HC Deb 24 March 1835 vol 27 cc212-8
Mr. Baring

rose pursuant to notice, to move that the House do go into a Committee of the whole House on the Timber Duties.

On the question being put, that the Speaker do leave the Chair,

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, he wished to know what course the right hon. Gentleman meant to pursue upon this important question? If he was correctly informed, it was the intention now to go into a Committee of the whole House for the purpose of moving a Resolution, on which ft Bill would be founded, and that Bill afterwards referred to a Select Committee, for the purpose of inquiring into the whole subject. If this was the course meant to be taken, he would offer no objection to it.

Mr. Baring

said, the question to which he was about calling the attention of the Committee, was one of great importance, and involved so many points worthy of consideration, that he should not have brought it forward at so late an hour, if he apprehended that there would be occasion to address the Committee at any length. The timber duties as they now existed, grew out of a Committee of Inquiry, which satin 1821 or 1822, so that they had been thirteen years in operation. He would not now inquire how far these duties were at first proper or expedient. However, that might be, they had given rise to so much conflicting interest, that it became absolutely necessary to come to Parliament upon the question. There were two notices upon the paper relative to this subject—one to equalise the duties, and the other for the appointment of a Committee. The present duty was, on Baltic timber 55s., and on Colonial timber 10s. It appeared, that in the present state of the law, the practice had grown up of fitting out ships in British ports, of chartering them to the Baltic for timber, and thence to Canada, from whence the Baltic timber was re-shipped and landed in this country. The reduced duty offered sufficient inducement to this operation, for the Baltic timber was thus imported at 10.s. in place of 55s. This practice had been going on for two or three years, and the year before last not less than 1,300 cargoes had been thus imported, to the great loss of the revenue. These, and other facts, appeared from information collected at the ports from which the trade was carried on. It had become, therefore, indispensable to alter the law. His only object now was to propose a Resolution on which a Bill might be founded. That Bill he would then propose be referred to a Select Committee, for the purpose of inquiring into the whole subject. The reason why the question had become so pressing now was, that if Government took no slop relative to these duties, a great number of ships now on their way to the Baltic must be paid the whole freight. To prevent this the interposition of Parliament was now required. As several important interests were connected with this question, and as several ships at this season of the year were on the point of sailing, he thought it right to state, that it was not the intention of his Majesty's Government, whatever might be the result of the inquiry, to propose any alteration which should take effect during the present season. As arrangements and contracts had already been made, it was proper that those connected with the trade should at least have some security against any interference with their commerce during the present season. This was only in accordance with common justice; but he had to state an additional reason for deferring any alteration to the next year. If the trade was not protected during the present year, duties to the amount of two or three hundred thousand pounds would be lost to the revenue. At present, he should abstain from all discussion of the general question, or from giving any opinion of his own as to what might hereafter be the wisest course for Parlialiament to adopt in legislating upon the subject. He should strictly confine himself to the introduction of the Bill, the objects of which he had just stated to the House.

The House went into a Committee.

Mr. Baring moved a Resolution to the effect, that it is the opinion of the Committee, that the duties now payable on wood imported from Europe, should be charged upon all wood, the produce of Europe, when imported from America.

Mr. Warburton

would make no opposition to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, but he should have been better pleased if he had simply endeavoured to correct the anomalous operation of the present law by which timber was conveyed from the ports of Europe to the North American colonies, and then brought to England at a duty lower than that on timber freighted to England direct from the Baltic. This anomaly was, however, attended by an advantage; it pointed out in the most glaring manner the absurdity of the duties imposed under the timber system. As the question was to be referred to a Committee he would not enter into the subject, but he could not refrain from expressing his opinion, that the information afforded to the Committee of Trade, which sat in 1821, was amply sufficient to enable them to legislate at once upon the matter. That Committee, it was stated by the right hon. Gentleman, approved of the duties according to their present scale. The fact, however, was, they merely recommended that the duties as they now existed, should be imposed in the first instance, and that subsequently they should be reduced. On what principle could the present scale be defended? Though the difference of freight as between the Baltic and North American ports was 15s.—the Baltic freight amounting to 20s., and the North American to 35s.x2014;yet the difference in the duties was 45s., thereby leaving between the 15s. and 45s. a difference of 30s. Here was an inequality which could not be justified, even upon the principles of restricted trade. This difference he was convinced was injurious to the interests of trade, and he, therefore, wished an alteration had at once been made. He would not, however, oppose the right hon. Gentleman's proposition, for he was willing to accept from the Government anything in the shape of a revision of those duties.

Mr. Robinson

would refrain from discussing so large a question as the timber duties. The object of the Board of Trade was to correct an obvious anomaly in the existing law, by which timber freighted from Europe to the North American colonies, and then imported into England, paid only the same duty as that levied on colonial timber. It was clear, that when the discriminating duties were established there was no intention to sanction such a proceeding. When the time for discussing the general question arrived, he should be prepared to consider it, not as affecting the colonies alone, but all the other great commercial interests of the country. If it could then be proved to him, that the protecting duty in favour of the colonies was greater than, under all the circumstances, they were entitled, he would willingly give his vote for putting the duties on a proper footing.

Mr. Carruthers

would not allow the statement which had been made by the hon. Member for Bridport to go unanswered. The difference between the duties—one being 10s. and the other 55s.—was not an injurious difference, because, when the duty on Baltic timber was only 40s., the price was neither more nor less, but just the same as now. The colonies, however, were benefitted, and properly so, when it was remembered, that they consumed British manufactures, employed British shipping, and largely contributed to the British revenue.

Mr. Hutt

recommended, in order to correct this great anomaly in the long chapter of anomalies in the timber duties, that the colonies should be placed in respect to the duties on an equal footing with European ports. He hailed the proposed appointment of a Committee with the greatest satisfaction.

Mr. George F. Young

regretted, that some other means had not been proposed to alter this anomalous scale of duties. As to the allusion made to the former arrangement of duties, and the present price of Baltic timber, it only went to prove the dreadfully distressed condition of British shipping. It was at the most ruinous freight, that they were obliged to take such voyages.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

said, that in some of the Charter-Parties of ships which had been hired to take timber from the Baltic to Canada, a provision had been inserted, to enable the charterers to consent to the conveyance of the cargoes to England. In many charters he had reason to know that such a provision had not been inserted, and he wished to know, whether compensation would be allowed to parties who might suffer from not having provided against an alteration of the law. There was no question which ought to excite greater alarm among the shipping interest than the present, and he greatly regretted, that, it was intended to accede to the Motion of the hon. Member for Manchester.

Mr. Baring

had to state, in answer to the hon. Member's question, that notice was given to those connected with the trade, of the intentions of Government in the middle of February, early enough for every possible purpose, and before any arrangements were far advanced. He therefore did not expect that any claim of compensation would arise. It was necessary for the Government to take some step in reference to this question, and they thought it was the most adviseable course to submit it once more to the consideration of a Special Committee. It was intended to throw the question completely open to the full and fair consideration of that Committee.

Dr. Bowring

was gratified at hearing the mention of "consumer" in the course of the discussion. He hoped the day would arrive when his interests would receive more consideration. A distinction had been drawn between the colonies and foreign countries. There ought to be no distinction. If the foreigner came forward with a cheaper article than the colonies it was to our interest to purchase from him, and we might rest assured, that he in return would take our commodities.

Mr. Carruthers

considered the colonies as part and parcel of the State. It did not follow that because we purchased from a foreigner he would become a customer for our manufactures, and that he would satisfactorily show when the proper time for discussion arrived.

The Resolution was agreed to. The House resumed.

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