HC Deb 08 March 1824 vol 10 cc800-29

The House having resolved itself into a committee on the acts charging duties of customs on goods, wares, and merchandize, and for granting bounties on Linen and Silk manufactures exported,

Mr. Huskisson

spoke to the following effect:—Sir, although my right hon. friend, the chancellor of the Exchequer, when he brought forward his general view of the finances of the country, stated with a perspicuity peculiarly his own, the ground upon which it was his intention to propose a repeal of the duty on the importation of silk, yet, as strong objections have been taken to this part of my right hon. friend's plan, both in this House and out of doors, however unable I may be to follow in the steps of my right hon. friend, I trust I shall experience the indulgence of the committee, while I state, in his unavoidable absence, the views of the government on this important subject. I apprehend, that to the general plan proposed by my right hon. friend, two descriptions of objections have been taken in this House and out of doors. The first class of objections is, that it would be more desirable to make any relief from taxation which can be afforded, in the present state of the finances of the country, fall upon some direct taxes. The other class of objections is made by those persons who wish the laws relative to the trade in silk tore-main as they are. Now with respect to the first class of objections, I own it appears to me, that the course pursued by his majesty's government is, in the present state of our finances, and considered with reference to the various interests of the country, best calculated to advance those interests. In commencing measures of relief, his majesty's government felt the greatest anxiety, as it was their first duty, to afford relief to those humbler classes of society, which had been more immediately affected by the increase of taxation during the war on some articles of general consumption. The taxes on salt, malt, and leather, therefore, were those which the government thought it advisable, in the first instance, to reduce. Last of all, though not least in their operation and effects on the lower orders, lotteries have been abandoned. A very considerable remission has been made in the taxation affecting the middle classes of society. Having thus extended relief to the amount of 7,000,000l. of taxes to the different classes of society, it had been asked, why we did not proceed in this course, by a further diminution of the assessed taxes? I admit that this would have been a desirable and a popular course; for nothing certainly is more unpleasant than the feeling with which a man pays money out of his pocket to a tax-gatherer, without getting any thing in return for it but a receipt. We felt it our duty, however, to examine, whether it might not be possible, not only to afford some relief in the way of taxation, but to make that relief conducive to the advancement of the industry, wealth, and prosperity of the country; and whether the present moment was not peculiarly pointed out, as the best adapted for carrying into effect those principles of commercial policy which were calculated to produce those important results. The state of our possessions in India has been alluded to; and undoubtedly it is an object of no slight importance, to consider whether, by some financial and commercial arrangements, an extended mart may not be obtained for the native productions of our vast empire in that quarter. If we look to the immense changes which are now taking place in the colonial system of the world, it is peculiarly incumbent upon this country not to lose sight of the great commercial advantages which may be derived from the immense mart which is opened by those changes, for the extension of our manufactures and commerce. It is true that, at this moment, the provinces of South America are engaged in a struggle with the mother country; but it is almost equally certain, that they can ever return to that state of dependence, with reference, at least, to commercial relations, in which they were placed before the late changes. When we consider the immense progress in the commercial relations between this country and the United States of America, since they established their independence, it is not too much to assume, allowing for the difference of activity, industry, and wealth between the United States and South America, but still looking to the population of the latter, and the extent of country over which that population is extended—it is not, I say, too much to assume, that South America will open a mart to our commerce of which our present experience is but an earnest of its future extent. In this state of things, if we find, in legislating with a view to extended commercial advantages, that a particular branch of our manufactures is impeded in its progress by impolitic laws and regulations, such as restrictions on the freedom of labour, duties on the raw material, drawbacks improperly or inadequately applied, being in some cases more than necessary, and in others not sufficient, I think it well becomes a government, having a small excess of revenue, to inquire, whether it may not be better to forego the immediate benefit of a reduction of direct taxation, in order to remove such impolitic restrictions.

It has been truly said, by the hon. member for Taunton (Mr. Baring), that the excess of revenue on which my right hon. friend calculated as a permanent excess on which to found a remission of taxation, did not exceed 500,000l. My right hon. friend himself stated, that he had taken a saving upon four years, amounting to 200,000l.; this saving in part arising from sources which could not be regarded as permanent. He had done this, under the feeling, that if ever we were to change the system by which our commerce and manufactures were impeded, the present was a favourable moment: and he had contemplated, not merely the relief which would be derived from the extent to which taxation was remitted, but that further relief which might be expected to grow out of the increasing prosperity of the country. In promoting new branches of industry, public wealth, and commercial prosperity, we are sowing those seeds which in the fulness and fecundity of the future harvest, will afford us the means of future relief from other burthens, and which, if unfortunately the country should again be involved in war, and new exertions should be called for, will supply the best means by which our efforts may be sustained. Upon this principle it has been thought desirable, notwithstanding the objections which have been raised, to persevere in the plan of my right hon. friend, and to call upon parliament to make those alterations in the laws regulating the silk trade, the grounds of which he so ably opened to the House on a former occasion. I am aware that it has been said, that the views which have been taken of the disadvantages under which the silk trade labours from the existing laws, have not been supported by those engaged in the trade. The hon. member for Cheshire has said, that the trade is perfectly satisfied with the present state of the law; and the hon. member for Taunton says, that no person in the trade wishes for any change. I own I am exceedingly surprised that there should be any persons in the trade who do not wish to be relieved from the shackles and disadvantages under which they have hitherto laboured. It occurred to me that, in the last session of parliament, almost all the principle persons concerned in the trade petitioned the House to be relieved from these restrictions. On looking to the petition presented by the manufacturers in the city of London, I find that, so far from being satisfied with these restrictions, they express themselves to the following effect:—"This important manufacture, though recently considerably extended, is still depressed below its natural level, by laws which prevent it from attaining that degree of prosperity which under more favourable circumstances it would acquire. Taking into account the unlimited supply of silk with which we might be furnished from our East-Indian possessions, our indefinite command of capital, and the unrivalled skill and industry of our artisans, your petitioners hesitate not to express their conviction, that by judicious arrangements our silk manufacture might be placed in a condition ultimately to triumph over all foreign competition, and that silk, like cotton, may be made one of the staple commodities of this country" [hear!].

