rose and said, he wished to read a petition signed by the chairman of a conference, lately held in London, consisting of delegates from all parts of England, Scotland, and Wales. The petition was as follows:—To the Honourable the Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled.The Petition of the undersigned Peter Alfred Taylor, of the City of London,Humbly sheweth, that your petitioner was chairman of a conference held at the Crown and Anchor tavern, Strand, on the 8th, 9th, 1oth, 11th, and 12th days of February, 1842, of 720 delegates from all parts of England, Scotland, and Wales, appointed by large numbers of their fellow-subjects, to consider of the total and immediate repeal of the corn and provision laws.That the delegates at that meeting were appointed from large towns and extensive districts in which all the principal staple manufactures of the country were carried on —viz. cotton, linen, cloth, hosiery, hardware, cutlery, flax, &c.That at that conference the following resolution, expressing a desire to forego all protection for their several manufactures, was unanimously passed:—That the deputies present connected with the staple manufactures of the country, whilst they demand the removal of all restrictions upon the importation of corn and provisions, declare their willingness to aid in the abolition of all duties imposed for their own protection.That this resolution was not passed without previous thought and deep consideration, the same resolution having been passed at large meetings held in the immediate towns and districts where the several branches of manufacture are extensively in operation, viz., at Manchester, at a meeting of those engaged in the cotton trade of Lancashire; at Leeds, by those engaged in the clothing trade of Yorkshire; at Bath, for the West of England clothing trade; at Derby, for the hosiery and other manufactures of the midland counties; at Birmingham, for the hardware of Staffordshire and Warwickshire; at Sheffield, for cutlery and plated ware; at Dundee, for the flax and linen trade.That as all the principal branches of manufacturing industrial employment and capital have thus expressed their desire to give up 649 all legislative protection whatever, your petitioner prays your honourable House that all classes of her Majesty's subjects be placed upon the same footing, and that the trade in corn and provisions he left free and open, as well as in all the productions of manufacturing industry.P. A. TAYLOR.
§ After reading the petition,
§ Mr. Villiers
said, that he trusted that that petition would be considered as no inappropriate introduction to the motion of which he had given notice—a motion also which, whatever had been said with respect to the illogical order in which it was now submitted to the Honse, was brought forward at a moment that he could only consider as favourable to it, following as it did the discussion in which the greatest ability and ingenuity had been displayed on both sides of the House, in manifesting the evils and difficulties which belonged both to the project proposed by the present Government, and that which was proposed by their predecessors, thus rendering the motion he was about to submit, somewhat in place, for whatever arguments might be urged against it, it was clear of those difficulties and those objections which had been urged against the other measures; he therefore now rose, in pursuance of his notice, to ask the House to condemn in toto, and to abolish for ever that law which they were then in committee to consider —a law which had for its avowed purpose to raise the price by limiting the amount of human subsistence—a law which, by the admission of a distinguished Member of the Government, had the effect of raising the price of food, of raising the rate of rent, but not of raising the wages of labour, a law which he must consider, inasmuch as it had those purposes and objects in view, under whatever impression it might have been passed, erroneous if they pleased, or designedly bad as many thought—could only exist in gross and open violation of every principle that ought to regulate the economy and policy of any state, and he would not yet despair of persuading that House of the prudence and importance of abolishing, never to re-enact, such a law. He said he did not despair, because he hailed with hope, as he did with satisfaction, the admission that had been made this year—an admission denied hitherto on the ground that the law was good, that it had worked well, and ought not to be changed. lie gladly availed himself of the concession, now made on all sides of the House, that this law had worked ill, that 650 it ought to be changed, and, to use the emphatic language of one of its sternest supporters, the hon. Member for Lincolnshire, that it was a law that had worked well for the purposes only of dishonest men. He (Mr. Villiers) stood then on this ground which they had conceded, and asked them to pause before they again attempted to regulate that which was beyond their reach —and which, if they could attain, their success would be more fatal than their failure. He now implored the supporters of this law to consult their consciences as to the motives, and their experience as to the ends, of all such enactments—and then say, on What it was that they built their hopes, that they could construct, on the ruins of this law which they had now discredited and were ready to abandon, any other such law that would be more durable, or could be more defensible. He asked their attention to the circumstance, that for four centuries the proprietors of the soil had been attempting to legislate for the purpose of giving value to their properties, and that the result of all such efforts had been to prejudice those properties, and greatly to lower their owners in the estimation of the country. He was not unwilling to admit, that at an early period much error and ignorance prevailed amongst them, on the subject, and that they might have believed that they were promoting the general interest by serving their own. But in more recent periods, and since the Crown had been subjected to Parliament, and Parliament possessed by the proprietors of land, they had been labouring with the deliberate purpose of enhancing its value at the expense of the community, and in this century especially had they done so in defiance of the feelings and opinions of the community at large. In 1815, the people of this country perfectly understood the principle of the Corn-law, and ever since, to the present day, they had been suffering from its operation. And were they now about to attempt another experiment on the patience and temper of the people, by which, in the judgment of every thinking man, they were jeopardising far more than the ultimate maintenance of this law. This was not a time when they could perpetrate a wrong in open day with all men's eyes upon them, and with full liberty of thought and expression allowed. Men who had knowledge might perpetrate much wrong upon those who had it not; but, if that was their intention, their folly could not 651 be described in aiding to diffuse knowledge or to promote education. This, however, had been done and the results might already he seen, for without intending any offence to that House, he did not think it fairly represented the intelligence without it. It was not a faithful picture of the information possessed by the middle and working classes. It was the observation of every man who went among these classes, that there was in them a knowledge of public affairs, a shrewdness and an absence of prejudice that never was remarked before. He only mentioned this to show how impossible it was for them to expect that any legislation bearing upon the general interests, could now escape the severest scrutiny, and above all, might they expect it, with regard to this law, which so especially arrested their attention. It was his opinion, that "the people of this country, "and he here referred to a sufficiently large number of persons of all classes to justify him in using that title, had determined that this law should not continue. He believed, that the mind of the great majority of the people was, made up on the subject; and that they would use every means within their power, and within the law, to emancipate the industry and commerce of the country from this law. They now distinctly demanded of them to relieve themselves of the discredit, and the statute book of the disgrace, of continuing this law; and no longer expose themselves to the charge of a mere vulgar breach of trust, in using the powers confided to them for their own purposes. They had no reason to complain of the temper in which the people now approached them in making this demand. He knew by the time and trouble he had given to the subject, that nothing had been left undone, for a calm consideration of it. They had been asked to conisder it in times of comparative quietude—in times of comparative prosperity—they had been asked to do little, they had been asked to act slowly, but every change had been steadily and sternly refused: the smallest modification of the measure had been always refused. Was it wonderful, then, when now exhausted by distress, and perhaps excited by despair, that they should now, in angry tone, demand the total abolition of this law—they had heard much grumbling and complaint, because the ministers of the Gospel and the pastors of the people had lately come forth to proclaim the sufferings of their flocks. 652 He wished, that those who professed to be the friends of the people would think that they could serve them better than by always pecking at their proceedings. Why, what are the people to do? They are not fully and fairly represented in this House? Where, then, were they, with more propriety, to seek for advocates of their wrongs, than amongst those intelligent men who lived among them, and were competent to disclose them; and where could they, with more convenience or expediency, have found them, than among their spiritual advisers. It was because these men had assembled together to discuss the miseries of their people, and counsel how they could relieve them, that they had heard such censure cast upon their conduct. Knowing himself much, and hearing much from others, of the sufferings of the people, he could only see that to admire in their forbearance, and excuse in their violence. He did not, however, stand there only to vindicate the manner in which redress was sought for by the people he came there to justify the measure of relief itself that they sought: and he was prepared to contend, that that which they demanded was reasonable; that it would produce instant benefit; that it would cause no national evil; that it was unjust to none, and that it ought to be conceded, on every principle of justice and policy and what had he to say to recommend the measure which was the subject of his notice for that evening, but to point to the condition of the country, and the operation of this law. What an anomaly did England present to the world at this moment! Abounding in resources the gifts of nature, and possessing a power more productive for their development than in any other land, yet were her industrious classes so reduced by want and distress, that he who was appointed by the Government to answer the message of the Crown stated, upon the responsibility of that Government, that whatever might be said of that distress, it could not be exaggerated; and what is there else as generally admitted, why, that England, rich in the gifts of nature, rich in knowledge, rich in the skill, the habits, and disposition of her people, yet limited in extent, and her people hourly increasing, wants food, that she has reached the point long foreseen, when she must procure her food from other lands; that her food is now scarce—becoming scarcer, and that in want of its ready and regular supply, her people are daily sinking in the scale of comfort and well-being; 653 and yet, is there a man who has been found so false and so foolish as to proclaim this as the necessary condition of this country. Is there any man so ignorant who could view a chart of this Globe, ',and see this island placed between the two great civilized continents of the world, and not ask if it were possible that England so in want, could receive no relief from neighbours so placed, whether England had nothing of her own to offer in exchange for what she wanted; and would not such a man, if he heard that those continents stood in great need of what England produced, and who yearly suffered from not finding vent for their surplus food, would he not, in wonder, ask for some solution of this mystery; and is there any that could be rendered, save this, that the rulers of this country who are owners of its soil, place a barrier to the commerce of the world, in what they produce, for the purpose of enhancing the value of their properties, and notify by their law, that no man shall find a market for food in England, on which he can rely, for what is necessary to support her people; and that the trade in food, thus impeded, the greatest distress followed, which nothing could relieve, but causing that trade to be free. That, then, was his theory of the present anomalous condition of England, if they disputed it, let them show, then, that he was not right? Let them try it by every test, and show him, if they could, that he was wrong? Let him be only supposed to be right, and he would ask, if there was a single feature in the present distress of the country that they would not expect to find. What would they expect under those circumstances? Would it be that the high price of food compelled men to forego the comforts and superfluities of life—would it be that those whose means of living was in producing those comforts were deprived of employment. Would it be that in want of food and from no regular commerce in it abroad, we should in our necessity be compelled to send out bullion that we wanted at home to buy up at great cost the food of other men, and thus by contracting the basis of our credit, embarrass and limit still further the trade at home. Should we expect to find other countries become makers of their own manufactures, condemned by the refusal of their surplus food, to withhold their custom from ourselves and perchance become our rivals? Should we expect as resulting from these causes to find general discontent and disaffection 654 among our industrious people? If this would be the condition in which they would expect to find the country, if it were under the circumstances he had described, which of these things do not exist at this moment, and are not the constant and common subject of remark, and he then called upon Gentlemen opposite who maintain the law, and who admitted such to be the condition of this country, to explain by what means these effects have been produced, if not by the cause he had assigned. He ventured to affirm that this was the cause, and that the want of food and the want of regular trade in it was the chief cause of all the distress that was now admitted to exist, and as it had ever been the case in this country, he rejoiced to observe that now the good sense and sagacity of the people were prevailing on the subject. In spite of every effort made to mislead and delude the people, though the ground had been trailed in every direction by rubbish of every kind, yet had it been unsuccessful in diverting them from the real scent which they were now pursuing. Gratifying had been the indications of the influence of public opinion in this respect within one year. Two Governments successively had acknowledged the imperative necessity of dealing with the question. They had one Government which thought it of so much importance, and attached so much weight to the opinion generally entertained, and the evils that resulted from it, that they were ready to sacrifice office for it; and now they had another Government, which thought proper to admit that which hitherto it had denied, that the law now existing must be changed. This was now to be done, notwithstanding all that had been said in favour of the law. They had now then, before the country two projects with a view of changing the law and mitigating its evils. He objected to both—He did not deny that the plan of the noble Lord would have mitigated the prominent evils of the present law, and he believed that much improvement would have followed had the plan been adopted. But, he contended that both were unjust —that there was no justice in either principle—and that there was no ground whatever for the maintenance of any Corn-law. The people were said to be unreasonable for condemning both, but he was there to defend their claim upon the principle of justice, and he knew of no teacher of morals, no writer on 655 ethics, that justified any mode of wrong. The law was right or wrong in principle. If it were wrong, why should it be maintained? That was the objection which the people took to the plan of the noble Lord. It became more objectionable from the manner in which the plan before the House was recommended to them. It would be found that the present law was justified by the plan proposed by the noble Lord. It was said that the plan of the noble Lord was unjust, and he, therefore, had no right to complain of the injustice of others. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester seemed so to view it, and, in addressing himself to the argument, he said that he was cured of giving large measures of justice. His line of defence was this: "If I am an unjust man you are another. "The right hon. Baronet indeed defended the injustice upon expediency, having as he said learnt by experience not to dole out too much justice at a time. When or where the right hon. Baronet acquired this experience he did not know, but he should like to know when the people, having received a full measure remained discontented—might not the right hon. Baronet have mistaken a large measure for a perfect one, and might not the discontent which he speaks of arise from its having been large in principle and promise, yet defective and incomplete in execution. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth seemed to think that nothing more was required to vindicate his own plan than to expose the difficulties of that of the noble Lord; while he disposed of the claim which this motion preferred by a sort of passing allusion to the party by whom it was represented in that House. He described them as a small party whom lie believed to exist, who held extreme opinions, and might probably be violent in the expression of them. This was the way the right hon. Baronet treated the claims of millions in this country to have this law repealed. The small and violent party, however, had this consolation, that they only received in this respect the treatment which every party had ever done that first advanced the remedy or reform of any abuse. It is in this way that the advocates of all those great measures which England has most reason to be proud of have been treated in this House; they had only then to persevere in the course they had hitherto pursued, and notwithstanding the right hon. Baronet's charge of violence and unreasonableness. 