§ The Order of the day was read for receiving the Report of the Resolutions on the Corn Trade Acts. Sir A. Grant brought up the Report, which was read a first time.
§ Mr. Hume
hoped the House would indulge him for a short time, while he endeavoured to state his views as to what the law should be respecting Corn, and the measures that would ultimately tend to the public welfare, in contradistinction to those which had been passed by the House to the present time. He was aware that much angry contention had taken place on the subject of these laws, and that the country gentlemen considered the present measure favourable to their interests, because it imposed those high duties which his majesty's ministers had been induced to propose. He, for one, thought that the landed gentlemen had no right to the peculiar and exclusive protection, as they called it, which this House was not prepared to extend to other branches of industry and capital. It appeared to him, that they took the most erroneous views of their own interests, in wishing to cramp the powers and energies of the country. If there was any point to which they should more attend than any other, it was, that they should free themselves from the idea, that the land was the principle and most important interest in the country. Differing as he did from them, he would candidly state that, in his opinion, they much overrated that interest, and that this country never would have been powerful or rich without foreign commerce. If they looked back to history, they would find, that all those countries which had been rich and powerful, were those which had employed their capital most largely in general commerce. When they stated, therefore, that the landed interest was the most important, and almost the only interest to be supported, they were clearly under an error, which he trusted he might be enabled to remove. If the land 209 alone was the principle source of the wealth of a country, what should be the situation of Poland, where the chief produce of the land was corn? Any one who knew anything of the condition of that country was aware, that there was scarcely a country in Europe where the people were in greater wretchedness than in that, though the soil produced corn so abundantly. If the people of Poland could add commerce to their agriculture, that country would rise in wealth and strength; but then its prosperity would not be in proportion to the cultivation of the soil, but to the extension of its commerce. If the country gentlemen thought the land alone was the source of wealth, let them look at Ireland. No country produced more corn, in proportion to the soil under cultivation; yet, were the people there happy or wealthy in any class of society? Without alluding to the instances history afforded of great powers arising from commerce, he would prove that a country dependent on agriculture could not be so strong as with the aid of commerce.—He was desirous that the landed interest should not, for their own sakes, adopt measures which tended to enrich themselves at the expense of depressing the two other branches of public industry—without which the land would be of no value, and with which their property had risen, and would continue prosperous. He was willingthey should have a price which would allow them a fair return of their capital; but he would deal with corn on the same principle on which parliament legislated, as to every other article of commerce. The country gentlemen supposed that there was something peculiar in the quality of corn which took it out of the general rule applicable to the regulation of commerce. He was anxious to divest corn of this peculiarity, and bring it under the general rule which applied to every other commodity. What, then, was the principle on which the external trade of the country was regulated? Was it not, that we should buy every thing at the cheapest price at which the raw material or the manufactured, as the case might be, could be obtained, in order that we might command for the least sum the greatest quantity; and as we paid for it with our own produce in exchange, thereby make the largest addition to the wealth of the country? If we could introduce a quarter of wheat which we would not 210 otherwise have, we should be to that extent the richer by it. If a nation could import a million of quarters, it would be richer, to that extent, than without them. If by that addition the landed proprietors would not be injured, but, on the contrary, the value of their property would be increased, why should not the House act on the general rule, with regard to corn, on which they proceeded as to all other articles of commerce? He had heard landed proprietors object, that this foreign wheat would meet theirs in the market, and prevent their farmers from obtaining those prices which would enable them to pay their rents. He denied the position. In the present state of the country, when many people were unemployed, and maintained chiefly by the poor-rates which were raised on the land, he contended that, in direct proportion as the number of idle and useless hands increased, the land was injured by the additional charge. Nobody could deny that a great number of persons—he would say, for the sake of argument, that five hundred thousand, or a million of people—were unemployed in this country. Now, if they could give employment to these people, it could not be denied that they would add to the general interest of the community, by earning their livelihood, instead of being supported by the poor-rates. So far from the landed interest being liable to suffer injury by a free trade in corn—so far from that article being an exception from the general rule—he was about to state, why he thought it should fall more particularly under that rule than other articles. There was a limit to the consumption of sugar, tobacco, tea, and every thing else imported; consequently the trade in those articles could only be carried on to a limited extent. But the trade in corn, as long as there were mouths to eat, might be carried to an almost unlimited extent. As the population increased, that trade might go on increasing in the same proportion; and he would shew, that if it did go on increasing, it would give labour to the unemployed, and add to the wealth of the country; because, for every quarter of foreign corn imported, this country would be obliged to produce manufactures wherewith to pay for it. By this interchange, we should add to the wealth and power of