HC Deb 21 March 1837 vol 37 cc683-90
Mr. Robinson

rose to move the Resolution of which he had given notice—namely, "that the laws which prohibit the manufacture of foreign grain, flour, and meal, in bond, for exportation, are injurious to the interests of British commerce and navigation, and unjust in restraining the free employment of capital and labour in the United Kingdom, whilst they afford direct encouragement and undue advantage to the foreigner in a valuable branch of trade, not only with other states, but with our own colonies, and that it is expedient to alter and amend the same." He would ask the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of the Board of Trade, upon what grounds he could oppose this resolution, for he (Mr. Robinson) was prepared to show that the right hon. Gentleman, in opposing it, would be acting directly at variance with the opinions he had ever professed. He believed that the opposition of the Government to his resolution arose from the same pressure which had prevented them from acceding to any alteration in the present Corn-laws—the pressure of the agricultural interests; but he contended, that whilst the farmers and landed proprietors of the country would suffer nothing by the adoption of his resolution, the trade and commerce, and shipping interests, would derive most important advantages from it. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would oppose his motion upon distinct, tangible, and specific grounds, and not put him off as he had done last Session, by mere evasion. The right hon. Gentleman had asked him the other day why he did not bring in a Bill on the subject. Now, it was evident that he, a Member unconnected with either of the three parties, might as well abandon the subject altogether, as hope to pass a Bill through that House. By the law, as it at present stood, they might have warehouses full of bonded corn and flour, gradually deteriorating in condition, whilst there was an enormous demand for it in a manufactured state in the Brazils, the West Indies, British North America, and other of our colonies. By the present law, they were not to manufacture these articles in bond, and by that restriction it might be supposed that they were obliged to buy from their agricultural friends. Not at all; they did not buy a single pound of flour from them. This, then, was the complaint, and if the Government did not remove it, he conceived they would be guilty of a great dereliction of duty. If a merchant here had occasion to send a cargo of flour to Brazil, the West Indies, or any of our western colonies, he would be obliged first to send a vessel 300 or 400 miles eastward to Hamburg, Copenhagen, or Dantzic, to have it manufactured by foreigners, and pay agents in one of those places for doing what he himself might do at home if the present law did not exist. He was thus not only compelled to go some hundreds of miles out of his way, but put to considerable expense. He had himself at this moment several vessels endeavouring to make their way against an easterly wind into the Baltic, and which, had they set sail for America, when they left London for that sea, might now perhaps be on their way back. Let the Government moreover look to the quantity of labour, of business, to coopers for instance, and others, which, by the policy of the present law, was thrown into the hands of foreigners. It was by no means a trifling matter in point of amount. Owing to the failure of the crops in America last year, the additional trade in flour and meal to this country, were it not for the existing law, would have amounted to at least 1,000,000l., besides the increase it would have given to various other branches of business. The case was so gross and so clear, that he could not think it necessary further to argue it. The proposition he made was most reasonable, and was not in his judgment calculated to injure the agriculturists; if so, however, it was competent for the House to provide means for the protection of that class of the community. The hon. Member concluded by moving the resolution as stated at the commencement of his speech.

Mr. Hume

seconded the resolution with great satisfaction, because he felt that the restrictions of the present laws were injurious to all classes of people. He could not conceive why the Government did not itself come forward with a measure of the character and principle embodied in the resolution of his hon. Friend, the Member for Worcester.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that on con- sideration, he was sure the House would feel that the resolution proposed by the hon. Member for Worcester could not be passed with any advantage, but, on the contrary, would be productive of disadvantage to the country. His hon. Friend, the Member for Worcester, had certainly misled the House on many points, though he was the party who had most right to complain, because he was ready to do all that his hon. Friend wished, but he could not get anybody to support his views. He was very glad, however, to find that his hon. Friend stood forward as the advocate of the doctrines of free trade, especially after the abuse which had been lavished upon him, and after the charge that he had truckled to the agricultural interests. With regard, however, to the resolution proposed, he must say, in the first place, that it would be perfectly useless for the object which the hon. Member himself had in view. The resolution stated "that the laws which prohibit the manufacture of foreign grain, flour, and meal in bond, are injurious to the interests of British commerce and navigation." Now, there were no laws which so operated, save and except the Corn-laws; and the object of the hon. Member would be answered, not by the repeal of old laws, but by the introduction of a new law. The proposition was calculated to go beyond the object which the hon. Gentleman had in view, and yet not to effect that object. It would have the effect of repealing the Corn-laws, yet that would not necessarily allow the exportation of all foreign grain. The motion was a mischievous one, and there were many persons favourable to the object which the hon. Gentleman had in view, yet who would not consent to a repeal of the Corn-laws. The hon. Gentleman, as an excuse for not bringing in a Bill upon the subject, said he, as an individual Member, could not hope to do so with success, and that no Bill could hope to pass through the House which was not promoted by Government. The hon. Gentleman was bound, however, to show how the point he had in view was to be reached. He was not bound to bring in a Bill for the purpose of giving effect to the hon. Member's resolution—an effect which was unattainable. Two plans had been proposed last year for the purpose of effecting the object of the resolution, but those plans depended upon equivalents and calculations of exchanges which it would be utterly impossible to attempt to carry out without opening the door to serious frauds and inconveniences. When the subject was mooted last year, he proposed that a Bill founded on the principle of the Sugar-refining Duties Act, should be brought forward, and he pledged himself to give it—he would most willingly give it—his support. That proposition, however, had been refused, and yet the House had heard of the complaints made with respect to restrictions against the employment of capital after the means were rejected, by which alone capital could be employed in the manner proposed by the resolution. The proposition which he had made last Session was a fair one, and it was to be apprehended that those who were dissatisfied with that, wanted to obtain more than they would have it at first appear. If great results were to be expected from allowing foreign corn in bond to be ground for exportation, the way to get at them was, not to adopt the resolution of the hon. Gentleman, but to adopt a measure founded on the Bill to which he had before alluded. The House he was sure would not support a resolution which would not have the effect of producing the result intended, and yet might go far beyond, more especially when Government was ready to yield all which, with propriety, could be granted to effect the purpose.

