§ The Earl of Ripon
moved the Order of the day for going into committee on the Corn Importation bill.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, he wished to bring on the motion, of which he had given notice, before the Order of the day should be read.
§ The Earl of Ripon
had understood that the motion was to be made as an amendment to the Order of the day, but if the noble Viscount wished to bring it forward before the Order of the day was read, he had not the slightest objection to offer to the arrangement.
§ Viscount Melbourne:
I think the course I propose will be more convenient, and therefore, with the permission of the House, I will proceed. If the resolution which I am about to submit to the House be carried as a substantive motion, it will, of course, have the same effect as if carried as an amendment; but in again bringing under the attention of your Lordships a subject which has been so repeatedly discussed, and so recently debated, it would be unpardonable in me if I were to urge any topic upon your Lordships which I do not think necessary to explain my own conduct, or to have an effect upon the decision of your Lordships. It is hardly necessary for me to declare that I mean to bring forward this resolution as calmly and impartially as I can, without any party allusions, or any party object whatever, and without indulging in any observations 722 of a criminatory or recriminatory character. My noble Friend opposite, who opened the debate last night (the Earl of Ripon), in the course of his speech, divided the subject into two parts: first, the question whether there ought to be any duty whatever on the importation of food; and secondly, if that question should be decided in the affirmative, under what regulations a duty ought to be imposed. Strictly speaking, it is only with the second branch of the question I have to deal. At the same time it is, doubtless, necessary for me to make a few observations upon the general question in vindication and explanation of my own opinions. The question to which I now refer, is one which has been much discussed throughout the country, and has deeply interested the feelings of the people, namely, the question as to whether there should be any duty at all upon the importation of corn, or whether it ought not to be allowed to be imported free from all parts of the world. I am a warm friend to the principles of free-trade, but I am not so friendly as others are to the immediate and decided recognition of those principles in the present circumstances of the world. I certainly think that, from the beginning, it would have been a far better arrangement for the human race if every nation had cultivated only the productions for which its own climate was fitted, and only such manufactures as the industry and skill of its inhabitants are calculated to produce with advantage, and had bartered those productions for others which other nations could produce more advantageously. That is a view of the question which is supported by all reason, all argument, and all regard for the general interests of the communities of the world; but I cannot conceal from myself, that all custom, all usage, all practice, all law, all national institutions, and consequently almost all feeling, have been on the other side; and the consequence is, that whilst the principle of free-trade is generally admitted to be correct, yet the feelings to which I have adverted have got such strong hold of the public mind that, though there are to be found persons ready enough at public meetings to profess their admiration of free-trade, and to sign petitions in its favour, nevertheless these same persons, in conversing about the taking off of any particular duty, invariably consider the question solely with reference to the interests of the home producer of the article to which I the duty applies, and without any regard 723 to the interests of the consumer. There is a strong public feeling upon the subject, and that is the difficulty with which we have to deal in introducing and carrying into practice the principle of free-trade. With respect to free-trade in corn, I wish to say that I certainly am not prepared to adopt the resolutions about to be proposed by my noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham), and for that I will presently give my reasons, I will now, however, advert to some arguments which are advanced in justification of protecting the agricultural interest, and particularly to one which has a great effect upon the minds of many persons, as, I confess, it once had upon mine—I mean the argument founded upon the exclusive burdens said to be borne by agriculture. Upon full consideration, I think that is no reason for maintaining the present system. I Will not now stop to inquire whether the alleged exclusive burdens really exist; but I say, that if they do exist, We ought to compensate the landed interest in some other mode, and that they form no sufficient reason for inflicting upon the community generally the evils attributed to the Corn-laws. Nor do I think there is much weight in the argument that we should be independent of foreign supply. We find, if we go bark to ancient history, that it was not acted on in former times. The great and powerful states of Athens and Rome were both of them, and Athens more particularly dependent on other countries for a supply of corn, and the great orator, of the former, in that oration of which my noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) has lately given a translation to the public, lays down the principle, that to all mankind his countrymen must look for a supply of corn. And if you say, that the splendour of Athens was of a transitory description— and that her great power quickly passed away—what can you answer in the case of Rome, the most strongly established empire, and the greatest monument of human strength, wisdom, and power, that ever existed on the face of the earth? I dismiss those examples, with the remark that the decadence of those states can in no respect be ascribed to their dependence on foreign countries for a supply of food. My noble Friend (Earl Ripon) argued last night that, supposing the increase of the population to go on as it proceeded, we could never rely on foreign countries for giving us a supply of food adequate to the wants of the population. I should say the situation of foreign countries is fat more a subject for complaint, 724 as they are rendered dependent upon us. I take it the tradesman is a good deal more dependent on the customer, than the customer can possibly be on the tradesman. And in the same way, those who sell are much more dependent on those who purchase than the purchaser is on them. As I fear that no regulations between mankind can prevent those differences and feelings between nations which unfortunately cause quarrels, and ultimately lead to war, I should say that nothing is better calculated than commercial relations and mutual dependence for the produce of each to prevent war in the first instance, to mitigate its evils when it does occur, and to bring it to a speedy conclusion. Well, then, my Lords, it may be said, "With all these arguments in favour of free-trade, why are you not for it?" I shall state very shortly the reasons. I should be for it, if 1 could place any confidence in the arguments of my noble Friend (Earl Ripon) last night, that the supply from foreign nations must be very small and inconsiderable. I own it is not that I fear that we shall get too little. My noble Friend maintained that we should get but a small supply, but still a supply sufficient to depress agriculture, and to throw land out of cultivation, without relieving the wants of the community. I think that the demand and supply would soon adjust itself in a satisfactory manner. But, I admit, my fear is, that foreign countries would not send too little, but that they would send a great deal too much. I have read something on this subject. I have listened to the arguments which have been urged respecting it. I have looked into many pamphlets and documents which treated of it; but, I own, I cannot find a resting-place for the sole of the foot—I cannot find any sufficient foundation for the assumption, that we could not hope for any considerable supply from other countries. A noble Lord delivered last night a very able argument on this subject, in which he stated, that if he could believe that foreign nations could send as much corn, and at such a price, as to displace the whole of the corn grown on our poor lands, or a great part of it, he should be in favour of such a change. That is the real question—how much com can you get from abroad, and at what price? I do not believe that question can be answered beforehand. It can only be ascertained (and I am not in favour of trying it now) by making the experiment. The noble Lords opposite will, I am sure, agree in the prin- 725 ciple that this is not the time to shock public opinion and feeling on this question, and which I certainly take to be this, that it is not safe at once to do away with all protection. This is the proposition which has been relied on throughout this discussion. Well, then, the question remains, how we may best regulate that protection. I have no question whatever in my own mind that the best course on this subject is the imposition of a fixed duty; for the sake of the certainty it will give to trade, and the removal of all the restrictions which at present impede it. It will give an equal amount of protection to agriculture, it will be more productive in point of revenue, and it will avoid all the frauds which it is alleged have taken place with respect to the averages. I know it has been said, that those who have examined this subject are convinced that frauds have not taken place to the extent alleged. However, it is certain, that a very strong opinion prevails on the subject, and that very great discontent was the consequence. If fraud has existed, it will put an end to it, and if it does not prevail, it would put an end to what is very nearly as injurious as fraud itself—namely, the suspicion of its existence under a system to which no certainty can belong. But, throughout the whole of these discussions I think it has been admitted, that a fixed duty would be more favourable to trade. But, then, says the noble Lord who spoke with so much ability last night, "After all, the principal objection to a fixed duty is, that it cannot be maintained when corn rises to a high price." Now, the answer to that is, that it never would rise to so high a price as was supposed. No man certainly can answer what the price may be, but at the same time it must be admitted, that under the system I propose, you would be more likely to have a certain and steady price of corn than under the present. Why cannot you make the attempt to solve this difficulty by maintaining such a system? You have maintained a system infinitely more objectionable. Why not change it for One founded on the grounds of sense and reason—much more prudent and rational, and free from the objections which can be urged against the present scale. |The people of this country have great power and influence. They have made no rash use of the weapons in their hands. Their efforts with regard to this law have been hitherto marked with great prudence, though sufficient 726 pains were taken to excite them on the subject. All these appeals have failed, and I do not believe that if there was a bad harvest immediately after such a change as I propose, and that there was temporarily a high and distressing price of food, that you would have any more difficulty in maintaining the fixed duty than you have in preserving your present scale. I know very well that great attempts might be used to inflame the public mind; but I do believe the people would be found fair and reasonable, and that you might adhere to the new system. I have not stated the amount of the duty I propose. I merely call on you to affirm a resolution, that the change I submit would be more advantageous to trade and the general welfare of the community. I have not inserted the amount of duty, because, in the first place, it is contrary to the usage of Parliament to do so in this House; but my opinion is in favour of the amount of duty proposed by the late Government, and which, if it had been entertained by the representatives of the landed interest in a friendly spirit, would have given a far greater hope of all differences being compromised, and a final settlement arrived at, than the proposal which is now submitted. I much fear that the opportunity for conciliation is passed. The grounds on which I recommend this bill appear to me clear and intelligible. I recommend it, as it will have the effect of preventing fraud, and the suspicion of fraud; and I recommend it generally as a great improvement on the present system. I make this motion, and I move this resolution, with reference to the past, with application to the present time, and with the prospect of the future. With reference to the past, in justification of the Government which brought it forward: with respect to the present, because I think it the best course that can be adopted; and-though I have little hope of being able to induce your Lordships to accede to it— with respect to the future, I have a perfect confidence that you will one day sanction it, and that it will become the law of this country. The noble Viscount concluded by moving the following resolution:—That it is the opinion of this House that a fixed duty upon the importation of foreign corn and flour would be more advantageous to trade, and more Conducive to the general welfare of all classes of the people, than a graduated duty varying with the average of prices in the markets of this country.
§ The Earl of Ripon
said, that the manner in which his noble Friend had introduced his resolution to the House rendered it unnecessary for him to trouble their Lordships at any length on the proposition which his noble Friend had submitted for their Lordships' consideration. Nothing could be more fair, nothing could be more candid, or more reasonable, than the mode in which his noble Friend had brought his resolution forward; but, at the same time, he could not forbear from impressing on their Lordships how exceedingly unwise and imprudent it would be in their Lordships to accede to that proposition. In the course of last night their Lordships had rejected propositions, the object of which was to stop the progress of the present bill. They had not only done that, but they had by a specific vote in favour of the second reading so far confirmed the principle on which the bill was founded. The present proposition of his noble Friend went the length of calling on their Lordships to rescind the vote they had already come to, for the purpose of adopting an entirely new principle for the purpose of regulating the trade in corn, though his noble Friend had, at the same time, abstained from giving their Lordships any glimmering of the mode in which he proposed to carry his resolution into effect. He did not think that their Lordships could be prepared, in reasonable consistency, to agree to that resolution. What would be the first effect of the carrying of that resolution? If his noble Friend succeeded in passing his resolution, then there was an end of the bill before the House; and their Lordships would be giving a triumph to the noble Earl (Earl Stanhope), who last night in vain tried to extinguish the bill. And when the present bill was thus got rid of, their Lordships would be no further advanced on the subject. Every body admitted that some measure with regard to corn was necessary. All, but a very few, whose number last night did not exceed seventeen, conceived it to be necessary to come to some settlement of this question. But suppose their Lordships were to determine that his noble Friend's proposition was a wise one, and that the present bill ought to be extinguished, they would still leave the existing law, with all its deformities, whatever they might be, in full force, and what ground would their Lordships have to anticipate that they 728 would be, in the course of the present Session, or at any period that could be named, in a condition to alter the law, even according to the views of his noble Friend? He was, therefore, of opinion, that no possible practical result of any beneficial kind could follow from the adoption of his noble Friend's resolution. At the same time he should not wish to put his objection to the resolution on the mere ground of technical inconvenience in reference to the actual state of the question. He confessed he did object to his noble Friend's proposition on principle. He believed that it would not be found to effect its object; that it was liable to great practical difficulty and evil in its execution. He thought it would not relieve the country from any inconveniences which might be alleged to belong to the present system. On the contrary, he believed that it would be found, in some respects, to aggravate those evils, and its disadvantages would more than counterbalance its advantages. His noble Friend said he declined entering into any details, or stating any specific plan, but that he remained attached to the scheme proposed by his own Government last year, which went to the imposition of a protective duty of 8s. His noble Friend, in the course of his speech, had stated many good reasons, though he had at the same time thrown overboard some equally sound arguments, for objecting to what was called a free-trade in corn. Therefore, he said, that his fixed duty was to be established on the principle of protection; but he had never told the House on what ground it was, that he conceived that a permanent duty of 8s. would or could give the necessary protection. To propose a duty which would not give the protection which the noble Lord admitted to be indispensably necessary was worse than useless. It would mislead those for whose benefit it was intended. In his opinion a permanent fixed duty of 8s. appeared in the present state of things no protection at all. If they adopted the principle of protection, they must assume this—that up to a certain point protection was really prohibition. On what ground, then, was the amount of protection to be calculated? The basis of the calculation must, he conceived, be a combination of the price at which the article might be introduced from foreign countries, and the price at which it could be produced, in an adequate amount, in this country. If the 729 price at which foreign corn could be imported into this country upon an average of years should be 40s., and if the remunerating price here (whatever difficulties might exist in precisely ascertaining the particular amount) should lie between 56s. and 60s., it was manifest that a duty of 8s. was no protection at all; and it would therefore be a delusion to offer to the growers of corn a protection which, in reference to the remunerating price here, would end in being no protection at all. There was another objection to this plan of a fixed duty which in his mind appeared insuperable. He did not deny that there was a simplicity and uniformity of operation in fixed duty which recommended it as a general principle in any other matter except one of such vital consequence as the food of the people. This, he repeated, was a subject of such vital consequence that it seemed to be exempted from the ordinary principles which governed commercial matters. He believed, indeed, that this fixed duty would be no protection at all at the time when protection was essentially necessary, namely, when prices here were very low. No one, of course, presumed to complain, or to insinuate the most remote shadow of complaint, against a low price of corn, if it arose from the bounty of Providence and the abundance of our own production. But if it were not so produced, but occasioned by an abundant supply, which might not be wanted, poured in from other countries, then it would create that discouragement which the noble Lord was anxious should not be given to the agriculturists of this country. The noble Lord said there was something advantageous to the operations of commerce in a fixed duty, which did not belong to the graduated scale of the present law. But their Lordships must argue this question on principle, and not on the mode in which his noble Friend wished to apply it. They must argue it on the principle that the protection to be given must be sufficient. If, then, the protection was to be sufficient, it must be of such an amount as would insure to the growers of corn a reasonable prospect of being able to obtain that which was held to be a remunerating price. His noble Friend could not escape from this question of a remunerating price, and it must be one of the elements of his plan. If the protection offered was sufficient to insure, as far as 730 any law could, a remunerating price (though, in his opinion, no law could insure it, and he never proposed any Corn-law for such a purpose, but with the view of not admitting foreign corn when prices were low in this country), still prices might rise so high as to make the protective duty of 8s. a grievance. His noble Friend said, that there could be no difficulty in maintaining the duty; and that he was confident that the good sense of the people would not object to the fixed duty when prices were high, in consideration of the advantages which he presumed they would get from it when prices were low. But would it not be most imprudent to act on such a reliance? His noble Friend had not shadowed forth even the most misty view of the mode in which he was prepared to meet the case of prices rising very high, but he seemed to anticipate that it would then be necessary to take some measure to put an end to the duty. If this were so, the duty was not a fixed one; but something which vanished— something which was extinguished by a necessity, and it wanted the essential quality of a fixed duty—that of being unchangeable. By the way, his noble Friend had let out that he might have been disposed, if circumstances had been favourable, and if the agricultural interest had been a little more squeezable, to have offered them a greater protection, say 12s. or 14s. [Viscount Melbourne: I named no sum.] No, the noble Lord named no sum, and there was the ingenuity of his proceeding; but that constituted a reason why their Lordships ought not to agree to a proposition about which they knew nothing. What did the noble Lord propose to do when corn rose so high that it would be impossible to maintain the fixed duty? He had not told the House that the law which he proposed should enact his principle would contain in itself any provisions which would meet this case. Was the remission of the duty to be dependent on the will of the Government? Was it to be an act of authority on the part of the State? If so, where was the certainty on which the framer of the resolution had so much relief? At one time an Administration might think a certain price exorbitantly high, which at another time another Administration might deem a moderate price. Thus, instead of having a law which everybody might watch, and the operation of which might be foreseen by 731 every one, the people would have to calculate on that which they could not fore-see—namely, the disposition of the Government for the time being to deal with the question according to their own opinions, or according to that pressure from without which might force them against their better judgment to withdraw the duty. What was the objection to the graduated scale? The great rapidity in its changes, and the inducement thereby held out for parties to speculate, and unduly influence the averages. But the noble Lord's plan would produce a much greater rapidity of change. There would be a change from 8s.. to nothing, and back again from nothing to 8s. The whole plan would be from the beginning to the end a matter of uncertainty; consequently this principle of a fixed duty could not be made to work satisfactorily; and it did not appear that the graduated scale, the intrinsic abstract justice of which the noble Lord had not denied, could be less satisfactory to the producer, and less calculated to give relief, as regarded time, to the; consumer, than the other plan of a fixed duty, if established on the principle of protection. If the noble Lord were to say that, instead of giving a duty for protection, he would impose a moderate duty for the purpose of revenue, which would have little or no effect on the price of the article, he could understand, though he should object to the principle, that it would not be liable to the particular objections urged against a fixed duty given for protection. It did appear to him that the plan of the fixed duty had none of the advantages which the noble Lord ascribed to it; for it would leave every thing in a state of uncertainty. Nobody would know the amount of protection under a fixed duty, and they would have at an early period to do again that which some noble Lord said they must do again if the bill now on the Table passed,—.namely legislate anew on the subject. It was possible. they might have to legislate again. No persons supposed that any law would last for eternity, except those foolish people the Medes and the Persians; and something had fallen from the noble Lord opposite, from which it appeared that he did not look upon his proposition as one that he could permanently maintain; because he said, that in regarding the various considerations which led him to object to the motion of a noble and learned Lord, he 732 did not think that the state of things now would warrant the absence of all protection. The use of the word "now" in connexion with the plan which the noble Lord proposed was an argument of its instability, and brought him to the conclusion that those who thought that protection must be given to agriculture would, of necessity, vote against his resolution.
