§ Mr. C. P. Villiers
said, Sir, in seeking to draw the attention of the House to the subject of which I have given notice, I am aware of the disadvantage under which I labour. I know the distaste which this House has to subjects of this nature, and I know how difficult it is at this season to draw serious attention to any matter of public importance. Still, Sir, as I consider this a very important subject, and one (reminded as I am constantly by those who placed me here) of the mischievous operations upon industry and commerce of similar restrictions, I do feel it a duty to submit this subject to the attention of this Parliament; and, Sir, I must claim for this subject some appropriateness in point of season, since we are at this moment not only about to review the relations in which we stand to those provinces in America, which are connected with the subject, in the hope of placing them upon a footing more suited to the interests of both countries, but that we are 89 fresh from hearing a statement from the financial minister, from which it appears that we are running a career of expenditure beyond our income; and the case which I have to submit to this House is one in which the resources of this country are perhaps more prodigally, uselessly, and mischievously wasted than in any case which is at all a parallel of it; and I believe that in the correctness of that view there is more unanimity of opinion than in any other in which particular interests are opposed to public good. Indeed, the question of the policy of these duties has been decided—they have been condemned by every administration which this country has had for twelve years past—they have been denounced by every independent politician, and even that last resource has been resorted to by those who are beat in fact and argument, namely, a Select Committee to inquire into facts already known, and which has been attended with the usual result, in eliciting further facts in confirmation of the mischiefs alleged. The story of these duties was told in this House about eight years since. It is fortunately a short one, and I will only repeat it with the brevity that is requisite. I need not perhaps tell the House that this article of necessary consumption is not produced in this country in quantities sufficient for the demand; and that the deficiency is equal to about 1,200,000 loads of timber. Now the countries which supply this article are those in the north of Europe, and those in the north of America; and the characteristics of the wood imported from those countries respectively are that the wood imported from the north of Europe is good and cheap; and the wood from the north of America is bad and dear. The House has now to learn in what proportions the timber so characterised is imported into this country. It is as follows:—three-fifths of the timber is from the country where it is bad and dear, and two-fifths or some what less from the country where it is good and cheap. Now, I think that any stranger to our policy would naturally ask by what contrivance it was, that we were induced to act in a manner so opposed to the usual dealing of sane men; the answer then is, that the Legislature causes a duty of 55s. a-load to be laid upon the good timber, and only 10s. upon the bad. I believe that I am safe in making this statement respecting the character of the wood which is imported into this country, for those who would maintain these duties do not, if I under- 90 stand them dispute it, for they do not say that the community is as well supplied from Canada as from Europe, but they say, do not alter the duties lest every consumer of timber in England should resort to the European market, where he would get the article the cheapest and the best; but not to allow anything to depend upon assertion, I will read a short extract from the report of the House of Lords on this subject, which I presume will be received as an authority. The report says:—North American timber is more soft, less durable, and every description of it more liable to the dry-rot than timber from the north of Europe. Red pine however, which bears a small proportion to the other description of timber, and the greater part of which, though imported from Canada, is the produce of the United States, is distinguished from the white pine by greater durability. On the whole it is stated by one of the Commissioners of his Majesty's navy most distinguished for practical knowledge, experience, and skill, that the Canada timber, both oak and fir, does not possess, for the purpose of shipbuilding, more than half the durability of wood of the same description the produce of the north of Europe.
