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The Act of 31 Geo. 2, repealed the 8th of Anne, and it contained a table of assize constructed on a principle differing from all those which preceded it; instead of 417 lbs. the bakers were to sell no more than 365lbs. of wheaten bread for the price of a quarter of wheat, and 52 lbs. of bread were by these means added to the two advantage loaves originally granted, an alteration which could not fail materially to raise the price of bread; and your committee therefore beg leave to point out its practical result. By the table in 8th of Anne, when wheat was at 84s. and the baker's allowance at 12s. the quarter, 4 lbs. 5 oz. 8 dr. being a quartern loaf of wheaten bread, was to be sold for one shilling.

By the table of Geo. 2, when wheat was equally at 84s. and the baker's allowance at 12s. the quarter, the quartern loaf of wheaten bread was to be sold for 134d. But as there is nothing in the Act itself, or in any of the records of the House, which your Committee have examined, which in any way notices the important alteration above pointed out, your Committee have no means of explaining the grounds on which it was made.

The operation of the law however, and the higher price of bread it occasioned, gave rise to much inquiry; and in the 13th of the King, an Act was passed, the object of which was to restore the bread laws to their former footing. This statute contained a re-enactment of the table of the 8th Anne, and contained also specific directions for dressing the flour of which the bread was to be made; but as these directions were in themselves contradictory, and as the profits to the bakers were by the construction of the table so largely reduced, they found means to prevent the possibility of putting it in force in London, although an attempt was made to do so in the year 1800.

Your Committee having proceeded thus far in their examination of the tables of assize, by which according to the market-price of wheat (and latterly of flour) the price of bread was to be set, proceeded to inquire in what way that market-price was directed to be ascertained; and on this subject they found nothing earlier than the statute of Anne: therein it is directed generally, "That the magistrates, in setting "the assize of bread, are to have respect to the price of grain, meal or flour whereof "such bread shall be made, shall bear in the several public markets.”

By the 31st of Geo. 2, the magistrates are in like manner directed" to have "respect to the prices which grain, meal and flour shall bear in the public market;" but it proceeds also to direct and empower the meal-weighers of the City of London to collect the respective prices the grain, meal or flour shall openly and publicly be sold for during the whole market, and not at any particular times thereof, and the returns so collected, the meal-weigher or clerk of the market was to give in, and to certify upon oath; and by these returns, the price of bread continued to be set as long as the 31st Geo. 2 continued in operation.

Your Committee beg leave in this place to point out, that the Preamble of the Act of Anne contains a clear definition of the object of these laws, which is there stated to be" to provide for the observance of the due assize, or the reasonable price of "bread, and to prevent covetous and evil-disposed persons for their own gain and "lucre from deceiving and oppressing her Majesty's subjects, especially the poorer "sort;" and your Committee are of opinion, that without the allowance made to the bakers, whether it is in advantage bread or in money, or in both, is moderate and reasonable; and further, that without the returns which are obtained of the prices of wheat or flour, are the real prices at which they are bona fide sold openly and in public market, the above defined benevolent intention of the Legislature cannot be obtained by the operation of the Assize Law; and your Committee, referring to the detail they have given of the most essential points in those laws which have heretofore been acted upon, by which it appears that the advantage bread continued to be allowed to the bakers, whilst the money allowance was largely increased, and whilst the value of the surplus bread was increased also with its augmented money price. Your committee cannot but entertain doubts, whether the Assize Laws, even in their earlier and better state, ever really effected their intended object; but in later times, when the tables in the 31st Geo. 2 came into use, your Committee are founded in believing they had a contrary effect.

Your Committee next proceeded to examine the Act of the 37th of the King, and the subsequent Acts by which that Act has been explained and amended; and they found in the first place, that their operation is limited to the City of London, and the

space within ten miles of the Royal Exchange: the first of these Acts contains two tables of assize, one for wheat, and another for flour; and it is left to the discretion of the magistrate to fix the price of bread either by the one or the other, as he may see fit: And your Committee finding, that this is the first statute which ever contained a regular flour table, beg leave to point out the course of this innovation in the ancient assize system; from the year 1202 to 1709, the price of bread depended solely on the price of wheat, and the allowance to the bakers always included the charges for grinding and bolting; and by the ancient custom of the land, where toll was taken, every twentieth grain (or 5 per cent. on the weight of the wheat) was deemed sufficient remuneration.

It was not until the 8th of Anne that the magistrates were directed to have reference to the price of flour in fixing the assize of bread; but it appears on the Journals of the House, that in the year 1735, a petition was presented to the House by the Bakers Company, stating the hardships under which they laboured, and praying that the assize of bread might be set by the price of flour. A committee to whom this petition was referred, reported to the House, That the petitioners had fully proved the allegations in their petition, and recommended the assize of bread should be set by the price of flour; and it appears that a Bill was brought in accordingly, but the House did not proceed therein; the 31st Geo. 2. in part provided for this object, for it is therein directed generally, that 20 peck loaves are to be made and sold from a sack of 280 lbs. of flour; and by this direction it appears, the magistrates of the City of London proceeded to fix the price of bread, and from that time but little reference has been had to the price of wheat. Still, however, the directions were only general, until the 37th of the King provided a regular table for the purpose, calculated upon the same principle as was laid down in the former Act; and here it is to be observed, that no advantage bread was intended to be allowed to the baker, it having been assumed that 20 peck loaves is the whole quantity which can be made from a sack of flour, though your Committee were informed by several witnesses whom they examined, that a larger quantity is almost always made from it: by this table a money allowance of 11s. 8d. per sack was made to the baker, which has been subsequently increased to 14s. 1d.

