HC Deb 05 May 1846 vol 86 cc121-40

House in Committee upon the Corn Importation Act.

On the first item, that "upon all Wheat, Barley, Oats;" and on the word "Oats" being read,


said: I rise, Sir, to move the omission of the word "oats." Our former discussions have almost entirely turned upon the species of grain with which mainly the people of England are concerned, and they have turned scarcely at all upon that species of grain in which the people of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, are more particularly interested. Sir, when we come to consider that there are 558,000 occupiers of land in Ireland, almost every one of whom is a grower of oats, we cannot but admit how important it is to Ireland that we should not hastily alter the law which protects their grain in the English market. The annual importation of oats into England from Ireland, in the last and in former years, amounted in value to a sum of money little short of two and a half millions sterling. Now, supposing that the free importation of foreign oats would only lower the price to the extent of 10 per cent, it would affect Ireland in a very grievous degree. In the single article of oats alone, it would amount to what we may call a tax upon the profits of Irish agricultural industry of not less than 250,000l. a year. And in looking at the price of oats abroad, I find that the price is such in years of abundance, that 10 per cent is a very small deduction to reckon as a consequence of the importation of foreign grain. I hold in my hand a return of the prices of oats exported from the countries on the Baltic from the year 1817 to the year 1839 inclusive—a period of twenty-three years; and throughout the whole of that time I find that the average price of oats was 11s. 7d. per quarter. Now, the freight from the Baltic differs in nothing but that it is somewhat less than the freight from the western coast of Ireland. So, upon an average of years, unless the agriculturists of Ireland can afford to compete with foreign oats at a price of 11s. 7d. per quarter, they must be grievously injured by the competition of foreign oats. But I will not rest upon the prices of one place alone, I will take the price of oats at Amsterdam, at Hamburgh, at Dantzic, and at Riga, from the year 1841 to the last year; and I find that the lowest price—mark, not the average, but the lowest price—of oats, was:

