HC Deb 14 March 1845 vol 78 cc933-8
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was understood to intimate, in postponing the Order of the Day for the House to go into a Committee, that the Customs' Acts Bill would be taken the first thing on Monday.

Mr. Thornely

objected to any delay in considering the repeal of the cotton duties. There was an enormous quantity of cotton in bond; and he understood that the Resolution for the abolition of the import duties would not come on till Wednesday.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that any delays which might occur were not his fault. He had no objection to go on with the Customs' Duties Bill that night. He intended to take the articles of Customs in the order in which they stood, and to make as much expedition as possible.

Mr. Miles

wished to know whether he was to understand that the Customs' Duties Bill would not come on till Monday. He was most anxious that the subject should be brought forward with as little delay as possible. He found that all kinds of aspersions and taunts had been flung upon him and the Gentlemen with whom he acted. They had been accused of enacting a sham fight. At any rate, he wished to show that there might be one or two of them who really wanted a fair stand-up fight.

Mr. Hume

wished to know what the fight was all about.

Mr. Ferrand

I will tell the hon. Member for Montrose what it is all about. A few nights ago the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary stated that the agricultural labourers were in a state of poverty and distress, which could no longer be neglected. My hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire means to call the attention of the House, not only to the poverty of the agricultural labourer, but to that of the tenant-farmer. And I tell the House and the Government that hundreds of farmers have become insolvent from the effects of the measures introduced by the one, and sanctioned by the other. ["Oh, oh."] Yes, there is no denying. If you can deny it, why not meet the charge of the hon. Members opposite, and repel it? You were told last night that the agricultural distress was frightful. I believe that such is the case; but the reason why I did not vote for the Motion last night brought forward, was, that I believe that any measures which Gentlemen opposite are desirous of introducing, are intended not so much for the protection of the farmer as the destruction of the landlord. I call on my hon. Friend to stand firm on the ground which he now occupies, and not to allow any Minister at a future time to charge him with coming whining into that House. Let my hon. Friend show a bold front, and he will not only deserve, but obtain, the approbation of the agricultural interest. Ministers have forfeited the confidence of the agriculturist. [Laughter from the Opposition.] Yes! they obtained power by making the agriculturists believe they were their best friends; and ever since they came into power they have betrayed their interests — they have betrayed the party that sits behind them. And my firm conviction is, that if there were a dissolution to-morrow, instead of having a majority of ninety, they would be left in a minority of twice ninety.

Mr. Borthwick

My hon. Friend the Member for Knaresborough rose to answer the question of the hon. Member for Montrose, and did so in a manner which the hon. Member did not expect. My hon. Friend answered the question when he spoke of another dissolution. In 1842, when the right hon. Baronet brought forward his Corn Bill, so humble an individual as myself was the only person who opposed him. By whom was I opposed? Why, by the very men who now cry out for agricultural protection—by those who now come forward and tell the country and farmers to look to them for protection. Now, in the present state of things, I shall not certainly attempt to purchase popularity by voting against the Government. We are a day behind the fair. What is the proposal of my hon. Friend Mr. Miles? You might as well say that two and two make four, as that "in any remission of taxation, due regard should be paid to the agricultural interest." Why, the hon. Member for Stockport may affirm that proposition! So may the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury. What, then, does my hon. Friend mean? Has his Motion any practical purpose whatever? Nobody will accuse me of being a "whiner" to any Government; but I must ask my hon. Friend for something definite in what he submits. Let me look at the Ministerial part of the House. There are some who sit there who possess my profound sympathy. Some eloquent speakers of that section maintain that free trade is a Tory doctrine. The same eloquent lips have taunted the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government with not being a Tory. According to him, the Member for Stockport is a high Tory. How is it that such a Motion as my hon. Friend's seems to have attracted the support of those who sit on that part of the House? I suppose it is because they are "the farmers' friends." Alas for the poor farmers! they are befriended on all sides. The Member for Stockport is their "friend"—the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government is their "friend;" but cruelly are the farmers suffering from the proceedings of their "friends." But of all the sufferings which they endure—of all the mockeries they could be exposed to—the most bitter is that which would be conveyed by a Resolution of the House of Commons, in the terms proposed by my hon. Friend.

