HC Deb 03 May 1837 vol 38 cc465-76

Mr. Robinson moved the resumption of the adjourned debate from March 21st on the motion for a Committee of the whole House to consider the expediency of admitting foreign grain to be ground for re-exportation. He said, it was not his wish that the House should divide on this motion without further discussion; and he warned Gentlemen connected with the agricultural interest, that if they negatived the present motion, their conduct would only tend to increase the opposition to the existing Corn-laws. The principle of those laws was in no degree infringed by the proposition; which, if agreed to, would permit British merchants to share in a very lucrative trade, now wholly engrossed by foreigners.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

had no objection to the proposed Committee, but till the hon. Gentleman's contemplated resolution was before them, he could not say whether it was objectionable or not. If, upon examination, he considered the plan of the hon. Gentleman practicable and likely to be beneficial, it should have his support: if, on the contrary, he found it to be liable to objections, of course he should state what his objections were.

Mr. O' Connell

had been called on by some very influential individuals in Ireland to support the motion for the Committee, and also to support any measure that might be introduced to allow of the grinding of foreign corn in this country and in Ireland. A few years ago Ireland exported corn almost exclusively—that was to say, grain without being ground. One of the most successful of the manufactures that had been establised in Ireland was the manufacture of grain of home growth, and the millers of that country now sent out flour, and supplied oatmeal, to a great extent; mill-power, too, might be increased in Ireland almost to an infinite degree. It would therefore confer a great benefit on that country to allow them to grind foreign grain, and take the miller's profit on it. He hoped that under these circumstances the House would feel the expediency of encouraging that branch of industry in Ireland.

Sir J. Tyrrell

, after remarking that he thought the hon. Member for Worcester had spoken with undue severity of the agricultural interests, proceeded to state that smuggling in malt was carried on to a great extent in Ireland. He believed that gentlemen who drank Guinness's stout were not perhaps aware of the manner in which brewers in that country got their; malt. He had it as an undoubted fact that brewers went into the market, and too often asked no questions as to whether the duty upon it was paid or not.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought the proper mode of answering all the objections thrown out upon this subject would be to go into a Committee. He was sure, that his excellent friend Mr. Guinness ought to feel extremely obliged to the hon. Member opposite for the puff he had given to his porter; but at the same time he thought it due to that gentleman to do all in his power to remove from him the imputation which the hon. Member's observations seemed to convey. Whilst he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could not deny that frauds upon the revenue were carried on to a considerable extent in Ireland, he thought he could assert that it was not on the part of establishments like that of Mr. Guinness, but by the smaller dealers in the country. In fact, Mr. Guinness was one of the deputation who waited upon him some time back on this very subject.

Sir J. Tyrrell

explained that he did not mean to cast any personal imputation against Mr. Guinness in this matter, whom he did not know from Adam.

Mr. Heathcote

was opposed to the proposition of the hon. Member for Worcester, as one very likely to increase the frauds and evasions which were already carried on against the revenue by means of the bonded system. He thought that before the hon. Member asked the House to agree to his motion, he should be a little more clear in his statement of his intentions on the subject.

Sir C. Broke Vere

thought it best to have the Corn-laws as they were. They had worked as well as any laws of the kind could be expected to work He was therefore opposed to the present motion, as the first step towards a repeal or alteration of those laws, but as he did not see any likelihood of successfully opposing it he should not go to a division. He only hoped that if the House did any thing in the matter they would use necessary caution to prevent frauds upon the revenue, or injury to the agriculturist. He hoped that foreign corn intended for manufacture for exportation would be kept under lock and key, and not allowed to be mixed up in the general stores of the exporter.

Motion agreed to. House in Committee.

