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LEGISLATIVE PROJECTS BROUGHT forward,
It is only the most important and interesting of the immensity of legislative measures which were submitted in the course of this session to the wisdom of Parliament, but which were thrown out, which we purpose to enter upon our record.
A bill with regard to Dissenters' marriages was introduced by Mr William Smith, on the 21st of February. Its object was to provide that marriages should be allowed to be solemnized in Unitarian chapels which had been registered for that purpose for one year or upwards; that such marriages should be celebrated either upon proclamation of banns, or by licences in the usual manner; that in order that the clergymen of the Church of England might sustain no pecuniary loss by the toleration thus given to Dissenters, all licences should be countersigned by the parochial minister, and the usual fee paid; and that, after the marriage had been celebrated in terms of this certificate, the certificate should be returned to the parochial minister for the purpose of entering the marriage in the parochial register, and which was then to be held as valid as though the ceremony had
been performed by that minister in his own church.
The second reading of the bill was opposed by Mr Robertson, on account of the danger which at different times had ensued to states from Presbyterians, Puritans, and Unitarians-the latter of whom he considered not as being Christians, but Mahometans. In the time of Charles I., he said, the authority of the Puritans had begun from small beginnings, but they soon became arbiters of the fate of their Sovereign. He did not think Puritanism just so dangerous as it had been proved to be at that time; but Parliament ought never to forget that it was Puritanism which induced the Scotch (Mr Robertson is a Scotsman) to sell their king, and which led the English afterwards to butcher him.
Mr Secretary Peel had also some objections to the bill, though he did not participate in the fears which had been enumerated by MrRobertson. His principal objection was, that the bill would still regard marriage as a religious ceremony, and procure registration of it in the same manner as though it were performed by the established clergy.
Jews and Quakers were known by their garb, and therefore there was no danger that improper marriages should be performed under the pretence that the parties belonged to either of these classes; but there were no means of distinguishing a Unitarian; and thus, in the case of marriage by licence, according to the bill, there would be a difficulty in preventing stolen marriages. Besides, the clergymen of the Church of England might well feel conscientious scruples as to the registration, inasmuch as they were called upon to insert in that book which was appropriated to the entries of what the Church of England viewed as a religious ceremony, the marriages of parties who denied the divinity of the Saviour.
The bill passed the Commons; was read a first time in the Lords, and the second reading and debate upon it in that House came on upon the 3d of June. It was supported by the Marquis of Lansdown. The Archbishop of Canterbury also supported the bill, because its tendency was equally to relieve Unitarians and ministers of the Established Church, and because it would do away with that unhallowed equivocation which, sanctioned by law, now took place at the altar. The Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry conceived the bill to be entitled to support, as calculated to deliver the Church from the scandalous profanation of a compromise at the altar. The Earl of Liverpool thought that a barder measure should not be dealt to the Unitarians, who denied the divinity of Christ, than to the Jews, who denied Christianity altogether. Even at present, there were cases in which marriage by the rites of the Church of England was not necessary among members of that Church; for they might go to France and be married by a Catholic, or to Scotland, and be married by a Presbyterian, and in both cases the marriage would be binding. The Church of England did not assume to be an infallible Church, and therefore he did not
see why she should look with any jealousy upon the doctrines of those who were of a different communion. Lord Calthorpe supported the measure, because the Church was able to rely on her own strength, and because he thought that measure would add to her dignity. The Bishop of Bath and Wells denied that the existing law was any hardship to Unitarians. The benediction was given in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; but if they were not the better for that, surely they could not be the worse. The Lord Chancellor contended, that before their Lordships could pass this bill, they must have an act rendering it lawful to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. That denial, by the act of William, was declared to be a heinous crime, and the Act of Toleration did not repeal the criminality of the denial, although it exempted parties from the consequences which had previously resulted from the common law; although Lord Hardwicke's Act excepted the marriages of Jews and Quakers, it did not declare their marriages to be valid. He had considerable doubts of their validity, and should be sorry to see a bill passed declaring them to be valid. The Bishop of Chester had no objection to give Unitarians the same privilege that was enjoyed by Jews and Quakers; but, at the same time, he was anxious to provide against clandestine marriages.
Their Lordships divided on the second reading. For the bill, 52—against it, 56. Thus it was lost by a majority of 4.