The wheat table differs but little from that in the preceding Act, though it has been calculated on the principle that seven bushels and a half of wheat are equal to the price of a sack of flour, and not, as it ought to have been, on the quantity of bread which could be obtained from a quarter of wheat; but the result is, that the quantity of 365 lbs. of bread in the table of 31st Geo. 2, is increased to 371 lbs.; by which alteration the advantage bread is reduced to 46 lbs. and the two loaves originally granted; in addition to this there is a money allowance of 14s. per quarter, which has since been increased to 16s. 9d.; and your Committee beg leave to point out that this sum amounts to more than 8d. on a peck loaf, whereas the money allowance on a sack of flour is less than that amount; the larger allowance being intended to cover the charges of grinding, whilst the amount of the surplus bread would seem to have escaped notice; by either of these tables, though constructed on such widely different principles, the magistrates may fix the price of bread; but as the value of the allowance in the one is so much larger than in the other, the price of bread by the one could not fail to be greater than by the other, if the charges for converting wheat into flour bore the same proportion to the price of a quarter of wheat, which for many centuries they continued to do in this country; and on this part of the subject, your Committee could not help observing with surprise, that the price of bread as actually set by the flour table, was nearly as high, and sometimes actually higher than it would have been, if set by the wheat table.

With a view to ascertain the cause of this unexpected operation of the law, your Committee proceeded to examine the mode in which the returns of flour and of wheat are now obtained: and with regard to the first, they found, that instead of the mode which has been before pointed out, the bakers are now directed to make weekly returns upon oath, to the Cocket-office, of all flour and meal which shall have respectively been bought by them during the week preceding; and the price of bread depends entirely on the average of these returns, as they must be acted on as true without they can be proved to be false, whenever the price of bread is set by the flour table.

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The prices of wheat on the other hand are returned by the sellers of it; all corn factors and dealers being directed to return to the mealweighers of the City of London an account of all corn sold by them; and your Committee on examination were led to conclude that these last returns are correctly made.

It appears respecting flour, that a small portion only of what is included in the bakers returns is bought and sold in public market, and that the full-priced bakers are very little in the habit of attending the flour market, or of endeavouring to purchase flour at the lowest price; that they are for the most part persons in needy circumstances, largely indebted to the millers and flour factors with whom they deal, and in consequence are under the necessity of receiving flour from them at the price they think fit to put upon it, provided only that the flour is of the best quality, and the price not higher than that which is returned as the general price of the week to the Lord Mayor; though it appears by the evidence, that it can at all times be purchased for ready money or on short credit, for a less price than the bakers are content to take it at.

That your Committee, in searching for the causes of this unusual state of the flour trade, could not fail to observe, that the peculiar operation of the assize makes the price of bread exactly to depend upon and to vary with the returned prices of flour, and by so doing prevents the bakers (taking them as a trade collectively) from having any direct interest in the price at which they purchase flour; whatever price they give for it per sack, that price is to be returned to them for eighty quartern loaves: if the price of flour is reduced, a simultaneous and exactly corresponding decrease in the price of bread, prevents the bakers from deriving the smallest advantage by it; but if it is raised, then, a similar increase on the price of bread prevents them from being exposed to the smallest loss; equally whether the price is low or high they obtain 14s. 1d. per sack for their expenses in baking, and if 80 quartern loaves was the precise quantity of bread they could at all times make from a sack of flour, they would have no interest whatever in its general price, either one way or another; but the surplus bread, whatever may be its amount which they can make above that quantity (and it is stated by various persons to average from two to four loaves,) is to them a profit in kind, the value of which must necessarily increase with the price of bread; and as the high price of flour which occasions this increase, is in no other respect disadvantageous to the bakers, they have as far as it goes an obvious interest in the high price of flour; and it is to the operation of this principle which your Committee attribute the indifference about the price as well as the anxiety about the quality of flour, for the best flour will always make more bread, as well as whiter bread; and where the price by the assize is uniform, the seller has no mode of seeking for better custom but by offering a whiter loaf than his neighbour.