My right hon. friend, therefore, came to the House under the conviction, that this trade was greatly depressed, and suffering especially from the duty imposed on the raw material. It will scarcely be necessary to enter into any arguments of a general nature to shew the impolicy of such a duty, or the thousand checks and disadvantages to which the trade is exposed from regulations interfering with freedom of labour. I have heard no general argument advanced in favour of the state of things to which I have alluded. I have heard indeed some more limited arguments put forward by hon. gentlemen on the opposite side, which apply more immediately to the peculiar situation of this particular trade. The hon. member for Coventry, for instance, told us on a former evening, that silk is not a native manufacture of this country. The hon. member for Taunton went so far as to assert, that silk, like fruit, could only flourish in particular places; and I confess it did strike me as a somewhat whimsical instance which the hon. gentleman adduced in support of his proposition, for he stated that Taunton, which now has a very extensive silk manufacture, was forty years ago unacquainted with it, but possessed a considerable manufacture of woollens. Now, I cannot say who it was that represented that very respectable borough forty years ago. He might have been a most influential and enlightened member of this House; he might, for aught I know, have been familiarly conversant with the principles of political economy—the staunch and determined advocate of free trade—the zealous disciple of Adam Smith, whose opinions then first began to be published to the world; but, if the chancellor of the Exchequer of that day had come down to the House, and said, "I am desirous to place the cotton manufactures (which were then subject to the same heavy duties which now attach to the silk trade) upon the sound principles of free trade, I wish to give that branch of industry an opportunity of extending as far as it is capable in this country", doubtless, the then hon. member of Taunton, be he who he might, representing the woollen manufactures of his constituents, would have risen in his place, and said, "How can you propose such a measure? The woollen manufactures have been the staple trade of this country for ages; and how can you expect that England, which possesses so little machinery, can compete in the cotton trade with India, where labour is so cheap [hear hear!]?" This is precisely the nature of the argument put forward by the hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Baring), for whose opinions, great talents, and statesman-like views, I entertain generally the greatest deference, But, if that grave objection had been taken at the period to which I have alluded, respecting the approaching ruin of the staple of England, and an alarm was taken at the unfortunate disuse into which flannel waistcoats and woollen hose had fallen, it would unquestionably have been a curious question to solve, whence arose the strange alteration in female dress? Gentlemen would then have exclaimed, "so strongly did our ancestors feel the importance of the woollen trade, that the very shrouds of their dead were composed of that ma- nufacture; and can there be a stronger argument in favour of maintaining this most valuable staple commodity [a laugh]?"

Now, at this stage of the question I beg the attention of the committee whilst I trace the progress of the cotton manufacture; and I do so because I feel, and indeed, it cannot be doubted, that the arguments, which now are applied to the change in the silk trade, would then have been applicable to the cotton manufactures. I know of nothing in the history of commerce—I am not acquainted with any thing in the history of our manufacturing prosperity—that can at all compare with this. It is perfectly true, that forty years ago the manufacture of woollens was the great staple trade of this country. In the year 1760, the whole exports of our cotton manufactures did not amount to more than 350,000l. In 1785, which was two years after the peace, and when the commerce of the country had in some measure recovered from the difficulties of war, the whole extent of our cotton exports, of every description, did not exceed 864,000., whilst at that period our woollen exports amounted to nearly five millions; the proportion between the two commodities being at that time five to one. But, how stands the case at present? Why, Sir, from that period to the present, that is, from the year 1785 to the year 1822, the cotton exports have risen to the incredible amount of 33,337,000l. [cheers], which is more than forty times the amount of the former period. I am now, of course, speaking of the official duties. But, with respect to the woollen manufactures, the great staple trade in former times in this country, it does not now amount to more than 6,000,000., being not so much as one-fourth the amount of the exports of cotton. Why, then, when I see the pre-eminent advantage which arises from the circumstance of allowing capital to run in a free and unrestricted channel; when I contemplate the benefits which the country has derived from the application of sound principles to this single branch of commerce; am I not justified in endeavouring to prevail upon the committee to extend those principles which have produced such invaluable results [cheers]? Now I have only stated what the growth of our cotton manufactures was with respect to our exports. In so doing (as I have already stated), I took the official estimate; and this was perfectly fair, because I did so with both articles, although of course the official value is higher than the real. But I have taken considerable pains to ascertain the real value with respect to our home consumption, and I find that the cotton goods consumed at home within the last year amount to 32,000,000l. sterling. Now, I know I shall be asked, how does all this apply to the question of the silk trade, which is produced by little labour, and from a comparatively small quantity of raw material? But when I state that of the thirty-two millions worth of manufactured goods, not more than about six millions are invested in the raw material, and the remaining twenty-six millions go to the profits of the capitalist and the persons employed in the manufacture, will any man, who takes a statesman-like view of the subject, doubt the proposition with which I set out; namely, that when you remove the restrictions, and burthens from any one branch of industry, you not only afford relief to the amount of the tax remitted, but you lay the foundation for commercial enterprise, of the beneficial effects of which it is impossible to foresee the extent. I would ask any man who has attentively considered the resources of this country, whether, if the restriction had not been removed from, the manufacture of cotton, the continuance of which would have impeded its extension, this country could ever have made the gigantic exertions which it had made during the last war? I would ask, whether the number of persons employed in this manufacture to the amount of 1,200,000, whose wants are supplied in return for their labour, does not afford more real encouragement to agriculture, than any regulations to force up artificial prices could do? It is to the growth of wealth, and the progress of industry, that this country must look, not only for relief from her present burthens, but for the power of making fresh exertions, whenever her situation may demand them. But it is not in the power of any artificial measures to give that real relief to agriculture, or to any other mode of occupation, which can only flow from the increasing activity and constant industry of the people. The most remarkable feature in the history of the cotton manufacture, is the impetus which it has given to invention, the numerous important and valuable discoveries which it has brought forth, the ingenuity which it has called into action, the tendency and effect of all which have been, to produce the article at the lowest possible rate; and we find that in the end, a greater number of persons have been employed to direct the machinery, in proportion as the manufacturer had the prospect of fresh resources.

But, what is the situation of the silk trade under the prohibitory system, which is considered by some as being its greatest advantage? Why, Sir, the monopoly in this trade has produced, what monopoly is always sure to produce, an indifference with regard to improvement. That useful zeal, which gives life to industry, which fosters ingenuity, and in manufacturing concerns, promotes a desire to produce the article in the most economical form, has been completely extinguished. I say, that the system of prohibitory duties has produced this effect; that, to the shame of England be it spoken, in this branch alone in the whole range of manufactures, we are completely left behind our neighbours. We have witnessed that chilling and benumbing effect, which is sure to be produced when no genius is called into action, and when we are rendered indifferent to exertion by the indolent security of a prohibitory system. I have not the slightest doubt, that if the same system had been continued with respect to the cotton manufacture, it would at this moment be as subordinate in amount to the woollen, as it is junior in its introduction into this country.