The Corn Laws had long been complained of by the manufacturers as unjust in principle, and mischievous in practice; and so virulently had the subject been discussed, that the two great interests of the state appeared as if arrayed in direct hostility to each other. Petitions praying for a repeal, or at least a reconsideration, of those laws, had been repeatedly presented to Parliament; and upon the 28th of April Mr Whitmore moved for a Committee
of the whole House to inquire into the
After endeavouring to show the incompatibility of the existing laws with the principles of free trade, and the prosperity and stability of the country, Mr Whitmore stated the outline of the plan, which, if the House resolved to go into a Committee, he intended to suggest. The alterations which he would propose would have for their object to place the trade on the same footing as that on which it stood previously to 1815, viz. to revert to the payment of such an amount of duty as should cover the peculiar burdens which pressed peculiarly on the landed interest.
was not disposed to undervalue those burdens, for he was himself connected with the landed interest. The burdens which were usually considered as pressing peculiarly on the landed interest, were the poor-rates, tithes, the land-tax, and the rates on the highways. In 1823, the poor-rates amounted to 7,000,000l., out of which several other payments were made the county-rates, amongst others, he believed; the tithes for the same year amounted to 5,000,000l., in England and Ireland; the land-tax to 1,210,127.; the highway-rates to 2,000,000l.; making a total of 15,218,127. He might, however, be underrating the amount, and he would, therefore, take it to be 18,000,000l. He would now state the amount of duties which could cover these burdens : the consumption of corn was calculated at about 14,000,000 quarters. He proposed to fix a duty of 10s. per quarter on the importation of corn, which would increase the price to that amount, and this on 14,000,000 quarters would give 7,000,000l. On the importation of barley, he would fix a duty of 5s., which, as the consumption was 14,000,000 quarters, would give 3,500,000%. On the importation of oats, he would fix a duty of 3s., which, on a consumption of 20,000,000 quar
ters, would give 3,000,000. An advance in the price of any article of agricultural produce always produced a corresponding rise in the price of other articles. He had, therefore, a right to calculate that the rise in the price of grain which would result from a duty of 10s. on its importation, would cause an advance in the price of grass and vegetable produce to the extent of 3,000,000l. Those items, added together, would make 18,500,000l., which more than covered the burdens which pressed exclusively upon the landed interest. He was aware that any sudden alteration would be viewed with dread, on account of the quantity of corn which was said to be collected in foreign ports; but he was of opinion, that the alarm was groundless, for the price of corn would find its level; foreign corn would rise somewhat in price, and ours would somewhat decline. Those persons who were so alarmed at the prospect of the opening of the ports, had not profited from experience. Last year, the importation of oats was allowed, in consequence of their having reached the import price of 27s. The amount imported was 488,000 quarters; yet that had not occasioned any great depression in the market, for the importation took place in August, and in September, the price was 21s.; in October, 22s.; and in November, 23s. He did not believe that at the present moment there were more than 1,000,000 quarters of corn in the shipping ports of the continent, and that would not all be imported into England; for Spain and Portugal, which were at present almost in a state of dearth, would compete with us in the foreign market. The system which he wished to proceed upon, then, was shortly thiswhen the price of corn in this country was at 55s., he would admit foreign wheat at a rate of 10s.; and so on as the price fell 5s. in the quarter, adding more to the duty; so that when corn
was 55s., the duty would be 10s. aquarter; when it was 50s. it should be 15s.; at 45s., 20s.; and at 40s., it should go as high as 25s.
Mr Gooch said that all he wanted was a remunerating price, in consequence of the heavy taxes that fell upon the corn-grower, and he thought that 60s. a-quarter for wheat would be sufficient for that purpose.
Mr Huskisson did not think that the present time was the most fit for its introduction. He wished it might be distinctly understood, that it was to the time only that he objected. If it should be the pleasure of the House to go into the Committee, he might have to propose measures, differing not in principle, but in degree, from the views which his Honourable Friend took of the subject. His opinions on the Corn Laws were on record in the Report of the Committee of 1821. Without arrogance, he might call upon gentlemen to re-peruse it, and to reflect on the circumstances which had since happened, and he thought they might be brought to view it with less hostility than they had done. He would assert that, with the facts before him, of corn being sold in the ports of France and the Netherlands at half the price at which it could be purchased here, no man would be warranted in contending that the present Corn Laws could be adopted as a permanent system. We were now in the tenth year of peace, and it was not unreasonable to expect that the price of corn here would not continue so much above that at which it might be procured at the ports on the continent; but if this fact was worthy of consider ation, there was another which it was also of importance to bear in mind. For forty years this country allowed a free trade in corn, and for every year of that time we imported a quantity, more or less, from the continent. That importation had been discontinued for the last six years, during which we did
VOL. XVIII. PART 1.
