HL Deb 31 May 1825 vol 13 cc952-9

On the order of the day for going into a committee on the Bonded Corn bill,

The Earl of Malmesbury

objected to that part of the bill which allowed of the importation of corn from Canada at a reduced rate of duty. He feared that corn from the United States would be introduced into this country as Canadian corn. He would therefore move, "That it be an instruction to the committee to leave out of the bill all that part which related to the alteration of the duties on wheat, the produce of the British colonies in North America."

Earl Bathurst

contended, that the best policy this country could adopt was, to shew her colonies that they were under the protection of a country which considered their interests. The great objection to that part of the bill against which the amendment was directed, was the supposed clandestine importation that would take place from the United States. But, the importation from Canada was restricted to corn in grain, and not in flour; the latter being the usual way in which the American States exported; and the very bulk of the grain being sufficient to expose it to the risk of seizure, it would be difficult to carry on such a trade from the United States without detection. Some jealousy, he was aware, existed on the part of Ireland; but he saw no reason why Canada should be placed under greater restrictions than Ireland, nor was he aware that she could avail herself of the privilege to such an extent as would be injurious to the interests of that country, Canada, it might be said, was likely, in the course of time, to become cultivated to a considerable extent; but, they were not to condemn her to perpetual sterility by any partial course of policy; especially as it would be in their power, when an extraordinary importation should arrive, to alter the law, so as to meet the difficulty.

The Earl of Lauderdale

thought that the bill ought to be divided. There was no reason that he could see for making the questions of the bonded corn, and the importation from Canada, parts of the same bill. Of the effect which the importation from Canada would be likely to have, they had at present no means of judging; for no return of the price of grain had been received since 1820. It was legislating in the dark, to encourage importation from a country, with the average produce of whose grain they were utterly unacquainted.

The Earl of Liverpool

observed, that the two subjects were united in the bill, as the bill referred to another measure in which both subjects were included in the year 1815. As to the merits of the question itself, he looked at it in an inverse ratio from the view which his noble friend the mover of the amendment seemed to have adopted. He considered that part of it which affected the bonded corn objectionable, because he considered all temporary measures objectionable in principle; but, under the present circumstances of the country, it was an advantage both to the consumer and to the landed interest, that it should be resorted to; for, in the first instance, it would prevent any immediate rise of price, and ultimately it would operate against that extreme depression which an extraordinary advance would produce, by throwing open the ports and causing a glut in the market. As to the other provision, for admitting the introduction of Canadian corn, it was in the spirit of the changes which they were already occupied in making. They had been occupied during that session in extending the trade of the country, by getting rid of monopolies and restrictions, And, would any man believe that they could carry such a principle into effect, and exclude at the same time from its operation the most important of all commodities, that of corn? The system of monopoly from which this country had recently been engaged in extricating herself, was not our fault. It was the system of the whole world. But now, when other countries were becoming free and independent with respect to trade, did it become us to act upon such a contracted, such a dangerous principle, as would lead us to withhold from our own colonies the benefit of a free trade? It was idle to talk of the quantity of grain that Canada would be able to send into the market. The freight and insurance alone would amount to about 12s. 6d. a quarter, and besides that, it was subject to a duty of 5s. Then, with respect to the United States, he found that the price of corn fluctuated from 36s. to 40s. a quarter, which, on a comparison with our own prices, would not be found to afford any strong temptation to the American exporters. Indeed, so much did the measure lean to the safe side, he would prefer, as more liberal, a duty of 2s. 6d. to 5s. on the importation of Canadian corn. Then, the benefits of an increased shipping trade, was not to be overlooked. Looking, therefore, at the question in every point of view, he had no doubt that it would be most favourable to Canada, as well as to this country, by putting them in a better condition to consume our manufactures. As the main object was, to extend the commerce of the country generally, it was a part of the plan to put the dependencies on an equal footing, and, in pursuance of that plan, Canada and Ireland would be placed in juxta position, as to the corn trade. Something had been said as to the position in which Ireland stood, by which it was contended, that from the pressure of taxation, it was not fair to put that country into competition with Canada. Now, he was far from grudging Ireland the advantages she enjoyed, but he would contend, that that country was more free from taxes than Poland. He would be sorry to support any measure which took from Ireland all fair advantages; but he was bound to deal fairly with all parts of the empire. It should be recollected, that Ireland had already experienced the most liberal treatment at the hands of this country, and that in the very article of corn. The importation of corn from Ireland made no part of the articles of Union; and though that importation was a subject of jealousy to some, yet who would say that it had produced any inconvenience, or that, with the proximity of the English market, the Irish farmers could not compete with those of Canada? Again, when it was considered what steps were taking in other parts of North America, could any one deny that, consistently with the preservation of Canada, there ought not to be an extension of the most liberal treatment towards that colony? It was a measure called for by every principle of free trade, of justice, and of sound policy. The House should recollect that, by rejecting this bill, they did not leave things as they were; for they would inflict a wrong, which must operate as a check to the prosperity of the colony. He had had frequent opportunities of hearing the principles of free trade applauded, but every particular manufacture claimed an exemption from its operation. It was unnecessary to say, that the general object must be marred by attending to particular interests; and he therefore called upon the House to sanction a measure which was calculated to be of so much general benefit.

