the interest of discounts from three to six per cent., and this it was which had destroyed all the small people, and produced the panic. They had now replenished their coffers, and the same thing had taken place now which had happened in 1825 and 1826, when the Bank had all but stopped payment. But under a free importation of corn, there would be a greater export of money from the country. He did not think that this country could safely rely upon any foreign country for a supply of corn to any considerable extent. In fact, it could not be procured. The manufacturers stated, that if they could get a free importation of corn, manufactures would more than double in 1032 extent—that the whole country would be covered with Birminghams and Manchesters inveloped in steam and smoke. Now, setting aside the argument, that that would make England such a steamy, smoky place, that no one who could live out of it would willingly live in it, let their Lordships contemplate what must be the effect of such a country being dependent on America, on the one hand for the raw material, by the manufacture of which these people were to be employed, and on the Continent of Europe on the other, for the food—from whence were they to be supplied with food? The only material supply they could expect, must be from the Baltic. They could not get corn from France, as it had no corn to furnish; and Belgium was in the same state. Then with respect to the alleged distress. It had been stated, that it was impossible for their Lordships to conceive the extremity and distress in which the manufacturers were placed. He did not believe in that distress; but if it did exist, it arose from the monetary state of the country. The Chamber of Commerce at Manchester had stated, that all the manufacturing interests up to the years 1835, and 1836, had been in the greatest state of prosperity; and to suppose, that the small difference in the price of corn, which then took place, could account for the difference of those interests at present, was what no practical man would do. In fact, all the great manufactures of the country had grown up under the Corn-laws. In the year 1815, when the Corn-law had been passed, which had been most complained of,90,000,000lb. of cotton had been worked up in this country; in 1828,227,000,000lb. and in 1837, 407,000,000lb. That was a practical proof of the growth of the cotton manufacture under those laws. The same or a greater increase might be shown in the iron manufacture. Dr. Bowring in his late report stated, that the countries in the neighbourhood of Dantzic were so thinly peopled, and poor, that their consumption of articles of manufacture was next to nothing. There could, therefore, be no reciprocity of trade with countries so situated. Dr. Bowring had also given particulars of the statistics of Prussia, which, stating the same fact, were peculiarly valuable, because they were not compiled for this purpose, and from these it appeared that the average consumption of butcher's meat in Germany, on the whole 1033 was 34½lb. per head per year. Now, the dietary of the most stingy workhouse in England would give twice as much butcher's meat to each of the paupers. The consumption of salt on the continent was in these proportions:—in France, 13½lb.; in Germany, 16½; in Grate Britain, 22½. In Prussia each individual consumed of cotton clothing exactly one half of that which Mr. M'Culloch stated to be the average consumption in England. In consumption of woollen clothing the proportion was one and two-thirds in Prussia to four in England. Another article was also mentioned, the consumption of which was indicative of the comfort of the poorer classes— namely, sugar. The consumption of sugar in Great Britain was 17lb. a-year for every man; in France, 4¾lb.; in Germany, 3¾lb.; and in the rest of Europe, 2½lb. Under these circumstances, he thought the wisest course for their Lordships to adopt was, not to pass without much better evidence than had been supplied, a resolution which might induce the public to believe, that some material alteration of the Corn-laws was contemplated.
The Earl of Radnor
began by observing, that he proposed to answer his noble Friend's (Lord Ashburton) arguments without having the advantage of hearing a great many of them, for his noble and learned Friend turned his back on his side of the House, and addressed all his observations to those silting opposite. He did hear his noble Friend, however, say that they should not change the present, system without evidence of its ill effects, and yet when a noble and learned Friend below him (Lord Brougham) last year asked simply for inquiry, his motion was scouted. The noble Lord said, also, that he was unwilling to set up one interest against another; yet he found the noble Lord was vice-president of a society for the protection of agriculture, which expressly opposed the agricultural to the manufacturing interest. This society stated, that the owners of land possessed property to the amount of three thousand millions, whereas the manufacturers were worth only two hundred and sixty millions.
§ Lord Ashburton
I have never attended this society, and can't be considered responsible for their calculations.