§ Mr. Copeland,
the most extensive builder and timber merchant in London, has also said in evidence before that Committee:That the timber from the Baltic in general speaking of Norway, Russian, Prussian, and Swedish, is of a very superior quality to that imported from America, the bulk of which is very inferior in quality, much softer in its nature, not so durable, and very liable to dry-rot.This evidence respecting the timber, given nearly twenty years since, was confirmed in every particular before the Committee in 1835; in which will be found most instructive evidence, and none more so than that given by the hon. Member for Bridport, who has in his testimony nearly exhausted the whole subject; but there are some circumstances, in case any doubt should be cast upon individual opinion, which must satisfy every person; for instance, that the Canadian timber is excluded from the dockyards, and also in all building contracts, there is especial provision made, that none shall be used; but there is one thing, perhaps, more conclusive than any other, namely, that for the woods admitting of comparison, there are two prices in the same market, the European timber fetching the higher price. The next point to notice to the House is the pecuniary 91 loss which the use of this inferior timber, at high price causes to the country, and which is not difficult to estimate; for, having the different prices in the market, we can estimate the loss from quality, and taking the duty from the gross price, we learn the difference of price. Now, examining the prices current of the woods of the different countries in the modes in which they are rated and brought to this country, I find that on every load of pine timber we lose 2l. 5s.; on oak timber in the same proportion; on every hundred of deals we lose 171.; and on every thousand of staves, which are so much used in this country for packages, casks, &c., 38l. Now, applying this measure of loss per load to the whole quantity imported from the North American colonies, I find that the loss, after deducting about 100,000 loads of yellow pine, which we must always get from Canada, amounts to the sum of 1,500,000l., an estimate which I find corresponds nearly to other estimates which have been made; for instance, Sir H. Parnell states, in his work on financial reform, which was published when we imported much less timber than now, that the loss was probably above one million; and a most able and intelligent witness (Mr. Norman) stated, in his evidence before the Committee on manufactures, shipping, and commerce, that the trade would not have cost the country less than thirty millions in the last twenty years. I should also state, perhaps, that, owing to the peculiar mode of adjusting the duties on the timber in logs and on deals, the revenue further sustains a loss of about 12s. a load, without any advantage or convenience to the consumer. Now, I contend, that this sum of 1,500,000l. should not be taken from the community unless required for the purposes of revenue, or unless it be shown, that the loss is a necessary loss, or that there are countervailing advantages; but it is the peculiar enormity of this case, that not one sixpence of this sum goes into the revenue—and it is not at all necessary or advisable to continue the system, nor are any of the advantages which are pretended to result from it at all adequate to the evil. It it also a peculiarity in the changes in modes of levying the duty which are proposed, that they can be effected with benefit to the consumer, and without injury, but with some advantage, to the revenue; or even with advantage to the consumer, and great benefit to the revenue; for a given amount of timber must be imported, and a duty on that can in no way be adjusted or collected 92 so little advantageous to the consumer, and so profitable to the revenue as the present duty. I own, when I consider that timber is an important element in production, and that to all classes of producers, whether manufacturing, agricultural, or the labouring, it is of the utmost importance to have it good and cheap, I do extremely regret, that it should have been deemed a fit subject for taxation at all; but, little as it has unfortunately been so deemed, certainly the revenue ought to derive the full benefit from the tax, with the least possible prejudice to the public. But this question is one of far more importance to the labouring classes than it is usually considered; for, when we recollect the miserable dwellings of many of the labouring classes of this country, and the degrading influence of a wretched dwelling upon every poor man, it is impossible to overrate its importance. I have obtained a copy of a report on the dwellings of some of the poorer classes in a large manufacturing town, which I will just refer to, because I believe that it describes their condition in nearly every populous manufacturing town. It is a report made of the dwellings of 1384 families in the borough of Stockport. The hon. Member read the following
Now, I am led to connect this with the price of the materials of building, from the account I get of the condition of the poor in 93 countries where timber is cheap, and I was struck by a passage in the travels of an intelligent author in Norway, Mr. Laing, who observes, upon the comfortable dwellings of the peasants and is led into reflections on our timber laws in consequence. He says:
