AGRICULTURAL DISTRESS REPORT
7 May 1822
The Report [see p. 155] was further considered. Mr. Attwood opposed all the resolutions that had been moved [see pp. 155 and 158–9 above] because, under the pretence of relieving agriculture, their real object was to pave the way for the introduction of foreign grain. The true causes of the agricultural distress were the alterations in the value of currency and the enormous burden of taxation. But it was surprising to find that ‘in the present day, when that new school, or new science as it was called, of political economy, was supposed so greatly to flourish, and was certainly so widely extended,’ doubts should exist as to what the effect of taxation was. ‘The hon. member for Portarlington—(and if he referred so repeatedly to the opinion of that hon. gentleman, it was because he was the only individual of equal authority, who had given any consistent exposition at all of the causes of agricultural distress, and he thought that the agricultural interest was on that account indebted to the hon. gentleman, at least, for his intentions, although he (Mr. Attwood) did not agree with him, in scarcely any one of the opinions he entertained; and was convinced that those opinions had produced extensive mischief and were calculated to occasion still more);— that hon. member had taken a survey of the condition of agriculture, and he found it suffering under great embarrassments; he had found that corn could not be produced in this country, at the present time, for the same monied cost at which it had been formerly produced here; and at which it could now be produced in the countries around them; and what was the explanation that he gave of the causes of this change? He told them that to feed an augmenting population, they had been driven to the cultivation of inferior soils; that those soils could be alone cultivated by the application of additional labour; that they yielded a smaller surplus produce; that none but a higher monied price could be a remunerative price for corn so grown; that this was the main source of the difficulties of agriculture, and that the relief from those difficulties was to be found in abandoning the cultivation of those poorer soils. But as this was the main ground on which the whole system of the hon. member rested, he would beg to state his opinions in his own words, as they were found in a pamphlet recently printed by him on that subject. [Mr. Attwood then read from a pamphlet of Mr. Ricardo]—“The words remunerative price, are meant to denote the price at which corn can be raised, paying all charges.—It follows, from this definition, that in proportion as a country is driven to the cultivation of poorer lands for the support of an increasing population, the price of corn to be remunerative must rise. It appears, then, that in the progress of society, when no importation takes place we are obliged constantly to have recourse to worse soils to feed an augmenting population, and with every step of our progress the price of corn must rise.” This was the hon. gentleman’s theory, by which, as applied to this country, he explained the cause of the rise of corn since 1793, and why it was, that corn could not now be grown in this country at a low price. Now he (Mr. Attwood) was convinced, that there was no foundation, in fact, for the assertions here maintained, and on which this system was founded. He believed, that the fact thus assumed was directly the reverse of that which did in reality exist; that, so far from the average quality of land becoming poorer as population and wealth advanced, it became richer; and he had no doubt, but the average quality of the land under cultivation in this country, at the period of its highest prices, and of the greatest prosperity of agriculture, at the period prior to the close of the late war—that the average quality of land was then more fertile; that it produced more corn on an average by the acre, and with less positive labour; that it yielded a greater surplus produce, than at any former period. It was not true, that the cultivation of any country, proceeded in the manner, and according to the calculation here assumed. It was not the best land, which was first cultivated; nor the worst land which was last cultivated. This was determined in a great measure by other circumstances; by the rights of proprietorship, by locality, by enterprize, by the peculiarities of feudal tenure, its remains still existing; by roads, canals, the erection of towns, of manufactories; all those and other obstacles of a similar nature interfered with the calculations of the hon. member; and bad land when it was once brought into cultivation, and subjected to the operations of agriculture; by draining, by watering, by the application of various substances, frequently became the best land, and was afterwards cultivated at the least expense.’ Mr. Attwood illustrated his contention by reference to various periods of history and continued: ‘Adam Smith, the greatest of authorities on the subject of political economy, would tell them, that the operation of excessive taxation on agriculture, was precisely similar to that which the member for Portarlington traced to an imaginary poverty of the land. The effect of taxation on agriculture, as explained by Dr. Smith, might be stated in these words; that it was an effect similar to that which would be produced,—by an increased barrenness of the soil; by an increased inclemency of the sky.’ Mr. Attwood then proceeded to show that the burden of taxation was increased to the same extent as the value of the currency had been raised. But this was not to be estimated from the price of gold. ‘The hon. member for Portarlington, who had chiefly insisted on that mode of calculation, had never hitherto been induced to explain, why gold, taken as a commodity, in the market, by the ounce, was to be considered as a better criterion than any other commodity.’ He (Mr. A.) contended that ‘it was undoubtedly a worse.... The most proper commodities to determine the extent of that change, were those in which agriculture was principally interested, corn and cattle.’ The prices of corn and cattle, as compared with the average of the last five years of the war, had fallen one half; ‘the pressure of taxation upon agriculture, therefore, had been doubled.’
