HL Deb 21 August 1843 vol 71 cc974-82
The Earl of Dalhousie

moved the third reading of the Customs Bill. The noble Earl adverted to the general features of the bill, and particularly to the clause providing for the admission into the United Kingdom of the timber and agricultural produce of the territory lately ceded to the United States, on the same terms as if such produce were the produce of one of a British colony. Objections had been made against that clause, and he was aware I that a fear had been expressed, that it might compromise the interests of our agriculturists. No such fear need be entertained. The State of Maine, far from producing surplus corn, did not grow even nearly enough for her own consumption. The basin of the St. John was a large forest, and a length of time must elapse before, under any circumstances, the face of the country could be altered. Their Lordships might, therefore, conclude that, though the words of the bill did not formally exclude corn, the clause, so far as that article was concerned, would be a dead letter. With respect to the favourable footing on which the clause placed timber, the produce of the territory now included in the State of Maine, and passing down the river St. John, it would be recollected, that this very condition was one of those which had the greatest influence in making the province of New Brunswick favourable to the terms of the Washington treaty. The impression of the colonists was, not that it gave an advantage to a foreign state, but to the colony. He would next proceed to that portion of the bill which removed the present prohibition on the exportation of various articles of machinery. That provision had been introduced as a separate bill into the other House of Parliament, and was afterwards embodied as a clause in the bill now before their Lordships. The most ample experience—the most practical and unquestionable evidence—went to show that whether the exportation of machinery of British manufacture to foreign countries were good or bad, it was absolutely impossible to prohibit it. Whatever men might think of the principle, prohibition itself was literally impracticable and impossible. The committee of 1825, after full consideration, inquiry, and evidence, recommended Parliament to repeal this prohibition, which in reality was no prohibition. The subject had since that period been fully discussed and considered, and the facts and arguments still remained the same. Their Lordships would find, that by far the larger portion of tile articles mentioned in the schedule were already permitted to be exported by the authority of Treasury orders. Even of the limited number to which such permission was not given, it was impossible to prevent the exportation, by smuggling, or otherwise. When not smuggled out of the country by wholesale, they were exported in detached pieces, each of which pieces could not by itself be called a prohibited article, though it might be very clear to the Custom-house officer, that it was a portion of one. Indeed, one of the witnesses, when asked a question in reference to the means and facilities of exportation in this way, said that he could export Edinburgh Castle. Again, were it even possible—while on the contrary it was wholly impossible, though a whole corps of Custom-house officers were em- ployed to prevent smuggling—tools, models, artisans, and steam engines could still be sent out of the country. Was it, not, then, trifling with common sense to retain nominal restrictions which it was impossible to enforce? During the progress of the Machinery Bill through the other House, not a single petition, so far as his knowledge went, had been presented against it, and very little opposition was offered to it. No injury would be inflicted on the manufacturers by the formal abolition of a prohibition which already was, practically, a nullity, for it was well known, that machinery was constantly exported in any quantities people chose. One consequence of continuing this prohibition, which, he must repeat, was no prohibition, was that foreigners would be driven to manufacture machinery for themselves, they depriving us, in the first place, of the advantage of the manufacture of these articles, and giving their own cotton, silk, woollen, and other manufactures of the great advantage of a close connection between the machine maker and the manufacturer. These were advantages which we ourselves might lose if the prohibition were continued. But let us take that course which practical reason seemed clearly to point out, and our great natural advantages of coal, iron, and other productions, would place us far above the reach of competition by foreign machine makers. In Belgium, in France, and in America, machine-making was extending, and while we maintained our prohibitory enactments these countries now exported machinery to Russia, South America, and other places, though their manufacture was dearer than that of this country, and the quality inferior. American machinery was 50 or 60 per cent. dearer, and the French and American much dearer; and yet Belgium actually exported to our own colonies the very articles with which, were it not for those obstructions, we might supply them. The present, and especially the future, interests of all classes of our manufacturers, would be materially advanced by the removal of a prohibition which they could not enforce—which they confessed they could not enforce—and which only gave rise to a demoralising and most mischievous system of smuggling. The noble Earl concluded by moving the third reading of the bill.

