§ Mr. Ricardo
rose to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice, thatAn humble Address be presented to tier Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to give directions to Her servants not to enter into any negotiations with foreign powers, which would make any contemplated alterations of the tariff of the United kingdom contingent on the alterations of the tariffs of other countries; and humbly expressing to tier Majesty the opinion of this House, that the great object of relieving the commercial intercourse between this country and foreign nations from all injurious restrictions, will be best promoted by regulating our own Customs' duties as may be most suitable to the financial and commercial interests of this country, without reference to the amount of duties which foreign powers may think it expedient, for their own interests, to levy on British goods.The hon. Gentleman said, that at the commencement of the Session of Parliament in 1842, the following passages occurred in the Speech from the Throne:—I receive from all Princes and States the continued assurance of their earnest desire to maintain the most friendly relations with this country. I am engaged in negotiation with several powers, which, I trust, by leading to conventions, founded on the just principles of mutual advantage, may extend the trade and commerce of the country.1271 In the speech of Her Majesty at the beginning of the present Sessions, although the same, and even more stress was laid upon the friendly dispositions of foreign powers, no mention was made of commercial conventions at all. The natural inference from this would be, that the effect of the course which had been hitherto pursued was altogether unsatisfactory. The extension of our trade and commerce was the object we had in view in entering into these negotiations, and their want of success under circumstances of the most favourable nature in times of peace and good intelligence with the countries with whom they were undertaken, would seem to indicate that there was something radically wrong in the system under which they were commenced, and to lead to the inquiry as to whether, having signally failed in obtaining our object by means of negotiations to extend our exports, we might not arrive at the same end by simple legislation, in regard to imports. The principal treaties which were in question in 1842 were those with Brazil, with Portugal, Spain and France. The fate of the first of these treaties had been most pathetically described by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. It was now clearly understood that the result of all these protracted negotiations with Brazil was, a handsome proposition on the part of the Brazilian Government not to raise the duties on our commodities more than 25 per cent., in return for certain concessions on our part. What the concessions were the right hon. Gentleman had not shown; but, however preposterous were the proposals of the Brazilian government, he would venture to say, those of our own Government were so in a four or five-fold degree. Great as was his respect for the abilities of the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Department, and of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, displayed, as these last were nowhere so conspicuously as in making a good case out of bad materials, he could not imagine what arguments they had used in order to entice the Brazilian government to adopt a policy against which our own example set them on their guard. Certainly a proposition to reduce restrictions of 30 or 40 per cent. would not come well from a nation which imposed a duty of 400 or 500 per cent. upon Brazilian produce. With regard to the slave-trade argument, he would merely advert to it. A convention for the suppression of slavery was one 1272 thing, and a treaty of commerce was another; and if an abhorrence of slavery were the ground upon which the Government withheld from the people the advantages of an extended trade with the Brazils, he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it would not be more economical rather than to continue a costly annual sacrifice, to grant compensation to the Brazilian as well as to the West Indian slave-holders. In Spain they had done more than negotiate, they had expended treasure and risked war. The government of Spain could not but know that upwards of 300,000 of her people were employed in smuggling, and in smuggling only; and yet, with every circumstance apparently in our favour to assist and encourage our efforts to effect a commercial treaty with Spain; it was a fact that we were further off our point than ever. British influence had never been so low in the Peninsula as at the present moment. The next commercial convention which had miscarried was that with Portugal, and the derangement in the wine trade which had been occasioned by it the House was aware of. In a circular of the wine trade, dated May, 1843, it was stated—We fear that, independent of the consequences of the long-protracted negotiations, the consumption of wine has suffered from the depression which has affected all articles of luxury, but by reference to Table A., it will be seen, that the deficiency on port alone, last year, is no less than 1,081,637 gallons (being more than half), and 312,816l. of revenue.Unfortunately, wine merchants were not the only sufferers, nor can the effects be regarded as merely temporary, as would undoubtedly be experienced both by ourselves and by the Portuguese, who appear to forget that until the beginning of the last century French wines constituted here, as now in the north of Europe, almost the whole consumption. The trade remonstrated, but even while remonstrating, they avowed—We cannot blind ourselves to the fact, that, while we are demanding of Portugal the admission of our manufactures at some 30 or 40 per cent., the rate of duty we offer her in return cannot be estimated at less than 150 per cent. on the cost of her wine, nor less than 600 percent. on her brandy; we do not allude to the few pipes of expensive wines shipped to England, but to the general growths of the country, and alone known to the inhabitants as the wines of Portugal;' and, we may add, that the same applies, more or less, to the 1273 wines and spirits of all wine-growing countries. Although the use of wine is permitted to very few in England, it is produced over the whole of the south of Europe, in unlimited quantities; and there, as well as places like Hamburg, where the duty is low, is not considered a luxury, more than tea or coffee, and all are aware of the greatly increased consumption and trade, as well as the increased revenue derived from these articles, since, by reduced prices and duties, they have been placed within the reach of a large class of consumers. It has been officially stated, that the reduction of duty on the wines of Portugal will be followed by a similar reduction on those of other countries; but if these are to be delayed until treaties of reciprocity are settled, the confusion, and frauds in business, and against the revenue, which will inevitably ensue, are incalculable.But this was not all: so far from there being any probability of a reduction in the duties of those commodities of Portuguese produce, by the import of which our trade with Portugal would be extended, a fresh impediment had been thrown in the way by the Chancellor of the Exchequer having agreed to grant a drawback to the wine-merchants to the amount of the duty reduced. So that before any arrangement could be made, they would find that, on a moderate calculation, for every 1s. of duty taken off, from 150,000l. to 200,000l. would have to be paid as compensation to the wine merchants. With France we had been equally unsuccessful—we had been engaged in almost interminable diplomatic arrangements to negotiate a commercial treaty. As the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere) had happily styled it, "always pending, never ending." Upon this point, he might call attention to a paper, drawn up by Mr. M'Gregor, upon the subject of Commercial Tariffs, in which he quotes the opinion of M. St. Ferrial, given about nine years ago, as to what should be the system of commercial policy for France to pursue. M. St. Ferrial, in a work dedicated to M. Guterin, Director-in-chief of the administration of customs, professes to elucidate the principles of the French customs, and sums them up as follows:—1 To reduce the existing duties solely on materials required for manufactures. 2. To protect the importation of machines and tools for manufactures. (They had done this.) 3. To treat cotton-twists and linen-yarns as manufactured goods, and not as articles necessary for manufactures. (They had adhered most rigidly to this principle; for the only result of our diplomatic intrigues had been a 1274 raising of the import duties in France on our linens and linen yarns.) 4. To abolish no prohibition, to reduce no duty on manufactures on any other consideration than to lessen the profits of fraud. (This principle had been well carried out.) 5. To prohibit the exportation of machinery, tools, teazles, &c., and all that may contribute to the development of foreign industry. 6. To protect our merchant shipping in an efficient manner, by particularly favouring the importation of our merchandize from the ports of first shipping. 7. To consider as a principle that, in all treaties to be negotiated with England, most of the conditions which she will propose a re to be avoided.This was a principle which France had never lost sight of; and although it was known to the French Government that their loss on sugars was 30,000,000f., and on iron 50,000,000f.