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—having risen, in the course of sixty-five years, from 6s. 8d. By the 21 Jac. I. c. 28, unless wheat was under 32s. per quarter, and other grain in proportion, buying corn and selling it again was not permitted. The King could restrain the liberty of exportation by proclamation. In 1627-8 another statute relative to the corn-trade was passed, which, however, made no alteration in the previous statute of James I. In 1660 a new scale of duties was introduced. When the price of wheat per quarter was under 44s. the export duty was 5s. 6d. ; and when the price was above 44s., the duty rose to 6s. 8d. Exportation was permitted free whenever the price of wheat did not exceed 40s. per quarter.
"In 1663 the corn-trade again became the subject of legislation, and an act was passed which favoured the corn-grower, or at any rate that portion of the community connected with and dependent upon agriculture, to a greater extent than any previous statute. The preamble of this act commenced by asserting that the surest and effectualest means of promoting and advancing any trade, occupation, or mystery, being by rendering profitable to the users thereof,' and that, large quantities of land being waste, which might be profitably cultivated if sufficient encouragement were given for the cost and labour on the same, it should be enacted, with a view of encouraging the application of capital and labour to waste lands, that, after September, 1663, when wheat did not exceed 48s. per quarter at the places and havens of shipment, the export duty should be only 5s. 4d. per quarter. The demand of the home market was not sufficient to take off the surplus produce of the corn-growers, and the reduction of the duty was intended to encourage exportation. By the same act when wheat did not exceed 48s. per quarter 'then it shall be lawful for all and every person (not forestalling nor selling the same in the open market within three months after the buying thereof) to buy in open market and to keep in his or their granaries or houses, and to sell again, such corn and grain,' any statute to the contrary notwithstanding. The latter part of this statute may be regarded as indicating a juster view than others passed since the 5 and 6 Edw. VI. c. 14.
"In 1670 a further important change was made in the same direction, exportation being permitted as long as wheat should be under 53s. 4d. the quarter, the customs duty being only 1s. per quarter. Corn imported from foreign countries was at the same time loaded with duties so heavy as effectually to exclude it, being 16s. when the price in this country was at or under 53s. 4d. per quarter, and 8s. when above that price and under 80s., at which latter price importation became free. The object of this act was to relieve the agricultural interests from the depression under which they were labouring from the low prices of produce which had existed for twenty years, more particularly from 1646 to 1665, and also more or less during the greater part of the century. Between 1617 and 1621 wheat fell from 43s. 3d. the quarter to 27s., in consequence of which farmers were unable to pay their rents. The low price was occasioned by abundant harvests; 'for remedy whereof the Council have written letters into every shire, and some say to every market-town, to provide a granary or storehouse, with a stock to buy corn, and keep it for a dear year.' The cheapness of wheat was attended with the good effect of raising the standard of dict amongst
the poorer classes, who are described as 'traversing the markets to find out the finest wheats, for none else would now serve their use, though before they were glad of the coarser rye-bread.' The act of 1670 does not appear to have answered its object. Roger Coke, writing in 1671, says, 'The ends designed by the acts against the importation of Irish cattle, of raising the rents of the lands of England, are so far from being attained that the contrary hath ensued;' and he speaks of a great diminution of cultivation.
"The harvests of 1673-4-5 proved defective, and the same result occurred in 1677-8, so that the average price of the seven years ending 1672, during which wheat ranged at 36s. the quarter, was followed in the seven subsequent years, ending 1679, by an average of 46s., being a rise of nearly 30 per cent. Under this encouragement there was a considerable extension of tillage, and the years of scarcity being followed by twelve abundant seasons in succession (with the exception of 1684, which was somewhat deficient), the price of corn and grain again sunk very low. In the six years ending 1691 the average price of wheat was 29s. 5d. the quarter, and if the four years ending 1691 be taken, the average price was only 27s. 7d., being lower than at any period during the whole of the century. There was no competition in the English market with the foreign grower during the above-mentioned years of low prices: exportation was freely permitted on payment of a nominal duty; but scarcely ever had the agriculturists been in so depressed a state. The means which they took to relieve themselves will be noticed in the next period."
