The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that, in consideration of the number of Petitions which had been presented to the House against the proposed alteration of the Corn Laws, he should move to refer those Petitions to the consideration of a select committee, with the intention and hope, that if the committee could make their report in due time, some legislative measure might be founded upon it in the course of the present session; and he should propose that it be an instruction to the committee, to examine how far the prices fixed by the 44th of George 3, for regulating the importation of foreign corn, were a protection to the growers of corn in this country; and if not, what provisions were in their judgment 1085 necessary, in order to secure the interests of agriculture.
§ On the motion being put for referring the Petitions to a committee,
§ Mr. W. Smith
observed, that he had voted for the proposition made on the first agitation of the subject, to refer the consideration of it to a committee; and that his reasons were, tenfold stronger than they were at the period, for the appointment of a committee. If he opposed the motion of the right hon. gentleman, therefore, it was because he was persuaded that no report of a committee, made in the present session, or measure founded upon such report, would have a fair chance of giving satisfaction to the public. Fully persuaded of this, and fully persuaded also that the postponement of the consideration of the subject to another session, would be no serious injury to any class of the people, he should vote against the motion. Far, however, was he from doing this under the apprehension that any violence would be suffered by the House, or by any individual member, in consequence of any perseverance in the measures which they might think it expedient to adopt. He had presented a petition that evening against the proposed alteration, signed by 12,000 persons, 7,000 of whom had actually assembled to prepare it: all of whom felt that the projected measure would very sensibly and injuriously affect their interests—but this feeling did not produce any riotous or disorderly conduct. They behaved themselves in the most correct and moderate manner; and it certainly was due to those who had so demeaned themselves, to pay a proper attention to their request, and to give a little more consideration to the subject than it could receive in the present session. Much had been said of the means taken to procure petitions. In the populous city which be represented (Norwich) be could answer for the fact, that but one opinion existed on the measure which had been introduced, and no means whatever were resorted to for the purpose of exciting the expression of popular feeling. He knew that persons of all parties and descriptions, the richest and, the poorest, the best and the worst informed, these who were the most likely, and those who were the most likely, to be affected by the measure, were unanimously of opinion, that it ought not to be proceeded in till next session of parliament—He would not pledge himself as to the 1086 vote he should give, if the consideration of the subject were deferred—because it was impossible to foresee the nature of the proposition that would be brought forward; but they now had it in their power either to give satisfaction or dissatisfaction to the country by the course they adopted; and he thought it was the duty of that House, in return for the moderation displayed by the people, to attend to their representations.
said, in the present state of the public mind, the motion of the right hon. gentleman appeared to be very proper. Whether the committee determined that a Bill should be introduced this session, or that it should be postponed to the next, he thought it ought to be appointed; in the hope that a report might be made, calculated to give satisfaction to the country. He regretted the warm feelings which had been excited among the people, in consequence of the erroneous opinions they had been induced to adopt; and he could not help saying, that the mode in which the question had been discussed, both in and out of that House, had forced them into the situation in which they at present stood. The mode to which he alluded was, the constant assumption, as an incontrovertible principle, that the system recommended by the corn committee must necessarily raise the price of bread.—That assumption had pervaded the whole speech of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Rose), whose entire chain of reasoning was founded on it The right hon. gentleman must feel that he had assumed the question in that way which best suited his own argument, He had not only maintained, that the measures proposed by the committee would raise the price of bread and beer, but he had stated the exact advance which would take place if their resolutions were adopted. Now it was extraordinary, that a gentleman so well versed as he was in the corn laws should have argued in this manner. He could not deny, that; for 68 years, during which there was an actual prohibition of the importation of grain, corn was cheaper than it had been at any time before or since. He took the prices from the pamphlet of the right hon. gentleman, and, comparing them with those which preceded and followed the period he alluded to, found them considerably more moderate than either the one or the other. If the question were to be debated on the principle, 1087 than no other intention existed but that of enhancing the price of corn, if such an idea were to go forth to the country, it must necessarily inflame the public mind—while every measure that tended to the persecution of the farmer was sure to be popular—and yet such measures ever had, and ever would have, the ultimate effect of making bread dear. Suppose a member got up in that House, and said. "I will introduce a Bill to prevent the price of the quartern loaf ever exceeding 6½d. or 6d." A more popular measure than this could not be devised; but those who opposed it, however just and correct their arguments might be, would immediately be censured by the unthinking for an attempt to keep up the price of corn and bread.