In 1841, at Amsterdam 9s. 0d. per qr.
Hamburgh 8s. 6d. per qr.
Dantzic 12s. 0d. per qr.
Riga 11s. 0d. per qr.
I find that the lowest price of oats was—
In 1842, at Amsterdam 12s. 6d. per qr.
Hamburgh 8s. 6d. per qr.
Dantzic 11s. 6d. per qr.
Riga 10s. 0d. per qr.
I find that the lowest price of oats was—
In 1843, at Amsterdam 7s. 0d. per qr.
Hamburgh 11s. 9d. per qr.
Dantzic 10s. 0d. per qr.
Riga 6s. 6d. per qr.
I find that the price was—
In 1844, at Amsterdam 12s. 9d. per qr.
Hamburgh 10s. 9d. per qr.
Dantzic 12s. 0d. per qr.
Riga 6s. 0d. per qr.
I find that the lowest price of oats was—
In 1845, at Amsterdam 11s. 9d. per qr.
Hamburgh 11s. 10d. per qr.
Dantzic 10s. 6d. per qr.
Riga 10s. 6d. per qr.
I hold also in my hand an account of the price of oats in earlier years, at various parts of Europe. The prices I have already read are derived from corn merchants' circulars; but the list I am now about to read is taken from the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords in 1827. In 1827, the price of oats at Amsterdam was 7s. 6d. per quarter; at Riga it was 10s. 4d.; at Koningsberg it was 8s. 4d. In 1825, the price at Koningsberg was 7s.; at Archangel it was 7s.; in the Elbe it was 6s.; at Dantzic in 1825, it was 6s. 6d. In 1824, at Dantzic it was only 5s. 5d. per quarter. At Stettin it was 8s. 6d.; at Rostock in 1824, it was 7s. 6d., and at Copenhagen it was 8s. 4d. [The noble Lord read the prices at several other places, to the same effect.] I have, therefore, given (he continued) twenty parts in Europe in which, in the years 1824, 1825, 1826, and 1827, prices were so low, that if the foreign oats had been admitted duty free to compete with the oats of Ireland, it is clear that if the oats of foreign countries had not driven the Irish oats out of the market, yet at least they must have reduced the price, to the very serious injury of the agriculturists of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown has said, "If the distress in Ireland is such that even you are driven to a suspension of the Corn Laws, what possible good can protection be to the agriculturists or peasantry of Ireland?" But I do not think—I never said—that the suspension of the Corn Laws will confer any benefit upon the Irish people. I never said so; but we were asked if we would consent to the suspension of the Corn Laws; and whatever the right hon. Gentleman may have understood, no one else misunderstood me; for I clearly and distinctly said, "it will do the Irish people no good. The suspension of the Corn Laws will not admit one grain of wheat or of oats into Ireland." But I said, "You have wickedly told the people of Ireland that we who sit on these benches, and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who oppose the Coercion Bill, are depriving the people of Ireland of their food—that we are the cause of their starvation." No! I emphatically said, that in the present state of things—in the present state of prices—with the present prices of Europe, where there has been real scarcity, compared with the present prices of England—the foreigners could not afford to export a single grain—and, therefore, that we would be no parties to that delusion; but as you had mocked the people of Ireland with false expectations, we consented to allay their irritation of feeling by a temporary suspension of the Corn Law, which would give a practical proof to the people of England and of Ireland that no good result would follow—that in this year alone the suspension would be of no effect. But I said, that as the people of Ireland had been excited to expect good would come to them from the suspension, we would not be the party te stand between them and the suspension of the Corn Law for a given period. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to my statement, that there are 558,000 holders of farms in Ireland not exceeding fifteen acres each, who have no capital but their own industry and their own honesty; but the right hon. Gentleman omitted the very important portion of the statement, that they held but fifteen acres. For how could it be possible that a fanner who holds fifteen acres can have much capital? Can he possibly have thrashing and winnowing machines, and the other requisite machinery for the management of a farm? But we must deal with such a state of things as we find. We did not make that state of things, but we find 558,000 occupiers of land in Ireland who hold but fifteen acres; and we are to say—if we may believe my Lord Essex, with whom the right hon. Gentleman seems very much to sympathize—that they ought never to have been farmers, and consequently that they may at once be sacrificed; that 558,000 farmers, employing three millions and a half of human souls, are to be sacrificed, because they do not possess the required amount of capital. But the right hon. Gentleman omitted to state, that those persons are holders of only fifteen acres. It might, certainly, have been better that there should be no small tenements in Ireland; but, as I have already said, we must deal with things as we find them. I cannot cut up human beings like a log of wood. When we find three millions and a half of human creatures, we must take care that we adopt no measure by which they will be reduced to beggary and wretchedness. But it seems that the principles of political economy go so far as to say, that these three millions and a half of human beings are not properly occupied. There was a time when the right hon. Gentleman scouted such political economy as this. I recollect the time when he approved of the description of the political economist contained in the letter of my noble Friend the Member for the City, to the electors of Huntingdon. My noble Friend, in that celebrated letter, described them as a body whose doctrine it was to buy in the cheapest market, to substitute the corn of Russia and Poland for our own —as a body of men who cared nothing for the difference between an agricultural and a commercial population, and who disregarded the moral and social happiness of the people—as a body of men who counted for nothing a hardy race of farmers and labourers—as a body of men, with whom wealth was the only object of speculation, and who cared nothing for the claims and pretensions of the unprotected poor. Such was the description to which the right hon. Gentleman once gave his hearty concurrence. I recollect that the right hon. Gentleman was interrupted by the hon. Member for Montrose, and what was his language then? "You sat for the likeness," exclaimed the right hon. Baronet, on that occasion apostrophizing the Member for Middlesex, "you present the faithful resemblance of a harsh, cold-blooded, political economist!"—"of one whose only object and exclusive aim is the development of his own peculiar system—of one who, wedded to his own theory, would rejoice, if through its practical carrying out, the produce of the fertile foreign soils, half tilled by wretched implements, and still more wretched peasantry, should displace in our own markets, the products of our agriculture." Sir, if the Member for Middlesex then "presented the faithful resemblance," then "sat for the portrait" of "a harsh, cold-blooded, political economist," I want to know whether we might not now find a no less striking "resemblance," an equally faithful "portrait" of the same character, in the person of an eminent teacher of political economy, at this moment seated on the Treasury bench? Sir, I remember that on a former occasion the right hon. Baronet said, "What has protection done for the several holders of land in Ireland?" Sir, I rather think the question to be answered is, whether the five or six hundred thousand small farmers of that country are worse off than they were at the time of, or rather till some few years after, the Union, when free trade prevailed? I do not think it is easy to dispute, that Ireland has progressed in prosperity since then. Why, Sir, Ireland previously imported grain, while now she is an exporter of grain to the amount of nearly five millions sterling per annum, and of other agricultural produce, which will be affected by the measures now in agitation, to the extent probably of ten millions per annum, though the amount has been estimated, indeed, at no less than 17,000,000l.; but even taking it only at 10,000,000l., what a heavy tax on the people of Ireland would the free-trade policy inflict. But, Sir, to revert to the position of the small holders of land in Ireland. At the time these measure were agitated, that class was fast progressing in prosperity. Mr. Campbell Foster states, that from the secretary of the savings' bank at Cork he learnt, that in the past year 200,000l. were paid into that bank by persons in the class I speak of, in sums not exceeding 30l. Was not that ground for hope that Ireland was progressing? These sums of 30l. certainly would not constitute the capital necessary to a system of farming on a greater scale, or, perhaps, even to save the class of people possessing such a small amount of capital from being sacrificed by the right hon. Baronet at the shrine of free trade. Still, this indicated a state of independence much to be rejoiced at, and showed the existence of a race of men who, though they might not, perhaps, "cultivate their land to the best advantage," or know how "to make five quarters grow where three did before," are yet a class of men whom it would be worse than unwise to sacrifice for the sake of a system. Sir, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Burke both exerted themselves to draw more closely the bonds of union between England and Ireland; and how was it they sought to attain their object? Sir, it was by removing the restrictions of the provision laws, which