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country for our own benefit, and not for other people's, commercial treaties are useless. There is nothing to bargain about. Our tariff being adjusted in the manner best suited to our requirements, irrespective of what other nations may do, we should not alter it to obtain concessions from foreign governments more valuable to them than to us. For abstract reasoning of this kind, however sound in itself, Cobden never much cared. He held that if by taking more French wine and more French silk we could induce France to take more British iron and more British coal, we ought to enjoy the advantage of the opportunity. He also considered that, apart altogether from purely economic arguments, the more two countries traded together, the more likely they were to keep the peace. He was essentially practical, aiming always at tangible benefits rather than logical victories. He was dissatisfied with Peel's gradual reduction of the duties on corn, extending over four years. He would have abolished them at once. He afterwards gave statistics to show that a vast amount of foreign speculation injurious to British farmers was encouraged by the knowledge of what the duty would be till the end of 1849, when it came down to a shilling a quarter.
House of Commons, March 13th, 1845 I am relieved on this occasion from any necessity to apologise to the other side of the House for this motion having emanated from myself ; for I expressed a hope, when I gave my notice, that the subject would be taken up by some one of the hon. members opposite. I hope, therefore, that in any reply which may be offered to the observations I am about to submit to the consideration of the House, I shall not hear, as I did in the last year, that this motion comes from a suspicious quarter. I will also add, that I have so arranged its terms as to include in it the objects embraced in both the amendments of which notice has been given (Mr. Woodhouse's and Mr. S. O'Brien's), and therefore I conclude that the hon. members who have given those notices will not think it necessary to press them, but rather will concur in this motion. Its object is the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the condition of the agricultural interests, with a view to ascertain how far the law affecting the importation of agricultural produce has affected those interests.
Now, that there is distress among the farmers I presume cannot be established upon higher authority than that of those who profess to be “the farmers' friends." I learn from those hon. gentlemen who have been paying their respects to the Prime Minister, that the agriculturists are in a state of great embarrassment and distress. I find one gentleman from Norfolk, Mr. Hudson, stating that the farmers in Norfolk are paying rents out of capital; while Mr. Turner from Devonshire assured the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) that one half of the smaller farmers in that country are insolvent, that the other half is rapidly hastening to the same condition, and that, unless some remedial measures are adopted by the House, they will be plunged into irretrievable poverty. These accounts from those counties agree with what I hear from other sources, and I will put it to hon. members opposite whether the condition of the farmers in Suffolk, Wiltshire, and Hampshire is any better. I will put it to county members whether, looking to the whole of the south of England from the confines of Nottinghamshire to the Land's End, the farmers are not in a state of embarrassment—whether, as a rule, that is not their condition. Then, according to every precedent in the House, this is a fit and proper time to bring forward this motion ; and I will venture to say, that if the Duke of Buckingham had a seat in this House he would do what he as Lord Chandos did—move such a resolution.
The distress of the farmer being admitted, the next question that arises is, what is the cause of this distress? Now, I feel the greater necessity for a committee of inquiry, because I find a great discrepancy of opinion as to the cause. One right hon. gentleman has said that the distress is local, and moreover, that it does not arise from legislation ; while the hon. member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes) declared that it is general, and that it does arise from legislation. I am at a loss, indeed, to understand what this protection to agriculture means, because I find such contradictory accounts given in the House by the promoters of it. For instance, nine months ago the hon. member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) brought forward his motion for the repeal of the Corn-laws; and the right hon. gentleman then at the head of the Board of Trade (Mr. Gladstone) stated in reply to him, that the last Corn-law had been most successful in its operation, and he took great credit to the Government for the steadiness of price obtained under it. As these things are so often disputed, it is as well to give the quotation. The right hon. gentleman said :
“Was there any man who had supported the law in the year 1842, who could honestly say that he had been disappointed in its working ? Could anyone point out a promise or a prediction hazarded in the course of the protracted debates upon the measure, which promise or prediction had been subsequently falsified ?”
Now, let the House recollect that the right hon. gentleman was speaking when wheat was 56s. 8d. ; but wheat is at present 45s. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government said that his legislation on the subject had nothing to do with wheat being 45s. ; but how is the difficulty to be got over, that the head of the Board of Trade, nine months ago, claimed merit to the Government for having kept up wheat to that price? These discrepancies in the Government itself, and between the Government and its supporters, render it more necessary that this “ protection " should be inquired into.
