Page images


[ocr errors]

forget the commercial interest entirely, and called on the House to support the agricultural interest alone. For his own part, he thought it better to adhere to a system already tried, and found efficient, than to adopt experiments, however beautiful the theory by which they were supported. He should always prefer making the amount of the rent depend on the price of corn, rather than render the price of corn consequent on the amount of the rent. He concluded by moving, "That the Report be brought up this day six months."

Mr. Yorke denied that he had ever spoken of the commercial interest in the manner attributed to him.

Lord Nugent rose to second the amendment. He said that on the same grounds on which the other night he had voted against going into a committee, he should now give his hearty and decided vote against receiving the report. Under an impression of the difficulties with which the question was surrounded, and the importance of the interests involved, he had, not without some hesitation, arrived at a decided opinion by which to direct his conduct. But the question, as it now stood, involved other considerations be sides those of the ultimate expediency of the legislative measure. He thought the question had been hurried through the House, up to its present stage, in a manner indecorous to Parliament, and injurious to the people of England. On a question of such intricacy, and such importance to our commercial as well as landed interest, time ought to have been given to members to instruct and satisfy their own minds, so that, even should they be disposed to concur in the necessity of the Bill, they might have means and opportunity to reconcile, if possible, the wishes and feelings of their constituents. No such opportunity had been given, and the Bill had been hurried through with a haste ill becoming the importance of the subject, or the gravity of Parliament. The people of England were at the doors; he meant not in riotous and tumultuous meeting, but in respectful, constitutional, and rightful remonstrance, by way of petition. This was not a moment for hurrying such a Bill, or for running as it were a race for time against the petitions of the people. He trusted he was as little disposed as any man who heard him to concede any thing to the outcry of a mob, which was as contemptible as it was violent. He felt

as strongly as any man, that the deliberations of the House, to be useful to the country, must be unbiassed and unintimi. dated; and never would compromise the freedom of so important an agency. But, on the other hand, as an humble individual sitting in that House, he could not consent that the people of England should be thrust from the bar without time for petition, nor that the voices of those by whose franchise gentlemen sat there should be unheard or disregarded. Besides this view of the subject, on which he mainly and readily rested his vote, there were several considerations on which he should pause, both as to the justice and the policy of the measure. He thought that it was imposing a high standard price on an article, which as it had fluctuated under the burthens and chances of war, so would it, under the influence of peace, find its own proper and natural level. The measure would, he thought, encourage to an alarming extent emigration among the middling orders, particularly among manufacturers, who would export arts, enterprize, and hands, to those countries where sustenance was cheaper, and the wages of labour corresponded better with the means of life. He thought no case had been made out to convince the House that this minimum standard would have the ultimate effect of keeping corn at a more moderate level; but he was convinced that the immediate operation of it would be the reducing the labouring class to a more wretched dependence on parochial assistance than the poor-laws had already placed them in. It belonged to older men than himself to recollect the good days of the English. peasantry. The high and honourable pride which once kept the peasant from stooping to parochial relief was now extinct, the possibility of his maintaining himself and his family by honest labour was now no more; and laws such as these would perpetuate this wretched change, would make it worse, and bring down a free and gallant peasantry to the abject state of serfs of the soil. The English peasantry had done much in our support; had made many sacrifices, through a long, arduous, and, at one time, nearly hopeless war. We had animated their exertions by bidding them look to the blessings of peace, whenever, under Providence, peace should arrive. They had abided with us, and for us, the pelting of the storm. The storm was overpast, and what was the poor man's reward in peace? What were

the blessings of peace to the poor man? Did they consist in a lower price to him for his luxuries or his plearures? No. In the low price of bread. How did we render the blessings of peace intelligible to a poor man's mind? By talking to him of a lower price of his daily bread. And now we barbarously and insultingly told him to enter with us into an abstract and distant speculation, on a standard price of corn, which began by raising it, and by placing him for ever a wretched dependant on the bounty of a parish overseer. He had never given a more cordial or eager vote than the one he should give for the bon, baronet's amendment.

