§ Sir T. Lethbridge
wished, before he proceeded to state his opinion on this important subject, to ask one question. He begged leave to ask the right hon. gentleman whether, under all the circumstances attending this measure, not only in that House, but elsewhere, especially as fresh information had been obtained through the medium of papers which had lately come to hand, he would consent to postpone the second reading of the bill until after the recess, to the 3rd of May? [a laugh.]
Mr. C. Grant
said, that so far as he was personally concerned, he felt no disinclination to accommodate the hon. baronet; but he doubted very much, whether, if the hon. baronet's request were complied with, it would be doing any favour, or affording any accommodation, to the House. The measure had been fully considered, and he felt it to be his duty to proceed with it.
§ Sir T. Lethbridge
said, he rose to oppose the second reading of this bill. He knew it was a very arduous task to resist the progress of a measure which had been adopted by his majesty's ministers after mature deliberation; and he feared that he should prove but an indifferent advocate for a contrary line of policy. Convinced, however, as he was, that this measure was fraught with considerable 175 danger to the landed interests of this great empire, he was impelled, by a strong sense of duty, to express his sentiments fully on this occasion. He hoped that gentlemen, in considering this question, would not carry along with them the impression which the right hon. Secretary for Foreign Affairs had, by the magic power of his eloquence, created, when he introduced it; but that they would look at it in its plain and simple form. He had recently been informed, that the noble lord, who, but for his lamented illness, was to have brought the subject forward elsewhere, meant to have introduced it as a measure of government, and not as one which met his own particular views and feelings. Now, he contended, that they were proceeding without due information; and it was notorious that, in another place, an additional inquiry had been called for, and had also been conceded. In his opinion, it would be wise and expedient if that House also appointed a committee, to inquire further into the subject, instead of legislating in this precipitate manner. He had made that observation before; and he had said, that if he met with the support to which he thought he was entitled, he would make a motion for a committee. But the House did not concur with him in opinion; and therefore he had made no such motion. The present measure was taken up on grounds that could not be supported, either by experience or by sound argument; and they were now about to legislate, with reference to a most important question, on very deficient and unsatisfactory evidence. He, therefore, would proceed to oppose this bill upon principle. If he were asked to describe it, he would say, that it was a bill for the more effectual encouragement of speculation in the corn trade—a bill for the more rapid diminution of the growth of grain in Great Britain—and a bill for the better encouragement of the growth of grain in other countries, for the supply of the British market. Therefore it was, that he rose in his place to oppose the bill, on principle. This measure was founded on the prevailing love of free trade; but in introducing it, gentlemen ought to have furnished some examples, to show that other countries had, at any time, adopted a similar system. He found, instead of a general law on the subject, that it had been constantly left in the hands of the ruling power in other countries, either to admit 176 or prevent the importation of grain, according to existing circumstances. He denied that this bill afforded a just protection to the agriculture of Great Britain. So far from that being the case, it would have the effect of keeping the price of corn between 50s. and 55s.. The bills of 1815 and 1822 gave, in reality, no higher a protecting price than 60s.; and it was impossible that this bill could afford a similar protection. It was quite evident, that if a surplus of corn were sent here, it would displace a corresponding portion of English grain. That part of the empire, Ireland, had, since the Union, and particularly during the last seven or eight years, gone on progressively increasing in the production of grain. Now, he would ask, could the House do a wiser or more beneficial thing, than to encourage the industry of Ireland, and to increase the wealth of that country? Was it not important that they should keep her in the condition (as an agricultural country) in which they found her, and not, by such a measure as this, place her in a worse situation? This point alone showed that they could not legislate safely, if, by that legislation, they interfered with the natural produce and industry of Ireland. Now, in his opinion, they ran the risk by adopting this measure, of interfering most mischievously with the industry of Ireland; because it was a temptation to all the other parts of the world to send their surplus here—a temptation which they could not resist, and which would effectually glut the market. He knew it was said, that probably not more than a million of quarters would be imported annually, and that that was a mere trifle. It was very true that a million of quarters, compared with the fifty millions annually consumed, was but a trifling amount; but it was not a trifle if it displaced the labour of a number of men. He denied wholly and distinctly, the statement which had been made in that House; namely, that, under the existing laws, the people of this country paid a tax of 25,000,000l. on account of the landed interest. It was asserted, that the people were improperly charged 10s. a quarter on fifty millions of quarters; that they were saddled with the sum of 25,000,000l., which was collected from the consumers of corn, and put into the pockets of the landowners. Now, it did not go into the pockets of the landowners, but was distributed amongst all those who co-operated 177 with them. He meant the occupiers and cultivators of land, and the various persons who were employed and paid by them. By foreign countries in general, and by France in particular, a system of direct exclusion was practised towards us. When that was the case, why should we display such extreme liberality towards them? It behoved the House to be cautious before they set aside the system of protection which had been so advantageous to the country. Much had been said in that House about keeping faith with the public creditor. Now, he thought that the agriculturists had a right to expect that faith should be kept with them. They were entitled to that degree of protection which was absolutely necessary in the present state of taxation. If the House would only consider the burthens which the landed interest had borne during the war, and the unshaken loyalty which they had always displayed, he was sure that they would not consent to destroy the main prop and security of government. It was necessary also to remind the House of the probability of this bill experiencing, in another place, a resistance which could not be overcome. He believed, too, that a difference of opinion existed in the Cabinet with respect to the measure, and that if some of the ministers were to express their real sentiments, they would describe it as one that was vicious in principle. He called upon the landed interest to think for themselves upon this question—to consider the manner in which it would affect, not only their own interests, but likewise those of other classes of the community, whose welfare was inseparably connected with their own. He hoped they would not allow themselves to be induced to give their support to the measure by any specious arguments which might be advanced in its favour. He concluded by moving as an amendment, that the bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Mr. Curteis
seconded the amendment. He said, that the objections of the agriculturists to the bill were acquiring additional force every day, and he was sure that a storm was gathering in another place which would annihilate it. On all sides the agriculturists complained that the bill afforded them no adequate protection. The bill of 1822 had been condemned unheard as it were, for it had never come into operation. The new measure, he thought, arose out of the doctrines of 178 the political economists, which were of a very dangerous tendency. There was nothing whatever which those men touched that they did not destroy. Whatever might be proposed by them, he was determined constantly to oppose. The bill before the House would have the effect of overthrowing the aristocracy, and through them the liberties of the country; and would once more inevitably compel us to revert to a paper currency.
