§ On the motion for resuming the adjourned debate, on Mr. Ellice's motion, "That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into and examine the statements contained in the various petitions from persons engaged in the silk manufacture; and to report their opinion and observations thereon to the House,"
rose. He felt, he said, the disadvantage under which he laboured in addressing the House upon this subject, after the able and eloquent speech of his right hon. friend, the president of the Board of Trade. It was not necessary for him to state any opinion as to the 810 ability and eloquence of that speech. It had been felt by the House, and universally admitted. But he trusted the House would favour him with a patient hearing, for a short time, while he attempted to show, that able and eloquent as that speech was, it touched very little upon the particular question immediately before the House; namely, the silk trade. His right hon. friend began by complaining of the imputations of insensibility to the distresses of the country, which he imagined had been cast upon him. Now, he knew nobody on his side of the House who had thrown out any such imputations, in the sense in which his right hon. friend seemed to understand them. When they said, that ministers were not sensible of the situation of the country, what they meant was, not that ministers were not capable of feeling for the distress of the country, but that they were not aware of its intensity. He was perfectly willing to do justice to the motives by which government had been induced to enter upon the course they were pursuing. He believed firmly, that they were actuated by a strong and imperative sense of duty. His right hon. friend, in the exposition of the general view which he took of this subject on the previous evening, had referred to a petition which he (Mr. Baring) had presented to that House some years ago, and to the observations he had made on that occasion. As he was not in the habit of speaking with much preparation or from written documents, and had never but thrice in his life read the reports of his speeches, he would not hold himself answerable for what might be ascribed to him; but, he was quite ready to admit, that in what his right hon. friend had quoted from the report of his speech, in 1820, there was nothing that he was disposed to deny, or that he had any reason to suppose he had not stated. There was nothing in that speech that he would not stand up, on the present occasion, and contend for, as decidedly as he did then. At that time the country was emerging from the most extraordinary war it had ever passed through. In every branch of the law, relative to customs, trade, or finance, the utmost complexity and confusion prevailed. The embarrassments that resulted from these evils, could be understood only by those who had actually suffered from them. It was impossible for any merchant to know how his business ought to be conducted. The 811 undivided study of a man's life was insufficient to enable him to know what was the state of the law applicable to the trade in which he was concerned. The objectionable system then existing had grown up under aright hon. gentleman (Mr. Rose), now no more, who, though with the best intentions, had, unfortunately for the country, presided for a great length of time over that department. He (Mr. Baring) was certainly one who called for a system of more simplicity, and generally for the adoption of the principles of free trade. In the part he had then taken, there was nothing inconsistent with his present views, as he would clearly demonstrate.—His right hon. friend had made some severe remarks on what he had termed the errors of practical men. He (Mr. Baring) regretted much to observe, that latterly there was more personal irritation and animosity mixed up with the discussion of questions, concerning the silk, cotton, or woollen trade, than he had witnessed on the most violent party question that had ever agitated the country. Whether it was that the absence of party had transferred these feelings to questions of a nature otherwise so little likely to excite them, he knew not; but the fact was, that no question relative to the trade or currency of the country, could be considered without ebullitions of anger and personal hostility. His right hon. friend, he was bound in truth to say, had, under the influence of those feelings, made some imputations of the most severe, and, as he would prove before he sat down, of the most groundless character, against individuals engaged in the silk trade, whom he knew to be the most honourable and respectable men living. He would satisfy the House, that they had done nothing in the management of their business, but what they ought to have done. With regard to the principles of free trade, he contended, that the support he had given to them did not exclude the adaptation of those principles to the particular circumstances in which the country might be placed. The removal of the prohibitive system, in order to the ultimate establishment of perfect freedom of action, was not in the slightest degree incompatible with a case of special temporary exception, where the necessity could be clearly made out. He was aware that the burthen of proof lay with those who called for the exception. But, it was not in the power of parliament to 812 lay down a rule without an exception, when the state of things in which that rule was to be applied was itself an exception to all ordinary rules. Was not the state of this country one of extreme complexity in all its parts? The answer lately returned to a question respecting coal carried coastwise, was an evidence of the intricate condition of our internal affairs. It was impossible to sit five minutes in that House, and not be convinced, that no particular rule could be applied to the circumstances of this country. Nobody rejoiced more than he, that a professorship had been founded in the University of Oxford for the teaching of the science of political economy. He hoped that a similar course would be followed in the new University of London. It was desirable that the country should be more generally imbued with sound principles than it was at present. He was not so sanguine, however, as to expect that the diffusion of information would prevent endless discussions on that very difficult science. If the works already written on that subject were opened, the doctrines of each would be found to differ from almost every other. Nothing like agreement was to be met with among its professors. So far from their demonstrations being characterised by mathematical rigour and precision, all was vagueness and uncertainty. Hardly any two political economists had written on the Corn laws, between whom there were not radical differences on the most fundamental points. When these learned persons had arrived at some certain truth, on which they were agreed among themselves, he would advise practical men, as they were called, to give way; but, until then, he would beg leave to suggest, that the political economists should refrain from abusing the practical man, and treating him as the greatest fool in existence, because he proved, by facts, that, though the result should, according to theory, be as they stated, it was not always so. His right hon. friend had entertained the House, at some length, in pointing out the inconsistencies in his (Mr. Baring's) conduct. He trusted that his right hon. friend would not suppose him wanting in personal respect, if he presumed to call the attention of the House to the inconsistencies of a more learned doctor—he alluded to the right hon. gentleman himself. When the petition was presented in 1820, he admitted that he held opinions 813 decidedly in favour of free trade. He was not aware of having abandoned them, except as to the silk trade. In all other respects, he was the humble follower of the right hon. gentleman. He differed from him as to the currency, only as to the time. He wished to reach the same point; but he thought the right hon. gentleman was for travelling too fast. He (Mr. Baring) would not start until the country had acquired more steadiness and confidence. As to all other points, he was perfectly of the same opinion as he was in 1820. But what was the case with his right hon. friend? He would not refer to any trifling or insignificant question; he was about to speak of a subject of great and leading interest. In 1810, when the country was engaged in on arduous struggle for its very existence—God forbid that any man now living should see such another—when we were borne down with an immense expenditure, and had hardly a guinea left in circulation, the right hon. gentleman spoke and voted in that House, and wrote pamphlets in favour of the principle of returning in two years, whatever might happen, to cash payments.
continued: And at that very moment, though the country was in a state of perfect despair as to the return of peace, his right hon. friend, as he had just avowed, was speaking, writing, and voting, for the return to cash payments in two years. Was that, he would ask his right hon. friend, a vote which, under the same circumstances, he would give again.
—If such were the case, he would leave his right hon. friend to maintain it as he could; but any man who mixed up a little practical experience with his theory, would see the absurdity of such a position. If any gentleman wished for proof, that his right hon. friend was not a safe pilot for the vessel of the state in a time of commotion and storm, he would find it in his right hon. friend's recent declaration, that he was prepared to assert the entire maintenance of a system in time of war, to which they had compelled the Bank to return with extreme difficulty, and not with any thing like complete success, in time of peace. He had no right, therefore, to charge his right hon. friend with incon- 814 sistency on that head; but his consistency, if consistent he was, proved that he was any thing but a trustworthy pilot in an emergency like the present. The second point on which he should attempt to convict the right hon. gentleman of inconsistency was connected with the opinion which he had advanced in 1815, upon the subject of the Corn-laws. His right hon. friend was then the advocate for advancing the protecting duty on corn from 66s. to 80s. per quarter. He (Mr. Baring) had opposed that advance as strenuously as he could; and, although he had voted in a small minority, upon that occasion, it was a vote of which he was not inclined to repent. Would his right hon. friend say the same of the vote which he then gave? Would he tell them, that he was prepared to abide by that vote as entirely as he was prepared to abide by his vote on the bullion question? He should be very much mistaken if his right hon. friend did not tell them at an early period, that, instead of advancing the protecting duty on corn, the real question for the consideration of parliament was, how far it could be prudently reduced. He would not press more upon that point at present, as it was one on which he should have occasion to dilate before he concluded. He now came to a part of his right hon. friend's measures, in which his inconsistency was particularly glaring, and which he alluded to with the greater readiness, as it was connected with the subject of the silk trade, which now formed the question before the House. His right hon. friend, in proposing the reduction of the duty on thrown silk from 14s. 8d. to 7s. 6d. per pound, had said, that it was necessary to continue it at that rate as a protection to the throwster. He (Mr. Baring) stated, that the other branches of the silk-trade would be sacrificed by the protection thus afforded to the throwster, and urged a further reduction. His right hon. friend had maintained a contrary opinion, and carried it by a triumphant majority. His right hon. friend, since that time, had not only seen his error, but by a Treasury minute had reduced the protecting duty from 7s. 6d. to 5s. per pound. What further measures his right hon. friend intended to take with it now, he did not know; for in the speech which he had made last night, there was no declaration as to what extent the throwster was to be protected, or whether he was to be protected at 815 all. He was practical man enough to wish, on a matter of business, to have some information contained in a speech of a minister; but his right hon. friend had scorned to give them any information, and had reduced them to the necessity of getting it from him as well as they could. He therefore again asked his right hon. friend whether, in proposing to keep the duty on thrown silk at 7s. 6d. per pound, he had not acted with a degree of haste and carelessness of which he had since repented? If his right hon. friend had done so—and it was impossible to deny that he had—if he had legislated carelessly on a case where the bread of thousands was concerned, he, for one, could not see that character of steadiness in his right hon. friend's measures, which was necessary to induce him to follow his right hon. friend blindly as a guide, and to give up his own opinions as wrong, without being convinced that they were so. He had thought it right to make these observations on the inconsistency of his right hon. friend in return for similar observations which his right hon. friend had made upon him. The petition of 1820, which had been presented by him to the House, and which had afterwards been referred to a select committee, had been productive in its results—for which be took no merit—of a series of measures which, under the guidance of his right hon. friend, had been more effectual in improving the commerce of the Country than any series of measures which had ever been proposed by any former administration. The manner in which they had been carried into execution reflected great credit on his right hon. friend. He was fully sensible of his merit, and took that opportunity of publicly acknowledging it. His right hon. friend seemed to have an idea that some of his measures had produced an hostile feeling towards him among the merchants of the country. Let him dismiss it from his mind as unworthy of him and as unworthy of them. If they did not feel grateful to him for the great measures he had introduced on their behalf, they must be the most ungrateful of men. He had relieved them, with the assistance of his colleagues, from all that was objectionable in the navigation laws; he had relieved them from the ancient formalities and charges of the Custom-house; he had relieved them from transit duties, from bounties, from prohibitions; he had reduced the port charges 816 in the port of London, and had rendered it of all the ports in Europe, that to which foreign vessels could come with the least possible charge. To sum up all in a word, it was impossible to say how much praise was due to his right hon. friend and the government, for the improvements they had introduced into our commercial system. At the same time that he said this, he felt bound to say, that the whole practical effect of their arrangements, however beautiful it might be in theory, could not be precisely known, until it was carried into execution. For instance, however fair and desirable, the reciprocity charges on shipping might appear in theory, some mistake might reasonably be suspected, when we saw how American shipping was gaming upon our own in the port of Liverpool, and Dutch and Prussian shipping in the river Thames. He did not pretend to say to what this change was to be attributed. It would appear, that if the regulation had been properly adapted to our interests, the result would have been, that at least we should have had an equal share of our own shipping employed; but the fact was, that at present it was mostly American. Under the circumstances in