said, he had a petition to present on a subject of the utmost importance to the petitioners, and, as he conceived, to the whole country. It prayed the House not to consent to the proposition for taking off the prohibition on the importation of manufactured silks. The petition was signed by nearly all the most respectable individuals in London and the neighbourhood, concerned in the manufacture and trade of silk, without the admission of any of the labouring classes of the manufacturers. On the merits of the object of the petition, there was but one opinion throughout the trade; and, as he understood, the only objection made by a single individual was to some of the words used in the petition, and not in the remotest degree to the prayer, in which, on the contrary, all heartily concurred. But the question was one which affected not only a large part of the population of the metropolis, but also that of many country towns; and among the rest, the town which he had the honour to represent; in all of which, the proposition for taking off the prohibition on the importation of French silk was considered a serious grievance. Whether as the manufacturers or as the sellers of silk, they concurred in thinking that the removal of the prohibition, if persevered in, would be 732 ruinous to their interests. For himself, he had given the most attentive consideration to the subject; being earnestly desirous, if possible, to discover reasons in support of the contrary side of the question, and of the principles of free trade; but he was bound to say, that after all that consideration, and notwithstanding that earnest desire, he was of opinion, that the petitioners were in the right. What ought to be most especially attended to was this—that if we introduced so much of the principles of free trade as to allow foreign manufactures to be brought into this country, we must go the whole length of the free system, and get rid of all those laws which prevented the equalization of the terms on which labour could be procured in this and in foreign countries. As long as the laws by which that equalization was prevented existed, it was absurd to talk to those, or to other petitioners, under similar circumstances, of the advantages that would result from free trade. To the reduction of the duty on the importation of raw silk, the silk manufacturers had not only no objection, but were of opinion that such a measure would be attended with great advantage to them. Whether the right hon. gentleman would give them that part of his plan unconnected with the other part, he did not know; but he really did think that a portion of the surplus revenue of which the right hon. gentleman had spoken, could not be better employed. But, notwithstanding the relief to the silk trade which this boon would impart, they were unanimously agreed to reject it, if it must be coupled with the introduction of foreign wrought silks into the country. In the first place the petitioners were ready to show, and able to show, by a comparison of the state of the silk manufacture in this and in foreign countries, that 30 per cent was an insufficient duty on the importation of foreign silks, and that, as all travellers who had observed the condition of the manufacture in England and in France must be aware, it ought tube at least 50 per cent, to put the two trades on any thing like a footing in point of price. It might be plausibly argued, that if the silk manufacturer were not protected by a duty of 30 per cent, how was it possible that he could be protected by a prohibition, notoriously evaded? But in the first place, it was not merely the Custom-house on the coast which at present protected the silk manufacturer from the competition of foreign 733 silk manufacturers; but the power existing at home to seize foreign silk articles when they made their appearance. That was their real protection. Although some individuals, principally ladies, were in the practice of using French silks, it was a practice which was not carried to any great extent, and would not be so, as long as respectable and thinking persons knew that it was a violation of the laws of the country. In the next place, it must be recollected that this was a trade of fashion. In this respect it differed totally from other manufactures—from cotton, for instance. Some of the cotton manufactures might, to a certain degree, be articles of fashion; but silk manufactures were altogether so. Now, whatever might be the ultimately successful competition of our silk manufacturers with those of France, there could be no doubt for a time, such was the prevalent opinion in favour of French silks, that although in the course of years the prediction of the chancellor of the Exchequer, of the eventual triumph of our silk manufacturers, might be verified, shops would be opened in every street in London, for the sale of French silks, and that those shops would carry away all the custom. With the application of their chemical knowledge to dyeing, and with their other advantages, the French would have such a start in all the branches of their silk manufacture, that he was sure there would be no person by whom the French silks would not be exclusively used. It was not London alone that would be affected. Many country towns owed their present prosperity to the silk manufacture. Taunton, in particular, had changed from another manufacture to the silk manufacture. It was a manufacture which employed an immense number of persons. The manufacturers were at present extremely flourishing; and all they asked of his majesty's government and of parliament, was, to leave them alone. After all, the proposed regulation was devoid of all reciprocity on the part of France. If we were to sacrifice the silk manufacture, on the condition that our cottons and our iron were to be admitted into France, that might be some argument in favour of the proposition; but here there was no reciprocity at all. He did trust, therefore, that his majesty's ministers would abandon their intention. He should vote against the system of free trade in this instance, because the necessary preliminary laws 734 were not provided. If Coventry, or any other place in Great Britain were to compete with Lyons, all the statutes establishing regulations between workmen and their masters must be done away with, in the first instance. Besides, the price of food in this country was at least double the present price in France. Taunton, formerly, was one of the cheapest places for provisions in the kingdom; but they were much dearer now in consequence of the growth of manufactures there. At Lyons and in Switzerland, the price of labour was not only extremely low, but the manufacturers obtained the raw material upon much better terms; so that, if admitted into competition, they would infallibly destroy the English trade in silk goods. It seemed that the chancellor of the Exchequer had adopted his determination in this respect, without obtaining information from any quarter; for there was not a man in the trade who would not have told him, that the project would be ruinous. The measure had no sponsor—nobody to be answerable for it but the right hon. gentleman; and, if he had taken the trouble to inquire, he would have found every body against his scheme that knew any thing of the subject. The alarm that universally prevailed ought alone to induce the chancellor of the Exchequer to take advice before he persevered. Such a determination ought certainly not to have been adopted without the previous sanction of a committee. It was fit that the decision of the right hon. gentleman to persevere in or to abandon his undertaking, ought to be made with as little delay as possible; for thousands of workmen were now in a state of the most anxious suspense.