The Earl of Rosslyn

said, that this was no present boon to the Canadians, for the ports were now open to Canadian corn, and no one could say when they would be shut. But the noble earl had contended, that it was the principle that was of value. What, then, was the principle? It was that of doing away the present system of the Corn laws. The noble earl had spoken out candidly, and the direct inference from his speech was, that this was the first step towards the abrogation of the whole system of the Corn laws. He should not enter into the danger arising from excessive importation from Canada, as he had no information to direct him to any opinion on that subject. If the bill passed, it ought to contain a clause to destroy all existing leases and bargains previously formed, as this was the first step towards the destruction of the system under which they had been formed originally. As to the low rate of taxation to which Ireland was subject, he thought it rather a grievance than a favour, that the misgovernment from which she had suffered, should have rendered her incapable of paying her fair proportion towards the burthens of the country. If they did put Canada in the same situation with respect to trade, that Ireland and England were placed in, they were bound to lay upon her the same prohibitions and the same taxes; in short, to incorporate her with the mother country, by an act of union, in which situation she might fairly expect to share in the advantages and defects to which her fellow-subjects here were exposed.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, that the noble lord had completely misunderstood his argument. He had not contended for the adoption of the measure as opposed to the principle of the Corn laws, but had called upon their lordships to agree to it as a favour to our own colonies, even if we should resolve to maintain our present system of Corn laws against all the world.

The Earl of Limerick

opposed the bill, the operation of which, he believed, would be no less injurious to the landed interest than to other national interests, which would, perhaps, engage more of the consideration of the House. The shipping interests, and the useful nursery for seamen which our coast-trade at present formed, would be destroyed by the admission of foreign corn in the way that was now proposed; and, at some future time, when perils threatened the country, we should look in vain for that host of able defenders who had heretofore made our navy the pride of England and the terror of the rest of the world. He saw no grounds upon which this measure was recommended, excepting by a vote of a public meeting in the city of London. Now, with all the highest opinion of the respectability of the persons composing that meeting, he thought, from their habits, and from the motives by which they were swayed, that they were not the fittest judges upon the subject. As little was he disposed to coincide with the crude opinions of the professors of political economy, no two of whom agreed as to the doctrines of their sect. He resisted this measure, because he considered it as the advanced guard of an attack hereafter to be made on the general Corn laws of the country. He could not regard any alteration in those laws otherwise than as an evil of the deepest dye in England, and as absolutely ruinous to Ireland. It pained him to see Ireland and Canada placed in juxta position. Between those two countries, in point of importance, there was no resemblance. The con- sumption of English manufactures by Ireland was beyond all proportion larger than in Canada. The House were not aware of the extent of injury which this opening of the corn trade with Canada was likely to produce. In the year 1824, there entered the port of London alone, 66 British ships, and no less than 444 foreign ships laden with corn. Until Canada was placed on the same footing with Ireland as to charges of government, tithes, &c., it was not a fair competition which parliament was about to institute between them.