intercepted trade between the two countries. Mr. Burke sacrificed his seat in Parliament for the sake of this object. And Mr. Pitt, when he addressed the House in support of such a policy, is represented as having spoken with extraordinary power, and to have declared that of all the objects of his political life there was none which ever had engaged, or which ever could engage his mind more ardently and anxiously than the carrying of such a measure. But, Sir, we are now called upon to abrogate the laws they enacted, and to cast off Ireland, and practically to preclude her from entering our markets. We are called upon to deprive her of the partiality and favour she has hitherto been enjoying in our provision trade; and what matters it if you virtually deprive her of the power of competing in our market, whether it is by direct prohibition, or by a ruinous rivalry, she is excluded? Mr. Pitt and Mr. Burke, Sir, thought that the way to conciliate Ireland, and to obtain her enduring attachment for this country, was by removing the restriction upon her trade, and by making it to her advantage to cul- tivate commercial relations with England. But our measures now, it seems, are to be of such a description that you must drive her agricultural produce out of the market. It may be true you are not about to divorce her; but you are going to admit into the arms of England concubines from every part of the world. Sir, the right hon. Baronet has often repeated that he feels no hesitation or humiliation in confessing his "errors" upon this subject, and acknowledging that he has hitherto been wrong as respects the commercial policy of this country. Sir, I do not wish to say much upon that head—it may not be humiliating in a private gentleman—an individual Member not engaged in the government of the country—it may not be humiliating in such a one to acknowledge that for thirty years of Parliamentary life he has been entirely erroneous in his opinions on a great branch of public policy. But I cannot, Sir, concur with the right hon. Baronet, that it is not humiliating to a great Minister—to one who aspires to be a great statesman—to be obliged to confess that the whole course of his public career has been one continued series of errors. Why, what advantage is there in having men at the helm of public affairs, if not to direct the national judgment? And if he direct it entirely in a wrong course—surely it is humiliating, and surely it cannot be otherwise than a humiliating avowal, that he has governed the country erroneously for a long series of years. Sir, it is the privilege of girls to change their opinions; but even they cannot do so without risk of damaged reputation. And does the First Minister of the Crown think that he can come down to Parliament, and confess that thirty years of experience have been so cast away upon him, that the rumour of a famine—a mere sudden and temporary emergency—can alter all the opinions which that experience established? Does he think he can make such a confession without "humiliation?" But, Sir, the right hon. Baronet said, he thought that if he had changed his opinion, and had not avowed it, that would indeed have been "dishonest," "base," and "inconsistent with his duty to his Sovereign and his country." Sir, I will not enter into a discussion as to how far that might be so. I leave him to settle that matter with his Colleagues, who have declared that they changed their opinions some year or two ago, but yet never acknowledged the fact until the eve of the present Session. For instance, the noble Lord (Lincoln) the Member for Falkirk, when last addressing the electors of Nottinghamshire, declared that the discussions of 1842 had changed his views as to the Corn Laws, and that, in consequence of this change, he had never addressed the House on the subject. I repeat, Sir, I leave it to the right hon. Baronet to settle with his noble Colleague this difficulty as to the duty of a Minister in so delicate a conjuncture. I do not decide how far it would be "dishonest," or "base," or "inconsistent with his duty to his Sovereign," to continue in the Ministry without acknowledging such a change of opinion. But I presume to state, that the right hon. Baronet did remain a Member of the same Administration after his noble Colleague's change of his views on this subject. Sir, allusion has been made to a former remark of mine, on the fact of a recent import having taken place of oats from Ireland to this country; and I have been asked whether I would have intercepted such an import of food from Ireland? Sir, I retort by asking whether an export of oats and oatmeal be not, at the same time, under the auspices of the Government, going on from this country for the relief of the Irish people? and whether that export be not at the price of 18l. or 19l. per ton? and whether the same commodity cannot be purchased in Ireland at from 13l. to 16l. per ton? If, as I believe the fact to be, oats and oatmeal have been imported from Ireland, recently, by hundreds and thousands of tons, it should seem that our "Finance Minister" has been purchasing, probably Irish oats, to send back to Ireland for the food of her people; and that he has been buying oats dear in England to export to Ireland where the price is much lower. Sir, this is the converse of his own political economy. We thought the principle of that system was, to "buy in the cheapest market, and sell in the dearest." But the political economy he has recently practised is to buy in the dearest market, and sell in the cheapest. I take the liberty of suggesting that the soundest political economy, on this occasion, would be to purchase the requisite supply of food in Ireland; and thus, by relieving ourselves of the cost of transit, and by buying at the cheapest market, we should at the same time relieve the distressed portions of the country at the lowest cost, and encourage the agriculture of other districts of the country. Sir, we have been taunted with denying that dis- tress existed in Ireland, and yet with suggesting measures for the relief of distress. Sir, we have never denied that partial distress existed in Ireland. We have from the first declared, that there was potato disease, and that in certain limited localities there was distress. But what we have denied, and do deny, is the truth of the statements put forth by the Minister. We deny the existence of any general distress, of any general scarcity, of anything like famine; and if the right hon. Baronet would consult those whose business it is to ascertain the state of the provision market (as corn factors and corn dealers), and who send out agents to Ireland to acquire information, he would be informed that there is no dearth of food in Ireland. I have letters here, stating, that only three days ago there were several ships unloading cargoes of grain from Ireland; and I find from authentic information, that since December 29, there have been imported from Ireland to London 117,000 quarters, or 16,000 tons of grain. From Limerick alone, 4,890 tons; from Cork, 590 tons; and to those places the Government has been actually sending grain for the purpose of feeding the people. So that the old adage of sending coals to Newcastle has been realized by the proceedings of the Government, who, perhaps, for the sake of making a great display of their anxiety to provide for what they call the dearth of food in Ireland, have been buying grain here at a dearer rate than it could be purchased in Ireland. Sir, some doubt was thrown by the right hon. Baronet on the statements I made as to the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture in Ireland. I repeat my statement, which in substance was, that there were 685,000 holders of farms in Ireland, of whom 558,000 were holders of farms under 50 acres. From the Population Returns of 1839, it appears that there were then 564,294 holders of farms in Ireland not employing labourers, and 95,300 holders of farms employing labourers, making together 659,600, which number deducted from 685,300 (the present number) exhibits an increase of 25,690 within the last fifteen years. That, Sir, is no mean evidence that Ireland is progressing, and that, if left alone, as regarded agriculture, applying remedies required for social evils, and giving a generous and liberal Poor Law, such as will meet the wants of the labouring classes, Ireland might be expected to go on progressing in prosperity. But the way to make Ireland prosperous is not to take from her the protection she enjoys in our English markets. Why, Sir, in 1839 or 1840, the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, while opposing some free-trade propositions, said, an 8s. duty would be no protection to the agriculture of Ireland, and that it was impossible to peril that agriculture by even such a duty without entailing on the country most serious dangers. And the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Home Department said, no longer ago than last June, that, including Ireland, two-thirds of the people of this country were engaged in agriculture; and that the result of any measure of free trade in corn would be, at once, to throw from 500,000 to 800,000 of the people into pauperism and destitution. Sir, I want to know how the Ministers, who held such language last year, can justify their present course, adopted, as it is, without any evidence enabling them to introduce any new facts or features into the case? How can they now vindicate their advocacy of a measure which six months ago they deprecated and denounced as calculated to prejudice the interests and paralyse the prosperity of Ireland? The noble Lord concluded by moving to leave out the word "oats" in the clause before the Committee.


