§ Mr. Robinson
spoke to the following effect: Mr. Speaker* Before I pro-*Reprinted from the edition published by Ridgeway, to which the hon. Member prefixed the following motto: "The liberal reward of labour, as it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand; and their starving condition, that they are going fast backwards."—Adam Smith.1278 ceed with the Motion of which I have given notice, I beg leave to present a Petition from between 800 and 900 Inhabitants of Worcester, including the Mayor, Magistrates, Bankers, Traders, and others, relative to the Trade and Commerce of the Country.
It is most satisfactory to me that, representing a large and populous city, so great a portion of the most respectable and intelligent of my constituents concur generally with my views on this subject. As, however, it will be necessary for me to discuss the several points adverted to in this petition at considerable length, I shall merely move, that it be brought up and read.
§ Petition read as follows.
"To the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled:
"The Petition of the Undersigned the Mayor and Magistrates, Bankers, Traders, and Inhabitants of the City of Worcester, and of Persons residing in its Vicinity showeth;—
"That divers Statutes, passed in former periods by the Legislature of these kingdoms, which provided for the especial protection and support of the trade and manufactures of the country, have been repealed, or rendered null and useless by other Statutes of later years, enacted more especially (as is therein recited) for the extension and freedom of trade:
"And whereas, in the operation of these later Statutes, divers traders and manufacturers of Great Britain, who are unable, from various causes, to produce their commodities as cheap as foreigners, are deprived of much of their trade, and of the home market for their productions:
"And whereas, in consequence of this privation, large numbers of those labourers, whom these traders and manufacturers could constantly have employed, have now only partial employment, to the great distress of the trading and labouring classes—both masters and servants; to the unprecedented increase of pauperism and poor-rates; and to the alarming defalcation of the public revenue of the State:
"Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that your honourable House will be pleased to re-examine the principles on which these later Statutes were founded.
"Your petitioners approach your honourable House with this, their earnest prayer, because they believe, that this change in the ancient policy of the laws, and the evil consequences which have resulted there from, arise from two causes.
"First.—A reliance on the doctrine of certain speculative persons called political economists, who hold that if any nation, by freedom of trade, loses a market for some portion of its 1279 manufactures, such nation will, by freedom of trade, acquire an adequate increase or remuneration in the sale of its remaining manufactures.
"Secondly.—An expectation that the liberal example of Great Britain, in this instance, will be followed by a reciprocal liberality on the part of other nations, and that thus the sale of British manufactures will, on the whole, be augmented.
"With respect to the first of these causes, your petitioners beg leave, with unfeigned respect to your honourable House, to adduce arguments to show that the doctrines of the political economists are grounded on erroneous principles.
"1. The argument of the economists is, that as all money, with which any foreign manufacture may be purchased, must have been acquired by the sale of British manufactures to some foreign States, we, in purchasing the manufactures of other countries, occasion the sale of an equal amount of our own. This is fallacious reasoning, and the real operation of the system is this: Those nations in which British manufactures are consumed, are generally nations of small population, and which, for that reason, have no manufactures. Those who sell their manufactures to us, France, for instance, are populous nations; and these do not consume our manufactures, or will not allow the importation of them, because they have their own population to employ and maintain. Nations of the former description must, from their necessity, purchase the manufactures of other States, and experience no loss thereby; whilst we, in purchasing foreign manufactures, abstract so much profit or money from the wages of British labourers. We save, as consumers, some trifling part of the price; but we deprive our own trade and industry of the whole of the price; and this whole of the price is finally wrung from us again, in the form of increasing poor rates, or national taxation.
"2. It is incontrovertible that when we purchase any article of foreign manufacture, the bulk of the price of that article goes to pay the wages of foreign labourers. It is no less clear, that as these labourers, of necessity, expend their wages in their immediate subsistence, they cannot be the customers to that amount in the purchase of our manufactures. If it be contended, that this money passes from their hands to other persons, who spend it in our manufactures, it should be remembered that there would, at least, have been as much so spent by the persons into whose hands this money or wages must have come after forming the wages of British labourers. Thus the free-trade system, according to the doctrine of the economists, is a simple transfer of so much money from British to foreign labourers.
"Your petitioners are aware that many supposititious cases may be propounded, in which, upon this new and theoretic principle of trade, sophism may pass for truth. They, therefore, 1280 humbly pray that they may be permitted, in support of their present petition, either by written answers to written interrogatories, or by examination at the Bar of your honourable House, the opportunity of proving that, in any conceivable case, truth is in their favour.
"Your petitioners beg in this place, also, to be permitted respectfully to observe, that the truth of their averment is supported by past experience, and by the evidence of by-gone facts. During the whole continuance of those laws, which had for their object the especial protection and support of the trade and manufactures of their own country, the British nation enjoyed a degree of prosperity to which we now look back with envy and with wonder. From the day that the dogmas of the economists, or what is now erroneously called the free-trade system, was adopted, notwithstanding a great and praiseworthy diminution of taxation has taken place, yet bankruptcy, distress, and pauperism, have been incessantly increasing. And your petitioners are prepared to show, that these appalling evils must increase so long as this pernicious system continues to be adopted.
"As to the second cause of the distress alluded to by your petitioners, viz., the expectation that the liberal example of Great Britain would be followed by other nations, your petitioners beg leave, with great respect to your honourable House, to observe, that this expectation has in no instance yet been realized, and that there are cogent reasons to believe that it never will be. In every country which produces manufactures, the most anxious care and the greatest difficulty of that Government are, to provide that there be abundance of regular and productive employment for the people. As, however, Great Britain excels all other nations in the number of its manufactures, a free trade with Great Britain by these nations, would be, in effect, a transfer of a certain quantity of manufacturing employment, from the subjects of those States to the subjects of Great Britain. And as it is a matter of necessity to provide employment and maintenance for the people, and matter of superfluity to obtain the luxurious productions of industry at the lowest prices, it appears to your petitioners that the admission by foreign nations of a free trade with Great Britain, would be, on their part, a sacrifice of that which is necessary, to that which is superfluous.
"The capital and the trade of your petitioners, and the industry by which they live, are, therefore, exposed to the competition of foreign rivals, who do not, and in fact cannot, with benefit to themselves, reciprocally throw open their markets to British productions; notwithstanding which, by the modern Statutes to which we have before alluded, this country allows an almost unrestricted importation of articles from these nations, to come in competition with our own. There is thus created in this country a permanent excess of the competition of those who supply the productions of 1281 industry, above the competition of those who consume such productions. For this cause there must naturally be a depreciation incessantly increasing of every production in which British capital is invested, or in which British industry finds employment. In this depreciation we witness already the insolvency or the bankruptcy of a vast proportion of British traders, the pauperism of a vast proportion of the British people And as these evils are now indisputably found to flow, not from fortuitous or transient causes, but from system, from a philosophy, an experiment, false in its very foundation, your petitioners see no prospect before them, but that, as long as this system continues, a declining commerce, and a declining revenue—increasing pauperism and increasing discontents, must be the portion of this once prosperous and happy country.
"Your petitioners, therefore, in conclusion, humbly pray, that your honourable House will be pleased to institute an immediate inquiry into the questions—whether the commerce and navigation of the country have not gradually been declining since the introduction of the principles of the free-trade system; and whether the re-enactment of the whole, or some part of those wholesome and patriotic Statutes, under which the British people enjoyed unrivalled prosperity, is not necessary for the revival of trade.
"And your petitioners shall ever pray, &c."
§ Petition to be printed.
§ The hon. Member then continued. Sir; In rising to submit a Motion of great importance, of which I have long since given notice, I am aware how greatly I need the kind indulgence of the House; for, on a subject embracing the vast and complicated interests of commerce and navigation, it will be necessary for me to trespass on its patience at considerable length. I hope, however, that whatever hon. Gentlemen may think of the humble individual who ventures on so arduous a task, they will favour him with their indulgence, and will give that attention which the nature and importance of the subject requires.
§ I am conscious of my own incompetency to do justice to such a Motion, and the only apology I can offer to the House for having brought it forward is, that other Members, more competent, and of greater experience than myself, have not undertaken it. I think, also, that the time has arrived when, instead of continuing to indulge in vague and doubtful speculation, the Legislature is bound to review the commercial policy pursued by this country during the last twelve years, in order to discover, by the infallible test of past experience, whether the course into which we 1282 have recently deviated can be safely continued, or, after careful examination and diligent inquiry, it should be revised and amended.
§ In the year 1819, this country experienced the increasing pressure of commercial competition, both at home and abroad. Aggravated symptoms of that distress, which has since become so general and severe, were evident amongst the whole of the trading community, and of the various interests connected with commerce and manufactures; and when the Act of that year, for a return to cash payments, by the establishment of an exclusively gold standard, was passed, which has been described (perhaps with some exaggeration) as lowering the value of all fixed property one-third—when apprehensions were naturally entertained of a diminution of our trade with foreign nations, it was thought expedient, by many mercantile men, that the commerce and navigation of the country might be placed on a more secure basis, and be materially extended, by a careful revision of the accumulated Statutes, amounting nearly to 2,000, which were then in force for the protection and regulation of trade; and that, so far from their continuance being required in the then altered state of the commercial world, many of these laws were useless, and others positively detrimental.
§ In 1820, the celebrated petition of the merchants of London on this subject was presented to this House by the hon. member for Thetford. This petition has been considered to contain the foundation of those principles of free trade which have since been partially adopted and acted upon in this country, and which certain theorists in political economy are disposed to push to an infinitely greater extent than was contemplated, either by the petitioners, or by those Statesmen in Parliament who acted upon their views.
§ Similar petitions followed from the principal trading and manufacturing towns, and the result was, the appointment of Committees of both Houses of Parliament to inquire into the subject.
§ I have lately referred to the London petition, and am bound to say, that amongst the names affixed to it, are to be found merchants of the greatest intelligence and experience in the commercial affairs of the country at that period. It was not, however, very numerously signed, having less, 1283 I believe, than 200 names. The hon. Member who presented it, supported the prayer of this petition in a speech of great ability, which deservedly commanded much attention, and made a considerable impression on the House of Commons and the country; but Parliament was then fully aware of the risks to which the commerce and trade of Great Britain might be exposed by sudden changes and alterations in our commercial policy, and great caution and circumspection were, therefore, recommended. It was admitted, however, that some relaxation of the laws then in force for the protection of trade and navigation, might give a new impulse to our foreign commerce, and possibly lead to a more extended introduction of British manufactures into those countries from which they were wholly or partially excluded. I am not disposed to deny that such consequences might fairly have been contemplated, but it is my purpose to show that the experiment has altogether failed.
§ In order that the House may clearly see what were the views and objects of the promoters of a change in our commercial policy, then recommended, and which the present Government pretend they are only endeavouring to carry into full effect, I will proceed to read some extracts from the Report of the Committee of the Houses of Lords and Commons, and then leave hon. Members to judge how far the principles therein recommended are in accordance with the declared opinions which have been promulgated by some of our modern statesmen.
§ The Commons' Report states:—
§ 'They are conscious that the commercial results they sanguinely anticipate, from the establishment of a system more enlarged and liberal than that under which the British trade has hitherto been conducted (of which the relaxation of the Navigation Laws forms a part), could not be deemed a satisfactory compensation for any serious hazard to which the interests of our shipping might be exposed.
§ Flowing as this concession will do, from the spontaneous and liberal feelings of the British Legislature, neither granted as the condition of advantages obtained from other states, nor guarded by any pledge of the public faith, should it be attended by consequences inconsistent with the regard due to these objects, it may, without affording the slightest 1284 ground for reasonable complaint, or the impeachment of our justice or liberality, be subject at any time to such modifications as may be required, or even, if necessary, be absolutely revoked.
§ While we preserve to our manufactures a preference in the home market, and the supply of our colonial possessions, additional facilities will then be furnished, and inducements tendered to foreign as well as British capital, to collect in the depositories of Great Britain materials for every variety of traffic with every quarter of the world. It does not appear to your Committee, that so long as their own markets are preserved to them in the United Kingdom and its colonies, the free importation of articles of foreign manufacture, for re-exportation only, can affect the interests, or ought to excite the jealousy of our manufacturers.'
§ The Report of the House of Lords further states:—
§ 'In so far as any alteration introduced is favourable to foreign trade, it must have a tendency to produce an increased importation from the north of Europe, and thereby possibly to induce an increased demand from that quarter for the manufactures of Great Britain; and your Committee are induced to believe that an increased demand would be the result, as well from the desire for British manufactures, that is said strongly to prevail in those countries, as from the extent to which the export of them has been maintained, notwithstanding the burthen imposed on the importation of this important branch of their produce into the United Kingdom.
§ As our intercourse with the Northern States must be liable to be influenced by the fluctuations of political events, and as the exclusion from their ports, which has been once experienced, may at some future period recur, your Committee are apprehensive that the consequences of any measure that might have the effect of placing our dependence for a supply of timber exclusively on those countries, might become, eventually, the occasion of serious political inconvenience and danger, and, by the exclusion of competition, possibly defeat the expectation of comparative cheapness to the consumers of the country.'
§ These Committees may have been mistaken in their views, but the ablest advocates of the system were at least consistent 1285 in their opinions. The Report to which I have first alluded was worthy the great and powerful mind of Mr. Huskisson, and, in my judgment, should add to the respect we all feel for the memory of that great man. He knew that if these views had been adopted by other countries, if a more liberal system of commercial intercourse was pursued by foreign States, that this country would derive the greatest possible advantage from it; but, Sir, other nations were also aware of this, and, therefore, looking to their own interests, or, at least, to what they considered to be for their permanent advantage, they have uniformly declined to follow our example; for I have not been able to discover a single instance in which the gratuitous concessions made by this country have produced a corresponding liberality on the part of any of our commercial rivals.
§ I have never for a moment presumed to impugn the motives of Mr. Huskisson; indeed, I am willing to admit that the experiment was justifiable; but the principles of that right hon. Gentleman are not those of the noble Lord (Lord Althorp), nor of the Vice-President of the Board of Trade; for neither Mr. Huskisson, Lord Wallace, nor Lord Goderich, as I shall hereafter endeavour to show, entertained opinions in accordance with the measures recommended by the present Government.
§ In submitting this Motion to the House, I wish it to be understood, that it is not my object to throw any blame on the authors of the recent changes; I entertain too great a respect for the talents and ability of Mr. Huskisson, and other advocates of the system, to attempt it. No one can doubt the enlarged statesman-like views, and the patriotism of that great man, in the course of his public life. That right hon. Gentleman, the noble Lord, now Secretary for the Colonies, and Lord Wallace, then President of the Board of Trade, were the great promoters in this House of the relaxation of existing restrictions on foreign commerce and navigation; and in combating the views of the present Government, I am prepared to show, that they have proposed measures which neither Mr. Huskisson, Mr. Robinson, nor Mr. Wallace, ventured to contemplate. It is, in fact, because these principles have been carried much further than those who originally propounded them intended, that our trade and commerce have been, and are exposed to so much injury.1286
§ During the course of twelve years painful experience of a new policy, Parliament has invariably refused inquiry; and should the House persist in this course, without investigation, I shall feel considerable alarm for the consequences. It is now, therefore, after the system has been submitted to the test of experience, and its effects on the general welfare of the country fairly tried, that I venture once more to demand an inquiry. I am anxious for the appointment of a Committee, in order that facts may be elicited, to guide us in our future progress, that the speculations of political science, and the confident theories of individuals, however talented, may be subjected to the ordeal of a full and deliberate investigation.
§ In moving for the Committee, I shall avoid, as much as possible, going into a long statement of figures, and shall content myself with shortly referring to facts, which I believe to be incontrovertible and unanswerable, throwing upon the right hon. Gentleman the responsibility of a refusal, and the consequences that may result from the rejection of my Motion. I will venture to assert, that the arguments so confidently urged in this House by the right hon. Gentleman and others, and so implicitly relied on by Members, without inquiry, have proved anything but satisfactory to the country.
§ Originally it was proposed that some relaxation in our Navigation Laws, a partial change in our colonial system, and some alterations of our commercial policy had become expedient, in the altered state of commerce throughout the world; but I have been surprised to hear it asserted in this House, that many of the measures since brought forward, are in the slightest accordance with the principles recommended by the two Committees to which I have before referred. Bold assertions, unfortunately, have been taken for granted, though constantly disputed, and the consequences now are too apparent, in the declining state of our resources, and the general depression in all branches of trade.
