HC Deb 23 March 1842 vol 61 cc1111-3
Mr. P. M. Stewart

begged to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet to a subject of the greatest importance to his constituents and to the country generally; he alluded to the alteration and reduction of the duties on timber, foreign and colonial, as affecting the interests of holders in this country. He believed the right hon. Baronet was aware, that at no former period was there such a quantity of duty-paid timber on hand, as at this moment. In London that such was the case, had, as he understood been represented to the right hon. Baronet; and in the Clyde, the Canadian timber now held, duty-paid, was greater in quantity than at any former period. He had had an interview with some of the holders of that stock this day, and they informed him that they were in- duced to take that large quantity on hand, because they thought they were sure that the differential duty would remain unaltered; and it was not the custom to bond Canadian timber. The question which he wished to ask was, whether it were the intention of the right hon. Baronet to relieve those parties, either by a remission or drawback of the duty (as had been done in former cases), or to give them time to get rid of their stock before the alteration of the duty came into effect.

Sir R. Peel

said, he had received communications on this subject from a variety of quarters to the same effect as those which had been addressed to the hon. Gentleman. With respect to the peculiarly large amount of duty-paid timber now in the possession of British timber merchants, the hon. Member had mentioned one cause which he thought sufficient to explain the fact; but there was another reason which he had not adverted to, and which possibly would go still further to account for the very large stock on hand; he meant the notice which was given last year by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) of proposing a duty of 20s. a load on colonial timber, and one object of the parties might be to increase their stock and escape the larger duty; and in this predicament undoubtedly the proposed reduction had caught them, to use the very expressive phrase of the hon. Gentleman. He was asked, whether he would allow any drawback; his answer was—certainly not. There were cases in which, upon articles subject to the jurisdiction of the Customs, a drawback had been allowed—on silk for instance; and they should operate as a decisive warning against the adoption of such a system in all time coming. He had good reason to know, within the last few days, what must be the fate of him who attempted great commercial reforms. One party charged him with an unwillingness to touch great interests, and another that he interfered with the stability of trade. The statements he had received from the dealers in timber in this country represented the great depression of trade—there was no demand for timber, and in consequence of that depression the price of timber had fallen considerably, so that it was impossible now to sell Canadian timber, even at prime cost. The answer he had to make to all such representations was, "Then let us try to revive the demand by encouraging industry and opening new sources of employment." That would afford some compensation. At the same time he should be unwilling by precipitate changes to affect unjustly those who had paid the duty on their stocks. He did not, therefore, propose that the new duties should attach to timber so early as the 5th of April. He meant to allow a longer interval, the exact amount of which he would state immediately after the recess. Although the whole subject of the alterations in the tariff had occupied the attention of the Government, and those departments with which they had confidential intercourse, it was of course impossible to consult tho3e engaged in the trade, and a vast variety of interests must necessarily be affected by those who undertook such extensive reforms. All the communications he had received convinced him that no proposition of greater value could be made than the main one of reducing greatly the duties on Baltic timber. To that he adhered, giving at the same time a full and complete protection to colonial timber. He was firmly convinced, that colonial timber would maintain its ground with Baltic timber, having regard to the scale of duties; but he would not give a single shilling of drawback. Without, however, postponing too long the claims of the consumer, he would endeavour as far as possible to lighten cases of individual injustice. The great compensation to the timber trade would be the prospect of an increased demand for timber, and a more profitable employment for capital invested in it.