this country; and as we knew the ratio at which the population increased, we might allow corn to be admitted to the 211 greatest possible extent. An argument commonly used by the landed gentlemen was,—"But if this foreign corn comes in, my wheat will not be used." He, however, contended, that there were at present a million of persons who had only half a meal, because their wages would only enable them to obtain a scanty supply for their wants, consisting of corn, potatoes, and perhaps some little meat. They were now in many places reduced to the lowest scale of misery. If he could, by introducing a million quarters of foreign corn, give employment to this million of idlers, he should not diminish the consumption of corn a single bushel; but, on the contrary, by giving them additional wages, he should enable them to eat their belly full every day, and have meat at their dinners, which they could not now ordinarily obtain. By the expenditure of their wages, the price of articles generally would be increased; and the cost of many articles, it was known, consisted of labour to the amount of three fourths, and even five sixths of their whole value. A ton of raw iron cost a small sum; and it required nine times, or rather ninety-nine times, its original worth, to be laid out upon it in wages, to fit it as manufactured goods to be sent abroad, to pay for the foreign corn we had to import. The value of the manufactured article was, in some cases, composed to the extent of one half, or three fourths, and in others almost entirely of the wages of labour. In this manner, if these people were employed, they would not only pay for the corn they would consume, but they would relieve the landed proprietors and the country at large from the necessity of supporting them as idlers, and tend to raise the value of other articles produced from the land. Some members, who lived in the neighbourhood of manufacturing towns, could better explain the mode in which, when trade became dull and employment scarce, the demand for animal food gradually declined, until it was much reduced in value; and though corn declined but little, yet the other produce of the farm was so materially affected, as to interfere greatly with its general returns. The reverse was the case invariably as trade revived; and it could only revive, by the preparations for exports which were to be exchanged for something we wanted from abroad. The landed proprietors ought rather, therefore, 212 to promote a free trade in corn than to refuse it. He had heard with regret, in the course of the discussions on this measure, complaints made that the proposed scale of duties did not amount to a prohibition. He maintained that it did amount to a prohibition; and the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies had candidly admitted, that, when the price of corn was 58s. or 59s. the duty amounted to a virtual prohibition. He asked how his majesty's ministers, after the exposition of principles they had made, as to the necessity of removing all prohibition, and admitting all articles on a limited duty, could bring forward such a scale of duties relative to foreign corn, as that of last or of the present year? They were each evidently contrary to those principles; and if he were to take the speech of the right hon. gentleman in that House on the general question of free trade, he could read pages from it, in opposition to the arguments he had used a few nights ago in defence of this measure, and of the principles on which government were now acting. He did not, however, believe that the present scale was such as they would have adopted, if they had thought they could carry a better through the other House. He believed they were anxious to obtain something better for the country, if they could see a prospect of carrying it through both Houses; and perhaps it was better they should take a practicable course, than stand out on principle, as he proposed.—There was one mode of reasoning adopted on the part of the landed proprietors, which he deemed it necessary to advert to; namely, that which they used when they put themselves forward as promoting this scale of duties, in order to protect agriculture. He denied that this was their object. They were desirous to protect themselves as capitalists, but not to protect agriculture. He denied that the interests of the landowner and the farmer were the same. They were no more so than the interests of the manufacturer were those of the agriculturist. The landed proprietor was the owner of a certain capital; and it was his business to get as large a return for it as he could. The agriculturist was the person who hired this capital, which was the land, at a certain rate, and employed on it his own capital to bring forward the growth of corn. He acted no more as the proprietor, than a man who might make cloth with a 213 loan advanced to him. There was not a single manufacturer who was not as much entitled to be protected as the farmer; speaking of him in contradistinction from the capitalist in land or money. There had been much confusion in the deliberations of that House, and in opinion out of doors, through the artifice with which the landed proprietors had induced the agriculturists to join them, as if their interests had been the same. Last year the noble member for Yorkshire (lord Milton), on presenting several petitions, had manfully stated this very principle, which he was sorry to observe had not been enforced last week, in the discussions that had taken place on this question. The landed proprietor and the farmer were put together, as if they were the same person and their interests one. He was quite aware, that in drawing a broad line of distinction between the interests of the farmer and the land-owner, he should always regard those who had long leases, as having their interest, during the term of their leases, identified with that of the proprietor. He found that while one kind of manufacture had a protecting duty of ten per cent, and cotton, woollen, and tin, goods about twenty per cent, the present duties on corn could be imposed only on the principle, that the price of that commodity was to be kept up to its artificial height, while all other articles were left to find their level. Some members would recollect, that when the general system of the trade of the country was under discussion, he had objected to the high rates of the prohibitory duties; but petitions from all quarters had poured in from the manufacturers, calling