HL Deb 17 May 1895 vol 33 cc1429-33

*LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government if, in consideration of the protection given to cotton goods, they will take a similar step on behalf of the silk industry, by placing duties on foreign silk stuffs imported into England? He said he had better commence by explaining why he brought this question before their Lordships instead of leaving it to be brought before the House of Commons by the representative of the silk industry. The reason was that last year the hon. Member for the Macclesfield Division was prevented from raising the question in the House of Commons. An Irish Nationalist was put up, and the time was wasted until within half an hour of the end of the sitting. The hon. Member for Macclesfield was thus prevented from bringing the matter on by a trick. He could not believe that the Government were indifferent to the sufferings of the silkworkers. Neither would he believe that the then President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) had not the figures at his fingers' ends. This year the case was worse. The time of private Members in the House of Commons had been absorbed in order that the Government might sow their Local Veto wild oats, and therefore the hon. Member for Macclesfield thought he (Lord Stanley of Alderley) should bring the matter forward in this House. He trusted that, as last year Her Majesty's Government allowed this subject to be elbowed out, he would be answered by a responsible Minister of the Crown, and not by a relic of the Cobden Club, Figures showed how the silk industry had dwindled. Till the duties on foreign silks were taken off, the silk industry in the United Kingdom was flourishing. The value of raw silk imported was: In 1860,£6,482,066; in 1870 it had fallen to £5,774, 510; in 1880 to £3,383,373; in 1881 to £2,500,000; in 1891 to short of £2,000,000, and in 1892 to £1,000,000. The Board of Trade figures for 1892 were higher than these, but they did not give the re-exports of raw silk. The imports of silk stuffs from France increased in the ratio of the decrease of importation of raw silk. In I860 these amounted to £2,000,000; in 1885 to £5,000,000; arid in 1892 to £7,500,000. According to the Board of Trade Returns, the total importation of manufactured silks, exclusive of re-exports, was: In 1892, £11,412,263; in 1893, £12,028,406, and in 1894, £12,749,035. In 1860 150,000 persons were employed on silk in the United Kingdom, and in 1891 there were only 50,000. In 1860, in Macclesfied, 14,000 people were employed in 55 silk factories, in 1885 only 5,000 were employed in 30 factories. In Congleton, in 1860, there were 45 or 50 silk mills employing 5,000 hands, but now there were only 14 mills employing 1,000 hands, and most of these were on short time. There was an absolute necessity, if the silk industry were not to become extinct, that it should be protected by some duty. The veteran Free Trader, Mr. W. Coare Brocklehurst, had last year recognised that the silk industry must perish if not protected. The silk industry of England was worth protecting, as was shown by the fact that the wedding dress of the Duchess of York was made in Spitalfields. He desired to say that the other night the Under Secretary of State for India entirely avoided answering him with respect to the Secretary of State overruling the Indian Government, and extending the excisable limit from 24's to 20's counts. Did not the Indian authorities assert that cloths made from 20's yarn did not compete with Manchester goods, which were finer? Therefore, when the Secretary of State insisted on extending the excisable limit, it was done as a sop to Manchester, and also perhaps in order to eke out the miserable sum of £50,000 which, putting the rupee at 1s. 4d., was to be obtained by this Excise Duty. He thought he had established the fact that there was a certain amount of protection given to Manchester. But the two Manchester papers, The Guardian and The, Courier, had written exultingly because the Secretary of State did not answer the question he put the other night. They maintained that there was no protection given to Manchester. The Manchester Guardian, on the 15th of May, said— It has taken India 40 years to obtain 3,500,000 spindles, and probably two-thirds of the number have been working for China and Japan. But in a very short space of time Japan has attained to a total of 750,000 spindles … The Bombay spinners therefore are beginning to look forward to the loss of their chief export markets. The Bombay Government were not, like Her Majesty's Government, able to disregard the sufferings of a portion of their subjects, and The Manchester Guardian did not seem to realise what would happen if China and Japan increased the number of their spindles, when Manchester goods might get no farther than Singapore. Both in the past arid in the present Cabinet Ministers made electioneering speeches and lost elections. Some said that protection was dead. He maintained that it was dormant. It had always been said that as soon as Manchester cotton began to cry out the demand for protection would revive. He believed that cotton in Manchester would soon cry out lustily. Some people, too, said they did not believe in Bimetallism. Neither did he, but these Cabinet Ministers held out no prospect of alleviation of the burdens on agriculture. He thought it well to remind their Lordships of the fact that when the silk duties were abolished they brought in £250,000 a year. At that time Schedule B, which pressed very hardly upon agriculturists, brought in £300,000. Now Schedule B sunk in the year 1892–93 to £220,868, and in the following year the amount would have been less if the rate in the pound had not been raised. If the silk duties were again imposed they would, for some time, bring in a much larger sum than they did in 1860, and much more than sufficient to allow of doing away with Schedule B, which would be as great a boon to Somerset House as to the farmers and others who had to keep accounts, or who paid what was not due from inability to keep accounts. There was another reason for imposing this duty, and that was that silk was a luxury. The duty on silk goods would not be oppressive, and it might be argued that it would benefit the Lyons manufacturers of the best silks, as enhanced price would give a certificate of origin. If the Foreign Secretary should not like to do anything which might appear hostile to the French, it would be easy to show a neighbourly feeling by abolishing or reducing to a nominal sum the duties on wines from Guienne and Gascony, generally called "Mr. Gladstone's Claret." But the French had no right to expect one of our industries to be killed just to please them. He hoped that some Member of Her Majesty's Government would make some atonement for the Government's conduct last year in having prevented this grievance from being brought forward.


My noble Friend began his speech by objecting to any criticism of his notice, but I am afraid that I must refer to it, because I shall have to tell him that the premiss on which he founds his demand for a step to be taken in England on behalf of the silk industry has no foundation in fact whatever. His notice uses the words "in consideration of the protection given to cotton goods." I suppose my noble Friend means in India. There is no protection, as far as we know, given to cotton goods in India. My noble Friend referred to a question recently addressed to Lord Reay, and complained that it had not been sufficiently answered. The answer is very simple. The line is drawn at a certain number of counts, and my noble Friend thinks that it is drawn wrongly. The question has been very carefully considered by those who had to decide it, and they have drawn the line at the point where they think an excise duty is necessary for the purpose of countervailing the duty laid on cotton goods. If the line is found to be drawn wrongly, power is reserved to the Indian Government to alter it and bring it in accordance with the facts. But at present we do not think that it is so drawn as to give protection to cotton goods in India. Therefore, I might reasonably not pursue the question further. My noble Friend will expect me to use some commonplace with regard to Free Trade. All I can say is, that this country has at present a system which is founded on what is generally termed a "Free Trade policy," and there is not the slightest intention on the part of the Government to consider in any manner whether that system shall be abandoned for the purpose of putting a protective duty on the silk industry.


All I can say is this: Wait till the bills come in for the payment of the Chitral Expedition.


I don't understand that. Is the bill to be paid by the silk industry?