§ Mr. Benett,
of Wilts, presented a petition from the agriculturists of Wiltshire, complaining of distress, and praying for relief. The hon. gentleman, after dwelling on the im- 1435 portance of the great body of agriculturists, and on the pressing distress under which they laboured, said, that throughout the country it had been expected that some measure of relief would have been brought forward in that House. With what feelings of regret and disappointment then must they have read the report which had been brought down a few nights since—a report which, in fact, proposed no remedy, and held out no hope of relief. No person was more convinced than himself that the soundest principles of political economy recommended a free trade; but, in the present unnatural state of this country, he did not think that they could immediately return to those sound principles. If the country could throw off its enormous load of debt, it might then return to the principle of a free trade; but until that were done, the restrictive system must continue, and the agricultural interest had as much right to derive benefit from it as the manufacturing or trading classes. By the removal of taxation only could the English farmer be enabled to compete with the grower of foreign corn. He was not an advocate for what were called high prices. It would be better for the farmer to obtain one shilling profit out of a bushel of corn sold at six shillings, than to derive the same remuneration from a bushel of corn sold at ten shillings; because, in the former case, the cost of production would be less, and the article would find a readier sale. He was convinced that the report of the agricultural committee would spread a feeling of disappointment throughout the country. Landlords would now say "We expected much from the committee—we have received nothing, and we are lost." He knew that this sort of language would be held in the country. He did not think that the situation of the country was so deplorable as some persons imagined; but he knew that great distress prevailed, and he thought that it was high time to look the state of things boldly in the face. He still hoped that some enlarged and important steps would be taken to save from absolute destruction the most laborious, the most valuable, and the most virtuous class in the country. He trusted that, even on the present occasion, the subject would not be suffered to drop without further observations, but that some of the friends who stood near him, more competent than himself, would take it up, that it might go forth to the 1436 country that the House was not altogether deaf to its complaints, or insensible to its distress.
§ Mr. Ellice
said, he rose anxious to carry into effect what had been his intention on the presentation of the report the other evening, to call the attention of the public to the extraordinary propositions it contained, in the hope that a full expression of the feelings of the country would find their way to the House, after the holidays, on the subject. The noble marquis had, very properly, in his view of the case, then deprecated discussion, and he might do so still; but as there were two parties interested in the case, the distressed petitioners, whose prayers were uselessly, as it now appeared, and as he had anticipated at its appointment, referred to this committee, and ministers, it was fit the former should be fully aware of all the relief it was intended to extend to them. It suited government perfectly well to send the grievances of the people to a committee up stairs, upon whose report they could rely, while the house were busy in passing supplies, upon which a profuse expenditure could be continued, and that they might ride over this session like the preceding one, without the least practicable remedy being suggested or effected for the agricultural distress [Hear, hear!]. At last, however, they had the labours of this committee before them, and he for one would not consent to postpone an examination into the merits of the report, although it was difficult to deal with a composition, if he might use the term without disrespect to the members who composed the committee, so full of inconsistencies and absurdities. Be could scarcely say whether its faults of commission or omission prevailed; but he was certain, if no other remedies or relief were practicable, or intended, than those which appeared on the face of the report, it would have been much better at the commencement of the session to have told the petitioners—"We feel your distress, but overloaded with debt and taxes, it is not in our power to relieve it." This would have been at least more candid and consistent than to have excited a hope; which would now be so grievously disappointed. On looking at the report, no other object appeared to engage the attention of the committee, than that which was impracticable, raising the price of corn, and although they had prudently abstained from assuming entirely the 1437 doctrine of the noble lord, that the low price was to be ascribed to over-production, still it was assumed it had been occasioned, by forcing a supply on the market beyond the demand, to raise money for the purpose of meeting rents. Every person knew the fact was otherwise, the great supply at market was owing to that which must have occasioned it under any circumstances—the damaged state of the corn of last season; and to remedy this the committee wisely propose to advance money to enable the farmer to withhold produce from sale, which must otherwise rot in his granary. But this was only one of the propositions, pointing always to the same end. In what other light could the proposed alterations in the present law be viewed? Were they to mitigate or aggravate the evils it must necessarily produce, if its provisions unfortunately could ever come into operation? On a former discussion on this subject in last session he had maintained the doctrine which the committee now adopted with respect to the mischiefs likely to result from the provisions of the corn bilk He warned the agricultural gentlemen, of the danger of keeping up the importing price to 80, much more of raising it to 90 and 100 as was proposed—and precisely on the grounds on which their objection to the system was now founded—the danger of encouraging by an excessive price an importation far beyond the wants of the country, and which might depress the market for one or two years after it had taken place. The committee admit, in another part of their report, that it would be proper, in consequence of the alteration in the currency, to lower the import price from 80s. to 70s. Why then