§ On the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill,
§ Mr. Curteis
insisted that the bill aimed a severe blow at the agricultural interest. The measure was the first-fruits of the new school of philosophy which had lately sprung up respecting free trade. All that he desired on the part of the agricultural interest was, that they might be protected against an inundation of foreign wool. He would therefore move, "that the bill be committed on that day six months."
Mr. S. Wortley
considered the principle of the hill to be ruinous to the agricultural interest. He was sorry to see that great interest neglected by gentlemen who were led away by their love of spinning-jennies. It was equally the interest of the manu- 805 facturing and the agricultural class not to allow the exportation of wool.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
thought it unwise to allow the exportation of long wool to countries which showed no disposition to make concessions on matters of trade to us. Every pound of wool exported would be mixed with three or four pounds of other wool, not the produce of this country.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the principle of the bill was; first, whether the duty on the importation of wool should be reduced at all; and secondly, whether the exportation of wool should be allowed at all. He had fully explained the principle of the measure in February last, and his right hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson) had afterwards gone over the same ground. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be most advisable to go into a committee, where the details of the measure might be discussed.
§ Lord Milton
, from all that he had been able to collect on the subject, considered it one of the wisest measures that could be adopted. Those who represented the agricultural interest in that House took an erroneous view of the question. He believed that the free importation of wool into this country would be attended with the most beneficial results.
§ Sir G. Shiffner
supported the measure, and wished the landed and manufacturing interests to go hand in hand.
§ Mr. Hart Davis
contended, that the measure was both partial and unjust. If the exportation of long wool were permitted, the manufacturers of Germany would soon rival us in the manufacture of it. Indeed, several large orders for it had been already transmitted to this country from Germany, under the idea, that the laws prohibiting the exportation of this kind of wool would be immediately repealed.
§ The House having resolved itself into the committee,
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he should confine himself to making such observations upon each of the clauses of the bill as appeared necessary to him. His proposition was, to repeal the import duty of 6d. per lb. on wool, after the 10th of 806 September; then to re-enact a duty of 3d. per lb. from that time to the 10th of December, when he would again reduce it, and leave it at the rate where he intended that it should remain. That part of the subject he should, however, discuss in another clause. He would now merely propose to fill up the first blank in the bill, with the words, "10th day of September, 1824." The hon. member for Sussex had given as a reason for his hostility to the measure, that he was not inclined to tamper with the long-established practice of our ancestors in imposing these duties. The hon. member was, however, mistaken in his facts. These duties were not the established practice, but an innovation on the established practice of our ancestors. The duty of 6d. per lb. on imported wool never existed until 1819; for, up to that time, it had only been 1d. per lb. Under that small quantum of duty the wool trade had greatly flourished; and, indeed, within the last quarter of a century, the growth of wool itself had much increased. He therefore trusted, that the committee would concur in the propriety of the reduction—a reduction which was equally conducive to the interest of the grower and the manufacturer. With regard to the time at which this reduction of duty was to take place, there was nothing either partial or unjust in that which he had selected. The two dates with which he intended to fill up the blanks of this bill, were the very dates which had been recommended to him by the committee of wool-manufacturers.
§ Mr. Bright
complained, that the port of Bristol did not contain sufficient room for the warehousing of bonded wool, and called upon the chancellor of the Exchequer to frame a clause, which would make a distinction between wools in bonded warehouses, which had not paid the duty, and which would therefore come out duty free, and wools, which, being in merchants warehouses, must have paid the duty, and must consequently subject the owners of them to loss, if their case was not specially considered. He contended, that the chancellor of the Exchequer ought to pay back the duty upon such wool as was unsold in merchants' warehouses, on the days mentioned.
§ Mr. Hart Davis
contended, that gross partiality had been shown to the silk-trade, and gross neglect to the wool-trade, though it was the great staple of the country. 500,000l. had been conceded to the 807 silk-trade; but the only concession made to the wool-trade was, to have all the burthens under which it laboured continued for five months longer. He hoped the chancellor of the Exchequer would shorten the time, and give a drawback to the manufacturer, upon all the wool he should then have in hand.
§ Mr. Benett
contended, that if the chancellor of the Exchequer consented to give the manufacturer a drawback upon the wool which he had on hand, he ought also to give the farmer a drawback upon the wool which he had on his sheep's back, and the linen-draper a drawback upon all the manufactured wool he had in his shop.
§ Mr. Curteis
hoped that the chancellor of the Exchequer, if he determined to repeal these duties, would not allow a drawback. He considered the manufacturers not to be at all entitled to it.
§ The clause was agreed to. On the clause for repealing the prohibition of the export of wool.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he considered this clause to be consistent with sound policy, and to be absolutely necessary to placing the trade of the country upon a sound principle. The 10th of December was the clay which he had fixed for the cessation of these laws, being the same day on which he intended that the minimum of import duty should commence.
§ Mr. W. Whitmore
felt persuaded, that if the principle of the proposed clause was carried into effect, it would give origin and support to a most beneficial trade, the advantages of which no man could anticipate. He meant the export of woollen yarn. The superiority of this country in machinery would give a strength and extension to that branch of manufacture which would be felt throughout the great interests of our agricultural and commercial system. The government of this country were proceeding on such sound and enlightened views, that he sincerely hoped the House of Commons would afford its concurrence, in order to enable them to carry into effect these propositions. There was, however, one mistake rather general through the House and the country, on which it was necessary that the fullest inquiry should be made, in order to correct it. It was assumed, that the prosperity of the woollen manufacture was owing to the prohibitory system; particularly of the exportation of the long wool. What did the history of 808 that manufacture disclose? The woollen manufacture, considering all the circumstances of the period, was in a state of great prosperity in the reign of Elizabeth; and yet, at that period, there was no prohibition of the export of wool of any kind in that reign. It was depressed in the following reigns, from a variety of circumstances; but the greatest depression was in the reign of Charles 2nd. The manufacturers of that period, like the manufacturers of all periods, feeling the depression, were disposed to find a cause for it in the permission to export the home growth. The 12th of Charles 2nd was passed, and the prohibitory system commenced. Did that measure relieve the manufacturer? No such thing. The trade suffered a great depression notwithstanding the prohibition. That depression continued to the Revolution. What was then the deduction from the actual events? It was, that during the reign of Elizabeth, when there was no prohibition of export, the trade was prosperous, and that when the prohibitory system was acted upon, the depression was increased. The flourishing state of the manufacture did not, therefore, depend upon a prohibitory system. But, independent of the particular advantage that he was persuaded would flow from that measure, he rejoiced in the progress of the principle. He sincerely hoped, that the success that would arise in this instance would encourage his majesty's ministers to extend the principle to its fullest extent; and he could assure them, that by so acting, they would confer the most lasting benefit on their country, and not alone on their country, but on the world; and prove themselves the most wise and useful men, that in the whole of our history ever held the reins of government [hear, hear]!
§ Mr. T. Wilson
said, he had listened with some impatience to hear a single argument infavour of the export of long wool. Indeed, it would be somewhat difficult to prove to the conviction of any man, that an article of home growth, essential to our own manufactures, and the whole of which was thus employed, could beneficially be sent to foreigners.
Mr. S. Wortley
asked, whether any gentleman in that House, having the feelings of an Englishman, would stand up and say, that this country, having a raw material by which she was enabled to supply the world with a particular fabric, should give that article up without re- 809 ceiving any reciprocal advantage? He denied that this proposition had any thing to do with the question of free trade. Free trade must rest on reciprocity, and here there was none. It was said, that this measure would be advantageous to the agricultural interest. This, he denied. Every pound of long wool enabled the manufacturer to work up a certain quantity of inferior fine wool; and, if the long wool were exported, the inferior fine wool must necessarily be reduced in price. The foreigner had plenty of inferior fine wool: all he wanted was the English long wool; and the moment he got an opportunity of purchasing that article, he would become the rival of our manufacturers. Who complained of the price and value of this long wool? Surely no hon. member would deny, that of all agricultural productions long wool was the most valuable for its price. Any land on which long-woolled sheep could be reared was valuable, and amply repaid all expenses. The foreigner had endeavoured to cultivate this description of wool, and to drive out that of finer quality. He had failed, however; and, were we to assist him in effecting this object? Some gentlemen were favourable to the exportation of yarn formed from this wool: but, to that he also objected. The manufacturers abroad were not, at present, ready with machinery to work up this wool, but they were perfectly ready to make use of the prepared yarn. Therefore he did not wish to have this article exported. If exportation were at all allowed, it should be at such a rate of duty as would give a decided preference and protection to the English manufacturer; and he looked upon the proposed duty of 1d. per lb. as no protection whatever. He hoped, if this measure were carried, that his constituents, the manufacturers, would find they had not formed a wrong estimate of its effects; but he feared the contrary would turn out to be the case.
§ Lord Milton
said, that in his opinion, all classes would ultimately reap advantage from the measure. His hon. colleague objected to the measure, because he saw no reciprocity in it; since other countries did not show any disposition to extend to us the measure of liberality which we were about to extend to them; but, surely, there was not a merchant who would send any valuable commodity abroad, without bringing home something valuable in return. Thus it was that 810 commerce was best supported. Therefore he would say, that this country was right in not making particular commercial treaties on particular points; because he was convinced that reciprocity of benefit was much better secured without resorting to that obsolete mode. So long as there were capital, industry, skill, and enterprise amongst our manufacturers, they would never allow foreigners to come and buy the wool out of their mouths. If ministers proceeded in the way now proposed, they would get rid of the whole body of absurd laws which, so far from fostering the wool-trade, actually cramped and fettered the growth of wool. He was sure, that, but for those laws, the growth of wool would have been raised to a much higher pitch than it had attained. He had always opposed those laws, because they cramped the growth of this article, upon which the woollen manufacturer must necessarily depend for his prosperity. For that reason, and because he was thoroughly persuaded that the present moment was a proper one for making the alteration, he should support the clause.
Mr. C. Grant
said, that in adopting this measure, they were not departing from the ancient policy of this country, but were again returning to it. Until the period of the Restoration, it had been the almost in-variable policy of this country to allow wool to be exported, on the payment of a trifling duty. It was true, that at times prohibitions were introduced—sometimes to annoy sovereigns with whom we were at war, and at others, to allow our own sovereign to increase his private resources. But it was asked, why the regulation should be changed? Now, he contended, that the weight of proof rested with the gentleman who opposed this opening of the trade. Could any one reason be adduced for continuing the present system, except that stated by the hon. member for Yorkshire, that there was something so peculiar in the soil and climate of this country, that here only the long-woolled sheep could be reared? But, the was a fallacy. Twenty or thirty years ago, sheep, which it was supposed could only thrive on particular soils, had been reared on soils of a very different description. At one period, it was the general conviction, that the fine wool of the Spanish sheep could not grow in any country but Spain, and it was even asserted, that the long and painful journeys taken by those animals was essential to the excellence of 811 their fleece. But the contrary had since been manifest; and, under every possible variety of climate and circumstance, in every part of Europe, they would now find wool of equal excellence. Nine years ago, an agricultural writer of eminence stated, that he had discovered in France, a flock of sheep of the Lincolnshire breed. If this was the case—if the animals were thus sent abroad and throve there—what was the use of those laws? How came it that they were not effective? This was a question that rested, not on any doctrine of reciprocity, but on its own exclusive merits.
§ The committee divided; Ayes 180: Noes 20.