The Earl of Radnor
, in moving the second reading of the Corn Importation Act Repeal Bill said,* that if he had not felt that the measure he now proposed was most urgent, and indeed absolutely necessary for the well-being of the country, he should not have troubled their Lordships on the subject. He knew that this bill related to a topic disagreeable to them, and the consideration of which they invariably wished to avoid; and as it always was irksome to him to address their Lordships, it was particularly so on the present occasion. But the settlement of the corn question, once for all, on a permanent footing, was an object of such deep interest to all the working classes, now in a state of the greatest distress and destitution, and of such vital importance to every class of the community, so necessary, in*From a correct Report.1010 his opinion, for the prosperity of the State, that he could not refrain from making this effort, at least, to accomplish so desirable an object: a sense of duty alone compelled him to do so. The change he proposed in the bill, the second reading of which he should now move, would, in his opinion, be desirable at any time; but at the present moment was particularly called for, not only by the sufferings of the people, but in consideration of the patience and good humour with which they have now war five years borne their privations. Indeed, their conduct was beyond all praise; as also their privations were, he believed, far beyond what their Lordships supposed or he could describe. This change, moreover, was eagerly desired by thousands, he might say by hundreds of thousands of the people, who had petitioned the other House of Parliament to that effect; and would, he had no doubt, afford immediate relief to a considerable extent. The bill now under consideration went to the extent of an entire repeal of all duties on the importation of corn. The first clause repealed the act passed in the present Session; but, as by the repeal of that act only, the act of the 9th of George 4th, which the act of the present Session repealed, would revive, the second clause repealed so much of that act as imposed duties on the importation of corn. Other parts of that act were left unrepealed; such as those which repealed the warmer acts creating duties on the importation of corn, and those which required the taking of averages, which it was necessary to continue for divers reasons, especially for carrying into effect the act for the commutation of tithe. The consequence, therefore, of this bill, if it became a law, would be, that the trade in corn would thenceforth be perfectly free. It might be said, that if this were done there would be an immediate and no inconsiderable loss to the revenue. It is probable that a large quantity of corn now in bond, if no alteration took place in the law, will be soon admitted; the wheat (of which there are, he understood, above 1,500,000 qrs.) at 8s., and other corn at their respective duties; and that, if this bill passed, the 800,000l. or 1,000,000l. (whatever it might be) would be lost to the public: if that were so, he for one would say, that the advantages of a free-trade, and the immediate relief which would be afforded, would be cheaply bought at that or even a 1011 larger price. But be did not think that the whole of the duty Gould be lost. If their Lordships were to give a second reading to this bill that night, the effect would be, that all holders of home-grown corn, and of corn which had already paid the duty, would hasten into the market, in the hope of anticipating the decline which the passing of the act would be expected for occasion. This would produce a fall in the prices, and as the necessary effect of a fall of the price would, under the present case, be a rise of duty, it would become a matter of calculation, whether it would not be more advantageous to secure the present price and pay the present duty than to await the latter, when the duty Would be nil, but the price so low that the present duty would amount to less than the difference between that price and the present. In ally probability, however, some part of the duty would be lost, but not the whole; and he repeated, that he would willingly give up the whole for the advantage of a free-trade. The immediate effect of this free-trade would be, to give a stimulus to the home market, and in all probability to revive commerce with foreign countries. With respect to the home trade, he knew that many persons would argue that, if the price of corn was lowered, the means of purchasers, holders of land, would be so much impaired, that in truth it would be injured. He believed that this was altogether contrary to the fact. If their Lordships would only consider what large payments were required for the purchase of necessary corn, they would at once see how large a sum would be retained, by lowering the price of corn, to be applied to the purchase of other articles. For instance, the average price of wheat in 1835 was 39s. 4d.; in 1840, 66s. 4d.; a difference of 27s. per qr. Now, stating the population of Great Britain at 18,000,000 of people, and assuming, which is the usual calculation, that the consumption of the people, one with another, is one qr. per person, the mess of the sum paid for necessary corn in 1840, over what was paid in 1835, would be no less a sum than 24,300,000l. Again, the price in 1841 was 64s. 4d.; 25s. per qr. higher than in 1835: in this year the excess of price paid over the former year would be 22,500,0001, so that in these two years there must have been paid 46,800,0001. more for the purchase of necessary food, than would have been required if the price had con 1012 tinued as it was in 1835; and all this money would have been expended in the purchase of other articles, some of necessity (but of a necessity less imperious than that of food,) some of use or luxury, and thus would have increased the general fund for the employment of labour. This view of the case was very much strenghened by the evidence given by many of the witnesses examined before the Import Duties Committee in 1840. To take only one: Mr. J. Whetstone, of Leicester, for twenty years engaged in the worsted trade, says,The persons who send