656 [Sir R. Peel denied this statement.] He, Mr. Villiers, was happy to hear the right hon. Gentleman disavow this view of his motion—it was one, however, made from both sides of that House; he did not confine it to the party opposite, and he did not doubt that the charge would be again repeated in debate. And here he should just like to ask those Gentlemen whether they considered that there was any thing more unreasonable in asking for the repeal of this law than in refusing for many years past to enquire into its operation, and now admit that it had worked ill. Was there any thing more violent he would ask in its immediate repeal than its immediate enactment. Did they ever hear any of that cautious phraseology at the time of passing the law which they hear now in vindication of this minimum of concession. They were invited here to be careful in dealing with the vast interests at stake, they were told of the vast capital in question, of the social interests dependent upon the landed interests, but when this law was enacted, or since it has been in operation, when has a syllable been said or heeded about the lives, the comforts, the well-being, the industry, and the capital of the millions of this country, who are, and have been also cruelly affected by this law? The people resisted its enactment, and have ever since complained of its operation, but it has been without regard to their manifold interests maintained in force against them; and to this day there was nothing urged in defence of the law that might not with equal reason be advanced in favour of any abuse, or any monopoly, the sum of which is, that it has existed, and therefore must continue, urged, indeed, with little grace to a people who had been for thirty years crying out for its repeal. The arguments are, indeed, a mockery of the people. There are thousands on the eve of starving; and was this the moment to talk of the interests that were vested in such a law? Was it time to talk of proceeding with all deference for the rich when the poor have by means of the unreasonable tenacity of this law been driven to the last extremity? To give a pretence to such reasoning they ought to have begun their modifications long since: they have had ample warning, and they have resisted all solicitation; the people have neither time nor temper for delay, they are starving, and relief they must have. There is no wrong that might not be defended upon 657 the grounds on which the wretched concession that is now offered is justified. They had seen, a short time since, an account of a captain of a Turkish vessel who had inveigled a number of passengers to sail with him, on the assurance that they would find a requisite supply of provisions and water on board; but when they were out at sea, he monopolised the water, and would only suffer those to drink who could pay the price he chose to extort. Why there is not a Conservative phrase used by the right hon. Baronet in defence of this law, that might not with equal reason have been used by this captain in defence of his monopoly; and it would have been just as much in point in reply to the people who had engaged to be supplied, and who were dying of thirst, that great interests were invested in the supply of water; that great expense had been incurred in fitting out the vessel, and that the navigation of those seas were attended with great hazard; it would, he said, have been just as much in place, and as consistent with justice, as what they had heard in defence of the Corn-laws. The question was, whether they had any right to pass the law at all, and whether it had not become ton disastrous to be endured any longer. His answer to that was, that the law is atrociously unjust, and that the evils it is hourly producing are past endurance, and that there is ample authority to shew that no evil to the nation, and even advantage to the landed interest, would follow from its instant repeal. He knew that there were honest and disinterested men who detested this law, but who had scruples about its total repeal, fearing the immediate consequence to the country, of such a step; such persons, perhaps, were not very fully represented in this House: but their opinions required deference and should be considered. They asked if a total repeal of this law might not be prejudicial to agriculture; and whether the landlords did not bear, exclusively, a large portion of the national burdens? These were matters to be considered no doubt; but those who claimed a total repeal had not overlooked them, nor were they without the highest authority in declaring that this claim for the Corn-law rested upon no solid ground whatever. Who was the first man that he could name in support of his view? It was one of the most eminent statesmen of his day, a man remarkable for his sagacity, his talent, and his character, he meant Lord Grenville. How 658 does he view the Corn-laws? in the first place, he declares it to be a bounty to the grower of corn, and thereby a tax on the consumer, and then what says he as to the policy of such a tax: he says,The great practical rule of leaving all commerce unfettered applied more peculiarly, and on still stronger grounds of justice as well as policy, to the corn trade than to any other; and irresistible, indeed, must be the necessity which could authorise the legislature to tamper with the sustenance of the people, and to impede the free purchase of that article on which depends the existence of so large a portion of the community.This then is the opinion of the greatest statesman of his day when such a law was first proposed; five years after that time, what is the opinion of the commercial classes upon this and all similar laws as declared by the leading merchants of London, assembled in their Guildhall?—Why they denounce in strong terms, and call in the interest of commerce and of the community for the repeal of all protective duties, whether for land or manufactures. In 1821, however, we have the authority of this House itself against the system. The landlords, deceived by the promise of their own law, enquire themselves into the causes of agricultural depression, and the real sources from which they may expect its future prosperity. And what do we find in a deliberate report of a committee of landowners? Why a contrast presented between two periods, one of which commenced with the beginning of the last century and continued till 1773, in which legislation of every kind was attempted to raise the value of agricultural produce, and the other, where the trade in grain was almost free, and which lasted till 1791. Let the House hear the extract from this report, and then say whether they can doubt of the opinion of this committee in favour of free trade. The report of the committee was this:—Your committee cannot look at these contrasted circumstances coincident during the first period with a comparative stagnation of our agriculture, and during the second with its most rapid growth and improvement, without acknowledging that there was nothing in the system pursued up to 1773, which necessarily promoted this most essential branch of public industry and national wealth; and also that there is nothing incompatible with the success of both these objects in the system which has practically prevailed since that date.Again, the committee say, 659That they may entertain a doubt whether the only solid foundation of the flourishing state of agriculture is not laid in abstaining as much as possible from interference, either by protection or prohibition, with the application of capital in any branch of industry. Whether all fears for the decline of agriculture, either from temporary vicissitudes, to which all speculations are liable, or from the extension of other pursuits of general industry, are not in a great degree imaginary. Whether commerce can expand, manufactures thrive, arid great public works be undertaken, without furnishing to the skill and labour which the capitals thus employed put in motion, increased means of paying for the productions of the land? Whether the principal part of those productions which contribute to the gratification of the wants and desires of the different classes of the community must not necessarily be drawn from our own soil, the demand increasing with the population, as the population must increase with the riches of the country? Whether a great part of the same capital which is employed in supporting the industry connected with manufactures and commerce, does not, passing by a very rapid course into the hands of the occupier of the soil, serve also as capital for the encouragement of agriculture. Whether in our own country, in former times, agriculture has not languished from the want of such a stimulus; and whether, in those countries, the proprietors of the land are not themselves poor, and the people wretched in proportion, as, from want of capital, their labour is more exclusively confined to raising from their own soil the means of their own scanty subsistence.This was a committee, composed of shrewd landowners, carefully considering their own interests. But they had also at this day, in favour of the abolition of all protecting duties, some of the greatest proprietors of land in the country—men of great intelligence and experience—men who had devoted much attention to agriculture—and they needed no protection, or saw no danger in its abolition. He might mention among them such men as Lord Spencer, Lord Fitzwilliam, Lord Radnor, and Lord Leicester, who repudiated altogether the justice or necessity of protection as an advantage to their properties. Where was it that skill and economy in husbandry was most displayed? Why, in Scotland; and there was not a public meeting, there was no demonstration against the Corn-laws, in which some occupier of land was not ready to declare that his interests were directly opposed to the Corn-law. For the last ten years this had been the case. They always supported their speeches by facts. The same opinions were expressed in a committee of 660 the House of Commons in 1836 by farmers. In consequence of the part he took on this question he had received many letters on the subject, and from none had he received letters in which there was more bitterness of language against the Corn-law than from farmers themselves. He had here also some works on the subject by country gentlemen, who, when they committed their thoughts to paper, were well worth consulting. He had lately read a pamphlet published by one who was not unknown to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester; it was written by a person of great experience in agriculture, and who described himself as "A Cumberland Landowner. "He believed the right hon. Gentleman was acquainted with the author, who invited the attention of the landed interest to his opinions.
§ Mr. Villiers
did not mean to say that the right hon. Gentleman was the author, but that he knew him, and knew him to be what he represented himself to be, in the following passage, (p. 69) namely,—One of their own body; one, who has no ambition to gratify, no purpose of the day to serve; but attached to the interest of that yeomanry, which he knows to he the pride and the strength of this great nation, he feels the love of truth predominant in his heart; and well satisfied of the grounds of the assertion herein developed, he boldly affirms. that a free trade in foreign corn is the real interest of the landowner, and the only safe policy of the state.Again, after detailing the mischiefs to be expected from restrictions on trade, he says,—On the other hand, what have we to fear from the open competition of free trade? Nature and art have fitted up our native land with the means for carrying on production and barter beyond any other nation in the world; while its civil institutions, and the spirit of its people, are every way qualified to hear out these great advantages. Look at our roads, our canals, our docks, and our public works; arms of the sea traversed by bridges; hills, and even rivers, undermined by tunnels; our steamboats covering every navigable water. Then consider our natural advantages—our sea girt islands, intersected by mighty rivers worthy of a continent; our meadows fertilized by living streams; our verdant pastures; our climate favourable to the growth of corn; our sheep and cattle on a thousand hills. Look at our smiling land, where nature has been prodigal, and where art has supplied what nature has refused; then say whether we need fear competition 661 with any foreign state; whether we have not the start of a century in the career of commercial rivalry; and whether, with open ports and trade unfettered, the half cultivated sands of Poland, or even the vine clad hills of France, need excite the envy or the fears of Great Britain—of Britain, the seat of wealth, of freedom, and of arts.Again,—(p. 63)The prosperity of the home trade, and the advancement of British agriculture, has always been soundest and most rapid when our foreign trade has been most prosperous and free. Give the industry of Britain only a fair and open field, and it has nothing whatever to dread from foreign rivalship.Again,—(p. 61)What have the landed interest of England to fear, either politically as a body, or in reference to the retention of their incomes, from the utmost prosperity of commerce that can possibly arise? The whole soil is theirs; and the more prosperous our towns are, the more must the rent-rolls of the landowners increase.Again—(p. 62)We hear a great deal about emigration, the increase of the commission of crime, &c. &c., and the inability of our shipping and manufacturing interests to enter into free competition with foreigners. Give to the people profitable employment, and a price of provisions at home more equalized with prices abroad, and all these complaints will at once vanish like a mist before the morning sun. No wonder that we have an overstock of manufactured goods, when the operatives, to gain the most limited livelihood, are compelled to work from fourteen to sixteen hours in each working day. Equalize the prices between corn and wages, and these men would immediately cease to labour so excessively; the overstock of the market would disappear, a greater ability to purchase would ensue, and a rapid rise of prices would at once show how destructive the influence of Corn-laws has been.But he would now turn to another publication* by an intelligent landowner in Surrey, known to many Members in this House.I am the owner of a tract of land, which probably contains a larger portion of poor land, as compared with the good, than most other landowners in this county; yet I am confident, that not an acre would be rendered useless by the opening of the ports for the introduction of foreign corn: and it has been repeatedly* Pamphlet entitled "Cheap Corn best for Farmers, proved in a letter to George Holme Sumner, Esq. late M.P. for the County of Surrey, by one of his Constituents.662shewn, that every acre of land which it was possible to cultivate with profit last year (when wheat was at 55s. 6d, rye 31s., barley 33s. oats 22s.), might continue to be so cultivated, were every restriction and prohibition abolished, and the public allowed to purchase their corn in the cheapest markers. But such a reduction of price, as would not be sufficient to cause even the very poorest lands now under corn to be laid down to pasture, would so increase the comfort of the labourer, and give such an immense stimulus to industry in general, that the progress of the country n wealth would be accelerated in a degree that can hardly be conceived. The more the landlords contend that corn would be cheap if the ports were open, the more they prove what a nuisance the present Corn-laws are.Referring to the interests of the farmer, he says,—.(p. 36)I again repeat, that until the ports are open, no farmer, who knows his own interest, will bind himself by a lease: if he does, he ought to take it at a corn rent, that is, with a lease fluctuating with the price of corn: if he does not do this, he puts his fortune, and the independence of himself and children, at the mercy of his landlord, or of the Bank Directors, or of the Government.And he concludes his able and argumentative work by the following summary, which he declares he has proved, namely,—(P.37)
- "1.That the landowners' monopoly of corn is the heaviest tax which the people have to pay.
- "2.That the landowners, and their families, are the only persons who gain by this tax.
- "3. That all other classes, including farmers, are injured by this tax.
- "4.That of all taxes, it is the one which presses hardest upon the labourers.
- "5.That the gain to the landlord from this tax is not so great as the loss to the people."It follows that the immediate abolition of the monopoly of corn which the landlords now enjoy under the present Corn-laws, is a measure of bare justice and absolute necessity.Again, be would ask the House to hear the latest opinion of a landowner, who formerly represented the district of which he (Mr. Villiers) sat, whose whole income was derived from land, and whose estate was not dependent on a manufacturing neighbourhood, I mean Mr. Whitmore.*—(p. 11.)The present law, without conferring any real benefit on our own agriculturists, does infinite mischief to the rest of the community; so the change, without any injury to the former, would do infinite good to the latter.*Letter to the Agriculturists of the County of Salop, by W. W. Whitmore, Esq.663I am inclined to believe that a free trade in corn would not admit of any considerable quantity of wheat being sold in our markets under from 45s. to 48s."—(p. 7.)Taking these circumstances into consideration I cannot entertain any apprehension of the slightest ill-effect to our own agriculture by the change. I believe we shall consume easily all the corn we can grow, and all we can import; but, I believe also, we should want more of meat, and of beer too—masters of immense moment to the graziers, the breeders of stock, and the barley growers of this country; and who, amongst the agriculturists, will not come under one or other of these descriptions."—(p. 7.)A larger consumption, and consequently a greater demand, for every species of grass produce, in a fresh or uncured state, such as milk, butter, meat, &c. is the necessary consequence of a population at once increasing and well employed. The large proportion which grass land bears to arable, in every densely peopled district, cannot fail to have struck every observant agriculturist."—(p. 10.)I can, from my own experience, assert that, even now, the laying down land of every quality, including the very best to permanent pasture is a profitable application of it."—(p. 10.)He could quote many other authorities to the same effect among agriculturists who had most considered the subject, and still more from writers who were not connected with the interest in question; but he knew that these were not popular authorities, more especially if they deserved the title of political economists. He would therefore, content himself with two only because they were men whom the right hon. Baronet looked upon as authorities for some of his positions, and that he was in the habit of quoting them in the House. He meant Mr. M'Culloch, and Mr. Tooke. He would not quote Mr. M'Culloch for all his opinions, but he would quote him for the reasons which the right hon. Baronet had assigned when he last quoted him, namely, asOne of the most intelligent and able advocates of free trade; one who takes a dispassionate and able view of the case, looks at it calmly, reasons upon it closely, a clever and able man,and because he (Mr. Villiers) was told that his motion was unreasonable, and that the calm and clever man had given his opinion upon its object. It was as follows:The truth is, that the agriculturists have nothing to fear even from the total and unconditional repeal of the Corn-laws. It admits of demonstration, that it could then do no real 664 injury. It would not throw an acre of land out of cultivation, nor sensibly affect rent. The prosperity of the agriculturist does not depend upon the miserable resource of custom house regulation. Though there were swept away, the excellence of our soil, the skill of our husbandmen, the wealth of our commercial and manufacturing classes, will ensure the continued property of agriculture. Those who investigate the matter will find, that the existing regulations respecting the corn trade are little less injurious to the agriculturists than to the other classes.Such were the opinions of Mr. M'Culloch, who, he was informed, was a landowner as well as an author. He should now refer to Mr. Tooke, the able and experienced writer on this subject; and whom the right hon. Baronet delighted to quote. What said Mr. Tooke about total repeal? He quoted from his work published in 1840:—(pp. 43, 44.)Although, however, there is every reason, founded on the experience of that period, (1834-5), and on other grounds which it is not here the place to enter upon, that at a range of prices of about 45s. for wheat there would be no just cause for apprehending any diminution of the breadth of arable land, unless the land were to become, as I believe, it will with the growth of population become, applicable to more valuable productions than corn; it would form no valid reason for perpetuating on the country the infliction of the Corn-laws. At the same time, if it could be fairly shown, that the growing lands of this country, constituting any considerable proportion of those destined for the supply of food for the community, could not be continued under cultivation, except at prices much higher than those of the foreign grower, such difference might be a ground for rendering the transition more gradual; and the degree or extent of difference should serve as a guide for determining the gradations by which that difference should be reduced. But from all the information which I have been able to collect, not omitting that which the agricultural reports of 1833 and 1836 by the Committees on agricultural distress of the House of Commons, and of 1836 by the Committee of the House of Lords, are calculated to afford, I am firmly persuaded, that the difference is very inconsiderable, so inconsiderable as not to form a valid objection to a very early resort to the only system which can hold out the prospect of security, to farmers in their leases, to landlords in their incomes, and to the public in having their supply of food divested of an impost which is felt grievously by the consumer (not to mention the other grievances attending it), while it adds little, if at all, to the permanent income of the producer.And now, having Mr. Tooke's book in his hand, he would just finish a passage which the right hon. Baronet quoted the 665 other night, to show the danger of depending upon foreign countries, and which the House would see was written, not exactly for that purpose, but to show the policy of free-trade. Mr. Tooke said,—No one can be more alive than I am to the circumstance, that within certain degrees of longitude and latitude, extending over the central parts of the continent of Europe, there is, in the majority of seasons, a prevalence of weather of the same general character, of propitiousness or unpropitiousness, to the growth and gathering of the corn crops, as prevails in this country. But this circumstance, instead of being an argument, as by some persons it has been set up to be, against a free-trade in corn, is the strongest ground in favour of it. An extension of the radius of our habitual supply to the north and south-east of Europe, to parts of Asia bordering on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, to Egypt, and, above all, to the "United States of America, would greatly mitigate the effects of visitations of peculiar inclemency of weather prevailing simultaneously in this country, and within a certain range on the continent of Europe.So much, then, for the opinion of theoretical writers I But did they differ from the practical men who were deemed of most weight in this House, when they gave it as their opinion that little land would go out of cultivation, and none out of use, while the trade in food was free; and in estimating the price of wheat at between 40s. and 48s. per quarter, if restrictions were removed. What was the evidence given before committees in 1836. He would read the opinions expressed by one or two. Mr. Bennett, a land-agent and farmer, is asked:—Do you think, with reduction of rent, and the reduction of prices, the farmer can cultivate his land at a profit—Looking to the seven years back, and having taken those farms under very low prices, I have not a question that some may do it profitably, and I have no doubt some will.Sir James Graham: At what price do you estimate wheat for the next seven years?