HC Deb 20 July 1842 vol 65 cc344-54
Mr. Gladstone

rose to move the second reading of the Bonded Corn (No. 2) Bill. He felt confident that this bill would meet with almost unanimous concurrence. Before he made any observations on its provisions, he must say a few words to explain how it came into his hands, and to render an act of justice to an hon. Gentleman who sat opposite. During the present Session, the hon. Member for Gateshead had introduced a bill similar to the present, which bill was referred to a select committee, containing many of the staunchest friends of the agricultural interest. Among the rest, the Members for Berks and Somerset, and the noble Lord, the Member for Lincoln, and his Colleague. It was in consequence of the report of that committee that the present bill was introduced. The proceedings of that committee were conducted with the greatest harmony and satisfaction; and at a very full meeting of that committee it adopted the report on which the present bill was founded. He (Mr. Gladstone) could not claim the credit of having suggested this measure; on the contrary, he had to regret, that four or five years since, he had voted against one of similar import, although that bill proposed the grinding of corn under the lock of the Crown. However, when it became his official duty to examine into the merits of the question, he soon convinced himself that the measure was perfectly safe as regarded the producing interest of this country, while on the other hand, it promised great benefit to our commerce, and augmentation to certain branches of trade. The reason why the bill now appeared under his (Mr. Gladstone's) auspices was, that it bore somewhat on the safety of the revenue, and it had therefore been considered desirable to consult the officers of customs previous to its introduction in the House; but as far as there was any credit attached to the measure, and he considered it deserving of great credit, it belonged to the hon. Member for Gateshead, who had suggested it to the House, and with excellent judgment had conducted it to its present stage; and he trusted that the hon. Member would be able to congratulate himself on its beneficial results. The bill proposed that parties should be empowered to take foreign wheat out of bond on the proviso that they substituted a calculated equivalent either in fine flour fit for exportation or in biscuit of one of the three classes used in merchant vessels. He trusted that it would thus open to our millers and biscuit-bakers a considerable trade from which they were now excluded, by enabling them to export bread and flour to various parts of the globe. There was now a considerable export of flour from other countries to Newfoundland, to Australia, to Brazil, and sometimes even to the United States; and he did not see any reason why a considerable share of that trade might not fall into the hands of the merchants and manufacturers of this country. Another point to which he wished to draw the attention of the House was, the permission contained in the bill for the manufacture of ship biscuits. The House had already almost unanimously recognised the pressing necessity that existed for lightening the burdens that pressed upon our shipping interests, and with this view a provision had been introduced into the Customs' Act for the import of salt provisions. But it was said, when that provision was under consideration, that a similar advantage should be given with respect to the other main article of ships' provision, and the measure now before the House would effect that object. Trade would be otherwise benefitted by it, as the demand for foreign corn would be considerable, and independent of the fluctuations of seasons in this country. Another advantage likely to accrue from it would be a tendency to increase the supply of corn in bond, an object so intimately affecting the sustenance of the people in seasons of scarcity that it could not be too much encouraged by the Legislature. The main objection to the bill, and one in which he had himself concurred until more strict examination had made him better acquainted with the facts, was, that the permission given would open a door for frauds on the revenue. He thought that that objection was not tenable. But it should be recollected that this country was not the first to try the experiment. Belgium and France had at this moment a similar plan in operation, and, in France particularly, a large trade was carried on without causing any dissatisfaction. It was now twelve or fourteen years since the trade had been first permitted in France, and [now an annual amount of 250,000 cwt. of flour was manufactured for shipping and for export to other countries. He believed that the privilege was confined to certain ports, but if France, with her limited commerce, derived advantages from such a law, it was fairly to be inferred that a very great advantage must accrue to this country. With regard to fraud, the question was not whether some trifling fraud might not be effected under the bill; the question was, whether it was likely to be committed on so large a scale, and to be of frequent occurrence, so as to form a sufficient objection to a measure of this kind. In the first place, he believed that the persons likely to engage in this trade would not look to so disgraceful a mode of obtaining profit as fraud, but even if they did, any amount of fraud they could effect would have no serious influence on the agriculturist interest or the market* of the country. Two experienced officers in the Customs had been examined by the select committee, and had given it as their opinion, that inferior flour could not be substituted for corn taken out of bond without suspicion on the part of the Customs' officer, although he might not be able to decide to a nicety the exact amount or mode of adulteration. But, even supposing the trade to reach the amount of 100,000 qrs. of corn annually, the introduction even of that whole amount, which was not more than the two-hundredth part of the annual consumption of this country, into our markets could hare no sensible effect on the immense consumption of this country. He did not mean to justify fraud, and he believed that sufficient means would be provided by this bill for its prevention; what he meant to convey was, that even if it did take place, it could have no sensible effect on our producing interests. There were two or three modifications which he proposed to introduce into this bill. First, he proposed to limit its operation to three years, in order that Parliament might have an early opportunity for re-examination, while at the same time sufficient room would he given for fairly ascertaining its effect; Secondly, he proposed that the flour made under the bill should be admitted for home consumption under the same duty as foreign flour, although, at the same time, he did not think it likely that much would be taken out in that way, as flour for exportation was generally manufactured in a way which, while making it less liable to decay, rendered it unsuitable to the home market. Thirdly, he proposed somewhat to mitigate the penalties in the bill. At present it provided a penalty of 5/. a quarter on corn which should* be taken out of bond by the substitution of adulterated flour or inferior biscuit; but be thought that this might cause hardship in eases where the fraud had been caused by miscalculation or mistake in selecting the article, and not fraudulent intention. He proposed, therefore) to introduce words into the bill somewhat to mitigate the penalties in such cases. He trusted that, with these alterations, the bill would be likely to assist in the revival of trade, and to add to the comfort of the people. The right hon. Member concluded by moving that the bill be now read a second time.

