HC Deb 12 March 1827 vol 16 cc1144-54

The order of the day was read, for the House again resolving itself into a Committee to consider further of the Corn Trade Acts, On the question, that the Speaker do leave the chair,

Mr. Denison

hoped the House would indulge him, while he offered a few observations on the question about to be considered in the committee. It had rarely fallen to his lot to agree with ministers in their measures; but he fell great pleasure in stating his concurrence in the resolutions submitted by them to the House, respecting the Corn-laws, and, particularly, as, in so doing, he knew he acted in conformity with the wishes of his constituents. As far as respected wheat, 60s. was, in his opinion, a fair average between the desires of ultra-consumers on the one hand, and ultra-growers on the other. He approved also of the method proposed for taking the averages; because, besides being an improvement, it tended to insure a fixed price. Some hon. gentlemen had wished to reduce the average below 60s.; but it was impossible for the farmers to pay such extravagant taxes as were imposed on them, unless they received that protection. He did not approve, however, of the anomaly respecting the measures; for nothing could be more absurd than to compel the use of the Winchester measure in taking the averages, and the Imperial measure in buying and selling. He hoped that, in the committee, that matter would be set to rights. With respect to the suggestion of the hon. baronet, the member for Westminster, on Friday last, respecting the currency, although he concurred with him in thinking that some of the present distress had its origin in the change that had taken place, he hoped the country would not again be inundated with paper. He had expressed himself friendly to the resolutions, as far as they applied to wheat; but he hoped, that, with respect to spring corn, some alterations would be made in the committee.

Mr. Curteis

concurred with the hon. member in his objections to the use of different measures, in selling and taking the averages. He regretted the effects of the change in the currency. The Scotch had succeeded in retaining their one-pound notes; and Ireland would have her's back again. Now, as this was a united empire, he saw no reason why all parts of it should; not be placed on the same footing. Notwithstanding the objection of the hon. member for Surrey to a small-note currency, he thought that, if private bankers were compelled to give security, the re-issue of small notes would prove advantageous to the country.

Mr. J. Wood

said, that the resolutions on the table of the House had produced, not only disappointment, but the greatest terror, alarm, and dismay, among the manufacturing interests, who had been led to expect, that on the meeting of parliament some measure would be devised, with reference to corn, which would be advantageous to them; and now they saw their hopes blasted by the measure that had been brought forward. He condemned not only the average price proposed, as being too high, but the alteration in the mode of taking the averages, the effect of which would be to turn the Corn Exchange into a stock exchange, or gambling house. It was reported out of doors, that ministers intended to give way on the subject of oats and barley, and suffer themselves to be bullied by the landed interests. In so doing, they would prove themselves unworthy of the warm support they had received in that House.

Mr. Cripps

was quite convinced that the price of corn fixed by the resolutions could not be injurious to the manufacturing interests. He was, on the other hand, equally convinced, that the great landowners must give way a little, and reduce their rents. It was said, that the poor lands would all be thrown out of cultivation, if the resolutions were carried. How could it be otherwise. He had lately crossed the Cotswold hills, the soil of which was very poor; and he was sure that an extent of seventy or eighty miles would, in that direction, be thrown out of cultivation, from the inability of the farmers to pay the present rents, and compete with the altered state of the market. It was easy for gentlemen to say that those lands ought never to have been cultivated; but did hon. gentlemen recollect the reason why they were thrown into cultivation? namely, the demand created by the shutting of foreign ports against us. The hon. member illustrated the absurdity of the use of measures, differing in size, by a case in which a knavish person bought a quantity of grain by the Winchester measure, and refused to pay for it. The seller applied to his solicitor to compel payment, who asked him, "By what measure did you sell your corn?"—"By the Winchester measure, to be sure."—"Then," said the attorney," there is no use in your going to law, and throwing good money after bad; the Winchester measure is illegal, and you cannot recover." He had no objection to the Imperial measure, but the use of two could only produce confusion.

The House then resolved itself into the Committee. On the resolution, "That, in respect of every integral shilling by which such price shall be above sixty shillings, such duty shall be decreased by two shillings, until such price shall be seventy shillings; whenever such price shall be at or above seventy shillings, the duty shall be for every quarter one shilling,"

Mr. Charles Grant

said, that for a number of years, barley was averaged at one half of the price of wheat, and oats at one third. That was their calculated relative value, until the year 1822, when the committee then appointed, suggested an increase in the relative value, but not to any great extent. Since the resolutions now before the committee had been introduced, many remarks, made in that House and out of doors, suggested the necessity of inquiring into the most satisfactory mode of fixing the relative value of wheat, barley, and oats; and it was found, that to take the averages of a number of years, would be the best. The average prices of these grains had therefore been taken since the year 1821.

