§ House in Committee.
§ The preamble was agreed to.453
§ On the Motion that the First Clause stand part of the Bill,
The DUKE of BUCKINGHAM
rose to propose an Amendment of which he had given notice. He moved it, he stated, with the hope that he might be enabled to induce their Lordships to agree to the alteration of the First Clause. He was no party to the Bill; he thought it uncalled for and dangerous, and he wished to propose his Amendment simply with the view of doing what he possibly could to save some remnant of protection to the agricultural interest. By the Bill as it stood it was proposed that after the 1st of February 1849, the duties to be enacted in the schedule should cease, except that a nominal duty of only 1s. per quarter should be levied upon the import of wheat, oats, and barley. His object was to continue some degree of protection by proposing to leave out the date of February 1849, and to continue the sentence with the schedule which their Lordships would find in the fourth page of the Bill, and which provided to the landed interest an amount of protection to the extent of 10s. when the price of wheat fell to 48s. per quarter. If their Lordships agreed to his proposition, the effect would be that the farmers, after February, 1849, instead of finding themselves protected by a nominal duty of only 1s., would be still able to rely upon a protective duty to the extent of 10s. per quarter. He repeated that he was no party to the Bill; nor would he in the slightest degree sanction it; but he suggested this course as the best which, under the circumstances of the case, now could be adopted for the agricultural interest. As he saw around him many noble Lords who had taken active parts at agricultural meetings and protection societies in holding out expectations to the farmers that by their exertions they would be able to maintain protection, he hoped and trusted that on this occasion noble Lords who were in that position would go along with him and give him their support. Many of their Lordships too had stated their preference for a fixed duty: they were therefore to that extent protectionists, and he claimed their votes as well as those of the advocates of the sliding-scale. As they were now arrived at a point which was finally to determine whether or not they would grant any degree of protection at all to the agriculturist, he hoped that they would pause before entirely overthrowing the hopes of the farmer. He had repeatedly stated his objections to this measure, which he thought unnecessary, un- 454 called for, and fraught with danger to every class of the community. They had now an opportunity of materially altering, and, as he believed, amending it, without interfering with the vote which they had given for its second reading, and of aiding him in reserving some shadow of protection to the agricultural interest. If they passed this Bill as it at present stood, they would, many of them, he was sure, in the course of a few years, or even sooner, regret the step which they had taken, and the vote which they had given. He implored their Lordships to set aside all party feeling in dealing with this question. Let them not look to those in office or those who were to come into office. Let them not record a vote to prop up an Administration, at the risk of injuring the great interests confided to their charge; but let their Lordships boldly come forward, and honestly and conscientiously record their opinions. Depend upon it, whatever the result might be, they would always have the satisfaction of reflecting that they had acted with clean hands and consciences, according to their views of what was best suited to promote the interests of the country at large. For himself, he threw aside all private feeling and individual friendship, humbly endeavouring as he did to discharge his duty to the best of his ability; and he would sincerely say that he had never given a vote more honestly and conscientiously than that which he should record in favour of the Amendment which he now begged to propose to the House.
§ The Question having been put,
§ The EARL of RIPON
stated that he felt it to be his duty to object to the Amendment. While he did so, however, he must state that he was not at all disposed to impute to his noble Friend that in bringing forward his Amendment he had in any degree compromised his principles upon the subject. As their Lordships had affirmed the principle of the Bill by giving it a second reading, the noble Duke was fully entitled to propose any alterations which in his opinion might tend to mitigate the evils he apprehended from the operation of its general principle, and to render it more compatible with the welfare of those interests upon which he thought it would have an injurious effect. He (the Earl of Ripon) would take this opportunity of saying a word as to some observations which fell from a noble Lord behind him the other night. That noble Lord said, with reference to this particular part of the measure, 455 that he could not conceive what had induced Her Majesty's Government to adopt a modified sliding-scale for a period of three years, except for the purpose of effecting a species of compromise, and in order to satisfy those who might have been expected to object most strongly to the introduction of this Bill. Now, he begged to say most positively and distinctly that this provision was not introduced with any such notion. He would not have been a party to any attempt at such a miserable compromise; but, on public consideration entirely, he did give his conscientious support to this provision of the Bill. The reason for the introduction of that clause was this—as a very great change was about to be made, it appeared to the Government advisable that there should be some gradation in the process of effecting that change. Some persons might be of opinion that if a great change was to be effected with regard to an important interest, the more expeditiously it was carried out the better; while others might consider that it was necessary a certain time should be permitted to elapse before such a change came into full effect. In dealing with questions of this nature, Parliament had repeatedly acted on both these principles; and he certainly thought, with reference to this particular measure, that it was most advisable some time should be allowed to elapse before it was brought into full operation. The sole motive for the introduction of this provision was a desire to mitigate those evils which were likely to arise from the greatness of the change in contemplation; and on this ground he adhered to it. It appeared to him that his noble Friend's Amendment was of much greater importance with regard to this Bill than the noble Duke seemed to suppose. He (the Earl of Ripon) would not allude to any circumstances which might hereafter arise if this Amendment should be carried; but he begged to say that the Amendment did, in point of fact, involve an entire alteration of the principle of the Bill, for it professed to give permanency to that protection which it was the object of the Bill, after a limited time, to remove. Those, therefore, who approved the end and object of this Bill, certainly could not consent to an alteration which would defeat that end, and prevent the measure from effecting those purposes for which it was introduced. For his own part, he (the Earl of Ripon) could not support this proposition; and he did not see how any noble Lord who had voted for the se- 456 cond reading of the Bill could support the Amendment of the noble Duke. But the Amendment was objectionable even as regarded the object of his noble Friend. The noble Duke himself did not appear to attach any great importance to it. His noble Friend had said that his object was to preserve a remnant of protection; but he (the Earl of Ripon) could not think that it was desirable to preserve a remnant of protection, for it had been contended that the remnant was not worth having. From the arguments used over and over again by the opponents of this Bill, he presumed that such a degree of protection as was established by this clause would be most inefficient, and could only serve eventually to occasion severe and unmitigated disappointment. If the agriculturists were to have protection, they ought to have an efficient protection; but it appeared to him, that to propose to establish in perpetuity the protection given under this clause, was to tender to the agriculturists what really was not worth their acceptance. What security could his noble Friend have that that protection would be maintained? What ground was there for supposing that any plan like that proposed by the noble Duke could be regarded as a permanent measure? What advantage, then, were the agriculturists to derive from the adoption of his noble Friend's proposition? He (the Earl of Ripon) would not now enter into the general question. He would only say that he considered, if the noble Duke's proposition was adopted, it would only delude and disappoint the agriculturists; and he thought their Lordships would be very ill advised if they assented to the alteration proposed by his noble Friend.