"Statement of the Number of Families dwelling in Cellars; and also of the Number of Families dwelling in Single Rooms, in Stockport.—Extracted from the Rate-book, June, 1839: 1839: REMARKS. Families dwelling in cellars in Stockport 1,253 These cellars are mostly without drains, cold, damp, and very dark. The poor families who occupy them are subject to fevers, and often lose their health and cheerfulness, whereby they are unable to get a living. There are instances of two families, and lodgers besides, being huddled together in one cellar. Families dwelling in single rooms in Stockport. 131 These rooms are seldom more than 12 feet square, and in that space there are (in some instances) two families and two lodgers, that is, 10 or 12 persons in one room." Families 1,384This population also is much better lodged than our labouring and middle classes, even in the south of Scotland. The dwelling-houses of the meanest labourers are divided into several apartments, have wooden floors, and a sufficient number of good windows; also, some kind of outhouse for cattle and lumber. Every man, indeed, seems, like Robinson Crusoe, to have put up a separate house for everything he possesses. Whoever has observed the condition of our labouring population, will admit the influence of good habitations upon the moral habits of a people. The natives of New Zealand have dwellings more suited to the feelings and decencies of civilised life, than the peasantry of a great proportion of Great Britain and Ireland, who live in dark, one-room hovels, in which not only household comfort and cleanliness are out of the question, but the proper separation of the sexes can scarcely be maintained. It is from the operation of our timber duties, that the working-class in Great Britain, and particularly in Scotland and Ireland, is so wretchedly lodged—an evil by which the whole community suffers. The timber of America is not adapted, either in size, strength, durability, or price for the woodwork of small houses, for the beams, roof timbers, or other parts in which there is strain or exposure, it is considered totally unfit; and were it stronger, the waste in reducing its logs to the proper dimensions prevents the application of it to such small buildings. The duty upon the kind of wood alone suitable for the poor man's habitation, which is the small-sized logs, deals, and battens of Norway, or the Baltic coasts, renders it impossible for the lower, or even the middle classes to lodge themselves comfortably or even decently. It affects the price not merely of the good building material which these countries could furnish at a cost lower than the duty now levied upon it, but it raises our own wood, which no prudent man can use in any work that is intended to last for twenty years. If our labouring classes understood their own interests, they would find that the timber duties press more heavily upon their comfort and well-being than even the corn-laws.And now having traced the evil effects of these duties upon this country, I come to the question, what excuse is there for their continuance? I am, of course, prepared to hear those old watchwords of monopoly, ships and colonies, started again upon this occasion, and to hear the old story, that the British navy depends 94 upon her commercial marine, that this is nourished by the colonies, and that the colonies are the natural customers to the manufacturers; and that without the continuance of this and other monopolies they could not purchase our manufactures. And seeing the success with which these silly fallacies have been urged hitherto, I should shrink from attempting to battle with them, if I did not daily observe the advantage of discussion, and if I did not believe, that by means of discussion the truth will prevail. Now, after having given a careful attention to all the information that can be obtained on this subject, I must say, that there is nothing of which I would venture to speak with more confidence than that the British navy is in no way dependent for its efficiency upon that part of the mercantile marine which is employed in the timber trade; and with respect to the colonies, that their prosperity has been greatly deferred, and that they have been seriously injured by being tempted by means of these duties to divert their capital and industry from their more natural channels of employment, and devote them to the most hazardous, gambling, and demoralizing business into which they could engage is a certain fact. In examining the evidence before the committee, I find that some witnesses who, from their intelligence and local acquaintance with these colonies, seem to have been well competent to speak on this subject, and who were unbiassed by any local interest, have given important evidence to this effect—I allude particularly to Mr. M'Gregor and Mr. Revans. The state, that these colonies have ample resources which would enable them to support their trade with other countries, and that nothing but the bounty which we have placed upon their timber has prevented them from giving to those resources a more ample development. Many products are enumerated for which each seems to have its appropriate section in British America. Canada has its agriculture—New found land its fisheries—Nova Scotia its mines, while New Brunswick would probably have become by this time one of the finest grazing countries in the world, but for the seduction of the timber bounty, which has brought it now to depend for its prosperity on the forced and factitious timber trade. It is urged, too, with some force, that unless these colonies have other resources than the timber trade, it would be a species of fraud practised upon the emigrants to tempt them to settle as agricultur- 95 ists. But, it appears, that all the colonies are far from depending upon the timber trade alone the purchase of imports. For instance, in Canada the imports amount to a million and a half, of which not more than 450,0001. can be paid for in timber, the rest being paid for by the expenditure of our Government, and that of emigrants who bring money out with them, and by products other than timber. It is stated, that this trade is a hazardous and gambling one. Some of the risks of it are pointed out in the evidence before the Committee. For instance, the fluctuations in price here are, upon the whole price of timber, but any variation of price must, in fact, fall upon the original cost of the timber, which makes the speculation in every consignment much more precarious. In New found land there is no timber exported, and in Nova Scotia it is the least item of her exports. New Brunswick seems to be the province chiefly interested in the timber trade, it having an additional advantage in its proximity to the mother country. But it is the misfortune of that colony that she is so dependent. There is also great hazard attending the floating the timber down the river to the ports of shipment, and to such an extent, that the general belief in Canada is, that one-third of this timber is lost before reaching port. This, of course, enhances the value of the car go which reaches its destination in safety, and these are the sorts of prizes which tempt many to place their capital in this worst species of lottery, but which, though