HC Deb 06 June 1814 vol 27 cc1072-8
Sir W. Curtis

presented a Petition of the master wardens and court of assistants of the art or mystery of clockmakers in the city of London, setting forth: "That the art of making clocks and watches was long since established, and has been carried on in this country with great private and public advantage, and has attained unequalled excellence; that, till within a few years past, more than 100,000 clocks and watches have been annually made, whereby the sum of at least 500,000l. has been produced by British labour, on materials principally of British produce; and that many thousand artisans were thereby usefully employed; and that the national advantages derived from the perfection to which the art of clock and watch-making has been carried in this country, are not limited to the value of its produce, but extend to every branch of manufacture in which machinery is used; and that, from the operation of various causes, the value of the clock and watch manufactory as a source of national advantage has of late years been greatly deteriorated, and continues rapidly declining; the manufacturers, deprived of adequate employment, are obliged to seek other means of subsistence, and the workmen in all its branches are, in great numbers, reduced to distress, or are dependent on parochial relief for support, and many of the superior workmen, destitute of suitable encouragement at home, have been seduced to foreign countries, carrying with them their knowledge and ability, to construct and employ the most valuable and useful machinery, whereby the principal manufactures of Great Britain will be transplanted and established in foreign countries to the exclusion of British manufactures; and that the former prosperity of a manufactory so intrinsically and relatively important, was in a great measure attained by the enforcement of the restrictions imposed by act of parliament on the importation of foreign clock and watch work, as well in an incomplete as in a complete state; and that, in the year 1787, a duty of 27½ per centum was imposed on all foreign clocks and watches imported into this country, which duty has subsequently, from time to time, been increased, and now amounts to 75 per centum; and that, in consequence of the want of provisions adequate to the collection of such import duties, the illicit introduction into this country of foreign clock and watch work has obtained to an extent ruinously injurious to the British manufactory, and the advantage derived by the smuggler having increased in proportion to the increase of the duties, the illicit trade is now so regularly systematized, that the importers will undertake the safe conduct and delivery of foreign clock and watch work, without payment of duty, in this country, for 10 per cent. on its value, thus affording the illicit trader a premium of 65 per cent. which enables him to undersell the British manufacturer, and to the great injury of the public revenue; and that this facility with which foreign clock and watch work is illicitly imported into this country, is one of the principal causes of the declining state of the British manufactory; and that, during the long continuance of the war, the exportation of British clock and watch work has very much diminished, white the illicit importation of foreign clock and watch work has increased to an unprecedented degree during the same period, and, unless some new remedy be opposed to the evil, there is reason to apprehend that, whenever a general peace shall be made, the condition of the British manufactory of clocks and watches will become still more calamitous from the increased facilities with which foreign clock and watch work will then be illicitly introduced into this country, as well for home consumption as for the export trade; and that foreign clocks and watches so illicitly-imported are openly exposed for sale in all parts of the kingdom; and that, in order to obviate any impediments which national preference, joined to the acknowledged superiority of English work, might oppose to the sale of foreign watches, they are illicitly imported in an incomplete state, and, being made to resemble in their exterior appearance English watches, are sold as English, to the great injury of the public and the ruin of the petitioners; and that no permanent or effectual relief, to the distress of the petitioners can be obtained, unless the wisdom of parliament should interfere, and remove or mitigate those evils, the existence and consequence of which the petitioners most humbly represent and most sincerely deplore, and are prepared to prove to the House; and praying, that the House will investigate the extent and causes of the evils of which they complain, and will afford to the petitioners such relief as to them may seem meet."

Sir J. Newport

observed, that although the manufacturers were thus ready to come forward with petitions to secure to themselves the monopoly of their own market by the exclusion of foreign manufactures, yet they were loud in complaining of any attempt to secure the advantages of the British market to British agriculturists by the exclusion of foreign corn. When some gentlemen spoke of freedom of trade, he thought they appeared only to insist upon its application to agriculture, while every, restriction that could benefit manufacture was tenaciously maintained. If, indeed, the proposition of free trade were applied generally, the legislature would then proceed upon sound principle; but at present he had to complain, that the same measure of protection which was meted out to the manufacturer was denied to the agriculturist.

Mr. Rose

said that the right hon. baronet had wholly mistaken the petition, as its only object was to guard the petitioners against fraud. As to the right hon. baronet's allusion to agriculture, he (Mr. R.) should be ready to meet him at the proper time on that point.

Sir J. Newport

insisted that he had not misunderstood the Petition; as its object was, to render more effectual the law which granted them a monopoly of the British market by the comparative exclusion of foreign manufactures.

Sir W. Curtis

stated, that the petitioners did not require any monopoly; but only asked, that foreign watches should not be so marked, that a purchaser should, be unable to distinguish a good English watch from an inferior foreign article.

Mr. Barham

asked, for what purpose it could be required to prevent fraudulent importation, unless there was a prohibition? With regard to the Petitions presented against the proposed change in the corn laws, be thought that the House must yield to the public feeling on that subject; for a spirit had been excited out of doors, which was calculated to overawe the House; and he could not help expressing his surprise at the quarter from which the appeal had been recently made from that House to the people. He never, indeed, recollected any such appeal even at Palace-yard or Copenhagen-house. But any man could have roused the feelings of the people upon to subject of food. It required no talents to produce such agitation as now existed; but that agitation existing, no one could safely advise the House to proceed farther in the measure under consideration—indeed the House dare not—(A loud cry of Order! Chair! Chair!)