The Earl of Stanhope

remarked, that on this occasion, when a measure, one so important in its character, was brought before the House, the attendance of their Lordships was not sufficiently numerous to constitute a jury. He would say nothing of the effect of this circumstance on the minds of the ill treated people of this country, already on the brink of starvation, and whose misery would be still further aggravated by a measure of this description. Had he been present when the bill was passing through committee, he should have proposed the omission of several of the clauses, and he should now briefly state the reasons that induced him to propose the rejection of the measure. The noble Earl had triumphed in the consideration that the bill had passed so easily, and with such little opposition, through the House of Commons. The fact was, that the latter House had been treated with some disrespect, though not with more disrespect than was richly deserved by the great majority of its Members. The course pursued in hurrying such important measures through the House at so late a period of the Session was as unnecessary as it was improper. True, had they been earlier introduced, they might have been met by some troublesome speeches from the very few intelligent and independent persons who held seats in the place he had alluded to and a protracted debate might have ensued; but there was no reason to apprehend that those who had swallowed a camel would have strained at a knot, nor that the Gentlemen who had supported a Tariff and a Corn-law, of which they did not approve, would have raised any difficulty to the passing of the present measure. He objected to the advantages given to foreign whale oil, to the detriment of English shipping, and to the 19th clause, by which our carrying trade was not sufficiently protected. As to the clauses permitting the exportation of machinery he denied that it was expedient to give away to foreigners the advantage proposed to be conferred on them by this bill, and which we might retain in our own hands. The noble Earl said, that the prohibition of exportation could not be enforced—that the machines would be smuggled out of the country—and that even if not smuggled, tools and models, and artizans would go abroad, by means of which the machines would be constructed in foreign countries. Now, it was unfortunate, but by some fatality which hovered about the Board with which the noble Earl was connected, its arguments usually cut both ways. The noble Earl's argument was, that as things already stood, the exportation of machinery could not be prevented, but that it took place to a great extent, and that the bill would therefore produce no great increase of the export. But the President of the Board of Trade, and the noble Earl himself, through part of his speech, argued, on the other hand, that it was of great importance to give this country a monopoly of machine making. This would of course imply a great increase in the export, and he should be glad to hear how the argument was to apply in both ways. He maintained that without employing a corps of Custom-house officers, but by a judicious system of regulations—by providing that machine makers should supply proper officers with information as to the parties to whom the articles were furnished, contraband exportation might be prevented. It was argued that the bill would do good to machine makers, but why plunder other classes to serve one? And if such a policy were pursued, would not the people have every right to complain, if not resist? Not only the manufacturers of silk, of woollen, and cotton goods, but other of our industrial interests would be affected by this measure; and, for his own part, he should say, that if these free trade dogmas were just with respect to one measure they were so in another, and should be universally extended, or not adopted at all. It was said, indeed, why was not the bill opposed in the other House? Why did not the manufacturers resist it? And it was implied, that the grounds on which the manufacturers consented to the bill was, that exportation could not be practically prohibited. But there was another reason—a reason of a very different nature, why the measure had obtained the consent of some of the manufacturers. We had allowed the free emigration of artizans, whom, not by compulsion, but by a very considerable sacrifice, if necessary, we ought to have retained at home; and if the Bill was carried there would be nothing to prevent manufacturers from taking capital abroad to foreign countries, and with British capital, British artizans, and British machinery, to establish manufactories in foreign countries, leaving the workmen at home to starve, or be sup- ported by the poorhouse. He need not represent how calamitous must be the consequences—how fatal, not only to the peace, but to the prosperity of the country, unless they established a system of home colonisation. He with regret confessed that he was not now surprised that this measure had been brought forward by the present Government. It was the last, if not the least, of the measures that had been introduced so seriously to the injury of the country—of the character of the Ministry by whom it was proposed—and which had so deceived the hopes of those who unfortunately assisted in restoring them to office. [The Duke of Wellington—Why not take office yourself.] If the noble Duke had watched his public conduct, he might have observed that he had never been ambitious of office. He had hoped to spend the remainder of his days in the rural retirement which be best liked; and it was with regret and reluctance that, impelled by a sense of duty he had returned to that House from which he had long seceded. He was one of those who wished for nothing—who had asked for nothing—who wanted nothing that a Minister could bestow. He might be defeated, but his argument was not overthrown, and he spoke what he believed was the sincere impression of large and worthy classes of his fellow citizens. He earnestly wished that their Lordships would be convinced by experience, and by the approaching indication of events that already cast their shadows before them, and which, when they did take place, would be such, he feared, as were not now calculated on. He sought to make them ponder on the consequences of a career which was subverting, one by one, all the principles on which this country had prospered, and on which she could still hope to prosper, and which was shaking the foundations of our whole social edifice. He sought to make them seriously consider whether, if protection were withdrawn allegiance could be claimed—whether if, by legislative measures, they inflicted injustice on their fellow-citizens, they did not impose on them the duty of remonstrance, and if redress were refused, whether they might not in some cases give them the right of resistance? The noble Earl concluded by moving that the Bill be read the third time that day three months.

