HC Deb 14 April 1836 vol 32 cc1015-26
Mr. Robinson

said, that the motion he was about to submit, was one of so much public importance, so reasonable in itself, and therefore so free from objection, that he could not anticipate any resistance to it either by Government or by any considerable number of Members. It would be to this effect, "That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider under what regulations and restrictions foreign corn and flour in bond might be admitted to entry for manufacture, and exported without prejudice to the revenue;" in other words, without any evasion of the Corn-laws. Whatever might be his opinion of those Corn-laws, as long as they continued they ought to be maintained in their integrity. Having made that admission, it was incumbent on him to show that his proposal could be adopted without injury to the agriculture of the country. At the close of last Session, so many petitions were presented to the House, and so many applications were made to the Board of Trade, that he had felt it his duty, as a commercial man, to give notice that, in the present Session, he would move for leave to bring in a Bill to permit the manufacture of foreign grain; but upon farther consideration, he had been induced to think that, if he moved at once to introduce a Bill, he might be fairly met by the objection on the part of Ministers, that they could not consent to it without a distinct statement of all the details. He had therefore considered it fairer to all parties to move for the appointment of a Select Committee. He would first advert to the present state of the law. Whatever might be the quantity of foreign grain and flour imported and in bond, and however long it might have remained in the warehouses in consequence of the low price of corn in this country, it must continue there until destroyed by gradual decay, for, by the existing statutes, it could not be imported nor exported in a manufactured state. The present system was not only at variance with the principles of free trade, as he understood those principles, but it gave an advantage to the foreign trader over the home manufacturer. If the manufacture of foreign corn and flour were permitted, the merchants of this country could compete with those of other countries in foreign markets; and when he stated, that out of 600,000 quarters of foreign grain now in the Government dépôts a considerable portion of it had been four years in bond, some idea might be formed of the loss and injustice which such a system produced to the British merchant, who was thus deprived of the opportunity of employing a considerable portion of his capital in a profitable foreign trade. He was aware, that he was bound to show, that the permission for which he sought would neither affect the revenue nor infringe the Corn-laws. The island of Newfoundland, with which he was connected, derived almost exclusively the supply of provisions from Europe, and in consequence of the existence of the bonded system of this country that colony was obliged to send to Hamburgh, Dant- zic, and other places for that which could so easily be obtained in this country if the restrictions to which he alluded were removed. This same law gave America the monopoly of supplying the Brazils and the West Indies with flour, to the great detriment of British shipping, and therefore the sooner a law, which was as injurious as it was anomalous and unreasonable, was got rid of, the better. He denied, that the removal of the restrictions on foreign grain, so far as exportation was concerned, would in any way prejudice the rights of the agriculturists, and he therefore hoped his right hon. Friend would act upon his own principles, and accede to the motion. He hoped he should not be told by his right hon. Friend, that, as a Committee was sitting on the subject of agriculture, the present motion was unnecessary. The Committee now sitting was one composed almost exclusively of Gentlemen connected with agriculture, and, that being the case, it was utterly impossible, that they could give to this question the consideration which it ought to receive. It might be urged, that the present question could be better adjusted after the Committee on agriculture had made its report; but he (Mr. Robinson) doubted whether a fair report, without meaning anything invidious, could emanate from that Committee as regarded the subject of his proposition. He called upon all those hon. Members who were favourable to the promotion of their mercantile and commercial interests to support his measure. It would have the effect of making Great Britain a general dépôt for the manufacture of all articles of consumption for their colonies, instead of throwing it into other countries. They were willing to agree to any restrictions that could be placed on them for securing the revenue and the home trade, and therefore he could not see how the Government could oppose his motion. He claimed the appointment of the Committee on the ground of precedent. In 1824, Mr. Huskisson had brought in a Bill for the purpose of allowing grain in bond to be manufactured into flour. This proposition, however went further, as it called for a general alteration of the law on that subject, and he would defy any person to show that his proposition, if carried into effect, would in any way be productive of loss to the revenue, or of the least injury to the agriculturist. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for the appointment of a Select Committee, "to inquire under what restrictions and regulations foreign corn, warehoused or in bond, could he manufactured into flour and re-exported without danger to the public revenue or without injury to the agricultural interest."