their travellers through the agricultural districts, complain that the demand has fallen off as much in the purely agricultural districts, as it has in the manufacturing. I ought to say, that the manufacture of woollen and worsted stockings is almost entirely dependent for its demand upon the well-doing and well-being of the working and industrious population of the country; it is not an article of luxury supplied to the higher, but an article of necessity to the working and middle classes.He was then asked—To what do you ascribe the diminished demand for the goods?He answers—To the high price of provisions, which has diminished the means of the labourers to purchase; because, if his food takes a larger proportion of his wages, it leaves him less to lay out in clothing, and furniture, and other articles.And in reply to another question—It is an invariable rule in our trade, that when provisions are cheap, we have a good demand: it is a rule observed constantly by the manufacturers, and established as a maxim in the trade.Their Lordships will observe, that the article, about which Mr. Whetstone was speaking, was one of necessity, only less urgent than food—worsted stockings supplied to the working and middle classes; and they can hardly doubt, that if the price of food so materially affected the sale of such an article, others of less pressing demand would be still more affected. He thought, therefore, that he had clearly established, that any measure which would have the effect of lowering the price of wheat, would prove a stimulus to the home market. Equally benefited would foreign trade be by opening our ports to foreign corn. On a previous occasion, he had read to their Lordships an extract from a 1013 speech of Mr. Canning's, in 1826, which showed how, in that time of distress (a distress of the same nature as the present, but infinitely less in intensity), the bare mention of an intention on the part of the Government to propose a measure, merely for releasing a quantity of corn from bond had an instantaneous effect in giving life to trade; and it must be obvious, that the cheapening of the articles we manufacture and export, must increase that export; nor is it, he conceived, less obvious, that the allowing the importation of an additional article, must extend the exportation of those articles which we have to spare; especially when that one article is, in fact, the only thing those, who wish for our manufactured goods, have to give in exchange, as is the case, at the present time, with America. On this point, however, he was at a loss to know whether he should be met with an argument which, heretofore, he had heard often urged in that House—namely, that the importation of corn was objectionable, inasmuch as it made us dependent on other countries. This argument of the necessity of being independent of other countries had been particularly insisted on by the noble Duke opposite, and another noble Lord of great authority, now absent, had laid down as an axiom, that every great country should grow corn enough for its own people; whether this argument was to be insisted on now, he knew not. The other day, when the noble Earl (the Earl of Ripon) moved the second reading of the present act for regulating the importation of corn, he appeared to admit fully, that we did not habitually and uniformly raise a sufficient quantity for our own people, and calculated the annual average deficicency at 1,000,000 qrs. At the same time, the noble Earl took great trouble, in another part of his speech, to prove, that there was no country from which we could be sure of having this constant supply. Now, what is the fact? Is this country independent of the foreigner? On a former occasion, he (Lord Radnor) detailed to their Lordships how this country had grahually changed from an exporting to an importing country. For a great part of the last century, this country exported largely. It was the policy adopted very foolishly, as he thought, to encourage exportation; and several millions of money, he believed, had been paid in bounties for that purpose; all money raised 1014 by taxes on the people to enhance the price of their own food: but about the middle of the century, their exports fell off, and from the year 1790, up to the present time, there have been only two years in which the imports have not exceeded the exports. It is curious to observe, too, how those imports have gradually increased:—In ten years ending 1780, the excess of imports was 286,837 qrs.; in the next ten years, the excess was 645,311 qrs.; in the ten years ending 1800, it was 4,293,938 qrs.; in the ten years ending 1810, it was 5,996,350 qrs.; in the ten years ending 1820, it was 6,040,944 qrs.; in the ten years ending 1830, it was 9,413,459 qrs.; and in the ten years ending 1840, it was 14,953,408 qrs.Thus he found, that in the last of these ten years the average annual excess of imports above exports, was 1,495,340 qrs.; if the following year, 1841, be added, the average would be found to be 1,622,382 qrs. Again, taking the whole time during which the act of the 9th of Geo. 4th (the act repealed the other day) was in operation— that is, from 1829 to 1841— the annual average excess of imports above exports was 1,702,293 qrs. If the last five years only be taken, it would be found to be 2,193,254; and for the last three years, 2,800,140 qrs. So that, in fact, we may talk as long as we please of being independent; dependent we are, and with our increasing population are likely to remain so. If, then, we cannot supply ourselves, but must have recourse to foreign countries, what is the thing most to be desired? Is it not that the supply should be co-extensive with the demand, contemporaneous with the want, and procured as cheaply as possible? With respect to cheapness, where is the individual buyer who does not seek to purchase as cheaply as possible? And why should it be otherwise with a community? Now, these objects are attempted to be attained by the sliding-scale. Let us consider how it acts. He admitted, that the sliding-scale was a very ingenious device. It was said, that the price would exhibit both the extent of the demand, and the time when the supply would be required; and that