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Proceedings in Parliament on the Bill for Restricting the Importation of
The subject which received the great- nion of this committee, that any sort of est share of the attention of parliament foreign corn, meal, or Aour, which this year, was the state of the corn may by law be imported into the laws. The unexampled distress of the united kingdom, shall at all times be agricultural interest, the ruinous ef- allowed to be brought to the united fects of which were now felt by every kingdom and to be warehoused there, class of the community, rendered it á without paymentof any duty whatever. matter of paramount importance to 2." That such corn, 'meal, and endeavour to find some remedy for an flour, so warehoused, may at all times evil of such fearful magnitude. It will be taken out of the warehouse, and be be recollected, that, in the preceding exported without payment of any duty year, a bill was brought into parlia- whatever. ment for protecting the agriculturists 3. “ That such corn, meal, or flour, by additional restrictions on the impor. so warehoused, may be taken out of tation of corn; but that this bill was the warehouse, and be entered for not passed. Committees, however, home consumption in the united kingwere appointed by both Houses, for dom, without payment of any duty the purpose of enquiring into the cause whatever, whenever foreign corn, meal
, of the agricultural distress, and the or flour, of the same sort, shall by law means of relieving it. These commit. be admissible into the united kingdom tees entered into long and laborious for home consumption. investigations, in the course of which 4. “ That such foreign corn, meal, they examined a great number of in or flour, shall be permitted to be imdịviduals, who, from their situation or ported into the united kingdom, for pursuits, were supposed to be most home consumption, without payment qualified to afford useful information; of any duty, whenever the average and after these enquiries had been prices of the several sorts of British completed, and the reports of both corn, made up and published in the committees had been laid before their manner now by law required, shall be respective Houses, Mr Robinson, on at or above the prices hereafter speci17th February, 1815, brought for- fied, viz.
Per Qr. ward, in a committee of the whole Wheat..........
80s. House of Commons, the following re Rye, Pease, and Beans...... 53s. solutions :
Barley, Beer, or Bigg ... 40$. 1. Resolved, “ That it is the opi. Oats.........
But that, whenever the average prices But that, whenever the prices of Briof British corn shall respectively be tish corn respectively shall be below below the prices above stated, no fo the prices above specified, corn, or reign com, or meal, or four, made meal, or flour, made from any of the from any of the respective sorts of fo respective sorts of corn above enumereign corn above enumerated, shall be rated, the produce of any British co. allowed to be imported or taken out lony or plantation in North America, of warehouse for home consumption, shall no longer be allowed to be im. por shall any foreign flour be at any ported into the united kingdom for time importable into Ireland.
home consumption. 5.“ That the average prices of the 7. “ That such corn, meal, or flour, several sorts of British corn, by which the produce of any British colony or the importation of foreign corn, meal, plantation in North America, as may or flour, into the united kingdom is to now by law be imported into the unibe regulated and governed, shall con- ted kingdom, shall at all times be pertinue to be made up and published in mitted to be brought there and warethe manner now required by law; but housed, without payment of any duty that, if it shall hereafter at any time whatever. appear that the average prices of Bri 9. “ That such corn, meal, or fiour, tish corn, in the six weeks immediate- so warehoused, may be taken out of ly succeeding the 15th February, 15th warehouse, and entered for home con. May, 15th August, and 15th Novem- sumption in the united kingdom, when. ber in each year, shall have fallen be ever corn, meal, or flour, of the like low the prices at which foreign corn, description, imported direct from any meal, or flour, are by law allowed to such colony or plantation, shall be ad. be imported for home consumption, no missible for home consumption, but such foreign corn, meal, or flour, shall not otherwise.” be allowed to be imported into the These resolutions were discussed at united kingdom for home consump- great length in the committee on the tion, from any place between the ri. 17th, 220, and 23d February, when vers Eyder and Garonne, both inclu. they were agreed to. On the 27th a sive, until a new average shall be made long debate took place on the quesup and published in the London Ga- tion, whether the report of the comzette, for regulating the importation mittee should be brought up, which into the united kingdom for the suc. was carried in the affirmative. On ceeding quarter.