Sir Edward Codrington

had presented petitions on the subject last Session. He was quite sure if the Government would consider the question they would find that no harm would come from the measure, but much good. He had much pleasure in seconding the motion, which, if carried, would be of the utmost benefit to the general interests of the country.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

expressed his regret, that the hon. Gentleman, when he gave notice of his motion, did not specify more clearly what his object was. The hon. Gentleman had said, that he should submit a motion relative to the grinding of foreign corn in bond; but such a notice did not afford an intimation of the course which the hon. Gentleman had felt himself called on to pursue. He certainly should say, in reply to the hon. Gentleman, that he did not think the House would do wisely if it consented to this motion, inasmuch as he was of opinion that this was a question which should be left to the Agricultural Committee, who would no doubt consider the different plans laid before them, and report according to the evidence produced in support of those plans. He had been called on, in pursuance of his duty, to consider the subject, and so far as he was able to make himself master of it, he must say he did not think that any advantage would result from an investigation by a Committee, especially devoted to this particular inquiry, in the manner proposed by the hon. Gentleman. The motion was, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire under what regulations and instructions foreign corn and flour warehoused in bond might be allowed to be manufactured and re-exported, without prejudice to the public revenue, or to the interests of agriculture." Now he was willing, as he had told some parties who had applied to him on the subject, to bring in a Bill himself to carry into effect all the hon. Gentleman sought for, according to the terms of the motion, but the difficulty was this: there could be no objection to allow the foreign corn which was in bond to be ground in this country and re-exported—that was to say, if the parties having the corn in bond would, under the King's lock, grind it, and re-export all the produce of the corn so ground, then no injury whatever could result to the public revenue, nor could the supposed interests of the agriculturists be affected. What, however, the parties wished was, to be allowed to introduce a quantity of corn, to have that consumed in England, and to export an equal quantity of manufactured flour. He considered that this would so far be a benefit, as it would give employment to the capital and to the machinery of this country. But he objected that the difficulty would be, that English corn would be manufactured for exportation, and that foreign corn would be retained for consumption in England. If any such permission were given, there ought to be every security afforded that the corn so manufactured into flour should be exported. In looking to the Bill of 1824, to which reference had been made, he did not find that there was sufficient security afforded. That Bill provided, that for every five bushels of wheat manufactured, security should be given that 1961bs. of flour would be exported. But then it was found that this regulation was very imperfect, for some wheat being of finer quality would produce a greater quantity of flour, so that the proportion of flour would of course vary in its proportion to the quantity of corn. He thought the principle on which they should act would be, to make this country as much a manufacturing country as possible, provided that in doing so they did not lead to fraud or suspicion of fraud. The parties who proposed the scheme said, that they would give a security that no fraud should be committed. His answer was, that he could not find a security against fraud. He wished to give every possible encouragement to the manufacturing interest in this country, but he felt that they were bound to take care that they did not open the door to fraud, or even the suspicion of fraud. As regarded sugar, an experiment similar to that now recommended had been tried. Parties had been anxious to be allowed to introduce sugar for consumption, and to re-export an equal quantity that had been refined. The Government, in order to ascertain whether fraud could be guarded against, took an establishment in the city, and became refiners, when they found that it was impossible to fix such an amount of drawbacks as would be neither more nor less than it ought to be. If the Committee, which the hon. Gentleman asked for were appointed, a great deal of alarm would be excited in one quarter, while expectation would be raised in another, and ultimately the Committee and the House would be obliged to come to the conclusion that such a plan could not succeed.

Mr. Eaton

perfectly coincided in the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that the once permitting foreign corn to be ground in this country would be attended with numerous frauds. But he believed that the real intention was to smuggle the flour into the English market. He did not see any reason why the foreign corn should not be ground in Newfoundland, as the bonded corn in this country was a millstone round the neck of the British farmer.

Dr. Bowring

said, that he was opposed to all restrictions upon commerce of any description, which were always found to have an injurious operation. He supported the motion of the hon. Member opposite, as a step to the repeal of the Corn-laws, which must eventually take place, and which, if the agriculturists themselves would overcome their prejudices, they would find would be for their own interest. The removal of all restrictions upon commerce would be for the benefit of the country. Under this feeling, he was anxious to give his assistance to the motion of the hon. Member.