Mr. C. Grant
said, that the hon. member who had just addressed the House carried his apprehension of the mischiefs likely to result from the bill even further than the hon. baronet himself; for he had added to the long catalogue of evils mentioned by the latter, the destruction of the aristocracy and the liberties of the country. However, notwithstanding all the fatal prognostics of the hon. members, he trusted that the House would not consider it presumptuous in him to oppose the amendment. He agreed with the hon. baronet, that the question which the measure involved was one affecting the dearest interests of the country; and he joined with him in the appeal which he had made to the House, to decide upon it with reference to its own merits alone, and not under the influence of party, or other Considerations. He made this appeal in the full confidence, that the good sense of the House would answer it. In approaching a change of law on this subject; namely, the trade in corn, there was one circumstance which afforded him some gratification—there was no necessity for combating ancient prejudices which always hung round the old law of the country. The act which it was proposed to change had been in existence only eleven years, and therefore the House was at liberty to deal with it on its own merits, without running the risk of shocking any old English feelings in its favour. The hon. baronet had asked, why it was wished to change the existing law? His answer to that question was this—because the existing law was, in his humble opinion, erroneous, and had, moreover, failed, grossly failed, in practice. What were the objects of the existing law? What did it profess to effect? From the reports of committees of the House, at the period when it was framed—the debates in parliament—and from general impression on the subject—he was justified in saying, that it was proposed to effect three objects, by the existing law; namely, uniformity of 179 price, protection to the farmer, and independence of foreign supply. Had the law answered any one of those purposes? It was notorious that it had not. To show that it had failed completely to produce steadiness of price, it was only necessary to refer to a statement before the House. It appeared from this document, that in June, 1817. the price of wheat was 112s.; whilst in September of the same year it was only 74s. In April, 1818, the price was 91s., and in August of the same year it was 78s. The right hon. gentleman stated other instances of variation in price quite as striking as those above-mentioned, in every year down to 1826. He also stated, that the variations in price with respect to oats and barley during the same period, were not less remarkable than those which had occurred as to the article of wheat. With respect to the protection to be afforded by the farmer, he had the showing of the agriculturists themselves as to what had been the effect of the existing law. Before the committee of 1821, they had one and all declared, that the act of 1815 had produced nothing but distress. This was the language of the most eminent agriculturists before the committee. Amongst others, Mr. Webb Hall and Mr. Wakefield said, that the act of 1815 had produced no good, and that they had not expected any from it. What had been the case since 1822? On this point he would again appeal to the evidence of the agriculturists. From the general statements contained in periodical publications which were understood to be under the influence of the landed interest, it appeared, that the depression under which that body laboured in 1821 had continued to a certain degree up to the present period. Now, how did the case stand with respect to independence of foreign supply, which he remembered was the main point urged in discussing the bill of 1815? The amount of foreign wheat imported in 1817 was two million three hundred and twenty-five thousand quarters; being only one hundred thousand quarters less than were imported during 1801 and 1802, which were years of great scarcity. In the same year, 1817, seven hundred thousand quarters of barley were imported, although barley was an article very rarely imported; and the amount of oats imported in 1817 was nine hundred thousand quarters; which was more than had been imported 180 at any previous period. Had we been independent of foreign supply since 1822? Certainly not. It was necessary for him to remind the House, that the legislature had been obliged to interpose to allow of the importation of foreign grain. A declaration had been put forth by certain delegates of the agriculturists, in which the question was asked, "Why did the agriculturists support a law which it was admitted had afforded them no protection?" The answer given to this inquiry was, that circumstances had occurred to obstruct the operation of the law, which were now removed. The circumstances here pointed at, were the opening of communication with the continent on the close of the war, and the change which had taken place with respect to the currency. The answer which he would make to this argument of the agriculturists was, that the existing law was framed in contemplation of those very events. The framers of that law, in attempting to keep the price of corn in this country higher than it was in foreign countries, had proceeded on the erroneous assumption, that we could exclude the world from one great branch of commercial intercourse with impunity—that is, without injury to our commerce, external and internal.—The principles of the present question had been so ably developed before the committee of 1821, that a very few words further on his part would be sufficient. The dangers to which agriculture in this country was exposed were two—a considerable excess of supply, or a considerable deficiency. Now, did the existing law protect the country against those dangers? It did not. In case of a deficiency, the high mark at which the importation price was fixed, and the length of time which elapsed between the periods of striking the averages, exposed both the farmer and the public to the hazard of ruinous speculation and monopoly in the interim; while, in the event of an excess, it was necessary that price should sink far lower than under an unrestricted state of things it need do, before he was in a state to relieve himself by importation. Do as we might, we should never be independent of importation. Up to the year 1770, we had been an exporting country; and yet there was not an instance in which five years had elapsed without an importation. It was better, therefore, that we should adopt such a course as would allow the foreign grower occasion- 181 ally to contemplate the supply of our market, than be reduced, when the necessity occurred, to meet the advanced price necessarily consequent on our applying to sources not duly prepared to furnish us.