The Speaker

expressed his opinion, that the hon. member could not advisedly use such language.

Mr. Barhum

explained, that when he said that the House dared not proceed farther upon such a measure with a view to adoption, he meant that it dared not adopt such a Bill, under all the circumstance of the case; from consideration of the alarm which prevailed respecting it, and the evils which its adoption was but too likely to produce. He meant the House dared not do that which would be contrary to its duty. The hon. member concluded with observing that while some gentlemen on the other side pleaded for a freedom of trade when discussing the question respecting corn, none of them argued for the universal application of that principle. On the contrary, those gentleman (Mr. Rose), were continually proposing regulations and restriction in favour of manufactures. For instance, no one oftener proposed bounties than that right hon. gentleman; and all such bounties operated as taxes upon the public.

On the motion for referring the Petition to a committee,

Mr. Rose

declared, that this was the first time he had ever heard a member of parliament observe, that there could be no fraudulent importation unless there was a prohibition; while the fact was, that not a single article was imported into this country without being subjected to taxation. So much for the hon. member's skill and intelligence. [Hear, hear! from sir J. Newport.] The hon. baronet might cheer, but his statement was correct—for he recollected very few articles indeed, not even excepting raw materials, which were not subject to an import duly. Of course, such articles might be fraudulently imported. The hon. member had alluded to excitement upon this subject; but all that he (Mr. R.) had done respecting the corn laws could not, be trusted, be deemed irregular; for it consisted in his speech delivered in that House, in which speech he conscientiously stated his opinion. In that question, he would ask what improper motive could be imputed to him, or how it was possible for him in such a case to be actuated by any sinister consideration? He declared that, independently of the speech alluded to, he had offered nothing to excite any petition upon this question. Even to Southampton, which was represented by a relation of his, he, when applied to upon the subject, merely sent the resolution of that House, without any advice whatever how the electors of that town should proceed. In fact, he did not believe that any excitement had been used, or was at all necessary, among the people upon this question. On the contrary, he regarded the petitions on the table quite as the spontaneous expression of the public opinion. Whether that opinion was correct or not, he had no doubt that it was spontaneous; and it was evidently so decided against the proposed change, that every considerate man must see the necessity of acceding to the wish of his right hon. friend, the representative for Liverpool, that the adoption of the measure referred to should be postponed, at least until it was more fully discussed and thoroughly understood.

Mr. Barkam

in explanation said, that he had spoken only of the effect produced, and had not called the right hon. gentleman the author of the ferment.

Sir John Newport

insisted, that the prayer of this petition had for its object to confirm a duty which amounted to a prohibition on foreign watches and clocks. The right hon. gentleman (Mr. Rose) had been so much accustomed to being an author, that he seemed to have quite forgotten that he not only made that speech in parliament, but afterwards published it; and, by so doing, he thought that he had greatly contributed to the ferment now existing. He must insist, that the manufacturers had no right to call for protecting duties for themselves, if they were unwilling that other classes of his Majesty's subjects should have equal protection. This was not fair; they should be content that protection should be meted out to all classes with an equal measure, or they should not call for it themselves. Was it not hard, that while protection was extended to other classes, the landholder should neither be at all protected from the competition of foreign agriculture, nor even allowed to export his own produce when it would bring the highest price? The landholder was in fact annoyed in two ways; first, he was not allowed to purchase foreign commodities if he could have them on cheaper terms, or to send his produce to a foreign market; while he was denied the benefit of a due preference in his own market. Thus did the law provide for the benefit of the manufacturer, to the prejudice of the agriculturist.

Mr. Protheroe

spoke in favour of the petition, the only object of which was to prevent foreign watches from being marked with the name of any English manufacturer, and so imposed as of English manufacture. An hon. member had, he observed, expressed surprise at the quarter by which objections had been made, or, as he stated, "prejudice excited," against the Bill before the House; but he (Mr. P.) could not help expressing his surprise, that such a measure had met no opposition in another quarter, which was generally forward to profess a great regard for the feelings and interests of the people.

Mr. W. Fitzgerald

expressed his belief and confidence, that any delay which the measure before the House might experience would not serve to defeat, but to ensure its ultimate success. For such a measure required only to be fully discussed and understood, to secure general acquiescence; as it was meant and calculated for the general good. It was not to be regarded as a measure having only a partial view to the interests of Ireland, or any particular quarter, bat directed and designed for the benefit of all classes and districts of the empire. Such a measure, therefore, would not, he trusted, be abandoned.

Mr. Protheroe

, in explanation, stated, that three Irish gentlemen were examined by the committee, whose report was before the House; but he trusted that evidence, with respect to the interests of England and Scotland, would be examined before such a measure as that which that report recommended should be enacted.

Mr. Canning

deprecated the discussion in which the House was engaged; as quite inapplicable to the question properly before it, and as ill calculated to cure the animosity, or calm the inflammation which prevailed in the country, with, regard to the measure fixed for consideration this evening, and into which gentlemen were rather prematurely entering.

The Petition was referred to a committee.

Mr. Whitbread presented a petition praying for the abolition of the practice of imprisonment for debt on mesne process.—Ordered to lie on the table.