some realise fortunes, ends in the ruin of hundreds who engage in the trade. Now, with respect to the influence which this employment, and its accompanying circumstances exercise over the character of the people engaged as lumberers, there appears to be but little difference of opinion. I can conceive no greater nuisance to a well-ordered community, than to have periodical visitations by such people as the lumberers are described to be. They go in bodies, and live in these woods together; are not subject to any of the social influences of civil life; from the greatest temptation to the use of ardent spirits, their constitutions are impaired, and they are rendered reckless in their morals and habits. It is another matter, I believe also no longer in dispute, that this business of lumbering offers no advantage or employment to the emigrants on their first arrival, the object of the emigrant being, to settle down as an agriculturist: and besides, he has not, in general, the skill to use the axe 96 in felling the wood. In truth, no employment is afforded by the trade to any but those who come without any means, and who find employment about some of the lumbering establishments at the ports. But as most of the emigrants leave this country because people have not the means to employ them, and they are assisted to emigrate, what policy is it to tax this country 1,500,0001. in order to find employment for these people in cutting timber across the Atlantic? Far better for the people here to keep their money in their own pockets. But it is too idle to talk of people being destitute for want of employment, or that it is necessary to establish a monopoly. Why the future well-being of the country depends upon a constant tide of emigrants flowing in from this country, and occupying the lands; and, as it might be expected, evidence was given before this committee of the demand for labour that existed in Canada. It was also stated, that all the more recent and flourishing settlements in Upper Canada are quite independent of the timber trade, at such a long distance as Perth and Huron. In short, so clear is it that the advantages of these colonies are not increased with the timber trade, that gross injustice is done by it to them, as well as to the mother country. What remains for us to do, therefore, is, to get rid of the monopoly with as little injury to the capital vested in the trade as it is possible. And here, the more this part of the question is examined, the greater are the facilities which present themselves for altering the duties; for, fortunately, there is, as it were, a trade springing up with the United States in wood; and now the forests are so much cleared in the States of New York and Vermont, that it becomes better economy to import wood from Canada, than it is to resort to their forests; and this gives employment to some of the principal sawmills in that province, which is the most valuable kind of capital I find engaged in this trade. But I think there is little reason to believe that the majority of the people in Canada attach any importance to this monopoly, and they appear to me to care far more for good government than any such adventitious advantage as we give them by such means; and I believe that our chance of retaining those colonies depends far more upon the system of governing them, than it does upon the maintenance of this monopoly. Of one thing I feel sure, namely, that the people of this country will never tolerate or continue the 97 annualloss of 1,500,000l. sterling on the one hand, to satisfy the colonists by means of a monopoly, while on the other hand we are paying nearly an equal sum for the purpose of ruling them by force. This appears to be a favourable moment for redressing, on the one hand, their political grievances, and on the other, for establishing the commercial relations on a sounder footing; and it is really difficult to conceive, with the example of our trade, without monopoly to the United States, how any person will venture to say, that we cannot, with great advantage, have an unrestricted commerce with the countries immediately adjoining. But the persons that I expect will be found to be the most eager in maintaining this monopoly, will be what is called the shipping interest, for they it is who are supposed to be most tenacious of the advantages they gain by it; and I will not deny Sat if we were to import less timber from Canada, it would affect the capital of some ship-owners engaged in that business, in the same way as people are constantly affected by changes and improvements which supersede their customary employments. But that the trade of bringing timber from Canada can be maintained, if we can get it elsewhere at less freight and less cost, or that it can rest upon any thing but a deliberate sacrifice of the public interests for private advantage, I deny. For, Sir, when I hear that the shipping interest is at stake in the maintenance of this trade, it becomes us to inquire what proportion and character of shipping it is that are so employed. Now, in the first place, I find that there are not more than 1816 ships entered altogether in the year, as engaged in the trade between the North American provinces and the United Kingdom, and of these there are about 447 of which the cargoes are not of timber, which must therefore be deducted, and which leaves 1369 for timber. Now as every vessel makes two voyages, this must be again divided by two, which reduces the actual number of ships employed to 684; but, as there would necessarily be about 100,000 loads of Canadian timber to be brought here, which would be about 222 cargoes, that would reduce the number further by 111 vessels, which would then leave 573—which, if the anticipations of the ship-owners were realized, would be deprived of employment were the Canadian timber trade to cease; but supposing this to be the case, what proportion does the House suppose that they bear to the 98 whole mercantile navy of this country and her dependencies? Why the number of registered vessels, in 1836, was upwards of 25,500, and it is to prevent this subtraction from the whole amount of British tonnage that we are told, the shipping interest of this country is in danger, and that we are required to submit to an annual loss of 1,500,000l. to avert it. Why, the annual consumption of