observed, that the people of Ireland would neither thank the noble Lord for the proposition he had made, nor for the manner in which he had made it. The people of Ireland asked themselves the question, what had they gained by protection? and that was the question which every friend and benevolent landlord in Ireland ought to ask himself. He must confess that he was at first greatly prejudiced against the measure of Her Majesty's Ministers, and had only given it his support because he put more faith in the judgment of those political friends whom he was accustomed to act with, than in his own, in such matters; but having weighed the subject maturely, he had now to acknowledge himself, from conviction, a warm and strong supporter of the Government measures. He had had extreme prejudices on the subject, for all he possessed depended on land—all his ties, early education, knowledge, and experience were with and for the land; but he had been led to see the necessity of such a measure as that introduced by Her Majesty's Ministers; and his own tenants, some of them holders of 200 and 300 acres of land—men of experience and judgment, and a majority of whom were, like himself, prejudiced at first against the measure—had come round to the same opinion, and to the belief that the Government measure would not injure Ireland on the whole. He believed, at the same time, that it was not unlikely it might create stagnation or a panic, such as that which occurred when the Tariff was introduced. Holders of stock suffered on that occasion from the panic, but now they were obtaining 25 per cent more for stock than they did before. He remembered also the panic that took place in the butter trade in the south of Ireland, particularly when people believed that the article would be reduced from 25 to 30 per cent, on account of the reduction of the duty to 20s. per cwt.; but what was the fact? Instead of the butter trade being diminished, the exports from Waterford and other places had increased fivefold since that time. He could also state, that so far from land being depreciated by the change, it now sold in the counties of Waterford, Kilkenny, Cork, &c., at from four to five years' purchase more than it sold for before that change took place. A similar effect followed the reduction of the duty on wool. Great injury was expected to flow from that measure; but he could state it as a fact that sheep brought from 15 to 18 per cent more after the alteration than before it. He challenged the noble Lord to answer these facts, to the truth of which he could give his personal testimony. He asked them to look at the misery of the Irish people under the present system, by which 3,500,000 persons had been reduced to a state disgraceful to that House and to the country. He was astonished to hear the noble Lord appeal to the restrictive laws as necessary to the prosperity of the Irish people. He believed, on the contrary, that the repeal of those laws would benefit Ireland, and lead the Irish farmers to pay more attention than hitherto to the right cultivation of the soil. The climate of Ireland was not favourable to the growth of corn; and the farmer, therefore, should not depend on corn for the payment of his rent, but on the rearing of poultry, pigs, and cattle, for which the country and climate were much better adapted. The noble Lord was treading on exceedingly tender ground when he taunted Members with having changed their opinions. Why, the noble Lord himself was once a strong unflinching supporter of the Whig party in that House; and, recollecting his own change, the noble Lord should be the last man to give them lectures on political consistency. Such charges came from him with exceeding bad grace; and people would be apt to ask, was this the immutable and unchangeable and unchanged man, who so long followed the Ministry of Lord Grey, and who now taunted those to whose opinions he was then opposed? He held that it was the highest honour to a man to come frankly down and state his opinions when they underwent a change. The noble Lord denied the great extent of the present calamity in Ireland. Now, he could tell the noble Lord that there had been thirteen meetings of the nobility, gentry, and land proprietors of all classes in Ireland, Whigs, Tories, Roman Catholics, and Protestant clergy, all uniting to endeavour to meet the present emergency, and who had subscribed thousands of pounds towards that object. They had also called upon Government to bring food into the market for the relief of the people. The noble Lord said Government ought to go into the market and buy food, thus raising the markets on the ordinary purchasers. A more ridiculous notion, with all deference to the noble Lord, he had never heard mooted in that House. To speak of benefiting the Irish people by sending Government Commissioners into the market to buy up provisions for the use of the people, was the most extravagant proposal he had ever listened to. He had thought the natural course for Government to pursue, in order to reduce the markets, was to procure food from other countries as remote as possible, and send it from time to time into the market to keep the price of provisions moderate. This the Government had done to some extent; and he regretted they had not done so to a greater extent, and at an earlier period. He could assure the noble Lord that the famine in Ireland was no mockery, no delusion. He had not the slightest doubt that, were it not for the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government, instead of having oatmeal at 18l. a ton in the south of Ireland, it would have been nearly 30l. a ton; and he might state that 18l. was about one-third more than the usual price. The noble Lord, however, said there was no actual distress, but in a very trifling degree. Now, he could state from his own knowledge and observation as to the state of four counties, on the borders of which he lived, that very nearly one-half of the poor labourers were living on the charity of other labourers and farmers; and that were it not for that charity so prominent in the Irish character, there would be thousands of the poor dying from starvation. But the farmers and other classes found it their duty, as well as their interest, to give support to the famishing poor in the districts around them. But the present scarcity was greater than any that had previously been known, and the farmer himself was pinched; and he was afraid the farmer could not render the aid to the poor he had been accustomed formerly to render. The landlords in his neighbourhood had not shrunk from their duty on this occasion. The Marquess of Waterford had been one of the first to come forward; and he employed a great number of additional hands in draining. Lord Stuart de Decies, and other landed gentlemen about his neighbourhood, had acted in the same way. With regard to the price of provisions, he could say, that about Waterford the measure of potatoes called a stone, which usually sold at this season of the year for 3d., was now selling at 7½d. or 8d.—more than double the price they had been selling for at any period within the last six years. That was the case also in the neighbouring counties. As to the destitution, he could mention a mountain district, seventeen miles long by from four to seven broad, containing a population of from 12,000 to 15,000, in which there were not above 100 families that had the means of subsistence from day to day. Now, in this case, it was quite impossible that the landlord could step in. To maintain the people in that case would require double or triple the landlord's income. Besides, these people were squatters, and had no legal claim on the estate. With respect to the effect of the measures of Government on the condition of the Irish people, it was only that morning that he had read of the arrival at Liverpool of two or three American vessels laden with precisely the kind of food that was wanted in Ireland—namely, maize and Indian flour, and other articles of cheap food. Would that importation have taken place Were it not for the knowledge of what was doing in the House of Commons? Did not the noble Lord know that these cargoes must have an important influence on the price of food in Ireland? The noble Lord could not but know it, for everybody must know it. Accordingly the people of Ireland had no sympathy with the present Corn Laws. He could not recollect that more than one public meeting had been called in Ireland to support them; and not more than three petitions in favour of them had been presented from that country. In the conviction that this measure would ultimately tend to improve the condition both of landlords and tenants, and also to ameliorate the relations between them, he should give his most cordial support to the Government on this occassion.


