HL Deb 21 April 1842 vol 62 cc895-902
The Earl of Ripon

moved the Order of the day for the House to go into committee on this bill.

Earl Stanhope

would take that opportunity of saying a few words. It had been stated, that as this bill was looked upon as a money-bill the other House would not consent to any alteration in it, and that if any were made they would reject the bill on its being returned to them. Now, in his opinion, that objection ought not to deter noble Lords from doing their duty, and proposing any amendment which could tend to make the bill less objectionable than it now was. Indeed, so far from thinking the rejection of the bill by the other House, in consequence of amendments here, as a circumstance to be deprecated, he was rather disposed to look upon it as a matter to be desired, for there was plenty of time for discussing another bill, and it would be an advantage, that the Commons should have an opportunity of reconsidering the whole question, and particularly with reference to the tariff, which he looked upon as most injurious to growers of cattle in this country, and still more so in Ireland. He could not see why the importation of foreign cattle was permitted, except it was to discourage the rearing of them in Ireland. He objected to the tariff on other grounds, which he would take a future opportunity of stating. All he would now say of it was, that it completely took the country by surprise, and when it came to be discussed he would move that it be considered that day six months. If their Lordships should agree to any amendments in the bill, it would give an opportunity to the Members of the other House to redeem their pledges to their constituents, and, if possible, of regaining the confidence of the people. If, however, they should persevere in their support of a measure of this kind he had little doubt, that at the next election few, if any, of them would have a chance of being re-elected. He would wish to press this on the consideration of the Members of her Majesty's Government, who would in such a case be deprived of a large body of their present supporters.

Order of the Day read, House in committee.

On clause 12 (which gave to the Lord Mayor of London the power of appointing an inspector of corn returns for the city), and clause 13 (which declared that said inspector should not execute his office by deputy, except in certain cases.

Earl Stanhope

said, he would move the omission of both those clauses, because he did not think it fair that the London market should be included in taking the averages. From several returns that had been laid on their Lordships' Table, it would appear that, taking the average of 1840, it was higher in London by 5s. 9¾d. than in many of the other markets; and that from the nature and amount of carriage and other charges in London, the averages there must be always higher than in the country. The noble Earl concluded by moving the omission of clauses 12 and 13.

The Earl of Ripon

could not concur in the omission of the London market, which would make so serious a difference as to the general averages, and disturb the equilibrium of the whole. His noble Friend was mistaken in supposing that the averages of London were always higher than in the country. There were many places in the country from which the averages were taken, in which they were much higher than those of London. If London were to be excluded, as having the averages too high, other places would he pointed out for exclusion as having them too low; and thus, as he had said, the equilibrium would be destroyed. He would not enter into the question how far it was competent to their Lordships to make amendments in the bill, but, on the principle he had mentioned, he would resist the motion.

Earl Stanhope

did not rest his motion on the fact, that the averages in London were sometimes higher than those of country towns, but on this, that carriage and other high charges must be paid in London, which were not known in the country, and that these tended to raise the average above its fair level. With respect to the sliding-scale, he would only say, that no explanation, at least no satisfactory explanation had been given of it.

Clauses 12 and 13 were agreed to.

On clause 17 (dealers in corn to make returns to corn inspectors),

Lord Beaumont

said, he would move the omission of the clause, as there was nothing in the clause, nor was anything said in it, to show that it would have the effect of preventing those frauds, which (as seemed to be admitted on all hands) had been committed in making the averages, and the means of repeating which would be continued by the bill as it now stood. Should their Lordships adopt his motion for the omission of the clause, it would be necessary to make a very considerable alteration in clause 25 (inspectors and supervisors to make returns which were to be sent to the controller weekly). He would propose that the returns should be made by the growers, and not by the dealers or factors. The grower's account of his sales would be likely to be correct, he could have no motive to make a false return; but could the same reliance be placed on the dealer or factor? But, supposing the factor gave a return of all his dealings, could that give an average on which implicit reliance could be made? He thought not. Factors were known to buy corn in one market and sell it in another, and thus it might pass in sale from one factor to another and another, each dealing representing a purchase of corn, though no actual delivery of the original purchase might have taken place. From these means of fraud the present plan would be free, if the averages were taken from the growers, and from them only. The Government had now adopted a sliding-scale. The only objection to that scale was, that it would lead to frauds through the mode of taking the averages. Let that be altered as he had said, and the great objection to the sliding-scale would fall to the ground.

The Earl of Ripon

said, there might appear at first sight some reason why the growers of corn should join in making out the returns; but the proposition was liable to this fundamental objection—that it would be necessary, if the growers of corn joined in the returns, to compel them to make the returns, and not to leave the matter to their discretion. A penalty must, therefore, be imposed to compel the farmers to make the returns, and he thought the farmers would feel little obliged to the Legislature if such a provision were enacted. He objected to the motion of the noble Lord.

The Duke of Buckingham

thought the farmers would not object to the imposition of a penalty, in order that all improper practices with respect to the returns might be prevented.

The Earl of Winchilsea

was of opinion, that the imposition of a penalty would give rise to great abuses, and be objectionable to the great body of the growers of corn.

The Duke of Cleveland

believed, that the farmers would feel no objections to the imposition of a penalty to render it incumbent on them to make returns, so soon as they were aware that this provision was intended for their own good.

Earl Stanhope

supported the amendment.

Lord Beaumont

believed, that the farmers desired this provision.

The Earl of Ripon

had conversed with farmers, who stated to him that such a provision would be most inconvenient.

The Earl of Malmesbury

said, that he knew that many farmers in Hampshire had suggested the very proposition, that the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont) had submitted to their Lordships.

The Committee divided on the question, that the clause stand part of the Bill. Contents 80; Not-Contents 12;-Majority 68.

Lord Beaumont

said, that in consequence of this division, he should abstain from moving the amendment on the 25th clause of which he had before spoken.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

On the Table of duties, in the schedules relating to wheat,

Earl Stanhope

moved as an amendment, that, Whenever the average price of wheat, made up and published in the manner required by law, shall be, for every quarter, 72s. and under 73s., the duty shall be for every quarter 1d., but that no corn shall be imported under that price.

The Earl of Ripon

said, that their Lordships had agreed to the second reading of the bill, but if they decided to adopt this alteration, it was plain that the bill could not pass, and to discuss the question, would be only repeating the former discussion. He, therefore, earnestly hoped that they would not concur in the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Earl Stanhope

then objected to the duties on barley and oats, and moved that the former scales in respect to barley and oats be restored. The noble Earl referred to the definition given by Dr. Johnson of "oats," that they were the food of horses in England, and men in Scotland.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, the amendment should have his support, but that, if it were adopted, it would be fatal to the bill.

The Earl of Hardwicke

thought the protection given to barley was in fair proportion to that given to wheat. Under the new scale, barley at 30s. paid 8s.; and on the old scale, 15s. Now, if barley was on the continent 19s. 6d., which was the price when there was any demand for it, otherwise it fell, it followed that, adding duty, 8s., to the foreign price, 19s. 6d., and charges, 4s., the price of foreign barley here would be 31s. 6d., being a loss to the importer of 1s. 6d. So, when the average price here was 31s., the duty being 7s. + 19s. 6d. + 4s. = 30s. 6d.; loss to the importer 6d. at 32s. there would be a gain of 2s. 6d., so that there was protection up to 31s. by the new bill. What was the protection under the old law? At 31s. the loss to the importer would be 7s. 10d.; at 32s., 4s. 8d.; at 33s., 2s. 10d.; at 34s., 4d.; and at 35s. there would be a gain of 2s. 2d. Considering that the consumption of barley in England was 17,000,000 quarters a year, and that the foreign import was only 852,566 quarters, there could be no necessity for a higher protection.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