—There were many gentlemen in that House, who thought that a free trade ought to exist with respect to grain; but, if they were to converse with the petititioners against the measure, would they be able to persuade them, that the exportation of corn would tend to make it cheap? Certainly they would not; for the subject was better calculated to excite prejudice and passion, than to elicit calm reasoning. But, when it was absolutely proved, that, for 68 years, during which exportation was allowed and importation forbidden, the price of corn was lower than at any former or subsequent period, how could it be argued, that the measures proposed by the committee would have the effect of always keeping up grain as high as the importing price? He hoped the committee, if the House agreed to the motion, would not be formed of those members who were appointed on the last. It would, he thought, be more agreeable to the feelings of all parties, if the committee were entirely new.—He was convinced, the more the question was discussed, the more it would be found that the resolutions which the former committee had agreed to, were calculated to conduce to the general benefit of the country. Those who supported the alterations in the existing law were charged with not having sufficiently investigated the subject, and with not having laid the necessary information before the House. He was one of those who thought the information necessary to guide the legislature on a subject of this sort, was not very extensive. If the House were of opinion that they ought to give some protection to the agricultural interest, he knew not how they could determine what that protection 1088 ought to be, except by examining the prices of corn for a certain time. If, for instance, they selected a space of 20 years, and examined the price of corn, and its effects on the general prosperity of the empire, for that time; this, he conceived, was the true way of forming a judgment as to what the protecting price ought to be.
§ Mr. D. Browne
spoke in favour of granting a fair protection to the agricultural interest. It had been argued, by those who opposed an alteration in the corn laws, that, if the farmer were dissatisfied with his profits, he might expend his capital on some other object. This was the worst argument that could be used—such a system would have the effect of changing the agricultural, into manufacturing, labourers—which, in his opinion, would be most prejudicial to the country. He would not say, that manufactures had been carried too far, but he thought they had been carried quite far enough. Every class in the country, no matter of what description, instead of opposing, ought to unite in protecting the interests of agriculture.
said, when an hon. friend of his (Mr. Bankes) made a motion, on a former night, that a committee should be appointed for the purpose of enquiring whether any inconvenience would be suffered by the public, if no measure were adopted on the subject of the corn laws during the present session, he cheerfully concurred in it—because on that point, he wished the House to be satisfied. But to the motion just submitted to the House by his right hon. friend, he had an insuperable objection—for he did not think it was possible that the committee could so investigate the subject, as to produce a satisfactory report within the period to which the right hon. gentleman had alluded. It could not be so easily examined as the hon. gentleman (Mr. Bankes) seemed to imagine. The arduous and difficult point to be discussed was, what the protecting price should be; and, when it was recollected, that on this part of the subject no less than seven or eight sets of propositions had been drawn up, it was very evident that it would not be speedily adjusted. The hon. gentleman had observed, that it only required the average prices of corn for the last 20 years to guide the committee in their decision—but there were so many interests connected with the subject, that the committee could not, consistently 1089 with their duty, confine themselves to so contracted an examination.
replied, and insisted that, on former occasions, when the importation price was highest, the market price of corn was lowest.
Mr. Long Wellesley
expressed himself in favour of the motion. He hoped the committee would inform themselves completely of the losses which the farmers were now sustaining. That useful and meritorious class of men were at present placed in a situation of great difficulty, from which it was most advisable that no time should be lost in extricating them. He had given his support to the measure introduced for altering the corn laws, because he thought it would bear less severely on the lower classes, than those propositions, which, in consequence of the evils produced by delay, they might hereafter be called on to entertain. With respect to the clamour out of doors, he felt it a heavy misfortune, that any man, standing in his situation, should be accused of acting from sordid motives; yet such was the charge advanced against them. It was said, that the object of the great landed proprietors was, to keep up exorbitant rents. But when the House were acquainted with the situation of the farmer, he would pledge his existence, it would be seen, that the rents bore no proportion to the heavy taxes they were obliged to pay. If this should be the case, be trusted the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Rose) would, in his candour, come forward and declare, that he was mistaken in his statement on that point.
utterly and absolutely denied that he had ever made any accusation, or used any expression, that even tended to cast a reproach on the landed proprietors. He should be glad to know of the hon. gentleman, who spoke with so much confidence, when and where this accusation was made.