the duty falling in proportion as the call was urgent, the supply would always be commensurate with it. It might have been thought that the fallacy of this ingenious device would not have been detected, till experience had 1015 demonstrated its failure; but one person did detect it and announce it. Mr. Baring pronounced that it would fail of its object, that it would give protection when none was wanted, and would afford none when it was required. In truth, this scale, in order to effect its object, presupposes two things, neither of which exists; the first, that there is somewhere a constant store of corn ready to be poured into our market, and to supply our wants whenever they arise; and the second, that the corn, as soon as it arrives, whatever the state of the market, or the prospect of a rise or fall of price, will be sold. That the last particular does not occur is sufficiently apparent; persons speculating, naturally, and not improperly, speculating on a rise, withhold the corn when it is most wanted, when the market is rising; and again, when it is falling, and there is already at home an abundant supply, from fear of loss, pour it into an over-supplied and falling market; thus injuring both consumer in the first place, and producer in the second. And with respect to the price, does this ingenious contrivance answer better? Quite the reverse. It begins by proclaiming that we mean to supply ourselves; that we think we can grow enough for our own consumption, and that we will not be regular and habitual importers of corn. This it does by enacting duties so high as to be prohibitory, and are meant to be so. What is the effect of this, but to discourage the growth of foreign corn for our supply? It renders — the effect and indeed the object of it are to render—our market an uncertain one. If we had a fixed duty, still better if we had no duty at all, it might, and it certainly would, be to the interest of other countries, where corn can be raised in abundance and cheaply, to raise it for the purpose of supplying us: but, uncertain as our market is, however high the price we occasionally give, is it not the interest of any party regularly to raise corn for us. The consequence is, that less is raised, and, the supply being smaller, the price must necessarily be higher; besides which the whole trade assumes a gambling character. At times, high, exorbitantly high, prices are given; at other times, nothing will be bought; and the whole becomes a matter of chance and uncertainty, always greatly to the pecuniary disadvantage of the purchaser, and oftentimes to the great inconvenience of 1016 the vender: for it is to be observed, that when our necessities occur we go into the market with so a large a demand, and prepared to give such high prices, that corn is sold which cannot be spared without inconvenience to the country from which we export it. Of course, the man who has corn in hand cares not whether he sells it to the English merchant or to the native consumer; he sells it to him who can give, and is willing to give, the highest price: and thus our demand raises the price throughout the continent, and all the consumers there are inconvenienced. It has been often stated in this House, that the variations of price ought not to be attributed to the Corn-laws, for on the continent, and where there are no such laws, the variations are as great, and in, deed greater; and a printed paper of the House of Commons, moved for two or three years ago by Sir C. Lemon, is appealed to as a proof of this. But these variations being in the countries within the range of our demand, are clearly affected by it. There is a statement made before the committee on agricultural distress, of the House of Commons, in 1836, which strongly illustrates this. A question was put to Lord Ashburton respecting the effect of the movement of troops on the price of corn in the continental markets, and in his answer he says:—If the French, or Russian, or German troops are put in motion, the first thing they do is to go to Dantzick and the different corn-markets on the Baltic, and lay in their supplies;; the consequence of which is, that the prices advance in these great markets, and are followed by them in the smaller ones.And if the price is thus affected in all the continental markets by the movement of a few thousand men, how much more must it be by the demand of a country inhabited by eighteen or twenty millions of people, and which has such ample means of paying high prices? The sliding-scale, therefore, not only raises the price on us the purchasers, but it tends directly to raise the price in all other countries, and that by fits and starts, and in the most inconvenient manner. None of these evils could attend a fixed duty, and still less a free-trade. Indeed, those of their Lordships who are friendly to a fixed duty, might, he thought, with perfect consistency vote for this bill, though it repeals all duties. No fixed duty could be imposed here; but, if this bill was passed by 1017 their Lordships and sent to the Commons, if that House chose to insert clauses imposing a fixed duty, it might, subsequently, with that alteration, be received by this House. He, for one, would oppose such a clause; but other Lords might agree to it. Another grievous effect of the sliding-scale is this: that preventing, as it does, a regular trade, but, as has been shown not preventing sudden and very extensive demands for supply, that supply cannot be paid for, as it would in the regular way of trade, by manufactured articles; but it must be paid for in gold. It is said, indeed, that if we regularly and habitually imported corn, the countries whence we received it would not take our manufactures; but, really, that matters not. If they would not take our manufactures, they would be to be paid either in the manufactures of some third country, which we should get in exchange for our goods, or in gold, the produce of the sale of those goods, which in the regular course of trade would be obtained. There could be no doubt that on the Exchange in the city of London, if there was a regular and habitual trade, this would be managed without difficulty. And is not this the case at present? For the last