which the country was placed, he thought his majesty's government were pushing the abstract principles of theorists, too far. In the case of the one and two pound notes, they manifested a disposition to drive forward to their object at once, without condescending for a moment to listen to what practical men might say. A metallic currency was to be had, whatever might be the consequence. The same was the case, as to the silk trade. There also was the same disposition shewn at all risks, at the imminent hazard of throwing a large population out of bread, to rush at once to the end in view. If, on the other hand, the merchants came forward with a claim for assistance, the same spirit pervaded the councils of the Crown. No relief was to be granted, because it was contrary to the doctrines of the political economists and to right principles. The experience of practical men was as nothing in the scale. There was to be no mitigation of the pressure resulting from great changes—no exception whatever allowed. Principles were to be pushed to extremities in every case. Now, he contended, that this course was altogether wrong. There was no absurdity, to which principles, abstractedly right, would not 817 lead, if they were applied without any reference to the state of things in which they were to operate. On the finest principles in the world every interest in the community might be plunged in the greatest difficulties. He could not help referring to some of the extravagancies and absurdities of the writers, who were, on all hands, admitted to be among the ablest professors of the science of political economy. His late friend, Mr. Ricardo, had some of the most fanciful theories that could possibly be imagined. His notion of a compensation between the property of the country and the public debt was to be classed under that head. Yet that gentleman had always treated it seriously, as a remedy for all the evils of the country. It was a thing utterly impracticable, as every practical man in the city of London knew. Again, when Mr. Ricardo treated of the extent of capital requisite for a national bank, what could be more absurd than his scheme? He begged to be understood as casting no reproaches on the memory of that eminent individual. He wished only to show the difficulties to which too rigid an adherence to theoretical principles might lead the country. Mr. Ricardo's notion of a bank was now justly exploded; and so was his compensation between property and debt. Though there was great truth in the theory, the design was admitted to be totally incapable of execution. In the same way Mr. Malthus—a great authority in matters of political economy—had written a pamphlet to prove, that the state of the Corn-laws had nothing to do with the question of rents. This was to be paralleled only by Mr. M'Culloch's doctrine respecting Absenteeism from Ireland, Surely, if ever an absurdity had been sent forth by a learned and intelligent man, it was the doctrine—that the residence of the landlords of Ireland abroad was no injury whatever to that country. Nay, Mr. M'Culloch was of opinion, that his absence was rather a benefit than otherwise—that whether the landlord spent his income in or out of Ireland, was the same thing to his tenants? Why, then, it followed irresistibly, that if the residence of the Irish landlord at Paris was no injury to the people of Ireland, neither would it be harmful to them if the rent of Ireland was seat yearly, as tribute to the king of France, and was by him expended in his good city of Paris. This reductio ad absurdum displayed the folly 818 of the doctrine glaringly. What was to become of a nation if its legislation was guided by theorists of this description? He trusted that the House would take these points into consideration, and would reflect on them before they consented to allow ministers to guide them entirely upon theory. He was bound, however, in candour to confess, that the errors of practical men were sometimes as absurd as those of theoretical. If the theorists would add to their theory a little practical experience; if the practical men would look a little more to first principles, and if each would act with a little less contempt for the other, he believed they would speedily come to very useful and beneficial results. He begged pardon for obtruding upon their notice these observations, which some might think foreign to the question, but which he conceived necessary to it, as the general principles on which they ought to legislate upon commercial interests had been introduced by his right hon. friend into this discussion. The government were evidently actuated by a dislike to look at practical conclusions, and by a passion for legislating upon principles alone. He wished, therefore, to caution the House upon the point, and having done so, he should now proceed to the more immediate question of the day. His hon. friend the member for Coventry, in asking them to refer this question to the consideration of a committee, disputed the principle on which the late regulations for the silk-trade were founded. That trade had been in an artificial state, and under peculiar protection, in consequence of the superiority which it was long known that France enjoyed over us respecting it. The late regulations threw away the restrictions imposed upon it, and established a free trade in silk with a protecting duty of 30 per cent. It was said, that we had been labouring, until the present day, under a complete ignorance of the mode in which this trade was conducted in foreign countries. We had been told, for some years past, that the abundance of our capital, and the excellence of our skill, would give us an advantage which, when the restrictions on the trade were removed, would be sufficient to ensure our superiority. The persons carrying on the trade in this country were as ignorant upon the point as the government itself appeared to be. They sent, however, a deputation of well-qualified individuals into foreign countries, 819 for the purpose of acquiring information into the extent and quality of the silk-trade in those countries; and those individuals found, to their surprise, that the silk-trade in this country had no superiority of capital—that our workmen were inferior to theirs in skill—that we were behind them in machinery—and that with an inferiority of skill, disadvantage of machinery, and no superiority of capital, it was not likely that we should drive their silk manufactures out of any market. He had heard the observations made in the House last night with regard to the capital employed in the silk trade, and from the inquiries he had since made, he was convinced that the capital employed in the town of Basle alone beat that employed in the town of Coventry out and out. That was a new feature in the case. It proved that we had all along been mistaken, and that we had acted upon representations which were incorrect and erroneous. The hon. member referred to an inquiry which had been made respecting the prices of silk manufacture at Zurich, and at other places in Switzerland, the result of which tended to confirm the fact he had before stated. It appeared upon the whole, that at Lyons those manufactures were 45 per cent lower than in England, and that in Switzerland the average difference in favour of that country was from 50 to 60 per cent on plain goods, and from 60 to 100 per cent on figured goods. It was, moreover, a fact perfectly familiar to all persons acquainted with these subjects, that the protecting duty of 30 per cent which it was proposed to put upon all imported silk manufactures, would in practice be reduced considerably below that amount. The goods brought in would be so undervalued and managed, that the nominal 30 per cent would not amount to more than 20 per cent upon the actual value of the goods. He had no hesitation, therefore, in saying, that with such a competition as he had stated, by the foreign manufactures, this protection would be wholly insufficient; and that it would be impossible for the manufactures of this country to carry on trade, or to afford employment to their workmen, under the manifest disadvantages which would then attach to them. What he had said upon this subject he stated from the information of very sensible and honourable men, whose ability and veracity he knew to be such, that he implicit y believed the representations they had 820 made to him. It was possible that some of the unimportant facts and details might have been exaggerated, or misrepresented, to those gentlemen; but, in the main, he was satisfied they would be found to be correct. This led him to the important topic of the Corn-laws, which was inseparably connected with this subject. It was to be found in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of every question in which the price of labour was concerned. Every body knew that the price of labour must depend on the price of subsistence. In the countries of which he had been speaking, the price of the ordinary necessaries of life was from a half to one-third less than in great Britain. He had asked a workman at Basle, what were the common wages given to good workmen, and he was told that 4s. per week was considered sufficient. There was, besides, another advantage which the foreign manufacturers had, which those of England could never hope to share in; namely, the easy and plentiful supply of the raw material. The manufacturers of Lyons were backed by the silk of Provence, and those of Switzerland by the silk of Italy. The foreign labourer, too, could live upon much less than was required by the English artisan. Not only bread was at a much lower price, but the labourer lived in a very different way. He had heard that the manufacturers of Lyons lodged and fed their workmen; and, upon inquiry of a man employed in a manufactory there, he learnt that the master crammed forty of his workmen into a long garret over his workshop, where they slept upon straw. This, he knew, was a state of things which English workmen would not endure; but it was another proof, in addition to the many which already existed on the same subject—so many indeed, that, in his opinion, they proved, beyond the possibility of doubt, that it would be impossible for the English manufacturers ever to bring their goods down to such a price as would enable them to compete with the workmen of other nations. He did not believe his right hon. friend opposite was so great an advocate for all the dogmas of political economy, that he meant to set up the rigid doctrine, that if the trade could not support itself it ought to be destroyed; but he had expressed his; belief, that a duty of 30 per cent would be enough to protect it against the competition of other nations; which was going quite far enough. After a trade had been fostered and 821 nursed up to this state—after it had been protected, for so many years, by a system of prohibition, would the House now consent to a measure which must have the effect of driving all the workmen connected with it to the poor-rates for subsistence? He was sure his right hon. friend would be as slow as any man to agree to such a proposition if it were made openly, and yet such must be the result of the present law if it were carried into execution. In the whole of his right hon. friend's speech he had never touched upon the question of the possibility of carrying on the trade. In the whole course of his declamation, he had said much about the freedom of trade, but he had avoided this particular point of the question, and had left the House quite in the dark as to the means by which the English manufacturers were to be enabled to enter into a competition with those of other countries. Now, the fact was, that the situation of this manufacture opened a very serious case as concerned the country at large, and all the other manufactures which it contained. For what, was now done with the silk, might be, and must be, done hereafter, with respect to the cotton and woollen manufactures. If things should remain in this state, the inevitable consequence must be, that the manufactures would leave us, and those which were most advantageous would lose the home-market which they enjoyed at present. The people of England were much too apt to look with indifference at subjects of this nature, and to believe, when distress and danger threatened any particular interest, that every thing would come right after a little time. This argued a very agreeable and cheerful disposition, and he had no inclination to check it; but the causes of the present depression in this particular trade were perfectly obvious, and the effects that had sprung from them could not be mistaken. It would not be prudent because we were now a wealthy and important nation, enjoying extensive trade, and filled with useful and important manufactures, to permit the introduction of a system which must undermine the most abundant sources of our wealth. If this should be begun, the government would one day find the country in a situation which they were now far from thinking of. It was well known that the seat of manufactures had several times changed. It bad gone from the Mediterranean to 822 Holland, and after having there been established for a long time, the manufactures were driven out of Holland by the tax upon bread. They had thence formed a station in England; and if the same causes were allowed to prevail, the same result must ensue; and they must go on to America, or some other country, in which they could be carried on with comfort and in prosperity. We were losing a little every now and then; and, if the progress of our loss was not quickly and satisfactorily arrested, we should be left in the most miserable of all possible conditions—that of a nation, from which the wealth it once possessed had departed. It was true that this country might exist, that it might even flourish, with one-half or one-third of the wealth it enjoyed at present. It had done so before, and was then as perfectly happy as a country could be. But, there was a great difference between a rising and a sinking state. He had no wish to draw on any question respecting the Corn-laws, especially that night. He was sensible that it involved a great difficulty; but, however great that might be, and whatever might be the consequences, the country must some day, and that no distant one, look at it with a serious eye. He knew that the abolition of those laws could not be effected without doing great injustice to some particular classes of the people; but, nevertheless, if it should become necessary, it must be done. The naval superiority which this country had so long maintained was another source of the prosperity of the manufacturing interests. The history of Europe, for the last two centuries, presented a constant alternation of peace and war; the peace seldom lasted so long as for ten years at a time. The power which had the command of the sea must, in such times, have the command also of all the markets which could be reached by her ships. She enjoyed also the opportunity of getting the raw material from all such countries as produced it, and from the very beginning of the contest the enemies' harbours were blocked up, so as to prevent any competition of supply by sea. Another fact which bore strongly upon the subject in this point of view was, that the conviction of this would cripple manufactures of a particular sort in France; for men would not enter very ardently into the establishment of them, when, after embarking the whole of their capitals, they might be thrown into utter 823 stagnation in the event of a war. This naval preponderance was of course lost to us when the war ceased; and although he should not, he was sure, be suspected of wishing to see the present state of tranquillity disturbed, he must remind the House, that every