HL Deb 28 July 1842 vol 65 cc728-30
The Earl of Ripon

moved the third reading of the Customs' Act Amendment Bill.

Lord Monteagle

said, that it must be a matter of pride and satisfaction that this, which claimed the first rank amongst commercial nations, should, with the approval of each party in the State, adopt such changes in the tariff as favoured the exten- sion of trade, the removal of prohibitions, site, and by which he should conclude his and the diminution of duties. There were two articles on which, however, according to the principles of the tariff itself, and certainly in consonance with the interests of our manufacturers, the duty on the raw material should have been abolished—he meant cotton and wool. He should say a word on the article of corn. They knew that a considerable amount of foreign corn was now in bond, and it was calculated by noble Lords opposite that a considerable portion was likely to be released for home consumption. He should rejoice if that were the case; but he should rejoice at it still more if it came out through the natural operations of trade, and not when it was subjected to little or no duty. Any man who looked at the subject dispassionately must see that, whether the 1,200,000 quarters in bond paid duty or no duty, the result to the consumer must be the same; because the price would be regulated not by the amount or the absence of duty, but the amount of corn in the market as compared with the means of the people to purchase it. The difference in the amount of duty could have no effect on the price to the consumer, but would go into the pockets of the holders of the corn, whether foreigners or not. All their Lordships, particularly those connected with the agricultural interest, contemplated the admission of foreign corn when the price was high, as more endurable than when it was low. In the one case it tended to mitigate the evils of a scarcity, and in the other it was regarded as an unmixed evil. Now, what was the consequence of the present duty? Why, it produced just the opposite results to those which he had mentioned. If there should be an anticipation of a rise in price, not a single quarter would be introduced; but, if the state of things were such as to show the probability of a fall in price, whether from an abundant harvest or any other cause, the market would be glutted by the introduction of this foreign corn. So that the English producer must contend with two impediments to a high price—the state of the harvest at home, and the importation of corn from abroad. There could not be a more complete refutation of the principles on which the existing Corn-law was founded, though he must admit that his objections did not apply to the present Corn-bill, but to every measure founded on the principle of a sliding-scale. There were some questions which he should like to have answered by his noble Friend oppo- site, and by which he should conclude his remarks. He wished to know in what state our treaty with Portugal stood. It was well known from public information that a treaty was to be entered into. He thought such a treaty not only important in itself, but as it affected our relations with other countries. His second question related to the expiration of our treaty with Brasil. He knew not whether the two Governments agreed on the construction of the treaty with regard to that event, but he wished to be acquainted with the interpretation which our Government put on it. He next wished to know whether the Government had made any remonstrance in consequence of the steps taken by the King of Belgium, in accordance with the scale of prohibitory duties imposed on English linens by the French?

The Earl of Ripon:

As to the mode in which foreign corn was taken out for consumption, the noble Baron would soon have an opportunity of ascertaining the point exactly; for the noble Earl behind him had moved for a return, which must show in what proportion, and under what circumstances, the corn, which had hitherto paid duty, had been brought into consumption. It was perfectly true that her Majesty's Government were in negotiation with Portugal, with the object of placing all the essential branches of our trade with that country on a satisfactory footing. He could only say, that if our Government was disposed to act in a spirit of perfect fairness, and as they were likely to be met in a reciprocal manner, he bad great gratification in anticipating a satisfactory result. As to the question respecting the period of the termination of our treaty with Brazil, the present Government, as well as the late, thought it would not cease until November 1844, while the Brazilian Government contended that it would expire in November, 1842. Our commercial regulations with that Government were the subject of pending negotiations, to which he could not further allude. As to the representations on the subject of the French ordonnance, our Government had made such as the circumstances of the case seemed to require. Though the King of Belgium seemed to act in accordance with the measures taken on the part of France, his measures were not decisive without the confirmation of the legislature.

Bill read a third time.