Colonel Sibthorp

contended, that the agricultural distress which prevailed in the country, called for the most serious attention. On this subject he had himself presented two petitions from important agricultural districts in Lincolnshire. After the expectations that had been held out by the labours of the Agricultural Committee, he could not conceive a greater blow to the hopes of the agriculturists than the declaration that had been made by the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that his objection to the motion was, because the House was called upon to take it for granted, that foreign corn which had been imported into this country, under restrictions, ought to be allowed to be ground in this country for exportation; and the hon. Member for Worcester said, he would refer the subject to a Committee, in order to determine what regulations were necessary for the purpose of carrying this object into effect. He (Mr. Fergusson) believed, that the real intentions of those who mooted the question was, inasmuch as they had failed in their speculations to grind their bonded corn in this country and get it consumed here to the detriment of the agricultural interest. He was satisfied that it was by means of fraud they wished to effect this object, and that the effect would be, if the proposition was acceded to, that this corn would be consumed here, instead of that which was the growth of this country. Entertaining these views, he should give his determined opposition to the motion.

Mr. George F. Young

considered that this been might be granted without occasioning any detriment whatever to the agricultural interest, and entertaining that view of the subject, he should support the motion of his hon. Friend. He (Mr. Young) should be satisfied and content if any six members of the agricultural interest in that House would set themselves down in a Committee room up stairs, and after examining into all the details on the subject, adjudicate and determine on this question. He should be perfectly willing to abide by their decision, because he was satisfied that they would decide the question, without the slightest suspicion of their being actuated by a view to their own interests. He must say, that he thought the shipping interest, with which he had the honour to be connected, was hardly dealt with in reference to this question, and he thought the right hon. the President of the Board, ought to allow this subject to be made matter of inquiry, which was all his hon. Friend asked. He considered that it was a fit subject to be submitted to a Committee, and, therefore, he should support the motion of his hon. Friend.

Mr. Ewart

was of opinion, that there was great force in the observations of his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, but still he was of opinion that the right hon. Gentleman ought to have granted the inquiry sought for. He thought that a tribunal less partially composed than that of the Agricultural Committee, of whom he wished to speak with every respect, should be selected for the discussion and determination upon a proposition like the present. It was his intention to support the proposition of the hon. Member for Worcester.

Mr. Hume

wished to know whether the opposition to the motion of the hon. Member for Worcester came from his Majesty's Ministers or the agricultural interest? In the latter case, he should have expected that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Chandos) who had shown such a laudable zeal for that interest—zeal that was certainly consistent, and he thought, highly honourable to that noble Lord—he should have expected that he would have taken some part in this question. This question had heretofore been opposed by the agricultural interest, because it was thought that it would interfere with that interest— that it would be the means of introducing a portion of foreign wheat instead of wheat the growth of this country. Now, what were the advantages in opposition to that view of the question? It would give them the advantage of being the curriers of corn, it would afford employment to the English manufacturers, it would make the English the carriers of that corn out of the country, giving to them the profits of the trade, instead of their being now obliged to go to the Baltic and other places for supplies. He confessed, that he could see no difficulty in the way, if there were a real desire to carry such a measure into effect. He should recommend the hon. Member for Worcester to withdraw his motion, and allow the hon. Gentleman to introduce his Bill, in order that they might see what objections would be made to it. Though he had a decided opinion on the Corn-laws, yet still, he must say, he should never seek to get rid of them by any side wind. In looking to such a Bill as that suggested by the right hon. Member, the President of the Board of Trade, he would endeavour to protect the agriculturists as much as if he were a decided favourer of the Corn-laws; and if such a measure could be carried without injury to the agriculturists, why should it not be done? With that object the hon. Gentleman ought, he considered, to withdraw his motion, and allow the right hon. Gentleman to bring in his Bill as he proposed; and if the regulations suggested were not sufficient, then would he the proper time for the parties to look for a Committee. He begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman what it was he proposed to do, in order that they might see how far his measure might be desirable.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

thought, that he had fully explained his views of the subject to the House, but it appeared he had not rendered himself intelligible to his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex. He (Mr. Thomson) stated, that he saw no objection to the adoption of the principle; and this information he had given to the parties who had waited upon him, of allowing the holders of foreign wheat in bond to grind it in bond, and to export it. When he made this proposition he was told by the parties that the adoption of that prin- ciple would be of no use to them; and he must say, therefore, that he could not undertake to bring in a Bill on the subject after such a declaration had been made. He would have introduced the Bill then, and he did not positively say that he would not do so now, but he could not consider that he should be justified in supporting the motion then before the House.