Mr. Robinson

said, that he would take the course usual on all occasions like the present, and submit for the consideration of the House a general resolution, declaratory of the expediency of bringing in a Bill to carry into effect the object which he had in view. He would best consult the convenience of the Committee by reading his resolution, which was, "That it is expedient to permit the manufacture of foreign grain and flour for exportation, only, without the payment of the duty, under such provisions and regulations as may effectually secure the public revenue from fraud and the interest of British agriculturists from loss or injury." He could not be expected to enter into any explanation with respect to the nature of the provisions of a measure of this kind, or by which the fraud and evasion of which the agriculturists complained were to be prevented. When the Bill was brought in, it would be time enough to enter into these explanations, but at present all that they were called on to do was to affirm the resolution which he had read. He should wish to throw the responsibility of bringing in that Bill on the Government, but if they declined to do so then he, of course, should be bound to introduce it himself. He should now only state a few general observations in support of his resolution. The object of his proposition was, to secure to this country a valuable branch of foreign and colonial trade, which they had lost by reason of the existing laws; but while he wished these restrictions to be removed he was willing that all due protection should be afforded to the landed interest. The hon. Member, in conclusion, moved the resolution for adoption which he had previously read.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, there was one inconvenience which attended the hon. Gentleman's proposition, and which ought to convince him of the necessity of pursuing some other course. That might be regarded as a committee on trade, and before they affirmed the hon. Gentleman's resolution he thought the hon. Gentleman ought to be required to state the nature of the proposition which he meant to embody in the Bill to be founded upon it. If the resolution were to be passed what would be the consequence? Why, that they would be obliged to direct the Chairman to bring in a Bill in accordance with it. This rendered it essential that they should know what the Bill was to be before they proceeded to the discussion of the re- solution. His Conduct, therefore, with regard to the measure must depend on the nature of the Bill, and the extent to which the hon. Gentleman proposed to carry his resolutions. If his sole object was to allow corn to be ground under lock, then he (Mr. P. Thomson) could have no objection to it; but if it was his object to take corn out of bond to be ground, and have that corn exchanged for English corn, involving the whole proposition of a Bill passed in 1824, which was to be in operation for only one year—if that was the hon. Member's object then he was prepared to oppose it. He thought the more simple way was for the hon. Member to state his intentions before the Committee came to any decision on the motion before them.

Mr. Robinson

said, if the intention of the Government was to allow corn to be ground Only under lock, that was a course of proceeding which he considered so restricted, and of so little advantage to trade and commerce, that he would be no party to it. But if the Government would allow him to bring in a Bill to take a certain quantity of foreign corn out of bond for grinding on condition that an equal quantity of English flour or biscuit were exported, or if the right hon. Gentleman would bring in a Bill and allow him to move clauses in Committee in accordance with his view, he should be perfectly satisfied. He trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would either take his Bill, or introduce one of his own.

Mr. Hawes

said, that as a Bill, embracing the object which the hon. Member for Worcester had in view would have no chance of being carried, the better way would be for the Government to accede to the hon. Gentleman's proposition for bringing in a Bill themselves and allowing him to improve it in the Committee. That was the only way to proceed without losing time unnecessarily.

Sir E. Knatchbull

thought the hon. Member for Worcester had placed the House in a most extraordinary position. The hon. Gentleman called on them to affirm a resolution without saying a word about the Bill which he was desirous of introducing. This was not the way to proceed, but, having placed his resolution on the table, it would seem that the hon. Gentleman was quite indifferent as to whether the Bill should be brought in or not. Now he, (Sir E. Knatchbull) considered this motion as nothing more nor less than an indirect attack against the Corn-laws. If that were the object he would prefer that the attack should be made boldly and openly at once, and not in an indirect or covert way. He had been much misunderstood on the subject of the Corn-laws; but the fact was, that, however anxious he might be to protect the agricultural interest, he was not one of those who was prepared to support that interest against right and justice. If corn could be taken out of bond without prejudice to the farmers of this country he would not oppose it; but as he had no statement before him to guide his judgment with respect to this resolution he must confess that he was not in a condition to legislate on the subject. He thought, however, that the better course for the hon. Gentleman to take would be to withdraw his resolution, and introduce his Bill at once.

Mr. Pryme

was friendly to the agricultural interest, but still he was not anxious to continue restrictions which tended unfairly to fetter the commerce of the country.

Mr. George F. Young

was favourable to the principle of the motion. This principle had been tried in 1824 by Mr. Huskisson, when he brought forward the Grinding Act. That Bill, as an experimental Bill, had been in operation for a year, and during that time there was no single instance of fraud having occurred under it. He had recently ascertained that foreign ship biscuit was introduced by shipowners into this country on payment of 20l. per cent. and the shipowner had an advantage in the importation of foreign biscuit, as he was enabled to purchase it at a price considerably under that paid for that which was produced in this country. This was a proof how little the Corn-laws were understood. Though he was connected with a particular interest he nevertheless repudiated all idea of setting up one interest against another, and he thought the principle on which they should act was to afford the best protection they could to all the interests in the country.