not receive from abroad any addition to our home supply. our home supply. This interruption created one of the greatest difficulties under which we were called upon to revise the present Corn Laws; for the consequence of the interruption was, a great accumulation of corn in all the countries from which we were in the habit of importing. To this was to be added, that since we had ceased to import corn, our harvests at home had been more than usually productive; and he believed that the same might be said of the other corn countries of Europe. The result of all these circumstances was, that the supply was at present so much beyond the demand in many of the European ports, that in some, corn did not produce half, in others, not one-third, and, in others again, not one-fourth of the average prices of the last forty years, before they had ceased to export corn to this country. Now it was not travelling into any new theory of political economy to assert that the average price, in those ports, of the last forty years might be taken as the fair price, which would give some remuneration to the grower, and that anything less than that would be a loss to him. From returns which he had seen, it appeared that the average price in Dantzic for the last forty years, before importation to this country was interrupted, was forty-five shillings and a fraction. It must then be evident that anything much below that price would be a loss to the grower. He could not disguise from himself the fact, that if we now opened our ports to an unrestricted corn trade, we might introduce all at once the great accumulation in the foreign ports, and thus disgust the home-grower with a free trade in corn. That there were inconveniences attending the system, in whichever way we treated it, he did not deny; but they were the necessary result of the system which we had adopted in 1815, of that alternation of free trade and monopoly to
which that system necessarily exposed us, and which he would show, before he sat down, could not afford a permanent advantage to any party. The question was, with this accumulation in the foreign market, what course ought we to pursue? There were various ways of treating the subject. Those who thought that the homegrower ought to have a monopoly up to a certain price, and that above that there should be a free trade, would introduce the same alternation of monopoly and free trade to which he had just adverted but then the question came at what should the free trade begin? If, instead of an alternation of monopoly and free trade, they were to leave the ports constantly open and protect the home-grower by a duty there, unless that duty were made a great deal higher than the average would warrant, the immense surplus at present accumulated at the foreign ports would be poured into this country; and although he was by no means very apprehensive as to what might be the consequence, very serious alarm would be produced in certain quarters. Next session he should be prepared to concur in some measure which would fix the duty at a certain rate, to be gradually reduced, so that the supply from foreign countries might, by degrees, come to its fair level. He believed it had been the intention of the legislature, in the year 1821, to give to the British farmer a monopoly of the home market for a certain time, in order to redeem the great losses which he had sustained; and by next session that period would have been sufficiently extended. It had been said that the present law worked well, and, therefore, why not let it alone? Now, he had always thought that the great desideratum upon this question was to procure steadiness of prices; and how well did the present system-a system which affected the price of labour and the comforts of the labourer,
and which cramped the resources not only of the manufacturer but of the farmer himself how did it work in 1822, when corn was as low as 38s. a-quarter, and when gentlemen came down to the House nightly to talk about a national bankruptcy, and to propose the most extraordinary changes in the currency? At the present moment the system might work well; but had the country-gentlemen forgotten their own misfortunes, their former predictions of ruin to the countrynay, their repeated requests that this very system which now worked so well should be instantly altered? In two years the price of corn varied from 112s. to 38s. a-quarter. Such fluctuations in price deprived the farmer of all security, and converted farming into mere gambling. He was quite willing, seeing the rents had already adjusted themselves to the alteration in the currency, and the improved condition of society, to give to the agricultural interest any protection which would obviate the necessity of reduction in the relative situation which that interest now held in the community. Still it was evident that at some limit foreign corn must be admitted into the country. Capital and skill could not be compelled to remain in this country. They were certain to emigrate, if they were impeded by burdens they were unable to bear. It was, therefore, the duty of the House to watch the effect of the price of labour upon the advantages at present possessed; and when we reflected that it was partly to the capital and skill of the manufacturers that the agricultural interest owed its present prosperity, we must see that, if that capital and skill were removed from us, the agriculturists would, in the long run, be the greatest sufferers. Agriculture could not flourish unless all classes of the community were in prosperity; commerce and manufactures could not be sustained here, if they met with greater