for a protecting duty, because corn was in this country, kept up at an artificial price. If this prohibition was removed from the food of man, these protecting duties might, in a great degree, be removed, and our manufacturers would be ready to meet the continental manufacturers in fair and open competition. These duties existed only from the vice of our law relating to corn. If the interchange of commodities were promoted between other countries and England, by the removal of all prohibitory laws, every man in the country would be employed, and consequently the general value of all property would increase. This should be the object of legislation. It was said, that the landowners had a right to protection; but he must remind them, 214 that the present restrictions were but of yesterday. It was well known, that when the law of 1815 was passed, the price at which foreign corn was admissible, was very limited. Up to 1791, under the price of 44s. 3d., the duty was 24s.; from 44s. to 48s. the duty was only 2s. 6d.; and above 48s. foreign corn was admitted at a merely nominal duty of 6d. During the period from 1791 to 1814, the price was raised from 44s. to 50s., and afterwards to 63s., in consequence of the state of warfare then subsisting, and the depreciated currency of the country. His majesty's ministers were not acting wisely in endeavouring to keep up the artificial price which had arisen under these circumstances; and he was the more astonished, as he understood they intended, as far as they were able to adhere to their determination, to have a metallic currency. They ought either to bring back the artificial prices which existed when 63s. were fixed upon, or they ought to restore the currency which circulated when 44s. was the price at which the duty was imposed. It was vain to suppose, looking at the load of taxes this country was burthened with, that the produce of the land would support the heavy expenses of government, unless assisted by a great increase of commerce. But he was told by the landed proprietors, that they could not pay their taxes unless the protection was continued to them. He thought just the reverse; for if he was obliged to pay a shilling for a loaf, and had only two shillings in his possession, sixpence of which he must part with to the tax-gatherer, it followed that he could the less afford to buy bread in proportion to its clearness. He contended, that the principle contained in the present resolutions, ought not to be adhered to, because it contained none of the qualities it was represented to possess. It was his wish to see a measure introduced which would, in the first place, give the country a steady price, and in the next place, settle the law upon the subject of corn once and for all. He asked the right hon. gentleman (Mr. C. Grant), or any of his friends, if they had the slightest idea that what they were now proposing would produce a final settlement of the law on this subject? He believed that no man could say so. Corn must be put on the same footing as every other article which could be imported; and until it was so placed, the question never would be settled, nor 215 the country be able to attain any condition of prosperity. It was said, however, that if they suffered this unlimited importation, the country would be deluged with an immense stock of grain from the continent. He contended, that this country never could be so inundated. He found his answer to that assertion in the average price which grain had borne, in every country in the world, for the last thirty years. In Holland he found that the average price for that time had been about 36s. a quarter; in France, about 47s.; in Spain, 49s.; in Portugal, 64s.; and in America. 34s. 6d. He did not, in this calculation, include the last year, because it was effected by peculiar circumstances. In Dantzic, for forty-nine years, the average price was 45s. to 48s. a quarter. In Amsterdam it might be quoted at 38s.; and in Hamburgh at 47s. At Paris, for nineteen years, the average price had been 45s., and the price throughout the whole of France was calculated, in the same period, at 42s. Now he would say, that it was impossible for the grower to send it to this country, after paying his expenses, under any hope of a profit. The agreement which was said to have been entered into with the landowners was, that the average price of this country was to be 60s.; but he contended, that it was utterly impossible to preserve corn for any period at that price, unless they drove all the poorer classes to live upon potatoes. It was his desire to give the agriculturists protection; but by that he meant the protection which would place them in the same condition as the manufacturing classes. He would give them a protecting duty sufficient to counter-balance the pressure of the poor-rates, the county rates, and the other charges to which they were subjected beyond the fund-holders; but he would not give more, and for this purpose he preferred that the ports should be open at all times, and that the duty should be 15s. for this year, decreasing 1s. for the next five years, until the duty reaches 10s. a quarter, at which it would remain fixed and invariable. Every one knew, that a market limited in its supply, or subject to any restrictions, was much more liable to great changes than a market open at all times to every speculator. By adopting his plan, they would get rid of those convulsive variations which had taken place for the last few years, and of that, vile system of averages complained of by every 216 member who had addressed the House. He had been told, that when corn rose to a famine price, the system of a fixed duty could not be maintained. He admitted that proposition, but he was prepared to contend, that the system of keeping the ports always open would secure such a supply as to guard against the possibility of a famine price ever occurring in this country. Holland was an example of this. Until that country was placed, two or three years ago, under the same bad system as this country, to please, he believed, the Flemish farmers, the price of corn in that country had remained for half a century almost always the same. The House had, no doubt, in their recollection, the misery and ruin which pervaded the agricultural classes when corn fell to 38s. It was well known that, at the time when corn was so low in this country, it was much higher in several parts of the continent; and he would, in the event of any such reduction in the price hereafter, give a bounty, say of 10s., to the British corn-grower, upon every quarter of corn exported to those countries where it was likely to meet with a sale.