—lf I was going to take a farm myself, I should not expect, nor would I calculate for the next seven years, to have wheat above 5s. to 6s. a bushel.Will the Duke of Bedford's tenants, who have re-taken those farms, be able to pay the rent for which they have just agreed, with wheat at 5s. a bushel?—I think they will. I think the majority do not expect to see it at much more.He adduced evidence of this sort to show, that there was nothing violent or dangerous in the propositions of those who advocated a total repeal of the Corn-laws. 666 He would trouble the House with another extract:—Mr. Robertson: Supposing that mutton had borne the same proportionate price when wheat fell to 40s., do you think the Scotch farmer would then have been enabled to make a good living?—The Scotch farmer would have tried something else than wheat; he would have extended his grass cultivation.And if the price of barley had been also reduced?—Those are all regulated by the demand of the manufacturing and commercial classes.Thus, then, they had the evidence of statesmen, of landed proprietors, of theoretical writers, and of farmers, to prove that there was no real danger to be apprehended to the country from a repeal of the Corn-laws. This was the case that he had in the first place to make out, in support of his motion for free-trade. They next had to consider the other ground on which this law was rested,—namely, that the landowners bore exclusive burdens, and that the Corn-laws were maintained as compensation. Now, the first evidence he should adduce on this point was, that which could not be disputed,—namely, the admission of the landowners themselves; and here he would remind the House of what the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester had said on this point, for he looked upon that right Eon. Gentleman as the personification of protection, and more trusted, perhaps, than any other, by country gentlemen. He heard the right hon. Gentleman make a speech on the Malt-tax, in which he referred to the Corn-laws, and he there stated, that that tax was the only locus standi that the landed interest had for the Corn-laws. He had just referred to the debate, and he found him correctly reported, for the right hon. Gentleman went on to state, that he, for one, should consider, that if the Malt-tax was repealed, the tithes commuted, the Poor-law reformed, a portion of the county rates thrown upon the consolidated fund, that then a total repeal of the Corn-laws would be irresistibly proposed to the House. Now, then, he would not go into the question of the Malt-tax upon this occasion, further than just to call to mind the enormous injustice to the community, of imposing the Corn-tax, to indemnify the landlords for the Malt-tax, which, if removed, they think that some of their lands might be more profitably employed? Why, did any body dispute for a moment that the community paid more for beer on 667 account of the Malt-tax? And could greater injustice be imagined, than to compel them to pay more for bread to indemnify the landowners for what they suffered for the Malt-tax? Why, what was to indemnify the community for the two taxes—on their beer, and on their bread? But, now, what had actually occurred with respect to those other charges, which, if they were mitigated, the right hon. Baronet thinks that the total repeal would be irresistibly proposed to the House. Why, the Poor-law has been reformed in the manner most beneficial to the landowner—a great portion of the county rate Las been cast on the consolidated fund, and tithes have been commuted for rent-charge? Why, then, according to the right hon. Baronet's own doctrine, there remains but the Malt-tax, when he ought himself to vote for the total repeal of the Corn-laws? And does any man suppose, that the community would not gladly submit to the charge of four and a-half millions a-year, the amount of the Malt-tax, to get rid of the incubus of the Corn-law, acting, as it does, with a tenfold pressure upon all their means and energies. But, was there ever such a pretext for a great national burthen as these local charges which were named, such as county-rate, highway-rate, &c. Why, they are for local purposes, and are locally beneficial to the proprietors and occupiers themselves, What would be the value of land without highways, how could they bring their produce to market, or bring back manure to restore the land without them. Surely, the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, must have suffered the notion to have escaped him without consideration? He said, the bread of the whole nation ought to be taxed, to relieve landowners from the highway-rate? Why, what would be thought of a tax upon landowners, to indemnify people who live in towns from the payment of borough-rates, and poor-rates, and police-rates, and yet, why are they to have these to pay for themselves and the bread-tax besides, to indemnify the landowners from paying what equally belongs to them. Again, the county-rate is not an exclusive burden. He had heard that the town that he sat for pays 1,200l. a year towards that rate. What is to indemnify them for this charge, as- well as for the tax on their food? Again, the tithe which is now nearly all commuted for rent charge, so as to leave it little or no grievance to the cultivator, such as he was subject to formerly, in 668 having a tenth of his gross produce taken, and thus often preventing improvements being made. But what can be more rude than such an indemnity for such a charge when we have no certain account rendered of the amount of the land that is tithe free, or of the proportion of the tithes belonging to the landowners themselves. I am informed, that one half of the land of the United Kingdom is tithe free, and one-fourth of the tithes, at the least, are in lay hands. But the better way of testing it, as it rested upon a ground of justice, is whether ally landed proprietor could show any claim to compensation in any court of justice; whether he could say that the repeal of the Corn-laws, would injure him by means of rent charge for which the tithe is commuted and which varies with the prices of produce; whether he could say that he did not take or buy his land subject to the charge, or whether his land was not tithe free. Again, if the Corn-laws are as compensation for their local charges why do we not hear whether they are justly proportioned? Why is not the amount of these charges, and the advantage of the Corn-laws placed side by side in a regular account, so that the public may be satisfied that they are not paying more than they need? Why, we know it is because the Corn-laws are a burden to the public, out of all proportion to those alleged on the ground of these local charges; and they knew, that during the last twelve years, though great reductions had taken place in the local charges, none had been made in the Corn-laws, and that they had on the contrary become more oppressive than ever. Where is the justice, then, of what was called protection? Is it claimed on any other ground? —we ought to hear it, if it is. He trusted that this question of protection would be well sifted,—what did it mean? Is it to support an interest by law when it cannot support itself? and if so, can it be universally done; and if not, how can it be just? Is it fair or right to protect land and not to protect labour; and who ever thinks of protecting the artisan or mechanic against the improvements of machinery: and yet, is there any difference between preventing the public having access to fertile soil for cheap and abundant food, to uphold the fortunes of landlords, and preventing the community from deriving the advantage of the steam-engine, to keep and to rear a class of mechanics whose labour would be superseded by the adoption of 669 this power. In opening, a short time since, the Travels of Humboldt, I found a circumstance mentioned that would illustrate the absurdity of this claim to protection. He refers to a class of men who had earned their living, for nearly two centuries, by carrying passengers on their backs, in baskets, over the Andes, but whose occupation ceased when the government made regular roads for passing the country. Why these men were up in arms immediately with the government for thus encroaching upon their interests and prayed for protection against good roads, and in favour of the baskets. But is there anything more absurd or monstrous in the claim to protect the bad clay soil of this country against the wants and well-being of the whole people who could be provided by access to good and better land, than this claim on behalf of bad roads and baskets. But is there any other ground on which this claim can be rested. They might be prepared for anything after what fell from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Kent, the other night, and we perhaps might hear that landowners paid more towards the general taxation than other people, and that on this account the tax on food was just; but here let me read the case embodied in a petition to this House, from a labouring man, who complained of the proportion of his scanty pay which was taken for the revenue. Then let it be judged if the landowners paid a greater proportion of his income to the state than the poor man, the case was of William Blaxland, of Birmingham, and it stated, that he then used weekly two ounces of tea, two ounces of coffee, eight ounces of sugar, three pounds eight ounces of meat, seven pounds of flour, seven pints of ale, a quarter of a pint of brandy, and one ounce of tobacco: the cost of which, freed from tithe, corn customs, and excise duties, would be 2s. 4⅜d. But with these taxes these articles cost him 7s. 7½d., being a weekly tax of 5s. 3⅜d., amounting in the year to 13l. 13s. 6d. And we know that the average rate of wages in this county is under 11s. a week. He mentioned this case, that people after connecting it with the known fact that the customs and excise yielded more than 75 per cent. to the revenue, they might judge with what justice landowners alleged the undue weight upon themselves of the general taxation as an excuse for Corn-laws. What, then, is it but a purely arbitrary act, resting upon nothing but the 670 particular interests of those who profit by it at the expense of the community. It was said to be a question only between landowners and manufacturers, but in truth it was a case between the owner of the soil and every other consumer in the community, a question, in fact, between the interest of about 30,000 persons, in raising tile value of about fourteen million of acres of arable land, and every other interest almost that could be named. This was not merely a manufacturing question. What the interest of the manufacturers in the question was, it would be easy to state: he loses a good customer at home, by the means of his customer being exhausted by paying too much for food; and he loses a profitable customer abroad by not being allowed to exchange his goods for grain; but the manufacturer had no interest in lowering the price of food in order to reduce wages; if that was his interest, in order to get labour cheap, he could not be better off than at present, for wages were never so low, as it is proverbially the case whenever food is dear, owing to the numbers who must, on that account, lose their employment. With respect to its being a farmer's question, he did not believe that there was one landowner whom he was now addressing who honestly believed that they the farmers had any real interest in it, and if it was only for this reason he would say they could not believe it, namely, that they knew that if ever they had a farm to let, they had twenty farmers offering to take it, and how could they with such competition among themselves avoid offering the highest rent, or be able to get more than the average rate of profit for their own capital, and how could it be an advantage to them to pay more instead of less for the use of the land. High prices could be no object to them, for that required a greater outlay, and if they had to pay more for seed, more for servants, more for horses, more for poors' rates, they would require only larger capital to engage in farming, which, though it might tempt men with insufficient capital into that business, or exclude men of small capital from it, could never be the means of procuring a higher rate of profit. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth had said once it was a labourer's question, and doubtless it was so; he had always thought it peculiarly so, more so than of any other class, and fortunate it was indeed for those who maintained this law that the labourers did not see it as clearly 671 as others saw it for them. In this country, where capital is abundant, and demand for labour naturally great, the general condition of the labourer must depend upon the sacrifice he must make to obtain food. Why was a labourer in the United States so much better off than he was in England? Because he felt in the first place no difficulty of getting food, and capital being abundant, and a wide field existing for its employment, his labour was in demand; but why was food plentiful in America, because by little labour it could be procured owing to the access to good land, but it is not the extent of territory or the mere unoccupied soil that gave the facility, it was, that by little labour a man could raise it, and that is precisely what would be his case in England if he was allowed free trade with grain growing countries. A man by devoting his labour to manufacture to exchange for food might obtain it as easily as by occupying new land and tilling it himself. Why, let any man test this by the case of an island rising up in the channel that we could appropriate, can any body doubt that if our labourers could occupy it, or if it was inhabited by men who wanted clothes and had an excess of food, that our population would be much under the circumstances of those in the United States if they could freely exchange with them; and would not the man whose labour was in request, and who paid little for his food be in a condition either to toil moderately or to possess himself of the comforts or luxuries of life; but let the labouring man have to make great sacrifices for food, or be unable to exchange freely what he produced for food, and he asked if any condition could be found lower. It was said, however, that the repeal of the Corn-laws, by throwing land out of cultivation would deprive labourers of employment, and in order to exaggerate the evils of such a result, it was stated as if every quarter that was imported from abroad would displace a quarter grown at home, and indeed some went so far as to suppose that so much would be imported, that vast tracts of land would be thrown out of cultivation; but what was the most that the most sanguine repealer expected to come in under a free system of trade? why hardly more than four millions. Now there was no reason why this should displace so much at home: in the first place, the deficiency of the supply for the now wheat-consuming population is nearly two millions, hut the calculation is that one 672 third of our population do not eat wheaten bread owing to the price, and which, if lowered, or the people's condition improved, would greatly increase the consumption. How, then, was the land to be deteriorated in this country, seeing that our arable soil did not amount to more than 14,000,000 of acres, and grew about 2,000,000 of quarters of wheat, how could the addition of 1,000,000 from abroad, giving, at the same time, a great stimulus to manufactures and commerce, and thus improve the consuming power of a population and income, and demand for land, cause such deterioration in its value? Why is not the bare contemplation of the land losing its value in this small island, with a dense and industrious population, full of resource, adding to its numbers every hour, positively ludicrous? He should like to hear the plan which the most ingenious man could devise for keeping down rent, if the commerce and industry continued productive. He really believed the only way in which it could be effected, would be by some such means as the right hon. Baronet's scale, which, in its anti-social and anti-commercial operation, may have the effect of driving capital and skill out of the country, which, as it is the source from which land derives its value, so, by its loss might it also sink, aggravated by the burdens consequent on maintaining an unoccupied people: but suffering the energy and enterprise of this people to have full scope, who can, from necessity, be so fortunately circumstanced as those who own the soil of the country, and yet for what are they jeopardising all this? What are they placing in hazard all the institutions so favourable to themselves, losing the esteem of their fellow-countrymen, making all men politicians, and driving the middle and working classes to think they were misrepresented and defrauded, and that the present system was maintained simply for the benefit of a class? Why, it seemed all for the vain hope of giving value to their estates by artificial means, which natural circumstances would give them in a tenfold degree. The only ground on which they could rest for keeping their bad land in cultivation—namely, that it gave employment to the poor, is no argument for the Corn-law; it is only a reason why some provision should be made for the existing generation of poor who are so dependent; for to keep for ever these bad lands in cultivation, is for ever to rear a class of men with interests adverse to the 673 community, and so, indeed, with the occupiers of the land, a generation of whom may have come into existence since the last Corn-law was passed, that would have otherwise occupied themselves, or who would have employed their land differently, but for the continuance of this law. The continuance of the monastic institutions might have been urged; and, doubtless, was upon the same ground as the Cornlaws—namely, that they provided for the poor, but this was, of course, unheeded, though it was, he believed, the origin of our public provision for the poor. But, at all events, if greater consideration of an interest, affected by an improvement, is required in one case more than in another, it is no ground for the continuance of the bad law or the bad system, though it may, possibly, be for compensation, or for some special provision which the transition might require. But, he contended, that there was no such case here with respect to the poor, for the poor were not provided with employment under the Corn-law in the agricultural districts; it has been shewn, in the analysis of the last census, that but for the town and the manufacturing districts, 350,000 people would have been left in the agricultural market, who could not have been supported, and who would have dragged down the rest to the lowest level. He would now no longer exhaust the House, and must leave to his many friends on this question to supply what he had omitted in developing the case to the House He had attempted to show, that under the present circumstances of this country, there could be no advantage, and was no pretext for the Corn-laws. That there is now a deficient supply of food for this country, and that the people have the means, but for the law, of procuring an ample supply, but obstructed by the law, they are suffering the severest privations; commerce is impeded, employment is withheld, and that, identified as our revenue is with the ability to consume, that this is yearly declining, and for such reasons he begged to move, that the duties on corn do now cease and determine. When he said, "now, "he meant to mark the coincidence of his opinions with the petitioners to this House, and who prayed to be instantly relieved from the operation of these laws, though, of course, if it could be shewn that the public would suffer in any way from the immediate removal of restrictive duties, they were neither so foolish or so bigotted as 674 still to insist upon that taking place, or if it could be shewn that more good could be derived from their gradual than their immediate abolition, would they reject that benefit; but, at this time, and considering the unreasonable attitude assumed by those who profit by this law, he thought the people quite right to call for their total and immediate abolition, and unless any clear, certain, and definite evil could be pointed out as resulting from it, he hoped that those who were for the total abolition, would not shrink from supporting his motion on this occasion.