Mr. Calcraft

thought the agricultural interest ought to be protected to that extent which would insure production, and not let the people depend for food upon foreign supplies. He was astonished to hear hon. members object to the ministers for having, in compliance with the wishes expressed in that House and out of doors, modified the original resolutions. The right hon. gentleman, the vice president of the Board of Trade had not come up to his standard; but, the measure submitted was, as far as it went, so fair and unobjectionable, that he should support it.

Mr. Curwen

said, if called upon to state his sentiments upon oath, as to what he thought the proportions of duty and price ought to be, he could not say that those proposed by the vice president of the Board of Trade were unfair, or that either the price or the duty ought to be higher. He had no doubt that ministers had acted impartially, with a view to the interests of all classes in the country.

Mr. Wodehouse

said, it was his intention to move two resolutions. The first was, that a certain proportion of the duties to be hereafter levied on the several species of grain to be imported into this country, shall be paid on entry at the Board of Customs, such proportion to be determined with reference to the ports from which the grain is exported, and also with reference to the shipments. The second resolution had reference, to oats, and oats alone. It was known, that vessels were capable of carrying a larger freight of oats than of any other grain. The vessel, indeed, might be loaded to the hatches with oats, very conveniently; while a similar freight of wheat would sink the ship. His second proposition, therefore, was, that as in vessels: of equal size, a greater quantity of oats, than of other grain might be conveyed, and as the cultivation of oats was a matter of the deepest interest, not only to Scotland and Ireland, but to several ports of England, it should be required of the Board of Customs to form some arrangement for limiting the importation of foreign oats, seeing that, such an arrangement must have been observed in the importation of oats from Canada, and seeing that such an arrangement was acted upon in, the introduction of five hundred thousand quarters, which the government was enabled to suffer to be imported last year.

Mr. Ferguson

was happy to see that ministers had given way to the sentiments expressed upon this question, both in that Mouse and out of doors; but he could not think; as one hon. member had said, that they had been "bullied" into it. He should be sorry to see the Treasury bench filled by any men, who would be bullied out of any measure, which they thought would be fox the interest of the country; and he did not think that bench was now filled, by men who would be likely; so to act [hear, hear]. He approved of the measure submitted by the vice president of the Board of Trade; but he did not think that that measure went far enough, with respect to oats.

Mr. Secretary Peel

took the liberty of suggesting, that it would be more satisfactory and convenient to enter upon a discussion of the general principle, upon one of the several opportunities, which would be hereafter afforded, in the course of the proceedings, and not to encumber the discussions in a committee upon the Resolutions, with a discussion of the general principle; but to discuss the duty upon each species of grain, separately, as each Resolution came before the committee. To give an instance of his own observance of that principle of forbearance which he had suggested to the committee, he should abstain, upon that occasion, from making any other observation upon the coarse, unjust, and unfounded imputation cast upon ministers, by the hon. member for Preston, who had stated, that ministers had been "bullied" by the landed interest, than to simply deny the truth of the assertion.

Mr. Portman

supported the measure, and observed, that the landed interest, by conceding that 60s. should be the minimum price, had conceded as much as they could concede.

The resolution was agreed to. On the resolution, that, when the market price of barley should be at 32s., or under 33s. the duty should be 12s. a quarter.

Mr. Whitmore

declared, it to be his opinion, that the law arising out of the alterations as to the duty on barley would create more suffering in the country than the law of 1822. He saw no grounds for changing the proportions between barley and wheat. He deprecated the passing of so severe a law. If it was passed it could not be long before the eyes of the people would be opened to all the evils of such a system.

Lord Althorp

said, he could not agree in sentiment with the hon. member Formerly, foreign corn could not be; admitted until the price at home was 80s.; by these resolutions, it was to be admitted-when the price was 60s.; which he thought, would come to be at about 57s.; so that by the change the consumer would gain an advantage of 23s. As to the rates fixed for barley, so far from thinking them excessive, he believed, that they were now below the mark; seeing that the expense; of cultivating barley was two thirds of that of wheat.

