HC Deb 11 February 1846 vol 83 cc736-42

rose to move for a Return giving the numbers and names of the holders of Foreign Grain now in bond in the Queen's Warehouses in Great Britain and Ireland. He understood there was some technical difficulty about giving the names of the holders; that, in fact, it was not easy to tell who the holders were; and therefore, he had agreed with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to change the name 'holders' to 'importers,' and there would be no difficulty, he believed, in giving the names of the importers. It would be thus shown that it was a very limited number of persons to whom a boon would be given to the amount of something like half a million sterling by the measure before Parliament for the immediate reduction of the duty on foreign corn, and on wheat especially, to 4s. a quarter when it was at a certain price. It appeared that there was in bond 944,548 quarters of wheat, and 451,464 cwt. of flour. It appeared, also, that in the course of the month of December last there was no less a quantity than 8,097 quarters of wheat and 2,177 cwt. of flour paid duty at about the rate of 14s. per quarter. The operation of the present measure would be to reduce the duty immediately from 16s., at which it now stood, to 4s. per quarter, and the whole of this wheat would consequently be entered for home consumption at a duty, not of 16s., but at a duty of 4s. As soon as the measure passed, the whole of this quantity of wheat, exceeding one million of quarters, would come into consumption at a duty of 4s., and the difference would not be gained by the consumers, but by the corn dealers; and the practical result of the measure of the Government clearly would be to make a present to some two hundred, three hundred, or it might be four hundred individuals of upwards of half a million sterling. It was, therefore, most desirable the country should know what would be the effect of this measure, and who the persons would be to profit by its operation. He would have liked, he confessed, to know the names of the persons who were thus holders of grain; but he understood there was an objection to disclose the names of such persons, on the principle that such a proceeding might interfere with private trade and speculation. It might be thought that because he had brought forward this Motion he suspected Her Majesty's Government of some sort of jobbing; but he could assure his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he could not for a moment entertain the slightest opinion of that kind of him; and he believed, if the truth were known, his right hon. Friend as cordially disapproved of the measure as he (Lord George Bentinck) did. It was well, however, the public should know that the Exchequer was to be robbed of half a million sterling to be put into the pockets of some 200 or 300 corn merchants. This was most objectionable, and it was particularly so when they recollected the amount of relief which the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department said they were about to offer to Ireland in the way of advancing loans. They proposed to give 50,000l. in one way, and 30,000l. in another way, and 80,000l. in another way. The whole amount of relief was only 260,000l.; and surely they should pause before they made a present of half a million sterling to 200 or 300 corn merchants, which might be better disposed of in affording relief to the distressed people of Ireland. He (Lord George Bentinck) would alter his Motion to suit the views of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and move for a Return, giving the number of the Importers of Foreign Corn now in bond in the Queen's Warehouses in Great Britain and Ireland.


would suggest to the noble Lord that he might make an addition to his Motion, which he thought would help to effect the object he had in view. He said his object was to ascertain what individuals would profit by this measure, and therefore he suggested to the noble Lord to include in the return the number of individuals who were to cat the bread made out of this corn.


said, that so far from wishing to withhold any information upon this important subject, he readily acquiesced in the Motion made for the presentation of those returns. He should have contented himself with merely notifying his assent to the Motion, were it not for some observations which fell from the noble Lord, and with reference to which he thought it necessary to give some explanation. The noble Lord appeared to be greatly alarmed at the immense benefit which individuals who were the holders of bonded corn would receive by the alteration of the law; but his hon. Friend (Mr. S. O'Brien), near the noble Lord, who spoke from the same side of the House on the preceding night, had said that to the opening of the ports, for the admission of corn, he had no objection. Now, if they adopted the suggestion of his hon. Friend, by opening the ports, they would have given to the holders of foreign corn not the difference between 14s. and 4s., but the difference between 14s. and nothing, so that in that case the loss of the revenue would be greater. But he could not admit his noble Friend's argument, that because the duty on foreign corn was 14s., the corn now in bond would be brought into market at that duty. If his noble Friend would look to the returns on the Table of the House, and would look to the periods at which corn was imported, and the periods at which it came into the market, he would find there was a great deal of importation under the sliding-scale, not for the purpose of bringing in the corn at the high duty which existed when it was imported, but for the purpose of bringing it in at a shilling duty when the prices would admit of the importation of corn at that duty. That was the complaint made of the operation of the law by hon. Gentlemen interested in agriculture. It was one of the complaints to which the law was liable; and he had no reason to suppose—unless they believed that those individuals were not capable of taking advantage of the fall in the duty—that because they imported corn when the duty was 18s. or 19s., they did not mean to bring it in on terms more favourable to themselves. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not rise for the purpose of entering at length into the question; but he wished to state that when his noble Friend said that he was supporting a measure of which he did not approve, his noble Friend made a statement which had no foundation in fact. If he gave his support to a measure of which he did not approve, it would be unworthy of him as a Gentleman, and discreditable to him as a Minister of the Crown.