not do this; or, which was infinitely preferable, alter the whole principle of the corn laws, referring always to their admission, that the consumer ought not to be placed in a worse situation than under the former bill, with a fair allowance for the variation in the currency? But their intention was evident throughout, either to raise the price to the consumer, or to gain credit with, the petitioners for doing that which was not within their power. He (Mr. Ellice) had always considered it impracticable to maintain higher proportionate prices in this country to those on the continent, than existed before the war; and the committee, if they had considered their object as much with reference to its 1438 practicability, as to its supposed expediency must have come to the same conclusion. [Hear, hear.] Unless, therefore, they expected prices of agricultural produce to rise generally throughout the world, it was hopeless to look for any advance in this country; and the House ought always to recollect, that the actual price now to the consumer was not to be estimated by the average price in the gazette. The average had been reduced by the great quantity of damaged corn he had already adverted to, and was now about 47s., but the price of good sound bread corn in the great markets, was from 55s. to 58s. a price 20 per cent higher than that in any other country in the world. Indeed the price of bread in London was now actually double that in Paris. But this was not looked upon as a sufficient remuneration, and we must have recourse to further restrictions to increase the difference. How long, he would wish to ask some of the honourable members who composed this committee, did they expect this country to maintain its pre-eminence in trade and manufactures, after the price of provisions, and necessarily the value of labour, were doubled to those in other countries? But the attempt to do this was as idle as the proposition was absurd. Prices might decline, they could not advance, unless from those natural causes which could not be controlled [Hear!]. There was no possibility either of the former law, or the alterations proposed by the committeee, if confirmed by the House, coming into operation, and when they did, it would be time enough to judge how far their provisions could be carried into effect.—It was rather assuming too much to suppose, that the great body of consumers would be content to buy their food at double price, merely because it was produced in this country.—The only very correct statement in the report was, that it was impossible to carry protection beyond absolute protection, the prices had not advanced, and he would undertake to predict the proposed amendment of the law would make no immediate alteration, if they did, it would necessary from common justice to the general interests of the country, to revise them. He begged to be understood in what he had said, as not undervaluing, or feeling less than any other member, the extreme distress and pressing case of the peti- 1439 tioners. He was satisfied nothing could exceed their sufferings—he would be the first to aid in any practicable measure for their relief, and he felt as much mortification and disappointment as they could at the result of the labours of the committee. So much he had said of what the Committee had done—a few words on what they had omitted to do. It had never entered into their consideration to inquire in to the causes of the distress, with a view to their removal, or how far they may have been produced or aggravated by the alteration in the currency, or taxation. Surely at such a moment, with the pressure hourly increasing, it might have occurred to them to inquire, why the tenant, with the same price for his produce, could not even pay his former rent? Or how far the article of corn had declined In price beyond any other article of production, foreign and domestic [Hear, hear!]. The alteration and diminution in the currency, which the committee scarcely notices in a parenthesis, as applying to a particular point, might then have occurred to them. When the appointment of the committee was moved for, much discussion took place on this subject, and he (Mr. E.) would not now repeat the arguments and statements on which he founded his opinion, that the contraction of the currency was one of the main causes of the existing pressure not only on the agricultural, but any other productive interest of the state. Since that time, a further account was laid on the table, of the country Bank-notes stamped in last year, which had again decreased a half from the preceding year, and amounted only to 2½ millions. Without assuming the quantity stamped as an exact index of that in circulation, could the House look at the progressive diminution, without being compelled to admit the erroneous impressions which had prevailed on this point? In 1814 the amount stamped was 11 millions; in 1816 it fell to 7; in 1818 it rose on the re-issue of the Bank of England advances to government, to 12, the highest point it had ever reached; in two years after it fell to 4½, and in the year ending. Oct. 1821 to 2½, and yet gentlemen found difficulty in admitting the true cause of great part of the present distress. There was an apparent obstinacy on this subject he could not comprehend, although he did not doubt all parties would soon be brought to concede what he had invariably contended 1440 for, that the price of gold had been a most defective index of the depreciation. Concurring in all the general principles of both bullion committees, he had ventured to recommend to the House to pause and consider all the consequences of the measure of 1819, before they absolutely decided upon it. He was perfectly aware of the beneficial results which had been stated by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel) although these would only be temporary and until the price of labour adjusted itself to that of the necessaries of life, but he was equally certain, that unless the country was prepared to submit to a total revolution of property, it was in vain to expect contracts entered into in a depreciated currency could be fulfilled at the ancient standard, or the same amount of taxation borne on the diminished profits of a reduced capital. His opinions were then treated with little ceremony—they might be so now. He could not find one member then to second a proposition, merely that it might be recorded as his opinion on the Journals, that unless a reduction could be made on contracts and taxes simultaneously, with the restoration of the standard, of at least a third, the standard would have been fixed with infinitely