HC Deb 14 August 1846 vol 88 cc733-7

moved— That this House do resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House to consider the Laws regulating the Duty on Rye, Peas, and Beans. That law was the Corn Law, and the purpose of his Motion was to propose an Amendment in that Act, a slight one in character, and not raising, he trusted, any question of principle, such as that of freedom or protection, which had lately excited such strong differences of opinion. It was simply to correct an error or remove an inconsistency which had come to light since the passing of the Act, the continuance of which was an advantage to no interest, was an inconvenience to some, and of which the removal would only give effect to the intention of the Act. He had already stated at length, upon asking the consideration of the House to the petition which had been printed, the particulars of this error, and he would not then detain the House by repeating what he had stated on that occasion. He would simply add that the intention of the Act with respect to the duties on all foreign corn imported was contained in the 4th section of the Act; it was there stated with great distinctness that the price on all grain of this country should be collected, made up, and the averages struck and published as they had heretofore been, and that the duties upon all the different grains imported should be regulated by those prices as they had heretofore been. But though this was directed to be done by the 4th section of this Act, it was not done with respect to rye, peas, and beans—an arbitrary duty, namely, the duty on a given amount of barley, being declared to be the duty attaching to those different grains. The purpose he had in view was simply to give effect to the intention of the Act, and thereby to meet the wishes of the trade, and better promote the interests of the agriculturists. Since he had brought the matter forward before, the Lord Mayor had thought it right in his official capacity, and as a great merchant himself, to ascertain if what he had stated to be an error in the Act was so regarded by the persons engaged in the trade; and no less than ninety of the most respectable firms engaged in the corn trade had signed a memorial to the Lord Mayor, stating that they viewed it as an error, and that they should be greatly relieved by its being amended. He believed he had also ascertained what it was that had been intended by the framers of the Act by making the duty on barley regulate the duty on beans, which was, that observing in the old Act that the scale for barley had been nearly the same as the scale for beans, they had wished to make it the same under the new Act, but had expressed what they meant imperfectly, making the duty on barley, without reference to the price of beans, determine the duty on that grain. There could, however, be no object in this, and it operated now in a manner wholly opposed to the purpose of the scale, for a high duty attached to high price, and a low duty to a low price; and though that was capricious and inconsistent, it did not really assure the grower a higher protection, while it increased instead of diminishing the impediments to trade. He believed the noble Lord the Member for Lynn would not deny that it was a blunder, and he trusted that the noble Lord would not, merely to get a slight triumph at this late season of the year, oppose an alteration that would suit the convenience of all, and really injure none. What the noble Lord had done against the Bill had been done openly, and for the purpose he avowed; he trusted, therefore, that he would not be a party to anything paltry now, and merely for mischief sake resist what would not be an injury to those he represented. Hoping that the House would allow him, at least, to bring in the Bill, he would move the Resolution of which he had given notice.


admitted that this had been a blunder committed by the Members of Her Majesty's late Administration. It certainly appeared extraordinary that a set of Gentlemen who thought themselves the only practical men in the country, the only men capable of administering the affairs of the country, should have had a measure of this kind for five months under their notice, and not discover the blunder they had committed. But since the agriculturists had had the good fortune to obtain something more of protection upon peas and beans, through a blunder of the late Government, than they would have received through the good intentions of that Government, he was not disposed, without another fight, to give up any protection, small as it might be, that they might now possess. It was perfectly true that by the Act which had passed the Legislature, after five months of deliberation, rye, peas, and beans were to pay a duty which was not to be regulated by the price of the said rye, peas, and beans, but by the price of barley, so that now barley was cheap and peas and beans dear, they had to pay a high duty regulated by the low price of barley. Therefore, if barley were high, and peas and beans low, peas and beans would pay a low duty, regulated by the high price of barley. Ridiculous as this was he cared not, so long as he could retain somewhat, although not much, of protection for the agricultural interest. The duty was now 4s. upon peas. Her Majesty's late Government had intended it to be 2s. The foreign importer had at least gained some advantage, for low as the duty was now, and higher than was intended by the late Government, it was not equal to that which was imposed by the Act of 1842, for that duty would have been 7s. 6d. So that the protection to the British farmer was already reduced nearly 50 per cent. He thought that the consumers had no right to complain; and if he looked to the prices of peas and beans, he found that the ad valorem duty, even with the mistake of the late Government, did not amount upon those articles to more than 10 per cent on the one, and 12 per cent on the other. That he did not think was a very high ad valorem duty to pay on the foreign produce; and he was sure his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not so overburdened with riches as to afford to spare any revenue that could be levied upen the produce of foreign countries. The difference upon the thousand quarters of peas and beans introduced every week at the rate of 2s. a quarter, would make a difference of some 30,000l. of revenue; and the country could not well afford to part even with that. He trusted Her Majesty's present Government would not consent to the introduction of a Bill to amend the blunders of their predecessors. But if they did, then he must promise them his opposition, for he should contest the proposition, as he had done the former Bill, in every stage; and he thought his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton would hardly, at the present period of the Session, press a measure likely to be productive of such arduous work for the end of August.


did not know that it rested with him to admit that there had been a blunder; but he could only say that it did seem strange that the duty on peas and beans should be regulated by the price of barley. At the same time he thought his hon. Friend would admit that at this period of the Session it was not worth while to enter upon a contest by the introduction of a Bill threatened with such opposition.


said, that if the noble Lord had the drawing of a Bill of such a complicated commercial character, he would then have practical experience of the difficulty of preventing an occasional mistake or inconsistency creeping in.


said, if the right hon. Gentleman would only say that the practical operation of the measure had not carried the intention of the fourth section into effect, no party in the House would take advantage of a more error, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would allow the Committee.


was opposed to any alteration of the law at the present period of the Session.


recommended the hon. Member for Wolverhampton not to divide.


certainly saw no impropriety in dividing upon the question; and if he now withdrew his Motion, it was only because he observed that there were only thirty-seven Members in the House. Motion withdrawn.