HC Deb 15 July 1842 vol 65 cc175-9
Mr. Labouchere

begged to remind the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) of the question which he had formerly put on the subject of the duty imposed by the new tariff on the exportation of Cement-stone. He wished to know whether it was the intention of her Majesty's Ministers to adhere to that duty? If it were carried into effect, the impost would entirely destroy a trade which employed a great number of industrious persons. He asked, then, whether the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to take any measure for removing the grievance complained of? And further, he wished to know whether, if it were deemed expedient to remove the duty on Cement-stone, he would not take care that the Lords of the Treasury should adopt such measures as would prevent this trade from suffering any interruption until the alteration was effected?

Mr. Gladstone

said, the attention of her Majesty's Government was called to this subject at a late period. The proposal for laying a duty on Cement-stone was printed and lay before the House for three months, from the 11th of April until July, without attracting the notice of the persons connected with that part of the country where the trade was carried on. He mentioned this, because it would afford a justification for an unwillingness, on the part of the Government, to re-open a question connected with duties after the decision of the House of Commons. However, after the tariff had passed, it was stated that the duty on the exportation of Cement-stone would have the effect of destroying that trade altogether; and, therefore, an inquiry was set on foot to ascertain the facts of the case. It would be here proper for him to atate the grounds on which the duty was originally proposed. The reason was, because strong representations had been made to the Government by persons connected with the manufacture of cement in this country, to the effect, that if the exportation were not checked, the material of which cement was composed was likely to be exhausted. It was alleged that the public works in this country required a great deal of cement, and that if the exportation of Cement-stone continued to a great extent, the material would, after the lapse of a few years, disappear from our coasts altogether. He believed that the representations made by these parties, as to the probable disappearance of the material, were bonâ fide representations. But they had deemed it necessary to make inquiries on the subject; and, after hearing the statements of the different parties, after investigating the whole case, they had come to the conclusion that there was no likelihood, within any assignable period, of the exhaustion of this material. They, therefore, thought that the duty imposed on the exportation of Cement-stone, resting as it did on this mistaken ground, ought not to be persisted in; and he should propose to the House to repeal that duty. He believed that, if the duty were continued, it would have the effect during the summer months of depriving 500 or 600 men belonging to the hard-working and industrious class of employment. It was proper, therefore, that it should be repealed. The next point to be considered was, how this object was to be carried into effect? It would be extremely inconvenient to introduce a bill for this purpose alone. Circumstances, however, rendered that course unnecessary; for, in consequence of a printer's error, it would be necessary to introduce an amended bill with reference to the customs' duties. The matter stood thus:—In the timber schedule, after the resolutions had passed the committee, and when the bill was printed from the manuscript of the Chairman of the committee, it appeared that "1842" was inserted instead of "1843;" that error passed from the reprint of the bill to the engrossed bill, and was now the law of the land, though contrary to the intention of Parliament. This, as he said before, rendered it necessary to re-introduce a bill, and by that bill they might remove altogether the export duty on Cement-stone. He should, therefore, now move, with the permission of the House— That the House resolve itself into a committee on the Customs' Acts, with a view of moving a resolution that it is expedient further to amend the law relating to the customs. When that bill was introduced, it would touch upon other matters, not, however, relating to the duties, which he would explain at the proper time. It was very proper that in the interval between the present period and the passing of the bill there should be no interruption to the export of Cement-stones. The fire at Ham burgh had created an increased demand for the article, which was of very great use in the construction of public works. On that point the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman had been anticipated. A letter had been addressed to the Lords of the Treasury on the subject, and directions had in consequence been given to the officers of the customs at Harwich to allow the free exportation of Cement-stone, the parties exporting giving security that they would abide by the decision of Parliament, whatsoever that decision might be. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving:— That the House resolve itself into a committee of the whole House for the purpose of considering a resolution relative to the Customs Act.

Mr. B. Wood

suggested to the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade the propriety of extending to China clay the same principle which he was about to adopt with respect to Cement-stone. The two articles stood precisely in the same situation. A great number of people were employed in the China clay trade, and the revenue which the duty would produce was very trifling.

Mr. Gladstone

said, that in the committee on the bill which it would be his duty to introduce, the hon. Member would have an opportunity to propose a motion on the subject. He, however, would assuredly set his face against: re opening any question where the parties had been previously heard, their petitions received, and the decision of the House taken.

The Speaker

left the Chair. In committee, Mr. Gladstone moved— That it is expedient further to amend the laws relating to the Customs.

Mr. Labouchere

said, he conceived, that the proposition of his hon. Friend had very fair claims on the House, and in his opinion, steps ought to be taken to remove the duty to which he alluded. With respect to the duty on cement stone, he was extremely glad that the right hon. Gentleman was about to adopt the course which he had stated. He begged, however, to impress on the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, the necessity of being extremely cautious in adopting the mischievous principle of taxing the exports of the country. The danger of taking that course was clearly exemplified with reference to the sulphur trade of Sicily. The Neapolitan government having a complete monopoly of that trade, laid a very heavy duty on the export of the article. What was the consequence? Why, the ingenuity of our manufacturers was immediately called into activity, and from the pyrites of iron, sulphur had been extracted as good and as cheap as could be procured from the mines of Sicily. The sulphur trade was, therefore, no longer a source of large revenue to the Neapolitan government. He had mentioned this circumstance to show the danger of levying duties on the exports of this country, since it might lead other countries to devise the means of dispensing with those exports. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be more favourable to levying duties on exports than was desirable, and it was right, that the danger of the principle should be pointed out to him.

Viscount Howick

entirely agreed with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. The principle on which those export duties proceeded was decidedly erroneous. It was especially so in the case of coals. The consequence of the export duty on that article, in the course of the ensuing winter, would be greatly to diminish labour in the collieries, and thereby to add to the distress and suffering that already prevailed there. Such would be the inevitable consequence of adopting this most mistaken principle.

The resolution agreed to.

House resumed.

Resolution reported. Bill to be brought in.

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