HC Deb 26 March 1827 vol 17 cc78-82

The House having resolved into a committee to consider further of the Corn Trade acts, the report was recommitted.

Mr. C. Grant

said, that in compliance with the wish expressed by the House on a former night, he had altered the resolutions, in order to accommodate them to the imperial measure. It was not necessary to state the grounds on which he had made his calculation, but would only state the result at which he had arrived. The duty proposed to be payable upon wheat per quarter Winchester measure was 20s. when the price should be 60s. The corresponding price of the imperial measure would be 61s. 10½d., and the corresponding duty would be 20s.d.. He had taken the price at 62s., and the duty at 20s. 8d. The duty would then go on rising and descending as before proposed, without any alteration of the resolutions. As the resolutions at present stood, the duty upon barley, when the price should be 32s. Winchester measure, was fixed at 12s. He now proposed that the duty should be 12s. 4d., when the price should be 33s. imperial measure. The duty on oats was 9s. when the price was 24s. Winchester measure: he proposed that the duty should be 9s. 3d. when the price should be 25s. imperial measure. The duty upon rye, peas, and beans, was fixed at 15s. when the price was 36s. per quarter. The corresponding price and duty per imperial measure would be 36s. and 15s. 6d. With respect to oatmeal, it was extremely difficult to calculate how much could be produced from a given quantity of oats. He had calculated the produce at 196lb. per quarter, but he had received representations, that no such quantity could be produced. He had, therefore, thought it right to refer to the act of 1791, in which it was fixed at 176lb. per quarter. According to this standard, the corres- ponding quantity per imperial measure would be 181½lb., the duty upon which would be the same as that on a quarter of oats.

The resolutions, thus altered, were then read by the chairman.

Lord Althorp

wished to call the attention of the House to one point; namely, whether the duties ought to be taken according to the average prices of one week, or from the averages of several weeks together. He knew there were many advantages in favour of the former system, but he thought the disadvantages were greater, seeing that it would enable persons of large capital to affect the duty to a very material extent. He preferred that the duty should be taken according to the estimate of six weeks instead of one.

Mr. Irving

believed that the House was mistaken, with respect to the power of the corn merchants. In former times, there were a few individuals who, possessing large capitals, were able to control the market; but now it was quite otherwise. The inducements to men of great capital to continue in the corn trade had long ceased; and in that, as in many other trades, the capitals of the middle-men had been lost. There was, therefore, little reason to fear any combination that could materially raise prices; more especially when the House considered, that it was absolutely necessary, in purchasing up the corn in the home market, that the money should all be laid down.

Mr. Alderman C. Smith

said, that such a combination might take place, and therefore, it would be well for the House to guard against it. The safer course would be to take the average of six weeks, instead of one.

Colonel Wood

also thought it desirable that this course should be pursued, to guard against the possibility of danger, arising, not only from speculation, but, from bad seasons. The House would recollect, that in 1817, in consequence of severe rains, and the apprehension of a bad harvest, wheat, within the space of ten days, had risen to 100s. per quarter: and this might happen again.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that although it was true that the price of corn had risen as high as had been stated by the hon. member, yet, the circumstances referred to by him, had no connection with fraud; and did not, therefore, bear upon the argument. His own impression was, that such an alteration as that proposed would be neither useful nor necessary. The hon. member for Bramber had stated, that the country would have a better security against fraud, if the estimates were taken weekly; and reasoning à priori, he had come to the same conclusion.

Mr. Baring

admitted, that the authority of the hon. member for Bramber was very strong in favour of the weekly average; but he could not help thinking, that some period longer than a single week would give more security against the dangerous effects of speculation. It might be quite true, that no one great House could command the corn trade; but the House should recollect, that they were legislating not for a particular year, but for a series of years. He confessed he was apprehensive that the corn merchants might meet and combine at little expense to raise the price for a week. He was not, however, for adopting the period of six weeks. He thought that if the averages were taken every four weeks, the possibility of mischievous combinations would be prevented.

Mr. Littleton

argued, that if the period were limited to three weeks or a month, the security would be greater.

Mr. Whitmore

said, he had consulted some authorities to which he attached great importance, and they concurred in assuring him, that the weekly average was decidedly better than the quarterly. From the same sources, he had learnt also, that the practice of fictitious sales had never prevailed to any considerable extent. If it had been possible, undoubtedly it would have been extremely dangerous; as the Corn-market would, at any moment, have been liable to a sudden rise.

Sir J. Newport

expressed his surprise at the hon. gentleman's statement. No man could doubt that fictitious sales were made continually. The same wheat was notoriously sold over and over again, on the same day, in Mark-lane. The public, he thought, therefore, would have no security against combinations, unless the term of the averages was at least four weeks.

Mr. C. Grant

said, that whatever the right hon. baronet might think, there was a great diversity of opinion with regard to the extent and effect of fictitious sales. He believed that the practice prevailed equally on both sides of the question; and therein consisted the security of the public. He was rather afraid, that if the parties engaged in a combination to raise prices had three or four weeks before them for their operations, they would be in a more favourable condition for the accomplishment of their purpose. It was possible, however, to throw further safeguards round the public. The receiver of the Corn returns might be armed with a power to reject any bargain of unusual magnitude and suspicious appearance. Another suggestion he would throw out was, that the London returns should be combined at once in striking the average with the returns from the country, instead of waiting for them as at present.

Mr. Baring

reminded the House that they could not fairly judge what would take place under the new law, from what had taken place under the existing law. Under the system of weekly averages, the struggles of speculators would be much more frequent. Now there was a bustle, only when the averages approached the opening price.

Mr. Curteis

suggested that one precaution might be, that the same corn should not enter into the average, if sold a second or third time the same day. He had known it sold ten times over; and he was sure there were constant frauds practised in the corn-market.

Sir J. Wrottesley

was adverse to the period of four weeks for taking the averages. Fraudulent speculations would thereby be greatly assisted, as the price might be raised considerably every week. He was favourable to the shortest period possible beyond a single week; say two, or at the utmost, three weeks.

Mr. Irving

said, that combinations to raise the price of grain were already a misdemeanour at common law. His right hon. friend might introduce some additional penalties into the bill, which would effectually suppress the practice, if it really existed.

Mr. Warburton

said, that much of the irregularity and uncertainty in the taking of the averages, originated in the system of selling by samples, in the country, by which, neither the farmer nor the purchaser being bound, those sales were frequently not carried into effect, yet were always taken into account, as actual sales. The practice in London, of selling by tickets, by which both parties were bound, ought to be made universal.

Sir E. Knatchbull

denied that combination or fictitious selling took place among the agriculturists. They had no opportunity for such acts; nor were they people of a character or inclination to commit them.

Mr. N. Calvert

put no particular faith in the character or inclination of the agriculturists; but he thought it pretty nearly impossible for them to combine.

Mr. Whitmore

believed it was already the custom of the receivers of averages in country towns to leave out any contracts which bore very decided marks of fraud.

Mr. Charles Barclay

would not deny the claims of the farmers to the character for probity which the hon. baronet had given them; but he would remind the committee, that since the year 1815, the importation of foreign oats had been prevented by some combination or other, which was effected, he believed at Boston. Precaution was therefore necessary.

The resolutions were agreed to.