HC Deb 10 May 1805 vol 4 cc739-42
Lord A. Hamilton

called the attention of the house to the numerous petitions against the corn law of the last session. He argued that the great advance in the price of grain since the introduction of that measure into the house, was in a great degree attributable to it. He complained particularly that Irish grain, when warehoused here, might be exported as foreign, and he believed that much of this Irish grain had in this manner found its way to enemies ports. He concluded with moving, that a committee be appointed to enquire into the matter of the petitions.

Colonel Stanley

represented the extent of the complaints against the bill, in the manufacturing parts of Lancashire.

The Secretary at War

observed, that the petitioners acted upon misapprehension or misrepresentation, as, in fact, the bill never came into operation. As to the injurious effect upon Scotland, it was to be ascribed to the alteration in the usual average, proposed by the noble lord himself, and to obviate which, he was now suing for redress.

Mr. Coke

(of Norfolk) was against the bill going into a committee, or any further discussion being had upon it. It had produced the most beneficial effects already, by encouraging the importation of wheat, which now throughout England kept down the price of the markets.

Mr. Western

was against all discussion of the subject, now when corn, was ever, where falling in price, on account of the great quantities imported, from the contemplation of what might have been the effects of the late act. Its provisions had not yet taken effect; and the ports had never been shut by it, as the prices were not low enough to produce that consequence. Even in Scotland, as well as Ireland, the surplus produce was, this year, so great, that large quantities of wheat were imported from these countries into England. Even in Lanarkshire, the petitions from which were so much rested upon, the average prices were lower than on the corn exchange in London; and, he believed, upon the whole, lower than the average prices of England. When the bill was passed the price of corn was 1Os. a quarter dearer than if was now throughout the country. It was a great object to throw off the dependance which Great Britain heretofore was under, for its supplies to foreign countries, which in the present state of Europe, might, without any strain of probability, be, in a short time, converted into enemies. The effect of the continuance of this act would be, that the man who employed his capital in agriculture might safely conclude in deriving adequate profit from it, and in this manner be put upon a fair footing with the manufacturer.

Sir Robert Peele

argued, that the manufacturing interest should be supported against foreign competition, by supplying the necessities of workmen at a reasonable rate. A temporary depression of the farmer's profits ought not to be made the cause of a permanent burthen on the consumer.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he approved of the general principle of the act of last year, and was convinced that it had no share in the high price of grain, which was solely to be attributed to the deficiency of the crops throughout the country. It did much good from the encouragement it gave to importation, and he contended it to be impossible, that the interest of the agriculturist and manufacturer should ever be at variance with each other. If the house was once to discourage the grower for the present interest of the consumer, it must follow that the latter must ever afterwards be a sufferer by it; and, at times, subjected to such aggravated prices as would be most severely and intolerably felt. He deprecated any farther discussion on the subject at present, but did not object to the committee, as he thought it the most effectual mode, in its report, of counteracting all erroneous opinions with regard to it.

Mr. Foster

stated, that he had supported this bill when brought forward last session, and saw no reason why it should now be altered or repealed. No corn had been exported from Great Britain in consequence of it, nor had it prevented any from being imported; it had done no harm; and he, therefore, did not wish any investigation to take place.

Mr. Macdowall

observed on the average prices, Which, he said, were against Scotland, and thought, if the committee, in this instance, was refused, a bill should be brought in specifically to regulate them.

Mr. Francis

maintained that when the bill passed, the price of bread was not more than eightpence or ninepence the quartern loaf, and, in about a mouth after, it rose to about sixteen or seventeen pence, for no other reason but because the bill was in force. He would, therefore, give his assent to the motion.

Mr. H. Lascelles

thought it better to go into the committee, and if it should be found that the bill had no effect, it might easily be altered.

Mr. W. Smith

did not think the bill was the cause, of the rise of bread, and was sure, if any gentleman would take the trouble of enquiring, he would find that it was the frost which came on in June. He thought it, however, desirable that the house should go into a committee.

Mr. Barham

spoke in favour of the committee, and thought that, as the people had doubts, it was necessary that an investigation should take place.

Sir C. Price

thought the interference of parliament in these matters had a bad effect on the market.

Sir J. Newport

opposed the motion for a committee, as he thought, whenever this subject was discussed, speculations took place, which were injurious, and, no doubt, would be enlarged, if the present motion were carried. Sir W. Curtis and Alderman Coombe thought the average too high, and agreed that the Louse should go into a committee. Lord Archibald Hamilton concluded the debate with asserting his design to be not to alter the bill if it were advantageous, but only to permit the committee to enquire into its merits; so much he considered to be due to the petitioners and to the country. The house then divided:—Ayes 63; Noes 40. Majority for the committee 23.—Adjourned.