§ The Earl of Clarendon
said, as he had long been convinced of the great and increasing evils of the Corn-laws, he was desirous, not only of stating the grounds of that opinion, and the reason why he supported the resolution of his noble Friend; but also of congratulating the House and the country upon the time having at length arrived, when by the common agreement of all parties, with the exception of seventeen noble Lords who voted last night with the noble Earl, some change had become indispensable, and an adherence to our present system into all its train of attendant misfortunes, was no longer looked upon as possible He only wished he could also congratulate the House upon the bill which his noble Friend had last night introduced, being calculated to satisfy public expectation, or alleviate the unparalleled distress under which so large a portion of their fellow-countrymen were labouring; but it appeared to him, that it no more required the noble Duke (the Duke of Bucking-ham), to make the sacrifice, (and a painful one it was, no doubt, to him), of abandoning his colleagues on the eve of the meeting of Parliament, than it justified the visions of ruin and revolution which the noble Earl Stanhope conjured up, and compared to which he insisted that the horrors of the French Revolution were but "milk and water," His noble Friend, (the Earl of Hardewicke) had proved last night in the clearest manner that this measure would not deprive the agricultural interest of an atom of the real protection which they now enjoyed, and would not abate a single one of the evils with which the present Corn-laws are chargeable. He rejoiced, however, at the introduction of this measure, which he looked upon as a great and important event, because it was an abandonment of all those positions hitherto, held by the party now in power, but which they had deserted in order to seek others from which they would be still more easily driven, The positions upon which they 733 last year, in opposition, took their stand were, that the Corn-laws worked for the good of the community—that they gave no more than the just protection to the farmer—that they secured to the country a sufficient supply of corn, and that they prevented fluctuation in price, and dependence upon foreigners. All these had now been abandoned, and the real benefit to be expected from the measure was to be looked for in the debates which had taken place upon it; they were altogether composed of concessions on the part of those who introduced and supported the bill in the other House—it was now discovered, that the protection was excessive and unnecessary—that the fluctuation in price was great, and ought to be diminished— that the supply of food was regulated by gambling, and that between two and three millions of persons, more than one-tenth of the population of England and Scotland were absolutely dependent upon foreign countries for the bread they eat. Now, no argument had been more used in that House, than that we should be independent of foreign nations for our supply of corn, in total disregard of the fact that, of all countries, this was the one most dependent on other nations, and that this very dependence was one of the chief sources of our greatness and power, Were we not dependent upon foreigners, for the 50,000,000 worth of British manufactures and produce that we export annually, at least half of which is paid in the wages of labour, Without the manufactures that we export, how could we import the raw materials necessary for them—the cotton, the silk, the hemp, the timber, the wine and oil, and tea, the very necessaries, as well as luxuries of life? Could we maintain our three millions of tons of shipping, if we were independent of foreign nations? Did not the existence of the navy itself depend upon foreign nations? And yet, whenever the question was raised of how we could best import a certain quantity of foreign corn that we must have, and which is over and above what we can produce, we are then always told that we ought to be independent of foreign nations. As a noble Earl (Earl Winchilsea) had said, we ought not to be dependent upon a country which, at any time, owing either to political circumstances, or to domestic, or fiscal regulations, might interfere and deprive us of what we wanted when at the 734 time of our utmost need. But the true way to be independent of foreign nations, was to have commercial relations with them all; far better was it to be constantly dependent on all than to be occasionally dependent upon any, Then we could reckon on a regular supply for our wants; then we might reckon on a regular demand for our manufactures; then we might guard against that drain of gold and derangement of the monetary system, which, only three years ago, brought the Bank of England to the very verge of insolvency, and that national calamity would beyond all question have occurred but for the assistance afforded by the Bank of France—an instance, by the way, of the use of being dependent on foreign nations. But above all it was in that mutual dependence among nations which the provisions of nature point out as clearly as we are permitted to comprehend anything of the intentions of the Almighty that we shall find the surest guarantee for that greatest of blessings, the maintenance of peace, which to us is a mark of first necessity, and which would be cheaply purchased by any sacrifice short of national honour; and in illustration of what his noble Friend (Lord Melbourne) had said upon that point, he might cite the events which had occurred in Canada four years ago. Their Lordships would recollect, what was the state of matters then upon the Canadian frontier. They would remember the crowds of "sympathizers" which swarmed upon the American side; they would recollect the impotence of the American government to maintain order or to enforce the law they would remember the ease of Mr. M'Leod, and the manner in which he, a British subject, had been thrust back by a furious rabble into the prison from which by the law of the United States he had first been liberated; they would remember the language held by the press— the language uttered in Congress—the excitement which prevailed throughout the states, and the eagerness apparently uncontrollable for the blood of that unfortunate man; and he would ask them, remembering all these occurrences, whether there did not appear every chance of a war between the two countries breaking out? He would ask also why it did not take place, why it was never seriously apprehended, why no preparations even were on either side made for the oncoming catastrophe? 735 The answer was to be found in the word "commerce." It was to the fourteen millions worth of raw materials which we imported from America, and the still greater amount of manufactures which we exported to it that we were indebted for the preservation of peace. It was owing to the mutual dependence of England and America (and long might that dependence continue !)—and the impossibility in which each country knew itself to be of doing without the other that both, without the slightest degradation, without the shadow of a stain upon their national honour, tacitly, he might almost say instintively agreed to compound their differences, and refrained from inflicting upon themselves the ruin and calamities of war. He had alluded to these facts as illustrating the observations of his noble Friend, as he was certain there could be no instance more striking of the benefits of mutual dependence; but he maintained, that this country could not reap all the benefits which would accrue from such a system as long as a graduated scale of duties should be maintained on the introduction of that first great necessary of life, the food of the people — which his noble Friend (Lord Ripon) had justly characterised as the most important subject that could command the attention of the legislature. There was no country with which Great Britain carried on a more extensive trade than with America; there was no country, the continuance and increase of the trade with which, was more easy of attainment than with America, if we took but the proper means for it while they were yet in our power—while Americans were yet the producers of raw materials, and we of manufactured commodities—while in short we were mutually necessary to each other, and before we compelled them as we did the Germans twenty years ago to become manufacturers by our obstinate refusal to take for our productions the only commodities they had to give in exchange. But we excluded ourselves from commerce with the corn producing states of America by means of the graduated scale of duties exactly as we should with the Southern States if we applied a sliding-scale to the importation of cotton. His noble Friend had stated last night, that we could not reckon on any supply from these states? And why? Because our markets were entirely closed against them. If we admitted their corn, 736 there was evidence to show, that we might expect large supplies from those countries. It was of these prohibitory laws that America complained. They complained of these enactments, and justly said, that the treaties by which we were bound to place them on the same footing with more favoured nations, were evaded; yes, and they would continue to be evaded, until the three months which it took to bring cargoes from America should be made equal to the three weeks' passage from other countries, as far as regarded the chance of finding the duties the same after the expiration of the longer period, which other parties had of finding them similar at the end of the shorter time. In August last, the duty on wheat was 22s. 8d.; in September, it fell to 1s., and in five weeks was again up at 22s. 8d.; and the few shipments made in New York arrived in this country after the duty had regained its prohibitory point, in consequence of the quantity of corn poured in from the countries of Europe, and which derived an advantage from which America was excluded. This was an instance of the injurious effects of the sliding-scale on our commerce with distant countries, and it must be remembered that our remittances to the United States in payment of corn, would be almost entirely made in manufactures; whereas for the corn received from the continent, bullion was almost always demanded in return- Now, suppose America were to adopt the sliding-scale with reference to our manufactures, and to admit our cotton fabrics at a rate of duty varying with the quantity produced in their own country—what would be the consequence? Our trade in the article would absolutely cease. None would make shipments under such circumstances, when the amount of the duty, which might be exigible when the goods arrived at their destination, was utterly unknown. And yet this was the system which was adopted with reference to America; the consequence was, that no corn was grown for our market—none was brought here and we deprived ourselves of a trade which would support and give employment to thousands. A noble Lord had asked what were the mischiefs of the sliding-scale? He had pointed out some of them with reference to distant countries, and a repetition of them would probably take place this year, for as long as the sliding-scale was maintained, so long will 737 there be no natural exchange of foreign corn for British commodities; by that he meant, that the trade can be upon no regular nor natural footing and no previous preparation can be made to meet it in the ordinary course of commerce. One year we might want ten times the amount of corn that we did the year before; but this would not create in other countries a corresponding demand for our manufactures. The corn, however, must be had, and it must be paid forin the only commodity available for the purpose, which was in bullion. Neither could any modification or form of the sliding-scale produce regularity of supply from abroad; the foreign grower cannot cultivate his land for the English market as the manufacturer here produces goods for a foreign market, our demand is sudden and unexpected; the price rises by our competition, and if it be true as it is generally said, that a short harvest here usually takes place when the same happens on the continent, it follows, that the foreign supply is deficient in the market to which we have restricted ourselves and thus, by suddenly raising the price of the food, which we must have, we inflict a grievous injury upon ourselves, and are an absolute curse upon the countries from which we draw our supplies; and by the very arrangements which we make for rendering ourselves independent of all foreign countries, we secure our dependence upon a few, and that on terms most onerous to ourselves. Now, to not one of those evils did the bill before the House propose to apply any remedy, yet her Majesty's Government must be well aware of the character and extent of those evils, otherwise why make any change in the law? It could not be merely for the sake of that occasional revision of laws to which his noble Friend had alluded last night, which in other words, would be a premium on constant agitation by giving the people to understand that there is nothing settled nor final in the laws which most affect them. Surely the Government must be aware, that in the words of Mr. Alexander Baring, in one of his many admirable speeches in the House, of Commons upon the subject,The Corn-laws are intimately connected with the progress of manufactures; that they are to be found in the beginning, the middle, and at the end of every question in which the price of labour entered.Surely the Government must have felt 738 as Mr. Huskisson felt, that if the price of subsistence, i. e. the price of all those particular articles which we do not export, but are compelled to import, be materially dearer here than elsewhere, that dearness cannot be shifted to the articles which we do export. It must fall in the way of deduction either upon the wages and comforts of the labourer, or upon the profits of those who give him employment. The Government must have felt (and the new tariff affords proof of this) as all practical and reflecting men have long felt, that the protective system affecting as it does every branch of our industry—paralyzes our national resources, and is fast drying up the springs of our national prosperity; yet, if such considerations have had any weight with her Majesty's Government, how could they expect that a bill built upon the ruins and animated by the principle of a law which they had deserted—how could they expect that it would be more defensible or more durable; the Government must know that the prices of food, like all other prices, were independent of legislation, and they had seen, with the present law, prices vary from 39s. to 90s. per quarter. But the measure which was proposed would not take the corn trade out of the hands of speculators, but it would, like the present law, serve the interests of the continental corn-grower and the English corn-jobber. These men desired nothing better than the continuance of the sliding-scale, and dreaded nothing so much as a fixed duty and the competition of the whole world in our markets, to which it would expose them. He had no hesitation in avowing himself opposed to all protection as a system. While he desired to see duties imposed for revenue, he did not by any means advocate the withdrawal of all protection from the agricultural interest; and he thought that the experience of the last few months had fully proved the expediency and the soundness of the measure which the late Government proposed last year, it would have been good for the consumer beneficial to the revenue, and whatever they might think to the contrary, he was sure it would eventually have proved the best measure of protection to the agriculturists. The consumer would have had his supply much earlier in the year, and as soon as it was necessary, instead of having to pay from 80s. to 90s. a quarter for the best English wheat at a time 739 when a million and a half quarters of foreign corn were locked up in bond waiting for the inevitable fall of duty. The revenue would have gained about 1,100,000l. instead of 570,000l.., not one atom less corn coming in on account of the duty, for after paying it, there would have been a great profit to the importer, whereas the knowledge that the duty must fall by the operation of the sliding-scale, so raised the price of wheat at the Baltic ports, that we just gave a bonus of 20s. a quarter to the foreigner or the jobber; for while the duty here fell from 24s. 8d. to 1s., the price of wheat at Dantzic rose from 40s. 6d. to 60s., and this took place upon nearly a million of quarters in the month of September; and the consumers here actually paid a million sterling more than was necessary for the corn; that sum of money was absolutely wasted and thrown away. Then as to protection to the landed interest, which it is most false to say the late Government intended to withdraw, but which his noble Friend opposite (Lord Ripon) seemed to think was altogether illusory—he was convinced that, at the remunerating price of 56s. fixed by the right hon. Bart, at the head of her Majesty's Government, it would have been found abundant, taking into consideration the freight and charges, and rise of prices on the Continent that steadiness of demand here must have created; bearing in mind alga that the average duty paid upon all the wheat imported under the present law was only 5s. 9d,—that the proposed duty would have therefore exceeded the duty actually paid by 2s. 3d. a quarter, or nearly 40 per cent. The measure would have been accepted as a boon by the whole country; it would have saved that excitement of public opinion, all that agitation of the fast ten months, which have compelled her Majesty's Ministers to admit the necessity of a change, and to bring in a bill which, while it unsettles and alarms, and will effect no good, is still at their hands a most important concession. The measure of last year respecting corn resembled the question of East Retford and Basset-law, as regarded Parliamentary reform: both were timely measures, such as public opinion demanded, and would have been satisfied with; and if those places had been disfranchised, and representatives given to Birmingham and Manchester, schedule A might have been averted for 740 many years; so, if the 8s, uniform duty had been adopted, agricultural protection might have been reckoned upon for a much longer period than it now can be; but the present Government had dealt with the Corn-laws in the spirit with which they met the question of reform, rather than with the vigour and manliness which characterized the abandonment of all their former opinions with respect to the Catholic question. The landowners might at first have thought themselves aggrieved by an 8s. duty, but they would have found that it afforded them ample protection, and the question would have been set at rest for several years at least; but could they say as much for the bill now before the House?—could they look upon this bill, when it has passed into law, as safe for the next five, or four, or three years? — could they believe that every evil complained of under the present law would not equally occur under the future law, or that the same means that had been resorted to for shaking off the old law, would not be adopted, and with the same success, to get rid of the pew one?—could they doubt that the whole system of protection had now received its death-blow, or that it could survive the announcement of the right hon. Baronet, that the cost of living was so much increased by it, that, by a trifling reduction of it, the tax on income would not be felt, and its odious character be forgiven? And if the landowners did not, as they could not doubt all this, let them ask themselves whether the next concession will not place them in a far worse position, This bill, however, was framed on no solid basis, and effected no finality; it contained, therefore, within itself the germs of future improvement, and he had no doubt that the next law for regulating the importation of corn, which the Government introduced, would be one better adapted to meet the necessities of the people, He only hoped it might not come too late; for pur position was most critical, The industry, and capital, and skill, and stupendous powers of production, of this country, forbade us to despond, but our position was still most critical. The appalling distress which every where prevailed was of no temporary character; he wished he could believe, as it had often been stated in that House, that it were attributable to overproduction, or to the failure of the American banks, or to any of those fluctuations 741 incidental to trade and manufactures; but he feared it was attributable rather to the change of circumstances that had been rapidly taking place—to the springing up of manufactures in Germany and Switzerland, and to the States that twenty-five years ago hardly existed;—to the active competition we now meet in all the markets of the world, and to the spirit of hostility in other countries towards our trade, that has been engendered by our own restrictive system. It was a total change of this system, which should give employment to our industry and create markets for our produce, that was now indispensably necessary. It was only by wise, and prompt, and vigorous measures of commercial reform that the future prosperity and greatness of this country could be effectually secured; and it was because he believed that an uniform duty upon the first necessary of life would be a most important step towards the accomplishment of that object—because he believed that it would create a regular and profitable trade, and that, while a due protection would be afforded by it to the landed interest, it would, at the same time, by means of competition, give the most effectual stimulus to the skill and industry of the British agriculturist. It was upon these grounds that he cordially supported, the resolution of his noble Friend.
