HC Deb 26 March 1824 vol 10 cc1442-6

The House having resolved itself into a committee on the Customs acts,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that at that period of the night, he should not detain the House for any length of time; but, as it was extremely desirable that the precise nature of the proposition he had to make with respect to these duties should be before the House, and as he could not make that proposition but in a committee, he would avail himself of the present opportunity of so doing. Afterwards, when a bill should have been founded upon the resolution which he had to propose, it would be competent to gentlemen to discuss the subject. What he had then to propose was this; that, instead of repealing the existing duties on wool immediately, or on the 5th of July next, as he had originally intended, the reduction should take place by degrees. He had submitted the proposition to some of those persons who were most interested in the measure, and they considered that it would be the most convenient mode of effecting the object he had in view. He should move, therefore, that the duty of sixpence in the pound should be reduced to one penny in the pound, but in the following manner:—that it should be reduced on the 10th of September next from sixpence to threepence; and on the 10th of December next from threepence to one penny. He should also move, that on the latter day the present prohibition on the exportation of raw wool should be entirely removed, as well as that upon certain articles of wool, which were so loosely manufactured, that they could be easily converted again into wool, and ultimately into cloth. By way of protection, however, to the trade in these articles, he proposed to place a duty of 2d. in the pound on the exportation of raw wool, which was more than he had originally intended; and upon those articles which were loosely or partially manufactured, a duty of 16 per cent upon the amount of their value; which would, upon the average, be about the same as 2d. in the pound upon the raw article. As he did not intend to take off the duties instantaneously, he thought it would be unnecessary to return any part of the present duties to the holders of wool, because they would have a fair opportunity of getting rid of their surplus. The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving resolutions to the effect contained in his speech.

Mr. Bright

objected to the discussion of this subject in the present state of the House.

Mr. Calcraft

said a few words to the same effect. He was one of those who did not consider it was expedient to concede the exportation of long wool. If, however, the right hon. gentleman thought it was necessary that his resolution should now be carried, he would not press his opposition, because other opportunities would occur for his expressing his opinion.

Mr. Western

expressed an opinion, that the duty proposed on the exportation of long wool was too high, and would therefore operate as a prohibition.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied, that if he could have acted entirely as he had wished, he should not have imposed so high a duty; but it was thought, that when a system of laws which had been long cherished with what he confessed he considered a mistaken veneration, was about to be abrogated, something was due to the interests of those who imagined they would be affected by the proposed measure. He therefore thought that it would not be inconsistent with the policy of the government to concede something to the notions of those persons; and for this reason it was, that he had acquiesced in the duty of twopence, instead of the almost nominal duty of one penny. He flattered himself that he had succeeded in allaying the apprehensions which had been entertained on this score, although he was not convinced that there was any reason for them. He believed that, if the long wool were exported without any restriction, no ill effects would result, because that wool would always be cheaper here than any where else; and that if the duty were taken off foreign wool, it would more than compensate our manufacturers for the seeming disadvantage, and prevent the foreign manufacturers from availing themselves of it to any extent. He knew it was said that there could be no great benefit attending this experiment. If, however, it should appear, when the measure came to be put in practice, that the duty did really amount to a prohibition, it would be necessary to apply to the House to remedy that inconvenience. At all events, it was wise in the first instance, to put on a duty even higher than he could have wished it to be, in order to prevent any of the ill consequences which might attend the opening of the trade. The plan would then operate not at once, but gradually; and, he trusted, could afford no one just ground of complaint.

Mr. Western

said a few words in approbation of what the right hon. gentleman had stated.

Mr. S. Wortley

objected strongly, that that description of wool which was the peculiar growth of this country should be exported, in such a way as would enable the foreign manufacturers to compete with us successfully. All the petitions he had presented to the House looked at this subject in the same way. With respect to the duty which was to be imposed, he must take leave to tell his right hon. friend, that he did not look upon it either as a prohibition or as a temporary measure. The manufacturers of wool, his constituents, claimed as a right, that their trade should be protected to that extent, as far as it was connected with the article which was the exclusive produce of England. All that they sought was, a protection equal to the disadvantage they were likely to sustain by the exportation of that article; they said—"Give us this, and we are quite willing to enter into competition with the rest of the world." He understood it was not expected that much raw wool would go out of the country, but that a great deal manufactured into yarn would. The manufacturers were very anxious to have a little more time for the purpose of looking about them. He hoped his right hon. friend would give them six months longer than he had proposed, and not carry his resolution into effect until the 5th of July, 1825.

Mr. Cripps

regretted the discussion of this important question at that time of night. In the county of Glocester long wool happened to be the growth, and not the manufacture of the county. He believed that the whole produce of the country was not more than was necessary for the employment of the artisans engaged to work it up; and this he took to be the strongest argument against the expediency of permitting its exportation.

Mr. W. Smith

objected to discussing this important question further in the present stage, and at that late hour, when, so many members had gone away, under the expectation that the resolution would not be brought forward. Enough had been already said to create alarm, and enough could not now be said to allay it. Many of his constituents were materially interested in the question, as far as regarded long wool; and they would certainly think it most extraordinary, that a resolution of such consequence had been brought forward after midnight, and when there were not, forty members in the House. Whatever was now stated ought to be only in the way of exposition, and not in the way of debate; for it was impossible properly to discuss the subject at present.

Mr. Calcraft

explained why he had commenced the discussion. The question was one of the highest importance, and the public attention ought to be directed to it in the first instance, however late the hour, and however thin the attendance. The object he had in view was, to give the resolution the utmost publicity; and he trusted that enough had been done not to create alarm, but to call attention out of doors to the measure, and to let the public know that the preliminary stage had been passed through. It seemed that the manufacturers were, to a certain degree, satisfied with the change of duty proposed by the chancellor of the Exchequer: at least honourable members expressed themselves tolerably well contented on the part of their constituents. It was necessary that the matter should be distinctly understood, and he wished, therefore, to hear from the chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the two-pence per pound was to be considered a permanent or a temporary duty. At first the right lion, gentleman had spoken as if it were to be permanent, yet afterwards, in answer to the hon. member for Essex, he had appeared to intimate, that it was only to be temporary, in order to try the experiment.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

admitted, that no doubt ought to be left upon the point. The footing on which he put it was thus:—if the export of wool were to be allowed, it ought not to be so clogged by a duty as to render the permission inoperative. He proposed the duty of two-pence, because it was fair and reasonable towards those who were interested, and whose apprehensions were excited. It was not his intention to limit the time during which that duty should continue, nor would he undertake to say, that it should be lowered at any given date; if indeed it were lowered at all. What he said was this, that if it should be found in practice that the duty, of two- pence per pound operated as an absolute prohibition upon the export, utterly inconsistent with the principle on which these measures were adopted, it would be fit that it should be taken off, because it was unfit that the prohibition should exist.

The resolution was agreed to.