With regard to the sellers of flour, your Committee find that they are eager to dispose of it at the high prices returned to the Lord Mayor; but that in order to do so, it seems they must be content to sell on long and doubtful credit, and many of them have recourse to becoming proprietors of bakehouses, and carrying on the baking trade on their own account by means of journeymen, to obtaining leases of bakers houses, encouraging journeymen to set up for themselves, and to giving large sums for the good-will of bakers houses. The frequency of these practices has in some measure divided the trade, as those who incur the risks attendant thereon, expect and obtain the high price which they agree amongst one another to charge for flour, whilst others who sell for money in a regular way, are contented with a lower price, and latterly it has led to the establishment of numerous shops in which bread is sold below the assize price; and your Committee are informed, that these shops are enabled to go on chiefly by the low price at which flour is to be bought by persons with capital, though some of them appear to derive advantage from selling for ready money only.

And your Committee beg leave to point out, That the high prices which are returned to the Cocket-office, are further influenced by the following circumstances:

1st. That it is the practice of some bakers to return their purchases of flour at a full credit price, though they subsequently obtain an allowance for prompt payment in the shape of discount.

2dly. That much flour is returned at a bigher price than that at which it was purchased.

3dly. That much low-priced flour is omitted in the returns altogether. That your Committee, for the foregoing reasons, being led to believe that the assize price of bread in London is higher than if no assize had ever existed, were further confirmed in that opinion by information which they procured from Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bath, and Lewes, in which places they were informed no assize was set; and they found in all of them the prices both of flour and bread have been lower than in London, though it does not appear that wheat has been cheaper.

Your Committee then thought it their duty to consider how far it might be possible to frame an Assize Law, the operation of which should be free from the foregoing objections; and with regard to the first and main objection, namely; That under an assize it is of no importance to the bakers whether the price of flour is low or high; your Committee are of opinion that this evil is inherent in the nature of an assize, and must exist in any statute which could be devised: but with regard to the others, as the Committee found the returned prices of wheat were correct, they inquired into the expediency of setting the assize of bread by them, and they found on the part of the bakers a settled repugnance to any such arrangement; and it was also represented to your Committee, that the quality of wheat, and consequently the quantity of bread which can be obtained from it, varies so materially from year to year, and from place to place, that no average quality could be fixed on by which to form a table, which would not in favourable seasons leave to the baker far too large a profit in surplus bread, and in others (such as the present) might even compel him to sell more bread for the price of a quarter of wheat than could possibly be made from it; whilst at all times it could not fail to give the bakers an inducement to buy none but the finest and most productive wheats, and materially to discourage the sale of those of lower quality; and it was further represented, that the wheat returns are subject to frequent and sudden variations, from the demand at one market happening to be for the best, and at another solely for inferior wheats. For which reasons your Committee are led to conclude, that no benefit is likely to result from any mode which could be resorted to in London, of fixing the assize of bread by the price of wheat.

Your Committee next inquired how far it might be possible to obtain true returns of the price of flour; and they found by including the whole of the sales now made in open market, and by compelling the sellers of flour to make the return and not the bakers, that some improvement might be made; but as the greater part of the flour consumed in London is disposed of to the bakers on long credit, in the way before described, your Committee are of opinion, no returns of those purchases, whether made by buyer or seller, could very materially differ from the imperfect returns at present obtained and with regard to the frauds which your Committee were assured are now practised in making the returns of the prices of flour, the inducement to have recourse to them under any regulatious of assize must be so strong, and the difficulty of detection so great, that your Committee are of opinion, that no enactment could avail entirely to prevent them and generally, with regard to fixing the assize of bread by the price of flour, your Committee beg leave to point out, that no benefit can be expected to result from it, beyond that of fixing a rate upon the labour and profits of the bakers, whilst the miller and mealmen must be left wholly without any control; and your Committee are distinctly of opinion, that more benefit is likely to result from the effects of a free competition in their trade, than can be expected to result from any regulations or restrictions under which they could possibly be placed.

Your Committee being thus led to conclude, that any remedy to the evils arising from the assize could hardly be brought about by an alteration in the law, beg leave also to point out, that the competition which has arisen, even under the discouragement of an assize, has already removed a part of the evil; and your Committee are of opinion, that if the trade was thrown open by the repeal of the Assize Laws, it would have the effect of gradually drawing persons with capital into it, of diminishing the waste of labour and unnecessary subdivision of profits, which appear by the evidence at present to exist.

That your Committee have found an opinion to be extremely prevalent, that Assize Laws operate beneficially as measures of police, and, by removing from the bakers to the magistrate all responsibility for the price of bread, ensure when that price is high

the tranquillity of the Metropolis. But your Committee could not find that any disturbances had arisen, or were at all apprehended from the suspension of the assize in the populous towns of Birmingham, Manchester, and Newcastle; and are of opinion, that the value of the Assize Laws in this point of view is so secondary, as not to coun terbalance the evils apparently resulting from them.

That your Committee thought it their duty to examine the Act of the 53d of Geo.3 ; and they observe generally, with regard to that Statute, that it has been so short a time in opération as not at this moment to be duly judged of, though it cannot fail to be liable to the general objections which your Committee have pointed out as applicable to all Assize laws.

Finally, Your Committee came to the following Resolution:

Resolved, That it is the opinion of this Committee, That it is expedient that the Bread Assize Laws for the City of London, and within ten miles of the Royal Exchange, should be forthwith repealed.

6 June 1815.

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