HC Deb 22 June 1847 vol 93 cc802-8

MR. MUNTZ moved— That the House do resolve itself into a Committee to consider the Duties upon the Importation of Copper, with a view to their Reduction or Abolition. It was not necessary to make many remarks on the Motion, because both the late and the present Government had acceded to its principle, and had only refrained from carrying it out from fear of diminishing the revenue. The hon. Gentleman read from several documents an account of the quantities of copper imported in different years from Chili and other places. He showed that the operation of the duty was disadvantageous to the English manufacturer, as it exposed him to competition with foreigners, who got the metal at a lower rate; articles were even imported, and superseded his in the home market. Copper was now almost the only instance of a raw material being taxed. Why should they protect one interest at the expense of others?


seconded the Motion. Manufactures were advancing in countries where they could command foreign copper, as in Chili, in Belgium, and, above all, in the United States. The principal places of export for English copper were France and India. The exportations to France and to India had been gradually falling off, and the result had been most ruinous to our trade. The Government would naturally resist the proposed reduction in the duty on copper; but the same rule which had been applied in other cases would apply to this, and he did not see how the retention of what amounted to a prohibitory duty on this article could be at all defended. The object of their legislation should be to increase their trade and commerce everywhere, and they should endeavour, as in the instance of other trades, to make Great Britain the emporium of the copper trade. If they allowed the foreign copper trade to leave this country, they would inevitably injure the total trade of the empire. On these grounds he seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend.


was anxious to press upon his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to commit himself to any opinion on this subject until it had been fairly inquired into by the House. He had always been willing that a Committee should be appointed, and that the whole question should be thoroughly investigated, with a view to future legislation. With respect to the principle involved, he was prepared to admit that no duty whatever on any article should be imposed or maintained merely on the ground of protection; at the same time, he thought that if a duty was found to work well and beneficially to all parties concerned, it would be most unadvisable to abandon it simply because incidentally such a duty did act as a protection. He hoped that before any change was made, the Government would give the House an opportunity of examining in detail into the subject, and of ascertaining the exact facts.


said, that he had early in the Session declared that the state of the national finances was not such as to permit him proposing any reduction in the duty on this article; and he was sorry to say that nothing had since occurred to render his situation in any degree improved, or to make him ready to sacrifice any portion of the revenue, even though, as in this case, in amounted only to 50,000l. a year. Having so early in the Session made that statement, it could not be expected that he could now accede to the Motion of the hon. Member; and under the circumstances he thought he would be perfectly justified in complying with the request of the hon. Baronet behind him (Sir C. Lemon), and in abstaining from giving any opinion whatever on the subject. It was therefore his duty to state, without going at any length into the question, that he must oppose the Motion.


said, that though the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he was not in a position to take off the duty, in some measure precluded any discussion; yet, as he was greatly interested in the subject, he could not allow the debate to pass without offering one or two observations. It was a great peculiarity in this trade, that, while the principle of free trade had been adopted in regard to everything else, with regard to this article alone, the principle of protection, as it was called, was still maintained. There had been a consequent increase in the importation of the raw material of every other article; and there had been a very serious retrogression in the importation of copper ore. The right hon. Gentleman clung to this small duty with a not unnatural tenacity; but he might rest assured that, as the amount of the revenue derived from that duty had decreased to a great extent within the last few years, it would shortly, if he persisted in continuing the prohibition, become altogether insignificant. It was perfectly obvious that, if they imposed an exorbitant duty on a heavy article which, when manufactured here, was exported to places where the same manufacture was carried on without any duty on the raw material, the trade would decline, and the competition would completely fail. He could not, therefore, forbear entering his protest against this question being shelved from year to year. Its importance had been lost sight of by the Government; and, as no one defended the duty, the vexed question could only be settled by that reduction which the hon. Member now called for. The question did not solely respect the copper trade; it affected every branch of a variety of trades, and each would be proportionably benefited by an increased importation and the decreased price of the article. On these grounds he trusted that in a future Session the subject would receive due consideration; and he hoped that, in the mean time, nothing would arise to induce stronger measures than those hitherto adopted to be taken in Chili in resistance of our hostile and most ruinous policy.


