§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
rose, in consequence of seeing the noble Marquess, the Member for Buckinghamshire, (the Marquess of Chandos) in his place, to give him an opportunity of correcting an erroneous statement which had gone abroad through the medium of a speech made by that noble Marquess to his constituents. A 491 printed letter had been published by a Mr. Plaistow, addressed to an hon. Friend of his own, the Member for Norfolk. In that letter the following sentence occurred:—"We find it publicly stated by the Marquess of Chandos, and it remains uncontradicted by any Member of the late Administration, that for some time past the Government has connived at the introduction of foreign corn, duty free, through the Channel Islands, in such quantities as to produce a depression in agricultural produce, and the present stagnation of prices." When that statement was brought under his notice by his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, he told his hon. Friend at once that he was convinced that the report of what the noble Marquess had said could not. be accurate, for he was perfectly satisfied that the noble Marquess would not have made such a statement had he not believed it to be true, and he was equally satisfied that if the noble Marquess had believed it to be true, he would have felt it to be his bounden duty to have instantly called down upon the Government guilty of such practices the severest reprobation of the country—a penalty such conduct would have richly merited. He had since had the pleasure of hearing from the noble Marquess, that the statement attributed by the report to him was not the statement which he had made; but, as Mr. Plaistow had thought proper to say that the statement had not been contradicted by any Member of the late Administration, he thought it due to the noble Marquess, the late Administration, and also to himself, who had had the honour of presiding at the head of the Department particularly implicated, to obtain, if not a contradiction, at least an explanation from the noble Marquess, and to give the most positive denial to all rumours of the kind, which he knew had been circulated anonymously to a very considerable extent. He was likewise extremely anxious that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Alexander Baring), who now filled the situation which he had held under the late Administration should be present at this discussion; for if he had been correctly informed, that right hon. Gentleman on Friday last, when he was not in his place, had completely acquitted the late Government, as far as his information went, of any want of zeal or activity in endeavouring to put a stop to such proceedings. He 492 was the more satisfied with that declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, as he knew that something which that right hon. Gentleman had said unintentionally and unconsciously on the hustings in Essex, had led to the belief that the change in the Government would cause greater care and attention to be paid to this particular point. Now, whatever might be the effect of the change in the political arrangements of the Government, he thought the right hon. Gentleman would admit that, as far as attention could be paid to the prevention of fraud in the admission of foreign corn into our ports duty free, that attention had been paid to the fullest extent by the late Government. He well knew that rumours of this kind had been most industriously circulated; but for the very reason that he held opinions hostile to the policy of the present Corn Laws, he was anxious that they should have their full effect, and that they should not be infringed in any way whatever. At the proper time he would move for certain papers, which he believed there would be no objection to grant, and which would show that due attention had been paid to this subject, and that Government was ready to propose effective measures to check the fraud, as soon as Parliament assembled. He had made these observations in order to give the noble Marquess an opportunity of repudiating the statement which had been attributed to him.
The Marquess of Chandos
whose attention had been directed to the subject, had no hesitation in stating that the report to which the right hon. Gentleman, alluded did not contain a correct version of what he had said. At the end of last year his attention had been called to the quantity of corn that had been introduced, duty free, into the country from the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man; and at a meeting of his constituents he had read a letter, in which it was stated that a number of vessels had been sent from Dantzic, freighted with corn, to the Channel Islands. He had no information on the subject except that contained in the letter. He then stated, that if the case were such as that information led him to suppose it was, such importations must have a considerable effect upon the corn-market at home. He did not, however, impute to the late Government any connivance at these illegal importations.
felt it necessary to rise in consequence of the allusion which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had made to certain observations which the right hon. Gentleman supposed had fallen from him upon the hustings in Essex. He rather thought that he recollected the occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded. In the course of his canvass in the market at Braintree, where the election for the division of Essex which he represented was held, an elector had said to him, "The worst thing that I have heard about you is, that you are the President of the Board of Free Trade. Now, if you hold that office, how can you be anything but an enemy to the Corn-laws, and to the farmer who is protected by them?" To this he replied, that it was undoubtedly his office to preside over the Board of Trade; that everything which affected the industry of the country, be it agricultural, commercial, or otherwise, came under his department; that, instead of seeking to injure the agricultural interest, he was anxious to do everything in his power to promote it, and, as an instance of his anxiety, he mentioned that the first question which had come under his consideration upon entering into office, was whether foreign corn had not been imported into the country fraudulently from the Channel Islands. He had never imputed neglect to the right hon. Gentleman, either in that or in any other department. What he had stated was, and the fact had been established beyond all contradiction, that there had been fraudulent importations of foreign corn, duty free, into this country from the Isle of Man and from the Channel Islands. The late Government had instituted an inquiry into the extent of the fraud. He did not know the precise date when that inquiry was instituted; but a Report was made to them on the subject of that inquiry on the 30th of last July, at a period of the Session when it was clearly impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to have introduced and carried any preventive measures through Parliament. That Report would be presented shortly to the House, and his only reason for not having presented it already, was a fear that he might have overlooked other papers which ought to be presented with it. He should certainly feel it his duty to propose some measure on this subject; for though the fraud had not been practised to such an extent as would affect the markets, 494 still there had been fraud, and it was the duty of Parliament to punish and prevent it. If he had not already introduced a Bill for that purpose, it was owing to the circumstance of the fiscal arrangements of the Isle of Man being in a very anomalous state. He was anxious to see whether some general arrangement could not be made which would apply equally to all the islands. If it had not been for that consideration, he should have introduced a Bill to prevent and stop these fraudulent importations.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
would ask the right hon. Gentleman one question. Was he to understand that the right hon. Gentleman intended to introduce a Bill to prevent these importations being made, not only from the Isle of Man, but also from the Channel Islands?
said, that it was his intention to include within his Bill all cases of this kind of fraud. It would extend not only to the Isle of Man, but also to the Isle of Guernsey, from the northern part of which the importations had been most frequent.