§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
moved the Order of the Day for a Committee of the whole House on the Barilla Duties.
§ On the Motion that the Speaker should leave the Chair,
said, he rose to call the attention of the House to a matter involving a great constitutional question, and nearly affecting the privileges of that House. The papers which had just been presented to the House contained an account of the mode in which this matter had been conducted, and the House would sec that they proved a case of gross irregularity, which called for its interference and censure. He would venture to lay it down as an incontrovertible proposition, that, when that House was sitting, it was a gross violation of its principles, for an officer of the Crown, without authority from that House, to give orders relating to any alteration, any increase or decrease, of a duty proposed by Act of Parliament; and he charged those who had given directions to the officers of the Customs in this case, with a breach of their duty, and a violation of the privileges of the House, in presuming to alter what had been enacted by the Legislature. He would further state, that the manner in which this transaction had been carried on was against all necessity, and only arose from a wanton desire to act irregularly. What occasion could there have been, on the 14th of December, to issue an order for the alteration of the duties? Was there anything that could not have been done 215 by bringing the matter regularly before Parliament, where it would have been properly arranged in a week or ten days? Was there any inquiry into the necessity of what was done, or was it ever communicated to the House that such a step was intended?. It was true that a bill had been brought under consideration in the last Session of Parliament, altering various duties; and that some measure was in contemplation relative to the drawback on barilla; but, without the sanction of the Legislature, on the 14th of December, an order was issued to the Customhouse officers, which could have had no other object than to trench upon the privileges of that House. He knew that matters of this kind had been done frequently, and he did not mean to controvert the necessity of doing them, on occasions when Parliament was not sitting. The Executive had done right in assuming such a power, with respect to the import of corn, and the export of arms, and other things of great moment; but he denied that, during the Session of Parliament, any officer of the Government had a right to issue such orders without, at least, communicating to that House what was to be done.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
had listened with no little amazement to the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down—the rather, that, after the candid explanation of his noble friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) on a former occasion, when he admitted the objection able ness of the principle which had given birth to the hon. Member's angry remonstrance, he was by no means prepared to meet with a mind so little alive and generous to the candid admissions of an adversary as the hon. Member's statement would warrant the pronouncing his to be. Had the hon. Member been generous to a political opponent, he would have waited till he (Mr. P. Thomson) had made his statement of the grounds on which he proposed to bring forward a bill, to impart a legislative sanction, to the course of policy which the Government had felt it right to pursue with respect to the duties on barilla, which statement he should, when the House had resolved itself into a committee, submit to their consideration, confident that it. would not refuse its assent to the proposition he meant to found upon it. He would anticipate that Statement so far as to set himself right 216 with the House, in respect to the hon. Member's charge, which affected him officially. A few days after his accession to office, he was addressed, in a conference and in writing, by some gentlemen deeply interested in the cost of barilla, who represented to him, that they had had the promise of his predecessor in office, that the high duties on barilla, which had been imposed previous to the Act which expired in January, 1830, would not be levied; for that, if they were, it would be to the serious injury of certain manufacturers who made use of barilla, particularly those engaged in the Irish bleaching trade. On investigation it was found that these statements were supported by facts; that a Treasury Minute, equivalent to a temporary repeal of the duties, had been issued a few days (on the 16th of November) before the right hon. Gentleman opposite had left office; and that to enforce the duties leviable under the existing Statute would be seriously detrimental to those manufactures which required the use of barilla; and accordingly, the Board of Trade did not hesitate to follow the steps of their predecessors, with this difference,—that while the Treasury Minute of the 16th of November actually went, by means of a draw-back allowance, to repeal the duty, that which the hon. member for Dorsetshire had just made the subject of angry complaint, only permitted the barilla to be taken out after a bond had been given for the whole amount of duty—the enforcement or non-enforcement of which was to be left to the decision of Parliament. And this was the great unconstitutional breach of privilege upon which the hon. Member would fain call down the censure of the House, as if it were a daring violation of all law, and wholly unsupported by precedent. So far was it from being contrary to usage for the Board of Trade to advise the Treasury to issue a minute like that which was the subject of the hon. Member's reproach, when the interests of commerce appeared to require it, that he could bring many instances forward of important alterations effected in this way. In fact, this discretionary power on the part of the Treasury extended to various articles, and had been acted upon at different, periods. On the 23rd of March, 1826, an order was issued from the Treasury for reducing the duty on East-India coffee from 1s.. 3d.. to 9d.. Thus, likewise, at different periods of the same year, the duty on pepper was reduced from 1s.. 6d.. to 1s., and the duty 217 on spices from 3s. 6d. to 3s. There was even a precedent for this very article of barilla, founded on Treasury Minutes, in defiance of an Act of Parliament. Barilla was by those Minutes classed under the generic term of alkali; and on the 28th of May, 1819, an order was sent down to the Custom-house, from the Treasury, altering the scale of duty upon it. In 1820, East-India alkali was, by a Treasury Minute, also declared to contain only twenty per cent of alkali, and was admitted at a proportionate rate of duty; and on the 10th of August, 1830,a similar Minute was sent down, declaring it should pay a duty of 5l. per ton, and be considered as barilla. He disclaimed any intention whatever of acting in an unconstitutional manner, and all he now asked was, that they would allow him to go into the committee, where he would explain to the House the alterations he meant to propose, while at the same time, he hoped to obtain the sanction and concurrence of Parliament for what he had done.
