HC Deb 17 April 1834 vol 22 cc868-72
Mr. Clay

presented a petition from Wapping, praying to be permitted to take meal and flour now in bond out, convert it into biscuits, and return it into bond so that it might be exported as biscuits. The petitioners, after stating that the business of biscuit-baking, formed a most important branch of manufacture at the seaports of England, proceeded to set forth the depressed state of that trade. They attributed the great failing-off to the operation of certain acts of Parliament lately passed, by which most of the shipping engaged in the British colonies were supplied by the Americans or other foreigners. They were of opinion, that if the recommendation contained in the petition were carried into effect, the trade, which was now almost entirely engrossed by foreigners, would be restored to this country; that a great increase of British labour would necessarily take place, and that above all, the paramount interest of British shipping would be greatly benefited by bringing flour here, and carrying the biscuits away to supply our colonies and dependencies, as well as by obtaining biscuits at a much lower rate. It was unnecessary for him to say one word in that assembly upon the importance of affording every support to the shipping interest; the commercial prosperity of the country being so intimately bound up with it. By the evidence given before the Committee last year, it distinctly appeared, that of all the interest in the country, the shipping interest was in the most depressed state. By the Reciprocity Act of 1826, the shipping interests had been deprived of all protection by throwing the trade open to the competition of all nations that would consent to pay the duties. He should not have given notice of his intention to present this petition but for the great advantage the shipping interest, in his opinion, would derive from the recommendation contained in the petition. Depressed as that interest was, it was, perhaps, the only mode in which relief could be afforded without any infringement of the other great interests of the country, while, at the same time, it would be a further extension of the great principles of free trade, the general adoption of which alone could benefit the depressed commerce of the country.

Mr. Cayley

said, he felt as much sympathy for the shipping interest as the hon. member for the Tower Hamlets; but he thought the way to have the biscuit-baking trade re-stored to this country, was to prohibit the importation of foreign manufactures. At present biscuits were admitted from all parts of the world at an ad-valorem duty of twenty per cent; and he was informed by an intelligent correspondent, who had been many years a miller and baker, and who had gone over to Dantsic to establish a baking trade, that biscuits could be baked there at 10s. per cwt., and, after paying a duty of 2s., could be sold for 13s., at a profit of 1s., whereas, notwithstanding the low price of agricultural produce in this country, they could not be manufactured here under 18s. per cwt. He thought it time such an indirect evasion of the Corn-laws was put a stop to.

Mr. Robert Wallace

said, many of his constituents were in the same situation with respect to biscuit-baking as those of the hon. Member who presented the petition. They found it impossible to continue their manufactories while such superior advantages were enjoyed by their continental neighbours, for which, however, he and they saw no other remedy than a repeal of the Corn-laws. Unless that took place, protection to a great extent must be afforded them which would injure other trades.

Mr. Tower

said, the Petition was a most unfair one, and hoped that its prayer would not be granted. The Repeal of the Corn-laws would be nothing better, in his opinion, than a species of political swindling.

Mr. Clay

said, that the present price of biscuits was 14s. per cwt., whereas, if the prayer of the petition were to be granted, biscuits could be made at 8s. per cwt. The boon, therefore, to the shipping interest would be of the greatest importance. If that boon were not granted, all the branches of trade connected with supplying biscuits would depart from this country.

Sir Charles Burrell

was confident, that the landed interest had no desire whatever to interfere with the shipping interest, but were perfectly ready to give it every fair consideration. He, for one, thought, that the shipping interest had been very harshly treated by what was called free trade, acting on the principles of which had been productive of great injustice. A large portion of the carrying trade had already been driven by that means from this country. If the boon sought for could be granted without encouraging fraud, so far from the landed interest interfering to prevent the shipping interest obtaining that advantage, they would readily forward that object.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