The Earl of Wicklow
might have experienced some difficulty in disposing of his vote on the discussion of the previous evening if he had entered the House. He believed that nothing could be more injurious than to excite hopes in a country by the changing of a law which would not be gratified by the success of the alteration proposed. It was the expectation of the country that the bill before the House would reduce prices, and he should be very sorry that these expectations should be disappointed. He would not support the bill oh the grounds of his noble Friend, who had trusted that it would become an established and permanent law. The present measure would never become a permanent law. La w after law had been en acted for the purpose of reducing the prices of food, and he believed that the present measure would prove a stepping stone to still greater changes. It would prevent that too sudden alteration which his noble and learned Friend's resolution of last night went to establish, and it would prepare the agriculturists gradually for greater 742 changes. Laws had been enacted for the purpose of keeping corn at 80s. and 90s.; they had been altered; other enactments had been introduced; and he would ask —had the agriculturists suffered by the change? Agriculture was now in a greater stale of prosperity than it was when prices were far higher; and he thought that the result of the present bill would not be to interfere with the interests of the farmer. On the contrary, he believed, that by this gentle mode of descent, they were enabled to try to what extent they could make reductions without injuring the agriculturist. But the arguments of his noble Friends on this side of the House had not operated on his mind in giving the vote which he had recorded. The arguments of a noble Baron connected with Essex (Lord Western), it was true, had a considerable effect in influencing him; but these arguments were intended by the originator to influence him to pursue quite an opposite course. That noble Baron had said, that the agriculturists of England were able to raise produce quite as cheaply as even those of any other nations. He hoped that the noble Lord was correct in that statement, and if such was the case, did it not constitute a strong argument in favour of the measure and against the proposition of high duties and high prices which he meant to support? But he (Lord Western) had added, if it were not for the taxes with which the people were burdened. He might appear to be a bad political economist to the noble Lord, but he was sure that taxes had no concern with the matter. Taxes were borne by the wealth of the country; and by an increase of wealth, which would spring from increase of commerce and manufactures, the weight of taxes could be best reduced. If, indeed, the whole of the taxes fell on agriculture, there might be some weight in the arguments of the noble Baron; but, as taxes fell upon wealth, it would be the duty of Government to apportion the burden equally. He would now advert to the question between the sliding-scale and a fixed duty, or, as a noble Lord (Earl Stanhope) had expressed it, between having his head chopped off by a guillotine or a hatchet. The noble Lord had stated that he should not care which mode of operation was adopted in his own case; but for his own part, he thought that there was a very great difference. He would certainly prefer the well-finished, 743 highly-wrought instrument that was well adapted to the object in view, rather than the rude uncouth instrument, caught up on the moment, and intended, perhaps, as much by its employer to defend himself, as to be applied to its legitimate purpose. But between the two modes of levying duty now under their Lordships' observation, he could concur that there might be great differences of opinion, because opinions would differ according to the object principally kept in view. If that object was to increase commerce, to promote manufactures, to increase our communications with other countries, a fixed duty would be the better measure. Under its influence trade would be more fixed and regular. But, on the other hand, if protection to agriculture were the object in view, and that it is so is admitted by all, the noble Viscount stated it to be his object in his measures of the last Session; then that would be best attained by means of the sliding-scale. Under it agriculturists would feel more secure. Its operation, as regarded their interests, would be more certain and efficacious. It was then clear that the present measure would give more protection to agriculture than that proposed by the late Government. With respect to Ireland, he had often heard it stated in discussion upon the Corn-laws, that even although individuals would be ready to give them up as regarded England and Scotland, they thought they must keep them up for the sake of Ireland. Now, if he believed that the proposed alteration would have the effect of injuring Ireland, he would be bound to vote against them, not only from his connection with that country, but from a consideration of the way in which she had been treated by this country, not lately, but at the most critical periods of her history. He felt that Ireland had been reduced by this country to become solely an agricultural nation. If she had been fostered and fairly treated at the time she most needed it, she would now be a source of wealth and credit to Great Britain, instead of being, as she was, a millstone round her neck. But, reduced as she was by the policy of Britain, it became the bounden duty of Britain to protect her; and if he thought that the measures proposed would have any evil effect upon her interests, no argument could induce him to accede to them. 744 But he did not believe, that from the proposed measure any portion of the kingdom would suffer less than Ireland; those districts would suffer most in which skill and capital had been employed in bringing poor land into successful cultivation. But such had never been the case with Ireland; the fruitful soil of that country, to which neither skill nor capital had been applied, was particularly fitted for improvements, of which it was impossible to foresee the limits, and the more prices fell here, the more capital and skill was likely to be employed in Ireland, in order to make up in quantity for the diminution in the price. Allusion had been made to the decrease in the exportation of wheat from Ireland for the last three years, as a proof of the growing prosperity and increasing comforts of the people. But the fact was, that the seasons for the last three years had been so very bad, that little corn fit for exportation had been grown, and it therefore became necessary to apply it either to the use of the distillers, or for the support of the poor. The former mode failed in consequence of the closing of the distilleries, and consequently the use of wheat became more prevalent amongst the lower classes in Ireland. At least, from the causes he had heard stated, it was much more used than it had been before. It would make him very happy to think that it should become much more used than it had been; but it was not from the cause which his noble and learned Friend had supposed. He had often stated to his farmers, when he heard there was a bad wheat harvest, that he considered it a favourable circumstance for the poor, because it would keep the wheat in the country, and it would be rendered cheap for their use. There was, however, one circumstance connected with these measures which he very much deplored, namely, the duty proposed upon oats. He regretted that the proposed duty was so small, in comparison with that which was imposed upon wheat; and his reason for saying this was, not because he wished to have the price of oats higher, but because he was afraid that there would be an inducement to the Irish farmer to cultivate wheat, and abandon the cultivation of oats, for which the climate was much better suited. The soil of Ireland was suited for wheat, but not the climate; and the consequence was, 745 that not one harvest out of six in Ireland turned out to be a good wheat harvest. It was for these reasons that he hoped her Majesty's Ministers would consider that it would be a much better policy in them to raise the price of oats, so as to induce the people of Ireland and Scotland to cultivate it. This he believed they could have done without any danger; for there had been no clamour on the subject. The people of this country would have been satisfied with a decrease of the duty on wheat; and the sound policy, he was sure, would have been, in lowering that, to have raised rather than lowered the duty on oats. There was one other circumstance to which he wished to allude; — it gave him great satisfaction to know that this bill was to be accompanied by other measures contained in the tariff, and especially this, that there was to be a reduction in the duty on foreign cattle. Ireland was peculiarly favourable to the growth of cattle; it was so, both by its soil and climate; and there was, therefore, every inducement to turn it into a pasture country. He thought there could be no evil so great, no system so ruinous, as exciting that tendency so to apply the land in Ireland. Before the war Ireland had, for the greater part, been a grazing country. It was the high prices of the war- it was the high prices since the war, that had led, in a great degree, to the cultivation of corn. That it was which had produced a superabundant population in the country, and now that they had that superabundant population, anything that could induce the owners of land to convert it again into pasturage must become an evil that, in its results, it would be impossible to describe. Therefore it was, that when he found there was an alarm as to lowering the duty, when he perceived that there was an alarm as to a greater importation of cattle, he felt gratified —and he did hope there would be an importation of them — although he feared it would be but too soon discovered that the alarm was groundless, and that the hopes entertained on the subject would never be realised, still, when he heard of these things, he was not without hope that they would tend to improve the condition of the people of Ireland. It had been said, that the measures proposed would not have a 746 tendency to lower prices in this country-that there were no countries on the Continent from which they could have a sufficient importation of cattle to be felt in the markets in this country. Now, when this was said, and admitting it to be true, yet there must be one most excellent effect of the tariff and the alteration of the Corn-law, which had not been sufficiently alluded to, and that must be of vast importance to the people of this country—that effect would be to increase the prices of articles on the Continent. They had often heard that the manufacturers here were unable to compete with those on the Continent, because the prices of food were so much- less. It was true that the prices of food were less; but then, if they looked to the prices of lodging, of firing, and other articles, he believed it would be perceived that the artisans on the Continent were not much better off than they were here. The effect, then, of the proposed measures would be to raise prices on the Continent, and in this way to bring the artisans here nearer to a par with those on the Continent. These were amongst the reasons that justified him in supporting the measures of the Government on the preceding night, and that induced him now to vote against the proposition of the noble Viscount opposite.
in rising to address their Lordships, promised to trespass but a very short time upon their attention. He wished to explain the vote that he had given for the motion of the noble Baron behind him (Lord Brougham), and the vote that he then meant to give for the motion proposed by his noble Friend. He hoped that he need not state to their Lordships, that in coming to the consideration of this most important question, he had endeavoured to divest himself of everything like party feeling. The subject, in his opinion, was of too much importance to be stained by party feeling. He could assure their Lordships, that whenever he had taken part in this question, as a representative of the people, he had done, as many of the supporters of noble Lords opposite in the other House were now doing, acting against what were the feelings of their constituents. Many years ago, in consequence of alterations of parts of the tariff, his attention had been called to this question of protecting duties. His profession as a soldier, although he was otherwise 747 much interested in it, had prevented him from giving his full attention to the matter. When then he examined the question, he was soon convinced that protecting duties were of little importance and of little advantage to those who were most protected, while generally they Were a great disadvantage to the public at large. If he were right in this; what must he think of a protecting duty that raised the price of an article that was the first necessary of life in a country like this, where the population was so rapidly increasing, where the supply of labour was greater than the demand, and the supply of food was less than the demand? It would be more just, in his opinion, to fix a minimum price upon labour, than a minimum price on food. With these feelings, and having heard the speech of the noble Earl who first moved this question, and who, as it appeared to him, entertained no sort of apprehension as to any extension or freedom of trade being injurious to the agricultural interest; and having heard then the speech of the noble Earl, and recollecting that this was a question that had been agitated for 180 years, and that there had been no less than thirty-eight acts of Parliament passed respecting it, ail endeavouring to come to a satisfactory arrangement; and yet finding that no satisfactory arrangement had been, or could be come to, he, with these feelings, must say, that he wished to try what would be the effect of no legislation, and this with the hope, that allowing a free importation of foreign corn would tend to the quiet and tranquillity of the country. He had the most anxious desire to see the question settled. He should be glad to see a compromise satisfactory to all classes, and he hoped it might be effected by permitting foreign corn to be introduced on a fixed duty. He thought that would be much better than the present system. He knew that there was a feeling throughout the country that the higher, or richer classes, derived a benefit from the present system at the expense of the lower classes. He did not mean to dispute the apprehensions that Were entertained On this subject, as they were so very powerfully expressed in a pamphlet, published some time since by the right hon. Baronet, the Secretary for the Home Department, entitled "Corn and Currency." That right hon. Baronet expressed the feeling which he himself Was now expressing. In his opinion, it 748 was a very serious evil that had arisen out of this discussion of the Corn-law—namely, that it was possible for the agricultural and commercial interests to thrive and prosper as separate and distinct interests from each other, He had never entertained that opinion; for he thought them to be so dovetailed with each other, that the one could not well flourish without the other prospering. There were however, intemperate advocates upon both sides, who declared that they could be two separate and distinct interests. On the one hand, it was said, that the manufacturers only looked for a free-trade in corn, in order that they might amass a larger fortune, and that they cared not how others suffered, so that they might attain that object. On the other hand, it was said, that the landed proprietors only looked to their own selfish interests; that they did not care for the happiness of the manufacturing classes, provided they could but hold their stations ill society. Both assertions, he was convinced, were equally unjust and equally untrue. When the manufacturer looked for the introduction of foreign corn, he looked certainly to his own advantage but also to that of those whom he employed, and also to the advantage of the agricultural interest. It was to be remembered, that no man ever yet could get rich in the midst of poverty, and unless manufactures flourished, agriculture could not flourish. On the part of the landed proprietors, he said, though he differed from the views of many of them on this subject, that they considered the agriculturists the very best customers of the manufacturers, and that, therefore, keeping up the price of corn was of the greatest advantage to the manufacturing classes. He was sure that their earnest Wish was to do good to the manufacturing classes. He could not but think, However, that while they said this, and so felt as they said, they forgot one very important consideration, that a large portion of their manufactures were intended for the foreign market; and that, if they were unable to compete with the foreigner, their trade must decline—they themselves suffer; and if they did so; the landed interest must suffer also. If any blame were to be" cast upon the present state of things, it was his opinion, that it must attach equally to both parties. At the close of the last war all parts of the world were open to their manufactures. The fault 749 was, however, that they wished to maintain the monopoly of the war prices, and manufacturing and other interests then looked for protection. It was then that they had their import duties, and to them should they, to a very great extent, attribute their present difficulties. He was delighted now to find that her Majesty's Government were about to make alterations in the tariff. He did not complain of the right hon. Baronet for going too far on this subject; all he complained of was, that the Government did not go far enough. It did, however, appear to him, that there was some little degree of inconsistency in the proposed legislation. He asked why Was the country to be now saddled with an Income-tax?—a tax of all Others the most offensive, the most obnoxious, and one that, above all others, in his opinion, ought to be specially avoided. In making so great an alteration as that, and in touching upon such questions as these, he asked, why was corn excluded, or why was that second necessary of life, he meant sugar, excluded? He rejoiced at the alterations that had taken place, but then why did not the Government go further? If he might be permitted to do so, he would wish to venture to say one word in favour of a fixed duty. It had been said, what would they do with their fixed duty, supposing corn rose to a famine price? The very argument so put implied that very little apprehension was entertained, that under such circumstances, corn could rise to a famine price. It was his impression that it never would do so. In the case of the sliding-scale, they saw that its effect was to force prices up, while, on the other hand, a fixed duty would enable the dealer to go into the market and purchase at any time. The argument so put by the supporters of a sliding-scale reminded him Of a gallant friend of his, who had served with great distinction in the Peninsula, and who afterwards left the army, The regiment that his friend commanded had distinguished itself at Waterloo, and meeting him a short time after, he said he was sorry he had not been present at that great engagement. His friend said, he was very glad he had not been there, because if he had he should have been killed, because his successor had been killed—his friend supposing that he should have been in the exact position Which the colonel ocupied when wounded. So it was with this noble 750 Lords opposite, that under a fixed duty there must be a famine, because there had been a famine under the sliding-scale. An advance was, however, now made. He was glad to see some progress attempted, and he hoped the Government would not stop there. He was sure they Would hot do so, for last year things that they were told were not to be touched—things that it was declared were not to be taken into consideration—these were the very things on which they now found new laws were proposed, and that it was now said were ho longer tenable. As it had been said ill the other House, and he might professionally use the same language, "the ground had been broken, the outworks had been taken, a breach had been made, the fortress of monopoly had surrendered, and the giant commerce had been set free." It was his hope to see such measures carried as would contribute to the welfare and prosperity of all classes of the community.
§ The Duke of Cleveland
said, he feared from having so lately taken his seat in that House he might be deemed guilty of presumption in offering a few observations upon the subject under consideration, but he could assure their Lordships that it was with the greatest reluctance that he did so—not from any Wish of his own, but from a paramount sense of duty. He feared that, after the frequent discussions of this question, in which he had taken part in the other House, if he were now to give a silent vote, it might be liable to some misconception, and he might be accused of some want of integrity in his public conduct, or default of political consistency. During the twenty-eight years that he had been a Member of the other House it had been his constant endeavour to maintain a character of political consistency, and he should be sorry now to be supposed to forfeit his title to it. On every occasion on which he had taken part in the discussion of the question, it had been brought forward, not with a view to a modification of the law, but to its total repeal—a measure which he trusted he should never see. He had always been in favour of the maintenance Of the existing law, not because he considered it perfect, or the scale established by it the wisest that could be devised, but because he had apprehensions that if the ice were once broken it would be mage the stepping-stone to further altera- 751 tions, which would lead in the end to total repeal. He had always felt it his duty, out of regard to the interests of the agricultural classes, and not for any personal object of his own, to resist the propositions made for a repeal of the Corn-laws; but we came now to a different question. A Corn bill was now introduced on the same plan as the existing one, but with a modification of the scale. When he was first made acquainted with the alteration, he confessed he was startled, and thought it went further than the necessity of the case required. After due consideration, however, he did not think that it would have that injurious effect upon the agriculturists which some persons apprehended from it; he did not think that under the proposed scheme the British agriculturist would be rendered unable to compete with the foreigner. He certainly felt the objection stated by the noble Earl behind him (Earl Wicklow), as applicable not only to Ireland but also to many parts of England. In several parts of the country, and particularly in the county of Durham, there was a great deal of wheat grown on land which ought not to be made to produce wheat, and which might be brought into much better cultivation with oats, and when he heard of the alteration, and before he knew precisely what it was, he intended to have induced his tenantry to grow more oats and less wheat. Much as he had heard of the necessity of lowering the duties on wheat, he had never heard anything about oats. If there should be so large an importation of oats as was expected by some under the new scale, he had no hesitation in saying that that, coupled with the import of foreign wheat, would affect most injuriously the agricultural interest. He freely admitted that after the great outcry on the subject of the Corn-laws, if the duties on wheat were to be altered at all, a less change could not be made than was proposed in this bill. Though he very much condemned the great reduction of the duty on barley and oats, yet he considered it on the whole to be consonant to his duty to vote for this bill, and certainly his anxious wish was, that it should pass into a law. He confessed that after what had fallen from some noble Lords, and especially after the noble Earl's remark relating to the laws of the Medes and Persians, he would have been rather staggered on the score of the finality 752 of this bill if brought forward by an individual Member of Parliament; but when a measure of this kind was brought forward by Government, to settle a great question and reconcile the conflicting interests of the manufacturers and agriculturists, the case, he thought, was different. He did hope, and he certainly understood that it was the intention of the right hon. Gentlemen in the other House to frame such a measure as should be satisfactory to all parties, and at the same time be considered a final settlement of the question. He was very much surprised that the noble Lord should not have said it was to be a final measure. It might be argued, that Ministers had no power to insure the finality of the measure; but a Minister might say, "Although I cannot control Parliament, I never will make any further alteration." He had always understood that the Ministers who passed the Reform Bill stated that it was to be a final measure, and that they considered it as such. If such a statement had been made by the noble Earl (Earl Ripon) on the present occasion, he should have been much better satisfied. He should, however, certainly vote for going into committee; but he hoped that the Corn-laws would never experience any further alteration during his own life. He was convinced that a fixed duty could never be carried into effect with any regard to equity or justice, if it were meant as a protection to the agriculturists, although as a source of revenue, he admitted that it would be more suitable and more productive.
