§ Mr. Henry Lytton Bulwer,
in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the protection of the Riband trade by means of prohibition, said, he was aware, that it was necessary for him to make out an extraordinary case, in order to justify prohibition, and he admitted that he was bound to show, that this was the only means of relieving the distress and depression of that particular branch of manufacture. The hon. Member entered into a lengthened statement, to show, that great distress existed in the riband trade, that this was caused by the competition of the French manufacturers, and that the prohibition of their commodities was the only means of saving our own trade. He observed, that, in 1832, it was distinctly proved that the poor-rates in Coventry (the principal seat of the riband weaving trade) had reached to nearly double their amount in 1827, and that of 10,000 looms, 8,444 were entirely unemployed. Out of a population of 8,000 persons within a given district, 3,000 were wholly dependent on parochial relief for subsistence. The distress had since 571 gone on augmenting, as appeared from the evidence taken before the Committee. The wages of weaving had been reduced thirty per cent within the last three years; and everything connected with the riband trade was in the lowest state of depression. In France, the manufacturer possessed great advantages over his rivals in this country. He purchased silk at a lower price, gave a lower rate of wages, and was at less expense with regard to patterns. The importation of French ribands had increased in one year—between 1833 and 1834—from 110,000l. to 218,000l. While the riband-trade was falling off in England, it was augmenting and flourishing in France, where the number of looms was increasing. Fashion was on the side of France, which obtained a priority over the manufactures of this country. But if French goods were prohibited, the French manufacturer would either be obliged to imitate our goods, which would give us the priority of the market, or else he must make a different article, and then the fraud would be discovered should any be smuggled into this country. Prohibition was the only effectual remedy for the depression of our riband trade, because fancy articles of that kind could not be manufactured in this country if exposed to French competition. He hoped, that the next Commission sent abroad would not be to the French Government, but to the French milliners, to acquire a knowledge of fashions and fancy articles; and he should not object, if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Poulett Thomson) undertook the Commission himself. Our economists had begun at the wrong end—they ought first to have taken the protection off corn, and then proceeded to manufactures. But, as they adopted a contrary principle, and contemplated an adequate protection to every interest by imposing certain duties, then they should, in consistency, go with him even to the length of prohibition, if that were the only means of protecting this particular branch of manufacture. If they opened the English ports to foreign corn, and if France established a fair system of reciprocity with us, the case of the riband manufacturers went to the ground. But, if the House pursued the present system, then, with whatever reluctance it might be resolved upon, he saw no other alternative for the interests of the riband manufacturers than that which he pro- 572 posed—namely, prohibition. He would fain have proposed a better remedy, or one more conformable with the liberal principles of the present liberal age; but he felt convinced, that only prohibition would reach the evil, and alleviate the distress now felt by our manufacturers. The French silk- manufacturer would either not imitate us, and therefore would be excluded from our market; or they would imitate us, and so put our manufacturers upon a level with themselves, opening the market of fashion to our operatives. The main argument in favour of prohibition was, that it must secure to the English manufacturers the priority of fashion, which was the great end aimed at by both the foreign and the home manufacturer. Whatever was the prevailing fashion or taste, commanded the market. Now, all looked to the French for the patterns; but, if their silks and ribands were prohibited, then, to get into the market, as before they used to do, by smuggling, they must copy our manufacture closely; and thus lose the priority they now enjoyed, of giving us the fashions in silk. It was of no use to adopt, as a remedy, anything which must be in the experiment unequal to the end they had in view; and it was on this account that he was emboldened to propose to the House absolute prohibition, because he felt, that nothing short of it would effect the relief of the silk manufacturers of this country. There was one other consideration which he would submit to the House, and it was this—they should recollect what the disposition of the party was against whom he called upon them to act thus. Had the French shown themselves disposed to join us in fair terms of commercial intercourse?—or, were they not rather predetermined not to reciprocate equitably with England the benefits of trade by an equable reduction of prohibitory and protecting imposts? It was but too clear what was the real policy of the French Government towards this country, in the preference which the Belgians had enjoyed always in their ports over Great Britain; but that which spoke volumes was, the admission into France of coal and iron from Belgium in preference to better coal and iron from British ports, on the shallow pretext, that the distinction was unintentional, and happened merely because one was borne by land or canals, whilst the other was borne by sea. These distinc- 573 tions should put the House and the Government on its guard against the delusions which were attempted to be practised by France. He wished, above all things, that the Government of this country would see, that it was its duty to be consistent in cases of an analogous nature, and not attempt to cherish one trade by prohibitory enactments, whilst they overwhelmed another trade by inviting foreign competition, through the opening of our ports to the foreign silk manufacturer. With these views he should move for leave to bring in a Bill for affording protection to the riband manufacturers of this country by means of prohibition.
