That the Duties of Customs chargeable upon the Goods, Wares, and Merchandise hereinafter mentioned, imported into Great Britain and Ireland, shall cease and determine," &c.
§ Resolution reported.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
rose to move as an Amendment to the Resolution, "that the present duties on silk mannfactures imported into the United Kingdom be retained until October 1,1861." He thought 2181 the House would agree with him that there was a certain extreme school in that House whose attachment to a system of free imports was so great that it made them forget their attachment to free institutions; and that he was justified in as sertiag this, from what had fallen from the hon. Member for Birmingham, when he said, "Perish Savoy. Let Savoy perish."
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
believed, however, that he might say that what had passed in that House justified him in the assertion that there was a certain extreme school in that House that overlooked the value of free institutions in their attachment to the system of free imports. He could only say of that hon. Member—"Fatetur Reus." He trusted that the House would not be actuated by so blind a spirit, but that in considering the Motion which he now submitted, they would extend to those who were engaged in the manufacture of silks the same justice that it was proposed should be extended to those engaged in the manufacture of gloves and of corks, and that they would, notwithstanding all that might be said against the late Sir Robert Peel and his tariff, carry out his policy. That great statesman was not to be less valued for the consideration of the interests of his country than for his other qualities. He might be told that delay would be extremely inconvenient to the importers of goods who were speculating on an immediate change, with their were houses full of French goods, which they expected would be admitted immediately dutyfree; he might be told that it was not in the interest of the master manufacturers that such a change should be delayed. But the casual interest of the importer ought not to be supreme, and he had been present at meetings of master manufacturers, where he found the great majority of them decidedly of opinion that there was too great a suddenness in the change now proposed, and that it was to their interest that the same means of mitigating its effects should be adopted that were adopted by Sir Robert Peel on his changes of tariff, and which are pursued by the Government of France with reference to similar reductions of duty which the Emperor contemplated in his tariff. The difference in the action of this Treaty upon the manufacturers and operatives of France and England respectively could not be more clearly indicated than 2182 in the terms of the Treaty itself. The 14th and 15th Articles of the Treaty set forth:—ARTICLE XIV.Further, Her Britannic Majesty reserves to herself the power of retaining, upon special grounds, and by way of exception, during a period not exceeding two years, dating from the 1st of April, 1860, half of the duties on those articles the free admission of which is stipulated by the present Treaty.This reserve, however, does not apply to articles of silk manufacture.He (Mr. Newdegate) could not understand why this exception against the English silk trade was made; why this trade was specified as one which should be especially excluded from the sympathy which Her Majesty was authorized to exhibit towards other branches of industry. But the contrast between this treatment of the English silk trade by the English Government and that of French interests by the Government of France was still more striking:—ARTICLE XV.The engagements contracted by His Majesty the Emperor of the French shall be fulfilled, and the tariffs previously indicated as payable on British goods and manufactures shall be applied, within the following periods:—It would be seen from this, that there was a special exemption against any delay in bringing the proposed change into operation with reference to the silk manufacture. The reservations in these Articles were the reservations of the French Government, (and how ample were they) in order to prepare the interests of that country for the change. The Emperor of the French, in his Speech said:—
- "1. For coal and coke, from the 1st July, 1860.
- "2. For bar and pig iron, and for steel of the kinds which are not subject to prohibition, from the 1st October, 1860.
- "3. For worked metals, machines, tools, and mechanical instruments of all sorts, within a period which shall not exceed the 31st December, 1860.
- "4 For yarns and manufactures in flax and hemp, from the 1st June, 1861.