Mr. Bingham Baring

thought, that the agricultural ought to make every concession it could to the commercial interest of the country, provided it did not go to the extent of a repeal of the Corn-laws. In his opinion, however, the adoption of the principle which governed the Sugar Refining Act, would be more difficult in practice than the plan of averages and calculations to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite objected. The process in sugar refining was more nice, and therefore more open to fraud. Averages and calculations were not so difficult, as was found by a late trial in France, and to show that they would be generally alike, it was only necessary to state that the French average of seventy-eight per cent. for flour, and twenty-two per cent. for refuse, was about the same calculation which would be made in our corn market. The resolution before the House, if agreed to, would do no more than sanction the principle, and if the thing could be effected without fraud, there was no doubt that it would considerably add to the trade of the country. A saving would be made to our colonial consumers at the same time that the commerce of the country would be increased. He hoped the opposition to this resolution was not for the purpose of increasing the hostility against the Corn-laws, and making them appear in a more odious light by holding them up as an obstacle to the commercial interests of the country.

Mr. Warburton

said, that he thought all technical difficulties on this question would be surmounted by the amendment which he should now propose, and that amendment was, that "the House resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, for the purpose of taking into consideration the laws relating to the importation of foreign grain, with a view to the manufacture of the same in bond for exportation."

Mr. G. F. Young

seconded the amendment with great pleasure, because he thought it a happy expedient for uniting the House in support of the principle advocated by the hon. Member for Worcester, to which he had not heard any valid objection started by the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Robinson

did not wish the discussion to proceed upon his motion, being ready to take the sense of the House upon the amendment at once.

Mr. Clay

was understood to say, that the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, had not denied the fact, that considerable disadvantages arose out of the practice of not allowing foreign corn to be ground when in bond. The right hon. Gentleman had gone further, and acknowledged that an alteration might take place with great advantage to the country, but he coupled that admission with a declaration that the parties most interested did not wish for the change.

Mr. P. Thomson

begged to explain. What he had said was, that he had made a proposition to the parties, which they declared would be of no advantage to them.

Mr. Clay

had understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, that nobody had asked him to interfere for the purpose of granting permission to grind corn in bond; but in his (Mr. Clay's) opinion, that was not a sufficient reason for a Minister of the Crown determining not to act in a manner which would be beneficial to the general trade of the country. He might have been accounted an enemy of his Majesty's Ministers for bringing forward his motion the other night for the modification of the Corn-laws. He was not their enemy, but if he had been their bitterest enemy, nothing would have given him greater delight than their opposition to his motion, because it evinced such a determination on their part not to permit the slightest encroachment upon even the margin of a great monopoly that had too long existed. That an alteration in the present system would be productive of immense advantage to the commerce of this country was evident from the fact that we sent out thousands of ships yearly across the Atlantic to bring back the produce of the new world, and those ships went out empty, when in fact they might as well be allowed to take out manufactured flour, and flour could be manufactured at so cheap a rate in this country, that we should then be able to compete with, and even undersell the Americans. He should support the amendment of the hon. Member for Bridport.

Viscount Sandon

had always voted for the maintenance of protection to the landed interests of this country, but he could not offer any opposition to the motion before the House. Even if there was a slight difference between the averages of flour and corn, he should be ashamed, as an agriculturist, to oppose a motion of this kind, seeing that it might be productive of great benefit to the general commerce of the country.

Mr. Mark Philips

thought the hon. Member for Bridport had now put the question into such a tangible shape that the House could not but embrace the opportunity it afforded for enabling them to come to some final arrangement of this important subject.