ships of this country is, I believe estimated at 1,200 a-year, or thereabouts. But what is it but gratuitous assumption to suppose, that this loss will be sustained to the shipping of this country? It proceeds upon the idea, that the foreign shipping is to monopolize the whole of the increase in the Baltic trade, on the supposition that we should obtain all our timber from that quarter. Why, that was the old cry against Mr. Huskisson, when he altered the navigation laws. It was said then, that the shipping interest was to be ruined, that we were to be beat out of the seas by foreigners, and that the Prussian navy would ride ascendant in the ocean! And I should have thought that the alarmists upon that occasion would have lost their credit as prophets for ever in this country, considering the results which attended that change. For what happened instead of what was predicted? Why, that more ships were built and employed in a given period after those laws were changed than before, and that while foreign shipping has increased 11½ per cent, the English shipping has increased 29 per cent., and the mercantile marine of Prussia has since the period when the reciprocity treaty was signed, diminished in a most marked manner. From this experience, then, there is little reason to expect the results that are predicted in this case; but there are reasons which render it peculiarly improbable in this particular case, for the ships that are usually employed in this trade are ships that have become unfit for service of any other kind, and that have been built and employed for other purposes. Now, to meet an increased demand for shipping, it is far more likely that an adequate supply of cast-off ships, would come from this country, which has the most extensive marine in the world than from countries which have hardly enough to meet their own wants. What has been the case lately with respect to grain which has chiefly come from the Baltic? Has the carrying of that fallen entirely into the hands of foreigners? Or, is it not the reason of the (extravagant freights which the ship-owners, have been 99 lately getting, that they have had an extraordinary demand for vessels for this purpose? Why, there are only two reasons why foreigners should navigate their ships cheaper than we do. One is, that the cost of materials in building their ships is less; and the other is, that the provisioning their ships is cheaper. Now, it would be the obvious effect of reducing the duties on timber, that it would lower the building materials of ships, and with respect to provisions, that applies less to the Baltic trade than to any other. But the truth is, the only just conclusion at which we can arrive from past experience is, that there are at present no people that we know of that can compete with us in navigation. The only people in the world who could and will eventually if any, are the Americans. Yet what is the case there? Why, that in the year 1821, the proportion which our shipping bore to that of the United States in the trade with the United Kingdom was 7½ per Cent., while the proportion of our shipping now is 35 per Cent.; so that even in that case we have been gaining ground. It might be asked why, if foreigners have such decided advantages over us, they do not supersede us where the trade is open to them as well as to us, and why we command the trade, as we do, between Europe and the South American States. Indeed, before the navigation laws were altered, the preference was invariably given to a British ship whenever the trade was free. In fact, there is a decided superiority in our vessels and our seamen, and consequently as every body else can see but a shipowner, who has always got a monopoly in his eye, nothing can benefit the shipping interest more than to extend our commerce in every quarter of the world, which can only be done by removing from it restrictions of every kind; and it really is lamentable to see a class of men like the shipowners siding so frequently with those who take narrow and selfish views of their own as well as their country's interest. I believe it is usual on these occasions with those who uphold the timber monopoly to urge the interest of the manufacturers in its behalf, and it is said that they are anxious to preserve it for the sake of keeping the colonial market for our manufactures. I do not believe that the manufacturers are so foolish. I believe that they are too wise to distinguish between foreign customers and colonial customers, and what they feel the most is, that they have been deprived against their will of their foreign customers 100 by these and similar restrictions upon their commerce. Especially, they complain of these duties on timber, which have tended so materially to disturb their intercourse with the north of Europe. I believe that no step could be taken that would be more satisfactory to the manufacturers of this country than one which would tend to revive a trade with those countries, for they feel, and most justly, that every hour that this commerce is suspended, that fresh manufacturing rivals are springing up in those countries, and that nothing would stay that competition more, and more favour them, than greater facilities being afforded for the introduction of our manufactures into other countries by our taking their products. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds has a. notice of a motion this evening on the subject; for the time is now at hand when those countries, united under the German League, are about to agree upon the terms on which they wish to rest their commercial relations with other countries in future, and I believe it will depend upon what we are disposed to agree to upon the subject of corn and timber, whether we shall be excluded still farther than we are at present from their markets. Considering, therefore, the great importance which belongs to this question, the vast consequence which it is to the productive classes of every kind in this country, and having shown, as I consider, that those who seek to continue the monopoly have no public or national ground on which to rest their claim, I do hope that the House will consent to the motion that I now propose to it, "that this House do resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider the duties now levied on foreign and colonial timber."