- "5. And for all other articles from the 1st October, 1861."I have, therefore, taken resolutely upon myself the responsibility of this great measure. A very simple reflection proves its advantages for both countries. Neither the one nor the other assuredly would have failed within a few years to take, each in its own interest, the initiative of the measures proposed; but then, the lowering of tariffs not being simultaneous, they would have taken place on one side and on the other without immediate compensation. The Treaty has done nothing more, then, than to anticipate the period of salutary modifications, and to give to indispensable 2183 reforms the character of reciprocal concessions, destined to strengthen the alliance of two great peoples.Such were the opinions, such the cautious progress of the Emperor of the French with reference to the reductions of duties, and the removal of restrictions upon the importation into France, and he was a wise governor. Sir Robert Peel was not wanting in the same consideration for the interests that his policy affected, and especially for the labourers engaged in them; he trusted, therefore, that the House would accept these high authorities in favour of the proposition before the House with reference to the industry employed in the silk trade. They were told that the Government were negotiating a Supplementary Treaty; and, if so, he could conceive no more proper subject for negotiation than placing the silk trade on a fair and equal footing with others. It might be urged that delay would injure the large manufacturers. He, however, received the best information possible on the subject, that it would be most advantageous to that class. But he submitted to the House the interests of the labouring classes, which were much more deeply involved in the proposed arrangement. Those classes would at all events for some time be exposed to great distress by the contemplated change. No one had ventured to deny that fact. It was true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer disposed of this consideration by saying that trade would ultimately revive. But was it of no account that the suddenness of this change should aggravate the distress. He (Mr. Newdegate) would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the distress that was occasioned by Mr. Hus-kisson's changes and the changes that took place in 1846. The question was, how they could mitigate the evil which was inevitable. He did not ask the right hon. Gentleman to give up his scheme or to abandon his project. He merely urged upon him a simple means of breaking the force of the shock which the Government were about to inflict, that the duties upon ribbons and other silk articles exceeded the value of the labour expended upon the commodity. So great was the comparative value of the raw material. This showed the importance of the change as it affected the industry employed in the manufacture. Was it without reason that the late Sir Robert Peel left this protection? He had before stated that although the total imports of silk goods had trebled, the exports 2184 from this country had doubled since 1846. But how stood the trade with France? He held in his hand an account of the imports and exports of silk goods between this country and France during five years ending with the year 1858. They were as follows: —
|IMPORTS AND EXPORTS OF SILK MANUFACTURES.|
|Imports from France.||Exports to France.|
§ He thought he need do no more to show the House that by the proposed arrangement the trade of this country would be sacrificed for the period of eighteen months, at all events, during which France would continue a system of virtual prohibition against the manufactures of this kingdom, while French goods were to be imported into this country at once free of duty. The pressure would be felt severely by the industrious classes from the sudden abandonment of our duties upon silk goods. He did not wish to detain the House longer. He was yesterday charged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with having made a long speech, and with being moderate in the expression of his opinions. He believed that it was that very moderation which made the right hon. Gentleman think his speech long. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he did not mean to abandon that element of length when urging what he knew was the opinion of the master manufacturers in his district and the interests of the operatives. He (Mr. Newdegate) thought it was clear that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to deal with English interests as the Emperor of the French dealt with French interests, he would delay until the period he had named the abolition of those duties. That was the substance of his proposal. He could not think that the House would be guided by the headlong doctrines of the hon. Member for Birmingham; but that they would exercise their privileges as an independent Legislature, truly representing English interests—that they would consequently extend to those men who humbly approached them that measure of consideration which the late Sir Robert Peel had never failed to afford, which the example of France justified, and which he believed was in accordance with the judgment of 2185 the highest intellects in Europe. The hon. Member was about to move his Resolution, when—
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that it would be more in accordance with the rules of the House to make the Motion when the article to which it related was named by the Clerk at the table in the order in which it stood in the Report.
§ Resolution read 2°, and agreed to, down to "Clocks, as denominated in the Tariff."
§ "Corks, ready made, and squared for rounding, the produce or manufacture of, or imported from, France or Algeria, after 31st March, 1862."
§ MR. VANCE
said, he had that day received a communication from the cork-cutting trade of Dublin, in which it was stated that the proposed alteration in the tariff regarding that article, would totally destroy their trade. He entreated the right hon. Gentleman to take their situation into consideration, with a view of devising some means by which the impending evil might be averted. Perhaps the Government might use its influence with the Government of Spain to obtain an abolition of the export duty on cork.
§ MR. BLAKE
said, he had received a similar communication from a portion of his constituents. He also urged the justice of their application to the generosity and forbearance of the right hon. Gentleman—at any rate to extend the time for six months. He had hitherto supported the Government in the alterations they proposed in the tariff; but seeing the distress and difficulty which this change would occasion to a large class of industrious people, he could not vote with them in favour of the proposition. He asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he could hold out any hope that the raw material could be had from the British possessions.