§ Mr. Dugdale
had great satisfaction in seconding the Motion; and he sincerely trusted, that the House would consent to the introduction of the measure which his hon. friend, the member for Coventry, asked leave to bring in. He could assure the House, that the riband weavers of Coventry were in a state of pitiable distress; and the severe depression under which they laboured was, he was satisfied, the consequence of the system of free-trade which had of late years been adopted in this country. No persons could bear the deplorable situation in which they had been placed with more patience, or greater resignation, than the riband weavers had done; and their silent forbearance, he thought, gave them something like a fair claim for the protection for which they sought. They had hoped to gain some alleviation of the misery they endured from the Treaty of Reciprocity that was expected to be entered into between England and France. In that hope, however, as everybody knew, they had been disappointed; but, even had a Treaty of Reciprocity been agreed to by the two countries, it was his opinion, that the riband-trade especially would reap little or no benefit from it. Such were the advantages which the French riband manufacturer possessed over the manufacturer of this country, that competition between them was entirely out of the question; and, therefore, unless actual prohibition were resorted to, the French manufacturer must, as at present, enjoy almost exclusively the monopoly of our markets. In fact, it had been shown, by a history of the trade, that it never prospered except when prohibition was established. Gentlemen who were disciples of the free-trade 574 principles would not agree to that; but, for his part, he could not conceive how that could be beneficial to any country which discouraged her own manufactures; and he thought, that it was the duty of every Government to attend to the interests of their own trade and commerce before those of any other country.
§ Sir Eardley Wilmot
thought it was impossible to convey to the House an idea of the state of distress in which those poor and suffering people were involved; and it was absolutely necessary, that some means should be taken to afford them relief. Their distress did not arise, as some alleged, from the inferiority of their manufactures to those of the French: they could manufacture quite as well as the French; but they could not, under the pressure of taxation which they had to endure, manufacture as cheaply. He had no objection to cheap articles; but he would rather that they were produced by our own, than by foreign, manufacturers. He had presented a number of petitions on this subject; and all the petitioners asked was, that if the Government would not afford them protection, it would give them the means of emigrating.
§ Mr. Ellice
stood in a peculiar situation with regard to the Motion before the House; and he, therefore, wished to state distinctly the line of conduct which he considered it his duty to adopt. He felt, in common with his hon. friend who had just sat down, and with every other gentleman who had spoken on this subject, the deepest sympathy for the distress under which those poor persons were suffering whose case had been represented to the House. He was bound to say, that, after a long acquaintance with those parties, their case, such as it had been represented to the House, had not been exaggerated. It was quite true, that this branch of trade, from a state of great prosperity, had declined to a state of great depression, owing to a variety of causes, which were, he was afraid, beyond their control; though he still hoped, that some means might be discovered for remedying them. If he for a moment thought that such a Motion as that brought forward by his hon. colleague was at all calculated to convert this branch of trade from a state of depression to a state of prosperity, he (Mr. Ellice) would not be the person to oppose it. But, in the first place, the 575 hon. Member must be well aware that, no matter how cogent might be the arguments he should produce in support of such a proposition, it would be impossible to get it adopted by that House, or by the country. For what was his proposition? It was neither more nor less than that they should revert, by way of protecting this particular branch of trade, to the old prohibitory system that existed with regard to the silk-trade previous to 1825. The hon. member for the county of Warwick had stated, that while that prohibitory system was in force, the silk-trade was in a state of great prosperity. Now, he would not deny, that such was the case, nor did he mean to contend that the home manufacturer had not been injured by foreign competition. Indeed, at the time the relaxation took place, he stated, himself, that the riband trade of this country would be materially affected by a competition with the superior manufactures of France, Italy, and Switzerland,— that it would suffer more from the free-trade system than almost any other branch of the manufactures of this country,—and to this opinion he still adhered; for, being more exposed to competition than any other description of article, its depression was a natural consequence. But, although he admitted this to be the case, he would put it to the good sense of the House, whether a return to prohibitory laws was the means by which alone relief could be afforded to these distressed artisans? He was prepared to contend that, before his hon. colleague called upon the House to adopt his Motion, he was bound to show the advantage that was likely to accrue from it; but his hon. colleague had done no such thing, and therefore it was, that he (Mr. Ellice), being persuaded that no good could result from the proposition, felt it his duty to object to it. If his hon. colleague could convince him that, by recurring to the old prohibitory system, the introduction of certain finer descriptions of silks into the country would be prevented, then he would agree with him that such a course of