§ The House having resolved itself into a committee to consider of the consolidated Custom Duties,
§ Sir;—In requesting the attention of the committee, whilst I state (in continuation of the subject which I had the honour to open on Monday last) the alterations which I propose to recommend in the duties levied upon the importation of materials employed in some of our principal manufactures, and also in the prohibitory duties now imposed upon the manufactured productions of other countries, I need scarcely bespeak the disposition of the committee to countenance the principle of these proposals, so far as they shall be found not inconsistent with the protection of our own industry. I feel the more assured of this general disposition in the committee, not only as it was manifested on the former evening, but also from the experience, which the House and the country now have of the benefits to be derived from the removal of vexatious restraints, and meddling interference, in the concerns of internal industry, or foreign commerce.
However confident either my right hon.
*From the original edition, printed for J. Hatchard and Son, Piccadilly.
friend the chancellor of the Exchequer, or I myself, may have been, that the changes which, since the restoration of peace, it has been our duty to propose in our commercial policy, would be attended with the most salutary consequences, it was impossible for us—at least it was impossible for me—not to feel that, in the application of the soundest principles, the result, from unforeseen causes, may sometimes disappoint our expectations. It became us, therefore, to watch the issue of each experiment, and not to attempt too much at once, until we had felt our way, and until the public were prepared to accompany us in our further progress. But I think I am not too bold in stating that, in every instance, as far as we have hitherto gone, not only have the fears and forebodings of the particular interests by which we were opposed proved to be visionary and unfounded, but the expectations of our most sanguine supporters have been more than realized. In these advantages, therefore, the opponents of the measures by which they were produced, must, on the one hand, find a matter of consolation, that their admonitions did not persuade—that their arguments did not convince—that their predictions did not intimidate: and, on the other hand, past success is, to the supporters of those measures, a source of encouragement to follow up the same path, as likely to lead us still further in the career of public prosperity.
§ The committee will recollect that, when the change was made last year in the system of our Silk trade, one great alteration was the substitution of an advalorem duty of 30l. per cent instead of an absolute prohibition of all articles manufactured of silk. A doubt was suggested at the time, and in that doubt I participated, whether 30l. per cent was not too high a duty;— not too high, indeed, according to the apprehensions of the British manufacturer, (for he stated it would be quite inadequate to his protection) but whether its amount would not still leave some latitude to the smuggler. This latter ground of doubt still remains—the former, I believe is already pretty well removed. If alarm now exist any where, and I know it does exist, it is transferred to the other side of the channel, and is to be found only among the manufacturers of France, in consequence of the great progress and improvement, since made in this country, in every branch of the silk trade.1198
§ Having thus ruled that 30l. per cent is the highest duty which could be maintained for the protection of a manufacture, in every part of which we were most behind foreign countries—the only extensive manufacture, which, on the score of general inferiority, stood in need of special protection—surely it was time to inquire in what degree our other great manufactures were protected, and to consider if there be no inconvenience, no unfitness, no positive injury caused to ourselves, no suspicion and odium excited in foreign countries, by duties which are either absolutely prohibitory—or, if the articles to which they attach admit of being smuggled, which have no other effect than to throw the business of importing them into the hands of the smuggler.
§ To bring this subject more particularly before the House, I will begin with our greatest manufacture, that of cotton. It will not be denied that, in this manufacture, we are superior to all other countries: and that, by the cheapness and quality of our goods, we undersell our competitors in all the markets of the world, which are open alike to us and to them. I do not except the market of the East Indies (the first seat of manufacture), of which it may be said to be the staple, where the raw material is grown, where labour is cheaper than in any other country, and from which England and Europe were, for a long time, supplied with cotton goods. Now, however, large quantities of British cottons are sold in India at prices lower than they can be produced by the native manufacturers. If any possible doubt could remain that this manufacture has nothing to apprehend from competition any where, and, least of all, from a competition in our own home market, it must vanish when I state to the committee, that the official value of cotton goods, exported last year, amounted to the astonishing sum of 30,795,000l.: and yet such have been the extravagant fears of a jealous monopoly, and such is the influence of old prejudices, that in our book of rates, the duties, will the committee believe it?—stand at this moment as follows:—on certain descriptions of cotton goods, 75l. per cent, on others 67l. 10s. per cent, on a third class 50l. per cent.
§ It is impossible not to smile at the discriminating shrewdness which made these distinctions, and which could discover that, with a protection of 67l. per cent, 1199 ten shillings more were wanting, to make the balance incline on the side of the British manufacturer, in the market of his own country. These absurd duties, and equally absurd distinctions, attach alike upon the productions of our own subjects in the East Indies, as upon those of foreign countries; whilst our manufactures are admitted, almost duty free, into all the territories of the East-India Company. Instead of this graduated, but monstrous scale, I propose to admit all foreign articles manufactured wholly of cotton, whether from the East Indies or elsewhere, at one uniform duty of 10l. per cent, which, I conceive, is sufficient to countervail the small duty levied upon the importation of the raw material into this country, and the duty upon any other articles used in the manufacture. Any protection, beyond this, I hold to be not only unnecessary but mischievous.
§ From cotton, I proceed to woollens, one of our oldest manufactures—that which has been most nursed and dandled by the legislature—a favourite child, which like other favourites, has, I suspect, suffered, rather than profited, by being spoilt and petted in rearing; whilst its younger brother of cotton, coming in to the world much later, has thriven better by being much more left to rough it, and make its own way in life. Some detailed and authentic history of the paternal and zealous solicitude with which our ancestors in this House interposed to protect the woollen manufacture (should such a history ever be written), will alone preserve future generations from incredulity, in respect to the extent to which legislative interference was once carried in this branch of internal industry. Within my own time, regulating acts, dealing with every minute process of the manufacture, have been repealed by the score; as have also heaps of other laws, equally salutary and wise, prescribing the mode of clipping wool, its package, the time to be allowed, and the forms to be observed, in removing it from one place to another—laws, the violation of which, in some instances, amounted to felony, but which now no longer disgrace the Statute-book. Fortunately for the cotton manufacture, it was never favoured with this species of protection, so abundantly lavished upon woollen, and which was only withdrawn last year from silk, by the repeal of the Spitaifields acts.
§ I am well aware that this retrospect to 1200 former systems may be wearisome to the committee, but it is not without its importance, if it were only to strengthen us against falling again into erroneous courses. I trust, therefore, that I may be allowed to state, from official documents, what has been the relative progress of our cotton and woollen manufactures, since the year 1765, being a period of sixty years:—
§ The quantity of cotton wool imported into Great Britain, in the year ended the 5th of January, 1765, was about 3,360,000lbs. The value of cotton goods exported 200,000l.
§ The quantity of cotton wool imported in the year ended the 5th of January, 1825, was 147,174,000 lbs. The value of cotton goods exported 30,795,000l.
§ The quantity of lamb and sheeps' wool imported in the year 1765, was 1,926,000lbs. The value of woollen goods exported 5,159,000l.
§ The quantity of lamb and sheeps' wool imported in the year 1825, was23,858,000lbs. The value of woollen goods exported 6,926,000l.
§ Perhaps I may just add, that the quantity of raw silk imported in 1765, was 418,000lbs; and in 1825 3,047,000lbs.
§ In submitting these satisfactory statements, I cannot refrain from calling the attention of the committee to one observation which they suggest to my mind. It must, I think, be admitted, that, in the year 1765, the whole quantity of sheeps' wool grown in this country could not be nearly so great as at present, when, owing to the many improvements in husbandry, and particularly in the art of raising winter food for the flocks, the number of sheep must be greatly increased; and yet the, quantity of wool imported in that year, was not one-twelfth of the quantity imported in 1825. Out of this aggregate supply from home growth, and foreign import, the whole wants of our own population were supplied in 1765, leaving to the amount of 5,159,000l. of manufactured woollens for exportation. In the year 1825, out of the aggregate of the home growth, and of an import of wool so greatly exceeding that of 1765, the whole manufactured export is 6,926,000l, being an increase over that of 1765, of only 1,765,000l. Now, let me ask the committee, how often, in these sixty years, has the increase of consumption in cotton and silk clothing been contemplated with alarm and jealousy, by the wool-grower, 1201 and the woollen manufacturer; by the descendants of those who passed laws, (repealed only within these last ten years) compelling us to be buried in woollens? —And yet what was our consumption of cotton—that other great article of clothing?—in 1765, next to nothing; and what is it now? —greater probably than the whole amount of our woollens, to say nothing of the consumption of silk, which has also increased eight-fold. Can any statement show more decidedly the wonderful increase in the power of consumption by this country? Can any tiling more forcibly illustrate that general position to which I have already adverted, and which cannot be too strongly impressed on those who legislate for the interests of commerce and industry—that the means which lead to increased consumption, and which are the foundation, as that consumption is the proof, of our prosperity, will be most effectually promoted by an unrestrained competition, not only between the capital and industry, of different classes in the same country, but also by extending that competition, as much as possible to all other countries.