more justice to both debtor and creditor at 5l. 10s. than 3l. 17s. 10d. It was in vain now to talk of raising prices without a repeal of the bill of 1819, which he would never consent to, or to prevent an absolute revolution of property, as effectual, although more silent, than that which attended the convulsions in France, without a diminution of all contracts and taxes, to an extent equal to the alteration in the currency—what that was there were various opinions. He (Mr. E.) had never calculated it at less than a third to a half, many at more. One hon. friend (the member for Portarlington) from whom he differed most, had at last admitted, that from various causes it must be at least 10 to 12 per cent. The general calculation was 20 or 25 per cent, but he felt satisfied, from the disinclination which gentlemen had to admit their errors on this subject, the prevailing disposition was still to undervalue, rather than over-estimate the effects of the paper system. Still this was not a subject which gentlemen forming the committee, considered as worthy their attention, or what influence the contraction of the currency had upon the previously existing taxation as a concurrent measure 1441 with the imposition of the additional 3 millions of taxes in 1819. He was not disposed entirely to overlook the other causes, to which part of the pressure on agriculture must be ascribed, but the alteration in the currency, the consequent aggravation of taxes and engagements, and diminution in value, in produce and rents appeared to him the main features in the case. He therefore blamed the committee for giving the go bye to these important questions and spending their time in devising useless nostrums to deceive and delude the public, instead of at once probing the evil to the bottom; and if they were not prepared to take more decided measures, at least advise that relief which the surplus revenue would enable them to grant temporarily to the country. If no person believed the suggestions of the committee would raise prices, they had the other alternative left of reducing expenses and taxation to the lowest possible amount, consistently with the due payment of interest on the public debt. That might arrest the progress of the evil, although he would candidly admit, in his view of the situation of the country, it could not cure it. The public creditor at least could not complain, and as little could the public pensioner or annuitant complain of some temporary reduction from their salaries to aid in giving relief. Nothing could probably so well illustrate the change which had taken place in the situation of parties as a reference to the last assessment of the property tax, in 1815. The rent of land was then assessed at 37 millions, from which deducting about a sixth for the interest of mortgages and other incumbrances, would leave 31 millions. The interest on the funded debt was 31—pensions and payments of this description 10 millions. Take the reduction of rents at, and it will be admitted it cannot be less ultimately than a third—deduct the same amount for burthens, this great national interest will be reduced to 19 millions, less than half the amount payable to public creditors and pensioners, from the taxes in the present year [Hear, hear, hear!]. Could any person acquainted with the history and situation of this or any other country, contemplate the progress of this revolution without the utmost alarm and dismay? and yet the only measure in such a frightful state of things, is the inane and abortive report on the table. He would not now enter into any further 1442 discussion of this momentous subject, his object being principally, as he had stated in the outset, to call the attention of the country to the report, before the adjournment, when he trusted the recommendations of the committee would undergo very serious consideration, before the House could be brow ht to adopt or to legislate upon them.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
did not consider this, at all a desirable moment for going into the vast range of matter connected with the report. The hon. gentleman had, however, in such strong terms attacked the agricultural committee, that it became necessary for him (Mr. L.) as a member if it, to express a hope that neither the House nor the country would concur in the censures that had been so freely bestowed. The hon. gentleman had accused the committee partly for what it had done, and partly for what it had not done; but when he said, that the proper course for it to have pursued was to have investigated the causes of the distresses, and to have ascertained how far they arose from taxation, and how far from a change in the currency, he widely differed from the hon. gentleman. Had that course been recommended in the committee, he should have resolutely resisted it; because, although he had very often heard hon. members argue that the distresses were attributable to the change in the currency, he had never yet heard any individual hardy enough to say, that the step that had been taken in this respect ought tot be retraced. The House had given the committee, in the order of reference, no such power or instruction; and to what beneficial or practical result could it have led, to rip up what no hon. member had been found daring enough to attack in any substantial form? To have assumed this power, and to have inquired what taxes might or might not be fitly repealed, would have been a direct interference with the duty of the whole House, which was the labour of every session, and for which a session was hardly ever found sufficiently protracted. It was to be remembered also, that the committee which had just reported was to be considered as a sequel to the committee of the last session, and that committee had entered into a minute investigation of the causes of the distress. It was, therefore, most unnecessary and unwise for the committee to travel over the same ground as had been investigated the session before. 1443 He took this early opportunity of disclaiming, for his own part, what had been imputed to the committee, namely, that it was any part of its object to increase the restrictions on the importation of foreign corn, and thus to increase the price of corn to the consumer. They had thought, indeed, that the mode in which the prohibition was at present constructed, should be altered, but it had not been intended to increase, in any way the difficulties imposed by law on the importation of foreign corn. If there had been any such intention, he, for one, should have opposed it; and he trusted that the measure recommended would have no such effect.
did not concur in the censures bestowed upon the committee by his hon. friend, the member for Coventry, nor did he think the points to which he would have directed its attention, open to its consideration. He was ready with the hon. gentleman who last spoke, to do justice to the motives of the members of that body, however he might dissent from the conclusion to which they had arrived. This committee had been only a revival or continuation of that of last year; and when it was asserted, that the object of it had been to raise the price of grain, it was putting it in a way not quite fair. The landed interest complained, that although the act of 1815 was meant to give them protection, yet that it was mainly defective, as when the ports were open, there was no limit to the quantity of grain that might be imported and warehoused, and thus a lasting glut was produced in the market. To this the committee had applied a remedy, which he thought wholly incompetent, and placed the British agriculturist even in a worse situation than before. Intending to do justice, the committee had been most egregiously mistaken, and the report would, therefore, only increase the dissatisfaction and dismay among the farmers. Such was the present state of the country, that it was impossible to say in what manner the duty proposed could operate effectually. It became the House, without delay, to look at the extraordinary situation in which the landed interest was placed. It was a bold assertion that he had made on a former, night, but a true one, that two-thirds of the farmers of Essex, could they make up their accounts, would be found insolvent. Did not this impose upon the House the duty of duty of a full and an immediate investigation? 1444 It was impossible not to feel that an immense proportion of the present difficulties arose from the alteration in the currency. The right hon. member for Chichester (Mr. Huskisson), in a published speech, had said, that the commercial distresses of 1816 and 1817, were produced by overtrading, combined with a contraction of the currency; and in the same way he (Mr. W.) contended, that the present agricultural distresses were occasioned by over-production, combined with an alteration of the currency. In France, also, it was said, there was over-abundance, but there, though prices were low, there were no such mischievous consequences—there was no change in the rent or price of land, in the wages of labour, or the price of the great articles of iron, copper, lead and tin. The hon. member who spoke last had said, that no one had the boldness to propose to rip up the law of 1819. He (Mr. W.) said, the distress of the country would compel them to rip it up. The House would be compelled to retrace its steps, for he was satisfied they could not proceed. The price of wheat, which for 150 years before the last war, had not been rising, had been doubled in the years after 1797. What was the cause of this but the depreciation of the currency? During that depreciation we had contracted an enormous debt, which was to be now paid by the industrious classes in a currency of increased value. This had made such a havoc in the property of the country, as was never made by revolution or by civil war. It was true, during the depreciation of money, the rents of estates had doubled, but incumbrances had doubled and taxes had quadrupled, so that the situation of landlord had not been a whit better. But what was the state of the landlord now? His income was again reduced to one half, and all their fixed payments remained. If the price of corn settled down, as there was every probability it would, to the price it was at before the war, would any one be sanguine enough to think that rents could exceed one half of what they had been? Taking the incumbrances, repairs, agencies and law expenses, &c. into consideration, the nett income of the landed interest was not above half of its nominal income. What would be theirs situation, then, if, their nominal rent was reduced to one half? As to the labouring classes, he had a 1445 different idea of the effects of the change of the currency from that entertained by his hon. friend the member for Coventry. True it was, wages did not at once fall; but they would settle down to the price of corn, and the labourer would at last get wages no greater than he had before 1797, while he had to pay the increased taxes. He was convinced that the House would feel itself compelled to take into consideration the act of 1819. There had been nothing so injurious he was convinced, as the act of 1797, which was a breach of faith to the public creditor, and the act of 1819, which had been a breach of faith to the public debtor. If no member more competent to the task should take up the matter, he should feel it his duty to call on the House to re-consider the last-mentioned act.
§ Mr. Ricardo
said, that no one could be more aware of the great difficulties which had been occasioned by alterations in the currency than himself. He had given the subject the greatest attention in his power, and had laboured hard to show the necessity of a fixed and unvariable standard of value. At the same time, he could not agree with the hon. member for Essex, as to the operation of the changes in the currency upon agriculture. Let them suppose the utmost extent of the operation—the changes in currency on the pressure of taxes. They must deduct from the whole amount of taxation, the amount of those taxes which were employed in expenditure, as they had been diminished in proportion as the value of money had been augmented. Supposing, then, 40,000,000l. to remain, on which the operation of the currency on taxation was to be calculated. What proportion could possibly be paid by the tenantry of this amount? Suppose one fourth. He did not include the landlords in this calculation, but only the tenantry. Suppose one-fourth paid by the tenantry, their proportion would be 10,000,000l. Suppose, according to the extravagant calculation of the hon. gentleman, that 25 per cent was the real amount of the alteration operated by recurring to a metallic standard of value. Then 2,500,000l. was the whole extent of its operation on the tenantry, Was it possible that the distress which was now felt could be owing to 2,500,000l.? Such a sum was totally inadequate to such an effect. Let them look again at the landlords. The alteration could affect them only as it took 1446 more from them in the shape of taxation. No person was more ready than he was to admit, that it occasioned an increase of burthen this shape as in every other; but he must be allowed to ask, whether, if the tenant paid the rent demanded, the landlord must not be benefited by receiving the same rent which he had exacted in the depreciated currency? He admitted that landlords did not receive the same rent, but had made an allowance equal to the depreciation. But, if he received the rest of the rent, whence arose the distress? He had given up 25 per