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Chap. consideration next session was carried by a majority of
x' 117 to 101. There can be no doubt tbat this was
lm- a step in the right direction, and paved the way for those important changes in the criminal law of England which Mr Peel soon after introduced. But the result has shown that it was a mistake to ascribe the superior rapidity in the increase of crime in Great Britain, as compared to France, to the severity of our penal laws; for the same disproportion has continued in a still greater degree since the punishment of death was taken away, practically speaking, from all offences except deliberate murder. The truth is, that, like the disturbed state of Ireland, the increase of crime arose mainly from the general distress which had prevailed, with very few exceptions, since the peace; and the errors on this subject afford only another illustration of the truth which so many passages of contemporary history illustrate, that the great causes determining the comfort, conduct, and I Ann. Reg. tranquillity of the working classes are to be found in in.' ' those which, directly or indirectly, affect the wages of labour.1
But these material distresses had increased, and were Greatfaii increasing with a rapidity which outstripped all calcula"faiUOTts* tion, and had now reached a height which compelled of produce. investigation, and threatened to bear down all opposition. The great fall in the price of the whole articles of agricultural produce, which had gone on without intermission from the monetary bill of 1819, and had now reached 50 per cent on every product of rural labour, had, at length, spread to every other species of manufacture. All, sharing in the influence of the same cause, exhibited the same effect. The long continuance of the depression, and its universal application to all articles of commerce, excluded the idea of its being owing to any glut in the market, or any excess in trading in particular lines of business, and furnished a valuable commentary on the predictions of Mr Ricardo and Mr Peel, that the change
of prices could not by possibility exceed 3 per cent.1* Chap. This subject accordingly engaged the repeated and anxious
consideration of both Houses of Parliament; it was made the topic of repeated and luminous debates of the very §71,note.' highest interest and importance, and it forced at length a change of the utmost moment in our monetary system, which for the next three years entirely changed our social condition, and induced another set of dangers the very reverse of those under which the nation for the three preceding years had been labouring.
This important debate was opened by Mr Brougham on the 8 th February, who in a powerful speech demon- Measures strated the extreme distress of the agricultural class, in iieVo*tho connection with the heavy load of poor-rates and local *Sj»M.tural taxes with which they were exclusively burdened. The motion he made for the consideration of the burdens peculiarly affecting agriculture was negatived by a majority of 212 to 108; but this was brought about ouly by Lord Londonderry, on the part of the Government, engaging to introduce some measures for the relief of that interest. On the 15th of the same month his lordship redeemed his pledge, by introducing the measures of relief proposed by Government, which were, the repeal of the annual malt-tax, which produced £1,000,000 a-year, and the advance of £4,000,000 in Exchequer bills to the landed proprietors on security of their crops, until the markets improved. In the course of his speech on this subject Lord Londonderry remarked, and satisfactorily proved, that no diminution of taxation to any practicable amount could afford any adequate relief to the agricultural classes ;2 and it was no wonder it was so, for the utmost * Ann. uPg.
. 1822 98
extent of any such relief, supposing it conceded, could 101.'' not have amounted to more than six or seven millions
* Piuces or Wheat In Decemrer Of Each Year, Prom 1818 To 1822.
Chap. yearly, whereas their difficulties arose from a depression x' in the value of their produce, which could not be estim2' mated at less than sixty or seventy millions. J30 Lord Londonderry's plan was laid before Parliament, Detailed with the report of the committee on agricultural distress, of Govern- which had been agreed to early in the session without thereiief opposition, and was replete with valuable information cuitouS," and suggestions.* The leading resolutions proposed were, that whenever the average price of wheat shall be under 60s. a quarter, Government shall be authorised to issue £1,000,000 on Exchequer bills to the landed proprietors on the security of their crops; that importation of foreign corn should be permitted whenever the price of wheat shall be at and above 70s. a quarter; rye, pease or beans, 46s.; barley, 35s., and oats, 25s.: that a sliding-scale should be fixed, that for wheat being under 80s. a quarter, 12s. ; above 80s. but under 85s., 5s.; and above 85s., only 1s. Greatly lower duties were proposed for colonial grain, with the wise design of promoting the cultivation and securing the fidelity of their dependencies. They i Ann. Reg. were as follows: For colonial grain—wheat at and above 107.' ' 59s., rye, &c, 39s., barley 30s., and oats 20s.; subject to certain moderate rates of duty.1 Mr Huskisson and Mr
* The committee reported that the prices of wheat for six weeks preceding 1st April 1822, the date of their report, had been—
March 16, .... 45 11
„ 9, 46 10
„ 2, 46 11
Feb. 23, 47 7
Highest price in 1822, . . . . 50 7 "And that the quantity sold, both of wheat and oats, between 1st November and 1 st March has, under these prices, very considerably exceeded any quantity sold in the preceding twenty years. That it is impossible to carry protection farther than monopoly, and this monopoly the British grower has pouetscd for more than three yeart, which is ever since February 1819, with the exception of the ill-timed and unnecessary importation of somewhat more than 700,000 quarters of oats, which took place during the summer of 1820. It must be considered farther, that this protection, in consequence of the increased value of our currency, and the present state of the corn market, combined with the prospect of an early harvest, may in all probability remain uninterrupted for a very considerable time to come."—Common*' Report on Agriculture, 1st April 1822; Annual Regitter, 1822, pp. 438, 441.