§ The present rates of duty on foreign woollens vary from 50l. to 67l. 10s. per cent. I am satisfied that 15l. per cent will answer every purpose of reasonable and fair protection; and this is the reduction, therefore, which I intend to submit to the committee.
§ The next great branch of manufacture is that of linens:—this also has been the object of more nursing and interference than were good for its healthy and vigorous growth. But not to weary the committee with details, I will proceed at once to state, that the present duties, which are very complicated, fluctuate from 40l. to 180l. per cent, and that I propose to simplify and reduce them, by putting them all at 25l. per cent.
§ In like manner the duties on paper, which are now altogether, prohibitory, I propose to reduce, so that they shall not exceed double the amount of the excise duty payable upon that article manufactured in this country. This reduction will extend to printed books, which now pay, if in any way bound, 6l. 10s. and, if unbound, 5l. the cwt. The amount of these duties is sufficient, as I have been assured, to lead to the smuggling of books printed abroad; and I am sure that, for the character of this country—for the interest of science and literature—the im- 1202 portation of foreign works, which do not interfere with any copyright in England, ought not to be discouraged. I should; therefore, propose to lower these duties regard being had to copyrights, which may require specific provisions, to 3l. 10s. and 3l., respectively.
§ Upon glass, the present duty, which is 80l., I propose to lower to 20l. per cent; and, instead of the heavy duty, so justly complained of, upon common glass bottles, amounting to 16s. 2d. a dozen (which, now that wine is reduced in price, amounts in many cases to more than half its value), I intend to recommend a duty of three shillings only.
§ Upon all descriptions of foreign earthenware, an article with which we supply so many other countries, the present duty is 75l. per cent; the effect of which is, that ornamented porcelain is abundantly smuggled from the continent. I propose to reduce the duty on earthenware, and plain porcelain goods to 15l., and upon porcelain, gilt, or ornamented, to 30l. per cent; which is quite as much as can be demanded, without throwing this branch of import into the hands of the smuggler.
§ To foreign gloves, another manufacture, now altogether prohibited, but which are to be bought in every shop, I apply the same observation, and the same measure of duty, 30l. per cent.
§ I now come to the metallic substances. —The amount of the reduction which I propose upon Iron, from 6l. 10s. to 1l. 10s. a ton, has already been stated by my right hon. friend the chancellor of the Exchequer. It afforded me great satisfaction, on that occasion, to hear the liberal sentiments avowed by a worthy alderman (Thompson), who is very extensively concerned in the iron works of this country. His unqualified approbation of this important change, I had flattered myself, would have been echoed by all the other iron masters: but in this expectation I have been disappointed. Deputations from the mining districts have since been at the Board of Trade. I have heard their representations—but I have not been convinced by them. I am bound to say, that they fully partake of the character of nearly all the communications (and they are many) which I have received from those whose interests in manufacture or trade are affected, or likely, in their apprehensions, to be affected, by the changes which I am 1203 now submitting to the committee. They are all great advocates for free trade generally, all alike forward in their approbation of the principles on which the government is now acting; but each has some reason to assign, quite conclusive, I have no doubt, in his own mind, why his peculiar calling should be made an exception. All these special reasons, I own, have only satisfied me, that the general rule of free competition is the best for all trades, as it is certainly the best for the public; though I can quite understand, that a privilege or monopoly given to any one branch, whilst it is denied to all others, might be an advantage to that particular trade. But is it fit that in an article like iron, of universal use in all our manufactures, in all the arts and conveniences of life, in agriculture, in houses, in ships, we should now be suffering from a scarcity of that metal? That we should submit to have every article, in which it is used, greatly increased in price, as well as deteriorated, perhaps, in quality, on account of the enormous duty imposed upon foreign iron, not for the purpose of revenue, but for that of protection—a duty which amounts nearly to a monopoly in favour of the British iron masters? Has not the price of British iron, of late, been almost doubled? Have not all the iron masters demands for iron beyond what they can supply? Is there no risk or danger to our hardware manufactures at Birmingham and Sheffield, from this state of things? Can they execute the orders which they receive from abroad, if iron continues at its present price, or is to rise still higher? How many thousand workmen will be thrown out of employ, if this branch of trade be lost to this country? Is there no reason to apprehend its being transferred to Germany, the Netherlands, and other parts of the continent? I have been assured, upon authority not likely to mislead me, that very extensive orders, which have lately been received at Birmingham from the United States, and other parts, have been refused, because the great rise in the price of iron does not admit of the articles being made within the limits specified in those orders. And what is the consequence? They are transferred to the continent; and the share of this country in their execution, is confined to making the models and drawings, which are prepared here, for the guidance of the foreign artificers. It is, therefore, of the greatest 1204 importance, that the duties on foreign iron should be reduced, in reference, not only to the interests of the consumer in this country, but also to the well-being of those numerous classes who are employed in all the manufactures of this metal for foreign countries. The necessity of this reduction becomes the more urgent, from the fact, that, at this time, the whole produce of the British mines is not adequate to supply the present demand. But, quite independent of this evil, which may be temporary, I own it appears to me, that it would be of great advantage to the manufactures of this country to be able to procure foreign iron, particularly that of Sweden, on easy terms. Swedish iron is known to be superior to our own; its admixture with British iron would improve the quality of our manufactures; they would be held in higher estimation, and not only be able to command a more decided preference in foreign markets, but become more valuable for all the purposes to which iron is applied in our domestic consumption.—Take, for instance, the important article of iron cables now so generally used by our shipping; it will not be denied that, by a due proportion of Swedish iron in their composition, their strength and tenacity would be improved. Here, then, an important advantage to our naval interests, connected too with the safety of every ship using iron cables, is directly counteracted by the present high duties on foreign iron. The result of its more free admission, I am persuaded, will be, not only to check those extreme fluctuations, which, of late years, we have witnessed in the price of iron—at one time so low as to be ruinous to the producer, at another so high, as to be greatly distressing to all the other interests of the country—but also by the improvements to which it will lead, to extend the use and consumption of manufactured iron (the bulk of which will always be our own) both at home and abroad. This increased demand, joined to a more steady price, will, ere long, more than compensate to the British iron masters the temporary inconvenience, if any, which some of them apprehend from the extent to which it is proposed to carry the reduction of this duty.
§ The next metal upon which I have to propose a reduction, is copper. The duty, which in 1790 did not exceed 10l., now amounts to 54l. a ton. This high duty is not less injurious to the manufac- 1205 turer than the high duty on iron. Now, if the price of our copper manufactures is to exceed that of the like articles of foreign manufacture, in any thing like a proportion to this enormous duty, it is evident, that, even assuming some superiority in the skill of our workmen, we must ultimately be driven from the markets of other countries. The quantity of copper produced by the English mines amounts to about 10,000 tons annually, of which something less than one-half suffices for the home consumption. This being the proportion, do not the owners of copper mines see, that if, by the high price at which the manufacturer buys copper, he should lose his hold upon the foreign market, they must be injured by the effects of their own monopoly? The annual supply required would then be diminished to less than 5,000 tons; and they would, therefore, run the risk of losing more by the continuance of the present high duties, than by the repeal of them. These prohibitory duties have already, in my judgment, been attended with serious injury. They have prevented copper, not only in an unmanufactured, but in an imperfectly smelted state, from coming into this country. This metal exists in great abundance, not only in several parts of Europe, but also in some of the new States of America. It would have been sent here, as it used to be, in an imperfect state, in payment for British manufactures. Here it would have undergone the process of purifying, of rolling, or of being otherwise prepared for consumption, by the means of our superior machinery, had it not been kept away by impolitic restrictions. They operated as a bounty upon the transfer of our capital to other countries, and as a premium to encourage the inhabitants of those countries to do for themselves that which, greatly to our own advantage, we should otherwise have continued to do for them. At the same time I am aware, that considerable capitals have been invested in our copper mines, under the encouragement given by the present monopoly, and how difficult it is to do all that the public interest would require, without injury to those particular interests. This, in almost every instance, is the most arduous part of the task which a sense of public duty has imposed upon me. In the present case, however, I believe that I may safely, and I hope with advantage to both parties, propose to reduce the duty on copper from 51l. to 27l. a ton; without com- 1206 mitting myself, not to recommend, at a future period, even a further reduction, if it should appear that the present limit is not sufficient to enable our manufacturers to preserve their foreign market, and that, at a lower rate of duty, no great or sudden check would be given to the British mines.