Colonel Rushbrooke

gave the right hon. Gentleman credit for the best intentions but entertained serious doubts as to what would be the effect of the measure upon the agricultural interest. The hon. and gallant Member read some extracts from the evidence given before the committee with the view of showing that no precautions which could be taken would afford security against fraud, and concluded by moving that the bill be read a second time that day three months.

Mr. Trotter

said that a bill, almost precisely the same as the present, had been introduced in 1837, by Mr. Robinson, then Member for Worcester, and had been opposed by the then President of the Board of Trade, on the ground that it would be conducive to fraud. The two predecessors in office of the noble Lord who now held that appointment, had opposed the measure on the same ground, and all the right hon. Gentlemen now below him had on former occasions voted against a similar bill. For his own part, he considered that none of the objections that had formerly existed to such a measure had since been removed. He did not oppose it himself as an agricultural question, that point he would throw aside altogether; his opposition was grounded on general principles, and on his belief that frauds to a large extent must be the consequence. He most cordially seconded the amendment.

Mr. G. Palmer

felt it to be his bounden duty to support the amendment, although no one had more strenuously endeavoured to bring that party into power, which now had introduced, he regretted to say this, amongst other measures, highly injurious, if not absolutely ruinous, to the agriculturists of this country, He referred to returns already made before the House, to show that the effect of the measures of free-trade already adopted since Mr. Huskisson's time had been to depress agriculture, until the burden of the Poor-rates had become intolerable, and also to embarrass our commerce) and turn the exchanges against this country, The plan seemed to have been borrowed from a somewhat similar project relative to foreign sugars released from bond, for the purpose of refining, and being exported to foreign countries; but the author of that project, Mr. Huskisson, found that the law could be evaded, and the bonded sugar, by means of fabricated certificates, sold by the dealers in this market. He believed the plan to have been in this instance adopted without due examination, and he trusted it was not yet too late to persuade the right hon. Baronet to retrace his steps and to abandon the bill. He assured the right hon. Baronet, that according to the present system of transacting business in the custom houses of this country nothing could be more easy than to bring cargoes of foreign biscuit into this country, and to re-export them immediately, for the mere purpose of obtaining certificates of export of so much foreign corn, which certificates would entitle those parties so exporting the foreign made buscuit to release as much foreign corn from bond as was equal to the manufactured article supposed to be composed of foreign lour released from bond in our warehouses. In this manner, the bonded grain would constantly be taken fraudulently out of the warehouses, and enter into the consumption at home, to the prejudice of our own growers, and in direct contradiction to the spirit of the existing law relative to the import of foreign grain. This process must also hare the effect of influencing the returns upon which the Corn-law averages were struck; and when large portions of foreign corn were thus spuriously withdrawn from bond, the average must be very seriously depressed, to the great embarrassment and confusion of the corn market generally.