—though it was known that the prohibition had produced incalculable mischief to both countries, yet notwithstanding all our efforts, it was now clearly ascertained that all idea of the commercial treaty was abandoned. Hitherto he had spoken only of the actual catastrophic of each particular treaty, and it would be an endless task to attempt to describe the various complications and dilemmas of these conventions were he to treat them relatively the one to the other. Independently of binding ourselves down to a particular course of commercial policy there was a clause in many of these sort of documents commonly called "the most favoured clause" which rendered every alteration in our Tariff a subject of negotiation and, perhaps, of altercation, not with one country alone, but with every country producing the commodity affected by the change; in the late treaty which had been concluded by Lord Ashburton with the United States, on the Boundary question, a commercial claim had been inserted, by which it was stipulated that the produce of the state of Maine, coming into the British colony of New Brunswick, should be considered as British produce, and admitted into the United Kingdom at the colonial rate of duty. Now, it appeared to him that they might be placed in a serious dilemma by this clause, for it might very fairly be said by the other corn and timber growing countries having the most favoured clause, that as Maine was as much a portion of the United States as New York itself, there was no reason why their produce should not be admitted upon the same terms. They knew of a parallel case. A low rate of duty 1275 had been imposed upon rice, the produce of the western coast of Africa, and the American Government claimed to have their rice admitted at the same duty. The late Government had refused their claim but the present Government had admitted it, by equalising the duty in the late change in the Tariff. This would show the nature of the difficulty that might arise under the clause he had referred to. But if he wanted any evidence as to the difficulties attending commercial treaties, he might appeal to the answer given last year by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) to a question put by the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell) as to the progress of certain negotiations then pending. The right hon. Baronet said:—He need not describe the difficulties which often arise in the course of negotiations, the prejudices which exist, and the jealousies the Government have to contend with. But in addition, they were also exposed to difficulties which could hardly be anticipated from some change taking place in a foreign government, which rendered it necessary, if not to recommence the negotiations, at least to enter into lengthened explanations. The difficulties of negotiating commercial treaties were not confined to the negotiations with arbitrary governments, indeed he might observe that the spread of constitutional principles, and the establishment of representative governments, had not increased the facilities of making these treaties; on the contrary, it had rather increased than abated the difficulties.He had quoted the testimony of the right hon. Baronet, and now he asked the House whether he had not fulfilled his pledge of showing that the system of seeking development for our trade, by meddling with foreign custom houses, was unwise, impolitic, and dangerous? He did honestly believe that this was manifest, and it was not without some mortification that he found that the Government of England had not been the first to avow it. In France M. Guizot had abandoned the deceptive advantages of commercial treaties, and had declared his intention of adopting measures for the welfare of his country, without reference to what other countries might do. He found in a report of the debates in the French Chamber the folio wing question and answer:—M. Billault: I have no desire, Gentlemen, to measure my talents with those of the orator who has just spoken, but will content myself with dealing with facts. I wish to ask whether a treaty of commerce has not been contemplated with England? 1276 "The Minister of Foreign Affairs; Negotiations were in progress for a treaty of commerce between France and England. It would have affected none of the great interests of the country; neither flax nor cotton manufactures were in question; and woollen manufactures were only treated of indirectly, and in a very limited manner. These negotiations have ceased, and have not been resumed, Therefore, at present, the hon. Gentleman has not any cause of alarm. Everything remains as before, and nothing has been done. For my own part, the more I consider the question, the more convinced I am that treaties of commerce of long duration with rival great powers are attended with inconvenience and danger, and that, in treating with rival powers, it is better to proceed by means of modifications in tariffs, which leave everything at liberty, and which need only last the time necessary for making the experiment. I may add, that I have reason to hope my ideas are shared in by the British Cabinet, that the British Cabinet will no longer insist on a treaty of commerce, but leave it to modifications of tariffs to obtain the end desired on both sides, namely the extension of our commercial relations.Now, if this was true, as to the intentions of France, and he saw no reason to doubt it, seeing that the statement came from the Prime Minister of France, he thought no one could blame him for bringing forward the present Motion, and for calling upon Government to adopt those means for extending our own commercial relations, which were in its power, rather than to endeavour to obtain the same object by means over which they had had no controul. He had heard a great deal about the impossibility of fighting hostile tariffs with free ports, and the right hon. Baronet, at the head of the Government had last year quoted against him a most formidable little page of a much less formidable publication in support of this theory. Now he (Mr. Ricardo) maintained that the only weapon a commercial country has to oppose to a high tariff, is a reduction of its own import duties. The attempt to induce other countries to lower their duties upon our goods by increasing the import duties upon their produce was most absurd. It was in fact increasing the impediments to art extension of our commerce with those countries. If a country imposed a duty of 40 per cent. upon our commodities, that 40 per cent was the obstacle in the way of our trade with that country; but if, in retaliation, we imposed an equal amount of duty upon her produce, the obstacles to our trade with that country was raised from 1277 40 to 80 per cent. by our own act. Therefore, he said, that every step they took in that course, would tend more and more to deteriorate and limit our commercial relations with foreign countries. The prejudicial effect of those reciprocal commercial treaties was shown by the fact, that our trade with Russia, a country where prohibition and protection are the means employed to maintain costly manufactures, was greater than with the Brazils, when we had what was called a favourable commercial treaty. Now, he knew, that Russia was, as it were, the citadel of those who maintained that tariff reductions were impolitic and disadvantageous. But, strange as it might appear, Russia was his strong point too. Our imports from Russia amounted to not less than 5,000,000l. annually, while our exports were not more than 1,600,000l. It was true, that the balance between the import and export must be paid by this country in some way or other, and he might be told that we should be driven to the ruinous alternative of paying it in gold. But even if we were, he apprehended no danger. He would be glad to see our trade with Russia doubled on the same terms, for a profitable trade might he carried on in gold as well as in any other commodity. He acknowledged no supernatural attribute to gold. We must buy it before we could sell it, and if we could do so with a profit, where was the objection? But, in point of fact, we did not export bullion to Russia in payment of the excess of our imports over our exports from that country. He found that our exports to Russia, of articles the produce of our foreign markets, in 1841, were—Cotton, 8,098,735 lbs.; indigo, 1,279,603 lbs.; cochineal, 230,854 lbs.; coffee, 439,364 lbs.; sugar, 84,606 cwts.; wine, 46,911 gals.; rum, 50,337 gals.; besides a great variety of other articles, all exported out of our bonded warehouses here, having been received from the countries where they were produced, to pay for the purchases of our goods, and thus promoting further demand for our manufactures. This was what was termed the triangular system of import. We imported from Russia, and paid for those imports by the produce of the Brazils and other foreign countries which we obtained in exchange for our cotton, woollen, and other manufactures; so that our payments to Russia were made by the goods of those foreign countries, through our bonded warehouses, and paid for by our manufac- 1278 tures. The balance was made up by the exports to Russia of the like commodities from the countries who sent them to these bonded warehouses, thereby displacing their own produce, and replacing it with ours. The transaction was most simple. The Russian wants sugar and coffee, we want hemp and tallow, and the Brazilian wants cotton goods and hardware. Therefore we buy of each other. We do not send the money to Russia, that she may send it to the Brazils, from thence to be returned to us by the whole transaction, as regulated by a bill of exchange—drawn by one of the parties on the others, and taken in payment by the others. And this is all the misfortune resulting from what they were pleased to call a one-sided free trade. He hoped his Motion would not be met with the objection that it was a mere abstract theory. They must deal in abstract propositions before they could arrive at practical results. The steam engine and the spinning jenny had once been abstract theories; and if they had not found a Watt or an Arkwright to carry these abstractions into practice, our resources and our industry would not have availed us against the ingenuity of our competitors. And so all political improvement and reform is theory. And if they could not find Ministers bold enough to carry out those principles which would tend to abolish restrictions which crippled trade, they might bid adieu to the greatness and prosperity which this country had so long enjoyed. He hoped that the right hon. Baronet would not content himself with contemplating the present moment of prosperity, but that he would look back on the years of adversity which had passed, and inquire whether the same causes from which that adversity had arisen were not still in operation, and whether the probability was not that they would be followed by equally lamentable results. The right hon. the President of the Board of Trade had, on a former occasion, asked him (Mr. Ricardo) if he desired a circular should be sent off to every British Minister accredited to a foreign court, desiring him to stop any negotiations that might be going on for effecting commercial treaties. And he would now say, that if that had been done, it would, in his opinion, have saved much unnecessary trouble. It was, perhaps, not too late to send it now; and if the right hon. Gentleman should decide upon sending such a circular, he hoped he would add to it instructions to our ambassadors to tell foreign 1279 powers that Great Britain was at length aware of the delusion she had so long laboured under; that she now knew she could not sell without buying, or buy without selling; and that, in consuming the productions of foreign countries; she was, in fact, merely consuming her own produce in an altered shape; that the markets of England were now open to the nations of the world for the exchange of that which they needed the most, for that which they could produce more economically than ourselves. Beyond revenue considerations there should be no let or hindrance, and the only limits to their trade would be those which they themselves imposed. The hon. Member, in conclusion, submitted the Motion he read at the commencement of his speech.