believed that the object of Government, as it was the object of all, was to relieve the particular distress in one portion of Her Majesty's dominions, Ireland—a distress which all equally deplored; for he could answer for the agricultural Members that they were ready to meet that distress by greater sacrifices than had been yet proposed, if it were necessary. But they held that the revenue would be better expended in meeting the particular evils which pressed on one portion of Her Majesty's dominions, than sacrificing it in such a way as to let it go into the general consumption, where it would produce no relative depreciation in the price of grain. They maintained that relief was not needed by the whole community, but that it was required in Ireland, and they would rather see the revenue given to the people than thus sacrificed in the way pointed out by the noble Lord. No one prized more than he did the whole system of bonding corn, but with free trade he should like to know how the bonding system could be carried out. When he heard such an answer as that given by the hon. Member (Mr. Escott), that his noble Friend should ask for a return of the persons who would eat the corn now in bond, he would recommend the hon. Member to undertake so vain a task himself.


begged to confirm what had fallen from the hon. Member for Warwickshire. He assured the House, that there was no measure either in the way of precaution or relief of any sort or kind with respect to Ireland which they (the protectionists) were not ready to give their assent to. He had expressed this opinion before Parliament met, and he repeated it now; and he therefore thought his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose integrity no man had ever doubted yet, ought to have been a little more sensible of the views by which they had been guided, both with respect to the Government of which he was a Member, and to the general interests of the country.


said, that as he was the individual to whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred, he begged to say that his remarks last night related entirely to Ireland, and if he had extended them to England he should have been conceding what he deemed an important part of his argument. He begged to add, that it was to the protective system that they owed the fact that they had hitherto been independent of the supplies from foreign countries. He believed that this was the kingdom in Europe best protected against the horrors of famine. The right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had referred to the fact of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn sitting next him, as if that were any reason for his agreeing with him. He certainly did agree with him; but the right hon. Gentleman's experience during the last few days might have shown him that it was quite possible for Gentlemen to sit next to each other, and yet to totally disagree in reference to commercial policy.


I understood my hon. Friend (Mr. S. O'Brien) to say distinctly that if we had thrown open the ports the measure should have had his approbation.


explained, that his argument was that the price of wheat had arrived at that point when it was perfectly compatible with the profits of trade to pay a duty of 14s. on wheat, inasmuch as in the course of December the duty had fallen to such a point as that nearly 9,000 quarters of wheat had been released from bond at a 14s. duty, and therefore, as his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was going immediately to reduce the duty to 4s., he thought he had a right to assume that at least 10s. of the duty remitted would go, not to the advantage of the consumer, but to the advantage of the corn merchant. That was the argument he had used. His right hon. Friend had repudiated the allegation he had made, that so far from approving of the measures lately propounded by the head of Her Majesty's Government, his right hon. Friend as cordially disapproved of them as he did. He certainly understood the First Minister of the Crown to say that there were only three Cabinet Ministers who agreed in oinpion with him. He begged to ask his right hon. Friend whether he was one of the three who agreed with the First Minister of the Crown? Public rumour had stated that the three were the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department (Sir James Graham), Lord Aberdeen, and the right hon. the Secretary at War (Mr. Herbert). He had, therefore, assumed that his right hon. Friend did not concur with the principle of the measure now before the country. With regard to the observations which had been made by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Escott), really they appeared to him quite as incomprehensible as the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman in sitting there and supporting the measure for the abolition of the Corn Laws, seeing that the hon. and learned Gentleman was returned for the city of Winchester in opposition to two opponents who were the conscientious and honest supporters of a repeal of the Com Laws. He thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion that he (Lord G. Bentinck) should move an Amendment on his own Motion, and have a return of the consumers of wheaten bread, or of those who might be consumers of wheaten bread not yet out of bond—he thought that suggestion as incomprehensible as the conduct of the hon. and learned Gentleman, who thought it consistent with his public duty and with his personal honour to have stood for the city of Winchester, when the price of wheat was somewhere about 62s. the quarter, and when the price of the four-pound loaf was 10d., in opposition to two gentlemen whose banner was a large loaf and cheap bread; for the hon. and learned Gentleman was proposed for the city of Winchester by gentlemen who, in their speeches, as mover and seconder, told the electors that the question for them to decide was whether or not they would elect two gentlemen who were determined to maintain the then existing system of the Corn Laws, and to protect the agricultural interests of the country, or those who advocated an entire repeal of those laws. He repeated that when the public conduct of the hon. Gentleman was as incomprehensible as he had described it, he (Lord G. Bentinck) would be mad to follow such a leader, or allow himself to be guided in anything by the example or advice of the hon. Gentleman.


hoped the noble Lord was more comfortable after that explanation. He (Mr. Escott) did not presume to dictate to the noble Lord what course he should pursue; but he had thought it not unparliamentary to suggest an alteration in his Motion. The noble Lord had stated that his object was to ascertain who were the individuals who would profit by the measure; and, as he (Mr. Escott) thought that the public would reap the profit, he had thought it a not unimportant addition to the Motion of the noble Lord to have the names of the consumers. With respect to what the noble Lord had said about him and his constituents, he had no objection, if the noble Lord thought it worth while, to discuss that question with him, either there or elsewhere; but, from the specimen which the noble Lord had just given of his information, he must say, that the noble Lord was totally ignorant of the facts of the case.

House adjourned at a quarter to two o'clock.