§ There is another metallic substance, in some degree connected with the copper manufacture, the duty upon which ought to be considerably lowered.—I mean zinc, commonly known in trade under the name of spelter. This semi-metal enters, in the proportion of about one-third, I understand, into the composition of brass. The selling price of spelter, on the continent, is about 20l. a ton, here about 45l., and the duty is 28l. Now, with a duty upon copper of 54l. a ton, and upon spelter of 28l., what chance can we have of maintaining a footing in the foreign market for any description of brass wares? None: —and accordingly I am assured that, at this moment, our briskest demand in this trade is in the preparation of moulds and patterns for the foreign manufacturer. Upon spelter, I shall propose to reduce the duty full one half. I feel that I ought to go still lower, and perhaps I shall, after making further inquiry, in some future stage; for I am convinced that the mines of this country cannot successfully compete with those of Silesia, in which spelter is principally produced.
§ Upon tin, the present duty is excessive. It is an article of which we have more the command, and is of less extensive consumption. I propose, however, to reduce the duty more than one half—from 5l. 9s. 3d. to 2l. 10s. the cwt.
§ The duty on lead is now 20l. per cent ad valorem; this I propose to lower to 15l., which, I hope, will be sufficient to admit of a foreign import, and to check the present exorbitant price of that metal. If I shall find, upon further investigation, that this is not likely to be the case, I shall reserve to myself to suggest, on some future stage, a further reduction in this duty also.
§ There are several other enumerated articles in the Book of Rates, upon which I propose to reduce the duties upon the same principle. I should only weary the committee by going through the detail of these alterations-—they will be found in the schedule annexed to one of the resolutions which I shall submit for their consideration. Perhaps, however, I ought to 1207 state that, although every thing which can, by any accident, be considered as an object of jealousy to any of our manufactures, is enumerated by name in the Book of Rates, there are other things not directly connected with trade or merchandize, but with art, science, and literature, and deriving their value solely from such connexion, which, whenever they are brought into this country, cost the person who imports them 50l. per cent on their estimated value, under a sweeping clause, at the end of that book, which provides, that upon all goods, wares, and merchandize, being, either in part or wholly, manufactured, and not enumerated, a duty of 50l. per cent shall be payable, and a duty of 20l. per cent upon all non-enumerated goods, not being either in part or wholly manufactured. Now this duty of 50l. per cent, of little value to the Exchequer, and attaching principally upon such objects as I have adverted to, is, I am sure, one which the committee will concur with me in thinking ought to be reduced. The instances, in which this high duty attaches on articles of curiosity and interest, are not very numerous; they are sometimes ludicrous, perhaps, but not very creditable to the good taste and character of this country. One instance, which I recollect to have heard, I will mention. A gentleman imported a mummy from Egypt. The officers of the customs were not a little puzzled by this non-enumerated article. These remains of mortality, muscles and sinews, pickled and preserved three thousand years ago, could not be deemed a raw material; and therefore, upon deliberation, it was determined to tax them as a manufactured article. The importer, anxious that his mummy should not be seized, stated its value at 400l. The declaration cost him 200l., being at the rate of 50l. per cent on the manufactured merchandize which he was about to import. I propose to reduce the duty on manufactured articles, not enumerated, from 50l. to 20l., and on articles unmanufactured, from 20l. to 10l. per cent.
§ The result of the alterations, which I have now stated to the committee, will be this — that upon foreign manufactured articles generally, where the duty is imposed to protect our own manufactures, and not for the purpose of collecting revenue, that duty will, in no instance, exceed 30l. per cent. If the article be not manufactured much cheaper or much 1208 better abroad than at home, such a duty is ample for protection. If it be manufactured so much cheaper, or so much better abroad, as to render 30l. per cent insufficient, my answer is, first, that a greater protection is only a premium to the smuggler; and, secondly, that there is no wisdom in attempting to bolster up a competition, which this degree of protection will not sustain. Let the state have the tax, which is now the reward of the smuggler, and let the consumer have the better and cheaper article, without the painful consciousness that he is consulting his own convenience at the expense of daily violating the laws of his country. When my right hon. friend, the chancellor of the Exchequer, is labouring to put an end, as fast as he can, to the evils of smuggling, by lowering the duties, increased during the pressure of the war, and for the purposes of revenue, upon articles of consumption, the last thing which we ought to countenance, is the continuance of high duties, not for the benefit of the Exchequer, but for the supposed protection of certain branches of manufacture. Is the illicit importation of foreign spirits to be checked, merely to give fresh life to the smuggling of cambrics and lace from Flanders, or of gloves and porcelain from France? I cannot think that gentlemen are aware to what an extent all the moral evils of smuggling are encouraged by the prohibition of these comparatively petty articles. Let any one go down to Brighton, and wander on the coast from thence to Hastings; I will undertake to say, that he shall most easily find, at every place he comes to, persons who will engage to deliver to him, within ten days or a fortnight, any prohibited article of manufacture, which he can name, and almost in any quantity, upon an advance of 30l. per cent beyond the prime cost at Paris. What is the consequence of such a system? A number of families, that would otherwise be valuable and industrious members of society, exist, and train up their children, in a state of perpetual warfare with the law, till they insensibly acquire the habits and feelings of outlaws, standing rather in the relation of pirates, than of fellow-subjects, to the rest of the community. And is this abominable system to be tolerated, not from any over-ruling necessity of upholding the revenue, nay, possibly, to the injury of the Exchequer, but merely because, in a few secondary branches of manufacture, 1209 we do not possess the same natural advantages, or the same degree of skill, as our neighbours? If cambrics are made better at Valenciennes, is that a sufficient reason for imposing a prohibitory duty on all linens; a duty from which the revenue gets next to nothing, whilst the country is full of the proscribed article? If certain descriptions of paper for engraving are made more perfect in France, are we always to be condemned to the use of an inferior and dearer article of home manufacture? The time has been, when it was found quite a sufficient reason for imposing a prohibitory duty upon a foreign article, that it was better than we could make at home; but, I trust, when such calls are made upon this House hereafter, our first answer at least will be, let us see what can be done by competition; first try to imitate, and by and by perhaps, you will surpass your foreign rival. This is the feeling, this is the hope and the emulation which we have now created in the silk trade; and, I believe, with a very reasonable prospect of the most complete success. But this feeling never would have been called forth under the old and helpless system of prohibitory protection. Prohibitions, in fact, are a premium to mediocrity. They destroy the best incentive to excellence, the best stimulus to invention and improvement. They condemn the community to suffer, both in price and quality, all the evils of monopoly, except in as far as a remedy can be found in the baneful arts of the smuggler. They have also another of the great evils of monopoly, that of exposing the consumer, as well as the dealer, to rapid and inconvenient fluctuations in price.
§ With the knowledge of this fact, that we furnish, in a proportion far exceeding the supply from any other country, the general markets of the world, with all the leading articles of manufacture, upon which I have now proposed greatly to lower the duties, I own that I am not afraid of this country being overwhelmed with foreign goods. Some, I know, will come in, which are now excluded; I shall be glad of it. In various ways, their admission will be beneficial to the general interests of the country. That it cannot be extensively injurious to any of those interests, may be inferred, not only from the arguments with which I have already troubled the committee, but from actual experience. In the year 1786, we entered into a commercial treaty with France. 1210 Under the stipulations of that treaty, the cottons and woollens of France were admitted into this country, upon a duty of 12l. per cent—I now propose for the latter 15l. Hardware, cutlery, turnery, &c. upon a duty of 10l., I now propose 20l. per cent. Pottery, and glass, &c. under a duty of 12l.— I now propose 15l. upon the former, and 20l. upon the latter. What was the result of this treaty? We sent goods of various descriptions to the French market, and England was supplied with other goods of French production; but no injury accrued—no check was given to any particular branch of our staple manufactures, in consequence of this interchange. One advantage arising from it was, to create a spirit of emulation, an instance of which occurred in the woollen trade. Soon after the opening of the intercourse between the two countries, French cloths of a fine quality were imported in considerable quantity.— They were preferred to our own. No fashionable man was to be seen without a coat of French cloth. What followed? In less than two years, the cloth of our own manufactures became equal to that imported from France; the one could not be distinguished from the other; and coats of French cloth were still the fashion, whilst the cloth of which they were made was manufactured in this country. In like manner, we shall now, in all probability, import some printed cottons from Alsace and Switzerland, of richer and brighter colours than our own; some fancy muslins from India; some silk stuffs, some porcelain from France, objects for which curiosity or fashion may create a demand in this metropolis; but they will not interfere with those articles of more wide and universal consumption, which our own manufactures supply cheaper and better; whilst they will excite the ingenuity of our artists and workmen, to attempt improvements, which may enable them to enter the lists with the foreigner, in those very articles in which he has now an acknowledged superiority.