§ Mr. Ewart
seconded the motion. He thought it a most unfortunate moment when diplomacy first meddled with commerce. In referring to the history of commercial treaties, he asked what good result had this country ever obtained from them? The first treaty to which he would refer was the celebrated Methuen treaty of 1703, which was for a long time the wonder of the commercial world. It had, however, conferred no advantage to commerce, but was an impediment. The effect of it was to introduce into this country a taste for the wine of Oporto, superseding the use of French wine, which until then was the only wine consumed in England. As to the absurdity of that treaty, Hallam, in his Constitutional History, said,A contemporary historian, of remarkable gravity, observes, 'It was strange to see how much the desire of French wine, and the dearness of it, alienated many men from the Duke of Marlborough's friendship (Cunningham, ii. 220). The hard drinkers complained that they were poisoned by Port; these formed almost a party. Dr. Aldrich, dean of Christ Church, surnamed the priest of Bacchus, Dr. Ratcliffe, General Churchill, &c., and all the bottle companions, many physicians, and a great number of the lawyers and inferior clergy, were united together in the faction against the Duke of Marlborough.The next treaty was that which was concluded with France in 1786, by Mr. Pitt, by which it was endeavoured to establish a system of improved trade with France, but of which it was afterwards said, by all the French periodicals of the time, that it was so advantageous to the English nation that the French ought 1280 never again to enter into a treaty with England. He turned from this country to other countries, and he asked whether the reduction of duties on imports had not been always beneficial? The most obvious country in reference to this part of the question was the United States of America. For a long series of years, while the United States were steadily progressing, their imports largely exceeded their exports, and the attention of one of the most acute observers of human nature, Dr. Franklin, was turned to the subject. He said in one of his essays,That if the importation of foreign luxuries could ruin a people, they (the Americans) would probably have been ruined long ago, for the British nation had claimed and exercised the right of importing amongst them, not only the superfluities of her own production, but of every nation under heaven. We bought and consumed, yet we flourished and grew rich.But setting aside these questions of the past, the simple question was, whether they were likely to succeed in future. There appeared to be no approximation on the part of France towards a commercial treaty with this country. He believed that there eixted in France, and in almost every nation in the world, an extreme jealousy of English commerce. The same thing prevailed in Germany. He did not believe that the United States contemplated any approach towards a commercial connection. Our future commercial connection with other nations could only be extended or even continued by our throwing open our ports, and taking whatever we wanted, convinced that they would, in the end, take from us whatever they required in return. He therefore thought that Government were called on to give some definite description of their intentions with respect to our future commercial policy. In this respect the time was come when they should imitate the example of the French minister, and by stating clearly what their intentions were, relieve the country from that condition of suspense and anxiety to which it was at present subjected with reference to future commercial policy.
did not think it would be difficult for him to show sufficient reason why the House should not accede to the motion of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman had referred at some length to the different cases in which 1281 commercial negotiations had recently been carried on between Great Britain and foreign countries. It was not, however, necessary for him to follow the hon. Gentleman in detail through these cases, because, even although he were to grant that no benefit had arisen from these negotiations—that they had all failed—and failed hopelessly—he should still contend that the hon. Gentleman had laid no ground to justify a motion so broad and so sweeping as that which he had submitted to the House. The hon. Gentleman had made a motion upon the subject last year, and had called upon the House to declare, that it was not expedient that any remission of import duties should be entertained with a view to making such reductions the basis of stipulations with that foreign country in whose favour these reductions were contemplated. That motion was rejected by the House. But in his present motion the hon. Gentleman appeared determined to make the terms in which it was couched still more wide and sweeping than were those of his motion of last year. The object of the hon. Gentleman, in his present motion, seemed to be to declare, absolutely and abstractedly, that the Government of this country, under any circumstances or for any purpose, ought never to enter into mutual arrangements with other countries, involving modifications of their respective tariffs. As regarded, however, a particular case to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, he must thank him on behalf of the Government for the extreme charity of his judgment upon their measures. The hon. Gentleman stated with regard to that particular case, that the propositions made by this to a foreign country were quite absurd. He stated that they were much more absurd than were the propositions of the foreign country referred to. [Mr. Ricardo: Much more preposterous.]—Well, that was the word. But the hon. Gentleman quite overlooked the distinction between the two cases. He said that nothing could be more inconsistent, than for Great Britain to object to the Brazils levying a duty of 40 per cent, upon our productions, while we laid on their productions a duty of 300 per cent. Now, did the hon. Gentleman think that this was a fair representation of the case? Did he think that it was on the abstract doctrine, that 40 per cent. was a duty that a foreign country could not be justified in 1282 imposing upon our manufactures, that the Government proceeded? On a former occasion he had explained to the House that this 40 per cent. was imposed by the Brazilian Government, not for the sake of a revenue, but in order to rear up a protective system. That was quite different from levying it as a revenue tax. [An hon. Member: There is no distinction.] What! No distinction between a tax for the purposes of revenue, and a tax for the purposes of protection? He would leave hon. Gentlemen opposite to reconcile such an opinion with the opinions which they had expressed on former occasions, with the opinions which they had stated before the Import Duties Committee; and would contend, for his own part, that the very broadest distinction existed between a revenue and a protective duty. The question turned upon the rearing up of a new protective system. The Brazils demanded the imposition of a duty of 40 per cent. upon our manufactures for protective purposes, and that this country should consent to limit its protective duty on sugar to an amount which, instead of being 40 per cent. upon the value of the article, was more nearly 6 per cent., so that it would be more just if the hon. Gentleman had stated that the absurdity lay not upon the side of this, but upon that of the Brazilian Government. He did not wish to disguise the particular objections to these commercial negotiations; but the hon. Gentleman, in his estimate of these objections, and particularly of those having relation to Spain, should have taken into view, that the greatest of all difficulties in the way of our negotiations with that Government lay, not in its disinclination to negotiate with us, but in its extreme weakness—a weakness which subsequent events had abundantly proved. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the case of America, and founded an argument upon a clause in the Ashburton Treaty. That was a matter which he did not think could be prudently or fairly discussed at present; but he would say that the hon. Gentleman had formed a very hasty judgment of the effect of that clause, when he stated that upon it claims might be founded in favour of American corn-growing States for the admission of their produce upon the same terms as those granted, not to the State of Maine (for the hon. Gentleman seemed not to have read the Treaty), but to a certain portion only 1283 of that State. He ventured to say, that the opinion of the hon. Gentleman upon the claims which might be set up under the clause in question was quite erroneous; as was also his illustration with reference to the admission of Rice, which was admitted upon quite different grounds from those upon which the produce of Maine was proposed to be admitted. In the case of Rice a privilege had been given to a foreign country, but it was not given in respect to the origin of the grain, but in respect to the place of exportation. But as to the State of Maine the privilege had been agreed to be guaranteed to it when it was a British possession. Now, the hon. Gentleman thought it most unreasonable that we should stickle with Portugal as to its imposing duties upon our produce, while we were imposing a duty of 100 per cent, upon its wine, and 600 per cent. upon its brandy. But in the 30 or 40 per cent. proposed by Portugal to be levied upon our manufactures, the object was to place the British manufacturers at a disadvantage in Portugal. Now, we had no such object in laying a duty upon their wine and brandy. We wished to levy a tax upon articles of luxury, the consumption of which was confined to the rich. This was surely quite a different principle from that proposed to be adopted by Portugal. Now, as to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman, he did not deny that great difficulties and disadvantages were incident to these commercial negotiations. The uncertainty and delay which attended them were great evils, and he was quite willing to admit that, in some cases, they might be made the causes of hostility, instead of promoting friendly feeling. He did not deny that parties negotiating together might place themselves unwisely in the position of parties making a hostile arrangement. He did not deny that the natural disposition to do all they could for their country led them to over-rate that which