—Honorable gentlemen had seemed to entertain considerable apprehension of the effect that an import trade in corn would have upon the exchanges of this country. He denied, that under the law proposed, any danger of that nature was to be apprehended. As our law now stood, he agreed that inconvenience might well arise. When corn came into the country, it must come suddenly and in vast masses; because the time for admitting it was limited. After a short period, the ports probably were again shut. But it would be otherwise when the demand was regular and temperate. There was one way, certainly, in which the currency of the country would be affected by the regulation of the trade in corn. Any monopoly in that article, brought into actual play by a deficiency, must necessarily render an additional quantity of circulating capital necessary to the country. The trade in corn was so enormous, that an addition of 10s. or 15s. a quarter to its price would increase the amount of capital necessary to carry on the trade more than a million sterling. But from a regulated importation of corn from abroad no inconvenience to the exchanges could be apprehended; and he might prove this by reference to the case of Ireland. What inconveniences to the exchanges had arisen from our annual importations from that country? One certain effect of the maintaining a high price in corn was to drive the manufacturer abroad, or to enable the foreigner to undersell him in the home market. We might reduce the wages of the labourer, and bring him from a diet of corn, down to potatoes. It was only to be hoped that we had not made some advances towards that state already: but even that resource must have its termination; and the result must be a total abandonment of manufacture, or a waver (which was hardly to be expected) of all profit and return upon manufacturing capital. But it could hardly be necessary for him to use any further arguments as to the expediency of a change in the existing law; and he thought that there could be no comparison, in advantage, between a scale of duties, even supposing them to be in some cases prohibitory, and an absolute pro- 182 hibition. When he was told that corn could not be grown upon the terms proposed, he took leave to doubt that fact a little. A good deal of the calculation was taken upon arbitrary estimate; and besides, the existing state of things disproved the assertion. The average price of corn assumed by the new law was 60s. Now, the fact was, that for the last eight years, the average price had been under 57s. He admitted, that the agricultural interest had been in a state of comparative depression during that time; but he thought that, during the last year or two, it had been rallying. In fact, a stronger proof could not be given that agriculture was worth following at the present time, than that capital was invested in it. A great deal of money had lately been laid out in the improvement of under-draining; and the importations of manure were increasing every year. A few examples of this last fact might, perhaps, have some value. In the article of bones, our importation, in the year ending in January 1824, had been to the amount of 14,000l. In the year 1825, it was 44,000l.; in the next year, it increased to 86,000l.; and in the last year it amounted to 95,147l. In another article of manure, woollen rags, our importation, in the year 1824, was three hundred and fifty tons. In the next year, it was three hundred and forty-one tons. In the year 1826, it was six hundred and fifteen tons; and in the last year, four hundred and twenty-eight. So, in the article of rape and linseed cake. In the year ending January 1824, we imported one hundred and seventy thousand five hundred cwts. In the next year, four hundred and ninety-five thousand seven hundred. In the next year, six hundred and eighty-six thousand nine hundred and sixty-three; and in the last year, five hundred and ninety-seven thousand six hundred.—The right hon. gentleman proceeded to argue, that it by no means followed that the importation of corn from abroad should materially diminish the sales of the home agriculturist; for that the additional spur given to manufactures would have the effect of increasing the demand. To instance again the case of Ireland: the four hundred thousand quarters of wheat which we annually imported from that country, must necessarily displace so much corn grown in Great Britain; yet it was not found that we sustained any injury; for the stimulus 183 given to our manufactures had increased our consumption, and with it of course our demand. For the quantity which we might be expected to import under the new law, some idea of that might be formed from the quantity which we had imported. In the twenty years ending in 1815, our total importation had been eleven million of quarters; and of those, three years had been years of scarcity, which had consumed four million quarters out of the eleven million. In barley and oats our importation had been very trifling indeed; and in wheat, which was the main article of consideration, it might fairly be calculated, that our yearly importation would not exceed, upon an average of one year with another, six hundred thousand quarters.—The right hon. gentleman went on to show, by calculations taken from the report, that there was no just ground for apprehension as to the importation of foreign grain. The defect in the arguments of those hon. gentlemen who were hostile to the measure, lay in this. They reasoned as if, with the most grievous depression in the price of grain, the prices of all other commodities, freight, navigation, and all other charges, would remain the same: they supposed two things which were incompatible—a stagnant market, and high prices. But an infallible result of low prices of grain would be that of affecting the prices of all other commodities. Mr. Jacob had shown several instances of the effect of a demand in raising prices abroad; and they were such as ought to allay all apprehension of the evils so much dreaded, by the agricultural gentry, from that frightful part of the world, the Black Sea, that source of the phantoms which seemed so greatly to bewilder the whole of the landed interest. Mr. Jacob's evidence had stormed that fortress, by proving that corn, at one time with another, could not leave Odessa, unless the price it produces rises to 60s., since it cannot be delivered in England at less than 44s. independent of the duty, whatever that may be. The latest price at Dantzic was 29s., and it had been calculated by a person skilled in affairs of that kind, that wheat bought there at that price could not be sold in England under 44s., independently of the duty. With respect to America, the latest quotations from New York made the price at which American wheat could be imported into this country 34s., independently of the duty. He could 184 multiply instances of this kind; but he thought he had said sufficient to show that foreign grain could not be imported into this country, in such quantities, and at such rates, as injuriously to interfere with our agriculture. It was to be observed that all the evidence given before the committees of both Houses of Parliament confirmed the statement he had made. With respect to Mr. Jacob's report, though he did not hold himself answerable for its statements, he thought it but justice to that gentleman to say, that, notwithstanding the length of time since it had been before the public, its correctness had not been impeached. Some minor points had been said to be incorrect; but, upon the whole, it