Mr. Young

asked, could baked biscuits be also bonded?

Mr. Poulett Thomson

replied, that his answer to that question was, that the whole of the produce should be re-exported.

Lord Sandon

inquired, if the right hon. Gentleman required that the whole of the offal should be re-exported?

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, his principle was that the whole of the produce should be re-exported.

Mr. Young

asked if he would allow it only in the shape of biscuits?

Mr. Aaron Chapman

considered that the proposition would afford great relief to the shipping interest, and not affect the agricultural interest injuriously. He should, therefore, support the motion.

The Marquess of Chandos

observed, that the Agricultural Committee had full power for entering into this question. He did not think that the best mode for determining it could be by the report of a separate committee.

Viscount Sandon

considered this a most favourable moment for acting upon the proposition of the hon. Member for Worcester, seeing the difference of prices which now existed between the produce of the United States and of Europe. Our colonies had hitherto been principally supplied from America, but now the prices were so much lower in Europe than in America, that this was the time when the export of that produce could be made with effect.

Mr. Gisborne

generally had the pleasure of voting with his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade; but he was sorry that he could not find the slightest excuse for doing so on the present occasion. The hon. Member for Worcester came forward and said if he could show the House that his proposition would not injure the agricultural interest, that then he would call upon them to alter the law as it now stood, and he asked for the Committee on that ground. The answer of his right hon. Friend was, that the hon. Member for Worccester did not want a Committee, that the Agricultural Committee was sitting, and he might go before them. The Agricultural Committee were to take this matter into their especial care, and point out some mode by which this could be effected, without interfering with their interests. Now he did not think this was quite fair, it was, as it appeared to him, to use a homely phrase, very much like adding insult to injury, to tell the hon. Member to take this case before an opposing interest, in order that they might devise the most effectual way in which this case might be met. He was willing to vote for the question on the ground stated by the hon. Member. He did not wish to interfere with the Corn-laws by a side wind; he had voted against any alterations of them on former occasions, and should do so again. The hon. Member wished to have a Committee free from agricultural jealousy, and he (Mr. Gisborne) would support him in that object with all his might. He could not see any ground for opposing the motion, except that which must be presumed to arise from the jealousy of the agriculturists, and if such jealousy did exist, the Agricultural Committee was the worst tribunal to which the matter could be referred. All that was asked was to grind foreign bonded wheat into flour, and to make biscuit in bond for exportation: and why might the parties not be permitted to try this experiment? why might they not be permitted to do this, until some other mode should be devised? In conclusion, he must say that he never heard a proposition objected to on weaker grounds, and, therefore, he should support the motion.

Mr. Warburton

was decidedly in favour of this subject being referred to a Committee, and he could not conceive why the motion of the hon. Member for Worcester should not be granted.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

admitted, that if the question could be considered by the Agricultural Committee it ought to be. He must be permitted to say, that he could not agree in opinion with the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Ewart), that the agriculturists wished to protect themselves at the expense of the other interests of the country. Nothing would give him greater pleasure than that those interests should receive relief, as far as it fairly could be conceded to them. He could not pledge himself that the Agricultural Committee could make a special report on this subject, but he could assure them that they gave the subject submitted to them the most impartial consideration; and when their Report should be laid before the House, he was satisfied that hon. Members would be far from supposing that they had been actuated in any degree by agricultural jealousy.

Mr. Labouchere

said, that when his right hon. Friend considered the proposition as impracticable, he very properly opposed a mode of proceeding that might interfere with settled interests, and could only tend to encourage speculations injurious to trade. The right hon. Member, in conclusion, bore testimony to the fairness and impartiality with which the Agricultural Committee had acquitted themselves of their duties.

Mr. Anderson Pelham

had no objection to the motion, so far as the appointment of a Committee, because he thought the subject well worthy of being considered by the House.