they offered to foreign countries, and to under-rate that which foreign countries offered them in return. All these difficulties attached themselves to commercial negotiations, and formed, he was ready to admit, serious impediments to their final and satisfactory settlement. To these evils, also, might be added the injurious effects which such negotiations might produce on the revenue during the time when they were pending, as reasons why they should not be entered into with- 1284 out rational expectations of success, and without very great and overwhelming considerations of public necessity. He wished to show that he did not under-rate the difficulties and disadvantages of commercial negotiations. If hon. Gentlemen were to put the question, whether he would admit that it was more probable that favourable negotiations would be formed between this and foreign countries within a certain space of time, or whether it were more probable that they would not—he would reply, that he did not deem it necessary at present to answer the question. He did not object to hon. Gentlemen raising the question, he did not object to a strong statement of the disadvantages and difficulties of commercial negotiations, but he would, in the first place, say that there had been treaties of this sort which had been very advantageous; and, in the second place, that even if there had not, it was quite possible that at some future period there might. Why then should the House, by a Resolution, preclude itself from the possibility of entering on such treaties at a future period? That was the question. Was it possible that there could be such a thing as an advantageous commercial Treaty? If that principle was once admitted, then it was most unwise in the House to declare that the Resolution before it should be adopted as a rule of conduct. He repeated that there had been advantageous commercial Treaties. The Treaty with the Brazils had been of this nature. It was true that in one respect that Treaty had illustrated one of the disadvantages to which he had alluded, because it had tended to encourage the belief in Brazil that the people there had been ill-treated; but that was no objection to a commercial Treaty. Such a Treaty was one equal on both sides. In the case of the Brazilian Treaty, political countenance had been exchanged for commercial advantage; and those who had to pay that commercial advantage, when the political countenance had ceased to be material, naturally entertained a feeling of soreness. But as to the commercial portion of the Treaty, it was decidedly advantageous to our manufacturers. The hon. Gentleman had talked of our trade with Russia, and said that we had as great, or a greater trade (propositions, by the way, which he begged to deny), as we had with the Brazils. But the hon. Gentleman must remember that while Russia had a 1285 population of 60,000,000, that of Brazil only amounted to 6,000,000. Again, the hon. Gentleman who had seconded the Motion (Mr. Ewart), had referred to the Treaty concluded with France in 1787. Now that was an example of a more than ordinary advantageous commercial Treaty; and surely no one was prepared to say that it was impossible that similar circumstances to those under which it had taken place might come round again. But the hon. Gentleman said, "do not take any objection to my Motion, because it is abstract." Why, he did not deny that such a thing as abstract truth existed; he did not deny that abstract truth existed in political and commercial matters. There was an abstract truth in them, although it was exceedingly difficult to come at; but the question was, whether abstract propositions were the most convenient forms for the expression of the judgment of deliberative bodies. By an abstract proposition they were called upon, instead of adapting their course to circumstances and giving them their due weight—they were called upon to tie up their hands beforehand, and to put it out of their power to judge of the claims of future exigencies. The hon. Gentleman had stated that the steam-engine and the spinning jenny were once abstract propositions. Now he thought that an altogether new doctrine. He did not think that these inventions made their fist entrance into this world of ours in the shape of abstract propositions. He thought that they were the result of a patient investigation made by thoughtful men into the laws and operations of nature. But to return. Such were the principles upon which he proposed that Government should be left free and unfettered to proceed in the matter of commercial negotiations. If he were to admit that there could be no possible case in which the remission of a protective duty should be made contingent upon the concession of a foreign power, he would be conceding something very imprudent in itself, but very far from conceding all that the hon. Gentleman required, because his doctrine extended to all duties, whether for the sake of revenue or protection. Now he would make a wide distinction between them; and us to taxation imposed for revenue purposes, he denied the proposition that there could be no case in which it might be advisable to accede to a remission of such a duty con- 1286 tingent upon the proceedings of another country. The hon. Gentleman talked of the necessity of enlarging our imports, and letting our exports take care of themselves; but he appeared to assume that because we obtained a result in another shape—in the case of Russia, for example—to that obtained from India or from America, that therefore it was a perfect matter of indifference in what shape they obtained it. Now, our trade with Russia was a very good one as it stood, but it would be a far more advantageous trade for this country if its tariff, instead of being founded on a highly protective, were based upon a liberal system; and for these reasons, because our trade at present consisted almost entirely of articles on which little labour had been bestowed, and because a direct was better than an indirect trade. But unless the hon. Gentleman could make good the doctrine that there was no choice between different kinds of trade, he could not call upon the House to affirm his resolution. But even political subjects might be connected with commercial treaties. He would admit that that was a principle which required to be well watched—that it was most dangerous, as a general rule, to pay for political influence at the expense of the industry and capital of the country. That when he was not called upon to make any such sacrifice—when the question was, whether he should deviate merely from some rigid abstract rule, he did say that there might be cases, and these not very remote or improbable, in which political circumstances might dictate of themselves the remission of a duty for the purposes of revenue. But as to commercial subjects, he conceived that nothing was less improbable than that the question of the readiness of a foreign country to meet us by a reduction of import duties, should be a material element in the consideration of whether we should remit a certain import duty. How did the question of the reduction of an import duty generally arise? Some surplus existed in the revenue, and applications were immediately made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by numerous parties for a reduction of import duty upon the articles in which they were specially concerned. Now, the Chancellor should take a comprehensive view of the whole circumstances of the case, when the Government were considering how they were to apply any given amount of surplus. One of 1287 these circumstances might be a readiness to meet a certain reduction in import duty by a corresponding reduction on the part of a foreign country. He thought that there might be cases in which the balance of advantages between the reduction of different duties might be affected by such political considerations. But it was a mistake to exclude from our view that all commereial treaties were not analogous to the Methuen Treaty. That was partly based on political considerations, and we paid a high price for certain commercial advantages, moreover that was intended to be a permanent treaty; but during the last two years, when commercial treaties were contemplated, the negotiations were not carried on with a view to establish permanent differential duties. But if the reductions contended for had been conceded by the Governments negotiated with, surely the hon. Gentleman would not deny that it was a great practical object to consider the effect which these reductions would have had upon the general commercial system practised in those countries. If they had large dealings with a country carrying on a rigid system of prohibition, and supposing they felt persuaded that by inducing that country to consent to reductions on import duties, they could break down her prohibitory system, was that a consideration which any British minister should be sworn to exclude from his mind? That was the view adopted in several of the recent commercial negotiations. The negotiations with France, five or six years ago, were intended to secure the advantage not merely of obtaining a reduction of duty upon Sheffield goods and woollen cloths, but of breaking down the prohibitory system of France. While he did not admit that such a consideration was a considerable object in a commercial treaty, yet still let them not exclude themselves from the means of obtaining it. Watch the operation of those means as jealously as they pleased, but do not absolutely take out of the hands of Government a means of using what might be a great instrument for the purpose of producing favourable effects in commercial negotiations abroad. Unless the hon. Gentleman could show that all kinds of trade were equally advantageous—unless he could show that it was a matter of indifference to us whether the countries which we dealt with had a liberal or a prohibitory commercial system—un- 1288 less he could prove that the treaty with Brazil had been disadvantageous to our manufactures—unless he could show that the treaty concluded by Mr. Pitt with France was disadvantageous to our manufacturers—unless he could show that there were no possible circumstances in which a commercial treaty could be aught other than evil—unless he could do all that, he had no right to call upon the House to affirm his resolution, which involved in it all the propositions which he had described, and which he therefore trusted the House would negative, as it had done the proposition brought forward by the hon. Gentleman last year.