I am afraid I have already trespassed too long upon the patience of the committee [cheers]; but I have been anxious to impress upon the House, and the country generally, that if there be a chance of giving new life and vigour to any branch of industry, which has either been in a state of stagnation, or slow in its progress, there are at present, in the situation of the world, circumstances calculated to afford relief which never before existed; and I must say, that those, who, blindly desirous of procuring immediate relief for the country by the remission of direct taxes, would neglect the ample, extended, and tempting field which now lies open before us, do not take a wise or statesman-like view of the subject. Now, Sir, it is not merely for the reason which I have hitherto attempted to explain, that I support the proposition of my right hon. friend, but also with reference to the general principle of all prohibitory duties on any article of general use: and I could wish to direct the serious attention of the committee to the real nature of the prohibitory system. I would ask if there be any evils in our code of penal laws, which can be at all compared with that system of prohibition which some gentlemen are so desirous to uphold? By the present laws, any individual, no matter who, the commonest ruffian in the street, may snatch from a gentleman any article which he suspects to be of foreign manufacture. Could any thing be less congenial to the spirit of English law, than this, that a man may enter the dwelling-house of his neighbour, and make a diligent search, because he suspects there is some prohibited article to be found in his domicile? Have we not heard of Excise officers stopping a gentleman's carriage, and subjecting it to a diligent search upon bare suspicion of its containing contraband goods? But, are these the only considerations? To what an extent of perjury and fraud do they not give encouragement? The higher classes of society will have these prohibited articles. In fact, these prohibitory regulations are like the game laws—if you continue them you must expect to have poachers. It is the higher classes of society who are responsible for all the breaches of those laws—laws which are made, not for the protection of the subject, but to produce an imaginary benefit, which he considered a real detriment, to the very manufacture which it was intended to serve. I profess to be very unlearned on those subjects, but I understand, Sir, that any man on applying to the court of Exchequer, may sue out what is called a writ of assistance, by virtue of which he is empowered to search any gentleman's house, which is thus placed upon the footing of a gambling-house, and subject to the search of the police.

The arguments of those who are opposed to the plan of my right hon. friend appear to me very singular. The operative classes, and the master manufacturers who have petitioned against the removal of the prohibitory system, have done so upon the principle, that it is necessary to maintain the prohibition for the benefit of trade; and though they frankly state, that whatever goods the caprice and fashion of the day may require to be introduced into this country, may be imported at an insurance of fifteen pen cent and sold in any shop in the kingdom, yet these very persons say, that an ad valorem duty of 30 per cent, would be insufficient to protect them. Upon this subject, it is necessary that I should refer the House to the evidence which was adduced by these very persons before the Lords' committee. It is at all times a disagreeable and tedious thing to do; but it will be curious for the committee to examine the fact, since they will find that all the witnesses upon that occasion spoke to the necessity of the proposed alteration; to such inconsistencies were men sometimes driven, in the pursuit of a particular object! I shall refer the committee to the evidence of Mr. Hale, a gentleman well known to many members of this House—a man of the greatest benevolence, and who possessed the strongest desire to promote the comforts and happiness of the labouring classes. This gentleman's evidence must be considered highly valuable, not only on account of his personal respectability, but his perfect competency to judge of these matters. We are now told, that 30 per cent will not be a sufficient protection for the British manufactures; but upon this subject it is only necessary to refer the committee to the evidence of two American merchants, who came over to this country to purchase goods, from which they would be able to form a fair opinion. One of them (Mr. Farnsworth) was asked—"In what respect do you consider the French silk goods to be either inferior or superior to ours?" He answered—"Their goods are generally afforded at a less rate than the English of similar quality, and upon that account they will have the preference of sale.'' He was then asked, "at what per cent would you estimate the difference of value in goods of nearly the same quality?" He replied—"Upon examining the goods here, I have made up my mind that there is something like 20, or 25 per cent difference between the French and English goods in blacks, and rather more in colours." In the article of ribbands, he answered unhesitatingly, that there was a difference of 25 per cent. Here, then, is an American merchant coming to Europe to make his purchases, and finding this difference between the French and English manufactures. Mr. Hale states, "when I was at Paris they had no ideal was a Spitalfields manufacturer, and they offered me, for an insurance at 10 per cent to send me any quantity of manufactured silks I chose to select to any part of London I pleased, notwithstand- ing their liability to be seized as French wherever they were found." Mr. Hale was then asked this question—Do not a great many French goods find their way into this country? "He replied "Yes, but I do not consider that an evil; there is a disposition in many to wear any thing that comes from France, and we have frequently found that few silks thus introduced, however improperly, have been copied immediately; and where there has been one French garment worn, there have been a thousand sold as French from the very patterns thus copied.'' But he did not stop here, for he went on to state "It is no uncommon thing for a manufacturer to copy the pattern immediately and send it down to Brighton, and by means of fishermen and smugglers, the silks are sold for French at a higher price than they would have given for them in London."