28th February the resolutions of the 6. "That such corn, meal, or flour, committee were agreed to by the being the produce of any British co House, and leave given to bring in a lony or plantation in North America, bill upon these resolutions. On 1st as may now by law be imported into March the bill was accordingly prethe united kingdom, may hereafter be sented by Mr Robinson, and read a imported for home consumption, with- first time ; and every stage of its proout payment of any duty, whenever gress, till it was passed on the 10th of the average prices of British corn, made March, was accompanied by long and up and published as by law required, animated debates. On the 13th March shall be at or above the prices hereaf- the bill was brought into the House ter specified, viz.
of Lords, and read a first time. At Wheat...........
the same time a motion was made by Rye, Pease, and Beans...... 44s. Earl Grey for a further enquiry into Barley, Beer, or Bigg....... 338. the state of the corn laws, which, after Oats............
............................ 22s. a long discussion, was negatived by a
large majority. The bill, in all its no single nation can act on a differen stages, was discussed as fully as it had one without disadvantage. Accord been in the Lower House, and on 20th ingly, a great body of legislative pro March it was passed. Besides the de. visions have been made in this country bates on the bill, a great deal of inci. for the protection of our trade and dental discussion took place in conse
manufactures. These had, in the quence of a number of petitions which course of time, been extended into were presented against it
such a complicated system, that the We shall endeavour to give as cor. legislature had often found it necessary rect a view as possible of the argu. to protect particular branches of inments used by the opposite parties in dustry, in order to prevent them from the debates on this important question, falling a sacrifice to other descriptions endeavouring to throw them, as far as of industry, even in this country, which, it can be done, into the form of a con. in consequence of some previous pronected discussion.
visions, would have been otherwise It was contended, in the first place, more favoured. In consequence of all by the supporters of the bill, that this this, our manufactures had been enmeasure was necessary in consequence couraged by such high protecting du. of the general system adopted, not only ties, amounting frequently to prohibi. in this, but in every other commercial tions, that foreign manufactures were country, of protecting and encoura- completely excluded from competition ging the different branches of industry in our market: For example (as staby legislative provisions of different ted by Mr J. P. Grant,) woollen kinds. It was, no doubt, recognised cloths imported paid 100l. per cent. ; as a general principle in political eco cotton goods 85l. 10s. per cent. ; glass nomy, that the legislature ought not 114l. per cent. ; brassand copper goods to interfere in matters of commerce, 591. per cent. ; earthen ware 791. per but that the course of trade ought to cent. ; dressed leather 1421. per cent. ; be left to itself. This general princi• gold and silver goods 802.; gilt ware ple, however, could not be acted upon 100l. &c. It was admitted, that this by one nation, unless all the other na. system of legislative enactments may tions, or at least the most considerable have been carried too far; but it has ones, were also to adopt it. In such been so long acted upon that the a state of the world, each nation state of the country has adapted itself might purchase whatever commodities to it. There is no idea of doing it it required from those quarters where away; and indeed it would be imposthey could be produced and brought sible. In such circumstances, it fol. home at the cheapest rate and of the lows, that not to protect any one best quality. But the period, unfor- branch of agricultural industry, while tunately, was not arrived when the all other branches are protected, is poworld should be so enlightened as to sitively to discourage it ; and surely, act generally upon any such principle. of all branches, this is the last that Each nation endeavours to protect and ought to be discouraged. This arguencourage its own commerce and ma ment, as to the expediency of recipronufactures, at the expence of other cal protection, was not confined to the nations, by duties on the importation case of commerce and agriculture, as of the produce of other countries, or viewed in connection with each other; by absolute prohibition of such im- for it was also to be considered, that portation : And, while such is the sys. one branch of agricultural produce was tem adopted by the world in general, already protected. The importation
of foreign cattle was prohibited ; but would operate in throwing a portion of if protection was to be given to any the land out of cultivation, was exdescription of agricultural produce, it plained by Mr Robinson, who obsershould chiefty be given to grain. It ved, that the great increase of agriwas farther remarked, that Adam culture which had taken place during Smith himself admitted that there the last twenty years, had inevitably were cases in which it would be advi- been accompanied by an increase of sable to lay burdens on the competi- charge to the consumer. It was well tion of foreigners. One of these was, known, that those parts of the counwhen such a measure was necessary try which were so fruitful as not to for the defence of the country, and he require a great deal of cultivation, instanced the navigation act. Another when compared with the population, case was, when a tax was imposed on could only produce sustenance to a li., the production of the commodity at mited extent; and in proportion as home. Agricultural produce might that population increased, and the be said to be in this situation ; for it number of manufacturing establishwas the same thing whether a tax was ments became extended, in the same imposed on the production of a com- proportion did the call for agricultural modity, or whether it was excluded produce increase. But the supply to from benefits enjoyed by other branches this increased demand could only come of industry. It was observed by Mr from that species of land which could Morritt, that “the farmers were load. not be cultivated without very consied with the support of the ecclesiasti. derable expense; and the produce, cal establishment, the support of the therefore, of this kind of land, if culpoor, which had been of late years tivated at all, must necessarily be sold much increasing,—and of the roads, at a dear rate.”-Mr Robinson went which were of so much benefit to the on to shew, that if, in
of a commerce of the interior. How should supply of foreign corn, the market was it be said then, that there was a free. so depressed as not to afford the cul. dom of trade, if the agriculturists were tivator of those inferior lands such a subjected to so many burdens without price as would remunerate him, they countervailing advantages ?”