Lord Monteagle

rose, and intimated his intention of moving as an amendment on the seventh clause, that the forfeiture or penalty therein provided for, should not take effect till the rules and regulations were published in the London Gazette, &c. He complained that the Bill did not properly carry out the principle so often laid down, that all goods manufactured in a colony were to be treated as colonial produce, whether or not the raw material were the produce of the colony. Coming to the 23rd clause, which it was said was intended to carry out the terms of the Ashburton Treaty, he found that certain produce of the forest, and agricultural produce coming from the State of Maine, were to be treated as if they were the produce of New Brunswick. A more important clause had seldom been brought under the consideration of Parliament, and it was with surprise he had heard some of the arguments by which it was defended. It was said that the favourable terms granted to American timber was regarded as a boon not by the state of Maine, but by the province of New Brunswick. Mr. Webster, too, had treated the concession as unimportant, but not so Lord Ashburton—Lord Ashburton, knowing the country, said that the concession by which the State of Maine received the same terms with the Queen's subjects was treated with light indifference, but that this was not uncommon when a concession was about to be made. He further said, that the boon was not formerly thought so light of—that it had often been solicited and refused—that no Minister of Great Britain had ever before been permitted to connect this concession with the question of the boundary, and that it was always considered by the Government a very important concession. He (Lord Monteagle) considered it so too. Maine, it was argued, did not grow corn enough for her own consumption. But how long would that be the case when the country was fully cultivated? [The Lord Chancellor—In fifty years.] He could assure the noble and learned Lord that much might be done in less than fifty years—that had legislation on our part, for instance, might do a great deal before that space had elapsed. [The noble Lord read an extract from M. de Talleyrand's book on America, to show the apparently lifeless state of manufactures in America fifty years ago, and contrasted it with the rapid advance and present active condition of manufac- turing operations in that country] He directed the attention of their Lordships to the progress which America had made in fifty years, in order to show that, as regarded that law in its application to Maine, they ought not to calculate on the result of its merely lasting for our time. But a very important effect which this permission to the importation of the produce of the State of Maine would have, would he its effect on those States with which we have reciprocity treaties. We by this measure allowed the importation of certain produce of a portion of the United States, as if it were colonial produce; and what answer could we give to Sweden, for instance, if she demanded a similar advantage for her produce, in accordance with the treaty which we had entered into with her, by which we promised her the same advantages, as regarded the exportation of her produce, that was possessed by other countries? We had similar treaties with Buenos Ayres, Columbia, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia; we promised them the advantages which we gave to the most favoured nations, and he wished to know what answer would be made to those states if they demanded advantages of a similar nature to those which we gave to the State of Maine? With respect to the export of machinery he believed that it would give a stimulus to the productive powers of the Continent, and in giving support to the clause, he did so because he was favourable to the principles of free-trade, and because, whilst he supported the clause, he was desirous of extending the principle much farther. When the tariff was passed we gave to foreign workmen an increased power of competition with our artizans—it was now proposed to pass a measure which was also calculated to give a stimulus to the powers of production on the Continent by the export of machinery. He thought that, in doing so we were doing wisely, but would the people of this country be satisfied to be obliged to pay more for their bread than other nations, when measures were introduced which exposed them more and more to the competition of foreigners? The Government would act consistently if they carried out those principles, but to expose the artisans of this country to foreign competition without giving them bread as cheap as others had would necessarily cause great dis- content and dissatisfaction amongst the working-classes.

Lord Beaumont

thought there would be a great difficulty in the case of Sweden applying, in accordance with our treaty, for similar advantages to those which we gave to Maine, and he did not see how the Government could get over that difficulty. He did not wish, at that late hour, to go into all the subjects which were affected by the bill, for it appeared to be a collection of "elegant extracts" from twenty other bills.

Bill read a third time and passed.

Their Lordships adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Protest against the bill was entered.


  1. "1. Because the proposed measure would allow the free exportation of machinery, which is now absolutely prohibited, and which ought, as far as possible, to be entirely prevented, since foreign manufacturers would be thus enabled to improve the quality, and to reduce the price of their goods, and to acquire an advantage which this country ought to retain for its own manufactures.
  2. "2. Because it may reasonably be expected that the proposed measure would render it far more difficult than it is at present for the manufacturers of this country to compete with those of the Continent, and that it might even enable the latter to undersell the former in the home market.
  3. "3. Because the benefit, whatever it may be, which those who make machinery might derive from its free exportation would be very far counterbalanced by the injury which would be sustained by those who employ such machinery in this country, and could not, even in the contrary supposition, justify a measure which would impoverish one class of the community for the profit of another.
  4. "4. Because, by the proposed measure, goods might he imported in any vessels into Hong Kong, and the same advantages would then be conferred upon foreigners which are enjoyed by British subjects in trading with that island, and this would be very detrimental to the shipping interest, as foreign vessels are built, repaired, victualled, and navigated at a much smaller expense than those of the United Kingdom.
  5. "5. Because the proposed measure would inflict a further injury upon the shipping interest, by allowing colonial fishery ships to come direct from the fishery to the United Kingdom, and to enter their cargoes in like manner as vessels clearing out from that kingdom.