HC Deb 05 May 1826 vol 15 cc908-11
Mr. Hume

presented two petitions, on a subject which he conceived to be of the highest importance, one from the Machine-makers of Manchester, and another from their workmen, in the same place; stating, that they had received large orders for machinery from abroad, and that they would receive still larger, but were prevented from executing them, in consequence of the existing law against the exportation of machinery—that great distress had arisen from the want of employment; that there were at present several foreigners in Manchester who had come over for the purpose of engaging English artizans, and who declared, that if the laws against the exportation of machinery were repealed, they would not attempt to entice the workmen to go abroad—and that there were, at the present time, great numbers of workmen engaged to go to France and other countries, to manufacture those very articles, which, under a different state of the law, would be bought from the British manufacturer. It appeared to him, that we had arrived at that state, in which we were depriving ourselves of those advantages which we ought to possess, from a fallacious notion which had gone abroad, that there was something in the manufacture of machinery which ought to exempt it from the operation of those principles of free trade, which had been so wisely applied to other branches. The petitioners thought it extraordinary that machinery should not be allowed to be exported. They had received orders to the extent of 20,000l., and were unable to execute them, although the manufacturers would have given employment to a number of those workmen who were starving around them through inability to procure work. He was aware of the prejudice which many manufacturers entertained on this subject. They supposed that the exportation of machinery was tantamount to an encouragement to competition in their several branches of manufacture; but this notion was fallacious. In a committee which sat last year, of which he was a member, the most satisfactory proof was exhibited, that if the prohibitory law was repealed, England might supply the whole world with machinery, and derive immense wealth from the manufacture: instead of which, day after day witnessed the emigration of our most skilful artisans in that branch to other countries, for the purpose of supplying them with articles which we possessed peculiar advantages in furnishing. This was a melancholy circumstance; and he hoped that, in the language of the petitioners, the law, which they stated to be incompatible with the principles of free trade, would be repealed. He had intended to bring in a bill in the course of the session for this purpose: and regretted that he had allowed himself to be dissuaded from it by the President of the Board of Trade, who was afraid of increasing the alarm which prevailed in the country. An additional branch of trade was thus in danger of being lost to the country; and at the same time a number of deserving and industrious workmen left without employment. He considered the acts of violence which the workmen were committing in the manufacturing districts, as only tending to heap ruin on the heads of the manufacturers. He was sorry this subject had not before been brought before the notice of the House; for he felt satisfied, that the more discussion was provoked on the subject of prohibitory laws, the more the eyes of the country would be opened. If power-looms were not employed, not only would our exports suffer, but all the persons to whom their use was the source of employment, would be reduced to extreme distress. So far from the power-looms doing any injury, he thought that England would be a loser by their abolition. He hoped that these deluded men would be informed, that their recent proceedings were at once injurious to themselves and to the best interests of the country. He yielded to no man in wishing happiness and prosperity to the artizans of this country; but still he could not but regret the steps which they had so recently taken. He hoped, even now, that his majesty's ministers would give their attention to the prayer of the petitioners, for he had no doubt, that, if our prohibitory laws were removed, our artizans would find full employment at home, in place of going to France and elsewhere to look for work. Again he expressed a hope, that the subject would be considered, and that machinery would be placed upon the fooling of every other article of our manufacture.

Mr. Grenfell

concurred in all that had been so well said by his hon. friend; but he regretted that the subject was mentioned during the accidental absence of any of his majesty's ministers, and the more so, as he had reason to believe that they agreed with the views of his hon. friend. He knew one of those power-loom manufactories at Manchester, which gave employment to 150 men—although it was prohibited from exportation. But the result of this prohibition was, that if the machinery was not smuggled out of the kingdom, the artizans were; and he had heard there were now agents from France in this country, who were busily employed in seducing our workmen to that country. He knew of a case which forcibly illustrated this prohibitory system. At the close of the American war, the then government thought proper to prevent copper sheathing being sent to France; and what was the result? Why, that the French immediately established factories of their own, and that of Rouen was now one of our most formidable rivals.

Ordered to lie on the table.