had gained the credit it had deserved. He could not but think that one of the worst evils of the existing law, was its tendency to excite the hostility of the manufacturing against the agricultural interests. He had therefore hoped, that the gentlemen connected with the agricultural interest would have willingly acceded to the passing of a law, which would have the effect of allaying the irritated feelings existing between those two great interests. Such being the object of the bill, if the gentlemen of the landed interest consented to its passing, it would remove at once every trace of the feelings of animosity to which he had alluded. He believed that, in general, the country was satisfied with this bill. At least, so far satisfied with it, as not to be inclined to shew any popular feeling on one side or the other. He entreated, then, that it might pass—that the painful, and, he might say, angry, complaints of the manufacturing against the landed interest might be stayed. He implored those gentlemen to pause before they let this opportunity pass them, as he could conceive a state of distress which would produce effects that might bring this question before them in a very different shape. Under such circumstances, it would be no longer at their option whether corn should be admitted at 60s. A starving population would listen to no terms. He deprecated nothing more than the overthrow of this measure by the landed aristocracy. When he looked at the growing intelligence of the people, the power of the public press, and the real justice of the question, he was much mistaken if it was not brought before them under a far different aspect, if it was not now settled. It was upon these grounds that he entreated the 185 gentlemen of the landed interest to consider before they opposed this measure; and upon these grounds it was, that he entreated the House to vote with him against the amendment.
§ Mr. Western
wished to offer some observations upon what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman; but, as he was conscious of his inability to reply to him with the same force and effect, he entreated the indulgence of the House. The right hon. gentleman had anticipated that this bill, if passed into a law, would have the effect of extinguishing the animosity which existed between the two great interests; but he could not concur with him that the bill would have any such effect. He had thought that the common sense of the people of this country, of the manufacturing, portion especially, would have been satisfied with the effect of the law of 1815. Had not his majesty's ministers, and the honourable gentlemen around him, from time to time, indulged in invectives against the operation of that law, the people would not have thought of complaining of it. It was not that law, but very different causes, which had produced the pressure of distress which they had lately experienced. Had not the people been misled, their common sense would have told them, that corn had been sold at as low a price as it could by possibility be afforded. They would have seen that the distress of the farmer had been, and was equal, if not greater, than that of the manufacturer. It was the notions of theoretic improvement which had been instilled into the people by the honourable gentlemen around him, which had made the people dissatisfied with the act of 1815. But their distresses, and the variations in the price of corn, were to be attributed to a very different cause. He did not mean to enter at length into the question of the currency; but it was his opinion, that the act of 1819, restoring the gold currency, was the origin of the fluctuations in the price of corn which followed. In fact, it was the value of money which fluctuated, not the price of corn. This was a fact which could not be denied. He asked, why had the right hon. gentleman left such a fact out of the question? It was in contemplation in 1814 and 1815 to pass the bill of 1819 in 1816, and in consequence of the preparations made for that purpose, and the subsequent postponement of the measure, a great fluctuation ensued in the 186 price of corn, which they must all remember. Let them compare the price of 1824, 1825, and 1826, with that of 1822, and consider the cause of it. Did not lord Londonderry, in the House of Commons, and lord Liverpool, in the House of Lords, declare that the financial measures then taking were not in consequence of a want of money for the service of the state; but simply to enlarge the circulation? The circulation was accordingly enlarged, and the prices of 1824, 1825, and 1826, were owing to that cause All this the right hon. gentleman had put out of consideration. He would put it to the House to say, whether it was fair to impute the fluctuations in the price of corn to the act of 1815? No; the fair way would have been, to see what were the fluctuations where a different system of Corn-laws prevailed, and to have compared them with the fluctuations that had taken place in this country. If the right hon. gentleman could have made it out, that where there was a free trade in corn, the price had been comparatively steady, he would, in that case, have made good his point. But if that investigation should prove, that the fluctuations were less in this country than in other places, the converse of the right hon. gentleman's proposition would be necessarily established. Let the House, then, look at the facts. He would first refer to the great emporium of a free trade in corn—the port of Hamburgh. He would take the highest and lowest prices as stated by Mr. Jacob, in the months of March and September. In March, 1817, the lowest price of wheat was 62s. 3d., the highest 81s. 9d. The average price of that year was 72s. In 1820, the average had come down to 36s.; and, in 1821, to 26s. 4d. The average of the last six years, ending with 1825, at Hamburgh, was 23s. 5d. In March, 1825, it was reduced to 20s. 9d.; and, in the September of that year, to 19s. 1d. In 1817, the lowest price of barley at Hamburgh was 33s. 6d.; the highest, 36s. 8d.; the average 35s. 1d. In 1825, the average price of that sort of corn had sunk to 10s. 8d. The average of the last five or six years was 11s. He would next refer to the prices at the free town of Cracow. In 1817, the average price of wheat was 57s. 10d. The price had since been as low as 12s. 9d.; and the average of the last five or six years was 19s. 3d. At Berlin, the fluctuations had varied from 187 73s., the highest price, to 22s., which was the lowest. In the Dantzic market, the highest price of wheat, in 1817, was 84s.; and the average of the two last years, 24s. The conclusion he drew from these statements was, that where a free trade in corn existed, the difference of prices had been quadruple; while, in this country, under the prohibitory system, it had not been double, setting aside altogether the question of currency. The hon. gentleman said, that his objection to this new Corn-bill was, that it extended to corn that principle of free trade which had been so unfortunately applied to other articles. After a deliberate consideration of the subject, he apprehended that the most fatal consequences would ensue, if the British market was