§ Mr. G. Dawson
thought, that a great deal more had been said upon this subject than it demanded. He entirely agreed with the hon. member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes), that the duty ought not to be reduced without the authority of Parliament; but he still contended that unless the Treasury sometimes assumed a discretionary power, a great deal of injury would be done to the public. The Minute to which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Thomson) had adverted, and to which his (Mr. Dawson's) name was attached, was sanctioned by previous Act of Parliament. He had nothing more to add than that he was ready to share in the responsibility which devolved upon the right hon. Gentleman for the course he, had adopled, so far as regarded this document. Between his case, indeed, and that of the right hon. Gentleman, there was this difference, that the Treasury minute he had signed had the authority of an Act of Parliament, while that which the right hon. Gentleman bad advised wanted that authority.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
felt persuaded that, after the statements they had just heard made, the House must be satisfied that his right hon. friend was fully borne out by precedents in what he had done. The Act of which the last right hon. Gentleman spoke, was, in fact, no authority, for it had expired before the Minute was signed.
said, that in his time, the 218 Treasury had acted, as it ought always to act, on the statements of parties who were interested in trade. The system of Treasury Minutes was not to be defended on principle, but there were numberless cases to justify its necessity. In this case, however, there were rival interests concerned, which made it incumbent on the Government to proceed with the greatest caution. The result, indeed, of the conflict was, and it was so understood by both the makers of kelp in this country on the one hand, and the importers of barilla on the other—that the duties were to be repealed. The House probably remembered some of the circumstances which last Session prevented the bill being brought into Parliament, but certainly it was delayed by the number of persons interested in it, and the magnitude of the interests which were at stake. If the measure to be proposed by the right hon. Gentleman resembled at all the measure intended to be submitted to Parliament by the late Board of Trade, it should have his cordial support.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
rose to move the Resolutions, and state the course which his Majesty's Government proposed to pursue. The House would recollect, that in 1822 the duty on foreign barilla was reduced from 11l.. to 8l.. a ton; and in 1823 further reduced by a graduated scale till it came to 5l.. per ton. It was then proposed to make a further reduction, but the remonstrances of the parties interested prevailed, and it was understood that, for five years, no further reduction should be made. It was, however, not the intention of Government to allow the duty to remain permanently so high, and he knew that it was the intention of his late right hon. friend, Mr. Huskisson, to propose a much larger reduction of the duty on foreign alkali. The House should recollect, that the trade in this article employed a great number of ships, and that it was of essential service in bleaching, and in making soap and glass. Indeed, no other substance had yet been found that answered so well for the bleacher as barilla. It was obtained also from the Canary islands and the south of Spain, and at the former place was invariably paid for by British manufactures. Thus the trade was, in fact, a most useful as well as profitable one to the country. By keeping up these high duties, we were suffering in another point; our exports of soap were diminish- 219 ing, while those from France were increasing, because the French had taken off the whole duty on barilla. What he meant to propose was, first to reduce the duty twenty-five per cent, and ultimately abolish it altogether. It was said, that this would injure the manufacture of kelp in this country, but it ought to be recollected, that kelp and barilla were used for different purposes. He did not deny, that the former was substituted for the latter during the war, when it could not be procured, or cost 70l. a ton. Kelp contained only three or four per cent of alkali, while barilla contained from twenty-five to thirty per cent., and kelp when selling for 30l.. per ton could be substituted for barilla. In the manufacture of soap, too, the kelp yielded some salt, which ceased to be a consideration when the duty on that article was removed. In the manufactory of glass, kelp was still preferred to barilla, but in most other manufactures the latter was so much preferable, that no protecting