HC Deb 20 December 1830 vol 1 cc1363-9
Mr. Ellice

moved the third reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Sir George Clerk

would take that opportunity of asking the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade; if there were any truth in the report he had heard, of its being the intention of Government to reduce the duties on barilla. He had heard that the Officers of the Customs had received orders to admit foreign barilla at a rate of duty much below that ordered by the law. The House would recollect, that this subject had formerly been under discussion, and that the duty had been reduced from 11l. to 8l. 8s. The latter duty had been fixed by the law, and those who were engaged in this branch of business depended on the provisions of the law being preserved. They were thrown into consternation by the rumoured change. He wished, therefore, to learn of the right hon. Gentleman, if the report were true, and he hoped to hear that it was incorrect, and that the Government had no such intention.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

was sorry to say, that the answer he had given to the question of the hon. Baronet was not likely to give him satisfaction, or to accord with his views. The Government meant to propose a bill to the House for reducing the import duties on barilla to 1l. 10s., and, in the meantime, they had given orders that barilla should be admitted on payment of that duty, the importer giving a bond to pay the difference between that and any higher duty that might be imposed by Parliament. He had read over the negotiation, which had been carried on for some time during last year, with the kelp-manufacturers, and he understood that they were ready to admit barilla at such a rate of duty as he had proposed. He should be ready to justify the conduct of the Government when he brought in the bill, but the House would remember, that a discussion took place on the subject last Session, and it was agreed that the duty on barilla should be reduced. The present Ministers only followed the course sketched out for them by their predecessors. He had at the time concurred in the good reasons then assigned for this reduction, and he concurred in the opinions of those who thought that no injury would be inflicted by the abolition of the duty. He thought, too, that the House had consented to the principle, that the raw materials which entered into some of our most important manufactures should not be subject to any heavy duties. Barilla was much employed in manufactures; its use was extending, and, therefore, it appeared to the present Government, as to the late Government, that the duties on it ought to be reduced.

Mr. Herries

admitted, that it was a correct assertion of the right hon. Gentleman, that it was the intention of his Majesty's late Ministers to propose to Parliament a reduction of the duties on barilla. A bill had even been prepared for that purpose; and in the bill, he was free to confess that, there had been introduced a provision something like the alteration now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. He begged, however, to say most distinctly, that, as Parliament were sitting at the time the alteration was proposed to be. made, it would not have been attempted without the authority and consent of Parliament. He said thus much with reference to the case, not by way of censure, but as a warning to the members of his Majesty's Government for the future not to meddle with sources of taxation under the immediate control of the House. He must say, indeed, that, unless the right hon. Gentleman was able to state some better reason for the course he had adopted than any they had yet heard, there was no immediate justification for the haste with which he had acted, or for the manner in which the duty had been removed. Parliament had always been applied to in cases of this kind, when it happened to be sitting at the time the alteration was determined on. He recollected, indeed, one case in which the Government had taken it on itself to adopt a similar course to that of the right hon. Gentleman, and that was with relation to Mr. Huskisson's plans on the subject of the Silk-trade; but Parliament was not sitting, and although its sanction had been obtained immediately afterwards, upon a discussion in which the proposal for the reduction of the duties was consented to, yet the course had been found so inconvenient, it was not afterwards resorted to. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by declaring that he was favorable to the reduction, and so were the members of the late Government; but he thought the course adopted in making the alteration, one which should not have been made use of while Parliament was sitting, and, as far as he could see, unoccupied with any business of importance, which would have delayed an application to it.

Mr. George Robinson

said, he could not allow the opportunity to pass, without also expressing his objection to the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. He protested against it as unjust, and calculated to produce mischief. This was the season at which the merchants who dealt in barilla were in the habit of importing the quantity they required; and the right hon. Gentleman informed them, that those who took out their barilla under the new regulations were to give a bond for the payment of duty, in the event of its being required, if Parliament refused to sanction the reduction made by the Treasury. Now, he was at liberty to argue, that this assent would be refused. He had aright, for argument sake, to assume it; and, what, then, would be the consequence of this refusal, to those who took the barilla out for general consumption and sold it to the trade, when they were afterwards called on to make good the duty on their bond? This was one only of many inconveniences which would result from the right hon. Gentleman's interference in the present instance with a duty levied under the sanction of that House.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, he thought the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Robinson) might have found a very sufficient justification for the course pursued by his Majesty's Government in the observations which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. That right hon. Gentleman had stated, that his Majesty's late Government were themselves prepared to bring in a bill for the purpose of reducing the duties. That intention had been, indeed, formally announced in the last Session of Parliament; and although not carried into effect, the confusion and the indecision which it introduced into every branch of the trade had been so extremely prejudicial, that many of the dealers, whose future condition the hon. Member so much pitied, were already quite ruined. As to the method by which the Government had effected the alteration, they had merely followed the precedents on former occasions of the same description, and he could produce ten cases of the adoption of a similar course, and full five of them, too, without, the intervening consent of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman, who had shown so much touchiness on the subject, mentioned the case of the silk-duties; but there was also the precedent of the alteration of the sugar-duties, on which occasion the right hon. Gentleman (the then Chancellor of the Exchequer) sent an order to the Custom House on the 1st of July, to take the duty according to the new scale, before the House gave its consent to the change.

Mr. Herries

The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that the House had passed a Resolution sanctioning that scale.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that at all events, there were precedents for the course adopted, and he thought that it could not be denominated in the slightest degree unconstitutional, while it must be admitted, to be productive of immediate advantage.

Sir M. W. Ridley

also protested against the course pursued by the right hon. Gentleman as in the highest degree dangerous and injurious, and he hoped, for the sake of the kelp-makers of this country, that the determination to alter the duty would undergo some reconsideration. He was convinced that if the kelp-manufacturers of our own shores were properly encouraged, that barilla would speedily become one of the staples of the country. The manufacturers viewed, however, with the greatest alarm, the intended alteration of the duties, and he feared, if it was carried into effect, that the ruin of the home manufacturer must be the inevitable consequence.

Mr. Maberly

was quite satisfied, that the argument of his hon. friend, the member for Newcastle, would not bear the test of examination. The adoption of any system like that which he alluded to for the encouragement of trade, would be most pernicious, and would completely fail to attain the object aimed at. What would be the effect of thus encouraging the manufacture of British barilla, by levying so heavy an impost on a foreign alkali? It would be this—to fix an additional cost on the production of every article, in the manufacture of which alkali is used; it would be to compel the manufacturer to resort to a British article, for which he would have to pay from fifty to 100 per cent, more than what he would procure a foreign article of the same quality for. His hon. friend would support the manufacture of alkali here by the imposition of an immense duty on foreign barilla. It was perfectly clear that the English manufacturer never could compete with the foreigner in the production of this commodity; and every attempt to encourage the manufacture of an article at home, by the imposition of an enormous duty on the foreign article, only inflicted a most serious injury on other manufactures in which it is used. He was surprised that any hon. Member, so conversant with trade as his hon. friend, should talk of imposing a protecting duty on an article of produce, or on a raw material, for the encouragement of Our manufactures. Such a system of trade would cause distress, and would ruin many of the important establishments. He admitted that, to a particular class of manufacturers the duty in question might be beneficial; but at a serious loss to the community. It was not the interest of the country to encourage the production of an article which could be produced at so much less cost elsewhere; for it was obvious, that the adoption of such a line of policy must operate as a heavy tax on some of our most important manufactures; the demand for which, and in proportion, the demand for the labour necessary to produce them, must be in the same ratio decreased, to the great injury of that class of manufacturing labourers engaged in this branch of our trade. Mr. Huskisson Stated, on the production of his schedule of duties, that it was the intention of the Government that there should be no higher protecting duty than thirty per cent. But what was even that rate of protecting duty but a tax to the amount of thirty per cent on the consumer, on all articles on which it is placed? But, in the present instance, this protecting duty amounted to more than 100 per cent. To talk, therefore, of encouraging a manufacture under such circumstances appeared monstrous: and it was a matter of surprise to him, that his hon. friend should be led away by such fallacious reasoning, the result of which, upon his own argument and shewing, if pushed to the utmost extent, would overlay and destroy the whole productive industry of the country. He would add, that if the House adopted such a system of encouragement for manufactures, it would have infinitely more complaints of distress than at present.

Mr. Courtenay

spoke against the measure adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, and observed, that although the late Government did pursue the same course with respect to the silk-trade, they never had recourse to it afterwards. No such proceeding had been adopted whilst the right hon. member for Harwich (Mr. Herries) or Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald filled the office of President of the Board of Trade. Those Gentlemen always set their faces against the practice, from a consideration of the inconvenience which had resulted from it in the case quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. That right hon. Gentleman ought to remember, that this was a protecting duty, and that he could not abrogate it without exposing the manufacturer to great inconvenience. He regretted, indeed, that the Government had followed the only bad precedent it could find in the present instance.

Mr. Attwood

said, the five instances alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, even if they had been found to prove that there were precedents for the measure, formed no justification in his mind for an act of gross usurpation of the powers of Parliament by any Government, and more particularly by the members of a Government scarcely yet fully installed in the offices to which they were appointed. In his opinion, it was not for the members of a Government of that kind to take on themselves the responsibility of interfering with the exercise of one of the most important privileges of Parliament—the re- gulation of a great branch of commercial taxation. It was for Parliament, and not for the Government, to judge of the fitness of the reduction of the duties. The right hon. Gentleman, it was true, said, that it was determined to submit the subject to Parliament, and that bonds were to be taken for the duties; but he thought that the observations of the member for Newcastle (Sir M. Ridley), with respect to the feelings and views of the barilla manufacturers of this country, would show how, unwise and impolitic had been the haste: exercised on the occasion, and that Parliament were not so fully prepared to sanction the alteration as the right hon. Gentleman imagined. Parliament justly and wisely viewed with jealousy any attempt on the part of the Executive to interfere with any branch of that taxation which was only to be removed or imposed by its full public assent.