did not rise to pursue the debate on the Amendment of the noble Lord; he would only say with respect to what had fallen from the hon. Baronet who had just sat down, that it was satisfactory to him to hear so strong a confirmation of the opinion entertained by the Government of the real state of Ireland at the present moment; and he thought the hon. Baronet's statement could not but have its influence on those who doubted what the real state of that country was. He wished merely to say one word respecting the Motion of the noble Lord, to which he should confine himself entirely. He thought the noble Lord could hardly be aware of the effect of leaving out the word "oats" from the clause. The real effect of that Motion would be, that after the 1st of February, 1849, oats, instead of paying a 1s. duty, as proposed by the Bill, would be admitted without paying any duty at all. The House would observe that in lieu of the duties at present payable on all corn, grain, meal, and flour imported into the United Kingdom, the duties set forth in the schedule of the Bill were to be paid up to the 1st of February, 1849; but the Bill went on to provide what the duties should be after that date; viz., 1s. upon all wheat, barley, bear, or bigg, oats, rye, peas, and beans, for every quarter. In lieu, however, of that duty the noble Lord proposed nothing; therefore the effect of the Motion would be that the duty on oats would be lost altogether, and that oats would be admitted without paying any duty. Probably the noble Lord did not contemplate this effect of his Motion: and thinking so, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), after consultation with the best authorities, had felt it his duty to state what would be the real effect of the alteration, if carried, in order that the time of the House might not be wasted in a fruitless discussion. Under these circumstances he thought it better to abstain from entering into the argument upon which the noble Lord founded his Motion.