five years we have been importing very largely: at the first, when the demand was sudden, great exports (it is said, to the amount of 7,000,000l. or 8,000,000l.) of sovereigns took place, to the great detriment of commerce, to the derangement of our currency, and to the imminent danger of the Bank of England; a loan from the Bank of Paris, indeed, was wanted to prevent its failure; and this state of things would be always liable to occur when there are similar large, unexpected, and irregular demands. But for the last three years, though the importations have not been less than they were on the occasion alluded to, they have been continuous and uninterrupted: arrangements accordingly have been made by commercial men, and all these millions of quarters of imported corn have been paid war without any derangement of currency, without inconvenience, without any person hearing of it, or any sensation whatever. But will this continue if this sliding-scale is adhered to? In all probability, not. The late continued high prices have doubtless stimulated production: and the effect of the stimulus will probably last for some three or four years: if so, corn may become 1018 again abundant and cheap, the duty high, and no foreign corn will be imported. The trade now established will then have ceased, and the arrangements for carrying it on will have been discontinued; and at the end of the period, if production shall again flag, (as heretofore, more than once and again, has been the case,) and scarcity and dearness return, the same demand of corn from abroad, again to be paid for in gold, producing the derangement of the currency, and commercial and manufacturing distress, will recur. And the House must observe, that the same causes will product he same effects abroad as here, and precisely at the same period: the high prices here, causing high prices there, will there also cause greater production, which, finding our market no longer opened for it, will after a time be discontinued, or at the least diminished; when, probably, all of a sudden, a brisk and large demand will come from hence, thereby raising the prices abroad, and producing all the inconvenience of a diminished supply for their home market: so that all the evils of this alternation of high and low prices, of great abundance at home and of great demands for supply from abroad, are felt both here and in foreign countries; and the sufferings in each country aggravate those of the other. It is true, that, having entered on this vicious course, it cannot be relinquished without still feeling some of the evils of it: but no better course can be adopted than at once to depart from it; and no surer method, if not to end, at least to mitigate, those evils, than to open our markets, and for the future add by our laws nothing to the uncertainties which former enactments have occasioned. It appears, then, that this sliding-scale has entirely failed in the objects which it was intended to effect. It neither insures a supply adequate to the wants of the country, nor provides it at the time when it is wanted; and as for price, it has the effect of alternately depressing and raising prices, and of raising them especially when we are obliged to buy. How, then, are these objects to be attained? Simply by letting matters alone. As the great town in which we live is amply, and fully, and at all times supplied by the care of persons interested in providing all that is wanted; so, if mischievous legislation did not interfere, would the country, doubtless, be amply supplied with all the corn it would require, and with everything else that it 1019 might want, by those who would make it their business, and whose interest it would be, to apportion the supply to the demand. But it will be said, that in that ease corn would be so cheap, that the agriculture of the country would be ruined; that land would be thrown out of cultivation, and there would be no employment for the labourers. It can hardly be denied, indeed, that cheap food is desirable: all the sense and feelings of mankind at all times have given assent to that proposition. But it is said, that we are in a highly artificial state, that our national debt is a grievous burden, and, consequently, the price of food and of everything else must be proportionably high. This argument is difficult to be understood. For the producers of food, indeed, it may be very well, that, as they have heavy taxes to pay, they should get high prices for the article they have to sell; but how it can be necessary for the purchasers of that article that they should pay an exorbitantly high price for it, because they are burdened with other heavy payments, seems rather strange: for, after all, it must be admitted that this is altogether a landowner's plea. The question, in truth, is a landowner's question, and a landowner's question, only. The general consumer cannot be benefitted by having a' high price to pay; the occupier has no interest in a high price, except during his lease, if he has one; the landowner is the only person really benefitted. And as to land being thrown out of cultivation, does any man really believe that this would happen? That some lands which are now under the ploughs, and which ought never to have been applied to the raising of corn, for which they are not adapted, will be restored to pasture, may be very probable; but as pasture, they would be cultivated and productive, whereas the loss is greater than the gain in using them for purposes for which they are not fitted. That in an island of such limited extent as Great Britain, with its enormous and rapidly increasing population, any land which can be profitably used should cease to be occupied and used in some way, seems to be one of the wildest imaginations conceivable. And be it observed, if it cannot be used with profit, it assuredly ought not to be used at all. It surely is note advantage to incur a loss. For his part, he (Lord Radnor) was free to express that he thought food could not be too cheap; he saw no limit to the cheapness which he 1020 would desire; and he believed that it would be advantageous to the producers themselves, inasmuch as the benefit to the community in general would be so largely