Mr. Douglas completely acquiesced in the principle of the Bill, though he thought the price of 80s. too high that point being fitly arranged, he was convinced that it would promote materially the general prosperity of the empire. It should be recollected, that it had been two years under the consideration of parliament. With respect to the exorbitant rents, it should be remembered, that in what were called the good old times, the landlord was in the habit of receiving rent to the amount of one-third of the produce, but now all that was allowed him was a fourth, and sometimes only a fifth. It was only by acting in a liberal spirit that our manufactures had flourished; and the agriculture of the country, with the same encouragement, without detriment to trade, would thrive in an equal proportion. It was said that land-owners had derived great advantages from the events of war; but the liberal principles on which they had acted ought not to be forgotten. It was impossible that the labouring agriculturists could subsist in England as they did even in the most favoured countries of the continent that he had recently visited, and where he saw the peasants living upon peas, beans, and the lowest fare, in order to supply wheat to the peasantry of Great Britain. He allowed that the petitions upon the table were numerous, but the condition of the people and the means they possessed of forming an accurate judgment ought to be considered when the value of those petitions was to be estimated. Those who were most deeply interested on the other side of the question had comparatively few opportunities of coming before Parliament, and, besides, the arguments employed against the Bill were such as readily to alarm the prejudices of the lower orders of the community.

Mr. Philips said, that according to the argument of the hon. gentleman, agricul ture had stimulated commerce; but the fact was, that commerce had stimulated agriculture. One object, it had been urged, was to prevent fluctuation of price; but no argument had been employed to shew how it was to be prevented; and yet, before that was shewn, the House was to be told that the restricting price was to occasion cheapness, and prevent fluctuation. If high rents could be fairly and justly obtained, he would not object to them; but those who opposed this measure, complained of landholders taking unnatural and artificial means to increase rents. During the last twenty years, the value of the fee simple had been doubled, and rents had been raised in proportion. Gentlemen had boasted of the superior condition of the agriculturists; but he maintained, that it was the manufacturers who had chiefly contributed to the support of the country. The House should, therefore, pause, before they adopted a measure which could not fail to be injurious to that description of persons. It was by means of the demand for agricultural produce that high rents had been obtained, and that demand had been from the manufacturers. From whence, he would ask, had our army and navy been supplied? It had been said, from the agriculturists only; but the noble lord at the head of the war department could not fail to acknowledge, that they were furnished also from the commercial and manufacturing classes. It would be a great misfortune to the country, if the people were to be told that the commercial and manufacturing interests were to be little attended to, and all the consideration was to be given to the agriculturists. Proper respect should be paid to the voice of the people, and he trusted that those who had been advocates for this measure would not proceed in a course which must tend to increase the popular ferment.

Mr. Wellesley Pole said, that not having yet spoken upon this subject, he was anxious to take an opportunity of expressing his high approbation of the measure before the House, in all its parts. He wished it to be distinctly understood, that it was his decided opinion that a wiser measure could not have been brought forward; and he hoped that his right hon. friend would not be induced to shrink from his duty, or to alter the measure in any respect, either as applied to the prin

tionably too high. He thought, too, the proposed restrictive price of 80s. was much more than was necessary to protect the agricultural interests, and under that impression alone he should, vote for the motion of the hon. baronet. He took the opportunity of stating, that he had presented a petition from Newcastle-uponTyne, signed by 25,000 persons, which had been agreed on at a meeting where the business had been transacted with the utmost decorum and unanimity. He was sorry that he could not go the whole length of the petition, which stated, that no legislative measure was necessary.

Mr. Methuen said, he should oppose the Bill at all events, whether the cousequence was to lower the price of rents or not. Though the House should not be influenced by clamour, yet when the voice of the people was so unanimously expressed in a constitutional manner by petitions, it should be attended to.

ciple or to the execution. He thought 80s. was the price that ought to be fixed, to protect the grower of corn, and to enable him to compete with foreign markets: it ought to be recollected, that it was only a protecting price, and not a sum which the farmer would obtain for his wheat. He was persuaded that no Bill could have been introduced that would at once so well consult the interest of the grower and the consumer, the farmer, land-owner, and manufacturer. Was it politic and just to reduce the rental of the whole kingdom one-fourth? Would the hon. member for Wiltshire support those who professedly wished to reduce the rents in so great a proportion? The situation in which Ireland was, was an argument in favour of the measure before the House. Ireland was one of the great sources of our support, and might with proper encouragement render us independent of foreign aid. We obliged her to take our manufactures, and in time of scarcity stopped the distilleries, which Mr. Calcraft said, that so many circumwere the great sources of her revenue, instances had occurred since the committee order that we might derive supply from them. And in our turn should we not give her the preference over foreigners? It was necessary, also, by some legislative measure, to prevent the fluctuation of prices. He should not, therefore, be induced by any consideration to give up any part of the Bill before the House. As to the charge of precipitation which had been brought against the supporters of the Bill, it had been three years ago before the House, and three weeks under discussion, and the debates had gone to a length almost unexampled. He gave due weight to the petitions; but when he had once made up his mind, no quantity of petitions heaped on the table, or of clamour out of doors, should induce him to give his vote against his judgment.