§ For my own part, I consider experience a safer guide than any opinions, even those of the greatest authority; and I much fear the best interests and welfare of the country have been often sacrificed to mere theory. I have heard it said, with pain and regret, that I am the advocate of monopoly and restriction; but I must take leave to deny that I am favourable to any species of 1287 monopoly, or even of protection, that cannot be shown to be required for the encouragement of domestic industry, and the employment of the people. As an illustration of this argument, I would refer to the case of my own constituents. It is said by the advocates of the modern doctrine of free trade, "the case is one between the manufacturer, and the consumers of gloves. If the former suffers, it is for the benefit of the latter; and we see no reason why the wearer of gloves should buy a dear and inferior article at home, which can be procured better and cheaper from abroad;" but these supporters of abstract principles forget, that if we expose to a ruinous competition the interest of those who can only live by industry at home, by encouraging the importation of foreign commodities we shall have to support in idleness all that would be thrown out of employment by such a system of unfeeling policy. The advantages, therefore, of a foreign trade in manufactured articles, which we could ourselves produce, are ultimately prejudicial to the true interests of the country, by encouraging foreign labour, instead of fostering and supporting native industry. An interchange between producer and consumer at home, in which the capital and labour on both sides are British, must be more conducive to national prosperity, than such a trade carried on with foreigners, especially without reciprocity. It is not, however, my purpose to call upon the House to abandon hastily what has been done, by a repeal of existing statutes, but rather to recommend inquiry before we proceed further in the extension of this system. I call upon hon. Gentlemen not to aid and assist the present Government in the course which they appear disposed to adopt for the future regulation of our commerce. I will undertake to show, if a Committee be granted, that wherever the new system can be traced in its effects, it has most injuriously prejudiced the interests of those more immediately concerned, as well as those of the nation at large. At the same time, it must be admitted, that should we have reason to retrace our steps, we ought to proceed with great caution; for it may readily be imagined, that changes which had not been dictated by the greatest wisdom, might, perhaps, in some instances, be better adhered to than suddenly or hastily abandoned. My inquiries are retrospective, but my views are rather of a perspective 1288 nature. It is quite true, that we possess some advantages not enjoyed by other nations; but, together with such advantages, let it not be forgotten, that we have a superabundant and increasing population, wanting employment, and without the means of earning a subsistence by their own industry. The whole of my argument to-night, therefore, will be directed to prove the necessity of exercising the most vigilant guardianship and control over our own resources, with the view to promote national industry, and to improve the condition of the great mass of the people. I cannot but feel, that a persevering encouragement of foreign industry, to the prejudice of British labour, would still further accumulate the wealth of the country into the hands of a few individuals and great capitalists, instead of a more wholesome distribution amongst the productive and industrious classes. The national wealth may possibly be increased by the aggrandizement of those who are engaged in foreign trade, to whom a wide field of speculation is thrown open; but I contend, the bulk of the community is seriously injured, and the difficulties of the country augmented.
§ The London petition, to which I have before referred, states:—
§ 'That the maxim of buying in the cheapest market, and selling in the dearest, which regulates every individual merchant in his own dealing, is strictly applicable, as the best rule for the trade of the whole nation; that a policy founded on these principles would render the commerce of the world an interchange of mutual advantage, and diffuse an increase of wealth and enjoyment amongst the inhabitants of each State.'*
§ Why, Sir, what is this but a mere truism? We may certainly "buy in the cheapest market," about which there was no dispute; but if foreign States, by fiscal regulations, shut us out from their consumption, it remains to be shown how we are to "sell in the dearest" without their consent. So far as past experience enables us to judge, the gratuitous concessions made by the present and former Governments, have entirely failed in accomplishing that object.
§ Again, the same petition goes on to state:—
'That a declaration against the anti-
*Hansard (new series), vol. i. p. 179.
commercial principles of our restrictive system is of the more importance at the present juncture, inasmuch as in several instances of recent occurrence, the merchants and manufacturers in foreign States have assailed their respective governments for further protective and prohibitory duties and regulations, urging the example and authority of this country, against which they are almost exclusively directed, as a sanction for the policy of such measures.
§ 'That nothing would more tend to counteract the commercial hostility of foreign States, than the adoption of a more enlightened and more conciliatory policy on the part of this country. A great incidental object would be gained by the promulgation of a sound principle or standard, to which all subsequent arrangements might be referred, and by the salutary influence which a promulgation of such just views by the Legislature, and by the nation at large, could not fail to have on the policy of other States.'*
§ The measures and recent propositions of the noble Lord (Lord Althorp), have been in direct opposition to these principles. The noble Lord equalized the duty upon French and Portuguese wines, and proposes that Cape wine, the produce of our own colonies, shall pay the same duty as the finest wine of Burgundy, Champagne, and Bordeaux, without regard to their disproportionate value. He attempted also to alter the relative duties established by Act of Parliament, after deliberate inquiry, on Baltic and Colonial timber, with a view to its ultimate assimilation. Will it be contended that this was not going much further than Mr. Huskisson ever contemplated? Again, we have admitted the United States of North America to a participation in the benefits of our colonial trade, although they have not receded in the slightest degree from their restrictive measures; but, on the contrary, have increased the onerous duties existing in 1824 on our commerce and manufactures, by the almost prohibitory tariff of 1828.
I entertain, in common with every Member of this House, the greatest respect for the character and integrity of the noble Lord (Lord Althorp), but I must protest against the system of commercial policy which he has recommended, as most injurious to the best interests of the country;
* Hansard (new series), vol. i. p.181,
and I consider it most unsafe and impolitic that vessels of other nations should trade with the colonies and dependencies of Great Britain on the same footing as our own. I am not opposed to a bona fide system of liberal commercial policy, founded upon reciprocity, but I do object to the narrow application of those principles, and the partial mode in which they have hitherto been carried into effect. Neither do I complain of the course pursued by the French government; they are perfectly justified in adopting a defensive commercial policy; but I must deprecate concession after concession, without any proof, or even a reasonable probability, of any change of system on their part. I protest also against allowing the same advantages in our markets to those nations which virtually prohibit our manufactures, as to those which give us a monopoly, or a preference in theirs. The conduct of our Government, in equalizing the duties on wines of France and Portugal, shows that they are disposed to give equal facilities to the most hostile, as to the most friendly nation—a most unwise policy for a trading and commercial country, whose chief want is a vent for her surplus manufactures, which appears to be altogether overlooked: and when we turn to the new world, and contemplate the prospective benefits that might result from the cultivation of the vast resources they may hereafter be expected to afford, I consider this policy of the Government calculated to prejudice rather than advance our competition with rival States, seeking a participation in their commerce. Other nations pursue a directly opposite course; for, instead of yielding gratuitous advantages, and trusting to the liberality of their rivals, they proceed upon the plain and intelligible principle of mutual concession and actual reciprocity. An instance has lately occurred, in a Treaty between France and the United States, for a reduction of the duties on cotton wool by the former, and on French wines by the latter. Both these notions fully understand their own interests, and neither appear disposed to adopt the liberal principles recommended by modern theorists. On this subject I have conversed with merchants and manufacturers of great experience; and the result of my inquiries is a conviction that the experiment has failed. In proof of this, I must advert to other instances of the commercial policy of foreign nations.
§ I have already shown, that America, in 1828, increased her tariff of duties on British produce and manufactures, to an extent amounting, in many instances, almost to prohibition. The king of Prussia has lately imposed a heavy transit duty on British goods passing through his dominions; and on the 12th of November last, the emperor of Russia issued an ukase, imposing additional taxes on all our commodities. Where, then, are the proofs of a favourable change in the policy of foreign States, so often and so confidently predicted? In 1825, when Lord Goderich made a proposition for a great reduction in the duties on French wines, he said, that the great obstacle to a commercial intercourse with France were these duties, and that their reduction would induce that country to follow our example, by opening her markets to us; but I appeal to every one who hears me, if France has, in any one instance, done so? In vain have we reduced the duties and removed the restrictions on French produce and manufactures, and on the productions of other countries; instead of a more liberal policy having been adopted towards us, restrictive and prohibitory duties have been multiplied. As long ago as 1817, Lord Goderich said, the chief obstacle to a beneficial trade with France was, our restrictive system!
§ I admit that there are statesmen and merchants in France who seem disposed to favour a change of system; but the course pursued by the present Government, so far from promoting such a desirable change, is calculated to retard, if not to prevent it. For instance, whilst the importation of silks and of wines from France was either prohibited or discouraged, we had the influence of these powerful French interests with their own government, in aid of our endeavours to promote, on their part, a more liberal system of commercial policy towards this country; but by gratuitously admitting French manufactures at a moderate duty, and placing the wines of France and Portugal on the same footing, we have deprived ourselves of that influence, it being obvious that the manufacturers of Lyons, and the wine-growers, have no longer any motive to urge upon their government a change of policy by which they have nothing to gain.
§ I come now to a consideration of the alteration made in our Navigation laws—a most important branch of my subject. 1292 In 1822, a Committee was appointed, at the instance of Mr. Wallace, to inquire into the state of the Navigation laws; and I beg the House to remark what was said by him on going into the Committee on the Navigation Bill.
§ 'If by the great principle of the Navigation laws was meant a due preference to British shipping in the trade of this country—if it was meant by these principles, that nations which had no ships of their own should send their commodities to England in British vessels—if it was intended by these principles to protect the direct trade with our colonies, and to maintain our coasting trade and fisherie—if these points were to be secured by the principles of the Navigation laws—he cordially and perfectly agreed in their justice and propriety. These were principles from which he would not depart, and which he conceived ought to be maintained at all hazards.'*
§ Mr. Wallace, in 1821, had admitted, in common with all the ablest statesmen of former periods, that the importance of making this country the greatest maritime power in the world could not be over-rated; a sentiment which many seem disposed to rank with the exploded doctrines of ignorance and prejudice. But, Sir, we are confidently told, that the navigation of the country has increased since the late changes; and it is further contended, that this alleged increase is entirely owing to the alteration in our long-established policy for the protection of our shipping interests. I am, however, prepared to show, notwithstanding the references to documents, and official statements laid before this House, that the inferences drawn from them are extremely erroneous; and that, unless they are examined with a degree of care and attention which few Members have leisure or inclination to bestow on such complicated subjects, false conclusions may be easily drawn.
It will be in the recollection of the House, that the shipping interest have frequently endeavoured to promote an inquiry into that important branch of our national resources, alleging they were prepared to prove, that the effect of these changes had operated injuriously; and, although their case was advocated with great zeal and ability, supported by petitions from all the maritime towns in the
* Hansard (new series), vol. vii. p. 711.
kingdom, anxiously desiring to see that great arm of our national strength cherished and preserved, inquiry was constantly denied, and Parliament was induced to rely on the plausible statements brought forward by successive Governments to justify their own views.
§ I recollect the speech of that able and powerful Minister, Mr. Huskisson; and when I call to mind the effect produced by that speech, I cannot but feel, that the House rather surrendered its judgment to the opinions of that distinguished man, than to the facts and arguments with which they were accompanied. Whatever respect I may feel for the memory of that talented individual, I must say, that in matters of such paramount importance, the assertions of any man, however authoritative, ought not to be implicitly received; but that it is our duty rather to look to facts, and to practical experience.
§ Figures upon figures have been brought forward for the purpose of defeating the numerous calls for investigation. It was impossible to remove the impressions made by such statements during a night's debate; their accuracy might be disputed, but rarely admitted of immediate refutation. Confidence in the Minister was a shorter road to a decision, than by a tedious and laborious investigation: and complaints were rejected, as emanating from interested, and, sometimes, from party motives. But, Sir, I am convinced, that, if inquiry had taken place, it must long since have become manifest, that the inferences thus hastily drawn from such statements, were erroneous; and that fallacies, difficult of detection during a hurried discussion, would have been refuted. Inquiry, however, was constantly denied: and many hon. Members, unaccustomed to the investigation of laborious details, thought the dictum of the Government sufficient ground for acquiescence in their decision.
§ Much reliance has been placed on the apparent increase of our foreign trade; but the documents on our Table prove, that this increase has arisen from the extension of our colonial commerce to new sources of trade, with the Brazils and South America, and to an augmentation with those nations with which we can have little or no competition.
§ To return, however, to the navigation of the country. I find, that the shipping employed in many foreign States has de- 1294 clined since 1826. The true test on this subject is not by a general reference to the entries inward and outward, because it must be obvious that this includes many short voyages made by the same vessel. The fair criterion is, the increase or decrease in the number and tonnage of our commercial marine. And here I will show, from official returns, that for some years there has been a decline in the number of ships built, and in the registered tonnage of the country; and it may be worth while to advert to the opinions expressed by Mr. Huskisson, in 1825. His language is clear and explicit, though little in accordance with the views of his successors. He says, 'All intercourse between the mother country and her colonies, whether direct or circuitous—and all intercourse of the colonies with each other, will be considered as a coasting trade, to be reserved entirely and absolutely to ourselves. By this arrangement, the foundation of our Navigation laws will be preserved, whilst the colonies will enjoy a free trade with foreign countries, without breaking in upon the great principle of those laws in respect to foreign trade—that the cargo must be the produce of the country to which the ship belongs. The importation of foreign goods into the colonies, I propose should be made subject to moderate duties; but such as may be found sufficient for the fair protection of our own productions of the like nature.'*
§ 'Every step in this change will contribute to introduce a greater proportion and a better description of white population, and gradually to diffuse a true spirit of enterprise, not only in commerce, but in agriculture—to stimulate and endeavour to raise other productions (indigo and silk, for example), besides sugar, which will increase the cultivation and wealth of those colonies; these arrangements will not only add to the value of property in this part of the world, but they will gradually ameliorate the moral condition of society, and by consequence, the internal security of those possessions.'
§ The policy of the present Government appears to me, so far from being consonant with these opinions, to be directly at variance.
* Hansard (new series), vol. xii, p. 1108.
†Ibid. p. 1109.1295
§ The Returns in my hand show the number and tonnage of vessels built in the British Empire, during the last six years.
|To 5th Jan.||Vessels.||Tonnage.|
|Shewing a decrease in Building, of||680||103,605|
§ or nearly half the vessels, and more than half the tonnage, since 1826; or 136 vessels annually. And I find the vessels registered—
|To 31st Dec.||Vessels.||Tonnage.||Men.|
§ decrease of registered tonnage, &c. since 1826, notwithstanding the increased trade of our own colonies, and to the Brazils, and South America, from which an addition might have been looked for.
§ Again, to prove the encroachment on our commercial marine by those States with which reciprocity treaties have been concluded, I will refer to the following table of British and Foreign tonnage entered inwards.
|Decrease of British||44,120|
|Increase of Foreign||83,820|
§ Thus, Sir, I think it has been shown, that the boasted increase in the navigation of the country is fallacious, and that the Commercial tonnage of the State, on which it must depend for the support of the navy, has materially declined; and also, that those nations with which the mis-called reciprocity treaties exist, are gradually displacing British ships, by the employment of their own; a necessary consequence of the abandonment of all protection where such an inequality exists, and predicated at the time those changes were made.
§ I would not be understood to contend that the extraordinary maritime force of this country, acquired during a long and 1296 unexampled war, could be maintained during peace; but I submit, that the declension of our merchant marine has been greater than ought to have occurred, and that it is partly owing to unwise legislation.
§ With these brief and imperfect remarks, I must, for the present, dismiss this portion of my subject, which refers more immediately to the shipping interest, and proceed to inquire, how far the object of the Committee on foreign trade has been accomplished, in the extension and improvement of our foreign commerce.
§ I have always been convinced, that when Mr. Huskisson recommended these changes, he anticipated that other nations would follow our example; and it is not now necessary for me to argue whether or not the experiment was justifiable. But foreign States saw, or imagined at least, that their abandonment of a system of prohibition, or protection, of which we had given them the example, would be followed by an inundation of our cheaply manufactured goods; and that, although this might benefit their consumers, it would displace a large amount of domestic capital and labour, and permanently render them dependent on this country.
§ I shall not stop here to inquire into the soundness of these views; it is enough for me to show that our example has not been followed; and that, if we are to throw open our markets to cheap foreign manufactured goods, coming in competition with native capital and industry, it must, in future, be defended on other grounds than that of reciprocity.
§ The hon. member for Middlesex, it is true, carries his notions of free trade to an extravagant length. His maxim is—buy your goods at the cheapest market, without reference to their being produced at home or abroad, or whether imported in British or foreign vessels. This vicious principle has, I fear, been adopted by the noble Lord (Althorp) and his colleagues. Any thing more unsound, or untenable by argument, as applied to a country so peculiarly and artificially circumstanced as this, I cannot imagine.