§ Mr. Oswald
said, he was not in the habit of often addressing the House, it having always occurred to him that whatever he was likely to say would, in all probability, be better said by some other hon. Member; in short, the feeling that he had neither the power to instruct nor amuse the House had hitherto kept him silent. The great importance of the subject now before the committee was his apology for now breaking the rule he had hitherto prescribed for himself; and, in offering himself to the indulgence of the House, he did not rise to make a speech; in point of fact, if he had had such an intention, the very luminous and able address of the hon. Member who had just sat down would have rendered it unnecessary. He rose merely for the purpose of recording his opinion against the new and improved sliding scale of the right hon. Baronet, against the present Corn-law, and against all laws which fetter and impede the free importation of grain, or any other article of food. It appeared to him that the present Corn-laws, as well as the improved plan of the right hon. Baronet, aimed at what was beyond human power; to regulate by legislative enactment the price of corn, appeared to him to be impossible. All attempts hitherto made for that purpose had failed, and he believed that the plan of the right hon. Gentleman, improved as it was, would also fail. But supposing he had the power of fixing a point below which the price of corn was not to be permitted to fall, they had no right, he maintained, to make such an enactment. On such a point he did not think it necessary to go into detailed discussion; he stood on the broad principle that no one class had the right of placing a burden on all the other classes of the community for their own aggrandizement. He held any such proceeding to be altogether unjust; and its injustice was only equal to its impolicy. 675 It amounted to a monopoly, which he would describe to be the robbing of the many for the purpose of benefitting the few. Of course the parties thus robbed must become less capable of benefitting themselves, or the other classes of the community, than they would have been if they had not been treated with injustice; but the evil did not rest there. It appeared to him, that any party who attempted thus to gain undue advantages could not in the long run succeed. He believed that all the Acts passed with regard to corn had resulted in disappointment, and the plan of the right hon. Baronet would have the same fate. It would grievously disappoint the landowners, while it would continue to inflict great evils on the mercantile and manufacturing interests of the country. He had heard many landed proprietors regret the extent to which the manufactures of this country had arrived, and express their belief that the people of Great Britain enjoyed more comfort and happiness before the extension of our mercantile and manufacturing system. He believed those individuals were sincere in what they stated, but they drew their conclusions from false premises, and in total ignorance of the facts. The question was, not whether this country was to become a great commercial nation, but whether, being the greatest commercial and manufacturing nation of the world, we should be enabled to hold our ground. It was impossible for us to stand still. We must either increase and improve, or retreat and retrograde; and it was wholly unnecessary for him to state to the House what would be the effects to this country of any retrograde motion. The evils it would inflict on all classes of society would be too dreadful even for contemplation. There was one argument which had been brought forward by the right hon. Baronet in favour of his plan, and indeed it was urged in favour of all plans of protection to the landed interest—namely, that we should be independent of other nations for our supply of food. He could not see how any great commercial and manufacturing country could be to any great extent independent of other countries. Indeed, he could not conceive of any nation being independent of others but a nation of savages. Perhaps he might be told that it would be a great injustice to withdraw the protection enjoyed by agriculture while manufacturers kept their protection. He entirely concurred in the justice of that re mark; 676 and he was ready, and he believed the most enlightened manufacturers in the country were ready, with the repeal of the Corn-laws, to concur in the repeal of all laws that restricted the free exportation and importation of manufactures. His opinion was, that the agriculture, the commerce, and manufactures of this country had flourished, not in consequence of our restrictive system, but in spite of it, and the more freedom was given to trade the more would they continue to prosper. He was, therefore, for doing away with the whole of these restrictions; and, whatever difficulties surrounded the question, he had no hesitation in saying that the interests of all classes demanded that the trade in corn should be as free as the air we breathe.
§ Lord Mahon
said, that the hon. Member who had brought forward this motion, had introduced it by reading at length a petition from the Anti-Corn-law Delegates, and in the course of his speech had more than once triumphantly alluded to the petitions which had been presented in favour of his views. Undoubtedly, considering the earnestness with which the prayers of the petitioners were addressed to that House, as well as the number of signatures attached to them, they were entitled to all consideration; but at the same time, the House ought not altogether to forget the undue means under which, in many instances, these signatures had been obtained. He had seen one penny and half-penny pamphlets designed for general circulation amongst the lower classes, in which every term of insult and invective was levelled against all those who sought no more than to maintain that principle of protection for agriculture which the legislature had many times confirmed. These strongly tended to exasperate the feelings of the people—to raise master against man, town against land, and the lower classes against the higher. So much for those who could read, but even to those who had not yet attained that pitch of learning, means of excitement had kindly been supplied. Prints had been resorted to for the same purpose, and one, for example, had been circulated in the manufacturing districts, representing a Pole, or a Russian, offering corn to the starving manufacturers of this country, while some fiery-looking soldiers were seen to interfere, some driving off the Russians with their bayonets, and others cutting down the manufacturers with their sabres. Now, he asked, whether it was not probable that, under the influence of 677 the excitement so produced, the signatures should be very considerably increased? But that was not argument. It was only agitation, and as he respected many of the arguments which had been brought forward on the other side, though lie differed from them, so on the other hand, he condemned and abhorred an agitation which did not use reason for its means, nor he believed had justice for its object. The question had been thus stated to the people, whether the price of corn should be high or low, wages remaining as they were. Accordingly, at contested elections—especially at the election of the noble Lord, the Member for the City of London, a small loaf and a large loaf had been carried round, and it had been asked of the people, as if that were the only practical question on which they had to decide, whether they chose a large loaf or a small loaf for their money. That was not the question. The question was, whether the people should have moderate wages with moderate prices, or low wages with low prices. If any thing like fairness had been intended by the emblems he had just named, the right course would have been to nail two shillings under the small loaf, and one shilling under the large loaf, and then asked the people whether they would sooner have two shillings a-day wages, and dear bread, and one shilling a-day wages, and cheap bread. That, he contended, was the only practical choice before them. On this point, he was entirely at issue with the hon. Mover. In support of his opinion, he would quote some testimony from the ranks of his opponents. His first witness should be an hon. gentleman who had been some years a Member of that House, and who had always voted against the Corn-laws —he alluded to Mr. G. F. Young. That gentleman stated at a public meeting at Whitechapel, held some time ago, that when in Parliament he had voted with Mr. Hume upon the Corn-laws, but he added these words—He had lately travelled extensively in the north, and conversed with master manufacturers on the subject, 19-20ths of whom had said that they looked forward to the repeal of the Corn-laws as a means of reducing the price of labour. He could solemnly assure the meeting that while the repeal of that law would entail an injury on agriculturists, it would by no means render the good to the working classes with which certain persons were deluding them.Another Gentleman sitting on the opposite 678 benches, one of the Members for Birmingham, had written a letter, dated October 13, 1840, which had been lately published, and from which he would read the following extract:—The editor of the Anti-Corn-law Circular makes woeful blunders. He forgets that a repeal of the Corn-laws, unaccompanied with any other measures, would necessarily reduce wages to the continental level, and make them lower in proportion to the price of corn than they now are; for it is vain to talk of the bare repeal of the Corn-laws relieving the manufacturing poor. Why, the professed object of the repeal is to enable the merchant to compete with the foreigner; and how can he do that unless by a reduction of wages?—which reduction will be upon all trade, home and foreign. If men would look upon those things as matters of business, they would not make such blunders.As his third witness, he would call a Peer and a landowner. But hon. Gentlemen opposite would have no cause to complain of the selection when he named Earl Fitzwilliam. He was, of course, far from assenting to all that that noble Lord had said on the subject of the Corn-laws at different periods, but would treat him as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) said, that he treated Mr. M'Culloch, and quote the noble Lord for what he wanted of him. The noble Lord, being then Lord Milton, spoke as follows in a debate upon the Corn-laws*:—He could bear witness from his own personal experience to the severe distresses of the labourers in husbandry, to whom the cheapness of corn (so much wished for by those who argued on the other side) was a disadvantage, because that very circumstance threw them out of work.
§ An Hon. Member on the Opposition side of the House, "At what time?"
§ Lord Mahon
On the 3rd of March, 1815. ["Hear, hear, hear, "from the Opposition.] Hon. Members cheered, but he would observe, that he did not bring forward Lord Fitzwilliam's words as any taunt of inconsistency; after twenty-seven years there would be little value in such a taunt; but if Lord Fitzwilliam bore witness to the state of agricultural labourers as a fact from his own knowledge, that fact was valuable and would not be altered by any subsequent change in his opinions. When he (Lord Mahon) bad a few years ago been travelling on the continent, he had made enquiries as to the effect of the price of corn on the price of labour. He.*See Hansard, vol, xxix, p. 1221.679 had taken as a standard by which to test the principle for which the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Villiers) contended, two cities—Warsaw and Amsterdam. In Warsaw the price of corn was generally low. The average price was scarcely more than 22s. per quarter. And what then had been the condition of the people? He had understood them to be in a state of utter destitution—starving in the midst of the corn which they grew for others' consumption. At Amsterdam, on the contrary, the price was generally high. The average there amounted, according to his information, to 58s. or 60s. And what was the condition of the lower orders of Amsterdam? They were comfortably fed, they were comfortably clothed, and their children enjoyed the inestimable benefits of a sound moral and religious education. These examples proved, he thought, that the hon. Member could not be right in his opinion, that in a country so thickly peopled as England, where the excess of labour always drove down the price to the minimum rate, that the amount of the wages of the labourer was entirely independent of the price of grain. But this was only one of the many reasons for which he supported a legislative protection to native industry on corn. One of the principal objects which the Legislature of any people ought to have was, to render them independent of foreign supply for the food upon which they lived. He did not say, that this object could in every case be fully attained; but the supply of foreign corn should be supplemental and subsidiary, not regular and constant. He had been surprised at the arguments which had been used on this subject by the two noble Lords, the late Secretaries for the Colonic a and Foreign Affairs. The former noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had said, "that as they were dependent upon the foreign grower for their supply of raw material,—for their cotton for example, there could be no reason why they should strive to render themselves independent upon him for their supply of corn. "Now this was an argument which he could not understand. Surely, that dependence on foreign countries for our raw mateterial could only he considered as a drawback and a disadvantage; and if it were a drawback and a disadvantage, why should we endeavour to inflict it upon ourselves? If, from various circumstances we were dependent for foreign supplies in the article of cotton, why should we, under 680 entirely different circumstances, render ourselves dependent also in the article of corn? Surely, then this argument of the noble Lord tended in a contrary direction from that which he designed. The other noble Lord, to whom he bad alluded (Lord Palmerston) had drawn an eloquent picture of the effects of the sliding scale. He had called it "childish, "and in impassioned language, had denounced it as a "miserable "contrivance to check the commerce between the zones, bar the intercourse betwixt man and man. Now, he could not reconcile such opinions—opinions going directly against all protection—with the vote which the noble Lord was prepared to give during the last Session, in favour of a fixed duty of 8s. The eloquence of the noble Lord, his passionate invective, his finely-painted picture, would have applied as appropriately to, would have weighed as strongly against one measure of protection as another,—against a fixed duty as forcibly as against a sliding scale. Between those measures the only point of difference was a question of degree. But he (Lord Mahon) found it still more difficult to reconcile those opinions of the noble Lord with former parts of his political career. A new Member, having attentively listened to the powerful appeal of the noble Lord, might have left the House the other night, with a strong conviction on his mind of the absurdity, of the "childishness, "as the noble Lord had termed it, of the present system, and with feelings of virtuous indignation against those who had proposed it. Perhaps that same man, desirous to know who were the legislators against whom that indignation should be levelled might refer to the Annual Register, to see by whom the hateful measure had been brought forward; and what would he then find? That the measure had been proposed by the Duke of Wellington's Cabinet in 1828; and how great would be his surprise; how he would distrust his senses; how incredulously he would rub his eyes, when he discovered, in the list of that Cabinet, the name of Viscount Palmerston, Secretary at War. But the new Member, who was unacquainted with the career of the noble Lord, would still, at any rate, suppose, that he must have immediately flung down his office in disgust: and again would he refer to the Register. And be would then find, that the measure had been proposed by the united Cabinet in March, 1828, and that Viscount Palmerston's retirement had been 681 some weeks later, on a question of an entirely different nature. The question of freedom from foreign supply concerned them very nearly. There had been within the present century two periods, at which a dependence on foreign countries for a supply of food would have been all but fatal to the honour and independence both of England and of France. The first to which he alluded, was the time of that formidable confederacy amongst European nations to which England had been exposed, when she most dreaded, and when she had most cause to dread, the universal sway of Bonaparte. What, he asked, would this country have done if at that period of her history she had been dependent for the food of her people upon France, or any country of Europe in close alliance with France? Even the courage and unanimity displayed amongst us while Bonaparte lay encamped at Boulogne; and never was there greater courage, never greater unanimity, though they would no doubt have afforded us a triumphant issue to the conflict, had the enemy crossed over to our shores, must yet in that case have yielded to the lingering agonies of famine. The second instance to which he had alluded, was of that great neighbouring power which had then been opposed to us. It would be remembered, that two years ago, the government of France had found themselves opposed to the principal powers of Europe in the settlement of the Eastern question. Supposing that the statesman who then swayed the destinies of France had continued to do so, and that it had been found impossible to reconcile differences with other countries, or to soothe the feelings of his own,—if she had then been dependent upon any of those countries with whom she disagreed for her supply of corn, would she have been in a condition to have supported her opinions, whether true or false, on that he expressed no opinion—with a true regard to her honour and dignity? The importance of relying mainly on ourselves for supplies of daily food is no mere modern feeling; it prevailed even in ancient times; it prevailed even among provinces of the same great empire, when exposed to uncertainty and separated by wide intervals of sea. Some words upon this subject in the great historian of the Caæesars were so striking, and so applicable, that he (Lord Mahon) was assured the House would allow their recital. At hercule nemo refert quod Italia opis externae indiget, et quod vita populi Romani per 682 incerta maris et tempestatum quotidie volvitur. But even laying aside the dangers of war and political changes, he asserted in opposition to the hon. Mover that a free trade in corn would by no means ensure a cheap and constant supply. That trade would gradually adapt itself and limit itself to the place from whence it could be carried on at least cost—as for instance, the shores of the Euxine—and those very districts might suddenly become unable to yield us any supply. On this part of the question lie had been struck by some statements in a recent work of travels. Odessa, and other parts of Russia, were lately visited by Mr. Slade, an intelligent gentleman. He devoted particular attention to the state of the corn-trade, and what was the result of his inquiries in the case, whether, if the Corn-laws were repealed, and we should become dependent on the Russian dominions for bread, there might not be other events besides war and political changes, to deprive us of our expected or accustomed supplies of food? It was this:—"That South Russia is liable to famine from various causes. In 1823 locusts destroyed the crops in Bessarabia and part of the Crimea, and the government was obliged to succour the inhabitants. In 1834 a period of terrible drought destroyed every particle of vegetation throughout Southern Russia. The peasants unthatched their roofs to feed their cattle, and sometimes even attempted to take that wretched food for themselves. One-fifth of the Tartar population in the Crimea, and nearly all the cattle, are alleged to have perished of hunger. The order of trade was reversed, so that in 1834 cargoes of bonded wheat were sent back from England to Odessa. Now, if England by the abolition of her Corn-laws were always dependent on others for half the amount of the corn necessary for her consumption, a similar disaster in Russia would react on her. The result might be dreadful distress; for if superior cheapness of production gave Russia in the first instance the monopoly of supply in England, it is not probable that either Germany or Austria would be prepared suddenly to supply a great deficiency. "But it was not merely those extreme ports, which, in case of free importation, might affect our markets, but other intermediate countries might be disposed, by the prices of England, to part with their own harvests, and subsist on inferior grain from Russia. 