would take that opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the petition which he had that night presented from the working classes of Cornwall on this subject; and he would state that his only reason for opposing the Motion of the hon. Member for Birmingham was, that, if carried, it would be detrimental to the best interests of the people of Cornwall. Neither he nor his family had ever received a single farthing from copper mines in Cornwall. His only reason for opposing the Motion was, that he thought they were bound to give encouragement to British industry, and to improve to the best of their ability the condition of such men as the copper miners of Cornwall.


hoped the House would bear in mind that the Chancellor of the Exchequer rested his refusal of the Motion of his hon. Friend simply on the ground of revenue. The right hon. Gentleman said he was not in a condition to lose a revenue of 50,000l. at the present moment. Now, he would just call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact, that in 1844 the revenue from copper was 75,000l., while in 1846 it had diminished to 54,000l. This proved that, as a source of revenue, it was very precarious; and the House might rest assured that this decrease in the revenue would not be the only evil, but that a new and opposing trade would be established. They might depend upon it that copper would be exported from Chili and smelted; and if they refused to allow it to be smelted in this country, it would be done abroad. A large establishment had been raised at the mouth of the Elbe for that purpose. To refuse to admit the copper of Chili into this country, was to insure a certain market for it in Germany, and at the same time to insure in Chili a certain market for German manufactures. Yet, to save a revenue of 50,000l.., the Chancellor of the Exchequer would impose all this loss upon our manufactures. He could not see that the right hon. Gentleman was so hard pressed that in a case where justice so clearly demanded this small concession, it could not be granted. There were many articles of manufacture of which copper formed the chief basis, and which used to be exported from this country, which were now imported, and successfully competed with us in our own markets; and were they to be told that the miserable sum of 50,000l.. a year was to stand in the way of remedying an evil like this? They had been told that it was their duty to protect native industry; but he saw a large amount of native industry which was fast being destroyed here and transferred to other countries. They protected the industry of the miners of Cornwall; but they destroyed the industry of the manufacturers. He had no doubt that people might be thrown out of employment in Cornwall; but they would, at the same time, allow him to plead for the manufacturers. It was an act of gross and cruel injustice to say to the one class, that they would relieve them of the competition of foreign copper; and to say to the other, that they must suffer by that foreign copper being refused. All they wanted was free competition; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer might depend upon it that this was not the only question on which his principle of free trade would be brought to bear. This was pressing only on a small part of the community; but he would yet find that it would be absolutely necessary to alter the whole system of our financial arrangements in this country.


was very sorry to be opposed on the present occasion to his two hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, who, pro hac vice, would appear to be Gemini. The Member for East Cornwall thought this was not a proper opportunity for taking the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject; but he (Lord G. Bentinck) thought, on the contrary, that there could not be a better time than on the eve of a general election to know from the right hon. Gentleman what he meant to do on a subject so important in the new Parliament. He thought the hon. Member for East Cornwall and the hon. Members for Birmingham would be very well pleased to be assured of the course Ministers intended to take in the next Parliament; and he hoped they would elicit from the Government some declaration of their intentions in this respect. The noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) thought that the maintenance of this duty could not be supported upon any principle whatever. If this had been the proper time, he should have been prepared to defend the principle of exacting a revenue duty, so long as it did not exceed 10 per cent ad valorem, on all articles of foreign produce, with the view of being enabled to reduce the duties of excise. With regard to the present case, he thought the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) had given a good reason against his own Motion, when he told them that the manufacturers could obtain copper 10 per cent cheaper from the foreigner than they could from the home producer. If that were so, he thought they might well afford to pay the duty. Another reason for maintaining the duty had been alluded to—the fact of Englishmen having embarked their capital in foreign mines. He had not so much sympathy for Englishmen who invested their capital in foreign countries as for those who invested it at home. He perceived it had been stated at a meeting of the Cobre Mining Company, that they could only divide 2,000l.. this year, inasmuch as the tax of 10 per cent on copper ore had eaten up 12,000l.. or 15,000l.. of their profits. That was a proof that the tax on copper ore came out of the profits of the foreign miner, and not out of the pockets of the manufacturers of this country.