maintained that the proposed scale would diminish the proportionate amount of the protective duties on barley and oats as compared to wheat. There was a diminution on the amount of protection to the former species of grain of 2s. as compared with wheat; and why was this difference made? He should support the motion of his noble Friend, as he felt that no reason had been given for the decreased protection to oats. This decrease, as regarded Ireland, would prove a positive and actual evil, and he should be delighted to find that, in connection with this question, when the spirit duty as regarded Ireland should come before their Lordships for discussion, that her Majesty's Government would have made up their minds for a withdrawal of their proposition; because, if they increased the duty on spirits, and conjunctively with that measure, reduced the duty on and the price of oats, the result would be that of holding out a great temptation to illicit distillation, which he feared that all the strong temperance feelings now happily prevalent in Ireland would not be able to check. He feared, that the only reason for the comparatively great diminution of duty on oats was, that the pressure experienced by Government from oat growers was not so strong as that put in force against them by the growers of wheat. If the former had the power and the influence of the latter, perhaps oats would have received as great a degree of protection as wheat. He saw no reason for the proposed greater diminution of duty on oats in comparison with that on wheat; but he had heard a reason stated—he had heard a reason which passed current in society—-he did not know whether it was true' or not—he did not absolutely believe it; but he did not absolutely disbelieve it; but he stated it now as the only reason he had heard for the extent of the proposed change in the duty on oats. It was this: that when the tables before the House relative to the admission duties on grain were originally calculated, there existed an intention that the maximum duty on wheat should be 16s. instead of 20s. Then, however, came considerations of consequences—considerations as to how the proposed duties were likely to be received by the agriculturists. Divisions and differences followed, until at length it was agreed to raise the maximum duty to 20s. It was, however, as regarded barley and oats, forgotten that the scale for wheat was to be constructed on this new principle; and accordingly the same rate was levied on these species of grain as that which had been originally intended to apply to all. He would not say, that he believed these reports; but really he had heard that no better reason had been given, and as regarded Ireland, he believed, that the lowering of duty on oats, as proposed, would prove a very great evil. All who knew the nature of Irish agriculture, knew that the best crop which would be taken out of newly-drained land, was the second or third crop of oats, and the proposed measure would tend to induce the abandonment of the culture of oats for that of other grain. If a change was to be made at all in the scale, it ought, as regarded Ireland, to have been rather in favour of oats, and not of wheat; and he repeated, that he had heard no sufficient reason for the proposed change.

The Earl of Ripon

was quite ready to admit the ingenuity of the reason just stated, as to the origin of the mode in which oats had been treated in the measure before the House, and which had been given as the one generally believed. [The Marquess of Clanricarde: Reported, not believed.] Believed or reported, it did not much signify: it was a mere fiction. The report alluded to might do very well to talk of in clubs, but as he could assure the House that it had no foundation whatever, he trusted, that the mind of his noble Friend opposite would be relieved from the suspicions which seemed to have pressed upon it. He would, however, take the opportunity of saying a few words as regarded the proposed scale of duties on oats. He thought there were no grounds for stating that due attention had not been paid to the interests of the grower. It was proposed to reduce the duties on all grain in the same proportion as they bore to each other under the existing laws. He did not mean that the proportion was identical to a fraction, because it was impossible to make it precisely correct down to very small amounts; but, generally speaking, the reduction had taken place in the same proportion. But the real question was—is the proposed duty a sufficient protection, or is it not? He contended that it was. The average price, according to the returns on the Table of the House of oats on the Continent, was 14s. 1¾d. If to that amount the charges for freight and other expenses were added, these would bring the amount to 17s. 6d., or thereabouts. Now, at present the price of oats in this country was between 19s. and 20s. The duty proposed for that price was 7s. So, if they added to the 17s. 6d., as the price of foreign corn imported into this country, 7s. for duty, it was obvious that the continental grower would be undersold in the English market. Again, the average price of oats for the last thirteen years was 22s. 10d. During that period a certain quantity of foreign grain was imported. The duty under the proposed bill, supposing the average price to be 22s. 10d., would amount to 6s. If, therefore, the net price of oats brought into this country was 17s., and the duty of 6s. were to be added, the amount would be 23s. being 2d. more than the average price of the whole last thirteen years. Under these circumstances, then, he argued that the protection Would be sufficient for the purpose of protecting the grower. This protection of 6s. when the prices amounted to 22s., was, he might add, the very same protection proposed in Mr. Canning's bill of 1827.

The committee divided on the question that the rates of duty proposed in the bill, stand.—Contents 50; Not-Contents 7: Majority 43.

Schedule agreed to.

The Earl of Mountcashel

proposed the addition to the schedule naming the towns whence the averages are to be collected of a certain number of towns in Ireland.

The Earl of Ripon

observed that the proposal was one, which, by lowering the averages, must affect the duty. There were some towns mentioned in the amendments that he believed had never been heard of by their Lordships before.

Earl Stanhope

supported the motion, and proposed as a preliminary amendment, that the following towns be excluded from the schedule, viz., Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, London, York, Leeds, Sheffield, and Hull.

The Earl of Wicklow

opposed the amendment. It would lower the averagse.

The amendment of Earl Stanhope was withdrawn, and the committee divided on the question that the names of the towns proposed by the Earl of Mountcashel be inserted:—Contends 3; Not-Contents 29: Majority 26.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without amendment. To be read a third time the following day.

House adjourned.

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