HC Deb 06 February 1821 vol 4 cc425-8
Mr. Wallace

said, he rose, pursuant to notice, for the purpose of moving, "That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the state of foreign trade." The subject was brought forward thus early in the session, in order that the labours of the committee might be laid before the House as early as possible, so that any suggestions that emanated from it might be speedily considered, and acted on, if approved of by parliament. He knew the subject could not have been placed in better hands than in those of the hon. member (Mr. Baring), who, in the last session, had so ably stated his opinions on this important question; but, it was deemed advisable, that a member of the government should introduce it, because ministers wished to prove to the House and the country, that the consent which had been given, on the part of government, to the formation of a committee of this nature, was not a forced or reluctant consent. They were anxious to show, that they felt the deep importance of the subject, and that they were willing to give every facility in their power to its consideration. He would not, in moving for a committee, go over those reasons and arguments which on a former occasion had been so ably urged, to show the necessity of an alteration in the existing system. There was, undoubtedly, great distress in the country. A part of that distress, which was said to be within the reach of the House, and to which legislative provision might be applied, was, he felt happy to say, in some degree abated, though not entirely removed. Some of the most important branches of our manufactures had been considerably improved; and it gave him pleasure to state, that the cotton-manufacturers in England and Scotland were generally employed. The same might, he believed, be stated of the woollen-manufactures. There were other manufactures, however, in a situation of very great, and, he feared, increased depression. But, they were returning to a state of things, which in the end, would, he doubted not, prove most favourable to the country. The different branches of manufactures were so intimately linked together, that the distress of one must necessarily affect others. Now, if this were the fact, it was rational to conclude, that those branches which happened at a particular period to be, depressed, would, in an equal degree, be improved by the increasing prosperity of other branches. But, it was not merely, because distress existed in the country, that government thought it right to sanction an inquiry into the state of trade. If no distress existed, still government would be most anxious to consider this subject—partly on account of the altered situation in which the country was placed, in consequence of peace, but also with reference to the commercial exertions which were making in some of the countries around them. That commercial spirit which had recently arisen, and which rivalled England in almost every part of the world, rendered it necessary, that we should adapt our system as far as possible to existing circumstances. In war we were enabled to maintain an exclusive foreign trade by the protection which out fleets afforded; but now we were compelled to admit of the commercial competition of other countries; and although, our enterprise and the skill of our manufacturers gave us considerable advantages on the continent, it was impossible to disguise the fact, that the industry of this country was labouring under burdens which pressed on the industry of no other country in Europe. It was this evil which rendered our advantages almost unavailing; and the only mode in which we could hope successfully to meet it was, by a full and complete revision, of our commercial system, with a view of removing, as far as it was possible to remove them, the difficulties and embarrassments which operated so prejudicially on the skill and enterprise of our manufacturers and merchants. In doing this, we must not expect, that other countries would relax in their commercial efforts. We must also get rid of that feeling of appropriation which exhibited itself in a disposition to produce every thing necessary for our own consumption, and to render ourselves independent of the world. No notion could be more absurd or mischievous. It led, even in peace, to an animosity and rancour greater, than existed in a time of war. Undoubtedly there would be great prejudices to combat, both in this country and elsewhere, in the attempt to remove the difficulties which were most obnoxious. It would be impossible to forget the attention which was in some respects due to the present system of protections; although that attention ought certainly not to be carried beyond the absolute necessity of the case. Among the various objects to which the Committee of last session had turned their attention, the state of the Navigation Laws was one of the most prominent. Aware of the important discussion which was about to be renewed, he was anxious not to intrude long upon the House, and therefore, he would merely say, that he proposed bringing in bills for carrying into effect the recommendations of the Committee in that respect. Another recommendation of the Committee, which was of the utmost importance, related to the simplification and the consolidation of the commercial laws of the country. A third related to the burdens to which foreign ships were subject in our ports, and which led to a severe retaliation on English ships in other countries. It was undoubtedly a matter of great importance carefully to watch over our shipping interests. This and other subjects required immediate and persevering attention; in order, that the trade of the country might reap the full advantage to which it would be entitled from any opening that might be made for its extension. This, he was persuaded, could be effected only by a recurrence, as far as was practicable, to the true principles of the commercial system. Without some effort of that kind, it would be impossible to maintain the trade of the country, on the support, if not on the extension of which our strength and resources so principally depended. The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That a Committee be appointed to consider of the means of maintaining and improving the Foreign Trade of the country."

Mr. Curwen

was convinced, that any improvement in the condition of the commerce and manufactures of the country must proceed from an improvement in the condition of our agriculture, now in a state of such severe depression.

Mr. Baring

observed, that it was unquestionably most desirable to examine how it happened, that in the sixth year of peace not any amendment had evinced itself in the condition of the country. Our agriculturists, our manufacturers, and our commercial men, all expressed to the House the uneasy state in which they felt themselves, and the distress which they suffered. To enter into the causes and the most advisable remedies for that distress, would be, to go into a question of great length. At present, therefore, he would content himself with declaring his satisfaction at the right hon. gentleman's proposition, and his persuasion, that the inquiry would derive great advantage not only from the right hon. gentleman's official situation, but from his personal talents and experience. He could not help flattering himself, therefore, that benefit must be derived from the labours of the committee.

Sir John Newport

thought it desirable, that both Houses should act together in the mode of inquiry, and decide as promptly as possible upon one common course. Nothing was more fatal to any branch of trade than to be kept lingering in a state of uncertainty.

The motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed.

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