day of the continuance of peace helped to wear away the advantages which our manufactures had derived from this cause. The manufacture of silk in the south of France was, of all the continental manufactures, that one which was least exposed to the inconveniences of a war; because, from its lightness, it was capable of being much more easily transported, and the great consumption being upon the continent, it had not to encounter any of the danger attending the other articles of manufacture which were transported by sea. It had always been a most favourite manufacture in France, and had been carefully fostered by the government, at great expense, and by the exclusive enjoyment of uncommon privileges. It had thus obtained a vantage-ground, from which it could not be removed without great difficulty, and by the opposition of extraordinary power. The same might be said of any manufacture which had for a long time enjoyed any such exclusive advantages. In the manufacture of cotton and of iron we had the same pre-eminence (how long we might continue to enjoy them, he did not know); and the same difficulty, the same uphill work would be felt by any country who should attempt to rival us, as we must experience in attempting to compete with the silk manufactures of France. If, however, his right hon. friend was resolutely bent upon applying those free principles which had been so much praised, to the silk trade, he must give them entire and universal operation, or he would do great injustice. He must take that other step which he (Mr. Baring) had admitted was one full of difficulty, and could not refuse to the cries of the people whom this measure would throw out of bread, that without which they could not exist—he meant the freeing the corn trade from all restrictions. This would raise a question of such magnitude, that it would force the government to open their eyes to the real state of the manufacturing interests of the country. In the present state of the subject, he did not see upon what ground his right hon. friend could refuse to go into an inquiry as to the fact, whether the competition 824 into which the manufacturers were to be forced would be so disadvantageous to them as they apprehended, and to enable the House to form a sound opinion whether they were or were not doing injustice to these people, who exclaimed loudly against the proposed measure. Here were hundreds of thousands of poor honest men, who knew nothing in the world of political economy, but who found on a sudden, that because some very wise men had of late sprung up, they were to be ousted of the earnings of their industrious and patient labours of many years. These people were at present, and had long been remarkable for being loyal, orderly, and well-conducted, and yet they found themselves on the very brink of the most painful distress, owing to the discoveries of the political economists. If this had been done at a time when other manufactures were flourishing, the silk-manufacturers might, perhaps, have had some relief. It might have been said, that they could go from one trade to another, and have found employment in the cotton-manufactories, but now the cotton-manufacturers were turning away their workmen rapidly, owing to the decline in that trade. It came, too, at this most unfortunate period, when the agitation respecting the paper currency and the general distress filled the whole country. At this period, if a mistake should be fallen into respecting the measure now under discussion (and he thought it very likely), the confusion and distress would be augmented to a most painful degree. It had been said by his right hon. friend, that the great cause of the inconvenience felt in the silk-trade had been occasioned by over-trading; but no proof had been offered in support of this assertion. On the contrary, the stock in hand was not greater than usual—a circumstance which could not exist if there had been overtrading any thing like that which had been imputed to them. He had no doubt that the immediate tendency of the law which was about to be carried into operation would be to deprive an immense number of these poor men of employment.—He was led now to remark upon a statement which his right hon. friend had made to the House on the preceding evening, respecting an advertisement issued by some silk-manufacturers of Macclesfield for 5,000 men. The hon. gentleman then read from a letter which lie held, that, in the early part of 1825, a 825 great want of hands fn the silk-trade was felt at Macclesfield; and that the workmen, taking advantage of this, struck in large bodies, so that the masters were obliged to comply with their demands. Even children, who were hired for two or three years, left their service, and went to other masters. In this state of things, a few throwsters met together, and entered into resolutions, one of which was, to advertise for 5,000 hands, in order to intimidate the refractory workmen as well as to supply such as were really wanted. At the same time, they entered into an agreement not to take each other's hired servants. These measures together had the effect of restoring tranquillity, and this was the true origin of that advertisement which had furnished his right hon. friend with so plausible an argument against the manufacturers. With respect to the other story of the French silk-manufacturer who had established himself here, and whose goods had been seized, he thought that if his right hon. friend had not relied so implicitly on what was told him at the Customs, but had seen the men, he would not have entertained exactly the same opinion as that which he had expressed.
—Then, if his right hon. friend had seen the men, he wondered still more that he had expressed himself so decidedly on the subject. The case had been stated to him by persons of whose veracity he had not the slightest doubt, and from their relation it appeared, that they were silk-manufacturers in London, and that an informer came to them telling them that there was a large quantity of smuggled goods in a French house newly established. This man had been long employed as an informer for the Custom-house. They immediately sent to the Custom-house on the subject, and the answer which they received was, that the Frenchmen were privileged by the government, and that orders had been received at the Custom-house not to take cognizance of any information of this kind. Upon further inquiry, it turned out that this French [house had made application to the government, and, representing that great benefit would result from their trying the experiment of introducing their own method of manufacturing silk, had obtained permission to transport their stock hither free from duty. The silk 826 which they had brought in consisted of thrown and dyed silk, upon which the highest duties were payable. Now, he could not understand how this was to enable them to try the experiment they intended, because, as the only question was, whether silk could be manufactured in England as cheaply as in France, that could not be ascertained but by the manufacturer having the silk upon the same terms, in every respect, as the other persons engaged in the same trade. The circumstance, when it became known, excited, as indeed it was very likely to do, great dissatisfaction in the trade; and this feeling was increased by the French proprietors opening a shop in the city, where they sold the same goods which other persons dealt in at much lower prices. An information was lodged, that a large quantity of smuggled silk goods had been brought over, and some of them were, in consequence seized, in the firm belief that the goods so seized were really of French manufacture. In this belief the persons engaged in the seizure remained to this day, and he confessed that he had some doubts upon the subject himself ["hear, hear," from Mr. Huskisson]. It was at least not wonderful that persons should be deceived, as well because the materials and pattern were French, as because the marks of the machine and the width of the goods were such as would be made by French looms. It had been said, that the weavers who had been employed in the house, deposed upon oath that the goods were manufactured in England. That he did not believe. Thirty-seven pieces of silk were seized; nineteen of them were stated, by the proprietor of the French manufactory, to have been made in Spital-fields, and the rest at Manchester. Three English weavers made affidavits, but all the other depositions were made by French workmen. He desired to impress it upon the House, that there were reasonable grounds for suspicion. He would state what those grounds were. At the time M. de Pouillet was in this country, he was also carrying on manufactories both at Paris and Lyons; and if it should be the pleasure of the House to appoint a committee, he would bring forward a gentleman of character who would tell them that he saw M. de Pouillet in Paris, who had told him, that the smuggling of silks into England could, in spite of all restrictions, be effected with great ease, and that he had the protection of the 827 English government for smuggling various articles of French silk manufacture which were required in England. If they should finally, as he hoped most sincerely they would, appoint a committee to inquire into these matters, he had no doubt that the gentleman he alluded to, would be able to prove these things before them; at all events, he thought it necessary to explain what he knew of the circumstances of the case, for the purpose of showing that the transaction was not altogether so free from suspicion as the right hon. gentleman maintained, and that those who made the charge were justified, by appearances, in seeking for an inquiry. The explanation, too, was further necessary, to clear up the character of those individuals, who, he thought, had been rather unjustly assailed. The right hon. gentleman had said, that it was important they should not take any hasty step. It was, in his opinion, much more important that they should not take any wrong one. The right hon. gentleman had dwelt much upon the importance of their not abandoning the advantages which were to result from the reciprocities of free trade, and had asserted, that if they failed to persevere in that course, they would lose all their title to equal benefits from other nations. But, he would ask the right hon. gentleman what would be the consequences if, in pursuing that course in search of advantages from other nations, they were to fail, and lose all? He would ask him what would be the consequence if, instead of what the right hon. gentleman promised himself of the. English manufacture contending successfully after the removal of prohibitions with the French manufacture, he should find, as he (Mr. Baring) maintained they would, that the French manufacturer preserved his superiority? What would become of his principles then? How was he to reconcile himself to the operations of a system which would drive to utter ruin and starvation the hundreds of thousands engaged in the silk-trade throughout the kingdom? The main question for their consideration, therefore, was, whether they were upon sound ground; and whether it would be consistent with good policy to pursue their system, without being thoroughly satisfied that they were so? If, on the contrary, there were dangers in their application, of their principles, and some of those who approved, of those principles entertained doubts sis to the propriety of their im- 828 mediate practical application, he thought they should pause before they determined, irrecoverably, to persevere in that course. The real question was, what were the chances of success, as compared with the dangers of failure? If they had not fixed that point with precision in their minds; if, as he conceived, they were as yet ignorant of many of the most important features of the case, he conceived that they ought to seek, by evidence before a committee, to put themselves in possession of information upon any matters of which they had the slightest doubt. He again implored them to consider the calamitous consequences which must fall on these poor people. If they were fully satisfied that their principles were right, and that the practice would be beneficial, in the name of God let them at once declare their determination, and set the question at rest. But, if they had the slightest doubt, the slightest hesitation as to the ultimate success of their measures, he beseeched them to pause, and consider the lamentable situation of the distressed manufacturers and artisans, who must, let their measures turn out wright or wrong, be sacrificed. The whole question, in his opinion hinged upon another which should have been the first in the attention of that House, although it appeared as if it was to be left to the last, he meant some settled principle on the subject of the Cornlaws. The price of corn should be regulated upon some permanent and immutable basis, before an attempt was made to produce such an extensive change in the trade or manufacture either of silk or any other staple of the country; and he could not but regret the state of uncertainty in which the right hon. gentleman had thought fit to keep both parliament and the country, with respect to his intentions on that all-important subject. When he was questioned last session, he had told them, that it was his thorough conviction that something should be done, and that, in the early part of the ensuing session, he should be prepared to bring forward some proposition on the subject. The noble earl at the head of his majesty's government had said precisely the same thing; and yet they were now told, that there was no immediate occasion for alteration. He thought there was nothing connected with our domestic policy, which required so much, or so speedy an alteration. At the present moment, all kinds of property, the interests of trade, of 829 manufactures, and of agriculture, were sacrificed to the uncertainty which prevailed as to the intentions of the legislature. No tenant could make an engagement with his landlord; no landlord could offer a lease to his tenant; no man could settle his affairs, or tell what he had it in his power to leave to his family, until the laws upon the subject of com were regulated by some permanent standard. If the right hon. gentleman would say in right earnest, that it was his intention to do nothing, that would be intelligible; but as long as he continued to say that the question was in agitation, and that the present Corn-laws were not meant to be permanent, so long would all the property invested in commerce, agriculture, and manufacture, be placed in a state of fluctuation and uncertainty, which could not be justified upon any sound principle of policy, and which must, by its inconsistency, reflect discredit upon the conduct of the right hon. gentleman and his colleagues as men, and diminish most materially the respect which ought to be paid to them as ministers. He would conclude the observations which he had thought it his duty to offer to the House on this occasion, by reading a passage from a very interesting letter which had been addressed to the right hon. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and which he thought embodied, with great force, the sentiments which he had taken the liberty to impress upon the House. The extract, which was of some length, expressed the very strong possibility of the most experienced statesmen, and the ablest theorists, committing mistakes in the management of affairs, by attending too much to speculations formed in the closet, which might, after all, turn out impracticable; and recommended a close attention to the results of experience, as likely to correct the effects of a devoted attention to even the soundest theoretical principles.