shared by them, that in a variety of ways they would be amply compensated for the loss of their monopoly. But he must, at the same time, admit that he did, not think that either this measure, or indeed any measure, would permanently much lower the price of corn. How, then, will it be said, is this to be reconciled with what he had before stated of the relief that this bill would afford to the sufferings of the people? In the first place, he had no doubt that there would be a considerable and immediate lowering of present prices, and that would give relief. But, secondly, if the prices should not be permanently lowered below the average, yet, if the ability to pay was increased, the result will be the same —the same benefit would accrue to the people. If commerce revived, the demand for labour would increase, and wages would rise; and if the price of corn did not fall, still the labourer, by the operation, would be in a more advantageous position. He had that very morning seen, in a book on corn, an instance when the quarter of wheat in Edward the 2nd's time was 44s.; which to us now, with the means of purchasing which the people at present possess, appears very moderate price; but reduced into the money of the present day —that is, when compared with the ability to pay of that period—it was no less a sum than 211. would now represent; a most exorbitant price. In like manner, the present prices might continue or even be raised: if the ability of the consumers to pay were increased at all in the first case, or in the second increased a still greater proportion than the price of corn rose, there can be no doubt that they would be benefitted: and in this way, as he thought, the repeal of the Corn-laws would be useful. That it would not lower the nominal price of corn he inferred from this— that if perfect free-trade in corn were established, there would be nearly a uniformity of prices all over the world. The same article cannot have two prices in the same market; therefore, the expense of conveying the corn from the country where it can be raised cheapest, to that where the expense of cultivation is greater, would be the only ingredient of difference of price throughout the world; and the price would necessarily be the, price 1021 not of the cheapest, but the dearest country. As in a Market town in England, if two loads of wheat of precisely the same quality are wanted and sold, if the raising of the one cost 3l., and that of the other only 30s. per quarter, the price of the two will be at a rate which would compensate the grower of the dearer sample, and the grower of the cheaper sample would receive all the benefit of the difference. But it is said, the English farmer cannot compete with the foreign grower— and why not? In what is he his inferiors? In strength— in industry—in skill—or in his apparatus? And if their Lordships look to experience, they will find that those years when the agriculturists have most complained, have been precisely those when there has been no competition, when no foreign corn was admitted into the country; and those when prices were high and the agriculturists happy and contented, were years of large importation. For all these reasons, he thought that it would be wise and fit to give a second reading and to pass the bill which was now before them. For his own part, as he said before, he thought it a measure so pressing, that it could not be delayed with safety to the prosperity of the people. Having that opinion, he had brought it forward as a matter of imperative duty. It would, he believed, greatly relieve the present great and lamentable distress which prevailed in all parts of the country —not only in the manufacturing districts, where they were notorious and admitted, but also in the agricultural parts—and would lay the foundation of future prosperity. Without it, he despaired of seeing any permanent or uninterrupted course of well-being to either the agricultural or manufacturing interests. Liberavi animam meam said he; the responsibility of rejecting this measure, and all its consequences, must rest with your Lordships.
§ The Earl of Ripon
opposed the motion. He denied that the effects of the sliding-scale were such as the noble Lord had described. All the surplus corn with which other countries could supply this country had been consumed under its operations, and no more could be effected by any other system whatever. The argument had been used that fluctuations in the price of corn abroad were caused by the English Corn-laws. But the fluctuation in the price of rye in Prussia was 1022 greater than in that of wheat in this country, and rye was an article that could not be affected by our system. During the thirteen weeks in which the new Corns law had been in operation, wheat was gradually eking into the market at varying rates of duty, and 414,000 quarters had been introduced. One of the objections to the former law was, that no corn was introduced while the price was rising and the duty falling. The contrary, however, was now the case. He (the Earl of Ripon) must say, that he considered cheapness caused by our own abundance would be an advantage, and the present reduction of price arose from two causes—the importation that had taken place, and the goodness of Providence in the prospect which existed of a favourable harvest. By the alterations which had been made in the law, the duty was now only 8s., where it would, formerly have been 1l. 2s. 8d., thus showing the great relief that had been given to the consumer. As to the free-trade principles of the noble Earl, he (the Earl of Ripon) would say that it by no means appeared, if England went to the full extent in the adoption of these principles, that other countries would reciprocate her example. Statesmen should beware of taking it war granted that the whole world would follow what they themselves thought right. Under these circumstances, believing that the noble Earl had shown no wise or sufficient grounds for the adoption of his proposition, he felt that he should have the approbation of the people of this country in refusing his assent thereto. The noble Earl concluded by moving, as an amendment, that the bill be read a second time that day six months.