thought the hon. Baronet the Member for West Cornwall had put the question on the only footing on which it ought to rest, when he observed that there should be a Committee of Inquiry. The question was not well understood either in that House or in Cornwall, and he thought it was their duty to have every possible inquiry made into the subject. If it was shown that the abolition of this duty would be injurious to the people of Cornwall, then care ought to be taken that sufficient inducements were held out, not only to employ the labourers in that county, but to discourage the investment of capital in foreign mines. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press his Motion to a division, but follow the course recommended by the hon. Baronet the Member for West Cornwall, and move in the next Session for a Committee of Inquiry.


said, as he had the misfortune to differ from the hon. Member for Birmingham on this subject, he thought it only right to explain the vote which he meant to give. They saw one section of its native industry cutting the throat of another; and he had made up his mind to do nothing which would hasten the mangling. It might be true that the inhabitants of Birmingham suffered from foreign competition; but when he was asked, in a time of distress like the present, and with the existing high prices of provisions, to vote for a measure which would infringe on the comforts of another large class of the people, with a view to relieve the manufacturers of that town, he should say, that he thought a change of the kind would be very precipitate and uncalled for.


said, he should give his vote against the Motion upon the ground stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that at the present moment it was impossible to spare a revenue of 50,000l.. a year by the remission of this duty. He hoped, however, that the present Government would do as the late Government had done, namely, watch the trade in copper ore, and if they found that the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Birmingham were well founded, and that there was a danger of the smelting trade leaving the country, that they would seriously consider the inconvenience and the danger which threatened the commerce of the country thereby.


should vote for the Government, and against the Motion, because he believed that the duty was not only an object of revenue, but that it operated as a protection to the miners of this country.

The House divided:—Ayes 19; Noes 59: Majority 40.

List of the AYES.
Ainsworth, P. M'Carthy, A.
Baine, W. Martin, J.
Boyd, J. Moffatt, G.
Browne, hon. W. Morris, D.
Buller, E. Sandon, Vist.
Crawford, W. S. Stuart, Lord J.
Duncan, G. Thornely, T.
Escott, B. Vivian, J. H.
Ewart, W. TELLERS.
Fielden, J. Muntz, G. F.
Humphery, Ald. Spooner, R.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Esmonde, Sir T.
Anson, hon. Col. Forbes, W.
Baring, rt, hon. F. T. Gladstone, Capt.
Barnard, E. G. Granger, T. C.
Bellew, R. M. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Bentinck, Lord G. Grogan, E.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Hamilton, G. A.
Blake, M. J. Hawes, B.
Borthwick, P. Heathcoat, G. J.
Buller, C. Henley, J. W.
Burke, T. J. Howard, P. H.
Carew, W. H. P. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Lemon, Sir C.
Courtenay, Lord Lindsay, Col.
Dawson, hon. T. V. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. Monahan, J. H.
Dundas, Adm. Morison, Gen.
Ebrington, Visct. Newdegate, C. N.
Norreys, Sir D. J. Stanton, W. H.
O'Conor Don Strutt, rt. hon. E.
Palmer, G. Thompson, Ald.
Pennant, hon. Col. Tollemache, hon. F. J.
Plumridge, Capt. Turner, E.
Powlett, Lord W. Vivian, J. E.
Rashleigh, W. Vyvyan, Sir R. R.
Rice, E. R. Ward, H. G.
Russell, Lord J. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Rutherfurd, A. Young, J.
Scrope, G. P. TELLERS.
Sheil, rt. hon. R. L. Tufnell, H.
Spry, Sir S. T. Wysc, T.