§ Mr. Huskisson
was quite aware, that he had no right to say one word, at present, except for the purpose of explanation, and in order to set himself right with the House on a point of some importance. With regard to what his hon. friend had stated respecting the French case, he thought it necessary to offer a few words in vindication, he might almost say, of his veracity. He now stated to his hon. friend, that he had never previously seen M. de Pouillet; that he knew nothing of him; and never had communicated with 830 him in any manner whatever. He begged also plainly to state to his hon. friend, that whoever might have told him that he had not communicated with the persons who had brought forward the charge, had grossly deceived him. In the presence of his right hon. friends, the chancellor of the Exchequer, the vice-president of the Board of Trade, and the noble earl at the head of the government, he had stated to those parties what was the nature of the charge they had brought; and had expressed to them, he was afraid, with as much warmth as he had expressed last night, what he really thought of individuals who had ventured to bring forward such charges, and had failed to prove them. What he did then state, he had stated on the report of the Board of Customs, signed by four of its commissioners, setting forth the charge imputed, the evidence taken upon it, and what else had passed in the investigation of the matter. Now, he took the representations upon oath of these four highly respectable individuals against the insinuations of those who had been foiled in an attempt to cast imputations upon a very honourable foreigner; and who had aggravated the character of their original charge by the gross impropriety of their subsequent conduct.
§ Mr. Davenport
hoped the House would not be deterred from doing what it might feel to be its duty, by any apprehension of liability to the charge of inconsistency. By adopting the measure of inquiry, hundreds of thousands of their fellow-creatures might be saved from ruin. He lived in the neighbourhood of those classes, and could vouch, without meaning to say any thing disrespectful as to the new measures that had been pursued by ministers in relation to the silk and other trades, that previously, the silk trade was going on progressively improving, and spreading itself into every county in that part of the kingdom. The fact was, that there were but two classes of persons that could be benefitted by these changes; namely, the foreign manufacturer and the smuggler on our coasts. At the former period to which he alluded, the silk-trade produced to government about 500,000l. a-year, and employed about half a million of hands. Let the House look at the different situation of that trade, and these individuals now, and judge of the severity of the change which the alteration in question had produced among them. He 831 had now, as he had ever done on those occasions upon which he had presented himself to the House, expressed his opinion with perfect candour. By so doing, he might expose himself to the sneers of the political economists; but he would venture to tell them, that people in his part of the country, who were connected with the trade, did not want mere theoretical men or opinions; they did not want all book-writing, but preferred practical experience. They well knew that what might be plausible enough in principle, might prove very objectionable in practice; and that what might grow vigorously enough in a book, might not flourish in a garden.
Mr. Charles Grant
said, that whatever might be the opinions entertained by the hon. gentleman who had just concluded, relative to the measures proposed by his right hon. friend, or his sentiments with respect to the political economists, every body in that House must unite with him in a feeling of respect for the language that had been held by the hon. gentleman himself on this and on former nights. He agreed also with that, hon. gentleman that they should approach with respect and sympathy the case of the individual persons who came before the House that night, because they came before it as petitioners, and still more because of the respectable and orderly conduct which those petitioners had always observed under circumstances of similar affliction. The respect also that he felt for the master manufacturers would lead him to treat those persons on this occasion, as well as on all others, with that respect and attention which they merited. The situation of the working classes, to which he had alluded, was such as demanded the sympathy of every man; and however convinced they who thought with him (Mr. Grant) might be, of the expediency of persevering in that course upon which the government had entered, and of opposing the proposition of the hon. member for Coventry, they would feel some degree of natural reluctance, in knowing that they must encounter the opposition of the feelings, and prejudices of those who, with the best intentions, were nevertheless extremely misinformed and mistaken on these subjects. He had listened with a great deal of attention to the speech of the hon. member for Taunton, who had objected to the speech of his right hon. friend, because it had gone into a variety 832 of extraneous matter. He did not understand the hon. member for Taunton to complain of that variety of matter, so much as to object to it because it was not quite united to the question before the House. But, if there had been no other reason to warrant his right hon. friend's enlarging upon such apparently extraneous topics, the speech that preceded his sufficiently justified him in doing so. For his part, he thought it a fortunate circumstance for the House and the country, that his right hon. friend had been so called upon, and that he had had the opportunity of making that speech, which he took leave to congratulate him upon, seeing that it brought conviction to every understanding, and proved, not only the soundness of the principles on which it was founded, but the certain grounds on which its success was inevitable. The hon. gentleman had said, that there lay upon his majesty's ministers the heavy imputation of inconsistency; but surely the hon. gentleman must have forgotten the speech of his right hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson). Without meaning to impute any thing improper to the hon. gentleman, he must say that that charge, and the charge of insensibility to the existing distress, had very naturally prompted his right hon. friend to make use of those expressions which, warm as they were, had added to the intense interest of his speech. It was singular, however, that the hon. gentleman himself had been guilty of the very error which he charged upon his right hon. friend, and without any thing like the same excuse. For a great part of his speech most certainly did not apply to the subject before them. What connection was there between his dissertation respecting the doctrines of Mr. Malthus, Mr. Ricardo, Mr. M'Culloch, and others, and the present subject of discussion? The hon. member had indulged frequently in sarcasms upon certain theories. He agreed with the hon. member in condemning the excess to which certain principles were carried, and he regretted that the hon. member, who so justly appreciated those principles, and which he wished to qualify, by rendering them practical, should enlist his weight, his authority, and his talent, under the banner which was raised by those who were so vastly his inferiors, and who gladly hailed the tried strength of the lion, member, as a powerful prop to their own imbecility. The hon. gentleman 833 complained that his right hon. friend had evaded the entire consideration of the question. Now, he was sure that the same complaint might be made against the hon. member; for in the course of his long and able speech, in which he had affirmed the most important interests of the country to be at issue, what alternative, what practical remedy, had he proposed? He would appeal to hon. gentlemen who heard him, and ask them if the hon. member had proposed a single remedy to mitigate the evil? In the course of his argument, he had omitted to state any alternative. The question before the House was not between competition and no competition, but between competition under the most unfavourable circumstances, and competition under the most favourable circumstances—whether competition should take place under the guarantee of government and under the protection of law, or fraudulently at the expense of honesty, and under circumstances which operated as a bounty to the smuggler and a tax to the consumer. Why, then, if the system of his right hon. friend was to be objected to, what alternative was proposed to the House? In 1820, the hon. member for Taunton had himself argued, that prohibitions must be abolished. Now, if his right hon. friend had carried the House with him to any conclusion at all, it was this, that prohibitions should never again be revived. The hon. and learned gentleman who had spoken on the preceding night, had indulged himself in rather violent iuvectives against the political economists, their projects and their theories. Now, of all the questions to which those invectives could have any application, the present one was least open to censure. It presented itself to the House in three views: first, as to the motives by which government had been guided in these measures; secondly, as to how far those measures could have produced the present depression of the silk-trade; and thirdly, how far the House might look to the future re-establishment of that trade under the measure so established by government? Now, in the first place, with respect to the motives of government, he assumed that this was that particular one which could least be objected to, as not being sufficiently practical in its nature. The state of the-silk trade was represented to government as a practical grievance, and practical men were consulted for the purpose of devising a practical 834 remedy. This has been triumphantly proved by his right hon. friend last night. The state of the silk-trade had been the subject of considerable discussion, and a committee of the House of Lords had summoned before them practical men, and examined them, for the purpose of ascertaining the mischief. There were at that time three practical evils affecting the trade. The first of these evils was the heavy duty on the raw material, and on the foreign thrown silk; the second evil was the Spitalfields act; and the third, the prohibition on the importation of manufactured silk goods. Now, it was proved before the committee in question, that the duty on the raw material and on the thrown silk aggravated those evils, by raising the price of the manufacture to an enormous height. It was proved that the duty an raw silk amounted to 30 or 35 per cent on the price of the material; and that the duty on the raw and the thrown silk, altogether, was equal to from 70 to 80 per cent on the price of the article to the consumer; while the drawback allowed was insufficient, and rather tended to increase the evils of this trade than otherwise. The first remedy recommended, was to get rid of this duty. The second grievance complained of was the Spitalfields act, and the first practical relief suggested was to get rid of it. The last grievance was the prohibition as to the importation. Now, what was done by the government in respect of all these evils? Did they confine themselves to any theoretical principles, or speculations, as had been urged against them? No. The duties on raw and thrown silk were reduced; the Spitalfields act was repealed; and two years ago the measure passed for putting an end to the prohibition. It was said that these measures had produced the present stagnation and depression of the silk-trade. He denied the assertion; because he found that that stagnation had extended itself to every other branch of industry; to branches of industry that had escaped the reforming lash of his right hon. friend; that it was not confined to the silk-trade, but operated upon those trades respecting which no legislative interference had yet taken place, as in the instance of cottons, timber, tallow, Irish provisions, and so on. It was therefore neither natural nor just to assign that as a certain and peculiar consequence to one trade, which was common to every branch of our industry and commerce. He 835 would, however, deny that the late measures of his majesty's ministers had contributed to the unfortunate state of the silk-trade. This was not a new appearance of that trade. There was no novelty in the phenomenon to attract our attention, for there was no branch of our manufactures so liable to fluctuation and misery as that of the silk-trade. He would candidly put it to the House whether, in their opinion, those laws that had heretofore regulated the silk-trade, had not something to do with the production of those alternations of success and misery. Could any man in that House look back without remembering the representations of extraordinary distress and stagnation which were on many occasions made in that House respecting the silk-trade? He lamented this as much as any man, and he now dwelt on it, because an effort was made out of doors to impress on the minds of the people a conviction that the present depression in the trade of Spitalfields was caused by the measures adopted by government. Nor was it in Spitalfields alone that this depression took place. It had prevailed in other parts of the country; and that at several other periods as much as at present. He well recollected that the melancholy case of the weavers at Coventry had several times been brought before the House, and especially in 1819, when the hon. member for Coventry had actually proposed to bring in a bill to regulate the wages of the ribbon-weavers, who Were then receiving only 5s. per week wages each man, and two-thirds of the whole body of them receiving parish relief. That was a lamentable state of things, no doubt, and greatly to be regretted; but if such was the condition of these people at former periods, how could it, with any colour of reason, be charged on government, that their recent measures had alone caused the present stagnation and distress in the silk-trade? He bad found some statements on the subject in Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, for the year 1793. By these statements it appeared, that in that year there had ceased working in Spitalfields, no less than 4,900 looms, which used to give employment to 18,000 persons, men, women, and children. It was lamentable to measure the comparative scale of misery at different periods; but he now made it because he thought it essential to the vindication of his majesty's government, and to repel the more than insinua- 836 tion which had been thrown out, that all the present misery was to be ascribed to their measures, and as if no other causes had, at other times, produced similar effects in the same quarters. In the letter which had been addressed to his right hon. friend, and quoted by the hon. member for Taunton, he observed a strong confirmation that this assumption was most unjust. In the year 1796, a letter from the master and principal weavers was addressed to the directors of the East India company, describing a similar condition of their trade at that period. In the year 1801, the distress again became extreme, and, by way of relief, government had advanced the sum of 20,000l. In 1816 distress again prevailed, and at a meeting then held at the Mansion-house, it was all unanimously ascribed to the vast importations of silk goods by smugglers [hear, hear!]