at all times, at some price or other, open to the competition of the whole world. He besought the House to look at the prospective effects of this measure; not at those which had resulted from an entirely different system. If the new system were pursued, namely, that of free trade, subject to a varying duty, the corn trade would be carried to an extent which could not at present be foreseen. No man could, beforehand, calculate on the effects that would follow the excitement produced by throwing open the British market; which was well known to be the most beneficial market in the world. The British market was not only now the highest priced in Europe, but would continue so, until Great Britain was reduced to the same state of poverty and wretchedness that characterized the other corn-growing countries. What a tempting market was this for speculation; not merely always open, but opening at all times, with the additional bonus of the bonding system! No inducement could be stronger to the speculator; no enterprise more enticing. The immense mass of British capital would find its way to this employment, and be continually absorbed in it. The hon. gentlemen who supported this bill contended that it was necessary, in order to keep capital in the country. He thought, however, that a more certain method of driving it away could not be devised than this measure, which held out so high a premium to transplant British capital, for the cultivation of foreign lands, as it had already, under the operation of the same principles, been applied to the building and navigating of ships in the Baltic. These princi- 188 ples of free trade had distinctly a tendency to increase the means of other countries. The House would see, by the official returns, how exactly in proportion to the increased importation of foreign corn the amount of foreign tonnage had also increased. From 1815 to 1819, the number of foreign ships had increased from three thousand to nearly six thousand, in consequence of the proportionate importation of foreign corn. The right hon. gentleman had argued, that, from the experience of the past, there was no reason to apprehend any great increase in the importation of foreign corn into this country. If that were the fact, what was the good of the measure? Was it not the object of those who urged it forward, to have cheaper corn from foreign countries, that those countries might be able to take our manufactures in exchange? If foreign corn did not come in, that object would be defeated. But their object was to diminish the price of British corn at any rate. He would admit it to be a legitimate one, if the price of corn in this country were higher than was sufficient to give a profit to capital employed in agriculture, equal to that employed in any other pursuit. It was his firm conviction, taking the average of any number of years to which gentlemen might be disposed to refer, that capital employed in agriculture had not yielded a return equal to what capital employed in trade or manufacture would be found to have done. Capital vested in the purchase of land had yielded about three per cent; and capital vested in the cultivation of land had occasionally returned from seven to ten per cent. Taking these returns as fair average returns, they were not at all equal to the average returns of capital embarked in trade during the same period. If parliament should permit the importation of foreign corn, in the manner and to the extent proposed, the consequence would inevitably be, that a great proportion of the capital vested in land, and in the cultivation of land, would be withdrawn, and the market for agricultural labour be proportionably diminished. In the discussions upon this subject, a great many facts had been broadly assumed, which were not founded on truth. Thus it was said, that the effect of the high war-prices had been, to bring into cultivation large tracts of poor land; and that the necessity of allowing lands which I would not pay, to go out of cultivation, 189 was one of the main causes of those inevitable evils Which the agricultural interest were at present apprehending. But, in reality, although some such poor lands might have been brought under culture, the effect of the war prices had been also, to bring into cultivation an amazing extent of the most productive lands, which had been previously totally neglected. Another effect of the same powerful stimulus had been, to introduce a better system of agriculture into the kingdom. He could prove, that, in numberless instances, land, which a hundred years since was deemed incapable of growing wheat at all, had, within these few years past, yielded abundant crops of the best quality. The truth was this, that that land which had been most highly thought of, and, therefore, most regularly cultivated, was some of the worst land in England. High prices had brought into cultivation some loams, upon which wheat could be absolutely raised, at this day, cheaper than it would have been a century ago. He contended further, that high prices of agricultural produce had exercised a direct effect in increasing the quantity of animal food and woollen clothing—of the subsistence and the clothing of the poor. It was in such respects as these that the theorists proceeded on principles totally false. We had, it was truly stated, a superabundant population; an excess both of our agricultural and manufacturing population; and, at that very moment, an Emigration committee was sitting up stairs. One of the most strenuous disciples of M'Culloch had actually proposed to export one million of our industrious, active, meritorious, and agricultural population, from this country to Canada, at the incredible expense of 100l. a man. At the same time, it was proposed to admit foreign corn. Why, it was clear, that, by admitting foreign corn, parliament was at one and the same time decreasing domestic agricultural labour, and importing foreign agricultural labour to the same amount. The right hon. gentleman opposite had no document upon which dependence could be placed for the average of the prices at which he had assumed foreign corn to be sold. When it was recollected, that the prices under the paper currency and the prices under the restored currency were, in Mr. Jacob's Report, indiscriminately jumbled together, there was in reality no foundation for a fair average. The average price 190 of wheat at Hamburgh for the last five years was 23s. 5d. a quarter; at Dantzick 27s. 4d.; at Berlin 27s. 3d.; at Warsaw and Prague 21s. 5d.; and at Cracow 19s. 1d. The average price at all these places was 23s. 8¾d. If 30s. duty were added to this average price, it would appear that the foreign grower would stand upon equal terms with the British grower in the English market, when corn was at 55s. He deprecated the passing of the measure before the House. It was at least a doubtful, and in his opinion it was a very dangerous, experiment. Depressed as the agricultural interest was at the present moment, the slightest addition to the pressure might annihilate a great mass of capital, and effect the destruction of a great number of the cultivators of the soil, who had the strongest claims upon the support of their country.