must, of course, be allowed to go out In the second place, it was argued, of cultivation. The fact on which that if an adequate protection was not this reasoning mainly depended, that offered to the growers of corn, a great domestic corn could not contend in part of the land in this country now our markets with foreign corn, seemed in tillage must be thrown out of culti to be nearly agreed on by all parties. vation, and that we should be obliged Indeed it appeared to be proved by to draw a considerable proportion of the reports and the evidence that with our supply of grain from abroad; the out some alteration in the existing consequences of which would be, not laws, we must be undersold by foreignonly that the prices would be higher ers in our own markets. The growers than if we had been able to provide of foreign corn were not so heavily for our own consumption, but that we loaded with taxes as ours, and conseshould be placed in the alarming situa- quently could afford to sell it cheaper. tion of depending for our subsistence Mr Huskisson stated, that large imon the pleasure of foreign, and proba- ports from France had arrived on the bly hostile nations.
southern coast of England, where the The manner in which a refusal to markets were so overstocked that the grant a protection to the agriculturist English farmer could not get a bidding
for his corn at any
price ; that he had lar practice, if they found we dependseen the invoices of those cargoes, and ed on them for food for our populathat after all the charges of convey. tion? Another cause of the precariance were added, the corn so exported ousness of our foreign supply arose could be sold for 50s. per quarter.
from the chance of our going to war In such a state of things as this, with the nations from whom it was with a diminished cultivation at home, derived. « For the long continuance and an increased importation from of peace with France,” Lord Binning abroad, it was argued, that the price said, “ he placed the firmest confidence of corn would, in the end, become in the wise and virtuous prince who higher than if we had kept ourselves had succeeded our bitter enemy, and independent of foreign supply, and, in the moderation of the government indeed, that the country would gene- of this country. But should we be rally be in a state of want and scarcidriven into a war with France, her ty. “ For a time," said Mr Robin. hostility would be tremendous when son, “ there might be abundance, but she found herself at once our enemy in the long run we should be reduced and our granary. He hoped, indeed, to great want and distress. Suppose that even wars might be conducted on that, relying on the importations of more liberal principles than hitherto, foreign corn, and paying for it, for a but still he could not think of risking considerable length of time, at a lower the entire subsistence of the nation on rate, as we might do,-suppose the such a hope, nor be content to rely on consequence of this to be, that our the precarious generosity of an enemy own produce was dirninished. Suppose for that which was most necessary to that, in this situation of things, a scar our own subsistence. Famine, as ap: city occurred abroad and at home ; in plied to fortresses, was one of the that case we could not get corn, and most common, as well as one of the thus we should have to contend with most dreadful means of conducting a double deficiency.” But there were hostility; and what was recognized as many other causes besides scarcity a legal mode of warfare on a small which might impede or prevent our scale, might easily be extended to the supply from foreign nations. The na-blockading of whole lines of sea.coast, tions now able to supply us, might, in and the famishing whole nations." the course of time, be prevented from On this subject some striking obdoing so by their own increasing wealth servations were made by Mr Grattan. and population. They might be pre. He remarked, that “ much had been vented by the policy, or impolicy of said of the commercial relationship of their governments. It was said by the country, by those who seem to Mr Western, that, in France, the im- have forgotten that her political rela. portation would cease by law when tionship was much more important, corn became 49s, per quarter; and he The existence of the nation depended asked, what security had this country on grair ; those who supplied us had for a constant supply from France? our lives in their hands—they were He added, that, in 1764, the French the masters of our very being ; our issued a decree respecting the trade in resources, our finances, our trade, grain, to the effect that all corn ex must depend on the will of others ; ported should be conveyed in French and would it be wise to put the trident ships, navigated by French seamen ; itself into the lands of those who and he asked, what should prevent would be cur enemies the moment it other countries from following a simi- ceased to be their interest to be our