These statements were put forward under the sanction of his noble Friend's name. If wheat was natu- 1034 rally of all articles the least variable in price, for it was an universal necessary, and the hardiest of plants, the fluctuations which had taken place in this country, were the result of our vicious system. It was true, that the prices varied during the last twenty-five years 7¾ per cent, less than in the previous twenty-five years. But this was accounted for by the war which was going on in the former period, and the wonder was, that the fluctuations for the last twenty-five years were not much less considering the different circumstances of the country. The variation in the price of wheat, notwithstanding the increased facilities of intercourse between the different nations of the world, had been much greater than the variation in the price of a vast number of articles. It appeared from Mr. Took's book, that whilst the variation in the price of wheat was 44¾ per cent., the variation in the price of one description of cotton was 27 per cent., of another description of the same article, 41 per cent., and in the price of indigo, 29 per cent. These were all of them articles quite as likely to be affected by seasons as wheat. Yet it would be seen, that the variation in the price of them was not so great. It further appeared from Mr. Took's book, that during the same period the variation in the price of oil of the northern fisheries was 41 per cent.; in the price of rice, 17 per cent.; in the price of rum, 30 per cent.; in the price of salt petre, 31 percent, in the price of East India sugar, 30 per cent.; in the price of tobacco, 35 per cent.; and. in the price of Spanish wool, 21 per cent. From other sources he found, that as regarded other articles upon which there was a monopoly, as in the case of wheat, the variation in the price had been greater. This applied particularly to the two articles of hops and apples. The noble Lord had spoken of the mischief of giving protection to the land on account of the charges that were placed upon it. But he contended that protection to the land was not protection to the agriculturist. Corn-laws afforded a protection to the landowners, whose estates were encumbered with the burthens of rates and tithes, but to the farmer they afforded no protection at all. Upon this point his argument was supported by the authority of his noble Friend (Lord Ashburton) as expressed in former speeches. [The noble Earl read copious extracts from speeches 1035 made by Lord Ashburton, in 1820, on the noble Lord presenting a petition from the merchants of London for free trade, and subsequent years to show that the noble Lord's opinions at that period were widely different from those to which he had now given utterance.] Speaking of opening the trade, his noble Friend seemed now to entertain very serious doubts whether, when we wanted a supply of corn, we should be able to obtain it. He seemed also to entertain considerable alarm of our becoming dependent upon foreigners. But were we not now dependent upon foreigners—had we not been dependent upon them for the last two years? Within that short period had we not imported 4,500,000 quarters of wheat? Hence it was evident that a supply was to be obtained when we wanted it. If we had imported 4,500,000 quarters of corn within the last two years, something must have been taken for it. It was said that we had paid for it in gold. Granted. What then? We did not grow gold—neither did we dig it out of the earth. How, then, did we procure it? By the sales of our manufactures in other countries. The importation of corn had been talked of as a dangerous thing. But we had been importers of corn for the last one hundred years. At the close of the 17th century a bill was passed giving a bounty on the export of corn. That bill was renewed in Queen Anne's time. For fifty years afterwards corn was exported to a very great extent, and continued annually to increase throughout the whole of that period. But at the end of those fifty years a turn took place, and a great importation succeeded to the previous exportation. In the course of three years the importation became greater than the exports, and from that period to this the importation had been going on in a constantly increasing ratio. This showed how completely fallacious was the argument that we could ever be independent of foreigners. Since 1770, down to the present time, in spite of our being engaged within that period in two great continental wars, the importation of wheat had increased; even in the year 1810, when Buonaparte was at the height of his power, a vast quantity of corn was imported from France. In 1815, the first Corn-law Bill was passed. The object of it was to exclude foreign corn, yet the importation went on increasing. Between 1036 the years 1815 and 1816 no less than 5,252,000 quarters of foreign wheat were entered for home consumption. In 1828 the act of 1815 was modified, and the present Corn-laws established. During the eleven years that had since elapsed, the average annual import of foreign wheat entered for home consumption was upwards of 900,000 quarters. So much, then, for the protection of the Corn-laws. The fact was, that the wants of an increasing population could not be resisted. Laws might be imposed to restrain the supply of food, but food would be obtained in spite of them. It might be said that as the Corn-laws did not protect the landed interest by excluding the importation of corn, they could not be regarded as doing any harm to the manufacturing and commercial interests. They did a great deal of harm, because though they did not prevent the importation, they only permitted it to take place in the most expensive, most inconvenient, and least beneficial manner. Here he begged to retrace his steps for a moment, for the purpose of showing that, during the period that the importation of foreign corn had gone on increasing, the average price had increased also. During the period that the exportations of wheat exceeded the imports the average price of wheat fell; but in 1750 the table turned—the importation began to exceed the exportation, and from that time to the present the average price rose. This would show, that the terror of reduced rents in consequence of a liberal introduction of foreign grain was a terror of the imagination, and was in no degree justified by an appeal to facts. He contended, that the great bulk of the population was supported by manufactures and not by agriculture; that the number of labourers employed in agriculture was annually diminishing, whilst the gross amount of the population was increasing; and he affirmed, therefore, that it behoved the Legislature to adopt such measures as should be most beneficial to those interests in which the great bulk of the industrious classes was now absorbed. As the present laws, while they produced the mischievous consequences which he had pointed out, did not accomplish the purposes for which they were framed, he asked their Lordships to vote for the motion of the noble Earl.