§ The principles of free trade are, in themselves, good; but the question we have to consider is, the effect of their partial application by this country, in the absence of any concessions advantageous to our own commerce by foreign States. The hon. Member behind me (Mr. Hume), 1297 says, let us have free,trade at any rate; but Mr. Huskisson does not appear to have been of that opinion, for when the American Tariff became a subject of discussion in this House, in 1828, he said, "that some means must be adopted by this country to meet and counteract that Tariff." He reminded us, that if America persevered in her hostile policy towards our commerce—if, whilst we took the raw material from her, she shut her ports against our manufactures, we must look for a future supply of cotton from the Brazils, from Egypt, and the East Indies—thus, evidently showing his opinion, that our conduct towards other nations should be regulated, in some degree, by theirs towards us;—these are his own words:—
§ 'I make no remonstrance as to the principle; but we have the remedy within ourselves. I am, however, not disposed to enter into a war of restrictions, or prohibitions in commerce. I deeply regret what has been done in this respect, agreeing, as I do, in this instance, in principle with my right hon. friend (Mr. Grant), on the silk trade of this country. Yet a man must be blind to the interests of this country, who would consent to deprive Government of the means of promptly meeting the effect of such restrictive measures, by corresponding regulations here. If we are not in a condition to assist ourselves, there is, at once, an end of all equality; nor can we account satisfactorily to other countries, with whom we are still allowed to trade on fair terms of reciprocity, for this tame endurance to injury. Neither is it consistent with the dignity of a great commercial nation like this, to sit in apathy, and affect not to feel the impediments thrown in the way of its commerce. If we are to take the raw material for our manufactures from the United States, we certainly should ensure for our articles, when manufactured from those materials, an equally favourable reception in the market, as they experience in other countries, not deriving in turn such considerable intercommercial advantages. Whilst we are dependent on that country for the raw material, are they to be encouraged and aided in their determination to be henceforth independent of our manufactured goods, of which they have, till now, received so large a supply? It is a more 1298 manly course, in order both to assert the character and protect the commerce of the country, at once to protest against a system, framed for the unjust exclusion of our articles of manufacture. That system of commercial hostility I deeply regret. There are two descriptions of articles imported into this country—of the first class, such as tobacco, rice, and turpentine, I should speak as of articles which are not essential to our commerce or manufactures, and are mere articles of consumption. We can, I am satisfied, soon be supplied with tobacco from the East Indies, by wise and prudent inducements held out to induce its improved cultivation. The rice of India would soon, indeed it is already doing so, usurp the place in our list of imports, which that of Carolina has hitherto occupied. In other articles the same change would soon be observed.
§ With reference to cotton, the raw material is essential to our great staple trade; it is only necessary to give its culture in India the same encouragement and protection which the indigo trade has obtained, to ensure its cultivation with equal success, and the growth of as good, as durable and as fine an article. The result would soon be, that the cotton of India would rival and supplant the cotton of the Western world, as the indigo of India already excels that of Guatimala, to which it was formerly so much inferior, and would still have continued so, but for the judicious encouragement afforded to it. Unless we assert our dignity, and protect our interests, what will be thought of our apathy by the people of Brazil, who admit all our articles of manufacture upon a payment of only fifteen percent? What can we, with consistency, say to which is compelled to receive all our imports at two and a half per cent. on being landed in the ports of India, and have scarcely any staple wherewith to repay itself in the way of commerce with us? What, in fact, can be our answer to the States of South America? This is an important consideration; but there is another, which is, that if the United States pursue this course, and drive us to other countries for a supply, now almost all their own, we shall see ' that supply brought to this country in British bottoms, and thus employing British industry, instead of, as it is now, 1299 'employing American ships and seamen.'*
§ But the ultra opinions of the hon. member for Middlesex were also combatted by the right hon. member for Tamworth, whom I am sorry not now to see in his place, that I might remind him of what he then said. The right hon. Gentleman remarked, and justly so, that the Tariff was not introduced as a measure of retaliation, but as a system of policy necessary for the encouragement of her own manufactures. As for the proposition which he had heard (from Mr. Hume), he did not see how it could be defended, and he protested against our Government holding out advantages to those States which gave none in return, all nations admitting that their own productions are entitled to peculiar privileges. He adds, 'but I think it right that other countries should understand, that all nations admitting our productions should be entitled to additional privileges in commercial intercourse over those countries that exclude us.'
I think, Sir, it has now been shown, that on the one hand, I have the support of Mr. Huskisson in favour of my opinion, that our commercial regulations with foreign States should be governed, in some measure, by their policy towards us; and, on the other hand, that the right hon. member for Tamworth formerly professed similar principles; but I may be told, that the foreign trade of the country has increased; this, indeed, has been the constant theme and unvarying argument. Let us, therefore, see in what direction it has extended, if it has not been with those countries which cannot compete with us in manufactures and with our own possessions. With Portugal, Spain, Italy, and some other European States, and also with the States of South America, Mexico, and the Brazils, an extension, altogether independent of the changes in our commercial policy since 1820. Has there been any increase in our exports to France, or those other countries that are pursuing a course of competition with England? No, they have diminished; for whilst our imports from France, since 1819, have trebled or quadrupled, our exports have decreased in almost as great a proportion. I, therefore, tell the right hon. Gentle-
* Hansard (new series), vol. xix. p. 1770–1772.
man, that as long as France declines making any concessions to this country, the advantages are all on her side, and the disadvantages on ours.
§ The right hon. Gentleman, on a former occasion, said, that France had to sustain all the inconveniences of a circuitous mode of payment; but this is not correct. France is encouraged to bring her goods into our markets, and demand payment on the Royal Exchange, as she will take nothing in return; so that ours is the circuitous and forced trade of exports to distant markets, to obtain the means of payment; her's the direct. No doubt it will be said, that if we do not export to France, our manufactures will find a vent in other markets, from whence we obtain specie. This, in point of fact, is true; but the losses and sacrifices of our merchants and manufacturers, who are forced into a speculative trade, for want of steady and certain markets nearer home, are enormous. This, however, does not appear amongst the mass of figures extracted from the Customs entries. The vast amount of exports, in official value, is held up to dazzle our eyes, and mislead the judgment, whilst the deplorable returns for those adventures, can only be gathered from the melancholy records of the London Gazette.
§ If we go on the Exchange, and other places of commercial resort, evidence of trade and commerce to a considerable extent will still be found, but with what ruinous consequences too often to the parties who successively engage in the hazardous pursuit of a purely speculative export trade. Undoubtedly, many of our merchants, with peculiar advantages, have realized, and some have retired with, large fortunes; but the general tendency of trade, for the last ten years, has been retrogressive. The noble Lord, however, lives in the constant anticipation of some favourable change in the policy of other States. The failure of all former predictions produce no change in his visionary schemes; and when, on a late occasion, I deprecated the proposed equalization of the duties on French and Portugal wines, the noble Lord said—we could not expect France would relax in her system of policy, unless we set her the example, though I reminded him we had already done so in 1825, and that six years had since elapsed without the fulfilment of any of the former predictions, so strong and so confidently 1301 made. Really this mode of dealing with important interests is trifling. The French government does not pretend that their policy depends on the course pursued by other nations; their system is sufficiently obvious, and its effects are decidedly disadvantageous to us. The Ministers of France say, "we admit your principles to be liberal, and, perhaps, if we were similarly circumstanced, we might adopt them; but you are inviting us into competition with your manufactures, which are half a century in advance of our own, therefore, we may be excused if we do not discover the promised advantages." This, also, is the language of the United States. I will not stop to argue if it is wise, but it is the language of Madison, Jefferson, Adams and Clay, men not inferior to our political enconomists, who consider it impolitic to render their country entirely dependent on foreign manufactures.
§ That we are the first trading, commercial, and maritime nation in the world, is owing less, in my opinion, to the wisdom of the Legislature, than to the industry, energy, and skill of the people. I might almost say, that we have flourished in spite of some of the most ill-advised acts of legislation. Need I advert to the changes of late years, suddenly introduced without warning, without reason, and so fatal in their effects as to involve thousands in ruin?
§ In asking Government to direct their attention to facilitate the entrance of our manufactures into foreign markets, I am aware of its extreme difficulty; but the attempt has not fairly been tried. Concession after concession is made to other countries, but we demand nothing in return. In some instances, I am assured, that if stipulations had been made, they would have been granted; but it is thought more consistent with liberality to pursue the absurd and ridiculous policy of setting an example to foreign States, in hopes of their following it, rather than at once stipulating for a quid pro quo. That was not the course lately adopted by France and the United States, nations equally well informed with ourselves on commercial subjects, and better acquainted with the true principles of reciprocity. A treaty was last year concluded between those countries, by which the wines of France were introduced into the United States, at a reduced duty, in consideration of some advantages given to the ad- 1302 mission of American cotton in the French markets.
§ I recollect the answer which Lord Castlereagh gave, some years ago, to a deputation, whose object was, to obtain from Spain conditions favourable to the commerce of this country, which had expended so much blood and treasure to effect the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty. The noble Lord said, "that he could not ask what was required, as he considered it unworthy a great nation like this, and unbecoming our magnanimity to make such stipulations." Had that Statesman lived to witness the practical effects of such quixotic doctrines, he would have seen cause to change his opinion. Foreigners take advantage of, and ridicule, but do not imitate our policy. We have the reputation of being liberal, good-natured, like many individuals in private life, whose folly and improvidence lead to ruin and bankruptcy, but procure for them the reputation of extreme good nature. This policy may be liberal, but it is unwise and unjust towards those who subsist only by their skill and industry; besides, it offers a premium to other governments who might be disposed to join us in a system of bona fide. reciprocity. The peculiar state of this country, from the amount of its debt, and magnitude of its establishments, is strongly opposed to such a practice—it is impossible, whilst we are burthened to such an extent, that we can successfully compete with cheap nations. Can we import silks and gloves from France—linen from Germany—timber from Norway—sugar from Cuba and Brazils—and corn from Poland, for the benefit of the consumer, without prejudice to the producer of those articles at home, and in the colonies? The advantages, in particular cases, may preponderate, and the policy be justifiable; but to act rigidly and generally on such a principle, is utterly inconsistent with justice or feeling; and putting in jeopardy sources of national wealth long established, in search of some speculative and prospective advantage. The hon. member for Thetford, on a former occasion justly observed, that if we were to pursue the free-trade system, we must push it to its fullest extent; and I can tell country Gentlemen, who may be disposed to assist the Government in following out this system, the result must inevitably be a free-trade in corn; besides which we must have a Go- 1303 vernment as cheap as that of the United States, and an extinction of the National Debt. That things are tending that way I verily believe; and I can assure the House, that in combatting the principles avowed by the more ultra political economists, I do so because there is only a choice of evils. The noble Lord finds, and future Chancellors of the Exchequer must find, increased difficulties in bringing up the revenue to meet the expenditure.
§ My object chiefly in addressing the House this evening is, to implore Members no longer to take things for granted, even though backed by high authority; but, by the appointment of a Committee, fairly to ascertain on which side the truth lies, and what course we can follow in future with the greatest safety. I am neither an advocate for prohibition or protection to benefit particular classes. The interest of the community at large ought to be the paramount object of the Legislature. Much confusion of idea exists on this point; three sets of opinions are entertained—one, that protection is necessary, in particular cases, to sustain an important interest, which cannot be abandoned without material injury; another, that all protection is unsound in theory, and, therefore, indefensible in practice; and a third, that protection is only to be defended as applied to agriculture.
§ It cannot be doubted, that Mr. Huskisson modified his views as to the Corn laws; and yet he knew that, if the principles of free trade were strongly defensible, it must be when applied to corn; and, indeed, that our first steps on that system, if adopted, should have been in cheapening the articles of subsistence to the labourer; yet Mr. Huskisson, after the defeat of a bill in the other House of Parliament which he had advocated here, came down in the next Session, and supported a higher rate of duty, solely on grounds of expediency. Where then is the adherence to principles, so much dwelt upon by some Members?
§ The principal cause of distress in the manufacturing districts is, the want of foreign markets; and it is quite evident to me, that these are not to be enlarged or obtained by the policy of his Majesty's present advisers. They thought that foreign markets could be made accessible to British commerce, merely by a reduction of duties on foreign importations; but experience ought to have convinced them 1304 that such was not the case. Let them look to France, and they will find, that the admission of silk and other manufactures of that country, and the reduction of duty on her wines, had not only failed to produce any corresponding increase in our exports to that country, corresponding increase that these exports are not now one-third what they were in 1817.
§ It has been said, among the absurdities of the new school, that the exports to any country were, necessarily, to a certain extent at least, dependent on the imports from that country; but nothing can be more untrue. The imports and exports almost exclusively depend on the facilities or discouragements offered to foreign commerce by foreign States. To illustrate this, I have compiled from the Finance Reports a table of comparative imports and exports in 1830, from five nations with which our exports vastly exceed the imports, and five other States with which the balance of trade is directly the reverse. By the latter table it is clearly seen, that the amount of our exports to France, Russia, Prussia, Turkey, and Spain, is not limited by our imports from those countries, and the difference can only be accounted for from other causes, chiefly the restrictive regulations against our trade.
|Comparative Scale of Imports and Exports, 1830.|
§ I must again refer to France, for the purpose of shewing the sort of reciprocity experienced from that nation; and, to do this, it would be scarcely necessary to do more than allude to the struggle she has made, in maintaining a construction most unfair and injurious to our shipping, arising out of the Navigation Treaty of 1826, by which we have paid, since that period, nearly a quarter of a million sterling in our own wrong.1305
§ In 1820, our exports to France were 981,000l.; our imports 620,000l. In 1830, the former were only 846,000l., though the latter had increased to 2,066,000l.; besides, what we take from her are chiefly articles of taste and luxury—silks, gloves, brandy, wines, &c., &c.; and those which her policy alone permits the introduction of from this country, are mostly colonial and East-India produce, wool, and machinery; the whole value of manufactured articles not exceeding 200,000l., of which the four great British staples are—cotton, 6,000l., woollens, 19,000l., linens, 7,000l., hardware and cutlery, 28,000l. This is the trade we carry on with thirty millions of people most contiguous to our shores; but the House will not be surprised when they learn that France encourages the free use of the raw material, and levies a prohibiting duty on foreign manufactures. I find, on inspecting the French tariff, not less than forty or fifty articles which are entirely prohibited. The result of this system is a gradual, though slow advance in her manufactures.
§ Dupin, a celebrated French statistical writer, has estimated the advance at the rate of four and a half per cent per annum.
§ The right hon. member for the Queen's County (Sir Henry Parnell), some time since, put a work into my hands on this subject, which I have read with great attention. He sets out with recommending both countries to commence a change of system, by the immediate and entire abolition of their existing tariffs. He then advises the admission of the raw material, and articles in the first stage of manufacture, free of any tax; and to establish a scale of duties, of which the maximum shall be ten per cent. It is scarcely worth while to argue on the merits of a plan which this Government cannot, and France will not, adopt.
§ A few words now on our trade with other countries. With the Netherlands, we carry on a beneficial commerce, which has considerably increased both in imports and exports since 1820; and our shipping enjoy a full share of the carrying trade between the two countries. The export of colonial produce is large; and, of manufactures, more than a million.
§ With Spain, Portugal, and Italy, our commerce is also extensive and advantageous, and with these States it is susceptible of great extension and improvement, 1306 under mutual encouragement and prudent regulations. I find, however, that Spain does not admit our vessels on the same terms as those of France, there being a discriminating duty in favour of Spanish vessels over those of all other countries, with the exception of France. This, I believe, is contrary to the treaties between the two nations, and I recommend the Government to look into the subject. The exports of Spain have increased from 700,000l., to 1,800,000l., since 1820, far exceeding the value of our imports. This trade is almost exclusively carried on in British vessels.
§ With Portugal our trade has been long established, and is highly advantageous, notwithstanding the interruptions to which it has been recently exposed by the political state of that country. Portugal consumes our manufactures almost exclusively, and employs our ships in the carrying trade between the two countries. We enjoy also peculiar privileges highly favourable to our Newfoundland fisheries, and to the employment of a large amount of British and colonial tonnage. Our exports to that country have increased nearly a million since 1820, whilst the imports have remained nearly stationary, at 450,000l. The exports of manufactures are very considerable—in cottons alone upwards of 500,000l.; woollens, 150,000l. I hope the commercial relations between the two kingdoms may not be permanently interrupted, as it is decidedly the best market we have, considering the extent of its population.
§ With Italy, our trade, both from its nature and extent, is highly beneficial; she supplies us with raw materials chiefly, to the extent of 900,000l., whilst we export nearly five millions, of which, four millions consist of British and Irish produce and manufactures—one million in cottons, and a quarter of a million in woollens, are included in this amount. The carrying trade is almost entirely our own, and there is considerable commerce with the island of Newfoundland, highly beneficial to that colony.
§ Our trade with Russia is very extensive, notwithstanding the most severe restrictions on her part. Our imports have nearly doubled since 1820; but the exports, now amounting to three millions, have not increased in nearly the same proportion. With Russia, we enjoy the advantage of the principal carrying trade; but the whole 1307 commercial system of that empire is highly restrictive, and this has lately been increased by the ukase of the 23rd of November. As a proof of the tendency of this policy, I may mention, that our exports chiefly consist of colonial produce, and goods in transit from other States; whilst, with her population of sixty millions, we only send 100,000l. worth of woollens, and 24,000l. of cotton manufactures; but the article of cotton twist has rapidly advanced to 958,000l. The duties in Russia are enormous, and many articles of manufactures altogether prohibited.
§ I now come to our commerce with Prussia, respecting which much delusion has prevailed. This is one of the countries to which we have been looking for an increase of trade, by giving her advantages in her shipping and timber; but I shall show, that the direct trade with Prussia is inconsiderable in amount, and of comparative little advantage. The imports, indeed, for the last ten years, have increased from 587,000l. to 1,300,000l.; but our exports, notwithstanding, have dwindled from 974,000l. to 736,000l., shewing a falling off, in the face of such increased imports, of nearly 250,000l. since 1820. What is this owing to but the discouragement of British commerce by Prussia, which she has lately increased by a further duty in transit of twelve and a half per cent. Out of this limited amount of exports to a country with a population of twelve millions, there is scarcely any manufactured articles; of cotton goods, except twist, only 175l. So much for the policy of further gratuitous encouragement to these States, to the detriment of our colonial trade, to which I shall come presently.