. Yes; during the existence of the distress of 1816 gentlemen attributed it wholly and solely to the importations of goods by smugglers. On that occasion, a benevolent gentleman, who had been very active on that occasion, had declared to the meeting, that out of 15,000 looms, which had been a short time before at work, 10,000 were then standing idle. He would state to the House the evidence of some practical men, manufacturers, who had been examined, in the year 1817, before a committee of that House. One gentleman, who was in a very large Way of business, had stated, that he had been in the habit of paying to his men, for many years past, from four to five hundred pounds a-week, but that he was not then paying above five pounds a-week. He attributed the great depression in the trade at that time, in the first place, to the heavy duty on the raw material; and, in the second, to the extent to which smuggling was carried on. He (Mr. Grant) had adverted to former periods of distress, as afflicting as the present, in order to remove from the minds of hon. members the impression which was attempted to be made, that the present stagnation in that trade was to be ascribed to the recent measures enacted on the recommendation of his majesty's ministers. The distress at present was great enough, and seriously did he lament it; but it was not to be compared to the distress which was felt by the same class in 1816. Neither were the number of hands out of employ so great as had been represented. The population of Spitalfields was not, as was 837 generally supposed, entirely composed of weavers: it was the gathering place of the poorest classes of society, who, without any particular trade or occupation, were taken as weavers when there was a press of work; and, as soon as the demand for extra hands ceased, they were of course thrown out of employ, and consequently swelled the apparent list of unemployed weavers. He did not mean to deny from that, that there was no distress; far from it. He merely wished to show, that the distress that did exist, was unjustly ascribed to the measures of government. Distress did exist in the silk-trade, and to a very great extent; but its real cause might be found in that which had affected every branch of trade in the country; namely, the ruinous system of overtrading that had been pursued. The hon. member for Taunton had denied that there had been over-trading in the silk-trade. Now, he did not know by what test this question could be tried, except by the same as had been applied to the other branches of our trade; namely, the amount of goods imported. In the vast importations of all sorts of merchandize last year, that of raw silks was not the least. He held in his hand an account of the imports for the last four years, and it was as follows:—In the year ending the 5th of Jan. 1823, the quantity of raw silk imported was 2,177,000 lbs.; in the year ending 5th Jan. 1824, the quantity was 2,512,164 lbs.; in the year ending 5th Jan. 1825, it amounted to 3,135,600 lbs.; and in the year, or rather three-quarters, up to the 10th of October, 1825, it was 3,431,175 lbs. Thus, the three quarters of the last year were more than the whole of the importation of the preceding year. There was a proportionate increase in the import of thrown silk; but he would refer only to the two last years. The quantity of thrown silk imported in the year 1824, was, 342,000 lbs.; the quantity imported in the three quarters of the last year was, 800,000 lbs. Here was an increase of import beyond all precedent. It should be remembered, that prior to last year, thrown silk could not be imported into this country from any country except that in which it was produced; new silks could be brought from any country whatsoever. At that same time he was informed, that there was more raw silk in this country than could be worked for months. Then, when he was told by hon. members, that there was no over-trading, had he not a 838 right to refer them to the real state of the fact? He was also told that, at the same time, unlimited orders were given from this country on Genoa for thrown silk. But another fact, which, besides the increase of imports, would prove that there was an over-trading in this article, was the increase in price. Raw silk at the end of 1824 was 19s. per lb.; it rose in 1825 to 28s. per lb., making in one year a rise of 9s. per lb. Thrown silk was in 1824 about 35s. per lb.; it rose in 1825 to 45s. per lb., making in one year a rise of 10s. per lb. Was he, then, to be told that there was no over-trading—no speculation? What could be a better proof of over-trading than this state of the imports and prices? He would refer, in proof of what he said on this part of the subject, to what was contained in a letter written by a respectable manufacturer to the marquis of Lansdown, on the subject of the silk-trade. After stating the rage for trading, &c. the writer said, "You will not be surprised, therefore, that the sale of 1825 took place under circumstances, the like of which were never before witnessed. Was it any wonder, then, that, under these circumstances, the manufacturing establishments already existing were enlarged, that new establishments were added, that masters and men were competing with each other in building houses, that thousands of cottages sprung up as if by magic, and were inhabited before the mortar was dry." Here was a description of the speculation in the silk-trade, and that by a manufacturer. Was not this a sufficient commentary on the manifesto that was sent out from Macclesfield, and published in Lancashire, requiring 5,000 additional hands for this trade? Was not this an adequate cause, by which might be fairly explained what had followed upon the heels of these speculations? But it was said, that there was an additional cause for this increased demand for more hands; and the hon. member had explained it by supposing that that requisition arose, not from any want of men, but in consequence of a difference between the manufacturers and the workmen, and of a combination. Admitting the circumstance to be as stated, he still looked on the extraordinary step which the masters took in advertising for 5,000 men, women, and children, as productive of injurious consequences, by encouraging high expectations on the part of the workmen. The first alarm in the silk-trade took its rise in the conduct of 839 the masters themselves, who, on the first agitation of the question, put forth in all parts their criers, that they could not compete with, the French in this manufacture, if the prohibition were taken away. It was the manufacturers themselves who had created all the alarm, by retiring from the contest before they even tried the experiment. The new measure was to take place in July next, and the manufacturers struck, if he might say so, eight months before; and by so doing, had spread this alarm. He thought that the country had reason to complain of the manufacturers. If his majesty's ministers did not complain, certainly the consumers of silks, that was, the whole country, had a right to complain. They ought not to have constantly a cause of complaint in the high prices of silks. It Was due to the consumers—it was due to the country—that this experiment should be tried. When his right hon. friend, the president of the Beard of Trade, proposed to give up the drawback on silk, and a petition had been presented By an hon. member from several of the mailer manufacturers, Stating that they were not satisfied with the proposed plan, the hon. member for Coventry declared in his place, that he was authorized, on the part of his constituents, to say that they were no parties to the sentiments contained in that petition, but that they were willing to take the drawback, and have the experiment fairly tried. But, had the experiment been tried? It was absurd to talk of a trial, as the time fixed on for making it had not yet arrived. Government had been induced to take from the operatives, at the persuasion and Instigation of the master manufacturers, what they consider and value as their great charter—the Spitalfields act. Was it fair, then, that the misters, after having deprived the poor Workmen of their protection, should now turn round upon the House, and insist upon theirs? On that account, he thought they had a right to complain. He should say to the master, "Adhere to the understanding which you then made with the House; try the experiment fairly; bring your goods into the market, and attempt a competition; and, if you then fail, you may come to the House with a strong case, at least one of justice, as well as one of Feeling."—But the hon. member for Coventry desired to know what was the remedy to be proposed by government? Did they mean to leave 840 things as they now were? Was nothing to be done? Now, he in his turn would ask the hon. member what was his remedy?—[hear, hear!]. Oh! but the hon. member proposed a committee! Why, was it right to leave these poor people, if they were, as represented, starving for want of employment—was it right to leave them to the slow aid of a committee, which would necessarily take a long time before it could Come to a conclusion of its labours. For that committee would have to enter upon a wide range. It would have to inquire into the power, the wealth, the machinery, and the internal resources of all the states of Europe. It would have to calculate the rate of wages and the price of provisions, not only of Lyons, Zurich, &c. but all the silk manufacturing towns in Europe. But the question now was, whether it was likely that these measures would injure the silk-trade, and whether we could stand a competition with France? He was of opinion that we could stand such a competition; and that opinion was founded on the best grounds—the opinions and conduct of the manufacturers themselves. He appealed to the opinions of those men of experience who were examined before the Lords, committee in 1821. The practical men who were examined before that committee declared it to be their conviction, that with proper guards and precautionary measures, we could withstand a competition, if the heavy duties on the raw materials and the countervailing duties were repealed or modified. They all agreed, that a protecting duty of 15 per cent, would be sufficient against all competition; and we had now a protecting duty of 30 per cent. The horn member for Coventry wished for persons to be examined, who were free from the excitement of that period. Now, he should be glad to know, whether the evidence of the persons proposed to be examined would not, at this moment, be influenced by excitement? When the hon. member for Taunton brought forward a petition against this measure in 1823, he had said, that when the storm came, the petitioners must escape from it as well as they could. How many of those petitioners, he would ask, had attempted to escape from the storm? Which individual of them had withdrawn his capital from the trade? Which had not increased his capital, multiplied his establishments, and exhausted every resource of art and wealth 841 to extend them? The hon. member for Coventry said that fresh information on this subject had been obtained from the continent. Had that information been procured before the panic began? He distrusted hypothetical calculations, especially connected with predictions. It was easy to employ calculations so as to bring a person to the very result he wished to arrive at. He could show by calculation, that instead of from 45 to 60 per cent, the difference between the cost of manufacture in France and England was only from 10 to 20 per cent. It was not difficult to show that those calculations went upon general assumptions. All of them assumed, that, with the exception of the article of silk, all things were to remain as at present. They assumed, that in this country there was the same waste in the manufacture of an ounce of silk as there was abroad in an ounce and a half. They assumed, that wages were always to be the same, whatever, might be the demand for the article. They assumed, that although the demand might increase, yet that raw silk was always to maintain the same price. In fact, throughout all those calculations there was nothing but error and inaccuracy. Again, with respect to the dyes. They stated that France had an advantage over this country, with regard to the dyes, of about fifty per cent; whereas, it was, in fact, no more than seven per cent.