HL Deb 26 June 1828 vol 19 cc1518-24

The Puke of Wellington moved, the Order of the day for the third reading of this bill.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

said, he concurred in much, if not in all, that had fallen from the noble duke upon a former evening, with the exception of his recommendation of the measure as a permanent regulation. Independent of the various considerations connected with the state of the currency, which so materially affected this measure, it was apparent from the nature of the bill, and from circumstances which might arise, that it would be necessary hereafter to reconsider this measure. The protection afforded by this bill was, in his opinion, less than that afforded to the agriculturist by the bill of last year at that part of the scale at which the agriculturist stood most in need of protection. Greater protection was afforded by the bill of last year between 52s. and 58s.; and the present bill afforded greater protectection when the price ranged from 62s. to 68s. He was of opinion, that the occasion might arise when so much foreign corn might be poured into the country, as to render it necessary for the legislature to interfere. Though he did not support the present bill as a permanent measure, he hailed it with satisfaction as evincing a disposition to approximate, and a manifestation of change of opinion in that House. Within a single year the minority for upholding the former state of the law upon this subject had been reduced to a fifth of what it was. He was glad to perceive also, that none of the calamities which had been predicted as attendant upon the warehousing system had been conjured up on this occasion. He saw in all this an indication of a favourable change of opinion in the House, and a disposition to meet the general feeling.

The Earl of Malmesbury

maintained, that the change of opinion in that House had not been effected by any feeling manifested out of doors. There was a strong feeling throughout the country upon the subject; but it was one of decided opposition to the present measure. The noble marquis regarded this measure as any thing but a permanent one. Now, though opposed to this bill, he above all things deprecated temporary legislation upon the subject. Even if the measure were bad, he would say, for God's sake let it be permanent. It was impossible for landlords and tenants to come to any arrangements, while the subject continued in an unsettled state. It was thought there would be a deficiency in the wheat crop. In this event the measure would fail of the desired effect, in the districts where this scarcity prevailed; in fact, it would be fatal to them, for the moment wheat averaged 60s., foreign grain would pour in. His opinion was, therefore, that they would have no possible check at 60s. nominally, as a remunerating price. The landlords, besides, could not now reckon upon the capital of their tenants to bear up against the storm. That capital was nearly exhausted. He objected strongly to the exception made in favour of the Isle of Man, on account of the facility which it afforded to fraud and evasion. Why not, as the rights of sovereignty of that island had been purchased by the community, place it upon the same footing as the other parts of the kingdom?

Lord Ellenborough

said, that this equal annexation of the Isle of Man would take place as soon as the necessary arrangements could be effected. In the mean time, a plan of certificate had been provided by the officers of the Customs, which would prevent the perpetration of frauds and evasions. The noble marquis had assigned three reasons why this measure should not be deemed a permanent one. First, the state of the currency; and secondly, the situation of their foreign relations. Now, the latter reason, if applicable at all, would affect equally every other measure of general policy in which the country might be engaged: but he must say, that nothing was more unlikely than any occurrence in their foreign relations, which could affect the present arrangement. The third objection was against the descending scale of duties. This the noble lord defended, by a comparison of the provisions of the present bill with those of the bill of last year. The present bill went to supply the deficiency when the harvest was below the average; and as to its imputed want of permanency, what corn-bill could be called permanent, when the materials upon which the basis must rest were exposed to fluctuation, from a variety of uncontrollable causes.

The Earl of Darnley

approved of the bill because it relinquished the principle of prohibition, and substituted a graduated scale of duty. He doubted, however, whether the descending scale under 58s. would effect its intended purpose.

The Earl of Rosslyn

condemned that spirit of excitement and calumny, which imputed corruption and selfish motives to the agriculturists who sought a reasonable protecting duty. The bill of last year appeared to be rather a measure forced upon the government of that time, than one emanating from them upon a dispassionate investigation of the subject. The proper protection of agriculture involved the well-being of the other classes of the community, and of course the ultimate advantage of the consumer. He was spared from demonstrating this fact, because he; saw in the conduct of government an assurance of their determination to act upon the same principle. In looking at the present bill, he objected to the graduation of the descending scale, and would propose that the price under 58s. should descend by 2s. instead of 1s. He was very desirous that a scale of protection should be devised, which should secure the permanent employment of capital in agriculture, particularly in Ireland. It should always be recollected, that capital embarked in manufactures was liable to depredation by design or accident, far more than that employed in agriculture which always, be the speculation good or bad, tended to give to the land a permanent character of improvement. When the proper time arrived, he would move an amendment to the warehousing clause.