duty, short of an absolute prohibition, could make the manufacturers employ kelp instead of it. The manufacturers of kelp knew that it was the deduction of the duty on salt which had injured them, and they knew that, by no protecting duty, could their manufactures be restored to prosperity. It was said by the hon. Baronet, the member for Newcastle, that the manufacture of the article, called British barilla, would be injured by the proposed reduction, but admitting that to be the case, though he was inclined to think it would not be, he did not think, that so trifling an article, and one of which the manufacture was of recent date, should be put in competition with the many interests which would be injured by keeping up the high tax on barilla. The British barilla was made, he believed, chiefly from salt, and came into competition rather with kelp than with foreign barilla. The manufacture of that article had injured the kelp maker, and to ask the House to preserve a monopoly for that was asking it to ruin the kelp manufacturers and injure all the manufactures in which barilla was employed. It was the duty of that House: to consult the interest of all classes, but particularly that of the consumer, and it was on that principle that he meant to propose a reduction of the duty on barilla. He did not mean to recommend the total removal of the duty, but only its reduction to 2l. per ton. He believed that it was owing to the high 220 duty on this article, that soap was one of the very few things of which our exports had not, during the last five years, increased, but rather fallen off. He conceived that the measure he was about to propose would be of the greatest advantage to all the manufactures in which barilla was employed, and therefore he begged leave to place the following Resolutions in the hands of the Chairman, and to move—
- 1. "That the additional duties payable on barilla, in respect of the quantities of soda, or mineral alkali, contained therein, be repealed and, that such repeal shall be deemed to have taken effect from the 28th day of May, 1819.
- 2. "That the additional duties payable upon natural alkali, imported from places within the limits of the East-India Company's Charter, in respect of the quantities of soda, or mineral alkali, contained therein, be repealed; and that such repeal shall be deemed to have taken effect from the 10th day of August, 1828.
- 3. "That all the duties paid on barilla, used in bleaching of linen, between the 5th day of January, 1830, and the 5th day of January, 1831, be drawn back.
- 4. "That the duties payable on barilla, and also the duties payable on natural alkali, imported from places within the limits of the East India Company's Charter, be 2l.. the ton; and that the same shall be deemed to have taken effect from the 14th day of December, 1830.
§ Sir George Clerk
contended, that the proposed reductions would have the effect of throwing out of employ 40,000 or 50,000 persons engaged in kelp manufacture, and he meant to call upon the Committee to pause ere the Resolutions were adopted. If these people were deprived of the means of subsistence, they would carry their industry and skill to America, and enrich that country. In 1823, after the Government had reduced the duty to 5l., it was obliged, in consequence of representations from Scotland, to raise it again to 8l. The right hon. Gentleman said, that the barilla trade employed a great quantity of shipping; so did the trade in kelp. The use of British alkali began in 1822, and it certainly had interfered with the production of kelp, but not to the extent the right hon. Gentleman supposed. In reply to his statement, that kelp was not liked by the soap manufacturers, he could say, that a soap manufacturer had stated to a kelp merchant, that 221 he would take 500 tons of kelp annually if the Government removed the duty on soap. But at present the manufacturers of kelp were making nothing, though they continued their works, partly out of hope, and partly out of charity. Where they formerly gained pounds they did not now gain shillings, and both manufacturers and labourers were in a sad state of distress. If the reduction of duty on barilla were to be carried into effect, the whole of the kelp works must be suspended, and all the hands employed in them turned adrift. To prevent that, he implored the Committee to consider well before it sanctioned a measure so pregnant with disastrous consequences. The population of the west coasts of Scotland depended on this manufacture in a great measure for subsistence, and by the plan of the right hon. Gentleman they would be consigned to poverty and want. He implored the Committee, therefore, earnestly to consider what it was about to do, and not take a step which would plunge a whole industrious population into despair.
