HC Deb 08 March 1824 vol 10 cc780-2

Numerous petitions were presented from various places against the importation of Manufactured Silks. Mr. Mundy having presented a petition from Derby,

Lord George Cavendish

supported the prayer of it. The proposition of an immediate change in these laws had, he said, caused a great stagnation in the trade. The petitioners did not express themselves wholly opposed to the repeal of the prohibitory system, but they prayed that a sufficient time should be allowed before such a material alteration was brought into effect.

Mr. Maberly

said, it was surprising to observe the anxiety which the intended alterations in the silk-laws had created out of doors; which anxiety was not only manifested by the petitions presented, but by the crowding of the London tradesmen and weavers about the passages of the House. The hon. gentlemen on his side of the House had been constant in their calls on the government for a reduction of the duties on raw produce, the removal of which was likely to lead to a large additional trade in the respective manufactures. But the very moment ministers were about to take the necessary steps to extend foreign commerce and internal consumption, that first step in the progress of a long-called-for and beneficial system was met with every species of opposition. It was exclaimed, "Do not repeal the prohibitory laws." Now, as to the legitimate operation of those laws, it was null and void. The smuggler at present possessed the disposition of these laws, and for an insurance of 20 per cent would introduce those very foreign articles. The proposition of the chancellor of the Exchequer was a most politic one; and he trusted the enlightened and unprejudiced portion of that House would give him their support.

Mr. Huskisson

observed, that before the discussion went further, it might be convenient that he should put the House in possession of the intended course of proceeding that night. As his right hon. friend, the chancellor of the Exchequer, would not be in his place, in consequence of indisposition, the duty would devolve on him of submitting the views of go- vernment, on the two great questions which stood for discussion. As the annual duties on sugar would expire on the 24th of the present month, the House would perceive, that in regard to the public service, that subject should take the precedence. Afterwards, it would be his duty to propose in a committee on the silk-laws, the resolution which his right hon. friend had intended to submit, as containing the final determination of government. The anxiety and suspense attendant upon that great subject at present would be a sufficient excuse for him with the House in pressing it forward in the absence of his right hon. friend.

Mr. Alderman Heygate

presented a petition from the silk-manufacturers of Sudbury, against the proposed measure. He begged to call the attention of the House to the situation of this borough. After suffering in the greatest degree from the decay of the woollen trade, it had revived by the introduction of the silk manufacture. The poor-rates had decreased to one-fourth of their former amount: the population was employed, and contented. In this situation, it was natural that they should look with alarm to any change in the existing laws. They were confident they could not compete with foreign countries, at so low a protecting duty. If smuggling could not be prevented now, when foreign silks were prohibited altogether, still less could it be prevented, when silks were admissible at a low duty. His constituents were no enemies to a free trade, but they were enemies to a partial legislation, which left the labourers of England under the operation of the corn laws, and yet exposed them to an open competition with foreign countries, where labour was free and untaxed.

Mr. F. Buxton

said, that he held in his hand a petition, signed by no fewer than 23,000 journeymen silk-weavers of the metropolis, praying that the prohibition of the importation of foreign wrought Silks might not be removed. Understanding that the right hon. gentleman opposite wished the discussion of this subject to be postponed to a later period of the evening, he would not say any thing at present on the merits of the case. He must, however, beg the House to observe, that there was this difference between the present petition and those that had been before presented on the same subject; namely, that all the other petitions were from master silk-manufacturers, men possessed of large capital, who feared that the property which they had thus embarked would be impaired, if not destroyed, by the proposed measure. The present petition was from the journeymen silk-weavers; from men who earned their daily bread by their daily labour, and who felt confident (and he really apprehended not without grounds) that of that bread the proposed removal of the prohibition would deprive them. He mentioned this, because the argument which the chancellor of the Exchequer had urged with reference to the other class of petitioners was not applicable to this. The right hon. gentleman had said to the masters, "If you should suffer some little inconvenience in the first instance, that will be amply compensated to you by the ultimate prosperity of the trade." But this was an answer which could not be made to persons who lived from hand to mouth, and who could not, therefore, postpone advantages, or look to the future to atone for the absolute want of the present moment.

Ordered to lie on the table.

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