The EARL of CLANCARTY
My Lords, as the Amendment moved by the noble Duke has raised the whole question of the principle of the Bill, I trust I may be permitted to take this opportunity of offering to your Lordships a few observations upon it, which I am the more anxious to do from the very important bearing—I fear very injurious effect—it is likely to exercise upon the progress of agricultural improvement in Ireland. I can assure your Lordships, and especially noble Lords connected with Her Majesty's Government, that in considering this question, and in attending to the arguments that have been offered on either side in the course of the discussions that have taken place, I have done so with an anxious desire to give my 457 support to the measure. To myself, as to most of your Lordships, the question of free trade, and especially of a free trade in corn, was a new one; it has never till now been seriously discussed in this assembly; and so far was it formerly from finding favour with your Lordships, that, not many years ago, the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Melbourne), then at the head of Her Majesty's Government, characterized the repeal of the Corn Laws as an act of insanity. I, therefore, had no greater prejudice to overcome than many of those noble Lords, who, formerly divided only as to the mode of giving protection, are now in favour of free trade. If, my Lords, I had any prejudice in the matter, I can truly say that it inclined me to look with favour upon the quarter from whence this measure has been proposed; for, however disappointed and deceived I have felt by the policy of the Government towards Ireland—a policy, the weakness, inconsistency, and ill success of which cannot be better illustrated than by the necessity that has resulted from it for the enactment of a Bill for the protection of life called the Coercion Bill—I yet cannot forget, nor will the country forget, that it was by the talents and energies of Sir Robert Peel's Cabinet that the finances and commerce of the country have been raised to their present prosperous condition from the slough of despond in which they were left by the Government who quitted office in 1841. But, my Lords, when I examine the character of the policy which has produced the good results we see around us, I find that it has been essentially the policy of protection—of protection to native industry generally—but, above all, protection to the corn grower. Not, indeed, a high protection, which would operate to the prejudice of the community, for the benefit of a class, but a protection as low in amount as would consist with the due encouragement of agricultural industry. Such was the sound principle upon which protection was afforded by the Act of 1842 and subsequent Acts; a policy most ably stated and defended by the noble Lord the late Secretary for the Colonies in his unanswered, though not unassailed, but unanswered because unanswerable, speech on the second reading of this Bill. I shall not, my Lords, trouble your Lordships by entering into a general discussion of the Bill; but I must be permitted to notice an argument which appears to have had great weight with many noble Lords who are in favour 458 of the measure, I mean what is called "the force of circumstances." Happily it is not here as elsewhere that the agitation of the Anti-Corn-Law League can have any influence. Could any pressure from without induce your Lordships to forego the consideration due to important measures, you very soon would lose the confidence and respect of the community, which now is, as it ever will be, your best support. The argument which has operated so strongly with many of your Lordships is the rapid increase of the population; an increase proceeding in geometrical rather than in arithmetical progression, and occasioning the necessity for a proportionate increase in the supply of food. My Lords, I most fully admit, that it is a duty of the first magnitude to provide that the population should have food cheap and in abundance; but it appears to me that the argument cuts directly against the present measure — against the abandonment by the State of the duty of regulating the supply of the food imported from foreign countries. It is true there are restrictions upon the import of corn, but they operate only to prevent a glut in the market; they cease to operate when their operation would be injurious. But whether you maintain the sliding-scale or adopt a fixed duty protection, in either case you stand upon a vantage ground to treat with foreign nations for the supply of food should the necessity arise for doing so; but if you remove all restrictions, and throw open the trade to foreign nations, what security have you, when you become dependent upon them for the supply, that they will not impose duties that will raise the price of bread much higher than it has ever been made by duties paid into the British Exchequer. The argument is not a new one, but it is one which has never been answered satisfactorily; and until it is so, it appears to me perfectly conclusive against the Bill. I beg, my Lords, shortly to advert to another argument which has been brought in favour of this measure, considered as part of a general system of free trade. Notwithstanding the admission in Mr. Gladstone's despatch to the Governor General of Canada, that "Her Majesty's Government have on several occasions endeavoured to make arrangements with Foreign Powers for the mutual relaxation of tariffs — but almost uniformly with ill success," we are told that our free trade must be successful. How? Through our own free agency 459 alone. I confess, my Lords, that I never understood what this meant until the debate on the second reading in this House, when it was explained by a noble Earl opposite (Earl Clarendon), once distinguished as a displomatist, to mean, that our manufacturers could, with the aid of the smuggler, be enabled to defeat the commercial restrictions of foreign nations, and to find a market for English goods in every country in the world. Such a doctrine I certainly did not expect to hear in this House, and still less propounded from the lips of a diplomatist, at the same time professing his preference of such a trade to one dependent upon Treaties. I cannot think, my Lords, that if our commerce is to be extended by means of a contraband trade, it will be either respectable or conducive to the interests and security of those engaged in it: nor does it carry with it much promise of a cordial relation with the Governments of foreign countries. I have always looked upon the smuggler much in the same light as the illicit distiller or the poacher. Offences against the customs, the excise, and the game laws, are, indeed, only offences in the eye of the iaw; but though only mala prohibita, they commonly lead to offences which are mala in se. If, therefore, I have felt