Mr. Ricardo said, he rose, impressed with great admiration for the speech which the House had just heard. He thought the hon. gentleman had shown a very considerable degree of talent, much research, and great knowledge of the subject upon which he had spoken. [Hear.] Notwithstanding these circumstances, he could not help thinking, that the hon. gentleman had committed a great many errors. The hon. gentleman had spoken of him (Mr. Ricardo) as if he had always been a favourer of a paper circulation [cries of “No, no”]—as if, in fact, he had not been one of the first to point out the evils of a currency, in the estimation of which the House could have no guide, and which was at all times liable to be increased or diminished, as it might suit the convenience or the pleasure of the Bank. The hon. gentleman appeared to have founded the whole of his speech upon a passage in a pamphlet that he (Mr. Ricardo) had written, respecting what were called “remunerating prices.” To the test of the doctrine and reasoning of that pamphlet, he should be very willing to trust the whole of the argument in this case. It could make no difference to the farmer how he obtained those remunerating prices, provided he got them; although it was very true (as had been asserted by the hon. gentleman), that in order to obtain such prices, he must be content to be paid in money or value of very different descriptions. But the important fact was, that it was impossible a man could long go on, producing any one particular commodity, unless he could obtain for it a remunerating price.—The hon. gentleman had spoken as if he (Mr. Ricardo) were alone responsible for the alteration which had lately taken place in the value of money. He would, however, beg the House to recollect the state in which the currency stood in the year 1819. At the time of the passing of the bill of 1819, the difference between the paper currency and gold was only 5 per cent. What he had then suggested was, that measures should be taken which, while they restored the value of the paper currency to an equality with gold, and thus put an end to the depreciation, would make any purchases of gold unnecessary. Under those measures, as there would have been no additional demand for gold, there could have been no increase in the value of that metal. But as that suggestion was not followed, but another which rendered the purchase of gold necessary, and which (as it had been carried into effect by the Bank) had made a considerable change in the value of gold, how was he (Mr. R.) responsible for the effects of it? If the change in the value of money had been 20 or even 50 per cent he should not have been responsible for it. Undoubtedly, as the hon. member contended, the burthen of money taxation was increased, in proportion to the increase in the value of money: the only difference was as to the amount of that increase. He (Mr. Ricardo) contended, that it was at the utmost about 10 per cent, and nothing like what had been contended by the hon. gentleman. The hon. member had said that he (Mr. Ricardo) measured depreciation solely by the price of gold; and the same observation had been made in various parts of the House, and repeated elsewhere under an entire misconception of the meaning of the word depreciation. Depreciation meant a lowering of the value of the currency, as compared with the standard by which it was professedly regulated. When he used the word, he used it in this obvious and proper sense. The standard itself might be altered, as compared with other things; and it might so happen that a currency might be depreciated, when it had actually risen, as compared with commodities, because the standard might have risen in value in a still greater proportion. When he said, that the currency was relieved from depreciation to such and such an extent, did he say that the currency had not altered in value? The question of the value of the currency was quite a different thing from the question of depreciation; and if the hon. member could prove that gold had changed in value 40 or 50 per cent, he (Mr. R.) would allow that there was a proportionate increase of value in the currency. The hon. member asked why gold was a better standard than corn or any other commodity? He (Mr. R.) answered, that gold had always been the standard of the country; and if we had not passed the fatal law of 1797, we should have continued to this moment with a metallic standard. But, would it have been said on that account, that gold had not altered in value? If, while we had continued a metallic currency, any other country which had had a paper currency had been returning to a metallic standard, the hon. gentleman might have come down, as he did now, and said, that on account of the purchase of gold that had been made, the value of that metal had been enhanced and that the pressure of money taxes had been proportionately increased. But, did the hon. member mean seriously to contend, that corn was less variable in value than gold [Hear, hear!]? Let him propose, then, that the Bank directors should pay their Bank-notes at a certain rate in quarters of corn instead of sovereigns; for that was the bearing of his assertion [Hear!]