was not quite sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right in his construction of the Bill. The Bill was not a Bill to repeal the Statute of the 5th and 6th Victoria, cap. 14—the present Corn Law, and consequently after the passing of this Bill, that statute would remain in force, with the exception of such parts of it as were specifically repealed by this Bill. In the preamble of the Bill there was nothing that went to state that all the existing duties should be repealed. The preamble merely stated that "from and after the passing of the Act in lieu of the duties now payable upon the entry for home consumption, &c., of corn, grain, meal and flour, there shall be levied and paid, &c., on all corn, grain, meal and flour, already or hereafter to be imported, &c., the duties set forth in the schedule of this Act annexed," until the 1st of February, 1849. There was nothing in that to show that the Bill was to repeal the existing duties; but as the point was a doubtful one, he had asked the opinion of the learned Attorney General, which he had understood to be in his favour. But perhaps the learned Gentleman would state what was his opinion as to the proper construction of the Bill. He (Lord G. Bentinck) must say he thought that where several articles were enumerated on which the duty was to be altered as in this Bill, an article which was not enumerated must be held not to be affected by the Bill in which such enumeration occurred.


thought it was rather hard that his noble Friend had brought forward his opinion, because his noble Friend, a short time ago, had come and sat by him, and said that he (Lord G. Bentinck) had put a construction on the Bill in which some learned Friends of his differed from him, and that he should be glad to find that he was the better lawyer, and his noble Friend then mentioned his construction of the words; but he (the Attorney General) said that it was a nice question, and that he should not presume to give an opinion upon it. He did not, however, express any doubt, or say anything that could reasonably be brought forward as an opinion on the present occasion. But he must say now, that his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) appeared to him to have stated the matter so clearly, that it did not require the opinion of a lawyer to make it more manifest. It was not ne- cessary to have a repealing Act in order to substitute one duty for another; but if there was a subsequent Act, in the affirmative, which was inconsistent with a prior Act, that necessarily repealed the prior Act, so far as it was inconsistent with it. Now, the words of this clause were, "That from and after the passing of this Act, in lieu of the duties now payable upon the entry for home consumption, &c., of corn, grain, meal, and flour, there shall be levied and paid, &c. on all corn, grain, meal, and flour, already or to be imported, &c., the duties set forth in the schedule to this Act annexed," &c.; and that oats were intended to be comprehended within these general terms was perfectly clear, because in the schedule was a distinct head for oats. Therefore it was perfectly clear that oats were included in the general words—"all corn, grain, meal, and flour." Then as there were certain duties to be substituted on all the articles included in this general description, the duties, namely, that were specified in the schedule, up to the 1st day of February, 1849, and from and after that day certain other duties in the clause afterwards specified were to be paid, and when they came to the enumeration of such duties, the article oats was to be omitted, it would follow that no duty would be payable on oats at all. On the whole, therefore, he was perfectly convinced that there was no difficulty about the matter; but that on his noble Friend striking out of the Bill the word "oats," no duty on oats would be payable.


