HC Deb 24 June 1831 vol 4 cc351-6
Lord Milton

moved for Returns of all Reports on the subject of the Corn-trade, sent from the several British Consuls resident in foreign States which export corn, and which had not been laid before Parliament.

Mr. Hunt

gave notice, that he should, on the 15th of July, submit a motion to the House, for the repeal of all laws prohibiting the importation of foreign corn into this country.

Mr. Portman

hoped, that the noble Lord, and the hon. member for Preston, or such other hon. Members as were advocates of a free trade in corn, would, previously to agitating that subject again, institute a full inquiry into it in all its bearings, and come forward with some matured plan which would admit of a thorough discussion. It was, indeed, to be wished, that such inquiry should have been made before the noble Lord and the hon. member for Preston had announced their intention of bringing forward the subject at all, and that a new stimulus had not been added to the excitement which already too much prevailed in the agricultural districts, and which might lead to a renewal of the deplorable occurrences of last winter. If hon. Members would persist, under such circumstances in re-agitating the question, it must be on their own responsibility. At least they might state what course they meant to pursue—what better system of Corn-law than that in force they meant to propose—whether, for example, they meant to propose a plan like that of the hon. member for Middlesex, by which a fixed rate of duty should be imposed on all foreign corn entering our ports, instead of the present scale of average?

Mr. Hume

had considered his plan again and again, and should be prepared to show at the proper time, that his plan of a fixed duty would be the safest and best for the home-grower as well as consumer of corn. If they were called upon to lay a duty at all, that duty ought to be invariable. He understood that within the last eighteen months the importation had been so great as would have produced a considerable revenue to the public, without the loss which farmers had experienced under the present state of things. Every month the agricultural interest was losing more and more, whereas, by adopting a fixed duty, they would have the protection they so anxiously desired. No farmer was willing at present to take a lease, or enter into fixed engagements from the uncertain state of the law. He was glad, therefore, to hear, that it was intended to bring forward returns to complete the evidence as to the advantage of a fixed duty.

Lord Milton

was not answerable for the intentions which the hon. member for Preston might have in bringing forward his proposed Motion for a repeal of the Corn-laws. For himself he was anxious that the House should be in possession of the fullest information on the subject previous to that thorough discussion which he thought it not expedient to provoke till next session. Such was the object of his present Motion.

Colonel Torrens

would endeavour to show, when the subject was before the House, that till the Corn-laws were placed on a sound and unfluctuating footing, the farmer would be exposed to all the vicissitudes of the present very vicious system. He was not an advocate for the admission of foreign corn without any protecting duty whatever; on the contrary, he desired to see it subject to such a duty as would be equivalent to the amount of the particular burthens on agriculture.

Mr. James, in answer to the hon. member for Dorsetshire, thought it right to state, that the plan of the hon. member for Preston was not, to propose any new species of Corn-law, but to do away with all Corn-laws whatever, with the expediency of which plan he (Mr. James) entirely concurred.

Mr. Portman, in that case, should feel it to be his duty to give the Motion of the hon. member for Preston every opposition in his power.

Mr. John Wood

said, he believed there were certain taxes which peculiarly affected the landed interests of this country, and he thought that by the cost of production, raised by these taxes, should the rate of duty be regulated, and he therefore considered it incumbent on the House to be thoroughly acquainted with such taxes. If the agriculturist could prove that he was taxed unequally, the fair way would be, to remove those taxes, and let them be borne equally by the community, and then let corn be imported free of duty. If Poland produced corn more abundantly than this country (and such was the fact), it would be far better to receive the pro- duce of the soil of Poland than obtain corn by cultivating barren land at home. As he had before said, if taxes were laid upon the landed interest, let them be removed, and placed on the country at large, and let corn be drawn from those countries which could supply it so much cheaper than it could be grown here. When the question was entered upon, the system of averages must be attended to, for the corn-dealers, by raising the price in a small degree, had it in their power to obtain larger gains.

Colonel Sibthorp

did not wish to prolong the discussion, but he could not hear such sentiments as those expressed by the hon. member for Preston without protesting against them. When the subject was regularly brought before the House, he should feel it his duty to state his opinions; and he was satisfied that no difficulty existed in showing that the agricultural interests were heavily taxed, and were entitled to have protecting duties imposed upon foreign corn brought hither for consumption.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

was fully persuaded, that great injury was done to the agriculturist, as well as to the manufacturer, by the constant fluctuation in the prices of corn. If a protecting duty, equal to what the manufacturer possessed, were imposed, it would prove advantageous. He did not agree with those who thought it advisable to have a free importation of corn.