Mr. Hutt

expressed his surprise that his hon. Friend having stated that for many years, he had been connected with the commercial and shipping interests of the country should come forward to oppose the measure. Those interests, differing as they did on other questions, were almost to a man unanimous upon this, and they acknowledged the benefit which they would gain by being allowed to purchase flour and biscuit in this country at continental prices. He would not advert to the distress of the country, nor would he excite their feelings by describing the sufferings which were endured by the people; but he was prepared to contend, that at any time, and under any circumstances, the Legislature was bound to provide, as far as possible, employment for the working classes. This measure would throw open fresh channels of industry, and would afford to the labouring population of England an advantage which had already been granted by every continental government to their people. The ships of this country— especially these that were engaged in the fishing trade-were, under the present state of things, compelled to be sent to the ports of the north of Europe to take in their supply of flour and biscuit, if they wished to obtain them at a reasonable price. The difference in the price of previsions obtained in England and those taken elsewhere had caused the reduction of the number of the fishing ships which entered into the English ports. He had not heard, and he could not conceive, any reasonable or sound objection to this measure. The alarm felt by the agriculturists was altogether unfounded. The existing prohibition injured the shipping interests, the commercial interests, and the labouring classes, and it did good to no one. He thanked the Government for producing so beneficial and so useful a measure.

Mr. Gill

merely rose to express his dissent to the proposition laid down by the hon. Member for Essex that this measure would lead to the fraudulent introduction of foreign flour. He felt confident that no such effect would be produced by it, and he should give it his hearty support.

Viscount Palmerston

had listened with great attention to the objections which had been urged against the bill, and they appeared to him to have been answered by anticipation in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, whose explanation with regard to fraud was perfectly satisfactory. With regard to the objection that had been urged, namely, that the measure would give to the commercial marine good biscuits at a cheap rate, that appeared to be, instead of a sound objection, a very strong recommendation. There was one argument which, more than any other, recommended it to his support, The right hon. Gentleman had said that the bill would open new sources of commerce to this country, which would be not temporary or uncertain, but permanent and secure. He hailed that principle most cordially as coming from the particular quarter from whence it had proceeded, and only lamented that it had not been permitted to take a wider range, than the present bill afforded. But as that principle had been laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, be hoped soon to see it more extensively acknowledged.

Mr. Darby

[cries of " Divide"] would not obtrude himself against the sense of the House, and would not make a speech; but this he would say, that it was meet unfair in the noble Lord to enter into the general question, when the House was not disposed to allow a debate.