supported the bill. The late measure of the Government on the Corn-laws was, at all events, out of doors universally admitted to be a failure; and even by the noble President of the Council it had been quasi admitted to be a failure, for the noble Baron stated, that while agitation against the Government measure prevailed, it could not be said to have a fair trial, and this was tantamount to admitting it to be a failure, for the noble Baron might rest assured that agitation would never cease till the Corn-law was repealed. The feeling against that law was becoming stronger and stronger from day to day, and more widely diffused. Last year the number of signatures to petitions against the Corn-Law was only 1023 about one million, while this year the number of signatures exceeded four millions. There was no limit to our prospective trade with the United States, if we would only consent to receive their agricultural produce in exchange for our manufactures. He cordially supported the repeal of the Corn-laws, and he should not be greatly surprised, ere long, to find her Majesty's Government themselves adopting the repeal of this law, as they had adopted other principles of their Liberal predecessors, after they had further looked into the matter, and seen the utter fallacy of the measure they had passed.
The Earl of Radnor
said, that it would, be unpardonable in him to again occupy their Lordships' attention for any considerable time, but there were one or two things which had been stated by the noble Earl opposite, on which he must say a few words. First, as to what the noble Earl had said of the varying price of rye on the continent. Rye, it was stated, was raised in certain parts, (he believed the northern parts of Germany) and was the common food of the people; was not an article of export, and was subject to much variation of price, more even than wheat. One answer to this had been given by his noble Friend who spoke last: viz., that as an article of food, it would necessarily be affected by the price of wheat. When wheat was so cheap that it was accessible to the people, they would take it in preference to rye, and the latter grain would then not be in demand, and consequently would become cheap. The noble Earl intimates his dissent, and says, that wheat is never used by the people of that country for food; habitually, certainly not; but it can hardly be supposed that when wheat is as cheap and cheaper than rye, they would not prefer a cheap and a better article to an inferior and a dearer one. But, probably, a further reason is this, that rye is not an article of commerce; that the excess in one country or of one part is not available in other places or at other times; so that if the supply is greater than the demand, it falls in price; and if below it, it rises, just as potatoes in Ireland. These from their weight and bulk, when compared with their value, are not easily transported; and there is scarcely a year in which, while there is abundance (and consequently cheapness) in one part of Ireland, there is not scarcity, often absolute famine, in the adjoining county. 1024 Another part to which the noble Earl alluded, is the mode in which the currency is effected by large importations of corn; and he contends that as a few years ago they were paid for in bullion, so, if these importations continued, would these payments also be continued to our great inconvenience. But he (Lord Radnor) proved, as be thought, that if the importations were continued regularly and were brought about in the common course of trade, no such consequence could ensue. When, indeed, a sudden and large demand arose, quite different from the regular course of trade, then, necessarily, the supply must be paid for in bullion; and the sudden and unexpected export of so much corn must occasion considerable inconvenience and embarrassment. But when these demands come habitually and are anticipated, the mode of payment is prepared beforehand, and whether made in gold obtained war the purpose, or in articles bought of third parties, or in our own manufactures, really mattered not one jot. And this is clearly proved by the fact that for the last three years past importations have taken place; how paid for he could not tell; he had no means of knowing—it might be in goods of our own manufacture, it might be in goods obtained from others by the sale of our manufactures, or it might be in gold procured by the same method; but paid for they were, and without any difficulty or any derangement of our currency. But if this trade is forcibly interrupted by the prohibiting law, this arrangement would of course cease, and when a fresh necessity arose, till new ones can be made, the same difficulty will recur. Suppose the corn has been paid for in hardware from Sheffield, and this trade should be now suspended, and at the end of four or five ears we should again suddenly require two or three millions of quarters of wheat, of the value of some six or seven millions of pounds, is it to be supposed that the people of the continent will have in a similar way suspended their demand for knives and razors, and will at the end of the time want such an accumulated supply of these articles as would pay for the cost? Doubtless they will have obtained what they want in the intermediate time, and will be unwilling to take from us anything but that article which is available in any market of the world—viz.gold! The noble Earl had availed himself of some 1025 returns which he (Lord Radnor) had moved for some time ago, but which had been only presented that day, and which he had not any opportunity of seeing, except during the noble Earl's Speech, He had, however, since looked at them, and had seen quite enough to say, that they by no means bore out the noble Earl in the argument he deduced from them in favour of the present sliding-scale. These returns show the amount of wheat admitted war home consumption in each week since the passing of the present law, and the amount of duty in each week; and the noble Earl contends that it has come in regularly each week as there was a demand. That some wheat has been admitted in each week—at first at 13s. duty, then at 12s., then at 