said, it was now proved, that the Corn-laws had not paid the National Debt, nor enabled the landed interest to discharge the mortgages and incumbrances on their property. They had, therefore, been most inefficacious. In fact, they did not protect the farmer, and they ruined the manufacturer. The Corn-laws had acted most delusively and destructively to the landed interest. He wished for fair and remunerative prices, such as would give the labourer what he ought to receive,—namely, 15s. a-week for his labour. But those laws would not give that price; money laws only would do it. He begged to remind the hon. member for Harwich (Mr. Tower) who said, that the Repeal of the Corn-laws would be political swindling, that during the last sixteen or seventeen years the prices of corn had greatly fallen. During the three years ending in 1819, the price of wheat was 10s. a bushel, and the working and labouring classes were much happier than at present. In 1819, when we altered the monetary system, and had recourse to bullion payments, the agricultural prices fell; and what was the reason? It was because that House adopted measures which took away the money from the pockets of the great mass of the people. Those measures had the effect, in a great degree, of closing millions of hungry mouths, and prevented our produce from being received by the foreign markets. That system went on, with little intermission, from 1819 to 1822, in which year Lord Castlereagh introduced in that House five measures again affecting the value of money; such as the measuse for authorizing the issue of 1l. notes, and the increase of loans by the Bank of England, which gave a temporary relief to the burthens of the people. When, in 1825, the Bill of 1819 was put in force, again our ports were nearly closed, and the agricultural prices had been going down ever since, although the population, subsequently to 1811, had increased thirty per cent. He acknowledged that agricultural prices were ruinously low; he wished to raise them; but he denied, that it was possible to raise them by creating an artificial famine. The proper way would be, to fill the people's pockets with money, so that, having the means of purchasing, they should be enabled to gratify their wants, and fill the hungry mouths of themselves and their children. The hon. member for Harwich must know that, having adopted the continental measure of value, they could not possibly, by any Corn-laws, prevent agricultural prices from falling to the continental level. This was a fact as certain as that day and night followed each other. They were not cut down yet to the continental level, but they were driven down by a power they could not resist. He would say, that it was as certain as the day and night, that to the continental level they must fall; and in two moments he would give proof of it. They could not expect that gold could be kept in this country when it acquired a higher value by being sent to the other side of the channel. He would say, that, if they wished to keep gold in this country, they must build up a wall so high, that a cuckoo could not fly over it. They must not only prevent wheat from coming in, but they must prevent gold from going out; but knowing, as they must, that gold would seek the market where its value is highest, they must acknowledge, that, if it commanded more at one side of the Severn than the other, it would most certainly go to that side where it would command most, and, in the same way, on the other side of the channel. Gold, like water, would find its own level. He had foretold the consequence of the measure of 1819; and he was sure, that those who then sanctioned that measure would, if they had known the consequences, have had their arms drawn from their bodies, before they would have consented to pass it into a law.

Mr. Hume

saw no connexion between the question of currency and the subject under the consideration of the House. The simple question was, whether the shipping interest of this country was to receive the benefit of biscuits manufactured here on the same terms as they could be manufactured by foreigners? It was a question of the greatest importance, not only to the shipping interest, but to the country at large, and one that the Government ought to take under their serious consideration. He gave the prayer of the petition his cordial support.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

was surprised, on reading the prayer of the Petition, that a discussion should have arisen upon such a variety of subjects, when the House had merely to consider the propriety of permitting bonded corn to be manufactured into biscuit, and returned again into bond. He could assure the House, that the subject had received from the Board, to which he had the honour to belong, the best attention it was in his power to give. It might be advisable to permit flour to be ground in bond, or to be baked into biscuit in bond; but he must fairly say, that the question was so surrounded with difficulties, and the practice, if permitted, would open such a door to fraud, that no means yet devised to prevent it was sufficient to induce him to propose such a measure to Parliament. They had the experience of former years to prove the consequences of such an alteration. A measure had been introduced by Mr. Huskisson to allow wheat to be ground into flour in bond; and the effect was, that fraud to a very considerable extent took place. The same result would be produced in this case, but much more extensively, as it would be more difficult to prevent the biscuit coming into home consumption than the flour. Nevertheless, admitting the extent of the difficulty, and the probabilities of fraud, if any further attention to the subject could suggest the means of conceding the boon without danger, no man living would be more happy to attempt it than himself. With regard to the consumption of foreign produce by the shipping interest, the House was aware that the Customs' Act contained a clause, authorizing the Treasury to allow ships to take provisions out of bond for consumption; but the shipping interest considered this as no boon, and had at first refused to avail themselves of it, although they had subsequently changed their minds on the subject. Different interests had interfered, and that clause had not been acted upon in regard to flour, though it had in some other articles. If the parties interested could agree among themselves, he should be happy to meet their wishes by bringing the provisions of the Act into operation.

The Petition was laid on the Table.

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