HL Deb 22 April 1842 vol 62 cc991-6
The Earl of Ripon

moved the third reading of the Corn Importation Bill.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, he had no wish to obstruct the progress of this important bill, which had already been discussed two nights, though it had certainly been passed more rapidly through its different stages than measures of so much importance usually were at the present period of the Session; but he was desirous of taking this opportunity of putting a question to his noble Friend at the head of the Board of Trade. There had been announced to the other House of Parliament a measure relating to the tariff of various commodities, one portion of which was intimately connected with the present bill, and must be considered, in reference to it, as forming part of one general measure for the protection of agricultural produce. On looking at that tariff, he found that various sorts of animals were subjected, or proposed to be subjected, to a certain limited duty on importation into this country; and on comparing the amount of that duty with the amount of duty proposed to be imposed for the protection of arable produce under the present bill, he found a most material difference between them, so as to put capital engaged in one branch of agriculture on a different footing from capital engaged in another branch. According to the calculations of those who introduced the present bill, the average price of wheat was stated at about 56s., though from other calculations, which he had seen, he was led to believe that the price would be higher. The duty proposed to be levied by the present bill, when wheat was at that price, was 16s. or between 27 and 28 per cent; while the duty proposed by the tariff for the protection of agricultural produce did not exceed 9 per cent. The question he had to ask was, whether the noble Lords could state any reasons to convince the House that he was wrong in these calculations; or, if not, whether it were the opinion of the noble Lords opposite that there ought to exist this difference of protection. If this difference was admitted to exist, and if the noble Lords opposite thought it ought to exist, he certainly had never heard any public grounds stated in defence of the difference of protection. Indeed, he should have thought, that if any difference was to be made at all, there was a much stronger argument in favour of a greater protection to pasture land than to arable land. It was a question of great importance, whether the Legislature ought to give a bounty to the application of capital to one particular branch of agriculture in preference to another; or whether the Legislature ought not to leave capital where it found it, and give the same protection to it, whether invested for the purpose of converting land into arable purposes, or of supplying animal produce from it; for, looking to the means of securing food for the country, he thought nothing could be of greater consequence than maintaining a great quantity of pasture land.

The Earl of Ripon

said, that at no time had the duties with respect to the admission of cattle corresponded with the duties on the importation of corn. With regard to the first, there had been a prohibition, and the latter had been regulated by a duty fluctuating more or less inversely to the price. The two subjects, therefore, had been regulated on different principles. The principle ground on which the fluctuating duty was imposed on corn was, that the effect of the seasons had a material influence on the produce, so that the supply was liable to variation. It was quite true that the seasons might have an effect, also, on the value of cattle, making it at times less easy to bring animals to the market in the same full growth. Still the price of cattle never varied in the same manner as corn; and the proposition to place a duty on the importation of cattle regulated on the same principle as the duty on corn would be totally inapplicable to the circumstances of the two cases. He was perfectly ready to admit that it had never occurred to him to regulate the duties on the same principle.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

thought the noble Lord had not exactly apprehended the purport of his question. He had not asked the noble Lord whether he thought it fit to apply the system of averages to the importation of cattle; but he inquired on what ground it was that a different amount of protection was afforded to agricultural produce in the two cases? The noble Lord said that there always had been a difference; but what had the difference hitherto been? He apprehended that cattle and meat had received a greater protection than the arable produce of the country; and now, all of a sudden, without any reason being assigned for the measure, the protection on cattle was not altered with a view of bringing it down to the same level with the protection on corn, but, having been before distinguished by being greater, it was proposed henceforth to distinguish it by making it less. If this were the case he thought Parliament ought not to agree to the measure without learning whether the Government had distinctly considered the point, and what were the grounds on which they vindicated it. He begged not to be understood as giving an opinion adverse to the measure. On the contrary, he might say, without entering into details, that he considered the investigation of the tariff with reference to its improvement to be a work infinitely honourable to those who had attempted it. But it was right that this improvement should be effected on some settled and intelligible principle, and he had not heard any reason assigned by the noble Lord, who admitted that the tariff abolished the former protection on cattle, which was greater than that afforded to corn, and gave cattle an inferior protection now, why this alteration, which was an important departure from the system hitherto pursued, was proposed.

