§ From and after the commencement of this Act, every contract, bargain, sale or dealing relating to corn shall, unless it is made or had by weight only and in terms of and by reference to the hundredweight of one hundred and twelve imperial standard pounds, be null and void:
§ Provided that this Act shall not apply to any contract, bargain, sale or dealing—
- (i) for or relating to a less quantity of corn than one hundred and twelve imperial standard pounds;
- (ii) for or relating to corn imported into the United Kingdom so long as the same shall remain in the warehouse, or store, or shed where the same shall have been first stored on importation;
- (iii) for or relating to corn growing on or in the land and not severed therefrom.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
I beg to move in paragraph (ii), after the word "corn" ["relating to corn"], to insert the words "which at the date of the contract, bargain, sale, or dealing is not within the United Kingdom or to corn."
This is just to rectify an error in drafting.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I beg to second the Amendment. I had put down a similar Amendment, but this covers the same point.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I beg to move, after paragraph (ii), to insert a new paragraph—(iii) for or relating to corn imported into the United Kingdom in cases where such contract, bargain, sale, or dealing provides for delivery in the original bags in which the corn was imported (subject only to re-bagging in replacement of damaged bags).1438 This is a further proviso to follow that which was inserted when the Bill was in Committee. If the House will allow me to say a few words on the merits of the two provisos together I shall make the position clearer. As the House knows, the agricultural interests of the country are strongly in favour of the Bill. On the other hand, the corn trade of the country at the great ports, which is concerned with four-fifths of the total consumption in this country and with a very large quantity of other grain imported, has been all through opposed to the Bill on the ground that it affects transactions in a business way to the prejudice of those concerned. I addressed the House on the Second Reading of the Bill, and the House unanimously gave a Second Reading to it. In order to deal with that position I suggested to those who were promoting the Bill that an extension of the exceptions, in order to take out of the purview of the Bill those transactions which take place in regard to the actual importation of corn into the country and so far as the imported corn is dealt with as imported corn, might meet the difficulties of the majority of those who are opposing the Bill and at the same time not be inconsistent with the general object of the Bill, which is to simplify all transactions in this country. The promoters of the Bill most considerately and sympathetically acceded to the representations which I made to them and adopted paragraph (ii) as it stands in the Bill.
That proviso deals in the main with corn which is imported in bulk and it provides that as long as the corn is in the warehouse to which it first goes after importation, it shall be treated as not yet having come into the scope of the Bill, but that as soon as it goes away from its first warehouse it will cease to bear the character of imported corn and will be properly regarded as, so to speak, part of the common stock of corn of the United Kingdom, and therefore within the general principle on which the Bill is based. There is, in addition, another type of case which is not quite covered. A certain amount of corn imported, perhaps more of corn intended for feeding stuffs for cattle, is actually delivered to the consumer in the original bags. I believe it is quite a small proportion, but I do not dogmatise on the point. If contracts for the sale of imported corn in what one can call the original bags are 1439 excluded from the purview of the Act, the operation of the Amendment would be really beneficial from the point of view of saving money by obviating the necessity of rehandling, and anyhow it would not in any way impair the main object of the Bill, which is to deal with transactions taking place in this country in order to prevent a great multiplicity of different measures. I think that the trade as a whole in all probability, while still disliking the Bill and still anxious to oppose the Bill, might in the end be content to let the Bill pass if these two Amendments, that which was incorporated in the Bill in Committee and that which I now propose, were adopted.