Lord Ellenborough

expressed his dissent from those noble lords who viewed a departure from the Corn laws, as injurious to the interests of the country. The present question was not, however, necessarily mixed up with that; and he could give it his support, without committing himself to any particular course when the general question of the Corn laws came to be discussed. This bill had two objects; the first one almost of humanity, that of giving facilities to certain persons who had speculated in the Corn trade, or bringing to market corn, of which there was otherwise no chance of their disposing. The quantity of corn so situated was too small to have any sensible effect upon the relations of landlord and tenant. Of this proposition he entirely approved; but of the second, he approved more warmly. The question seemed to resolve itself into this; "Shall we or shall we not keep Canada?" The time appeared particularly well chosen, as it was most important not to displease the Canadians by treating them illiberally, whilst we were acknowledging the independance of states in South America. He rejoiced to see the trade of Canada assimilated with that of Ireland. He did not apprehend the same consequences from the assimilation, as a noble lord who had just sat down. But it surprised him to hear the noble earl opposite express fears for the effect of commercial restrictions in Canada, and be so indifferent to the effect of civil restrictions in Ireland. If he really dreaded a separation of that colony on account of commerce, it was a little strange that he had no apprehensions from a people whose attachments were likely to be affected by the bereavement of every thing that rendered life dear and valuable. He concluded by guarding himself against giving any pledge on the general question of the Corn laws.

The Earl of Enniskillen

saw in this bill, the ominous forerunner of a change in the Corn laws. He deprecated any alterations in that system as calculated to extinguish the small efforts which Ireland was making towards a resuscitation. The farmers of Ireland had been living upon borrowed money; but they would never be able to recover themselves, if they were exposed to competition with Canadian corn. He called upon the agriculturists to resist this bill. If they did not, there was every prospect of their being borne down by the monied interest altogether.

The Earl of Carnarvon

said, he did not object to a partial alteration of the Corn laws, particularly such an one as would substitute a permanent duty on imported corn, in lieu of the inconvenient mode of opening and shutting the ports occasionally. The importation of American corn could not, under any circumstances, be brought into question until next session, and therefore, as many serious considerations were mixed up with this question, he would suggest its postponement for the present.

Lord Redesdale

said, it appeared to him, that one very important point had been kept out of their lordships view. The constitution of this country was founded upon, and could never be separated from, the landed interest. To talk, therefore, of a free trade in corn, was at once absurd and dangerous. It was impossible that such a free trade could ever exist, consistently with the safety and prosperity of the kingdom. As to what had been said with respect to our trade with Canada, he had every wish that the interests of that colony should be attended to; but, he could not consent to advance them at the expense of the interest, of Great Britain. If the principle of admitting the corn grown in Canada into this country were once adopted, it must be carried to its fullest extent; and, were they, he would ask, prepared to state that they would give an unqualified admission to the corn of that colony? The landed interest of England were connected with the very spirit and essence of the British constitution, and could not be separated from it. It was, therefore, their duty to take care that those interests were not injured. Landed property, it was well known, had been assessed beyond any other kind of property. This he conceived incorrect, and he should always oppose himself to every measure which would have the effect of placing our corn trade on a footing with that of foreign countries. Upon these grounds he objected to the bill; and even if they did not exist, he should object no less to any measure which might have the effect of placing the Corn trade of England upon the same footing as that of any foreign country. To do this would be to adopt a policy, and one which was opposed to the soundest maxims of national economy. The land was the foundation of all our wealth, and from it every other description of advantage flowed. This had been the idea entertained by all our old writers on political economy, and experience had proved that they were not mistaken.

The House then divided: Content 27; Proxies 7–34; Not Content 24; Proxies 15–39. Majority against the amendment 5.