HL Deb 07 July 1842 vol 64 cc1089-95
The Earl of Ripon

moved that the House go into committee on the Customs' Duties Bill.

Earl Stanhope

begged to make a few remarks. The noble Earl, the other night, seemed to apprehend that he was going seriatim through all the items of this measure, of which he disapproved, but such was not his intention. He would state generally what he did object to. He objected, in the first place, to the reduction of duties on articles of luxury, unless it could be clearly shown that such reductions would give an increase to the revenue. He objected further to all such reductions of duties as would give a profit merely to the seller, and not benefit the consumer. He also objected to the reduction of duties on all articles where similar articles were grown or manufactured in this country, unless it could be shown that the present protection was more than necessary. He objected, too, to the reduction of the duties on timber, as most injurious to the interests of our American colonies. He objected, further, to the reduction of the duties on ores and metals, as altogether uncalled for. [A noble Lord: The noble Earl does not object to the whole tariff.] No; he approved of the reduction of the duties on coffee and rice, for instance, as being decidedly beneficial to the poorer classes. Complaints had been made of the slow progress of free-trade; but the complaint would not have to be made much longer. Her Majesty's Ministers had, by this new tariff, thrown open the flood-gates of a torrent, which they would find it utterly impossible to stem. One manufacture only had been excepted—silk; but the British manufacturer of this article need not flatter himself that he was safe amid the universal ruin; he was merely reserved to be offered up as a peace-offering to France on the first opportunity. The noble Earl had said that the tariff panic was fast passing away, but he was mistaken; he had that very day received a communication from North Devon, stating that there was no sale for either cattle or corn. ["Oh!"] Oh, oh! he could say oh! oh! too. Yes, he would repeat, that in North Devon there was no adequate sale for either cattle or corn; and when the effects of the tariff became to be known, the same would be the case all over the country. It appeared to him that some mistrust might naturally have occurred to the minds of her Majesty's Ministers, when they found that their indifferent majority the other evening was composed in a great measure of their political antagonists; they might have felt a mistrust, when they found this measure was hailed out of Parliament by the men whose avowed object was the disturbance of all the interests of the country. One of the leading Chartists, in reference to the tariff, had said:—"We are going on gloriously now; we shall soon have anarchy, and then we shall have our rights." Again, a hatter, in a large business, when asked his opinion of the tariff, said he did not care about it, for he should import all his hats from abroad; and when asked, what then was to become of his workmen, replied very coolly, "Oh, the workmen will starve;" but no, the workmen would not starve, nor would they go into the new prisons prepared for them by the Poor-law commissioners; they would assert their rights; and he therefore called upon their Lordships, not merely from motives of humanity, but from motives of prudence, to pause before they agreed to this measure, which would infallibly throw out of employment immense multitudes of their countrymen.