surprise at the doctrine of a contraband trade being advocated in your Lordships' House, how much greater was my surprise at finding it not merely acquiesced in, but sanctioned, by a large majority of the votes of the right rev. Bench, who have manifested so great and unusual an interest in this question. The right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Oxford) who spoke last on Friday night, and charmed the House with the eloquence of his declamation, challenged your Lordships to appeal to the Bench, not upon the paltry interests of a class, but upon questions of morality and religion. I accept the challenge of the right rev. Prelate; and I put it to the Bench whether it can consist with the interests of morality and religion for the Parliament to connive at and encourage a smuggling trade—whether it would not better consist with the Christian character of British subjects, in whatever countries they carry on the business of trade, that they should be mindful to "render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's," and "render to all their dues—tribute to whom tribute, and custom to whom custom is due;" but it seems that in the train of evils to arise from free trade, there is to be the violation of precepts 460 having a much higher sanction than any your Lordships could confer. And now, my Lords, one word upon Ireland. Soon after the policy of Her Majesty's Government was announced, I heard the remark made by a gentlemen well acquainted with the circumstances of Ireland, that "the Irish landlords will be either very ignorant or very good-natured if they consent to a repeal of the Corn Laws." The observation, my Lords, appears to me to apply just as appropriately to Parliament as to the landlord class; for, happily, they are perfectly identified in interest with the whole of the community. But so far as the peculiar interests of the Irish landlords are concerned, I will take it upon me to say, notwithstanding the aspersions that have been cast upon that class to which I have the honour of belonging, that if a sacrifice were necessary for the general good, they would be as ready to make it as would the landlords of England, and much more so than those whose property is not in land; for among landlords there is a feeling of responsibility which does not in the same degree attach to the fundholder or the manufacturer. It is not, however, upon the landlords, but upon the occupiers and cultivators of the soil, that would fall, in the first instance, the consequence of this impolitic measure. And I will show your Lordships how that is: The rents of the proprietary in general are moderate, regulated at what, one year with another, the land is well able to yield, after remunerating the labour of the farmer. Thus it is that in 1835, when the prices were very low, I believe lower than it is contemplated they will be under the operation of free trade, the rents were fully sustained. Now who, my Lords, were the losers by the low prices? The farmers, and only the farmers. Again, my Lords, let me show you how it will bear against the cultivators of the soil. There has sprung up of late an active spirit of agricultural improvement in many parts of Ireland. Wastes which were formerly almost worthless, or yielded a very small rent for the coarse pasture they afforded, have been improved and brought under cultivation; in confidence, no doubt, that the improving tenant would be permitted by his landlord to reap the fruits of his labour and enterprise, but in confidence, also, that the Corn Laws would be maintained. Now, the landlords have performed their part: the benefit of these improvements, where they have been made at the tenant's expense, has been left in 461 the hands of the tenants. The rents have not advanced with the increased productiveness of the land; but if you pass a law by which the price of the agricultural produce is to be lowered, the injury to the improving tenant is the same: the check, the discouragement to future improvement is the same as if the landlord had raised his rent. Thus, my Lords, it is upon the occupiers of the soil that, in the first instance, will be inflicted a loss and an injury by your proposed legislation. Circumstanced as properties in general are in Ireland, it is not easy to bring about new arrangements between landlords and tenants; and the necessity must first become very palpable before the proprietor can consent to a sacrifice of income. Then, my Lords, look at the political consequences of this measure. If its tendency is to make this country dependent, it is to make Ireland politically independent. The peculiar privilege of free trade in the markets of this country enjoyed by Ireland, as a consequence of the Union between the two countries, was noticed by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Monteagle), in his admirable speech in 1834 in defence of the Union, as the greatest among the benefits Ireland owed to that great event. The noble Lord, then a Member of the House of Commons, commenting upon Mr. O'Connell's speech, said—Does the learned Member recollect the passing of the 46th Geo. III. c. 46, which has given to Ireland a free trade in corn? Was not that a concession favourable to Irish interests? Do hon. Gentlemen venture to disregard the consequences to Irish agricultural industry of the free intercourse in corn between Ireland and England?. If they think that an unrestricted intercourse with the best and richest market for agricultural produce in the world is of no advantage to Ireland, there cannot be any argument urged that will influence their opinion.… I may therefore point out the free trade in corn with England as one of the most must substantial advantages which Ireland has derived from the Imperial Parliament—an advantage not confined to the rich or powerful, but creating a new demand for labour, and thus improving the condition of every cottager in Ireland. This I make my first point.Now, my Lords, by this Bill Ireland will cease to be indebted to the Union for her free trade in the English markets. Her peculiar privilege will be lost, and she will have no greater advantages in the English corn trade than any foreign country. Attaching, as I do, great value to the Union, which, well cemented, I believe would be greatly for the advantage of both countries, I cannot but lament that anything should be done to weaken it. Much injury has 462 been done by the free trade in religion; the sympathies of the two countries are not what they were. I warn your Lordships that these experiments in legislation may prove most detrimental to the best interests of the Empire. I believe, my Lords, that the interests of all classes are united in the maintenance of a moderate and well regulated system of protective duties. And, feeling this to be the case, I shall give my cordial support to the Amendment moved by the noble Duke.