Now, does not this statement prove to demonstration, that with a protecting duty of thirty per cent, we might fairly copy the French patterns as we do now, without ministering to the vitiated taste of those who can derive no satisfaction from a garment, unless it be worn in opposition to the laws of the land, and affords encouragement to smugglers? Therefore, I say, that with adequate protecting duties, all that we can desire would be accomplished. Indeed, I have seen the deputation from Manchester this day, and they do not hesitate to say, that, under such an arrangement, they could meet the French manufacturer in any country in the world, and would not be afraid of being distanced [hear! from Mr. Philips] The hon. gentleman opposite will have an opportunity of contradicting this statement by and by, if it be not correct; but I can assure the committee, that since this business was first opened by the chancellor of the Exchequer, there has been no want of due diligence, either on his part or mine, to make ourselves masters of the details of this difficult question, by communication with those who were best able to afford information; and I hope, that whilst, on the one hand, we are accused of having acted too precipitately, and on the other, of not having come with sufficient expedition to a decided result, we shall at least be acquitted of any want of exertion to form the best judgment that we could upon the matter. With respect to the charge of delay, it would have been impossible to have formed a final determi- nation, until we saw how all parties were likely to be affected. But this, day I have had an interview with the deputation from Manchester, and they state it as the opinion of the manufacturers of that town, that if time be given them, they would not be afraid to compete with the manufacturers of France in any market in the world; and from the increasing improvement in machinery, they look forward to the prospect of beating their rivals in every other branch of industry [cheers] I am quite aware I shall be told, that the trade is the best judge of their own particular interests. I have as great a respect as any man for all persons concerned in commerce and manufactures; and, indeed, in my official situation, it is my duty to consult frequently with those from whom I can obtain information; but I trust it will not be considered inconsistent with the respect which I feel towards them, to deny, as a general proposition, that any branch of trade is necessarily the best judge of the peculiar interests which are connected with their calling. Without meaning, in the slightest degree—on the contrary, disclaiming the intention—to impute to any particular pursuit, a disposition to uphold themselves, to the detriment of the community, still I must say, that a system of monopoly must be favourable to great capitalists. Although at the same time, it cramps trade generally, and does a great injury to the community, I am perfectly aware that the proposed alteration must affect particular interests materially. The broker, for instance, would suffer, and those who received a commission on the raw material. But there always will be partial interests that must suffer for a time; and all that parliament can do, and that it is its duty to do, is to deal with them as tenderly as possible. There are also persons who are not remiss in diligence in opposing this measure, and who have created a strong feeling out of doors; I mean all those who, under the prohibitory system, are benefitted by smuggling. They are naturally afraid that their trade will suffer, and that if there be no prohibition, no lady will fancy a French article when she can get an English one; so that in fact, the ladies' maids and their mistresses are not the least part of the confederacy against the proposed arrangement.

I have now, Sir, in the absence of my right hon. friend the chancellor of the Exchequer, stated the general grounds upon which this proposition is founded, and I shall now proceed to state the mode in which it is intended to be carried into execution. The difficulty in which government were placed is this:—It is obvious that if we postponed the remission of the duties, an impression would be created in the mind of the consumer, that he would get the article at a much lower rate than the proposed remission would justify him in supposing; and the obvious effect would be, to give a general slackness to the manufacturer of this particular article. It appeared, therefore, on the best consideration we could give the subject, that the wisest course we could pursue, in order to put an end to all the disquiet which exists among those who depend on their daily labour in that manufacture for support, would be, to make the remission of the duty as entire and as speedy as possible. I shall therefore propose, that the remission, instead of taking place on the 5th of July, shall take place as early as the 25th of this month; with a view to prevent any stagnation in the trade, nay, to give a fresh stimulus to the manufacture. We found ourselves under another difficulty when we came to consider the stock on hand; still, however, it was not impossible, as we conceived, to come to a satisfactory arrangement. The arrangement which we preferred was, to enable persons having raw silk on hands, to return it into the warehouse, to reclaim the duty paid thereon, and to take back the silk on the 25th of March, subject only to the new rate of duty. The result of this will be, to limit the period during which any stagnation might be felt, to the very short interval between this and the 25th of March. But I think it much more probable that no interruption to its activity will take place. It is hardly to be supposed that they will stop their mills, instead of continuing the activity of their trade, which is so likely to be soon increased under the operation of this measure. It is true, that to that part of the stock which has been worked and distributed we cannot extend the arrangement I have already mentioned, and there some inconvenience must be felt; but, if there be any thing in this objection it is one which applies to all similar cases, and can be urged at all times when alterations come to be made in the existing duties. It is probable that this inconvenience will be the less felt in the present instance, as, owing to the course of monopoly, the fluc- tuations in the price of the article are frequently much greater than the amount of the duty But whether or not, it would be an endless and impracticable task to go about to every haberdasher's shop to ascertain the precise quantity of the manufactured material on hand. In the course of last year the article fluctuated from 60, which was the highest, to 40, in the course of a few months; and the committee will perceive that this was a difference beyond the rate of the duty.

I now come, Sir, to another part of the subject, that which relates to the prohibition: In this manufacture, cursed as it is by monopoly, we have not sustained our usual character, in the general competition of Europe. We are unequal in machinery, in working, and in colouring, to our continental neighbours. That we are incapable of rising to an equality with them in this, as we have excelled them in other branches of manufacture, would be difficult to deny, upon any rational ground. The opinion or many experienced persons is decidedly in its favour; but, while we are in that state, and while the feeling exists, which is calculated to aggravate the fact to our disadvantage, it is the duty of parliament to give the subject a fair consideration, and to approach it with some regard even for the prejudices of the parties concerned. Instead, therefore, of making the repeal of the prohibition contemporaneous with the remission of the duty, I propose that the prohibition shall continue up to July 1826. I do this under the impression, that something is due to the general feeling entertained upon the subject; and because I am comparatively indifferent as to the period when the principle shall come into full operation, if I can see a prospect of establishing it at last. I am aware that it is the wish of some to have the prohibition continued indefinitely, but I entertain no fear of foreign competition. These are the principal measures which I shall submit to the House in the shape of a resolution. I have stated to the committee the grounds upon which the principle appears to me to be generally wise. One part of the arrangement I omitted to state, and it is of importance that it should be stated. We have felt it necessary to provide, that all the manufactured goods in the kingdom intended for exportation, may be placed in the warehouses for that purpose, and immediately on being exported, admitted to the full benefit of the drawback. It is not from an attachment to any particular theory of political economy that I have been induced to propose this measure. I have seen too much of the uncertainty of all such foundations in the course of my public life, to be an enthusiast in favour of any. If I am accused of possessing over liberal principles with regard to trade, I must plead guilty to the charge; but they are principles founded in experience, and sanctioned by the best authorities. They operate to remove the jealousy of foreign powers, to promote the cause of civilization, to reciprocate the enjoyments and advantages of different climates; and, when you speak with reference to the commercial interests of this country, the argument is strengthened instead of being weakened—her wealth, her industry, her talent, her prosperity, are all so many inducements for us to liberalize the system. I would be liberal to other countries, because, amongst other reasons, it is the best way to promote the interest of my own.—The right hon. gentleman concluded, amidst loud cheers, by moving a resolution, which embraced the objects explained in his speech. The applause was not confined, as usual, to the members; a numerous party of the individuals concerned in the trade having made their way into the gallery, where they testified their approbation by a clapping of hands.