Mr. Warburton

considered it a great evil to be subject to the constant variations in the price of corn which took place under the present system of the Corn-laws. We never could hope, indeed, to keep the price quite steady, for corn was subject to variations in price occasioned by the seasons; but he thought means might be devised to render it less fluctuating than at present. That was a point which deserved consideration. He was clearly of opinion, with his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, that a fixed rate of duty was preferable to the present system; and he was glad to find that there was a growing objection to the mode of averages. If a fixed duty were agreed upon by the House, he thought that it ought to be a low one. The principle on which the hon. member for Preston proceeded was, that there should be a duty equivalent to the peculiar burthens which affected agriculturists, as compared with manufac- turers, and not as to the cost of production in this and foreign countries. What the difference of those burthens was, he was not prepared to say, but he knew there were many changes which affected personal property to which a part of agricultural property was not liable.

Mr. J. Benett

contended, that there ought to be a duty upon corn imported, equal to the amount of tithes, taxes, and other charges affecting the corn-producer of this country, and he considered a fixed duty would be better for the farmer than the existing system. But, although he disliked the present law, this was not the time to agitate the question; it was calculated to produce a degree of excitement which it would be well to avoid. He regretted exceedingly that the conversation upon the subject had taken place, and he hoped that the question would not be introduced until the other great measure, which had been that evening brought I before the House, was completed. It was right, however, that the business should be finally settled, for the farmer would not take a lease, while the subject was under agitation, to qualify him to exercise the elective franchise, and might well complain of being deprived, in an indirect manner, of the privileges which he was told the Reform Bill would confer on him.

Mr. James Morrison

concurred with those hon. Gentlemen who thought it much better, both for the farmer and the manufacturer, that the price of corn should be freed from the fluctuations which took place under the present system. He had lately been much in communication with farmers, and they were all against the sytem of taking the averages, as leading to inconvenience and frauds.

An Hon. Member

thought the mode of taking averages highly objectionable and faulty. He hoped that discussions on the Corn-laws would not be countenanced by the House; they were calculated to cause an alarm to the farmer without producing any beneficial result. He trusted, that the great, the vital, measure of Reform would be completed before that question was introduced. He agreed with the hon. member for Middlesex, that a fixed duty was much better than the present varying duties, but he again would express a hope that the subject altogether should be deferred until that other great measure had been disposed of.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

protested against the doctrine of those hon. Members who wished corn to be brought into this country free of duty. Was it desirable to have the English farmer's produce driven out of the market? If corn were so introduced, it would certainly have that effect; and he should be glad to know what would become of the agricultural labourer. If corn were brought from Poland in the way an hon. Member seemed anxious it should, the necessary consequence would be, that the agriculturist would be ruined, and the labourer employed by him would have no means of existence. Surely this was a state of things which no man could desire to see. He must protest against such doctrine as a free importation of corn; and again express his regret, that the subject was introduced; but he trusted that it would not go forth to the world that such opinions as those which he deprecated had been introduced into that House without being condemned. As to a fixed duty, he wished to ask how 10s. a quarter could be levied when the price rose to the famine level? The advantage of the present law was, that under such a circumstance it allowed corn to be imported, while under the circumstance of a low price, it levied a considerable duty on imported corn. The agriculturists ought to know, that the persons who in that House advocated an unrestricted corn-trade were extremely few.

Mr. Trant

begged hon. Members to consider in what a situation the country would be placed should it have to rely upon a foreign nation for its chief support in corn. Suppose we should be shut out from the Baltic by the cholera, or some such disease? [a laugh.] Hon. Members might laugh; but with respect to that disease he begged to say, that he spoke feelingly, having had it himself. It certainly was no laughing matter, for what should we do if we were shut out by pestilence from those places from which we derived the principal part of our supplies.

Mr. Irving

said, that, upon a subject of so much importance, some hon. Members appeared to jump to conclusions which the facts would not warrant. It would be well to look at the fiscal regulations of other countries, which were placed on a system of exclusion as regarded the produce of this country, before any change were meditated with a view of receiving: their produce without an imposition of duties.

Mr. Ruthven

believed the agricultural interest would be totally ruined, if foreign corn was imported ad libitum. In Ireland the whole property of the country would be revolutionized, and instead of Poor-laws being wanted for a portion of the people, they would be wanted for the whole. There would be a total cessation of taking and letting lands. Let. hon. Members consider how many thousands and tens of thousands of the industrious part of the population would he thrown out of employment were such a system adopted; for it was impossible, under the circumstances in which this country was placed, to compete with foreigners. With respect to the averages he was willing to admit, that some alteration was necessary. He trusted, that the House would never consent to a plan for a free trade in corn.

Mr. Jephson

believed, a free trade in corn, instead of benefitting, would starve the manufacturers: for he begged to remind the House, that foreign ships which brought corn to this country went away in ballast, and took none of our produce.

Returns ordered.