AGRICULTURAL DISTRESS AND THE FINANCIAL AND OTHER MEASURES FOR ITS RELIEF
29 April 1822
The Marquis of Londonderry in pursuance of the report from the committee on the agricultural distress (which had been presented on 1 April 1822) moved a series of resolutions on agriculture and at the same time announced various financial measures which the government would shortly bring forward. He repeated the opinion which he had formerly expressed that the remission of taxes could only be a palliative, but not an effectual remedy for the agricultural distress; an opinion which had received sanction and confirmation ‘in the able work which has recently been published by the hon. member for Portarlington (Mr. Ricardo), than whom it is impossible for the House on such questions to have higher authority’. Lord Londonderry’s resolutions provided that, once the ports had been opened to the importation of corn on the price reaching the limit fixed by the existing law (80s. per quarter for wheat ), that limit should thereafter be lowered to 70s.; the importation however instead of being free of duty as it was under the existing law would be subject to a duty of 12s. per quarter for wheat when the price was between 70s. and 80s., of 5s. when the price was between 80s. and 85s., and of 1s. when above 85s. An exception was made for foreign corn already in the warehouses. It was also proposed to advance up to 1,000,000l. on the security of British corn when the price of wheat was under 60s. Mr. Western spoke next.
Mr. Ricardo said, that, having a proposition which he wished to submit to the House, he offered himself thus early to the committee. He was desirous of laying his proposition before the House, as the noble lord had laid his, in order that the House might have an opportunity of judging of their several merits. The hon. member for Essex had said, that the noble lord’s plan would have the effect of extending the paper currency. He cared not whether it would or would not; for he knew full surely that they had at present as extended a currency as the state of the country required. The present plan—however it might be disguised—was an attack upon the sinking fund. The sinking fund was in principle relinquished. He cared not whether the ultimate accumulation was to be 7,000,000l. or 9,000,000l.; the present plan was a breach of public faith, so far as the application of the sinking fund could be a breach of faith. There was, in fact, no longer any sinking fund. He solemnly protested against prolonging the charter of the Bank. They had repeatedly called on the chancellor of the exchequer not to enter into any engagement with the Bank for a renewal of their charter. Yet it was now said, that there would be an extension for 10 years, for an object for which it was totally insufficient. It would be a great improvement that the public should be allowed to enter into partnery concerns for supplying their own money transactions, instead of having them intrusted for 10 years longer to the Bank. He had hoped never to have heard of their charter being renewed. The benefit of the paper currency ought to belong to the public. No advantage could ever be derived from the Bank lending money to the public.—With respect to what the noble lord had said of their plans differing very little, he thought there was the most essential difference between them. He (Mr. R.) proposed that a duty of 20s. per quarter should be imposed on the importation of wheat when the price rose to 70s. The noble lord supposed that he (Mr. R.) had adopted this of choice; but instead of that, he considered it as forced upon him, and he consented reluctantly to this duty, on account of the distress which now existed, and only on that account. There was another very important difference. He proposed that this duty should be imposed when wheat rose to 70s., because agriculture was at present so extremely depressed. But the noble lord proposed 80s., 85s., 70s., and brought nearer all of them to the importing price, while he (Mr. R.) differed upon that point, and by imposing a duty of 20s. when the price was lower at home, afforded a greater relief to the farmer. He thought the farmers the most distressed class in the country, and the most cruelly used. When the prices rose in consequence of a short harvest, and when the farmers ought to have compensation, they diminished their profits, and let corn in from all parts of the world. This great evil the noble lord did not propose to remedy. If the price rose to 85s., it was only required to pay a duty of 1s., and the poor farmer might be inundated with foreign corn. But another difference between him and the noble lord was this—he (Mr. R.) contended, that there could be no security to the farmer while the price of corn was kept higher in this country than in foreign countries. This had been ably shown in the last year’s agricultural report. Did the noble lord propose to relieve the agriculturists from this evil, or to afford any mitigation of it? No. Therefore they would be fully as ill off as now. According to his (Mr. R.’s) plan they would be sure that the prices here could not be much higher than they were abroad. He would read the propositions, which he hoped the noble lord would be prevailed on to admit with his own; if not, he hoped the House would decide respecting it. They were as follow:
1. “That it is expedient to provide that the foreign corn now under bond in the United Kingdom may be taken out for home consumption, whenever the average price of wheat, ascertained in the usual mode, shall exceed 65s. a quarter, upon the payment of the following duties:—Wheat 15s. a quarter; rye, peas, and beans, 9s. 6d. a quarter; barley, bear, or bigg, 7s. 6d. a quarter; oats, 5s. a quarter.
2. “That whenever the average price of wheat, ascertained in the usual mode, shall exceed 70s. a quarter, the trade in corn shall henceforth be permanently free, but subject to the following duties upon importation:—Of wheat, 20s. a quarter; rye, peas, and beans, 13s. 3d. a quarter; barley, bear, or bigg, 10s. a quarter; oats, 6s. 8d. a quarter.
3. “That at the expiration of one year from the time at which the above duties on corn imported shall be in operation, they be reduced as follows:—On wheat, 1s. a quarter; rye, peas, and beans, 8d. a quarter; barley, bear, or bigg, 6d. a quarter; oats 4d. a quarter.
4. “That a like reduction of duties be made in every subsequent year, until the duty on the importation of wheat be 10s. a quarter; rye, peas, and beans, 6s. 7d. a quarter; barley, bear, or bigg, 5s. a quarter; oats, 3s. 4d. a quarter, at which rates they shall henceforth be fixed.
5. “That a drawback or bounty be allowed on the exportation of corn to foreign countries, On wheat, 7s. a quarter; rye, peas, and beans, 4s. 6d. a quarter; barley, bear, and bigg, 3s. 6d. a quarter; oats 2s. 4d. a quarter; and that such drawback or bounty in like manner as the importation duty be fixed.”
Mr. Huskisson moved a series of resolutions to the effect that three months after the price of wheat exceeded 70s. per quarter, or so much sooner as it exceeded 80s., the ports should be permanently open to the importation of foreign corn, subject to the same duties as proposed by the Marquis of Londonderry.
[See further p. 162.]