In Great Britain the price of food is at a higher level than in any other country, and consequently, the British artisan labours at a disadvantage in proportion to the higher rate of his food.
At the present moment the people of England are only three-quarters fed, and the result of this improvement in the export of our manufactures would be, that they would be entirely fed.
We ought, therefore, to lessen the price of food to our manufacturers, and place them more on a level with the manufacturers who have cheaper food, and also much lighter taxation.
So that a famine price is vague, and the plan subject to all the inconvenience now experienced.
I see no reason for giving the capital employed in agriculture greater protection than the capital vested in other branches of trade, manufacture, or commerce.
The advantage to Great Britain of a regular free trade in corn would, therefore, be more by raising the rest of the world to our standard and price, than by lowering the prices here to the standard of the Continent.
There is abundant proof that the opening of our ports always tends to raise the price of foreign corn to the price in the English market, and not to sink the price of British corn to the price in the continental market.
What farmers require is, that the prices should be moderate, and the markets steady; and for this reason I did, in 1826, 1827, and 1828, take the course which I would now recommend to the House.
Worse there cannot be; a better, I believe, there may be, by giving energy to the capital and skill of the country to produce exports, by increasing which, alone, can we flatter ourselves with the prospect of finding employment for that part of our population now unemployed.
Our people are unemployed and anxious to work for the food which foreigners can give us.
Fortunately for England, all her imports are raw materials.
Land, in England, is valuable, because we have highly-paid artisans to consume the produce on the spot.
Now, what produces a want of demand? A refusal to take from other countries the commodities which they produce.
Destroy or take away the employment and wages of those artisans - which the corn laws in a great measure do - and you will, ere long, render the land in Great Britain of as little value as it is in other countries.
I am willing to admit that if the agriculturists are oppressed by peculiar burdens, they ought to be relieved from them, or be allowed a fair and just protection equivalent to all such peculiar burdens.
I maintain that the existing corn laws are bad, because they have given a monopoly of food to the landed interest over every other class and over every other interest in the kingdom.
It is, and long has been my opinion, and I have heard honourable members in this House declare it to be theirs - that it is the duty of Parliament equally to protect all the different interests in the country.
Our course, then, is clear; if we desire to put an end to pauperism, or to lessen it, we should import everything we can use or sell, in order that we may employ our unemployed hands, in making the goods by which we pay for these imports.
With an open trade in corn and a fixed duty we should have every man in the country fully fed and happy, instead of our present situation in which so much distress exists - distress of our own producing.