—After observing that the United States of America never could bring corn into this country with any success, unless when the price fluctuated between 55s. and 60s., the hon. member proceeded to argue, that by opening our ports to their grain, we might, in a great degree, discourage the disposition to manufacture which they had manifested, and induce them to return to the natural labour of an agricultural country—the production of grain. By these means this country, possessing more capital than all others, would be able to extend her commerce to an indefinite extent, by exchanging her manufactures for the com of America and the other nations of the world; and the formation of the prosperity of all the different classes who now complained of distress, would eventually render the country rich and contented. After shewing that he had been recommended to separate his resolutions into two parts—one declaring that there ought to be a fixed duty without stating what it was to be; and the other declaring the duty—the hon. member concluded by saying, that he felt bound, upon reflection, to adhere to his original intention, and he, therefore, begged leave to move, "That from and after the 5th of July, 1828, and until the 5th of July, 1829, a duty of 15s. 217 shall be imposed on every quarter of wheat imported from any foreign country into the United Kingdom; and for the year from the 5th of July, 1829, to the 5th July, 1830, a duty of 14s. a quarter, and in every succeeding year afterwards, the duty shall be reduced 1s., until the 5th of July, 1834, after which the duty of 10s. shall remain a fixed and permanent duty, payable on every quarter of wheat imported from foreign countries, except Canada, as hereafter provided for."
seconded the motion, and contended that the plan of his hon. friend rested upon precisely the same principle as that of the late Mr. Ricardo, with the exception that Mr. Ricardo's scale of duty commenced at 20s., and his hon. friend's at 15s. This difference, however, was more than compensated by the change in the currency, since the time Mr. Ricardo wrote; the proposal therefore was almost in every respect the same. After observing that the price supported by the bill now before the House held out no encouragement to foreign growers to cultivate for the supply of this country, the hon. member contended, that the proposal of his hon. friend would, if carried into effect, induce them to provide a regular supply. The observations of the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department on this subject were very inconsistent. At one moment he called this bill a compromise between two interests, and almost with the same breath he declared that it was intended to support the landed aristocracy in that station which they ought to occupy in society. Against the doctrine of taxing others for their support, he begged most strongly to protest. He contended, that by placing such a high duty on corn in this country, we prevented its price rising abroad; and though the landed gentlemen might prevent that corn coming in here, they could not prevent the migration of capital to the cheap corn. We had at present a surplus unemployed capital, and a redundant population. Under such circumstances, it would be madness in the country gentlemen to introduce a measure which would have the effect of forcing capital abroad. As it was, abundant capital existed at home to give employment to the redundant population, to improve the estates of the agriculturists, and to bring into full play all the means of productive industry. But instead of Keeping that capital at home, and, directing 218 it into channels so beneficial to the empire at large, the country gentlemen absurdly endeavoured, by their high prohibitory duties, to force it to find its way to foreign countries. For these reasons he would second the resolution proposed by the hon. member for Aberdeen.
Mr. C. Grant
said, that with many of the general principles laid down by the hon. member for Aberdeen he certainly concurred, though not in the conclusions he had drawn from them. He agreed with the hon. member in the opinion that high prohibitory prices were injurious to the agriculturist, as well as to the consumer. From the experience of the last fifteen years, he agreed with him, that high prohibitory prices tended to drive out capital, and that they were not consistent with the state of our currency. He agreed that the system of the last fifteen years ought to be corrected; and those principles he professed, both when he supported Mr. Canning's bill of last year, and when he brought forward the present resolutions this session; but the hon. member would push these doctrines to extremes. The hon. gentleman had charged his right hon. friend the Secretary for the Colonies, with inconsistency in not applying the principles which he had carried into operation in regard to other commodities to that of corn. The hon. gentleman seemed to suppose, that in all these commercial changes his right hon. friend had adopted one inflexible rule in respect to all commodities, and under all circumstances: but he should have recollected, that in regard to the various articles which had been formerly brought under the consideration of the House, his right hon. friend had adopted the rate of duties which he then proposed, to the peculiar circumstances and condition of each. He was not sure that his right hon. friend's principles had been adopted to their fullest extent, in regard to those various articles, but so far as they had been adopted, they were accommodated to their peculiar circumstances and condition. The hon. gentleman said, that corn should be dealt with in the same manner as any other commodity. To a certain degree it would be right so to deal with it; but the right hon. gentleman had himself shown that it must be also dealt with in a different manner from other commodities. On a former night an hon. gentleman had alluded to the two modes of imposing a duty on corn: namely, by 219 the imposition of an ad valorem duty, and of a fixed duty. The hon. gentleman adverted, on that occasion, to the ad valorem duty, which it had been proposed to fix upon corn, and which would rise and sink, according to the depression or rise in the value of the article. But did the hon. gentleman propose any such duty as that now?