said, as the noble Lord had turned out the best free trader of all, he should certainly give the noble Lord his support if he went to a division.


was not quite sure that he understood the position of the present question. He understood that the first clause, which granted that up to the 1st of February, 1849, the duties on corn aud grain should be those specified in the schedule, had received the sanction of the Committee.


The question now before the Committee is, that in the fourth line of the first clause, the word "oats" stand part of the Bill.


apprehended, that if after the words "corn and grain," in the preamble of the Act, the words "excepting oats" had been inserted, the Motion of his noble Friend would have had the effect without question of retaining the existing duty on oats. The question, then, was, whether that portion of the clause which had already passed the Committee had the effect of repealing the duty on oats. If the duty had been repealed by that part of the clause, then the opinion of his noble Friend was right. He should like to hear the opinion of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General as to whether this was not the case. Again, the clause provided that instead of the duties now levied on all corn, grain, meal, and flour, certain other duties "hereinafter specified," should be levied; and if from the hereinafter specification they omitted oats, he could not see how it could be argued that oats were free from all duty.


would not say that the clause, if amended in the way proposed, would expressly relieve oats of all duties; but the words of the clause showed a manifest intention to substitute different duties for the duties at present existing on all corn and grain; and, supposing that no different duties were substituted on oats, the effect would virtually be to repeal all former duties on that article, although not in express terms repealed.

Amendment withdrawn.

Remainder of the clause agreed to. On the Question that the clause stand part of the Bill,


moved that it be omitted.


conceived that anything which affected the sister country and her prosperity, and the maintenance of the Union between the two countries, was one of the most important subjects that could occupy the attention of the British Senate. It appeared to him that the speech of the hon. Member for Waterford had rather confirmed the arguments of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, than weakened them. He seemed to think that Ireland's prosperity was involved in doing away with a great portion of the corn agriculture of the country. If he conceived that Her Majesty's Ministers entertained this notion, and were desirous to see Ireland cease to be the granary of the United Kingdom, then he should consider the hon. Member would be a very useful ally to Her Majesty's Government. But it appeared that the view taken of Ireland's prosperity by the hon. Member and Her Majesty's Government singularly differed; for the latter, as well as all true political economists, considered it would be in the highest degree detrimental, not only to this, but also to the sister country, if such a change took place in her corn agriculture as that this country would cease to derive from her those large supplies of corn at present received, and to that extent make us dependent upon foreign countries. If they passed the measure now before the House, they would, to use the words of Mr. Grattan, sever the strongest link of the Union between the two countries. Indeed, it would be a strong argument in favour of Repeal. A great deal had been said about the justice of the measure. But he would ask, where would be the justice of depriving 550,000 poor Irish tenants of protection, and involving them in ruin? It was very well for a noble Lord having a princely fortune to say, that persons of small capital ought never to be farmers. Here, however, they had 550,000 tenant-farmers with small capitals; and according to the view of the matter taken by the noble Lord to whom he had alluded, they ought to be swept away. Why, Parliament after Parliament, and Ministry after Ministry, had assured them, that in order to get a good supply of corn for England, they should have ample protection; and on the strength of that promise they had invested their all in agriculture, and now, without a moment's notice, they were threatened with annihilation. He contended, that if protection was taken away, the farmers, particularly those of Ireland, ought to be relieved from the malt tax, county rates, poor rates, and other taxes, the justice of abolishing which, on a former occasion, the right hon. Baronet had admitted. They were told that the way to meet foreign competition was by agricultural improvement. This showed how little inquiry into the subject had been made by those who made such a statement: to carry out the improvement would not take a less sum than 300,000,000l. In the first place it was said there should be a consolidation of the small farms into the larger ones. Then came the draining of land, and then there was a certain expense for manure, and other incidental charges. The expense of tile draining amounted to not less than 4l. per acre; and there were in England and Wales 31,000,000 acres of cultivated land; in Scotland, 9,000,000 acres; making a total of 40,000,000 acres. Striking off 10,000,000 acres already drained, left 30,000,000 acres at 4l., which made the total expense 120,000,000l. The improvements consequent upon the consolidation of small farms would not cost less than 6,000l. for every farm of a rental of 1,000l. per annum. The total landed rental of the United Kingdom was, he believed, 45,000,000l., so that here would be an expense of 270,000,000l., making, in all, 390,000,000l.; and he would venture to say, that if the project of the free traders for the improvement of agriculture were carried out, it would not cost a less sum than 300,000,000l. He should give his support to the Motion of the noble Lord.