§ EARL STANHOPE
supported the Amendment, and stated that previously to affording his reasons for this support, he wished to say a few words on what had fallen from a noble Lord who had addressed the House upon the subject of the Bill. The real principle of the Bill was to be found in its preamble, that it was "expedient to alter the laws relative to the duties on corn." In that view he fully concurred—that was, in that principle of the Bill as contained in the preamble—though he was opposed to the change involved by the Bill now before them. But if the principle of the Bill was contained in the preamble, it appeared a monstrous absurdity, that the Bill should exhibit in one place the necessity for a free trade, and in another effectually negative the principle by a limitation. The most arrogant statements had been used with respect to the operation of the Bill. The condition of the country at a future period had been given, and statements made of the position of things, which could be seen by no man not possessing the gift of prophecy. No man could predict the condition of this country three years hence. An event, for instance, might happen, which all might hope was far, very far distant—an event which would plunge this nation into a condition of confusion, anarchy, and war. No man could affect to see the position in which the commercial and financial interests of this country would be placed at the expiration of any limited period. How then could legislation touch the matter? The country should have judged on the change, the Ministry should have made an appeal to the country; though this appeal they had not dared to make, because well aware of what that appeal would produce upon an oppressed, an outraged, and an indignant people. No change of the character proposed should be made, but under the deliberation of a Parliament called for that purpose. Under such an appeal, no base sycophants would probably have been 463 found—sycophants who have crept like filthy reptiles towards their own purposes; under such an appeal, no such creatures as these would have been found, for they would have retired to their own native obscurity. He could never forget the emphatic declaration of the noble Viscount lately at the head of Her Majesty's Government, that the repeal of the Corn Laws was the wildest and the maddest project that had ever entered into the brain of man. He thought that the noble Viscount, in justice to himself, in justice to the country, which might otherwise form an injurious opinion of his character, ought to be ready—whether he was able or not was a different question—to explain how it was, that without having recanted his opinion, without any change of circumstances, he should, a few evenings ago, have voted for the second reading of this Bill. He did not undervalue small minorities—it had often been his fortune to vote in small minorities himself—but when some noble Lords opposite boasted that they had formerly been in small minorities upon this question, and that they had now become the majority, he must say that had that been his case, however agreeably he might have been surprised by the change, and whatever the advantages might have been, still he would call upon them, in justice to themselves and to the country, to vindicate their conduct. He had heard several noble Lords, whose memories now appeared to be steeped in oblivion, speak strongly in favour of protection; and, indeed, a very short time ago the principle of protection was unanimously maintained on this side of the House, and all but unanimously on the other; but whatever influences might have been at work to convert them, he could not suppose that they had turned round with the same facility and complaisance as was shown by nine Members of the Cabinet, who after they had resigned office because they disapproved of this measure of the great dictator that sat in the Cabinet, a very few days after resumed office again, prepared to carry through the very measure which they had before disapproved of. This was a digression which he had been unavoidably led into, because one reason which induced him to vote for the Amendment of his noble Friend was, that it asserted the principle of protection. But at the same time he entreated their Lordships not to misunderstand him, or to suppose that he had departed at all from the principles which he formerly maintained, 464 as if he now thought that the present amount of protection was too much. On the contrary, he thought, that putting aside the principle of protection which was thus asserted in the Amendment, the amount of protection it proposed was ludicrously inefficient; but the whole Bill to which this was an Amendment was fraught with so much injustice to the agriculturist, that the Amendment would be better than its passing; indeed, rather than have this Bill, he would infinitely have preferred a total, immediate, and entire abolition of all protective duties. One of the remarks of Her Majesty's Ministers—who, as Milton said of kings, were strong in legions though weak in argument—was, that this measure was the necessary consequence of the measure of 1842; and that those who disapproved of the present Bill ought to have voted against that measure. This did not apply to him, who had voted against the measure of 1842; but it argued as if Ministers had then abandoned the outworks, that they might now be able to give up the citadel. In conclusion, he begged, that in justice to himself it would be distinctly understood, that in voting with the noble Duke, he did not pledge himself to adhere to this modification of the sliding-scale or any other; he wished to keep himself, as he had ever been, and, as long as he had life, should remain, free and unfettered to support any other Amendment that might be proposed in the Corn Laws, without being restricted to an Amendment like this, which could not, and ought not to be, a final measure.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
was anxious to state his reasons for voting for this Amendment, lest his conduct might be construed into an unqualified support of a system which would, in his opinion, be absurd, if considered as a measure of efficient protection. The House had already decided the question of protection, and he did not intend to revive it; still he thought that those who thought with him ought to take this one more opportunity of recording their opinions against the Government measure. But besides that, he supported the Amendment because he thought they were wrong in abandoning after three years all duties on corn, and thus surrendering entirely one main source of their revenue. Another reason was, because he believed, contrary to the opinion of the noble Earl (Earl of Ripon), that instead of this delay of three years being of advantage to the farmer, it would be of very serious injury to him. 465 His third and perhaps his strongest reason was this, that he thought they had no right whatever to legislate this year for another Parliament, which would sit before the measure of their legislation would come into operation; they had no right to act upon a principle which they dared not act upon immediately, but which they were seeking to saddle upon others that were to follow them. What did they know of the probable position of this country three years hence? Might not some other party soon hold the seals of office? And what right had they to legislate for any future Ministry? Again, every argument in favour of the present measure was founded on the present position of affairs — some peculiar to this year, some peculiar to the state of Europe; and not one of which might be in existence in three years' time, when the Bill was to come into operation. Nay, the very contrary state of things might be in existence then, for all that they knew; and yet the House was called on to legislate in the dark for a future and distant period. Some maintained that they were only now arrived at that state of things when they must adopt the principles of free trade? If they were right then, why not carry out their principle, and adopt free trade at once? But instead of that they damned their own opinions by their own acts, and gave the lie to their warm professions in favour of free trade, by deferring it for three years. The proceeding certainly did not savour much of courage on the part of the Ministers, or they would at once have adopted the broad principle of free trade. If he was not afraid of using offensive language, he would say that it was a sneaking way of carrying out their principle. Then, with regard to the second argument he had used, namely, that instead of a benefit, the delay of three years was an injury done to the farmer; what was the operation of this Bill? It announced to the whole corn-growing countries of Europe, that at the termination of three years they might introduce corn into this country duty free. Now, there was no country at present which had much surplus produce to send; but three years was exactly the time to allow foreigners to bring their soil into a proper cultivation for wheat, and thus enable them, without difficulty, to glut our markets. The expectation of a new market would induce foreign speculators to hold back a large quantity of corn for the termination of the three years, and then pour it into this country all at once; caus- 466 ing thereby a general derangement of our