§ The Earl of Ripon
would take this opportunity of saying a word in explanation of the remarks he had made on the subject of the finality of the measure, to which the noble Duke had alluded. He certainly had not had the arrogance to state that any law which Parliament might pass on this subject, or on any other, must be taken as final, but there was nothing in that which should be thought threatening to those who might be apprehensive of ulterior consequences from this measure. All he could say for himself was this, that if he brought forward the measure, intending or wishing it not to be final, he would say so. He had never said that with respect to this measure. He hoped that it would be final. He thought it would be a good thing if it were, and and it would not be his fault if it were not.
The Earl of Rosebery
would shortly state his general views on the measure of her Majesty's Government. He thought that, in making a great change in the law relating to the introduction of foreign corn, the best plan to be brought forward was one which would be not only immediately beneficial but also of a permanent character, or which, if it had not that distinctive advantage, should contain such provisions as would constitute the best preliminary and intermediate steps between the present law and a law to be established on a more broad, comprehensive, and durable basis. The present proposition, it appeared to him, would not give satisfaction on either of these grounds. With regard to its permanence, however its authors might have deluded themselves before they had proposed their scheme, they had before now had sufficient reason to discover that in its present shape it would have a very brief existence, and if the object were to take a preparatory step in advance of a law which was now discovered by all —except those who considered themselves agricultural patriots, headed by the noble Earl at the Table (the Earl of" Stanhope) and the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) to require immediate alteration, even as a preparatory step it would be a failure. With respect to a most important point involved in the consideration of a change of the Corn-laws, he had of late seen reason to change his opinion. He had formerly thought that in making any extensive alteration, it would be better to proceed on the principle of a varying duty, which he would have wished to arrange at very different rates from those proposed by her Majesty's Government. His plan, indeed, would have partaken in one part of the nature of a fixed duty, as he should have proposed that the minimum duty of the sliding-scale be 4s or 5s. But, considering what was demanded by the present circumstances of the country, he was disposed to think, after much reflection, and as patient an examination of the subject as any of their Lordships could have given it, that a fixed duty was the scheme most likely to be permanent, most free from objection, and best calculated to satsify all parties. Having the markets of the world at all times open to them, the price would rarely, if ever, rise to such an elevation as would make it necessary to repeal or relax the duty. A fixed duty appeared to him also to present the only means of putting 754 an end to the speculations and frauds which were now carried to such an extent, and were so pernicious to both consumers and producers. It would remove, also, one of the most important causes of that distress which had prevailed of late years to an extent so much to be deplored, by preventing those extensive demands for bullion, falls in the exchanges, and derangement of the currency, to which the present system of carrying on the Corn-laws more than anything contributed. Among the several causes leading to that periodical distress, he should place the sudden derangement and contraction of the currency from the present mode of importing foreign corn, as one of the most direct and mischievous in its nature? It was not surprising that new light should have broken in on his mind lately on this subject, when that had been the case also with all her Majesty's Ministers, and most of the noble Lords opposite who, last year, would have opposed and rejected this bill, in the same way as they defeated the measure of the late Government. He had been of opinion, that a duty of 10s. or 11s. might at first be advisable to prevent the evils of too sudden a change, reducing it by 1s. annually, till it fell to 8s. or 7s. there finally to remain. Though favourable to a change in the existing Corn-laws, and desirous of relaxing the duty on the introduction of foreign grain, he was still, from the peculiar circumstances of the country, willing to afford a certain protection to the home grower. He would not countenance a total repeal, because he considered there was no fairer subject for an impost than the importation of foreign commodities; and he thought that the duty on corn should be fixed at a higher rate at present than might be found ultimately desirable, in order to prevent the shock and disorder which might attend a too sudden change. Even to the consumer a duty would be found a protection, as it would tend to preserve a constancy of supply by giving encouragement to agriculture, and preventing the evils of an extravagant price in a time of temporary scarcity. Among other leading provisions of the bill which he disapproved of was that of the admission of a large number of towns into the schedule of places by which the averages were regulated. He did not believe that any one of their Lordships really knew what would be the effect of 755 that addition. His noble Friend, at the head of the Board of Trade, thought it would produce no great change, but there were others whose authority was entitled to considerable weight upon the question, and who were under the impression that it would operate to reduce the averages, and thereby increase the duty. Many were of opinion, that the proposed addition to the towns would alter the whole range of prices, and he believed that they were all in total ignorance of what the effect would be; and on those grounds he should certainly object to that provision. He confessed that, looking at what would be the probable operation of the bill, he could not bring himself to vote for the second reading last night, and had abstained from toting, although he was ready to admit that it was a very great improvement in the existing system. He thought the bill would make a very considerable change in price, but it would not effect the main object which he for one desired to see accomplished by an alteration of the Corn-laws—viz;, a steady, regular, and wholesome trade in corn, while it would generally exclude, and always perplex the commerce id grain with distant countries. He did not think that it would do away with speculation and fraud, or any of those evils which existed under the present system. Believing that a fixed duty would place the producer on a safer and better footing, and that the revenue would be in a better condition, believing that, it would improve their trade and be conducive to the advantage of the public generally, he should on these grounds give his support to the amendment of his noble Friend;
The Marquess of Salisbury
could not but congratulate his noble Friend who had just sat down, on the fact, that he considered the bill as a great amendment upon the law which was at present in operation. His noble Friend, he believed, had expressed his disapproval of every single provision of the bill, while, as a whole, he had considered it a great amendment on the present law. It appeared to him, that there were two grounds on which the Government was bound to give protection to the agricultural classes Of this country—one was, that by encouraging native agriculture they would render themselves independent of foreign nations; and the other was, that the agriculturists 756 were entitled to the same protection which was enjoyed by other trades. He believed it would not be denied, that there were special burdens imposed upon the land, and if the burdens on all classes were equalised, he had no objection to give up every protection which the landed interest at present enjoyed; The question was, what protection was necessary to enable the home-growers in their own markets, to compete with the foreign grower? Under the former law, the average price of corn was somewhere about 56s. the quarter, and the proposed law would maintain it at something like the same price, and less than that would not, he thought, be a sufficient protection to the English farmer. There was a great reduction in the amount of the duty to be levied under the new bill, but he believed the price would remain at something like the average of what it had been for the last ten years. With regard to the addition that had been made to the list of towns which Were to regulate the averages, he entirely approved of it, because he did not think, that the averages could be more fairly taken than by adding as many towns as possible where bonâ fide sales of wheat took place; But, it was said, the Government would not have proposed this measure, had it not hare been forced upon them by the country. Now, it was perfectly true, that the agitation which had been raised on this subject had necessitated this proposition, but was it not extraordinary that noble Lords opposite should blame the Government on that account? Why, they were the prime movers of this agitation. It was the late Administration which first proposed a change in the existing law; and with regard to the character of that change, he would say, that he thought nothing could be more delusive, than the proposition for a fixed duty. A fixed duty would be no protection to agriculture. Let them put it at a high rate, or at a low rate, it would be equally inoperative. In fact, the only efficient means of protecting the farmer was by the graduating scale—by an adherence to the principle at present enforced. He believed, that the measure before the House went to maintain that principle, and that the alterations made in the details were calculated to benefit the country; On the whole, he must say, that he was satisfied with the plan, and that he should Vote in favour of the bill most willingly;
§ Lord Portman
objected to the present bill as being of an unsatisfactory character, and, therefore, a bad measure. He considered that it in no way tended to settle this momentous question, the importance of which had been described so adequately by his noble Friend Opposite (the Earl of Ripon); He believed, that the question never could be settled satisfactorily to the agriculturist or to the consumer, until it was settled on the principle embodied in the amendment of his noble Friend; The measure could not satisfy any class, and it would unsettle the transactions of all classes. He should have thought, that his noble Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, would have been the last person to have approved of this bill, when he recollected that his noble Friend was the leading person in drawing Up the report of the Committee of the other House in 1821 On this subject. In that report the agriculturists were told that the time would come when the only protection which they must look to was in the shape of a fixed duty. They were also told, that that time would be when there was no glut in the home market and no glut in the markets of the world. He had always considered that the recommendations and arguments Were sound and Unanswerable, and in consequence of the impression Which that report bad made on his mind, he had always been ah advocate for a fixed duty on corn. He had entertained hopes, from the opinions expressed by the noble Earl on former occasions arid last night; that he Was prepared for a more extensive change; but his noble Friend had that night intimated that they should regard this as something like a final measure. He agreed With the noble Earl (Earl Hardwicke) in believing that the cultivators of Wheat would not have less protection Under the proposed bill than Under the present law; but he did not think that this would be altogether the case as regarded barley; The cultivators of barley, no doubt, had reason to be sorry that the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) did not remain in the cabinet, for he might by his exertions have succeeded in obtaining an equal share of protection for the barley grower, as a right hon. Baronet, his Colleague in the Cabinet; and also in ardent supporter of agriculture; had induced the Cabinet to agree to for the producers of apples and hops; With respect to the report of the committee, he would beg the attention of noble Peers to an extract from 758 it which he Would read. The committee in allusion to the present system of the sliding-scale, say:—This system is certainly liable to sudden alterations, of which the effect may be at one time to reduce prices already low, lower than they would probably have been under a state of free-trade, and at another, unnecessarily to enhance prices already high;—to aggravate the evils of scarcity, and to render more severe the depression of prices from abundance. On the one hand, it deceives the grower with the false hope of monopoly, and, by its occasional interruption, may lead to consequences which deprive him Of the benefits of that monopoly; When most wanted;—on the other hand, it holds out to the country the prospect of an occasional free-trade, but so regulated and desultory, as to baffle the calculations and unsettle the transactions both of the grower and the dealer at home;—to deprive the consumer of most of the benefits of such a trade, and to involve the merchant in more than the ordinary risks of mercantile speculation. It exposes the markets of the country, either to be occasionally overwhelmed with an inundation 6f foreign corn, altogether disproportionate to its wants; or, in the event of any considerable deficiency in bur own harvest, it Creates a sudden competition On the continent, by the effect of which, the prices there are rapidly and unnecessarily raised against outselves. But the inconvenient operation of the present Corn-law, which appears to be less the consequence of the quantity of foreign grain brought into this country, upon an average of years, than of the manner in which that grain is introduced, is not confined to great fluctuations in price, and consequent embarrassment, both to the grower and to the consumer; for the occasional prohibition of import, has also a direct tendency ft) contract the extent of our commercial dealings with other states, and to excite in the rulers of those states, a spirit of permanent exclusion against the productions or manufactures of this country and its colonies.Could any man predict more accurately the state of things that had arisen under the present Corn-law than the authors, of the report of 1821; and if they prophesied so rightly as to the result of the then law, why did noble Lords refuse to go with them in adopting their recommendations. In a subsequent part of the report, the committee said,—Your Committee are the more anxious to impress upon the attention of the House the real state of our trade in foreign corn, between the years 1773 and 1814, as it appears to them; taken in connection with the progress of general prosperity of the country, and more especially with the great improvements in agriculture, and its highly flourishing condition during that period, to suggest to Parliament, 759 as a matter highly deserving of their future consideration, whether a trade in corn, constantly open to all nations of the world, and subject only to such a fixed duty as might compensate to the grower the loss of that encouragement which he received during the late war from the obstacles thrown in the way of free importation, and thereby protect the capitals now vested in agriculture from an unequal competition in the home market,—is not, as a permanent system, preferable to that state of law by which the corn trade is now regulated.Did not the committee then distinctly tell the agriculturists, that the only protection they must ultimately look forward to was a fixed duty. The noble Earl said, that he was desirous of preventing frauds in the averages; but was he likely to do so by means of the present bill? The noble Lord said, that the grades in the sliding-scale were not so great in the bill before the House as they were in the present law. He admitted, that although the differences in the proposed scale, when corn rose to a certain price, were not so great as at present, still the scale was constructed in such a way, that it would still hold out inducements to speculators; and, indeed, this must be always the case where the average system was adopted, nearly as great now as formerly, to indulge in frauds to raise the averages. It was proposed to add sixty-two new towns to those from which the averages were now taken, but you still had London in the list, which was the great market for speculators and for fraudulent sales. When the former Corn-bill was before Parliament, he had moved, that London should be left out of the list of markets from which the averages were to be taken, but he was left in a very small minority on the occasion. He found, that at Liverpool, London, and Boston, at least one-fifth of the whole quantity of corn disposed of was sold. He found also, that in forty towns the return of sales of corn was less than that quantity. Under the present law, and under the operation of the proposed bill, the dealer in the great markets still depended on the foreign speculator, and they must buy when it suited them for the purpose of carrying on their gambling transactions. Another evil of the operation of the Corn-laws was, that the small farmer must sell his crops between the gathering the harvest and Lady-day, so as to enable him to pay his rents and tithes. But the chief portions of the speculations and the high prices of corn took place between Lady- 760 day and the harvest. The farmers, therefore, did not get the benefit of high prices from the Corn-laws, as they were forced to sell their produce at a period of the year when there were comparatively low prices. The present bill was also bad, because it unsettled existing bargains between landlords and tenants; and it was utterly impossible, that under its probable operation any man could tell how an agreement or bargain should be made. He believed, that this measure had given a shock to the landed interest of this country of a most serious character. He believed, that every man, poor or rich, labourer or master wished to give adequate and fair protection to the producer of corn; but how could they maintain that protection to him when he was exposed to competition with the foreigner by bringing forward a measure which would keep up all the fluctuations of the old bill, and which would tend to prevent altogether their making a fixed duty? They had lost good terms when they rejected the propositions which his noble Friend (Viscount Melbourne) had offered to Parliament last year, and which he was prepared to offer them again at present. He did not believe, that by this measure they would succeed in putting a stop to agitation—on the contrary, they would encourage it. It had been admitted, that it was yielding to agitation in bringing forward this measure, which could not be defended on principle.
The Earl of Winckilsea
said, he had endeavoured to follow the noble Lord who had last spoken, but he really had left him at an entire loss to know what his opinions were as to the protection, or preference, as he styled it, which ought to be given to the British agriculturists. The noble Lord appeared to argued, first of all, that the Government measure would give no protection. Why, was not its principle the same as that which characterised the protecting measure at present in operation? It was true some alterations were proposed in the scale of duties; but he was prepared to contend, that those alterations would give greater protection to the agriculturists than, in point of fact, they had ever before obtained. He did not mean to say, that the measure would enhance the price of corn, but certainly it would not expose the grower to the frauds practised upon the averages, as to the sudden alterations in the scale of duties which were constantly occurring under the plan at pre-sent in existence. He would assure noble 761 Lords, that he was not one of those who desired to raise prices. It was only his wish to give every fair protection to the agriculturists. He looked on the question as one affecting every class in the nation, and his only object was to give bread, the chief necessary of human existence, to the great mass of the people of this country, at the lowest possible price compatible with a fair profit to the grower. He must say, that he did think the measure before the House a very considerable improvement on the existing Corn-law. It would cure the evil of the jumping duties —the sudden change from high prices to low prices. A great improvement would also no doubt be made by the additions to the towns in which the averages were to be taken, but at the same time he quite agreed with the noble Lord who had just sat down, that the market in Mark-lane should be left out of the list altogether. As to the proposition embodied in the amendment, the fixed duty was in point of fact a perfect fallacy if viewed in the light of a protection. He looked to the consequences of a fixed duty upon corn not merely as immediately affecting that article, but ultimately involving the security of all other taxes; because, when the price of wheat was high, the Legislature would be compelled to abandon the 8s. duty, and the clamour of the people, when successful in getting rid of one tax, must exercise a most injurious influence with reference to every other available source of revenue. At the same time, he felt it to be an imperative duty to oppose the imposition of a fixed duty on corn as a protection to agriculture, because when corn was low it would afford no protection, and when prices were high, the Legislature would never be able to enforce it.