§ The Duke of Richmond
would at that late hour make but a few observations, 1037 and should have refrained from making any, had he not been so pointedly alluded to in the course of the debate. He did not, however, feel any such disinclination as had been imputed to him to discuss the question whenever an opportunity offered, as he thought he had already proved on many occasions, and indeed he preferred discussing the question upon the presentation of petitions to a regular debate upon the subject, his early habits and education having taught him that a skirmish might sometimes be more advantageous than a battle. He denied that the object of the supporters of the Corn-laws was to keep up rent, and he could not agree with those who stated, that the manufacturing interest was arrayed in hostility against the agriculturists; he denied that the respectable part of the manufacturing classes wished to see all protection to the agricultural interest removed. It had been stated, that petitions to this effect had been presented from every chamber of commerce in the kingdom, and he was sure that the noble Lord who made that statement fully believed that it was correct; but had the noble Lord heard of a great body of men residing in one of the largest manufacturing towns in the country? Could the noble Lord find any petition which had been presented from the Chamber of Commerce of Glasgow? Last year it had been proposed to present such a petition, but the proposition had been rejected; it had been repeated in the present year, and with the same result. The anti-corn-law associations and chambers of commerce who had presented petitions had not ventured to say what their object was. Did they want cheap bread; or did they want cheap labour? What was the use of bread being cheap if the labourer had not the means of purchasing it? It had been justly said, that the question was not a landlord's question, nor a farmer's question; it was a landlord's, farmer's, and labourer's question. It was asked why their Lordships should not consent to an inquiry; his answer was, because they had information enough on the subject. The people to whom the inflammatory addresses of the anti-corn-law agitators were made did not know the respectability of the farmers of this country, but he knew it, and their Lordships knew it. The farmers were not such ignorant and bigotted persons as it suited the purposes 1038 of these speakers to represent them: they might not make so much noise or shout so many speeches as some among the manufacturing classes, but they were a well-informed and enlightened sort of people in matters that concerned them, and so capable of forming a correct judgment on matters affecting their own interests, that it would take a great many paid lecturers to persuade them that, burdened as they were with taxation, they could compete successfully with the foreign grower, who had no such difficulties to struggle against. A noble Lord had truly said, that it was of immense importance that this question should be settled; but if this were so, why did not the noble Viscount at the head of the Government take some decided course with respect to it, instead of leaving it to be an open question? Indeed, the noble Lord when he had said this seemed aware that he had gone rather too far, and corrected himself by saying that both parties exaggerated the effects of the Corn-laws. Now, this statement of the noble Lord might at all events be taken to be true, so far as regarded those who were of his own opinion. He believed this to be a landowner's, farmer's, and labourer's question. He had heard of many manufacturers and merchants who had made large fortunes, and he hoped they did not wish to kick down the ladder and to prevent others from, being equally fortunate with themselves. He was sure their Lordships would not consent to a repeal of the Corn-laws, and they might rely upon it that nothing less would ever satisfy the manufacturers.