said, the hon. gentleman had used the expression of an ad valorem duty, and the hon. member who proposed the resolution before the House, although he then adverted to the expression, did not found his present proposition upon such a principle. He did not wonder that the hon. gentleman had abstained from making that principle the basis of his resolution; but the very reason which induced him to do so should have made him throw doubts upon the proposition, that corn ought to be dealt with in the same way as other commodities. The hon. gentleman proposed a fixed duty, which he said had been calculated according to the burthens directly imposed upon the producer. Now, he entertained great doubts of the accuracy of such a calculation, and of any system of duty founded upon it. It was not possible to make a correct calculation of the direct charges imposed upon the farmer, because they were ever varying: such as tithes, poor rates, &c. It would be impossible, in his opinion, to found a fixed duty upon such fluctuating charges. The hon. gentleman had objected to the resolutions proposed by government, on the ground that they would produce an unsteadiness of price; and he spoke as if he had had experience of their effects in that way. But the hon. gentleman could not speak of the operation of resolutions which had not yet passed that House. The hon. gentleman was wrong in supposing that a fixed rate of duty would produce a steadiness of price. Corn, like all other commodities, was subject to variations in its price: it was also subject to variations peculiar to itself, and upon neither could any fixed duty have any effect. The variations in corn depended on the variations in the seasons, &c. which were out of the reach of the effects of a duty. One of the recommendations of the measure now proposed by the government was, that it was adjusted to the variations in the price of corn, and 220 that, to a certain degree, it tended to correct the fluctuations of that commodity. The hon. member who had seconded the resolution seemed to think it very improbable that a period of scarcity should ever arrive, when the price of corn would rise so high that it would be impossible to maintain this duty. The history of the corn trade in every country was opposed to the supposition of the hon. member. Corn, it was well known, was subject to the most violent fluctuations in price; and it was not alone possible, but, judging from experience it was very probable, that such a period of scarcity might arrive when such a duty could not be maintained, and when the consumer would call aloud for the interposition of the government. He was sure the House would never wish to see this country placed in such a situation. If corn should rise to 100s. how could this duty of 10s. be then collected? It was idle to say that such a period would never arrive. It was very probable that it might occur; and then the cries of a suffering population would compel the government to interfere. Would the House place the exercise of such an invidious power in the hands of government? These were his objections to the propositions of the hon. gentleman. But the principle of a varying duty was to accommodate itself to the variations of seasons and the fluctuations in the price of corn. Such was the principle of the measure proposed by government. When the price of corn reached a certain height, the protection granted to the grower must yield to the necessities of the consumer. On the contrary, when a depression occurred in the price of corn, the scale of duties proposed by government gave to the agriculturist that protection to which he was fairly entitled, and prevented the influx of corn from overwhelming him. Such were his reasons for opposing the resolution proposed by the hon. member for Aberdeen.
§ Lord Howick
did not intend to follow the hon. member for Aberdeen through all his statements; he meant rather to confine himself to what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman, in what he had said of the advantages of a varying over a fixed rate of duty. He understood him to object to a fixed rate of duty, because the unequal burthens imposed on the agriculturist could not be calculated; but on what other principle than this did the 221 right hon. gentleman propose his scale of varying duty? Was it not because the agriculturists did labour under such burthens? If his duty was not proposed on the principle of counterbalancing those burthens, did he propose it as a means of obtaining for them what was called a remunerating price? But if this were the principle, where was to be the limit to the protection? Would the right hon. gentleman go the lengths of some of the petitions presented to the House during the last session? Those petitioners, if he recollected right, described their soil as bad, their climate as cold and uncertain, and the returns for their industry as scanty and precarious, and they begged to be protected against the supply of foreign corn. If such a principle were admitted, the country might as well give up agriculture at once, and build hot-houses and grow sugar canes. He merely mentioned this, to shew the absurd lengths to which the principle of a remunerating price would carry the advocates of it. As to the fixed duty, he would allow that, in times of scarcity, it was not maintainable. But, then, the remedy in such a case would be in the hands of the government or the legislature. In case of a high duty, and a general scarcity through all Europe, this country would be placed in peculiar difficulty. The protective duties would prevent foreigners from cultivating corn for the English market. Then, in a period of scarcity, having cultivated only what was necessary for their own wants, they would be unable to supply us, and now, though they had a redundancy, they might reasonably say to us, "you would not admit our corn when the price was low, and shall not have it now that you want it." This was a situation in which he hoped the country would not be placed; but if it were, he did not know what we could say to such an argument. It was also said, that with a varying price we had a varying duty, which would ensure a steadiness of price. But steadiness of price would, he conceived, be injurious, as not insuring that proportion which naturally existed between the supply and the demand. The price varied naturally from variations in the seasons; and if these variations in price were not to take place as the farmer's harvest was abundant or scarce, he would be alternately exposed to ruin from a failure of his crops, and would at other times make exorbitant profits on 222 his abundance. The variations since 1815 had been very great, and they had been enhanced by the law; but a fixed price, not varying with the seasons, would be very undesirable. A fluctuating price informed the grower of the supply wanted, while a fixed duty ensured, he thought, a supply. It was very desirable, therefore that the motion of the hon. member for Aberdeen should be supported.