§ Lord Monteagle:
I am anxious to confine the few observations that 1 wish to address to the House to the question immediately under consideration. I admit, that the proposed bill is a considerable improvement on the existing law, above all in those provisions of the bill by which the duty on import is diminished, which will prove a relief to the consumer. The new scale will also lessen the inducement to hold back foreign corn, and will thus diminish the fluctuations of price. At the same time, however, when I admit this, I must state, that if ever I was persuaded of one fact more than of another, it is, that according to the opinion expressed by a noble Friend of mine, 762 who spoke early in the debate (Earl Wicklow) this bill cannot be considered a final measure on the subject. It is founded on arguments and admissions, that must lead to its future modification or repeal. I do not attribute any want of candour to my noble Friend (Lord Ripon) nor suggest, that bringing forward this bill as a definitive measure, my noble Friend does not believe it to be such. But my noble Friend also considered the act of 1815 as final, yet how little has it deserved that title! I beg your Lordships to recollect, that you are now arguing the corn question on grounds on which it has never been argued before. It is now admitted on all hands, though formerly as strenuously denied, that we must seek from abroad a considerable portion of corn for home consumption. The notion of independence of foreign supply formerly once so much relied on, is now abandoned on all sides; and the only question remaining for argument is how our deficiency of food can be supplied, in the most advantageous manner. This deficiency must annually augment. In looking to the facts of the case, I will refer to the rapid increase which is continually taking place in the population of this country. If noble Lords will consider the returns of the population laid before Parliament, it will be seen, that the population of Great Britain has increased between the years 1801 and 1841, upwards of 78 per cent. From these returns, it appears, that in the period of forty years, the population has increased 8,200,000; an increase equal to the population of a considerable European state. The progress of our population is as follows:
|"POPULATION OF GREAT BRITAIN, AND, IN THE THREE LAST CENSUS, THE CHANNEL ISLANDS:|
|Year.||Population.||Per Ct. Incr.|
§ Increase on the 40 years, 8,200,000 or 78.2."
It is plain, therefore, that the country has to provide means of subsistence for a rapidly increasing population. Do noble Lords believe, that from the present time the population will remain stationary? I doubt it much, and experience justifies me in such doubts. During the
last forty years, there have been times of great commercial prosperity, followed by periods of mercantile embarrassment, and of agricultural prosperity followed by agricultural distress; but still there has been an increase of population steadily going on during all these vicissitudes. It is admitted, too, by all rational men, that this country cannot go on increasing its production of corn in the ratio with the increase of population; we must, therefore, necessarily look to foreign countries, for augmenting supplies of corn. I repeat it, we must look to foreign countries, and your Lordships will find, that a greater portion of foreign corn will he required, year by year. If, then, this, bill is considered sufficient for the, exigency of the present state of things, an allegation which I do not admit, yet even then, from the facts which J have stated, it will soon become necessary for Parliament to reconsider the question, within a comparatively short time. I hope it may be reconsidered wisely and temperately hereafter, however imperfect may be our present legislation. There is another point of view in which this question may be considered as having during these discussions assumed a new feature. Heretofore it has been the practice to appeal to Ireland and to Irish interests as an argument for maintaining the Corn-Jaws; but that argument has now failed, because Jess and less corn is imported from Ireland every year. The House can no longer look to Ireland as the source of an increasing supply, It has even been stated by a noble Earl (the Earl of Wicklow) and by many other persons well acquainted with the fact, that the probability is, that very shortly, Ireland will consume all the wheat which she produces, This state of things does not arise from the circumstance that less wheat is produced in Ireland, than formerly, but that more is consumed; it is a proof of the improvement in the condition of the people of Ireland, and a proof that must be most gratifying to your Lordships, I refer to these facts, to prove that it will be utterly impossible for Parliament to abide by the present bill, as a permanent settlement of the Corn-law. If, then, this country is obliged to depend upon foreign states for a portion of the supply of corn necessary for our subsistence—if the proportion brought from abroad is likely to go on increasing, the question to be answered is, What are the best means by which we
can procure the foreign grain we require for the support of our population. In reply to this question two propositions have been made: the first, the sliding-scale, and the second, the fixed duty, There is undoubtedly a third proposition, namely, the abolition of all duty, which my noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) intends making, but with respect to which I will not make any observations for the present. I have come to the conclusion, after the best reflection that I can give to the subject, that it is inexpedient to adopt the sliding-scale, and that in its operation it is alike inconsistent with policy and justice. I should have been glad to have had a committee of this House appointed to investigate the relative merits of a sliding-scale or of a fixed duty, before which committee practical men of all opinions could have been examined, and where the matter could have been inquired into, divested of all party excitement, and where it could be treated as a question of political economy or commercial science. I should like to know where you can find any practical and experienced man who will defend the sliding-scale? Noble Lords opposite have boasted, and boasted with some degree of truth, that a large portion of the most wealthy and intelligent commercial classes coincided with them in their political views. I am willing, for the sake of argument, to admit this, and I will ask noble Lords opposite to appoint a committee, and I will challenge them to produce any commercial men of knowledge and of experience who will venture to defend the continuance of a sliding-scale. I will go farther, and will challenge them to name any one person who has practical experience in matters of finance, or who is extensively acquainted with the commerce of the world, the principles which regulate our foreign exchanges, or the interests of the public as connected with the Bank of England, who, on being questioned, would not repudiate this sliding-scale as a most monstrous anomaly, This is a fair challenge, to which I invite the attention of noble Lords opposite. I will also undertake to prove the impolicy of this system, not merely on authority, but by a reference to a few and simple facts which can be relied on. The Customs' tariff embraces 1,000 or 1,200 separate articles. It has more than once undergone the supervision of some of the most able and most experienced men; very great im-
provements have beep made in the tariff by persons connected in politics with noble Lords opposite; first, in 1827, by Mr. Herries, and now again, much to the credit of the Government, by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury. I ask them if, in the whole revision of the tariff, or looking back into the history of this country, or of any other, they can point out any such vicious principle as a sliding-scale applied to any other article but that of corn? Where has such a scale—the very opposite of an ad valorem scale—or, as it has been well designated by the noble Earl (Earl Ripon), where has such a contra valorem scalp been suggested with reference to any other article? If the principle were in itself a good one, why should it have were thus uniformly rejected? But I contend that it is specially objectionable as applicable to corn. I object to it first on account of its uncertainty, which exposes the merchant, in making his arrangements, to the double contingency of a changing duty and a changing price. I object to it, also, on the special ground that has been adverted to by a noble Lord near me (Lord Clarendon)—namely, its unjust operation upon our commercial intercourse with the United States of America. To countries in our immediate vicinity it holds out advantages withheld from more remote markets, like those of the United States. During Mr. Webster's visit to this country I enjoyed some intercourse, which I shall ever remember with the greatest pleasure, with that distinguished statesman now at the head of foreign affairs in the United States. At that period the distress arising in our American commercial relations was extreme. It was a time of immense pressure on the whole of our American trade. And what was the position of parts of America with which Mr. Webster was acquainted or connected? It was, that the harvest remained without value upon the ground, because its owners could find no profitable market; and this, whilst our commerce was languishing by the check to our trade with America, and the people were suffering from a want of the food which America was willing to send to us, both parties were thus suffering from the fatal laws which prevented the transmission of that agricultural produce which would profitably have been sent by America and consumed by us. I also ob-
ject to this sliding-scale, on a ground of objection which must be incident to this bill and to every other bill founded on the same principle. No system founded on averages can work well. You are now endeavouring to botch up the system by the introduction new towns into the averages. The very step you have taken with a view to improve the law, proves the vice that is inherent in that part of the scheme. I will ask the noble Lords around me whether, having read this bill a second time, any one of them can, on going into committee, put his hand upon his heart and say, that he understands in the least degree what the effect of the introduction of these towns will be? Then I say you are going to effect a change, not on any principle that ought to direct the resolves of wise and prudent men, but at chance and upon hap hazard- To this evil every alteration of average system was exposed, as no à priori reasons could show how the alteration would Work, But again, as was stated on a previous occasion, there was another vice from which the average system was never free. It proceeded upon an entire fallacy, It assumed that a given quantity of com was always of the same value, never taking into account the condition of the corn; so that, while the state of the averages as exhibited by price was apparently favourable, the people might be in a state of starvation; it was forgotten that a defect of quality would lower price as certainly as abundance in quantity. In this, as in every other case, much of the evil you inflict will recoil upon those who cause it. There never can be a stronger illustration of this great truth than is furnished by the Corn-laws. Assume the case of a bad harvest at home, and ask the practical agriculturists whether it is not equally beneficial to the consumer and producer, that the damaged grain and flour shall be rendered most available for food; and I will tell your Lordships, that the introduction of dry and fresh wheat from abroad to mix up with the low-priced and damaged wheat at home, will be a boon to the community and even a benefit to the farmer, At the period of discussing the Cora-laws in 1815, there were two gentlemen in Parliament connected with the city of London, Alderman Atkins and Sir W. Curtis, both of whom spoke from experience on the subject, and they stated, that when grain was on the
average 85s., 95s. was the real average price of grain fit for making bread. Lord Grenville, to meet this inconvenience, proposed that the averages should be taken not on grain, but on bread. Let Parliament do what it will, this is an evil from which you cannot wholly escape so long as you adhere to an average system at all. Another objection to the sliding-scale is the bounty it affords on holding grain in hand till the duty falls. The sliding-scale is an inducement to keep corn back, till prices reach their maximum, and the duty reaches its minimum. I admit that the present bill is in this respect a great improvement on the existing law; and so far from objecting to the "rests" in it, I only wish that there were a few more of them; for just in proportion as you introduce and extend the rests, you approach to what I consider to be a better system, the system of a fixed duty. At this hour of the night, I have to apologise for detaining your Lordships, as I know the House listen with impatience to written statements; but I must take the liberty of reading one short passage from an admirable work, which will in some measure repay your Lordships for the inadequate manner in which I have expressed my opinions. It is the opinion of an enlightened author given on this very subject, and describing the effects of a sliding-scale as compared with the effects of a more settled system of law. The writer to whom I refer is Mr. Tooke, whose authority would be admitted to be entitled to the greatest weight by the noble Lord who introduced the bill, as well as by all who like myself, enjoy the advantage of his acquaintance. Mr. Tooke said, in his work on prices (vol. iii. p. 48,)
The averages, and the uncertainty and manœuvring connected with them, would be done away with; as would, likewise, the mischievous anomaly which, by the effect of low condition on the averages, excludes foreign wheat precisely at the time when it is most wanting for mixture with our own. In the next place, this country would present a constant market, instead of the present capricious one, and would afford an opening for return of exports beyond that which at present exists, except in the uncertain intervals when the duty is approaching its minimum, and there would be less liability to disturbance of the value of the currency.
Having thus alluded to some primary evil consequences of the average system, perhaps the House will permit me to state in a few words a further objection to it,
arising from its obvious tendency to increase the fluctuation in price. There are several returns on the Table of the House, showing the fluctuations in the prices of corn abroad and at home, but some of these returns and calculations are made on a principle which is irreconcileable with a just comparison of the merits of the two systems. An attempt is made to compare the fluctuations by reducing them to percentages. To this I must object as delusive. Undoubtedly the proportion between zero and one, as compared with the proportion between sixty and a hundred, is very different, it being, in the first case, that of infinity and in the other that of less than one-half. But if you increase the price of bread in these two proportions, the effect is totally different — the percentage proves nothing. It is the difference between the higher and lower number that is material, rather than the percentage increase, and the latter computations are all foreign to the real question. But in the ten years from 1829 to 1838, the average annual difference between the highest and lowest price was 31 per cent., in 1829, 1830, 1836, and 1838, the average annual difference between highest and lowest weekly average was 47½ per cent.; and in a single year, it amounted to 68 per cent. A Table has been prepared by order of the noble Earl (the Earl of Ripon) on this subject, and I do not believe that so palpable an exhibition of the defects of a law can be made in any other country in the world. A still more fatal objection to a sliding-scale, is its obvious tendency to extend this fluctuation of prices all over the globe. The evils of vicious legislation, do not confine their mischief within the four seas that encompass these islands. The irregularity of prices in this country reacts upon the whole world, upon Dantzic as much as upon London. Every market to which the influence of a bill of exchange can reach is disturbed, and that disturbance reacts again upon the people of England, both as consumers and as merchants. How does this tell upon the revenue? Was there ever such an anomaly as that part of the revenue which includes the corn duties? In the years 1833, 1834, 1835, and 1836, the duty received on the importation of foreign wheat was but 1,646l.; in the years 1838, 1839, 1840, and 1841, the same duty swelled to upwards of 2,000,000l. I will
ask the noble Earl—but I am afraid that the noble Earl will not answer — still I ask the noble Earl what estimate he has made of the produce of the new corn duties as likely to be received as revenue? I am anxious to know what the noble Earl expects to receive. But the noble Earl will not gratify my curiosity. The fact is, the noble Earl has placed himself and his Colleagues in some difficulty by disclaiming the corn import duty as a measure of finance. Such are his scruples on this subject, that all the world will not induce the noble Earl to charge one single sixpence in the shape of a tax on food. The same opinion has also been repeated by a noble Earl (the Earl of Winchilsea) who has said, that the Corn-laws could only be maintained as a measure of protection, but that they would be indefensible as a means for raising revenue. It is difficult, except in the extreme case of prohibition, to separate these objects. The fact being, that no revenue can be derived from corn without being pro tanto protective, so that in reality many who discuss these questions, are fighting more for words than for things. The mass of consumers, there cannot be a doubt, would prefer to have corn on the cheapest terms; that is, without any duty on its importation; but if these consumers are to be allowed at their choice, to pay a duty for the purpose of protection, that is, for the purpose of enhancing the value of land, or to pay a duty which, by increasing the revenue, may allow the other burdens of the country to be lessened—your Lordships may rely upon it, that if such a choice were given to consumers, they would not hesitate one moment in giving their answer. It is the price of corn, that affects the public as consumers. A rise of price, as the consequence of protecting duties, is very different from a rise of price, the consequence of a revenue duty. It has been said, and undoubtedly such a statement forms an important branch of the inquiry — it has been said, that as a protection a fixed duty would be a delusion, since it could not be maintained by the Government during a period of very high prices. Now, assuming that a fixed duty of 8s was in force, and that the supposed exigency had arrived, assuming, also, that there arose a clamour for a repeal of the duty, I am asked, what would the Government, what would Parliament
do? If I were speaking, either as a Minister or a Member of Parliament, I should most decidedly reply, "Adhere to the duty." And this for the most obvious reason. If a Minister or the Legislature were to give way, it would not be the consumer who would benefit by the relaxation. Of this we had an illustration the other day, when during a period of distress there being a great quantity of foreign grain lying in bond at Glasgow, a most earnest entreaty was addressed to the Government to give up the grain that was in bond, and allow it to go into consumption duty free. If Government had yielded to this demand, what would have been the consequence? Do you suppose that the owners would have sold the corn at 20s. less, in consequence of having been excused from the payment of the duty? Not at all. By dispensing with the duty the Government would only have put so much into the pockets of the proprietors of that grain. The same principle would apply if the owner and the corn were at Dantzic. By giving up the duty, you confer no benefit upon the consumer, any further than is measured by the increase of quantity brought into the market; and the people would not obtain their bread cheaper by the amount of duty, if the Government were to be so inconsiderate as to authorize the duty to be remitted. The same remark would not apply, in the same degree, to the proposition of his noble Friend for repealing the whole duty; such a measure, if permanent, would increase the growth of corn abroad; and on the increased supply, compared with the capacity of the people to buy, the price alone depended. There is another subject to which I feel it my duty to call the attention of your Lordships, namely, the fatal effect on trade which the irregular importation produces by its action on the currency of the country. This effect must continue so long as you adhere to the present system. On. this subject I will appeal to the authority of the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government, and his authority is one of no trifling weight on this subject, for few men can claim a brighter honour than that right hon. Gentleman has achieved in restoring the currency of the country to a healthy condition. I know how much that right hon. Gentleman has exposed himself to attack from his own Friends for his act of 1819; but,
in disregarding the reproaches of prejudicial men, he has deserved well of his country. In speaking thus, I feel that I am only rendering justice to the right hon. Baronet. In 1827, the Government was pressed to consent to a committee in consequence of the agricultural distress which then prevailed—for be it remembered, that notwithstanding the Corn-laws the country has been repeatedly visited by agricultural distress. Nothing is more certain than that these laws are occasionally productive of agricultural distress by causing over-production. Well, the pressure was very great upon the Government of that day, and a motion was made with a view to obtain some increased protection. On the 8th of March, 1827, Sir Robert Peel expressed himself thus:—
The bank having returned to cash payments, by being obliged to pay in gold, nothing could be more likely to injure that measure and to cause a run upon the bank than the system of 1815. In the case of such a scarcity as opened the ports in this way (for three months), speculations would be indulged in, and must be paid for in gold, so that a run would be caused on the bank, which must disturb the present currency of the country. The demand for foreign corn roust necessarily raise the price, and, therefore, it was a fallacy to suppose that, because corn was at this moment or any other at a certain price at Dantzic, that price would not be increased by the increased demand from this country.