§ Viscount Howick
I have heard with great satisfaction much of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, for I think that even my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Ricardo), who has made the Motion, has not placed before the House more strongly the objection to the policy of negotiating for mutual commercial advantages with foreign powers than has the right hon. Gentleman. That part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, in which he pointed out to the House the extreme inconvenience arising from the policy of these commercial negotiations, was expressed with a force and a conciseness, that it would be in vain for me to attempt to rival; but the right hon. Gentleman having stated his objections to that policy—only grounds his objections to the Motion before the House upon an allegation that the Motion is an abstract one, and upon the chance of there being some remote possibility of a case arising, in which it may be desirable to enter into these negotiations, and thus incur all those inconveniences which he has so well described. Now, I must confess, that I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman object to the Motion, because it was an abstract one. Will the right hon. Gentleman inform me how anything can be less abstract than for this House to pray Her Majesty to exercise her prerogative in a certain manner, and, having made that prayer, to state the reasons on which it is founded? It is notorious, that the Executive Government enters into commercial negotiations without any previous control on the part of this House. We know nothing of the negotiations about to be commenced, until they have made a certain progress. And every hon. Gentleman must be aware, that nothing is more common than when an hon. Gentleman upon this side of the House urges the adoption of some 1289 measure of liberal commercial policy upon the Government, he is met with the reply, that his suggestion is inconsistent with "negotiations now in progress," It is in the power of the Executive Government to commit the faith of the country to a particular course of policy, and then titer call upon us to frame our measures in consonance with what they have done. If it is true, that these negotiations are so inconvenient—if it is true that, as a genera rule, we should abstain from entering into them, what can be more proper and less abstract than to ask Her Majesty to give directions to her servants to abstain in future from entering into those negotiations to the policy of which so many just objections are raised? I think that this is a fit and proper and constitutional course of proceeding for the House to adopt. We know that it is often the practice, both of this House, and of the other House of Parliament, to offer advice to Her Majesty, as to various negotiations: and the question is, whether the case now before us is one in which the advice proposed to be given to Her Majesty is sound advice? Now, for my part, I think that the advice which my hon. Friend near me wishes the House to give Her Majesty, is advice which it would be greatly for the benefit of this country should be followed. It is impossible for any body to compare the language held in this country by those who take a lead in public affairs, with the practical conduct of the Government, without being struck by this great anomaly—that whereas the leaders of political parties all agree in the advantages of free-trade, although it is stated on the other side of the House, as on this, that the principles of free-trade are the principles of common sense—that we should buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market, and that we should not punish ourselves by abstaining from adopting a liberal tariff, although other countries refused to adopt such a system—although these are the doctrines preached, yet when we come to look how they are carried into effect, we find that our commercial policy is encumbered in all directions with a mass of restrictions—that our scale of Custom House rates contains in every page, and in every item, duties which ate totally contrary to the principles thus universally assented to—rates of duty so exceedingly high, that they cannot be defended on any sound principle of commercial or financial policy. This, then, is the existing state of things, and what is the explanation of the 1290 anomaly? It is, that although we agree in principle, yet that whenever we come practically to apply that principle, there are private interests of one kind or another enlisted against us, and we always find some excuse for not applying it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite talked much about a thing being abstractly right. Now, I think that, instead of using the phrase, when they mean to convey its meaning, they should speak of a thing which is right in itself, but which is not exactly convenient to follow out in practice. It is something which you are not prepared to contest in argument; but which you are not prepared to do because there are interests to contend against so strong, that they can over-rule you. I say the reason for the anomaly to which I have adverted, between the opinions we profess and the practical conduct we pursue, is founded on the fact that there is always some pretence or other put forward by those parties interested in the various monopolies under which this country groans, for rejecting the practical application of principles which they cannot deny to be true; and of all those pretences, that which I believe at this moment has most effect on the House and the country—that which appears to me to afford the most convenient shelter to those who, in their hearts, arc friends to monopoly, and the most convenient excuse to others for not carrying into effect what they admit to be just, is, that at this moment it is inexpedient to act, unless you can obtain what is called "a reciprocity of concession." It is this doctrine more than any other that prevents the effective reform of our commercial policy; and that being the case, it does appear to me that the Motion of my hon. Friend is calculated to be eminently useful, because it is calculated to bring before the House and the country, distinctly and broadly, the question of the policy of insisting on what is called reciprocity of concession. Now, if we were to judge from language apart from conduct, there really would appear to be a very slight ground of difference between the Government and the supporters of this Motion, because we who support this Motion are perfectly prepared to say that all restrictions on trade are disadvantageous—the restrictions imposed by other countries just as much as those we impose ourselves: we say that extravagant duties on the one side of the water or the other are a great evil. So far we agree with the right hon. Gentleman, (Sir It Peel) opposite; and, on the 1291 other hand, the right hon. Gentleman agrees with us that, as a permanent system, to punish ourselves by maintaining high duties, because other countries are unwise enough not to follow our policy, is most injudicious. No man can doubt that this is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman who has attended to his speech quoted by my hon. Friend last year on this Motion; and so far it really appears that we are entirely agreed 5 and the only difference between us is reduced to this:—first, is it expedient, even for a short time, to submit to the inconvenience of imposing restrictions on our trade, in the hope of getting other countries to join with us in taking off excessive imposts? and next, what are the means which this country has in its power to use, most likely to be successful in placing the trade between this and other nations on that footing on which we all agree it should rest? Now, it appears to me, if you admit that, as a permanent system, it is inexpedient to punish yourselves by high duties because others impose them, it is hardly possible to avoid the conclusion that you ought at once to make the change. In the first place, time is a material element in the case. If you admit, that this system of punishing yourselves by high duties is too unwise permanently to continue, I ask you, how can you reject, even for a day, what you must feel to be a relief—the power of obtaining employment for your own population—under the vague expectation that other countries will join you in establishing hereafter a perfect freedom of trade? It seems to me that you can only do so from a misconception as to the relative advantage which the country derives from its export and import trade. Her Majesty's Government, with all the progress they have made in adopting the doctrines of free-trade, seem still not thoroughly to have shaken off the trammels of the old notion, that the export trade was alone advantageous, and that what, in old language, was called the "favourable balance of trade," was the grand desideratum.