begged to say a few words upon a question deeply affecting the interests of the agriculturists in the part of the country with which he was connected. After the utmost attention he had been able to give to this question, he thought, without pretending to any knowledge of political economy, that the object of the legislature should be to promote the employment of the labouring classes, so that their wages might be adequate to the means of obtaining the necessaries and comforts of life. At the present moment numbers of the labouring population, particularly of the manufacturing population, were out of employ; and the question was, whether the admission of foreign corn would have the effect of increasing the demand for labour throughout the country? He had heard it stated by high authority, in the year 1815, that this country was then in a condition to grow a sufficient supply for its own consumption. At another time, when the agricultural interest was in a distressed state, he had heard, from the same high authority, that the distress was occasioned by over-production; and now he was told, that it was necessary to apply to the foreign market to assist us. The annual consumption of corn in this country amounted to twelve or thirteen millions of quarters, and if one million quarters were supplied from the foreign market, a quantity of labour equal to the growth of that quantity of corn must be displaced in this country. Now, unless there was a demand for our manufactures sufficient to indemnify us for that displacement, the 191 effect of the importation of foreign corn would be a diminution of labour throughout the country. The part of the country with which he was connected, laboured under the disadvantages of an ungenial climate, and a comparatively unproductive soil. He was aware it was said, that such land ought never to have been brought into cultivation; but it should be recollected, that the cultivation of such land gave employment to the labouring population of the country. Objecting, as he did, to the details of the bill, and feeling that the principle of it, if carried into full effect, would unquestionably throw a great quantity of the poor lands out of cultivation, he could not give it his unqualified support; and if no other hon. member took up the subject, he felt it his duty to give notice that he would, in the committee, if the bill should reach that stage, move that the prices of grain in the maritime ports of Scotland and Ireland be included in that amount of price from which the averages are to be struck. For the present he would content himself by giving his vote for the amendment.
§ Mr. R. Palmer
of Berkshire, declared himself willing to go the whole way with the right hon. gentleman, as to the opinions he had expressed upon the principle of the law of 1815. Whatever, however, might be his opinion, either on that law or on the system which the bill before the House proposed to establish, he could not forget that he represented a very large class of persons engaged in agricultural pursuits, and that it was their firm belief, that a great part of the poor lands must be thrown out of cultivation by the permission to import foreign corn. Feeling it, therefore, his duty to oppose the bill in its present shape, he trusted he should not be accused of any illiberality to either classes whose interests were supposed to be connected with he question; for it was solely from a conviction of the ruin which must fall upon the agriculturists, that he was induced to adopt that course.
said, that as he had so often delivered his sentiments upon this subject he did not feel himself justified in trespassing long upon the attention of the House. He could not, however, refrain from offering a few observations upon one or two points. It had been said, that the result of this measure would be, to throw lands of inferior quality out of cultivation. No such thing would take place. No 192 such thing had hitherto taken place; although the average prices for the last seven years had been less than those of the preceding ten years. Since the year 1820 the average prices had been 57s. 3d.; and during the ten years preceding 1820 they had been 87s. Now, he would ask whether any land had been thrown out of cultivation during the period of that low price when contrasted with that which preceded it. He had given the subject the utmost consideration in his power, and he was convinced that foreign grain might be imported without in the slightest degree affecting the agriculture of the country, as it at present existed. He would ask the House to recollect that, during the last two years of the seven years to which he had just alluded, there had been admitted into the home market a quantity of corn, which the right hon. gentleman opposite stated to be 817,000, but which he believed to be fully 840,000 quarters; and they ought, also to recollect, that all that quantity was sold, in addition to the produce of the English agriculturists, without producing any effect upon the cultivation of the poor land. It was, indeed, his decided conviction, from a reference to the production of an average number of years, that this country did not produce grain enough for its own consumption, even with the aid of all the poor lands which had been brought into cultivation. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more absurd than the fears which were entertained in this country upon the subject of importing foreign grain. Now, with respect to the low price of corn in foreign markets, he must say, that the calculation of the hon. member for Essex was a complete delusion. He held in his hand a document, from which it appeared, that the prices of corn in Dantzic, on the 1st of last March, were—for the first quality, from 34s. to 36s.; second quality, 31s. to 32s.; third quality, 28s. to 29s. It would be readily admitted that the two first were the only kinds which could find their way to this country. Thirty-six shillings, then, was the price of grain in Dantzic; and to that were to be added what he had not yet heard taken into consideration, the profits which the merchant must have upon his speculation, the interest upon his capital; which, with freight and other charges, he could not think he underrated when he said it must amount to twelve shillings a quarter. The House would, 193 therefore, see, that even at the present moment, without the duty, corn could not be sold for less than forty-seven shillings; if he said fifty, perhaps it would be nearer the truth. Could it then be said that the agriculturists had any thing to fear? In his opinion, they were alarmed at a bugbear, and spending their time in unnecessary discussions, which were only calculated to create dissentions and cherish animosities between the manufacturers and the agriculturists. The opposition to the bill reminded him most strongly of a similar course of proceeding about seventy years ago, with regard to the attempt to extend the principle of turnpike roads to every part of the kingdom. On that occasion, the counties adjacent to the metropolis presented a petition to parliament, praying that the turnpike-roads, which then only existed in those counties, should not be extended to the distant counties; and stating, that if those roads were so extended, the counties adjacent to the metropolis would be ruined by competition with the distant counties; which would then have increased facilities of conveying their produce to the London market. The apprehensions entertained by those petitioners were perfectly groundless, and he had no doubt, that in the result, the apprehensions now entertained by the agriculturist would prove equally unfounded. He certainly had strong objections to this bill; but as he had no alternative, except between it and the law of 1822, he should support the second reading.