. The hon. gentleman talked of the impossibility of the cultivators of the soil having recourse to land of inferior quality, but the hon. gentleman did not correctly state the argument. It was not that cultivators were always driven by the increase of population to lands of inferior quality, but that from the additional demand for grain, they might be driven to employ on land previously cultivated a second portion of capital, which did produce as much as the first. On a still farther demand a third portion might be employed, which did not produce so much as the second: it was manifestly by the return on the last portion of capital applied, that the cost of production was determined. It was impossible, therefore, that the country should go on increasing its demand for grain without the cost of producing it being increased and causing an increased price. If the hon. member saw in the present state of things only the consequence of the change in the value of money, he gave no reason for the amount of the distress. Let them suppose his (Mr. Ricardo’s) own case. He was possessed of a considerable quantity of land, the whole of which was unburthened by a single debt. Now, according to the hon. member, he and the tenants on that land would have only been injured to the amount of the increase which the change in the value of money had made in the burthen of taxation. But they were, in point of fact, injured much more. The hon. gentleman was mistaken as to the fact, when he said there was little variation in the price of grain in the last century. In the first 62 years of the last century the average price of the quarter of wheat had been 32s.; but, in the years from 1784 to 1792 it had been 45s.—a very considerable increase on the value of corn. But, he would not rest on any scattered facts what was so evident in principle, as that the extension of cultivation must extend the cost of production of corn. The hon. member had said, that the effect of taxation laid on the land was the same as if the farmer had to support an additional man from whose labours he reaped no benefit. That he (Mr. R.) acknowledged was the effect of all taxation [Hear!]. The hon. member had seemed to think that he would deny this. On the contrary, no one could assert the mischievousness of taxation more strongly than he would. He would never consent that one sixpence should be taken out of the pockets of the people that could be avoided. But he was not, therefore, so blind as to say that taxation was the cause of all the present distress [Hear, hear!]. It was truly said, that the effect of taxation on the landholder was the same as if he had to maintain an additional man: but was not this also the case of the merchant and the manufacturer? [Hear!] If taxation, then, were the sole cause of distress, the distress would press on all alike. The theory of the hon. member was, therefore, totally insufficient to account for what they now witnessed. The hon. gentleman had asked, whether the price of corn would not be doubled if the currency were paper, and taxation were doubled? If tithes were doubled, poor-rates doubled and all taxes affecting especially the growth of corn were doubled, the effect would certainly be to increase the price of corn to that amount; but the country might be taxed generally without producing that alteration. The hon. gentleman had said that he (Mr. Ricardo) advised the abandonment of the land. Now he did not advise the abandonment of it while it was profitable; but he did undoubtedly advise farmers not to grow a commodity that would not yield them a remunerating price. He would give similar advice to the clothier and to the ship-owner, if their circumstances were similar. He would not now enter into a discussion of the particular propositions about to be brought before the committee. He was content to have answered, however inadequately, the very able speech of the hon. gentleman, and he sat down with declaring that he did not entertain the slightest doubt of the validity of the principles he had maintained.
The House having resolved itself into a committee, the Marquis of Londonderry said that personally he should feel no alarm if the resolutions of either Mr. Huskisson or Mr. Ricardo were adopted; the former had shown a disposition to modify his general principles and ‘the hon. member for Portarlington, too, had acted with as much accommodation as could be expected from a person who held so high the principles to which he gave his authority.’ But the great mass of the committee thought that the ports should not be opened when wheat was under 80s., and they ought not to legislate against the sentiments of the country; he would propose that the ports should open at 65s. with a duty of 15s. and a fluctuating duty of 5s. per quarter of wheat [cp. his previous proposal p. 155]. Sir T. Lethbridge proposed a duty of 40s. per quarter on wheat; he trusted the House would not be led away by ‘the abominable theories of political economists.’ Sir F. Burdett attacked the government for having brought forward a measure against their own conviction, and withdrawn it when they saw that it was not well received. He thought that there ought to be no duties at all. ‘He could not agree with the hon. member who spoke last in his denunciation of the principles of political economy; nor could he comprehend what the hon. member meant by political economy, when he so abused it, unless he thought that it meant low prices.’ The fall of prices was not due to the superabundance of produce or to importation, but to the diminution in the quantity of currency occasioned by the Act of 1819, ‘the most fraudulent transaction that ever disgraced any country.’ His argument was this: ‘A decrease in the quantity of an article might raise its price beyond the proportion of that decrease. But the currency had been diminished to a great extent. During the war the bank circulation rose to about 30,000,000l., and the circulation of country paper amounted, on calculation, to 40,000,000l. more, making together 70,000,000l. Taking the circulation of the country to be about a tenth part of its income, then a diminution of one per cent in the value [? quantity] of the circulating medium would depress prices 10 per cent.’