—Though for the last three-quarters of a century, the old mercantile theory of the advantage of a balance in the precious metals has to the mind of every educated man been completely exploded, still the conventional language and the notions of policy arising out of that theory do most fatally hang about the minds of statesmen, and influence the conduct of nations. We still seem to think 1292 that our exports alone are really advantageous. Now, I entirely concur with the hon. Gentleman behind me, who has shown that our import trade is what is really valuable, since it is by importing the goods of other countries, we obtain a larger amount of comforts and luxuries for the consumption of our own population. Your export trade, no doubt, is valuable; but it is important only in this sense, as a means of enabling you to obtain imports. If in any other sense than as a means of increasing our import trade, our export trade were valuable, of course your exports to Africa—where the savages who buy them, would be too happy to take your goods, provided only you were not so unreasonable as to ask for payment, might be as advantageous as any we have. But it is because they have nothing with which to pay us; because they are poor, barbarous, and in the miserable state of savages, in comparison with the great nations in our neighbourhood—that is the reason why that trade—rising as it is in importance, as the great continent which furnishes it is beginning to improve—has hitherto been of trifling value compared with that which we carry on with the great nations of the world. But if this position be true—if our export trade is only valuable as the means of ensuring us the imports we desire to obtain—is it not a most extraordinary course of policy, that we should refuse to receive imports because we are not quite certain that there may not be a difficulty hereafter in providing the means of payment? Let me ask, if practically there is any kind of difference in the results of direct trade by which we pay at once the nations from which we receive commodities, and what has been called to-night "triangular" trade, by which we pay for what we receive indirectly by exportation, to some third country? It makes no sort of difference to us which mode of payment is adopted, and by the one or the other, have we ever yet experienced the smallest difficulty in paying for any produce we choose to receive? On the contrary, the riches and industry of this great country are so superior to those of most other nations of the world, that in general other nations are in our debt. The difficulty is to find some adequate return for the commodities we produce and they desire to obtain; and every new facility you offer for the introduction of their goods in some direction or other creates a corresponding extension of the export trade. Sir, this is a truth which seems to me to rest on the 1293 clearest and most obvious principles of the commonest arithmetic, and which it is utterly impossible to gainsay. And, if this is the case, I again say, what an extraordinary policy is yours, that because you are afraid other nations will not grant us greater facilities in paying for their goods, you refuse to receive the great advantage of an import trade which merely opening our ports must necessarily give us. For my own part, though I do not deny the extravagant duties maintained by foreign countries to be an evil, I think they are chiefly so in this sense—that they prevent those nations making the progress they ought in wealth and civilisation, and therefore render them less able to supply us with as large an amount of valuable commodities as we otherwise could obtain, and thus make our trade with them on the whole somewhat less considerable than it would otherwise be. This is the chief injury they thus inflict upon us; and, therefore, your course of policy is utterly unjustitiable—when because you are afraid extravagant duties will be still maintained by other countries, you refuse to your own population that relief which the right hon. Baronet himself admits would be the immediate effect of a relaxation of our duties. But then this brings me to another consideration. Suppose I admit to the fullest extent the right hon. Gentleman can maintain that it is an object to us to get the duties of foreign countries reduced—suppose I take the most exaggerated view of the greatness of that object—then I ask, not as an hypothetical question as to what possibly may occur, but as to the probability, on the right hon. Gentleman's own showing of events turning in our favour—I ask, I say, as a plain matter of fact, in the present circumstances of the country, what is the source of policy we should adopt if we wish to obtain a trade unfettered by extravagant duties on the one side or the other? I think, in considering this question, I have no little advantage in referring to what was stated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It must be admitted, that he stated very distinctly that there were no grounds for anticipating the successful termination of commercial treaties with other countries. But I have still stronger authority than the right hon. Gentleman's words. I beg leave to appeal to experience. You have since the termination of the war been engaged in an unceasing course of negotiation; you have lost no opportunity of treating with other 1294 countries on this subject. Some of the most distinguished men which this country has produced—Mr. Canning, my noble Friend the Member for Tiverton, Lord Aberdeen, the Duke of Wellington, the right hon. Baronet opposite, Lord Sydenham—have been engaged for thirty years in attempts to negociate advantageous commercial treaties with other countries. And, let me ask, what has been the result? Why, that at the end of that period you are worse off than when you commenced; for the right hon. Gentleman himself admits there is a growing tendency in foreign countries to throw obstacles in the way of the importation of goods the produce of this country, and the restrictions upon your trade it has been your object to get rid of, have been rendered more and more severe. This is the practical result. Now let me ask you, what do you think would have been the result if a different course had been pursued? Suppose at the Peace you had announced, "We shall enter into no negotiations, with the view of obtaining the admission of British produce by other nations at low rates of duty, we believe you (foreign countries) are able to judge of your own interests—we know what are ours, and we shall begin by reducing all our duties to as low a point as revenue considerations will admit of." Do you think if you had taken that course in 1815; if you had dealt on this principle with Brazilian sugar and Prussian corn, and Baltic timber—do you think, if beginning in 1815, you had continued to act on this wise, large, and liberal system of policy up to the present time, that the tariffs of foreign countries would exhibit their present exclusive character? Sir, I believe no man would contend that such would have been the case. What my hon. Friend asks by his Motion is—better late than never, adopt a policy which you should sooner have had recourse to. You see what has been the unhappy results of your past "laborious trifling" in this matter; pursue a wiser course for the future; teach other countries when they reduce the duties on British produce they are not giving an unfair advantage to England, but a boon to their own producers. Tell them, not by the inculcation of cold precept, but by a generous example, that the reduction of duties may indeed be an indirect advantage to those who produce the articles on which they are levied; but that the real principle on which the change is effected is, that the great proportion of gain accrues to those who are wise enough 1295 to effect it. Sir, this is the practical result of the Motion of my hon. Friend, and it involves no mere abstract proposition—the proposition it conveys, if ever there was one, is eminently practical and useful. And let me just observe to the House with what consistency the right hon. Gentleman resists this Motion as abstract, and resting on hypothetical and not practical grounds, when the right hon. Gentleman's argument from first to last amounts to this—"though I admit the general impolicy of commercial negotiations, and though it is not very probable, (the right hon. Gentleman well knows it is not), still it is possible a case may arise when we shall be able to conclude an advantageous treaty." He did give, I admit, an example to bear out his opinion—he instanced the Treaty of 1787. Now, I don't deny the advantage of that arrangement; and though I am a great admirer of Mr. Fox, I think, as a commercial Minister, Mr. Pitt was his superior. No party feeling shall ever prevent me from expressing that opinion. But I say, even of that treaty, though it was undoubtedly a good one, still had it never been concluded, better results would have followed, if without binding ourselves by any engagement, or seeking any in return, if we had made even more large and liberal concessions in favour of trade, and had left it to France to follow our example, I believe such a course would have had a inure permanently beneficial effect on the trade of the country. The right hon. Gentleman's next example was the Treaty with Brazil; but he was himself obliged to give up this case as any instance of the success of a commercial negotiation, because, he says, that an unfair Treaty was imposed by Great Britain, in which, while we granted very little of what we called commercial advantages, we required from them a great deal, as the price which we made them pay for our political countenance. I think this the strongest condemnation of a treaty that ever was uttered. I firmly believe if, instead of driving a hard