§ The Duke of Richmond
said, that in rising to move for a Committee to inquire into the state of the Wool-trade, he was satisfied he should be able to lay a case before their lordships which called for inquiry. He would begin with the year 1819, in which a duty of 6d. was laid upon the importation of foreign wool. For a series of years prior to that, the war, which desolated Europe, prevented foreign wool, like many other foreign commodities, from being imported into this country. That duty of 6d. was, in 1825, reduced to 1d.; but the agricultural interest did not agree to this reduction, until they received what they supposed to be an equivalent, in the permission to export their own produce in return. But this turned out to be a mere imaginary equivalent; inasmuch as, for every pound of wool exported by them, one hundred and four pounds of foreign wool were imported. The consequence of this measure was, that it reduced the price of British wool to less than what it was in 1777. To show that there had been a decrease in the quantity of British cloth exported, occasioned by the duty on foreign wool being reduced, he had only to refer to the printed returns for the last ten years, from which it appeared, that, during the five years in which the duty was imposed, namely, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823, and 1824, the quantity exported exceeded that, of the other five years; namely, 1818, 1819, 1825, 1826, and 1827, by eighty-one thousand seven hundred and thirty-five pieces; so that there had been a considerable falling-off since the duty had been reduced to 1d. He did not mean to contend, however, that a duty of 6d. ought to be imposed; but he wished to show that it was not on a small protecting duty that the success or the non-success of the woollen manufacture depended. He believed it would also be found, that the British wool-grower had not the same protection as the owners of any other staple manufacture; and he could see no reason why he should not. In proof of this assertion, the noble duke read a scale of duties 346 on various other articles, such as copper, timber, bark, &c, the respective duties on the importation of which were higher than those on wool; the latter being only protected by a duty of about 3½ per cent. He was not disposed to go into any lengthened argument upon the result of this unequal protection as it affected the interests of the wool-trade. He was satisfied he had made out a prima facie case, that the wool-grower was without any adequate protection, and he claimed it as an act of justice from the hands of their lordships, to be permitted to prove, before a committee, that these statements were correct. The noble duke concluded by moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the present state of the Wool Trade."
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that as he did not mean to object to the motion of his noble friend, he did not feel himself called upon to follow him through the details into which he had entered. He considered it but just, when a number of persons came to that House and complained of the great inconvenience under which they laboured, in consequence of the state of the wool-trade, that the House should grant the inquiry which they sought. But although he was willing to consent to an inquiry, he was bound to say, that, having himself made inquiries in other quarters, he was satisfied that this committee, if granted, would not end in affording the relief which his noble friend sought. He would consent to an inquiry respecting long wool as well as short; not that he thought there was any ground of complaint laid with respect to the former, but he would allow an inquiry to be gone into as to both; because, as it was not his intention to impose any additional tax upon this article, he wished to show that there was no ground of complaint whatever on the subject. He was much mistaken if the result of the inquiry would not convince his noble friend, that there existed no ground for this complaint.
§ The Earl of Harewood
said, he was ready to admit, that the woollen trade, both in long wool and in short, laboured under considerable pressure, and that the exports did not keep pace with what they had been in former times; but was he to conclude from that, that no advantage accrued to the agriculturists from taking off the duty? Supposing that the woollen manufacturers abroad were competing with 347 us, was that a reason why we should throw back upon them their own wool? The woollen manufacture of this country must fall, in proportion as obstacles were placed in the way of importing foreign wool; for it was only by mixing our native wool with foreign that the manufacturer was enabled to use it at all. Their lordships must recollect, that the demand must regulate the quality; and that if they compelled the manufacturer to make his cloth of a particular quality, he would not find a market for it. It appeared to him, that to grant this committee, would be to throw the whole manufacturing interest out of joint. There were persons on the point of going abroad for their necessary supplies, but this measure would have the effect of suspending their operations, until the result of this inquiry should be known. The noble duke had said, that he had no intention to increase the duty on foreign wool: then, if no such measure was in contemplation, how would the case stand? The agriculturist would lay his condition before the committee: suppose he were to make it out to be very low, where was the remedy? The situation of the manufacturers was now reviving, if let alone; they were obtaining employment and profit; but, he repeated, they must be let alone.