§ With Sweden, our whole exports is 157,000l.; a decrease of 2,000l. since 1820, and not exceeding the amount exported to one of our small West-India islands. There is scarcely 1,000l. of British manufactures; and why is this? Because Sweden prohibits many articles, and discourages the import of others by high duties.
§ With respect to Denmark, our exports, in 1830, were only 227,000l., which is 60,000l. less than in 1820, though our imports from thence have advanced from 170,000l. to 404,000l. Danish ships enjoy more than double the carrying trade over British vessels. Her duties are enormous; and, amongst other onerous regu- 1308 lations existing in Denmark, I find that a person importing cotton manufactures into that country, is not allowed to send them to any consignee, but is obliged to put them into the King's store at Copenhagen, where they must be sold by auction, after a deduction of thirty per cent has been made in their value. This is a regulation which the Government would do well to get rid of, instead of giving further facilities to the importation of Danish timber.
§ I will now refer to an important branch of this subject—our trade with the United States of North America. On looking at the returns, I find there is an immense increase in the imports, the amount in 1820 being 2,800,000l., and, in 1830, 6,200,000l., without any proportionate increase in the exports. America—free and enlightened America—rejects our principles of free trade, and opposes her tariff to all the concessions we have hitherto made. We have, in my judgment, committed an egregious blunder in opening our West-India ports to the shipping of the United States spontaneously, and without any equivalent on her part. I know, of my own knowledge, that the American merchants had for years wished to get access to the British West-India colonies, because it was felt that the United States enjoyed peculiar facilities for supplying them with timber and provisions. Mr. Canning's memorable and masterly correspondence with the American minister on this subject is a model of British firmness and diplomatic talent, which the Government would have done well to imitate. He would not hear of any pretension to a trade with our colonies any more than to the coasting trade of the empire, and, therefore, it ought never to have been conceded; or, if admitted, we should have stipulated for a corresponding advantage, which might have been obtained. I know the policy of opening our West-India ports to the United States was adopted with the desire to afford relief to the drooping interests of those colonies. So far, therefore, the object was highly praiseworthy, for no other interest stands so much in need of assistance; but I contend that the late Ministers took an unwise course in giving the United States this advantage at the expense of our North American colonies. Surely it would have been better, instead of promoting the power and resources of a rival nation, to have encouraged a reciprocity of connexion between 1309 our own possessions, which would have led to an increase of our maritime strength by intercolonial communication. Relief, more direct and more substantial, might have been afforded to the West Indies, by a reduction of duties at home, without throwing into the hands of the United States an immense accession of tonnage, at the expense of the rising commerce of our own colonies which must inevitably result from such mistaken policy. Already, in fact, has the American marine received a great accession of strength and activity from this gratuitous concession.
§ Do I repine at this because of its advantage to the United States? Far from it. No one is more rejoiced than I am to see the prosperous condition of that country; but, that they should be permitted by us to thrive at the expense of England, does appear to me a most unnatural act on the part of the British Government.
§ The United States have no peculiar claims on us, while, on the other hand, our North American colonies have the strongest possible claims; and further, I will venture to assert, that these colonies, small as they are in the comparison, are more likely, under due encouragement, to afford a permanent market for our West-India produce than the United States. I know some hon. Gentlemen think, that the West Indies may enjoy the benefits of both markets; but this is a mistake. If the North American colonies are supplanted in the West Indies by the United States, they will not have it in their power to take their West-India produce.
§ To prove, in some degree, the relative value of those markets, it may be observed, that, in 1826, there was imported into the United States, from our West-India colonies, 24,000 cwt. of sugar, and, into our North American colonies, 44,000 cwt. There were also imported into the United States, 819,000 gallons of rum, and, into our North American colonies, 1,704,000 gallons; so that, it appears, those colonies, small as is their population, are greater consumers of those articles produced in our West-India islands than the United States. This arises from America producing both sugar and spirits in considerable quantity, and procuring them also from other markets, whilst Canada, and British North America derive their supplies wholly from our own colonies in the West Indies. The United States are, in fact, extending their large plantations in 1310 Louisiana, and are become exporters to Europe.
§ But we may be told, there are symptoms of a change in the policy of America, and that the tariff of 1828 has numerous and powerful opponents in that country. I have felt it my duty to obtain information on this point, and have in my possession some documents which enable me to speak with confidence on the subject. That some modifications in the existing tariff may take place, even during the present sitting of congress is highly probable, but there is little chance of such a reduction of duties as should procure for our manufactures any increase of consumption in the United States, because they, like France, possessing also every facility, are seeking to become a manufacturing nation. Take, for instance, the article of cotton (of which I have no very late returns), and we find that, in 1800, there were only 500 bales manufactured in the United States; in 1805, the number was 1,000,; in 1810, 10,000; in 1815, 90,000. Again, with respect to iron—I am informed there are 300,000 tons of bar and pig iron annually manufactured in the United States, the produce of which amounts to thirteen million dollars, eight millions of which are paid in wages to two hundred thousand persons, who find employment in their works. I am, therefore, warranted in believing, that the United States are not likely to admit British goods on such terms as to check their own manufactures, or to make that country dependent for future supplies on foreign markets. If they modify their tariff, it will be because they find the existing duties are no longer required to protect the present improved state of their manufactures; but they will take care to retain such duties as will effectually protect their own establishments.
§ A very inadequate idea exists in this country of the actual state of American manufactures, which took root and extended during the late war. It is said, that in a country where labour is so dear, no competition can be successfully maintained with this country; but we must not overlook the revolution which the extensive use and application of machinery has produced. Numbers, I am informed, are supplied with clothing entirely made in their own families. In this way does America not only contribute largely to its own demand, but actually exports manufactured articles to the extent of 8,000,000l. 1311 annually; and some of our own colonies, which ought to depend on the mother country for such articles, are partially supplied with goods legally, or illicitly introduced by vessels from the United States, which, under the present system, are allowed a direct intercourse with the colonies.
§ Let us see how this system actually works. I find, by reference to some valuable works on American statistics, that, in 1827, the imports into the United States were as follows:—
|In American vessels, 75 million dollars||980,000 tons.|
|Foreign Vessels, 4½ million dollars||137,000 tons.|
§ It is true that America is prodigal in her amicable professions towards England. Even General Jackson, who was thought to be unfavourable to this country, has been equally profuse with his predecessors in expressions of good will. I do not undervalue such demonstrations of friendship on the part of a great nation, with so many claims on our amity and good will; but I must consider all such declarations acts of mere official courtesy, entitled only to a similar return, as long as they are unaccompanied by any practical proof of liberality. Whilst these are wanting, we ought to decline all concessions on our part.
§ There are many of the valuable productions of America which mainly depend on the British market for their consumption—tobacco, the staple of Virginia and Maryland—the rice of Carolina—and the cotton of South Carolina and Georgia; and it has been well observed, that America is more indebted to us than we are to the United States. The true interests of both countries, perhaps, would be best promoted by admitting the principles of free trade, and acting upon them, so far as they can be made consistent with justness and fair reciprocity. I shall conclude my observations on the United States with the following extracts from a Report of the Third Annual Fair of the American Institute of the City of New York, in October, 1830.
§ 'Cotton prints, in fineness, delicacy, and richness of colour, greatly surpass all former exhibitions; and other cotton goods have arrived nearly at perfection.'
§ 'The specimens of woollen cloths are not numerous, but in high perfection, particularly the two first premium pieces. They have not been outdone in this or any other country.'1312
§ 'The samples of iron and steel, in bars and rolls, afford proof that this great essential of civilization and improvement will, in a few years, be entirely supplied from our own resources. The castings from iron are equal to any ever imported, and defy foreign competition.'
§ 'Those who had been persuaded that we are too young a people to enter the career of competition with the other world, were satisfied that, though comparatively in infancy, our vigour, enterprize, and genius, have already accomplished results which have cost other nations centuries, and will soon enable us to distance them in the career of glory.'
§ Having made these remarks on the foreign trade of the country, I will take the liberty of offering some observations to the House on our colonial system.
§ I venture to contend, that the colonies have not been fairly treated, either by the present or by former Governments—that they have not received that consideration from the Legislature to which their value and importance fully entitle them. There is a class of politicians in this House (amongst whom the hon. member for Middlesex stands pre-eminent), who look at these portions of the British empire through no other medium than the annual votes of Parliament for the support of their civil and military expenditure; and who, seeing that sums of money are taken out of the pockets of the people to aid our colonial establishments, are tempted to exclaim, that all such colonies as cannot maintain themselves ought to be got rid of. This, however, in my judgment, is taking a narrow, and most erroneous view of the subject. The colonies are not justly chargeable with a great portion of the expense, neither created with their concurrence, nor for their benefit. Let us look at the extent and variety of these colonies and possessions—their value and importance to our shipping interest, and to our manufactures—am I not justified in declaring, that they are of incalculable advantage to this country, and that the loss of them would be a severe blow to the maritime power and resources of the State? If we look practically into this matter, we shall find, that the increase in our colonial consumption is enormous, and the value of this trade, with some of the compared European States, really astonishing. In the four great staples of our manufactures, 1313 I find the following results in our exports of 1828:—
|To Foreign Parts.||To British Colonies and Possessions.|
|Hardware & Cutlery||1,000,000||276,000|
§ I have already adverted to the policy of the noble Lord, in his proposed alterations of the timber duties; nor would I again allude to them, if I had not understood the noble Lord to say, that he still maintained the same opinion, and should be prepared, on a more favourable opportunity, to renew that proposition on which he was out-voted on a former occasion. I was sorry to hear this; for, though it is said there were circumstances connected with that discussion, which, perhaps, induce him to believe that he may be more successful another time, it appears to me, that it would have been more prudent to have acquiesced in that decision. The noble Lord may, perhaps, say, that if it had been more prudent, it would have been less candid. Most undoubtedly. I highly respect the noble Lord for that candour which has won for him golden opinions from both sides of the House; but it has produced this evil, that the uncertainty in which the trade is involved, paralyzes exertion, and checks the enterprise of the merchant, and shipowner. I tell the noble Lord, that he will do well to abandon his project; I deprecate, and he ought to deprecate, making this nation dependent on foreign States for a supply of timber. In the noble Lord's argument, there was this fallacy; he assumed, that, in withdrawing the protection afforded by the Legislature to colonial timber, we should continue to receive the same supply from that source, with the additional advantage of larger and cheaper supplies from the North of Europe. He also fell into another palpable error, by supposing, that, in drawing upon the Baltic for our chief supply, we should have the cheapness produced by the existing competition. Why, Sir, so great a mistake was this, that the mere proposition of a change of duties, had the effect of raising the price of foreign timber; and, if carried into effect, we should soon have discovered that the promised advantages would have been 1314 purely chimerical; and that we should not only have sacrificed a valuable and secure portion of our colonial trade, but that the shipping interest of the country would have been exposed to imminent danger. I cannot here forbear to quote the answer of the late Mr. Huskisson, in reply to the hon. member for Middlesex's proposal for a reduction of duty on Baltic timber, on a former occasion.
§ He said, 'Canadian timber, considering that it grows in one of our own colonies, and was transported in our own ships, was a most valuable trade to Great Britain; and as a further argument why the existing duties on other timber should not be further reduced, there was no trade which, by reason of increased demand, had lately attained a more improved and prosperous condition than the trade in Baltic timber.'
§ I may be wrong in my views, but I am supported by authority; and I find Lord Goderich, when he proposed the Colonial Trade Bill, in 1822, using still stronger language in favour of the claims of our North American colonies, which I will not trouble the House with quoting.
§ I lately took up a paper laid on our Table, which contained matter of the greatest importance in reference to this point. I allude to the Report made by Mr. Richards. I shall not venture to read it to the House; but I earnestly entreat Gentlemen who take an interest in this subject, to peruse what Mr. Richards says on the increasing trade and population of these colonies, as consumers of our manufactures; for I think he shows clearly and unanswerably the necessity of giving their produce every reasonable protection and encouragement in this country. I can tell the noble Lord, also, that the sentiments of his own colleague, to whom I have before alluded, the Secretary of State for the colonies, were opposed to his, for he said, in April, 1821:—
'Our colonies, he conceived, ought rather to be considered as an integral part of the kingdom, than as an appendage, having only a remote interest in common with the mother country. As to the shipping interest, he trusted Parliament and the country, would never be so ungrateful as to forget, that to it we owed the glory of that navy—
Whose flag had braved a thousand years,
The battle and the breeze.'*
* Hansard, (new series), vol. v. p, 55.
The noble Lord, therefore, will perceive that he is not only at variance with one of his own colleague's recorded sentiments, but also with those of Mr. Huskisson's.
§ One of the great mistakes of the political economists is, that cheapness is the only desideratum; but it will be found, on close examination into the subject, that the tendency of their policy is to aggrandize and increase the wealth of an inconsiderable portion of the community, whilst it pauperizes the great body of the people.
§ Let us see how the case stands with our West Indian and North American trade. The imports from the former, in 1830, were 9,400,000l.—the exports 4,400,000l. The shipping employed in the same year, 249,000 tons outward, and an equal amount inward. From North America, the imports were 1,100,000l.—the exports 2,300,000l. The shipping trade (which, in 1821, was 1,403) had increased, in 1830, to 1,758; amounting to 480,200 tons. These exports, too, chiefly consisted of manufactured articles, of which I find from official documents, that the North American colonies alone take a larger amount in cotton, Woollen, hardware, and cutlery, than Russia, Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and France, altogether. Is this a commerce to be put in jeopardy by visionary theorists? Can we hazard a trade, estimated at 17,000,000l., employing 700,000 tons of British shipping, without inquiry or any alleged necessity?—resources always available to the parent State, in peace and war, beyond the control of foreign legislation—affording employment for our redundant population at home, and encouraging the adventurous emigrant, who quits his home, to cling to his native country in a distant portion of her vast empire, rather than add to the power and influence of a foreign, and, perhaps, rival nation. It may be questioned, if the establishment of so widely an extended colonial system was dictated by sound policy, but the abandonment of it now, and the consequent augmentation of the resources of other States, jealous of our power, would be an act of national suicide.
§ Lord Sheffield said, "The only advantage of the colonies, is the monopoly of their consumption, and the carriage of their produce." If I do not entirely agree in this maxim, I am clearly of opinion, that, if we surrender to foreign states the trade of the colonies, they then become 1316 useless and burthensome appendages to the Crown.
§ The advocates of our modern commercial policy take credit to themselves for an increase in our commerce and navigation, supported by a general mass of figures; but the fact is, that trade has not increased with those states with which it was their object to promote an intercourse; and it is owing to the growing prosperity of our North American colonies, and to the new trade with the Brazils, and South America, that we are not now in a much worse condition.
§ I must, especially, deprecate the power delegated to the Crown, of admitting the ships of other countries into our colonies, on an equal footing with our own, provided such countries give us a similar privilege. Few of these nations have any colonies; there could be no reciprocity but in name; and it was under this pretence that America obtained her long cherished object, of a direct trade with our West-Indian islands. This, I own, appears to me a fatal error; and I do trust, when the Reciprocity Act expires, such a power will never again be delegated by Parliament to the executive Government. But, Sir, besides this immense trade direct with our colonies and possessions abroad, is the House aware (in the absence of any Returns on the subject) of the extent and value of our inter-colonial trade, which gives such an accession to the maritime power and resources of the State? If they were—if all these things were fully and dispassionately investigated—no one could look upon those colonies as an encumbrance to the mother country. I admit, there is much in the colonial system that requires revision; in such a revision, and in the promotion of general improvement, I believe the colonists themselves are cordially disposed to co-operate with the executive Government. Amongst the King's subjects, none are more devoted to the Crown than the British colonists—I can answer, especially, for North America, having lived amongst some of them. Their devotion has not only never been doubted, but it has stood the test of many a severe trial; and it is with great pain that they have heard expressions made use of in this House, in derogation of their value and importance to the parent state—and this, too, in high quarters, from whence more guarded language might have been expected. I do 1317 not believe that there can be any desire on the part of the Government to injure the colonies, but there certainly is a party in the House (not very numerous, but who are persevering), disposed to hurry Ministers into projects incompatible with the welfare of the colonies, and injurious to the permanent interest of the nation—a party, whose main argument is, that no distinction ought to be made in dealing with our own possessions, and foreign states; and who further contend, that our intercourse with foreigners is to be regulated without any reference to their conduct towards us. Hon. Gentlemen may, if they please, continue to proclaim the inutility of the colonies; all I can say is, that I do not envy the narrow and contracted views of those who entertain such opinions; and still more must I deprecate there being in the councils of the King, individuals who suffer themselves to be so deluded.
§ In spite of all such attempts, however, I trust a good understanding will continue to exist between England and her colonies. I know the sound part of our population are attached to their colonial fellow-subjects, and I also know, that a similar feeling exists in the colonies; and, therefore, I must ever denounce any attempt to weaken or impair those ties, the maintenance of which are of so much importance to both.