bargain with the Brazilians—if we had imposed no restrictions by treaty, if, instead of all this, we had liberally admitted her produce, and that she saw our political countenance was not given in a way which the right hon. Gentleman admits was no better than a bribe—I believe we should have had the full amount of commercial advantages which we have enjoyed from that time to this, and that now, in 1844, we should not object to a Brazilian treaty 1296 because she proposed a differential duty of 40 per cent. on our goods. But, Sir, further than this, I say I am "prepared to tie up the hands of the Government." I am prepared to lay down as a rule that commercial negotiations ought not to be entered into, because I should have great reliance on the success of the opposite policy, but only if it were acted on consistently and steadily, so as to shew that you were really guided by a plain and intelligible principle; your hope of getting more liberal principles gradually adopted towards you by foreign nations, depends upon their seeing that you are in earnest—that you do not disclaim Treaties when you think you cannot get them, but that you adopt a bonâ,fide principle of dealing largely and liberally with all the world. If you do otherwise, if you allow it to appear that the prospect of a petty advantage in individual cases is a sufficient inducement to you to break through your rule and conclude what is commonly called a commercial Treaty; if you do this, other nations will consider that in disclaiming making reductions of duty matter of bargain as your general policy, you are like the fox in the fable, merely crying sour grapes, because you cannot reach them; but if you act on the principle I wish to see adopted, that you will enter into no commercial Treaties, no stipulations with foreign countries, and that you will proceed at once to the reduction of all duties on their goods, as far as your financial interests will allow, I am persuaded the result will be that the change will give such an immediate spring to your industry, that every restriction you remove will be the means of creating so great an extension of your export trade, that other nations—I do not say at once, but in the course of a few years—will see the wisdom of following your example. That fear of being overreached, so well and graphically described by the right hon. Gentleman as now influencing so much the conduct of foreign nations, will no longer be called into play. The monopolising interests—for example, the iron interest of France—will be no longer able to enlist in favour of their selfish interests the angry passions of a great portion of the community—the commercial policy of foreign countries will cease to be influenced by national antipathies; and in the course of a few years the practical effect of adopting the policy I recommend would be, that trade would be relieved from those extravagant rates of 1297 duty which foreign countries now impose. Then, Sir, I ask, is it a sufficient answer to me, when I wish to secure the general advantages of a liberal, generous, and manly, system of policy, which in order to be successful must be steadily and consistently adhered to, for the right hon. Gentleman to come here and say, "Don't tic up the hands of Government—it is not probable, but is possible, that a case may arise when I shall be able to conclude some commercial Treaty; but, for the sake of that faint probability, you must surrender those great advantages which it is now in your power to secure?" Sir, I say, the adoption of this Address by the House would be a most important step with reference to civilization. It would be a pledge in the face of Europe and the world, that this the first commercial nation of the universe is determined to give up the narrow and restrictive system of commercial policy. It would be a pledge binding on us for all future time, and, therefore, giving confidence to foreign countries, and holding out to them the strongest inducements to follow our example. I say, if a Government were in office entertaining the views which I am now recommending, I am prepared to contend, that instead of merely acting on them, they would do wisely if they themselves came forward and proposed some such Address as that now moved, in order that the House should deliberately sanction such a system of policy. I must also observe, that the Motion of my hon. Friend is at this moment peculiarly well-timed—in the first place, because it is brought on just when the fact is admitted that our long-drawn negotiations with four great commercial nations have utterly and lamentably failed, and that there is no prospect whatever of their being resumed with success. Now, therefore, is the time to pass such a Resolution. The ground is clear before you. You have given a trial of nearly thirty years to one system. You have failed—signally failed. The inference is natural—change your course. Give us as long a trial, and we might fairly win you to the opposite policy, before you despair of its results; but half or a quarter the time will satisfy me, and will furnish, in my opinion, the most decided proofs of the success of the liberal system. But I say the Motion is well timed in another sense; because I think it is impossible for any man to look about him in the present state of this country without seeing the urgent necessity of doing something for the ex- 1298 tension and improvement of commerce. It is true distress is not so great as it was a year ago. I am most happy to believe that trade has revived to a great extent, and that there is, to a certain degree, a return to commercial prosperity; but I think no man who looks deeply into the state of things can fail to observe that our state is, on the whole, far from being satisfactory. Let me ask you, is it not clear that both wages and profits are ruinously low? That profits are low I think there is a pregnant proof in that financial measure of the Government which they have lately thought proper to propose. I agree entirely in the approbation expressed on this side as to the reduction of the interest on the Three-and-a-half per Cents.; but I confess I for one regard the high price of the funds, which rendered that operation practicable, as anything but a satisfactory indication of the state of the country. I think, so far from that, the high state of the funds is only a proof of the great difficulty of finding the means of a profitable investment of capital. But while there is a low state of profits, there is shown this state of things also—a low rate of wages. The hon. Member for Stockport adverted, in his most brilliant and unanswered speech on the subject of referring to a Committee the effect of prohibitory duties, on the condition of certain important classes of the population—in that speech, I say, he adverted to the miserably low rate of wages now received by the agricultural labourers of the south of England. The hon. Member justly and properly added for that he threw no blame on the employers—he said that rate did not at all depend on the employer; that the cause lay far deeper; but the fact is clear, you have this low rate of wages and profits, showing that the same state of things now exists as that which prevailed some years ago, and which was admirably described by Mr. Huskisson, when he said—"There was too great a pressure on the springs of productive industry." Sir, you have now that too great "pressure on the springs of industry." It is the difficulty which meets you in every quarter. It is that which meets you in the low wages of the Dorsetshire labourers, and in the miserable earnings of sempstresses in London, of which we have heard so much of late. It is the great difficulty to which the Government last night adverted, as being a bar to doing that which they themselves admitted to be so desirable. They told you, remember 1299 your own arguments: "there is at this moment so great a pressure on both wages and profits, they are now both screwed down to so low a point that we cannot afford to pass that measure of restriction as to the hours of labour for unprotected females which we admit to be exceedingly desirable." It is this "pressure on the springs of industry" which is at the bottom of your only available argument against a ten-hours' Bill. But that pressure which Mr. Huskisson adverted to, arose then, as it does now, from a deficiency in the employment of labour and capital. It is your restrictive laws which prevent that field from being enlarged as rapidly as the capital and population of the country enlarge: it is those restrictive laws which keep down profits and wages to their lowest possible point; and, therefore, I say it is those restrictive laws which it ought to be the first object of every man who really wishes for the well-being of the great body of the people to get rid of. As one of the important steps towards accomplishing that great object—as the first and most important that you can take in that direction, I concur in the principle announced by my hon. Friend, that the rule to be laid down in our commercial policy is not what is called "reciprocity of concession; "but that we ought at once, trusting the other nations will follow our example, to take into our serious consideration the means of consistently, and on general principles, reducing the rate of Custom duties so far as revenue considerations will admit.
