HC Deb 08 June 1860 vol 159 cc175-7

said, he wished to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, if in consequence of the reduction in duty on the importation of Foreign Wines, he has any reason to believe that his anticipations that the free exportation of unmanu- factured Cork from all parts of Spain might take place would be fulfilled? He put this question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the view of affording him the opportunity of doing justice to a very industrious and worthy trade—that of the corkcutters. In the course of the discussions on the Customs Act the right hon. Gentleman said that, in consequence of the large reduction which was to be made in the duty on foreign wines, he hoped that no duty would be charged on the export of unmanufactured cork. The right hon. Gentlemen also took occasion to criticise very unfavourably the conduct of the journeymen corkcutters, asserting that they were in the habit of going out on strike, and that the masters had been obliged to employ boys and even foreign workmen. He had since ascertained that there were six Catalonians over here at that time, who were employed by a man at Greenwich; but they were all such bad characters that their employer was soon glad to get rid of them. With some difficulty they procured another engagement in the City, but had again to be discharged. They then took to working "on their own bottom," as the phrase was, and he believed it was from them that the right hon. Gentleman obtained the cork which he exhibited to the House in order to prove the superior excellence of foreign workmanship. He had intended to revive this question when the Customs Act was again brought before them; but, as the business of the House was in such a state that it was impossible to say when any question would come on, be had resolved to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman. He had received from the master corkcutters of different towns,—Plymouth, Liverpool, York, Birmingham, Aberdeen, Dublin, Belfast, &c.—letters bearing testimony to the good character of the men in the trade. The hon. Member read the letter which he had received from the Liverpool manufacturers, stating that they were able, from the experience of many years, to contradict the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons, that a tyrannical and arbitrary system of restriction prevailed among the journeymen, and that the masters had been obliged to employ foreign workmen on account of their superior skill. The letter was signed by men who had been sixteen and seventeen years and some fifty years in the trade. He had also a letter from Aberdeen to the same effect, in which the master manu- facturers did full justice to their men. He had also one from Dublin, signed by many who had been more than thirty years in the trade, and who gave the most emphatic contradiction to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He thought the right hon. Gentleman could have no difficulty now in saying that he had been misled upon that point: and as to foreigners being better workmen than English corkcutters he was told that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer liked to put up a prize with open competition, the English workmen were quite confident they would gain it. He wished to ask whether Catalonia was about to make any reduction in the duty on unmanufactured cork in consequence of the reduction which England had made in the duty on Spanish wine.