683 Let them take the case of Tuscany. On that point, let the House consider the official report of the hon. Member for Bolton (Dr, Bowring), lately presented to Parliament. According to that hon. Member's calculation, the average price of wheat at Leghorn, in 1826, was only 28s. per Winchester quarter. The price afterwards rose and fluctuated. In 1835, however, the average price was 31s. per quarter. The hon. Member said, there could be no doubt, if a free trade in corn was established, that it would lead to a great extension of her commercial relations with Tuscany. He praised the corn as of exceedingly fine quality, and the granaries as excellent, and added these words: —Were a demand to take place, her own produce would, in consequence of its superiority, be exported, and the Tuscan population would be fed by corn imported from the Euxine, as is the usual state of things when shipments are made at Tuscany for foreign countries.There, then, was a large supply of excellent. wheat selling at Leghorn, at an average price of 31s., in the last year of which accounts were given; and how with a free-trade—how, even with a low fixed duty, affording encouragement to speculations in grain—could the British farmer successfully compete with that supply? The calculations of Dr. Bowring were corroborated by those of Mr. Aubin one of our diplomatic agents, who in a despatch laid upon the table, only two days ago, stated that the result of a regular trade in corn, would be to double or triple the quantity of cultivation throughont the Papal States. He would admit, however, and he thought it was a strong argument in favour of an alteration of the law at the present time, that the remunerating price of wheat had been gradually falling from the peace up to the present time. A gentleman well known by his opinions on free-trade Sir H. Parnell contended, thirty years ago, that the proper remunerating price to the farmer was about 100s. the quarter. In a speech delivered in that House on the 15th of June, 1813, Sir Henry observed:—The sum of 105s. the quarter has appeared to many persons to be too high a price. But if the great change in the value of money which has taken place of late years was thoroughly examined by them, they would find reason for not persevering in their opinion. No one can say, that 105s, is a scarcity price.684 Other persons less celebrated for their advocacy of free trade than Sir Henry Parnell, did not however go his length, but still at that time the remunerating price to the farmer was not put below 80s. a quarter. In the Act of 1815 it was estimated at only 70s. And when in 1827, Mr. Canning came to deal with the Corn-laws, 60s. was laid down as the fair price, which sum was adopted by the Duke of Wellington, and was according to the opinion of the leading agriculturists of the country. Thus, for example, on the 31st of March, 1828, Sir Thomas Gooch said:—The bill of last year (Mr. Canning's) held out that 60s. a-quarter was a fair remunerating price. He (Sir Thomas) agreed that it was.Thus, from 1815, the remunerating price had fallen from 70s., and now 56s was found to be fair, according to the judgment of those best acquainted with the subject. This fact though not hitherto noticed in these debates, formed, he thought, the great foundation for the argument in favour of the present proposed change in the Corn-laws. From these results it appeared to him that the farmer might now be satisfied with less remuneration than formerly, and hence a protection, which was only sufficient in 1815, or in 1828, would be disproportionate at, this time. The fact of the remunerating price having hitherto been steadily on the decline appeared to him undoubted, by whatever cause that fact might be explained, whether by the alteration of the currency, whether by the amount of capital applied in the improvement of land, whether by both these causes combined. It might also be shown that in like manner the prices of transit had diminished. Some gentlemen adverting to former times had talked of 8s. or 10s. the quarter. But on this point he could not do better than refer to a statement which was made by Mr. G. Sanders, at a debate of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, on the 19th of March, 1841. That gentleman said:—Mr. Pearson has stated, that the transit of foreign corn would be about 10s. a-quarter. One fact is worth a dozen assertions. I have myself imported wheat from the continental ports to Hull, at a rate of fare varying from 3s. to 4s. per quarter, which is, in fact, less than the cost of conveying grain from the east to the west coast, and the freight from Ireland to London is greater than the cost of conveyance from the continental pots.685 Upon all these grounds, then, he came to the conclusion, that protection to the agriculturists was indispensably necessary, but he also came to the conclusion, that for the benefit of all classes concerned, even for the farmers, who, he thought, suffered, instead of gained, by higher rates of duty than were required for their protection, a reduction might be made in the higher and unnecessary duties. The scale which had been proposed by his right hon. Friend would, in his opinion, be adequate for its purpose, though certainly not more than adequate, anti he hoped that it would be received by all parties as a measure of conciliation. It was better for the agricultural interests to have a less amount of protection with general acquiescence and consent, than to struggle for a higher amount, and gain it only by hard conflict. With regard to the manufacturing classes, he was disposed to think, from what he had heard, that this measure would be received with satisfaction, and be regarded as a settlement of the question. He trusted, that they would see, that the agricultural classes were willing to meet them in a spirit of conciliation. And as for those who looked merely to their own advantage, he trusted, that they would be impressed with the emphatic words of Mr. Curran, who said, "he had known agitation and disturbance make many a rich man poor, but had never known them make a poor man rich. "He did not mean to say that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton might not still please himself with annual motions in that House, that occasional meetings might not still be held or that itinerant lecturers might not still be hired; but it was not by things such as these that they would make any progress in public opinion. They had had annual motions in that House, for the introduction of vote by ballot, and they had had motions for the expulsion of the Bishops from the House of Lords, but this he would say, without any disrespect to hon. Members opposite, who, he had no doubt, conscientiously advocated those objects, that the public mind upon those questions must very greatly change from what it was at the present time, before there was the slightest practical danger of the removal of the Bishops, or the introduction of the Ballot-box. And thus it would also be with respect to the Corn-laws. He, therefore, looked to the present measure as a settlement of this question; and if the Government 686 succeeded, he thought they would have achieved a task, of which the difficulties could only be felt by those who had closely looked into the subject, and would, in a very high degree, have earned the grateful feeling of the country, and deserved the power which was intrusted to their hands.
§ Mr. Elphinstone
was desirous of directing the attention of the committee to the claim which had been set up on the part of the landowners to impose, under the name of protection, a tax on the other classes of the community, with the view of raising the rentals of their estates. The only just ground on which this claim could be made was, that the landed interest were liable to taxes or burdens from which the other members of the community were exempt. The imposts which were usually referred to were the poor rate, highway rate, county rate, and land tax. Now, with regard to the poor rate and county rate, it was well known to the committee that all property beneficially occupied was liable to those rates without any exception; so that the landowner only paid in proportion to the value of his property. With regard to highway rates, the landowner had no more right to charge the public for the highways in the country, than the in habitants of towns would have to tax the inhabitants of the country; in point of fact, very large sums were laid out by the inhabitants of towns in repairing and making their own streets. He would refer to the accounts of a parish in which many of the Members of the House resided—St. George's, Hanover-square. He found, that during the last year rates to the amount of 37,000l. had been levied, of which 12,000l. was laid out in the support of the poor of the parish, and the remainder (25,000l.) paid for the police and county rate, and placed for the advantage of the inhabitants of Middlesex under the disposal of the county justices. With regard to land-tax, he was astonished at the effrontery of the landowners in bringing forward this claim. When the land-tax was originally imposed, it was imposed in lieu of subsidies to suit the convenience of the landowners, at the rate of from 1s. to 4s. in the pound, or one-fifth of the rental. When the land-tax was first imposed the rental of the country was about ten millions, consequently the land-tax was about two millions; but when the landowners found out that the rental was likely to increase 687 in consequence of the extension of trade and commerce, they persuaded Parliament to make the amount permanent. The rental has now risen to forty millions. If the tax were now levied on the same terms on which it was originally imposed, it would have now amounted to eight millions per annum. So that on the subject of the land-tax the land-owners have contrived to prevent six millions from going to the State. With regard to the legacy duty, the case was much worse. On the death of any person possessing personal property, a heavy tax was levied; but in the case of real property no such tax was imposed. It was calculated that if the devisal of real property was taxed in the same way as that of personal, a sum of one million per annum might be raised. He had also looked through the taxes which had been repealed since 1815, on matters relating to agriculture, and to which other members of society were still subject; he would read the paper to the House.
§ Taxes from which the Agricultural Class have been relieved since 181.5; other Classes of the Community being still liable to analogous Imposts.
|1816.||Horses used by farmers at rents under £200.||£150,119|
|Servants in husbandry||5,835|
|1819.||Mares for breeding||3,593|
|Employed in husbandry||470,108|
|Servants in husbandry, occasionally used as domestic servants||34,374|
|1823.||Reduction of duty on horses.||4,044|
|Taxed carts at a low duty||9,340|
|1824.||Horses drawing taxed carts.||11,324|
|House and window-tax on houses occupied by farm servants, relieved||6,866|
|Servants, reduction of duty||5,076|
|Taxed carts, duty relieved||20,695|
|1825.||Horses occasionally let to hire||5,637|
|1833.||Stewards, bailiffs, &c.||10,110|
|1834.||Windows in farm houses||35,000|
|Horses ridden by farmers, at £500||10,000|
|Fire insurance on farming stock||50,000|
The amount is 965,6341. per annum, so
that the loss by the three items (legacy, land-tax, and repealed duties) amounts to eight millions per annum. There were various other exemptions, such as auction duties on the sale of farming stock, duties on draining tiles, &c. If, however, there should be any small item which had escaped notice, pressing upon the agricultural classes, it must be amply compensated for by the protection afforded by the cost of conveyance—the freight and other charges could not be less than 7s. per quarter on wheat—so that allowing three quarters per acre to be the average growth, you would have a protection of 1l. 1s. on every acre of wheat-growing land. One of the great disadvantages of a tax on wheat is, that it acts as a poll-tax, and falls with greater severity on the poor man than on the rich. To take the case of an agricultural labourer in the county of Hertford, whose wages were about 26l. per annum; an agricultural labourer, with a wife and four children, would probably consume a 4lb loaf for his daily bread. Now the price of a 4lb. loaf is about 9d. in this country, and 6d. on the continent, so that 3d. is paid as tax by this poor labourer every day, or 4l. 1ls. 3d. in the year, a sum amounting to 17 per cent, on his income. Now, the rich landowner, with 1,000l. or 10,000l. per annum, could not consume more bread, and the tax of 4l. 1ls. 3d. would bear no proportion to his income. The noble Lord, the Member for Hertford, had fallen into a great error on the subject of wages; wages do not depend on the price of provisions in any country, but on the supply of labour and demand for employment. Ireland and America were good examples of this. In Ireland, where provisions were dear, wages were at the lowest sum at which it was possible to maintain life. It was in evidence before the commissioners appointed to enquire into the state of the hand-loom weavers, that persons in the north of Ireland had been glad to feed on the refuse starch from the manufactories. Now, in America, where provisions were cheap, labour was high. And why? because capital could find profitable employment—the industrious workman was certain of being profitably employed. He believed the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorchester, had admitted, that wheat in ordinary years could be landed in this country at 40s. per quarter, so that according to the statement of the right hon.
Gentleman, every shilling of price by which wheat exceeded this sum must be a tax on the public. The average price of wheat having been 57s. for the last five years, it would follow that every person who ate bread in this country had paid an annual tax of 17s. And assuming the annual consumption to be twenty-five millions of quarters, no less a sum than 22,000,000l. had been paid by the consumer for his bread, instead of being expended in other articles, either of luxury or comfort; but the money loss is the least of the evils inflicted by the Corn-laws—the chief evil is, that it cramps the energies of our manufacturers and capitalists, and compels the corn-growing countries in Europe and America to become manufacturers themselves, and to become our rivals in neutral markets. It was in evidence that in markets where we were formerly without a rival, we were met by the manufactures of Switzerland, Germany and Belgium; and the evidence that had been given before the committee on import duties had been fully borne out by the statistics of our exports. In 1829 we exported to Russia 13,000,000 yards of printed cottons and calicoes, and 18,000,000 lbs. of cotton twist; in 1833, only 2,500,000 yards of calicoes, and 19,000,000 lbs. of cotton twist—cotton twist being the material from which calicoes are made, these facts shew that the Russians are beginning to make their own calicoes. In 1820 we exported to Holland and Belgium 14,000,000 yards of calico, and 200,000 lbs. of twist; in 1833 24,000,000 yards of calico, and 11,000,000 lbs. of twist. Thus, by persisting in our Corn-laws, we were raising up rival manufacturers in all parts of the world which we had hitherto supplied. Every page of the report of the committee on Import Duties contained evidence to the same effect. Manufacturers from Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, Newcastle, Manchester, Stockport, all told the same lamentable tale. He would quote the words of Mr. Ibbotson, a manufacturer at Sheffield:—
Five-eighths of Sheffield trade went to America—there was an amount of suffering in Sheffield of which people had no idea. America had abundance of corn, we had abundance of steel; but we could not barter the one for the other. The scissor trade was nearly annihilated—the iron trade with America was annihilated—in the saw-mill trade we were
cut out. We send steel to America to make saws; but what could we do?