Mr. Secretary Canning
said, he did not rise to object to the bringing up of the petition; for no man was more disposed, on every act of the government, whether political or commercial, that the general sense of the country should be collected and stated to parliament. He begged the House to consider in what a situation all those were likely to be placed, if the reasoning of the hon. gentleman were adopted, who were desirous of introducing a practical illustration of a liberal system of commercial policy. It should be recollected, that this liberal system had been pressed upon ministers by the whole House, and by no individual with more effect and authority than by the same hon. member who had 735 that night displayed so much ingenuity and acuteness in arguing against it. If the proposition of the hon. gentleman were agreed to, it would be vain to endeavour to adopt a more liberal system, either with respect to silk, or to any other branch of commerce. The hon. gentleman had said, that though it was very proper to apply these general principles, yet that great injustice would be done, if they were carried into effect, to the detriment of any particular trade, or if any particular trade were left untouched, and under the old regime. He had illustrated this point by a reference to the corn-laws; requiring that ministers should undertake to re-model them, as if they had not already enough upon their hands. He had next endeavoured to show, that the silk trade ought to be excepted from the general rule, even if the general rule were established. Why the grower of corn, or the stapler of wool were to suffer, and the manufacturer of silk were to be especially privileged, the hon. gentleman had failed to show. If there were peculiarities in his situation, they ought most assuredly to be duly considered: but, even if a case were made out, showing that this specific article ought not to be included in the general principle for which the hon. member had so often and so ably contended, still it would remain to be proved that the general principle ought to be abandoned. He denied equally that any case had been made out in favour of the silk trade, because perfect freedom did not exist with respect to corn. Even as to corn, he believed, that, among speculative men, there was a concurrence in the general principle. The hon. gentleman, however, was unwilling that any change should be made, until the whole system could be altered at once. If he waited until then, he might preach to eternity, on the excellence of his general principles, with a perfect certainty that they never would be carried into execution. Although, therefore, he did not oppose the reception of the petition, he must strenuously resist the adoption of the arguments on which it had been supported.
§ Mr. Denman
said, he was happy to listen to the opinions which now seemed to be the fashion on the other side of the House. It was certainly true, that parliament ought not to wait until all inconvenient regulations were removed; 736 but the question was, with regard to what branch of trade they could be removed with the least inconvenience? With respect to silk, it was quite clear, that the plan could not be carried into effect without a great deal of alarm and distress; and, if the trade could show a number of other taxes which might be remitted more beneficially to the people, it was due to Nottingham, Coventry, Taunton, and Macclesfield, that their interests should at least be considered. The chancellor of the Exchequer had not originally proposed the repeal of certain law taxes, which would operate a great relief; and what objection could any man urge to removing the imposts upon probates and legacies, upon the conveyance of lands, and indeed, all ad valorem duties of the same kind. He had no doubt that the ultimate result of this new scheme of policy would be not only innoxious but beneficial; but a conviction of the inconveniences and hardships attending the change, as applied to silk, would induce him to vote against it. Why was not the window tax repealed? Had any man, except the members of the government, the slightest affection for this impost? The question simply was, what duties could be removed with the greatest advantage, and with the least inconvenience; and, of all trades, that in silk was the last that ought to be tampered with. He, therefore, should support the prayer of the petition.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, he had expected that the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last, was rising to advert to a part of the speech of the hon. member for Taunton, not touched upon by the right hon. secretary for foreign affairs, namely, prohibitions. He was surprised, after what the hon. gentleman had advanced upon previous occasions, to hear him defend that system. Those prohibitions gave powers to Custom-house officers which had not unfrequently been termed unconstitutional. They might search the person, or the dwelling, and resort to other modes of detection and examination, very irksome to the character of Englishmen. The hon. gentleman had applied himself altogether to the great benefit of continuing the tax, which formed no part of the plan of the chancellor of the Exchequer: he was for preserving the absolute prohibition, with all the consequences of clandestine introduction. When the hon. member for Taunton 737 stated labour to be higher in this country than abroad, he seemed to forget, that if it were dearer as applied to one branch of manufacture, it was dearer with respect to all: in this particular, silk was not peculiar, and it was strange, that a mind so acute and enlightened, should have discovered that night, for the first time (probably in consequence of some intelligence from Taunton), that the price of labour in this country, was dearer than on the continent, in the manufacture of silk alone. The cotton and woollen trades, and, indeed, all branches, laboured under the same disadvantage; yet they were able to compete with foreigners. On the authority of a French writer, speaking from official documents, he would assert that, at this moment, and subject to these restrictions and to heavy duties, the export of silk manufactured goods from Great Britain to foreign markets exceed-ed the whole export of France. Was it to be supposed, then, that with a protecting duty of 30 per cent, the British silk manufacturer could not maintain his ground? The hon. gentleman had also expressed his astonishment that the subject had been brought forward by the chancellor of the Exchequer, without consulting the patties interested, and without information before a committee. He (Mr. H.) should have thought that government had neglected its duty, if it had not, with regard to the silk trade, attended in some degree to the repeated admonitions of the other side of the House; and recollecting the inquiries that had taken place in the other House of Parliament before committees, the present could not be fairly called an attempt to legislate without due information. He protested against the assumption, that either the House or the trade had been taken by surprise. The trade, indeed, had been the first to suggest the removal of restrictions; and he believed they would be nearly the first to rejoice at their removal.
§ Mr. Davenport
contended, that the proposed plan would prove a damper, if not an extinguisher to the silk trade.
§ Mr. Ellice,
although he approved of a liberal system of policy in matters of trade, was unwilling to commence the alteration with that branch of industry, which was exposed to the greatest chance of successful competition. The silk manufacture was not a native, but an exotic in this country; and in it we were still 738 inferior to other rival nations. In the cotton trade, always considered analogous, the machinery was of our own invention* and from the first we had been able to defeat all competition. He claimed, be fore the present laws should be removed, that the silk manufacturer should be put in a situation to rival the foreigner. And here it was impossible not to advert to the state of our corn laws. How was it possible to rival the principal and favourite manufacture of France, while the price of bread in England was twice as high as in any other market of the civilized world? This dearness, too, was produced by the very system of restriction, which ministers would find it difficult to remove. The load of taxation was the great bar to our entering fully into this question. While every article of the poor man's comfort was burthened with duties, it would be impossible to enter successfully into competition with foreign nations. If he were asked the cause of the flourishing state of our manufactures during the last year, he should answer, that it arose from the cheapness of provisions; and, as corn was rising, he should be much mistaken if we were not on the eve of a change. He feared that this country was approaching to the state of Holland at the time from which she dated the decline of her commercial greatness. The interest of money was then only two per cent, while taxes press ed so heavily, that every species of productive labour was banished from the re public. Those taxes in this kingdom must be reduced in the first instance, or all other exertions would be fruitless. That was the end at which ministers must begin. When bread was as cheap, and taxes as low as they were on the continent, then, and then only, would Great Britain be able to compete with her neighbours. It was necessary for ministers speedily to decide, whether they would persevere in the course they had commenced, or abandon it at once. It was unfair to expect the chancellor of the Exchequer to give an answer that night; but, if it were possible to afford the loss to the revenue, it was still a question, whether most important interests were not endangered by re moving on a sudden these restrictive prohibitions. It seemed useless to talk of imposing a duty of 30 per cent, when every body knew that silks could be imported by smugglers at 10 or 15 per cent. The mere labour formed five-sixths of the 739 Value of the article in this country, while abroad, it was comparatively trifling. The best mode of beginning the repeal of this objectionable system was by re-considering the corn laws; and, erelong, ministers would be driven to that, however they might now endeavour to avoid it. He would only further state, that at the present moment, whilst the masters complained, that from the price of labour they were unable to compete with foreigners, the labourers themselves complained, that their wages would scarcely furnish them with the means of subsistence—six shillings a week being the sum now paid.
Mr. Secretary Peel
observed, that the hon. gentleman who spoke last had used two arguments, both of which he should like to submit to him calmly, and not in his capacity of member for Coventry. The first was this—"I admit the force of your reasoning in favour of a liberal system of commercial policy. But I ask you to look for some other prohibition that may safely be removed." Let the hon. gentleman point out any other branch of manufacture in which any such prohibition existed. In fact, there was none; and the hon. gentleman assumed the general policy to be prohibition, whereas, silk alone was the exception. Did not this afford one strong reason for repealing it? On steel, cotton, wool, and all the other great articles of manufacture, there was no prohibition, and yet in these it had been found that we were able to defy all competition. The second argument of the hon. gentleman was even more extraordinary, and led to a directly opposite inference to that which he had drawn from it. He had said that, in the silk manufacture, Great Britain was inferior to France, in point of taste and machinery. Now, did not this fact lead to the suspicion, that, on account of these prohibitions, the same improvements had not been made in this manufacture that had been made in all others? Let those prohibitions be removed, and our taste and our machinery would speedily improve. As to silk not being a native manufacture in this country, the hon. gentleman must indeed have been driven to an extremity for an argument, or he would not have resorted to that. It was quite as much a native manufacture of this country as cotton or linen, and had flourished in this soil for forty" or fifty years. If, indeed, the 740 hon. gentleman meant to distinguish it from the woollen trade, perhaps the distinction might in some points be fair. The hon. member for Taunton had asked, who was to be considered the sponsor of this plan? No individual, certainly, but those general principles which the hon. gentleman had himself invariably advocated. They were the sponsors, and were a higher authority than any advice from parties interested in the silk manufacture. After declaiming so often and so long in favour of the principles of free trade, let the House consider in what a light it would stand before Europe, if it did not attempt, instead of aiming at temporary popularity, to establish sound principles of commercial policy? How would those principles be prejudiced if, knowing them to be irrefragable, parliament, not having the courage to encounter difficulties, were to yield to the fears of the timid, or the representations of the interested?
was of opinion, that the protecting duty of 30 per cent would be amply sufficient. Great changes must produce temporary inconveniences, and on this account the progress should be rendered as gradual as possible. He felt satisfied that the measures recently adopted by government would effect a great improvement in the commerce and manufactures of this country. It was evident that popularity was not their object; for the measures which they had selected were not popular. They were entitled to the thanks of the House and of the people: for they had evidently been influenced by a sincere desire to promote the prosperity of the country.
§ Sir J. Newport
agreed with the hon. member, that ministers were entitled to the approbation of the House and the country for the measures which they had recently adopted. He believed they could not confer a greater benefit on the country, than by steadily persevering in that course. When an erroneous system had continued for a number of years, and formed a part of the general policy of the country, the difficulties of legislating with a view to the removal of the evils pro- 741 duced by such a system were greatly enhanced. It would therefore be the duty of the House to assist ministers in the great work of improvement, by giving them their cordial support.
deprecated the clamour which had been raised against the endeavours of his majesty's government to introduce a sounder system of commercial policy, by the very parties whose interests those measures were essentially calculated to promote. It had been contended, that these measures ought not to be attempted, unless such an alteration was made in the corn laws as would lower the price of bread in the same proportion with other commodities. Now, there was no one principle in political economy which had been more frequently and ably inculcated by the late Mr. Ricardo, than that the high price of corn had no effect whatever on the price of other commodities.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
felt himself called upon, as one of the representatives of the city of London, while he was ready to give his tribute of praise to the king's ministers, for the manly and candid manner in which they had brought forward their measures, to express his doubts as to their propriety or expediency, under the existing circumstances of the country. The Opinion he had formerly expressed respecting the wool duties remained unchanged, and applied with equal force to those on silk. Until, by an alteration in the corn laws, the people of this country should be enabled to eat their bread as cheap as the people of foreign countries, the repeal of the duties on silk would fail of the end it was intended to accomplish. He was convinced of the inexpediency of the measure at the present moment; but he had one consolation, namely, that the chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed his readiness to enter into a full discussion of the subject.
§ Mr. Littleton
said, that his constituents were unanimously opposed to the measure contemplated by his majesty's ministers, and if they persisted in pressing it, he should certainly feel it his duty to vote against it.
§ Mr. Hume
said, there was one point of view in which this question had not been considered by any member who had yet addressed the House. He should be glad to know, who were the parties aggrieved by this measure? Who were the petitioners? The working men, or their masters, or both? Let the House con- 742 sider what was the measure about to be adopted by his majesty's ministers. The evidence before the committee of the House of Lords had distinctly proved the fact, that if we could get the raw material of silk as cheap as we obtained it of cotton, there was no reason why our silk trade should not be as flourishing as our cotton trade. The immediate effect of the measure proposed by his majesty's ministers, of taking off the duty of 25 per cent on the raw material, would be to produce a great increase of the raw material into this country, and to give a great additional stimulus to the silk manufacture in England. The petitioners laboured under the most mistaken views of their real interests. The reduction of 25 per cent on the raw material would greatly increase the consumption of the manufacture; and he was persuaded, that, in six months from the passing of this measure, the value of the labour of every silk weaver in the kingdom would be increased 25 per cent. What were the petitioners afraid of? Did they fear being shut out from the home market? Why, the silk manufacture of this country was almost able to compete with the foreigner even at present. He himself knew that many articles manufactured in this country were carried down to the coast, and sold to those who were supposed to be the best judges of the commodity as French manufacture. If this were the case, the silk manufacturer would surely be able to compete with the foreigner, when he could afford to sell the article cheaper than at present by 25 per cent. He was satisfied that the opposition of the petitioners arose entirely from ignorance, and he trusted his majesty's ministers would persevere in a measure, which the very individuals who now opposed it would in a short time thank the government for having introduced, even against their present wishes.
§ Sir J. Wrottesley
thought that theorists were apt to maintain too dogmatically the infallibility of their particular opinions. It was but fair, in his opinion, to give the petitioners credit for a little common sense, and for the capacity of understanding their own interests better than other people. What was the particular case of the silk manufacturers? A fortnight ago they stated that they were in a most flourishing condition; that their trade was never better; and that their workmen were all employed* contented and happy. What did they tell the House 743 now? In the course of a few days, a number of manufacturers had given notice to their workmen; and it was expected that, in a short time, the whole population engaged in the silk trade, would be out of employment. No answer had been given to this statement on the other side of the House. Now, he wished distinctly to ask his majesty's ministers, how long this state of confusion was to last? Vast numbers of workmen depended for their bread entirely on the employment they obtained in this manufacture, and it was absolutely necessary that some distinct answer should be given, whether his majesty's government intended to persevere in this measure? In his opinion, it would be much for the benefit of the country, if his majesty's ministers were to give up this measure; and if they gave up that, he hoped they would also abandon all the others. He was aware it was a great deal to ask; but it was not too much, when it was considered that all the parties interested in these new commercial regulations Were dissatisfied with them. He strongly recommended the right hon. gentleman, instead of persisting in these measures, to gratify the country, by the repeal of the window tax, which he might effect by retaining the duties on coals, and by abandoning that part of his plan which appropriated 800,000l. to the decoration of Windsor Castle, and the building of new churches.
§ Mr. J. Smith
could not conceive how the silk manufacturer could possibly be injured by a measure which would enable him to procure the raw material a great deal cheaper. An additional tax on the raw material had often been the subject of complaint, but it was quite novel to find the manufacturer coming forward to say to the legislature, you will ruin us by remitting the tax on the raw material. The effect of the measure would undoubtedly be to increase consumption, and give additional employment to the artizans engaged in this manufacture. He thanked his majesty's ministers for the liberality with which they had brought forward these measures, and for the spirit and energy they had displayed in supporting them.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said:—The proposition which I had the honour to submit to the House, has been so ably supported by my right hon. friends, and has also received such powerful and disinterested support from so many hon.