Sir M. W. Ridley said, that last year he had not voted for this Bill, because he had no information upon the subject. He had since, however, considered the measure, and was sure that protection was necessary to the farmer. To what extent that protection ought to go, however, was another question. In his opinion, the prices at which lands were at present let, must be reduced; and he was satisfied the true English landlord, when he saw the necessity of such a step, would not hesitate to adopt it. It was necessary and good for all orders of the community, that rent should be at a fair and moderate rate; but at present the prices were unques$

on the subject of the Corn laws had terminated their labours, that that circumstance alone would have induced him to press the necessity of further investigation. It was said that the measure was not precipitated, because some change in the Corn laws had for three years been agitated. But had it been discussed in three years of peace? Had the price of labour been reduced for three years? Had the property tax been removed during that period? The country was now in a totally new state from that in which it was when the question was first brought forward. A great deal had been said on the subject of Ireland; and he thought it proper, that consistently with moderate cheap prices to the people of this country, Ireland should have the monopoly of the home market. But he had heard nothing to prove that so high a price as 80s. was necessary to protect the interests of Ireland. There was nothing to prove that by agreeing to the protecting price of 728. he had been a niggard as to the Irish interests. As the wages of labour depended on the price of bread, it was not possible to apply the same prohibitions to the trade in wheat as to that in cottons or other articles of manufacturing produce. He agreed that rents must and ought to fall. Rents were the effect and not the cause of prices. The landlords had properly taken advantage of the high prices to raise their rents, and they should, now

the prices were low, reduce them, and would not be worse off with the lower than they had been with the higher rents. The farmers were aware that the object of the measure was to clinch the present high rents, and therefore were hostile to it. The first effect of the measure would be to throw the labourer on the parish, from which necessity he had been just escaping. Such would be the effect, at least in England. In Ireland and Scotland wheat did not form the common food of the people. Much as he deplored all that had passed in the metropolis, and however he should have been disposed, if the cause had been that of the rabble of the overgrown metropolis, and not of all the people of the kingdom, to withdraw his support, he should not be induced to vote in favour of the Bill even by the disgraceful conduct of the mob; and he hoped the House would not draw inferences unfavourable to the petitions which had been presented to them, from the conduct they had witnessed.

Mr. Charles Long said, in considering this question, his object was to do that which was most beneficial to all, and particularly to the labouring and poor classes of society. The more he had reflected upon the subject, the more he was convinced, that the manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the farmer, and the labourer, had not, with reference to this question, as some gentlemen supposed, distinct and contending interests, but that the interests of all were inseparably connected and united. The hon. gentleman who spoke last had said, that the wages of labour had fallen very much, in many parts of the country, and he asked whether this was not a great blessing? Whether it was a blessing or an evil depended upon the cause; if the wages of labour had fallen because the farmer could not afford to employ the labourer, and on this account many of the industrious classes of society were thrown out of work, which he believed to be the fact, the fall of the wages of labour, in that case, he considered to be a great evil; it was a mockery to tell the labourer that he was to have bread cheap, if you did not give him wages to buy it. Many of the poor he had heard had signed the petitions against the Bill, upon being asked whether they wished to have bread cheap or dear. Who did not wish for cheapness, as far as it was practicable to attain it? But if they had been told that a very low price of bread would necessarily (VOL. XXX. )

be accompanied with a proportionably lower price for the wages of labour, if they knew their own interests they would not have petitioned against the Bill. The truth is, that if the farmer cannot grow his corn to a profit, he will not employ the labourer at the same wages to cultivate it; in that case the labourer cannot purchase of the shopkeeper as he was accustomed to d, or the shopkeeper of the manufacturer; so that though the farmer may feel the present evil in the first instance, the labourer will feel it shortly, in the loss or lowering of his wages, and the shopkeeper and manufacturer in the diminished sale of their goods; and those who say that things might be cheaper than they are, and yet bear a relative proportion to each other, forget that the taxes cannot now be reduced, if we mean to keep faith, as he trusted we always should, with the national creditors. Some of the opponents of this measure had said, that the evil complained of might be remedied by the landlords lowering their rents: he did not agree with those who said that rents had nothing to do with the price of corn; he considered rent as one of the charges which the farmer incurred in the cultivation of his land, and he knew that rents had been raised in some instances exorbitantly high. Adventuring landjobbers had been found to give extravagant prices for land, and adventuring farmers had given enormous rents for them; but this was in contemplation of much higher prices of corn than he hoped we should ever see again: the rents of such lands must come down very much, and would come down, whether this Bill passed or not; but he did not believe that, generally speaking, the rents of the country gentleman had been disproportionably raised, or that the rent he now received would purchase more goods, than the rent he received twenty years ago :-the evidence before the two Houses of Parlia ment proved this; and, if so, we had no more right to call upon the landlord to reduce those rents, which were not unreasonable, than we had to call upon the manufacturer to sell his goods at a less profit than that at which he now sold them. Nor would such a reduction of rent, if we could enforce it, cure the evil; for there is much land now in the cultivation of corn, which would not pay the expenses at the present price, even if it were let to the tarmer rent-free. Several gentlemen had argued that the protecting price of (F)