§ Mr. Maberly
said, that the question at issue was between the manufacturer of British alkali and the foreign manufacturer. In the present advanced state of science, the manufacturers of Scotch kelp could not compete with the foreigner; and he would put it to the Committee whether they would not take the advantage of science, by which the community would be benefited, rather than reject it, for the advantage of a particular party? The hon. Member then referred to a letter which he had received from a manufacturer of British alkali, wherein the writer stated "We can make better alkali from our materials than the barilla gave, and that at Newcastle they can make it better than we can." He was satisfied that in a short time English barilla would supplant foreign barilla; he was satisfied, too, that the protecting duty benefited but a small class, but injured the community, and therefore, he meant to give the proposition of his right hon. friend his warmest support.
§ Mr. Sadler
said, he was surprised to hear the question argued as one, the result of which would be merely a transfer of labour. The real point of view in which it ought to be considered was, its effect in throwing out of employment 30,000 or 40,000 persons, and in those parts of the British empire where, unhappily, there 222 was no provision for the destitute poor. The monstrous doctrine of transfer was one of the greatest errors and evils of modern political economy. If the labour of these persons should be transferred, the evil to them would be irremediable. Where could they transfer their labour? The economists were at no loss; they re-commended them to transfer themselves! He regarded the question as affecting those classes whose labour was the only species of property they possessed, and it ought to be held as sacred as any other. They who were thus to be drawn out to misery and starvation ought at least to have some compensation. One large proprietor in Scotland, whose name he should not mention, had informed him, that, on a previous reduction of this duty, he was not only deprived of his income from a large district in which kelp was made, but that he freighted a vessel with provisions to supply the poor people who made it, and who otherwise must have perished. Ireland could derive no benefit from the measure, because a drawback was already allowed on the barilla used there. The principles of what was called political economy, pushed too far, had paralyzed and destroyed every branch of industry it had touched hitherto, whether agricultural or manufacturing. It was well and truly observed by Buonaparte, that if an empire was formed of adamant it would be crumbled into atoms by political economy. They ought not to decide lightly upon a question affecting the very existence of 30,000 or 40,000 individuals. It was a general complaint, and an evil of which the nation had been forewarned by its greatest statesmen, that property at present was too much accumulated in the hands of individuals; and the prevailing policy had that pernicious tendency. It destroyed the middle, and degraded the lower and industrious classes of society. The distress which now prevailed in many branches of industry was such as could not be much longer sustained, and he conjured the House and the Ministry to look to the people. Though individually interested in this particular subject, he should hesitate to accept a been which could not be conferred without injury to a great number of the poor. He felt regret at being thus compelled to differ with Ministers, for he should be much better pleased, upon this, and upon all other points, to find himself in a capacity to concur in their measures. If there 223 was any species of property more sacred than another, it was the labour of those who had nothing else to depend upon. The hon. Member concluded by strongly opposing the measure, on the ground of justice and humanity.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
was opposed to the measure, which he considered to be founded on an error in finance. The tonnage which was employed in the transport of salt and sulphuric acid, was three times as much as that employed in the transport of barilla, and British kelp was also much superior to foreign barilla. By throwing open the market for the import of barilla, the production of kelp was materially injured. He should be disposed, in lieu of the present measure, to propose a gradual reduction of duty, of 20. per annum till the duty was down to 40s., and he should, therefore, feel it to be his duty to propose a reduction in the existing duty of 20s. per annum, which might possibly save the manufacturers from ruin.
§ Mr. G. Robinson
was disposed to agree in the proposition of the Vice-president of the Board of Trade, and considered the manufacture of kelp in Scotland as very much overrated. It had been stated, that the interests of the barilla and kelp manufacturers were alone concerned in this measure; but what became of the soap manufacturers and consumers? Were they to be forgotten altogether, as though their interests were not at all concerned? Taking all things into consideration, he could not but support the measure as proposed by the right hon. member for Dover.
thought the right hon. Vice-president of the Board of Trade had done perfectly right in introducing this measure. The important chemical discoveries of the age ought to be suffered to effect their object, which was, to render all manufactures, as cheap as possible. If the article were rendered dearer by restrictive duties, the consequence would be, to compel the manufacturer to substitute an inferior article; and if, on the other hand, the restrictive duties were repealed, it would instantly have the effect of setting to work all the industry and ingenuity of the country. The fact was, that the present measure was of small comparative importance with respect to the manufacturers of kelp or barilla. The measure which affected them was the repeal of the duty on salt, by which the alkali which was lying dormant in the rock-salt of Cheshire was instantly brought 224 into use; and the quantity of alkali that exists in the muriate of soda is so much greater than that which is in barilla and kelp, that the manufacture of both was instantly injured, and probably they would ultimately be thrown out of the market by its superior abundance and consequent cheapness.