Mr. Roebuck

wished to speak to the measure ["No, no! "]—aye, and be was going into the general question, too. It had been proposed by the Government, after a long discussion of the Corn-law, that there should be some minute relaxation in a part of the system. But the agricultural gentlemen had put forward a document in opposition to the right hon. Gentleman, and in their care for their interest they had put forward that which was not true, for the purpose of serving their own private interests in their peculiar position as landlords. Much had been said about fraud. What was the meaning of the word fraud? It meant that, by the provisions of the bill, means were given to introduce corn to the starving people. The fraud was a fraud upon their own improper law—nothing else. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, and the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, were bound to do what they were doing, and they would if they dared, relax the stringency of the Corn-laws: but knowing that to be at present impossible, they had put forth this little bill as a feeler. Every person who had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman must have felt that every position he took up was a backhanded blow at his own Corn-law. Let them not be misled. The right hon. Gentleman had proposed his measure, and a sham fight had been got up upon it, disgraceful to the party from which it had emanated, public justice had forced the Government to undertake this bill, which was an answer to every measure the Government had brought forward for the last six months. [" Divide."] He was not to be put down. He knew the corner well from which that noise proceeded. He knew the meaning of those clamours for a division. Hon. Members wanted their dinners, But was that the manner in which the business of the country was to be conducted? He appealed to hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House: they, as the opposition, had a duty to perform, and were not to be frightened out of it by the attacks of popinjays. If gentlemen wanted their dinners, let them go. Cheap food for the people was the first proposition embodied in the bill, and all the arguments about opening fresh channels for trade were but round about enunciations of the doctrines of free-trade. The right hon. Baronet, if the phalanx behind him would have permitted, would have said, " exchange the manufactures of England against the corn of the world, and we shall have a trade grow up, which will not be for a year, or for two years, or for three years, but be a permanent acquisition to the manufacturing interest of the country." That was, in fact, the language which the right hon. Baronet had used in support of this bill, which was in itself so peculiarly and pitifully paltry that he would not say another word upon it. In one respect, undoubtedly, it might be regarded as of some importance, as exhibiting the weakness and paltriness of the party, which in spite of its own clear sightedness, was driven to pursue the wrong, although it saw the right, and approved it. He never, in the whole course of his life, had heard a speech so peculiarly calculated to show all the advantages of a free-trade in corn as that which he had that evening heard from the right hon" Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone). And what ground had the opposition taken to it. The object of the bill was to declare that under certain circumstances warehoused wheat should be delivered duty-free upon substituting an equal quantity of wheat flour or biscuit. That was the proposition contained in the bill. It was no sooner offered to the House than up rose a couple of the representatives of the agricultural interest to oppose it. Let the House mark that this was not the opposition of the farmer, but the opposition of the landlord—the opposition of the landlord, who wanted dear corn at the time the people were starving. That was the meaning of the opposition. He took the hon. Member for Essex as the representative in this instance of the landed proprietors. The hon. Member for Essex was afraid that, whilst the people were starving, by some legerdemain, which he could not explain, corn, under the provisions of this bill, would come into the market and be sold rather cheaper than the landed gentlemen wished. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade say to that assertion? "Why really," said he, ' the quantity of corn admitted under the provisions of this Bill will be so small, so minute, compared with the whole consumption of wheat in this country, that it is absolutely ridiculous to consider it as having any influence upon prices?" "Oh," replied the sturdy landlord, " I don't believe it—it may lower the price of my corn a penny, or a farthing, or a half a farthing, or a quarter of a farthing; and therefore I adhere to my opposition, and will divide against the bill." If such a course had been pursued by any Member on that (the Opposition) side of the House, it would have been called a factious opposition; but because it came from those who, from prescription, were permitted to legislate as they liked, namely, from the representatives of the land, it was considered all right, and quite proper; and a clamorous cry was raised, because they were not allowed to go at once to the favourite diversion of a division and their dinners. That was the real state of the question; and it was right that the country should know and understand it.

Sir Thomas D. Acland

I have simply one remark to make in reply to what we have just heard from the hon. and learned Member for Bath. He says that we wish to sacrifice the interests of the country, and that the only object we have in view is to raise the rents of our lands. I beg to state that that is not, never was, and I believe never will be the true motive of any English country gentleman; and if the hon. and learned Gentleman would devote one moment to a dispassionate consideration of the subject, instead of indulging the desire of making an inopportune speech, I am satisfied he would not remain of the opinion to which he has given utterance.

Mr. Hume

said, that every act of the landed gentry was calculated to keep up the price of corn, to maintain monopoly; and whatever might be their wishes and intentions, the result of their conduct was such as to justify the statement of his hon. and learned Friend. He was glad that his hon. and learned Friend had put the matter on the ground which he had taken. Now, that hon. Gentleman opposite understood from his hon, and learned Friend, the Member for Bath, the grounds on which they on the Opposition side supported this measure, he hoped these Members would agree to it. He should himself vote for it, believing it, as far as it went, to be a salutary measure.

