SILK MANUFACTURE BILL 21 May 1823 - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 1815-1823.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
First published by Cambridge University Press in 1951. Copyright 1951, 1952, 1955, 1973 by the Royal Economic Society. This edition of The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., under license from the Royal Economic Society.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
SILK MANUFACTURE BILL
21 May 1823
The Lord Mayor presented a petition from his constituents, the working silk-weavers of Sudbury, against the repeal of the Spitalfields Acts.
Mr. Ricardo thought that this petition, coming from a district which was free, and praying that a restriction might be continued upon another district, was a most powerful argument in favour of the very measure which it opposed.
Mr. F. Buxton presented a similar petition from the journeymen silk-weavers of London; ‘it stated, that the journeymen weavers had derived great benefit from the effects of the existing laws, of which he thought they were competent judges.’ Mr. Hume vindicated the principles upon which the proposed measure was founded and said, the petitioners ‘did not understand the operation of those principles to their own advantage or dis-advantage. They thought, for instance, that the existing law had been beneficial to them, when it had, in fact, been, for the last forty or fifty years, diverting the trade to Sudbury and other places.’ Mr. F. Buxton ‘admitted, that the petitioners did not pretend to understand political economy—a science, the principles of which appeared to change every two or three years.’ Mr. Ellice agreed that all restrictions on trade had probably better be removed. ‘They were, however, proceeding to remove a law which, as the workmen conceived, afforded them protection, while they allowed the Combination act, and the act against the emigration of artisans, to remain in existence, which statutes, as every one knew, operated severely against certain of the working classes.’
Mr. Ricardo said, in answer to what had fallen from an hon. gentleman, that if they waited until they could, at one stroke, destroy all restrictions on trade they would never effect any useful alteration. The hon. member for Weymouth had observed, that the petitioners knew nothing about political economy, the principles of which seemed to change every two or three years. Now, the principles of true political economy never changed; and those who did not understand that science had better say nothing about it, but endeavour to give good reasons, if they could find any, for supporting the existing act. He most assuredly would not utter a word that could be injurious to the manufacturing classes: all his sympathies were in their favour: he considered them as a most valuable part of the population, and what he said was intended for their benefit. But, why should this particular trade come under the cognizance of the magistrate more than any other? Why should he interfere with this particular branch of the trade when many other branches of it were not under his control? The law only applied to the weavers. With respect to all other parties connected with the trade the magistrate had no jurisdiction whatever. Why should he have the power to fix the price of labour, more than the price of bread, meat, or beer? Delay was asked for. Now, he saw no use or advantage in delaying the measure. The hon. member for Norwich called on the House to delay the bill until next session. But, what reason had he given for the postponement? No one whatever. He merely said, “I think the existing measure is a very bad one for the workmen, but there is an extraordinary prejudice in its favour amongst the weavers, and therefore I would delay the measure until that prejudice is removed.” Why, at the end of the next session they would be in exactly the same state as at present; the prejudice would be found to exist as strongly as before. He therefore hoped that his right hon. friend would proceed with the measure, and refuse any application for delay.
[See further, p. 306.]