The Earl of Malmesbury
said, that to show the falling-off which had taken place in the trade since the duty had been taken off, he would state the number of yards exported during the last ten years. During the first five years of that period there were thirty-five millions and odd; and during the latter five years there were only thirty-four millions and odd. He stated tins to show, that the wool-growers laboured under a grievance; and if he succeeded in proving that a grievance existed, then a remedy might be considered. Now one cause of the grievance to which he referred was this: it appeared on the face of the return of the quantity of foreign wool imported during the last nine years, that for the first three the quantity was forty-two millions; during the next three, it was sixty-one millions; and in the last three years, it increased to eighty-nine millions. Now, such an advance in the import of foreign wool was truly alarming, particularly as there had been a proportionate decrease in the exports. He was one of those who considered the interests of the agriculturist and the manufacturer dentified, particularly in the state of the 348 woollen trade; and he maintained, that the protection offered to both ought to be about equal. He only asked their lordships to look at the different effects of the duties imposed on the two classes respectively, as evinced by the increase in the imports of from forty-two millions to eighty-nine millions in nine years. He repeated, that he considered the interests of both parties identified, but still they were not fairly protected; the agriculturists having a protecting duty of only four per cent, while the manufacturers had one of fifteen. Allow the agriculturists to make out a case of grievance, and if so, parliament, he was sure, would take it into their consideration, and see if some remedy could not be applied.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
said, he would have no objection to the appointment of a committee, if his noble friends would be satisfied with inquiry; but he knew they expected that the result would be an increase of duty. Now, was this right or wrong? He would say it was the duty of government to ascertain whether or not there existed any grievance. They had a board of Trade too: that was open to this inquiry, and they might say whether or not it was right to impose any further duty on this article. An inquiry at present would completely unhinge the manufacturers. The agitation of the question had excited a great ferment already; and if ever there was a moment when the bringing it forward was more inconvenient than another, it was at this particular period, when the manufacturers were just sending off to the continent. The effect of it visited every cottage in those districts: there was not an individual who would not feel it. However, if they did go into an inquiry, he should be able to show, that there never was a greater fallacy than the grounds on which his noble friends proceeded. In his opinion, the more wool that came into the country, the better for the English wool-grower. The Southdown wool had become so deteriorated, that it could not be used without being mixed with foreign wool; and a great change in the manufacture of cloth had taken place on the continent. If we, therefore, did not make finer cloths, we should have no chance of a market for them. It had now become the fashion to wear foreign wool; nay, our servants were nothing else. He saw the smile of triumph in which his noble friends indulged, but 349 did they imagine, that imposing a duty on foreign wool would force persons to wear British wool? Any body who knew any thing of trade must scout the idea. He contended, that wool had not much fallen in value, comparatively; as was proved by a scale of prices which he held in his hand. Gold itself had fallen from 93s. to 77s. Electoral Saxony wool had fallen from 8s. 9d. to 5s. 6d.; the next description of foreign wool had fallen from 7s. 10d. to 3s. 3d.; the next in quality to that, from 6s. 6d. to 2s. 8d.; English South-down wool was 2s. 6d. in 1818, and fell the next year, notwithstanding the tax, to 1s. 4d., and never rose higher while the tax continued. But let them look at cotton: it fell from 24d. to 8½d. He mentioned these things to show that a great part of the fall in the nominal price of wool was owing to an increase in the value of money; and another cause was, that the South-down wool was materially deteriorated, and only used for coachmen's great coats, and similar purposes; and, indeed, to be used at all, it must be mixed with other wool. Another reason was, that, in the consumption of this country, a great deal of it was cut out by the use of cotton manufacture, which was very much worn, in fustians, and other cloths of that kind, by the working people in the manufacturing districts. Those who now used this cotton formerly used wool. The appointment of a committee could do no possible good, but would produce considerable alarm in the manufacturing counties.
said, that the committee was proposed to be appointed for the satisfaction of the wool-growers; and persons who came to the legislature with so strong a prima facie case, were at least entitled to attention. No alarm could be excited among the manufacturers, after the explanation which had been given by the noble duke at the head of the government upon the subject. He had no doubt that the effect of the committee would be to convince the home-growers, that it would not be for their advantage that a tax upon foreign wool should be imposed.
§ Lord Redesdale
was decidedly opposed to the opinion, that the committee should sit merely for the purpose of satisfying the agriculturists that nothing could be done for them. Throughout the country there was the growth of three or four years on hand, for which no price could be ob- 350 tained. One of the most important facts that would come out in the inquiries of the committee would be, the enormous quantity of wool which was lying at the present moment wholly unsaleable. The whole agriculture of the country must suffer, unless some change was made from the existing system.
§ The motion was agreed to, and a committee appointed. After which, the House went into a committee on the Penryn Disfranchisement bill, and several witnesses were examined.