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STATE OF THE CORN QUESTION
AFTER THE PARLIAMENTARY DISCUSSIONS OF 1827;
BEING AN APPENDIX TO
“ OBSERVATIONS ON THE CORN LAWS,”
W. W, WHITMORE, Esq., M. P.
IN CONSEQUENCE OF HIS LETTER TO THE ELECTORS OF
In a letter to Mr. Whitmore on the subject of the corn laws, which was published about twelve months since, and was honored with a place in the Pamphleteer for September last, I stated it as my opinion, that a duty of not less than 20s. per quarter on the importation of wheat, can, in the first instance, be regarded as a sufficient protection to the British agriculturist, This is the sum which the late lamented Premier, Mr. Canning, recommended on the part of government, on the 1st of March 1827, with the very important modification, that when the price of wheat should be above or below 60s. per quarter, the duty should fall, or rise, in a regular progression, by the diminution or addition of 2s. duty for every 1s. that the price of wheat might either rise or fall. When the price had risen to 70s., the duty was to be reduced to Is. per quarter, at which it was to continue.
The propositions which were thus made, relieved the minds of agriculturists from the apprehensions which they entertained, that the small protecting duty, for which Mr. Jacob, (who was to a certain degree an official organ,) Mr. Whitmore, and others contended, might receive the sanction and support of government; and the bill founded on Mr. Canning's propositions was adopted by the lower house. An endeavor made by Mr. Whitmore, to lower, by 10s., the standard at which the duty of 20s. was to commence,
| Mr. Whitmore's letter was inserted in the Pamphleteer for September lest.
was negatived by a majority of 335 to 50; while a motion of Mr. Bankes, to raise the standard to 64s. was negatived by 229 to 160. Mr. Hume's proposition, to establish a duty on the importation of wheat, of 15s. per quarter in the first instance, to be diminished 1s. per quarter per annum till it should reach 10s., at which rate it should permanently continue, was negatived by a majority of 229 to 16.
In the House of Lords the bill passed through all its stages up to the third reading, and several amendments were made in it. But in consequence of one of those amendments being considered by ministers as affecting the character of the bill to a greater extent than they thought themselves justified in approving, the bill was not pressed by Lord Goderich to a third reading, and therefore fell to the ground. This amendment was moved by the Duke of Wellington on the 1st of June, in consequence, as it would appear, of his having misunderstood an expression contained in a letter of Mr. Huskisson. Its object was to prevent the admission, for home consumption, of any wheat which should have been placed in bond after the passing of this act, so long as the average price of wheat should be less than 66s. per quarter. The wheat which was in bond at the passing of this act, (and which amounted, as Mr. Canning stated, to 560,000 quarters,) could be taken out on paying the necessary duty; but any wheat which might subsequently be placed in bond, however low the average price might be at the time, could not, according to this amendment, be liberated for home consumption, even on paying the duty, till the average price amounted to 66s, per quarter.'
During the discussions on this bill in the House of Lords two points were decided by their lordships; one, by a majority of 82 to 39, that a prohibitory duty was preferable to a real prohibition; the other, without a division, that the standard at which the duty of 20s. should commence, should not be raised from 60s. to 643.2
1 « Provided always, that no wheat which shall have been placed under bond to his Majesty, his heirs, or successors, in any ship or warehouse, after the passing of this act, shall be entered for home consumption, from the ship or warehouse in which such wheat shall have been so placed under bond, so long as the average price of wheat, as settied by virtue of this act, shall be less than 66s. per quarter.”—Duke of Wellington's amendment to the Bill as amended by the Committee, intituled, “ An act for granting duties or customs on corn,” p. 3.
2 Lord Malmesbury's proposition was, that the standard should be raised from 628. to 66s.; but this was on the calculation of the imperial measure, which answered to 60s., and 645. of the Winchester. It was therefore the same as that which was moved in the lower house by Mr. Bankes. As the new, or imperial weights and measures, had received the sanction of parlia
• In consequence of this bill being lost, another was introduced by Mr. Canning, on June 18th, which passed into a law. By this second bill, permission was given to withdraw from bond, for home consumption, at any time before the 1st of May next, on payment of the same duties as would have been payable had the original bill become a law, whatever foreign corn was in warehouse at the time of passing the bill, or might be placed in warehouse previously to the following July; and also whatever corn might be received from Canada, or other British possessions out of Europe, up to the 1st of May next.'
According to the calculations made by Mr. Jacob and Mr. Whitmore, as to the quantities of wheat likely to be annually imported in consequence of an alteration in the corn laws, it does not appear that any disadvantage, as far as the public is concerned, could be sustained by substituting the temporary for the permanent measure; for the whole quantity thus permitted to be brought into the market was fully equal to what the agriculturists were informed would be annually imported in consequence of the alteration proposed. I venture to entertain doubts, however, as to the propriety of not permitting the corn bill to go on to a third reading. If it had passed into a law during the last session, even with the Duke of Wellington's amendment annexed to it, it would have brought into immediate operation the principle on which so large a majority of both houses was agreed, that of substituting a protecting duty for absolute prohibition. This, indeed, appeared to be the great characteristic of the measure; and the discussions of the present session, in the event of the bill having been carried in the last, would, instead of embracing the entire subject of ment, and were in operation in the country, it was thought right to accommodate the schedule of duties to them, which had been originally calculated on the Winchester measure. The following is therefore the proposition of the bill, as far as wheat is concerned; and the other parts of the schedule are equally accommodated to the imperial standard. “If imported from any foreign country:
“WHEAT. -Whenever the average price of wheat, made up and published in manner required by law, shall be 62s. and under 63s. the
quarter, the duty shall be for every quarter £1:0:8.