said, that the question before the House was one of so much importance to the commercial interests of the country, that he could not allow it to pass without making a few observations. He considered it to be a measure of greater moment than any that had been brought before the Legislature for the forty years he had had a seat in that House; and he looked upon it as the era from which they might date the decline of this great Empire. The effect would be ruinous to Ireland, would tend to the loss of their Colonies, and prove detrimental to their shipping interests. In this country it was considered good farming to take three crops of oats from newly reclaimed land; but in Ireland they took no less than ten crops from it. If he could prove that this measure would reduce the price of oats, then he thought he should have shown that it would effectually discourage the reclamation of waste lands. His noble Friend the Member for Lynn had already proved this in an admirable manner—such, indeed, as his proofs generally were; but he would submit other arguments; and first, he would quote the testimony of no less a person than the present Colonial Secretary (Mr. Gladstone), who said, in 1842, in the discussion upon the Tariff, that he could procure annually from the Continent 793,000 quarters of oats at 11s. 3d. per quarter. To this 5s. must be added for freightage, which the right hon. Gentleman said would make the price of continental oats in this country at something like 16s. per quarter. Now, let them see what would be done in Ireland. In that country oats were sold by the barrel of 196 lbs.; so that it would take a barrel and three-quarters to make one quarter. Oats were now selling there at from 13s. to 14s. the barrel; so that, if they deducted from this price 5 per cent for kiln-drying, the barrel of Irish oats must, in competition with foreign oats, be sold for one-half of its present price. He could very well understand the Repealers supporting this measure (it would be enough to make him one if he had not English property); but he could by no means perceive how Irish Members, who were anxious for the connexion of the two countries, could support these commercial innovations. If an Irish Parliament were sitting in College Green, and such a measure was recommended by the English Parliament, it would be indignantly scouted as a grievous attempt to injure their country. The Repealers would say, "You see what your friends in England do for you." To say that this measure would benefit Ireland, was nothing short of downright humbug—a gross and palpable delusion. But he would quote a still higher authority than Mr. Gladstone, or than any of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench—Mr. Pitt. What did Mr. Pitt say?— They (meaning the Irish) have no manufactures but one—namely, their agriculture; and the Irish agriculturists must be protected. Ireland must fall, and be a clog on this country, if her agriculture ceased to receive support. There was no statesman of any renown who advocated such a system. The free-trade doctrines were quite new—they were innovations, of which, God knew, he had seen enough. There was hardly any part of the Constitution that had not been innovated—the Legislature had been remodelled—the Church had been encroached upon; but, thank God! the throne, which was filled by the most amiable and exalted of Her sex, was yet saved.


said, it was a strange way of furthering the interests of Ireland to advocate a measure which must infallibly reduce the price of her produce. Nothing was more likely to cause distress there than bringing its grain into competition with that of the foreigner, who could grow it at half the cost. It was said that protection had done nothing for Ireland; but, let it be recollected, that forty years ago Ireland imported corn for her own support. Within the last four years Ireland exported no less than 6,000,000 quarters of oats into this country, and, in the same period, 5,000,000 of cwt. of oatmeal. He could very well understand how Repealers would be anxious for the measure; but he could not conceive how a Minister of the Crown, who had been placed in his high position to preserve the connection between the two countries, could advocate a measure which tended to the dismemberment of Ireland.—Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Report to be received.

The House resumed.

House adjourned at Nine o'clock.

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