Mr. Ricardo, being of opinion that the sufferings of the agriculturists were in a great degree owing to the corn laws, considered the present a fit opportunity for saying a few words upon that subject. Even if he were fully to agree with gentlemen who ascribed the present distresses to the change in the value of the currency and the weight of taxation, still he thought those gentlemen must admit that the corn laws, considered abstractedly without any reference to those two questions, were calculated to produce great evils. One of the principal of these evils was, the unnaturally high price of corn in this country over all other countries. The hon. baronet had admitted, that superabundance would occasion a great fall in the value of corn as well as all other articles. And here he must observe, that there appeared to be a little inconsistency in the arguments of the hon. baronet. In one part of his speech the hon. baronet admitted that a super-abundant production of corn would occasion mischief to the extent in which it was at present experienced. [Sir F. Burdett dissented.] The hon. baronet now said he did not admit this; but he certainly understood him to do so, and to apply the argument to the change in the value of the currency; for he said that those who contended, that the increase of an article beyond a certain limit, would occasion a fall in price greater in proportion than the increase which had taken place, must admit that an alteration in the value of the currency will produce a change in the value of commodities, greater in proportion than the alteration in the value of money. Although he (Mr. R.) was of opinion, that a superabundant supply of an article produced a sinking in the value of the article greater than in proportion to the additional quantity, yet he did not apply this argument to money. He would put a case to the House, to show how a superabundant supply of an article would produce a sinking of its aggregate value much greater than in proportion to the surplus supply. He would suppose, that in a particular country a very rare commodity was introduced for the first time—superfine cloth for instance. If 10,000 yards of this cloth were imported under such circumstances, many persons would be desirous of purchasing it, and the price consequently would be enormously high. Supposing this quantity of cloth to be doubled, he was of opinion that the aggregate value of the 20,000 yards would be much more considerable than the aggregate value of the 10,000 yards, for the article would still be scarce, and therefore in great demand. If the quantity of cloth were to be again doubled, the effect would still be the same; for although each particular yard of the 40,000 would fall in price, the value of the whole would be greater than that of the 20,000. But, if he went on in this way increasing the quantity of the cloth, until it came within the reach of the purchase of every class in the country, from that time any addition to its quantity would diminish the aggregate value. This argument he applied to corn. Corn was an article which was necessarily limited in its consumption: and if you went on increasing it in quantity, its aggregate value would be diminished beyond that of a smaller quantity. He made an exception of this argument in favour of money. If there were only 100,000l. in this country, it would answer all the purposes of a more extended circulation; but if the quantity were increased, the value of commodities would alter only in proportion to the increase, because there was no necessary limitation of the quantity of money. The argument of the hon. baronet, to which he had before alluded, was therefore inapplicable. With respect to the subject more particularly before the House; namely, the evils of the present corn laws, he was of opinion that the farmer would suffer an injury from having too abundant crops. But to look at the other side of the question. Suppose the farmer should have scarce seasons, and that his corn should rise; just at the moment when he would be about to reap the benefit of this circumstance, the ports would be opened, and corn would pour in in unlimited quantities. These evils had been pointed out in the most able manner in the agricultural report, and in the resolutions of his right hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson), to some of which he should be sorry if the House did not agree. In his opinion, not the resolutions of the noble marquis, nor even those of his right hon. friend, and still less those of hon. members on his own side of the House, were at all adequate to remove the evils complained of. How was the evil of an habitually higher price in this country than in foreign countries to be remedied? By making the growing price in this country on a level with that of other nations. If his propositions should be agreed to, for imposing a duty of 10s. upon imported corn, and granting a bounty of 7s. upon exported corn, he thought it impossible that the price of wheat in this country could ever be materially higher than that of foreign nations. If abundant harvests should occur here, the farmer would have his remedy in exportation. In fixing the duty of 10s. upon imported corn, he had been guided by what he thought the circumstances of the case required. He did not intend that the House should adopt the duty of 10s. all at once. In the present distressed state of the agriculturists in this country, and taking into consideration the abundant supply of grain on the other side of the water, he was willing to give the farmer protection up to 70s., and then open the ports for importation, commencing with a duty of 20s. In his own opinion, this duty of 20s. would amount to a total exclusion of foreign corn, but he selected it, because, under the existing laws, all importation was prohibited, and therefore he was not making the situation of the consumer worse than at present, at the same time that he was securing a gradual approach to what he considered right principles. He would state the grounds upon which he calculated the duty of 10s. He found it stated in the evidence given before both Houses, that the whole of the charges which the farmer had to pay, which were principally tithes and poor-rates, amounted to about 10s. per quarter. The hon. member for Wiltshire said last night, that he desired no more than to have a duty placed upon the importation of corn, calculated on the taxes which fell on the landed interest. He did not understand the calculations of that hon. member, but he called upon him to refute his if he could. If the hon. member admitted their correctness, he should expect the support of his vote. He recommended the imposition of the duty upon imported corn, for the reasons he had before stated, namely, the protection of the farmer in the event of a bad harvest. He contended that he was vindicating the cause of the farmers more effectually than many gentlemen who called themselves their friends.