cent, and received 75 per cent, equal to 100. How, then, was he injured? But the landlords did not receive 75 per cent. They told them that they could not receive any rent—that the distress was so great, that the surplus could not pay any thing but the taxes. He asked, then, whether the depreciation could possibly have occasioned this? He did not believe that the changes in the currency since 1819, had been more than 10 per cent. But did he say that the landed interest suffered only to the extent of 10 per cent? No such thing. The greatness of the distress he was most sensible of, and the causes which had been assigned he thought amply sufficient to account for it—namely, the abundance of several successive harvests, the importation of corn from Ireland, and other similar causes. It was utterly impossible that this country could be reduced to that situation that the surplus produce of agriculture should be only sufficient to pay the taxes, without affording any rent to the landlord, or any profit to the cultivator. This was a situation to which the country could not possibly come.—He wished here to say a few words of the report which the agricultural committee had made. The former report contained some most admirable propositions. If he might divide it into two parts, he would say, the first half was as excellent a report as had ever emanated from any committee of that House, and was well worthy of being placed beside the bullion report and the report on the resumption of cash payments by the Bank. It contained most sound and excellent observations on the corn trade, and on the corn-laws. It most justly pointed out two great evils arising from the corn-laws, which affected the present distress. The first was, when there was a scarcity, and corn rose to 80s., then the ports were opened, and we were deluged with foreign 1447 corn, whatever might be the price in the countries from which it came. The ports were open for any quantity. This was a great evil, and operated at the very time when the short harvest ought to be compensated by high prices. The second evil was felt when in a season, of plenty we habitually produced corn at an expense very considerably above other countries. If there were successively good harvests, the farmer could obtain no relief from exportation, and was thus ruined by the abundance of produce. What was the inference from this, but that they should take measures, to enable our farmers, in seasons of abundance, when they could not obtain prices to compensate the expense of culture, to get relief by exporting to other, countries, and for this purpose a duty on importation of foreign grain should be imposed, equal to the peculiar taxes which fell on the farmer, such as tythes and a part of the poor-rate; and a drawback of the same amount should be allowed on exportations. If such a regulation were adopted, after a small fall of prices, the farmer would then export to other countries, and relieve the glut of the corn market at home. Another part of the, report was totally incorrect. It spoke of countervailing duties, not, as all countervailing duties ought to be, as imposts upon the importer in order to subject him to all the burthens of the home-grower of corn, so that the taxes might fall equally on grower and importer, but as duties which should be equal to the additional expense of growing corn in this country over other countries. Countervailing duties on this principle, would thus be sometimes 20s., and sometimes 30s. There appeared to him to be no principle more clear, than that there could not be a fixed remunerating price in any country. Before there was a dense state of population in a country, they would cultivate the very best lands, and they could then compete with any country, and export their surplus produce. There would then be no occasion for countervailing duties. But when population became more dense, poorer lands would be cultivated, and an increase of charges would arise from the greater expenses of cultivation. As population went on, the cultivation would go on to still poorer lands, and the price would continue to rise. If, then, the rule should, be for a countervailing duty, the difference, of charge in the growth, no limit could be affixed to the amount. He 1448 could not conceive any system of duties more destructive to the best interests of the country.—He would now advert to the present report. He had gone into the committee under a deep impression of the great distress which the agricultural interest suffered, with a most unfeigned desire to find some means of relief, not upon the general and absolutely true principles of legislation, but with every inclination, to give every facility to measures of immediate effect in alleviating distress. All he required was, that there should be something in the report, pledging them, when the distress should have gone by, and the farmers should be rescued from their suffering—for he was the advocate of the farmer, and not those who pretended to be the exclusive friend of agriculture—all he had required was, that the report should promise a return to proper principles when the present dangers should have been removed. But, although the report recognized the evil which produced low prices, and the apprehension of still lower prices, it did not hold up the slightest purpose of ever returning to sound principles. It expressed hopes of better principles being adopted, and the House would be astonished to hear what those principles were. It was to have recourse to the countervailing duties which be had explained. If on this plan they attempted to give a monopoly to grapes reared in hot-houses, countervailing duties might be imposed on wine, to make it as dear as the produce of the hot-houses. In the same way with sugar. In this way all branches of foreign commerce would be lost to this nation, and to every nation which adopted countervailing duties. The only true policy was to allow us to go to the country where the article required was most easily and abundantly produced. He was ashamed to occupy the time of the House so long [Cheers]; he would not go into detail, but he felt called upon to throw out a few observations. The hon. member for Essex had alluded to the West Indian cultivators. If he wanted an argument, he would take that very case, and he asked how the currency could be supposed to have affected them? Was it not notorious that their distress was entirely caused by over production? Were not the measures adopted for their relief calculated to give them a market for their produce which they had not before? In the same manner, the agriculturist, of this 1449 country must be relieved by increased demand, or diminished supply. He had not said that taxes contributed not to the distress. On that point he had been misunderstood. They who were exposed to exclusive taxes ought to receive protection from those taxes. But on this subject he would give his opinions in greater detail on a future occasion.