—The hon. member for Coventry had complained of the heavy duties on dyeing articles, as an obstacle to the competition with the foreign merchant. He seemed not to be aware, that the duty on these goods had been reduced. In an able article on the state of the silk manufacture, in the last number of the Edinburgh Review, a list was given of dye articles, the duty of which might be advantageously reduced. But it was surprising that the author of that article should be ignorant that the duty had been already reduced on most of those articles. The duty on madder, which he stated at 12s. per cwt., had been reduced to 6s.; that on cochineal, stated at 2s. 6d. per lb., had been reduced to 1s. The same observation applied to all dye drugs, which, he believed, were higher in France than in this country; and he had the authority to state, that it was the intention of government to look into these articles, with a view of making further reductions. The duty on soap was severe; he was authorized to say that this article would 842 also be looked into. The duty on barilla was already in a course of annual reduction. Another assumption in these calculations was, that the price of raw silk was lower in France than in this country. This assumption was unfounded. He had it from good authority, that the price of raw silk was not lower in France than here, and it was certain that the duty was higher; for in France the duty on the raw material was sixpence whereas in this country it was only three-pence. But in viewing the price of raw silk in this country, why was the large field opened by the introduction of Indian silk left out of calculation? Bengal silk to any amount might be imported to this country, and the quality was capable of being improved. Even within a few years that improvement was very visible. The committee of 1821 stated that, for some goods, it was equal to Italian; and that for tabbinets, the Bengal organzine was equal to any foreign thrown silk. It had been asserted that, in the sales of raw and wrought silks at the East India company's sates, equal weights of raw and manufactured silks could be purchased at the same sum of money. But the fact was, that in India the silk was of two kinds—country wound, and filature: the former was prepared by the natives, and used for the manufacture of Bandana handkerchiefs; the other was carefully prepared under the superintendance of the East India company, who, in 1770, had introduced into India the Italian mode of winding the silk off the coccoons. The latter cost 14s. per lb., the former 11s. The material was, therefore, not the same, nor was the price the same: one being a higher species of manufacture. That manufacturers and and practical persons should not be aware of this, was incredible, especially as it was stated in the company's sale books. The fact had been likewise so misstated in the able article in the Edinburgh Review,—a mistake he was surprised the writer had fallen into. The right hon. gentleman then adverted to the subject of the French hose. It had been said, that his right hon. friend had seen the French, but not the English parties. This his right hon. friend had, contradicted, and he could confirm his statement. Neither of them had been aware of the charge of connivance on the part of government until his right hon. friend, the master of the Mint, communicated the report to the chancellor of 843 the Exchequer. Justly indignant at the charge, they instituted an investigation into the subject. Both parties were heard, and the result of the investigation, conducted before both parties, had been stated in a printed circular. The hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Baring) had, nevertheless averred that he could bring forward a person who would depose upon oath that the French manufacturer had offered to smuggle goods over to this country under the protection afforded to him by the British government. He thought it unfair that the reputation of a man of character and a foreigner should be impugned, upon the charge of an individual whose name was not mentioned. But the answer was short. The law was open, and persons enough were ready to act upon it. Why, then, did not those who talked of these frauds prove them, and bring the parties to punishment? He knew nothing personally of the French gentleman in question, but he spoke upon general and public grounds.—To return, however, to the point from which this accusation had, diverted him—the comparative expense of the process of throwing silk in France and in this country. All hands were stating the expense of throwing silk in England at 7s. 6d. per pound. Now this was quite an unfair representation, for many manufacturers confessed they could throw it at 6s. per pound; and some even agreed that it could be done at 5s. The duty on thrown silk had formerly been 14s. 7d. per pound. Before the Lords' committee it had been distinctly stated, that one-third of that duty would be a sufficient protection to the English throwster; and the more the question was pressed, the lower this seemingly immoderate cost of throwing silk in England was reduced. Ten years ago, it had been stated at 12s.; then it came to 10s., and 11s.; afterwards to 8s.; and now as low as 6s. and 5s. Now, as to France—It was said that, in France, the cost of throwing silk was 3s. 6d. a pound; but it so happened, that ministers had the assurance of an English throwster of the highest respectability, who had gone to Lyons to investigate the fact, that silk could not be thrown in France under 4s. Fox himself, he thought the protecting duty of 5s. ample, and that even a lower duty would be sufficient. It seemed to him, however, that the duty might be in some way regulated according to the quality of the silk. He could not see, 844 what should make the cost of throwing silk in England so great as it actually was. It was an essential process towards preparing the raw silk for winding and weaving; but nine tenths of the work in it was performed by machinery. Let it be recollected, however, that the throwing was a distinct and separate branch of the trade. If we imported all our thrown silk from Italy, the weaver would have it at a lower price than that at which it could be manufactured here. Now, the throwing trade, which was only one separate branch of our silk-trade, might be destroyed, and yet the manufacture would continue; but, if the manufacture was destroyed in an attempt to support the throwster, then the trade, throwing and manufacturing, must come down altogether. Honourable gentlemen spoke of the state of our machinery in the silk-trade. Why should we not derive the same advantage from machinery in the silk-trade that we did in other trades? Why was it that we did not do so?—because our prohibitory system had prevented the average application of industry and intellect. The trade wanted that incitement, and was ruined for want of it; but that incitement the new measures would give. He admitted that the looms of Coventry were inferior to the French, and he was ashamed that he was compelled to admit it; but put them once into competition, and that inequality would speedily be at an end. One hon. member, he believed, had actually brought it forward as an argument, had seriously told the House, that the houses of Coventry were not capable of receiving the French looms. In that case, all he could say was, that they must be rebuilt, which would be a great blessing generally to the city. We had always complaints of incapacity, until capacity was put to the trial. He understood that already, in the mere prospect of the trade being thrown open, improvements in the silk machinery were carrying into execution. According to a letter received only yesterday from Manchester, an attempt to weave by steam had been made, and had succeeded. Two pair of gros de Naples looms, weaving each 108 yards of silk a week, were attended by a woman at 14s. a week wages; this was about 3d. a yard for the weaver's wages; and the cost of house-rent, with the interest of the value of the loom, might be taken at a farthing more: then the price at which this work was 845 done was 3¼d., which could not be done in France under 7d. What reason was there, then, that England should have any thing to fear? The hon. member for Coventry had also informed them, that the capital employed in the trade in Switzerland was greater than in this country; that the manufacturer there might walk over the mountains, take his goods to market, and return with the gold which he had obtained for them in his pocket, without any necessity for bills of exchange. He would not dispute the comparative amount of capital now employed; but could such a state of things continue, if the trade were open? With respect to the other observation, surely the hon. member did not mean to contend, that the manufacturers here could not compete with those of other countries, unless they were equally poor and ignorant. The superior capital of this country would be sure to be victorious, under circumstances equally advantageous. This was proved in other branches of manufacture, in which they were able to undersell all other nations, however higher wages might be here. The argument of the right hon. gentleman would exclude them from competition with Germany. The hon. member for Taunton had observed, that the manufacturers in Lyons and in the neighbourhood lived in a very poor way, and in wretched dwellings, which enabled them to sustain themselves upon much less wages than would suffice for the support of a working man in this country. Why, the same argument would apply to Ireland. But, were the population of that country, because they lived upon the most humble fare, resided in wretched hovels, and were miserably clad, able to compete with the producers of any article in England? To the prayer of the silk-manufacturers for further time, he was decidedly inclined to turn a deaf ear. Whatever time was proposed for any measure was always the wrong time; and when a respite had been granted two years ago, had it been applied by the traders to any thing like making preparation? The very argument of the hon. and learned member for Lincoln settled the question. He said, that the prospect of the new measures had for six months past caused a stagnation in the market. Now, to extend such a state of things by making the prospect last still longer, could only do additional mischief. As it seemed to him, there was but one course for the House to 846 pursue, which was, to persevere in the resolutions which it had adopted, and to come that night to a vote which should put an end to discussion upon the subject for ever. Let them do this; let them declare definitively that there was an end to prohibition, and they would soon find that there was an end to the alleged necessity for it. In a very short time, without the appointment of any committee, there would be an end to the apprehensions which traders were always sufficiently quick to entertain, for the safety of their own interests; and, in defiance of the threatened alarming influx of foreign goods, there would be a return of work in all those manufacturing districts which were now suffering under the pressure of distress.
rose to support the motion. The right hon. gentleman who spoke last had, he said, observed that the manufacturers were to blame for the excessive speculations into which they had entered. It appeared to him, however, that it was not the manufacturers who were to blame, but that they had been led into these speculations by the measures of government. It was his opinion that the excellence of silk was an affair of colour, and that superior colours could be produced only in Lyons: from whatever cause it might arise, whether from some peculiarity in the atmosphere, or the water, he would not pretend to say. It was in vain to hope that we could enter into any commercial regulations with France that would place us on a footing of reciprocity. That country was almost exclusively agricultural. He wished to keep her merchants and manufacturers where they were, and was not disposed to make any sacrifices for their encouragement. He greatly feared that this country was borne away by a spirit of visionary speculation, which had led it, and would continue to lead it into much inconvenience. One year it was Mr. Owen's plan; another year there was no such thing as contagion; and the next, Mr. M'Culloch would persuade them that Ireland suffered nothing from the number of her absentees. In 1822 and 1823 the complaint was agricultural distress. Now, they were told of commercial and manufacturing distress, and the evils occasioned by the fluctuations of the currency. If they persevered in the commercial system they had entered upon, without first inquiring into all its bearings and probable results, 847 he was sure it would lead them into most serious mischiefs. Such being his conviction, he would support the present motion.