Mr. Alderman Wood

declared his intention of dividing the House on the: original propositions, relative, to barley. Ministers had not acted, fairly in lowering the import duty on it without notice.

Sir J. Newport

hoped the House would put their veto on all distinctions between the interests of the several classes of the community. Though England was a manufacturing country, Ireland was an agricultural one, and gave her agricultural produce in exchange for the manufacture of England. If England would not take the corn of Ireland, Ireland would be unable to take the manufactures of England.

Mr. Hobhouse

expressed his trust, that the friends of ministers would stand true to them on this occasion, when, they saw them compelled to alter their original resolutions, by a few ingenious hints, not coming from the people, but from persons more powerful than the people. He denied that any vulgar attacks had been made in that House against the landed interest; but the people had a right to complain, and would not be put down by clamour. All they, wanted was fair play. The House ought to hear the voice of the people, and their representatives. This was not an occasion, on which the right hon. gentlemen opposite should, to use an old phrase, "turn their backs, on themselves." This was, however, the first time they had refused to hear the people. He was the last man in that House to throw firebrands among the people; but he hoped it would not be considered too much if he said, that when any question was propounded in which the people expressed a decided voice, the House was doing itself harm, by not listening to what their representatives had to say. Whether what they advanced was good or bad, he should say, "hear, at least, before you strike." The government had now changed its mind, without any reasons which did not exist before. All he could say to such vacillating conduct was, that it clearly showed that the government was not worth two-pence. It was not only known and seen in that House, but the country began to see it. He did not, perhaps, express what he thought upon the subject so well as he ought to do; but he was in constant communication with the people, and could vouch for their sentiments; and all those with whom he bad conversed were of opinion, that it was impossible that so wretched and disjointed a government could go on. He would venture to say, that had it not been for the gentlemen who usually sat on his side of the House, when the government proposition was brought forward the other night, the ministers would not have been able to have carried it. Suppose there had been on his side of the House, that truckling, place-hunting appetite, which it had been the fashion to impute to them, and that one of them had; risen and said to the gentlemen on the-benches around him, "It is ministers who have hashed up this pretty affair: let them set down to it, we must not meddle with, such a nasty mess." The measure was carried, only by a majority of sixty-one. If, therefore, such a speech as that had-been made by any of the influential gentlemen on his side of the House, where, he would ask, would ministers have-been left? Would it not have been shown, that the ministers were divided among themselves; that they were unfit to govern a great country; and that it ought not to be confided to them. When the minister for Foreign Affairs came down to that House, he solemnly called upon them to vote for certain propositions; and now they were as solemnly called upon, by the vice president of the Board of Trade, to vote differently, without a shadow of reason being adduced, beyond what the House was already in possession of. He should, therefore, sit down, with, a determination to vote for the proposition of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs in opposition to that of the Vice-president of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he thought the hon. gentleman had been diverted, by his indignation against his majesty's government, from the real question before them; which was, whether the proposed rate at which barley was to be imported, did or did not, afford an unreasonable protection to the home-grower of barley? Had he been a stranger entering that House while the hon. gentleman was speaking, he should have imagined that his majesty's ministers, had been guilty of a great dereliction of duty, and had abandoned the principles on which they had professed at starting to be governed; and he should have been much surprised to have been told, that the whole trade arose from the their proposing to grant a little more protection to barley than they had at first intendeds Was it to be supposed, that the government could not submit a proposition to the House, without depriving themselves of every power to modify that proposition? He should have thought, that the avowed principles of the hon. member would have induced him rather to applaud than blame the government. He should have thought that the advocate of free discussion and democratic principles would have admired the readiness with which ministers confessed themselves in the wrong, and the alacrity with which they took what they thought the right path. The hon. gentleman said, that this right path had not been chosen from any attention to the wishes of the people, but from the threats which had been held out by a party in that House, which was above the people. Another hon. member had gone further and had candidly told them, that ministers had been bullied into this change. It would be sufficient, he thought, to put it to the candour of the House, whether ministers had acted from these motives, or from a conviction, that, in framing the original resolutions, they had been proceeding upon mistaken views. He should, however, call the recollection of the House to what passed on the night when his right hon. friend submitted to them the principles on which government intended to proceed; which were, a free intercourse in grain, subject to controlling duties. On that very night several hon. members having approved of the rate at which wheat was to be taken, gave it as their opinion, that barley and oats were not sufficiently protected. The first reply his right hon. friend gave to this was, "This is matter of detail, concede me the principle, and afterwards we will arrange the details." There was, therefore, no ground for accusing the government of inconsistency. The question was merely—Was this or was it not a sufficient protection for the home barley-grower, and was the resolution of the 1st instant right or wrong? The government had thought that barley was not sufficiently protected by that resolution; and it, therefore, became its imperative duty, even at the expense of confessing itself wrong, to raise the protection on that grain to a due proportion with that on wheat. He should not dwell on the evils to which an undue protection of any particular grain would lead, as every gentleman must be sensible how much such a circumstance would hamper agricultural proceedings. His right hon. friend having learned from members of that House, that barley was not sufficiently protected by his resolutions, took the average of its price, and of that of oats, for six years, and found that he had not assumed the true proportions. He then did, what every honest man ought to do, confessed himself in error. He had taken the proportions which were thought, for forty years past, to be the correct ones; and, in so taking them, was only to be accused of taking for granted, what he ought rather to have inquired into. He found, according to the returns, that wheat was 56s., barley 31s., and oats 20s. 6d. Taking-wheat, therefore, at 60s., no just charge could be brought against the government, if they took barley at the price now proposed. If, indeed, out of deference to a large minority, ministers had been induced to abandon the principle with which they started, and had recurred to prohibitions, they would have justly incurred the charge of inconsistency. But, surely, for a modification, not of the principle, but of the details, they ought not to be subject to the charge of having been bullied into the change; and he hoped they should still enjoy the esteem of the people, although the hon. gentleman had, in no very elegant terms, pronounced them to be a government not worth two-pence.