trade, both abroad and in the corn market at home. If we had adopted free trade at once, perhaps next year the demand would have been greater than the supply; and thus, by raising the prices abroad, foreign countries suffering under the rise of price would have called on their Governments for some further restriction on exportation; or, at any rate, the speculators would not have been able to inundate this country with the same quantity of cheap corn as they will probably collect for the expiration of the three years. Then, again, they allowed a man whose covenants with his landlord were not properly considered, time to exhaust his land, either with the intention of leaving his farm, or under the idea that the land must, of necessity, be thrown into pasture. Again, what did they do in another respect by fixing on the exact period of three years? As their Lordships were aware, "the four-course system" was the common one in England. Well, the effect of the present measure would be, that everybody would try and make such arrangements as to avoid having wheat sown in the winter preceding the year of free trade. And what would be the consequence? Why, that in that year there would scarcely be any wheat the produce of this country. They would endanger the whole order of cultivation, and instead of having, as at present, one quarter of the land growing wheat, another quarter oats or barley, and the rest green crops, seeds, or turnips, we should have one year all wheat, another year all barley, and so on with everything else. Instead of the present regular quantity of land in white crops, we should have a large breadth in one year, and a very small in another, owing to the derangement in the rotation of cropping, caused by the unfortunate selection of three years as the advent of free trade. Whoever framed this Bill was, he maintained, profoundly ignorant of English farming. By passing the present measure, too, they would be guilty of the absurdity of adopting a pretended sliding-scale for three years, without any of the benefits of the sliding-scale.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, that they did not seek either to establish or perpetuate it; but they would not support a measure now, which was only to interfere with it in three years, because they did not wish to legislate for a future Parliament. He 467 (Lord Beaumont) would ask, too, had they any right to cut off the source of revenue which the corn duties afforded? How did they know that the state of their finances at the end of three years would allow of such a sacrifice? If they would not put a tax upon the corn because it was an article of general consumption, what right had they to keep up a tax upon any article of general consumption? The argument against this tax was an argument against all taxes on the necessaries of life. The question was now one of revenue. If they could not tax foreign corn for revenue, they could not tax any article of food, clothing, or furniture. The Bill was one which was calculated to make every farmer a free trader; and there could be no doubt that if this measure was passed, there would not only be an attack upon the customs duties, but there would be, and with much stronger reason, an attack upon excise. If they dared not, upon principle, tax the foreign grower of corn, why should they tax the farmer of England for his barley—why should they tax him for attempting to make sugar out of articles the produce of his soil—why should they tax his hops—and why should they forbid him to grow tobacco upon lands that would not grow wheat? And the matter would not settle there—it would extend to the subject of tithes. He differed altogether on this subject from the right rev. Prelates who had spoken. He said, that after this Bill passed, gross injustice would be done to the landowner by the Tithe Commutation Act. How was the Tithe Commutation Act arranged? They took an average of seven years, which was a period of high farming, induced by protection. Those seven years were the basis of the Commutation Act; and it must be remembered that in those seven years land was brought under the plough, which, if this measure passed, must be thrown back again to pasture. The effect of this would be that the land reverting to pasture, would, for seven years, be saddled with an arable tithe. In proof of this he quoted several cases given before the Committee on Lands Burdens, to show that even now there were farms which their owners would gladly lay down in pasture if they were not deterred by the amount of tithe. In other cases, again, where the land was poorly cultivated, previously to the Tithe Commutation Act, he admitted that the landowners had benefited. He contended, farther, that the mea- 468 sure would alter the whole landed property of the country. Taking the rent of the land in England, according to the income-tax returns, at 45,000,000l., or, what he thought would be nearer the mark, at 40,000,000l. sterling—for he knew that three and a half millions of tithes and fines, and other sources of revenue, were included in the larger sum—and assuming that farmers ought to make three times their rent, that gave an amount of 120,000,000l. But if this Bill only depreciated farming produce 20 per cent, the effect would be that the landed property in the country would be reduced from 120,000,000l. to 96,000,000l., while the amount of charges in the shape of taxes, &c., continued the same. This was a measure by which they would raise the value of money, while they would reduce in proportion the value of all other kinds of property. Would it, then, be just to reduce the value of property to this extent, and yet leave the same amount of money charges upon it? The State, which received a land tax, or the titheowner who received money payment, would benefit to the extent of the increase, so that it cut unkindly in two ways on those who did not receive a money payment. The man with a fixed income in money would be able to purchase so much more on account of the reduced prices in the market; but the farmer, while he received so much less for his produce, would have to bear the same amount of money payments as now. If they acted with justice, they must reduce the taxation on the particular interests whom the Government measures affected. The fact was, the Legislature must, in the event of the success of the scheme, come to the consideration of local taxation which pressed with peculiar severity on the land. Then, if they reduced this species of taxation, they must throw the burden upon the Consolidated Fund. In other words, they would increase the demands on the Exchequer, while they sought to demolish a chief source of revenue. By the present measure they were throwing away a million of money at least which might be procured without raising to the amount of a single farthing the price of corn in this country. He did not think that the small duty of 2s. or 3s. a quarter made any difference whatever in the price of foreign grain when sold to the people of this country. At Dantzic the exporters were not guided by the price of corn in the continental markets, but in the English markets; these foreign merchants looked to the London market, and 469 when this market rose, so wide a margin always existed between the original price of the grain and the price it fetched in London, that they could add two or three shillings a quarter without any diminution of demand. Instead of the continental average regulating prices in Dantzic, the London prices alone influenced the exporting merchants. They watched our market, and could adapt themselves to it with advantage. The measure would involve a great sacrifice of revenue, and benefit none in the end but the foreign exporter. He would vote for the Amendment of his noble Friend on the cross benches, although he thought the protection which was really important had been virtually destroyed by their former vote, and the present proposal could not restore it. The principle of protection being entirely abandoned, they were now bound to consider the question of revenue. They were about to legislate not for the present, nor for the next three years, but for a future period of a distant date. They were depriving the Government of that future day of a rich source of revenue which they were unwilling to sacrifice themselves, and binding a future Parliament to terms they themselves rejected. The Government ought to have courage, and manfully bear the evils which their measures brought with them, and not to entail upon their successors the results of a disastrous policy. In conclusion, he would remind their Lordships, that though they had abandoned the principle of protection, they had a revenue to provide, and that if they acted consistently with their newly adopted policy they must be prepared to sacrifice one-half their custom duties, and two-thirds of their excise; and, moreover, that while they were keeping up, if not increasing, the general and local taxation of the country, they were diminishing the incomes of those on whom that taxation almost exclusively fell; that the foreigner would profit most by the present measure, and that he might find it his interest to use the command he must necessarily acquire over our corn markets, for the purpose of embarassing the state of our finances. He had spoken so often on this subject that he was ashamed to detain them longer.
