HC Deb 25 February 1819 vol 39 cc0-660
Lord Ebrington

presented a Petition from certain occupiers of land in the county of Devon, in favour of some further legal protection against the Importation of Foreign Corn. He begged to state, how ever, that so far from concurring with the prayer of the petition, he deprecated the idea of again attempting to legislate on this subject. Such an attempt could only serve to excite feelings of irritation which every man must lament.

Mr. Coke

presented a similar petition from the owners and occupiers of land in the neighbourhood of Lynn, in the county of Norfolk. The hon. gentleman said, that the petition proceeded from a respectable body of yeomen, with whom he was sorry he could not on this occasion agree. In his opinion, the present price of corn was fully sufficient to remunerate the farmer. In one respect, however, he thought the agricultural interest might be essentially relieved, and that was by a repeal of the duties on farmers horses, duties which were very severe and oppressive. Although he could not concur in the sentiments of the petition, he was firmly convinced of the expediency of giving every proper encouragement to the farmer, and in no view more distinctly than in order to afford employment for the poor. To encourage industry was one of the best ways of emending the poor-laws. In his own district, a poor-house had some years ago been erected under Mr. Gilbert's act; but the poor having since been wholly employed, the poor-house had been pulled down.

Mr. Western

said, he was intrusted with the presentation of three petitions from Essex, similar to those which had just been submitted to the House. They were signed by about 1,200 of his constituents, owners and occupiers of land. He begged, leave to observe, that amongst these were many of the great landholders of the county. They stated, and it could not be doubted, that they suffered much from, the existing system. He trusted that., their complaints would be immediately referred to a committee, and that that committee would proceed to examine the subject without passion or prejudice, In Essex, the farmers, did not find it worth their while to proceed with spirit in cultivating the soil: the consequence was, that many labourers were thrown out of employment; and he believed the same observation applied to many other counties. The progress of agriculture was evidently not, so great as it was a few years ago; a circumstance that could only be accounted for by the want of due encouragement. In the years 1811, 12, and, 13, the number of enclosure bills which passed that House, was 385; while, in the last three years, only 185 had been passed.

Lord Rancliffe

said, he would take this, the first opportunity, of protesting against these petitions. He thought it most extraordinary, that the farmers and land owners should, the very first moment they felt the pressure of a temporary distress, petition for additional duties. They had had many years of prosperity, and he was astonished to see them now coming forward with petitions, the object of which was, to raise the price of bread on the poorer classes of the community.

Mr. Lyttelton

said, the hon. member for Norfolk, whose opinion on subjects of this kind must always have great weight, had stated, very justly, that if the agricultural horse tax were taken off, it would' afford great relief to the farmer. The farmers in the county which he had the honour to represent, felt that tax press most heavily on them; and he should soon have to present a petition from those individuals, praying for some relief from its severe operation. He thought, if government would tolerate a composition for that tax, it would be an extremely beneficial measure; thus, if the farmers were allowed to use a certain number of horses, at particular seasons of the year, when their business absolutely required them, instead of assessing them when they were once employed, for the whole twelve months, it would be a very considerable relief. Such a provision would, in a great degree, meet the wishes of the agriculturists, at the same time that it would not create that jealousy which the prayer of the present petitions had excited to a most alarming extent. The House must see, from the remonstrances of the agriculturists, how dangerous it was to enter on a vicious system, of legislation. When once it was commenced, no person could say where it was likely to end. What did the agriculturalists say? They complained to the House that the manufacturers were protected but they were not. What inference was to be drawn from this complaint? Either that the agriculturists should be also protected, or that the duties imposed for the protection of the manufacturers should be removed. He knew no other way in which the complaint could be got rid of. Either the agriculturist must have protecting duties, of those imposed for the benefit of the manufacturer must be removed. He did not think the prayer of the petition ought to be granted; and he rather imagined the petitioners themselves did not expect it. The subject, it appeared to him, was introduced as a matter of policy, in order to induce the House to break down that system which had been so long acted on; namely, the importation of heavy duties, or the importation of particular articles from foreign parts, for the purpose of protecting the manufacture of similar articles in this country.

Mr. C. Dundas

presented a petition from the owners and occupiers of land in the county of Berks, praying for protecting duties on the importation of grain. The petitioners, finding themselves oppressed, under the present state of the law, had deemed it proper to come forward and call for relief from parliament, and he heartily hoped their prayer would be attended to. The farmers could not, the hon. member observed, sell their corn under 80s. the quarter, while it could be imported for 56s. The consequence was ruinous to them. When provisions were extremely low, it was well known that the trader suffered; but when they produced a fair profit, the manufacturer was assisted, since the agriculturist was enabled to purchase his commodities. The poor-rates would be considerably lessened if the farmer received a just price for his produce: he would then be enabled to give increased wages to his labourers, and that distress, which the existing rate of wages occasioned, would be proportionably diminished.

Mr. Bennet

presented a similar petition from the owners and occupiers of land in the county of Salop. The hon. member said, that he had, after mature deliberation, agreed to, and supported the measure, connected with this subject, which had passed the House a few sessions ago; but he doubted very much whether any further step could be taken, without producing detriment instead of benefit.

Mr. Wynn

observed, that he thought it his duty to present a similar petition, signed by many respectable persons in Montgomeryshire. With all his respect, however, for them, he could not support their present application.

Mr. Byng

said, he held in his hand a petition of similar import, from certain yeomen and farmers in the county of Middlesex. He entirely agreed with them in the opinion, that the soil of the country was capable of producing sufficient corn for the maintenance of its inhabitants, but he deprecated the agitation of the subject at present.

The several petitions were ordered to lie on the table.