ePub 版

present rentals. A committee of the House of Lords was appointed in June, 1814, which made a report, July 25th, recommending that'so long as the average price of wheat was ' under 80s. the ports should be completely closed against

supplies from other countries. The country was alarmed at this barefaced attempt of the landed interest to impose so enormous a burden on the community for their own exclusive benefit, and expressed its repugnance to the measure in so decided a form as to compel its framers to abandon it. The average price of wheat during this year was about 34s. per quarter lower than that of 1813. In the following year, 1815, the landholders renewed their efforts to obtain a complete monopoly of the food of the people, and unhappily with more success than formerly. Early in the session a bill was introduced, fixing 80s. as the lowest price at which importation might take place, which was pressed through the legislature with a determination which despised all warnings, and triumphed over every obstacle. Various attempts were made to fix a lower standard than 80s., but without effect. The bill produced great excitement throughout the country. The gallery of the House of Commons was closed against the admission of strangers, and the military were called out in order to protect the members in their passage to the house. Notwithstanding these strong marks of public feeling, the landlords' House of Commons passed the landlords' bill by a majority of 168 on the third reading. The measure was opposed with great ability and force by some of the most eminent statesmen of the day, whose views were embodied in the following protest, which was drawn up by Lord Grenville.

•1. Because we are adverse in principle to all new restraints on commerce. We think it certain that public prosperity is best promoted by leaving uncontrolled the free current of national industry; and we wish, rather, by well-considered steps, to bring back our commercial legislation to the straight and simple line of wisdom, than to increase the deviation, by subjecting additional and extensive branches of the public interest to fresh systems of artificial and injurious restriction.

• 2. Because we think that the great practical rule of leaving our commerce unfettered applies more peculiarly, and on still stronger grounds of justice, as well as of policy, to the corn-trade, than to any other. Irresistible, indeed, must be the necessity which could, in our judgment, authorize the legislature to tamper with the sustenance of the people, and to impede the free purchase and sale of that article on which depends the existence of so large a portion of the community.

“3. Because we think that the expectations of ultimate benefit from this measure are founded on a delusive theory. We cannot persuade ourselves that this law will ever contribute to produce plenty, cheapsnoe. or steadiness of price. So long as it onerntra os all its effects

must be the opposite of these. Monopoly is the parent of scarcity, of dearness, and of uncertainty. To cut off any of the sources of supply can only tend to lessen its abundance; to close against ourselves the cheapest market for any commodity must enhance the price at which we purchase it; and to confine the consumer of corn to the produce of his own country is to refuse to ourselves the benefit of that provision which Providence itself has made for equalizing to man the variations of season and of climate.

• 4. But, whatever may be the future consequences of this law, at some distant and uncertain period, we see, with pain, that those hopes must be purchased at the expense of a great and present evil. To con pel the consumer to purchase corn dearer at home than it might be imported from abroad is the immediate practical effect of this law. In this way alone can it operate. Its present protection, its promised extension of agriculture, must result (if at all) from the profits which it creates by keeping up the price of corn to an artificial level. These future benefits are the consequences expected, but, as we confidently believe, erroneously expected, from giving a bounty to the grower of corn, by a tax levied on its consumer.

• 5. Because we think that the adoption of any permanent law for such a purpose required the fullest and most laborious investigation. Nor would it have been sufficient for our satisfaction could we have been convinced of the general policy of so hazardous an experiment. A still further inquiry would have been necessary to persuade us that the present moment was fit for its adoption. In such an inquiry we must have had the means of satisfying ourselves what its immediate operation will be, as connected with the various and pressing circumstances of public difficulty and distress with which the country is now surrounded; with the state of circulation and currency ; of our agriculture and manufactures ; of our internal and external commerce ; and, above all, with the condition and reward of the industrious labor. ing classes of our community. On all these particulars, as they respect this question, we think that parliament is almost wholly uninformed ; on all, we see reason for the utinost anxiety and alarm from the operation of this law.

* Lastly. Because, if we could approve of the principle and purpose of this law, we think that no sufficient foundation has been laid for its details. The evidence before us, unsatisfactory and imperfect as it is, seems to us rather to disprove than to support the propriety of the high price adopted as the standard of importation, and the fallacious mode by which that price is to be ascertained.

*And on all these grounds we are anxious to record our dissent from a measure so precipitate in its course, and, as we fear, so injurious in its consequences. Augusti's FREDERICK

· TORRINGTON, (Duke of Sussex),


Chandos BUCKINGHAM, (Duke of Gloucester),




[ocr errors]


The mode in which the average prices were determined greatly increased the stringency of this measure.

A new average was to be struck quarterly, on the 15th of February, • May, August, and November, from the aggregate prices of the six preceding weeks; but it was provided that, if during the

six weeks subsequent to any of these dates the average prices, ' which might be at 80s., fell below that price, no supplies

should be admitted for home consumption from any ports ' between the rivers Eyder and the Bidassoa,—that is, from · Denmark to Spain.'

The farmers expected that this act would keep prices up to a point somewhat lower than the scale which the legislature had adopted, and under this conviction they entered into contracts with their landlords. Various circumstances, however, conspired to disappoint their expectation, and they were in consequence plunged into great distress. Their rents had been arranged on the basis of a series of bad seasons during a period of war, and were now buoyed up by a law which fallaciously promised to exclude the foreign grower from the English market. The fluctuations in price, remarks Mr. Platt, under the corn law of 1815 were as extraordinary

as they were unexpected by the landed interest, and amounted . to 1994 per cent.'