§ I now come to the last branch of my subject, the state of our Home Trade and Manufactures. Of these, however important, I feel, after the time already occupied in this discussion, I can only venture to offer a brief sketch.
§ I can readily believe, that the changes recently made in our commercial policy were dictated by a sincere desire to promote the interest of our domestic trade and manufactures. I have formed this opinion, because, at the time they were proposed, the most confident predictions to that effect were made, and, therefore, I am warranted in asking the House to inquire into our present condition at home, as compared with the year 1820, when the alterations in our commercial policy commenced. It is not incumbent on me to prove, that the present depressed condition of the trade and commerce of England has been occasioned altogether, or even in a material degree, by these changes; it is enough for me to be able to show that the predictions so confidently made, and 1318 so readily assented to in this House, have not been verified, and that the general state of our trade, and the condition of the labourer, is worse than at any former period of our history. I have heard this state of things attributed, at different periods, to temporary causes; at one time a severe winter, at another a bad harvest, at another the cholera, and lastly, to the Reform Question; but I do most sincerely believe, that the cause of the depression is far more deeply seated, and that the trade of the country has been retrograding, with occasional intermissions, from the year 1820 to the present period. I feel, therefore, warranted in saying, that the effect of these changes has not been more beneficial in our home than in our foreign trade; but what I wish more particularly to impress on the House is, that we have, throughout, under-rated the vast advantages which this country enjoys over every other in our internal trade, and in our colonial intercourse, which we have too much neglected, in the vain pursuit of a speculative and uncertain commerce with foreigners, that, in its nature, must be precarious, and liable to constant interruption. Do I, therefore, ask his Majesty's Ministers to abandon the idea of cultivating the most friendly commercial relations with foreign states? Far from it; but I wish to convince them that our main object should be, the cultivation and support of our national resources, and their careful preservation, by wholesome regulations, against the injurious effects of foreign competition, when protection is found to be absolutely necessary. This has been the policy pursued by this country in other, if I may not say in better, times, during years and centuries. In that course we ought to persevere, subject only to such changes and modifications as the altered state of things may require. I am not likely to deny the utility and importance of foreign commerce to a country like this; but when put in comparison with our home and colonial trade, it is utterly insignificant; besides, with foreign states, we must always enjoy an extensive commerce, and it is no less their interest than ours to continue it. I have no apprehension that these governments can in future pursue a more illiberal course of policy than they do at present; they act from no spirit of direct hostility, but with a view to their own benefit; and that being the case, we must be pre- 1319 pared, as I believe Mr. Huskisson was at last, to see them persevere in their present system. Alterations, indeed, may be effected by time and circumstances; mutual concessions, by treaty, founded on reciprocal benefits, may take place, but hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to ridicule the idea of stipulating for advantages in return for concessions on our part. Their policy is, to give freely, and to hope constantly; and, absurd as such an idea is in itself, it is rendered doubly so, when persevered in after twelve years of utter failure and disappointment. Let us, then, look chiefly to our own resources, and to the means of improving and extending them; by such means only, can we avoid difficulties still greater than those under which we now labour. Let us no longer be deluded by official declarations of increasing prosperity, amidst the most appalling evidence of general distress: true it is, that in 1819, our exports, in official value, amounted only to 41,960,555l., and that, in 1830, they had increased to 55,465,723l.; but we were not informed that the real value, the criterion by which alone the prosperity of the trade could be decided, had fallen off, during the same period, from 45,180,150l. to 35,212,873l. The increase of thirteen millions, in official value, deluded Parliament and the country, whilst an actual decrease of nearly ten millions, or a diminution of 23,472,445l. in our exports, for the last eleven years, was entirely overlooked. By Mr. Alderman Waithman's tables there appears a gross decrease, in the real value of our exports in fifteen years, of 116 millions. Can we, then, any longer wonder at the depressed condition of our home trade or manufactures, when we find such an abstraction from the amount of capital by which the manufacturer receives his returns, and from which the labourer looks for his wages?
§ To form a just conception of the importance of our home trade, we may consult the elaborate Treatise on the British Empire, by Colquhoun, in 1814. Sir Frederick Eden supposed that the annual consumption of British manufactures at home was seventy-six millions, and the annual produce of agricultural labour might be computed at 216 millions, and of the manufactures, after deducting the raw material, 114 millions. This may give us some idea of the magnitude of our internal commerce, by means of improved 1320 internal communication, and of the coasting trade, which probably admit of a much greater extension, from the extraordinary discoveries of modern times.
§ Of the power and effect of machinery a great deal might be said, both as regards the increase and improvement of our manufactures, and the condition of the labourer, but 1 can only glance at the subject. Dupin has calculated that the introduction of machinery has equalled the employment of 6,400,000 able-bodied labourers. The effect of all this has been stupendous; our eyes have been dazzled, and our judgments perverted, by the ostentatious displays of wealth and magnificence which surround us; but, in the mean time, the canker, which is silently eating into the core of the nation, is undermining the root of our prosperity. The increase of pauperism and of crime afford melancholy proofs that the true evidence of national soundness and vigour is wanting. The increase of poor-rates, the declension of our revenue, the augmented number of criminal commitments, speak a language not to be misunderstood. I see by the Returns made to this House, that there has been an increase of commitments for criminal offences, between 1820 and 1831, of about 6,000, there being at the former period 13,710, and at the latter upwards of 19,000. A further proof of the altered condition of the country may be found on referring to the Savings Banks. In the course of the three months previous to December last year, the sales on account of Savings Banks amounted to 317,000l., whilst the stock bought in on their account amounted only to 36,000l. Can we be mistaken in looking at these indications of pressure and national decline, rather than blindly to rely on fanciful theories, and speculations based on no solid foundation?
§ Amongst other causes to which our difficulties have been attributed, is the return to cash payments. There can, indeed, be no doubt that the sudden adoption of an unmitigated gold standard in 1819, followed, as it was, by the entire suppression of small notes in 1826, had the effect of greatly augmenting the embarrassments of the country, much beyond what was contemplated by those who effected these alterations.
§ It is no part of my proposition to show that the whole system of currency and banking requires revision. When we are 1321 relieved from the pressure of the Reform Bills, which has suspended all the ordinary business of the Legislature, I trust these and other matters, upon which the future welfare of the country materially depends, will be minutely investigated, and receive due attention. I cannot, however, avoid expressing my doubts of the wisdom of that policy which entirely suppressed the circulation of small notes. That evil arose out of an unrestricted emission of paper, for the payment of which the public had no adequate security, will, I believe, be generally admitted; but regulation would have been a less questionable policy than an utter prohibition in this part of the United Kingdom, whilst the free circulation is permitted in Scotland and in Ireland. All these considerations will force themselves on the notice of the Legislature very shortly, and we may indulge a hope that the evils under which we now suffer may admit of remedy or alleviation.
§ A fatal error lies at the bottom of our modern economist's favourite theory, that national wealth is the great desideratum; they overlook the more important consideration of the causes that influence the welfare and happiness of the people, the encouragement of industry, the progress of civilization, and political power. They look too directly and exclusively at the supposed effect of their policy on prices, and disregard its operation on the moral character and permanent welfare of the people as a community.
§ Cheap prices in itself is doubtless an advantage; but greatly to lower the value of those articles from which the labourer receives his means of support, is to deteriorate his condition, especially if accompanied with dear food and heavy taxation.
§ Whilst we endeavour to cultivate and improve our commercial, trading, and agricultural resources, we must not lose sight of the absolute necessity of curtailing our disproportionate public establishments. I find that the whole civil, military, and naval establishments of the United States of America, are less in amount than the mere cost of collecting our taxes, and in the course of a short time the Americans calculate, that the public debt being paid off, they shall not require more than thirteen millions of dollars to defray all the expenses of the Government.
§ Compare such a state of things with our own, imposts scarcely to be felt, with 1322 a taxation of 52,700,000l. and 7,000,000l. poor-rates, annually, besides, an enormous tax on the consumers of bread, by the operation of the Corn laws.
§ I must beg pardon for having occupied so large a portion of your time. I do not call on the House to pronounce any opinion, feeling my own incompetency to deal with the great interests whose leading features I have merely sketched out; but, in bringing it forward, I may elicit from others more competent, opinions to guide us in our future proceedings. My object has not been to cast obloquy on any Government, or any individual; neither have I pertinaciously set up opinions of my own in opposition to others; but I have endeavoured honestly, though feebly, to impress on the House the conviction that for many years we have been pursuing a course of commercial policy, doubtful, if not dangerous, in its operation; that we ought, in future, to be guided rather by experience, than by the opinions of a few individuals, however distinguished by talent, or supported by authority. I hope and trust, therefore, that no other advances will be made in furtherance of this policy, without a solemn inquiry by the Legislature into the results of past experience, results by which we may be able accurately to measure the value of these declarations and arguments, which have been constantly brought forward, and a repetition of which we may expect to hear this evening. If the result of such an investigation should prove the wisdom and success of the new system, we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we are justified in its continuance; we shall no longer be liable to the reproach of refusing to listen to the urgent entreaties made to this House for Inquiry—entreaties which I once more second, by my present Motion, for a Committee of Inquiry into the effects produced by the altered policy of the country since 1820.
§ I may be told, that it is an inconvenient period to grant such a Committee; that the House is engaged in other investigations, and that the Session is far advanced? I admit that such is the case, but this is too important a subject to be longer delayed; and I fear those who may be Members of the next Parliament, will find their time so fully occupied as to afford little additional leisure. Hon. Members, too, will allow me to say, when they speak of the advanced state of the Session, that 1323 there are documents in the library of the House sufficient to enable a Committee of Inquiry to come to a just decision on this subject, without calling for further evidence, the examination of which would occupy much time.
§ Thanking the House most cordially for the very kind indulgence and attention I have experienced, I conclude, by moving,—
§ "That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the present state of our Trade, Commerce, and Navigation, and specially to investigate and report upon the practical operation of the changes in our Navigation Laws, and Commercial Policy, since the year 1820, with a view to promote domestic industry, and to improve those national resources, by which alone the prosperity and stability of the British Empire can be maintained."
§ Mr. Pigott
seconded the Motion. He thought that such an inquiry was imperatively called for. The abolition of protecting duties was avowedly the principle upon which his Majesty's Government proceeded. Their main object seemed to be, to foster the trade between this country and France. The right hon. Baronet, the member for the Queen's County, had said some time ago, and the noble Lord opposite had more recently repeated, that no two countries were better calculated to carry on an extensive trade than England and France. Although he had great respect for their opinions, he must beg leave to dissent from this proposition. Both countries were populous and wealthy; but their wants and their superfluities were nearly the same, and their commercial intercourse could never be in proportion to their wealth and population. It was to countries abounding in raw materials that both must look for a market for the produce of their industry and their ingenuity. Such markets we possessed in Portugal, and in our colonies; and it ought to be our policy to turn them to advantage, instead of indulging the fallacious hopes of a beneficial commerce with France. He could mention a few facts to support the view which he took of this subject. It appeared that in January 1831, our imports from France amounted to 1–22nd part of the whole of our imports—while our exports to France formed only 1–81st part of our whole exports. There was another point, of still greater importance even than the difference of 1324 amount between our imports from France and our exports to it, and the smallness of their amount as compared to our whole trade—namely, the different qualities of the articles which we exported to France, and those which we imported from thence. The greater part of our imports from France were articles of pure luxury—such as wines, silks, and perfumery. Most of them were articles the superiority of which depended upon caprice and fashion, rather than upon any intrinsic advantage which they possessed over articles produced in England. The articles which we sent to France (according to the returns for January, 1826, which he selected because there had been no detailed returns since) were classed under 111 heads, the declared value being 1,171,000l. There were only seven of these heads which were of any importance, and they amounted to two-thirds of the whole. There was, in the first place, cotton wool, which amounted to 290,000l., or one-fourth of the whole—indigo, raw silk, rough saltpetre, machinery and coals. Now it could be easily perceived that these materials gave France the means of increased employment for her population, and gave her a great advantage over us in foreign markets. But what did France take of our staple manufactures? He would take the most important of all—cotton. The total export of manufactured cotton wool to all parts of the world, from 1818 to 1828, amounted to 152,956,000l. And what proportion of that had France taken? She had taken but 106,042l. being 1–220th part of what was exported to the United States, 1–160th part of what was sent to Italy, and only 1–76th part (with her thirty millions of people) of what was consumed by Portugal. In the present condition of our trade, therefore, he thought an inquiry extremely desirable, and he cordially seconded the Motion.
thought himself called on, by the reference made to him by the hon. Member (Mr. Robinson), as if he were one of those ultra-political economists, who, out of love to theory, were opposed to the wishes of all the practical commercial men in the country. The hon. Member only made assertions and assumptions: he begged leave to call the attention of the hon. Member to the declared opinions of the merchants of London, as presented to that House, and enforced by the hon. member for Thetford. He would rely on that au- 1325 thority to show the incorrectness of the hon. Member. It was curious enough that the hon. Member had described all the returns as erroneous, and as unworthy of any reliance, and at the same time the hon. Member had not advanced one fact to support his assertions but what he had borrowed from those returns. He had brought forward no evidence whatever to support his views as to the impolicy of our present regulations. He agreed with the hon. Member, that it would be most beneficial to extend our commerce; but he thought, that not only our domestic, but our foreign commerce should be extended. He would encourage and promote all and every branch equally, and as much as possible. As to our colonial policy, he thought that the course pursued had been most erroneous. We had been pitting one colony against another, and ruining one for the sake of another. With regard to foreign commerce, he thought it should be left to those concerned in it, and he should be glad to see it flourish. The hon. Member ascribed all the evils we suffered to free trade. Why, we had no free trade. All our limbs were bound and fettered, and not one motion was free. The hon. Member admitted, that prohibition, restriction, and protecting duties, were evils of themselves, and yet the hon. Gentleman's whole speech was intended to advocate prohibition, restriction, and protecting duties. Where did the free trade of which the hon. Gentleman spoke exist? When the hon. Gentleman said, that he (Mr. Hume) was advocating opinions opposed to the commercial community, he begged leave again to remind him of the great meeting at the Egyptian Hall, and the petition presented by the hon. member for Thetford, which he should never forget. He was sorry that the hon. member for Bramber, who then supported that petition, was not present, as he could tell the hon. Member, that the Government with which he found fault, had only followed the recommendations of the merchants of London. After that great meeting, and elaborate petition, what did the Government do? Did it act immediately? No; it appointed a Committee, which sate for three years, and examined all sorts of practical men. The Government also moved for the appointment of a Committee of the House of Peers, which was granted, and which examined practical men from all parts of the empire. 1326 These Committees recommended an alteration in the Wine and the Timber Duties; and there was nothing he admired more in the noble Lord opposite (Lord Althorp) than the bold and manly manner in which he brought forward those subjects. The hon. Member described those measures as failures, and spoke of them as defeats; but how was the noble Lord defeated? By a union of those who were pledged to these measures; and the hon. Member was himself one of those who united to thwart the noble Lord. That opposition was got up for factious and party purposes. He was surprised to hear the hon. Member wish for additional restrictions. Why, there was not one species of raw material, one species of trade, which had not been exposed to restrictions, as if the Legislature had studied to limit the industry of the country. The hon. Member had selected silk as a specimen of the injury done to our manufactures by free trade. Why, this free trade was yet encumbered by a duty of from thirty to seventy per cent. The hon. Member wanted to keep prices high, because we had high taxes; but, because the taxes were high, he was of opinion that the people should get everything they used or consumed at as low a rate as possible. According to this view, he had always been of opinion that we ought to get our corn as cheap as possible. He had always advocated the removal of the Corn laws on that ground. Cheap food was essential to us; precisely because we had such enormous taxes to pay. If the Corn laws were abolished, a general equality of price would be the consequence; and the price would fall here, and rise on the Continent. That would lower the price of our manufactured articles also to a small amount, and create a demand for them abroad, which would be a great benefit to the country. The hon. Member had observed, that when we were about to lower the duties on timber, the price of Baltic timber rose. Did he not suppose that would be the case with corn? Or had the hon. Member two rules of trade—one for corn and one for timber? The same rule was applicable to all articles; and corn, if allowed to be imported here, would rise in price abroad. The hon. Member mistook facts for principles, and bewildered himself by drawing inferences from single facts. The hon. Member had mistaken the meaning of the Re- 1327 ciprocity Act, and confounded trade with navigation. What was the origin of that Act? Why, Prussia declared, that if we did not, within a certain time, admit her vessels into our ports on the same terms as our own, she would lay heavy duties on our shipping. Where Prussia had one vessel, England, however, had three; and Mr. Huskisson, therefore, recommended that the ships of foreigners should be placed on the same footing as English ships, provided English ships were placed on the same footing as the ships of those foreign nations. That was the object of the Reciprocity Act, and as England had more ships than any other nation, the advantage was all on her side. If, for example, our ships were admitted into foreign ports at 1s. a ton, then the ships belonging to those ports were to be admitted into our ports at 1s. a ton. By that Act, then, we gained advantage in proportion to our extent of tonnage. He approved of that Act, and of the statesmanlike views by which it was dictated. Let it be remembered, that no foreigners were admitted to the advantages of this Act who did not comply with its conditions, and admit our ships into their ports on reciprocal terms. The hon. Member had objected also to our admitting articles from France. In his (Mr. Hume's) opinion we did not admit enough. If the mutual exchange between the two countries could be extended, it would be for their mutual advantage. Both nations would be benefited by that. The hon. Member said, France would not let our goods into that country; but if France would not let our cottons in at 6d. a yard, and made her people pay 9d. for them, thus encouraging smuggling, was that any reason why the Government of England should not allow the English people to consume French wine, and the other produce of France, at as cheap a rate as they could be procured? He maintained that the Government was bound to suffer the importation of such articles, even where no apparent reciprocity took place. Although France would not admit our produce, still it would be to our advantage to admit hers. The hon. Member had asked, how were we to pay them? That was their look-out; but, in point of fact, the produce of France so imported would necessarily be paid in goods manufactured in this country. If the hon. Member referred to one branch of trade only, it was possible he might prove that branch had sustained some loss, but it was 1328 the duty of that House to look to the general interests of the commerce of the country. Whether there was any reciprocity or not, it was the duty of the Government to let the people get goods as cheap as possible, and, therefore, to admit them without any prohibitory duty. In speaking of prohibitory duty, however, he did not include that portion of duty by which the revenue was to be raised, but only those duties which were called protecting, but which were, in point of fact, prohibitory. Every such law was injurious to the interests of the community, and ought to be put an end to. The hon. Member had referred to the conduct of the United States on the subject of the tariff; but he could tell the hon. Member something about the state of opinion in America on this subject according to the latest arrivals. The tariff had been found not beneficial but injurious, mercantile conventions had been held at Philadelphia and Baltimore, to consider the propriety of altering the tariff; and it was decided upon, even by those of the most ultra opinions, even by those who were desirous of keeping up the Tariff to the highest point, that it must be lowered, and it would be lowered in the course of the next Session. It was found also by a Committee of the Congress, that by the course which America had been adopting, she was sacrificing the best resources of a young country, and had been acting in opposition to the best principles of commercial intercourse. The American shipping had fallen off, whilst ours, in consequence of our acting on a more liberal plan, had increased from nine to fifteen per cent. The hon. Member had also referred to the conduct of France; but he could tell the hon. Member that, according to a valuable Report of a Committee on the wine-trade in France, prohibition had been found as delusive, and injurious there as here. That Report showed that similar opinions prevailed in France, amongst the most enlightened of the merchants, as prevailed here. The doctrine of prohibition was, to sell to foreign nations, but never to buy; just as if commerce did not depend on the benefits resulting from mutual exchange of the produce of different countries. He denied that trade had fallen off; but it should be remembered that they must not look at the interests of merchants exclusively, but take into consideration the other classes of the community. He should not follow the hon. 1329 Member into his remarks on the subject of the colonies (in many of which he agreed), for that was not the time to consider the question; he had always objected to the enormous expense of our colonies, which did not benefit them, and rendered them a positive burthen to the mother country. Neither would he go into the subject of the decrease of prices; but he would observe, that he considered low prices a blessing, and as a means of relief from the enormous load of taxation by which we were burthened. It was a mistake to look to gold only; if he were to cram the hon. Member with gold, he would not be half so happy or so well off as if he were to cram him with corn or other articles. The hon. Gentleman had made use of a strange argument; he had said, that it increased crime and pauperism—that crime and pauperism had increased in a direct ratio as prices had decreased. It certainly ought to be the reverse, for, as the means of enjoyment were brought more within the reach of the poorer classes, the more was the inducement to crime diminished. The hon. Member was wrong in the statements which he had made in reference to the opinions which had fallen from him (Mr. Hume), when the petition from the merchants of London was presented in 1820. He was ready, if it were necessary or proper, to defend the line of argument which he then pursued, but he would not waste the time of the House with merely personal remarks. With respect to the hon. Member's Motion, he for one should object to the inquiry sought for, lest it should hold out to the country some ground for believing that they were about to return to the old and evil system. There was nothing to call upon them for such an inquiry; they had no petitions from merchants or others on their Table, and he thought it the duty of the House to discourage every attempt to return to a system which had been so ruinous as that from which they had now happily escaped.