§ I know it may be objected, that a great change has taken place, in the situation of the British manufactures, since the French treaty of 1786, that we have been engaged in a long and expensive war, and that we have now to support the weight of a great many new and heavy taxes. I admit that such is the case: other countries, however, have not been exempted from the calamities of war; their taxes, too, 1211 have been increased; their burthens made to press more heavily. What is still more mischievous, in most of those countries, their commercial and manufacturing establishments have felt more directly the ravages and interruption of war; many of them have been violently swept away; whilst the capitals which they had called forth, if not confiscated, have been impaired or diminished, by the exactions of military power. In this country no such calamity has been experienced. The trading capital of England remains entire; even during the war, it continued constantly increasing; and in respect to the comparative cheapness of labour in foreign countries, although by no means an immaterial part of the present consideration, it is not alone sufficient, as experience has shown, to make the balance preponderate in their favour. Since the invention of the steam engine, coupled with the application of so many other discoveries, both in mechanical and chemical science, to all the arts of life, the mere estimate of manual labour is lost sight of in comparison with that of the creative powers of mind. It is the union of those powers, and of the great capitals which call them into action, which distinguishes British industry, and has placed it in the commanding situation which it now holds in the world. To these advantages, are joined that energy and continuity of enterprise, that perseverance and steadiness of exertion, which, even by our rivals, are admitted to belong to the English character. It is upon these qualities, and these advantages, much more than upon any system of bounties and protecting duties, that I rely with confidence, for the maintenance and improvement of the station which we now occupy, among the trading communities of the world.
§ I expect further to be told, as a general objection to the course which I now recommend—Indeed I have already been told, in the correspondence which I have felt it right to hold with some of our most intelligent and accomplished merchants and manufacturers on this subject, before I brought it before this committee—that in 1786, we had insured from France, by treaty, a reciprocity of commercial advantages; but that, at present, we have made no such arrangement. This objection, I admit, in one respect, deserves consideration. I mean in its relation to the foreign market—with regard to the danger of our being under-sold in our own market, 1212 it does not hold at all. Now, in respect to our deferring any improvement in our own commercial system, until we can persuade foreign States to view it as a concession to them, which we are ready to make in return for similar concessions on their part, I cannot, I own, discover much wisdom in such a line of policy; but, as I have already stated that I had corresponded with others on this part of the subject, I am sure it will be an acceptable relief to the committee (wearied as they must be with hearing me), if I substitute, for my own arguments, the more forcible reasoning of one of my correspondents, a gentleman deeply concerned as a manufacturer and a merchant, who unites to great practical knowledge a vigorous understanding, of which he has formerly given proofs in this House, which must make us all regret that he is no longer a member of it; I mean Mr. Kirkman Finlay. I received from him a letter, dated the 18th of February, of which the following is an extract:
§ "Subscribing, as I do, to every one of the advantages stated in your letter, I will not occupy your time by going further into the subject; at the same time, I must not lead you to suppose that such a measure is likely to be adopted, without some opposition from manufacturers, who have all their old prejudices to remove before they can subscribe, in their own case, to the sound principles of free commercial intercourse, which you are, so much to the public advantage, endeavouring to establish. Believe me, that no one takes a deeper interest than I do in the success of all such measures; and I am certain that the adoption of such a plan as we are now talking of, will go far in its consequences, to satisfy persons both at home and abroad, of the benefits that will arise to all countries from the general establishment of such measures. It is no doubt true, that it will be argued that such concessions ought not to be granted to foreign States, without being accompanied by some stipulation for the admission into their consumption of some of our produce or manufactures, on the payment of a moderate duty. But in my view of the case, we ought not to suffer ourselves to be influenced by such reasoning, since our whole object being to benefit ourselves, our inquiry is naturally confined to the consideration of whether such a mode of acting be really advantageous, independent altogether of what may be done by the 1213 governments of other countries. Now, if the measure be really beneficial to us, why shall we withhold from ourselves an advantage, because other States are not yet advanced so far as we are in the knowledge of their own interests, or have not attained the power of carrying their own views into practice?"
§ In the last sentence of this letter, the writer has, I believe, stated the real grounds which may still, for some time, prevent foreign States from following our example, namely, "their ignorance of their own true interests, or their incompetence to carry their own views into effect." But let my right hon. friend, the chancellor of the Exchequer, continue his good practice of coming down to this House, session after session, to accumulate fresh proofs, that the removal of restrictive impositions and excessive duties is not diminution, but, frequently, increase of revenue:—Let foreign countries see him, year after year (and I hope he will long be able to do so), largely remitting public burthens, and at the same time exhibiting a prosperous Exchequer, still flowing to the same perennial level; and, I have no doubt, when the governments of the continent shall have contemplated, for a few years longer, the happy consequences of the system in which we are now proceeding, that their eyes will be opened. They will, then, believe—but, at present they do not— that we are sincere and consistent in our principles; and, for their own advantage, they will, then, imitate us in our present course, as they have, of late, been adopting our cast-off system of restrictions and prohibitions. That they have, hitherto, suspected our sincerity, and looked upon our professions as lures to ensnare them, is not very surprising, when they compared those professions with that code of prohibition which I am now endeavouring to pare down and modify to a scale of moderate duties. At the same time, as a stimulus to other countries to adopt principles of reciprocity, I shall think it right, to reserve a power of making an addition of one-fifth to the proposed duties, upon the productions of those countries which may refuse, upon a tender by us of the like advantages, to place our commerce and navigation upon the footing of the most favoured nation. I need scarcely add, that no part of these arrangements will interfere with the power of the Grown, to enter into specific trea- 1214 ties of commerce with the particular States, by which treaties, the duties now proposed may be still further varied or modified, subject always to the approbation of parliament.
§ Having now stated the alterations which I intend to propose, with regard to the protecting and prohibitory duties, I have only to add that, with a view to give the British manufacturer every fair advantage in the competition with which he has to contend in the foreign market, it is desirable to consider how far this object can be promoted, by a reduction of some of the duties now levied upon the raw materials, which he is obliged to use in his manufacture.
§ During the exigencies of the late war, duties were laid, or increased, upon various articles used in dyeing. The revenue derived from these duties is not considerable: but in proportion to the amount of the charge, must be the increased price of the manufactured commodity. Be that charge, upon our woollen cloths, for instance, only 1 or 2 per cent, even this small addition in the present open competition of the foreign market, may turn the scale against us, and ought therefore, to be withdrawn. On most of the articles in question, I shall propose a large reduction in the existing rate of duty. They are so numerous that I shall not weary the patience of the committee, by mentioning them specifically: they will all be found in the schedule, which will form part of the intended resolutions. To one or two articles, however, not included under the class of dyeing drugs, I must beg leave shortly to refer. Olive oil is very much used in the manufacture of the finer woollen cloths.—The duty upon it was somewhat more than doubled during the war. I propose to reduce it to a rate rather below that of the year 1790; from 15l. 13s. the present duty, to 7l. a tun. This will be a great relief to the manufacturer. There is another species of oil, extracted from rape seed, largely used in the preparation of the coarse woollens, upon which I also propose to give relief. The committee may, perhaps, recollect that a few years ago, when the panic of agricultural distress was in full force—when fears were openly expressed in this House, that England must cease to grow corn,(and fear it is said, is seldom a wise counsellor) it was suggested, that the raising of rape seed might become a profitable substitute; and, upon 1215 this suggestion, a duty, almost prohibitory, was laid on foreign seed, which till then had been imported free from any charge. This measure, of which the benefit, if beneficial at all, was confined to a very few districts of the kingdom, has certainly contributed nothing to the revival of our agriculture, but it has, in various ways, been attended with detriment to our manufactures. It has greatly injured the manufacture of rape oil and rape cake in this country, and it has increased the price of the former to the woollen trade. The cake, indeed, being wanted for agricultural purposes, is allowed to come in from abroad nearly duty free; so that, in this instance, and to this extent, our recent policy has been, to prohibit the raw material and to encourage its importation in a manufactured state. I propose to revert to our ancient policy in respect to this article; and, after giving a certain time to the dealers to get rid of their stock in hand, to allow the free importation of rape seed, upon a duty which will be merely nominal. The only other article, which I think it necessary to mention, is Wool. The duty is now one penny a pound upon all foreign wool. It has been stated to me, that even this rate of duty presses severely upon the manufacturers of coarse woollens, in which we have most to fear from foreign competition, and that considerable relief would be afforded by reducing it to one half, upon all wool, not exceeding the value of one shilling a pound. I therefore propose to make this alteration, by which, I am assured, the quantity of coarse wool imported into this country, to be mixed in the manufacture with our own long wool, is likely to be greatly increased.
§ All these reductions I consider to be right and proper in principle; but, as measures calculated to afford encouragement and assistance to our manufactures, I am particularly anxious to propose them at the same time when I am bringing forward other measures not unlikely, till better understood, to excite alarm in particular quarters. Some of the duties which I am now dealing with, I am aware, were imposed to the purposes of revenue; it may, therefore, be thought, that in repealing them, I am travelling out of my own department, and encroaching, in some degree, upon that of the chancellor of the Exchequer. But my right hon. friend, I have no doubt, will forgive me where the pecuniary sacrifice is trifling, and the re- 1216 lief to our manufactures the more important consideration. He, I am sure, will allow me to consider myself, however humble, as a fellow-labourer with him in the same vineyard. Whilst I am pruning away the useless and unsound branches, which bear at best, but a scanty and bad crop, my object is to draw forth new and vigorous shoots, likely to afford better and more abundant fruit; the harvest of which, I trust, it will be his lot hereafter to present, to his applauding country, in the shape of further relief from taxation.
