HC Deb 28 April 1828 vol 19 cc191-6

The House having resolved itself into a committee on the Corn-laws, the Chairman read the first resolution, "That when Barley should arrive at 33s. and be under 34s. the protecting duty should be 12s."

Colonel Sibthorpe

said, he was ready to bow to the superior knowledge of the right hon. gentleman below him upon this subject; but he would yield to no one in an anxious desire to advance the agricultural interests of the country. The hon. member went on to observe, that light, or, as they were called in Lincolnshire, "heath lands," were well suited to the cultivation of barley and oats, but were unfit for wheat. These lands ought to be protected, or else they must go out of cultivation. He found that, during the last eight years, there had been imported into this country, one million and eighty three thousand seven hundred and thirty nine quarters of barley, of which fifty seven thousand three, hundred quarters still remained in bond. The hon. member, after some further calculations, concluded by moving, as an amendment, "that when barley should reach 33s., and be under 34s., the protecting duty should be 15s."

Mr. F. Lewis

maintained that the proposed average protection was the natural one, and was founded upon the proportions which had been maintained for years. If they were to give barley an undue protection, they would, pro tanto, discourage the growth of wheat, which was the natural food of man.. Besides, they could not give an undue protection to barley, without lessening its quantity; and the experience of 1826, when barley was scarce, was sufficient to show them what a fearful decrease such a circumstance was likely again to produce on our excise revenue.

Mr. Fergusson

asked, why they should raise the protecting price of wheat, and not that of barley? The lands capable of growing wheat were favoured, while the lighter lands, fit only for growing barley and oats, were neglected, and likely to be thrown out of cultivation. It was last year admitted by the right hon. gentleman opposite, that the protection extended to barley and oats was not sufficient.

Mr. Robinson

was of opinion that the resolutions already afforded too much protection to the agriculturists. He would, therefore, oppose all amendments which went to augment that protection.

Mr. Cripps

wished that no alteration should be made in the proposed scale of duties; but if any were to be made, he thought it should be in favour of oats rather than barley. He thought the agricultural interest was sufficiently protected by the duty at 58s. and 59s., as about that point was the pinching place.

Mr. C. Grant

did not think that the mere circumstance of an alteration having been made in the scale of wheat afforded a reason for a similar alteration in the price of barley. Each case ought to rest on its own merits. The scale of wheat had been altered, because the duty imposed by the last warehousing act had failed to exclude wheat, when its admission was injurious to the agricultural interest. When that act was passed, barley was so much in request in this country, that there was not enough for the distilleries, and the average price for some time had been 40s. Under these circumstances, two hundred thousand quarters of barley had been taken out under the act, and the wants of the country had been relieved; but that introduction of barley did not put it in a situation corresponding to that of wheat. The committee on whose report the House had acted had stated, that the supply of barley was inadequate; and in consequence of that, the scale of barley had been raised last year. When the resolutions were first brought in, wheat was at 60s., with a duty of 20s. At that time the price of barley was 30s., with a duty of 10s.; but subsequently it was 32s. with a duty of 12s. Applying the same rule of proportion now, would give a duty of 12s. on 30s.; while, in fact, the duty on 30s. was 15s. It was therefore impossible to say, that the protection of barley was not now sufficient, since it actually exceeded the amount of the duty imposed at the time when the hon. member supposed the proportion between wheat and barley was truly preserved. With a duty of 12s. when the price was 33s., he assured the barley-growers they were safe.

Mr. Graham Pigott

was of opinion, that unless some restrictions were put on the bonding system, the agriculturists must suffer. He thought a ship bringing foreign wheat into this country ought to be made to pay the duty of 20s. on her entering port, or that at least she should register at that duty; for, unless she did so, they would do no good for the agriculturists.

Mr. Leycester

wished the House to guide themselves by the ratio of last year. That ratio was adopted after mature deliberation and full discussion. It was said, that in Mr. Canning's bill the scale of oats had been raised, while that of wheat had remained the same. That was no objection. The ratio there was taken between wheat and barley on one side, and oats on the other, and great mischief would result to the agriculturists if it was departed from. Farmers had always a hankering after wheat crops; and if they were encouraged in that prejudice, they would not employ that succession of crops which was greatly for the benefit of the country. He should object to any thing that had a tendency to make our population change their wheat food for oats, or any other substitute.