§ Mr. Warre
said, he had listened attentively to all the arguments on both sides, and he could not say that his hon. Friend, the member for Coventry, appeared to him to have made out sufficient ground for going into a committee. The real question before the House was, whether they were now, after all they had done, to renew the system of prohibition. His hon. friend who spoke last, appeared to have fallen into a material error in saying that French silks could not be admitted into this country at a duty of 30 per cent without certain ruin to the English manufacturer. The fact was, that French silks to any amount, did now easily find their way here; so that the manufacturer could not be worse off under the proposed change. He would appeal to any of the lords of the Admiralty, whether the most that Gould he effected by the blockade system, was not to keep out spirits; what were called dry goods, such as silks, it was impossible to keep out, with all the vigilance that could be exercised. He doubted the peculiar effect which the hon. member attributed to the water of Lyons. The slightest reference to history was sufficient to show that commercial improvement in all times had been opposed by those who thought their interests attacked by it, just as vehemently as the change now proposed was. He wished to refer -them to a speech delivered some years ago by sir T. Egerton. It was upon an occasion when lord Newhaven came down and made a pathetic appeal to the House, respecting the miserable state in which Ireland was placed, and moved for a committee to inquire into the evils which she suffered, and the effectual way of removing them by granting her an import trade. Sir T. Egerton deprecated the measure, and said, that if the importation of cotton into Ireland were once permitted, there was an end to the prosperity of England, and that the people of Manchester in particular would be completely ruined. Lord North followed sir T. Egerton on the same side. Mr. Burke endeavoured to point out the folly of such an apprehension; but his efforts were vain, and the committee was refused. He heard with much surprise from his hon. friend, that France was almost exclusively an 848 agricultural country. The impression on his mind was, that commerce and manufactures met with every encouragement there, and were flourishing to a considerable degree; but, from this circumstance, he entertained no apprehension. Why were not the principles of free trade opposed at the outset by those who, however erroneous in their opinions, thought they might prove injurious to British commerce? He sympathized as much as any man with the distresses of the silk-manufacturers, but he could not ascribe them to measures passed two years back. If postponing their operation to a more distant period appeared to him likely to produce any good, he should not hesitate to consent to it. Now, however, when ministers, by unforeseen circumstances, were placed in some little difficulty, he should feel ashamed of himself if he were to say or do any thing which could tend to impede the march of principles, which he felt perfectly convinced were for the public good. He had great doubts when the measure came into operation, whether France could pour in such an overwhelming quantity of silk as would injure the English manufacturer; and believing that the motion, if agreed to, would only do injury, he should oppose it.
§ Mr. Peter Moore
said, he did not mean to introduce to the House any calculations on this occasion. It was his intention to argue the question on great national principles, having reference to popular rights and popular industry, without any calculations whatever. He would offer nothing to their consideration which he could not prove. Why did not ministers go to the proof? Why did they hot permit the petitions to go to a committee? If a committee were granted, there was not a point on which his hon. colleague had touched, which he had not pledged himself to substantiate. If ministers would not meet the petitioners in that way, was it not an acknowledgment that they could not contend with the facts? He listened with attention to the long speechr—(a speech that occupied two hours and ten minutes by the house clock)—which had been delivered by the hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson) last night; and he must say, that the right hon. gentleman had not touched on the misery and distress as he ought to have done, although be acknowledged that much misery and distress existed. This struck him so forcibly, that he was two or three times on the point of 849 interrupting the right hon. gentleman, for the purpose of elucidating what he had so much at heart; but he bad desisted, because he knew it would have been a disorderly proceeding. He had, however, risen at the conclusion of the right hon. gentleman's speech, before the right hon. secretary got on his legs, to know what remedy was to be proposed to meet the present distress. The great body of silk-weavers were now before the House. The petitions from Coventry, Macclesfield, Congleton, Reading, &c., described the distress which prevailed, and he demanded a committee for the purpose of examining the statements of the petitioners, and of hitting on some alternative by which all parties might be satisfied. Much had been said about the London petition, signed, in the first place, by Samuel Thornton. He knew Samuel Thornton perfectly well, and he did not mean to throw the least imputation on him. He would only say, that the petition in question, which was presented by his hon. friend (Mr. Baring) in 1820 was a very good petition at that time; but now it was good for nothing. They were in a new situation; they had new remedies to apply, they had new things to look at, and they must conduct themselves accordingly. The question which he had to look at was, whether the city he represented, which heretofore was supported by the silk-trade, was to be consigned to ruin? The state of things in that neighbourhood was so deplorable, that the landed proprietors had declared, if they were not relieved froth the burthen of the poor-rates, they must abandon their estates. Let not gentlemen opposite put on an appearance of smiling indifference. It was a question of great importance, not merely to Coventry but to the kingdom at large. The people must be employed—they must be preserved from sedition—they must be kept from irregular meetings—they must be protected from such a proceeding as took place at Manchester, and was known by the title of the massacre. If the proposition of his hon. friend for the appointment of a committee were defeated, he hoped it would be on the ground of the compliance of ministers either to suspend this measure, or to do it away altogether. They talked of the navigation act, and of other acts. Perish them all, but preserve the people! If he was in the place of ministers, he would say, perish your duties and your smuggling laws, but preserve the people, who were the great 850 supporters of the church and state. Let them smuggle and maraud away as much as they could; as fast as you catch them, cannot you hang them all?
observed, that many petitions had been laid on the table from the towns of Macclesfield, Congleton, and other places in the county which he represented, to the contents of which he called the serious attention of the House. The distress was exceedingly great; and he implored ministers, before they threw out of employment so many thousands of poor persons, to examine their complaints. All he asked was, to allow the petitioners to go before a committee; and if they did not make out such a case as would justify government in abandoning their measures, he would no longer support their claim.
wished to say a few words in explanation of the grounds on which he meant to give his vote that evening. At a meeting which had recently taken place, he had stated to his hon. friend (Mr. Ellice), that he felt inclined to support his motion for a committee, and would do so, unless something cogent was advanced which should induce him to change his mind. He had, in consequence, come down to the House last night, and heard what his hon. friend had said in support of the motion. He was then of opinion, that the committee ought to be granted. But, he would ask of the House, whether a speech had not been subsequently delivered, which proved to demonstration, that he was wrong in the opinion he had thus hastily formed? He had heard the speech of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson), which had made a very great impression on his mind, and he regretted that his memory was not sufficiently capacious to retain every sentence of it. He would not weaken the effect of that speech by alluding to the important topics which it embraced. He could assure the hon. mover, that if the going into a committee would be likely to do even a trifling good to those deserving individuals whose case he had so ably advocated, he would cheerfully vote with him; but, feeling that this would not be the case—conceiving that, so far from doing good, it would effect much harm, by holding out fallacious hopes to those individuals, he must oppose the proposition. He hoped his hon. friend would believe that he acted from conscientious motives; and that, in giving this vote, he felt that he was consulting the best interests of the country,
Mr. Secretary Canning
rose, amidst cries of "Question!" but was loudly cheered as he presented himself to the House. He proceeded nearly as follows:—Sir, after the direct appeal made to me by the hon. member for Coventry; after the appeal also made to me by another hon. member, I do feel it necessary, before the debate closes, to state to the House fairly, and as shortly as I can, the views and opinions which I entertain upon the present question. On the one hand, I am sure the House will believe that I cannot feel disposed to enter at large into a subject which has been already so fully discussed, and has, I may say, been disposed of so much to the satisfaction of this House and the country; to the satisfaction, at least, of those who had before approved of the principles on which his majesty's government have acted, and to the conviction of others, who, doubting the soundness of those principles, found their doubts set at rest by the powerful and unanswerable speech of my right hon. friend. As, I say, the House, on the one hand, will not suspect me of having the bad taste, after his luminous exposition, to intrude on their time, by discussing the whole of this vast subject;—on the other hand, it would feel that I did not do my duty by the House, by the country, or by my right hon. friend, if, leaving to him the whole weight of the debate, I omitted to claim for myself a full participation in the responsibility incurred by the introduction of those measures which he has so successfully explained and defended. It is for this purpose, then, that I now present myself to the House; and I do so because I have witnessed for the last six months—I might, perhaps, say, during a lodger period, but principally for the last six months—the diligent, the systematic attacks made upon the plans and measures, as well as upon the public character, of my right hon. friend; attacks made, no doubt, with the cherished hope that they would prove injurious to his fame, and subversive of the sound commercial principles which he has so long and so anxiously exerted himself to introduce and establish. I agree with the hon. gentleman who has spoken to-night for the first time, and spoken in a manner which gives promise of the ability with which he will hereafter fill the station to which he has been called; I agree with him, that if there were any prospect that, by consenting to go into the committee for which the hon. gentle- 852 man has moved, any thing could be done to soothe the feelings, or to relieve the distress, of those on whose behalf the committee has been required—or if it were merely a neutral measure—a measure in which parliament might innocently indulge the petitioners—or one calculated, perhaps, to give satisfaction to a few, though without benefit to any—I would even now forego my opposition to it. But it is because I feel that we shall practise a delusion upon the petitioners, at the expense of the interests of the country, if we were to hold out a hope, an expectation, of altering—nay, even if we were to utter a doubt of our determination to persevere in that course, which, after the most serious deliberation, parliament, in its wisdom, resolved to pursue. What, I will ask, would be the effect of our going into the proposed committee? The question, let it be beaten out into as many shapes as you please, is simply this:—would a prohibition of foreign silks protect our trade as well as a moderate duty, such as that proposed by my right hon. friend? I will not fatigue the House by an unnecessary repetition of the arguments which have proved the negative of this proposition; but, to my mind, it is clear that a law of prohibition would fail as a measure of protection, while it would re-introduce in our system those vicious principles which we have found such difficulty in expelling from it. The evil which we have put down would re-appear, and, like a noisome weed, rapidly increase in growth, till it overspreads the whole soil of our commercial industry. But, Sir, this is not the point upon which I felt myself most immediately called upon to answer the appeal of hon. members—this is not the point upon which I feel called upon by my public duty to express my sentiments. It cannot be denied, Sir, that, under cover of the motion which the hon. gentleman opposite has thought proper to bring forward; and that he has brought it forward in the sincerity of his heart, and with the view solely to the relief of the sufferers whose cause he advocated, the House must feel convinced; but it cannot be denied, that, under cover of that motion, an opportunity has been taken, not by the hon. member, but by others, to attack the commercial regulations now in progress; measures more seriously deliberated upon, and introduced with the more universal consent of all those whose judgments were likely to be best 853 enlightened on such matters, than any Other acts of our public policy within my recollection. The hon. gentleman who introduced the motion was of opinion, that it was advisable to adopt a sound and settled system of commercial policy. But the hon. and learned gentleman who seconded the motion (Mr. J. Williams), addressed you with a very different feeling, and in a very different spirit. That hon. and learned member, departing from those professional topics, in descanting upon which he had so often arrested the attention of the House, disported himself upon this, to him novel subject, certainly with all the confidence of a novice, but at the same time in a manner which evinced a total incapability of using his weapons, as he was wont to do in his more practised exhibitions. The hon. and learned member has not disdained to call to his aid, in the course of his address, all the vulgar topics of ribald invective with which my right hon. friend has been assailed elsewhere; and in the spirit of these attacks, has attributed to him feelings unknown to his heart, and sentiments utterly alien from his nature. And why, I ask, has my right hon. friend been subjected to these attacks? Because, Sir, with an industry and intelligence never exceeded, and rarely equalled, he has devoted his daily labour and his nightly toil to the improvement of the commercial system of his country. Sir, when this attack was made, the House felt, as one man, the injustice done to my right hon. friend, and if, in addition to the conscious rectitude of his own mind, and to the gratifying acknowledgment by this House, of his splendid exertions, he wished for another gratification, he had it in the universal feeling of indignation at the attempt so wantonly made to lower him and his measures in the public opinion. And then, forsooth, came the assertion, that nothing personal was meant. Nothing personal, Sir! Did we not hear mention made of hard-hearted metaphysics, and of the malignity of the devil? Nothing personal!—certainly nothing personal to the devil, who, by the way, and it is a curious coincidence, is, according to an old proverb, the patron saint of the city (Lincoln) which the hon. and learned gentleman represents [a laugh.] But could any one fail to understand, that the fiend-like malignity, the coldness of heart, the apathy of feeling, that all these abstract qualities, which the learned gentleman had described as dis- 854 tinguishing features of those who indulged in abstract speculations, were intended by the learned gentleman to be embodied in the person of my right hon. friend; qualities especially calculated to render a man contemptible in the performance of his public duties, and odious in the eyes of his fellow-citizens, for whose benefit those duties are discharged? These topics, Sir, are as vulgar as they are unjust. Why is it to be supposed that the application of philosophy—(for I will use that odious word)—why was it to be supposed, that to apply the refinement of philosophy to the affairs of common life, indicates obduracy of feeling or obtuseness of sensibility? We must deal with the affairs of men on abstract principles, modified, however, of course, according to times and circumstances. Is not the doctrine and the spirit which now animate those who persecute my right hon. friend, the same which, in former times, stirred up persecution against the best benefactors of mankind? Is it not the same doctrine and spirit which embittered the life of Turgot? Is it not a doctrine and a spirit such as this, which consigned Galileo to the dungeons of the Inquisition? Is it not a doctrine and a spirit such as these, which have, at all times, been at work to stay public advancement, and to roll back the tide of civilization? A doctrine and a spirit actuating little minds, who, incapable of reaching the heights from which alone extended views of human nature can be taken, console and revenge themselves by calumniating and misrepresenting those who have toiled to those heights, for the advantage of mankind [Cheers].