Ricardo proposed other resolutions, which were, however, Chap. negatived; and Lord Londonderry's resolutions, with the x' exception of the first, regarding the Exchequer bills, which 1822was withdrawn, were agreed to by large majorities in both Houses, and passed into law.
The great debate of the session, however, came on on 11th June, when Mr Western moved for the appointment Motion'of of a committee to consider the efiect of the act 59 Geo. on the curIII., c. 14 (the Bank Cash-Payments Bill), on the agri- jeunncJ'n. culture, commerce, and manufactures of the United Kingdom. The motion was negatived, after a long debate, by a majority of 194 to 30. This debate was remarkable for one circumstance—Lord Londonderry spoke against the motion, with the whole Ministers, and Mr Brougham in support of it. It led, as all motions on the same subject have since done, to no practical result, as the House of Commons has constantly refused to entertain any change in the monetary policy adopted in 1819; but it is well worthy of remembrance, for it elicited two speeches, one from Mr Huskisson in support of that system, and one from Mr Attwood against it, both of which \m*\ms' are models of clear and forcible reasoning, and which J2i; P«a contain all that ever has or ever can be said on that all- 878,1027. important subject.1
Mr Huskisson argued—" The change of prices which has undoubtedly taken place is only in a very slight de- Mr Husk* gree to be ascribed to the resumption of cash payments, incuts in To that measure we were in duty bound, as well as policy, So whiting for all contracts had been made under it. Even if it'J,temhad been advisable not to revert to a sound currency, the irrevocable step has been taken, and the widest mischief would ensue from any attempt to undo what has been done. It is said on the other side, that it would be for the benefit of all classes that the value of money should be gradually diminished, and that of all other articles raised. What is this but the system of Law the projector, of Lowndes, and of many others? But it is one
Chap, to which, it is to be hoped, this country will never lend ——— its sanction. It is, in truth, the doctrine of debtors ; and 1822, still more of those who, already being debtors, are desirous of becoming so in a still greater degree.
"The foundation of the plan on the other side is, that
Continued, the standard of value in every country should be that which is the staple article of the food of its inhabitants; and therefore wheat is fixed upon, as it is the staple article of the food of our people. At that rate, potatoes should be the standard in Ireland, rice in India, maize in Italy. To what endless confusion in the intercourse of nations would this lead! Who ever heard of a potato standard ] It does not, in the slightest degree, obviate the objection, that you propose to make the currency, not of wheat, but of gold, as measured by that standard. How can a given weight of gold, of a certain fineness, and a certain denomination, which in this country is now the common measure of all commodities, be itself liable to be varied in weight, fineness, or denomination, according to the exchangeable value of any other commodity, without taking from gold the quality of being money, and transferring it to that other commodity % All that you do is, in fact, to make wheat the currency, and gold its representative, as paper now is of gold. But to say that one commodity shall be the currency, and another its standard, betrays a confusion of ideas, and is, in fact, little short of a contradiction in terms.
"Again, it is said we ought to measure the pressure
Continued, of taxation by the price of corn; and we are reminded that, as in 1813, wheat was at 108s. 7d., and the taxes £74,674,000, 13,733,000 quarters of wheat were sufficient for their payment; while in the present year, the price being 45s., nearly double that amount of quarters are necessary to pay the reduced taxes of £54,000,000. But observe to what this system of measuring the weight of taxes by the price of wheat, or any other article save gold itself, would lead. The year 1817 was a prosperous