§ MR. BENTINCK
had also received various communications from his constituency upon this question. It appeared to him that the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House had unconsciously shown them the precise cause of the weakness of all the interests assailed by the new tariff. The hon. Gentleman said, he supported every detail of the Budget except that which attacked the interest which closely affected a portion of his constituency. Now that was precisely what had happened in regard to every article affected by the 2186 propositions of the right hon. Gentleman. Each interest was left to defend itself; there was no union of opposition. It was inconceivable folly for each interest to fight for itself, because being disunited the Chancellor of the Exchequer was enabled to massacre them all in detail. He heard an hon. Gentleman the other evening say he was a Conservative, and in commenting upon the manner in which those various industrious classes allowed themselves to be the dupes of the Free-trade schemers of 1846, remarked that the hour had now come for inflicting upon those various interests a just retribution. Now, he (Mr. Bentinck) could not accord in those sentiments. As a Conservative Member of that House he felt it was his duty to lend his support to the interests that were attacked, with out reference to any political circumstances of past years. He had heard another speech from an hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ayrton), who spoke in a manner that did honour to his head and heart. The hon. Gentlemen represented a large constituency, a portion of whom were likely to be serious sufferers from the proposed abolition of those duties. But how was the hon. Gentleman's speech received? He was taunted with having relinquished free trade and adopted protection as his principles. He (Mr. Bentinck) was one of those who had never varied from his principles, and he should hail with pleasure so great a convert.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not in order in referring to past debates, and in replying to speeches that have been made in a past debate.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, he thought he had kept within order by referring to an indefinite time. He was not discussing the principles of Protection or Free-trade, but arguing a particular case, involving the interests of an industrious class of operatives. Whenever an appeal of such a kind was made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that right hon. Gentleman immediately fled off at a tangent, and made one of those brilliant speeches which were more calculated to charm the ear than to convince the understanding. Such speeches, however eloquent, contained nothing but Free-trade claptraps. The late Sir Robert Peel never contended for Free-trade in the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman did. That great statesman always attended to the interests and the welfare of the labouring classes, with but one memorable exception. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer passed by all such vulgar considerations, 2187 and urged forward his Free-trade principles, utterly regardless of the interests he was sacrificing. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to him (Mr. Bentinck) to be the advocate not of the rational principles of Free-trade, but of Free-trade gone mad. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer persevered in carrying out his opinions to the utmost, he could only do so at the coat of great suffering, and possibly of the lives of thousands of the most helpless and dependent of our fellow-countrymen. The right hon. Gentleman had never yet ventured to grapple with that part of the subject, or how he meant to avert the disastrous consequences of his policy. He would by his measures, without any rational object whatever, reduce to possible starvation hundreds, if not thousands of those who were solely de-pendent upon their industry for their subsistence. He knew that those arguments could make no impression on the right hon. Gentleman, but when the time came for him to witness the sufferings he had occasioned, he (Mr. Bentinck) would not envy the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman on beholding the results of his legislation.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he could understand several menaced interests huddling together, like a flock of frightened sheep, for the general safety; but he could not understand why the representatives of the agricultural interest, which was no longer protected, should fight the Budget inch by inch. What had they to lose by free trade? If the meat, wool, and dairy produce of the English farmer were exposed to unrestricted competition in the market of the world, surely he had a right to claim that the paper on which he wrote, or with which he hung his rooms, as well as the silks, bonnets, and artificial flowers which any member of his family might choose to wear, should not be artificially enhanced by legislative protection. If they were to have free trade on one side let it be fully and fairly carried out. The dismal vaticinations of the hon. Member for Norfolk had been resorted to every time during the last fourteen years that any protective duty was to be removed from the tariff; and he felt confident if this measure were crrried out, as he trusted it would be, with regard to silk, in a very few years that trade, instead of being depressed, would be in a more flourishing and healthy state than it was at present.
§ MR. SPEAKER
reminded the House that they were now discussing the subject 2188 Of "corks, ready made, and squared for rounding."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he would not only confine himself to "corks," but to "corks squared for rounding." What he had now to propose was in order to meet a wish expressed by the hon. Member for Finsbury—namely, that "corks squared for rounding" should be admitted duty free, in order, as far as possible, to meet the claim of the workmen and manufacturers to what was much more in the nature of a raw material than a manufactured article, although it had undergone a certain extent of manufacture.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