proceeding might afford some chance, if not of an extensive, at least of a partial, relief to this branch of the trade. But, to carry that system into effect, they must go back to all the old penal statutes—they must have recourse to search-warrants, to search every shop in England; and they must have recourse to excise informations, supported upon 576 very doubtful evidence, as to whether the article had been made in England or in France. He would ask the hon. Member whether he thought it possible that all the other classes of the community, that all the other trades and manufactures throughout the country, would, for the sake of this particular trade, submit to the erection of such an inquisitorial power? Such was, in fact, the proposition which his hon. colleague had submitted to the House; and he had not made out a case to show, that even the adoption of such a proposition would afford relief to his suffering constituents. In the particular position in which he was placed, he certainly would not vote against this Motion. He objected to such a Motion, because he was of opinion, that it would do no good. When he last met his constituents, he thought himself bound in fairness and in candour to state to them, when asked whether he would support such a Motion as that now brought forward by his hon. colleague, that, though he was most anxious to do anything for their relief, they had still to make out a case to him to prove, that such a course of proceeding would not only do them no good, but that it would do them no injury. His belief was, that the adoption of such a proposition would do them injury. If the hon. Gentleman would apply to his right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Trade, and lay any proposition before him by which he, or those on whose behalf he brought forward this proposition, thought that they could be relieved, they might be sure that it would obtain from his right hon. friend the most attentive consideration, with a view to afford, if possible, some means of practical relief. He entreated his hon. colleague not to press his Motion to a division. He might see, from the state of the House, that such a proposition had no chance of being carried. He repeated, that he felt as much as any hon. Member could feel for the distress of those poor people, and that he was anxious to devise, if possible, a practical remedy for it; but he, for one, would not delude them with the notion, that such a proposition as this would do theta any good: on the contrary, it would do them a great deal of injury,—and, even if such a proposition should be adopted, it would be quite impossible that it could be fully or fairly carried into effect.
§ Mr. Robinson
did not deny, that this 577 was a difficult question; but he would maintain, that it was the duty of the House and of the Government to devise some means for relieving the distress under which this branch of the silk-trade, as well as the glovers of Worcester and the hand-loom weavers, laboured. The right hon. Gentleman, instead of throwing the onus on his hon. friend who had brought forward this Motion of suggesting some plan of relief, should, as a member of the Government, have come forward with some plan of his own for the purpose. The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind, that he now belonged to a Ministry which opposed the repeal of the Corn-laws. It was impossible to dispute the justice of what was put forward by the manufacturers on this subject—namely, that if they were to suffer from the policy adopted by the Government,—if they were to be exposed to the competition of foreigners,—then, in God's name, let them have cheap bread and cheap food. There was no answering that argument. They certainly were bound to give the people cheap subsistence, if they could not afford them employment and high wages. Was not the right hon. Gentleman, and the Ministry with which he was connected, opposed to any remission of taxes, by which alone they could obtain relief? It was impossible to relieve the people, unless by a remission of taxes, and by a repeal of the Corn-laws. They were now approaching to such a state, that, unless something were done for the relief of this class of persons, the monopoly of the Corn-laws must be abolished, and there must be a complete and thorough revision and commutation of the taxes. It was a melancholy thing to see those classes of the industrious population of the country suffering under such distress. He was determined, when he next met his constituents, to advise them not to apply to that House for prohibition as a means of relieving them, as he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that no prohibitory system, however strict, would keep out those articles, and that circumstances stronger than the laws would force them into the country. He would advise them to apply for a relief from taxation. It was only by a remission and commutation of taxes, and by some relaxation of the Corn-laws —for he did not mean to say, that, with the peculiar burthens which the land had upon it, the Corn-laws should be entirely 578 repealed—relief could be afforded to the labouring and manufacturing classes of the country.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, the question before the House was of a very confined and limited description. It involved the propriety of establishing a prohibitory system, not applicable to the silk-trade generally, but to this particular branch of manufacture. To this point the arguments of the hon. member for Coventry were directed, and on this question alone was the House called upon to decide. Under these circumstances, he was sure the House would see the propriety of not entering into general topics connected with free trade (which could have no application at present), still less of discussing the Corn-laws, and, least of all, of entering into the question of the general taxation of the country. On all those points, when a fit and proper opportunity should occur, he should not be the last man to intrude his opinions upon this House. On this occasion, however, it would be much more convenient if he limited himself to the simple question introduced by the hon. member for Coventry. He must own, that he was surprised to hear the hon. member for Warwickshire (Mr. Dugdale) introduce the subject of free trade with respect to this particular article, especially after the speech of the hon. member for Coventry. Was the hon Gentleman aware, that the very article, the introduction of which he wished to prohibit, was now taxed to the extent of from forty to sixty per cent? It was originally stated, be it remembered, that the protection should not exceed thirty per cent, but, in consequence of the alteration which had taken place in the value of the article, the duty had increased to the amount he had just mentioned. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion seemed likewise to have entirely overlooked all the arguments which were urged by the hon. Member who moved it. What was the argument of the hon. member for Coventry? "Talk to me of protection, said he; no, we have got that already, and we find it to be utterly and entirely inefficacious for time purposes at which we aim; consequently, I call upon you, not to protect these manufactures, for such protection is perfectly worthless, but at once to establish a total prohibition." Really the hon. Gentleman seemed to have a very singular notion of free-trade. He could conceive, 579 that there were very large limits indeed, and that there was a very wide space indeed, between prohibition and, what he should call, free-trade. Certainly anything short of prohibition more stringent in its operation than the existing law, it was difficult to conceive. The hon. Gentleman's notion of free-trade might be correct. He would not stop to discuss the point, because it formed no part of the present question, which simply was, prohibition, or no prohibition. He thought the case had been put most fairly and ably by his right hon. friend, the Secretary at War; and, certainly, were he disposed to concede the principle—were he inclined to think, that prohibition might be granted —had he no regard to the general interests of the country, or its relations with foreign States, which were admitted, and candidly admitted, by the hon. member for Worcester, to form one ground of argument on this question—if he looked only to the interests of the parties represented by the hon. Gentleman, he should say, that they could not possibly have a worse service done them than to grant them the prohibition they desired. If he dwelt on this question, he should only repeat the argument of his right hon. friend, for in that was the whole question of prohibition included. If it were wanted to have prohibiting enactments on the Statute Book, he would ask, granting, for a moment, that they were right and good, whether there existed the means of carrying them into effect? He said, there did not. What was the existing state of the law? The duty at present was considerably higher than the cost of smuggling. Goods were therefore smuggled. And what was to prevent them being smuggled into this country, supposing the duty increased or transformed into a prohibition? The hon. Gentleman said, "I would have all the goods examined; I would find the means of preventing these smuggled articles from being sold." He begged to say, that any attempt to effect that was utterly and entirely out of the question. How would the hon. Gentleman effect it? Would he enter a shop and seize any goods exposed for sale, if they were supposed to be smuggled? Would he stop a lady in the street, and take from her a shawl, or a bonnet, or a riband, supposed to be of French manufacture? Then came the difficulty, formerly found to be almost insuperable, but which was now increased 580 in a tenfold degree—the difficulty of distinguishing between goods of French manufacture, and goods of English manufacture. Why, even when the silk-trade of this country was in a rude state, for rude it was in 1825, before those rapid advances had been made which had since, so much to the honour of the industry and the intelligence of this country, been effected in this branch of our industry—cases of difficulty continually occurred? Did not the hon. Gentleman recollect, that parties, relying on their conscientious and firm belief, were prepared to swear that goods which had been manufactured at Manchester, or in Spitalfields, were of French production? If that were the case then, what would be the case now? It would be utterly impossible to put his law effectually into execution, even by again inflicting all the vexation, all the annoyance, and all the inquisitorial powers on the country which attended the general prohibitory system; which, he ventured to say, the people of this country would not suffer, if the attempt were made. The hon. Gentleman, if his plan were adopted, would fail completely in the object he had in view, because it would be out of his power to distinguish the foreign from the home manufacture. The hon. Gentleman had, very properly and justly, confined his case to the manufacture of one article, that of broad ribands; because there was no cause of complaint in any other branch of the silk manufacture. Nay, he knew that, in the town which he had the honour to represent, and which was now become the great seat of the silk-trade, there were no well-founded complaints; neither had any complaints reached him from Macclesfield or Congleton, both towns extensively connected with the silk-trade. The profits of the manufacturers were lower, perhaps, in that than in other branches of trade; but, although profits and also wages were low, there was full employment for the persons engaged in that manufacture. There was one point to which he wished especially to call the attention of the House, in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. Baronet, the member for Warwickshire. The case, it should be borne in mind, consisted of two parts, the interests connected with the