§ Mr. G. Philips
said, he did not approve of the bill before the House, but he should nevertheless vote for the second reading, because he thought it an improvement upon the former system of our Corn-laws. He could see no more reason why the legislature should be expected to calculate the expenses of producing corn, and to fix a minimum price for agricultural produce, any more than it should be expected to fix a minimum price for manufactures. He thought the price ought to be left to be settled between the buyer and the seller. The manufacturer had had his day of high prices, and the agriculturist had had his day of high prices; but nothing could be more absurd than to suppose, that a cure for all their distresses was to be found in the high price of corn. High prices of corn always brought high poor-rates. He would take leave to read an extract 194 from the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of the Poor-laws in the year 1822. The commissioners stated, that they could not avoid noting, without comment, that the fluctuations in the poor-rates bad kept pace with the fluctuations in the prices of grain, rising with it in the year 1821, falling with it again, and rising afterwards. If high prices of grain, therefore, brought prosperity, how came it, he would ask, that they brought high poor-rates also? The principles of free trade required that some protection should be afforded to those who paid taxes beyond those with whom they were called upon to compete. These were the true principles under which a free trade could be carried on, and under which the prosperity of all could be secured. The only objection which he had to this measure was, that it did not carry the principles of free trade far enough, with regard to the trade in corn. He had, however, no alternative between this bill and the old system, and therefore he should vote for it.
§ Mr. Wodehouse
said, that a small difference in the price of grain was of little consequence to the consumer, but of vast importance to the grower. The trade in corn, too, between Great Britain and foreign countries was ardently desired by foreigners; and he thought there still remained a great deal of doubt and darkness about the price at which foreign grain could be imported. The hon. member entered into a detail of the prices of corn in England, from 1816 to 1824, and compared the amount of imports from 1801 to the present time, with a view of deprecating any rash alteration that might be injurious to the interests of the cultivators of the soil.
§ Sir T. Acland
said, he was desirous of explaining to the House the sentiments he entertained upon this difficult and delicate question. He had been taught to believe, and had come to the conviction, that the best market for the English consumer was that of the grower on his own soil. The only difficulty he had ever felt was the quantum of protection to which the agriculturist was entitled. He was unwilling, however, to run the risk of wholly rejecting this bill. By a former vote he had shown, that his opinion was in favour of 64s. per quarter as the price at which the importation of foreign corn should be admitted with little or no duty. 195 But if the question came to be between 60s. and 64s.., he thought it would not be wise to run the hazard of committing irretrievably one of the great interests of the country against another on that question alone. The greatest evil, he believed, was the suffering this question to remain unsettled; and he was extremely unwilling, after the discussions which had taken place, after the arbitration of the government had as it were been awarded, the subject should come to be again agitated in the next session of parliament. If he doubted whether it would be wise for the agriculturist to press for the 64s., against the opinion of the House, it was because that opinion had been expressed in a satisfactory manner, and on repeated occasions. After all that had taken place be was convinced that any resistance to the bill would go to place the agricultural interest in a worse situation than it had been in before. For this reason he found it impossible to concur with the amendment of his hon. friend: but as he was desirous that the bill should be passed in as complete a state as possible he should propose any such alterations in the committee as he though might be likely to tend to its improvement.
thought it was much better for the country to stand by the law of 1822, than to trust to the experiment of the bill now before them. From 1822 to the present time, the price of corn had been remarkably steady; and if the law had not been tampered with, it would have produced a fair rumunerating price. The universal prayer of the farmers was, that the House would let them alone. He did not see what security there was in the present experiment; for experiment it was, as no person could tell what would be the operation of the measure at the end of the next twelve months. He would ask, what was the immediate cause of this measure? Was it any apprehension of a sudden rise, or high and injurous prices? It was impossible to observe an invariable steadiness of price. But prices, since 1824, had been more steady than was usual. Indeed it would be found that this week prices were lower than in 1793, and within a shilling of what the averages were from 1790 to 1799. He observed the great agitation upon this subject which existed throughout the country, and he knew that some gentlemen apprehended danger, unless the petitions were granted of those 196 who demanded what could net be reasonably acceded to. He had heard threats as to the House being compelled to adopt this measure, if they did not voluntarily concur in it. Those threats came from a quarter whence he least expected them; but he hoped the House would discharge its duty, regardless of such threats. It was said that the highest duty would amount to a prohibition. If prohibition were meant, let it be said so; for prohibition he could understand. In our artificial state of society, it was impossible to apply those principles which under other circumstances might be perfectly applicable. He conceived that the system of prohibition, to a certain extent, was the safest principle for the country to follow. His majesty's ministers, in framing the resolutions respecting the admission of foreign corn, seemed to act on the principle, that corn in this country should be as cheap as it was elsewhere. Now this he conceived to be perfectly erroneous. If people wanted corn as cheap as it was at Odessa, the only way to effect that object would be to go live at Odessa. There was one maxim which he conceived should govern a nation as well as individuals; he meant that maxim which enforced the necessity of independence. He could not see why a nation should not follow this rule which was so useful to individuals; and he would further say, that the best mode to secure the independence of a country was to encourage the production of its own lands, and to give employment to its own labour. Every other means of enriching a country would be illusive and perishable.