inquired whether the Government had any proposal now to make with regard to the cork-wood from Catalonia?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the Article referred strictly to "the produce or manufacture of or imported from France or Algeria." The subject to which reference had just been made was beyond the scope of the Commercial Treaty with France. But he would be prepared to make a proposal on that part of the subject when they came to the next Resolution. With respect to another suggestion that had been made, that his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office should use the influence of the Government with Spain to procure a repeal of the prohibition to export cork wood from Catalonia, he was quite sure there would be every disposition to do so; at the same time, as the question had been raised, he wished to disabuse the minds of hon. Gentlemen of the belief that the removal of that prohibition would be of any great consequence to the cork-cutters of this country. In the first place, it was quite a mistake to suppose that the prohibition had been imposed subsequent to, or in consequence of, our alterations in the Tariff of 1842. It existed when there was a protective duty in this country, and was directed against export to France, not to England. Between France and Spain, both being capable of producing cork-wood, and both having workmen who were very clever in the trade, there was a natural rivalry. In Girona, a town of Catalonia, there was a population of cork-cutters. The cork-cutters of Catalonia were subject to very much the same depressions as the cork-cutters in England, and, although there was no Spanish law on the subject prohibiting exportation, yet there was a municipal restriction enforced by the local 2189 Governments, under a violent apprehension lest they should be robbed of their raw material and means of livelihood:—just as if the words used that night by the hon. Member for Norfolk were translated into Spanish. This prohibition was of no importance to the British cork trade, and the reason was, that the Catalonians, from long usage, and from the nature of their social organization, were very superior cork-cutters to the British. They cut the cork with less waste than the English; and the price of cork in Catalonia was higher than any one could afford to give for it to send to this country. So far from a displacement having taking place in the cork trade in consequence of previous remissions, the number of cork-cutters had greatly increased in this country owing to the measures which were taken for liberating the trade. Before 1842 the cork-cutters did not amount to 1,200; they were now estimated at nearly 2,000; yet such was the demand for this labour that it could not be supplied, and various masters in the trade were absolutely at this moment importing Spanish and French workmen. Perhaps the hon. Member for Norfolk would place a duty of £1 or £5 a-head on these men coming into this country. The Catalonian cork-cutters were receiving in this country higher wages than the British cork-cutters, because the trade was a domestic or native one which they understood better than our workmen did. A Catalonian cut corks with less waste of the material, got a greater number of corks out of the same quantity of cork wood, and made better corks than the British cork-cutter. He held in his hand two corks; one of them was a specimen of the Catalonian trade and the other of English manufacture, and they bore a different price in the market in consequence of the superiority of the Catalonian workmanship. The Catalonian cork was a perfect cylinder, the British-made cork would be found to have corners all round it. He agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth and the hon. Member for Finsbury that nothing could be more creditable than the demeanour of the workmen who represented the cork trade; but he must add that the real cause of the difficulty in the trade here arose from some of the rules of the societies to which, unhappily, many of the workmen belonged, requiring the same price to be paid for coarse as fine work. By the rules of the society a workman was bound to take not less for cutting a gross 2190 of sodawater corks, which were very inferior, than for cutting wine corks, which were of the finest quality. When the hon. Member for Norfolk spoke of this business being carried on by women and children he little knew how entirely the reverse was the case. One of the rules of the society was that no master should employ more than a certain number of apprentices to a given number of men. In Catalonia the cork-cutter worked in the cottage of his ancestors, with his family around him. His wife and children were employed in the inferior sort of work while he was doing the better sort, and thus acquired training in the art. But in our own country the cork-cutters absolutely deprived themselves of the services of their families in consequence of the rule of the societies he had mentioned. The result of this was that there were a few masters who employed boys because the society's men, who formed the bulk of the trade, were not permitted to work for them; and these boys of eighteen or nineteen years of age were earning from 20s. to 25s. a week. That was the state of the case at this moment. In 1842, no doubt, a great deal of alarm prevailed because there was then a transition from absolute monopoly to comparative freedom of trade, though still under the limitation of a somewhat high duty. The consequence of that alarm was that in 1843 wages were reduced by 10 per cent; but as soon as that alarm was dissipated, and as soon as they found out that the trade was not going to dwindle away, but to grow, wages were raised in 1844 to the old point. From that time forward the trade had gone on satisfactorily, and this important difference was perceptible in the condition of the men—while the monopoly was in full force almost every winter there was a very considerable number of journeymen out of work and de-pendent on the workhouse; but now, since the change had been made, neither in winter nor summer could the masters find men enough to do the work they had in hand. He assured the hon. Member for Norfolk if he had had a tenth part of his experience on this subject, if he had heard as often as he had done in 1842 and in every subsequent year, without exception, the same doleful, dismal, lugubrious prophecies repeated in every case, with an equal absence of reason and with a total contradiction afforded by subsequent experience, he would not have exhibited the credulity he had done. In 1853 the duty on corks stood at 8d. per lb., and the pro- 2191 posal which he made on behalf of Lord Aberdeen's Government was to reduce the duty from 8d. to 4d. Such strong remonstrance, however, was made by the journeymen of the trade as unfortunately induced him to modify that proposal, and raise it to 6d. instead of 4d. The consequence of that was an immediate strike for an increase of wages, which lasted for ten months; and in almost every instance the increase demanded was obtained. Such a movement, of course, could only last for a time. Some of the masters held out against the strike, and took boys into their employment, who had shown themselves perfectly fit for the work; and by degrees it died away. The enormous evil of a prolonged struggle was thus inflicted on the trade in consequence of the reliance placed on a high protective duty. He would next show the House the inconvenient working of the existing system, by which the free importation of corks was prevented. There was an immense demand for cork in Australia; but the space it occupied rendered the freight very costly. The consequence was that almost all commodities sent to Australia that had the power of containing anything had their interstices filled up with cork. Hats, carriages, pieces of furniture, everything that admitted of it, was filled with cork when exported to Australia; and the effect of the high duty was to compel the use of the inferior corks of English workmanship, instead of the superior corks from abroad, upon which the exporters from this country could not afford to pay the duty. These facts showed, he thought, in this particular case almost more than any other he had ever known, that the influence of perfect freedom of trade was absolutely required for the benefit not only of the public but likewise of the workmen themselves. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade stated the other night that a great impulse would be given to the cork trade by the reduction of the wine duty; and so far from exciting the incredulity it did on the part of some Members, that observation, if liable to any criticism whatever, was liable to the remark that it was little more than a truism. There could be no doubt that the demand for cork would be greatly increased by the reduction of the wine duty, and with that enlarged demand it was exceedingly desirable there should be also the further advantage of an open trade, without any restrictions upon the employment of apprentices, and without 2192 those strikes and suspensions of labour for months together by which the journeymen, imagining they had got possession of some talisman which gave them the command of the market, were induced to inflict the severest injuries on themselves. If there had been an error in the proposal at all, it had been in postponing to too distant a date the final abolition of the duty; but he knew the House liked to lean to the side of indulgence in these cases, and perhaps on that ground the delay might be justified in a transition of such importance. He wished the House to know that, in point of fact, that portion of his Resolution which was required by the Treaty of France, if adopted, constituted the material portion of it, and the only point they would probably think worth contending about. We imported from France three-fourths of the consumption of corks, and from Portugal and Spain together only about a seventh. The imports from France might be said to absorb the whole of the imports to this country. In 1859 the total import was 452,0001bs., of which 409,0001bs. came from France. A very large part of that was, no doubt, Spanish cork; but he put it to them whether it was possible to make a distinction. It was contrary to the genius of our legislation, and he thought they would not think it either necessary or desirable. As he said on a former occasion, he wished the proposition to be considered on its own merits, and not merely as part of the Treaty.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
thought they had sufficient elements of discord in the House already without the right hon. Gentleman being at the trouble to introduce the various subjects he had referred to in regard to this trade. He denied many of the right hon. Gentleman's assertions altogether, for he had evidently been misinformed. The cork-cutters were not that exclusive body he had tried to make them out. What they wanted was not protection. They were quite ready to enter into competition with the whole world; but they demanded that if the Government reduced the duty they should take care to secure to them a supply of the raw material by the manufacture of which they gained their livelihood. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that the difficulties of the trade had been caused by trades' unions, and that some of the masters had sent to Catalonia to obtain a supply of labour. He (Mr. Duncombe) should like to know who these masters were; for he felt assured 2193 that such immigrants could do no good in England unless they could obtain a sufficient supply of the raw material, especially when Estramadura and Portugal were preparing to deprive us entirely of the supply of the raw material. The right hon. Gentleman had produced two corks, one of Spanish and the other of English manufacture; but why had he not asked the cork interest in this country to produce a cork of their manufacture? The right hon. Gentleman said that three-fourths of the corks imported into this country came from France; but they really came from Spain through France; they paid no duty into France, and all that France gained was the carriage and transit. He was, however, satisfied with the concession which the right hon. Gentleman was going to make. The cork-cutters thought it was better than nothing. There had been, they thought, a gross blunder on the part of the Government, and he left the working classes and the Government to settle this blunder between them. He had heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham that the cork-cutters were in a trade's union, and five minutes afterwards he heard the same thing from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Accordingly he went out and asked these persons whether the fact had been correctly stated. The men admitted that they had formed themselves into a trade's union for their own protection, and they added that there was not a place in England which could say that one of their men was ever thrown upon the parish.
§ COLONEL SYKES
said, he had received a memorial from the cork-cutters of Aberdeen, who complained that the original proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would operate almost entirely to the advantage of the Spanish and French manufacturers.
§ MR. CLAY
thought that no rule could be of so cast-iron a character as to be incapable of bending to circumstances; and in cases of this kind he would ask, first, what would be the result to our own trade, and then the effect upon the consumer. He believed that the original proposal of the Government, coupled with the prohibition of the exportation of cork wood from 2194 Spain, would be ruin to the trade at home, while the injury to the consumer from a departure from the usual rule would be but trifling. In such a case, he thought, they might depart from the general rule. He believed that if the duty on Spanish corks were retained the Foreign Secretary's representations to the Spanish Government might lead to reciprocal advantages and concessions. The noble Lord might direct the British Minister in Spain to say, "See the temper of the House of Commons. Remove your obnoxious prohibition of the exportation of cork wood, or do not be too sure that they will not take the same course with regard to Spanish wines that they have taken on corks." He did not know whether they would have another opportunity of voting on this particular question, but if they had not, he should not regret that no opportunity had been lost of doing justice to an interest that he expected would suffer very materially, if it were not entirely extinguished.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Resolution amended accordingly.
§ Resolution agreed to, a s far as "Quinine, sulphate of."
§ "Silk, Millinery, or Manufactures of Silk, and any other material, as denominated in the Tariff."
§ Amendment proposed after the word "Tariff," to insert the words "after the 1st day of October, 1861."
