HC Deb 20 May 1828 vol 19 cc843-6

The House resolved itself into a committee on this bill. The clause fixing the scale of duties on wheat being read,

Mr. Whitmore moved, as an amendment, the substitution of the following scale:—" Whenever the average price of wheat, made up and published in the manner required by law, shall be 50s., and under 51s. the quarter, the duty shall be for every quarter 1l. And in respect of every integral shilling by which such price shall be above 50s., such duty shall be decreased by 2s., until such price shall be 55s. Whenever such price shall be 55s., and not exceeding 65s., the duty shall be for every quarter 10s. And in respect of every integral shilling by which such, price shall be above 65s., such duty shall be further decreased by 2s., until such price shall be 70s. Whenever such price shall be at or above 70s., the duty shall be, for every quarter 1s. And in respect of each integral shilling, or any part of each integral shilling by which such price, shall be under 50s., such duty shall be increased by 2s."

Mr. F. Lewis

said that every argument that had been urged in favour of the bill was applicable in opposition to the hon. gentleman's amendment. The proposition would, if adopted, expose the public to a danger which it was not desirable they should incur. Although friendly to the principles of free trade, he felt that government would have shown an incorrect sense of their duty, if they had ventured, under the present circumstances, to propose so low a reduction of the duties. The question was not, whether the proposed system was the best possible system of Corn-laws for the country, under any circumstances in which it might be placed; but the hon. member must be aware, that the great transitions which had occurred in the price of corn for some years would render it dangerous to venture on so great a change as that which he had recommended. At a future period, it might be expedient to lower the duties. On that point he would give no opinion; but he was satisfied that they could not be safely lowered at the present time. Let it be recollected that last year (besides four hundred thousand quarters from Ireland) no less a quantity than five hundred thousand quarters of foreign wheat had been imported into this country. Now it appeared that, from the year 1697 to 1821, including two periods of frightful scarcity, there were only twelve years in which a larger quantity of foreign wheat than five hundred thousand quarters had been imported. This, among other considerations, satisfied his mind that to adopt the change in the duties recommended by the hon. member, would expose the public to great hazard.

The amendment was negatived.

Mr. Portman

proceeded to propose the amendment of which he had given notice. He was anxious to impress on the minds of the committee the necessity of making a change in the list of places, where the average prices of British corn were to be taken. He strongly objected to the introduction of London into the list, because he was satisfied that it was not a place where the average prices of British corn could be fairly taken. The regulations respecting corn were formerly for the benefit of the consumer; they were now for the protection of the grower. But London was the worst place for the purpose of taking a fair average, because the large quantities of foreign corn which were sold here, and other circumstances, all had a tendency to produce an artificial state of things, as well as a great and unnatural fluctuation of prices. The influence of this was also felt, directly, or indirectly, in all the neighbouring counties. In his opinion, a change ought to be made in the mode of taking the averages. He moved, therefore, "That the word 'London' be struck out of the list of places where the average prices of British corn were to be taken."

Mr. F. Lewis

said, it would be impossible to make so important an alteration, without changing the character of the measure. The hon. gentleman had, however, introduced some novelty into his argument; for they were now, it seemed, to look to the protection of the grower and to leave the consumer to himself. The legislature were bound to pay an equal attention to the interest of both; and he did not like to hear the distinction between them so broadly stated. To leave London out of the list of places, where the average prices of British corn were to be taken would be attended with much disadvantage. In the case of bad harvests for instance, and of a consequent scarcity and rise of price, the effect on the averages would be delayed by the omission of London as one of the places where they were to be taken, and the remedy which the legislature had provided for the evil would not be so prompt as it would otherwise be. It was also well known, that to appoint a multitude of places, at which the averages were to be taken, was the only security that could be adopted against fraud. The duty ought to be regulated by the immediate wants of the people; and London was the place which gave the most immediate indication of those wants. Foreign grain was not included in the averages, though grain from Ireland was, but this lowered the average only by 1s. London made a difference of only about 4d. in the averages.

Mr. Curteis

maintained that the averages did not give the true price of grain in bona fide sales. They led the public to believe that the sellers obtained greater prices than they really procured. He wished to know if corn from the Isle of Man could be imported duty free, and if mixed corn were included in the averages.

Colonel Sibthorpe

supported the amendment, and contended that the farmer never got the prices mentioned in the Gazette. He knew instances where corn was bought at 40s., and, after being kiln-dried and undergoing a process by the aid of brimstone, was re-sold at 56s., and the latter price was included in the averages. This was most unjust to the farmers.

Mr. Benett

contended, that it was necessary to omit London in the averages, in consequence of the tricks constantly practised there, by which it appeared that the farmer got a much larger price than he really ever obtained. If the protecting duty was considered too high, it would be much better to reduce it than to retain this fallacious mode of settling the averages.

Mr. F. Lewis

said, that neither corn from the Isle of Man nor mixed corn' were to be included in the averages.

The committee divided: For the Original Clause 132; For the Amendment 36; Majority 96.