Colonel Sibthorp

would not waste the valuable time of the House by replying to the hon. and learned Member for Bath, whose speech was contemptible, and not worthy of notice. The fact was, that the grapes were sour. If the hon. and learned Member for Bath and the hon. Member for Montrose could get a few of the acres possessed by those whose conduct they so grossly misrepresented, he believed that the treatment of the tenant and of the labourer would be very different from what it now was. He would take no further no- tice of the hon. and learned Member's trash.

The House divided on the question, that the word "now" stand part of the question:— Ayes 116; Noes 29: Majority 85.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Hatton, Capt. V.
Aglionby, H, A. Hawes, B.
Aldam, W. Hope, hon. C
Baillie, Col. Hume, J.
Baird, W Humphery, Ald.
Baldwin, B. Jermyn, Earl
Baring, hon. W. B. Knatchbull, rt. hn. SirE
Barnard, E. G. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Bentinck, Lord G Lincoln, Earl of
Bernal, R. Litton, E.
Blackburne, J. I, Lockhart, W.
Boldero, H. G. Lowther, hon. Col.
Borthwick, P Macnamara, Major
Bowes, J Mainwaring, T.
Bow ring, Dr. Masterman, J.
Brocklehurst, J Mitchell, T. A.
Brotherton, J. Morison, General
Buller, E. Napier, Sir C.
Busfeild, W. Neville, R.
Campbell, A. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Chelsea, Visct. Northland, Visct.
Chute, W. L. W, O'Connell, M. J.
Clay, Sir W. Paget, Col.
Clerk, Sir G. Palmerston, Visct.
Give, E. B Parker, J.
Cobden, R. Patten, J. W.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Pechell, Capt.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Philips, M.
Courtenay, Lord Plumridge, Capt.
Cowper, hon. W. F Ponsonby, hon. J. G.
Crawford, W S. Pringle, A.
Denison, E. B. Pusey, P.
Douglas, Sir H. Rashleigh, W.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Repton, G. W. J.
Duncan G. Roebuck, J. A.
Ebrington, Visct. Rose, rt. hn. Sir G.
Egerton, W, T. Rundle, J.
Eliot, Lord Sandon, Visct.
Escott, B. Somerset, Lord G.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Stewart, J.
Fielden, J. Strutt, E.
Fitzroy, Capt Sutton, hon. H, M.
Flower, Sir J. Thornely, T.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Tollemache, J.
Gibson, T. M. Trench, Sir F. W.
Gill, T. Tufnell, H.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W.E. Vane, Lord H.
Gladstone, T. Villiers, hon. C.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Ward, H. G,
Gore, M. Wawn, J. T.
Goulburn, rt. hon H. Williams, W,
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Wood, B.
Greene, T. Wood, Col. T.
Grogan, E. Wood, G. W.
Guest, Sir J. Wrightson, W. B.
Hall, Sir B. Yorke, H. R,
Hamilton, W.J.
Harcourt, G. G. TELLERS.
Hardy, J. Femantle, Sir T.
Harris, J. Q Hutt, W.
List of the NOES.
Alllix, J. P. Hughes, W. B.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Arkwright, G. Mackenzie, T.
Baskerville, T. B. M. Mackenzie, W. F.
Broadley, H. Packe, C. W.
Buck, L. W. Palmer, G.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Plumptre, J. P.
Chetwode, Sir J. Richards, R.
Codrington, C. W. Sibthorp, Col.
Darby, G. Smith, A.
Eaton, R. J. Smyth, Sir H.
Farnham, E. B. Thornhill, G.
Forbes, W. Trollope, Sir J.
Fuller, A. E. TELLERS.
Halford, H. Trotter, J.
Henley, J. W. Rushbrooke, Col.

Bill read a second time.