The MARQUESS of BUTE
thought the Amendment proposed by the noble Duke would not afford much protection to the agricultural interest. He did not wish to undervalue anything which fell from the noble Duke; but it struck him, that what 470 the noble Duke suggested to their Lordships could not furnish any assistance worth speaking to any branch of agriculture; and if the Amendment did not offer any real and substantial good to the agricultural interest, they had much better be without it. In expressing this opinion, he thought he was merely enunciating the sentiments of a great many farmers in this country; for they considered that any measure of protection, however slight, would be regarded by the rest of the community as invidious; while it might afford to the possessors of it but very slight advantages. From conversations he had held with many farmers, he was persuaded it was their impression that either an effectual protection, or none at all, was for their real interest. He must frankly tell their Lordships that when he began public life, he thought protection was the principle upon which the policy of this country ought to be regulated; but having been directly or indirectly engaged in matters directly or indirectly connected with the commerce of the country, his opinions had undergone considerable change. He now thought that protection, as far as commerce was concerned, so far from being a benefit, was a positive injury; and he thought that, even as regarded agriculture, it was not serviceable. He confessed that he did not view with any great apprehension the measures before Parliament; and having made inquiries in various parts of Scotland and England, was inclined to think a great many of the more intelligent farmers regarded them with as little alarm as he did; even in the districts where the greatest alarm prevailed, the more enlightened farmers did not participate in it. As to the duty spoken of by the noble Lord, he was able to say that if they imposed a duty for the sake of revenue, they would act diametrically opposite to the wishes of the occupiers of land; though he did not at all mean to say that the occupiers of land were to dictate either to their Lordships or to the other House of Parliament. As regarded the question of tithes, about which so much had been said, he must say that he did not coincide in the extreme opinions expressed on either side; but thought the result would be somewhere between both—neither absolutely ruinous, nor very injurious. He would vote against the Amendment of the noble Duke.
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
would not again have troubled their Lordships if he had not felt very strongly on this subject. 471 He would trouble the House with a few details upon points which had not been sufficiently enforced. He could not at all agree with the noble Marquess, that the farmers of England were averse to a duty for the sake of revenue. His impression was, that their only feeling would be one of anxiety to contribute in that way to the revenue; and such a duty, let it be remembered, would, at a very moderate rate, bring in a revenue of one million sterling. After the Bill passed, he believed they would hear no more about free trade from its present advocates, the manufacturers; but they would find then nobody would be such a free-trader as the farmer. As the Legislature had thought fit to withdraw protection from him, which protection had alone enabled him to meet the heavy demands which pressed upon him, the farmers would loudly and unanimously demand that the tax upon all other articles which came into general consumption, should be withdrawn also. He did not expect that the arrangement proposed by this Amendment would be permanent; for it seemed to him that Ministers had cut at the very root of all stability in financial measures. The Amendment of the noble Duke was certainly not what the agriculturists might desire; but they must look to the position of parties. He avowed himself anxious to maintain even a fragment of protection; and, in the hope that they would be able on a future day—since they were not permitted to do so now—to take the opinion of the country on the question, until they should have an opportunity of asking the country whether they were for protection or not. These were the grounds upon which he would support the Amendment of the noble Duke. If they could get no more, he would be perfectly ready to have a protection of 10s. a quarter. The exigencies of the country demanded it. He was as perfectly certain as he was that he stood there, that they could not cultivate the poorer soils without it. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Kinnaird) shook his head; but he had heard the noble Lord in former times say, that no land ought to be cultivated for wheat unless it could grow fifty bushels an acre. [Lord KINNAIRD: I said thirty-two bushels.] No land to be cultivated unless it produces thirty-two bushels an acre. Then, how are you to feed the people? Why, the average production on most inferior soils is not more than twenty bushels an acre. The county I live in is a great wheat-growing county, and sends 472 out more wheat than any other district; and let me tell the noble Lord that thirty-two bushels is a very large average indeed, even there. So you will displace all the labour, and throw all the land out of cultivation which does not produce thirty-two bushels an acre. What are you to do for bread? [Lord KINNAIRD: I said, thirty bushels an acre.] Oh, the noble Lord has come down a bit! But no land is to be cultivated which does not produce thirty bushels an acre. My Lords, this is very important, considering that it comes from the head of the Anti-Corn-Law League. We are to starve unless all lands produce thirty bushels an acre, or unless foreign countries feed us. Why, if the noble Lord thinks that thirty bushels an acre is the average produce of the kingdom, I must say he knows nothing about farming. [Earl STANHOPE: Kitchen garden cultivation, the noble Lord must mean.] Truly, my noble Friend is correct. The noble Lord of the thirty bushels must be speaking of the produce of the kitchen garden. But if all such land is to be taken from the productive sources of the country, they would become dependent on foreign produce to an extent that has never yet been heard of, and the price would be affected accordingly. It was a mistake to suppose that the farmers were interested in keeping up the price of bread. The cheaper the bread, the better for them; but it must be the bread of home-grown corn. Protect them — protect them, he would say; and he would answer for it, that under the system of protection, the people of England would eat cheaper bread than ever they would under the proposed measure. He would now make a few statements, to which he wished to call the attention of the House. He would take the price of bread in London from 1757 to 1817, allowing twenty-five per cent for change of currency. In 1757, the price of the quartern loaf was 8d., the same price as at present. In 1800, it was 1s. 4d.; in 1809, 11d.; in 1810, 1s. 1d.; in 1811, 1s. 1½d.; in 1812, 1s. 3d.; in 1813, 1s. 1½d.; in 1814, 9d.; in 1815, 9d.; in 1816, 1s. 1d.; in 1817, 1s. 3d. These variations, occurring as they had done, were evidently not owing to protection. There were some other points in reference to this question which had not been touched upon in that House in detail. They (the landowners) had been charged with selfishness on their part in endeavouring to retain protection; but they were the parties who in reality 473 would suffer least, inasmuch