§ Mr. Alderman Thompson
although he admired the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, differed entirely from the conclusions at which he had arrived. He was opposed in principle to the object which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had in view, and he thought, that a subject of such vast importance ought not to have been brought forward at that late period of the Session, The hon. Member had done little more than go over the old ground of complaint against the shipping interest, but it should be borne in mind, that that interest was second to none in this country, The hon. Member had stated, that the sacrifice in 101 consequence of the present system of timber duties was not less than 1,500,000l.sterling a year; but in this calculation he was clearly erroneous, inasmuch as he supposed, that a great quantity of the timber necessary for the consumption of the country might be brought from the north of Europe at the same price that it was now had from Canada. If, however, the hon. Member had referred to the report of the committee of 1835, and if he had looked into the evidence taken before that committee, he would have found it expressly stated, that the result of having the supply of timber which we wanted from the north of Europe, would enhance the price of timber there, and enhance it here. The woods and forests contiguous to the navigable rivers of the north of Europe, had been all nearly cut down, and this would soon render it necessary to resort to the woods and forests in the interior, which would require additional labour, and consequently increase the expense. If the object which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had in view were carried out, there would, in point of fact, be no bounty left in favour of Canadian timber, and then he apprehended, that that House would destroy the export trade of Canada, which took nearly 4,000,000l.of our manufactures, and returned between 3,000,000l. and 4,000,000l. to this country in timber and other articles. The quantity of timber exported annually from Canada was about 400,000 loads, and upwards of 24,000 of the population of those colonies were engaged exclusively in the lumber or timber trade. The report of the committee of 1835, recommended the continuance of the protecting duties, and pointed out the ruin in which the colonists engaged in the trade would be involved if a change were to take place, without their being compensated for the loss which they would sustain. This he thought was a complete refutation of the statement of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, that the colonists were indifferent on the subject. No doubt it was true, that the number of ships entered in this trade amounted to 1,800, and the seamen to 22,000, but the hon. Member was not correct when he stated, that they made two voyages a year. He did not believe, that one in three made a second voyage. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton had stated that the alteration in the 102 Navigation Laws had not produced an increase in the same ratio of ships in foreign nations as in this country; but instead of confining his attention to Prussia, he should have looked to Russia, Norway, and Denmark, and if he had done so, he would have found an increase of perhaps fifty per cent. It would be highly impolitic on the part of this country to destroy the intercourse that subsisted between Great Britain and her colonies. Such a course would deprive our manufacturers of the advantages of the colonial markets, for it was impossible that the transfer of the timber trade from Canada to the Baltic, could do otherwise than inflict serious injury on the British manufacturers. The hon. Member stated, that the Canadian timber had been excluded from the dock-yards and public works on account of its inferiority; but all he could say was, that he was not aware of any such fact, or that any such inferiority existed. He thought the hon. Member could not have selected a more unfortunate period for bringing forward his motion than the present, for could he for a moment doubt, that if they were now to transfer from Canada their principal export trade, it would occasion disappointment and heart-burnings, and operate as an encouragement to these colonies to persevere in their endeavours to separate themselves from the mother country? The hon. Member had stated, that all former Governments were favourable to the alteration of those duties, but he was mistaken, as the contrary was the fact.