said, he must even at that late hour, (a quarter to two o'clock), say a few words. It was said by the noble Duke (Richmond) that no inquiry was needed; yet, had the subtle speech of the noble Baron (Ashburton) not touched the facts of the noble Earl, the mover of the question? Said the noble Duke, "You assert, and I deny—and what's the conclusion?" "Therefore I am right?" Ought not the conclusion to be "Therefore we should inquire?" Had not last year's evidence been tendered at the bar? Had it not been refused? After that, whose fault was it that the motion was vague? Would their Lordships allow him shortly to ask what they intended to do? Were they about to say that they would not consider the question? If they acceded to this motion, they would give the coun- 1039 try some reason to hope, that there was a chance of their reconsidering the question of the fixed duty and the sliding scale. He should be heartily rejoiced if he found that he had misunderstood the ground on which the motion of his noble Friend was rejected. The question was one upon which, at this moment, the people of this country felt an unprecedented interest. He regarded it as a good omen, that, on this occasion, the proposition of his noble Friend had the support of a portion of her Majesty's Government. His own opinion was opposed to "open questions" in the Government—but he rejoiced that on this question, if there was division in the Cabinet, the division was in their favour —and the next time the question came before their Lordships, there was the greater prospect of success. He must give a negative to the proposition of the noble Duke opposite, which was supported by a noble Lord connected with Essex, namely, that the present laws were supported, not because they had a tendency to raise the price of bread. He could understand them no otherwise; and the arguments which he had heard only convinced him, that such was the intention of those who supported them. Three or four noble Lords who had spoken in the course of the discussion, had severely attacked the "Anti - Corn - law league," and asked, "whether their object was to diminish the price of bread?" He (Lord Brougham) had had no connexion whatever with that body, although, about eleven months ago, he had had some very slight connexion with a body called the delegates. Yet he thought he might safely take upon himself to reply, that they had the intention of reducing the price of bread—that they did desire to see the loaf cheaper. [The Earl of Falmouth: They deny that they propose to reduce the price of corn.] He was not aware of that fact, and was speaking without any authority from the body which had been so severely attacked. In the course of the discussion a noble Friend behind him had expressed a doubt, whether it would be of any use to lessen the price of bread. He certainly did think it would be of use to the consumer of a commodity, that the price of that commodity should be reduced as low as possible, although in saying this he might labour under the disadvantage of differing from his noble Friend. But, added his noble 1040 Friend, if you lessen the price of bread you must also lessen the rate of wages Just as if the rate of wages depended upon the price of bread, and not upon the price of all commodities!—and not only upon the price of commodities, but upon the amount of labour in the market. Bui he owed an apology to their Lordship; for even glancing at the subject at that late hour of the night, when their Lordships' patience, as well perhaps as their physical strength was exhausted; and in that exhaustion he regretted to say he participated very largely, not only from having been in the House for a greater number of hours than any of their Lordships save the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, but from his health not being in a condition to bear this exhaustion without prejudice.
§ Viscount Melbourne
was well aware that even at an earlier hour of the evening, when their Lordships' attention was less exhausted than at present, it would be difficult for him to render such a subject as this either sufficiently attractive or full enough of practical interest, to entitle him to their Lordships' indulgence. Yet, considering the position which he occupied, the part he had before taken, the comments which had been made upon what he had said, and the interest felt in the subject, it was impossible for him to allow the question to go to a division without stating some of the grounds upon which he intended to vote against it. Indeed, upon the motion itself as presented to the House by his noble Friend, he (Lord Melbourne) had very little difficulty. For the noble Earl proposed that "it was expedient" to enter into an enquiry upon this subject. Now, he (Lord Melbourne) was distinctly of opinion that it was "inexpedient." Yet he would guard himself against being supposed to pledge himself to maintain the existing duties. He had never so pledged himself, nor did he mean to do so. This was no question of stubborn principle from which he could safely pledge himself not to swerve:—for considerations of various kinds of economy or of policy might arise not only to justify, but to render necessary the adoption of a different course. Yet, under present circumstances, he did not think it wise for Parliament to stir the question as they would stir it, if they adopted the motion of his noble Friend. But his noble Friend had said that all he asked for was inquiry, 1041 Aye, but what would be the effect of consenting to an inquiry? Would it not be tantamount to a declaration that their Lordships were prepared to reduce the duty? It was well known that they had no intention of going into an inquiry with a view to raise the duty, and, therefore, to grant an inquiry would be to declare the expediency of