HC Deb 18 June 1819 vol 40 cc1221-4

The House went into a committee on this bill, On the clause being put, which proposed a duty of 6d. per lb. on sheep's wool and lambs' wool, imported from any part of Europe on and after the 5th of October 1819, and from any other part of the world on and after the 5th of January, 1820,

Lord Milton

said, the question they had now to decide was, whether the country should any longer have that great export trade which constituted so large a portion of its wealth, which vivified its laws, which gave employment to its ships, and energy to its subjects. This was a case which had excited the greatest agitation throughout the country. He held in his hand 20 petitions, and his hon. friend had more, which, though he could not lay them on the table consistently with the forms of the House, he thought it his duty to mention, to show the feeling which prevailed on the subject. Of all the new duties, there was none so impolitic as the new tax upon the staple of England. To such an extent had the chancellor of the exchequer carried this system of taxation, that he seemed to have ascertained precisely what was the minimum of vital air upon which the commerce of the country could exist; but it would be discovered too late that the right hon. gentleman had over-reached himself, and that, instead of increasing the revenue, he had destroyed the trade of the country. He earnestly recommended him to withdraw this most impolitic measure.

Mr. Western

spoke in favour of the tax. The question now to be decided was, whether the growth of wool in this country ought not, as much as possible, to be encouraged? and whether foreign importations ought not to be discouraged? Some years back the importation of foreign wool into this country was but 3,000,000 lb.; it gradually increased to 7,000,0001b., from thence to 24,000,000 lb.; and now by the last returns it amounted to 14,000,0001b. The growth of British wool was of course proportionably decreased, and he hoped that the protecting duty now proposed would have the effect of preventing the increase of these enormous importations.

Mr. Dickinson

thought that it was impossible to manufacture our woollen cloths without a certain portion of foreign wool, and that this additional tax would have a most injurious effect.

Mr. Huskisson

entered into a calculation to show, that so large a proportion of this manufacture was consumed at home, that any effect produced by the proposed tax on the foreign market would not be felt. The rate of tax, too was so small that it could not be expected to affect the manufactures. Besides, our exports were principally of the coarse and home-grown wool, which was not touched by this tax.

Mr. S. Worthy

thought this the most detrimental tax that could be imposed since foreign wools must form a mixture in every manufacture of cloths.

Mr. Sumner

approved of this tax, as a protecting duty to the agriculturists.

Lord Lascelles

regarded this tax as most unseasonable, impolitic, and injurious. It would injure the manufacturers without benefitting agriculture.

Mr. Burrell

spoke in favour of the tax. The immense importations of corn proved most injurious to the growers of corn; and the same observation was applicable to wool.

Mr. Lyttelton

remarked upon the absurdity of laying a tax on the manufacturing interests at this crisis, when the poor-rates were enormously increased. He maintained that it was not a gradual increase of duty, and entreated the House to give to the measure a more deliberate consideration.

Mr. Philips

said, that the measure would not only prove most hostile to the manufacturing interest, but would also prove, in its ultimate consequence, to be no less detrimental to the agricultural interests of the country.

Mr. R. Hart Davis

said, that the measure went to violate, in the most direct manner, that policy which the wisest statesmen amongst our forefathers had advised and practised in the most enlightened periods of our history. All that he had heard in support of it might be summed up in a few words, namely, that we were in want of revenue, and that this tax would supply it—that it was necessary to give encouragement to our agriculture, and that this tax would increase the value of our homebred wool.— Now it appeared to him, that if the coun- try wanted an increase of revenue, there were other and better modes of procuring it; and that so far from increasing our revenue, this tax would, by reducing the great staple manufactory of woollens, put out of employ a great body of artisans, whose consumption of highly-taxed articles, such as spirits, sugar, salt, &c. would be greatly lessened, so that a much larger sum would be lost by government, in the indirect taxation, than would be collected by the proposed tax on foreign wool. Added to which this impolitic measure would throw a large body of the manufacturing workmen for relief upon the parishes, whereby the landed interest of the country would be burthened instead of relieved. But it was said, that the great import of foreign wool had lowered the price of our own growth of wools. Let us look hack for twenty years, and experience would prove the falsity of this assertion. In that time our imports of foreign wool had more than trebled, yet our own wools had doubled in value. Was it possible for any measure to be more shortsighted than a tax, which discouraged the import of one of the most valuable raw materials of our manufactures? There was no foreign wool, however low in quality, which, mixed with our own wool, did not produce a manufactured article, which, from its very cheapness, would always invite consumption. If rendered more costly, the consumption was lost, and the consequence was, that a less quantity both of foreign and domestic wool was consumed. The subject might he regarded in another point of view. What was to become of the wool which our impolitic taxation would drive from our shores? Must it not be manufactured by other countries, which would enjoy a double advantage over us, first by saving the cost of carriage, and secondly, by the non-payment of this tax, and would not these advantages operate as a bonus to the foreign manufacturer of 25 or 30 per cent. when competing with our cloth in foreign markets—If this should prove true, there must be a lessened consumption of our own wools, the prices of which would of course decline, and the landholder would at last, but too late, be convinced that his interest and that of the mechanic were the same, and that in this case both would equally suffer—Upon all those articles which were the great materials of our manufactures, we had always been cautious when a tax had been laid upon them, to allow a corresponding drawback upon their exportation in a manufactured state, and this had always been held till now to be a wise policy, for the cheaper we could afford to sell our commodities, the greater would be their consequent consumption, and we ought never to lose sight of another principle, that the more we imported of the articles which foreign nations could supply us with, the more these nations would take in return of those manufactures, which we were enabled to supply at a cheaper rate than other countries. When Buonapartè was at the head of the French government, he felt it was a wise policy (as opposed to the interests of England), to withhold the raw materials from our manufactures, because he knew that if we had them, our machinery and other great local advantages, would enable us to manufacture much cheaper than other nations. The tax then about to be laid on foreign wool was in a great degree following up the same policy. On the whole review of this question, he conjured the House to pause and consider well before they passed into a law, this most injudicious measure! It would tend very considerably to lessen the commerce of this country, and consequently to throw its workmen out of employ, and whilst it occasioned this injury to the manufacturer, the landholder would equally suffer, and he thought he had demonstrated that the revenue would not be increased. He trusted that we should soon return to sounder principles of legislation, and if this tax should be carried, that in a future session of parliament, its repeal would be called for by the general voice of the people.

Mr. Evans

felt it his duty to enter his most solemn protest against the present tax.

Mr. Wilson

assured the House, that when he informed them that he intended to say only a few words, he intended to adhere strictly to his promise. The words he had to utter were, his downright abhorrence of the tax now proposed.

The House divided—For the tax, 106; Against it, 63: The chairman then reported progress, and asked leave to sit again.