§ Mr. Warburton
said, that as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had formerly been favourable to the alteration of these duties, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would now express the opinion which be held upon the subject. His hon. Friend (Mr. Alderman Thompson) had told them that a free trade in timber would be no advantage, and he had also said, that if they were to get their supply of timber from the north of Europe, it would lead to a rise in the price. At present the difference was not less than from 20s. to 25s. a load, and, therefore, even supposing Baltic timber to advance 5s. a load, there would still be a considerable gain. They would, in fact, gain the difference of 1,000,000l. by the re-establishment of the free trade. Now, when the expenditure and income of the country were so exactly balanced, that 103 hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House told them, that they had no means of venturing upon any measure of financial reform, however widely beneficial, and however much desired, he thought it was time for the House to consider, whether by the revision of the laws affecting any branch of our foreign trade, they could obtain such a margin of income above expenditure as would give room for financial reforms. It was said, that a great number of shipping would be thrown out of employment by a free trade in timber. He did not believe it. He did not believe, that this country availed itself of the advantages which it had for the employment of its shipping. How much might be done to increase such employment by colonization? There were ports not frequented four years ago, to which there were now large numbers of vessels continually sailing—why not obtain the same advantages for others of our colonies by similar means? The corn-trade also might be made an immense source of employment, and why did we not avail ourselves of it? He, so far from regretting the small excess of income over expenditure, really believed, that nothing would force the Legislature to the proper consideration of these subjects, but being driven to the conclusion, that in order to increase the income they must either open some new branches of foreign trade, or impose new taxes. When they were driven to this alternative; as he hoped they would be, to choose between opening their ports to goods from the cheapest market and imposing new taxes, he believed that what seemed now to be regarded as the exploded doctrine of free trade would again find favour with the Legislature. Having expressed his opinion very fully on this subject before the committee which sat upon it, he did not think it necessary now to go into details. He would only say, that he still held the same opinions which he expressed then, when he was a merchant engaged in the timber trade.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, he was very glad that his hon. Friend, the Member for Wolverhampton, had brought this subject under the consideration of the House. But he concluded that his hon. Friend from his not proposing any specific plan to the House, as he would be bound to do the moment they went into Committee—and as he was bound to state, before the House 104 could consent to go into Committee—intended only to call public attention to this very important subject, and did not think it desirable, or that it would be of any use to press his motion to a division. He was glad at the same time that his hon. Friend had brought it under the consideration of the House, and be willingly admitted, that he was one of those who regretted that subjects of this kind did not attract more of the attention of Parliament. It might be said to him "If such be your opinions, why do you not yourself introduce matters of this description to the House?" That might be said; but he could not help feeling that he must be guided by what appeared to be the taste and feeling of the House. If he found that there was a general apathy to such discussions, and that they did not receive attention from the House, it would be unbecoming in him to press them forward, and he did not think that bringing them forward under such circumstances, would be attended with any practical advantage. He did not think that he could introduce with any chance of success, a measure founded on the report of the Committee of 1835, for a general alteration of the timber duties. From the state of parties it would very likely be made a party question; and supposing it to be treated as a party question by the other side of the House as it very naturally would be, those on his side of the House, who represented interests opposed to a change, would join with the opposition, and so render the success of any measure impossible. A measure had been lost on a former occasion by a majority of twenty-five. In the year 1835, he had obtained a Committee, in which the question was much debated, and after much contest, a report was agreed to, by no very considerable majority. His opinion was not at all changed since that time. He was satisfied that the whole system of timber duties was extremely bad. It was injurious to many interests, and not beneficial to any, to the extent that was represented, not even to the shipping interests, or to the colonists themselves. At the same time that he expressed these views, he was not prepared for any violent or sweeping change in those duties, which might seriously affect or destroy existing interests. He thought, however, that some middle term might be found. He believed that the shipping-owners exaggerated to the greatest possible degree, the loss they would sustain by a change. 105 The hon. Alderman on the other side, had talked of an entire transference of the trade from Canada to the countries about the Baltic as the result of a change. His hon. Friend had tried to establish the same thing before the Committee, but had signally failed. It was proved distinctly, to the Committee, that the quality of a portion of the Canadian timber had materially improved of late years, and that under a moderate and fair protection it would still continue to come into this country. There was another large portion of it used for what might seem trifling, but was not so in reality—he meant that which was used for packing-cases, and which would still come from Canada. So would the timber used for the inner fitting-up of houses and window cases. It was distinctly proved before the Committee, and not attempted to be disproved, that a large portion of the timber imported would, under a free trade, still come from Canada. It might be asked,—what, then, would be the advantage of a free trade? The advantage would be this, that that portion of Canada timber which is now used for purposes for which it is unfit, would