The Duke of Wellington

implicitly believed that this bill would put a stop to the impolitic speculations in foreign corn, which had so often taken place, and substitute in their room a dealing in British produce. The duty at 58s. was higher than that provided in last year's bill. [Here his grace was reminded, that this particular duty was the same in both bills.] There was certainly a difference in the lowest scale of duty, speaking, as well as he remembered, from the information afforded by last year's committee, before whom it appeared that 31s. was the importation cost of wheat from Dantzic, to which add the duty of 29s.; and then the calculation was formed exclusive of any allowance for profit for the seller or importer. He admitted that corn could be imported into this country upon the same terms as into the port of Rotterdam; but the cost of transfer from Holland to London, would be 2s. 6d. or 3s.: nevertheless there would be a countervailing gain upon the descending scale of duty. It was this which weighed with him in not laying the duty at once upon corn introduced merely into the warehouses; for the effect would be to diminish the value of warehouse property in this country, without any adequate advantage.

Earl Stanhope

opposed the bill, though he thought it less objectionable than the bill of lust year, simply because it was not intended by government as a steppingstone to further spoliation. This, rather than any intrinsic merit in the measure, accounted for the diminished number of its opponents, which had excited the surprise of the noble marquis. He had opposed both, and could not be called on to explain the conduct of those who had supported this bill, after having opposed the former; but if he were to hazard an explanation, it would be that the government of last year was the object of general disgust and suspicion, and the government of the present day the object of general confidence and esteem. They ought however, if they passed this bill now, to accompany it with two other measures; one to change the value of the currency, and another to give to farmers throughout the country the option of cancelling their leases. He felt unbounded veneration for the government of the noble duke, and could not but contrast the state of things at present with that of last year; when the landed proprietors were made, in another place, the object of reproach, and their interests appeared to be devoted to spoliation.

Lord Goderich

observed, that the noble earl had said, that he placed confidence in the administration of the noble duke, and had gone on to draw a contrast between the present administration and its immediate predecessor, and the administration of lord Liverpool. But he begged to remind the noble earl, that the bill brought in last year, did not proceed from the administration preceding the noble duke's but from that of the earl of Liverpool, of which the noble duke was himself a member. As to the hostility to the agriculturists, said by the noble lord to be entertained by some persons, he appealed to their lordships whether he had ever betrayed such a feeling, and whether he did not rather, in bringing forward his bill last year, introduce it as a measure beneficial to all interests. He did not, on that occasion, make it a question of protection or no protection, but had argued it on the ground of its tendency to serve all classes of society; nor did he ever talk of the agricultural interest but as one that required especial protection from parliament. He must, therefore vindicate himself and the administration which had been so unjustly attacked by the noble earl, from the imputations which had been heaped on them.

Earl Stanhope

, in explanation, said, he was justified in his language, when he remembered that a distinguished political economist had said in another place, that the agricultural interest must be put down, and that he would sound the tocsin of alarm, whenever protection should be demanded. Was he not right in imputing wild theories to that administration, when there were in it Mr. Huskisson, Mr. Grant and a host of other political economists? He would not only repeat his observations but defend them.

Lord Goderich

declared, on his honour, that he not only had never heard any person use the words mentioned by the noble earl, but did not believe that any person was foolish enough to utter them.

Lord Redesdale

accounted for the bill having proceeded from lord Liverpool's administration, on the ground that that noble lord was under the influence of those members of his government who represented him in the House of Commons; but that bill was not the only unwise measure which lord Liverpool was obliged to sanction. There was, for instance, the Canada bill. They had lately heard much of the word "resign" and he remembered, in Mr. Pitt's time, the word was much used by a certain triumvirate, who had established an undue influence over that minister; that triumvirate grew afterward into a decemvirate, and was overturned; and then he was told that Mr. Pitt resigned —Resigned ! no such thing; he was dragged out. The noble baron then proceeded to show that if the comparative value of money were taken into the account, corn was dearer in the reign of Charles 2nd than it was at present; and that no corn law could be permanent, that was not founded on the principle of the corn-law of that reign. That law forbade the importation of corn, unless there was a strong probability of scarcity: and the consequence was, that the country had risen into a high state of cultivation, and had been found capable of supporting three times the number of inhabitants, which it had in the reign of Charles 2nd. The present bill was particularly objectionable in principle; for it held out a premium to speculators to search where in the world they could get corn cheapest, and then, after making that discovery, to import it in the greatest quantities to this country. The effects of such a system must be ruinous to the agriculture of any nation, and particularly of a nation which had such heavy establishments as we had to support. The noble lord argued, that this measure could not be a permanent one owing to the fluctuations which were daily taking place in our currency, to the variations in the amount of our taxes, and to the increase of the poor-rates. He should oppose the bill, as wholely inadequate to its object, and calculated rather to produce mischief than good.

The bill was then read a third time, after which, several amendments, moved by the Earls of Rosslyn and Stanhope, were proposed, and negatived.