The Earl of Radnor

said, no doubt there was great distress, not only in the manufacturing districts, but among the agriculturists also, but that distress was assuredly not owing to the new tariff. If there was anything about the tariff likely to increase that distress, it was, that it did not go far enough; its faults were those, not of commission, but of omission. He had no doubt that some trades would be injured at first by the operation of the tariff—such, for instance, as glove-makers and shoemakers. He was satisfied, however, that they would ultimately experience no ill-effects from the tariff, and as regarded other articles it went much further. He entirely differed from the noble Earl as to the effects of the differential duties, as he believed them to be most mischievous— mischievious to the country, for whose supposed advantage they were imposed, and mischievous to the country by which they were paid. At the same time, differential duties, so far from being advantageous to the Exchequer, they occasioned a falling off in the revenue. The effect of these duties was to divert capital from its natural channels, and to hold out inducements to embark it in speculations which would never be entered into but for these duties. This was more particularly observable in our West-India colonies, where soils utterly unfit for the cultivation of sugar had been engaged in the produce of that article. The effect obviously was to divert capital from more profitable and advantageous means of employment to less profitable sources. They had been told the other night that these differential duties must be retained, because we compelled our colonies to take our manufactures. But he would ask whether, by this means, we were not doing an injury to both countries. Would it not be more reasonable and wise to allow our colonies to buy articles of manufacture where they could get them at the cheapest rate, and that we should be allowed to buy colonial produce where we could get it cheapest. He was sorry to see in many parts of the present tariff these differential duties had been increased in a most extraordinary way. It was curious to watch the operation of some of these duties. For instance, take the differential duty on tallow; he found that the differential duty on that article in favour of our colonies was not less than 216 per cent. Now, he found that last year, with this enormous differential duty, the whole amount of colonial tallow imported was only 1,020 cwt., which was not the 90th part of the whole quantity imported. He should have thought that one of the very best things that the Government could do, would be to take the differential duties out of the tariff. He feared however, that instead of doing this, that amongst other cases of the kind, a new differential duty has been made for the advantage of the island of Ceylon, by imposing a differential duty of 100 per cent, on such a trifling article as cocoa-nut oil.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that before going into the committee, he must beg to protest against the course which the noble Earl at the Table (Earl Stanhope) had thought proper to adopt to-night. Having failed in argument to convince their Lordships, he now thought proper to appeal to the passions of the people, and to intimidate them by expressing a threat as to the course which individuals would take in case they were thrown out of employment. The partisans of the noble Earl must have the good sense to know that those who supported this measure had but one object in view, namely, the adoption of such a measure as would give employment, and promote the industry and activity of our manufactures. He was fully persuaded that the course taken by her Majesty's Ministers was one in every respect likely to increase the manufactures, and to promote the industry of the country. He was convinced, under the circumstances in which the country was placed, the improvements which had been made in every department of our manufacture, with our great wealth, and with the means of disposing of our manufactures, we might bid defiance to all competition with the rest of the world, and this was one of the reasons which induced him not to consider the bill now before the House as a final measure. He repeated it was his firm belief that it was but a first step in a course of more liberal policy. It gave him great satisfaction to express these sentiments, which were the sincere conviction of his mind. The noble Earl had quoted the words of the First Minister of the Crown, to show that similar opinions influenced his mind; and it was because he (the Earl of Wicklow) believed that to be the case that he now gave this measure his support. He did not expect that the principles which were advanced so strongly would be attended with all the success which possibly their supporters might anticipate, because he believed that other nations might think, however conducive to our interests these principles were, they might not be so conducive to theirs. The noble Earl supported prohibition, because it was under prohibition that our manufactures had so thriven. It was prohibition which had brought our manufactures from infancy to their full and mature growth; but it did not follow that now—in their maturity—they should be supported by the same system. Other nations knew that as well as we did, and, not unnaturally, they were now desirous of adopting the very same principles which had so successfuly fostered our manufactures. He therefore apprehended that the difficulties which they might expect would come not from home, but from other nations. They might say that we could not call upon them to adopt for their infant manufactures that system which we now applied to our matured manufactures. He was convinced that no argument which we could hold out to France, or America, or Prussia, could prevail upon them to enter upon that competition which we desired. France had already made a large increase to the duty on linens, and that, no doubt, would be most prejudicial to the linen manufacture in Scotland and Ireland. It might be said that it was strange, when we held out these hopes of liberality and free-trade, that other countries would not respond to them. It was not strange. He thought that they would find that the Prussian League and America would adopt the same system, and that as we relaxed the ties of our commerce other nations would tighten theirs. This he thought was a sufficient reason for the slow and gradual progress which her Majesty's Ministers had proposed, and on these grounds he approved of the principles laid down in the tariff It went far enough, and not too far. He now wished to make a remark in reference to an observation made the other night by the noble Duke on the cross-bench (the Duke of Richmond). The noble Duke said, if the measure had been proposed by the late Government it would not have been supported by a majority of their Lordships. The noble Duke meant to insinuate that those who sat on that (the Ministerial) side of the House would not have given it their support. He believed there were very few of their Lordships who had less pinned their faith to the sleeve of any Government than he had. Nevertheless, he would at once avow to the noble Duke, that he should have done as the noble Duke supposed—he should have voted against the measure. His reason was, because he should have thought the subject much too complicated, much too difficult, for him to form his own opinion upon. He would form his own opinion on a simple question, but in great complicated questions of State policy he should feel that he was giving too much to his own opinion if he felt that he was bound to follow it in opposition to the general policy of those whose political onions he approved of. If her Majesty's late Ministers had proposed this measure, and if he had found it opposed by the leaders of that party to which he was attached, he should have acted with them and voted against it. But he was placed in an entirely different situation the other night. He found men in whom he had every confidence bringing forward a measure which he himself approved of, and which, too, he found was supported by the members of the late Government, and was only opposed by the noble Earl at the Table (Earl Stanhope). Under these circumstances he thought the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) need not be surprised, or at a loss to account for the large majority with which the second reading of the measure was carried.

Earl Fortescue

did not intend to go into the general question, but had merely risen in consequence of an observation that had been made by the noble Earl (Earl Stanhope). The noble Earl stated that he had received a statement from the north of Devonshire, in which he was informed that there were no dealings in the markets, in agricultural produce, in that part of the country. Now it happened that he was connected with that part of the country, and had come from there within a day or two; and he felt bound to say that, as far as his information went, he was quite satisfied that the state of things described by the noble Earl—and which he very much doubted altogether—must be confined to a very small part of the country. When the tariff was first circulated, it certainly excited a pretty general panic amongst those engaged in agricultural pursuits in that part of the country, but it lasted a very short time, and he believed that the markets were now in that state in which they were before the tariff was proposed. There had been no falling off in the price of corn, and he could say this without hesitation, as he had come from the north of Devonshire within the last day or two, and he might add, that everything there satisfied him that the alarm at the tariff was at an end. With respect to the tariff itself, he would only observe, that instead of thinking it went too far, he thought that it did not go far enough. He hailed it, however, with pleasure, as the first step in a right direction, and he hoped that the Government would be induced to proceed in the same path.

House in committee.

Earl Stanhope moved that the duty on oxen, cows, bulls, and calves, be taken by weight.

The Duke of Buckingham

considered the tariff to be an alarming proposition, and cordially supported the amendment of the noble Earl.

Their Lordships divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question r—Contents 44; Non-contents 8: Majority 36.

Earl Stanhope

next objected to the reduction of duty on seeds, and moved that this title be struck out of the schedule.

Amendment negatived.

Earl Stanhope

then moved, that class 4, relating to woods, be struck out. Negatived without a division.

The classes were all agreed to.

The House resumed. Bill reported to be read a third time.

Their Lordships adjourned.