be replaced by timber from the Baltic. He thought his hon. Friend, the Member for Sunderland (Ald. Thompson) had pushed his argument a little too far. He did not wish to enter into figures and documents then, but he must say, that his hon. Friend appeared to be a glutton of protection. His hon. Friend said, "Could you refuse this protection of 45s. a load to Canada timber?" Canada timber paid only 10s. a load, and Baltic timber 55s. and his hon. Friend wondered how they could think of refusing such a protection. Now, considering that the cost of Canada timber, put on board at Quebec, was 18s. a load, this premium of 45s. was not very trifling. But his hon. Friend was not satisfied with a premium which was only two and a half times the first cost of the article which it was intended to protect. He did not believe, that his hon. Friend, looking over the whole customs of the country, would find any other article to which such an exaggerated protection was applied. He did not believe that those persons to whom the timber trade gave employment in Canada, would be affected by a change to the extent that was asserted. He did not believe that anything like a total transfer of the trade would take place, and if his hon. Friend could establish such a conclusion, it would only prove, that the hon. Member for Wolver- 106 hampton did not exaggerate in estimating the loss to this country from the timber duties at 1,500,000l. He did not believe either in the transfer or the amount of loss; but certainly the one depended upon the other. The hon. Alderman said, that there were 24,000 labourers, or persons employed in the timber trade in Canada, and he asked if their interests were to be injured without compensation? It would seem as if he wished to make them rich, for if the loss of 1,500,000l. which this country sustained, were divided between them, it would give each of those 24,000 persons 600l. a-year. Why, it would be cheaper at once to compensate them in money than to go on at the present rate; but his hon. Friend must see, that by pushing his argument, he only injured his own case. If this were true, surely that House ought not to submit to such an enormous waste of money as arose from such a state of things. He could not, however, agree with his hon. Friend in his premises, for he believed an alteration might take place, that moderate duties might be adopted, so as to benefit the consumers, and, at the same time, not to injure either the ship owners or the colonists. The argument against this, which he had heard urged, was, that if Baltic timber were taken instead of Canadian timber, foreign ships would be employed; but did not the facts show that such would not be the case? No doubt foreign ships would obtain their fair share of the trade; but whether the timber came from Prussia or Russia, the ships of those countries would only get their due proportion, and no more; and this was proved by all that had occurred since the reciprocity treaties had been entered into. The truth was, that instead of losing we were gaining in the competition; and as to foreign vessels being able to carry at a cheaper rate than ours, he did not believe it. If they could, he asked how it happened that more English ships were employed in the Brazils and the Mediterranean than of any other country, even than of America? In the course of the Spring no less than 115 British ships had entered the port of Trieste, not from England, but from different other countries—from the Brazils and the United States. He was quite satisfied from the information which he had received that the shipping interest of this country was at present in an excellent condition. For three or four years past they had heard nothing about it within the walls 107 of that House; but if there had been a pretext for alleging distress, could it be doubted that their table would have been loaded with petitions: that motions for the repeal of the Reciprocity Act would have been made; and that they would have had no end of complaints of every description. His hon. Friend, the Member for Sunderland, had said, that not one out of every three ships employed in this trade, made a second voyage in the year; but he seemed not to know that when they arrived here, they were sent to other places, while other ships proceeded in their stead to Canada. Whether the same ship went back again or not, did not make the slightest difference. There was one difficulty connected with the subject, which was worthy of consideration, namely, the present state of the colonies, which ought to be well considered before the Government could undertake to introduce any alterations. However unfounded they might consider the views of the colonists, they should take care not to do that which might add another grievance to those who supposed they had too many already. When the Government should consider the proper period arrived to bring it before Parliament they would be quite willing to do so on their own responsibility.
§ Mr. Villiers
expressed his satisfaction at hearing what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade. It was pleasing to him and to those of his friends who entertained similar views with respect to the timber duties to ascertain that the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman remained unchanged, and to find him as zealous a supporter of that important cause now, which he had advocated with so much usefulness and ability at a former period. He would admit, that there was great truth in what had been said with respect to the taste and feelings of that House. There was too little taste in that House for matters which affected the commercial interests of the great masses of the population. But, notwithstanding that disinclination upon the part of the House, he had felt it his duty to bring forward a subject of so much importance to the public, and he felt confident that the discussions upon it would awaken the public mind to their true interests. The public were closely watching their proceedings, and if they only read the discussions in that House they would be sufficient to demonstrate 108 the truth of the objections which had been made to the present system, and the fallacy of the arguments that were brought forward by the advocates of monopoly. His right hon. Friend had so well answered the arguments of the hon. Alderman, that he felt it scarcely necessary to allude to them, further than to say, that the hon. Alderman wished them to prefer particular and local interests to the general interests of the people. Seeing the state of the House, and considering the speech of the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, he should not press his motion.
§ Motion withdrawn.
§ House immediately afterwards counted out.