plain, and the interests connected with the figured article of manufacture. The hon. Member who introduced this Motion represented a city where the 581 latter article was chiefly manufactured, and his Motion had reference chiefly to the flowered and figured fancy ribands; there was good reason for that, because the only branch of the trade which could with justice complain of French competition was the figured riband. The hon. Baronet (Sir Eardley Wilmot) certainly did present some petitions the other day, setting forth the distressed condition of the parties engaged in the manufacture of plain ribands; but they had no possible ground of complaint against French competition. If it were necessary to support this statement by authority, he could quote that of a Gentleman largely concerned in that branch of the trade, who told him, that the remedy for the distress of that particular class of people, was not a return to the system of prohibitory duties. "All we ask (he said) is a drawback, or rather bounty, amounting to fifteen or eighteen per cent upon these articles, and then we can export them to France, and compete with the French manufacturers." The riband manufacture had completely changed within a few years. The broad plain ribands which were formerly worn by many classes of society, but more particularly by the less wealthy, were not now in request, scarcely any were to be seen, for the taste and fashion of the public had entirely changed. Let any Gentleman notice the sort of ribands worn by his own female servants; he would find, instead of plain ribands, that figured ribands, in consequence of the improvement of the manufacture, and of that natural feeling which existed from the higher to the lower classes of society with regard to objects of taste, were now almost the only article worn. The manufacture of plain ribands, therefore, had diminished, not by reason of foreign competition, but entirely in consequence of the change of fashion. Unless, then, the hon. Baronet were to bring in a Bill to prevent the fashion from changing, he would not be able to restore to these parties the business which they formerly enjoyed. The reason why the parties who now complained were out of employment was obvious; they would pertinaciously adhere to their old mode of employment, notwithstanding the improvements in machinery and the changes in fashion. They refused to turn their capital and skill into a new channel, and the consequence had been (as might have been ex- 582 pected), that branch of industry had been transferred to other places—Manchester, Macclesfield, Congleton, and their respective vicinities, had taken possession of it; and he feared, that it was now too late for these parties to regain it. He had the evidence of the parties themselves on this subject. In the declaration made by the manufacturers at Nuneaton a few years ago, the cause of distress at Coventry and its neighbourhood was plainly indicated;—'It is said (they observed) that, by our neglect of improvement, our trade has passed from us in consequence of competition, not from abroad, but at home; and we have now found out that which is a truth in all commercial matters—that, once having lost the priority in the market of demand and supply, it becomes a most difficult, if not an impossible thing for us to regain it. We have been thrown out of the course, backwards, and our places are supplied by others, not by foreign, but by home manufacturers, and we are now suffering from them.' So much for the cause of distress in Coventry of the plain riband weavers, represented by the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the fancy riband manufacturers, it was true, that they had suffered to a certain extent by competition; but he believed, that competition was inevitable, because, whether there had been prohibitory duties or not, it must equally have taken place. But no man, who had watched the state of things in Coventry, could deny, that these parties had also suffered much by their own unwillingness to introduce the improvements in machinery and manufacture which were in the possession of those with whom they had to compete. The hon. Baronet had said, that there was as good machinery, and as much skill, employed there as in other places. There might be, in particular instances, but he was afraid it was by no means a general case; and, even if it were, the improvement had been adopted too late; and they had lost a considerable portion of the trade by the greater improvement, the greater attention, and the greater skill, which had been devoted to it in other parts of England. If hon. Gentlemen would refer to the Returns which had been laid on the Table, they would see, that the importation of this article had not, in any material degree, increased, whilst the consumption of the articles manufactured in this country had 583 increased in a most extraordinary degree. He had the curiosity, this morning, just to look into this simple fact—what proportion the weight of manufactured silk imported into this country from France, bore to the weight of unmanufactured silk brought in here for the purpose of manufacture; and, he found, that the proportion of manufactured to unmanufactured silk, imported in the year 1833, was three per cent upon the whole. At the present time, he believed, it had increased to four or five per cent, in consequence of this being the season when the importations usually took place. To suppose that such a proportion of competition could do any serious injury, was really rating at too low a standard the manufacturing power and industry of this country. However, he wished to confine himself to the question as proposed by the hon. Gentleman; and he put it to the House, would they return, by their vote of that night, to the system of prohibition? Would they acknowledge that principle, or even if they were inclined to do it, could they, in aid of an article of manufacture, when it could be proved, that such a course would only tend to defeat the very object in view.