Mr. Long Wellesley
said, the right hon. gent. had observed, in his pamphlet, that an advantage would be derived by the landed proprietors from the measure—and he believed he used the same language in that House. If his ears had not deceived him, the right hon. gentleman had said, that the consequence of the measure would be, to keep up exorbitant rents—an expression which was also contained in his pamphlet. Now, he was convinced the rents were not exorbitant; and, if he were examined before the committee, he would prove it.
desired the hon. gentleman to point out any passage in the pamphlet that bore him out in the assertion he had made. It was true, the expression "exorbitant rents" was there—[Here, hear, from Mr. Wellesley.]—He (Mr. Rose) wished the hon. gentleman would hear him. Those words were not given as his—they were in the mouth of Mr. Curwen, one of the greatest agriculturists of the country. The hon. gentleman ought to have read the speech a little more attentively, before he made any observation on it.
§ Mr. J. P. Grant
was sorry the right hon. gentleman's present commentary had not accompanied the publication of his pamphlet; if it had, it would have prevented a very general misconception which had existed. He did not impute to the right hon. gentleman an intention to bring a direct charge against the landholders, that their only object was to raise their rents, or keep up exorbitant rents, at the expence of the poor; or against the gentlemen who promoted the measure proposed, that their only object was to raise the price of bread; but this was the inference that had been drawn, and not very unnaturally drawn, from certain passages in his pamphlet, by great numbers of people. Had it not been for arguments like these, the number of petitions on the table would have been greatly diminished. He rose chiefly, having formerly voted against the committee proposed by an hon. gentleman (Mr. Bankes), and meaning now to vote for the committee proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to explain the motives of his conduct. He hoped he was incapable of having his mind biased, in the slightest degree whatever, by any popular clamour. He was convinced that no person in that House was capable of being so biased. They would very ill discharge their duty to the people, if they were induced by any consideration to act contrary to their deliberate opinion in a matter in which the interest of the people was so deeply concerted. And in this question, of all others, the people were the most apt to be misled by their passions, and the false reasoning held out to them. But he thought it also the duty of the legislature to carry with them, if possible, the opinion of the people; being convinced, that no measure could be carried into beneficial execution, unless the opinion of the people went along with it. He had voted against the committee formerly proposed, because he understood 1091 the object of it to be, to inform the House; and he was of opinion, that the great majority of the House was already sufficiently informed on the subject. He voted for the present committee, because the object was to inform the public; and so thoroughly was he convinced that the tendency of this measure was the reverse of what was supposed, that it tended to cheapen bread to the poor, that he thought the more it was discussed the better. He had no doubt that, if it were discussed fully, but dispassionately, without the introduction, even through inadvertence, of expressions calculated to mislead and inflame, it would appear, to the entire satisfaction of every individual in the country, to be established not only by just reasoning, but by the yet more unerring test of experience, that the measures of regulation formerly so long and so successfully adopted, and now again proposed, are directly calculated to lower the price of bread to the poor, to secure to the labourer a constant and plentiful supply, to advance the interest of the manufacturer, at the same time with that of the landholder, and consequently of the whole community.
§ Mr. Preston
was of opinion, that the landed interest ought to be kept at a fair par with the other branches of the community. It was impossible that the prices of agricultural produce, and the rent of land, could fall to what they were before the war, while every other article had sustained a proportionable increase. The grower of corn ought to have such encouragement as to induce him to raise the supply of food necessary for the consumption of the country; and it was well ascertained, that this country could grow a sufficiency of corn for its own subsistence.