I must ask, What does it mean? We have prices now at 45s. I have been speaking within the last week to the highest authority in England-one often quoted in this House--and I learned from him that, with another favourable harvest, it was quite likely that wheat would be at 35s. What does this legislation mean, if we are to have prices fluctuating from 56s. to 35s. ? Can this be prevented by legislation ? That is the question. There is a rank delusion spread abroad among the farmers; and it is the duty of the House to dispel that delusion, and to institute an inquiry into the matter.
But there is a difference of opinion on my own side of the House, and some members, representing great and powerful interests, think the farmers are suffering because they have this legislative protection. This difference of opinion makes the subject a fit and proper one for inquiry in a Committee ; and I am prepared to bring evidence before it, to show that farmers are labouring under great evils—evils that I can connect with the Corn-laws, though they appear to be altogether differently caused.
The first great evil they labour under is a want of capital. No one can deny it; it is notorious. I do not say it disparagingly of the farmers. The farmers of this country are just of the same race as the rest of Englishmen, and, if placed in the same situation, would be as successful men of business and traders and manufacturers as their countrymen ; but it is notorious, as a rule, that they are deficient in capital. Hon. gentlemen acquainted with farming will probably admit that £10 an acre, on arable land, is a competent capital for carrying on the business of farming successfully ; but I have made many inquiries in all parts of the Kingdom, and I give it as my decided conviction, that at the present moment the farmers' capital does not average £5 an acre, taking the whole of England south of the Trent, and including all Wales. Though, of course, there are exceptions in every county-men of large capital-men farming their own land-I am convinced that this is true, as a rule, and I am prepared to back my opinion by witnesses before a Committee. Here, then, is a tract of country comprehending probably 20,000,000 of cultivable acres, and £100,000,000 more capital is wanted for its cultivation.
What is the meaning of “farming capital " ? It means more manuring, more labour, more cattle, larger crops. But let us fancy a country in which there is a deficiency of all those things which ought to be there, and then guess what must be the condition of the, labourers wanting employment and food. It may be said that capital would be there, if it were a profitable investment. I admit it; and thus the question comes to be, -How is it, that in a country overflowing with capital—where there is a plethora in every other business—where every other pursuit is abounding with money —when money is going to France for railroads, and to Pennsylvania for bonds—when it is connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific by canals, and diving to the bottom of Mexican mines for investment—it yet finds no employment in the most attractive of all spots, the soil of this country itself?
Admitting the evil, with all its train of fearful consequences, what is the cause of it? There can be no doubt whatever,it is admitted by the highest authorities, that the cause is this,—there is not security for capital on the land. Capital shrinks instinctively from insecurity of tenure, and we have not in England that security which will warrant men of capital investing their money in the soil. Is it not a matter worthy of consideration, how far this insecurity of tenure is bound up with the “protection” system of which hon. members opposite are so enamoured ? Suppose it could be shown that they are in a vicious circle ; that they have made politics of Corn-laws; that they wanted voters, to retain Corn-laws; that they think the Corn-laws a great mine of wealth, and therefore will have dependent tenants, that they may have votes at elections, and so retain these laws. If they will have dependent voters they cannot have men of spirit and of capital. Then their policy reacts upon them; if they have not men of skill and capital, they cannot have protection and employment for the labourer; and then comes round the vicious termination, pauperism, poor-rates, county-rates, and all the evils from which they are asking the Prime Minister to relieve them.
But here I have to quote authorities, and I shall quote some of the highest consideration with the opposite side of the House. I will just state the opinion of the hon. member for Berkshire (Mr. Pusey), delivered at the meeting of the Suffolk Agricultural Society. That hon. gentleman said:
He knew this country well, and he knew there was not a place from Plymouth to Berwick in which the landlords might not make improvements; but when the tenant was short of money, the landlord generally would be short of money, too. But he would tell them how to find friends. There were many districts where there was a great superfluity not only of useless but of mischievous timber ; and if they would cut that down which excluded the sun and air, and fed on the soil, and sell it, they would benefit the farmer by cutting it down, and they would benefit the farmer and labourer, too, by laying out the proceeds in underdraining the soil. There was another mode in which they might find money. He knew that on some properties a large sum was spent in the preservation of game. It was not at all unusual for the game to cost £500 or £600 a year; and if this were given up, the money would employ a hundred able-bodied labourers in improving the property. This was another fund for the landlords of England to benefit the labourers, and the farmers at the same time."
Again, at the Colchester agricultural meeting :
“Mr. Fisher Hobbes was aware that a spirit of improvement was abroad. Much was said about the tenant-farmers doing more. He agreed they might do more : the soil of the country was capable of