as they were better able to bear the loss; but what was to become of the class of men who cultivated small portions of land? In 1841, according to the returns, there were in Ireland 306,915 farms under five acres; between five and fifteen acres, 251,128; above fifteen acres, 127,166: making in all, 685,209 farms, of which 457,000 and more were under fifteen acres. The House knew the destitute condition of these people, and how much more dependent on the profitable returns of the soil they were than those who had larger possessions in land and greater incomes. There were in England, in 1812, according to property-tax returns of that year, 114,778 farms which paid rents of 66l. 13s. 4d.; above 66l. 13s. 4d., and under 200l. a year, there were 432,534. There were, therefore, under 200l. a-year of rent, no less than 546,000 farms; and the population had since that time increased seventy per cent. Were not their Lordships responsible for the safety and comfort of this large class, or should they throw them entirely out of their consideration? It was said, go on and improve, and grow more; but those who said so did not seem to know that they would come to a point when they could grow no more. Nature raised obstacles in the way. They were so dependent on the season and the storm, that in a moment the grain was laid flat and wasted. [The noble Lord here gave the results of a calculation which he had made of the loss which the present measure would entail upon the farmer.] He would take a farm of 400 acres of inferior land, paying a rent of 400l. a year. The landlord took the sixth or seventh of the produce, the farmer took the remainder. There were grown on this, 100 acres of wheat, producing 30 bushels per acre, which made 1,000l. 10s.; 100 acres of barley, 36 bushels per acre, which made 725l.; 100 acres of beans or peas, which made 720l.; other produce, 249l. 0s. 10d. The whole produce, then, amounted to 2,490l. 10s.; from which deduct the rent, and there remained 2,090l. 10s. The gross receipts after the payment of the rent, would be 2,090l.; and out of this he would have to pay all the costs of cultivation, manure, &c. Now, nobody had ventured to tell them what the price of wheat would be under the new law. Mr. Cobden had stated to the farmer, that the change would increase his profits; to the landlord, that it would increase his rent; and to the manufacturer, that it 474 would reduce wages. He had been the very Proteus of the day. Now, taking the prices at an 8s. duty, corn had been at 45s. a quarter on a long average. Now, he would venture to assert, that wheat would not be higher than 40s. a quarter after this Bill passed into a law, as the standard average of the price of wheat. The landlord might reduce the rent 100l. a year, and then, at this rate, the gross receipts would be 1,570l., and the tenant's loss would be, even if the landlord gave up the whole of his rent, 125l. Then, they said, this was a landlord's question. Of course, in one sense, it was a landlord's question; but the tenant would be a ruined man; the landlord who had capital, energy, and activity, would take the land into his own hands, and cultivate it himself. It had been repeatedly said that rents were rising, notwithstanding these measures; but he denied that they were so unless there were some circumstances of a peculiar nature in operation, He had had farms to let since the measure of 1842 was passed, and though put up at public auction, they had not been accepted even with the promise to pay the tithe on them. He had two of them in his own hands yet, having been unable to find tenants. The statements which he made were founded on a practical knowledge of the subject, for he spoke as a dealer in these matters; and he felt convinced that the statements on the other side proceeded from agents and interested parties. There was one important question which he was desirous to put to their Lordships, in reference to this subject, and it was this—what were they to do with the political state of the country after this Bill was passed? He did not understand how they were to carry on the Government with the sentiments and sensations that it would call into existence—how they were to carry on the Government, and maintain the Throne, with the constituencies they had in the towns, who were rather republican—he would not say disloyal — but of a very radical tendency—when the constituencies in the counties were disgusted and alienated. Could they manage them? Could they advise them, or use the legitimate influence which might guide them to wise and temperate measures? If the question of protection were raised in the country, and Parliament should again restore to them the protection they had so long enjoyed, then they might remain loyal; but if they found that it was not so, and if, at any future stage of the history of this country, they 475 found their means greatly diminished, he could not conceive that anything less was to be looked for than a great change in the mode by which the revenue was to be raised. The protection they had enjoyed was not only to enable them to improve the soil, but to bear the heavy burdens on real property. The amount of revenue of the land was 250,000,000l., the burdens imposed were 62,000,000l.; perhaps, if this were thought too little, he might say 80,000,000l. or 100,000,000l. Was the payment of these burdens to remain incumbent after protection was withdrawn? He said that it would be incumbent on Parliament, if protection were removed, to make all the other classes in the State take their share in bearing the burden of tithes, poor-rates, &c. Some time since he had presented a petition from the Commissioners of the Bedford Level, in which the petitioners stated, that if protection were removed, they would be unable to maintain in cultivation that district which had been reclaimed from the sea. The rents which the landlords received there were not more than 11s. an acre; and the petition stated that such moderate rents were considered satisfactory, merely because it was expected that in time the district would have a natural drainage. It was an artificial country, purely cultivated by the power of the steam-engine; it had been cultivated on the faith of the continuance of protection, and in the hope of eventual advantage from natural drainage; but with any great reduction of prices it would be impossible to keep up the cultivation. He should merely say that if the House passed this Bill, no doubt it would do so for reasons which would not injure the character of their Lordships as men of honour, desiring to do what was right, though their character as legislators, bound to protect the interests of these poorer classes, might be injured. Loss of character, in one sense, there would be in this business. A representative in Parliament becoming the servant of the Crown was, by the Constitution of this country, deemed to be so far a new man, that he must go back to the people for re-election; but where could be found a man so new as the man who had changed his opinions—who yesterday said, "Aye," and now said "No;" who to-day said, "Protection," and to-morrow, "None?" Changing their office from that of servants of the people to servants of the Crown, men must go back to the people to be re-elected; and if those who had with the people agreed that 476 such and such laws were to be sacred, and such and such enacted, and who had committed sacrilege upon the one, and not done the other, were not required to appeal to the people, then Parliament would find itself placed in a wrong and false position with the country.