The Amendment would allow corn resold in the original bags to stand outside the scope of the Bill. I have had a discussion on the matter with my hon. Friend who is responsible for the Bill as its promoter in this House, and I think he sees that the Amendment is one which it is worth while to accept, if the House is satisfied that the result will be that the opposition of the corn trade will be conciliated. On that footing I ask him and the House to accept it. The small addition of the words "subject only to re-bagging in replacement of damaged bags" is necessary for this reason: where corn is imported it often happens that a small percentage of the bags of a consignment are damaged and that the contents have to be re-bagged in the ship's hold. It is to meet that particular case that these words are added. I have had one or two suggestions made to me that possibly unscrupulous dealers may want to get round the Act by pretending that bags were the original bags when they were not. I brush that aside as a suggestion of no weight. The standing of the corn merchants of this country is too high, and, apart from that, it would involve no advantage, and therefore I brush that possibility aside. The House is possibly alive to the fact that the quantities contained in the bags imported into this country vary considerably according to the nature of the material. Wheat is generally in 140 lb. bags, barley in 130 lb. bags, and oats in 105 lb. bags. To have to recalculate contracts based on those rates and turn them into cwts. would cause serious inconvenience. I trust the House will accept this very 1440 imperfect statement by me as to the necessities of the importing trade in the matter. I am not an expert in that trade, but I have had many cases in the Courts connected with it, and I have a second-hand knowledge of it. I know enough to recognise the fact that the merchants will be greatly in convenienced—
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
I do not profess to know the details any more than my hon. and learned Friend, but I understand the effect both in regard to the recalculation of rates and the re-bagging of the material involves the trade in great inconvenience. In these technical matters the House has to rely very largely upon representations made by the trades concerned. A long telegram was sent yesterday to Members of the House at considerable expense in regard to this matter, and I am in a position to say quite definitely that the Federation of Corn Merchants of Liverpool, the Corn Trade Association of London, and other corn trades associations of the country have definitely formed the opinion that the Bill without this protecting Clause, and possibly even with it, will seriously affect their trade and cause great inconvenience. I am sure the House would not wish to disregard representations of this kind made with authority on behalf of one of our greatest trades. I therefore ask the House to say it is desirable to pass this Amendment and make this very modest exception to the general principle.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I beg to second the Amendment. I am not sure whether I can go so far as my hon. Friend the mover has gone in his sanguine hope that this will make the Bill acceptable to those whose interests it so greatly affects. I have the greatest doubts as to the wisdom of passing the Bill, and I shall have something to say upon the Third Reading, especially when I shall have had an opportunity of seeing the attitude of those in favour of the Bill towards this Amendment. As far as the Amendment goes, it will help to make the Bill less objectionable to the community whose interests have been referred to. The hon. Member (Mr. Cautley) asked what was the inconvenience caused by the Bill. Perhaps it has not occurred to him that if a cargo 1441 of grain comes into this country in bags of a particular denomination, the effect of the Bill is that it will be only permissible to sell that grain in complements of 112 lbs. It will therefore be necessary to re-bag the entire of the cargo. The whole industry will be dislocated. It will be necessary to provide millions of new bags of a different size and capacity to those generally in use. It is not merely a case of dislocation in the office, of difficulties as to calculations, and the transformation of one weight into another. It is a practical difficulty involving the necessity of providing a large quantity of fresh material in the shape of bags for the carrying on of the trade. At several of the ports arrangements have been made by which the weight of the sack has been fixed in order to fit it to the strength of the stevedores' men. If this Amendment is not accepted, it will be necessary to revise the whole of these arrangements which have been arrived at in many ports between the stevedores and the merchants.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I fully appreciate that it does not apply to any grain until after it has left the warehouse into which it was originally imported, but I am not sure that my hon. Friends supporting the Bill fully appreciate the meaning of the Bill. I shall have something more to say about that, and about its general effect, on the Third Reading. At this stage, so far as the question of bags is concerned, I support my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott), and I hope the promoters of the Bill will accept his Amendment in the spirit in which it has been moved, and see if we cannot make the Bill workable.
§ Sir C. WARNER
It is rather a pity that the Mover of this Amendment, before he made his opening speech, did not look through the proceedings of the Committee upstairs. He will find that the Committee had something better to go upon than his opinion as to the attitude of the corn trade, because they had present a member of the corn trade, one of the hon. Members for Manchester, who took some trouble to tell the Committee what was required and what was not required by that trade. I do not think the telegram which was sent yester- 1442 day, or anything said here to-day, shows there is any unanimous or strong feeling on the part of a large majority of the corn trade against this Bill. It is quite certain there is an agitation by some of them, but it does not follow that there is any general or strong feeling against the proposals. The object of the promoters of the Bill is to prevent farmers being swindled by the differences in weights, and by not understanding the weights and measures.
§ Sir C. WARNER
I shall not dispute with the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London—whose experience of farmers is no doubt valuable—as to his opinion on the intelligence of the farming community. That, however, was the idea of bringing in the Bill, and there is something more in it. It is not only the farmers, but the general public whom we desire to see protected. What is going to happen under this Amendment? It was proposed in Committee, and these particular words were struck out, because, in the first place, there is very little corn which comes into the country in bags. Those who knew on the Committee were agreed on that. The Mover of this Amendment said the greater part of what came in was corn sold for feeding stuffs.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
What I did say was that the cases where imported corn was sold to the consumer in the original bags, I thought, were mostly cases of sales of feeding stuffs.