Mr. Wolryche Whitmore
said, that, after the able exposition of the hon. member for Middlesex of the fallacious arguments of the hon. Members who had originated and seconded the present Motion, he should have felt it unnecessary to trouble the House with any observations, had he not considered it necessary to draw their attention to one important subject, which had been made a topic of the speech of the hon. member for Worcester, but 1330 which had been overlooked in the able reply which had been made to that speech. The hon. Member who moved for the Committee, and the hon. Member who seconded the Motion, had both of them laid it down as an absolute fact, that the trade and commerce of the country had been constantly on the decline for the last twelve years. Now, if there was ever a proposition advanced which was calculated to deceive the House and the country, it was that assertion. So far was such from being the fact, that, for the last forty or fifty years, the trade of the kingdom had been increasing according to certain ratios, which ratios themselves had increased instead of diminished since the year 1820. If they looked at the records of the official value of the exports from England, commencing with the year 1790, the following would be found to be the condition in which those exports had stood at the several intervals of ten years. From the year 1790 to 1799, the official value of the exports amounted to 17,000,000l. annually; from 1800 to 1809, the official value of the exports amounted to 26,000,000l. being an increase during that period of 9,000,000l.; from the year 1810 to 1820, the official value was 36,000,000l., being an increase upon the preceding ten years of 10,000,000l. and, from the year 1820 to 1830 the official value of the exports amounted to 48,000,000l., being an increase of no less than 12,000,000l. The ratio also was, during the whole of this period, on the rise, not on the decline, as had been stated, and, that it was still greatly increased since the year 1830 was clear from the fact, that the official value of that year, and of the year 1831 was no less than 60,000,000l. for each year. The hon. Members who made and seconded the motion for a Committee had declared it to be their opinion that, because the declared value of the exports had not increased but had diminished, the trade of the country was, so far from being on the increase, actually in a declining condition. Now this opinion was altogether founded on a fallacious view of the matter, for it was not to the declared value of the exports that the House ought to look to estimate their extent, because a series of low prices would cause that value to be greatly depreciated; but, in order to estimate the extent of the exports at the different periods, the official value ought alone to be looked at, because it was not a register of the value of those exports, but 1331 simply a record of their quantities. In fact, the increase which had taken place in the importation of raw materials, proved that our trade was advancing with gigantic steps, far beyond that which had ever been carried on by any other country, and far surpassing the anticipations which the most sanguine persons formed in 1821. The amount of cotton-wool, to refer to one illustration, imported in 1826 was 177,000,000l., and in 1831 it was 288,000,000l. If, however, he went further back, and compared the importation of this article in 1820 with that which took place in 1831, it would be found that it had been nearly, if not quite doubled. He had not the documents to refer to, but he believed, that in 1820, the quantity of cotton-wool imported was 260,000 bags, and in 1831 it was 500,000 bags. In the article of raw-silk also, an extraordinary increase of importation had taken place. This increased and increasing importation of raw material proved, in a manner impossible to controvert, that an immense increase had taken place in our manufactures. The effect of the Committee, if granted, would be, to paralyse the trade of the nation; and he was convinced that, if England were in a state of tranquillity with regard to her domestic policy, the ratio of her export trade would go on increasing, and the House would no longer hear the voice of distress from one end of the kingdom to another crying for relief, but instead of distress, the nation would reap the benefits resulting from peace and perseverance in the present policy of non-interference in foreign trade. He agreed with the hon. member for Middlesex, that the alteration which was required was not in the system of free trade, but in the Corn laws; and this was an old opinion of his. He was convinced that any attempt to retrace the steps which had been taken with respect to the foreign trade of England since 1820, would not alleviate the pressure upon the commercial and trading classes in this country: the only chance for obtaining relief existed in a steady perseverance in that course of policy, and, in addition, to endeavour to afford the industry of the country as many outlets as was possible. For these reasons he was opposed to the appointment of a Committee.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
having given notice that he would submit a series of Resolutions to the House on Thursday 1332 next, would not occupy the attention of hon. Members for any length of time upon the present occasion. His object in submitting these Resolutions would be, to bring certain official documents together before the House, so as to enable hon. Members to form a correct opinion of the state of trade. This subject must force itself upon the attention of the Legislature. He, for one, was not inimical to free trade and political economy; he only objected to a gross abuse of the terms, which had caused deep distress in this country. He did not blame the Ministers, who had brought forward what they called liberal measures. The fault lay not with the Government, but arose from the state of opinion which had prevailed in that House. The new system had had a long and a fair trial, and was not the country in a most distressed state—was not every branch of trade and manufactures in a distressed condition? The system must be allowed to have produced almost univeral insolvency and bankruptcy. He had no doubt but the measure of which he complained had been adopted with the view of benefitting the country; but the result was otherwise. Unfortunately general principles were indiscriminately applied without any reference to the circumstances of each particular case, which was absolutely necessary when legislating with respect to great national interests. What might be good policy for the United States might not be so for this country. Every country must consider its own peculiar interests. If trade were thrown open entirely, the question would then be, whether it was politic for a rich nation to trade with a poor one. In his opinion, the distress in the country was not owing to the want of property, but to the unequal distribution of it. The depreciation of prices had ruined the great mass of the community, while it had enriched individuals with fixed incomes. It was a transfer from the productive, to the unproductive and opulent classes. In the last ten years, the property of persons in trade had been depreciated to the extent of fifty per cent. During that period the income of the hon. member for Middlesex had probably suffered no diminution; and consequently, he treated the distress of the trading community very lightly; "he jests at scars, who never felt a wound." It was proved by one of the witnesses examined before the Committee on the silk trade, that, out of 147 manufacturers in 1333 Spitalfields, no less than forty-seven had been entirely ruined, or compelled to withdraw from trade, by the measure which brought foreign manufactures into competition with British manufactures in the home market. True political economy consisted in exchanging the surplus produce of one country, for the surplus produce of another. The hon. member for Middlesex was satisfied if he got goods at a reduced price. This was a good enough doctrine for those who had fixed incomes, but ruinous to the trader, who was obliged to pay the same amount of taxes, whether he got high prices or low. The workman at the present time was scarcely a consumer; the weaver, for instance, who earned 6s. or 7s. per week was a mere pauper, who could purchase nothing, not even his clothes, which were given him. It appeared from his inquiries, that in the ten years preceding 1819, the real value of British exports increased at the rate of 4,500,000l. per annum, whilst for the ten years succeeding that period they had decreased 6,250,000l. per annum. The hon. member for Middlesex said, that if we imported the produce of foreign countries those countries must take our commodities in return. This he deemed incorrect; he himself had always been a strenuous advocate for the repeal of the Corn laws, but the result of his inquiries relative to the importation of foreign corn had staggered him. The money value of foreign corn imported since 1826, amounted to 16,000,000l., and yet our exports had not increased a single shilling; in addition to which, this country had imported during the same period, French wine to the amount of 13,000,000l. This was an astounding fact! The agricultural interest ought to look to this. It was said, that the British silk manufactures were so much improved since the restrictions on the trade were removed, that large quantities of that article were exported to France. A young man who gave evidence before the Silk Committee, and who was the buyer for a large house here, stated, that he went to Paris, intending to commence business as dealer in British silk, but was unable to find purchasers. The shops in Paris contained only a few trifling articles of British manufacture, while London shops were filled with French produce. The hon. member for Middlesex was very ready to accuse others of ignorance, but indeed, as 1334 far as commercial affairs were concerned, his own mind was in utter darkness. He was fond of quoting from documents and returns, and referred to a petition which he said had been agreed to at a meeting of merchants held at the Egyptian Hall, in the City of London. He (Mr. Alderman Waithman) would undertake to say, that no such meeting had been held there—that this petition did not proceed from anything like a general meeting of the merchants of London: it was got up by a few Baltic merchants. The hon. Member was also incorrect in stating, that the hon. member for Thetford supported that petition, for that hon. Gentleman cautiously abstained from expressing an opinion with respect to many principles advanced in it. If the hon. Member had referred to the Report of the Lords' Committee, he would have found it stated there, that justice and policy forbade a departure from the restrictive system which had been so long continued in this and other countries. It was singular, that although Adam Smith himself was of opinion that the silk trade ought to be an exception to the general rule with respect to free trade, that was the first branch of manufacture which the advocates of the liberal system selected for the trial of their experiment. The hon. Member said, that low prices benefited the consumer, but the labourer, who was the great consumer, was injured by low prices, for, as he received less money in wages than he had formerly received, and continued to pay the same amount of taxes, he had, of course, less to appropriate to the supply of his own wants. The improper manner in which merchants now a-days conducted their affairs was the cause of much mischief. They ought merely to act as agents between the buyer and seller, and to receive a commission on the transaction; instead of which, merchants indulged in all kinds of speculations, and when these turned out unprofitable, they attributed their consequent ruin, not to their own ignorance and indiscretion, but to the restrictions upon commerce. The hon. Member said, no petitions had been presented against the system of free trade. This he denied. The silk manufacturers had repeatedly petitioned against the measures which produced their ruin, but their complaints had been disregarded. The right hon. member for Tamworth, and Mr. Huskisson, came down to the House and said, that 1335 the country was in a state of unexampled prosperity, because its exports were annually increasing in official value. He had shown them in vain that the exports had decreased in real value, his statements had been disregarded, and his opponents had been cheered by the House. In the mean time, the policy pursued for the last twelve years had brought the country to the brink of ruin. A large portion of the community could not pay the assessed taxes, and leases were of no value. Why should that be, if there was so much prosperity in the country? But a day of reckoning must come! He was sorry the hon. Member had brought forward his motion at this time, which was not a proper time for fully discussing the question, though he gave him credit for not wishing or intending to embarrass the Government, which every honest man must wish to support on account of the Reform Bill. When that measure should be passed, all those great national questions, which had now stood still for nearly a year and a half, must be deliberately considered. The state of the House at that moment, proved the impossibility of then entertaining these important questions. Many Members did not now consider it worth while to attend a debate on any question, be it ever so important to the country, if not connected with party, or the one all-important subject. Whatever others might say with respect to the system of free trade, in his opinion, it required only common sense to judge, from the state of the inhabitants of Spitalfields and Coventry, of the benefits free trade had conferred upon them. If he was wrong in his opinions, he was countenanced in his error by Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, and the Marquis of Lansdown, who, in the discussions relative to the commercial treaty with France, contended for the necessity of our obtaining an equivalent for the advantages which were proposed to be given to that country. They did not say, like Mr. Huskisson, and his disciples—"We will take your goods, and trust to your generosity." England had trusted to the generosity of France for six years, and as yet the latter had not purchased any of our goods. It was a curious fact, that, previous to the removal of the commercial restrictions, our exports to France were double the amount of our imports from that country; but the moment the change in the commercial system took place, our 1336 exports ceased. He would now thank the House for having listened to him, while attempting to refute doctrines which appeared to him opposed to common sense; and concluded by saying, that if the hon. Member pressed his Motion to a division, he should have his vote.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, in conformity with the recommendation of the hon. Mover, he had abstained from obtruding himself upon the attention of the House till the present moment, in order that he might hear the opinions of others, with the hope of receiving instruction from them; now he would proceed, as shortly as he could, to comment upon some of the observations which had fallen from the hon. Member. In the first place, however, he would observe, that the worthy Alderman must excuse him if he (Mr. Poulett Thomson) abstained from entering into the subject of official and real value. He was aware that the worthy Alderman entertained peculiar notions on this subject, which, year after year, he had been in the habit of communicating to the House. The subject, indeed, had been completely explained. Everything possible had been done to remove the doubts and suspicions which existed in the mind of the worthy Alderman, and, although he was still dissatisfied, the explanations which had been given were, he trusted, perfectly convincing to the mind of every other Gentleman. As far as the Motion was concerned, which the hon. Gentleman had brought forward, he could scarcely believe, that the hon. Member was in earnest. It was more natural to suppose that the hon. Member brought it forward merely in order to afford himself an opportunity of expressing his opinions. It could not really be the intention of the hon. Member to have such a Committee appointed, especially as it was not only to the terms of his Motion, but to the speech also by which he prefaced it, that the House must look as indicative of the purpose to which he would apply the Committee. From the Motion, and from the hon. Member's speech, he would have, it appeared, a Committee appointed to inquire into the East-India trade, the West-India trade, the colonial trade, the home trade, the silk and cotton manufactures, the Corn laws, the state of the currency, the state of banking, in short, into every topic connected with any interest of the country. It was not necessary for him to urge any 1337 argument beyond a mere statement of the inconvenience which would result from such a complicated inquiry, in order to induce the House to reject the proposition. If, however, this were necessary, the hon. Member had supplied arguments against himself. The hon. Member said, "I foresee that it will be urged that the appointment of a Committee will disturb the trading interests of the country by bringing a great variety of subjects unnecessarily under discussion; and, therefore, I propose to dispense with parole evidence, and to place before the Committee only the documents which are in the library of the House." But it was already the duty of every Member of the House who gave a vote on these questions, to make himself acquainted with these documents, in order that he might be able to form correct opinions. The hon. Member, in proposing a course by which inconvenience might be obviated, had completely proved the inutility of the Committee. It was useless and improper to appoint a Committee to examine documents which were, or ought to be, in the hands of every Member of that House. In the course of the very long speech which the hon. Member had made, he had jumped from one subject to another, and jumbled together all the changes which had taken place in our commercial policy and Navigation laws, and mixed up subjects which had not the slightest relation to each other, in such a manner as to render it very difficult to know where to begin to reply to him. The hon. Member had stated, as a ground for inquiry, that the shipping interest had been in a state of rapid and continual decline during the last ten years; but he must give a most unqualified denial to that assertion. Persons might differ as to the cause to which the increase in our trade and navigation was to be attributed; some might contend that our recent commercial policy had been adverse to the prosperity of the country; he should say, it had promoted that prosperity. But it was impossible for any person who looked at the documents upon the Table, to deny the fact stated by the hon. member for Bridgenorth—namely, that our trade and navigation had increased to an extent unparalleled in the history of the country. He did not wish to weary the House with details, but after the speech of the hon. Member—after the repeated promises which had been made—that he would, 1338 upon this evening, make a full exposure of the system of liberal policy pursued by the Government, he hoped the House would permit him to refer to particulars—as the hon. Member, except in about half-a-dozen isolated instances, had abstained from touching upon the leading facts of the case—to prove that our trade, as well as navigation, had increased. As the hon. Member had thought proper to arraign the commercial policy which had been sanctioned during the last twelve years by the greatest Statesmen of all parties, it might have been as well if he had confined his objections to some particular part of the system—if he had laid his finger upon a particular measure, and proved that it had operated injuriously. The hon. Member, however, said, "God forbid that I should ask for any change. I do not wish you to undo anything that you have done; I am no enemy to the system: I only think that it may be carried too far, and I wish you to enter into an inquiry before you proceed any further." The hon. Member, therefore, asked for an inquiry, in order to avoid some prospective imaginary evil which he supposed was likely to occur, and not to remedy an existing evil, arising from an error which had been committed. If that system that had been pursued during the last ten years had ever gained any triumph, it had been afforded that evening, since it appeared that the hon. Member was unable to lay his finger upon any particular measure, and say that it ought to be repealed, to make way for the system which existed before. He (Mr. Poulett Thomson) had a right to complain that the hon. Member had mixed up, in an extraordinary manner, the circumstances under which the changes in our commercial policy were