diminishing the protection. It was not his intention to go into the subject at that late hour of the night; but he could not refrain from observing, that a very great injustice was done when it was stated, that the abject of the law was to keep up the price at 80s. per quarter. Such, indeed, he recollected was the popular cry against the measure in 1815, but he could scarcely believe that any persons were deluded by it. He could not believe that any class of men believed, that the effect of the law would be, that the price could never be below 80s. Such a consideration had never been urged by those who proposed or who supported the measure—though it was urged by others to prejudice the measure in its progress. How far people might have been deluded by such an assertion, it was impossible for him to say, as there was no accounting for the folly of mankind. But, he could not think, that those prudent Scotch farmers of whom his noble Friend had spoken, had taken farms under the impression that they would enjoy such a protection as would keep the price to 80s. His noble and learned Friend had been very bold and confident in his assertion, that no land would be thrown out of cultivation by a reduction of the duty, or, that, except in some few instances, rents would not be reduced. He placed but little confidence in those predictions, He remembered in the currency discussion it had been forcibly urged that the measure would be only equivalent to a charge of three per cent., and he remembered that this argument had considerable weight in the House of Commons. Yet he believed he was not wrong in saying that that measure—from which, however, he should be now very sorry to recede—had led to a great deal of the subsequent pressure. People overlooked the effect of the restriction—it was not overlooked, however, by a noble Friend of his on the opposite bench, and the recollection of this made him (Viscount Melbourne) very unwilling to adopt violent measures upon the ipse dixit of any man, 1042 that its effect would be but slight. He could not dismiss from his mind the apprehension that it was unwise to rely entirely for the maintenance of a great portion of the population upon a foreign supply. In that opinion he had the support of Mr. Van Buren. The United States, with a great and yearly increasing population, with almost an unlimited amount of land which yet remained to be brought into cultivation, might be supposed to be in less danger than any other nation in the world; but Mr. Van Buren was of opinion that it would be unwise to rely upon a foreign supply of food for the people of the United States. Mr. Van Buren was a sensible man, his opinion was entitled to great consideration; but this was not his opinion alone, but that of a great portion of the people of that flourishing nation. Mr. Van Buren was a great Magistrate, and he (Lord Melbourne) entertained the greatest respect both for him and for the people over whom he presided; and he was justified in believing, that he would not have expressed such an opinion, if it had not agreed with the opinions of a great portion of the people of the United Slates. He had a great doubt, therefore, whether, looking at this question in a financial, commercial, or political, point of view, it would be wise or prudent to enter upon the consideration of it at the present moment. But even if he were convinced that, on the whole, the change would be advantageous to the country, yet, considering the position in which the question stood, the feelings which existed, the manner in which parties were divided on it, he thought it would be imprudent and inexpedient to go into the consideration of it under present circumstances. If he could be convinced that it was safe and just at once to do away with protection, to adopt a perfectly simple state of the law upon this subject, and to have an importation of corn entirely open and free of duty, he should then be inclined to propose or advocate inquiry. His noble friend had carefully abstained from stating what it was that he meant to do—whether his object was to have a fixed duty, or a diminution of the present ascending and descending scale; but whichever of these alternatives was his noble Friend's plan, as he saw clearly and distinctly that that object would not be carried without a most violent struggle, without causing much ill blood, and a deep sense of grievance, with- 1043 out stirring society to its foundations, and leaving behind every sort of bitterness and animosity, he did not think that the advantages to be gained by the change were worth the evils of the struggle, by which their Lordships might depend on it the change could alone be effected. They had seen great changes at no distant period— changes which had stirred society from the bottom, which had excited man against man, divided the whole country into parties, and left behind the deepest feelings of discord and enmity. He, for one, was not for adding to those feelings, by rashly adventuring to stir and agitate them, and upon those general grounds he felt himself justified in saying "no" to the motion of the noble Earl.
§ Their Lordships' House divided.—Content, Present, 34; Proxies, 8; 42:— Not-content, Present, 127; Proxies, 67; 194. Majority 152.1045
|List of the CONTENTS.|
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS.|
|Yarborough||Stuart de Rothesay|
|Canning||Willoughby de Eresby|
|Canterbury||Willoughby de Broke|
|Marquess of Ailesbury||Duke of Somerset|
|Earl of Mountcashell||Lord Lovett|
|Earl Grey||Marquess of Breadalbane|
|Bishop of Winchester||Bishop of Hereford|
|Bishop of Exeter||Bishop of Norwich|
|Lord Saye and Sele||Earl of Thanet|
|Lord Bayning||Marquess of Anglesey|
|Lord Dunsany||Lord Cloncurry|
|Lord Feversham||Earl of Scarborough|
|Lord Poltimore||Lord Methuen|