§ Sir Daniel Sandford
said, it was unquestionable, that in many branches of the silk trade, and especially in the manufacture of shawls, very great distress prevailed. In Scotland, he knew that large numbers of workmen were now discharged, with famine staring them in the face. He had been informed, that the amount of orders lately received, was 80 per cent lower than the usual demand at this time of the year. He knew it was impossible to return to a system of general prohibition, but what was necessary to be done had been recognised in a recent speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which had been received by the manufacturers with great pleasure. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that if France did not return the advantages of reciprocity which this country had proffered, he would employ all the means at his command as a Minister of the Crown, to compel her. All he asked was, that the right hon. Gentleman would follow out this principle, which Mr. Huskisson would undoubtedly have done, if he had lived. The first form of the experiment of free trade had failed, and the time was now come when they ought to try whether the other form would be more successful.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that the silk trade was peculiarly circumstanced. The fact was, that it stood in its own way, as regarded its power to compete, by having refused to admit the introduction of machinery. If they looked into the evidence given before the Silk Trade Committee, they would find it stated, that in the town of Coventry, when an attempt was made to introduce machinery there, the most decided opposition was exhibited; in fact, the machinery was destroyed. So mistaken and short-sighted had the parties been, that they had formed strong combinations against the introduction of any improvements in the machinery that was used. He deeply regretted, that so many persons should be suffering as was represented; he had no doubt, that their distress was great, and no one could feel more anxious than he was to afford them relief; but though he entertained these sentiments, he must acquit himself of acting improperly, if he did not accede to the Motion before the House. Instead of adopting a course which, in his conscience, he believed would deceive the parties most interested, and in place of proving advantageous to them, would add to their present difficulties, he would candidly state what appeared to him to be the cause of the distress, and what remedy he thought ought to be applied. His hon. friend who had introduced this question, in so doing, had, no doubt, discharged his duty to his constituents; but from the knowledge which his hon. friend possessed of the principles of commerce, he thought his hon. friend must feel the impossibility of the desired relief being obtained from such a source as prohibition. He referred the distress, in a great measure, to that most mischievous of all monopolies—the monopoly of food. He must also assert, that for a portion of their distress, he thought the people of Coventry had themselves to blame, in having refused to admit the silk necessary to their manufacture free of duty. In no portion of the kingdom was the admission of thrown-silk duty free more strenuously opposed than in Coventry. The amount of the duty was 3s. 6d. per lb. To show what had been the advantages of a relaxed system, it might be stated, that ever since the period when the Committee sat for fifty-five days, the silk manufactures had been gradually increasing. By the existing system, the English manufacturer who had to work 585 against the French, was placed in a worse situation to the amount of from 12 to 15 per cent; yet, when it was proposed to take off the duty, the proposition was met by a positive refusal to consent to such an alteration. He trusted, that nothing that could be urged would induce a return to any system of prohibition. Looking at the facilities for commerce which this country possessed—at its numerous population, ingenious and enterprising—taking also into consideration its machinery and its large capital—the removal of restrictions could not be otherwise than beneficial. Instead, then, of deluding the people by favouring their false views, he thought it incumbent on that House to make them acquainted with their real position. This once understood, they would see that prohibitory duties would but augment their distress; and that, on the other hand, the removal of restrictions and the reduction of the existing monopoly in the article of food, would tend more than anything else to its relief. In conclusion, he must express a hope, that his hon. friend would not press his Motion.