Sir Edward Codrington

merely wished to remind the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, that last year he presented a petition to the House from a Mr. Surrey, who expressed himself ready to put all his mills under bond, if he could be allowed to grind his own corn into flour and to export the whole. So, then, there was one individual ready to meet the right hon. Gentleman on that ground.

Sir C. B. Vere

thought, the plan proposed by the hon. Member for Worcester might be beneficial if it were applied to corn now in bond, but not if it was in- tended to be prospective, because it would become an inducement to make large importations of foreign corn. As to the feeling of the agriculturists in reference to the commercial interests of the country, he could say with regard to the county of Suffolk that no feeling in the least degree inimical to the prosperity of trade, manufacture, and commerce in general existed in that county.

Mr. Hawes

was of opinion, that any measure on this subject ought to originate with the Board of Trade itself.

Mr. P. Thomson

said, whoever heard the observations he had addressed to the House before, must know that it was impossible for him to resist the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Bridport, because he had expressed himself not only favourable to the introduction of a measure for the purpose of allowing corn in bond to be ground and exported, but that it was his anxious desire to assist in the introduction of a measure having that object in view, provided it could be effected in a manner that would be safe to the public revenues, and at the same time occasion no danger to that protection which was afforded to the landed interest by the corn-laws. He had no objection to allow the House to go into Committee, for then every hon. Gentleman would have an opportunity of bringing forward his plan, and he himself would also be able to submit his views in a more regular and detailed form to their consideration. He had no plan, however, which he could bring forward, but that which he had already stated to the House.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

complained of the unfair and difficult position in which the representatives of the agricultural interest were placed in reference to the present question. He very much doubted whether any precautions could be adopted that in practice would be found efficient to prevent fraud. If fraud were not prevented, the result would be highly prejudicial to the landed interests. He feared that one of the objects in going into committee upon the subject was to level another attack against the interests of the agriculturists. Feeling, however, that he was not then in a position to resist the motion, he would consent to go into committee, protesting, at the same time, against any attack being made against the interest to which he was attached, and which he did not think very fairly treated.

Mr. Robinson

, in withdrawing his motion, suggested that the House should now go into committee pro formâ a future day might then be fixed for discussing the proposition. With reference to the observations which had been thrown out by hon. Members immediately connected with the agricultural interest, he pledged himself in committee to show that the measure could be carried into effect without the slightest injury either to the revenue or the landed interest. If not, he should at once abandon it.

Lord J. Russell

was willing to admit that the proposition made by the hon. Gentleman had met with very general support, but it was in a very thin House, while from the aspect which the question now assumed they were undoubtedly placed in a very awkward situation. It was admitted by the hon. Gentleman himself, who introduced the subject, and by the hon. Member for Bridport, whose amendment he had expressed his readiness to adopt, that they were not now prepared to submit any substantive proposition or to enter into the discussion in committee. The hon. Member proposed to go into committee to consider the laws regulating the importation of foreign corn with a view to allow the manufacture of the same in bond for exportation, having no proposition to submit to the committee. In his view of the matter, it would be much more wise, and certainly a much more regular and usual mode of proceeding, to postpone the committee until they were ready to make a definite proposition to that effect. Instead, therefore, of going at once into committee, and postponing the proposition, he should move that the debate be adjourned till that day three weeks.

The House divided on the question that the debate be adjourned:—Ayes 39; Noes 28: Majority 11.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Admiral Estcourt, Thos.
Alsager, Captain Gordon, hon. W
Arbuthnot, hon. H. Harcourt, G. S.
Balfour, T. Hinde, J. H.
Baring, Francis, Hogg, J W
Brodie, William B. Howard, P. H.
Campbell, Sir J. Howick, Lord
Chandos, Marq. of Knatchbull, Sir E.
Copeland, W. T. Lawson, Andrew
Dalmeny, Lord Lennard, Thomas B.
Dick, Q. Lennox, Lord G.
Dillwyn, L. W. Macleod, R.
Elley, Sir J. Murray, J. A.
Palmer, George Thomson, C. P.
Polhill, Frederick Trevor, hon. G.
Richards, J. Vere, Sir C. B.
Rickford, W. Vivian, J. E.
Rolfe, Sir R. Weyland, Major
Rushbrooke, Col. TELLERS.
Russell, Lord J. Pease, J.
Stanley, Edward Troubridge, Sir T.
List of the NOES.
Barclay, David Pattison, J.
Baring, T. Pechell, Capt.
Blake, M. J. Philips, Mark
Brotherton, J. Read, Sir John Rae
Chalmers, P. Ruthven, E.
Chapman, A. Smith B.
Clay, W. Tancred, H. W.
Codrington, Sir E. Thompson, Colonel
Elphinstone, H. Tulk, C. A.
Fazakerley, J. N. Vivian, J. H.
Forster, Charles S. Whalley, Sir S.
Guest, J. J. Young, G. F.
Hawes, B.
Jephson, C. D. O. Robinson, G. R.
Leader, J. T. Warburton, H.

Debate adjourned.