11s., then at 10s., and lately at 9s. and 8s., is not to be denied: but was not some also admitted in each corresponding week of last year when the duties were in some weeks 23s. 8d., and in others 24s. 8d.? But the noble Earl does not argue fairly from the facts disclosed by these returns, when he states that corn came in regularly. He perceived that the whole amount admitted during the thirteen weeks which have elapsed since the passing of the present law, is 337,000 quarters; but of these, 205,297 quarters, or nearly two thirds, have been admitted in the course of the last four weeks, and upwards of 160,000 quarters, or nearly half of the whole, in the last two weeks. The noble Earl is therefore not borne out in his expression, that coin has been admitted regularly every week. But it will be said, that this increased quantity of admitted corn has been during the late month of higher prices and of low duty, 9s. and 8s., and that, therefore, it has proved that the sliding-scale works well, admitting more corn as the duty falls—that is, in other words, as the price rises. But what is the fact? During the first nine weeks, when the price of corn was rising, and when the starving people were crying out for bread, it came in sparingly; because, in expectation of a bad harvest, it was supposed that the price of corn would rise, and, consequently, the duty fall, and the holders of the corn would thus, by delay, get the double advantage of the increased price and the diminished duty. But for the last four weeks the sun has been bright and shining, the appearance of the crops has everywhere improved, and there is 1026 promise of a good harvest and of low prices; and just as the market is about to fall from these natural causes, the holders of foreign corn, fearful of high returning duties, pour their extra corn into the market to its further depression, and to the loss of the home grower. If the prospects had been bad, no one can doubt that the supply would have continued sparing, or short of the necessities of the people, till the duty had fallen to the lowest point, or at least to that point when it would have been more economical to pay that duty than to incur them extra expenses of continued hire of warehouses. But the appearance of things being favourable, in comes 1.500,000 or 2,000,000 of quarters, to the detriment of the farmer, and with little benefit to the consumer. Nothing can be more confirmatory of the folly of the sliding-scale than these returns. He presented the bill for their Lordships' acceptance.
§ Original motion negatived.
§ Bill put off for six months,
§ House adjourned.
§ The following Protest against the Rejection of the Bill was entered on the Journals.
§ I. Because there exists great distress in the country, arising from the depressed state of commerce and manufactures, and aggravated by the highs price of corn, which would be greatly relieved by the passing of this bill in as much as,
§ 1. A large quantity of wheat and other corn now in bond, would be forthwith released and brought into the market, and the present prices consequently lowered; and,
§ 2. An opening would be thus afforded for the future interchange of our manufactures for the agricultural produce of other countries.
§ II. Because, even if the hope, which may reasonably be entertained, that there would thus be brought about a revival of commerce with foreign countries were to be disappointed, the immediate operation of this bill would not fail to give a stimulus to the home market, inasmuch as the diminished cost of necessary food would leave to the consumer increased means for the purchase of other articles, and thus the general fund for the employment of labour would be increased.
§ III. Because the repeal of the present Corn-laws is a measure eagerly desired by a large portion of the people, whose patient endurance of their suffering entitles them to every consideration, and who attribute to it their distress, and think to its repeal they must look for relief,
§ IV. Because I believe that this measure, so 1027 eagerly desired by the suffering people, would be highly beneficial to every class of the community. Experience proves that this country does not habitually grow corn enough for its own consumption; and as it appears from returns on the Table of the House, that from the year 1770, in each succeeding period of ten years, a larger supply of foreign wheat has been required than in the preceding period, and there can be no doubt that this progression, caused by a rapidly increasing population, will continue, a constantly increasing deficiency will be to be made up, by importations from foreign countries.
§ V. Because it is for the interest of all parties that this supply should be commensurate in extent, and cotemporaneous in time with the demand, and that it should be obtained at the smallest possible cost; and, while no legislative provision can by any contrivance secure these objects, the sliding-scales of the acts proposed to be repealed by this bill, have a direct tendency to prevent their attainment, and to aggravate the inconveniencies both of a rising and a falling price, by holding out inducements, in the first case, to withhold the supply for the purpose of advancing the price, and consequently lowering the duty; and, in the other, to pour it into an already over-supplied market, to avoid the higher duty consequent on a lower price.
§ VI. Because that which no legislative wisdom can accomplish, will best be effected by the unceasing vigilance of unrestrained commercial speculation. In the same manner as the wants of the population of this great town are, without any legislative provision or administrative care on the part of the Government, at all times adequately supplied from different parts of the kingdom; so, if the arrangements of commerce were not interfered with by mischievous Legislation, would the kingdom itself be supplied (always sufficiently, never superabundantly) by the unrestrained intercourse of traders from other parts of the world; while the competition amongst the traders themselves would insure to the country the lowest possible prices, consistent with the true interests and powers of the producers.