Such were the effects which Sir Robert Feel apprehended if the ports were opened for three months to meet a sudden demand for corn. But the ports had been practically open for the importation of grain at low duties during the greater part of 1838 and 1839, and all the anticipations of Sir R. Peel have been fully realised. I will show what has happened. I moved for a return of the fluctuations of bullion in the bank of England since the last Charter Act. But, in referring to this return, I beg to state that I am not so blind as to suppose that in all cases when a diminution of bullion takes place, there has never been any other cause for such diminution than the Corn-laws. To attribute that diminution to one cause only would be mere pedantry; but, with the exception of years where other causes might easily be shown to have existed, I find that it is always at the time when there is the greatest importation of foreign corn that the amount of bullion is most affected;—
|QUANTITY OF WHEAT IMPORTED AND FLUCTUATIONS OF BULLION.|
|Wheat & Wheat Flour imported.||Bullion in Bank.|
|1834||109,000||9,948,000||6,720,000||This was the period of Foreign Loans.|
|1835||43,000||6,741,000||6,150,000||Joint-stock Bank extensions.|
|1837||544.000||8,172,000||4,032,000||Failure of American House|
§ And if you will go through the monthly averages for 1838 and 1839, the effect will be shown still more strongly:
|CORN IMPORTED, AND BULLION IN BANK.|
|Wheat and Flour Imported.||Monthly Averages.||Bullion; Average of 13 Weeks Antecedent.|
The bank began with ten millions of bullion in their vaults, and this treasure was in the Autumn of 1839, reduced to 2,800,000l. There was but this pittance of 2,800,000l. in the vaults of the Bank to meet alt liabilities, public and private, to pay the dividends, to pay the army and navy, and to supply the deficiency bills that were required in order to maintain the credit of the country. Now every British statesman, every me-chant, every subject of her Majesty who loved his country, ought to congratulate himself, and to be grateful to Providence that this demand for foreign corn did not occur simultaneously with the American
disasters! Had the failure of crops occurred at that time, which so shortly after did occur when the Bank of England was only saved as if by a miracle, by the assistance of the Bank of France—and what an illustration did that event afford of the boasted independence of foreign nations which these Corn-laws were supposed to secure—if, I repeat, such an event as the American commercial disasters had occurred at the same time when those demands were made for gold in order to pay for foreign corn imported,— if as a necessary consequence the Bank had been compelled to stop payment, let the House imagine how awful would have been the amount of commercial distress that would have ensued, not to speak of our national disgrace in the eyes of Europe. We are proud of declaring our determination to maintain the public faith. We somewhat ostentatiously contrast our conduct with that of some bankrupt states of the new world, but it behoves us to think of the imminent danger to which we have been exposed, and to congratulate ourselves that we have been saved by Providence from that disgrace which bad legislation occasioned to this, the first commercial country in the world. I am ashamed of having occupied your Lordships so long; but to say the troth, my mind is so full of the argument, that I feel as if I have only as yet, approached the boundary of the question. If I had been allowed a fuller opportunity of going into the subject, I conceive nothing more capable of actual demonstration than the absurdity of attempting to regulate, by duties, the price and the supply of the food of man. Yet this absurd and fruitless attempt is the only aim, object, or justification of this sliding-scale. On this the real question at issue rests. I will trouble your Lordships with a reference to but one passage more, and to this I am only encouraged by your Lordships undeserved kindness. The document I am about to read may, perhaps, be objected to, because it proceeds from men not more eminently practical than they are philosophic. The extract is from the hand-loom weavers report, a report which bears the signatures of Mr. Senior and Mr. Jones Loyd. Mr. Loyd is one of the most experienced merchants, and one of the wisest men of the day; Mr. Senior, one of our most enlightened economists, and if on such a question you will not
consult such men, where are we to look for higher sources of information? What was stated in their report was the more important, because it was written before the scheme of the late Government was made known. I know, at least, that, those who prepared the report were not aware when that report was proposed what would be the nature of the financial measure of the late Government. The report describes an improved sliding-scale like that of the present bill in the following terms:—
It is clear that this plan is affected by nearly all the vices of the present law. Like the present law, it endeavours to keep corn at an artificial price. Like the present law, it must prevent any steadiness in the corn trade. A duty rising as the price of the commodity falls, and falling as it rises, that is to say, diminishing as the value of the article increases, and increasing as the value of the article diminishes, is a monster of fiscal legislation reserved for the corn trade. Such a measure might have been supposed to be intended for the purpose of excluding from that trade all men of capital and prudence, and tempting into it the gamblers of commerce. The two great evils of average high price and fluctuation would probably continue if Mr. Canning's bill, or any other measure founded on its principle, were adopted, though, of course, in proportion as the scale of duty were lowered those evils would be diminished in degree.
Such are the opinions of practical men, expressed before the change of Government, and therefore wholly uninfluenced by party considerations. It is to opinions like these, and to such authorities, that the attention of Parliament should be directed. There are, however, more important interests connected with this question than the mere interests of finance. The permanent prosperity of England depends upon the maintenance of her commerce and manufactures. True, it is, that certain politicians and certain theorists consider that we should have been a happier, though a poorer nation, had we continued in a simple social state. Such persons are ready to suggest that we have done wrong in fostering a large manufacturing population. But what would have been the result of such a destiny had it been our's. We might, indeed, have been
Mild Arcadians ever blooming, Nightly nodding o'er our flocks"—
but we never would have become a great nation. To enable this country to make head against its enemies in perilous times
—to enable the noble Duke opposite to achieve those triumphs which led to the peace of Paris, and restored the balance of power in Europe, it was necessary to put forth all the resources of the country in support of the mighty destinies which it has been the pleasure of God that England should be called upon to accomplish. But to pass over the question, whether Manchester and Birmingham, and the great marts of our domestic industry, ought to sink into the condition of deserted villages, to pass that over as a question which does not deserve a serious discussion, still there are other considerations to be disposed of, of yet more awful import. We might possibly, though I do not believe it could be so, afford to part with our wealth and to cast away our power; we might, if we were mad enough to do so, lay aside all our splendour, all our glories —but there is one sacrifice we cannot make, one risk we dare not incur, we cannot, with any safety, allow a system to continue long which separates the higher and the lower classes—which places the Legislature, the highest authority in the State, in a position of appearing to make laws for the benefit of its own members, against the feelings, against the interests, and against the very existence of the mass of the people. This is the danger which you have now to consider. Sooner or later, and may it be sooner rather than later, the corn question will be set at rest. That question is sinking on a sliding-scale at the present, and must ultimately sink to its natural level, before it could remain in repose. I believe, that repose will only be found by the entire abandonment of the very word protection. My noble Friend near me (Earl of Rosebery) has this night declared a change of opinion; so I may be permitted to acknowledge a change of opinion likewise. I am on reflection persuaded, that there can be no permanent rest, no quiet, no safety with reference to this subject, until the trade in corn shall be as free as air, so far as protection is concerned; and I am as thoroughly satisfied that, looking to the natural consequences of the increasing wealth and advancing population of the country, the agriculturists are the individuals who, of all others in the community, will have the least cause for regretting such a result. I do not believe, that the effect of throwing open the trade in corn will be the cheap-
ening; of bread to the consumer to any very considerable extent. Lord Ashburton had contended, that the law of 1815 would increase the price to the consumer to the extent of twenty-two millions sterling. That appeared to me a great exaggeration. I believe nothing of the kind. The benefits which I expect to derive from a free-trade in corn are, a settled trade, steady employment, the absence of any disturbance of the monetary system, and, to the agriculturists, all the advantages which must result from an improved home market. Your Lordships may struggle against this measure as you have done against many others, but this struggle, however prolonged, will be ineffectual, and in the end freedom of trade will be established.
said, that upon the whole he approved his noble Friend's resolution, and was prepared to vote for it; but he did so comparatively, in the same way as he had voted on the bill of last night, as compared with the existing Corn-law. In like manner he regarded his noble Friend's resolution as a considerable improvement on the bill then before the House. He preferred a fixed duty to a sliding-scale, because he thought a fixed duty had some, not very many perhaps, but some characteristics which sufficed to distinguish it from, and give it the superiority over a sliding-scale; but, notwithstanding this, if he were to say, that he regarded a fixed duty as framed on any scheme of sound policy, or that it was according to sound principles of commercial legislation, or according to sound principles of legislation for agricultural protection; above all, if he were to say, that it was framed on sound principles of legislation as regarded revenue and finance, he should say, that which was perfectly foreign from his thoughts and should, out of courtesy, towards his noble Friend, act contrary to his sense of duty. As regarded protection to agriculture, he had always held that we had no right to give agriculture such a protection as was given by the sliding-scale; and, that agriculture had no claim to it at our hands. That was his opinion of the sliding-scale; and with respect to a fixed duty, he could not see that it gave much protection either to the consumer or the agriculturist. But he had to complain that the resolution of his noble Friend avoided specification; it simply called upon the House to affirm the abstract proposition that a fixed duty was 777 better than a sliding-scale. It might be said, he thought, without captiousness, or hypercriticism, that the question depended a good deal on what fixed duty and what sliding-scale meant. Both ought to be ascertained before we are called upon to choose between the two. He could prefer a fixed duty of 8s. to an unknown sliding-scale, or he could prefer a known sliding-scale to an unknown fixed duty; but he felt that considerable difficulty was imposed by the vagueness of the resolution on those who were most unfavourable to the sliding-scale; and most favourable to a fixed duty. However taking the fixed duty to be one of 8s. a quarter, and the sliding-scale to be that in the present bill, then he thought, that the fixed duty was somewhat the better of the two; because it was not subject to all the same disadvantages of shifting prices, and particularly, because it did not give the same facilities to jobbers, and still more, that under a fixed duty the country between harvest and harvest of any particular year, might be better supplied than under the present system. These advantages entitled his noble Friend to his vote in support of a proposition asserting the preference of the one over the other. But their Lordships must not deceive themselves, and so lay the foundation of future disappointment by exaggerated hopes of the effects of a fixed duty. As compared with a sliding-scale, in increasing a permanent supply of foreign corn, he thought a fixed duty would have no beneficial effect whatever. It mould not promote a free-trade in corn, nor be the means of increasing the cultivation abroad, for the purpose of carrying on that trade, and of supplying our market; for he was as convinced of this as he was of any prosition in arithmetic, that there was no difference between a fixed duty and a sliding-scale in this respect, that is to say, in extending our resources in the foreign market, or increasing the quantity which would be grown abroad to supply the English market. For on what did the quantity imported depend? On the estimate formed by the grower and the merchant of the profit which they were likely to make by the growth and transport of their corn to this country. That calculation must depend on the price at which they would be enabled to grow the corn, ship it, and convey it to this country, and the sliding-scale was said to sin against our interests and theirs (which were identical in this respect), by making 778 it impossible for these parties, namely, the grower and the merchant, to ascertain what amount of duty he would be called upon to pay here on any given shipment. Now, there was no doubt that under the sliding-scale these parties could not know this, because the sliding-scale apportioned the duty according to the existing price in this country, and unless the foreign merchant could ascertain what that price was, it would be impossible for him to ascertain what duty he would have to pay. But suppose the foreign merchant could know what duty he was to pay; that is, suppose he knew that he was to be subjected to a fixed duty, would the knowledge of what he had to pay as duty and the price to the grower, and the cost of shipment and transport, make him ship his corn any the more readily, unless he could be sure of getting a price at which he could sell his corn to advantage when it had arrived here? Certainly not; but if he knew what the price was to be at which he was to sell as that price governed the duty, it was utterly immaterial to him, in this point of view, whether a sliding-scale or a fixed duty were established. If he knew or could estimate what was the price at which he was to sell here, then the sliding-scale told him the amount of duty, because that duty was apportioned to the price, and, therefore, having the price, he would know what was the duty; and if the price was unknown, a knowledge of the fixed duty was wholly useless. To take an illustration. The price of wheat at Dantzic being 40s. a quarter, and the merchant and grower were about to calculate what would be the cost of shipping and landing it in this country. Putting the cost of the conveyance at 5s., the question would be, what was to be the duty? "Then," said the advocates of a fixed duty as preferable to a sliding-scale, "the foreign merchant cannot ascertain what he must add to the 45s., in order to find what ought to be the selling price, because ho don't know under the sliding-scale what the duty is to be when he gets here." But suppose there was an 8s. fixed duty, then the foreign merchant knew exactly what was the whole cost of bringing his corn to market, by adding 8s. to the 45s., that is to say, that 53s. was the whole cost. But would that enable him to tell whether he could afford to bring his corn to this country? No such thing. He had yet only got one side of the account, because he had only calculated the cost, not 779 the profit; and therefore he could not tell whether the speculation would be profitable, or whether there would be no profit, or a positive loss. But he knew this as well from a sliding-scale as from a fixed duty, if he knew the price in this country. It was necessary to know the remainder obtained, by subtracting the whole cost from the gross price. Part of the subtraction being variable and depending on the price, did not make it at all now difficult to tell the amount of that remainder. The subtracting was just as necessary to be known as the subtraction; till that was known the remainder could not be ascertained; and the moment it was known, the subtraction and consequently the remainder became known as well by the sliding-scale as the fixed duty. For these reasons, he was not one of those who expected that a fixed duty would increase the amount of foreign corn grown, which would be obtained for this country. Now, with reference to the bearings of his noble Friend's resolution on the three resolutions which he (Lord Brougham) was about to propose. As to the first,—namely, that which stated that no duty whatever ought to be imposed on the importation of corn for the purposes of agricultural protection—having so lately as last night addressed their Lordships on that question it would be unbecoming in him to add another word; but with respect to the financial question, he knew that some persons had preferred a fixed duty with a view to not to protection, but to revenue. Was corn a fit subject for taxation? Was that article of prime necessity, which formed the bulk of the food of the people, a fit subject for taxation, whether taxed in the dark by a graduated scale, or, he would not say in the light, but in the somewhat less thick obscurity of a fixed duty? He declared it was not a fit subject for taxation, because the tax was a poll-tax, paid by the poor and the rich, but much more by the poor than the wealthy, and falling more heavily on those whose resources were the more slender. It formed a considerable portion of the expenditure of the poor man, but was, as compared with the luxurious expenditure of their Lordships, a paltry trifle. It was also a poll-tax eminently uncertain in its operation, whether going under the name of a graduated scale or a fixed duty. It depended on the winds, the weather, the seasons, whether the Government should levy one farthing of this duty. He had always understood, that one great quality of a tax 780 was, that it should enable you to be sure of it when you wanted it; but it might happen, in the case of this tax, that the fates, that was to say the wind and the weather, would order that not a farthing should be levied. The expenditure of the country, however, did not wait on the seasons; there was a pretty steady current of expense always setting in, and the Treasury could not depend for supply on the steadiness of the winds. Beside the quality of certainty, he had always understood that one of the best characteristics of a tax was, its taking the least out of the pockets of the people, in proportion to what it put into the coffers of the Treasury; and he had always been accustomed to look upon that as the worst tax which took the most from the people, in proportion to what it gave to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How did the tax on corn operate in this way? In order to raise, say as much as 8s. per quarter on foreign corn, they taxed all corn, not only foreign, but also the corn grown in this country. To raise 1,000,000l., they must import 2,500,000 quarters at a duty of 8s. per quarter. The Treasury got the 1,000,000l., but was that all that was paid? True, it was all that was paid at the ports, but not all that was paid by the consumer. Besides this, the people on every one quarter of home grown wheat had to pay, he would not say the whole 8s., but a proportion amounting probably to 3s. or 4s. per quarter. And thus the operation of this tax of 8s. per quarter on foreign corn raised the price of wheat grown at home by 3s. or 4s. Thus, in order that the Treasury might obtain 1,000,000l. from foreign corn, 4,000,000l. or 5,000,000l. were taken out of the pockets of the people. Another objection to this tax was, that it had a tendency to raise the price of food all through the year, and if it did not, it would not operate as a protection. This effect, too, was produced, even where no revenue was raised from the tax. Now, when the price of food was raised, the revenue was injured in another particular; for the rise of the price of food had a tendency to lower the produce of the Excise, and even the Customs. Thus, a tax on food, whether imposed through the medium of a sliding-scale or a fixed duty, had a direct tendency, besides its pressure on the people, to lower the public income of the country. For all these reasons, he concluded, and the constant uniform experience of 781 past times bore him out in the opinion, that if there was any one subject or article which ought to be exempted from taxation, it was that bread which formed the food of the people.