§ I now come to the last of the three heads, into which I have divided the subject, to be submitted to the committee— the means of affording some further encouragement to the shipping and navigation of the empire. There is already a bill on the table which will contribute very essentially to the relief of that important interest. I mean the bill which repeals all the quarantine duties. They operated as a very considerable burthen, unfairly placed on the particular ships and goods which were compelled to perform quarantine. This was a precaution adopted, not for the special advantage of those engaged in any particular trade-on the contrary, to them the detention and loss of time were great inconveniences however unavoidable—but for the general protection and safety of the community. The committee of Foreign Trade was, therefore, perfectly justified in recommending that the expense of quarantine should be borne by the country at large, and not by any particular class in it; and a bill has been brought in, accordingly by my right hon. friend, the vice president of the Board of Trade. Another measure of substantial relief, now in contemplation, I have already mentioned to the House, but I am convinced, from the communications which I have since received, that I, then, underrated its importance. That measure is the abolition of fees upon shipping and trade in our colonies. Besides the vexation and liability to abuse, inseparable from the present system, I know that in many instances, the fees alone, upon a ship and cargo, amount to much more than all the public duties collected upon the same.
§ The next measure, which I have to propose, is the repeal of the Stamp duty now payable upon the transfer of a whole ship, or of any share in a ship, from one person to another. A ship, I believe, is the only 1217 chattel upon which a duty of this sort attaches, as often as it changes hands. I can trace no reason for this anomaly, except one, which ought rather to be a plea for exemption. From motives of state policy, we compel the owner, or part owner of any ship, to register his interest or share therein. From this registry the ship-owner derives no advantage—on the contrary, however improved the forms and regulations now observed, it is at best to him troublesome, and more or less obnoxious to litigation. By consolidating and amending the registry laws, I have done every thing in my power to mitigate those inconveniences, but still every transfer must be registered. Now, to take advantage of a law, winch compels the names of all owners to be registered, in order to attach a heavy stamp duty on every transfer that may be made in the owner-ship, is an unnecessary aggravation of a necessary inconvenience, and in itself a great injustice. I shall, therefore, submit a resolution for abolishing the whole of this transfer duty upon shipping, by which I shall, at once, relieve the owners of this description of property from a partial tax, and from some degree of annoyance.
§ There is also another stamp duty, in respect to which I am anxious to afford relief, I mean the duty on debentures for the payment of drawbacks, and on bonds, given by the merchants, for the due delivery of the goods which they have declared for exportation. I propose this relief, partly upon the same principle as that which I have stated in respect to the transfer of ships. These bonds are not entered into for the benefit of the merchant, but for the security of the revenue; besides, from their being ad valorem stamps, they frequently lead to great abuses and perjury. I will not trouble the committee with details upon this subject. I propose to reduce these stamps to a fixed duty of only 5s. upon each instrument.
§ As connected with the same subject— the relief of our commerce and shipping from direct pecuniary charges—I beg leave now to call the attention of the committee to the change which I shall propose in the system of our consular establishments in foreign ports. These establishments are regulated by no fixed principle, in respect to the mode of remunerating the individuals employed in this branch of the public service. In one port, 1218 the consul receives a salary—in another he is paid exclusively by fees—in a third, he receives both a salary and fees. There is no general rule in this respect, applicable even to the whole of the same country. The consuls at Havre and Marseilles have no salaries. The consul at Bourdeaux has a salary, and is allowed fees. The consul at Antwerp has a salary. The consul at Rotterdam has none. The consul at Stettin has a salary. The consul at Dantzig none. At Madeira the consul has a salary—at the Azores none. The scale of fees, the principle upon which they are levied, the authority for enforcing their payment, and the mode of levying them, appear to be quite as various and unsettled as the mode of remuneration. In some ports, the fees attach upon the vessel—in others, upon the merchandize. In some ports, vessels pay all alike, without regard to their tonnage—in others, the fees are rated in proportion to the size of the vessel. In some ports, again, the fees are an ad valorem charge upon the cargo— in others, so much per ton upon the freight, without regard to its value. Now not only all this discrepancy in the details of the same establishment cannot be right, and would require revision; but I am of opinion, that the whole principle of providing for our consuls, by authorising them to levy a tax upon the shipping and commerce of the country is wrong. In the first place, the foreign trade of the country is one of its great public interests, and as much entitled to be protected at the public expense, as far as it wants protection in foreign countries, as any other great interest. In the next place, in the performance of many of the duties for which consuls are appointed, the shipowner and merchant have no direct or exclusive interest. The navigation laws, the quarantine laws, instead of being advantageous, are inconveniently restrictive to trade; yet to these it is the peculiar duty of the consuls to attend. They have other essential duties to discharge, in which the merchant and the ship-owner have no interest distinct from that of the whole community. It, therefore appears to me, that it would be just as reasonable to tax English travellers in foreign countries, for the support of our political missions, by which they are protected, as it is to tax the shipping or the trade for the payment of our consular establishments. My object is, to grant to all our 1219 consuls fixed and moderate salaries, to be paid out of the public purse; such salaries to vary, of course, according to the importance and responsibility of the station, to the country in which the consul may reside, and to other circumstances, which must, from time to time, come under the consideration of the government. In the civil list, which is granted for the life of the sovereign, a sum of 40,000l. is allotted for the payment of consular expenses. A considerable part of this sum is required for the salaries of certain officers, designated as consuls, but who are, at the same time, diplomatic agents: I mean our residents at Algiers, and the other courts on the coast of Africa, in the Mediterranean. As the remainder of this sum will fall far short of what will be necessary for the payment of the whole consular charge, I propose that the difference should be voted annually by this House, upon estimates to be laid before us by the proper department.
§ If this change should be approved of by the House, the effect will be the abolition, generally, of all the present fees payable to our consuls, either upon ships or goods, in foreign ports. Certain small fees would still remain for personal acts that a consul may be called upon to perform, such as notarial instruments, and other documents to which his attestation or signature may be required. Those fees will be specified in the bill, and will be reduced to the most moderate amount. In regard to another expense, provided for, in certain ports, by a tax upon shipping—I mean the maintenance of a place of worship, the payment of a chaplain, and other charges of that description—I trust that the British merchants and inhabitants residing at, or resorting to, those ports, will find no difficulty in raising, by a small voluntary rate among themselves, a sufficient sum for these purposes. But, as an encouragement to them to provide the means of performing the important duties of religion, I shall propose, in the bill, to give a power to the government, to advance a sum equal to the amount of any subscription which may be so raised, either for erecting a place of worship, providing a burial ground, or allotting a suitable salary to a chaplain, in any foreign port, where a British consul may reside.
§ Having now stated the outlines of the plan, which I have to propose, for the improvement of our consular system, it only 1220 remains for me to mention one other subject, in immediate connexion with it, and certainly of great importance to a very valuable branch of our foreign trade —I mean, our trade to those countries, which are known under the name of the Levant. This trade was placed under the direction of a chartered company, so far back as the reign of James 1st. Great privileges were conferred upon that company; and they had also important duties to perform. Among their privileges, they were allowed to appoint all the consuls to the Levant, and to levy considerable duties on all British ships resorting to those countries, for the maintenance of those consuls, and the other expenses of their establishment. They also obtained, partly by acts of parliament, and partly by treaty and concession from the Porte, the right of exercising, by their agents and consuls, a very extensive jurisdiction over all British subjects in the Turkish dominions. These powers and trusts have been exercised by the servants of the company, for two centuries, often under very difficult circumstances; and, generally speaking, with great correctness, fidelity, and discretion. In the present state, however, of a great part of the countries in which these consuls reside, and looking, moreover, to our relations with Turkey as well as with other powers, to the delicate and important questions of international law, which must constantly arise out of the intercourse of commerce with a country in a state of civil war—questions involving discussions, not only with the contending parties in that country, but with other trading and neutral powers—it is impossible not to feel that, upon political considerations alone, it is highly expedient that the public servants of this country, in Turkey, should hold their appointments from the Crown. It is to the Crown that foreign powers will naturally look for regulating and controlling the conduct of those officers in the exercise of their authority; and it is certainly most fit, not only on this account, but for the due maintenance of that authority, that they should be named, not by a trading company, however respectable, but, like other consuls, directly by the Crown, advised, as it must be in their selection, by its responsible servants.