made, and various Acts of Parliament which had no connexion whatever with each other. Any person who heard the hon. Member's speech, would certainly suppose that all the commercial barriers of the country, and all the Navigation laws had been entirely swept away—that every species of restriction and protection were removed. What, however, was the case? After the presentation of the petition from the merchants and traders of London, which had been alluded to, in 1820, Committees were appointed in both Houses of Parliament, composed of practical men, under whose review our Navigation laws and foreign trade were brought. This petition prayed 1339 for great changes, and the Committee, after maturely considering the whole of the subject, recommended considerable alterations. That petition was presented by the hon. member for Thetford (Mr. Baring), and supported by him in the strongest possible manner. He might be told, indeed, that his hon. friend had changed his opinions; this might be so. He did not object to any Gentleman changing his opinion upon this subject; it might injure his authority, but that it implied any censure, he (Mr. Poulett Thomson) would be the last man in the world to say. Whatever that hon. Gentleman might have done, he did not believe, that practical men had changed their opinions upon this subject. From all the intercourse he had ever had with them—and formerly it was very great—nothing would astonish him more than to find that they had altered their opinions. The recommendations, however, which they made to the Government went far beyond what the Government was able to carry into effect. The hon. Gentleman had stated, that the present Administration had gone further than either the Committee of the House of Lords, or of the House of Commons, recommended. He would distinctly deny that fact. The Report of the House of Lords recommended alterations which Ministers had never been able to make in the course of the ten years which had since elapsed. What was the proposal of his hon. friend, the member for Thetford, speaking the sentiments of those petitioners? He recommended that all goods should be admitted in all ships from all parts of the world; this would certainly have been laying the axe at the root of the Navigation laws; but had the Government ventured to do it? No such thing. The Committee recommended that goods, the produce of Asia, Africa, and America, should be allowed to enter from the ports of Europe, if in British ships, but even that was not done. The Committee of the House of Lords recommended a larger reduction of the timber duties than Ministers had been able to carry into effect. In what they had done, therefore, they had fallen far short of what was recommended to them by practical men, and by Committees of both Houses of Parliament. The worthy Alderman stated, that the London petition emanated from a few Baltic merchants; but the hon. member for Thetford would bear him out in say- 1340 ing, that it was signed by a large proportion of the most eminent commercial men of the metropolis. The hon. members for Thetford and Bramber themselves both signed it; but if he wanted any additional evidence upon this point, he could refer to what took place after Mr. Wallace carried into effect his first Bill. The largest deputation that ever left the city of London waited upon him in Portman-square, and thanked him for what he had done. The first alteration of the law was simply with regard to what are called enumerated articles, but the hon. Gentleman did not complain of that. But the next point, the hon. Gentleman followed up in a most extraordinary way. The system of free trade the hon. Member connected with the reciprocity treaties, although they had no more to do with each other than the most dissimilar things in the world. But was Government at liberty to make these treaties or not? Were they acts of pure concession on the part of this country, giving up advantages of which we could not be deprived? No, they were forced upon us by the acts of other powers, and most wise were the Ministers to adopt the course they did in good time: nothing but injury could have followed to our shipping had they not done so. He would not repeat the arguments in favour of those treaties which had before been so much better urged by others; but as the hon. member for Worcester spoke with so much contempt of the trade of Prussia, he would illustrate to him the general principle by what took place with regard to that very power. Prussia said to England in 1823 and 1824—"If you persist in placing our ships under a different system from your own, we shall not only retaliate by levying equal dues upon your ships, but by taxing your trade in other ways, till you are driven out of your system, or obliged to give up your commercial intercourse altogether." Which country had most to gain by a system of retaliation? Great Britain, with her 2,500,000 tons of shipping, or the country which had comparatively little? No doubt, it was a great advantage for our shipping to pay less dues than we levied upon foreigners, but we could only enjoy that advantage as long as they pleased; and when they would no longer consent to it, we were to be put upon a footing of equality. He would tell the House, with reference to the trade with France, what had been the con- 1341 sequence of following too closely the system advocated by the hon. member for Worcester. In 1826 a treaty of navigation was concluded with France, which, previous to that time, had allowed her Transatlantic commodities to be imported from this country. Our navigation laws would not allow anything of the kind with regard to France. When the Government made that treaty, France naturally said—"You ask for reciprocity, and we are willing to give you perfect reciprocity. Our subjects have the power of importing Transatlantic produce from you; give your subjects a similar power with regard to us." Mr. Huskisson wished to agree to this, but immediately an outcry was raised amongst the shipowners, who said—"It may be a very good arrangement for the merchants, but it will be the ruin of the shipping interest." In vain Mr. Huskisson represented to them that the whole of the carrying trade being theirs, it must be for their advantage to agree to this arrangement; they would not; and Mr. Huskisson yielded to their wishes. What had been the result? Why that, since 1826, all the produce of this description, which France wanted, and which she would find it her interest to Import from this country, must first be sent to Ostend, whence it found its way to France in French shipping, and not in British. What was the case with regard to cotton-wool? Why, that it went direct from the place of its growth to France the consequence of which was, that that carrying trade was lost to this country. What had happened to the trade with the East Indies? In 1826 there were only three Bordeaux ships engaged in the India trade, and now there were upwards of forty. He would state another, though not so constantly occurring, effect of following the system of the hon. Gentleman. Last year, owing to the disturbed state of France, the price of cotton at Havre was low, whilst at Liverpool it was high. Of course, the Liverpool merchants wished to get their cotton from Havre instead of going to the United States for it; and, under any proper state of trade, they would have done so; but what actually took place? The cotton was shipped from Havre to the Bermudas, and afterwards brought thence to Liverpool by the merchants; but, as the expense of that circuitous conveyance was very great, very few cargoes of cotton were thus brought 1342 to this country, and the carrying trade of that cotton from Havre to Liverpool was lost to our ships, whilst our merchants were deprived of the advantage of getting their goods in the cheapest market. He mentioned this for the purpose of showing that restrictions might prove most prejudicial to interests they were intended to protect. From the manner in which the honourable Gentleman attacked reciprocity treaties, one might be led to imagine that they were something unheard of before 1824. But, from 1787 to 1815, we were constantly quarrelling with the United States of America, for want of an understanding of this kind. What happened? After disturbing trade, and, what was worse, but, as always happened in such cases, after producing ill-blood on both sides, leading to warfare, we were glad, in 1815, to yield that for which we had been contending so long, and agree to a system of reciprocity. The same thing happened with regard to the Brazils. In fact, we kept the advantage as long as it was not disputed. It was absurd to suppose that other nations would permit England to take an unfair advantage of them; and not only was it the most plain, straightforward course, but most for our interest, at once to offer them equal terms. He would now state to the House, very shortly, what had, in figures, been the condition of the shipping of this country during the last ten years. He would not follow the hon. Gentleman in his account of our trade, but he would do that which would tell as much as possible in favour of the honourable Gentleman's argument, namely, take the account of our shipping trading to those countries, with which we had made the so-much-decried treaties of reciprocity. The shipping entered inwards was the criterion hitherto taken, and he would state the average of that for the three years, 1819, 1820, and 1821—before the alteration of our system took place; and afterwards the average of the three years, 1829, 1830, and 1831, when the treaties of reciprocity with the countries he had alluded to had been some time in operation. The average of the first period stood thus:—
Whilst, in the second period, the average account stood thus.—
Tons. British shipping entered inwards 1,692,000 Foreign shipping entered inwards 462,000
1343 Thus showing an increase in the tonnage of British shipping amounting to 551,000 tons; whilst the increase in the amount of foreign shipping was only 319,000 tons. The hon. Gentleman, however, said that this amount was not a fair one; that he preferred one of the shipping registered and built, as his guide. He should have it; but he must say, that he considered this account perfectly fair. Nothing was, indeed, more unfair than what the hon. Member had said with respect to short voyages. The hon. Gentleman should recollect, that voyages were formerly long on account of ships being detained for a length of time with convoys, and that they had now been shortened by the return of peace, and by the improvements that had taken place in nautical science. He remembered the time when it was a rare occurrence for ships to make more than two voyages to St. Petersburgh; but now they all made at least three voyages; and there were many instances of ships making four voyages in the year. The fact was, that since profits had been reduced, exertions had been made to save as much time as possible, economy of time being economy of money. But, unfair as the hon. Gentleman's statement was, he would take it and show him that even that proved him to be wrong. This he would do by taking the amount of shipping built and registered in the periods he had already named, the very return on which the hon. Gentleman had so much relied. The number of ships built and registered in the British empire was, in the year 1819, 112,000 tons; in 1820, 84,000 tons; and in 1821, 74,000 tons, being an average of 88,000 tons. In 1829, the amount of shipping built and registered was 116,000 tons; in 1830, 110,000 tons; and in 1831, 107,000 tons, in the last year, not including the ships built in the colonies, making an average of 111,000 tons. Did that show any decrease of shipping built and registered? Did it not rather show a great increase, in spite of the frequent voyages the hon. Gentleman alluded to? He would further state to the House the gross amount of tonnage registered in the United Kingdom, and that reminded him of a curious mistake into which the hon. Gentleman had fallen, and against which he should have thought the hon. Gentleman would have been guarded, by the fact of another hon. Gentleman having fallen into it four years ago, and been corrected. It 1344 only showed the kind of attention the hon. Gentleman must have paid to the subject. He would explain the hon. Gentleman's error presently; but first he would proceed to state the amount of shipping registered. In 1819, it amounted to 2,660,000 tons; in 1820, to 2,640,000; in 1821, to 2,560,000; it amounted, in 1831, to 2,581,000 tons, showing a slight diminution as compared with 1819 and 1820. "But, then," said the hon. Gentleman, and this was the error the hon. Gentleman had committed, "there was a great falling off in 1826 and the years imdiately following." Now, to all these printed returns, there was a note appended, stating, that in consequence of an alteration of the system of registering, the returns for the year 1826 appeared smaller, and that that alteration consisted in striking out of the registry a number of old ships which still remained in it, although no longer in existence as ships. To say, therefore, that there had been a diminution in the registered tonnage since 1826, was a fallacy arising from a want of attention to the circumstances under which the accounts had been presented to the House. It appeared, then, from what he had stated, that the number of voyages had increased while the amount of shipping registered, was the same as, or more than, it used to be. In an account of the British shipping entered into the United Kingdom from the Brazils, France, Germany, Sweden, and the other States with which we had these treaties; it was proved that the average of British shipping so entering during the years 1819, 1820, and 1821, was 463,000 tons, and during the years 1829, 1830, and 1831, 629,000 tons; which made an increase of 35 per cent on British shipping employed in trade with countries with which we had reciprocity treaties;—those treaties which were said to have proved the ruin and destruction of British commerce. Could there be stronger or more convincing evidence to refute the hon. Gentleman's assertions? Yes: he would state to the House the enormous amount of tonnage employed in our fisheries, and the colonial and coasting trade, and would completely prove that there was no occasion for the fears of the hon. Gentleman, that our navigation would die away, and we should have reason to rue the day when we departed first from the old system. The amount of tonnage in the coasting trade, 1345 according to the shipping entering and departing was 9,800,000. It was natural that every Englishman should wish his country to remain the greatest naval power in the world, but any alarm upon that subject, while such evidence could be adduced was, he must confess, preposterous and unworthy of any well-informed man's understanding. The hon. member for Middlesex had truly said, that it might be supposed from the hon. Gentleman's speech, that Government had by its measures destroyed all the barriers of the trade of this country, and allowed a complete influx of foreign goods of every description. Unfortunately, Government had as yet been able to do but very little towards freeing the trade of this country from the restrictions under which it had hitherto laboured. A few laws had been repealed, the Custom House regulations and fiscal arrangements had been made more distinct, but with regard to allowing foreign goods to come into England, little or nothing had been done. Goods in which no competition could be feared had been admitted at moderate duties. The only manufactured articles of any importance which had been admitted more freely than before, were silks and gloves. Duties had been taken off raw materials, but not off manufactured goods. The hon. Member, in his sweeping assertions against the late and the present Government, had said, "You have admitted the wines of France at the same duties as the wines of Portugal." This trifling question had been urged again and again last year, when the hon. Gentleman had had an opportunity of delivering his opinion on the subject; he would not, therefore, follow the hon. Gentleman now through his details, but make only one observation. The hon. Gentleman had said, "You have favoured France, and she will do nothing for us." Ministers had only done what was just, in admitting the produce of one country at a duty as low as that imposed on the produce of another country, and France had had no inducement to do anything for us till we removed the restrictions upon her wines. In his opinion, the hon. Gentleman who had given the House his recommendations for the advancement of the interest of our commerce with other States, would soon find that that recommendation was not wanted to induce the Government to urge other countries, where that could be done with advantage, to alter their commercial sys- 1346 tems. The hon. Gentleman had stated, that he had commercial relations with foreign States, which would be ready, if they could obtain equal concessions from this country to liberalize, their commercial codes. If such were the case, it would have been wise for the hon. Gentleman to apply to his hon. friend, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, or to the Board of Trade, to ascertain if Ministers were inclined to act upon the hon. Gentleman's information. He was not aware of any such application having been made. He assured the hon. Gentleman that, although Ministers did not approve of binding two countries by commercial treaties for any number of years, in a manner inconvenient to both, yet he did injustice to the Government, and was mistaken, if he supposed that Ministers were wanting in their endeavour to promote liberality, by offering to meet any improvements by corresponding alterations. He trusted France would ere long see the wisdom of removing restrictions, and taking away protections which could only end in the impoverishing of her subjects, and in raising for her a structure of false and flimsy manufactures which could not support themselves, because they were not based on that which alone could permanently support manufactures, the intrinsic powers of the country itself. The policy of Government had been, to point out to other countries the advantages of a more liberal system, to demonstrate to them the benefits that must result from reciprocal concessions, and to assure them that the system recommended by the British Government must eventually prevail and become general. The hon. Gentleman had made it a matter of reproach to Ministers, that they had not stipulated for any advantages before they made their concessions; but why should they, by doing so, inflict a penalty upon themselves for a longer period than was necessary? It was preposterous to talk now of our conferring a benefit on other countries by taking their productions whilst they would not take ours. He had before asked the hon. Gentleman, whether he believed that France would give to this country any of her goods without receiving an adequate return? at which the hon. Gentleman had taken umbrage. It was, nevertheless, true, that we neither did, nor could, obtain any goods from France without giving something in return. The worthy Alderman had attempted to prove, 1347 by some magical figures, that France had, during the last few years, bestowed on us 15,000,000l. worth of goods. That would, indeed, be a splendid gift; but, unfortunately, the statement could not be true. The description of the condition of our commerce for the last ten years, which the hon. Gentleman had made, was greatly exaggerated, and, by a reference to the returns of the exports and imports, he would at once show the error that had been committed. In 1819, 1820, and 1821, the average official value of the goods imported was, in round numbers, 31,000,000l. In 1829, 1830, and 1831, the average official value of the imports was 47,000,000l. Thus it appeared that the imports in the course of ten years increased from 31,000,000l. to 47,000,000l., under the present ruinous system, according to the hon. Gentleman. The official value of the exports during the same period, increased from 47,000,000l.