—It was necessary for him to make a few observations upon that part of his plan which provided for the introduction of foreign corn, now in bond, into the home market, subject to a duty of 15s. whenever the price of wheat should reach 65s. The hon. member for Oxford had said, that this measure would be destructive of the agricultural interest, and that it would reduce the price of corn to 47s. But the farmer had the remedy in his own hands. When the price of wheat should arrive at 64s., if he apprehended the influx of foreign grain, he would be in possession of the market, and might dispose of his corn to advantage. He had selected 65s. in order to secure the farmer from being placed in competition with the holders of foreign corn in bond and in foreign countries at the same time; he would first have to cope with the former, and if the price should afterwards rise to 70s. he would then compete with the latter. It might be right to observe, that a duty of 10s. would be fully adequate to protect the farmer even when the ports were opened. According to the evidence before the committee, there appeared to be little danger of the country being over-whelmed by importations. The noble marquis had stated, that the expense of bringing corn from abroad to this country amounted to 10s. per quarter. But Mr. Solly, in his evidence, calculated that the expense of growing of corn in the interior of Germany, together with all the charges consequent upon its carriage to this country, would amount to 2l. 16s. The duty of 10s. upon importation would increase this sum to 3l. 6s. Now, the member for Cumberland was of opinion, that 65s. was a fair protecting price; and if so, why did he and other members object to the duty of 10s., which would secure them against importation until the price of wheat should be at least 65s.? He could not understand upon what principle the agriculturist could object to his propositions. He was willing to give them not only a remunerating price of 70s., but a duty of 20s., and yet they thought that was not adequate protection. He would take this opportunity of informing the House, that Mr. Solly, to whose evidence he had referred, understanding that the noble marquis had asserted, that the last harvest in Silicia had been so very abundant that it was not considered worth while to reap it, had instructed him (Mr. R.) to state, that so far from having had an abundant harvest, the inhabitants were reduced to the necessity of buying seed-wheat. The noble marquis’s propositions did not appear calculated to remove the existing evils, but rather to confirm them. They would tend to encourage the agriculturist in speculating upon high prices, and would thus produce the same round of evils. He also objected, though in a less degree, to the propositions of his right hon. friend. His right hon. friend proposed a duty of 15s. on imported corn without any drawback upon exportation, the consequence of which would be, to make the price of corn in this country habitually 15s. higher than in foreign countries. Nobody had more clearly shown the evil of such a circumstance than his right hon. friend, and therefore he was exposed to the charge of inconsistency for having proposed a measure calculated to produce it. The drawback which he (Mr. R.) proposed, would operate in favour of the farmer when he would stand most in need of assistance. He declined entering upon the question of the currency, but he could not avoid making one observation on that subject. Some gentlemen seemed to think that the contraction of two or three millions of the currency had never before the present time taken place. In the report of the committee of 1797, it was stated, that in 1782—at which time the Bank paper in circulation did not amount to more than 8,000,000l. or 9,000,000l. in addition to coin—an actual reduction of 3,000,000l. of the amount of the money in circulation took place.
The debate was resumed on 8 May when Mr. J. Benett proposed a duty of 24s. on foreign wheat. Mr. Lockhart said, ‘he conceived the proposition of the hon. member for Portarlington was altogether unsound. It would have the effect of throwing much of the poor land out of cultivation; a measure so destructive to those interested in it, that had he not known the amiable disposition of that hon. member, he should be disposed to question his motives.’ Mr. Western said that it would be in vain to seek any remedy until they had repealed the Act of 1819. ‘He could not too often repeat that the higher the money price of corn the lower would be the labour price in real effect. By raising the money price of corn, they would practically lighten the weight of taxation, and reduce the real price upon the labourer.’ He would not refuse permission to import foreign grain, if the state of the country required its introduction; but it was most important not to be dependent upon other powers for any considerable share of the supply. Mr. Bankes said that a free trade ‘might be right, but it was not the system under which the country had acquired its wealth and power. That system was one of restriction, upon all articles of home produce, and upon none more than corn. They might be much wiser than their ancestors; but he was not disposed to consider them such fools as modern philosophy would make them out to have been.’ He thought ‘the country was more manufacturing than was good for it already’ and deprecated ‘the liberal doctrines of the day’. He concluded by reminding the House of the fable of the bundle of sticks; ‘if they became disunited, and suffered the political economists to pull one out of the bundle, they would all be broken. Let them look to agriculture as the chief stick, and protect it as far as lay in their power. But above all, let them continue to follow in the course by which their ancestors had made a small country become a great one’. Mr. Brougham had no objection to the principle of Mr. Ricardo’s resolutions, but he thought his permanent duty of 10s. too small. That duty was calculated on the ground that the farmer was peculiarly burdened to that amount by the tithes and poor-rates; but this was not all, because ‘the agriculturists, more than any other class, were affected by the taxes imposed on those commodities which were consumed by the labouring classes, because more labour was used in producing the same amount of produce in value by the farmer, than by the manufacturer, or any other individual.’
9 May 1822
The debate being resumed, Lord Althorp moved as an amendment to Mr. Ricardo’s resolutions that a fixed duty of 20s. per quarter be imposed on the importation of wheat (instead of 20s., decreasing in ten years to 10s.) and a bounty of 18s. per quarter be allowed on exportation (instead of 7s.).
Mr. Ricardo was surprised at his noble friend’s proposing such an amendment. He could not see upon what principle his noble friend could justify raising the bounty on exportation to 18s. a quarter. For his own part, he did not think that any bounty would often be called into operation. Whenever it should, 7s. would be quite enough. His noble friend, the learned member for Winchelsea, and the hon. member for Corfe-castle, both agreed in one objection against his resolutions—that he had not made sufficient allowances for the effect of indirect taxation on the agricultural interest, which, according to their statement, was more affected by it than any other interest. Their statement to a certain extent, might be true; still he thought they had exaggerated. The principle upon which he had made his calculations was, that the price of every commodity was constituted by the wages of labour, and the profits of stock. Now, the noble lord’s argument was, that in manufactured commodities the price was constituted of only a small portion of wages, and a large portion of the profits of the stock; whilst, in agricultural commodities, the case was exactly the reverse. If the noble lord could substantiate such a proposition, he would agree that he was entitled to the allowance he demanded. All that he doubted was, whether the fact were so. He doubted whether the proportion of labour was greater in agriculture than in manufactures. The right way of coming to a sound determination upon that point was, by considering in what the dead capital of both consisted. If he could show that the dead capital in agriculture bore the same proportion to its whole capital, that the dead capital in manufactures did to its whole capital, then he thought that his noble friend’s proposition would no longer be valid. His learned friend, the member for Winchelsea, had said, that almost all the produce of the land was made up of labour. His learned friend, however, seemed to have forgotten that there was a great deal of capital in buildings, in horses, in seed in the ground, besides in labour. It was true that the manufacturer had a great proportion of his capital in his machinery; but, even though that were taken into consideration, he must still say, that the proportion of his noble friend was not made out so clearly as it ought to be; and that he was therefore only entitled to a small allowance. Now, in allowing a duty of 10s., he thought that he had made an ample allowance; and he had made that allowance, too, on the principle, that all the poor-rates as well as all the tithes fell exclusively upon the agricultural interest. He now stated, however, that the agricultural interest was not entitled to the full allowance of all the poor-rates, inasmuch as a part of them was paid by the manufacturers, although much the greater part, he would allow, was paid by the agricultural classes. He was persuaded that if he had kept to that principle, the allowance to the agricultural interest would not have been more than 7s. Now, he had allowed them a duty of 10s., and therefore, in the 3s. that there was over, he had made ample compensation for any errors that he might unintentionally have committed. He would now say one word to the hon. member for Corfe-castle (Mr. Bankes), regarding the lecture which he had read him (Mr. R.) upon political economy. The hon. member had talked much of the wisdom of our ancestors. He willingly allowed that there was much wisdom in our ancestors: but at the same time he must ever contend, that the present generation had all their wisdom and a little more into the bargain. [Hear, hear.] If the argument of the hon. member were to be considered as valid, there was an end at once to all hopes of future improvement. The present generation had invented steam-engines and gas-lights, and had made several other useful and beneficial discoveries, and he trusted that they would never be stopped in their progress to knowledge by being told of the wisdom of their ancestors, or be convinced that they were in the most flourishing condition possible because the system of their ancestors was called most wise and excellent. Undoubtedly this country was a great country, and had of late years increased its capital to a great extent. But in arguing upon that point, the hon. member for Corfe-castle might as well have employed this argument as the one which he had used; he might as well have said, “We have increased in wealth, whilst we have been contracting a great national debt; therefore, the national debt is a great blessing, and it would be a bad thing to get rid of it.” [Hear, and a laugh.] That argument was quite as valid as the argument which the hon. member had actually used.—The hon. member then proceeded to state, that one argument urged against a free importation of corn, which appeared to him not to deserve the slightest attention, was this—that England ought not only to be a self-supplying, but also an exporting country. Now he wished to press one point upon their consideration, and that was—that it was the great interest of a country which grew a commodity for the use of another, to keep the market open for the sale of it. Now, if we were to raise a large supply for the purpose of sending our raw produce to a foreign country, in what a situation should we be placed if the market were to be shut against it? What a glut would then be forced into the home market! He would contend, that the ruin which such an event would produce, would be so great that no minister, nor sovereign, would be able to remedy it. The hon. member for Corfe-castle had also lamented that we were becoming too much of a manufacturing country. The hon. gentleman might, perhaps, think that a manufacturing country could not be so happy as an agricultural country. But he might as well complain of a man’s growing old as of such a change in our national condition. Nations grew old as well as individuals; and in proportion as they grew old, populous, and wealthy, must they become manufacturers. If things were allowed to take their own course, we should undoubtedly become a great manufacturing country, but we should remain a great agricultural country also. Indeed, it was impossible that England should be other than an agricultural country: she might become so populous as to be obliged to import part of her food; but instead of lamenting over that circumstance, he should think it a proof of prosperity and a subject of congratulation. There would always be a limit to our greatness, while we were growing our own supply of food: but we should always be increasing in wealth and power, whilst we obtained part of it from foreign countries, and devoted our own manufactures to the payment of it. The hon. member for Corfe-castle had asked, whether our farmers were to be transformed into manufacturers, and our ploughmen