§ Mr. Thomas Attwood
would trouble the House with a few words in favour of the Motion. The distress of the parties now appealing to the House had been attributed in part to a change of fashion. Was it change of fashion that occasioned the distress of the ship-owners? Was it change of fashion that occasioned the distress of the land-owners? Was it change of fashion that occasioned the distress of the farmers? In one word, was it change of fashion that had plunged into distress all the great interests of the country? He would answer, No. General distress must have a general cause. The report of the Agricultural Committee which sat in 1821, established the fact of the existence of general distress. He was examined on that occasion, but the Committee thought fit to reject his clear and unanswerable exposé. Hon. Gentlemen smiled; but he would repeat his assertion —his reasoning was unanswered and unanswerable—it was not answered at the time, nor had any human being attempted to answer it since. He had been told, by men of all parties—by Whigs, Tories, and Radicals, that it could not be answered. That reasoning of his was, notwithstanding, kept out of the agricultural report. The Committee brought forward 586 a celebrated merchant, whom they examined, with the view of getting from him a counter statement. This gentleman quoted twenty or thirty articles which had fallen in price; but he alleged twenty or thirty different causes for that effect. Of course he was out-argued then, as he did not doubt he should be on the present occasion. He regretted, that particular interests came forward claiming particular relief. The distress was general; let all unite, and they must succeed in obtaining a measure of general relief. One cause existed of the distress—it was a general cause—it was not the want of one pound notes, but it was the pressure of the metallic standard of value. This it was which would ultimately involve the noble Lord opposite, and the House, in one common ruin, within a period of ten years. He would return to a general system of prohibition. Under the pretence of doing good to the nation, Gentlemen had advocated a free trade. Free trade! He would call it free plunder. It had increased the taxes—it had aggrandized all those who had funded property—all placemen, pensioners, and sinecurists—all who lived on the fruits of the labour and industry of the people. Free trade, free taxes, and free rents, had completed a most enormous and disgraceful robbery of the country. The plunderer had been reacted on by the plundered. The landowners were suffering as much as any class of the community; and from this he derived some consolation. During the war, they exhibited a grasping and selfish policy. They were profiting by it, and they were indifferent as to how long it continued. They said to themselves, "We are now in all our glory and prosperity;" and, speaking in the language of Holy Writ, they declared the evils to be nothing, "so long as Mordecai the Jew was sitting at the king's gate." It would be impossible much longer to govern England in this way; subjects of great moment were pressing on the country. The House told the people, "We can't do any thing for you." To all who complained of distress, they cried out, in the cuckoo note of the ancient oligarch House, "We can't do any thing for you. "Was this the fact? If it was, why did not the members of his Majesty's Government, who thus admitted their inability, make way for better men? Let them retire; and he would answer for it that he would find, 587 amongst the artizans of the country, those who would find the means of giving the desired relief; and he would add, that they would do so in a manner that would give satisfaction even to the aristocracy. Let Ministers consider the dangerous, the solemn situation of the country. Looking to the past, and judging by it of the future, they must know that there were principles at work out of doors which threatened to overturn the fabric of society in England. Instead of boldly encountering the difficulty, and attempting to devise a remedy for it, every man appeared to be anxious to hide his head, as the ostrich, when in danger, was said to hide his in a bank of sand; and to fancy, because the danger was not seen, that it was avoided. They should bear in mind, that it was to the great suffering of the people that they might attribute the important changes which had taken place. He admitted, that the noble Lord opposite had acted a prominent part in procuring many of those changes, and to that extent he acknowledged the noble Lord's services with pleasure and with gratitude. Many of those changes had certainly been productive of much good. What he regretted was, that the noble Lord who had done so much, had not done more. In his opinion, the noble Lord had stopped short of much that he might and ought to have effected.