(Coventry) said, that, although he was sensible of the exertions which the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had made for what he believed to be the interest of the silk manufacturers in the county of Warwick and the city of Coventry, and the labourers employed by them, he did not think that the proposition which he had now submitted to the House would be for their benefit. If the duty was to be abolished, the only effect of agreeing to that proposition would be to continue for an indefinite period the panic and suspense which had followed the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with respect to the Treaty with France. He (Mr. Ellice) had on the strength of the declarations made last year by Members of Her Majesty's Government, stated to his constituents that there would be no treaty with France, and that he should therefore vote for the abolition of all duties upon French silk manufactures, in the confidence that the manufactures of his constituents would be admitted on an equal footing into France. He wished, therefore, to set him- 2195 self right as regarded his seeming deviation in this instance from the advocacy of free trade. He was one of a deputation who accompanied the late Mr. Tooke to wait upon Mr. Huskisson and Lord Wallace for the purpose of promoting free trade. In the discussion of Mr. Huskisson's measures subsequently, he certainly maintained the interest of the silk weavers of Coventry, because he considered that it would he unfair to make them the first subjects of the experiment; and he demanded the reduction of the duty on corn as an equivalent. He denied, therefore, that he was inconsistent, and he said the late Sir Robert Peel had always stated that he referred in vain to his (Mr. Ellice's) speeches to find an argument in favour of protection. Since then all restrictions had disappeared. He (Mr. Ellice) had voted for a repeal of the corn laws in 1828 long before that repeal took place. In consequence the silk trade had emerged from the state of misery and periodical ruin in which it was plunged while the system of protection prevailed; and he was not now afraid with a little time the panic would cease, and the silk trade become righted. He would not be a party to raising a panic with regard to the ability of English artisans to compete with those of any country in the world. All he asked was that in making treaties of commerce, the Government should satisfy those who were affected by them that in dealing for equivalents they had been treated with fairness and justice. If these duties had been reduced upon principles of trade or revenue, the Coventry people would have had no right to complain; but they had a right to demand that their interests should not be sacrificed for political objects. He hoped that in the convention which was to follow the confirmation of this Treaty the Chancellor of the Exchequer would induce the French Government to abolish the duties on silk manufactures imported from this country. If that were done the silk trade would not have so much reason to complain. Nothing could be so great a mistake as to say that the silk duty acted as a protection; that it did not do so was proved by the fact that under the present system we exported annually £2,000,000 worth of silk. An additional argument was to be found in the memorial of the silk manufacturers of St. Etienne, who stated that they were not opposed to the abolition of the protection. He thought that, in the present state of the measure, they should be very careful 2196 how they remitted duties that fell on articles of luxury.
§ MR. ROLT
said, he had always thought that the less legislation there was on the subject of trade the better, and that it was impossible to have too great freedom of trade with a view to the accumulation and distribution of wealth by the employment of capital on labour. In other words, he thought that trade for those purposes should be perfectly free. At the same time, it also appeared to him that the accumulation and distribution of wealth were not the only objects they had to take into their consideration. They were bound to see whether that principle, as applied to any particular case, was or was not affected by moral, political, for fiscal considerations. Admitting the principle to be correct, one of the first things they were bound to do, when they came to apply it, was to ask what changes it was likely to produce in the channels of trade, and what the probable effect of those changes would be. If there was a sudden change in the channel of any particular trade, the great probability was that there would be loss and suffering; capital employed in one direction could not find immediate employment elsewhere, and a year or more might elapse before the trade could right itself. These were considerations which they ought to apply to the case before them. It was argued on the Ministerial side of the House that it was far from clear that in the case of silk there would be any change in the channel of trade; that the Bilk manufacturers would go on just as before, only stimulated to greater exertions by the necessity for increased and improved production; and former reductions of duty were pointed to as proving these assertions. But any former case in which a reduction of duty had been made furnished no precedent for what was likely to occur when the duty was wholly abolish' ed. They could not refer to former cases to prove, to anything like reasonable certainty, what would happen now—all they could arrive at was probability. Now, no wise man would propose to act on a probability without considering what were the chances of things turning out contrary to his expectation, and whether without any great sacrifice provision might not be made for the contingency. When it was considered that probable anticipations might fail—that they might find themselves deceived—that a change in the channel of the silk trade might take place, and capital go elsewhere, 2197 leaving thousands of suffering workmen behind—the least they could do was to take precautions for providing, as far as they could, against such an event. He would admit, looking only to the principles of free trade, that it would be wise to sweep away those duties; but then there arose not only questions as to revenue, but also the consideration that results of a most serious kind might follow—that the change might be attended with suffering and misery, compared with which the losses sustained in the most severe campaigns in the field would be as nothing. In the face of such contingencies he asked if it was not prudent to guard, as far as possible, against them? Was the delay of a few months unreasonable? Might not this delay prevent these serious consequences, and in any view of the case could it be seriously prejudicial. The right hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Ellice), said he was informed by manufacturers of Coventry that delay would be of no use, and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire was told by the same class of manufacturers that delay would be of great consequence to them. It appeared to him, however, that this matter hardly required evidence. The danger apprehended was possible—nay probable. The contrary had not been and could not be proved. The silk manufacturers ought to be allowed time to turn round, and to see how, if that became necessary, they could employ their capital elsewhere. He asked why silk had been specially excepted from the operation of the 14th article of the Treaty, in which Her Majesty reserved to herself the power of retaining, on special grounds, for a limited period half of the duties on articles the free admission of which was stipulated by the Treaty? The people engaged in the silk trade could not more readily than those engaged in other trades all at once turn to other employments for a subsistence; their numbers were as large and their prospects of misery as great as were those of persons employed in branches of industry in respect to which the power of exception reserved by that 14th Article might be exercised. Even now, if the matter were brought under the consideration of the French Government, they could scarcely hesitate to modify the Treaty so as to postpone its operation for a given time with respect to silk. Such a postponement would have no serious effect on the general operation of the Treaty, while it would 2198 afford time to some 200,000 of our fellow-countrymen to adapt themselves to the altered circumstances in which their industry would be placed.
