HC Deb 02 March 1836 vol 31 cc1133-6
Mr. Stewart Mackenzie

, on presenting a Petition from the proprietors and occupiers of land in the counties of Ross and Cromarty, said, that it was signed by many very respectable landlords, and by a numerous body of tenantry, many of whom are paying rent varying in amount from 500l. to 1,200l. a year. I learn, Sir, that copies of this petition have been forwarded to the noble Marquess, the Member for Buckinghamshire, who takes so deep an interest in the agricultural question, and to several Members connected with that part of Scotland from which it comes, I should, perhaps, content myself by having this petition laid on the Table of the House, and moved that it be referred to the Select Committee on Agricultural Distress, without detaining the House with, any observations of my own upon this most important and interesting topic, but I deem it a duty I owe to my constituents to call the attention of this House to the prayer of the petition, which, while it points out to the Legislature the state of general distress throughout the kingdom among the cultivators of the soil, prays this House that inquiry should be instituted into the special causes of distress affecting the agriculture of Scotland, which the petitioners assume and declare to be essentially different from those causes which depress either the English or the Irish agriculturist. I am not one of those persons who anticipate any great practical benefit from the inquiry of the Select Committee recently appointed by the House; neither am I one of those who expect to witness a third experiment upon the monetary standard of value in this country, unless, indeed, under the urgent necessity of war, after the fearful results which flowed from the interference with that standard in the years 1797 and 1819. I may add, that I am very much disposed to come to the conclusion enforced in the Report from the Select Committee of Agriculture, which sat in the year 1833, that "contracts, prices, and labour, have a Strong natural tendency to adjust them selves to the value of money once established;" but I fear the hope expressed in that same Report, "that the balance may be restored, which will give to farming; capital its fair return," is not in progress of being soon realized. That same Report, after examining several witnesses from. Scotland, declared," that the farmer, upon the whole, appeared to have suffered less in Scotland than in England from the fall of prices; and that corn-rents, which have lately come into more general use in Scotland, protect the tenantry under lease from the effects of a falling market." I do not complain of this rather meager allusion to the state of Scotch agriculture in the Report of 1833; but I think that I am in consequence the more justified in pressing upon the House the necessity of inquiring into those special causes of agricultural, depression, which (if to them distress be to be attributed) have continued in full operation up to the present time; for it cannot be denied that the Scotch agriculturist lives more economically, cultivates with not less skill nor less economy than the English farmer, under the benefit of a lease of considerable endurance; so that the explanation of this continued depression becomes more difficult, unless it is to be contended that a new adjustment of his covenant with the landlord is the only legitimate source of relief which presents itself to the Scotch farmer. Believing, however, as I do, that a general reduction of rents throughout Scotland, of from twenty-five to thirty-five per cent, has already taken place within the last twenty years, inquiry becomes more urgently called for, to ascertain the special cause of the grievance of which the agriculturist complains. I take this opportunity of adverting to one burden which applies to all Scotland, equally to many of the northern counties of England; perhaps, with few exceptions, to the farmers throughout the kingdom generally—I allude to the tax upon agricultural seeds, clover, tares, and linseed, which may be considered as part of the raw materials, if I may use the term, required for the farmer's manufacture. A duty of 20s. per hundred, which is levied upon all clover-seeds imported, operates injuriously, by enhancing the price of both the home-grown as well as the imported seed; and frequently induces the farmer to use that which is of inferior quality, from being imperfectly ripened at home, being sold at a somewhat lower price than the imported article. It is true that a few of the counties of England produce clover-seed to a considerable extent; but if the foreign importer can afford to the agriculturist a superior article at a lower price, the repeal of the duties on these seeds would be directly beneficial to alt concerned in agriculture. The average amount of duty for the last three years is about 56,000l. per annum on clover-seed, affecting directly those parts of the country where, in ordinary seasons, such seeds cannot be ripened. It may also be mentioned, that the duty precludes the import of many kinds of agricultural seeds, I trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be able to afford this relief to the agriculturist of Scotland and of the other parts of the United Kingdom; and I feel confident of the support of my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, in urging the necessity to relieve this imported article, as he has himself done so much in relieving all raw materials from severe and excessive import duties. No doubt, any measures of relief to the farmers generally can avail little, except that of proportioning the rent more nearly to the price of produce, and which can only be gradual, and arise from a conventional arrangement between landlord and tenant; but while the English farmer will be benefited by the amendment of the poor-laws, by the diminution of payment of county and local rates, by the still more beneficial measure of commutation of tithes—of all which measures I cordially congratulate his Majesty's Ministers, both upon the adoption and success, up to this time; while Ireland is increasing rapidly in the quality of its agricultural produce, and supplying the markets of England— almost to the detriment of the English farmer—it makes it the more imperative upon me, and those who are connected with the agricultural interest in Scotland, to endeavour to satisfy the complaints of our countrymen, by exhibiting a prompt and ready desire to investigate the causes that they believe injuriously affect the agricultural interests of that part of the empire. I have to apologize, Sir, for this long intrusion; but I hope that the importance of the subject will plead with the House, and that I shall receive its indulgence.

Mr. Robert Ferguson

warmly supported the petition, so far as respected the removal of the duty upon agricultural seeds, clover, tares, and linseed, which imposed a very unjust burden upon the general mass of the agriculturists of this country. This imposition affects every part of the country, with the exception of a few of the southern counties, where the superiority of the climate allows the seeds to come to maturity; and was most severely felt in the great agricultural county which he represents, in which it operated as a severe tax once in each of the regular rotations of cropping.