§ On the duty on potatoes being proposed,
§ Mr. S. Wortley
said, it had been asserted, that potatoes from Holland and the coast of France would be introduced in such quantities at a low rate of duty as entirely to supplant the home cultivated vegetable. For his own part, he believed the statements on this point were highly exaggerated, but, as he understood her Majesty's advisers had made some inquiry into the subject, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would state the result of the investigation.
§ Mr. G. Palmer
declared his belief, that the apprehensions entertained on this point were well founded. This was a matter of great agricultural importance, and involved the principle of our dependence on or independence of foreign nations for a supply of the means of sustenance. The point, too, was one of great consequence as regarded the cultivation. Hon. Gentleman had scarcely any conception of the amount of labour expended on this article, the cultivation of one acre of which gave treble the employment given by the cultivation of one acre of wheat, whilst the produce was also fourfold as great. He very much regretted the course the Government were taking on this and similar subjects. They had better beware in time, and check their course ere they went too far. He already saw that the free-trade current was setting so strong, that if Providence did not remove the mist from their eyes they would soon be cast on rocks, off which neither sail nor oar could get them. He would venture in this case, to ask that the protecting duty should he 1s. per cwt. instead of 2d., and would move an amendment to that effect.
§ Mr. Gladstone
said, the reduction proposed to be made on the duty on this 754 article was considerable, but he would venture to say, that there was no one article in the tariff on which a reduction could be more properly effected. With regard to the apprehensions prevailing on the subject, he did not believe for his own part, that the reduction of duty would at all operate to reduce the prices in times of ordinary home supply. The bulk of the article and the cost of its conveyance were effectual impediments to importation when ordinary prices prevailed, and rendered the amount of duty to be imposed almost immaterial. The objects, however, which were sought to be accomplished by a reduction of the duty were somewhat important. The first was to enable the poor consumer to obtain a supply of the article when the home production fell short, and the price suddenly and materially increased; the second was to secure the introduction of a class of very cheap potatoes, used in the starch and the other manufactures, of which class our produce was, in fact, very inconsiderable. He believed it to be capable of demonstration that a greater protection was afforded to an acre of potatoes than was afforded to an acre of wheat.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that according to the explanation given by the Government, it would appear that no reduction would take place in the price of potatoes. He was of a contrary opinion, and he thought this was the best proposition in the whole of the tariff. He had no notion of soothing the monster-monopoly, and he did not hesitate to say, that the reduction likely to be produced in the price of potatoes must ultimately affect the price of bread. It was an awful change from the cry of "No surrender," followed by the Kentish fire, to find the present Government admitting, to a certain extent, the principles of free-trade.
§ Mr. Ainsworth
congratulated the hon. Gentlemen opposite upon the tariff as a whole, and this part of it in particular; he was sure it would be of the greatest service to the public, and he hoped it would be carried.
§ Mr. S. Wortley
said, that hon. Member for Finsbury had misunderstood what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman did not say that there would be no importation of potatoes; what he said was, that there would be no such great importation as 755 would at all injure the property of the potato-growers of England.
§ Mr. Escott
denied, that the farmers of this country were desirous of keeping up the price of potatoes. No good farmer wished to grow more potatoes than he could use in his own establishment; and though the hon. Member for Essex had come there to illuminate the Treasury benches, he could tell him that there were farmers who could very considerably illuminate him upon the subject.
Mr. Beckett Denison
said, though he and his Colleague represented, perhaps, a larger portion of potato-growing country than any two Members of that House, he could not feel justified in voting for the hon. Member for Essex. He considered that the proposition was one which would tend to alleviate the burdens of the working classes, and he should, therefore, vote with her Majesty's Government.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ Proposed duty agreed to.