Lord J. Russell

As the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Miles) has given notice of a Motion, which I am rather inclined to think, with the hon. Member for Stockport, will be a sham one, I wish to ask whether there is any measure which he wishes to propose? There is a vote about to be taken on cotton wool, which will remit 700,000l., and other duties are to be taken off, which will raise the amount to be given up to about a million, Now, will the hon. Gentleman propose other measures and other remissions of duties than those proposed by the right hon. Gentleman? For it is really necessary to know what are those measures before we come to the discussion of them. I must own, if we are to have the Property Tax, that I am satisfied with the remission of duties proposed by the Government; but if the hon. Gentleman can show me, in the first place, that he is really in earnest, and in the second place, that he has something to propose better than the proposition of the Government, he shall have my vote. I think, however, we should have a timely notice of what the proposition would be, and what the taxes are which it is proposed to remit. Before I sit down, I wish to recur to a statement of the right hon. Gentleman, to which I am not prepared to give my assent. I understood him to say, that he should propose such Votes of Supply before Easter as would enable him to pass the Mutiny Bill. That cannot be done without taking Votes as to the Navy and Army, which must lead to considerable discussion; in fact, raise the question of the defence of the country by sea and land. We shall have sufficient time for such a discussion when the House meets after Easter. I shall be very glad if the duty on cotton wool could be remitted, but I don't think the Government fairly chargeable with the delay.

Sir R. Peel

would not ask for any Votes but those which were necessary for the Public Service. Some of the Votes were necessary for the Public Service to be passed—as the Votes for the Half-pay. It would be very inconvenient for the Public Service if these Votes were not passed. He only wanted such Votes for the men as would enable him to pass the Mutiny Bill. He thought some arrangement could be made to take these Votes, and have the discussion afterwards. With respect to the Motion of which his hon. Friend (Mr. Miles) had given notice, he begged to say, that he did not mean to put the same construction on it as the hon. Member (Mr. Borthwick) who sat behind him. The Motion might be considered as conveying a truism in which he could concur, and in which any persons might concur who thought that "due regard should be paid to the necessities of the agricultural interest." The construction to be put on a Vote of that kind depended on the position of public affairs. It would be impossible for the House to affirm that Resolution without implying an opinion that the measures of Her Majesty's Government ought not to be carried into effect. Although the Motion might be abstractedly true, the inference to be drawn from acceding to it would be, that there ought to be some remission of taxation immediately bearing on the agricultural interest. If they voted that Resolution without following it up by measures of that nature, it appeared to him that it would be practising a delusion on the agricultural interest. Now, he must say that the Government meant to adhere to the measures which they had proposed: they meant to remit the duties on cotton wool, and on glass, and those Customs duties which had been specified. It was, therefore, totally impossible for him, whether that Resolution were abstractedly true or not, to affirm it.

Mr. Miles

said, if the noble Lord (Russell) would look at the Resolution, he would find that it clearly stated—"That in the application of surplus revenue towards relieving the burdens of the country, due regard should be had to the necessity of affording relief to the agricultural interest." It was not his intention at all to interfere with the remission of certain taxes; but it was his duty, as he conceived, to lay before the House, previously to its agreeing to any further reduction of taxes, the state of the agricultural interest. He conceived it to be likewise his duty to point out to the Government, that though it was impossible for them directly to remit taxes, yet there were indirect means by which they could relieve the agricultural interest from a taxation which peculiarly pressed upon it—he alluded particularly to the county rates. He should ask the House to consent to remit this rate; and that remission would amount to about 400,000l.

Mr. Bright

wished to ask whether there was any objection to allow the cotton duty to be repealed at once, and to take it out of the list where it now stood? It was placed unfairly with the "w's," although it began with a "c." There would be no difficulty in coming to a decision upon it, as they were all agreed about the remission of the duty; and, considering that there was at this moment an enormous amount of cotton bound up in consequence of the non-repeal of the duty, and that the quantity in the market was limited, and no regularity in the trade, he hoped the duty would be at once taken off. He had letters from Lancashire, making serious complaints on the subject. It seemed to him to be one of those simple things which an omnipotent Government could do in five minutes. It would cause great satisfaction if the Government would allow it to be done on Monday night.

Sir R. Peel

We have never been able to get into Committee.

Mr. Bright

I will move that the House do go into Committee now, if the right hon. Baronet chooses.

Sir R. Peel

The House would surely not go into Committee at that hour. He would much rather take the article in the order in which it was placed. It was no mistake of his that it was put among the "w's."

Order of the Day for a Committee on the Customs' Acts postponed till Monday.