Sir Charles Burrell
said, it was incumbent on the legislature of a great country like this, to take equal care of the interests of all classes of individuals. A clamour, in many instances certainly very unnecessary, had been raised against the measure before the House; but if the amount of the taxes and burdens on agriculture were fairly taken into consideration, that clamour he had no doubt would be done away. The assessed taxes, property tax, and poor's rates, no doubt, weighed on all classes of the community; but there were some taxes which were borne exclusively by the agricultural class, and were direct taxes on husbandry. The tax on husbandry horses was of this description, and 1092 was most oppressive in its operation. The tax on malt was an indirect tax on agriculture; and its operation on it was even more severe than the property tax. It was brought forward as a war tax by Mr. Pitt; and he believed the tax was much heavier than the value of the produce on which it was laid. While all these circumstances weighed on the farmer, it was impossible for him to afford produce at the price which it bore before the war. He hoped that in the course of the committee matters would be considered fairly, and that gentlemen would not allow themselves to be led away by a vain clamour or a temporary popularity.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
apprehended that any discussion upon the measure would now be superfluous. He felt himself now bound to oppose the committee, because he considered that no effective measure could result from their labours, and be carried through parliament, during the present session. The committee would have to order different persons to attend upon them for examination, and to enter on different enquiries. In what time, then, he would ask, could it be supposed to finish its labours? Not, surely, at the very soonest, in less than three weeks. The discussion of the measure which their labours might give rise to, would, at least, take up three weeks or a month more; and at the end of July, they would be able to send up a Bill to the House of Lords. The House was in some degree in an awkward situation. He should be sorry to encourage the notion, that the House had been determined either by the number of petitions, or the clamour out of doors. But, on the other hand, he could not consent to vote for a proposition which he considered as hopeless for the object which; it had in view. His former understanding of this matter was, that the measure was to be put off to next session, but he now understood that something was expected to be carried through in the present. Before be could make up his mind as to what might be considered a fair encouragement to the agriculturist, he should wish to hear something from the right hon. gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer) respecting the duration of the war taxes and property tax, and the period at which we might expect to see our currency restored to its former state. The law, as it now stood, would place the country in a different situation in this respect in the course of a few months.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
thought it would be premature at present, to determine whether any measure would or would not follow the labours of the committee during the present session. They ought to wait for the report of the committee, before deciding upon this point. For the protection of our agriculture, it would be necessary that a Bill of some kind or other should be passed. But he did not think it probable that the report of the committee would be laid before them in time to admit of a Bill being carried through both Houses of Parliament during the present session.
§ Mr. Henry Thornton
observed, that the words of the motion were certainly open to the observations of the noble lord behind him (lord A. Hamilton). The committee were not only to report facts and to deliver opinions, but to instruct the House what Bill ought afterwards to be brought in. They were to state to the House what they considered as a fair protection to agriculture, and what measures were likely to lead to its future extension. The House ought not to delegate so important a trust to a committee of their number; as there was no individual who was not already pledged to one side or the other. The committee ought rather to sit for the purpose of informing them more fully on different points which at present require elucidation; and the measure ought to be put off for another session.
said, if the committee was merely to direct its attention to the scale regulating the duty on importation, he would certainly oppose it. He thought the dangers which were apprehended from a free trade were altogether without foundation. This country was supplied with most manufactures cheaper than any other; the agriculturist was not therefore placed in a disadvantageous situation, in comparison with the corn-growers of other Countries. It was said, that a free trade would draw capital from agriculture to commerce; but the accumulations of commerce had a natural tendency to seek that security in land which land alone could afford them. Land derived the greatest benefit from commerce. They had as vet no information as to the state of prices on the continent. They ought to know whether we could bear foreign competition in our own markets. Even at the present moment the Irish importer could more than brave foreign competition here; for he could afford to sell corn cheaper than we could import it from Dantzic, Hamburgh, and Konigsburg. 