§ Sir J. Hanmer
said, that as he took much interest in the inquiries to which this Motion related, and it was of concern to his constituents, he should follow the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Howick), to which he had listened attentively, with a few observations. He sincerely wished he could have agreed with the noble Lord, for if his arguments were as well and wisely founded as they were clearly and forcibly stated—if this were, indeed, a practical proposition and a true course of policy, we should have the consolation of thinking that great difficulties for the future would be removed from the path of those who had to govern this country—and so far from the conduct of its affairs tasking the abilities of Mr. Pitt, to whom as a commercial Minister the noble Lord had alluded, or those of any other of the great and eminent men who, from time to time since then had, with varied results, 1300 applied themselves to these question, it would be easy for a man of the most ordinary mind, the man who was least versed in practical statesmanship, who looked most into a book, and least upon what was going on out of the room in which he was sitting—to attain the success which had been in some measure wanting up to this time, to arrange all the complications of commercial affairs, and to provide continually that increasing scope for their operation, which the increase of our powers demanded. He feared, however, that to adopt the policy which the noble Lord then recommended would not afford this consolation. The Motion was called a practical one; look then at the actual condition of the affairs of the world. Look to Russia, which he would mention first, because his constituents were greatly interested in that trade. If the principle of reciprocity were safely to be disregarded, he did not see what there was now to prevent a great increase in that trade; so many ships would not go out only in ballast to St. Petersburgh; it would not be boasted in the state Gazette of St. Petersburg, as he had seen it, that taking two decennial periods, from 1814 to 1824, and from thence to 1834, there was an increase of vessels arriving in Russian ports in ballast, to the amount of 5,000 ships. That was stated by the Russian government writers, according to their notions, as an evidence of the prosperity of the Empire and the soundness of their commercial system. They thought it suited them, but did it suit us? No; for we were driven about from country to country, in order to buy something which did not come under the prohibitory duties of Russia, which overrode our manufactures, and we were subjected in our intercourse with that country to all the disadvantages of an indirect trade. Now, we should speedily be in the same position with all the world, if we did not regard as important the principle which the noble Lord would discard from the consideration of practical men. He was not, indeed, so much an advocate for reciprocity, as to say that we were to retaliate the Russian tariff. No; but why? The great bulk of our imports from Russia consisted of raw materials, afterwards used in our processes of re-production, in the production, one way or other, of those manufactures with which we had to go to the markets of the world, and to trade. That was 1301 a sufficient ground for not regulating our Tariff by the Russian one, but that afforded no general support to the general proposition of the hon. Member. Take, then, the case of France, where the noble Lord, in despair of a Commercial Treaty, would have us regulate our own Tariff without the least regard to theirs. If there were any productions of France—oils or otherwise—which could be of use in advancing our manufactures, and on which the present duty required to be reduced, he would say at once reduce it; let such articles be received in the English Custom houses at no duty at all, or at the lowest practical rate of revenue duty. If, again, there were any commodities of France in the importation of which the smuggler defeated the fair trader, and so subjected to disadvantage equally the revenue and the British producer, then he would say, upon the principle of the right bon. baronet (Sir R. Peel), developed in that great course of practical education he had given them two years ago, reduce that rate of duty, irrespectively of the duties of France, because in that case it is the smuggler that you have to contend with and not the foreign Government. But take the case of French brandies and French wines, which it was often said we should take at lower rates, upon the principle maintained by the noble Lord. If we sent cloth to Bordeaux in exchange for these, and suffered that cloth to be unfavourably taxed to pay a heavy rate of duty before it was admitted into the foreign market, the rate of duty must fall somehow upon the labour which produced that cloth. We should have to pay increased quantities of the cloth in order to buy the wine, and, therefore, however, the wine-drinker might enjoy his commodity at a cheaper rate, the cloth manufacturer would be taxed for his enjoyment. And this was the answer (well put in a number of the Foreign and Colonial Quarterly Review last autumn), to those who said, with the noble Lord, that broad considerations of public and general advantage dictated a disregard of foreign tariffs, and the adoption of some such vague sweeping proposition as was then before the House, by which all means of ever moderating those Tariffs would be thrown away. Then look at America—the hon. Member for Stockport advocated the disregard of the American Tariff, or of any treaty with America, in respect of corn. But if we did this, and if we cared 1302 not for treaties with America, and if the hon. Gentleman had his corn at his command brought in duty free from the wide regions of the Mississippi; and if, by means of this he had diminished his cost of production, which was his object, and then thought himself in a better condition to meet competition for his cotton goods in the markets of America, what was to hinder the Americans, bound by no treaty, by no stipulations, from immediately raising their duties, already 30 to 40 per cent. to 100 per cent; or such a rate as would countervail the advantage which the hon. Gentleman would thus vainly strive after, and would vanish as soon as it was attained. The noble Lord talked of imports and not exports being the measure of national prosperity, but surely the rate at which we were to buy the imports was of some consequence in this argument. The imports were bought by the exports, and if those exported goods were to be liable to hostile tariffs more and more, by dint of disregrading treaty stipulations, it would have some sensible effect upon national prosperity measured by the noble Lord's own rule. He well remembered what was said on this subject in 1833, by a Gentleman of great authority, now in the other House of Parliament—by one who had rendered great services to his country—but perhaps never more so than when he had stated in either House of Parliament the result of his manifold, long-continued, and various experience—he meant Lord Ashburton. He well remembered hearing that noble Lord arguing in favour of the principle now attacked, as it was attacked then, and when the President of the Board of Trade of that day (Lord Sydenham) taunted him with a paragraph in the celebrated London petition of 1821, which had been drawn up by Mr. Tooke, and presented and vehemently supported by Lord Ashburton, he replied that paragraph had not, in his own sense, nor in the sense of the other London merchants, anything like the vague meaning which was attempted to be given to it; but that it strictly applied to a vast and incredible amount of impediments to trade, which had grown up during the war, and which it was proper in the newly-restored and happier state of things to remove. Shew him (Sir J. Hanmer) such impediments now, and his aid would not be wanting to remove them, The noble 1303 Lord, however, (Lord Howick) had said something derogatory to the position taken up by those who, desiring the extension of commerce, and not seldom speaking in its behalf, yet suffered themselves to be stopped and impeded as he thought, and who were not prepared to adopt what he called practical policy. The practical nature of the policy was denied; but upon this subject, he would for himself say, that he was well aware of all those deep-rooted necessities which pressed on the consideration of the extension of the commerce of the country. He knew the increase of the population; he knew the want of employment; he knew the effect of competition of labour, and of capital, compressed into too narrow a sphere. He was anxious ever to extend the scope, and so to lessen the pressure, and standing there himself a landed proprietor, but possessed of no inconsiderable share of the confidence of one of the great industrious communities of the country, he had given no narrow consideration to these things. But he did not agree with the noble Lord, nor did his constituents agree, that to disregard the tariffs of foreign countries was the wise and practical mode of advancing the prosperity of our own. He always had a respect for the noble Lord, on account of the clear and forcible way in which he advanced his arguments, but they were not well-founded, and must receive his opposition, for it mattered little whether we should follow the semi-barbarous policy of Turkey, and discourage exports altogether, or whether we suffered them to be discouraged, by neglecting the tariffs by which they were to be received by foreign powers.
§ Mr. Hume
said attempts had already been made to accomplish the extension of our commerce by the ordinary mode of concluding reciprocity treaties; these had been continued for some years, but without success, and the House was now asked to say whether the mode proposed by his hon. Friend was not better. It had never been said that we were not placed at a disadvantage by the conduct of those foreign nations who levied high duties on our exports, nor that a treaty of complete reciprocity would not be beneficial. But the question was, would the House maintain our present system, which prevented us from doing any thing to extend our commerce, or try another method by which something might be gained, and by which we might obtain concessions from coun- 1304 tries that now would not consent to them. Look at the effects of our present system. Four years ago Government agreed to receive French brandies at a duty of 14s. a gallon, instead of 22s. 6d., and wine at 3s. 6d. instead of 5s. 10d.; but in consequence of the occurrence of some political fracas, the treaty was broken off, and we had consequently been deprived during all that time of the benefits which it would have secured to us. To pursue this system, was to make the legislation of Great Britain, the greatest commercial country in the world, dependent upon that of its neighbours, perhaps the most paltry countries of Europe. We had agreed to a treaty with Portugal, by which the duty on its wines was to be reduced; but because Portugal would not admit our woollens at a certain rate, it was given up, and we had lost the advantages which the alteration would have conferred. We ought to act with reference to our own commercial and financial interest, and not that of other nations.
§ The hon. Gentleman was proceeding, when the House was counted out, and adjourned at a quarter to eight o'clock.