§ Mr. W. Baring
contended, that scarcity was the curse of war, and reprobated the Corn-bill as a means of inflicting on the country, in the twelfth year of peace, that curse. Some excuse might be made for adopting, at the commencement of the peace, a system of protection; but at this day, when English capital was united to foreign countries by projects for cutting canals and such national schemes, and when the labouring classes of this country were suffering for want of employment, was it wise to introduce a measure calculated to drive English capital to foreign countries, and, at the same time, to inflict high prices on a population which could not afford to pay them? He would support the motion of the hon. member for Aberdeen.
§ Mr. O. Cave
was of opinion, that the present measure would do a great deal of mischief. No doubt a period of scarcity might arise when a fixed duty, similar to the one now proposed, could not be exacted; but similar effects might occur under the bill introduced by government. By the measure now proposed, a tax would be levied on the poor and industrious to fill the pockets of the rich and the idle. He would therefore vote for the amendment.
§ Mr. Irving
said, he preferred the present measure to that of last session, because he thought the higher scale of duties afforded a considerable additional security; which, in his view of the subject, the welfare of the country, as well as the just interest of the landholders, stood in need of. One would suppose from the speech of an hon. friend, that no Corn-laws existed in any other country. Was there not a Corn-law in France, Spain, Portugal, and every commercial country in Europe? They had each of them, found the use and necessity of such laws. Gentlemen ought to recollect, that those countries from which we derived the principal part of our wheat, were not consumers of it; and we could not tell those people, because wheat was dearer here 223 than there, that their food was therefore cheaper than ours. Much had been said about the labour bestowed on manufactures; and this point was insisted on strenuously as a reason for allowing the free importation of grain, in order to render it as cheap as possible. But he believed, on examination, it would be found that the price of labour did not form more than about one sixth part of the cost of the manufacture. Looking to all the bearings of the present measure, he considered it to be a modified adjustment with which all parties ought to be satisfied.
§ Lord Milton
said, the hon. member who had just sat down had described this measure to be a modified adjustment of this question. Now, it appeared to him, on the contrary, to be a decided compromise between two great parties. That its general principle was good he never heard any individual admit—nor was it admitted by the right hon. gentleman. He lamented the erroneous views which those who were chiefly interested in the bill took of their own interest, in one sense; and still more did he lament that erroneous view as it operated against the country. When he saw gentlemen divide, from time to time, for the purpose of settling whether the price of oats, rye, or barley should or should not be a shilling more—when he saw them coming down even to peas and beans—it was in vain for him to listen to the high-flown speeches of hon. members, who declared that they had no wish to exalt their own interest to the depreciation of other classes of the community. They must give him leave to say, that he must place their words in one scale, and their actions in the other. Let it not be asserted, that all these pleadings for a shilling more for barley or for oats were destined for the farmer, who stood between them and the consumer. No such thing: the rent of the farmer depended on the price he received for the article he sold; and if, by a legislative enactment, he procured a higher price for his corn, the public might rest assured that the English gentleman would get a higher price for his acres of land. The fact was, that the landed interest were casting "a longing, lingering, look" to the high prices which they had at the end of the last war; but nevertheless, they appeared to him to have mistaken their own interest. The hon. member who had just sat down, had main- 224 tained a principle which no writer on commercial subjects had ever promulgated; namely, that labour was not a most important article in manufactures. Gracious heaven! was it reserved for one of the most acute commercial men of the day, to assert, that the price of labour was of little or no importance.
I did not assert any thing of the kind. I stated, that according to the most accurate calculation, the price of labour was, in the cost of manufactures, about one sixth.