§ If this change in the mode of appointing the consuls in the Levant, be called for upon political grounds, it would be highly absurd not to take advantage of 1221 the occasion to bring them, in all other respects, under the regulations of the new consular establishment. It becomes the more important not to neglect this opportunity of affording relief to the Levant trade, as the dues, which the company is authorized to levy, are very considerable, amounting to a tax not much short of two per cent upon the whole of that trade; a charge quite sufficient, in these times, to divert a considerable part of it from the shipping of this country to that of other states. It is due to the noble lord (lord Grenville), who is at the head of the Levant company, to state, that, as soon as this subject was brought under his consideration, he manifested the greatest readiness to assist the views of government in respect to the proposed changes. Nothing less was to be expected from this distinguished individual, who, in his dignified retirement, still interests himself, with the feelings of a statesman, and the wisdom of a philosopher, in the progress of those sound commercial principles, which, in their application, have already conferred so much benefit upon this country. This noble lord called together the company over which he presides, and proposed to them a voluntary surrender of the charter which they had enjoyed for two hundred years. In the most praiseworthy manner, the company acquiesced in this suggestion. His majesty will be advised to accept the surrender so tendered; but it cannot be carried into effect without an act of parliament. Among other requisite arrangements to be provided for by the bill, will be the transfer of a fund which the company has accumulated out of their revenue, and the abolition of the taxes by which that revenue was produced.
§ I have now travelled over the wide field of the alterations, which I undertook to submit to the committee, in the commercial concerns of this county. I wish that my statement, to many members of this House comparatively uninteresting, had been more perspicuous, for the sake of those who have paid attention to this subject. I was desirous to bring it under consideration, before the recess, in order that the details might be dispassionately and generally considered by the several interests, throughout the country, which are likely to be affected by the measures which I have now proposed. They are open to alterations, and to amendment. 1222 I shall be happy to pay every attention in my power, to whatever suggestions may be transmitted to me, from any quarter, for this purpose. All I ask now of the committee is, to take under their protection the comprehensive principle of the system which I have ventured to recommend, and that, so far, they will look upon it as a state measure, connected with the public prosperity. If, to this extent, it shall receive their steady countenance and support, this session will not close without our having proved to this, as well as to other countries, that we have not lost sight of the recommendation from the throne—to remove as much, and as fast, as possible, all unnecessary restrictions upon trade.—The right hon. gentleman concluded, amidst loud cheers, with moving his first Resolution.
Mr. Alderman Thompson
expressed his hearty concurrence in every proposition which had been laid down by the right hon. gentleman, whose luminous and able exposition of the truly fundamental principles of commercial policy challenged the admiration of every friend to the country. The right hon. gentleman's plans were calculated to afford the greatest relief to commerce, and would eventually extend our trade. There was no part of the plan which did not meet his approbation; and, upon the question of the iron duty, with which he was best acquainted, he wished to say he entirely coincided with the right hon. gentleman. Being upon his legs, he would take the opportunity of correcting some misapprehensions which had gone abroad, respecting his motives for the opinion which he gave upon this question on a former night. It was well known that he was extensively concerned in the iron trade, and the course which he had taken on the occasion in question, was supposed to have reference to his interest in the trade. He would not condescend to enter into his defence further than to say, that he had had no previous communication with the right hon. gentleman, and that he knew nothing of the proposed reduction on iron, until he had heard it stated by the right hon. gentleman to the House. He was aware, from private information, that there were two foreign countries competing with the English iron manufacturer; but he had also ascertained, that they could never bring an article into the English market, at a price lower than would remunerate our manufacturers. It 1223 was for these reasons that he had expressed his approbation of the intended reduction of duty upon iron. He was aware that the first effect would be, to lower the price of articles; and so far the measure was prejudicial to the manufacturers; but that effect would be but temporary, and the capital and industry of this country would always give us an advantage over foreigners. It was very true that he had an interest in the iron trade; but be hoped he was able to separate his duty as a member of that House from any private considerations. It had been said, that that particular branch of the trade in which he was concerned, would not be affected by the proposed alterations of the duty; but this was not true. At all events, the proposition now made was one of great and general benefit, and without reference to any other than public considerations, it should have his support.
§ Sir H. Vivian
approved of the general policy of the proposed measure. Whatever seeming advantages might be given to the foreign artizan, he looked upon all apprehensions as to the ultimate result as visionary; for the industry and integrity of our merchants would carry them beyond those of any other country whatever. It might be well to introduce the raw material upon the lowest possible terms, in order to enable our manufacturers to compete with foreigners; but it was a question deserving of consideration, whether, in some particulars, the principle might not be carried so far as to prejudice interests in this country. He spoke more particularly with respect to copper mines, in which large sums had been of late years invested. It appeared that there were now from 70,000 to 100,000 persons employed in the copper mines, and a capital of 2,440,000l. There was no doubt, however, that raw copper could not be produced here, upon terms which would enable us to compete with the foreign article. Copper raised from the mine could not be had under 150l.; whilst it might be imported for 50l. The right hon. gentleman's bill would give a finishing blow to what a Joint-Stock Company was about to begin. The ablest smelters were going out to South America. He objected to Joint-Stock Companies, when they interfered with any article of individual manufacture. It was well enough whilst they confined themselves to bridges, canals, and great works, but when they 1224 became pawnbrokers, milkmen, &c. they ruined individuals. If they succeeded, they created a monopoly; but, whether they succeeded or not, by lowering the prices of articles, they injured individuals. The South American Mining Company was likely to work great prejudice to the mines of Cornwall. If any thing should obstruct the future supply of copper from abroad, those who accommodated their establishments to the standard of the imported material would be reduced to the greatest inconvenience. For these reasons, he hoped the right hon. gentleman would reconsider that part of his plan which related to the reduction of duties on foreign copper. He should not oppose the motion; but he hoped a committee would be given, to show the condition in which the Cornwall mines were, to compete with foreigners.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
agreed in many of the general principles laid down by the right hon. gentleman, but solicited explanation from him, with respect to the proposed diminution of duty on the importation of foreign bottles. The manufacturers of English bottles had now to compete with a new class of tradesmen who had lately risen up, and were known by the title of "Dealers in old bottles." The competition was quite enough with these dealers, without exposing the manufacturers to a further competition with foreigners. The article of kelp was material in the manufacture of bottles; and at present there was so high a duty upon this commodity, that the bottle manufacturers were obliged to make use of Scotch kelp, which was of a very inferior nature. He highly approved of the abolition of the duty upon the transfer of the property in ships.
expressed his satisfaction at the adoption, by his majesty's government, of the leading principles of that commercial system of policy which they now professed to support. He was aware that such great changes could not be effected, without materially affecting existing private interests; but, this must always occur when they were returning to sound principles. A peculiar service, as it was called, to one interest, led to the same benefit to another; until the whole system became at length artificial and injurious to the general mass. What he most approved in the right hon. gentleman's proposed alteration was, that it went upon general principles, without 1225 regarding private interests. Individuals would, of course, oppose whatever they thought interfered with their own particular views: for instance, they had already heard claims put in for specific exemption on the part of several manufacturers. An hon. and gallant officer had touched upon the copper trade, as being unfairly affected in comparison with others. Upon this allusion, all he should at present say was, that so far from thinking, that copper had been unfairly pressed upon, and particularly in comparison with iron, he really thought that the cornish miners had been knocking at the door of the Treasury, and had succeeded in securing for themselves an equal advantage. The hon. and gallant officer was mistaken, when he supposed that copper did not enter as generally as other metals into the manufactures of the country; in fact, it did more at present, when they considered how essential an article it was in the construction of that greatest of all instruments now in operation—the steam-engine. With respect to the great question of the corn laws, he was not prepared to say much at present. Indeed, nothing under the existing circumstances, would tempt him to touch that subject at the present moment, without examining closely the effect of any change; for, after all, they must consider that, in a time of peace, other countries had the same opportunities which Great Britain had, of acquiring and improving skill and labour; and the time would no doubt arrive, when the development of such general improvement would call for a full examination of the corn laws. This was not the time for entering into the general principles of political economy; but he could not help expressing his opinion, however it might differ from that of jurists in the study, that the low price of labour was not a conclusive criterion of the capability of a country for manufacture. If it were required of him to mention any instance, in proof of this assertion, he only need refer to Ireland; where, owing to the state of anarchy and discontent into which the country had been continued by the measures of government, the price of labour was reduced to almost nothing; and, scarcely any trade was flourishing, or even prosperous, in that country. Whilst upon this subject, he might be excused for observing, that nothing more was necessary than a reform of the government in that island, to enable her to equal any other 1226 country, in the quality of her manufactures, and in the extent of her trade. It was the nature of peace to raise skill and capital in every country. If proof were wanting of the truth of this dictum, it was only necessary to refer to Holland.—It must strike every reflecting mind, and he was convinced that the right hon. gentleman had felt it deeply, that the measures of government now before the House were totally at variance with the principles which the government had pursued respecting the corn laws. It was not his wish to go into the subject of those laws at the present moment, but all parties, whatever might be their prejudices, their passions, or their interests, agreed that the subject was of a paramount importance, and that the time must come, and come very shortly, when the subject would force itself upon the attention of the House. The government now felt, however silent they might be upon the subject, that it was absolutely necessary that the corn laws should be minutely inquired into. Those laws pressed most heavily upon the country, and injured it in its manufactures, commerce, and foreign relations. It had been a question, whether any considerable quantity of manufactured goods would come into this country from the arrangements proposed by his majesty's government. In order to make the experiment, the silk trade had been selected; but gentlemen had gone a little too far in saying that any great quantities of foreign silk had been imported into England. He was convinced that little or no manufactured foreign silk had been introduced lately into England. The raw material had been imported; but very little of manufactured goods had found their way into this country, in consequence of the new policy adopted by ministers. For his part, he wished to see the principles of free trade established; and he should be glad, if the trade between England and all countries was thrown open. Great Britain, as the principal commercial country of the world, ought to set the example of free trade to other nations. The philosophy of trade was now well understood by many classes in this country; and he should be happy to see the enlarged principles of commerce disseminated amongst other nations. He was one of those political economists, who looked upon a reciprocity of advantages as the only true source of commercial prosperity to any country. 1227 With respect to the Levant Company, he was glad to hear the opinions of the right hon. gentleman upon the subject, for he was persuaded that the company was an establishment very objectionable, and did great mischief. He did not mean to say, that the affairs of the company were badly conducted, but from the very nature of the institution it was mischievous and prejudicial. One of the laws of that company was, that none but their own members could traffic to the Levant. At Smyrna an English merchant could not deal with any other subject, unless he was a member of the same company. The Russia Company was also a very great obstruction to trade, and a source of great fraud and perjury. By the laws of that company, no member could trade with those who were not also members, or if the goods were not the property of members of the company. With respect to the new commercial regulations generally, he reprobated the opposition to them upon the grounds of individual interest. In all extensive measures, some individual concessions must be made; and it was now felt by every body that it was essential that trade should be put upon its right footing. The present measures were acknowledged to be only experimental, and were of course subject to revision.