Mr. Bankes

said, the scale of last year had been raised with regard to barley and wheat, not to favour the growth of those grains more than the rest, but because the old scale was essentially erroneous.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that as the resolution now before the committee had been adopted after mature deliberation, he could not consent to change it. His reasons for resisting the amendment were these: In the case of wheat, the price of last year had been found insufficient; for, under the then scale, the importation had been such, that it had been found necessary to alter the price and rate of duty. They had not had the same experience with respect to barley; as the importation of barley had only just exceeded two hundred thousand quarters—a very small quantity, when there had been such a peculiar demand for it. But, even as the scale now stood, it was higher for barley, considered with regard to wheat, than had ever been before known, with the exception of last year. But they had better not bind themselves merely by what was done last year, but take a calculation for fifty years past, and find the relation which barley bore to wheat and oats. Taking the calculation of the last fifty years, and assuming as the ground of that calculation, that wheat was at 100s. the relative proportion which barley bore to that sum was 53s. and that of oats 35s. Assuming that to be the true scale, and that the duty was 24s. 8d. on wheat at 62s., in order to maintain these relative proportions, when barley was at 32s., the duty ought to be 13s. 7d.; but the duty really proposed was rather above that amount, being, in fact, 13s. 10d. on a price of 32s. Oats and barley certainly ought to have encouragement from the legislature; though it ought not to protect the growth of either with the same jealousy as wheat, because the latter might be said to be a staple of life.

Mr. Wodehouse

contended, that the averages of the last fifty years could not be considered a fair average of price, because it embraced a period of twenty years of war, during which the ports of the continent were closed.

The committee divided: For the Amendment 47. Against it 104. Majority for the original Resolution 57. On the Resolution, "That when oats were at the price of 25s., and under 26s., the duty should be 9s. 3d,"

Mr. Fergusson

said, he had an amendment to propose. If wheat and barley were the same as in the scale of last year, oats ought to be higher. The protection given to oats was not sufficient for Scotland. The land of that country could not grow wheat; and if sufficient protection was not afforded to the growth of oats, that land must cease to be cultivated. In pursuance, therefore, of the feeling expressed all over Scotland, he should move, as an amendment, "that instead of a duty of 9s. 3d. at a price of 25s., the duty should be increased to 10s. 9d. at a price of 26s."

Mr. C. Grant

thought it would be in vain to attempt to persuade the House, that the price of oats was not sufficiently protected, and referred to a passage in Mr. Jacob's report, which stated, that a cargo imported into this country from Amsterdam, and sold at 19s., was so reduced, after all the different charges, as to leave only 6s. a quarter for the person who speculated in the venture.

Mr. Fergusson

contended, that the average price of oats in seven different foreign ports, was, for a series of years, not more than 7s. a quarter, while the price in this country was 30s.

Mr. Wodehouse

observed, that there was a greater fluctuation in oats than in any other description of grain. He referred to the Report of Mr. H. Canning, by which it appeared, that oats could be shipped from Hamburgh to England at from 6s. to 9s. a quarter.

Colonel Sibthorpe

supported the amendment, and observed that Mr. Jacob's Report was very amusing to read; but if the writer had been so unfortunate as to farm some of the poor lands in Lincolnshire during the last few years, he was satisfied he would have thrown his own book into the fire.

The House divided. For the Amendment 59; against it 101. Majority for the original Resolution 42. On the Resolution, "That whenever the average price of rye, pease, or beans, shall be 36s. and tinder 37s. the quarter, the duty shall be 15s. 6d."

Mr. Western

expressed his surprise that the proportion observed in all former acts should have been abandoned in the case of this most beautiful of all culture, the row culture of pease and beans. The importance of it, in benefitting the cultivation of wheat land was well known, and its utility in giving employment to whole villages ought not to be forgotten. In the process of planting, in the three hoeings which took place in this species of agriculture, the labourer earned from 23s. to 25s. an acre, and it was to be remembered that this was labour done by hand, and not by the plough, as in other cases. He did not mean to ask for any additional protection, but merely for the adoption of the same ratio of protection which had been always afforded. We never had received any great supply from foreign countries of these articles, and why should we now invite it by the adoption of a lower scale? He would therefore move, "that the ratio should be taken at 41s. instead of at 37s."

Mr. C. Grant

thought that unless a special case was made out, it would be better to adhere to the scale of last year.

Sir E. Knatchbull

supported the amendment, and observed, that the culture of this grain was by hand, and gave considerable employment to the agricultural population.

Mr. Ward

maintained, that there was no way of coming at what the standard price of grain would be, but he thought it probable that the price of all grain abroad would depend much on what was passing here. It was not a fair way of proceeding to take, as the agriculturists now did, the most favourable harvests into account, when they were forming their averages. The harvest of 1818 was an unfavourable one, yet they never heard anything of that during their debates. The fair way of looking at the question would be, to take the good and bad harvests together, and to form their averages on that basis. As to the low prices at which it was said that grain could be imported from abroad, he defied any one to prove that it could be introduced at such prices with any benefit to the importer. The plan of government was calculated to mitigate the extremes of fluctuation, and for that reason was entitled to support.

The Committee divided: For the Amendment 43. For the original Resolution 99. Majority 56. After a short conversation, the other resolutions were agreed to.