Precisely so; but the inference which he drew from it was, that this one sixth was a matter of very little importance. Now, he, on the contrary, viewed it as a matter of very great importance. What was the course which the landed interest called on the House to take? They said "high price is a good thing." So did he; provided the high price arose from a steady and increasing demand. But the high price which they were called on to aid was not a high price arising from an improving population, but a high price caused by a stinted supply. Such a high price was not a symptom of misery; and it was against that high price that he contended. To think of forwarding the prosperity of the farmers by levying an impost which must be injurious to the manufacturers, was the most fallacious idea that could possibly be entertained. He did not wish to see one acre of ground thrown out of cultivation; but the owners of the land ought to cultivate it at their own expense; he did not like to see it cultivated at the expense of others. If they could not get it cultivated but at a certain price, and if that price were forced, by a legislative enactment, from the people, it was clear that they took it from the pockets of others. But, in 1819, the House took a step which rendered every attempt of this kind futile. They wisely determined to abandon the paper system, and to have recourse to a metallic currency; and he had heard, with great pleasure, the chancellor of the Exchequer declare, that it was the determination of government rigorously to adhere to that resolution. He hoped that no hints, no expostulations, which might come from those who favoured the present measure, would induce ministers to interfere with the determination which government came to in 1819; at the same time he would warn, them that six months 225 would not pass over their heads before such an attempt would be made. But, when they determined on recurring to a metallic currency, they had, in fact, prejudged the measure on the table. They had, in effect, predetermined that the resolutions should be a dead letter; because a metallic currency being established, corn could not rise to 64s. The hon. gentleman had stated, that a vast number of farmers in England had lost one-half of their capital. He was sorry for it; but he was happy to assure the hon. gentleman, that those farmers with whom he was acquainted were not in any such situation. He knew how vain it was to attempt to impress the feelings which he entertained on this subject on that class of persons of which he, amongst others, was an unworthy member. Those opinions, however, he had long cherished, and he should continue to adhere to them, being quite convinced that the course which the agricultural interest were now running was extremely injurious to themselves, and still more, injurious to those whose prosperity they mistakingly thought they were advancing. Any attempt at keeping up a high price in this country must occasion great fluctuations, than which nothing could be more disadvantageous to all the parties interested. Against these fluctuations it ought to be the great wish of the House to guard, and nothing, in his opinion, would so effectually cure that evil as an established trade in corn.
Mr. Secretary Peel
thought that, on this occasion, the noble lord had done injustice to the representatives of the landed interest. He did not consider it to be fair for the noble lord to argue that the representatives of the landed interest in that House were actuated by their own private and personal views. In the first place, the speech which the noble lord rose to answer, and which was in favour of a protecting duty, was delivered by a gentleman not at all connected with the land, but by an individual whom the noble lord himself had described as one of the most enlightened and distinguished members of the commercial interest. Now if the noble lord found a gentleman against whom no possible imputation, on the score of personal interest, could be advanced, and whom he described as peculiarly capable of taking enlightened views, if he found such a man advocating the measure, 226 he thought it was too much for the noble lord to say, that every individual who took that particular view of the subject was influenced by the desire of serving himself. Neither did the noble lord describe fairly what had taken place with respect to the proposition for an additional duty on oats, rye, and barley. That protection had been called for on this principle—that if a protecting duty were laid on wheat, and not on other sorts of grain, it would be the means of discouraging the growth of the latter. The noble lord had adverted to the present measure being an adjustment; and he had dwelt, rather inconsistently, on the satisfactory circumstance, that the subject had been discussed without excitation throughout the country, which had evinced a disposition to be content. Then it was to be assumed that the manufacturing interest was not displeased with it. If, then, there was this general acquiescence in the adjustment, why should the noble lord contend that the landed interest were pressing too eagerly for the protection? Let the House but agree to a fixed protection of 10s. on the importation of foreign corn, and he would assure the noble lord there would be no ground for exulting at the absence of excitation and discontent. The noble lord had alluded to a declaration of the chancellor of the Exchequer, as to the determination of government to adhere to the existing law for suppressing the small notes issued by country bankers. He entirely acquiesced in that statement, and considered that the question now was, whether we should not make a determined effort to establish a metallic currency; for, if this effort was not now made, it never would be. The circumstances of the country were so favourable, that if now receded from, no opportunity so fit would occur. If circumstances should make a departure from the measure desirable, he should abandon all hope of seeing a general metallic currency; and there was no security without it against the contingency of unfavourable times. In the event of an unfavourable harvest, if country bankers were allowed to issue small notes, though they might be convertible into gold, the effect would ultimately be to drive all gold from circulation, and in times of pressure it would be impossible for any company, however wealthy, to meet the contingency.