1094 Notwithstanding the large importations from Ireland, the agriculture of this country had continued to flourish. They had lately passed a Bill for allowing a freedom of exportation. This implied, that the farmers of this country possessed the power of bearing competition in foreign markets. Yet by the Bill now before the House it was implied, that our farmer could not bear foreign competition in our own markets. The Irish had peculiar advantages over the natives of this country; they had no income-tax and no poors-rates. One would think, therefore, that permitting importation from Ireland would rum the agriculture of Great Britain; but yet it was found that our agriculture had been going on regularly increasing. He could not think that this limitation now wished for would be ultimately advantageous to the landed interest; for if a free trade in grain were to be allowed, it would lead to an improvement of our general commerce. This increase of commerce would give rise to an increase of national wealth, and consequently an increase of population, which in the end would afford an additional encouragement to agriculture. This free trade would, therefore, in reality, be most beneficial to the landed interest. Where the effects of commerce were most seen tri this country, there the rents of land would be found higher than any where else. It had been said, that it was of importance to us to have an independent supply of grain. But could any other country be averse to sending corn to the country which abounded most in capital, and which, possessed the most valuable articles for returning cargoes? Whenever this country wanted corn, it had always been supplied with it, notwithstanding that most extraordinary confederacy which we had lately witnessed. But nothing could be more ill-judged, than to prevent an extension of trade for the sake of an apprehension of a measure which, under circumstances the most favourable for such an object, never could be accomplished. A great panic had certainly seized the agricultural part of the community, and a panic had also seized the commercial part. Commerce, as might have been foreseen on the conclusion of a peace, was seeking out new channels, which occasioned considerable embarrassment in trade. They were not, however, on that account to endeavour to keep up the prices of our manufactures; yet by a parity of reasoning, manufactures were as well entitled to such assistance as 1095 grain was. For these reasons, he should be glad to vote for a committee, if it were to sit merely for the purpose of furnishing them with information on the subject, and not to come to any decision itself.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, every subject alluded to by the hon. gentleman would, as the motion was shaped, come before the committee; for the first reference to that committee was, that of all the petitions on the table on the subject of the corn laws. In some of these petitions the freedom of trade was surely introduced. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. gentleman would give his vote for the committee. He would state the reasons why he supported the present motion for a committee, though he objected to the appointment of a committee on a former occasion. He believed now, as he did then, that there was no probability of any importation of corn into this country before the next harvest. The only circumstance which varied his view was, that of the number of petitions which had been presented to the House. The views of these petitioners, even if founded in misrepresentation, although they ought not to induce any member to do that which he was not convinced was just and proper, were still entitled to the most respectful consideration of the House. Although the petitions were in many instances the result of malevolent and mistaken appeals to the feelings of the people, they ought to be met by temperate inquiry and the fullest investigation. The circumstance of such number of petitions, therefore, afforded a ground for those who were favourable to the measure, to support the present inquiry; for the object of these petitions was, not to make any alteration in the corn laws, or to make no alteration in them without further inquiry. With respect to the encouragement which ought to be afforded to the farmer, it should be considered, that there was now a great diminution in the value of money; and that the capital necessary for carrying on of farming operations must now be double to what it was before the war. The noble lord (lord A. Hamilton) deceived himself, therefore, if he thought that things could return to what they were before the war. This was one of the most dangerous errors that could be entertained. What was likely to be the permanent charge of this country now that the war was at an end? The whole expences of this country, including all our establishments before the war, only amounted to 16 millions. He 1096 could not anticipate what part of our present establishments would be now kept up; but whatever they might be, he believed that our peace establishment must entail on us a permanent charge, of nearer 60 than 50 millions. Would this produce no alteration in the money value of articles? When gentlemen talked of the increased price of bread, was not every thing else raised in proportion; and that not in consequence of the high price of bread, but the amount of taxation? It was impossible for the country to return to the prices before the war. It had been said, that the obvious remedy was, to lower the rents. He had not the good fortune to be landholder, and he had no interest but that of the public in general in view. The proportion of the gross proceed of land, which now came to the landlord, however it might be represented in money, was now much less than what it was in 1792. Previous to the war, in a farm of moderate, extent, the farmer considered himself requited if he made three rents from it. But it was necessary in the case of such a farm now that the farmer should make at least five rents to be enabled to go on. If even the whole rental of the country were remitted, it would, be impossible to return to the prices before the war. He was not afraid to declare, that the people of this country must not expect, be the law on the subject what it may, that, with our burthens, the price of bread can ever be less than double what it was before the war. With respect to the next harvest, it was in the hands of Providence, and he trusted that it would be as plentiful as the last; but in the year, following this, the farmer ought to know what chances he had of being protected or ruined in the enterprises in which he was engaged. With a view, therefore, to satisfy the opponents of the measure, and also to give hopes to the agriculturist, he thought it would be desirable to proceed to the committee.