Sir John Bourke
said, that whilst he admitted the principle of the measure proposed by the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, he would recommend the House to proceed with caution. He should like to support the motion of the hon. member for Newcastle, which would make the distress fall more gradually, and enable people better to resist it.
§ Mr. Hodgson
condemned the proposition, as likely to injure existing manufactures without benefiting any body. The interests of the bleachers and manufacturers might be protected by allowing them a drawback, and he recommended generally that the former drawback on the articles affected by the duties under discussion should be restored, instead of the present measure.
§ Mr. Sykes
supported the Motion. If political economy were at all like the doctrines of the hon. member for Newark (Mr. Sadler), it would, indeed, deserve all that the hon. Member said against it. He always remarked, that people who were most violent in their abuse of political economy, were sure to have some absurd notion of legislation of their own. It was so obvious that the present proposition must, give employment to labour, that the only satisfactory solution of the ground which the hon. member for Newark had taken was, that the hon. Member might have an opportunity of railing at the political economists.
§ Lord Althorp
observed, as his opinion, that there were two parties who seemed to have chosen different grounds for opposing the present measure; namely, those who advocated the cause of the barilla manufacturers, and those who took the part of the makers of kelp. The hon. member for Newark had warmly and zealously spoken on behalf of the latter, on account of their poverty, which he regretted as much as the hon. Member himself could do. The real question in this case was, whether the proposition made by his right hon. friend the member for Dover, was or was not advantageous? It was a great mistake to suppose that the measure of his right hon. friend, the Vice- 225 president of the Board of Trade, would destroy the kelp manufacturers; and it was well known, that wherever kelp and barilla were applicable to the same purposes, the barilla, even now, drove the kelp out of the market. As the question of free trade, however, had been touched upon, he must say he was surprised to hear the hon. member for Newark (Mr. Sadler) say, that the principle of free trade had touched nothing which it had not destroyed. He need only refer to the extension which had taken place in the silk-trade and the glove-trade, since the adoption of those principles, to prove that they were not so destructive in every instance as the hon. Member imagined. Abstract principles, however, he repeated, had nothing to do with this question, which was one of fact. Foreign barilla was 12l. per ton; British barilla 12l. 10s.; but then British barilla contained 40 per cent of alkali, and foreign barilla only 25 per cent. The articles, therefore, could not come into competition in such a way as to affect the British manufacturer disadvantageously. There a son, and the only reason, why British barilla was not employed in the soap trade was, because it imparted a sulphurous smell to the soap, and it was therefore of importance to that trade that the foreign barilla should be imported at a cheap rate, and at a lower duty than previously existed, and it did not appear that it would be injurious to any interest in this country.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
thought, that if the duty on barilla was reduced as proposed, something ought to be done for the protection of the kelp manufacturers.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
assured the hon. member for Newcastle (Sir M. W. Ridley), that if what he suggested could be done, without injury to any other interest, he should be happy to recommend it to the consideration of Government.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
said, that the hon. member for Newark had anticipated many observations which he was about to make on what were called the principles of free trade. As to what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, he begged to remark, that the extension of a trade by increased importation from countries which took nothing from us in return, was no proof of prosperity.
§ Mr. Sadler
explained. He was not opposed to a wise and just principle of free trade; he meant such a one as took into 226 account the relative situation of this and other countries. Let the noble Lord and the House look at the enormous debt, at the heavy taxes, which pressed upon alt classes, and say whether such a state of things could possibly he compatible with cheap labour. If this country were free from those difficulties no man would be more ready than himself to advocate the freest possible intercourse between all nations. Considering the enterprise, the skill and industry, of the people of England, they need not fear, under such circumstances, the freest competition. The 40,000 inhabitants of Scotland, and numbers of the poor of Ireland, who would be thrown out of employment by this measure, wore just as well entitled to protection as the agriculturists or any other class. A free trade principle ought to apply alike to all branches of industry, otherwise it was nothing but a system of injustice and partiality. He did not think the present a fit occasion for pressing the principles of free trade, and therefore, though reluctantly, he was opposed to the proposition of Ministers. At the same time he should support them whenever he could do so consistently with his principles.