General Gascoyne

complained of the awkward situation in which this vacillating conduct of ministers placed members, who had written down to their constituents, that the question was settled upon a certain basis, and had now to contradict their former report. He should vote for the original proposition.

Mr. W. Ward

said, he should vote against this new proposition. When the original resolution was laid on the table he had voted for it, as he took it to be a peace-offering from ministers to the people; and he was averse from stirring up animosities between the two interests. But he would not, on any pretence, suffer an encroachment on the original proposal, as it would lead to consequences not foreseen. This increase upon barley would affect wheat and every other grain; as it would induce the farmer to cultivate a greater quantity of one grain than he otherwise would do.

Sir T. Lethbridge

said, that with respect to what had been said concerning the price at which barley and oats were to be admitted, it was certainly understood, that that was a point reserved for discussion; and he would undertake to say, that although ministers had found themselves strong enough to carry the wheat proposi- tion, yet, had they attempted to carry the original resolutions relative to barley and outs, they would have been defeated. It was in wisdom that they had made the alteration, and he thanked them for it. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. member for Westminster, he could only say, that he had made the most variegated speech he had ever heard. It seemed to have no precise object, except that of inflaming the minds of the people. If the voice of the people of England could be heard in that House, he was convinced it would be in approval of what ministers had done. For his own part, he thought that the protection on barley was still insufficient; but, nevertheless, he could not sit down without expressing his thanks to government, for the manner in which they had brought forward this question.

Mr. Monck

said, he should certainly give his support to the original proposition of ministers. He denied that the change was owing to any suggestion from the people. It had been conceded to the threats held out to ministers in different parts of the country, by those who ought to be the natural protectors of the people, but who would make themselves their masters. He objected to this increase of duty, because it was upon an article already too highly taxed, and which formed the principal beverage of the poor.

The Committee divided: for the Amendment 215; for the original Proposition 38; majority in favour of the Amendment 177.

List of the Minority.
Baring, F. Martin, John
Batley, H. Milton, lord
Bernal, R. Monck, J. B.
Birch, J. Philips, G.
Bright, H. Ramsden, J. C.
Buxton, T. F. Rancliffe, lord
Calvert, C. Robinson, G.
Cradock, col. Stanley, lord
Ebrington, lord Thompson, ald.
Fergusson, sir R. Waithman, ald.
Fortescue, hon. G. Warburton, H.
Fyler, T. B. Ward, W.
Gascoyne, gen. Wood, John
Hobhouse, J. C Whitmore, W. W.
Hodson, F. Wilson, sir R.
Howick, lord Wrighten, W. B.
Hume, J. Wyvill, M.
Lumley, J. S.
Lushington, Dr. TELLER.
Marshall, W. Wood, ald.

The remaining Resolutions, relative to the duties on barley, were then severally put from the Chair, and carried without a division. After which, the Chairman reported progress and obtained leave to sit again.