§ Mr. H. G. Bennet
rose to protest against the doctrine, that taxes had nothing to do with the distresses of the agricultural interests. He did not profess to be able to go into the calculations which his hon. friend had stated, but he could state that in 1792 prices had been as low as at this moment. But the taxes had been at the utmost but 19,000,000l. including collection. Nothing had then been talked of but the prosperity of the country. The 3 per cents were at par, every man received his rent, and every one thought the country had never been more prosperous. Why was there such a difference now? Why, but because the taxes were now 56,000,000l., and taken out of the produce of the country, whether arising from land or industry. Here was a country, than which there was none more industrious in the world, possessing a soil, if not the very best, one of the fairest, and a climate among the best in the temperate part of the globe, and particularly fitted for agriculture. Let them look to the state of the people who lived in this country. From one end of the land to the other, they would find nothing but the cry of want. His hon. friend said, this was owing to a superabundance of produce. Too much corn grew—the trees grew too fast. But the cause of distress was, that there were such demands on their pockets by the Crown, the church, and the poor, that nothing was left to the landlord for rent, or to the cultivator for profit. Why was this so? Let them look back to 1792, and they found prices the same, and the country rich. But in 1822, the country was in the greatest distress. Nothing but mere words and sophistry could be urged to show that the demands of the government did not occasion this state of distress. This country, under the operation of the government, was approaching to the state of India. He doubted not that the land would be cultivated; but as the Zemindars in India had been dispossessed, so gentleman after gentleman would disappear in this country, and the end would he, that the government the church, and the poor, 1450 would become the proprietors. A revolution, unequalled in effusion of blood, or ravage of property, had been going on in this country for the last twenty year, but particularly during the last four, years. No example of such a revolution was to be found in history! His hon. friend had entered into a calculation to show that only 2,500,000l. of the taxes pressed upon the tenantry, in, consequence of the change in the currency: but he had left out of view the various payments which they were obliged to make now in an improved currency to the same nominal amount as in the debased currency. He knew of gentlemen who had been in the receipt of 6,000l. or 8,000l. a year, and now received not 1,200l. a year. This had not been occasioned by extravagance on their part but by the allowances which they were obliged to make to younger children, and other burthens. Many were compelled to live in lodgings in London or Bath, or to go abroad, instead of educating their families at home, as their fathers had done. The bill of the right hon. gentleman for resuming cash payments he looked at with reverence. It deprived the chancellor of the exchequer of the usual resources in Jews-corner and 'Change-alley. He was quite unwilling to embark even in the discussion of this question again. The only mode of relief, and of great and effectual relief, was, the reduction of taxes. It was a joke—he had not a word to express his contempt for the opinion which would represent, that reduction of taxes was not the only means a saving the little remnant that was left, and keeping the hand of the tax-gatherer out of it. He would say "Get rid of that juggler, the sinking fund, and give the people the 5,000;000l. or 6,000,000l. which it takes from them; if that will not do, the first creditor is the plough, the gentlemen of England must not be stripped of their estates, the farmer must not be deprived of his pittance, and we must come to an accommodation with the public creditor." Though it might now seem bold to say so, he was sure that he should live to see that result, and that the right hon. gentleman, the chancellor of the exchequer, and the noble lord would be seen coming forward, and, under the plea of necessity, advocating such a measure. He should hold it inexcusable, if every thing were not to prevent this, and top ay strictly every shilling due to the creditor. But, if this could not be done, they were bound, as public men, to 1451 do what every private man did—to come to an amicable arrangement for paying a portion of the debt, before they should come to have none at all to pay. He could consider the agricultural committee only as a committee of landlords whose object was, to raise the price of corn. Had it been a committee of merchants, they would, he had no doubt, have come to a conclusion directly opposite. For the consumers at large he would say, that the committee and the report had no other object but the raising of prices, which would be a great calamity.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, he had heard nothing that evening to convince him that it would not have been better to reserve the discussion till an opportunity when some more practical proposition should be brought forward. He put it to honourable members opposite, whether they had not lost a great deal of precious time in not raising question upon the state, of the currency during the considerable part of the session which had passed, if they believed that measures affecting the currency would give relief. He meant such measures has had been proposed by the hon. member for Essex, and which would probably be seconded by the hon. member for Coventry, who had supported the bill in 1819 as ardently as any member, but who seemed, to be doing all he could since, to atone for that support. The hon. member for Essex ought not to have been satisfied with making a fruitless complaint that night; but if he thought that he could influence the judgment of the House, he ought to have submitted a measure such as he had alluded to. The hon. member ought to have satisfied the House that the bill ought to be repealed, and not to have merely maligned it. He could now understand the course pursued by the hon. member for Shrewsbury. He could not before understand why it was thought desirable that, with imperfect views, they should enter into the discussion of a subject which came before them in no practical shape. But he could now see the object of the hon. member for Shrewsbury; and he must enter his most solemn protest against the purpose which he had in view; for, if he understood him right, he wished to sound the public mind, through the channel of the distresses of the agricultural classes, to ascertain if they were disposed to favour that most flagrant deviation from sound policy as well as from common honesty— 1452 a breach of faith towards the public creditor.