§ Mr. Broadhead
saw no occasion for any interference to protect the agricultural interest. Competition caused the manufacturer to send his articles into the market at the lowest rate; but there was no such cause that operated on the landholder.
§ Colonel Wood
, having presented a petition against the Bill on this subject now before the House, from a large body of manufacturers employed in the iron trade, in Wales, wished to state why be assented to the motion for the appointment of a 1097 committee. He did so, not from any desire that their labours might be unavailing, nor from any expectation that they would recommend any thing like the Bill now before the House; but, if the committee should, contrary to his expectation, recommend any such measure for the adoption of parliament, he was satisfied it would be much more palatable coming from a committee so appointed, than it would be, if to be passed by the House, with no information on the subject besides that which they now possessed. He thought there was no protection necessary for the grower of corn; but if there must be same protection afforded to him, let it be on those kinds of grain from which bread was not produced. Let there be a total prohibition as to the importation of barley and oats; and as to wheat, only when it reached a particular price.
§ Sir W. Curtis
was sorry to hear invidious comparisons between the manufacturing and the agricultural interests. He thought they were best supported when the two stood together. He thought the appointment of a committee a very salutary proposition, and felt regret that the House had proceeded to such a length in the Bill now before them, without having availed themselves of the information which they were thence likely to-derive. Why should they now be pretending to legislate, without knowing what the real price of any one thing which they purposed to regulate, was?
heartily concurred in the view of the matter taken by the worthy baronet (Curtis). If the proposition of his right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was meant to serve as an instrument for ultimately expediting the Bill now before the House, he (Mr. Canning) should vote against the appointment of a committee; though he confessed he should feel greatly embarrassed in doing so; as it most appear strange out of doors, that with such a mass of petitions on their table asking of them not to proceed without farther information on the subject, they should wish to shut their eyes against such information as they could obtain. After the explanation, however, which his right hon. friend had given on this subject, and after being told, that it was not meant to pledge the House to proceed on the report in the course of the present session, unless there should seem to be a necessity for, so doing, he thought that sending the matter to a committee 1098 was probably, the most natural way of disposing of the subject. He was of opinion, however, that the way of wording the motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was objectionable, in as far as it went to have it supposed that every thing except the scale was settled—a thing to which be could by no means assent. He undoubtedly agreed, that the only new circumstance in the case was, the immense number of petitions which had been presented, But he asked, was not that quite enough—not indeed to throw the House round, and to compel them to abandon a measure which they were satisfied was highly beneficial to the country; but to induce them to pause, and see what they could do to allay the alarms and quiet the agitated feelings of the people? Last year the committee appointed was a committee to consider the petitions which had been presented on the subject of the importation and exportation of corn, and the duties on it. Why, he asked, should not the House adopt that precise form now, at least as to the importation of corn? With respect to the exportation of corn, on that subject the Bill had already passed that House. A report coming from a committee, so appointed would have the effect of removing all the errors, if errors they were, which at present pervaded the public mind, and of showing that there was no indisposition on the part of the House to attend even to exaggerated views of supposed evils when duly represented to them. These were his views of this subject. He should be sorry to move an amendment to the motion of his right hon. friend; but hoped he would consent to generalize the question. He would not go the length of asking of his right hon. friend to pledge himself that nothing should be done in the matter during the present session. That would, probably, be to ask too much of his right hon. friend; but, if it should be understood that on this point every one was to be entitled, afterwards, to judge for himself, he (Me. Canning) should be perfectly satisfied.
§ Sir J. Newport
observed, that the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down had been pleased to say, that he would not ask of the Chancellor of the Exchequers to pledge himself, that nothing farther should be done in the matter during the present session; while, at the same time, be proposed to make the enquiry into which the committee were to go, so broad and extended 1099 in its nature, that it would be quite impossible for them to come to an end of their labours, in such time that any measure could result from them during the present session. If this should turn out to be so, and the House were again called next year to act on the report which might be made to them by the committee now to be appointed, would not a similar objection to that now made be again started?—And would not the House be once more told that they were wholly without information on the subject?—Would they not be told that when that report was made Europe was in a state which no longer existed, and that another reference to a committee was necessary?—He submitted, however, that the House was called on to legislate on general principles, and not to adopt a permanent system, on local, fleeting, and varying circumstances. To proceed now to appoint a committee, would only be to keep the public mind uselessly afloat. The greater part of the petitions now on the table, he was satisfied had been procured at the instigation of persons interested in foreign corn, for their own advantage, without any reference whatever to the good of the people, who had, through misrepresentation and ignorance, been induced to put their names to them—people who were easily worked upon by the cry of bread at 6d. the quartern loaf, and who would grasp at an immediate relief of that kind though at the expence of paying 18d. for it within the next eighteen months.