§ The Duke of Wellington;
The noble and learned Lord who has just sat down, says, that this tax pressed on the food of the people. That assertion may be abstractedly true, but the question before the House has no direct connection with it. The noble Viscount (Lord Melbourne), in bringing forward his resolution, never contemplated leaving the agriculture of this country without some protection; particularly at this moment, and considering the state in which this country has been for some time. The noble Viscount thinks the best mode of protecting agriculture is according to the measure proposed by himself and his Colleagues at the end of the last Session of Parliament, instead of the bill as proposed in the other House of Parliament, and also submitted to your Lordships by my noble Friend near me. The noble Viscount looked at this, and very properly looked at it as a corn measure—as a measure for regulating and protecting the agriculture of the country. The noble Lord himself, and other noble Lords, looked upon it as a commercial measure, and argued both the measure of my noble Friend and that proposed by the noble Viscount opposite as commercial measures. The noble Viscount who has addressed your Lordship lately in a very able speech has argued it upon all grounds, financial as well as others, and he has in a certain degree been replied to by my noble Friend who has lately spoken; but, my Lords, that which we have to discuss tonight is what is the best mode of giving to agriculture that description of protection which appears to be generally understood in this House and the country to be necessary. To those who entertain that opinion there are a few exceptions. The noble and learned Lord who has lately addressed you is one. The noble Baron (Lord Western) is one of those who considers that corn ought to receive protection, and he objects to this measure as likely to be the cause of corn losing that protection; but the question which we have before us to-night, is to consider what will be the best mode of giving protection to agriculture. I confess, my Lords, I have always considered a graduated scale as the best mode of protection for the internal agriculture of the country, a scale of duties levied upon 782 the importation of foreign corn, varying in amount according to the price of corn in the country at certain periods, to be ascertained by averages. It is perfectly true that, under the act which is now, I hope, about to expire, great frauds have been practised in taking the averages. Possibly the scale of duties gave occasion in some measure to those frauds, but I believe there can be no doubt whatever that great frauds have been committed, and complaints also have been made of the law in consequence of the existence of those frauds. Other complaints also have been made of the law, and for that reason I have consented to the adoption, or the proposition of this law, and I hope this law is so framed as to be free from the objections made against the other; that the averages will be more honestly taken and given to the public than they were heretofore; that the graduated scale of duties has been improved, so far as to avoid giving facilities to the practice of frauds, and at the same time to afford an adequate protection to agriculture—a protection which will give a price in this country nearly of the same amount as it has been known to be on an average of the last thirteen or fourteen years since the passing of the law which is now about to expire—that price which has been taken as the average, according to which a final arrangement ought to be made and constituted as the law of the country. My Lords, I say that, considering the arrangement has been made with the sanction of Parliament and the Government at a particular time, it is expedient, in considering the Corn-law of the country, and in making an arrangement for the supply of food to the people, it is desirable to consider that the arrangement has been made between these two sets, and not to allow, certainly, of such changes as would make any material alterations in the fundamental principles and provisions on which that arrangement was carried into effect. My Lords, I am one of those who have always considered that the law of the 9th George 4th has acted beneficially in attaining the objects which those had in view who recommended it to Parliament. The principle had been recommended some years previously to the adoption of the law of the 9th George 4th. It had been proposed during the administration of my Lord Liverpool. The principle was recommended in the administration of Mr. Canning; and a law was proposed on that principle, and the principle 783 finally carried into effect in 1828, by the act of the 9th George 4th. I say that that measure has acted beneficially, according to the views of those who introduced it, in preserving the price of corn at a steady rate, from the period of its enactment nearly up to the present moment; for, notwithstanding what has been said by the noble Viscount at the Table, I contend that the price of corn has been as steady in this country as it has been in any other part of the world. Of course there have been variations. In any article which must vary according to the seasons, and the great element of the value of which is its quantity, the price must vary every year; but I say, that the variations in price have been as little as they have been in any other part of the world. The noble Viscount has stated that the variations in other parts of the world have been occasioned by the variations here; but I say, my Lords, that the noble Viscount in saying that, stated that which he could not exactly prove. There were parts of the world in which variations of price are given as having occurred between which and this country there was no relation whatever in corn. For instance, France. There was no relation between this country and France whatever with respect to corn. There are other parts of the world with which we have very little intercourse in corn. There is very little intercourse of that nature between this country and Holland, and there are variations in Holland. The price of corn stands in Holland very much on the same ground as in this country, a great deal is grown, and a great deal is also imported. At Rotterdam it depends solely on commerce. At Amsterdam a great deal of corn grown in the country is consumed as well as a large quantity imported. Therefore the corn trade in Holland stands pretty nearly on the same ground as in this country; and the fact is, (I am now arguing against the statements that variations of price here have been the cause of the variations in other parts of the world), it can be no such thing, and the noble Lord, said what he had no authority for, because in many places with which we have no communication, variations have occurred. In any of these cases there can be no communication between this country and those countries in which these variations take place. Therefore, I say, the bill has produced as steady a price in this country as has been known in other parts of the world. Go 784 where you will, go to the United States, go to Russia, go to Prussia, or to the other parts of Europe, go where you will, and you will find a great variation of price, a variation exceeding that existing in this country. But, my Lords, then the noble Viscount who spoke lately has thought proper to announce an opinion regarding the sliding-scale, which he calls an absurdity. The noble Viscount may have very good reason for stating so; but, begging the noble Viscount's pardon, it has been always known in the corn-trade of this country. There was a corn-law in this country previously to the year 1794. That was a corn-law also depending on a graduated scale of duty, depending on the state of the prices in this country. It has been invariably the case, and it is applicable to every article the quantity and quality of which depends on the state of the seasons. I say that a price graduated according to the price existing in the home market is actually necessary in order to be able really and truly to give protection. Now, my Lords, the noble Viscount opposite, and the noble Lord who has supported him, insist upon it that a fixed duty would answer the same purpose. My Lords, I will not now complain that we have no knowledge of the amount of fixed duty. I argue for the principle. The amount would, doubtless, have some effect on the question; but what I contend is, that a fixed duty could not be maintained at a time when prices became high, a circumstance which was so strongly felt that I understand recently, when the question was discussed in another place, the noble Lord who discussed it there admitted that when prices came to a certain rate it would be absolutely necessary to reduce the duty by degrees, which is by gradation, in proportion as the price should approach the highest price at which corn ought to be sold in this country. But, my Lords, I say that a fixed duty, when corn comes to be at its maximum price, which I take at 70s. or 72s.— a fixed duty in that case is very much like that state of legislation in which corn is protected by a prohibition till it comes to a certain price, in short, as it was during the period when the law of 1815 was in force—that is, when the price approached 80s. the ports were to be open. My Lords, I have had a little experience in office in this country, and I confess I should be very sorry to see similar circumstances existing in future of which I have seen the 785 example heretofore. My Lords, on several occasions, notwithstanding that the law required that the ports should continue closed until the price came to a certain amount, I have known the Government under the necessity of opening the storehouses, allowing the corn therein stored, and kept under lock and key, to be sold in the market, as those who should administer the Government under the system of a fixed duty would find themselves under the necessity of doing, and of allowing the corn to come out of the stores without the payment of duty, when it should come to be beyond a certain price. When it should approach the price of 70s. the duty, I say, could not be maintained, and the Government would be under the necessity of doing that to which I have seen Governments driven heretofore—to open the doors in order to set free the corn which should there remain until the payment of duty. Then, my Lords, I say that those who apprehend that a fixed duty could not be maintained are quite right; for there is the example of what was the course pursued when the law was in a similar state to that in which it would be under the system of a fixed duty, when the price should be high. Now, the advantage, my Lords, of a sliding-scale is, that it executes itself. The price of corn is ascertained by averages published in the Gazette, and the law executes itself. As the price rises, the duty falls and comes at last to nothing; the Government need not interfere in any way at all. In the other case the Government would be called on to interfere. The noble Viscount said just now that the Government would not be required to interfere; that the consumer would gain nothing by its interference; that the person who would gain would be the proprietor of corn. That is exactly the case, my Lords. I am afraid that suspicions were entertained with respect to these transactions to which I have referred during the period when the law of 1815 was in existence. It was suspected that large fortunes were made, and that the Government were parties to it. There certainly was no foundation for the suspicion; but we ought to take care not to adopt a system of laws which may place the Government in the state of being obliged to adopt such measures, and thus to become liable to such unfounded suspicions. I therefore contend that, as a measure of protection, the fixed duty would become nugatory, and those who, like the 786 noble Viscount, to do him justice, who wished to see the existing relations between landlord and tenant maintained, should take care lest they expose themselves to disappointment by adopting a fixed duty as a protection to agriculture, instead of a duty based on a graduated scale varying according to price. We have heard of the interference of the Corn-laws with the commerce of the country. My Lords, I have no reason to believe, and the documents laid on the table give no reason to believe, that that was the fact. No man laments more than I do that the commerce and manufactures of the country should be in a state of embarrassment; but I believe that if the Corn-laws were repealed to-morrow, not a yard more of cloth, or a pound more of iron, would be sold in any part of Europe or the world, over which this country does not exercise control. The states of the greater part of Europe have adopted measures to encourage manufactures. These measures had not been adopted, as was stated by some persons, in consequence of the English Corn-laws. They were to be attributed to the feelings excited by this country in the course of the last war; by its great and noble exertions, and the power and expense which it exhibited on all occasions. Those who contemplated those exertions, and those who were relieved and assisted by them, thought that they might as well follow the example of such a power, and establish and encourage among themselves a system of commerce. They followed our example, and they established for themselves manufactures and commerce. I believe that in those countries, do what we will with the Corn-laws, repeal even all duty, we may purchase their corn with our money, but as to getting it by way of barter, or selling to them a yard of cloth, or a pound of iron, or any other article of merchandise, it is out of the question, except under special conventions and bargains respecting our commerce. In respect to the commerce and manufactures of the country, I must say that the state in which they appear to have been hitherto, according to the papers laid on the Table of your Lordships' House, is no proof of the injurious operation of the Corn-laws. Since 1828, the period at which this law was enacted, the exports of the produce of the looms and forges of this country are ascertained by the accounts of the official value, which is the only way of judging of them, to hare been nearly quin- 787 tupled. It is true that individuals connected with manufactures are in distress. 1 hare been concerned to read the reports of the commissioners who inquired into the state of the hand-loom wearers, and also the reports of the conversations which had occurred between some of my hon. and noble Friends and certain gentlemen who were lately in this metropolis, on the state of the commerce and manufactures of the country. If any man reads those reports, and considers the statements in them, he will see clearly that the distressed state of the manufacturers is to be attributed to anything except the Corn-laws; and that it is to be attributed chiefly to the increase of machinery, which has come into competition with individual manufacturers, put them out of employment, and reduced their means, and not to the price of corn or the state of the Corn-laws. My Lords, I do not complain of machinery. I consider that machinery has advanced the manufactures of the country, and has been the cause of the state of the export returns to which I hare just now adverted. But we must not conceal the fact that, in their progress towards that state of improvement, they have reduced individual manufacturers, and that the improvements in machinery, which are continuing daily, are one of the causes of the competition which exists, not only between one part of the country and another part, and one townland and another, but between individuals in each town. So that it is difficult to find markets to take of all the merchandise and manufactures which are produced by this machinery. Those countries which are supposed to be now become the rivals of this country in consequence of the state of our Corn-laws, hare found markets for the produce of their manufactures through the political operation of measures of ours, and not by means or in consequence of the Corn-laws. They have found markets in the South American states, Nearly about the time those manufactures were established in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere, the South American states declared their independence, and that independence was recognised by this country and the United States. Immediately after we had recognised their independence, their ports were opened to the merchandise of Germany and Russia. Markets were thus found for those manufactures which were established on the example of our own, and not on account of the existence of the Corn-laws, I shall now say a few words as to 788 the views of those who desire that we should depend solely upon our own supply of provisions for the people of this country. I am one of those who always wished that the agriculture of this country should be promoted as far as possible, with a view to render this country as nearly independent as could be of supplies from foreign countries. I know that, with our population increasing as it does every year, and increasing also as it does in wealth, it is impossible to expect that we should at any period hare our agriculture in such a state as to enable us to rely upon it exclusively for the supply of our wants. But I beg your Lordships not to lose sight of the necessity of maintaining the prosperity of the agriculture of the country; and your Lordships must never forget facts which are important to this part of the question. The noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne) has compared the state of the country to the state of the Romans and Athenians in former times. I beg your Lordships not to look quite so far back. You will find an example more analogous to the question in the situation of this country within the last few years. If I mistake not, you have on the records of this House an instance of one sovereign in Europe levying a duty on the export of corn from his dominions purposely because he found the price of corn was high in this country. I beg your Lordships also to recollect the state in which the great source of supply, Poland, was during the whole course of the late revolutionary war in Europe. I would have your Lordships recollect what was the state of Poland only in 1830, during the insurrection, in that country. I would hare your Lordships recollect that your supply of corn depends upon the state of tranquillity of the people residing upon two or three of the large streams running to the Baltic. I would hare your Lordships recollect that only last year, when this country was in want of a supply of corn, supplies of corn were nearly at the same time required in different parts of Russia, and that proclamations were issued forbidding the export of all sorts of grain from Russia. These are circumstances which I beg your Lordships to bear in mind in deciding upon this question; and do not imagine that you can at all times hare from all parts of the world all the corn which you may require. I do not mean to say that you should depend solely upon your own resources. On the contrary, I know you cannot go on without having a 789 supply from foreign sources of at least 1,000,000 of quarters annually, and in all probability the necessity for such a supply will go on increasing to a still further extent. But I entreat your Lordships to provide for the prosperity of the agriculture of the country—to maintain it in the state in which it has been for the last fourteen years, and not to imagine that you can venture to rely entirely upon the supplies which you may derive from other parts of the world. There is only one other point to which I wish to advert; and that is to the influence of these laws upon the state of the currency of the country. It is perfectly true, that when large sums of money are required to be exported from this country at a period in which the bank is in a state of difficulty, in exchange for foreign corn imported, the sending out of those large sums of money must necessarily aggravate the difficulties of the moment. But I believe that it remains to be proved, that the state of the Corn-laws has been the cause of many of these inconveniences. I believe that they have been produced by other circumstances. I certainly admit, that if large sums of money are required to be sent out of the country in payment for foreign corn, the difficulties of the Bank would be aggravated. But I really believe it will be found, that foreign corn under the system of the graduated scale is always in the course of being imported into this country, and that the demand for corn —that is to say, the demand for the introduction of foreign corn into the home market, by any failure of the English harvest, or from any circumstance giving rise for an extraordinary supply of corn in any particular part of the country—does not require the transmission of any large sums of specie to foreign countries. Whatever foreign corn may be required is introduced into the market simply by opening the doors of the magazines and store-houses. It is paid for by the internal currency of the country. It is true, that to replace it, would require the transmission of money abroad; but that is done by degrees. It is not proved that the introduction of large quantities of foreign corn into the consumption of London at certain periods, has, at the same time, required the transmission to foreign countries of very large sums of specie. Therefore, I contend, that here again there is no ground for opposition to the graduated scale. The old law appears to me to have been the means of maintaining the prosperity of the 790 agriculture of the country for the last fourteen years—the means of maintaining it in that state in which the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne) very properly declared he wished to see it continue. I believe, that the system proposed by my right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) is the system upon which your Lordships ought to act. Therefore, under all the circumstances, I recommend your Lordships to say "not content" to the resolution proposed by the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne), and to support the motion of my noble Friend for the committal of this bill.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