Mr. Baring

said, he must confess that the impression made on the committee by the speech of the right hon. gentleman was such as to render it a vain hope that any thing which he could himself offer would remove it. Still, however, he would declare that, with all the attention he could bestow upon the subject, and all the consideration he could give it, the impression which he before had, remained to that moment unshaken; namely, that the measure proposed by the right hon. gentleman was a dangerous experiment for the country. He would admit, at the same time, that nothing could be more candid and disinterested, than the course which his majesty's ministers had pursued. They undertook a great responsibility in what they proposed; and it was highly creditable to them not to shrink from that responsibility, when they thought that by incurring it, they had a fair opportunity of serving the public. He had himself a strong inclination towards the principle of free trade, properly understood; but the right hon. gentleman appeared to him to have selected the I most dangerous instance for the trial of his experiment. When the right hon. gentleman talked of the blessings of free trade and the curse of monopoly, it must be obvious to the committee, that he kept up a great portion of the curse, as he called it, in his own proposition. What, he would ask, had the House been discussing all night, but the monopoly of the sugar trade to the West Indies? And what could be better known, or more distinctly avowed, than the monopoly secured to the landed interest by the system of the corn laws. If, then, they were making a beginning on the principle of free trade, they were making it at the wrong end. In his opinion, it would be the destruction of that manufacture; for, what was the measure which was to produce all the wonderful effects, in the description of which the right hon. gentleman had flourished so sanguinely? The whole was to arise from letting French silks into the market. This trade which was a weak one, which the right hon. gentleman had himself admitted to be greatly inferior, both in loom and dye, to the foreign manufacture, was to be strengthened and improved at once, by letting in the competition of a foreign and superior article? Had not our cotton and woollen trade risen under the very system condemned by the right hon. gentleman? He would ask, did our excellence in those manufactures originate in the free importation of foreign cottons and woollens? It would be well, he thought, before they agreed to the adoption of the experiment, that they should examine and ascertain the causes that had led to the improved state of the silk trade. It might be found in the course of such an investigation, that there was something in the nature of the article itself to account for it. Then what was the particular advantage that France itself might have? The right hon. gentleman had ridiculed the idea, that particular trades had fixed in different spots, with which it would be most difficult, if not impossible, to keep up a competition, Sheffield and Birmingham were instances of this in our own country. No reason could be assigned to shew why, in their respective branches of manufacture, these places should excel all others; yet, such was the fact. Neither could it be proved from reason, why Geneva should excel in trinkets and watches, and Tuscany in straw hats. With respect to the silk trade, Lyons had, for a lapse of years, a name which it would be vain to contend against upon equal terms. He knew that some silk manufacturers had gone from this country to learn the art of dyeing, as it was practised in France. One intelligent man, whom he had spoken to, had offered money to the French manufacturer for the discovery of his art; but the Frenchman was an honest man, and told him, he would not take his money, as he had nothing new to communicate. "We use precisely the same materials that you do," said he; "but I never dye without the advantage of a very clear sun, and it is to that alone that all our superiority of colours is owing." There were reasons drawn from climate, and other circumstances, which some times gave a local habitation to a particular manufactory, which the principles of free trade, whatever their general efficacy might be, could never remove. There were others, to which those principles were some times sacrificed for the purpose of maintaining. In France they never exported their raw silk, because it was superior to the silk of all other countries; superior to what could be obtained from any part of Italy. France, as it appeared to him, was perfectly right in adopting such a policy, and the propriety of it would only be denied by those who were attached to certain principles of political economy, to which they considered every thing else as subservient. If they were sure that they would be doing a service to the manufacturers themselves by the measure that was attempted in the course of the last session, he thought they should not be prevented by petitions from effecting the good which it was in their power to perform. The whole amount of the present measure was, that French silks should be permitted to come here; but the committee ought to know the state of the trade with which they were interfering. This country sent no silk abroad that was not mixed with cotton or worsted, or manufactured in the shape of silk stockings. The duties from which the trade was to be relieved could only affect the home consumption; and all that the right hon. gentleman proposed to do was, to let France have a part in supplying the consumption of this country. If this was done with a view to some general purpose, such as the establishment of some treaty of commercial arrangement, he would be disposed to say— let the silk trade go, in order to procure us a free commerce with France. But, after all they had heard about free trade, the trade under the new regulations, if free at all, was only free upon one side: it went to let in a favourite manufacture of France, without any provision for reciprocity or compensation. Not above two years ago it was proposed to permit the importation of thrown silk, which was opposed at that time successfully, and now it was not even allowed to be ware housed—["It will be," from Mr. Huskisson.]—Mr. Baring, in continuation, said he spoke of what now was. The organzined silk then, was prepared in Italy at one half the price it cost here; and the right hon. gentleman was abandoning his own principle, as it left the throwsterer his monopoly, and the manufacturer at his mercy. The right hon. gentleman migh know, from the conversation of the ladies' maids to which he had alluded, what would be the consequence of his proposed measure. Why, all the shops of London would be full of French silks, which the ladies would prefer to English, and thus the English manufacturer would be ruined. The essential part of this great question was, the power of the English manufacturer to stand a competition with the manufacturer of other countries; and this part of the question had not been sufficiently inquired into. The House was proceeding too rapidly, and, he thought, might have learnt more caution from the check they received last session. There were several parties who had stated that the proposed measure would be injurious to their interest; therefore it was their business to make a more strict and extended inquiry. The right hon. gentleman said, that there was the Lords' report; but he did not think that the evidence there given was that of people on whom we might rely. It never had been examined, however, even in that committee, to what degree we could stand competition. His own opinion was, that those who proposed this new plan, were completely ruining the silk manufacture of England. They would find this out, when they had deprived thousands of poor manufacturers of their bread; and they would then endeavour, under the most disadvantageous circumstances to retread their steps. He had minutely examined this question, in order, if possible, to come to a different conclusion; but, after the most serious consideration, he remained fixed in the opinion which he had originally formed. Individuals, it seemed, had given the right hon. gentleman the utmost encouragement to proceed with this measure; but, how did it happen that there was not a single petition on the table in favour of it? [Mr. Huskisson—"The Manchester petition."] As the committee were likely to tolerate the resolutions of the right hon. gentleman, he was glad that he had got even one petition in favour of their adoption. The right hon. gentleman said, that at present the smuggler brings in French silks, at an insurance of 10 per cent, and he will put on a duty of 30 per cent, giving, in fact, the manufacturer a greater protection than he now enjoyed. But, had the right hon. gentleman never reflected on the protection afforded this manufacture by the proscription? The moral feelings of the people of this country were so strong, that nine out of ten would not use the prohibited articles. The risk they ran of having them taken away operated as a bar to their using them. The French had the advantage over us in point of silk, in point of machinery, and from labour being cheaper. Once we had been told, that the application of English machinery would make up for dearness of labour; but now we were told, that our machinery was worse than that of the French, and that this was owing to our monopoly. And the mode, which the right hon. gentleman took to remedy this was, to open the English market to French silks, manufactured under these advantageous circumstances! He would invite the competition of rivals, superior in machinery, superior in their dyes, and superior by the cheapness of labour! The right hon. gentleman's statement was, that owing to the shackles on the trade, or the inferiority of the workmen, or the dearness of labour, we were likely to lose this branch of manufacture, and to leave our rivals in clear possession of the market. Therefore the right hon. gentleman wished to alter the system and he proposed to allow a certain period before that alteration was finally adopted. But, what effect would this have? It would entirely paralyze the efforts of the manufacturers. The whole manufacture of silk would be paralyzed until that time arrived. No man would venture to go on with his business, until he knew definitively whether he could or could not safely enter into competition with France. Those who had capitals embarked in the trade would not go on with the silk manufacture, until they could clearly see what result was likely to arise from their adventurous spirit. He had very recently seen a gentleman of great respectability in the lobby, who informed him, that he would have nothing more to do with the trade, until he saw what was likely to become of the manufacturers. They would go into this competition with faint hearts. The boldest of them would find no energy for competition; and, in consequence of their backwardness, all the labourers would be kept out of work. It was quite clear, that the manufacturer would not depend even on the speech of the right hon. gentleman, as conclusive proof that he would be a successful rival of the French. He would therefore abstain from expending his capital, until he saw how the new system was likely to work. In his view of the question, it would be better, if ministers believed the principle to be good (for his own part, he looked upon it as good for nothing) to try it at once, to prove its effects as soon as possible; instead of leaving a trade in a dejected and lingering state, month after month, until the period arrived, when the great experiment must be put to the test. They would have a fairer chance of succeeding, if they abstained from delay, which would only have the effect of destroying the energy of the masters, and reducing the operative class to utter hopelessness. None of the circumstances adduced by the right hon. gentleman in support of his plan afforded to the British manufacturer so much prospect of success as the supply of East India silk; and if, by a proper understanding with the Court of Directors, who had now a sort of control over that article, they could throw the trade more open, it would certainly be an alteration of a beneficial nature. At present, the trade in East India silk was carried on in such a way, as to prevent any person from discovering whether a finer description of silk could or could not be procured from that country. The silk now imported was in general coarse, but articles of a very fine kind were sometimes imported; from which it might be inferred, that a much finer description of silk might, if care were taken, be procured. The trade was still, however, in a very unsettled state, the court of Directors having blocked up and impeded it. If, however ministers expected any good from this new measure, they ought to take care, in the outset, that a plentiful supply of the raw material should be within the reach of the manufacturer. It would be futile, after they had dispirited and distressed the trade, to go about looking for the raw material, which they should have secured at first. The plan, it appeared was, to proceed to India for silk, and, at home, to set up a system of competition with the French, in a manufacture our knowledge of which, the right hon. gentleman allowed to be in all respects inferior to that of our neighbours. He again called on the committee to pause and inquire, before they proceeded further. In that case, if they ruined those individuals, they would have some justification to show; since they might say, what they 3 could not at present do, that they had erred after a mature consideration of the subject. Gentlemen might rest assured, that the moment this plan was promulgated, the great object of all those who had capitals embarked in the manufacture would be, to disentangle those capitals: and those who had no capital, except their labour, would be left to struggle for themselves, and probably to perish for want of employment.