§ MR. BASS
said, he could not see the equity of immediately remitting the duties on French goods, while the reduction on those of English origin imported into France was to be postponed some fifteen months. The silk manufacturers complained that a very considerable portion of their manufactures would be replaced in that interval by French goods, and they asked, as he thought very reasonably, for time to adapt themselves to their new position. Delay had been conceded in the case of gloves and various other articles, and why should it not be granted in that of silk? It was not a question of free trade or protection, but one of wisdom and prudence in carrying out an important arrangement. He trusted the Government would take the matter into consideration.
§ MR. BROCKLEHURST
said, that the point at issue was a very simple point. Those engaged in the silk trade made, he thought, a very fair and equitable request —they asked that their goods in France should be received upon the same terms as French goods were received here. They had taken alarm at the position of inequality in which they would be placed in the competition they would have to wage with the French manufacturers, and they naturally looked to a House of Commons composed of English gentlemen to interpose to protect them from that injustice. If the Government would give them an assurance that in any convention that might be entered into they would do their best to see that their industry had fair play they would be satisfied.
§ MR. BARROW
said, the advocates of free trade were now driving their train at something more than express speed, and this was just one of those cases in which they might slacken their pace in order to avoid injuring those who, in being shunted, stood in such danger of violent collision. His common sense told him that the artisans in this branch of manufacture would want time to transfer the industry of themselves and their families to new fields, if they should find it necessary to do so; and it was only fair and right that a reasonable interval should be allowed them for that purpose. It had been insinuated that a Member representing agricultural interests had no right to interest himself in 2199 this question. He certainly represented an agricultural constituency, but he came there to consult with a view to the benefit of the whole nation; and when he believed that the interests of an important body of the labouring population were likely to be seriously prejudiced by hasty legislation, he held himself bound to interfere in their behalf, and to vote for what he believed would conduce to their benefit, regardless of the circumstance that they did not form part of the agricultural community. Therefore, believing that the Amendment would afford some relief to a large industrial interest he should give it his support.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he was bound to say that his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Brocklehurst) had treated this question in a liberal manner, showing what great progress had been made in appreciating its whole scope and bearing. His right hon. Friend and other hon. Members had asked no more than for an engagement on the part of the Government to do all that they could to liberate English silks imported into France from the payment of duty. He thought he might say, on behalf of his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary, that it would give him great pleasure to labour for such an end; but he could not presume to predict the degree of success his noble Friend might be able to attain in any particular case. When, however, once a country like France had taken so great a step as was involved in the engagements of the present Treaty, and had performed a double process—on the one hand opening to her producers, the great mass of the people, the English market; and, on the other hand, depriving her great protected interests of that description and degree of protection which they had hitherto had, and putting them in a position essentially different from that in which they heretofore stood, he must say, after such a change as that had been effected, all that remained to be done would be comparatively easy. We should stand, after this engagement had been once contracted, in a very different position in relation to France, from that in which we had stood heretofore. Hitherto there had been an idea, whenever we had asked for any relaxation of Customs laws, that we had some selfish object in view—that, in fact, free trade was a system through which we hoped to enrich ourselves and rob the rest of the world. Until we got rid of that fundamental fallacy, there 2200 was very little chance of making any progress; but he thought that fallacy would be effectually exploded by the Treaty we had concluded with the Government of France. There would, for the future, he not only the interest of the consumers working in the direction of free trade, but the classes who had been deprived of protection, who having for the most part learnt that it had been a fictitious and unreal advantage, would be disposed to require the universal and impartial application of the new system. The hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire (Mr. Rolt) had said that the abolition of duty had been postponed in other cases, and he seemed to complain that silk had been made an exception. The reason why silk had been made an exception in the Treaty was, that the Government felt they should look at the silk trade as a whole; and so regarding it, they came to the conclusion that it should be dealt with immediately. He thought they had been supported in a marked manner by the testimony of those Gentlemen who were most intimately acquainted with the wishes of the silk trade. For example, his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, a very high authority, had told the House that in the interests of the silk trade, of which he had always been a faithful and hardy champion, he deprecated entirely the Motion made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. Considering that the testimony from so experienced and enlightened a guardian of the special interests of the silk trade, considering also that the commercial world in general deprecated delay, and that, according to the hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire himself, there was a high probability that there would be no distress, no displacement of labour, and no change in the channels of trade, he thought nothing more was required to induce the House to confirm the Resolution at which the Committee arrived last night, and to reject the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire.