Dr. Lushington

said, that ever since he had had the honour of representing the Tower Hamlets a very strong feeling had existed amongst a great portion of his constituents on this question. A great number of persons belonging to the shipping interest, or trades connected therewith, had repeatedly and loudly complained of the present state of the law as it affected them; and in the justice of those complaints he must say, that he very strongly concurred, and thought that some remedy should be adopted. At the same time he admitted that considerable difficulty might be found in remedying the evils complained of, particularly as a difference of opinion seemed to exist as to the extent of the evil itself, and the nature of the objects which should be held in view. For his own part he thought it was not material whether the corn were manufactured for the foreign market only, or whether it were also applied to the use of our own shipping; he did not think it would be a sufficient relief to allow a drawback upon corn manufactured into biscuits for foreign use; the same principle, if applied to all, ought to be applied equally to biscuits manufactured for our own shipping. It was notorious that, by the present state of the law our ships were often induced to go to Hamburgh and other foreign ports for their biscuits, instead of taking them from the home market. Upon these considerations, he should certainly support the motion of the hon. Member.

Mr. Robinson

in reply stated, that for the sake of arriving at a perfectly fair and satisfactory conclusion, he was desirous that if his motion were acceded to, the Committee should consist one half of Members con- nected with agriculture, and half of those more immediately interested in mercantile pursuits; and that the President or Vice-president of the Board of Trade should be one of the number.

The House divided on the Motion: Ayes 40; Noes 77:—Majority 37.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Pinney, W.
Baines, E. Pryme, G.
Bentinck, Lord W. Read, Sir J. R.
Bewes, T. Sandon, Ld. Viscount
Bolling, W. Scholefield, J.
Bowring, Dr. Smith, B.
Brodie, W. B. Strickland, Sir G.
Brotherton, J. Stuart, Lord D.
Chapman, A. Stewart, W. V.
Codrington, Admiral Talfourd, Mr. Sergeant
Elphinstone, H. Tancred, H. W.
Ewart, W. Thompson, Colonel
Gisborne, T. Thornely, T.
Hastie, A. Tulk, C. A.
Hawes, B. Villiers, C. P.
Horsman, E. Wakley, T.
Hume, J. Warburton, H.
Lennard, T. B. Wood, Mr. Alderman
Lushington, Dr. TELLERS.
O'Connell, D. Robinson, G.
Parker, J. Young, G. F.
List of the NOES.
Alsager, Captain Knightley, Sir C
Arbuthnot, hon. H. Labouchere, H.
Baillie, H. D. Lefevre, C. S.
Baring, T. Lennox, Lord G.
Barnard, E. G. Lennox, Lord A.
Barry, G. S. Lincoln, Earl of
Bernal, R. Lushington, C.
Blackburne, J. I. Lygon, hon. Col.
Bonham, R. F. M'Leod, R.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Martin, J.
Chandos, Marquess of Moreton, hon. A. H.
Clerk, Sir G. O'Brien, W. S.
Clive, hon. R. H. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Peel, Sir R.
Dalbiac Sir C. Peel, W. Y.
Darlington, Earl of Pelham, hon. C. A.
Donkin, Sir R. Plumtre, J. P.
Eaton, R. J. Powell, Colonel
Fector, J. M. Pringle, A.
Fergusson, R. C. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Fleming, J. Rickford, W.
Forester, hon. G. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Fremantle, Sir T. Rushbrooke, Col.
Gordon, hon. W. Russell, Lord J.
Goulburn, Sergeant Scott, Sir E. D.
Graham, Sir J. Sheldon, E. R. C.
Hector, C. J. Sibthorp, Col.
Henniker, Lord Stanley, Lord
Herbert, hon. S. Stormont, Lord Vis.
Hogg, J. W. Surrey, Earl of
Howick, Lord Thomson, right hon. C. P.
Hoy, J. B.
Kerrison, Sir E. Townley, R. G.
Trelawny, Sir W. Wilkins, W.
Troubridge, Sir E. T. Williams, R.
Twiss, H. Wodehouse, E.
Tyrell, Sir J. T. Wood, C.
Vere, Sir C. B. TELLERS.
Vivian, J. E. Baring, F.
Ward, H. G. Stanley, E. J.