The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had quoted certain figures, relating to our exports, in his speech on the Corn-laws. He read a very different lesson from those facts than the right hon. Baronet. They proved that while our exports increased in quantity, they deteriorated in quality, or that the character of our manufactures were changing; that we were now exporting the half-manufactured articles, instead of the completely manufactured articles thus increasing the skill and enterprise of the foreigner instead of the Englishman. The official value, it was well known to the committee, meant the quantity—now our exports in 1833 were, according to the official value, 69,000,000l., while their real value was only 39,000,000l. In 1840, official value, 102,000,000l.; real value, 51,000,000l.; that is to say, there had been an increase in value of 12,000,000l., and in quantity, of 33,000,000l. So that for the same quantity of goods in 1840 you obtained 7,000,000l. less than in 1833. The irregularity of the corn trade was also a great disadvantage. Corn is now only imported in case of a bad harvest, so that in addition to the misfortune of scarcity, you add to your distress by having to export bullion to purchase it with, and thus disarrange all the monetary transactions of the country. If there were a regular trade in corn, you would no more have to export bullion to purchase it, than you now have to export bullion to purchase hemp or tallow in the Baltic ports. The noble Lord who had preceded him had talked of the advantage of being independent of foreign supply. He thought the great object ought to be to have a steady and uniform price, and to be independent of climate and the seasons. It was evident the larger range of country you take the more likely was your supply to be unaffected by the weather. He saw no other means of relieving the poverty and distress which unhappily were so prevalent in the country, but by a total repeal of the laws on the importation of food. England was pre-eminent in science, literature, and art—unrivalled in the energy of her capitalists, and the skill and enterprise of her working classes. If the law gave full scope to that energy and intelligence, she might remain in her proud situation
among the states of the civilized world; but if they hesitated while there was yet time, she, he was much afraid, would sink, like Venice of old, under the withering grasp of a selfish and sordid aristocracy.
said, that those hon. Members who had sat in the two last Parliaments were aware of the decided course he had taken on this subject, and that he had always advocated the Corn-laws as they then existed. He would not retract one iota of what he had said, but unfortunately, after the motion of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) and the motion of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) and the hen. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers,) it became those who entertained similar opinions to his own to make the best terms they could, and to see, as well as they were able, that the great interests they defended were as little injured as possible. He believed the question opened by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Villiers) was a very wide one; but he should confine himself to those practical parts of it which then pressed upon them, and state, in a way that he hoped would be manly, one or two facts which he thought the House would not deem unimportant. He would, however, request permission first to say one word on the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for the city of London. He was afraid the noble Lord was too well acquainted with his sentiments, for he had always expressed his opinion, and he now did so most strongly against any fixed duty. He said that a fixed duty must be kept or not. If it were not kept it would be an absolute delusion to the farmer; in fact, a much lower duty than the present or any duty they could make by a graduated scale. A fixed duty was always too high or too low. With reference to the grower, when corn was low, Such a duty was an imperfect protection, and, when high, it formed a great impediment to the introduction of foreign corn. It was therefore unjust both to consumer and producer. It appeared to him capable of arithmetical demonstration, that a graduated scale was better both for the consumer and producer than a fixed duty. He would now say a few words on the proposition of the right hon. Baronet. He had heard a great deal of what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet with much pleasure, but it appeared to him that the great mass of the arguments he produced, were much 692 more in favour of the Corn-laws as they were, than in favour of an alteration of them. The right hon. Baronet stated, that he did not believe his alterations would effect any material mitigation of the distress which prevailed in the manufacturing districts, and he believed that Lord Melbourne had expressed a similar opinion respecting the proposition of the late Government. The right hon. Baronet had also stated some interesting facts to show that the people of this country had far greater command of the necessaries of life than the people of France, Belgium, and Russia. He had also brought forward many facts respecting Danish corn, all of which were in favour of keeping the Corn-laws as they then were; but the point which he (Mr. Heathcote) could not get over was, that although the right hon. Baronet told them he wished the price of corn to remain at about 54s. to 58s. a quarter, he should wish to alter a law under which the mean price of corn since it had been established was only 56s. This was the price desired by Mr. M'Culloch, a writer in the Edinburgh Review, and other political writers, and then he would ask, why alter the machinery which produced what they asked for? But although, perhaps, it would be useless to argue against that which had been decided on, he would say a few words respecting the Government proposition. He would admit, that a great number of persons in extensive districts approved of it, although they did so with great anxiety as to its result, still at the same time a larger party utterly rejected it, and deemed the duty proposed inadequate. A large meeting had been held in the county with which he was connected, which was attended by persons of the highest consideration, at which strong language was used, and the opinion of the meeting declared to be decidedly against the proposed alteration. There was also a great dissatisfaction expressed with reference to that part of it which related to the slight alteration of the averages. The right hon. Baronet had spoken of the great numbers who desired a change in the law, but the sole objection of the great mass of the agriculturists was to the mode of taking the averages. With respect to the proposed alteration in the duty on barley and oats great dissatisfaction was expressed even by parties who otherwise acquiesced in the measure, and one reason for his addressing the House 693 that evening was, to urge that this part of the proposition should not be carried into effect. The noble Lord, the Member for Lincolnshire, (Lord Worsley) had stated the other night that a great quantity of wheat had come in above the maximum duty proposed by the right hon. Baronet. This was also the case with barley and oats, for it appeared that with respect to barley 126,000 quarters had come in at 15s. 4d., and 217,000 quarters at 13s. 10d., when the maximum duty was only 11s. under the new bill. It was still more strongly the case with oats of which out of 3,300,000 quarters which had been imported, 1,400,000 had come in at a higher duty than 8s., the maximum duty for oats; 540,000 at 7s. 9d., 598,000 at 9s., 467,000 at 10s., and 166,000 at 8s. But he acknowledged what he most feared was the event of a great surplus arising, when exactly the same evils would recur that were experienced in 1822–3, one of the most miserable periods of agricultural distress. It was to warn hon. Gentlemen against this contingency that lie called their attention to the subject. He confessed he could not understand the returns of the prices of corn upon the continent, for he found them differ very much. lie thought it would be much better if, instead of giving the report of the consuls for a single year, and from great farmers only, they were to report for a series of years, and for considerable districts of country. But if these returns were correct they threw considerable doubts on many statements before the House. He found the freight from Denmark was front 3s. to 3s. 6d., which was about the same as from Boston and the coast of Lincolnshire. The average price of wheat in Denmark for the last 25 years was 28s., of barley 14s., of oats only 10s. These were facts stated by the right hon. Baronet, but let him carry the House a little further. The average price for the last seven years of the series was only 25s., and he said that variation of 3s. might utterly destroy all their calculations, and produce an effect in this country that might throw hon. Gentleman into a dilemma as to their responsibility in having passed such a law. The average of barley for the last seven years was 1s. lower; that of oats was the same. But he thought he had a right to pick out the low years of the series. He found that in 1824, the price of wheat in Denmark was 16s., of 694 barley 8s., of oats 6s. In 1825, the price of wheat was 17s., of barley 9s., of oats 7s. It might be said that was from accidental circumstances, but in the seven years which followed 1821, the average price of wheat in Denmark was only 18s., of barley 10s., of oats 8s. Now, he would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, were they prepared to deal with such prices as those? They would find, too, that the quantity was not insignificant. Last year, 530,000 quarters of barley were exported from Denmark. The total quantity produced was last year 1,000,000 quarters; in 1824, 1,200,000 quarters; and in other years about 1,000,000, while Mr. Meek and others said that these quantities were susceptible of great increase. When he looked at these circumstances, he felt justified in withholding his acquiescence from the proposition of the right hon. Baronet, until he received further information; still more justified in withholding it from that of his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell), and still more in giving his opposition to that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He hoped be might be permitted to allude to some other circumstances. One hon. Gentleman had stated, that when they made the Corn-law, they did not make it for the benefit only of the proprietors of the soil, but also of the people of the country. He had never defended the Corn-laws in reference to the great proprietors, nor to those who possessed great masses of capital; he had always defended it in reference to the immense multitude of small proprietors, to the tens of thousands of small farmers, the flower of your middle classes, who were still more strongly determined to uphold these Corn-laws. Let the House consider what must be the situation of these small proprietors, many of whom had bought their land when 105s. was considered a fair price, while now the average price of wheat was only 56s., and which you now propose still further to reduce. Forty years ago the working classes throughout the agricultural districts were accustomed to eat the blackest and coarsest bread, — the hon. Member for Yorkshire had stated the fact,—whereas now the same people had the finest wheaten loaf; and he was glad, on the authority he had quoted, together with that of the hon. Member for High Wickham, to be able to state that this amelioration had taken place, for he was thereby led to hope that the condition of 695 the people was not quite so bad as it had been represented to be. But when the landed proprietors were so loudly called upon to relieve those distresses, by lowering their rents, let him in return ask the master manufacturers whether they were willing to take less profit on their goods? He could not too earnestly caution the agriculturists against falling into the error of competing with the master manufacturers on the low-wages system, for if they did, they would reduce the labouring classes of their branch of occupation to the same state of frightful destitution in which the operatives were involved. For himself, he considered there could not be so frightful a prospect, as a competition of low wages between our operatives and those of the continent. He would just touch upon one more topic, and then he would terminate his observations. The point to which he wished to direct attention was, the arguments which had been directed against making this country dependent upon a foreign state for her supply of food. On this point he might with great justice refer to the warning uttered by the late President of the United States, who, on the eve of an appeal to the country, most emphatically warned his fellow-countrymen against ever suffering themselves to be dependent for an article of primary necessity upon a foreign state. Hon. Gentlemen were in the habit of saying that it was very natural to buy food where it was cheapest, and that, therefore, it was expedient to go to America for corn; but what would be the course of this traffic if it were to be entered into upon a large scale? England must first send to America for cotton; then, having manufactured it, she must return it in that form to the United States before she could receive corn in exchange for it; so that, for the purpose of obtaining her supply of food, England must send four times across the Atlantic before she could get it. But what was to happen if, whilst thus dependent for corn from abroad, a war were to arise, and this was a contingency which every now and then threatened to occur, for there was a party in America very far from friendly to England; and America likewise was not herself free from fluctuations in the price of corn, for there was every now and then a dearth which brought the crops very short of the necessary supply. Prices in New York had been higher, in 1837 and 1838, 696 than in England, and the fluctuation greater. The American government would, in such an event, place a restriction upon the exportation of corn, as also was done in Belgium and other of the continental states when the supply of corn was low. The only conclusion therefore to which he could come upon this branch of the inquiry was, that not only was it cheapest, but it was also safest to grow what corn was wanted for consumption in England, at home. How, it might be objected, was this to be done, with so large and so increasing a population to feed? The House, however, was perhaps not aware that agriculture had vastly improved within the last few years, and that the agriculturists themselves were now a very different class to what they formerly were; there being a general desire amongst them for acquirements of a scientific nature, which rendered them much more capable of promoting the produce of their land than they formerly were. The result of this change had been, that there was scarcely a field which did not now produce much more than it had formerly done, and he could not help entertaining a strong belief that the period of years next ensuing would witness a similar, if not a much greater, improvement in the science of agriculture than had been observed within the present century, great as that advancement had been.
§ Mr. Leader
had heard with mach satisfaction the assurance of the hon. Gentleman, that agriculture had improved to so great an extent, and that so great an increase had taken place in the produce of land. He firmly believed in the truth of these statements; but the conclusion to which he came was, that the greater the improvement that had been effected in agriculture, and the greater the quantity of produce that they were able to obtain from the land, the less did the agricultural interest stand in need of protection. There was one point on which he felt he could fully agree with the hon. Gentleman, and that was in opposing most heartily the fixed duty of the noble Lord (Lord John. Russell). He had been much amused by some of the authorities cited by the noble Lord the Member for Hertford, in support of his views on the Corn-laws. Among others, Mr. George Frederick Young, formerly a Member of that House, has been mentioned. Now, Mr. George Frederick Young was a most respectable man, but 697 when a Member of the House he was decidedly not looked on as a certain authority. He very often voted one night with the party opposite, and one night with those on his side of the House. Sir Henry Parnell and Lord Fitzwilliam had also been quoted, but the opinions quoted had been given early in life, and had been greatly modified in maturer years. With respect to the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, all he could say was, that he rejoiced very much in the conversion of the noble Lord, and wished there were many more such converts. Some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite appeared to have conceived a very erroneous opinion as to the feeling of the working classes. They found that certain Anti-Corn-law meetings had been interrupted, and therefore they concluded that the people were favourable to the existing Corn-laws. He could say, from his acquaintance with many of the working classes, that such was not the case. The working classes had no sympathy with those who advocated the Corn-laws, nor did they place any confidence in Gentlemen opposite; but the working classes were averse to class legislation, and wished to get rid of it; and in getting rid of class legislation, they believed they would get rid of Corn-laws and of other abuses at the same time. The working men, they might rest assured, had too much intelligence to feel any attachment to the Corn-laws. It had been said by Franklin 70 years ago, that all acts for the restriction of trade were either particular blunders, or measures passed for private advantage under the pretence of a solicitude for the public good. He had not been present when his hon. Colleague (Captain Rous) had addressed the House. He very much respected his hon. Colleague; but when his hon. Colleague ventured to speak in the name of all the better part of the constituency of Westminster, the right hon. Baronet might rest assured that the statement was calculated to convey a very incorrect view of the people of Westminster. His hon. Colleague had certainly a right to speak for one-half of the people of Westminster, hut he could not fairly claim a monopoly of the constituency to his own share. Even of those who supported his hon. Colleague, there were very many who were not satisfied with the plan of the right hon. Baronet, and of those who had supported him there was not one, he felt assured, who did not entirely disapprove of the plan. 698 Of the non-electors among the inhabitants of Westminster, he felt satisfied there were very few who did not desire the total repeal of the Corn-laws. Much had been said in blame of the agitation that had prevailed with reference to this question; but did the Gentlemen who condemned the people for agitating condemn agitation itself, or only agitation as directed against their favourite system? What were the non-represented among the people to do but agitate? The counties, what with the 50l. tenants, were entirely in the hands of those a horn they considered their political oppressors; and in the towns bribery and intimidation. ["Hear, hear."] He did not mean to say that bribery and intimidation were to be attributed to either party exclusively, but the exten to which they prevailed put the towns under the control of property, leaving no channel through which the wishes of the electors might be expressed. The petitions of the people were not fairly treated, and public meetings, they had been told, were of little use; then, what were the people to do but to agitate? But had the agitation been all on one side? For his own part, he never heard a more fierce and incendiary speech than had been delivered a few evenings since by the hon. Member for Knaresborough. That hon. Gentleman generally spoke strongly when he did speak, for he was always thoroughly in earnest, and he liked to hear a man that spoke in earnest; but yet he would ask whether the hon. Gentleman really seriously believed the monstrous charges that he had brought forward against certain manufacturers? [Mr. Ferrand: Entirely.] Then the hon. Gentleman was bound in honour to prove, in this House, or before a committee, the truth of those charges, and to expose to the House the men whom he so fiercely attacked. But the hon. Gentleman directed his charges against manufacturers generally. [Mr. Ferrand: No.] He was glad to hear the hon. Member say so, for he had understood the hon. Member to apply the expression "blood-stained men" generally. [Mr. Ferrand: No.] He had certainly believed the; Application to have been made generally; and if so, he should like to know how those belonging to the manufacturing interest, but sitting on the other (the Ministerial) side of the House, must have felt at the time. He was very well convinced that the right hon. Baronet would rather have been without the vote of the hon. Member 699 for Knaresborough, than have it accompanied by such a speech. The bill of the right hon. Baronet would effect very little alteration in the corn trade, and would apply no remedy to the evils under which the people were suffering. Trade was languishing and manufacturers starving, owing to the monstrous tariff that was kept up as a part of the system for the protection of the landowners. That tariff made it impossible for foreign countries to take those things from us that we could supply them with on lower terms. Our own tariff provoked retaliation from other countries. The Spanish Government had lately put a new tariff in force, by which the duties on all English goods had been increased 50 per cent. A noble Lord (the Earl of Ripon) had received a deputation on this subject most courteously, and had talked of negotiations that were pending; but of what use were negotiations? Negotiations with France, Spain, and other countries, had been pending for more than ten years, but the moment foreign countries were remonstrated with, they turned round upon us, and told us to look at our own tariff, the worst in all Europe. He did not believe the Spanish Government would derive any advantage from what they had done. An additional revenue they would certainly not raise, but they would raise an army of smugglers, and Spain as well as England would suffer from the irregular character that would be given to the trade in consequence. He had listened with surprise to some hon. Members connected with the landed interest, who had expressed dissatisfaction with the bill of the right hon. Baronet. Why, what would Gentlemen have? They had got protection enough surely. The manufacturers, he felt convinced, were not satisfied with it; but there was one important good which the bill had done—the middle classes had for some time stood aloof from the working classes, but they now saw how vain were their expectations of relief from the House of Commons, and would join heartily with the working classes in procuring an extensive reform.