§ Mr. Maberly
said, the arguments of the hon. member for Newark were totally fallacious. He had charged him (Mr. Maberly) with supporting what was calculated to ruin 40,000 persons. The principle he advocated was, to have manufactures cheap, and great consumption, which must necessarily produce increased employment; but the hon. member for Newark's principles, if carried into effect, would prevent employment. He had made a declamatory speech of two hours last Session on that subject, and he (Mr. M.) then challenged him to bring forward a specific motion. He thought that in two minutes he could prove the fallacy of the hon. Member's declamation. If the hon. member for Newark would bring forward a specific motion, and let the subject be sifted to the bottom, he would find himself answered in as triumphant a manner as he could wish.
§ Sir Edward Knatchbull
defended the line of argument adopted by his hon. friend, the member for Newark, and complained of the manner in which he had been alluded to by the hon. member for Abingdon (Mr. Maberly). If the hon. member for Abingdon treated others in a manner so little conciliatory, he could not 227 be much surprised if he found that others treated him with little respect. As to the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Dover, so far as concerned himself and the Ministry personally, it was quite satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman acted, no doubt, with the best intentions; he afterwards found he had done wrong, and he made the best atonement to the House and the country, by acknowledging that it had been done inadvertently. It was a question of some importance, however, whether Parliament should not come to some distinct resolution on the subject, to prevent the violation of its own privileges in future. He said this without anything like a hostile feeling to Ministers, who should have his support so long as he felt they were deserving of it.
§ Mr. P. Thomson
observed, that in the Resolutions he had proposed, the declaration which the hon. Baronet suggested was expressed by implication.
Mr. Alderman Thompson
supported the Resolutions. He did not think the proposed reduction of duty would be attended with any bad effect to the kelp manufacturers. He did not believe that it would throw 40,000 men out of employment; and he knew it would be felt as a great advantage by more than one class of manufacturers. He could state from his own knowledge, that a large order for the manufacture of soap was executed at Marseilles, instead of being executed in this country, in consequence of the high duty on foreign barilla. The fact stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as to the relative proportions of alkali in foreign and British barilla, shewed that there was nothing to fear from the competition, while keeping up the duty was a great hardship on those manufacturers who could not do without kelp.
§ Mr. Attwood
did not intend to follow the example of those who never missed an opportunity of delivering a lecture on the abstract principles of political economy. With respect to the example of the silk manufacture cited by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was easily explained without referring to the principles of political economy. The duty on the importation of raw silk was reduced; and the manufacturer was by that means enabled to manufacture to a greater extent. As to the proposition now before the House, in his opinion it was not supported by any 228 fact or argument. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. P. Thomson) said, the kelp manufacturers would not be injured, because the barilla would not come into competition with kelp in any one manufacture. Every species of alkali, however, came into competition, more or less, with every other species of alkali. Now, as on many former occasions, he must protest against those eternal changes, which shook the foundations of commercial speculation, and first ruined one class, and then another. There was no security for property when the Government was given up to philosophers. He opposed the Resolutions, because he thought the right hon. Gentleman had not satisfactorily explained why he had assumed the functions of which that House ought to be most jealous. The duty of that House was, in this case, superseded by an act of Government, and Ministers were bound to come down with a bill of Indemnity, and show that they had been induced, upon strong grounds, to adopt such a proceeding. If the course pursued in this case were frequently acted upon, that House would become a mere body to register the acts of the Ministry. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had entirely failed in making out a case. He was wrong in fact and in argument, and the course he pursued was a direct violation of the privileges of the House of Commons.