§ Mr. Littleton
stated, that, in his opinion, the measures now proposed by the administration were calculated to excite throughout the country the highest degree of apprehension and alarm. As the representative of a manufacturing country, he thought it his duty to deliver his sentiments to the House. The member for Newcastle had thought proper to stand forward as the representative of the "Second-hand bottle trade," and a gallant officer had advanced as the champion of the Cornish miners. He would, therefore, profess himself the representative of a set of miners of a very different description. The manufacturers of Staffordshire were likely to feel themselves seriously affected by the changes proposed, with reference to foreign earthenware and china. The proposed reduction upon iron was directed against the makers of charcoal and coke iron. But, with respect to the proposed reduction of duty upon earthenware and china, the British trade did not enjoy a fair competition with the trade of any part of the world. Under the protection of a high duty upon foreign importations, a trade had sprung up in Eng- 1228 land, which otherwise would not have had an existence. He alluded to the manufacture of ornamental china. The French possessed a superior clay to any that we could produce, and their ornamental painting, was extremely cheap; it was, therefore, impossible for the British manufacturers, to compete with the manufacturers of France, if the protecting duty were to be fixed as low as 25 per cent. With respect to the wine trade, if the reduction of duty on French wines did not engender a corresponding liberality on the part of the French government, he trusted that the duties upon French wines would be again increased.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
observed, that the duties now proposed to be removed had never been imposed as protecting duties, but had been resorted to in order to meet the expenses of the period. The duty upon copper had been imposed upon this principle in the year 1808, and the object now was, to reduce the duty to what it had been before that period. He felt convinced, that as soon as the present measures were in operation, and the copper trade was brought back to the same duties that existed prior to 1808, the Cornish proprietors, so far from finding the value of their property diminished, would perceive that the increased activity of the trade would set all their engines at work, and give full scope to the advantageous use of their skill and capital.
§ Mr. Tremayne
took notice of the different augmentations of the duty on foreign copper in 1808 and again in 1811. These augmentations were made by way of protection to English copper. He would not have any great objection to the proposition of the right hon. gentleman, if he rested at the reduction which he now contemplated; but he could collect from the right hon. gentleman, that he might make another attack in the ensuing year. The people engaged in the Cornwall copper mines could have no prospect of further existence, if they were obliged to enter into competition with the Chilian and other South American mines. He knew, from accurate calculations, that in the five years from 1800 to 1805, the money expended in working the Cornish mines, exceeded the money received for the produce by 119,000l. The balance was now more against the mining interest than it was even in 1805. He recommended to the right hon. gentleman to proceed with caution.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
approved of the principle, but thought it would be advisable to begin the reduction of duties at a higher point, and come down by degrees.
adverted to the proposed reduction of the duty on imported wool, and said that 15 percent appeared to him to be a monstrous reduction of that duty. The consequence would be, that foreign cloth would compete with English cloth, and large quantities of the former be imported into this country. He concurred with the hon. member for London, in regretting that the right hon. gentleman did not begin his reductions on a higher scale. Afterwards he might come down as low as circumstances would admit. If the right hon. gentleman proposed to make the duty at 20 per cent, even then there would be an importation of foreign cloth. He would suggest to the right hon. gentleman, whether he ought not to begin by making the duty even higher than 20 per cent.
said, he felt called upon to support the interests of the Scotch manufactures. His constituents had been seriously alarmed last year at the reduction of the bounty on linens; and of course the present measure was calculated to excite increased alarm. He hoped the chancellor of the Exchequer would wait until he saw the effect of the reduction of the duty on foreign silks, before he established the proposed reduction; or if the right hon. gentleman did repeal the protecting duty on linen, he hoped he would remove the duties upon the importation of hemp and flax.
Sir R. Fergusson
was of opinion, that all prohibitory duties ought to be removed as soon as possible; but some caution should be used with respect to the article of linens, particularly those of a coarser quality; otherwise the German and New Orleans markets would undersell us in every market. If the chancellor of the Exchequer felt it right to repeal the protecting duty, he hoped he would also reduce the duty on the importation of hemp, in the same proportion with the reduction on flax. There was one article of manufacture, namely, that of cotton bagging, which would be materially benefitted by such a reduction, as then the coarser parts of hemp might be worked up with the coarser parts of flax, in the production of that commodity.
§ Sir Henry Parnell,
so far as the linen manufacture of Ireland was concerned, saw 1230 no reason to think that a duty of 25 per cent would be attended with any injury to it: on the contrary, he believed the duty might be reduced much lower; and he was sure the interests of the public in general required that it should be lower. He thought the right hon. gentleman had too much consulted fears and prejudices on this part of his case; and he could not understand how he could justify imposing a higher duty on linens than upon woollens, for certainly the woollen trade was much more exposed to be interfered with by foreigners, than the linen trade was. Those gentlemen who had preceded him in this debate, seemed not to estimate correctly, the influence of a duty of 25 or 30 per cent, in keeping out foreign competition. He considered such duties as being, in point of fact, prohibitory duties. That this was evident, was proved by the case of Ireland, between which country and England, the commercial and manufacturing intercourse was almost annihilated by the Union duties, which were only to the amount of 10 per cent. The taking off of these duties had been followed by the instantaneous extension of communication and all the benefits of a free trade. These high duties, therefore, which the right hon. gentleman proposed to maintain on many branches of manufacture, were wholly inconsistent with his own principles, and would prevent that state of communication and competition with foreign countries which he very properly owned it was his intention to secure. He approved of the course intended to be pursued in regard to the duty on foreign wool; but he would strongly press it upon the right hon. gentleman to apply the same reduction of duty to wool exported from these countries. It was of very great importance to open to Ireland a foreign demand for wool. Much of the soil of that country was peculiarly adapted to the growth of wool; and if any change was to be made in the corn laws, nothing would so much contribute to induce the Irish landed interest to accede to such a change, as their having a new market for the sale of their wool.—He would now make some observations on the general question of opening trades. It appeared to him, that the debate ought not to close without some member saying a few words in behalf of the consumers of manufactured goods. Each branch of manufacture had been advocated by one or more members, each 1231 of whom had required the rate of duty to be kept so high, as to prevent the foreigner from competing with our own manufactures. But, the House should bear it in mind, that just in proportion as the duty prevented foreign competition, and introduced monopoly, the price of manufactured goods was raised upon the consumer; and, what was also greatly to his prejudice, the making of an inferior quality of goods was always the inevitable consequence of this system of protection and monopoly. For these reasons, he hoped the right hon. gentleman would not give way to the remonstrances of particular trades, but act upon the broad principle of doing what was right to be done, and best to be done, for the great body of the people, who were the consumers of manufactures. While so many gentlemen professed to act on general principles, he feared that few had completely examined the grounds on which those principles were of value, as the rule of legislation. This was, in point of fact, quite evident, from the arguments that were used, first in favour of one trade, and then of another. Gentlemen argued as if some great public calamity was to befal the whole country, if any one branch of trade were at all affected by foreign competition; but, so far from such an event being at all injurious to the public it could not happen without being of advantage to it. For, if the capital was driven out of such a trade, that capital would not only to a certainty find employment, but it would necessarily be employed to more advantage in some new trade, than it was in the old one, while profit was secured upon it only by the influence of a protecting duty. These arguments led to a belief that those who used them imagined that if capital was displaced it was altogether lost. But, nothing could be more futile than such a notion; for whatever amount of capital might be displaced in consequence of free trade, from particular trades, it would immediately be employed in creating new productions, which would tend to new consumption, and thus make the mass of industry and wealth just as great after the displacing of this capital as it was before. The value of general principles, if gentlemen would examine into it, would be found to consist in this—that it went to secure that system of legislation which would allow the capital of the country to create the greatest possible quantity of productions, and with them the greatest 1232 occupation for industry, and the greatest extent of accumulation of new capital. Every deviation from general principle went directly to diminish productions In duties and capital, because nothing was more true, than that the leading of capital into particular employments by force of duties and restrictions, has the effect of making the quantity of productions less than it would have been, had no interference with capital existed. These were the reasons and principles which alone ought to govern the conduct of parliament, in dealing with the various branches of manufactures; and he sincerely hoped they would be strictly adhered to by the right hon. gentleman. In respect to a gradual reduction of the protecting duties, he was disposed to approve of that principle; but not in the sense of the hon. member for the city of London. He would take the duties proposed by the right hon. gentleman, as the duties from which a gradual reduction should be made; and he would reduce the whole of them from year to year, so that in a few years the whole trade of the country should be free from every thing, like a protecting duty. While the principle of keeping the duty so high, as to prevent foreign competition, must keep up prices, lead to the making of inferior goods, and uphold smuggling. The right hon. gentleman ought not, therefore, to stop in his career, and be satisfied with the carrying the measure he had now proposed; but should go much further, and give the country really and substantially the whole benefit of a perfectly free system of trade.