“And in respect of every iniegral shilling by which such price shall be above 62s., such duty shall;be decreased by 2s. until such price shall be 725.
“Whenever such price shall be at or above 72s. the duty shall be for every quarter 1s.
“Whenever such price shall be under 628. and not under 61s. the duty shall be for every quarter £1:2:8.
“ And in respect of every integral shilling, or any part of each integral shilling, by which such price shall be under 61s., such duty shall be increased by 2s."—Bill as amended, p. 8.
· The latter description of corn was to pay 5s. duty per quarter only, up to 67 s. imperial measure, and afterwards 6d. per quarter.
the corn laws, and requiring the whole ground to be gone over anew, at the risk of producing much irritation, both in and out of parliament, have been limited to the question of allowing wheat, when once admitted into bond, to be taken out of it on paying the apportioned duty, just as if it had been transmitted from a foreign country, and brought immediately to market.
The Duke of Wellington's amendment left the bonding system totally unaffected, both in its application to merchandise generally, and to every description of grain except wheat. It did not prevent the corn already in bond from being brought to market on paying the daty. It did not interfere with the immediate sale of foreign wheat; nor did it preclude the reshipment of wheat in bond, so as to bring it back for immediate introduction into our markets, which could be done at very little increase of expense. These circumstances made it but little operative in limiting the introduction of foreign grain, which seemed to be its particular object.
But if the propriety of admitting wheat at all times into the English markets from foreign countries, under a protecting duty, is once conceded (and there seems to be very little difference of opinion on this subject in either house of parliament), it does not appear that the bonding of wheat can have any injurious influence on the agriculture of the country ;' because it is equally the interest of the merchant, who has warehoused his corn, as it is of the farmer, who has it in his barn, stackyard, or granary, to obtain as high a price for it as possible. If the importer of corn had no object but to sell it for whatever price he could obtain, he would do so immediately on its importation, without being at the trouble and expense of depositing it in a warehouse. He bonds it, because he expects it to produce a better price at some future period, than he could obtain if he pressed it on the market, without any reference to the stock offered for sale at the time. In this way he acts the same part, as to foreign corn, which the corn merchant, or the opulent farmer does, as to English; and by looking to the state of the market, and apportioning the supply to the demand, he manages so as to prevent that depression of price, which forced sales must necessarily occasion. He has no object in extensively accumulating foreiga produce, as was the case during absolute prohibition, when he prepared himself for pouncing on the market, with all the corn he could obtain, as soon as the ports were open. His interest, indeed, is doubly concerned in obtaining a liberal price for his grain ; first, because he would get more money for the article ; and second, because he would save a certain amount of duty, which increases, as must be observed, two shillings with every depression of one. If the possessor of bonded corn therefore should, in his mode of bringing it to market, injure the English farmer, he would, in a much greater proportion, affect his own pecuniary interests. When we unite to all these considerations the important national one, of the facility with which warehouses can be obtained in Holland, Bel, gium, and France, from which corn can be shipped into this country, and brought to market at two or three days' notice, and the loss which would arise to our countrymen from their warehouses being unoccupied, and their labor, connected with the preservation of bonded corn, unemployed, it may admit of doubt, whether an amendment, in every respect similar to that which occasioned the loss of the bill, will again be brought forward.
On a general view of the feelings which were evinced by ministers during the discussions on the corn bill, last year, it appears to be evident, that while there was a strong disposition on their part to open, as far as could be done with safety, the trade in corn, there was also every determination to protect the interests of agriculture, Mr. Canning, in his opening speech stated, that it was the object of the bill to prevent ruinous fluctuations in price ; and that by its means “the market will assume such a steadiness, that instead of a fluctuation between 112s. at one time, and 38s. at another, the vibrations will be found to be limited within the small circle of 55s. to 65s." -Mr. Huskisson expressed himself as being convinced that it would be “a great misfortune for this country, at any time, to depend too largely for its supply of corn on other countries;” and that such a state of things might occasion great perplexity in our councils, and might prove a great source of national weakness."
The same favorable feelings towards agriculture were also cognis, able on the part of other gentlemen, whose opinions carried much weight with them, though they were not so influential as those of the ministers of the country.-Mr. Whitmore concluded, that the annual supply of wheat capable of being furnished from abroad, could not exceed an average of 600,000 quarters ; and while he deprecated the idea of driving the poor land of this country out of cultivation, was of opinion, that this could not happen to any land then cultivated with advantage, were even the small protecting duty only imposed which he deemed necessary.-Mr. Tooke expressed it as his belief, when he gave his evidence before the committee of the House of Commons, in 1821, that we might maintain the competition with foreigners, consistently with preserving our extent of land in cultivation, and with no diminution in theemployment of our agricultural laborers. He was indeed of opinion, that the low prices of corn, in many parts of the continent, were the mere effects of a want of demand ; and that, if a free trade were established, the prices there would be “ very deci