Mr. Wallace

said, it was satisfactory to find, that none of those gentlemen who opposed the measure called in question the principles on which it was founded. It was also a great satisfaction to him to find that it was chiefly opposed by gentlemen who represented places in which the silk trade was carried on, or which were connected with it; and such gentlemen, it might be supposed, were some what influenced by their constituents, who always foresaw danger in every measure which went to interfere with their monopoly. They were subject to alarm, and were frightened at every approach which was made to those privileges, within which they were intrenched. He did not blame them, for every man was bound to defend what he supposed to be his own interest; but this he thought should be a caution to the House not to be too ready to act on the alarms and apprehended dangers of the persons complaining. The House had begun to act on the principle of giving freedom of trade, not for the benefit of a few adventurers, but for the benefit of the country at large, and of all persons concerned in trade. In the measure proposed, the House would only be acting on principles which were found to be eminently advantageous in all other manufactures; and he did not know why that of silk should be an exception to the rules under which they flourished. The hon. member had warned the House not to try experiments; but this was not, properly speaking, an experiment. The warning or the admonition, would be a good one if they were applying new principles and untried theories; but they were only applying principles which had been found, on many other occasions, to be of very great utility, to this trade, which was a prominent exception to the soundest rules. It was a flourishing trade, he admitted; but it was flourishing for the individuals at the expense of the country—it was a monopoly kept up by levying an enormous tax on the whole country. There was no doubt that it might flourish independent of this, that the demand would increase, and the trade be augmented by a taste for silks extending itself among the people. Thus employment would be found for more hands, and a tax be remitted to the people. And no tax could be remitted so full of advantages as one which, while it left money in their pockets, gave them liberty, by extending the freedom of trade, to employ it. The hon. member had asked for the ground of our belief that the trade would increase when the prohibition should be removed. Did it not now flourish with a heavy tax laid on the raw material? The hon. gentleman said, too, that we had no evidence but that which had been taken before the Lords. Did he forget, then, that that evidence was taken under an advantage never possessed by the House of Commons in such inquiries, and that every part of what was, there stated was sanctioned by the solemnity of an oath? He would only refer him to the evidence of Mr. Wilson, who was decidedly of opinion, that the cause why the silk manufacture in this country did not equal that of France was, the restrictions under which it laboured. He would also call to the hon. gentleman's recollection the report of the committee of that House on foreign trade, in which Mr. Wilson had said, "that the principal reason why Great Britain could not compete with other nations was owing to the duty. Before the war we possessed a considerable trade in silk; we now possess great advantages in our Indian silk, and if the trade were thrown open, we should supply the French market with this article." The silk of India was cheaper than the Italian silk; and if there were no duty on the article, no prohibition, England would be the mart, not only for the raw material, but for the manufactured article. If it were true, that we had had a considerable trade with a large duty, why should we despair of acquiring a greater trade when that duty should be abolished? What chance was there that France could compete with us in our own markets? It was, however, not proposed to allow the free importation of French silks, but only to remove the prohibition and allow them to be imported on paying a duty of 30 per cent., which, in his opinion, was more than sufficient to counterbalance any advantages possessed by the French, even if they were rated much higher than they were by the hon. member for Taunton. The hon. member, as one of these advantages, had stated that labour was cheaper in France in the silk trade than in England. Concerning this particular trade he confessed he had no information; but he had lately seen a gentleman from that country, who was extensively engaged in the cotton manufacture, and he had questioned him on this subject. That gentleman was a very competent judge, and had himself been at Manchester making some inquiries; and he had assured him (Mr. Wallace), that the price of a day's labour was certainly less in France than in England; but that so much less was done for that price in the former than in the latter country, that, on the whole, labour was cheaper here than there. It was that gentleman's decided opinion, that manufacturing operations at least in the cotton trade, were carried on at a less ex-pence in this country than in France. Now, he did not know why it should not be true also of the silk trade, unless the restrictions to which that trade was exposed, and which, on a former occasion, it had been vainly attempted to get rid of, made the price of labour in it comparatively higher than in less restricted trades. As to our machinery not being equal to that of the French, it was very extraordinary, considering that in most other points our machinery was so superior to theirs. But every body knew what the effect of a monopoly was. Where parties were secure against all competition, talents were stifled, and there was no motive for exertion. It was a fact, that, in numerous other articles we undersold the French; and it was also a fact, that in this one highly-favoured and protected article, they were in some things superior to us. The greater cost of the article in our own country was, he believed, chiefly owing to the restrictions under which the trade laboured. For this reason, he did not approve exactly of the time which his right hon. friend now proposed to give the manufacturers: he thought it too long. It would be a disgrace to the country and a disgrace to the House, if they were now to depart, under any false notion of its being for the interest of the men, from those liberal principles which they had begun to act upon, and on the steady pursuit of which the prosperity of the country would greatly depend. He was particularly surprised at the quarter whence this opposition came; for he recollected the hon. member for Taunton presenting a petition from a most respectable body, praying for freedom of trade. He also recollected that, on that occasion, the hon. member had supported the prayer of that petition very energetically, and had used the same language as to particular prohibitions which he (Mr. W.) now held, and was now ready, according to the hon. member's recommendation, to act upon. By taking away prohibition, we kept the manufacturers under the constant check of a possible competition, and encouraged them to be watchful after all those improvements which could ensure them the command of the market. By such a measure we should have better and cheaper commodities; and, so far from having any thing to dread from the competition of France in our own markets, we should be enabled to extend our trade to all parts of the world.

Mr. Butterworth

suggested the propriety of extending the same assistance to the manufacturer, as was intended in the proposed plan to be given to the merchant, with respect to the stock on hand. There should be no difference as to the allowance of the drawbacks on the duties paid between either description, as, in his judgment, their claims to consideration stood upon equal grounds.

Mr. W. Peel

said, he was persuaded that the silk trade would feel fully satisfied with the proposition of government, as expressed in the statement of his right hon. friend. The remission of the duties on the raw silk would considerably increase, he had no doubt, the profits of the trade, without at all injuring the revenue.

Mr. Davenport

did not see any similarity between the manufacture of cotton and that of silk, on which so much stress had been laid in the opening statement of his right hon. friend. No higher test of sincerity could be given of the real opinion of the silk manufacturers, as to the injury the repeal of the prohibitory system would inflict upon them, than their willingness to give up the proposed remission of the duties, amounting to 450,000., rather than have their present situation disturbed. He begged to recommend to his right hon. friend to extend the interval to another year; such a space of time; to use a phrase borrowed from the trade itself, would allow them to "wind up their bottom."

Mr. Ellice

observed, that in discussing this question, the committee should recollect, that the experiment proposed was about to be made upon that branch of our manufacture, which was the least competent to bear a rivalry. Indeed, it was admitted by the right hon. gentlemen opposite, that we were inferior to that very nation, with which we were called upon to compete, both in machinery, labour, and the price of labour: in short, that we were, in every ingredient of the manufacture, at a considerable distance behind France. But, it was said, that there would be, in the duties left on the importation of the French silks, a sufficient protection against the smuggler. Now, that was what he denied. The great security against the smuggling these goods lay, not in the chance of capture at sea, but in the power of confiscating them after they had been introduced, and wherever they could be traced. Allow them once to be imported; let them once be permitted to be put in the shops of Dover; and nothing could prevent their circulation through every part of the kingdom. It was from the conviction, that it was impossible to give our manufacture that protection which was essential to its existence, that he opposed the proposition. Besides, the right hon. gentlemen opposite were not consistent with their own principles. They kept up a duty of 7s. 6d. on the importation of thrown silk, though from that silk the ribbon branch of the trade was made entirely. To enable our manufacturers to compete with France, we should begin with the reduction of that duty. But, though he dreaded the sudden change now, as most likely to be attended with ruin to the silk manufacture, yet he did not doubt that the time would arrive when that manufacture—at all events in the home market—would have no reason to fear any competition with foreigners. Nay, before the opening of the trade, from the progressive improvement in machinery, the probable reduction in taxation, the consequent facility in defraying the price of labour, that such an improvement would be made, as would considerably diminish the dangers of such a change.—Much stress had been laid by the right hon. gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade, on the successful progress of the cotton branch; and thence it had been inferred, that the silk manufacture, under similar circumstances, must make a similar advance. In answer to such inference, he would deny the existence of any analogy. What, he would ask, had given such a successful impetus to the cotton manufacture? Was it not the extraordinary monopoly which a war of twenty-five years duration had given to trade and commerce? Had not, in consequence of that monopoly, the growth of cotton increased considerably both in America and China? Would any man say, that a similar state of things extended such an influence to the silk manufacture? He would not say, though he did not admit it to the extent claimed by the right hon. gentleman, that a very great improvement had not been made within late years, with respect to the use of machinery as applicable to the silk manufacture; but to compare it with the progress which had been made in the cotton trade was preposterous. Now, as to the condition of the manufacturer under the proposed alteration, he could not see why a difference was to be made between him and the merchant. The right hon. gentleman, however, had provided for the one and not for the other. He (Mr. Ellice) would provide for both. He would put a case, and one that he knew to be real—suppose a manufacturer, from the desire of keeping a number of his workmen employed, had manufactured a larger stock of goods than the immediate demand needed—say to the amount of 40 or 50,000l.—upon what rule of equity or fair dealing was such a man to be overlooked, while an allowance—a fair allowance, he admitted—was made to the merchant? What justice could there be in levying a fine of 5,000l. on the former? It was contended, that such consequences were the common and ordinary effects of alterations in trade and commerce. That he altogether denied. It was no common case. It could not be considered so, when a proposition was made of a reduction of 25 per cent on the raw material. To give to persons thus circumstanced the power to export, the liberty to bond, was no remedy for such a great grievance. The committee should bear in mind the heavy duties which such persons had already paid out of their capital. It was also to be apprehended, as they approached the period of opening the trade, that the masters naturally attentive to their own interests, would make such arrangements as must produce a stagnation in the trade. Such an effect must necessarily interfere with the employment of the operatives in a way that might lead to very disastrous results. Adverting to the great question of free trade, he would say, that the wisest course would have been, to have commenced with the corn laws—those greatest infractions of the principles which the right hon. gentleman had so ably vindicated. If those laws were taken off, and the taxes lightened upon the necessaries of life, England might then indeed be in a condition to enter into that contest for which at present she was incompetent. No question, the time allowed would do a great deal of good. Improvements might be made in our machinery, and in the management of our silk manufacture generally. And, as he looked forward still to the possibility of our beating France in the coarser branches of the trade, he thought that some stipulation should have been made for her taking our coarser silks in return for our permitting the importation of her fine ones.

Mr. Littleton

confessed, that his opinion on the question had been altered by what had fallen from the right hon. president of the Board of Trade. He thought it would be convenient, however, as a protection against smuggling, that every French piece of silk that was imported should be stamped at the Custom-house.

Mr. Ellice

put it once more to the right hon. gentleman, whether he would not give some assurance as to the immense manufactured stock on hand. That stock had been accumulated, the greater part of it, merely from a wish to keep the workmen in employ through the winter. The debate would go forth in a far more gratifying shape to the public, if some intimation were given that their just claims would be considered.

Mr. Whitmore

confessed, that with every disposition to weigh the arguments of those who opposed the plan of the chancellor of the Exchequer, he had not heard any thing calculated to shake its validity. To talk of reciprocity was itself a great fallacy. A manufacturing country had nothing to look to but its imports; and as we neither grew nor produced gold or silver, the increase of those imports could only arise from the increased sale of our own manufactures. Solicitous as he had ever been for a free trade in corn, be never would admit, because on that article we continued a restrictive policy, that therefore we ought not to adopt a free system with respect to other branches of manufacture.

Mr. Hume

added his entreaties to those of his friends, that the right hon. gentleman would give some consideration to the grievance which must be suffered by those who had large stocks. He was not hostile to the measure of the chancellor of the Exchequer, but he had spoken with several merchants, who assured him that their losses would not be less than from 7,000l. to 10,000l. upon their stock. It never could be the object of government to oppress individuals; and the amount of duties, were they to be remitted on goods uncut, could not be felt as any loss by the country.

Colonel Davies

urged the necessity of remitting the duties paid for stock on hand. If they were willing to allow a drawback on exports for the foreign market, why not also on the goods intended for home consumption?

Mr. Butterworth

thought that 7s. 6d., the duty proposed to be left upon thrown silk, ill-proportioned to the disadvantage which the manufacturers would encounter from the repeal of the prohibitions.

Mr. Haldimand

said, that there ought certainly to be an allowance for the stock on hand. The trade was generally conducted by highly respectable persons. There could be no difficulty in adjusting the drawback according to the real value. An oath might be administered in doubtful cases. It might be useful for the House to know in what light the French manufacturers looked upon this measure as it regarded their interests. The hon. gentleman then read a letter from a Lyons manufacturer, dated 24th February, in the original. But as there seemed to be some difficulty in the mode of communication, he proceeded to translate a few sentences. The letter imported, that the writer had heard of the intended repeal of the prohibitions, which he attributed to the confidence of the British minister in the state of the home manufacture, admitted to have taken a spring forward since 1814. His correspondent, however, seemed to expect great advantages to the trade of Lyons from the repeal. For his own part, he thought that the period of two years would be a sufficient security against any disadvantages which could be contemplated by those who opposed the measure. He believed, that, in a certain degree, the French and the English manufacturers, in the views they had taken, were both wrong. The measure deserved the support of the House.

Mr. T. Wilson

thought that there had been so much of good will and such a spirit of conciliation shown by ministers in their endeavours to meet the views of all parties, that it would be best to withdraw any opposition, and trust to their considerate mode of conduct for some relief as to the duties already paid for stock on hand.

Mr. Philips

urged the necessity of taking off the duties from the dyeing materials.

Mr. Alderman Heygate

could not conceive what satisfaction the manufacturers were to derive from the postponement of two years and a quarter, which only put the danger off for that time. He trusted, however, that they would use the opportunity for preparing against the consequences, which would surely arrive at the end of that time. For his part, he protested against the proposition of free trade, unless they were prepared [hear, hear!]—he repeated it, he considered free trade, so called, as the greatest curse which could be inflicted on the country—unless they were prepared to go through with it by abolishing the corn laws; and that could not be done without endangering the very existence of the landed interest.

Mr. Huskisson

wished that he could see his way, in making an allowance for the stock on hand, which he confessed might, in strict equity, be necessary. But he had been informed, that the trade generally thought that the time to be allowed before the carrying of this measure into operation, would secure them from any considerable loss. He would concede thus much, that if upon consideration he could find out some mode of arrangement to meet that part of the sub- ject, he would be most anxious to adopt it, especially if he should also find, that it would produce little or no inconvenience.

Mr. Ellice

, after the handsome assurance of the right hon. gentleman, that he would give some consideration to the question of duties paid for stock on hand, entreated his hon. friends to withdraw their opposition to the resolution: for, as the measure would then stand, the publishing of it out of doors would do good, and tend to conciliate all parties.

Mr. Haldimand

advised that there should be no division.

The resolution was then put and carried.