—Could a British House of Commons sanction such a measure, it would relieve no class in the community, but it would overwhelm all classes with ruin. Were it possible for them to be dishonest and base enough to listen to a project of national bankruptcy, the result must be most calamitous. If they could adopt the idea of abandoning the sinking fund to repeal taxes, to that amount, it would prove as injurious as unjust, and the faith of the nation would he sacrificed without relieving the existing distress. To ascertain this it was not necessary to wait for the consequences of such an experiment. Every man at all acquainted with the subject knew, that were this done, it could afford no essential relief—it would be but a drop of water in the sea. Nay, he would go farther and say, that if the whole weight of our taxes could by possibility be removed—as well those which were necessary to support our establishments, as those which were demanded to enable the country to fulfil its engagements—if all the taxes could at once be swept away, that degree of relief would not be afforded, that no distress should be felt. This was not the first time that the hon. member for Shrewsbury had attacked the government of the country—not the present administration, but the government generally, by imputing to them all the distresses that were the subject of complaint, by making them answerable for all the burthens thrown on the country by the late war, and for events long since passed by, over which they could have had no control. That hon. gentleman might take a lesson from his friend near him, the member for Portarlington, who had shown how small a portion of that distress now complained of had been thrown on the suffering individuals by taxation. Any man, who took a rational view of this subject, must know that he was attempting to mislead the public when he represented that the existing distress could be removed by any remission of taxation. He must take that opportunity, after what had been advanced, of stating what he knew the feelings of the country to be on this subject. He would never believe (and he thought he knew its temper well), that the country, under any degree of suffering, would so far forget itself, as to favour injustice. He would not believe, that, under any circumstances, they would be 1453 disposed to break faith with the public creditor. The security which the hon. gentleman proffered to offer, in the first instance—by not calling on the public creditor to compound, till the effect of reducing taxes to the amount of the sinking fund had been tried—was no security at all. They would give, by taking such a course, only a brief delay; for the certain consequences of such a step were sufficiently known. The distress was caused by the operation of the seasons, and the state of the markets; and therefore could not be cured by the remission of taxation, even though that were pushed to the length of national bankruptcy. On this point there could be no doubt; for if a parliament could be found so degenerate, and a people so destitute of honour and common honesty, as not to start at the idea of such an abandonment of principle, the most sordid calculation would forbid the adoption of such a measure; as the want of protection for all the great interests of the nation, which must be felt in that case, would make it worse than useless, and, instead of removing the evil, would only have the effect of largely aggravating it. And here, when they heard so much of the distress of the country they must give him leave to say, in spite of the candid representations of the hon. member for Shrewsbury (who was always more anxious to colour highly than to colour faithfully) the manufacturers of the country were in a state of great activity of exertion, and a great increase of their social comforts had taken place, which were likely to continue. The commerce of the country was flourishing, and in every part the utmost activity was to be remarked. He would repeat it, that the only body of men now suffering under the pressure of distress was the agricultural part of the community, and their situation was to be traced to the course of the seasons, and the consequent state of the markets. Though abundance was desirable, yet carried beyond a certain point, it occasioned evils like those now felt. He was not prepared to go into this view of the question, and to show how they suffered by abundance; but if the hon. member for Portarlington turned his intelligent mind to it, he could make the House understand this part of the subject. All other persons, it was said, must be affected when this great fundamental interest of corn was shaken. He would say, however, that the country was generally in a state of prosperity. The agriculturists 1454 alone suffered; and they were suffering in common with those of all other-countries. The doctrines which had been so imprudently, and he thought so dangerously, brought forward, would, he was confident, find no favour out of doors. A national bankruptcy would prove as fatal to those whose relief was sought as to any other class. No country had ever yet been saved by a measure which held out nothing but a principle of ruin. There could be no real prosperity which was not founded on principles of justice. Having received the money, he could conceive no duty more sacred than to pay the interest.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, he had broached no doctrine of the kind. He had only stated, that the measures of ministers were driving along in that course which would terminate in a national bankruptcy. That he repeated. The measures which had defrauded the creditor in 1797, and the debtor in 1822, were rapidly proceeding to ruin the nation.
§ Mr. Ellice
wished to say one word in answer to the noble lord's charge of inconsistency in his opinions with respect to the bill of 1819. At that time, as now, he supported the principles of the committee, and was anxious to put an end to a system which had so long disgraced this country, the only standard, in fact, being the discretion of government and the Bank in the issue of paper He had since opposed any attempt to revise the decision of the Committee, but he had at the time stated all his apprehensions of the result of the determination to restore the ancient standard, and he had not been deceived by them.
§ Mr. Ricardo
corrected the error which appeared to have prevailed in the mind of his hon. friend, the member for Salisbury, that he (Mr. R.) was an advocate, for taxation. On the contrary, he had voted for every reduction of taxes that had been proposed in the course of the session, because be was anxious for the repeal of taxes, feeling that every tax must prove a burthen upon the public.