Sir, I have not to learn that there is a faction in the country [a cry of "No, no!" from the opposite benches]—I mean not a political faction, I should, perhaps, rather have said a sect, small in numbers and powerless in might, who think that all advances towards improvement are retrogradations towards Jacobinism. These persons seem to imagine that, under no possible circumstances, can an honest man endeavour to keep his country upon a line with the progress of political knowledge, and to adapt its course to the varying circumstances of the world. Such an attempt is branded as an indication of mischievous intentions, as evidence of a design to sap the foundations of the greatness of the country.
Sir, I consider it to be the duty of a British statesman, in internal as well as 855 external affairs, to hold a middle course between extremes; avoiding alike extravagancies of despotism, or the licentiousness of unbridled freedom—reconciling power with liberty: not adopting hasty or ill-advised experiments, or pursuing any airy and unsubstantial theories; but, not rejecting, nevertheless, the application of sound and wholesome knowledge to practical affairs, and pressing, with sobriety and caution, into the service of his country, any generous and liberal principles whose excess, indeed, may be dangerous, but whose foundation is in truth. This, Sir, in my mind, is the true conduct of a British statesman; but they who resist indiscriminately all improvement as innovation, may find themselves compelled at last to submit to innovations, although they are not improvements [Cheers, and cries of "hear, hear.!"]
My right hon. friend has been actuated by the spirit which I have endeavoured to describe. Convinced in his own mind of the justice and expediency of the measure which he has proposed for the improvement of our commercial system, he has, persuaded the House to legislate in that sense; and, as the fruits of that legislation, I anticipate increasing prosperity and growing strength to the country.
Two objections have been stated to the course which his majesty's ministers are pursuing under the guidance of my right hon. friend: we are charged with having abandoned the principles of Mr. Pitt, and of having borrowed a leaf from the book of Whig policy. If the later accusation refers to the useful and honourable support which, we have received on questions of commerce from some of those who are habitually our antagonists in politics, I have only to admit the fact, and to declare the satisfaction which I derive from it. God forbid, Sir, that I should withhold due praise from those who, forgetting political animosities and the vulgar divisions of party, have concurred with us in attempting to do public good.
But if it is meant to say that the commercial policy which we recommend to the country is founded on the principles of Whiggism, history proves that proposition to be untrue; I mean neither praise nor blame of Whig or Tory in adverting to matters which passed long before the political existence of the present generation; but, historically speaking, I must say, that freedom of commerce has, in former times, been the doctrine rather of 856 Tories than of Whigs. If I look back, for instance, to the transactions between this country and France, the only commercial treaty which I can find, beside that which was signed by me and my right hon. friend, but the other day, since the peace of Utrecht, is the Convention of 1786. With respect to the treaty, the House need not be afraid that I am now going to discuss the principles of the treaty of Utrecht. But, by whom was the Convention of 1786 proposed and supported?—By Mr. Pitt. By whom was it opposed?—By Mr. Fox [hear, hear.] I will not go into the arguments which might be used on either side. I enter not into the question, who was right or wrong. I mention the circumstance only to show how easily facts are perverted for particular purposes of vituperation. It is au old adage, that when a man wishes to beat a dog, he has no difficulty in finding a stick; but the stick, in the present instance, has been unfortunately chosen.
Equally false are the grounds of the charge brought against us of having deviated from the principles of our great master. Sir, I deny that we have departed from the general principles of Mr. Pitt. It is true, indeed, that no man, who has observed the signs of the times, can have failed to discover in the arguments of our opponents, upon this occasion, a secret wish to renew the Bank restriction; and it is upon that point, and with respect to measures leading in our apprehension to that point, that we are accused, and not unjustly, in differing from those who accuse us. We are charged with a deviation from the principles of Mr. Pitt, because we declared our determination not to renew an expedient which, though it was forced upon Mr. Pitt by the particular circumstances of the times, is one that ought not to be dragged into a precedent. It never surely can be quoted as a spontaneous act of deliberate policy; and it was an act, be it remembered, of which Mr. Pitt did not live to witness those consequences which effectually deter his successors from the repetition of it. But it is singular to remark how ready some people are to admire in a great man, the exception, rather than the rule, of his conduct. Such perverse worship is like the idolatry of barbarous nations, who can see the noonday splendor of the sun without emotion; but who, when he is in eclipse, come forward with hymns and cymbals to adore him. 857 Thus, there are those who venerate Mr. Pitt less in the brightness of his meridian glory, than under his partial obscurations, and who gaze on him with the fondest admiration when he has accidentally ceased to shine. My admiration "on this side only of idolatry" of that great man, is called forth by the glorious course which he ran, and for the illumination which he shed over his country. But I do not think it the duty of a most zealous worshipper to adopt even the accidental faults of the illustrious model whom we vainly endeavour to imitate. I do not think it a part of fealty to him to adopt, without, necessity, measures which necessity alone forced upon him. Treading, with unequal pace, in his steps, I do not think it our duty to select, by preference, those footmarks in which, for a moment, and from the slipperiness of the times, he may have trodden awry.
If, Sir, I have said enough to satisfy the House, that with my whole soul I adopt, with my whole strength I will endeavour to maintain, the measures of my right hon. friend, I have said enough; and I will not detain them by going into the details of a question, of which he is himself a perfect master, and of which he has made the House equally master with himself. But I should have been ashamed to let this debate go by without declaring that I will readily take my share of responsibility for his measure, leaving to my right hon. friend the full and undivided glory.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that although the right hon. gentleman seemed, as well as many others who had preceded him, to take an erroneous view of the subject of debate, by entering into a defence of the commercial policy of the country generally, instead of confining himself to the particular question before the House, still he was willing to admit, that his majesty's ministers had not only pursued the rational line of policy, but were as much alive to the distresses of the country as any of those who heard him. He was sure that many of those who spoke most loudly, did not feel half as deeply for those distresses as his majesty's ministers. While he sympathised with the petitioners, and he did so most sincerely, he could not think that their situation would be bettered by acceding to the motion of his hon. friend. The alteration made by ministers in the commercial policy of the country had been the result of calm 858 deliberation. It was received with scarcely any opposition, and with very little individual suffering; and although the present case might seem to be an exception to the rule, he could not avoid expressing his decided conviction, that no relief would be afforded by retracing our steps, or altering the course which we were now pursuing.
§ Mr. Ellice
, amidst cries of "question!" proceeded to reply. He disclaimed the grounds on which some of its supporters had put his motion, and declared that he had not brought it forward with a view to the internal prohibition of foreign silk. He had no hope, after the statements made by the right hon. gentleman, that he should get the House to accede to his motion; but he thought it due to the petitioners, to take the sense of the House upon it, that the people might know their determination; for the sooner that question was put to rest, the better. He would not have asked for a committee, but that he hoped for some advantage to the petitioners, and he wished to obtain the opinion of the House, that the masters might from it be induced to take confidence, and put their men into employment. If the mere abstract principle of liberality was to be followed, it was not the silk-trade alone, but every branch of the manufactures of the country, that must be sacrificed. The woollen manufactures of Germany were fast approaching towards a successful rivalry with our own, and our colonies in North America were at that moment supplied with nails, not from Birmingham, but from the United States. The most active competition was employed against us in all the corners of the world; and the right hon. gentleman ought not to persevere in carrying on the application of his principles of free trade in manufactures, unless he was prepared to go further, and to annihilate that worst of all restrictions—a restriction in the trade of corn. He had heard with pleasure of the intention of ministers to reduce the duties on dyeing stuffs, and on soap; the latter of which was not only much used in the silk manufacture, but was positively a common necessary of life. The duty on that article was the worst duty paid to government, not only with respect to itself, but the mode of its collection. It cost more in collecting than any other, and was the most oppressive and vexatious, by the restrictions which were, in consequence, imposed on the manufacture.
§ The House then divided; Ayes 40; Noes 222. Majority against the motion 182.
|List of the Minority.|
|Attwood, M.||Howard, W.|
|Bankes, H.||Knatchbull, sir E.|
|Baring, A.||Lygon, col.|
|Birch, J.||Littleton, E.|
|Blackburne, J.||Moore, P.|
|Bright, H.||Pollen, sir J.|
|Buxton, T. F.||Robertson, A.|
|Byng, G.||Rickford, W.|
|Calcraft, J.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Calvert, C.||Smith, S.|
|Calvert, N.||Smith, Abel|
|Cholmeley, sir M.||Tomes, J.|
|Curteis, E. J.||Wells, J.|
|Davenport, D.||Webb, col.|
|Deerhurst, lord||Whitbread, S.|
|Dickinson, W.||Winnington, sir T.|
|Dundas, C.||Wrottesley, sir J.|
|Egerton, W.||Wood, alderman|
|Guise, sir B. W.|
|Gurney, R. H.||Ellice, E.|
|Heygate, ald.||Williams, J.|