—He was sorry to have diverged so long from the proposition more immediately before 227 the House. That proposition, if it succeeded, would amount to a constant and unvarying duty of 10s. a quarter upon all foreign corn imported. He could not understand why the hon. member for Aberdeen had proposed this duty; for it appeared to him totally irreconcileable with his own principles. He gave the agriculturists, according to his own showing, three times too much. Consistently with his own principle, he ought to give the corn-grower no protection at all. The hon. member had said, that the cheaper the people purchased corn, the greater would be the advantage to both purchaser and consumer. If the quartern loaf were at a shilling, and it could be reduced to eight-pence, the hon. member maintained, that all parties would be so much the richer. The hon. member had said, that he applied the same principle to nations as to individuals, and to the Corn-laws as to the quartern loaf. The hon. member, therefore, departed from his own principle when he proposed giving a protecting duty of 10s. But on what principle was it that the duty was to be always 10s.? According to his own shewing, there ought to be no duty at all. If the hon. member was right, that in encouraging the importation of foreign corn the House really encouraged the agriculture of England, it followed, that the agriculturists would be injured by the duty of 10s. which the hon. member proposed. The hon. member had stated, that after all the inquiry he had made into the subject, he found that the home produce was taxed only by 3s. a quarter above the general proportion of assessment. Why not, then, propose a duty of 3s. upon foreign wheat? Surely the hon. gentleman did not think to conciliate the House, by granting this superfluous protection of 10s. According to the principle which he had laid down, he ought, in point of fact, to grant a bounty upon foreign wheat, especially as it was exposed to all the disadvantages of freight, insurances, and a long voyage. But in the whole view which the hon. member had taken of the question, he had left out all consideration of those political principles which were interwoven with the subject. The hon. member for Thetford admitted that there were political considerations mixed up with the question, and which were totally distinct from the mere question of price. That hon. gentleman had confessed the consti- 228 tutional policy, by which the aristocracy and magistracy of the country were maintained as essential parts of the community. It was not for any man to lay down principles with reference to this country, complicated as was its state of society, which could apply only to the institutions and condition of other states. The House ought not to forget that Ireland was an agricultural country. In the present state of Ireland, there were political considerations which would prevent any introduction of foreign corn to the extent, or upon principles, that would interfere with the agricultural interests of that part of the United Kingdom.—He objected entirely to the principle of a fixed duty. In times of scarcity, or when corn was so high as to afford a remunerating price to the farmer, the duty could not be levied. Nothing could be more clear, than that the causes which produced a sufficient harvest in this country would not have an exclusive operation. Mr. Burke had observed, that there were cycles of years of prosperity and of adversity. The principle might perhaps be fanciful, but it was clear, that the countries which produced corn, generally lay within two degrees of the same latitude, and were therefore affected by similar variations, or states of the seasons. He alluded to Poland, Germany, and Ireland, those countries from which the ordinary supplies were derived. Neither free trade, nor anything within his contemplation, could prevent the inconvenience arising from the same causes acting generally upon the countries from which the supplies of corn were drawn. By the resolutions proposed by government, corn was admitted at 72s. free of duty; by the propositions of the hon. member for Aberdeen, the duty at 72s. would be 10s. He did not suppose that there was any great chance of corn rising to 72s.; but were it to approximate to that price, the evil of the hon. member's permanent duty would be then felt in its full force. He equally objected to an ad valorem duty; and he thought that the only sound principle was to have a duty varying with the price. What that duty ought to be he would not at present discuss. It had already been settled by a vote decisively favourable to the scale proposed by his majesty's ministers.
§ Sir T. Gooch
congratulated the House upon the declaration made by the right hon. Secretary, that the currency had a 229 great deal to do with the price of corn. He wished the country had not so soon returned to a metallic currency; but, having done so, he hoped they should never see a large paper circulation again. It was very well for the great Leviathans of landed property, like the noble lord, with his estates of 80,000l. or 100,000l. a year, to talk of liberality; but what were country gentlemen of moderate incomes to do to support the poor around them, without protecting prices? An attempt had been most unjustly made by the noble lord to cast a slur upon the landed gentry, as feeling an exclusive interest from the rest of the country, and grasping all they could wrest from the other branches of the community. He fervently believed that the manufacturing interest depended for their prosperity upon the prosperity of the landed interest.
§ The House divided: For Mr. Hume's amendment 27; For the original resolution 139: Majority 112.
|List of the Minority.|
|Baring, W. B.||Martin, John|
|Birch, J.||Milton, lord|
|Cave, Otway||Ord, W.|
|Davies, colonel||Ponsonby, hon. F.|
|Dundas, sir R.||Protheroe, E.|
|Dundas, hon. G.||Kancliffe, lord|
|Easthope, J.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Guest, J. J.||Sykes, D.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Thompson, C. P.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Howick, lord||Wood, alderman|
|Lumley, Saville||Wood, John|
|Marshall, John||Hume, Joseph|
|Marshall, W.||Warburton, Henry|