§ Mr. Peel
would put it to hon. members, whether any thing like full discussion could be had at the then moment, and urged the impropriety of partial discussion, as tending to throw erroneous views before the country. For himself, he rose merely to enter his protest against being supposed to concur in the doctrines of the hon. gentlemen opposite; but he could not forbear 1455 observing, how easy it would be, to show that the distresses of the country could not be owing to the causes assigned for them. Neither the existence of distress, nor its extent in England, could be denied; but if he found other countries labouring under the same distress, and if he found in those countries no alteration of the currency, no weight of taxation, none of those causes to which the distress of England was ascribed, then he was justified in contending, that it was not entirely out of those causes that the distress of this country had arisen. Now, both in Flanders and in Switzerland the greatest agricultural distress existed at the present moment. In parts of Switzerland the pressure was so severe, that the land-owners actually could not buy implements to till the ground with, Switzerland had neither heavy taxation nor a changed currency to complain of; it was evident, therefore, that, independent of those circumstances, the same evil which now afflicted England might exist. There were other facts presenting themselves upon the surface of the subject, which went to negative the effect of the causes to which our distress was imputed. The operation of those causes had been (as regarded the country) general; the distress was only partial. And the House should take notice how completely the bill of 1819 had falsified the predictions of those who had opposed it. Gentlemen of the other side had most positively declared, that if the bill passed, the revenue of the country must fail: but the bill had passed, the currency had improved, and the revenue, notwithstanding, had gone on largely increasing. All he asked was, that the bill should be fairly tried, not by its effect upon a particular interest, but by its effect upon the state of the whole interests of the country. He desired that the state of the manufacturing interest might, be taken, the state of the poor-rates, the comforts enjoyed by the manufacturing population, and the tranquility prevailing in the manufacturing districts. He asked, also, that reference might be had, in looking at the bill, to the general state of commerce in the country; and that an unfair stigma might not be cast upon the measure, merely because there was a pressure upon the agricultural interest. He asked this, first, because he could not admit partial distress to be a fair criterion; and, next, because he would not admit even that partial distress to be occasioned by the bill.
did not insist upon the bill of 1819 as one of the very material causes of the present agricultural distress, although it did press in some measure upon that interest as well as upon others; but when the right hon. gentleman relied upon the prosperity of the manufacturers, he would tell him that the very distress of the agriculturist was one great source of that prosperity. He was bound to declare (although he knew the doctrine would not be popular on his own side), that the agricultural distress arose out of the too great production, and that overproduction created such a competition in the market, that the tax which the grower paid he was unable to throw upon the consumer. The manufacturer was well off; because the price of produce was ruinously low. The agriculturist was starving, because he raised produce under heavy burthens, and was compelled to sell at prices which would not reimburse him. And, what was the relief proposed for all this suffering? One million was to be laid out in corn for the purpose of warehousing. But he must contend, that that measure would do nothing at all for the agriculturist. The million must be laid out in corn which would bear warehousing, and that kind of corn was already at a fair price. The warehousing plan would do no good at all to the grower, and it would do a great deal of harm to the consumer. They came, then, to the question of what ought to be done; and, upon that point, he must call the attention of the House to the declaration of the noble lord. The noble lord said, that, suppose the whole taxes of the country, much less 5,000,000l. of them, repealed, the grower of corn could not be relieved. The Opposition had been charged with extravagant propositions; but let the House only consider that single proposition of the noble lord. About 70,000,000l. of revenue were collected; the collection was made at a very great expense; the mere nett revenue nearly doubled the rental of the whole kingdom, and yet the noble lord said, that its repeal would not help the farmer! A more monstrous proposition had never been uttered in any assembly. The short truth was, that if the price of produce could not be raised, the charge of production must be lessened, and that lessening must take place in different branches of expense, and in different ways—by abatement of rent, by lowering of tithes, by diminished poor- 1457 rates, by reduced price of labour, and last, and certainly not least, by a proportionate lessening of taxation. With what face could government ask the landholder to abate his rent, while it told him that no end would be answered by abatement of taxation? He did not say that it was possible to reduce taxation in an equal degree with rent; but he did insist upon every reduction which could be made consistently with the engagements by which the country was bound. He went no farther: honour, justice, and sound policy, alike demanded that those engagements should, be fulfilled.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, he had never meant to contend that the remission of taxes would afford no relief. He had only maintained, that if it were possible the country could exist as a country, all the taxes being swept away, the present distress would not be removed. The absurdity of supposing that it could be so removed had been forcibly pointed out by the hon. member for Portarlington.
§ Mr. H. Gurney
thought the existing distresses, which might more properly be called the pecuniary embarrassments of the country, had been entirely produced by the measure commonly called Mr. Peel's bill.
§ The petition was ordered to be printed.—Adjourned to the 17th.