assured their Lordships that they had the best security for his not troubling them for more than a very few minutes upon this question, important as it was, in the speech of his noble Friend who sat behind him (Lord Monteagle)—that speech being in his (the Marquess of Lansdowne's) estimation unanswered and unanswerable—a speech pursuing the subject into all its ramifications, into which no person had attempted to follow, and which, if it had not convinced their Lordships of the fundamental vice of the system which at present prevailed—of its mischievous tendency and utter inefficiency, he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) knew of no arguments that he could use which would bring them to a conviction upon the subject. But it might save their Lordships' time on future occasions if he took that opportunity of stating in a very few words why he intended to vote for the motion of his noble Friend (Viscount Melbourne), and voting for that motion refused to concur in any proposition for doing away at once with all duties upon the importation of foreign corn. He entirely agreed with those who wished the application of the principles of free-trade to be universal upon all subjects and all commodities, corn, included; for he should not doubt the power of the agriculturists of this country to contend with any grower of corn in Europe, were it possible at the same time so to reform the financial system of this country at one sweep as to make the application of capital upon free and equal terms to all manufacturers, corn included; for the growth of corn was to be considered a manufacture as much as any other branch of industry requiring the investment of capital. But he could not admit that it was a fair application of the principle of free-trade to say to the man who invested 791 his capital in the threshing machine, in draining machines, in any of these appliances to which in a rich country, capital was directed to promote the growth of corn —that he should not be protected in the same degree as the man who employed his capital in other branches of manufacture. On the contrary, he conceived that upon every principle of free-trade, their Lordships ought to remove all partial interference with the course and direction which capital might take, and that they should deal out with an equal hand the protection which the necessity of collecting the revenue of the country imposed upon them under the existing financial system. He should hold it as the most fortunate circumstance that could occur in the history of this country, were they able to dispense at once with a system of finance which required them to raise a revenue from the application of all capital to all purposes of manufacture; but he should only be prepared to do away with it in any one branch of manufacture, when he was enabled by the state of the country (a state which he feared was far off) to make such a revolulution in the financial system as to do away with all customs duties, and to relieve the application of capital from the imposition of any tax of any kind. The impossibility, in the present state of things, of adopting such a sweeping course, would prevent him from giving any vote in favour of immediately doing away with all duty on the importation of foreign corn. But with the admission that night made by the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington), and recently made by other eminent persons, that it was no longer an object attainable by the act of legislation, as had sometimes been hopelessly held forth in both Houses of Parliament, to render this country wholly independent of foreign nations for a supply of corn. With that admission from the noble Duke, he could not conceive that their Lordships could hesitate to adopt as an immediate consequence the expediency and necessity of making the country depend for the supply its wants demanded upon the soundest principles of commercial intercourse. He owned he was astonished when he heard from noble Lords, and especially from the noble Earl at the head of the Board of Trade (the Earl of Ripon), the extraordinary proposition that, whereas in all other articles which the necessities of the country did not absolutely require, it was expedient to rely upon the broad principles of commerce, because they were 792 the best; yet, when they came to that particular article which of all others was the most needed, they were to discard those broad and wholesome principles, and to have recourse to an experiment—ingenious enough, no doubt, but which in practice had been found to be an utter and hopeless failure. The noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) in defending the present measure, had declared that the effect of the old law had been to maintain the average price of corn in this country at a more equal rate than in any other country in Europe. He did not know upon what authority the noble Duke made that declaration; but he had in his hand a carefully prepared statement drawn up by Mr. Hubbard, an adherent of the noble Duke's and connected with those who supported the present Government, but who had sifted this subject in every one of its branches; and Mr. Hubbard, in that statement, comparing the average prices during the whole range of the period that the noble Duke's bill had been in operation, that was to say from 1829 to 1838, and comparing the variations of price in England with the variations of price in ten of the other countries of Europe, distinctly showed that the variations of price in England had during that period, been much greater than the variations in any other country of Europe. Mr. Hubbard showed that whilst in England the variation had been from 48s. to 64*., being a difference of 16s., the variation in the other countries of Europe had not exceeded 10s. or 12s. This statement was before the public, and afforded a striking illustration of the defective and injurious operation of the system of the sliding-scale. After the vote of the previous night, he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) looked upon the old Corn-law as abolished; and he certainly was not surprised at the evident anxiety of the noble Lords opposite to get rid of it; for however much those noble Lords might desire and endeavour to disguise the fact, it was manifest that the old law in every part of it had been completely wrong. And he might perhaps, with the more propriety, speak of the bill as nearly defunct, because, although another and a similar bill was to be constructed on the foundation of the expiring measure, yet he had an admission from noble Lords on the other side that in coming down to their new fortification they were choosing a fortification differing in dimensions, differing in extent, and differing in position 793 from that they had previously occupied. It was now admitted, too, that the existing bill was wrong in all its points of detail. He remarked, that when, on a previous occasion, he had pointed out the faults of the system of averages, the noble Duke had said, that those faults were faults which the Government should correct, which it was their office and their duty to amend. Why, the noble Duke was now in his own person finding fault with the system of averages. He now said, it was out of the power of the Government to correct the evil, and he came down to solicit their Lordships' assistance in providing a remedy. It was now found out that averages were wrong and defective—(hat the list of places at which they were taken was wrong and defective—that the rests in the scale were wrong and defective, and that different rests ought to be substituted. These new discoveries were well worthy their Lordships' admiration, but what he admired even more was, the extreme confidence with which some noble Lords seemed to expect that this law, which had been again and again, and so repeatedly amended and tinkered up, was after a last repair to prove everything that was admirable, everything that was efficient. When one sliding-scale was found to have failed, they had had recourse to another—when one suit of clothes were found not to fit, they had made an exchange for another suit—they had gone in fact from pillar to post—within a comparatively short number of years they had had no less than six Corn-laws, every one of which had elicited the same warm approbation—the same confidence as to its being a final settlement—the same conviction that it would secure a remunerating price to the grower—the same hope that it would exclude foreign corn from our market; and every one of which had also proved in the end to secure no remunerating price—to shut out no foreign corn, and, at the last, to embody no final settlement. And, let him tell their Lordships, this would also be the case with regard to the measure now before the House. If there was one striking proof more than another, that such would be the result—if there was one thing more than another which showed that the public could not be expected to form a correct judgment of this bill until it was brought home, and until growers and consumers both began to feel its effects—if, he said, one thing more than another proved these things, it was that the development of the principles and de- 794 tails of the bill by the noble Earl, partial and incomplete as that development was, was attended with the remarkable circumstance, that among the supporters of the measure there was the widest possible difference of opinion as to what would be its probable ultimate effects. No two supporters of the bill appeared to be agreed in the estimate they formed of it. One noble Lord said, it would diminish the protection to the grower; another noble Lord, who, he believed, held a place in the household, was of opinion that it would take away no protection at all—or, at any rate, that it took away nothing but superfluous protection. It must be exceedingly gratifying to the feelings of the people to see these shillings taken off from the protective duty, whilst it afforded no advantage to them. They perceived that bread was not a bit cheaper, and that no more foreign corn came into the country; but they had the advantage of looking into the statute-book, and finding that some 56s. protective duty stood for some 60s., and this ought to satisfy them for paying the same amount for their loaf. The noble Lord's argument really reminded him of the old lines,—The wound is great because it is so small.The boon is great because it is so small. And the manufacturers might well say, —It would be greater were it none at all.Some noble Lords had said the bill would effect no protection; others had said that it effected an immense protection. He referred to this difference of opinion, not because he thought it surprising or unnatural, but because the bill exhibited such complex machinery, that people drew different inferences with regard to its effects. He would ask their Lordships, they who had studied the subject, and some of whom were presidents of agricultural societies, others of them engaged in agricultural pursuits, and all of them acquainted with the subject, if they could not come to an agreement as to the effect which this measure would produce on corn, how were the farmers of England to tell beforehand what would be the effect of the law in making their leases and tilling their ground; and the chief object of the bill was to give confidence to the farmer in the relation of landlord and tenant. This measure would bring in corn in irregular quantities, and not as a regular trade, and would reduce the trade to gambling transactions. Though the advocates of the bill admitted the importance of the supply, 795 and that the country could not do without it, they at the same time enacted that the import of it should be by gamblers, who ran the risk of double loss in order to make double gains to what they would under a regular system of trade. He therefore thought if this country was, as admitted by the noble Lord, destined by its position, wealth, and population—by a population which, far from being injured by machinery, was created by machinery, supported by it, and must depend on it for its future existence,—to depend on foreign countries, they must rely upon the regular course of direct trade, subject to those salutary and wholesome influences which had at all times made trade beneficial to all countries, and not to that uncertain, precarious, irregular supply, which it was the nature and object almost of this bill to perpetuate, as the mode by which this country was to be supplied, attended by the inconveniencies which he had pointed out to the merchant and farmer, and which his noble Friend behind him had so well elucidated. America and Russia had been referred to. America had supplied corn to other countries, when from the pressure of our Corn-laws we could not get any from her. The effect of the present system of Corn-laws was to narrow the field of supply as much as possible. It seemed to be obvious, that if we were to have any trade in corn at all, that trade should be founded on the principle of obtaining the returns as quickly as possible, and from as wide a field as possible, which the sliding-scale prevented. Even noble Lords themselves so discussed their own system. Were not butcher's meat and cattle partly the supply of this country? In God's name, then, if there were any inherent virtue in the sliding-scale, why was it not applied to oxen and sheep, and beef and mutton? Why not let the poor grazier have the benefit of the sliding' scale, as well as the poor farmer? But no they were to be left to the ordinary rules of commerce. If there were any choice between the two, the sliding-scale would be far preferable as applied to sheep and oxen, as it would only affect the supply from countries near home; whilst a satisfactory supply of corn must come from a very wide field, and from distant countries. He therefore, said, that noble Lords were afraid of their own system; and the reason they had for introducing the sliding-scale into this bill was because it had been introduced before. The sliding-scale was 796 not connected with anything like steadiness of price in this country, but it had created greater unsteadiness in price in this country, than had prevailed in any other country during the same period. He must implore their Lordships, while he admitted the necessity of retaining some duty on corn in the present state of the finances of this country, to recognize in the trade in corn the principles of trade which prevailed in our commerce. He knew that it was flattering to the ingenuity of a Chancellor of the Exchequer to invent a system of rests and stops, which it was supposed would insure a regular supply; but that system had failed in the hands of others, and it was no disrespect to those at the head of affairs to say that it might fail in theirs also. Whilst he admitted in some degree the necessity of retaining some duty upon the importation of foreign corn in the present state of the agriculture and of the finance of the country, he implored their Lordships in respect of that particular commodity, to rely upon the same ordinary, sound, and recognised principles of trade as were applied to other articles. He had once heard a remark made by a very eminent man, well known to the noble Duke opposite, he alluded to Talleyrand, which had struck him much at the time. It was, that there was a certain person more clever and more wise than the wisest and the cleverest man the world ever knew; wiser than Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and that person was "everybody" —a personage, who in the end, prevailed over the most ingenious individuals; and so he feared that it would be found in the present case. The provisions, the cunning ingenious provisions of the bill might meet with great applause in that House, but they would come to be sifted, to be examined, and in the end, defeated; and the country would not have the benefit of that regular supply which it should be the object of their Lordships to procure to it. He had heard in the debates which had taken place upon the question much said as to what was a remunerating price. He confessed that he never could understand what the meaning of the term was. To whom was it intended to apply? To the farmer on clay soils or on flinty soils— to the farmer with a large, to him with a small, or with no capital at all employed in his operations? These were all different contingencies which might, and which did happen, and he defied their Lordships to lay down any price, as a remunerating 797 price, which could be secured by act of Parliament. If there was any meaning in remuneration, it must mean that remuneration secured to the grower of wheat by the capacity of the people to purchase it, and it was by promoting that capacity, by supporting manufacturers, by securing a good mart for their wares abroad as well as at home, that the Legislature alone could secure to the agriculturist that return for his capital, which was the foundation of his real prosperity. Let the people be enabled by means of brisk and extended trade to purchase wheat, and all remunerative prices provided by acts of Parliament would be unnecessary; but if the people were not able to purchase, if manufactures fell off, then that remunerative price would also die away, and all the clauses, acts, rests and averages, by the contrivance of which a certain price was vainly sought to be created and maintained, would be found to be utterly useless. It was by these means, by extending trade, that the prosperity of the country was to be maintained, and the increasing population, which could not subsist upon the resources of this country alone, but which must depend upon the resources of others —upon resources which had never as yet, even when this country was assailed by its greatest enemy, failed, and which would not fail them now—he said that it was only by applying to these resources that that increasing population could be maintained; for if it was wrong to allow any foreign country to have the means of exciting dissatisfaction in this, it was in the power of America—of that country sometimes suspected—he trusted she was not —but which was sometimes suspected of being hostile to them, it was in her power if she was willing for the purpose to sacrifice her own interests, to excite, by stopping the supply of cotton for one year, more dissatisfaction, more tumult, more starvation than would be occasioned by the stoppage of the supply of corn from any one state of Europe in ten years. But yet they were actually told in the face of facts like these, that this country ought to be independent of foreign nations ! It was on entirely different principles they must rely. It was by adopting the principles of his noble Friend (Viscount Melbourne) that they would perform their duty in a way the most reconcileable to the principles of sound trade, and the ultimate prosperity of the country. But if they adopted the principle of the bill before 798 their consideration— a bill which he admitted to be certainly better than its predecessor, they were adopting a principle and a measure which would neither be satisfactory or final.
§ The Duke of Wellington
rose to explain a statement which had been made by the noble Marquess with reference to what he (the Duke of Wellington) had said in regard to the mode of preventing frauds in taking the averages. He had not said that it was the particular duty of the Government of the day to put an end to them without the interference of any legislative measure; what he said was, that, if it should be found necessary to introduce a new measure upon the subject of the Corn-laws, he trusted that they would have the assistance of the noble Marquess in modelling the measure, so that the frauds committed in taking the averages would be prevented.
§ Lord Fitzgerald
thought the whole character of the proposition of the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne) depended upon the degree of protection which should be afforded; and as there was nothing definitive in it upon this point, it was impossible to discuss the proposition. The noble Viscount stated the amount of protection which he would afford at 8s., but added, that if the landed interest considered that was not sufficient, a larger amount of protection might have been given. The noble Viscount being then the First Minister of the Crown made this admission; but how could he reconcile this with the speeches of the noble Lords by whom he was supported, some of them being in favour of a complete free-trade in corn? Why, with this fact before them, did noble Lords taunt those on his (the Ministerial) side with supporting the present bill by conflicting arguments? His noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) expressed it as his opinion, not only that a fixed duty could be maintained, but that it could be maintained with the consent of all parties interested. Did his noble Friend still continue of that opinion? He would ask his noble Friend how he would maintain a fixed duty under such a state of circumstances as existed between the years 1790 and 1800. When the Legislature had almost, as it were, prohibited the consumption of wheaten bread, did his noble Friend think the Government could or ought to maintain a fixed duty? There were two or three other points which had been 799 urged with considerable force by his noble Friend, which were entitled to considerable weight. His noble Friend had illustrated part of his argument by the circumstances under which America had been placed; and his noble Friend as well as the noble Earl who had spoken early in the evening had dwelt upon the inequality of the laws as affecting America, compared with other states with which this country had a more rapid communication. His noble Friend had referred in pathetic terms to a conversation he had had with a most distinguished man, Mr. Webster, at a period when America was in debt to this country—when she was panting to pay that debt and desiring to liquidate what she owed to the British capitalist. His noble Friend had stated that Mr. Webster had mentioned that corn was uncut in America, which under other laws would have enabled that country to have paid her debt. Might he ask his noble Friend at what period that conversation took place? He believed that Mr. Webster visited this country in 1839 or 1840, and it appeared that in those very years 1839, 1840, and 1841, the ports of this country were open to the importation of American corn, and during those three years corn was every month taken out for home consumption. He remembered that in the last session of Parliament it was stated by a noble Lord in that House that a complaint had been made by a manufacturer in this country that his trade was interrupted, and his debt from America remained unpaid, in consequence of the proprietor of corn-lands in that country being unable to find assets, while if his corn had been allowed to come to England he would have been enabled to pay his debts. In answer to this, another noble Lord, who had since proceeded to America upon as honourable a mission as could be confided to any individual—he meant Lord Ashburton—observed, that he could ill understand the statement made, because, though it certainly might have been more convenient to the debtor to remit his corn to this country at the value he placed upon it, yet, at all events, he might have sold his corn and got rid of his liability, though he might not have been able to have remitted so much. It must have produced, if sold, a representative value which might have been remitted to this country, and have afforded (with all respect for Mr. Webster's opinion) some means for getting rid of 800 that debt which America professed so earnest an anxiety to pay. Again, it was rather remarkable that his noble Friend opposite should have forgotten that America herself had Corn-laws in force, and that while she complained of the Corn-laws of this country, her own wheat-growing states had a duty of 8s., for the purpose of keeping out from her markets Canadian wheat! In the first place, then, he contended that it would not have been very difficult for America to discharge her obligations, and in the next place that the complaint of the English Corn-laws came with a very bad grace from those who themselves had an 8s. duty to exclude wheat grown in an English province. There were other points which had been urged by a noble Earl who had spoken early in the night, and who had argued the question upon grounds entirely of a different character, but upon grounds of an important character, and which ought not to be kept out of sight on the present occasion, he meant the great commercial policy of this question. His noble Friend had adverted to the impolicy of this country excluding the produce of other nations, and had argued that one of the consequences must be, the limitation of the exports of British manufactures to those countries. But his noble Friend ought to bear in mind that there was one country in Europe from which England took all the produce, except corn, it was able and capable of sending. From Russia, for example, this country received tallow and other produce without restriction and without restraint, and not only to an amount much larger than they received from England, but it so happened that Russia was the very country to which England exported least, though from her she received the most. And he doubted, with respect to Russia, seeing that England took so much larger a portion of her produce than she sent manufactures in return, whether the admission of corn from Russia would produce any larger exportation of those manufactures to that country. That must very much depend on the commercial policy of other countries as well as our own. The argument of his noble Friend was, that they only required to offer a steady trade in corn at a fixed duty to have an almost unlimited accession of exports to foreign countries. But with respect to Russia, he must say, that looking to the consular returns from Riga, there appeared 801 little reason to suppose that there would be, at least for some time to come, any available increase in the quantity of corn to be exported to this country, and certainly not at the present prices, while, as he had already stated, our exports to Russia were by no means in proportion to our imports from that country. The noble Marquess had complained of the noble Duke in stating, that under the present system there had been less variation in the price of wheat here than in other countries; but he observed from a return which had been laid on the Table of the other House of Parliament, that taking England, Dantzic, and Rotterdam, the variations had been much greater in the two last than in England, so that the noble Duke was perfectly justified in his statement. The noble Marquess had asked why, if the sliding-scale were applicable to corn, it should not equally be extended to beef and other articles in the tariff? The simple answer was, that beef, cattle, and other articles of that description were not subject to the same variations with corn, caused by the vicissitudes of the seasons. And if this sliding-scale were applied to cattle, the lowest duty would attach to the dearest animal. The noble Marquess had concluded his speech by protesting, that he did not understand the meaning of what was called a remunerating price to the grower of corn. Undoubtedly it was extremely difficult to define what was a remunerating price, and how much of it belonged to the cultivator, how much to the landlord, and how much to the other parties engaged in the production of that article of sustenance; but if the noble Marquess admitted that any protection at all should be given to agriculture, the same objection applied whether a fixed duty or a sliding-scale were adopted. Upon the whole, he felt a strong conviction that the interests of agriculture, of commerce, and of the great body of the consumers would be better promoted by the adoption of the present bill than by any other proposition which had been made, and he therefore hoped their Lordships would support it by a large majority.
§ Their Lordships divided on the resolution; Contents present 49; Proxies 22— 71: Not Contents 117; Proxies 90: 207: Majority 136.803
|List of the CONTENTS,|
|List of theNOT-CONTENTS.|
|Mountcashell||Willoughby de Broke|
|Clinton||Stuart de Rothesay|
|Earl of Kinnoul||Lord Langdale|
|Earl of Cornwallis||Lord Stanley of Alderley|
|Earl of Carnarvon||Earl of Suffolk|
|Lord Reay||Lord Montfort|
|Lord De L'Isle||Earl of Erroll.|
§ Their Lordships then divided on Lord Brougham's first resolution; when the numbers were — Contents 9: Not Contents 96:—Majority 87.
§ Lord Brougham then moved his other resolution, that it is inexpedient and unwise to tax the importation of foreign corn for the purposes of revenue.
§ The House divided: Contents 6; Not-Contents 87:—Majority 81.
§ The House then went into committee pro formâ, and resumed—Committee to sit again on Thursday.
§ House adjourned.