could not bear to hear the great, and, in many instances, respectable, body of petitioners now before the House on the subject of the corn laws, treated in so undeserved a manner. They were said to be ignorant on the subject as to which they had petitioned the House. There was no where, however, he ventured to affirm, more false information on this subject to be found than in the learned papers which the committee of last year had laid before the House in their report. All the petitioners wanted was, not to see laws established which should cause them to pay for their bread more than was necessary. It was said, that the Bill before the House would be beneficial, in as far as it would have the effect of making the price of bread steady. Now, he could not see that it would have this effect. Steady prices were never produced by restriction. Apply the doctrine of restriction to any one county in England, and it would be 1100 found that the doing so would not have the effect of steadying the prices in that particular county; on the contrary, the bread would be alternately high and low, according as there was a good or a bad harvest in that particular spot; deprived, as it would be, of intercourse with the rest of the kingdom. As the whole of England was to any particular county in England, in this respect, such exactly was the whole of Europe as to England. The evident effect of restrictions of this kind was, that ingenious artizans and mechanics would go abroad, and would settle where they could get cheap bread. His object was, to get rid of the question entirely for this session of parliament; and if any proposition was made to that effect, it should have his support.
§ Mr. Huskisson and Mr. Bating mutually explained.
§ Mr. Barham
was favourable to the proposed alteration in the corn laws as to importation; being satisfied that, instead of raising the price of bread, it would have exactly the contrary effect. He should vote against the committee, because he thought the best way was to abandon the measure; when the people would soon become sensible of what they had lost, and would find that they themselves had brought down the evil upon their own heads.
§ Mr. P. Moore
thought the best mode of proceeding would be, according to the prayer of all the petitions, to postpone the matter till the next session of parliament. His object and that of his constituents was, to see what the effect of the instrument which the noble lord (Castlereagh) had that night laid before the House (the Definitive Treaty of Peace) would be against next session. Ministers would have time to look about them, and to see to what extent our burdens could be alleviated; and landlords also might have time to enter into arrangements with their tenants.
§ Lord Compton
approved of the appointment of the committee; thinking it proper that the country should become independent of foreign aid in so essential an article as that of bread.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
agreed to the alteration, as to the wording of his motion, suggested by Mr. Canning. If it could be supposed that the motion as he proposed originally to word it, could have had the effect of fettering the committee, that was a sufficient reason why it ought to be altered. As to pledging himself 1101 that the measure should not be again taken up during the present, session, he could not consent to give any pledge of the kind. Every gentleman, however, would be at liberty to think as he pleased on this part of the subject.
§ Sir C. Monck
was surprised to hear it contended, that the House had no information on the subject now under consideration. Had they not, the statute that hod been passed on the subject? And had they not also all the quarterly average prices of the maritime districts, as they had been published quarterly? Were they not all on the table?
§ Mr. Lockhart
was for the committee; in the hope that no measure would follow upon the subject during the present session of parliament.
would rather that the matter were entirely postponed to the next session, as there might in the mean, time be 1102 a change of circumstances. He should not oppose the committee, upon the understanding that no further step should be taken during the present session.
§ The gallery was then cleared for a division; when the numbers were—Ayes 173; Noes 67.
§ Strangers continued to be excluded from the gallery; but we understood, that upon the order of the day being read for taking into further consideration the Report on the Corn Laws,
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
moved, That the said Report should be taken into further consideration that day three weeks; and general, Gascoigne moved as an Amendment, That it should be taken into consideration that day six months; upon which the House again divided; when the numbers were—Ayes 116; Noes 106. Majority 10.
§ The Bill was therefore lost.