—which was the average value for the three first years—to 67,000,000l.; for the years 1829 and 1830, and during last year, the official value of the exports was no less than 71,000,000l. This, then, was another proof of the ruinous nature of the more liberal system of commercial policy adopted by this country! There was one other paper with which he should trouble the House, which related to the foreign trade of the country. He had heard it urged by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the House ought not to take the general amount of the goods imported or exported, as, in consequence of the increased trade with our colonies, and especially India, they were not a correct criterion of the increase or decline of foreign trade. He held in his hand an official return of the goods exported to foreign countries for several years. It appeared by that, that the average return of British and Irish produce exported to foreign countries in 1819, 1820, and 1821, was 26,000,000l., taking the official value. In 1829, and 1830, the average official return, was 41,000,000l., and last year it amounted to 45,650,000l. That was well worthy of the attention of the House, for it had often been said, that the gross return told nothing as regarded the value of the foreign trade of the country. He thought he had now shown, that the anticipations, or rather the assertions of the hon. Member, that the trade of this country was decreasing, and upon which he had founded his Motion, were entirely erroneous, and that he had 1348 made out no case which could justify the House in agreeing to his proposition; but he might be told, as he had been, that there was no use in carrying on a system of trade under which our capital was diminished, our manufacturers ruined, our merchants bankrupts, our traders destroyed, and our industrious labouring classes compelled to seek shelter in the workhouses. He denied the facts altogether: it was true, that there did exist—as there always would exist—in a great country like England, where there were so many branches of manufacture—where there was such an artificial state of society—and where the amount of taxation was, necessarily, so great—some local distress, and some description of manufacture in a state of depression. He was aware that one important branch of productive industry, in particular, had to contend against some difficulties, and this must, when there were so many branches of manufacture, often be the case with one; but when he was told, that the labouring classes and the manufacturers were worse off than they were ten years ago, he would reply—bold as the contradiction might be—that he did not credit this. The hon. Gentleman said, that it was useless to quote official papers, for he had information which convinced him of this, and left no doubt on his mind. The hon. Gentleman observed also, that it was not fair to say that trade was good because it had apparently increased, as the merchants had been carrying it on at a loss, or at any rate, at a very small profit. Now, this might be the case for a year or two; but to tell him that men would persist for ten years in carrying on business which they found unprofitable, was to utter a gross fallacy, and to argue against every principle of human nature; and, therefore, he did not believe that the assertion was founded in fact. With reference to those details which had been alluded to—which he must call miserable statistics—for miserable they unquestionably were—he did not believe the statement, that the situation of the labouring classes was worse than it was; on the contrary, he believed that the condition of the lower classes had improved within the last ten years. He knew that it was unpopular to express this opinion, but he would never be deterred by any fear of unpopularity from expressing his honest and deliberate opinion, and of giving utterance to the truth, because it might be unpalatable. He believed that real wages were 1349 higher than they had been; that the labourer could, for an equal quantity of labour, command more of the comforts and conveniences of life than he could ten years ago. He would admit, that there had been a considerable fall in many wages since the period of the peace, but he believed that the price of commodities had fallen much more than the price of labour. He would appeal to returns as a proof of this statement, which he knew were liable to objections; but in the mode in which he should refer to them, the objections, if they told at all, would tell against himself. He alluded to the returns relative to the poor-rates. He would not take the general poor-rates, but the whole of the money paid for relief; this was certainly not a decisive criterion, but it was in favour of his opponents. According to the Parliamentary Returns, the sum actually paid for the relief of the poor in 1818, 1819, and 1820, taking the average of the three years, was 7,500,000l. In 1831, the sum paid for the same purpose was 6,798,000l.; thus there had been a diminution in the poor-rates to the amount of 700,000l., although the population had increased upwards of 2,000,000 in the last ten years. This was a sufficient presumption, that the condition of the labouring classes of this country was not worse than it had been. Thus, then, the statement, that our manufactures had gone to ruin, our capital been diminished, and that the condition of our labouring population was deteriorated, since the introduction of a more liberal system of commercial policy, was equally unfounded and mischievous. He hoped he had now satisfactorily disposed of so much of the hon. Gentleman's argument as went to show, that the condition of the country was much worse now than ten years ago. When the hon. Gentleman argued, that the system of free trade had produced mischief in this country, he must tell the hon. Gentleman, that that system had had no connexion with the labour and capital of this country, and, in fact, no such system existed. There was another consideration well worthy of attention. In alluding to this subject, it should not be forgotten, that this country competed with the producers of all other countries in the foreign market, and that the price at which the foreign manufacturer could produce his commodity, regulated our prices, and, consequently, our profits. 1350 Of course, competition would equalize prices as well as profits and wages, and, as long as we had foreign trade, we should have thus to contend with other countries which supplied the foreign markets; but, independently of this competition, there was another to which this country was exposed, and which was invariably left out of consideration. Our manufacturer had not only to compete with the foreign produce, but also with the competition in the home market, which also must have the same effect of lowering profits and wages. If examples of this were wanting in the productions of our own country, he might refer to one of our great branches of manufacture, where there was no foreign competition, but where the prices had been reduced entirely by home competition. This was the last statement on this part of the subject with which he should trouble the House; he, therefore, trusted, that he should be favoured with its attention for a few minutes. He alluded to the iron trade. Even the opponents of the system adopted for the last ten years would admit, that it had not had the slightest effect on that trade. There had been no competition from abroad, none but among the hale producers themselves. Now, what were the facts? In 1824, the price of iron was 11l. or 12l. per ton, and now the price was from 4l. 10s. to 5l., and the question was, what had led to this reduction in the price of iron? If we had only imported some 7,000, 8,000 or 10,000 tons, it would have been said, that foreign competition had occasioned it. But what was the fact? Every one acquainted with the subject must admit, that the great reduction in price had been occasioned by the competition existing among the home producers, He believed, that, in this trade, for some months, the capitalists had been actually continuing their work without profit, and sometimes even with loss, rather than abandon the labourers to the state of destitution to which they would be exposed, if the iron manufacturers ceased, even for a time, to work. He had, in his hand, a return from the three great iron districts, showing the present state of that trade in comparison with its former condition. This paper had been prepared by a gentleman well acquainted with the subject, who visited these places in the years 1825 and 1831, and showed the number of furnaces as well as the quantity produced. Accord- 1351 ing to this statement (and he believed his friend, the hon. member for the city of London, admitted its accuracy), in South Wales, in the year 1822—this was the year before the rise in the price of iron, and the inducement to speculate—in South Wales there were seventy-three blast furnaces; the quantity of iron produced was 182,000 tons. In Staffordshire, in 1823, there were eighty-four blast furnaces, and the quantity produced was 133,000 tons. In Shropshire, in the same year, there were thirty-eight blast furnaces, and the quantity of iron produced was 57,000 tons. He had returns from a number of other districts, but it was unnecessary for him to go into them, as he had mentioned the chief iron districts. In 1830, in South Wales, there were 113 blast furnaces, and the produce was 277,000 tons. In Staffordshire, there were 123 furnaces, and the produce was 212,000 tons. In Shropshire, the number of furnaces was forty-eight, and the quantity of iron produced was 73,000 tons. Thus it appeared that, in 1823, the quantity of iron produced in these districts was 373,000 tons, whereas, in 1830, it amounted to 563,000 tons. The diminution in price on this article could thus be satisfactorily accounted for by a reference to internal competition, and, such being the case, it was idle to talk of foreign competition. The truth was, that the prices would continue low until the quantity sent to market bore a strict relation to the demand. The papers to which he had referred were all on the Table of the House. Without further discussing our trade with France, he would merely state, that the hon. Member was mistaken with respect to the treaty with that country; that treaty having been rightly interpreted, and the objections of the hon. Member entirely hypothetical. The hon. Gentleman had stated his conviction, that the American tariff would not be altered. The hon. member for Middlesex had referred the hon. Gentleman to a document which it was astonishing the hon. Gentleman had not seen before. In the report of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, there were strong complaints against the evils produced by this tariff. There had been a sort of negotiation between the conflicting parties, which had ended in an understanding, that the tariff was to be greatly modified. The hon. Gentleman said, the Americans had followed the wiser plan of protection and 1352 restriction; he would answer him in the words of an American writer, who had been Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Cambreling said, "while under this wise administration of the national affairs of our maritime rival, her national industry, her commerce with the world, and her wealth and power, have been increasing with accelerated velocity, we have, by introducing an opposite policy, wasted our resources, and most effectually arrested the progress of a country which nature and Providence had designed to be the first among nations. To go on with such measures is impossible, without ruining our industry and disgracing our union. Whilst our once flourishing navigation has been falling in the rear of the maritime world, we have been speculating amidst the refinements of an antiquated philosophy," Such were the views of Mr. Cambreling who was Secretary of the American Treasury, and intimately acquainted with the working of the system. This was the comparison drawn by a statesman between the commercial policy of his own country and that of this nation. It was true, a strong party feeling existed in America, but, in this report, the statements were all founded on undisputed facts with which there was no possibility of contending. The hon. Member had also referred to the amount of shipping in the United States, and had asserted, that it had in-increased under the restrictive system. In reply to this, he would refer the hon. Gentleman to the Report of Congress, taken from the official documents, relative to the shipping of the United States. He had ascertained from these papers, that the registered tonnage of the United States, in 1815, was 1,331,000 tons. In 1830 it amounted to 1,260,000; thus, in fifteen years, there was a falling off to the amount of 100,000 tons. The official documents, therefore, confirmed, even up to the latest period, the opinions of Mr. Cambreling, and confuted the allegations of the hon. Gentleman. So much, therefore, for the assertion, that American commerce had greatly advanced under a restrictive system, which the appeal to the official returns showed to be incorrect. Much had been said of the injury inflicted on our colonies by the present system. This part of the subject had been amply discussed when the Colonial Intercourse Bill was before the House, which had been left as a legacy to the 1353 present Government by their predecessors in office. He would, therefore, not refer further to the subject, which the hon. Member might, if he wished it, bring before the House by a separate and distinct motion. One statement he would, however, make, which would clearly prove the increase of the home trade. There were imported, in the year 1819, 97,000,600 lbs. of cotton wool; in 1831, no less than 280,000,000 lbs., being an increase of 187 for every hundred: of sheep's wool, in 1819, 15,000,000 lbs.; in 1831, 30,000,000 lbs.: of flax, in 1819, 400,000 cwts.; in 1831, 900,000 cwts.: of silk, in 1819, 1,800,000 lbs., and in 1831, 4,300,000 lbs.: of tallow, in 1819, 600,000 cwts.; and in 1831, 900,000 cwts.: of sugar retained for actual consumption, in 1819, 2,800,000 cwts.; in 1831, 3,800,000 cwts.: of coffee, entered for home consumption, in 1819, 7,800,000 lbs.; in 1831, no less than 22,700,000 lbs.: of tea, in 1819, 26,000,000 lbs.; in 1831, 30,000,000 lbs.: of tobacco, in 1819, 16,500,000 lbs; in 1831, 19,600,000 lbs. Thus it appeared that the increase in the importation of cotton wool in that period amounted to 187 per cent; in sheep's wool to 92 per cent; in flax to 130 per cent; in silk to 125 per cent; in tallow to 53 per cent; in sugar to 34 per cent; in coffee to 191 per cent; in tea to 15 per cent; and in tobacco to 18 per cent. Thus it appeared, too, that, in articles used in our manufactures, the lowest increase had been 55 per cent; the highest nearly 200 per cent. In articles of pure consumption the increase varied from 15 to 191 per cent, the increase of the lowest being 15, and the highest 191. Allowing, then, for the increase of the population of 16 per cent, and looking to every kind of commodity the increased consumption had been far greater than the increase of population. It was, therefore, erroneous to assert, whoever might say so, that the condition of the people of this country had deteriorated. He regretted the manner in which the Motion had been made, it would have been only fair, candid, and manly on the part of those who objected to the system which had been pursued for the last ten years, instead of bringing forward motions of inquiry, and indulging in vague declamations on these subjects, boldly to come forward and state their views, and to point out in which respect they differed 1354 from the policy of the Government. This would have been better than in attacking their opponents to indulge in general accusations without stating distinctly of what they complained. In seasons of difficulty it was easy to excite a popular prejudice by stating that free trade was the cause of any local or occasional distress which might exist. This might do as well as any other nick-name to save people the trouble of thinking for themselves; but was it worthy of hon. Gentlemen to act thus? He did not charge the hon. Member with wilfully deluding the people, but this was the inevitable result of his mode of proceeding. He called upon the hon. Member to bring forward a direct motion, and not to tell the ignorant and uneducated that the sufferings which they endured arose from things which had no existence. That man was the greatest enemy to the people who could lend himself to deceptions of this nature. To express his opinions thus boldly might subject him, he was aware, to a great deal of obloquy, but he should pay but little attention to it, and it never should prevent him from stating his opinions or from pursuing a course which he conceived to be beneficial to his country. The hon. Member had told the House that the responsibility of rejecting this measure would fall personally upon him (Mr. Poulett Thomson). That it would not, for it rested with the Government. He should, however, be sorry to act with any Government which entertained different views from those he entertained on the subject, and if it were possible for him to incur the responsibility of rejecting this Motion, he should not shrink from it—nay, he would gladly embrace it. If the hon. Gentleman would bring forward any motion, he should be prepared to argue the question fairly, leaving it to the country to decide between them.
Tons. British shipping entered inwards 2,243,000 Foreign shipping entered inwards 781,000
perfectly concurred with his right hon. friend, that the distress of the country was very greatly exaggerated; though he, of course, did not deny that there was some distress—but then, what rich and powerful country was there in the world in which distress did not exist? It was the necessary consequence of complicated interests and extensive transactions. He remembered, by the bye, having made a similar statement on a previous evening, when he was turned round upon by the hon. member for Middlesex, and told, 1355 that until he was starving, himself, he could not judge of the distress of the people. He was glad, however, that we were not that degraded and distressed people which a bad Government, like that which was now passing away, might be supposed to have left us—happy that those who were to begin the new æra would find the country better off than could reasonably be expected. Upon the whole, he must say, that he was satisfied by the statements of his right hon. friend (Mr. Poulett Thomson), except when he dealt in political economy. In general he agreed with what his right hon. friend had stated; but he did not admire what his right hon. friend probably thought the most philosophical part of his argument. He was not himself in love with free trade; and thought it was better to employ those who employed us, than buy of those who would buy nothing of us in return. With respect to the Motion now before the House, he certainly must say, that, in his opinion, though the hon. member for Worcester had made a most able statement, he doubted whether a sufficient case had been made out by that hon. Gentleman for the appointment of a Committee. He felt disposed, indeed, to refuse his assent to the Motion, thinking that the ground assigned for inquiry was not sufficient. Under all the circumstances, he disapproved of the loss of time and labour that must result from the appointment of a Committee.
said, that be would not have taken any share in the present discussion, had it not been for the observations which had fallen from the hon. member for Thetford on the subject of free trade. The principles of free trade he always had been, and always should be, ready to vindicate; and he was surprised that a merchant of such extensive dealings as the hon. Member should be so blind as he was to the beneficial application of them in this country. He was averse to the appointment of a Committee.
An Hon. Member
stated, that he carried on business to a large extent, and employed some thousand persons; he was, therefore, in a situation to form an opinion, and he insisted that the country was in a state of unexampled distress. He denied, however, that the distress had arisen from free trade. He wished there was much more free trade; and thought the distress was solely attributable to the alteration of 1356 the currency, and that it would continue until we returned to the ancient state of things, as regarded our monetary system.
§ Mr. Attwood
would not have risen upon this occasion, had he not been aware of the weight attached to every observation which fell from his hon. friend, the member for Thetford. His hon. friend had stated, that the accounts of the distress of the country were greatly exaggerated—he was afraid that they were not. The great increase of pauperism and of crime within the last few years, sufficiently indicated the pressure of distress. Indeed, he believed that every interest of the country, commercial, agricultural, and manufacturing, was at this moment in a state of great embarrassment. People were afraid of looking at the real cause of it. He had repeatedly stated what that cause was, in his opinion, and it was, therefore, unnecessary for him to say a word more regarding it on the present occasion.
§ Colonel Torrens
said, that as his views on this subject coincided with those of the hon. member for Thetford, he could not agree to the appointment of the Committee for which the hon. member for Worcester moved.
§ Mr. Robinson
denied, that he had brought forward the Motion with any unkind or unfair feeling towards his Majesty's Government, as had been laid to his charge, but merely with a view, by offering his own opinions, to call the attention of the House to a most important subject. After what had fallen from several hon. Members, he should yield to their suggestion, and not press his Motion to a division.
§ Motion negatived.