It has already been stated that immediately after the Revolution the landowners carried a very important measure. Tillage had been extended, and there had been a succession of favourable seasons. Agricultural produce consequently was abundant and at a depreciated value: exportation therefore was resorted to, bounties being granted to encourage the sale of grain to foreign countries, and with the view of protecting the landed interest from the distress arising from low prices at home. With the fluctuations occasioned by plentiful and deficient harvests, this system of bounties was subject to a variety of fortune for a number of years. Alterations and new enactments were every now and then introduced, according as pressures were felt, or changes took place in the commercial and manufacturing as well as agricultural condition of the country; the stimulus applied being frequently altogether artificial, and therefore, in all probability, partial, short-sighted, and in violation of the principles of trade. Wars, heavier and heavier taxations, the rapid increase of population, the gigantic operations performed by machinery, and a variety of ever-accruing circumstances, were, year after year, demanding enlargements and modifications of a system that adopted prohibition and restriction for its safeguards. Just think of the population of Great Britain being now about twice as great as it was half a century ago, and of an annual increase regularly approaching to three hundred thousand. But the land does
not widen; and although agricultural improvements have during the last century greatly enlarged the supply of food, yet this increase by no means keeps pace with that of the mouths that require to be fed. Let us, however, accompany Mr. Platt through some of the periods that fall within our own remembrance, and see exactly how we are situated at this moment with regard to the corn-law. We therefore come up to him as he starts with his sixth epoch, viz., the year 1815, and which extends to 1822.
"The corn law of 1815 originated in the desire to preserve, during a state of peace, the high rents and prices which had existed during the war. The war had been a period of scarcity, arising from various causes, and the real effect of this measure was to perpetuate the high prices and high rents by an artificial scarcity. On the 10th of June, 1814, a Committee of the House of Lords on the corn-trade was appointed, which made a brief report on the 27th, when the Committee was instructed to examine witnesses in support of allegations contained in petitions presented to the House on the subject. The principal feature of the second report was the recommendation of the Committee, that so long as the average price of wheat was under 80s. the ports should be completely closed against supplies from other countries. The prohibitive price suggested by the agricultural witnesses examined by the Committee varied from 72s. to 96s. Out of sixteen witnesses belonging to this class, only four were in favour of the free importation price being below 80s. per quarter. The second report was presented on the 25th of July; but the attempt to give so complete a monopoly as would have been established by carrying out the recommendations of the Lords' Committee was so resolutely opposed by the country that the bill which had been brought in for the purpose was abandoned. An act was however passed, repealing the bounty on exportation, which had been allowed under various circumstances since 1688, though from 1792, the high prices which prevailed in the home market rendered it inoperative. By the new act exportation might take place at any time without reference to prevailing prices.
"The average price of wheat for the year 1814 was about 34s. per quarter lower than the average of the preceding year, though the harvest had not been an abundant one. In the month of February, 1815, the average price was under 60s., and before harvest it might rise to 66s., when the ports would be open and prices again be depressed, and it was brought to a very low point, in consequence of the obstacles to free intercourse with the Continent being removed. Early in the session of 1815, therefore, a bill was brought in, giving effect to the recommendation of the Committee of the previous year, and fixing 80s. as the lowest point at which importation could take take place. The measure produced great excitement throughout the country, particularly in the manufacturing districts, and in all the large towns. In the House of Commons, at an early period, a division took place in favour of 72s. being substituted for 80s., with the following result:--For the motion 35; against it 154; majority 119. On the 3rd of March an attempt was made to throw out the bill:-For the motion 56; against it 218; majority 162. On the 6th of March the
vicinity of the House of Commons was thronged by an excited multitude, and several members were stopped, some of them roughly handled, and they were questioned by the mob as to the vote which they intended to give. Ultimately the military were called out, and, with the civil force, kept the streets clear. This evening the gallery of the House of Commons was closed. An attempt was made to render the bill more favourable by substituting 74s. instead of 80s. as the pivot price; and the motion was supported by 77 against 208, being a majority of 131. On the 8th of May, on bringing up the report, an amendment was moved, that the bill be read that day six months, when there voted 50 in its favour, and 168 against it; majority 118. A final attempt was made to substitute a lower rate than 80s., leaving it to the House to determine the exact price at which prohibition ceased; but only 78 voted for the motion, and 184 in favour of the measure as originally proposed. On the 10th of March, on the third reading, an amendment was moved, that the bill be thrown out, but it was only supported by 77 against 245; majority 168. On the 20th of March the bill passed the Lords by a majority of 107: 128 contents, and 21 noncontents. The measure was opposed with great force and acuteness by several of the most eminent statesmen of the day; and Lord Grenville drew up a protest embodying the views of the leaders of the minority. We give a copy of this historical document :
"1. Because we are adverse in principle to all new restraints on comWe 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, authorise 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, cheapness, or steadiness of price. So long as it operates at 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 self has made for equalising 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 compel 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 con
"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 labouring 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 utmost 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.
"On the 23rd of March the bill received the Royal assent.
"Until the average price of wheat rose to 80s. the ports were to be effectually closed. Colonial wheat was admitted when the average prices reached 67s. per quarter. Such was the leading feature of the new act. But the mode in which the average prices were determined greatly increased its stringency. 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.
"It was the general expectation of the farmers that the act of 1815 would maintain the prices of their produce at a rate somewhat under that of the scale which the legislature had adopted; and which, for wheat, was