Lord J. Russell
admitted, that the Ministers, on coming into Office, had acted on the precedent which former Ministers had left behind. He did not mean to say that the act was strictly justifiable, but in a great machine like the Government of this country it was necessary that Ministers should have some latitude in certain cases, always taking care that the occasion should be such as to justify their deviating from an established rule. An hon. Gentleman on the opposite side had delivered one of his usual declamations against free trade; and another hon. Gentleman had said the other night, that he had heard much about that House, and much about the Crown, but nothing about the people. The subject of free trade, however, was not then before them, nor was it likely that the present Ministers would think less of the people than when they spoke from a different part of the House. They did think that, in consulting the dignity of the Crown, they were supporting the interests of the people.
did not mean to oppose the Motion, for the Government with which he was connected had, after a careful examination of the subject, determined that the duty ought to be reduced. But they had come to that determination independently of free trade, which had nothing to do with it. He was not for carrying the extreme doctrines of political economy into trade, without a due regard to existing interests.
said, he was sorry to hear such sentiments from the right hon. Gentleman. The present was a question of free-trade, for every relief from duty embraced that principle, even though it were not carried to a sufficient extent. The silk-trade afforded a triumphant proof of the advantages of the principle, and the right hon. Gentleman's own speeches might be referred to in favour of what he now seemed to be ashamed of. He was afraid that the right hon. Gentleman had got into bad company of late-since he came round from the opposite side of the House. Notwithstanding the harangue, by which the attention of the Committee had been drawn off from the matter really under consideration, to the ruin which was said to be occasioned by free trade, he could not see how the country was to be ruined by taking off an impost of upwards of a million and a half. If that could be ruin, then the hon. member for Wareham had contributed more to the ruin of the country than any other Member of the House, by taking off the tax upon salt. He supposed, that if the tax upon coals were to be taken off, the charcoal-burners and the peat-cutters would come to the House with petitions, complaining of the injury done them by the freedom of trade. If the repeal of taxes was to be called ruin, he hoped that the present Administration would let the country have abundance of such rain.
§ Sir George Clerk
said, that he would not press the question to a division. He trusted he should have an opportunity of again discussing the measure, when he might be supported by the able advocacy of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Control, who, in 1814, defended the raising of the duty.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, that whilst he was in the House, he must of course vote, on one side or on the other, on every question that should be discussed. As on the present question he would vote with his Majesty's 230 Ministers, he was desirous of giving his reasons for that vote. As far as he understood the matter under discussion, it was simply that the Ministers had made a mistake, and now came forward to explain it to the House. He was surprised to see the opposition given to the Resolution by those who had themselves fallen into similar errors. [Cries of "No, no."] "Then, said Mr. Hunt, "I have myself been in error." When it had been said, that opposition had been formed out of the House to the measure of his Majesty's Ministers, he thought that perhaps he for one was alluded to. For, when he heard of the reduction of the duty, he made inquiries amongst the tallow-chandlers and soap-boilers, and others connected with the trade in barilla, to ascertain whether or not the public would be benefited by the measure, and he found that they would derive no benefit from it. Under these circumstances he had made some observations, which he now believed to be erroneous. For his part, he was much more a friend to the consumer than to the trader; and he only regretted that the Ministers did not give the country still more of free trade.
§ Mr. G. Robinson
could not allow the observations of hon. Members about free trade to pass unnoticed. That great question was not to be settled by the cheers of the House, or the dogmatic assertions of hon. Members. The hon. members for Middlesex and Abingdon taunted the hon. member for Newark with his principles, but let them remember, that to decide on the fallacy or correctness of the hon. Member required time and experience. It could not be ascertained by Act of Parliament.
bore testimony to the fact, that the free trade in gloves had greatly promoted that manufacture, and more hands were employed in the glove-trade than was ever known before.
§ Mr. Morison
concurred with the last speaker, and said, that the silk-trade had been very much benefited by the having been opened, there were more persons now employed at Manchester in the silk-trade than at Spitalfields, and there was not one weaver unemployed in the latter place, neither was there one in the workhouse, which was unexampled. The advantages of free trade were also proved in our woollen, linen, and leather manufacture, all of which had been improved by foreign competition. In the woollen manufacture, 231 a new branch of trade had been created by the introduction of light French articles which had been speedily imitated and given employment to thousands. He hoped, therefore, that Ministers would go on extending free trade, and they might be assured that by removing obstacles out of the way of industry they would confer the greatest possible benefit on the present and all future generations.
§ Resolutions agreed to, and the House resumed.