into mechanics? From that question, any stranger who had walked into the House might have supposed that a proposition had been actually made to throw open our ports, and to change all at once our entire course of policy. But had any proposition of that nature been even hinted at? The hon. member for Oxford (Mr. Lockhart) had done him the honour of stating, that he believed that he (Mr. R) would not willingly inflict misery upon his country; but had added that he believed his resolutions would have such a tendency. But when he proposed a monopoly for the agriculturist up to 70s. (and the hon. member for Wiltshire admitted that 67s. was a remunerative growing price), and a duty of 20s. on the first opening of the ports, and a gradual reduction of it to a fixed and permanent duty of 10s., could it be fairly said that he was proposing a scheme to turn the capital of the country from agriculture to manufactures? It had been well observed by an hon. member, that it was totally impossible that the direction of our capital could be changed in that manner. The security against it was to be found in the necessity of our growing our own corn—a necessity which would always prevent us from becoming too much of a manufacturing country. The fact was, that his resolutions, if adopted, would gradually employ a small portion more of the capital of the country in manufactures, of which the result would be beneficial to all classes of the community, as it was only by the sale of our manufactures that we were enabled to purchase corn.—He had never heard any answer attempted to his argument respecting the miserable situation into which the farmer would be plunged under a system of protecting duties. The high prices of corn exposed the farmer to great and peculiar risks. Now, none of the representatives of the agricultural interest in that House had ever ventured to assert that the farmer was not liable to the risks which he had pointed out as likely to arise from the variation of prices: none of them had attempted to show that his view of the danger was absurd and chimerical; and, as they had not done so, he was greatly confirmed in that view which he had originally taken. The hon. member for Wiltshire had stated, that we could obtain a large supply of foreign corn at 25s. per quarter. Now, he held in his hand a letter from Mr. Solly, in which that gentleman declared, that in all the evidence which he had given before the committee, he had not spoken of the then accidental price, but of the remunerating price, on the continent; and his learned friend (Mr. Brougham) had justly observed, that it was the remunerating price on the continent that regulated the price here. Now, he believed that his learned friend had understated that remunerating price. His learned friend had stated it at 45s.; he believed it to be 10s. more; for his learned friend had made no allowance for the profits of those who brought it here, which, in the opinion of Mr. Solly, were at least 6s. a quarter. The chief reason, however, for his mentioning the letter of Mr. Solly was, that Mr. Solly had said that Memel (from which one of the witnesses before the committee had derived his information) was not a port from which any great quantity of corn was shipped—not above 20,000 quarters a year, and that of inferior quality. Now, he wished to ask the House, if not more than 20,000 quarters were shipped from Memel, and those too of an inferior quality, whether such a fact would justify them in passing such a legislative measure as his hon. friend had proposed? The assertion, therefore, that foreign corn could be obtained at 25s. per quarter, was unworthy of attention for a single moment.—The only farther observation which he had to make was, with regard to what had fallen from the noble marquis. The noble marquis had said, that the measures which he had recommended to the House had been carried in the committee, almost without a dissentient voice. Now, he (Mr. R.) had stated his opinions in the committee, and for the sake of his own character and consistency, he would take the liberty of restating them to the House. He had gone into that committee with the opinion that the agricultural classes were in a state of great and overwhelming distress—that any relief which could be held out to them, ought to be held out —and that he would give them such relief; but on condition, that he should, in his turn, receive a pledge that some better measures of legislation should be instantly resorted to. He had been disposed to give the agriculturists every thing they required. They had a prohibition at present; and they could not have more. Indeed, he had been ready to adopt any proposition that the committee might originate, so long as the committee expressed a willingness to propose some more salutary measures of legislation to the consideration of parliament. The committee had held out to him a hope that they would do what he advised; they told him that they would insert something in their report which would satisfy him upon that point; and, in consequence of that declaration, he had given a conditional assent to the measures they had proposed. When he saw the report, and found that it contained no such clause as he had anticipated, the conditional assent that he had given to their propositions was immediately dissolved; and he refused to concur in the report of the committee, because it contained nothing of the nature which he had hoped it would contain. The hon. member for Hertford had said, that the evidence of those persons who imported corn was to be taken with some allowance, because their views of interest, however honest the individuals might be in intention, were likely to bias them. He did not mean to quarrel with that observation; for in most cases he allowed it to be well founded. He wished, however, to be permitted to apply it to those who had to decide in that House upon this most important subject. Let him remind them, that they had a great interest in it; let him caution them not to be led away—not to be improperly biassed—by any views of their own personal advantage. Let him implore them to recollect that they were legislating for the happiness of millions, and that there was no evil so intolerable as the high price of human food. [Hear!] He was astonished to hear the hon. member for Essex declare, that it was matter of indifference to him whether prices were high or not; and that he wanted to have corn for little labour and for low prices. He went along with the hon. member in that sentiment; but then he was astonished to find, that the hon. member, when they came to a measure that was calculated to give them low real prices, flew off in an opposite direction, and declared that we ought to grow our own corn, and that it was only upon particular occasions that we should suffer it to be imported. Such a declaration, if acted upon would render it impossible to obtain low prices in a country increasing in population like our own: indeed, the only way of getting low real prices, with which he was acquainted, was, to divert part of the capital of the country in such a way as to increase its manufactures.
