HC Deb 24 May 1814 vol 27 cc1020-5

On the motion, "that the report of this Bill be brought up,"

Mr. H. Lascelles

took the opportunity (without entering at large into the question) to declare, that in the present state of things he could not assent to the Bill. Before he could agree to such a measure, he thought it necessary to be convinced that there had been a state of things adverse to the interests of the landholders and farmers up to this time. So far from this being the case at present, he found, by referring to the proper documents, that there had for several years been a progressive rise in the price of corn. The House was really called upon to legislate on the subject without knowing what the real state of things was. Under these circumstances, he should wish the House to wait and see what would be the consequences of the alteration that would take place from the removal of a great part of the burdens under which the tenant now laboured, before they decided on so important a question.

Mr. Grenfell

wished the decision to be postponed, on the ground that the House was not in possession of information on which it could proceed on so important a question. The agitation which had been caused in the public mind on the subject, was another strong reason why they should delay. He did not himself think that the object of the Bill was to raise the price of corn; but certainly its object was very much misconceived. Even farmers misunderstood it; for within the last 24 hours he heard a farmer say, that the Bill would seriously injure the agricultural interests, because it would fix the price of corn at 87s. per quarter. He therefore thought that time should be given to have those misunderstandings cleared up. He did not approve of the graduated scale.

Mr. Rose

would not lose any opportunity of expressing his sentiments on the precipitation with which the House had acted. The measure was not even understood by members of the House. They were proceeding without any inquiry. He would not talk of the report of last year. It was such a one as ought not to be proceeded in, even in the matter of a decision on a turnpike road. No inconvenience could result from the postponement of the decision; while, by deciding now, the country would be exposed to an unnecessary trial. If a proper inquiry was only instituted, he was convinced that no two sensible men would differ in their opinion of the subject; because, justly considered, the agricultural and commercial interests were identified.

Mr. Lushington

regretted that the House was drawn into a discussion that day, contrary to the understanding of the House on the former night, and in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had not conceived that any objection would have been made to the receiving of the report.

Mr. J. Smith

said, that an extraordinary degree of feeling had been excited in the manufacturing districts by this measure; the consequences of which applied to every man, woman, and child in the kingdom. The safest course appeared to be delay, which might remove many great errors in public feeling. He admitted, that it was the interest of our manufacturers to promote the agricultural interests in Ireland, as Ireland was their best customer.

Sir H. Parnell

maintained that there had been no precipitation, as the subject had been before parliament a whole year. Few matters had received so much discussion. Even now a fortnight's delay was intended, that the question might be more completely understood. This measure was not framed on views of importation; but on our own stock of grain, and the means of keeping it up. Postponement was called for by those who did not really understand the subject at all. The reasons stated for doing nothing, were the very reasons why something should be done. The artificial state of prices for several years past rendered this necessary. Our exclusion from the continent had given a prodigious stimulus to our internal agriculture. How would it stand with our manufactures, if we were to let in foreign goods, as some now wished to let in foreign grain? Leave the law as it at present stood, for six months longer, and agriculture might become quite unprotected. Would the farmer sow as much corn as if this Bill were passed? Give him protection, and he would go on, growing a sufficient supply for our home consumption; which, if the foreign corn were let in, it would be impossible to expect.

Mr. Finlay

remarked, that, for want of proper evidence, they could not understand the effect of the present state of things nor the consequence of competition with foreign grain. The consumer and grower had the same interest; and certainly the agricultural interests of Ireland deserved their consideration and support; but while he wished the prosperity of Ireland, he could not be indifferent to the interests of the people of this country. He was not for precipitating a measure of the results of which the hon. baronet said many were so ignorant, while at the same time he refused them all information. Modified as the Bill was, it was rendered little mischievous; but yet it was not such a Bill as he could wish to see passed. There was no evil probable from importation this year; and there could be no absolute necessity for the measure.

Mr. Huskisson

said, he had come to the House in the full expectation that no discussion would have arisen on the measure in its present stage. As to the charge of precipitation, he believed there never was a measure which had come before that House that was less liable to it. Nearly a month had elapsed since the Resolutions had passed, and yet they had not got into a law. It was certainly not his intention to hurry the measure: he merely meant to propose to the House to receive the report; and that the Bill, being then ordered for printing, should not be further contended till Monday, the 6th of June, which would afford a whole fortnight for its consideration. He would agree that there was abroad a very considerable alarm, as well as misrepresentation of the subject, by the assertion that its view was to raise the price of bread; but it would be found that the measure had nothing in it of so mischievous a nature. Persons out of doors, it was well known, would always misrepresent and exaggerate the tendency of measures before that House; and it was as true as unfortunate, that such misrepresentations were always listened to. Yet if this subject were fairly looked at, it would be found not calculated to create a pressure upon the poor, but to prevent those fluctuations in the price of corn, which had, at certain intervals, caused so much calamity, and which will periodically return, if not frustrated by this measure. He would add, that if this Bill did not pass into a law in the present session, the alarm which had prevailed among those who had devoted their capital to agricultural pursuits, would be felt next year in the full extent of calamity. However, instead of saying any thing that might excite debate, he should merely move that the report, be now received, and the Bill be printed.

Mr. Horner

said, that the complaint was, not that the subject had not been enough debated, but that it had not been sufficiently inquired into. In the report of the committee there was no information. Not a single practical corn-dealer had been examined, in order to afford such information as alone would be satisfactory to persons not conversant with the subject; all that the report contained being some statistical knowledge respecting Ireland. The proposition of an hon. gentleman (Mr. Bankes) for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the subject had been rejected, and the House was without any information even of the price at which foreign corn could be imported. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Rose) was the only person who had stated the price (Mr. Rose said across the table "conjecturally"); but that statement, as the right hon. Gentleman said, was merely conjectural, and he might be allowed to say very erroneous (a laugh); as he had not taken into consideration the exchange. The right hon. Baronet (sir Henry Parnell), who so violently upbraided the ignorance of the opposers of the Bill, was inconsistent in his remarks; as he said that the protection of parliament was necessary to the farmers, while he asserted that it would not influence the price of corn. The House, he thought, should be indulgent to the public feeling; and though no one should consent to relinquish a measure which he thought necessary, yet an inquiry might be entered into, and the measure delayed until the people were more reconciled to it.

Sir H. Parnell

, in explanation, said, he had not stated the exclusion of foreign grain (well knowing that much had been imported), but the interruption of foreign importation, to be the stimulus that kept agriculture in a progressive state.

The Report was then received, and ordered to be taken into further consideration on Monday, the 6th of June.

Alderman Atkins

wished to know what proceeding would then be taken on it.

The Speaker

said, he supposed the Report would be re-committed; but he wished the intended proceeding to be distinctly understood.

Mr. Huskisson

had no objection to its being recommitted, if any clause was intended to be proposed.

Mr. Horner

hoped, that whether any alteration were, or were not proposed, the Report would be recommitted, for the purpose of being more fully discussed.

Alderman Atkins

expressed his intention of proposing a clause then, unless permitted in the subsequent stage.

Mr. Bathurst

said, it was the usual course to permit the proposal of clauses in such cases.

Mr. Lushington

said, it was the understanding of his right hon. friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) that the Bill should be then passed pro forma, and fully discussed in the following stage.