Mr. W. Roche

had no objection to the proposition of the hon. Member for Worcester, provided they were afforded sufficient security against the occurrence of frauds.

Mr. Hume

regretted to see the House of Commons take up their time in discussing the question whether a few pounds of flour should be exported at a lower price than the monopolists desired. When he saw the landlords in that House anxious to keep up the price of corn to a famishing amount, and opposing themselves to a proposal such as the present, he could not help saying, that such a proceeding was derogatory to their characters. It was, he repeated, both derogatory and discreditable. He thought that the hon. Member who had brought forward this motion ought to have been prepared with some plan If he was not prepared with some plan no one else could be. It was a reproach to any class in that House that they should stand in the way of other interests for the sake of preventing the exportation of a few pounds of cheap flour. Since the last debate on this subject had taken place, he had been informed that in some of the southern ports of France, in Bordeaux and Marseilles, it was customary to import foreign corn, which was manufactured into flour and imported in large quantities into Spain with great advantage to every branch of industry. The hon. Member for Worcester ought to make up his mind with respect to some specific plan, and should be prepared to take the sense of the House upon it. He certainly would support the motion of the hon. Member. He entreated the Government to take into consideration the present state of the country, and to press upon the House the adoption of some enlarged plan to carry the object of the present motion into effect.

Mr. Wallace

maintained, that the landed interest was opposed to the general interests of the country, and regretted that the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade joined with the landed interest. He should decidedly vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Worcester.

Mr. Clay

recommended the hon. Member for Worcester to close with the proposal of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Middlesex, that it was discreditable to the advocates of the agricultural interest in that House to oppose a measure advantageous to the commercial and shipping interests of the country, not because that there was any danger that the monopoly enjoyed by the agricultural interest would be destroyed, but that they feared it would lead even remotely to the invasion of that monopoly. The agricultural interest at present possessed a most grinding monopoly, and it was not decent in the advocates of that interest to come forward to oppose a proposition like the present. If they wished to oppose the motion let them do so with argument. He had heard no argument used by the opponents of the measure, and he considered it highly discreditable that they should oppose a proposition which involved so much advantage to important interests as that now before the House.

Sir C. Broke Vere

was sorry to hear the observations that had fallen from the hon. Member who had just sat down, because he did not think that the subject Under discussion by any means called for them. The hon. Member claimed the credit of just motives for the party with whom he acted, and he ought not to refuse to others that credit which he claimed for himself. He did not think that any advantage could arise from using harsh terms or casting imputations. He did not think that such a course was at all calculated to promote that good temper and good understanding which it was desirable should pervade the debates in that House.

Sir J. Tyrrell

did not approve of that battledore and shuttlecock work of legislation, by which a Bill was tossed from a Member at one side of the House to a Member at another. The hon. Member for Worcester appeared opposed to the proposition that corn should be ground under lock. The hon. Member had stated no plan. It was desirous that the hon. Member should state one, for it might be a proposition to which he could accede. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had complained of the want of argument at that side of the House. However, the complaint came badly from the hon. Member, for there was so little argument in what he had himself said that he was inclined to consider him the representative of the heavy clays.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, there was a general resolution before the House, and if it was affirmed it would then become the duty of the hon. Member for Worcester to introduce a Bill to carry the objects of that resolution into effect. Now, he had an objection to one plan that had been suggested, and how was he to know but that the very plan to which he was opposed would be brought forward by the hon. Gentleman? He was, therefore, before concurring in this resolution, anxious to know what plan the hon. Member intended to bring for- ward. If the hon. Member would say that his proposition would not go further than simply the power to grind under lock, he was prepared to consent to that plan. It could not be expected that if the hon. Member was not prepared with a Bill the Government should take up the subject. The Government had quite enough to do. There were different Bills which he himself was anxious to bring forward, and was not able. He wished the hon. Member would state specifically what his proposition was.

Mr. Robinson

said, that, of course, if the resolution should be affirmed it would be necessary to introduce a Bill. He would much rather that the Bill should be brought in under the auspices of the President of the Board of Trade, because it would then come forward under advantages which could not be expected if the measure rested in the hands of any private individual. But if the Government would not bring forward a Bill he would. His proposition would be this, that a power should be given to take any quantity of corn out of bond, and that the party should export an equivalent quantity of flour and biscuit, under such restrictions as would afford a sufficient protection against frauds. As a commercial man he could not consent to bring forward a measure upon the plan of the President of the Board of Trade. He did not say if by a vote of the House his measure was reduced to the limits of that plan he would not accept it, but he would much rather have his own, and he would not voluntarily take the other.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

now understood the proposition of the hon. Member, and felt bound to oppose it; for his experience of a former Bill, enabled him to say, that such a Bill as the hon. Member proposed was calculated to open the door to extensive frauds. The Bill of 1824 had been in operation for only twelve months, and yet extensive frauds had been committed under it. That Bill provided that for a certain quantity of corn taken out of bond a certain quantity of flour should be exported. Now, corn varied in its quality, and it was the practice to take out the finest corn, which was capable of producing the greatest quantity of flour, which flour was brought into consumption in this country, whilst from inferior corn an inferior description of flour was produced for exportation, and which was further deteriorated by being mixed with chalk and other matters. He contended that such a Bill was calculated to lead to great and extensive frauds, which, as they could not establish an average, there would be no possibility of preventing. With respect to a change in the Corn laws his opinions were well known. He considered the Corn laws, as they existed at present, injurious to the interests of every class in the country, and would vote for their alteration. But, when he said this, he thought that any change in the Corn laws ought to be effected by a general vote of the House, and not by a side wind. He had not been able to consent to the Bill of 1824—because like the resolution now proposed to the House, it gave an opening for fraud. He really could not perceive any material difference between the two measures. The hon. Gentleman opposite had denied that any good could arise from permission being given to grind corn under lock, and from the flour thus produced being exported. He must deny that any benefit would flow from the plan now proposed. If real advantages were to spring from the plan why did not the hon. Member introduce a Bill on the subject? The hon. Member assigned as a reason for not pursuing that course that he should lose his character as a commercial man. He (Mr. P. Thomson) thought, that his character would also be in danger were he to comply with the wishes now expressed by the hon. Gentleman. He thought that, if the resolution now before the House was entertained, the revenue must be the loser, and on that account he felt himself called on to oppose it.

Mr. Estcourt

was glad that the hon. Gentleman opposite had expressed his intention of not supporting the resolution. He was however, sorry that the hon. Member who had brought the matter before the House had thought it necessary in the performance of his duty to speak so strongly against the agricultural interest. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had pursued a similar line of conduct in bringing the subject of the Corn-laws before the House, and had been checked by a sensible and temperate reproof from his hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk. That reproof had double force from the good temper with which it had been made, and might have served as a warning on the present occasion. He should certainly oppose the resolution.

Mr. Hume

was anxious that the House should perfectly understand what the right hon. the President for the Board of Trade meant by his declaration? He should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman meant by the term fraud? Would the right hon. Gentleman lay on the table the number of convictions which had taken place? What could the fraud which was so much spoken of really amount to? At the utmost to a few pounds of flour—not five per cent. on any quantity which might be ground. And still the right hon. Gentleman, professing himself a friend of free trade, brought this forward as a reason why the resolution should be opposed. He was quite ashamed of him. The House should look carefully into this question of fraud, and consider if the good to be produced would not much overbalance the evil which was so much spoken of. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to attach any value to the additional hands which must be employed, the increased quantity of shipping to be used, the capital to be laid out, and the machinery which the plan now proposed must of necessity call into existence. He (Mr. Hume) could scarcely believe had he not heard the right hon. Gentleman speak that evening that such narrow views could be entertained by any Minister in his situation.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

denied, that he did not fully estimate the advantages likely to accrue from an increased employment of ships, men, add capital. He was fully alive to their full value, and if his hon. Friend opposite would bring in a Bill on the present subject, which would give him the means of calling into activity an additional number of men and ships he would willingly support it; but he could not consent to any measure which, like the present, would only be a cloak for smuggling.

Mr. George F. Young

thought, that the light hon. the President of the Board of Trade had been rather unfortunate in one of the arguments which he had used. He said, that a better description of corn might be taken out of bond, and an inferior sort sent out of the country in its place. He also asserted that, to prevent this fraud, it was impossible to strike an average accurately, in consequence of the quality of corn varying considerably. Now, in place of an average let him take the maximum quality of flour, and make it the description to be exported, and the supporters of the measure would be content. He did not think that the sending a bad description of corn out of the country, and giving to the community here in its place a better description for their own consumption could be considered a matter of much regret. The hon. Gentleman did not seem to consider that any attempt at restriction could not render the grinding corn in bond as favourable a speculation for home consumption as when no restraint was imposed. It would not be worth while, in fact, to engage in the business at all unless for foreign consumption. Fraud, in his opinion, could have little to do with the question.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the Bill desired by the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, would only have the effect of bringing the excise officers into the private concerns of those desirous of grinding corn in bond; and who, he would ask, could act with an excise officer watching every motion? What was the meaning of fraud, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke? Nothing more than the addition of another slice of bread to a starving family. The Corn-law monopolists, however, were not willing to grant even that poor boon. They hailed with triumph the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, and thanked him to the skies for acting on their side. The present discussion would, however, more injure the Corn-law system than any speech which could be made against it.

The House divided. Ayes 43; Noes 108:—Majority 65.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H, A. Hutt, Wm.
Barclay, David Ingham, R.
Bewes, T. Lambton, Hedworth
Blake, M. J. Lister, E. C.
Brady, Denis C. Marsland, Henry
Brotherton, J. Morrison, J.
Browne, R. D. Musgrave, Sir R.
Chalmers, P. O'Brien Cornelius
Clay, W. O'Connell, D.
Codrington, Sir E. O'Connell, J.
Collier, John Ord, W. H.
Crawford, W. S. Philips, M.
Denistoun, A. Pryme, George
Ewart, W. Stewart, P. M.
Fielden, J. Strutt, E.
Fergus, John Thornley, T.
Harvey, D. W. Wakley, T.
Hastie, A. Walker, R.
Hawes, B. Wallace, R.
Hawkins, J. H. Wood, Alderman
Hindley, C. TELLERS.
Hume, J. Robinson, G. R.
Humphery, John Young, G. F.
List of the NOES.
Adam, Sir C. Arbuthnot, hon. H.
Astley, Sir J. Knightley, Sir C.
Baring, F. T. Lawson, Andrew
Barnard, Edward G. Lennard, Thomas B.
Bell, M. Lennox, Lord G.
Bish, T. Lennox, Lord A.
Blackburne, John I. Long, W.
Bonham, R. F. Longfield, R.
Bowles, G. R. Lygon, Hn. Gen.
Bramston, T. W. M'Leod, R.
Campbell, Sir J. Macnamara, Major
Campbell, W. F. Martin, J.
Cayley, E. S. Martin, T.
Chichester, A. Nagles, Sir R.
Cooper, E. Neeld, John
Coote, Sir C. C. O'Conor, Don
Copeland, W. T. O'Neill, General
Dalbiac, Sir C. Ossulston, Lord
Denison, J. Packe, C.W.
Dillwyn, L. W. Palmer, George
Donkin, Sir R. Palmerston, Visct.
Eastnor, Viscount Parker, John
Eaton, Richard J. Pease, J.
Elwes, J. Pigot, Robert
Estcourt, T. G. Pollock, Sir F.
Fergusson, R. C. Poulter, John Sayer
Ferguson, G. Power, James
Fitzroy, H. Price, S. G.
Folkes, Sir W. Pusey, P.
Forbes, Wm. Roche, D.
Forster, C. S. Rushbrooke, Col.
Fort, J. Russell, Lord John
Fremantle, Sir T. Sibthorp, Col.
Freshfield, J. W. Spry, Sir S.
Gordon, hon. W. Stewart, John
Goulburn, Sergeant Stuart, V.
Grimston, Viscount Talfourd, Sergeant
Hale, Robert B. Thomson, C. P.
Halse, James Townley, R. G.
Hammer, Henry Turner, W.
Hanmer, Sir J. Twiss, H.
Hardy, J. Tyrrell, Sir J.
Hawkes, T. Vere, Sir C. B.
Heathcote, Gilbert Vernon, Granville H.
Hector, C. J. Vesey, hon. Thomas
Hobhouse, Sir. J. C. Vivian, J. E.
Hogg, James Weir Wemyss, Capt.
Hoskins, K. West, J. B.
Houston, G. Wilson, Henry
Howard, R. Winnington, H. J.
Howard, P. H. Worsley, Lord
Hoy, James Barlow Young, Sir W.
Irton, Samuel
Jackson, Sergeant TELLERS.
Jones, Wilson Labouchere, H.
Knatchbull, Sir E. Steuart, R.