744 gentlemen opposite, that it would be a waste of time, if I were to attempt to weaken their arguments by any observations of my own, even if my strength would allow me at the present moment to go through any protracted discussion. My only reason for rising is, that I may answer the questions which have been put by the hon. member for Coventry, and by the hon. baronet opposite, as to the course which it is my intention to pursue. I am as sensible as the hon. baronet can be of the extreme inconvenience which would necessarily arise in matters of this kind, from protracted delay, or from any uncertainty as to the views upon which the government intends to act. Undoubtedly, if I had acted solely on my own impressions, and on my own conviction of the expediency of this measure, I should have been ready to proceed to a distinct statement of its details at an earlier period, but I have deferred that statement, because I had reason to believe that the parties interested in this measure wished to have some previous conversation with me on the subject. I have been engaged during the greater part of this day in receiving such communications, and I understand that there are still some persons who wish to communicate with me before any definitive steps are taken. It is my intention, on Monday next, in the committee on the Customs acts, distinctly to explain to the House the full extent of the measure which I shall propose, in conformity with the principles which I have already stated to the House.
§ Mr. Alderman Bridges
expressed his conviction, that 50 per cent on many articles would not sufficiently protect the English against the French manufacturer. No less than 600,000 persons were engaged in the silk trade, and he was quite sure that his majesty's ministers would not adopt a measure which was calculated to involve so large a body in misery and distress.
§ Mr. Curteis
spoke against the repeal of the duties on silk, and said he could tell the right hon. gentleman of away by which he could set himself right with the country. If he would only say a word to them about the repeal of the tax on leather, malt, and hops, he would receive a much more gratifying approval from the people at large, than all the plaudits of his own bench or of that side of the House could afford him.
said, that the proposal of 745 the right hon. gentleman had created alarm in the counties of Chester and Stafford, as well as in that of Derby.
§ Mr. Haldimand
trusted that his majesty's ministers would persevere in a measure, of the beneficial effects of which there could not be the slightest doubt. Nothing could be more certain than that every protection and bounty was detrimental to trade. If a trade could not support itself without that artificial support which was erroneously called protection, it was not, in point of fact, worth carrying on at all. His chief object in rising was to observe, that the chancellor of the Exchequer would not fully discharge the duty which he owed to the silk manufacture of the country, if he did not also consent to the repeal of the measures commonly called the Spitalfields acts. It was quite impossible that the benefits of free trade could be produced, unless the principle of free labour were also established. The effect of these acts was, to make some articles 100 per cent, dearer in London than in other parts of the country. It often happened, upon the spur of the moment, that it was better worth while even to pay that additional charge than to send to Coventry; but he asked whether, as applied to foreign trade, it was possible under such restrictions, that the manufacturer could compete with other markets? There was another topic which he would take that opportunity of mentioning. We Were told we had a free silk trade with India. This he denied. It could not be called a free trade, so long as the East India Company could limit the number of individuals who were permitted to go out to India. [hear, hear] An instance of the injustice of this practice had lately fallen within his own knowledge. A person was educated in a silk warehouse in this country, for the purpose of going afterwards to India to engage in that trade. It was well known that the number of persons acquainted with the value and nature of silk in India was extremely limited, and that coarse and fine descriptions of that article were sold at the same price. An application was made to the East India Company to allow the person he had alluded to, to be sent out to a private house in India, carrying on trade there, and the application had been refused. He did not complain of this, because their act justified the Company in their refusal; but it proved that they did 746 exercise such a control. An application, might indeed have been made to the Board of Control, but he was told that if he presented a petition to that board, there was not the least chance of its being listened to. This limitation of the number of persons who were permitted to go out to India, was utterly inconsistent with the principles of free trade. Before he sat down, he would take the liberty of asking the right hon. gentleman opposite, why he proposed to raise a duty of 3d. on Bengal raw silk, and 6d. on Italian raw silk? He did not see why Italian silk should not be placed on the same footing as that of our own colonies or dependencies. This part of the proposed measure was inconsistent with the principle of the bill, and he trusted the right hon. gentleman would not suffer it to remain in the first act of parliament founded on the principles of free trade.
§ Mr. Portman
observed, that no county in the kingdom was more disappointed, and dissatisfied with the financial statement of the right hon. gentleman opposite, than the county which he had the honour to represent. He should feel it his duty to oppose the measure proposed by the right hon. gentleman, not because he objected to the liberal policy on which it was founded, which every man must applaud, but because he did not conceive this to be the proper time for carrying that policy into effect. If he thought that his present opposition would throw-any serious obstacle in the way of the ultimate success of the commercial policy, adopted by the government, he should be inclined to vote for the measure; but feeling, as he did, that it might be carried, with greater benefit to the country, at a more convenient season, he should feel it his duty to oppose it.
said, he had given an attentive examination to every case in which an appeal had been made to the Board of Control from the refusal of the Court of Directors to allow an individual to proceed to India, and he had not the least recollection of any such case as that mentioned by the hon. member There had been many cases in which the Board of Control had given permission after the Court of Directors had refused it. He thought it very unlikely, from what he had seen of the conduct of the Court of Directors, that if any person shewed a probability of his having full employment in India in trade or commerce, that the directors would 747 refuse him permission to go out, and he was quite sure that in no such case had any refusal been confirmed by the Board of Control.