§ Sir C. WARNER
If we are going to protect people who buy feeding stuffs and small quantities of corn, dealers who are not absolutely in the trade, from the variations in weights, we ought not to allow these bags, which will not be in the standard weights, to be used after they have once been in the English warehouse. It is not the case that these bags last a long time. They wear out in a very short time. Another danger of the Amendment is that they are to be allowed to be replaced. I do not suppose many ships arrive with cargoes of corn in bags, but if there were, a considerable portion of them would be damaged and destroyed, and each time a bag is damaged there would have to be a new one. How is the purchaser to know, when he is buying corn, whether or not it has been re- 1443 bagged? It is a most strained Amendment to try and get in some sort of evasion of the principles of the Bill, which are that corn in this country, when once it has been delivered and accepted here, should be dealt in with weights known to the farmer, to the miller, to the public, and to everybody throughout the country. I hope the House will reject the Amendment, as the Committee did.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
On behalf of the promoters, the last thing we want to interfere with is the corn trade, but I thought the hon. and learned Member (Mr. L. Scott), in moving the Amendment, spoke with less than his usual convincing force in showing us that the corn trade will suffer any damage at all. If the Bill is thoroughly understood, there is nothing to prevent the delivery by the original bags from the store in which the corn is first landed. If the corn is on the high seas, a contract can be made, and that contract stands good, and delivery can be made under it in any sort of bags they please. The point was raised in Committee that the contract might inadvertently be made when the parties believed the ship was at sea, the ship having as a fact arrived a day or two before, and that there might be a chance under the Bill of that contract being void by reason of the corn having been landed. Therefore, the promoters met the corn trade, handsomely and well, by inserting a provision that the Bill should not apply to any contractfor or relating to corn imported into the United Kingdom so long as the same shall remain in the warehouse, or store, or shed where the same shall have been first stored on importation.Therefore, the dealers in the corn trade, having got their foreign corn landed and in store, can then send it to any part of the country for delivery and deliver it in the very bags it is in and send it where they like in the original bags and by its original weights. I suggest to my hon. and learned Friend who moved the Amendment, who is a sensible person, that the corn trade are suffering no inconvenience and no injury of any sort or kind. We have been in communication "with them, and they have not troubled to point out to us where is the injury, and I challenge my hon. and learned Friend to show us. It is true that if they move it from the warehouse into 1444 a second warehouse and then sell, they become subject to the ordinary law, but why should they not? That does not prevent them delivering in the original bags, and it does not make them have to re-bag the corn. If, in removing it, they have to weigh the sacks, they have got the weights and the bags, and they can make delivery in those bags to fulfil any contract they have made. It is trifling with this House to tell us that any injury is being done to the corn trade. If there were. I should be the first to admit it and to meet them. Suppose this Amendment is passed, the effect will be to make this Bill absolutely nugatory and inapplicable to foreign corn at all. They will go on selling this stuff in every market by various odd weights, and we shall be in the same state of confusion as we are now. The quarter differs whether the corn comes from the Argentine, or from Canada, or from the United States, or from Russia, or from India. There is a different weight practically for each quarter of corn and each different kind of corn, and that is intolerable. There is the further point that is very little made of, and it is a point that I have laid great stress on in supporting this Bill from the first. The weights that now exist, particularly for peas and beans, where we have a sack of 19 stone, and for wheat, where we have a sack of 18 stone, are far too big for a man to carry. I have known myself of injury being done. The only really heavy work in farming is carrying corn, and I have known injury done to growing men—carters are generally youngish men—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir E. Cornwall)
The hon. Member is discussing the general principle of the Bill and not the Amendment. If I allowed him to go on, I should open the door to other Members.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
Certainly, Sir. The reason I mention that is to show the desirability of having this measure applied to all corn that goes into internal circulation.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I would not say or do anything that would injure the general principles of the Bill as it stands, and I must confess that I have been at a loss to understand the agitation that has arisen on the part of the corn importers. I can quite see the danger of the Amend- 1445 ment, the mischief that it would produce and the confusion that would naturally follow, and I have been trying to discover the real cause of the trouble to the corn importer, and I am bound to confess that, with the exception of a few telegrams and one or two letters of a general character, I have had no actual proof given, either written or verbal, as to how it can be possible to injure the position of the stevedore or the workman employed by the corn importers if this Bill becomes law. The Bill does not interfere with the purchasing power, the bargaining power, the contracts made in any country, or the bringing into our ports of the cargoes of grain, whether in bulk or in bags. The only point to which