HC Deb 14 June 1825 vol 13 cc1136-8
Mr. Littleton

said, he presented a petition from the inhabitants of Nottingham, stating that they had heard, with great alarm; that a select committee had been for some time deliberating on the expediency of allowing the free exportation of machinery, and praying that the House would not repeal the existing laws on that subject. The petition detailed, with great clearness, the progress of machinery in this country, and the immense advantages which the exclusive possession of it gave to our manufacturers, as compared with the manufacturers of foreign countries. These advantages were also shared by the agriculturists of this country, as the superiority of our manufacturers enabled them to purchase agricultural produce at a much higher rate than they would otherwise have the means of doing. The petitioners also stated, that if, in compliance with the present fascinating doctrines of free trade, permission were given to export their machinery, they must become citizens of the world, and accompany it; as a continued residence in their own country, exposed to the evils of extensive competition with foreign manufacturers, whom such a measure must enable to meet them triumphantly in the market, would be impossible. He strongly recommended the petition to the attention of the House. If it should be deemed advisable to make any change in the present law, he thought it would be well worth while to consider whether it would not be expedient to empower the board of trade to exercise their discretion with respect to the particular description of machinery, the exportation of which might be prejudicial to our manufactures.

Mr. Birch

perfectly concurred in the sentiments of his hon. friend.

Mr. Huskisson

observed, that he had listened with great attention to the statements of his hon. friend, on a subject which was certainly of great importance. The final report of the Select Committee, which had been appointed in the last session, and renewed in the present, for investigating how far it might be expedient to repeal all the prohibitory laws in our Statute-book, had not yet been made. For himself, he was certainly inclined to think, that such a repeal would be very advantageous, but he well knew that a strong persuasion existed among a large body of the manufacturers that it would be attended with the greatest injury to their interests. He had no doubt that the further reports of the committee would throw great light upon the subject; and enable it to be more distinctly seen how far the superiority of our manufacturers was attributable to machinery, and how far to other causes. It ought to be recollected that we had already permitted the free exportation of labour. Our mechanics might go whither they choose. Why the exportation of machinery should be placed on a different footing he was at a loss to conceive. He was, however, by no means disposed, in the present state of alarm on the part of the manufacturers, and without the production of some further information on the subject, to propose the repeal of the existing prohibition. He could not help adverting to the observation of his hon. friend, that he should not object to the repeal of the prohibition, provided the Board of Trade were empowered to use their discretion with respect to the exportation of certain articles of machinery. Now, he felt considerable doubts with respect to the expediency of such a course. It would throw on the Board of Trade a most invidious task, and would inundate them with applications, on the merits of many of which they would find it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to decide. He could also assure his hon. friend, that as the Board of Trade was at present constituted, it had as many duties to discharge as it could well get through.

Mr. Hume

agreed with the petitioners that it was a question of great importance and one on which greater prejudices existed among the manufacturing community, than on any question whatever. On that account, he was anxious not to press forward the question of repeal in any manner that might have the appearance of precipitation. He was convinced that the preeminence of the manufactures of this country, might be attributed to many other causes besides machinery. Nor did it appear to him to be less evident, that notwithstanding the apprehensions of the manufacturers were great, they had not adduced a single fact, or advanced a single cogent argument to show, that those apprehensions were well founded. He trusted the committee would soon be able to lay a report on the table of the House; although throughout the session they had not obtained any very extensive information on the subject; which was extraordinary, when it was considered that those individuals, who like the present petitioners were hostile to the exportation of machinery, had been requested to send to the committee persons to explain their views, and to point out what were the particular articles of machinery, from the exportation of which they apprehended so much injury. The fact was, that, at present, by means of smuggling, machinery of all kinds was very extensively exported. The Board of Trade now gave licenses for the occa- sional exportation of machinery, which was contrary to law. What he wished was, that that should be done legally, which was now done illegally.

Mr. Baring

was glad to find, that there was no disposition in any quarter to hurry the decision of the question. If any rational doubt existed, the interests of our manufacturers ought certainly not to be risked. It was clear, however, that many articles of machinery might be exported without any danger to the interest of the manufacturers. It was necessary that a discretionary power should be reposed somewhere, and he did not know where it could be so well reposed as in the Board of Trade. With regard to the weight of the existing duties of the Board of Trade, no man could be more ready than himself to acknowledge the unwearied diligence of the right hon. gentleman and his colleague, and the great benefit which the country had derived from their exertions. It might, however, be desirable to extend the Board for this particular purpose, by the introduction of some persons capable of forming a judgment with regard to the descriptions of machinery, the exportation of which ought to be either restrained or permitted. In a short time a body of precedents would be formed which would serve as a guide to all parties. As he had adverted to the Board of Trade, he would express his surprise that there was no public provision made for its members. Discharging as they did the most arduous duties, it was extraordinary that they had no public provision. He should cordially concur in any proposition that might be made to that effect by the chancellor of the Exchequer, from whom it could with more propriety come than from any other quarter.

Ordered to lie on the table.