§ Mr. Haldimand,
in explanation, said, that the application was made to the directors for leave to the gentleman in question to go out as a clerk to the house of Palmer and Sons, one of the first houses in Calcutta, and he might say in the world. The application was made generally for permission to go out as a clerk to Palmer and Sons, and leave was refused, on the ground that there were a sufficient number of young men unemployed in Calcutta. He did not apply indeed to the Board of Control, as he was advised that such an application would not to be attended to, as many applications of exactly the same kind had been refused.
said, it appeared that the individual had applied to go out simply as a clerk, and in refusing him permission the Court of Directors had acted with perfect propriety, and the Board of Control would have confirmed their refusal. It was certainly unjust, while the natives and half castes were excluded by law from all offices under the Company, that an influx of Europeans should also exclude (hem from the clerkships which they might fill. He spoke of the system as it stood; and during the term of the Company's charter it could not be altered: person who went out a clerk, might, the day after his arrival, be thrown out of employment and become a mere adventurer.
Sir T. Lethbridge
hoped, that after what had passed that night, the chancellor of the Exchequer, when the question concerning the change in the silk and woollen trade was again brought forward, would come to the House with an altered tone, it had been said that night, that no trade was worth supporting that would not support itself. He should wish to know what our great staple manufactures would have done, if they had been left to support themselves? The woollen, the cotton, and the other great staple the silk, which was now doing very well, and which would continue to do well, so long as it was protected from that free trade on which the ministers and the House were running wild. He said "running wild" because he was convinced that its principles never could be carried into operation. Neither corn, nor wool, nor cotton, nor 748 silk, would bear a free trade. The activity of the country had grown up under a different system. He would ask the hon. member for Taunton whether he could carry on his great financial operations under a system of free trade; or whether, when he went to his counting-house, or his banks, or when he reflected in his own library, he found a free trade attended with any thing other than great inconvenience? Though the memory of the late member for Portarlington would be long cherished, and most sincerely by those who knew him best, he was convinced, that the doctrines which Mr. Ricardo had advocated with so insinuating an eloquence, were doing much mischief, by leading the House from the practical views of commercial questions. In the writings of that gentleman, there were to be found contradictions on contradictions; and, however charming his theories were to political economists, they were diametrically opposed to practical results. An attempt was now made to put in practice those principles, and what did they hear from the hon. member who represented the silk interest—"I have no objection to your taking off the tax on the raw material, but if you meddle with the prohibition we are ruined." He had had occasion to speak in nearly the same manner on the corn trade. The advocates of free trade never adverted to the enormous debt and the great burthen of taxation in this country. There was the whole of the expense of the poor, of the roads, of the administration of justice and the church, which fell on the growers of corn. The late Mr. Ricardo had said, that he would allow them a protecting duty for this; but the difference was, what the duty should be. Mr. Ricardo had talked of 12s. per quarter; he (sir T. L.) had wished for 33s. per quarter. The chancellor of the Exchequer now proposed to give the silk trade a protection to the amount of 30 per cent, but the hon. members connected with the trade said that 40 or 50 per cent was not enough. His opinion was decidedly against the alteration of the laws respecting silk, and against the repeal of the duty on wool imported at any rate, unless the exportation of wool were allowed. He should be very willing to see the corn laws revised; for he thought the prices now likely to rise too high. It would be bad for all parties that they should rise higher 749 than they were at that moment. "Live and let live" was the principle he wished to see carried into effect. He thought the chancellor of the Exchequer would have acted more wisely, if he had gone on this year, to repeal some of the assessed taxes. Indeed, the whole might have been got rid of. He would then have avoided these petitions from the manufacturers.