§ Mr. Clay
said, that he should not attempt to answer the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken, and who had indulged himself in allusions to many subjects that did not appear to him to bear very closely on the question before the House. The hon. Gentleman had, amongst other things, alluded to the currency; indeed, it rarely happened that he spoke without doing so, whence the discussion of this matter appeared almost to be his peculiar privilege. He (Mr. Clay) was opposed to the principle of prohibition, which he did not expect would have found an advocate in his enlightened friend, the hon. member for Coventry. In his case it appeared to be a species of monomania; and he imagined it was to be explained in no other way than by their experience, which informed them, that the ablest persons were sometimes afflicted with a particular obliquity. He supposed that they must pardon this mistake of his hon. friend, in consideration of his many superior qualifications. It 588 was always with the greatest sorrow that he heard any suggestion of protection, not to say prohibition, advocated in that House; because it could not fail to afford an argument to the supporters of prohibition, in favour of the most destructive of all monopolies—the monopoly of food. It would be in the recollection of the House, that only a short time since the right hon. Baronet (the member for Tamworth) made it his principal argument in favour of protecting duties on corn, that almost every article of manufacture was subject to a protecting duty. In this way they acted in a vicious circle, and justified their vicious actions by a vicious circle of reasoning. If they proceeded thus, they never would arrive at a sound principle. So far from thinking with the hon. member for Birmingham, that free trade was free plunder, he should say, that the term plunder would be better applied to restriction. Talk of Trades' Unions! he knew of none existing, against which could be charged conduct so disgraceful as was that of the supporters of the great monopoly, who designed to enlist people on their side, by flattering the prejudices of the manufacturing classes. He had an opportunity of knowing that we had been fast progressing in the silk trade. Our manufacture of plain sarcenets, and gros de Naples had so materially improved, that they were now considered to rival the French. He believed, that if there were not a sixpence of duty imposed, an American merchant, having the choice of the French and the English markets, would prefer the English. Such was the present state of the manufacturer, though it might be remembered that during the investigation before the Committee, tables were produced, calculated apparently with great care, by which it was made to appear that without a protecting duty to the amount of 50 per cent it would not be possible for us to compete with the French in the manufacture of gros de Naples. He had reason to know, that at this moment in all the great silk manufactories to be found in his district, they denounced the very thought of prohibition. The opinion entertained was, that no power that could be exercised would protect them from smuggling, if prohibition or high duties existed. In nine-tenths of the manufactories they talked not of prohibition as calculated to afford them any relief; what they desired was, first, the removal of the 589 tax upon corn, and secondly, the abolition of the duty on thrown silk.
§ Lord Dudley Stuart
was not an advocate for the repeal of the Corn-laws, because he thought the agricultural interest ought to be protected; but while they claimed protection, they ought to take care to give to the manufacturer the means of obtaining food by his labour. He would not join in any senseless cry against Ministers because they opposed this Motion; he was sure that they all felt deeply for the distresses of those in whose behalf the Motion was made. As regarded his own case, however unwilling he was to give a vote which he knew would render him unpopular in the House, he must nevertheless support the Motion.
§ Mr. Finch
said, that he had been asked to support the Motion, but, consistently with his own opinions, he could not do so. He considered prohibition not practicable; but if it were, it would lead to so many inconveniences, that, in his opinion, its adoption would render the condition of the manufacturers worse than it was at present.
§ Mr. Brocklehurst
said, that he had been in communication very lately with the Macclesfield manufacturers, and their opinion was, that the House could not serve them better than by leaving the matter entirely alone.
§ Mr. Fryer
said, that the advice he had given to manufacturers when they complained to him of their distress was to join together and form a union to break down the Corn-law. When he recommended them to exert themselves against the corn monopoly, they replied, "The House of Commons won't hear us." He told them this was true enough, and the reason was, that the House of Commons was made up principally of landowners. He was then asked whether he would have them form into mobs, and he told them certainly not; for if they did, they would assuredly be put down, and lose all their power the moment they made an attack on private property. But let them form into a union to obtain a free trade in corn and free labour. This was the spirit of the age which Lord Grey alluded to a few nights ago in the House of Lords. If they had free labour and a free importation of food, they need not fear being able to compete with any foreign Power whatever.
§ Mr. Henry L. Bulwer
replied. He ad- 590 mitted, that the case would be very different if they were to throw open their ports to the admission of foreign corn, and if France in return would freely receive our iron and coals; but so long as France placed restrictions on the necessaries of life, so long the manufacturers had a right to ask for protection to keep up the price of their article of manufacture. Alter the whole system, and there would be no necessity for his present Motion; but he contended that while they retained the system, there was no choice left but to adopt the course he had recommended.
§ The House divided—Ayes 22; Noes 128: Majority 106.
§ Leave refused.
|List of the AYES.|
|Attwood, M.||Sandford, Sir D.|
|Brudenell, Lord||Scholefield, J.|
|Burrell, Sir C.||Stanley, E.|
|Cayley, E. S.||Stuart, Lord D.|
|Dillwyn, L.||Talbot, J. H.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Vincent, Sir F.|
|Halford, H.||Bulwer, H. L.|
|Martin, T. B.||Attwood, T.|
|Miles, W.||PAIRED OFF FOR.|
|Norreys, Lord||Wilmot, Sir E.|
|Richards, J.||Sheppard, T.|
|Russell, W. C.|