HL Deb 14 March 1839 vol 46 cc563-5
The Duke of Richmond

would take this opportunity of presenting a petition from the inhabitants of Sompting and Lanceing in the western division of the county of Sussex, for protection against Foreign Fruit admitted into this country on the payment of an ad valorem duty, by an act passed last year. He would not enter into the subject, but content himself with reading the pledge given by the noble Viscount at the head of her Majesty's Government at the close of last session, which he would no doubt feel it his duty immediately to carry into execution. On the 9th of August the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) opposed the Customs Bill, as he (the Duke of Richmond) did also. On the 10th of August he asked his noble Friend (Viscount Melbourne) whether, if the bill were then permitted to pass without opposition, he would reconsider the objectionable clauses next Session. In the Mirror of Parliament these words were ascribed to his noble Friend: "I should be extremely sorry to lose or abandon this measure, which, if passed, a bill shall be introduced next Session to meet the points objected to." Upon that the noble Duke opposite wished to know when the bill would be Introduced. His noble Friend replied, "as early as possible." Plenty of time had certainly been given to his noble Friend to carry that pledge into effect, and he now wished to ask him on what day his colleagues would bring in a bill in the House of Commons for that purpose.

Viscount Melbourne

said it was a very inopportune night for the question which the noble Duke had stirred to be introduced; but first he begged to say, that he knew nothing of that book from which the noble Duke had been reading. He did not rely, in any respect, upon the authority of that book. He had nothing to do with the report it contained. The report had never been submitted to him: he was, therefore, not in the slightest degree responsible for it. It was quite impossible that he could have said what was there reported. What he did say was, that the question should be reconsidered in the beginning of the next Session of Parliament; and that, if the duties were found to be so ruinous in their effects to the growers of fruit as was represented, then the matter should be remedied. That was all he could possibly say. As to saying, with respect to a bill to which the House of Commons had assented, that he would bring in a bill to have a portion of it repealed, it was more than he had any right to say. He understood that his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, had seen many deputations of fruit-glowers on the subject, and that the matter was under consideration. If the circumstances were as they had been stated to be, a remedy would be applied to the evil.

The Duke of Wellington

said that as far as he could recollect the circumstance, the bill was introduced in an irregular manner, at a late period of the Session of last year, and that the growers of fruit conceived they were injured by some of its provisions. The noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) stated very strong reasons why a bill affecting that class of persons should not be passed without notice. At the same time he was exceedingly unwilling to stop a measure which the noble Viscount stated, on the part of the Government, it was desirable should be passed. He, therefore, consented to allow the bill to proceed, but expressed a hope that the noble Viscount would take the subject into consideration, with a view to a remedy being applied at an early period this Session to the evils complained of by the fruit-growers, because, if any delay were to take place, the parties complaining might be entirely ruined.

The Earl of Radnor

observed, that with respect to one article of home growth—he meant apples—the fruit-growers had no reason to complain of the operation of this measure; for apples last year were 2s. a bushel, and the year before 2s. 6d.; whereas they were now 4s. a bushel.

The Duke of Richmond

had no wish to bring on a discussion upon the subject at the present moment, but he must declare that he would never again allow himself to withhold any opposition to a measure which he thought ought not to pass. His noble Friend had said, that all he pledged himself to was that he would reconsider the question. Why he could compel him to consider it, if he chose, by presenting this petition. He had allowed the bill to pass without saying "not content," because he believed it was the intention of the Government to repeal the objectionable clauses early this Session. As to the price of fruit, to which his noble Friend (the Earl of Radnor) had referred, he would only state that whereas in 1822 apples were 10s. a bushel, they were now only 4s. The real hardship of the law was its operation upon the occupiers, who were generally labourers of small gardens and orchards. There were a great many cottages in Sussex occupied by labourers which had orchards attached to them, the produce of which afforded them very great assistance. These were the parties whe suffered by the clauses, which were very improperly allowed to creep into a customs bill, which was passed without any discussion at a late period of the Session. As to the pledge given by his noble Friend, all he could say was, that he had understood it in the sense in which it was reported. His noble Friend might have expressed himself too strongly, but that was nothing to him.

The conversation ended.

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