Mr. C. Grant
thought the House must perceive the gradually rising benefits to be derived from the removal of our restrictive system. One great object to be gained by it, was the influence which our policy had upon foreign nations. We had grown to be the first commercial country in the world, even under our restrictive system; and to that system did foreign nations impute our wealth and aggrandizement. So strongly, indeed, were they impressed with this feeling, that they maintained that we were not sincere in our present policy. That it was our interest to pursue our present policy was, however, self-evident. He would take the article of copper; which had been alluded to in the course of the debate. There were 10,000 tons of copper produced annually in England; of which quantity upwards of 6,000 tons were ex- 1233 ported, in one manufactured form or another. If we continued the present restrictions, it was more than probable that we should drive those who now dealt with us to seek that article in other countries, Considerable alarm had been entertained by every branch of our trade or commerce, which was affected by the measures of his right hon. friend; but how falsely, the results had already proved. Let the committee look to what had taken place in the Spitalfields trade. It was thought that the recent measures would have brought misery and distress upon the manufacturers in that branch; but, the fact was, that they were to a man, at that moment, in full work and operation. With respect to our corn laws, he could not see why that branch of our commerce should be placed on a different footing from any other. This was his opinion; and he felt that the truth and justice of the cause was daily gaining ground, and commanding the reluctant assent of those who had hitherto been opposed to it. He entertained no doubt that, in a short time, it would be as generally supported as it had, at a previous period, been obstinately opposed [hear, hear!].
§ Sir H. Vivian
observed, that if an importation of copper from South America was allowed, it would have the effect of shutting up some of the principal mines of Cornwall. It was a fact, that copper could not be produced in Cornwall with a profit, unless it brought 100l. per ton. It was important to weigh this well, since one-fourth of the population of that county were employed in working the mines. Too great caution could not be used in interfering with the present duties. Adverting to the proposed duty on French books, he observed, that a similar caution ought to be exercised. If the present duties were removed, all copyright in this country would be done away with. At present, French and German editions of our popular northern novels, might be had in France or Germany much under the price at which they could be sold in England. These and many other English works might be had at Galignani's, in Paris, at a greatly reduced charge.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, he was anxious to set himself right with the hon. member as to his intention with respect to the reduction of the duty on foreign books. The hon. member must be aware, that the copyright act gave full protection to such works as those given to the world by the 1234 "Great Unknown;" and, indeed, to all who thought proper to avail themselves of the protection of that act. He was aware that those works were printed both in France and Germany; but, if it could he shewn that any one copy of those works published abroad was sold here, the person selling it was liable to an action for damages. With respect to the books of which there was no copyright, he could see no reason why a monopoly should be allowed here, or why the people of England, who wished to read such books, should not be allowed to purchase them at the cheapest rate. He would offer one word, upon what had been said with respect to the repeal of the duties on foreign copper. He had formerly stated, that in case the duty of 27l. per ton on copper should be found so high as to raise the price of that article in this country to an extravagant degree, he should feel himself at liberty, acting upon the principle which he had already laid down, to reduce that duty still lower. He did not believe that such would be the effect of the proposed reduction. But, in order to set himself right with the committee, he would add, that his only object was, to protect the miner on the one hand, while on the other he took care that the interests of the country should be attended to, by allowing the importation of copper to take place when the increased price at home required it.
§ Mr. Evans
said, that the manufactures of the best kind of iron might be injured by the proposed alteration; but theirs was the smallest part of the trade, and their works could easily be applied to the manufacture of inferior kinds of iron. On the whole, the change intended would be an enormous advantage to the country.
§ Mr. Benett
trusted that government would have no objection to equalize the duties on the export and import of wool, and that the duty on the export of yarn would be lowered in the same proportion. With regard to the corn laws, all that the landed interest had to take care was, that the duty on the import of grain was equal to the difference between the expense of producing it in this country and abroad. It would be difficult to ascertain what would be the proper degree of protection.
§ Mr. Hume
was anxious to ascertain if it was proposed to make any alteration in the timber duties. He thought it was a proper time to reduce the high duties on Baltic timber. When it was first put on, the intention was, to give a boon to the 1235 Canada trade; but, as far as he could understand, there existed no longer any good reasons for its continuance. There was only one topic he had now to notice; and that was the numerous articles of import, such as gloves, to which a duty of 30 per cent was to be affixed, by the new regulation. Now, he had not the least doubt but that scale of duty would only increase smuggling, instead of abating it; as any of those articles could be now brought into the country at an insurance against seizure of 20 per cent. On the subject of the corn laws, he must say, that highly beneficial as the discussion of that night must be, and important and valuable as the alterations of duty were, that had been already proposed, all that had been done would be as nothing to the people of England, compared with a careful and proper revision of the corn laws. He did hope, therefore, that his majesty's government would forthwith take into their consideration, the important benefit to be derived by the public, from an effectually changed system in this particular. As to the amount of the duty that ought to be settled, he, for one, would declare that, provided only the legislature would establish some sound and proper principle on this most important question, he cared not whether it should be a duty of 10s. of 15s. or of 20s. per quarter. Being once in the right path, they would soon come to the proper scale of duty.
§ Mr. Huskisson
begged to remind the House, that he had not said one word that night on the subject to which the hon. gentleman had just alluded; and he did not intend to do so. As to what had been said by the hon. member for Wiltshire, he thought there would be no objection to enter into some such arrangement respecting the duty on wool as the hon. gentleman proposed. About altering the duty on yarn, however, he should certainly feel considerable difficulty; for yarns, under the present duty, went out of the country to a large amount. As to the iron trade, which another member had spoken about, the fact was, that the present duty on old iron was 17s. 6d. per ton. This sort of iron was that which, in the trade, was known by the designation of scrap iron, and the duty in question he should propose to reduce to 12s. a ton. If he were to make too great a difference between the duties on the two sorts of iron, there would be an endeavour to bring all the species under the operation 1236 of the duty affecting this inferior description. With regard to the timber trade, he was surprised that the hon. gentleman, who had the other night presented a strong petition to the House in favour of the reduction of the duty on Cape wines, on the ground of their being the production of one of our own colonies, should now argue, in fact, against the protection afforded to the timber-trade of Canada. He must recollect, that Canadian timber, considering that it grew in one of our own colonies, and was transported in our own ships, was a most valuable trade to Great Britain: and as a further argument, why the existing duties on other timber should not be further reduced, he would just observe, that there was no trade which, by reason of increased demand, had lately attained a more improved and prosperous condition, than the trade in Baltic timber, The Board of Trade would shortly, he hoped, be able to consider the proper steps to be taken for equalizing the duties on timber; which, he believed, would be the same as those that were now pursued in Ireland, where the mode of estimating such duties was by tale, instead of by estimation of the quantity of timber contained in any given number of planks. In conclusion, he begged to repeat, that he could not accede to the suggestion of the hon. member for Montrose; inasmuch as no trade was more flourishing at present than the rival trade (as, with respect to Canada, it might be called) of Baltic timber.
§ The resolutions were agreed to.