§ Mr. Evans
said, that large bodies of men might misunderstand their own interests. Of which they had had a striking example, in the representations against the repeal of the Union duties on goods carried from England to Ireland, or vice versè. As to the repeal of the taxes which impeded commerce, he thought the result would be more beneficial to the country than the remission of an equal quantity of direct taxes; for if it gave a new activity to manufactures and commerce, a corresponding demand would be created for agricultural productions, and the whole community would be benefitted.
begged to say a few words in reply to some of the observations that had been made on the subject in debate. There was a great difference, he observed, between the abolition of restrictions on the intercourse between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, and a change of the relations in which these islands stood with regard to foreign countries. There could be no doubt that restrictions on the intercourse between different parts of the same empire, must be injurious to the mass of the people, and particularly in the case of Ireland. The low rate of wages there, and its great population might, now the restrictions were removed, lead to the introduction of manufactures to the great benefit of that island. It had been said that it was an abandonment of principle on his part, after having so long advocated free trade, to come forward now with this petition for an exception. In advocating free trade, however, he had never gone further than a free trade in the raw material, and a free transit of all goods, so that England might have facilities for enjoying the carrying trade of the world; but he had never gone so far as to hold out that, without any reciprocity of concession, we should open our ports to the introduction of continental manufactures. The argument of the abstract political economists was, that we should get every commodity wherever we 750 could get it cheapest, and that if we could bring silk cheaper from Lyons than from Spitalfields, we ought to bring it thence. He never had been convinced by this argument, and never should be, and he was persuaded that if our ports were open, though in those articles in which we had an advantage we might retain that advantage, our rising manufactures would be crushed. The political economist turned his eye only to the facility of production; he allowed nothing for the habits of trade; for the established custom which had so much influence in these matters. There seemed no reason in the nature of things, why Manchester should be the great seat of the cotton trade, Sheffield of cutlery and hard-ware, Lyons of silks, Geneva of watches and trinkets, Nuremberg of toys. How it happened that they had become so, arose, perhaps, from the superior activity of individuals at critical times; but now they had attained their superiority, they were likely to preserve it. The political economist might imagine, that if the trade were free, Dover might become as great a manufactory for watches as Geneva, and Calais as famous for pottery as Staffordshire: but, for himself he anticipated no such results. He knew not why it was that English gentlemen got their watches of M. Breguet at Paris, when they might get them as good at home; but the force of imitation would prevail. After looking carefully into the subject, with every disposition to come to a different result, he was persuaded that if the trade were thrown open, Manchester might supply cottons, Staffordshire pottery, but Lyons would send silks. He had always been of opinion, that if France remained at peace, and continued to enjoy what she never before had, the benefit of free institutions (and to all practical purposes, as to the application of capital, France was now as free as this country), the cheapness of provisions, and consequently of labour, must give her an advantage over this country. An hon. member had that night attributed to his late friend, Mr. Ricardo, an opinion which he had never heard that lamented individual maintain; namely, that the price of provisions had nothing to do with the price of labour; but, if his hon. friend had maintained such an opinion, he could only say that it was a proof how far into absurdity the acutest minds may be carried by abstract speculations. It bad been asked, why the price of labour should not 751 have the same effect upon the cotton as on the silk manufactures? One reason was, that cotton, from the first operation in its manufacture, went through machinery, while silk was thrown off by hand, and from the nature of it could not, throughout, be so much worked by machinery as cotton. It was said, by the chancellor of the Exchequer, that we already sold a great deal of silk goods in Germany, in competition with the foreign silk manufacturer. He should be willing to rest the question upon the correctness of that fact. He believed the truth would be found to be, that there was no export of any sort, except that silk in which we had an advantage, India silk stockings, and mixtures of silk and cotton, and silk and worsted, but that, in no instance, had any pure manufacture, either of French or Italian silks, come into competition with those of Lyons. He had been as anxious to do justice to the disinterestedness of the chancellor of the Exchequer's financial plans as any one, and, above all, to their being devoid of any trick to catch at popularity. There could be no measures less popular, or more likely to be opposed; and in this case, in his conscience he believed the opposition to be just. It had been hinted, that he only spoke on this subject as the member for Taunton. He should certainly deem it his duty to afford every fair protection to the interests of his constituents; but, if they wished to dictate to his conscience, he should beg them to choose another representative.
§ Mr. Davenport
contended against the alteration of the laws affecting the silk trade. The House was called on by the chancellor of the Exchequer, to give up 6, or 700,000l. a year of revenue derived from silk, and yet the silk trade did not want this remission. He was very well content to let the law and the duties remain as they stood. He feared much, that by grasping at the shadow, we might lose the substance—that we might lose the trade itself, as well as the revenue we now derived from it.
§ Ordered to lie on the table.