§ MR. FRANK CROSSLEY
said, he had known the hon. Member for North Warwickshire as a prophet for many years; but fortunately for the country he had been a false and not a true prophet; and now very little reliance should be placed on his predictions of the ruin of the silk trade. The hon. Member said that within the last few years we had doubled our exports of silk manufactured goods:—Now, could we have exported these goods if they were dearer 2201 here than abroad? The hon. Member had given us one reason for affording protection to the British silk manufacturer, that in France the dyes were superior to those of this country. On this point he begged leave to join issue with the hon. Gentleman. He believed that our dyes, both from vegetable and animal substances, were in many instances superior to those of France; and he knew that not only had articles containing a mixture of materials been sent from France to Bradford to be dyed, but Bradford dyers had been induced by the offer of high wages to go to France, on account of their superior skill and the excellence of their colours. So also with regard to "taste" in design. Superiority in taste was not the peculiarity of any particular country; but even admitting that France excelled us in that matter, we could no doubt prevail upon French artists to come here, just as Bradford dyers had been persuaded to go to France. If he were engaged in the silk trade he should have no objection whatever to the removal of protection to-morrow, because in spite of the prophecies of Gentlemen opposite, he had never known a trade that was injured by the withdrawal of an artificial protection. The great advantage of there being no import duty was that the goods made there would be as cheap or cheaper than in any other country, consequently manufacturers would have the world for their market rather than be shut up to the island on which they lived.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the hon. Member for the West Riding evidently did not understand the silk trade. He seemed to wonder how a protected country could extend its export trade. Why, France and Belgium, in both of which countries protection was the rule, had increased their export trade in a much greater ratio than this country within the last few years, and so had the United States. It was stated a short time since by the Duke of Brabant in the Senate of Belgium, that since 1842 the trade of England had increased by 124 per cent, but the trade of France had increased 159 per cent, and the trade of Belgium 204 per cent; France and Belgium maintained protective tariffs. The hon. Member could not account for these facts according to his system, for he seemed to think that trade extends only by means of free imports. It was also a fact that large quantities of silk were sent from the West Riding to be dyed 2202 in France, and the French Government charged a very heavy export duty upon them on their return. All the silk trade wanted was an assurance from the Government that they would in earnest negotiate for the removal of the prohibition in France which excluded the great bulk of the silk goods manufactured in the Coventry districts, before we were asked to admit, duty free, all the products of France, and that the change in the terms of importation should take place at the same time in England as in France. Surely, a more reasonable request could not be made to any English Administration.
said, it was with reluctance he rose to add a few words to the debate at this late hour, but he had failed on former occasions to catch the Speaker's eye, and therefore he had contented himself with giving a silent vote in the minority in each division, though he must add that to that minority he was proud to belong. The discussion had been confined, for the most part, to those who were older in debate than he was; and he felt that the question which had been put from his side of the House had not drawn forth those answers from the Ministerial bench which he and every lover of his country had a right to expect. If he had doubts before, those doubts were greatly increased by the contradictory arguments in favour of the silk manufacturers, which were used on the different sides of the House. The arguments of his hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, and the arguments of the right hon. Member for Coventry, though both were in favour of the silk manufacturers, were so different that he would have been puzzled how to decide between them if be had not observed that his hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire backed out his opinions by his vote, while the right hon. Member for Coventry spoke one way while he voted the other. If there was another reason to induce him to oppose the Budget, it was the speech he had heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham last night.
apologized for his involuntary breach of the rules of the House, but he must say that the whole debate appeared to him to be characterized by an undue reference to the influence of France. He was himself most anxious for an amity with France, and he was for 2203 peace at any price except that of national honour; but he could not agree to remove these duties in the hurried manner that was proposed.
§ SIR JOSEPH PAXTON
said, that the remarks of the last speaker with respect to himself and his colleague were entirely unwarranted. On the part of his constituents there was no wish for delay; both the merchants and the weavers wished this matter to be settled, one way or the other, as soon as possible. To continue the existing state of things another year would only keep up the agitation, and the interests of those concerned would suffer in the meantime.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided: —Ayes 51; Noes 179: Majority 128.
§ Resolution, as amended, agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. MASSEY, MR. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, and Mr. LAING.