I objected in Committee was that as to "original bags." That was, and still is, a very stupid provision, and I, of course, was against it, and am against it still. After all, a little bit of practical experience is worth a good deal of theoretical knowledge, and I have seen Karachi, Indian, and Australian wheat coming in cargoes in bulk. No sane importer, or buyer, or shipowner, so far as I know, would think of sending a cargo of wheat in bags in preference to bulk unless there is necessity. It is much easier to load and discharge in bulk, because when it arrives in the country in bulk there is only the machine to be put into the hatch, and there is practically no labour required; but when it comes in bags it has to be handled in the port of loading very carefully by the stevedores and has to be carried away, which involves an immense amount of labour. You will, of course, very often see a huge cargo made up partly in bags and partly in bulk. They have to use the bags to safe guard the cargo from shifting and losing the ship altogether. However, I fail to see how the Bill can seriously damage the interests of the corn importer. I have tried, but have failed, to find out, and my own practical knowledge does not guide me to any extent in showing where it will be dangerous, or how it will affect arrangements at our ports. If I am wrong, then the people who ought to have informed us are wrong in not giving better information. Anyhow, I would rather have the Bill as it is, than introduce any element into it that would be a dangerous factor, and probably destroy all the other good points in the Bill. Therefore, I cannot see my way at the 1446 present moment to support the Amendment.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
This Amendment, as the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division (Mr. L. Scott) has said, is an extension of the Amendment made in Committee to meet the Liverpool corn trade. I, personally, and several other supporters of the Bill, have been trying to meet the corn trade for a considerable time. We have asked for suggestions, but they have not found it possible to answer in any shape or form, and they find it easier at the last moment to send out to Members a flood of telegrams, costing about 6s. each, or about £180 in all, when they might have settled the whole thing for two or three twopenny stamps. I have just mentioned this to show that we have done our best to try to meet the objections raised. I fully recognise that the corn trade is a very important trade. We do not want to do anything to interfere with that vast trade, which is certainly greater than the internal agricultural corn trade, and I am prepared to go any length to try to prove to them that we are not wishing to put any difficulties in their way, but are trying to get over this trouble. What I would like to suggest is that we should for the moment accept this Amendment. I do not think it is going to help them. I think they will find it a futile Amendment, but I suggest it can be inserted in the Bill now, because time is an essential factor, and it can then be considered again in another place, and if, as I think, by that time it has been proved to the corn trade that it is not really helpful, it can then be removed. The point is not a very large one, but we do want to show this very important body, which really deserves very great consideration on our part, that in trying to help the agriculturists in this country, we have no desire to injure their great trade.
§ Mr. INSKIP
What does my hon. Friend exactly mean by "proved to the corn trade"? Will it rest with them to say whether they are satisfied or not?
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
I imagine it will be quite possible to get a definite opinion from the recognised representatives of the trade. I do not think there is any difficulty in that, but if my hon. Friend prefers that we should refuse to accept the Amendment—
§ Mr. INSKIP
I am not at all anxious that the Amendment should be refused, but I do not want the Amendment to be accepted with some sort of understanding that they should be free to debate its removal in another place, when we have given the Third Reading under some misapprehension.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
Well, I am certain that there is no intention on the part of anybody to do other than what is fair towards the corn trade, but it is a small matter. If on further consideration—although those concerned have had a good deal of time already—they are convinced that the provision as it stands needs amendment then we shall raise no objection.
§ Mr. J. GARDINER
Having been more or less intimately connected with the corn trade for a long time, I have been waiting anxiously to hear definitely what is the objection of the corn trade to this Bill. I anxiously listened to what was said from the Benches opposite, and if the position really was that these bags that come into the country were to be rendered useless and that the corn must be re-bagged into 112 lbs., I think there would be considerable substance in the objections raised. If I understand it, however, there is no necessity for the bags to be 112 lbs. or any specific size. That being the case it simply remains a question of calculation. There has always been the question of calculation in the corn trade, because, as has been pointed out, the importations have not come in in one specific size, and the bags have not been one size, but have varied considerably. It is just as easy for a man in the corn trade mentally to calculate the difference in these various quantities and sizes as some Members here calculate that there are 20s. in the £. I quite agree that it may be necessary at the beginning of things to have a table of calculations, but men in the business can tell what the proposals are in a moment. If there is any real reason to apprehend difficulty the proposal that has just been made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman responsible for the Bill, which is a reasonable one, would give us time to make inquiry.
§ Amendment negatived.