After further debate. Mr. Western said that in the present state of the currency he would refuse to legislate on the question of corn. ‘Were not the prices of corn on the continent, for the last twenty-five years, estimated in our paper currency, and, therefore, liable to all its fluctuations?... Would it not, then, be unwise to look at those prices as the foundation of any prospective regulation?’
Mr. Ricardo denied that the price of corn on the continent was liable to the fluctuations of our currency.
The committee then divided on Lord Althorp’s amendment, to fix a permanent duty of 18s. on wheat: For the amendment, 24. Against it, 201.
A second division took place on Mr. Ricardo’s propositions for a duty of 20s. per quarter of wheat, when the price shall rise above 70s., to lower 1s. a year for ten years, and for 10s. being the permanent duty, and 7s. the bounty afterwards: Ayes, 25. Noes, 218.
- list of the minority
- Athorp, lord
- Birch, Jos.
- Brougham, H.
- Barnard, lord
- Beaumont, T. W.
- Becher, W. W.
- Carter, J.
- Davies, col.
- Denison, W. J.
- Evans, W.
- Haldimand, W.
- Hume, J.
- Lamb, hon. G.
- Lamb, hon. W.
- Langston, J. H.
- Marjoribanks, S.
- Maberly, J.
- Newport, sir J.
- Philips, G.
- Rumbold, C. E.
- Robinson, sir G.
- Smith, G.
- Scarlett, J.
- Thompson, W.
- Whitmore, W. W. Teller
- Ricardo, D.
The committee then divided on the Marquis of Londonderry’s resolutions: Ayes, 218; Noes, 36.
13 May 1822
When the report of the committee on the Marquis of London-derry’s resolutions was brought up, Mr. Western referred to ‘the hasty and peremptory contradiction he had received on a former night on the subject of prices from the hon. member for Portarlington.’ Mr. Philips hoped ‘that his hon. friend (Mr. Ricardo) would bring forward his resolutions year after year; convinced that time would prove the correctness of his positions. The more his hon. friend was known, the more he would be respected, and the more universally recognized, by all who had sense or candour, as one of the most original and wisest writers, and one of the soundest thinkers on the subject of political economy.’
Mr. Ricardo, in explanation of the allusion which had been made to his statement of the average prices of foreign corn, by the hon. member for Essex, begged the House would bear in mind, that there were two authorities on that subject that were quoted from, who differed much in their items. The calculations of Mr. Solly were made in conformance with the variations of our paper currency, and were, therefore, always higher than those of Mr. Grade, who made his calculations upon a fixed exchange. He had built his argument on the latter, and it would be found that whilst he was quoting from one paper, the hon. gentleman was quoting from another, and thus the misunderstanding arose. He therefore hoped he should be acquitted of any intention to mislead.
Mr. Attwood controverted in detail Mr. Ricardo on this point, and launched into another attack upon Peel’s Act of 1819. Mr. Peel replied to Mr. Attwood’s attempt to ‘overwhelm him with his sarcasm’ that ‘as he was to share that sarcasm with his hon. friend, the member for Portarlington (if he might be permitted, on account of the respect which he felt for that hon. gentleman’s great talents and high character, to use a term which he certainly had no right to use from long intimacy with him), he would only observe, that he was willing to share it, so long as he shared it in such company.’
Mr. Ricardo then submitted his resolutions for the sake of having them recorded on the Journals. Mr. Ricardo’s resolutions were negatived; the resolutions of the Marquis of Londonderry were then agreed to.
[See further, on the corn bill, below, p. 195.]