HC Deb 17 April 1826 vol 15 cc269-72

The Sheriffs of London presented at the bar a Petition from the Corporation of London, setting forth,

"That the petitioners, cordially approving of the principles of free trade, are desirous of seeing them carried into effect, as far as is practicable under the circumstances in which this country is placed; that the petitioners are deeply impressed with the present distress of the country, which seriously affects almost every branch of the manufacturing and commercial interests; that while the petitioners approve of the principles of free trade, and are desirous of seeing all unnecessary restrictions upon the commerce of the country removed, as far as prac- ticable; yet they are most strongly impressed with the difficulty and danger of carrying such measures into effect with the present high price of food, artificially kept up by the restrictions upon the importation of corn, and the load of debt and taxes which still press upon the manufacturers of this county, and which must disable them from competing with those countries where food is cheap, and the national burthens are inconsiderable; that the Corn laws in their operation counteract the natural tendency of industry, skill, and enterprise, to extend and improve manufactures, and thereby to render this country the market for supplying the demands of a great part of the; habitable globe; that with a view to facilitate these objects, it is essential that raw materials of every description should be freely imported in exchange for the goods manufactured in this country; that the foreign demand for the manufactures of this country is limited, in a great degree, by the means of payment possessed by foreign consumers, and as those countries which are purely agricultural can only barter with the produce of their soil, it follows that, by prohibiting the importation of such produce, they are debarred from purchasing British goods, and thus induced to become our competitors in many branches of manufacture; that restricting the importation of foreign corn, while free trade is to be opened for foreign manufactures, tends to deprive British artizans of employment, at the same time that it enormously enhances the price of their food, and reduces them to a state of pauperism; that the petitioners cannot consider the present system of the Corn laws beneficial to the agricultural interests, seeing that under those laws great fluctuations of price, and distressing reverses have been experienced by the farmer, whilst the peasantry have been reduced to a condition of great misery and distress; that the present distress demands an immediate and effectual reduction of the expenditure of government, in the military and every other department where it can be admitted, in order that the country may be relieved from the assessed taxes, and all those burthens which so greatly impede the restoration of the national prosperity; the petitioners, therefore, humbly pray, That the House will take the premises into their consideration, and that the free importation of foreign grain may be per- mitted under certain duties; and that the assessed taxes may be forthwith repealed, or that the House will afford such other relief as to their wisdom may seem meet."

Alderman Wood

supported the prayer of the petition, and said, that it was impossible for our manufactures to compete with the commodities of other countries while food was at more than double their price. It was high time for parlialiament to turn its attention to the subject, and to take notice of the great falling-off in the supplies of grain. The difference in the quantities brought into the market in the corresponding quarters of 1825 and 1826 was as follows:—In wheat there was a difference of 57,677 quarters, being that much less in the last quarter than in the same quarter of 1825. In barley there were 79,937 quarters less; oats 20,000 quarters less; pollard, 36,000. It was quite plain that corn would by this time have reached a famine price, had it not been for the late alterations in the currency.

Mr. Whitmore

said, he had been misunderstood as to his intention of bringing on the question of the Corn laws. On fixing another motion of his, which stood for the 23rd of May, he had, by mistake, been represented as having put off his motion of to-morrow on the Corn laws. He wished it to be clearly understood, that it was his fixed determination to bring on the subject to-morrow.

Alderman Thompson

concurred with the enlightened citizens of London, that it would be vain to attempt to establish principles of free trade, unless they were extended, in an equal degree, to the trade in grain. Some thought, that they ought to have begun with the corn-trade; but, for his part, he was anxious first to divest the agriculturist of the argument which existed in favour of monopoly, in the restrictions and prohibitions on foreign manufactures. Those prohibitions and restrictions were now almost wholly done away, and all articles were admitted, on payment of reasonable duties. The same principle ought to be applied to imports of grain. They were told, when the bill was passed in 1817, that the effect of the bill would be, to produce plenty at cheap rates and fixed prices. At present, trade was every where stagnant, or nearly so, and the general poverty and distress were aggravated by the danger of scarcity, and the high price of food. Nothing could be more fluctuating in price and quantity than corn had been ever since.

Ordered to lie on the table.