§ Mr. Portman
wished to explain the reason why he should vote for the second reading of this bill. He had heard fears entertained, that great mischief would ensue if the resolutions proposed by ministers were adopted. In those fears he did not participate. He wished for a change in the Corn-laws, because he was persuaded that the system heretofore pursued could not be maintained any longer. He did not like the resolutions of his majesty's ministers; but, objectionable as they were, he preferred them to the existing state of the law. The country considered that the question of the Corn laws was disposed of; therefore, if the House rejected this bill, the country would be placed in considerable alarm. Under these circumstances he gave it his support.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
said, he had seen no reason to change the opinion which he had expressed before with respect to the resolutions proposed by his majesty's ministers, which he now felt it his duty again to oppose. The hon. baronet complained, that those who composed the majority by whose vote the resolutions were carried on a former evening, were members in the interest of Government, aided by members who composed what should be the opposition. His majesty's ministers in proposing the present bill, seemed to act upon the principle, that the system of free trade was good for the country. Now, he was one of those who thought that free trade might be carried too far; in which case, it was a system the most unwise for a country to pursue, unless, indeed, a reduction of taxation were to follow it, without which, the principles of free trade could never be enforced. When the chancellor of the Exchequer brought forward his financial statement, the House would see how far the resources of the country would warrant a reduction in the taxes. If the price of corn was reduced, it ought inevitably to follow, that the price of every thing else should be reduced in the same proportion. Were his majesty's ministers then, willing to reduce the taxes? Were they willing to propose, that every description of foreign commodities should be imported at a reduced duty? Were they willing that all departments of the state, civil and military, should be placed upon a less expensive footing? But the country would judge whether or not this was a time to reduce the army and navy. He believed it to be quite impossible to reduce those establishments at present consistently with the welfare and safety of the country. Under these circumstances, he was of opinion that these resolutions would produce, if any, only a partial good; and unless the government was prepared to reduce the public establishments, to lessen the duties on foreign goods, and to reduce taxation, the passing of the present bill would produce no relief to the country.
§ Sir W. W. Wynn
said, he had given his cordial support to the resolutions proposed by ministers, and should, therefore, vote for the second reading of this bill. He denied the truth of the observation of the hon. baronet, that the resolutions proposed by ministers were carried by their friends, 198 aided by the votes of the Opposition; for he had given them his support, although he belonged to neither party.
§ Sir Thomas Gooch
said, that, although many honourable members had changed their opinion on the present measure, he was not one of them. He had listened with the greatest attention to the arguments in favour of the bill, but they had failed to make any impression on him. It had been said, that both his majesty's ministers and his majesty's Opposition had combined to form the late majority. He did not attribute to either any hostility to agriculture. But there were others who had contributed to swell that majority, whose protection he did not much value. He meant the advocates for free trade; and, worse than all, the political economists. The hon. member for Bridgenorth had given the House a detailed essay on political economy; but he had heard so much of political economy as connected with the corn question, that without any objection to the men, he was heartily sick of political economists altogether, and he wished them no further harm than that a clause should be inserted in the present bill, enacting that every vessel laden with foreign corn destined for this country should take back, instead of ballast, a cargo of political economists. It was all very fine for his hon. friend to talk of the benefit which the country would derive from cheap bread; but, if his hon. friend were in a country where the bread was only 3d. a loaf, and he had but a penny to buy it, he would derive very little benefit from his doctrine of cheap bread, and would soon wish himself back amongst the electors of Bridgenorth. Whenever this law passed, it would have the effect of stimulating foreigners to bring land into cultivation, which would otherwise lie neglected. Thousands and thousands of acres of poor land would thus be brought into competition with the poor lands of this country; and he must be a bold and long-sighted man who could tell at what low price foreign corn could be sold here. In conclusion, he must say, that not having heard any thing in the arguments of this evening to induce him to alter the opinion he had before expressed, he would oppose the second reading of the bill.
The House then divided: For the second reading 243; For the amendment 78.— Majority 165. 199
List of the Minority. Alcock, T. Kavanagh, T. Antrobus, G. C. King, sir J. D. Arbuthnot, hon. H. King, hon. R. Ashurst, W. H. Lennox, lord G. Balfour, J. Lopes, sir M. Bankes, H.? Macqueen, T. P. Bastard, E. P. Maitland, lord Bell, M. Maitland, hon. A. Blandford, lord Manners, lord C. Brudenell, lord Morland, sir S. B. Buxton, J. J. Northcote, S. Chandos, lord Palmer, R. Chaplin, T. Pelham, C. Chichester, A. Philips, R. B. Clinton, C. F. Pitt, J. Clive, lord Pollen, sir J. Clive, hon. R. Powell, E. H. Clive, H. Pryse, P. Curteis, E. J. Rickford, W. Davenport, D. Rogers, E. Dundas, C. Sibthorp, col. East, sir E. H. Smith, hon. R. Egerton, W. Smith, C. Fane, J. Smyth, sir G. H. Fellowes, W. Sotheron, admiral Fleming, J. Talmash, F. Foley, E. Tennyson, C. French, A. Uxbridge, lord Gooch, sir T. Vaughan, sir R. Gordon, hon. W. Webb, E. Gordon, R. Wells, J. Guise, sir B. W. Wemyss, capt. Harvey, sir J. Western, C. C. Hay, lord John Wodehouse, E. Heneage, G. P. Wood, T. Heron, sir R. Wyndham, W. Honywood, W. P. TELLERS. Hotham, lord Houldsworth, T. Knatchbull, sir E. Ingilby, sir W. Lethbridge, sir T. B.