was understood to say, that he rose to vindicate the landed interests from the aspersions cast upon them by the hon. Gentleman, and to pay a tribute of admiration to those classes of the people who had displayed so much patience under their sufferings. He believed that the distresses of the people 700 originated greatly in the causes which had been stated to the House by the right hon. Baronet at the head of her Majesty's Government. When the late Ministers were defeated by that majority which was fatal to them, they went home and made their wills, and the legacy which they left to the country was a fixed duty. The country, however, was unwilling to accept the boon, and, thereupon, their allies, or pioneers, immediately commenced a system of agitation which was calculated to engender strife, but to produce no benefit. Attempts had been made in the neighbourhood whence he came to inflame the public mind, and to stir up those who had experienced the willingness of resident gentry to assist and relieve them in their distresses, and who, together with himself, had found employment for them. Placards of the most inflammatory nature were posted, and altogether the movements were so alarming, that the magistracy thought it necessary to have the military in attendance. A meeting was called, and thousands of persons attended it, amongst whom were those who had been relieved in the manner lie had stated, and the curate of the parish, who, in a temperate speech, after the violent harangues which had been delivered by the orators from Manchester, and other places, convinced them how erroneously they would act if they signed the petition which had been proposed to them; and he believed that the people, when left to their own good sense, and when not misled by false representations, would come to the same conclusion. Of one thing he was quite convinced—namely, that the new school of political economy was not calculated to improve the feelings or the judgment of the people. Believing the motion of the hon. Gentleman to be ruinous in its tendency, he should vote against it.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, if his poor constituents could be present in that House and hear the great alarm that had been expressed lest they should have cheap bread, they would not be a little astonished. The hon. Member for Rutlandshire had convinced him (Mr. Brotherton) that there was no necessity for a Corn-law. For he had shown that such great improvements had taken place in agriculture, and were likely to take place, that we should be able to produce corn in such abundance, and at so cheap a rate as not to need supplies from foreigners. He would ask the noble 701 Lord, the Member for Hertford, who had made some observations relative to the petitions that had been presented on this subject, whether the people could be brought to petition if they had no grievances to complain of? The people felt they were starving, and therefore they petitioned. The noble Lord had talked about the exasperation of one class of the people against the other, but did he mean to say that the allegations that had been made by those who opposed the Corn-laws were untrue? He (Mr. Brotherton) remembered being very much amused upon one occasion, by hearing the hon. Member for Oxford say, that he preferred quiet error to unruly truth. Truth enlightens some minds and inflames others. Something had been said about the price of corn at Amsterdam being as high as in this country, but that related to particular seasons, and if the average of years was taken, it would be found that corn in this country was 50 per cent. higher than in Amsterdam. It had also been clearly shown that corn here was 30s. a quarter higher than in Denmark. If that was the case, had not the people of England cause for complaining? The people said they had no food, and yet Members of Parliament were found lamenting lest there should be too great an abundance. He (Mr. Brotherton) had not got up for the purpose of making a long speech, but to state facts. In the manufacturing districts the merchants were bankrupts, and the manufacturers ruined: trade was paralysed, and artisans unemployed. A great number of the population was starving. Those things had been admitted by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, but as several hon. Members appeared from their speeches to entertain doubts upon the subject, he would bring forward a few facts to show the state of things in the districts with which he was connected. He was happy to be able to furnish these details, as the noble Lord, the Member for Hertford, had said that one fact was worth a dozen assertions. An investigation had been carried on in the borough of Manchester and Salford in December of the last year, and at that time it was found that there were 5,492 uninhabited dwellings, 681 untenanted shops and offices, and 116 mills and other places of labour unoccupied, making a total of 6,289 buildings unoccupied, the annual rental of which was 702 100,000l., and the steam-power about 1000 horses. Here then was a fact that must convince any man of the existence of distress in that district. He wished the House next to consider the depreciation of property. It had been thought that the millowners were very prosperous, but he could tell hon. Members that he knew of one case in which machinery, that cost about 50,000l., and had been worked seven years, and which had been valued in July, 1841, at 21,564l. 19s. 11½d. had been sold in December, 1841, and January, 1842, for 5,000l. There was another case in which a mill and cottages in the neighbourhood of Manchester, which had cost 120,000l., had been sold for 36,000l. In another instance, a mill, valued at 21,000l. had been sold for 7,000l., and in another, a mill and machinery, that had cost 40,000l. had been sold for less than 10,000l. To these facts he begged to add another, that cottage property had fallen from 30 to 40 per cent. Now what was the case with respect to the poor rate? The expenditure on the poor of Manchester for the years 1836, 1837, was 24,261l. 10s., and in 1841, it was 38,938l. 2s. 5d. in addition to private subscriptions amounting to many thousand pounds. The poor-rate of Salford, in 1836, was 5,202l., and, in 1841, it was 17,401l. He would next request the House to observe the effect that the poverty that existed had in increasing crime. In 1831 the number of prisoners committed for trial at the New Bailey, Salford, was 1,000.. In 1836, which was a year of plenty, it was 1,031. But in 1841 the number had increased to 1,992. So that from 1831 to 1836 there had been an increase of only 31, whilst from 1836 to 1841 the number had nearly doubled. He would next proceed to show the influence of the Corn-law upon trade. An inquiry had been instituted relative to the receipts of tradesmen, and the result was, that whereas the receipts of fifty shopkeepers in Salford had in 1839 been 197,700l., their receipts in 1841 had been only 130,5001., showing a decrease of 67,200l. This falling off would be confined principally to the poor. The higher and the middle classes could still afford to purchase the necessaries of life, but the poor were not in a condition to do so. Such was the state of the manufacturing districts. Let the 703 House compare such a condition with that of the land. He found that every quarter the rents were rising and the value of land increased. Much had been said about the cause of the distress, which it had been asserted could not be attributed to the Corn-laws. It had been alleged to have been produced by the war with China, the alarm of war in Europe, the emigration of agricultural labourers into the manufacturing districts, the increase of machinery, over-production, joint-stock banks, and speculation. Such it had been said were the causes of the distress. Yet it had been found that the exports had been greater than in previous years, and that the reduction was caused by a falling-off in the home trade. This country had imported and entered for home consumption since July, 1828, 14,800,860 quarters of foreign wheat and flour, and on the average of the thirteen years the duty paid was 5s. 7d. per quarter, which proved that not a grain of it had been allowed to be brought into consumption for less than 70s.
|Now 14,800,860 quarters, at 70s., is||51,803,010|
|This wheat might have been purchased abroad for 40s.|
|The consequent loss to the consumer was||22,201,290|
§ The hon. Gentleman then contended that the price of wheat in England on an average had been 50 per cent. higher than on the continent.
|Taking the annual consumption at 18,000,000 quarters, the cost of 180,000,000, at the average price of 57s., is||513,000,000|
|At the price it might have been purchased||342,000,000|
|Loss to the consumer in ten years||171,000,000|
|The average price of wheat in was 67s. 3d.||1838-9-40,|
|Now, 54,000,000 quarters consumed in three years, at 67s. 3d., is||181,575,000|
|In 1834-5-6 the price was 44s. 8d.; 54,000,000 quarters, at 44s. 8d. is||120,600,000|
§ the difference between the two periods; and even at the lowest period we were 50 per cent higher than on the continent. Now the inference from the above facts was, that the country had been paying upwards of twenty millions a-year extra price, beyond what had been paid in the years 1834, 1835, and 1836. To illustrate the manner in which dear food operated against the home trade and created distress, an investigation had been made in several large manufacturing establishments with a view of ascertaining what proportion of the earnings of the operatives was spent in agricultural produce. In one establishment the amount of wages paid in 1836, was 33,000l.—the amount expended in food was 22,000l., leaving 11,000l. for rent, clothing, and other necessaries of life. In 1840, the amount of wages was the same, but the amount expended in food was 29,000l., leaving only 4000l. for rent, clothing, and other outgoings. Investigations in other establishments were attended with the same results. The decrease in the demand for articles of clothing and furniture produced want of employment, and want of employment produced distress and destitution. The hon. Member then read the following document relative to the exportation of cotton twist:
In 1815, we exported 9,241,5471bs. of cotton twist, and the declared value was 1,781,077l., which is 3s. 10d. per lb.; after deducting the price of the cotton (1s. 9d.), there were left for labour, capital, &c.,2s 1d. per lb., or 962,660l. In 1830, we exported 64,645,342lbs. of twist, the declared value was 4,133,741l., being 1s. 34¼d. per lb.; after deducting the price of the raw material, 71½d., there remained 8d. per lb. for labour, profit, and interest of capital. In 1840, we exported 118,470,223Ibs. of cotton twist, the declared value being 7,101,308l which is 1s. 2⅜d. per lb.; after deducting the price of cotton 8⅛d., leaves 6¼d. for labour, interest of capital, wear and tear, merchants' and manufacturers' profit and all other expences, 3,084,598l. The price of wheat was, in 1815, 65s. 7d., in 1830, 64s. 3d., 1840, 66s. 4d. If the yarn exported in 1840 had left as much to the spinner, merchant, and artisan for labour and profit as in 1815, it would have amounted to £12,340,647
|Whereas they only received||3,084,598|
§ we thus see that the manufacturer had 962,660l. for working 9,241,547 lbs., and 3,084,598l. for 118,470,223 lbs., which was three times the amount for 705 more than twelve times the quantity. In 1815 a piece of calico cost 19s., in 1841 it might be bought for 5s. 6d. He contended that the improvements in manufactures had been paid to the agriculturists. There had been improvements in machinery, there had been increased produce from the land, but there had been no depreciation of the price of bread. All the manufacturers had to do was to give three pieces of calico for the same quantity of corn for which they gave one piece in 1815. The hon. Member proceeded to contend that the improvement in machinery tended in no way to produce the distress which too frequently prevailed in the manufacturing districts. Twenty times as many persons were employed in manufactures now as were employed before the improvements in machinery took place. The plough had displaced more labourers than the spinning-jenny. It was to the manufacturers that the agriculturists of England were indebted for their high prices. How different was the condition of the agriculturist in Ireland, where manufactures did not exist! There the price of labour was low; but the price of food high. No portion of its population, or but a very small portion of its population, found employment in manufactures. All were dependent upon the land. What was the consequence? Universal poverty. In Ireland there was plenty of competition for farms, but there was not sufficient employment for the people. He would ask what they meant to do with those who could not obtain employment? Did they mean to starve them to death? Did they mean to act like Pharaoh and Herod? A great deal had been said about machinery having the effect of displacing a great number of hands. That was a complete fallacy. The population of Lancashire in 1779 was about 350,000 persons; in 1841, it was 1,667,034—an increase of 375 per cent. In 1770 not more than 60,000 persons were employed in the cotton trade; in 1836 it was computed that there were 1,600,000. It could not, therefore, be maintained that the effect of machinery in manufactures was to diminish the demand for human labour. Far different, however, was the effect of the improvements which had taken place in agriculture. Every improvement there must tend to decrease the necessity for employing labourers. He (Mr. Brotherton) believed that the interests of agriculture and of manufactures 706 were intimately allied, and that one could not be destroyed without leading to the destruction of the other. What had given the additional value to land in England? Manufactures. The manufacturers had never made a fortune themselves without at the same time making a greater fortune for the landowners. That was a fact which no man could doubt, When the Corn Bill of 1815 was proposed, enlightened men opposed it. Some authorities had been mentioned. He would name one—a man upon whom he had always looked with great respect—the late Sir Robert Peel—who opposed the introduction of the Corn-laws, and showed clearly that it was by encouraging manufactures and removing all restrictions on trade that the prosperity of the land must depend. He had, he hoped, shown front facts that the distress existing in the manufacturing districts had been caused by the Corn-laws, and that if those laws were repealed a great improvement would take place in the condition of all classes of society. But he wished it to be understood that he did not oppose the Corn-laws merely because the manufacturers were in distress. He should still oppose them if the manufacturing interests were at that moment as prosperous as they were unfortunately depressed. He should oppose them under any circumstances, because in his estimation they were unjust. It was said that the landed interest had a prescriptive right to the monopoly in food—a prescriptive right that had existed for the last 140 years. It was said that they had a right to tax the rest of the community for their own advantage. If that were true—if for 140 years the landed interest had enjoyed the exclusive right of feeding the British people, and to take care of the domestic agriculture of the country, then they were at least bound to supply them with a sufficiency. History, and the documents on the Table of the House, told them that between the years 1740 and 1750, there were exported from this country upwards of 8,000,000 quarters of corn. And what did the landed interest do? They passed a law to give the agriculturist a bounty on the exportation of corn, and 1,500,000l. were actually paid out of the Treasury for that purpose. Now, if there had been any sort of agreement between the manufacturers and the landed interest, that the latter should feed the people upon home grown corn, would 707 not the manufacturers of that time have been justified in coming forward, and saying, "you have no right to export your corn: if you have an abundance of it you ought to let us have it cheap—you have undertaken to feed us—when Providence blesses your toil with abundance, give us, your fellow countrymen, the advantage of it. But did the manufacturers do this? No; they allowed the agricultural interest to export their corn, because they thought they had a right to dispose of the produce of their estates in the best market they could find. In the same way had the labouring man a right to dispose of his labour, or the fruits of his labour, in the best market he could find. This right belonged as much to the poor labourer as to the rich proprietor of the soil. He looked, therefore, upon this question as a question of right. He was astonished when he heard hon. Members state that the measure now brought forward was a concession to the manufacturing interest. He denied the accuracy of that view, and maintained that the manufacturers had a right to infinitely more than it was proposed to give them. He knew very well that a total repeal of the Corn-laws could not be carried at this time; but that was no reason why he should refrain from stating that it was only by a total repeal that the manufacturers would obtain what right and justice would give them. The agriculturists were constantly urging that they were the manufacturers' best customers. It was true that they were purchasers to some extent of the produce of manufacturing industry and skill. But upon what terms was the trade between the two interests carried on? The manufacturers supplied the agriculturists with cheap commodities, in return for which the agriculturists supplied the manufacturers with dear food. The agriculturists took from the manufacturers a great portion of what belonged to them; and then, because they gave them a small part of it back, they said, "We are your best customers." The agriculturists said that they were entitled to protection because they had invested capital in the improvement of land, and gave employment to a great many labourers. They took care, however, not to say a word about rent. Their only concern was for the farmers and agricultural labourers, who would be ruined and reduced to destitution if there were no protection. Now he did not believe that there would be much 708 land thrown out of cultivation if the Corn-laws were repealed to-morrow. But if any were really thrown out of cultivation, he would much rather that the loss should be paid by direct taxation. The country would then know the extent of the mischief, and would be prepared to meet it. But he denied that the landed interest had any right to protection. Suppose a person erected a mill in this country, and expended a great deal of capital in machinery. Then, suppose that a foreigner invented a much better machine, which, in a degree, should supersede that of the English mill-owner —what would be thought of the manufacturer who should come to Parliament and ask for protection against his foreign rival? If foreigners made better ships or better machinery, the English shipowner or the English manufacturer must bear the competition. They could not come to Parliament and ask it to pay their bills. If the English manufacturer borrowed money upon his manufactures, he must pay the interest himself. The landowners, on the contrary, after involving the country in debt, and spending more than their annual incomes, came down