HC Deb 30 July 1844 vol 76 cc1560-2
Mr. Hume

in calling the attention of the House to the present distressed state of the Coopers' Trade throughout Great Britain, begged to be permitted to say a few words respecting the causes in which that depression of so useful and important a branch of artisanship had originated. Before the alteration of the Tariff, the trade was comparatively prosperous; but the changes introduced into the imports of West-India produce by that measure, had thrown the trade in casks and cooperage into the United States, where no duties were laid upon staves, and where, in consequence, the coopers worked at an advantage of 33 per cent. above those who had formerly supplied the planters with casks. The fisheries were affected in like manner, for the South Sea whalers, which formerly took their supplies of casks from coopers in this country, now had recourse to the cheapest markets, and the difference was so enormous as to render it a matter of no wonder to any person conversant with the fact, that this branch of trade was altogether declining, and that the fisheries themselves were slipping out of the hands of the English seamen. All that the British coopers sought for was, to be placed upon the same footing with respect to the price of the raw material with their foreign competitors, and to be suffered to procure oak staves, the staple of their occupation, at the same relative duties. The hon. Member moved that this House will early in the next Session of Parliament, "take the Petitions of the coopers into consideration, with a view of relieving them from their present distress."

Mr. Gladstone

thought the class of persons whose case the hon. Gentleman advocated charged their distress upon causes to which it was not fairly attributable. They appeared to entertain the impression that their misfortunes were to be traced to the alterations in the Tariff effected in 1842. He (Mr. Gladstone) was prepared to contend, on the contrary, that that change in the law had materially improved their condition. He certainly inferred, at the time that change was proposed, that the parties interested in this branch of trade were perfectly satisfied with the contemplated alteration, for they made no remonstrance against it. The hon. Member for Montrose seemed to suppose that a prohibitive duty had been imposed on the importation of American staves into the West Indies previously to 1842; but, so far from that being the case, the duty imposed on the importation of American staves into those colonies before 1842 was very moderate—not more than 10 or 12 per cent. on the value of the staves. He believed that the depression which had taken place in this branch of trade was attributable, in a great degree, to the falling-off in the exports from this country to the West Indies. There had also, he might observe, been a material reduction in the exports from the United States to our West-India Colonies. This trade, he might remind the House, so far as those colonies were concerned, depended in a great measure upon the whale fishery, which within the last ten or twelve years had been much less successful than formerly. Another cause of the depression in this trade might be that, during the years 1842 and 1843, a very high price had ruled for Baltic staves, in consequence of an extremely restricted supply. But there had also been changes in branches of trade in this country which had had considerable effect upon the coopers' trade. In London that trade was dependent in a great measure upon the demand of brewers; and he understood that the brewers had lately adopted a new system of gathering in their casks from the public-houses. The consequence was, that the quantity of empty casks in the vaults of public-houses was considerably reduced, and a temporary slackness was imparted to the trade. This circumstance, he believed, had had a material effect upon the coopers' trade in London. But another circumstance which had undoubtedly affected the London trade was this:—that much of the brewing trade had been transferred from London to Burton-upon-Trent, and there had consequently been a reduced demand for casks in London. He believed, however, that the condition of the trade at the present moment was not so bad as the hon. Member for Montrose supposed, for he found that, during the first six months of the present year, there had been a considerable increase as compared with the first six months of the last year. He believed, therefore, that the distress under which the coopers were now labouring could not be ascribed to the changes of 1842; that distress had been considerably alleviated, and he had reason to hope that the trade was gradually improving.

Mr. Hutt

believed that the coopers, one of the most industrious classes in this country, were in a state of great distress; but he did not consider this a proper time to enter into a discussion of this subject, and he was, therefore, content to leave the matter for the present in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. But unless this [question was fairly taken up in the next Session of Parliament, he would co-operate with any one, either in that House or out of it, to force upon the Government the importance of placing this matter on a more satisfactory footing.

Motion negatived.