80s. the quarter, would be the actual price: | the protecting price, and the actual selling price had no reference to each other, and to their arguments he would oppose facts. They would find, for 70 years previous to the year 1763, the actual price had been very considerably indeed below the protecting price: the protecting price had been raised in 1791, and for five years after, the actual price had been very much below it; this he thought was conclusive upon this point. Some gentlemen had also argued, that the evidence before the House did not support so high a protecting price as 80s. the quarter, because it was agreed to take off the property tax, since the evidence was given: but it must be recollected that the witnesses did not speak of the protecting price, but of the remunerating price to the farmer; and if the protecting price was 80s. the price received into the farmer's pocket when the average amounted to that sum, must be less, because the charges of conveying it to the port where the average is taken, must be deducted. If, therefore, it was the intention to give the farmer as his remunerating price 80s., before foreign importation is permitted, the protecting price should be set higher; but for this nobody contended;-and all he contended for was, that evidence justified the price which was proposed. It had been said by the opponents of the measure, that the effect of it would be to make corn generally dearer; he was convinced that for any number of years, it would make it generally cheaper, by creating an independent supply. With the encouragement the Bill held out, Great Britain and Ireland would, generally speaking, grow sufficient corn for the consumption of the empire. If we depended upon foreigners, we were at their mercy as to price, or as to any supply whatever, and they might withhold it when we stood most in need of it; and it was in evidence before us, that they always raised the price in proportion to our wants. If there was a large body of the people who did not look deeply enough into questions of this sort, thoroughly to understand them, and who would prefer present plenty to fature famine, he trusted the Legislature would not participate in any such delusion. Many of our manufactures had been protected by restraints and prohibitions upon foreign importation: the Legislature had done this, not for the sake of the manufacturer, but for the general interests of the community; so he would

protect the agriculture of the country, not for the sake of the farmer, with whose separate interests he had nothing to do, but for the general benefit of the people at large.

Mr. Majoribanks stated, that in the part of Scotland with which he was acquainted, the rents had increased from 10s. or 15s. an acre, to 28s. and thence to 40s. This increase had arisen from the increased industry and skill of the farmers. The leases were granted for nineteen or twentyone years, which gave the farmers confidence, so that on farms of 5001. a year, 2,000l. capital was frequently employed. The tenants would be very unjustly treated, if after having expended large sums on their land, they were exposed to foreign competition. The labourers at present in Scotland lived much better than the tenants had lived formerly, and wheaten bread was substituted for oatmeal. The measure was, therefore, as warmly supported by the lower as by the higher classes in his part of the country.

Mr. Finlay said, he approved of the principle of the Bill, but wished the price to be fixed at the lower rate. He thought that 80s. was by no means to be warranted: and that the House, in adopting that high price, would be doing what was unnecessary and uncalled for. He wished the matter to be re-considered, and would therefore support the amendment.

Mr. Huskisson expressed his astonishment that the hon. gentleman who had just spoken should have declared himself in favour of the principle of the Bill, and yet declare his intention to agree to a proposition which would at once prevent the possibility of that principle being recognized in any shape. He considered the best course would be to permit the report to be received, and then to propose any alteration in price which the House might think it expedient to adopt, in preference to the sum suggested by his right hon. friend who brought in the Bill.

Mr. Finlay, in explanation, said, he had not misunderstood the question, for he meant the measure should be amended by another bill.

Mr. Tierney said, that if he were satisfied it was meant upon bringing up the report to take it into farther consideration, with any view to conciliation, he should not think the amendment necessary. But seeing that so many gentlemen on the other side declared their determination not to give way, that indeed they would

« PreviousContinue »