to Parliament and said, "It is necessary that we should keep up our station, wherefore give us an act which will enable us to throw the burdens we have brought upon ourselves upon the shoulders of the manufacturing classes. The hon. Member proceeded to comment upon the injustice of laws which taxed the poor man 20 per cent., while they taxed the rich man only 1 per cent. Such laws were glaringly unjust, and ought not to be persisted in. The immediate and total repeal of the Corn-laws might, to a certain extent, and for a limited time, affect the interests of the landowners, but in the end he believed it would operate very much to their advantage. It was said, that these laws were necessary on account of the burdens which were imposed upon the land. If it were true that the land was subjected to any special peculiar burdens, let them be removed. It was subject to no peculiar burden that he knew of except the poor-rate, the county-rate, and the highway-rate, amounting altogether to about 6,000,000l. a-year. So that, taking the annual produce of corn at 45,000,000 quarters, the burdens peculiar to the land would not amount to 2s. 6d. a quarter. With what face, then, could it be asked that the people should pay a tax of at least 709 12s. or 14s. a quarter? He would not take up the time of the House by entering into any detail to show the effect of the Corn-laws upon wages. But upon that point the manufacturers had facts to oppose to assertions. Every man now-a-days knew that when corn was cheap wages were better than when corn was dear. Now, indeed, that the price of corn was so high, the manufacturers gave no wages at all. Common sense would tell that when corn was cheap the people would have more money to spend in manufactures, and so the prosperity of both interests would be promoted. In Ireland, where corn was dear, wages were low. In America, where wages were high, provisions were cheap. Even the noble Lord the Member for Lancashire, had admitted, that wages had nothing to do with the price of bread. The population of this country was now increasing at the rate of 300,000 or 400,000 a-year This increased population could not be employed in agriculture; it might be employed in manufactures. Extend your commerce, take off the restrictions which shackle your trade, and rest assured that you will find employment for the people. The people demanded only justice and fair play. They did not want to reverse the order of things. They were taught that if they sowed they would reap—if they worked they would be rewarded. But what was the case now? The precept was reversed—the idlers were fed and the industrious sent starving away. [Cries of "question."] He begged pardon if he trespassed too much on the patience of the House; but his constituents were deeply interested in this question. He was not one who occupied much of the time of the House, and, generally speaking, he was not favourable to long speeches. On the present occasion, he had only been anxious to put the House in possession of some facts which he deemed to be important. He should not have noticed the observations of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, (Mr. Ferrand), if that hon. Gentleman had not repeated that evening, that all that he stated on a former occasion was true. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman was then in his place, [Mr. Ferrand, intimated, that he was present.] He (Mr. Brotherton) did not know whether it would be Parliamentary or not; but he would State to the hon. Member for Knaresborough, that if he (Mr. Brotherton) were 710 to judge of his speech, and of the correctness of it, by what he (Mr. Brotherton) knew to be untrue, he certainly should not value it very highly. He knew that there were some parts of it entirely destitute of foundation. The hon. Member said, that the hon. Member for Stockport worked his mills night and day, and that he had made a large fortune by such abominable cruelty. [Mr. Ferrand, "No, no."] lie (Mr. Brotherton) heard the hon. Member make that statement, and, for the hon. Member's information, he begged to tell him that the hon. Member for Stockport never had a mill in his life. Again, the hon. Member had classed him (Mr. Brotherton) amongst those who make the ledger their prayer-book, the counting house their church, and mammon their God. If he had done so, he certainly had not reaped the worldly fruits which the hon. Member supposed to be derivable from such a course of life. His riches consisted not so much in the largeness of his means, as in the fewness of his wants. If he had not considered usefulness as superior to wealth he never should have been returned in the manner he had been. This fact he could glory in, that the town in which he had resided for forty years had returned him four times to. Parliament, without imposing upon him the expenditure of a single shilling, and without his having solicited a single vote. Had he been a worshipper of mammon his townsmen, perhaps, would not have had so much respect for him. The hon. Member proceeded to comment upon the observations of the hon. Member for Knaresborough, and to express his conviction that the cotton trade, under proper regulations (and he had always been a supporter of the plan introduced by the late Sir Robert Peel for the right regulation of the trade), so far from being an injury to the people employed in it, would tend to the health, and comfort, and wellbeing of a very large class of society. He had advocated measures like these, years before the hon. Gentleman. He knew that there had been opposition on the part of the manufacturers to legislation on this subject, but he would never single out persons and say, because they had been prosperous, that they were therefore unjust. When the Prime Minister of England was the son of a cotton spinner, he thought he need not be ashamed of being one. He would not trespass longer 711 on the time of the House, but he had felt it to be his duty to state his opinion on this subject, because he considered that the repeal of the Corn-law would be a great national benefit, and because he was sincerely convinced, if the Corn-law be not repealed, the destruction of the manufactures would take place, and in that destruction the landed interest would also suffer, inasmuch as the population would be returned on the landed proprietors, either to become paupers or to starve, the greatest misfortune which could happen to this country.
§ Mr. Ferrand
rose only to explain. He was told, a few days ago, by an hon. Member who sat on the front bench opposite, the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay), that he would be treated with contempt, and that no hon. Member would condescend to notice what lie had said in the debate on this question; but it appeared that there had been some random shooting against him. An hon. Member had said, that he knew one thing which he (Mr. Ferrand) had uttered to be untrue. He would give his authority for asserting that the hon. Member for Stockport worked his mills night and day. In a letter which he had received, the writer stated, "I beg to inform you."[Cries of "Name, name,""No! no!") I will. The writer says, "I beg to inform you that Mr. Cobden's printing mills, near Chorley, are worked night and day, and that I have heard of others similarly engaged."[Cries of "Name, name,""No! no! said the hon. Member."] Is my word disputed ["Name, name," and cries of "No! no!"] I have stated the fact, and I hope the House will be of opinion that I have said sufficient to convince every one that I did not make an assertion without having authority for doing so.
§ Capt. F. Berkeley:
The hon. Member said that he would give his authority: I, therefore, request that he will do so.
§ Mr. Ferrand:
I have stated the fact, and if what I have stated is disputed, there is an hon. Member sitting next me who knows what I have said to be true.
§ Lord J. Manners
said, that he thought the House would thank him for putting an end to an altercation grateful to neither side; and he turned with pleasure to the concluding part of the speech of the hon. Member for Salford, he trusted, that the feelings and the animosities which prevailed out of doors on this subject 712 would not find an echo within the walls of the house. He was greatly pleased with the tone in which the discussion had been carried on, and particularly with the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, who introduced the motion, because he had not heard during the short time that he had been a Member of that House a more temperate speech. He wished to make one observation on what had fallen from the lion. Member for Salford; that hon. Member stated, that for every fortune the manufacturer had made, the landowner had made a larger one. There was a little exaggeration in this. He had, he confessed, felt anxious to address the House after the hon. Member for Westminster, because he thought that hon. Gentleman had dealt too hardly with the hon. Member for Rutland, who was placed in a very peculiar state, for, if he turned to his right hand, what did he behold? Total repeal. Was the prospect better if he looked to his left? alas! it was fixed duty, and if he wheeled round entirely, and looked for a cheer among the hon. Gentlemen behind him, what a fearful sight presented itself to his view? But what said the hon. Member for Westminster to the hon. Member for Rutland? why, he said, that there was only one point in which he could agree with him, and that was in his resistance to the motion of the noble Lord, the Member for London, and in his support of that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton! Surely this was a gratuitous piece of cruelty. Certainly it could hardly be expected, that he was to combat the arguments of his hon. Friend; he was only surprised at seeing him still in the opposite ranks, but he wished to make an observation on one argument his hon. Friend had brought forward. His hon. Friend asked why Government had proposed the alteration in the Corn-law, with the view of keeping the average price of wheat at 56s. a quarter. His hon. Friend thought there was no necessity for introducing any new measure to effect this because 56s. had been the average price during the last few years. But the object of the Government was not only to make that the average price, but also to prevent great fluctuations. No one could regard with more pain than he did the distress of the country, but while he lamented that distress he could not attribute it to the same cause as the lion. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. When he looked at the position not only of Europe, but of 713 Asia, Africa, and America; when he remembered the prosperity that a few years ago clothed the manufacturing districts where the distress was now so great; and remembered also that the Corn-laws were then in existence as now; that not only change of seasons, but war, and every treaty, he would not say might, but must contribute to produce that former prosperity or present distress—he could not force his reason to agree with those hon. Gentlemen, and say to the suffering people, "there—that one law is the cause of all your distress, remove it, and boundless prosperity is yours." He would entreat those hon. Gentlemen to reflect on the possibility of their being deceived. Suppose the Corn-laws were repealed; that the mills now stopped working were again in action; that the agricultural interest no longer existed to be pointed at as the cause of the manufacturing distress, and yet that distress again fell upon the manufacturers, to what cause would it then be attributed? Twelve years ago the rotten boroughs were the source of all evil, and Nottingham castle was burned, and Bristol sacked, that the Reform Bill might be carried, and those evils so put an end to. Then glorious were the anticipations indulged in from the 10l. franchise—great were the hopes that beef and mutton would come to all; but at length the delusion was over. Now the Corn-laws are the great bugbear. He did not say that the Corn-laws might not be improved, why the very proposition of the Government proved that they might. But lie felt that hon. Members were wrong in attributing the distress so entirely to the Corn-laws. They had heard a great deal about the bigotry and intolerance of the farmers and the agricultural interests. Now, he would say nothing as to how the proposition of the Government had been received; but he would refer to the statement of a gentleman who was a practical farmer. That gentleman said, and he so said before it was at all known what the Government plan was likely to be.The population of the kingdom has increased 20 per cent. within the last ten years, and in that period corn has been 2s. a quarter cheaper than it was in the ten years before. I have no doubt that wheat will have to be produced at a cheaper rate than it has been, because cloth and cotton are cheaper; and, therefore, corn ought to be cheaper in its proportionate relation. It is my opinion, that corn ought to be produced at the lowest rate possible, so long as it is the production of this country.714 Where were these words uttered? At an agricultural meeting held in the county of Leicester, and they were received with approbation by the great body of farmers there assembled. He trusted that the example which had been set that night of moderation would be imitated, and that the measure of the Government would receive that rued of praise which he felt confident it deserved, and knew it would ultimately obtain, however, for the moment, party feeling might have been excited against it. He anticipated for the measure of the right hon. Baronet not only the concurrence but the approbation of a large majority.
§ Sir C. Napier
regretted very much that his hon. Friend had brought forward his motion, because it was evident that the right hon. Baronet opposite having refused to accept a duty of 8s., was not likely to accept no duty at all, and he therefore thought that the motion which had been brought forward, was a great waste of the time of the House. He was an advocate of a fixed duty of 8s., because he thought that was as much protection as the agriculturists had any right to expect. At the same time, he believed, that if once a duty of 8s. was levied, there would very soon be no duty at all. Why he wished for a slight change was, because he thought that all violent changes were dangerous, and, though the Corn-law was an unjust law, it ought not to be abrogated too suddenly. But, as he preferred the repeal of the Corn-laws to the sliding scale, if his hon. Friend pressed his motion to a division he should certainly vote for it. The noble Lord the other evening had remarked, and he thought with great justice, on the operation of the sliding scale on neighbouring states. He thought that no prudent merchant of America, Odessa, or Alexandria, would run the risk of sending a cargo of corn to this country when he found the price going down and the scale running up here. The Vice-President of the Board of Trade had the other evening made an assertion which he thought very extraordinary, and he really began to doubt whether he ever had crossed the Atlantic Ocean or not. The right hon. Gentleman stated, that if a merchant of Liverpool wrote to America for a cargo of corn, that cargo would arrive in Liverpool in six weeks. If a gentleman wrote a letter the very day the steam-boat sailed from Liverpool (and that 715 boat only sailed once a fortnight), that letter could not be delivered in America under fifteen days. Now, the merchant in America had to purchase his cargo. He got his letter,—he read his letter first, —he read his letter and set about purchasing his corn. After that he freighted his ship; but before he freighted his ship he must look out for one; but perhaps there was not one ready. Now he would give him twelve days till the ship was cleared out to sail from America. This amounted to twenty-seven days. He had crossed the Atlantic Ocean very often, end he should say the average passage for a deep-laden vessel could not be under one month, unless the cargo was to come by a steam-boat, and if so, they might allow as much corn as they liked to come from America free of all duty, because the high rate of freight would be quite sufficient to keep it out of the market. The right hon. Baronet admitted that 20s. duty was a prohibition on the importation of corn; he needed not to have taken so high a duty, for I 8s. duty was a prohibition on the importation of corn, for the printed paper laid before the House showed that a very trifling amount of corn had been admitted at that duty. The right hon. Baronet had begun his scale so uncommonly high, it was his (Sir C. Napier's) intention to vote against it. The right hon. Baronet had said, that he never wished to see corn in this country higher than from 54s. to 58s. Now he believed that the landowners could get on very well with corn at that price, and that the farmer could get on very well, and the agricultural labourer he believed did not complain. But when there was an appearance of a bad harvest, or a few days of bad weather, up got the corn to 84s. a quarter. Now, if the agricultural labourer could only live with corn at 54s., he (Sir C. Napier) should be glad to know how he was to economize so as to live with corn at 84s. a quarter? He ate no meat because he could not pay for it; he could not, therefore, economize in that. He drank no beer, because he could not afford it; he could not, then, economize in that. He might, perhaps, do with less tea and sugar and bread; but the only thing he could economize upon was his stomach, and the stomachs of his children; and when the right hon. Baronet's sliding-scale went down, the labourer would slide a great deal less bread into his stomach. Now, let him ask what was the 716 position of a gentleman of moderate fortune living up to his income, and he was afraid most of them lived up to their incomes; let him suppose that the price of every article were increased by 25 per cent.; the gentleman had his bread, his meat, his wine, and many other luxuries, and if he was a prudent man, he would give up some of his luxuries—perhaps his wine, perhaps some other luxury, or he would make his wife and his daughters go less frequently to the milliner's, or he might go to his banker's and get credit or an advance of money; but what was the poor man to do? He had no luxuries to retrench upon, he had no banker, and he must therefore starve.
§ Captain F. Berkeley
thought that the landlords and the landed interest did not always mean the same thing or go together. For instance, suppose a noble individual of great landed possessions, and an advocate for an alteration of the Corns laws, died, well, on his heir, a person of different opinions, succeeding to the estate, the tenantry, who had hitherto returned Members unfavourable to the Corn-laws, immediately turned round, and sent Members who coincided with the new landlord's views. All he (Captain F. Berkeley) possessed was as a landed proprietor; still regretting that this motion had been made, because he believed that it would retard the object of the mover, and wishing that it had been otherwise worded, and that the word "now "had been left out, and disliking it on that ground, yet thinking that this motion would keep up a pressure which would ultimately have the effect of altering the Corn-laws, he deemed himself choosing the least of two evils—obliged to vote with the hon. Member.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ House resumed.—Committee to sit again.—House adjourned