The House of Commons was in consequence assailed by the cry of agricultural distress. Committees were appointed to inquire into its extent and cause, and numerous plans of relief were proposed. Before noticing those which were adopted, we may just remark in passing that, as the laboring population had been greatly injured by the high prices of the war, so they were now benefited by the reduction which had taken place. Wages were not reduced in proportion to the low prices of agricultural produce, and the laboring classes were in consequence contented and peaceful. Amongst the various fictions by which interested parties have sought to delude the public, none is more clearly refuted by the evidence of fact than the connexion alleged to subsist between dear bread and high wages. Every period of our history is conclusive in the testimony which it bears on this point, and places beyond reasonable doubt the fallacy of the theory which our agriculturists so zealously.propound.

The act of 1815 was founded on an erroneous basis, and therefore disappointed the expectations of its framers. They had taken the high prices of the war period, as a fair indication of the cost of production with a remunerative profit to the farmer. Rents and other charges were accordingly regulated by this standard, which the farmer soon found to be much too high for his subsistence. A new act was therefore passed in July, 1822, which professed to be a relaxation of the existing law, but in


[ocr errors]

reality was a mere delusion, designed to blind the eyes of the public. As this act never came into operation, we may pass it over without further comment. The scarcity and high price of corn at this period led to some disturbances in the manufacturing districts, which induced parliament to release the bonded corn, and caused an order in council to be issued admitting certain descriptions of grain at an almost nominal duty, on the ground that if the importation for home consumption of • oats and oatmeal, and of rye, peas, and beans, be not imme

diately permitted, there is great cause to fear that much distress may ensue to all classes of his Majesty's subjects. No doubt now existed amongst reasonable men of the necessity of some revision of the existing law. It had failed to secure to the farmer the steady prices for which he had been taught to look, and had inflicted on the country an enormous wrong, which the people were unable and indisposed to endure any longer. Mr. Canning, therefore, in 1827 introduced a series of resolutions which went to substitute a graduated scale of duties instead of absolute prohibition under 80s. "A bill 'was brought in, founded on these resolutions, fixing a duty of

ls. on foreign wheat when the average price was 70s. per quarter; a duty of 2s. being imposed for the reduction of each • shilling in the averages. In respect to colonial wheat, the

duty was fixed at 6d. when the averages were 65s. per quarter, • and when under that sum at 5s. per quarter.' This bill was lost in the Lords through the opposition of the Duke of Wellington, who carried the insertion of a clause to the effect that importation should be absolutely forbidden so long as wheat was below 66s.

In the following year, 1828, Mr. Charles Grant, now Lord Glenelg, introduced a series of resolutions differing but slightly from those of Mr. Canning, which were ultimately embodied in a bill that obtained the royal assent on the 15th of July. This statute, which is still in force, is entitled An Act to amend the Laws relating to the Importation of Corn. It abolishes several preceding acts, and makes the following provisions for settling the averages according to which the duties are levied.

• In one hundred and fifty towns in England and Wales, mentioned in the act, corn-dealers are required to make a declaration that they will return an accurate account of their purchases. [In London, the sellers make the return.] Inspectors are appointed in each of these one hundred and fifty towns, who transmit returns to the Receiver in the Corn Department of the Board of Trade, whose duty it is to compute the average weekly price of each description of grain, and the aggregate average price for the previous six weeks, and to transmit a certified copy to the collectors of customs at the different outports. The return on which the average prices are based is published every

[ocr errors]

Friday in The London Gazette.' The aggregate average for six weeks regulates the duty on importation. In 1837 the quantity of British wheat sold in these towns was 3,888,957 quarters ; in 1838 there were 4,064,305 quarters returned as sold ; and 3,174,680 quarters in 1839.

• Wheat at 50s. pays a duty of 36s. 8d.; barley at 32s, a duty of 13s. 10d.; oats at 24s. a duty of 10s. 9d.; rye, peas, and beans, at 35s., a duty of 16s. 9d. In the case of wheat, when the price is 66s., for every shilling that the price falls the duty increases by ls., and decreases by the same sum for every shilling that the price rises (see the third column of the following scale); for all other grain the duty decreases by ls. 6d. for every shilling that the price rises. Colonial wheat is admitted at a duty of 6d. when the average of the six weeks is at or above 67s.; and when below 67s. the duty is 5s. the quarter, and for other grain in proportion. Importation is free on payment of ls. on the quarter when wheat in the home market is 73s.; barley 4ls. ; oats 3ls.; and rye, peas, and beans 46s. the quarter.

• In the following Table the scale of duties proposed by Mr. Canning, and that adopted by the legislature in 1828, and acted upon up to the present time, are placed in juxtaposition :

Average Prices Duty according to Duty according to
of Wheat.
Mr. Canning's Bill. the present Scale.

8. d,

1 0


2 8 71


6 8 70


10 8 69


13 8 68


16 8 67


18 8 66


20 8

21 8

22 8

23 8

24 8

25 8

26 8

27 8

28 8

29 8

30 8

31 8

32 8

33 8 This law, however beneficial it may have proved to the landlords, in enabling them to obtain high rentals for their land, has not secured to their tenantry that steadiness of price which was alleged as its primary object, a variation of 129 per cent. having taken place under its operation. In December, 1835, the price of wheat was 35s. 4d., whilst in January, 1839, it was

« 上一頁繼續 »