§ VII. Because a moderate price of food is manifestly for the advantage of all the consumers thereof. The allegation that a high price is rendered necessary by the great burdens imposed on the people, cannot by possibility apply to any but the producers; and the benefit of a low price to all others is undoubtedly not the less, for their having other burdens to bear. Indeed, the producers themselves have the same interests, in as far as they are consumers; and inasmuch as the well-being and prosperity of the whole tend to the benefit of every part, I hold, that the reaction of the general prosperity on the Producers themselves, would more than compensate for any loss consequent on their being deprived of their monopoly.
§ VIII, Because it does not appear that the 1028 British agriculturists have ever suffered from legitimate foreign competition, or need entertain any apprehension of it, The periods of agricultural distress have been precisely those when no foreign grain has come into the market; and the years when there have been large importations, have been those of high prices and agricultural prosperity.
§ IX. Because the sliding-scale is fraught with other great inconveniences. It holds out temptations to interested persons to influence, by fictitious or fraudulent sales, the averages for their own advantage; sometimes to the injury of the public, always to the detriment of the revenue; and by the uncertainty which it introduces into the amount of duty at any particular period, it keeps out of the markets the traders of distant countries, and especially of the United States of America. Thus competition is limited; the country is deprived of all the benefit to be derived from the intercourse which would arise from this trade with the people of distant countries, who are precisely those most able to supply our wants, and most willing to take our manufactured goods in exchange; and we narrow our sources of supply to the countries of Europe, with which we can more expeditiously communicate. We voluntarily and unnecessarily deprive ourselves of an ample, and betake ourselves to an inadequate, market.
§ X. Because it has been found, that under the operation of the late act, there have occurred great fluctuations in the foreign trade in corn. Sometimes, for several years consecutively, the importations have been very great; in others also consecutively, quite trivial; and the trade has thus assumed a character of unsteadiness and uncertainty, totally inconsistent with a regular exchange of manufactured goods. The consequence has been, that these large occasional importations have caused such a derangement in the exchanges, followed by a corresponding export of bullion, as has produced an alarming derangement of our currency, to the great detriment of commerce, and the imminent danger of public credit; and to such an extent, that on a late occasion the Bank of England was constrained to apply for assistance to the Bank of Paris. The act of the present Session does not, in my opinion, remove the probability of the recurrence of this danger.
§ XI. Because I believe that the free intercourse in corn will not permanently or materially lower its price. Uniformity of price in every country would necessarily follow, limited only by the expense of carriage from the cheaper to the dearer country; and the price in each will be regulated by the cost of profitable (the only desirable) production in the dearest.
§ XII. Because the same free intercoure will afford the greatest possible security against the variation of price in different seasons. The trade in corn would be no longer subject to the uncertainties of the present system; and, 1029 the foresight of traders, sharpened by interest, and enlightened by extensive communications with every part of the world, would enable them so to apportion and hoard up the superabundance of one year or country, for the supply of the deficiencies of others, as to produce the greatest attainable equality in every season.
§ XIII. Because this happy state of things, by removing as far as possible from every community, and from every member of each community, all uncertainty of the necessary supply of food, and all uneasiness on that score, would; leave them at greater liberty to pursue each that separate vocation, manufacture, or trade, which would be most profitable to the individual person or stale, and consequently most conducive to the advantage and welfare of the whole.
§ XIV. Because no measure of precaution, no extent of military power, no depth of diplomatic ability, would, so much as this free, unrestrained, and universally profitable intercourse, conduce to the stability of the peace of; the world.
§ XV. Because I see ground for apprehension, that, if the harvest of this year should be abundant, and followed by a succession of favourable seasons, we shall fall into the same state in which we were in 1834, 1835, and 1836. Corn will become abundant and cheap, manufactures will probably revive, and possibly the necessity of a repeal of the Corn-laws will be forgotten by those who now demand it. But, on the other hand, there will be complaints of agricultural distress. Corn, cultivated at a great expense, in expectation of high prices, will he produced in abundance, and will again fall so much in value as not to remunerate the producers. This, again, will lead to a diminished cultivation, and after a few years bring back high prices, the necessity of foreign importations, and a renewal of distress in the manufacturing districts. And as each period of such distress has heretofore been more severe and prolonged than the preceding, and has been accompanied by a larger importation of foreign corn, I doubt not the next will exceed any hitherto witnessed. This alternation of suffering and prosperity of the, agricultural and manufacturing classes, accompanied in every case by a directly opposite condition of the other interest, is calamitous and full of danger. The well-being of each ought to be dependent on and cotemporaneous with the well-being of the other and there seems no reason, in the nature of things, why the two interests should not uninterruptedly advance together in prosperity and wealth. And, as I believe that this state of things will be best brought about by leaving uncontrolled the free current of national industry, I gave my cordial support to a bill, the object. of which was to leave free and unconstrained the trade in the most important article of the food of the people.
|KINNAIRD AND ROSSIE.||CLONCURRY|