HC Deb 04 April 1815 vol 30 cc0-342
Mr. Frankland Lewis

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for the appointment of a committee, to consider the existing laws with regard to the regulation of the Assize of Bread, and also whether it is expedient or not to have any established assize. The hon. member observed, that when the Corn Bill was tinder discussion, it was repeatedly asserted by the representatives for London, that if the average price of corn were at 80s. a quarter, the quartern loaf must be at 16d.; and although that assertion was disproved again and again, still it was confidently repeated by the city members, until at length no one took the trouble of contradicting them. But it was become obviously material to inquire, in order to set the matter at rest, and that no delusion or misunderstanding should prevail upon a point of such importance. There were, however, other grounds upon which the inquiry he proposed was desirable. An opinion prevailed throughout the country, that these laws of assize were lather productive of mischief than of good. But yet these laws had so long existed, even indeed since the days of King John, that it would be evidently improper to accede, without previous inquiry, to any such measure as some gentlemen proposed, for doing away with these laws altogether. On this ground, then, he conceived a committee of inquiry ought to be appointed. He could not think it proper to trouble the House with any perplexing statement with respect to the effects of the assize laws generally, nor indeed could he think it necessary, as he did not anticipate any opposition to the motion which be was about to submit; but he must say a few words as to the operation of the assize system, with which operation any member might easily make himself acquainted. It was a fact, that in places where he assize was resorted to—for it was discretionary with the magistrates to act upon the law of assize or not—the public were more favourably circumstanced. For instance, in the town of Birmingham, where the law of assize was not established, and where wheat was at 65s. a quarter, the quartern loaf was sold at 8¼d. by a company too, which divided 20 per cent, upon their capital. He did not mean to say that this bread was quite so white as that sold in London, but it was of the standard wheaten quality. If, then, the assize laws were really beneficial, how came this difference? According to the old law, the assize of bread was set by the price of wheat, but by a statute, applicable to London only, which was enacted in 1797, the assize was set by the price of flour; and this statute, which passed as a private bill, was ac- tually brought it upon the petition of the bakers of London. To this statute the hon. gentleman attributed the greater part, if not the whole, of the evil complained of in the London assize. The hon. gentleman observed, that this subject had been investigated by committees of that House heretofore, without producing any material result; but the public attention being now so particularly directed towards it, it was not too much to say, that the public wish should not be disappointed. The hon. gentleman concluded with moving, "That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the state of the existing laws which regulate the manufacture and sale of bread, and whether it is expedient to continue the assize thereon under any and what regulations; and that they do report the matter thereof, as it shall appear to them, to the House, together with their observations and opinion thereupon."

Mr. Rose

said, that the Act of 1797, to which the hon. gentleman had referred, was not adopted without due inquiry; and that as to the effect of that Act, it was found that the price of bread would have been higher if settled by the average price of wheat, than if settled by that of flour. It was undoubtedly true, that the quartern loaf was usually cheaper in the country than in London, sometimes, indeed, three-pence cheaper, and this circumstance called for inquiry.

The motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed.