HC Deb 20 September 1841 vol 59 cc624-7
Mr. Harcourt

rose to request from his noble Friend opposite, the Member for Tiverton, an explanation on the subject of a paper which had been some time since presented to that House, and which contained a communication from our consul at St. Petersburgh on the subject of the quantity of grain produced in a province of the Russian dominions. A portion of that paper had been quoted in the debate on the address by his right hon. Friend who was now at the head of the Government. Sir Edward Baynes, in that paper, said, "In order to give an idea of what this country can produce when the harvests are particularly good, I have been assured by one of the principal corn merchants of Ribinsk (one of the greatest grain marts on the Volga), that in 1835 the government of Tamboff alone produced 38,000,000 quarters of grain." In a statement subjoined the cost at first hand at St. Petersburgh was stated to be for wheat from 13s. 6d. to 14s. per imperial quarter. Now, this information appeared to him so extraordinary, not to say incredible, that had it not been communicated to the Government twelve months ago, and had he not presumed, from the attention that had been afforded to the subject, that probably some further inquiry had been made as to the truth of the statement, he would not have given much attention to the matter. But either this information was true, or it was not. If it was true, then, as it came out with the sanction of the authorities, it must necessarily have a very great effect on the opin ions of the agricultural body in the impending discussions on the Corn-laws. For although the mere fact of the province of Tamboff having produced 38,000,000 quarters was in itself unimportant, yet when it was borne in mind that the population of the province did not amount to 1,500,000, it was quite clear that upon a yearly product of 38,000,000 quarters there would be an unconsumed surplus of 30,000,000. This was, of course, for many reasons, utterly incredible; but still, as a county Member, and one who felt no indisposition that his constituents should fully enter into the question of the Corn-laws whenever it was brought under consideration, with a view to see whether they might not be modified with some advantage to the consumer, without loss to the producer, and at the same time to the increase of the revenue, he was very unwilling indeed that unfounded impressions should go abroad as to the enormous quantity of corn which in good years could be poured into this country from others. But Tamboff was an inconsiderable province of Russia, and if the rest of that country were to produce corn at the same rate at which Tamboff was supposed to produce it, no Corn-laws would suffice to protect the corn trade of this country. Because it appeared that the first cost at St. Petersburgh was 14s., the charge of placing it on board was 3s. 2d. a quarter, and the charge for freight was only 5s. per quarter. Thus the whole expense of bringing the quarter of corn into the river here would be, according to this calculation, only 22s. 1d. So that the 8s. duty proposed by the late Government would, under such circumstances, be no protection whatever to the home grower when the average for the year was 40s. The calculations made by Mr. West of the whole produce of the united kingdom in 1814 and 1815 did not give a larger amount than did this calculation of the province of Tamboff; yet Tamboff was not half the territorial extent of England, containing only 24,000 square miles. If the supposed produce of Tamboff were compared with the produce of other provinces of the same empire, the error would be still more apparent. The produce of Podolia three years ago was 3,000,000 of quarters, of Volhynia less than 3,000,000. Now, it was impossible that those provinces which were notoriously fertile could have produced 3,000,000 of quarters annually, and that of Tamboff have produced 38,000,000. There was also an error in these returns as to the mode of calculating the cost price at first hand of the corn at St. Petersburgh. That calculation appeared to go upon a valuation of the bank note rouble at 11d. Now, the value of the silver rouble was only 10d.; and in reducing the price in rubles into English currency there would seem to have been some mistake made. He had risen under these circumstances to ask his noble Friend opposite if in the course of the last year any means had been afforded by communication from St. Petersburgh of ascertaining whether the report of the consul was worthy of credit, because, if it was not worthy of credit, such a paper ought not to be circulated with the sanction of authority among the agricultural body.

Viscount Palmerston

thought that a reference to the context would at once show that the ciphers referred to by the hon. Gentleman were erroneous, and that some mistake had occurred in transcribing them. In the passage immediately preceding that referred to, Sir E. Baynes said, "supposing the cultivation to continue within its present limits, the provinces that supply St. Petersburgh could send down in the years of average crops, besides what is required for local consumption, from 175,000 to 210,000 imperial quarters of wheat;" and he further added that in, years of abundance these quantities might be tripled, or that, in fact about 600,000 imperial quarters might be produced. Now, if that were the case, it was not very likely that Tamboff, a comparatively inconsiderable province, could have produced 38,000,000 of quarters. The terretorial extent of Ireland was, as compared with Tamboff, as nineteen to twenty-three. A reference to the comparative productions of the two countries would at once dispel any alarm which might have been occasioned, and show that the statement complained of was the result of error only. But there was another ground for supposing that the error was an accidental one. The calculation referred to was for the year 1835. Now, how many quarters of wheat were exported from St. Petersburgh in that year? Two. In 1836 none at all were exported. So that it was quite evident that if the produce of Tamboff had so increased, the appetite of the population had increased in the same ratio. If his hon. Friend would inquire at the Foreign-office or at the Board of Trade. he would no doubt find that there had been an error in transcribing the paper in question. With reference to the mode of converting the price in roubles into the price in English currency, he thought there could be no doubt that the calculation had been made with reference to the actual relative value of the two coinages.

Subject at an end.

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