agreed with his noble Friend who had last addressed the House, in deprecating the clause which held this question in suspense for three years longer. He should certainly have preferred a total and immediate repeal. His noble Friend stated that, if this measure were carried, all the farmers of the country would become free traders. He (Lord Kinnaird) should not be surprised at that; for, as a member of the Anti-Corn-Law League, he might say that the principle of universal free trade was a principle on which they had always relied. One of the dangers the noble Lord opposite had set forward with much force was the irruption of foreign grain to be expected upon the reduction of the duty. That was an assertion which apparently deserved some attention; but in effect it would be found of no importance. There was a large quantity at present in bond which could not be sold at a profit to the merchant for less than 60s. per quarter; and what was rising in the corn-growing countries, in consequence of the demand for it to be sent to Holland and other parts. He contended that the improved method of cultivation which would be introduced would more than compensate for the less price to be obtained for the grain. The subject of wages had been alluded to; the landlords were not to blame for the low rate of wages; there was no set of men in any country so anxious to promote the welfare of their labourers as the landlords in England: but then the landlords should not maintain that agriculture was in such a prosperous state that the Corn Laws might be continued. He would instance the successful competition of the Scotch agriculturists with those of England as an example of the advantage to be derived from a better education of the agriculturist, and the introduction of a better system of farming. A friend of his stated to him that two Scotch agricultural labourers were fully equal to three labourers of Hampshire or Dorsetshire; and their work, besides being equal in quantity, would be much better done. What was wanted was an altogether better system of farming, so as to make the land produce what it ought, and then the English farmer with his means and advantages could compete with all the 477 world: land up the Ohio produced but ten bushels an acre, and we must make our land produce twenty-eight or thirty. An experiment had been tried in Ireland on two fields, side by side; one was cultivated on the old system, and the net profit for three years was 6l. 12s. 6d.; the other was cultivated on an improved system, and thoroughly manured, and the profit for the same period was 23l. 7s. 6d. Much had been said about the ruinous effect which the repeal of the Corn Laws would have upon the value of landed property. He (Lord Kinnaird) had had the advantage of hearing the opinion of Mr. Simpson, the eminent auctioneer, a few days back; and what did their Lordships think was the effect already produced? Mr. Simpson said, that in all his long experience, he had never known estates more in demand, or more easily either let or sold. Rents were rising, and prices were firm, and to be obtained with facility. Few better or more competent authorities than that gentleman could be found, and such was his statement; and he had added that the sliding as well as other scales had fallen from his eyes. But there was another high and competent authority, whose opinion was of great weight upon the question—he meant the tenantry themselves. On an estate which he (Lord Kinnaird) would mention as an instance merely of what was taking place, a number of farms having lately fallen out of lease, the tenants, in retaking them, demanded the insertion of a clause giving them the option, in case the Corn Laws should be repealed, of giving up their holdings. The agent consented upon condition that a similar option were given to the landlord of rescinding the lease, in case the property should, after the repeal of those laws, become more valuable. The terms were agreed upon; but before the completion of the deed the tenants came voluntarily forward, and declined to have the option in either case inserted, preferring to take their chance in the ordinary manner as theretofore. He could cite several similar instances to their Lordships; but he did not wish at that late hour to trespass further upon their time. But before he sat down he wished to add a word or two with regard to what had been said of the League, of which he was a member. Many allusions had been made to that body; and it had been asserted that no such excitement existed in the towns upon the question before them, as had been represented by the 478 League to exist. Their Lordships would, he hoped, give them (the League) credit for having remained perfectly quiscent during the progress of the debate in both Houses. To such an extent, indeed, had they been quiet as to have given some sort of right to the noble Lord opposite to say that no excitement could be got up by them in the towns upon the subject; but he could assure the noble Lord that the League had resisted all the applications which had been made to them from all parts of the country to make a movement during the discussion, from a motive of respect to their Lordships, to the other branch of the Legislature, and to the Government which had taken the matter in hand, lest it might be said of them, in case they made a great demonstration, that their intention was to intimidate their Lordships. He was well aware that the League had been already frequently charged with an attempt to intimidate; and he was equally aware that many protectionists had asserted that their Lordships could not be intimidated; but although that had been said, yet he could assure them that the motives of the League were such as he had stated. They would not give a colour to such an assertion. They left the matter in the hands of the Government, and to the wisdom and discernment of their Lordships and the other House of Parliament; and that had been the reason for the great quiescence of that body. But if their Lordships imagined that there was any apathy abroad upon the subject, they greatly mistook the feelings of the country. The opinions of the manufacturing districts were deep and unanimons. He could speak for Scotland from personal knowledge; and he should say that if they were disappointed in their expectation that the Corn Bill would pass—if anything should occur to mar those hopes which were regarded at present as almost certainties, they would soon be heard, and in an unmistakeable voice.
§ House divided on Question, "That the words proposed to be left out should stand part of the Motion:"—Contents 130; Not-contents 103: Majority 33.
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS.|
|Duke of Marlborough||Earl Howe|
|Duke of Portland||Archbish. of Canterbury|
|Duke of Manchester||Marquess of Winchester|
|Marquess of Thomond||Duke of Devonshire|
|Marquess of Ely||Marquess of Ormonde|
|Marquess of Westmeath||Duke of Sutherland|
|Earl of Cardigan||Earl of Besborough|
|Earl of Lauderdale||Viscount Melville|
|Earl Ferrers||Earl of Romney|
|Earl of Tankerville||Lord Saye and Sele|
|Earl Waldegrave||Earl of Meath|
|Earl of Guilford||Lord Prudhoe|
|Earl Digby||Duke of Somerset|
|Earl of Beverley||Duke of Bedford|
|Earl of Longford||Earl of Westmoreland|
|Earl Brownlow||Marq. of Londonderry|
|Viscount Arbuthnot||Lord Abercromby|
|Viscount Strangford||Earl of Camperdown|
|Viscount Doneraile||Duke of Roxburgh|
|Viscount O'Neill||Viscount Massareene|
|Viscount Beresford||Earl of Clare|
|Viscount Canterbury||Lord Foley|
|Bishop of Winchester||Bishop of Lichfield|
|Bishop of Bangor||Bishop of Chester|
|Bishop of Llandaff||Lord Bexley|
|Bishop of Bath and Wells||Bishop of Norwich|
|Ld. Willoughby de Broke||Earl Amherst|
|Lord Colvile||Lord Downes|
|Lord Reay||Bishop of Durham|
|Lord Dynevor||Earl of Essex|
|Lord Bagot||Earl of Stair|
|Lord Sherborne||Lord Strafford|
|Lord Braybrooke||Lord Colborne|
|Lord Lilford||Earl of Sefton|
|Lord Farnham||Lord Talbot of Malahide|
|Lord Crofton||Marquess of Anglesey|
|Lord Alvanley||Lord Dunfermline|
|Lord Ravensworth||Lord Stourton|
|Lord Rayleigh||Lord Rolle|
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned.