HC Deb 25 March 1830 vol 23 cc852-4
Mr. Lawley

presented a Petition from the Gun-makers of Birmingham, against the intended abolition of the Arms' Proof-house of that town. This Petition, he said, from its importance well deserved the attention of the House. This persons who signed it carried on a trade that was at one time thought to be worthy of much consideration. The petitioners expressed great alarm at the prospect of the proof-house at Birmingham being no longer used for his Majesty's Ordnance; and they stated that the Government would not find it advantageous to take the manufacture of Arms into its own hands. The House, he thought, would feel surprise at hearing that it was intended to remove the manufacture of Arms from the vicinity of coal and iron mines, to a distance of 100 miles. The petitioners state, that their capability to supply Arms to any extent, was fully proved during the war, and as they thought they could supply cheaper than the Ordnance establishment at Enfield, the necessary Arms for all the purposes of war, they prayed that the House would order that establishment to be discontinued. At a period when the Government was resolved to add to the supply of Arms, it sent some confidential persons to Birmingham to urge the manufacturers to undertake the business. They did so, and some of them lost by the job about 20,000l. A further injury would be inflicted on them by continuing the establishment at Enfield, and whenever the grant for that was proposed, he should resist it.

Alderman Thompson

, in support of the prayer of the petition, contended that it was necessary that Government should give some employment to the manufacturers of Arms, otherwise, in the event of a war, the means of supply might be found wanting. He was convinced that the Ordnance in undertaking the manufacture itself, acted from the best motives, but at the same time he must assert, that Government ought to trust for a supply to the private manufacturers. That they were capable of meeting its demands was proved by the fact that between 1803 and 1815 not less than 3,277,000 stand were manufactured in this country.

Mr. Littleton

conceived that the supply of Arms should be left, like that of any other manufacture, to the competition of capitalists, and should not be a Government manufacture. For a considerable period during the late war, a musket a minute, including night and day, was manufactured in the districts from which the Petition came. Had the establishment at Enfield been broken up several years ago, the country would have saved a great deal, and he hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member would persevere, when the time came for voting the Ordnance estimates, in his intention of resisting the vote for that establishment.

Mr. William Smith

had no doubt whatever of the good intention of Government, but he must, on principle, protest against it setting up to be a manufacturer of any article whatever.

Mr. Hume

said, that he also was convinced that it was very bad policy for the Government to manufacture any thing. During the war there was some reason for its making Arms, but the gun-makers of Birmingham, and other places, were now so experienced, and their establishments were so large, that they might be safely relied on to furnish any quantity, and of the best quality, which might be desired. He had frequently pressed on the attention of the Government the propriety of putting down the establishment referred to, and he should be very happy to give his support to the hon. Member for Warwickshire.

Mr. Perceval

would only remark, that when the Ordnance estimates were discussed, he should be able to shew that the Government had good reason for keeping up this establishment. He would defer stating his views till it was brought substantively before the House by the hon. Member for Warwickshire.—Petition to be printed.

Alderman Thompson

presented a similar Petition from the gun-makers of London.

Alderman Wood

supported the prayer of the Petition. He wished to take that opportunity of asking, why a manufacture of knives and forks was carried on at the Ordnance Works at Deptford or Lewisham, he did not know which, to the injury of the Sheffield and Birmingham cutlers, and the cutlers of the metropolis.

Mr. Dugdale

said, he did not think that putting down the Ordnance establishment at Enfield would be of any benefit to the manufacturers of Arms, for the Ordnance had already a million stand of Arms in its possession. As to the knives and folks alluded to by the worthy Alderman, he could assure him that no such manufacture at Deptford, or any where else, was carried on under the control of the Ordnance.—Petition to be printed.