The Earl of Ripon

said, he had already explained the principle of the different duties on corn and cattle. The noble Marquess said, that the duty on wheat when the price was 56s. was 16s. under the pre- sent bill, being 27 or 28 per cent., and that the duty proposed to be levied on the importation of cattle did not exceed 9 per cent.; but his noble Friend forgot that with respect to the duty on wheat, it did not remain steadily at 27 per cent., but dwindled to nothing. [The Marquess of Lansdowne: It also rises above 27 per cent.] It would be quite preposterous to affix to cattle, the duty on which was a fixed duty, the maximum amount of duty which was assigned to corn, the latter duty being fluctuating. He had not been the least aware that his noble Friend intended to enter into this subject, or that he was expected to enter into arguments to show the precise grounds on which the specific duty proposed for cattle was selected. This was a subject which would require some time and discussion to explain satisfactorily to the noble Lord or to himself. He thought he should be able to show that if the Government had proposed a duty on cattle corresponding in amount to the duty on corn, the practical operation of such a duty would, in a great measure, have been a prohibition; and consequently the Government would, then, not have effected the object for which the prohibition was proposed to be removed. Had the Government, while professing to repeal the prohibition, proposed a duty equivalent to a prohibition, they would not have acted in a straightforward manner.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, that all he wished to be acquainted with was the ground of the difference of protection, and whether the subject had been duly considered by the Government. If the noble Lord showed that the application of the amount of protection afforded to cattle would be equivalent to a prohibition, he would make out his case, and he should be exceedingly glad to hear his reasons. The noble Lord said that he argued this question in reference to the maximum duty on corn. This was not the case; for he argued it in reference to the price of 56s., which was described to be the average price. He meant to put the question with all fairness to the noble Lord, and he certainly did think that this part of the tariff had a great connexion with the bill before the House, because it was impossible to legislate with confidence on one portion of agricultural produce, without taking into consideration the amount of protection on another.

The Earl of Malmesbury

said, with reference to the Corn-bill, the third reading of which had been moved, that though he had opposed it, he now hoped, after the discussions and divisions which had taken place, that their Lordships would assist the Government, by reconciling those in the country over whom they had any influence to a measure the passing of which was now inevitable. From his associations, prejudices, and political opinions, it might be supposed that he would regard with partiality any measure proposed by the present Government, and nothing but a sense of duty had made him vote against the Government on this particular measure. The noble Lord at the head of the Board of Control had said the other night, that some in that House and many out of it were not justified in their assertions, that the Government had deceived them in reference to their measure on the Corn-laws. It would not be right to say, that they had been deceived by the Government, but he had a right to say, that they had been disappointed; for, although the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had not abandoned the principle of the sliding-scale, he had still a right to say, that in respect to the extent of protection, the agricultral interest had been disappointed. They did not care whether the duty were sliding or fixed, so long as they had a sufficient protection, and that protection was efficiently carried out. He thought, however, as the measure had now been fully discussed, it would be wrong to offer any further opposition to it, or to embarrass the Government in carrying the measure into effect.

Bill read a third time and passed.

The following Protest against the Third Reading was entered on the Journals. Dissentient—because the new Corn-bill, although it was allowed by the Minister who proposed it to ' cause a very considerable decrease of the protection which the present duties afford to the home grower,' is not accompanied, as in justice it ought to have been, by the following measures, namely:—

  1. "1. The repeal of all the taxes which fall directly upon land—the land tax, the malt tax, and the hop duty.
  2. " 2. The equalisation of all the rates of which the occupiers of land bear at present an undue and unfair proportion, poor-rates, highway-rates, and county-rates.
  3. " 3. The repeal of the Tithe Commutation Act, which can no longer be just or applicable.
  4. " 4. A legislative enactment, authorising all persons who hold leases to surrender them on giving six months' notice before Lady-day or Michaelmas.
  5. " 5. A legislative enactment, directing the 996 payment made under every written contract to be reduced according to the proportion which the average prices of wheat, under the new Corn-bill, may at the time of making such payment bear to its average price at the time that such contract was formed, so that such payment may be of the same value as was originally intended and agreed to by the parties."