SILK MANUFACTURE BILL 9 June 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.
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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.
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SILK MANUFACTURE BILL
9 June 1823
On the report of the bill for the repeal of the Spitalfields acts Mr. F. Buxton moved that it be referred to a select committee, so that the petitioners against the measure [see above, p. 295] might prove their case by evidence. ‘It was indeed objected to the petitioners, that the bill did not rest upon disputed facts, but rested on admitted principles of political economy; but, ... it was rather hard to say to these poor people, that they should lose their bread by principles of political economy.... The petitionersalso begged humbly to represent, that they had seen the greatest fluctuations, as to what the “soundest principles of political economy” were. And indeed the House must know, that certain principles of political economy were acted upon some fifty years ago, and which were then undoubted, until Adam Smith gained great credit by overturning them; and recently they had heard his hon. friend, the member for Portarlington (Mr. Ricardo), combat the doctrines of Adam Smith in many particulars, with a clearness and force which had certainly persuaded him (Mr. F. Buxton) of his hon. friend’s correctness. The petitioners therefore, were certainly entitled to ask, what security there was, that some future system of political economy would not overturn the system of his hon. friend, which had overturned the system of Adam Smith, who, in his day, had overturned the system of those who had gone before him?’ Mr. Huskisson opposed the inquiry. Mr. Bright supported it and asked, ‘ought the House to refuse it merely because some persons talked largely about the principles of political economy?’
Mr. Ricardo was as anxious for inquiry as any member, in cases where it was at all necessary; but, admitting all that the opponents of this bill stated they could prove, it would not change his opinion. If these acts were indeed so beneficial, they ought to be adopted all over the country, and applied to every branch of manufacture; but the question was, whether labour should or should not be free? The quantity of work must depend upon the extent of demand; and if the demand was great, the number of persons employed would be in proportion. If these acts were repealed, no doubt the number of weavers employed in London would be greater than at present. They might not, indeed, receive such high wages; but it was improper that those wages should be artificially kept up by the interference of a magistrate. If a manufacturer was obliged to use a certain quantity of labour, he ought to obtain it at a fair price. It had been said, that the weavers of Spital-fields received very little from the poor-rates. True. And why? Because there was so little to be distributed among them. Very little could be raised in the parish; and sometimes, when great distress prevailed, resort had actually been had to government, for large sums for the relief of the poor. An hon. member for Bristol had talked about political economy; but the words “political economy” had, of late, become terms of ridicule and reproach. They were used as a substitute for an argument, and had been so used by the hon. member for Wey-mouth. Upon every view which he could take of the subject, the bill would be beneficial both to the manufacturers and the workmen.
The House divided: For the Committee, 60. Against it, 68.
11 June 1823
Mr. Huskisson having moved the third reading of the bill,
Mr. Ricardo contended, that the effect of the existing law was, to diminish the quantity of labour, and that, though the rate of wages was high, the workmen had so little to do, that their wages were, in point of fact, lower than they would be under the proposed alteration of the law. He could not bear to hear it said that they were legislating to the injury of the working classes. He would not stand up in support of the measure, if he thought for one moment that it had any such tendency. The existing law was more injurious to the workmen than to their employers; because, at periods when the trade was brisk, it empowered the magistrates to interfere, and prevent their wages from rising as much as they would if the law imposed no shackles on the regulations of the trade. He was in possession of a number of cases, in which the decision of the magistrates had been resisted, either by the workmen or their masters, where counsel had been employed, and the masters had at length given up the dispute rather than incur the trouble and expense of continuing it. He was perfectly satisfied that, if the present bill should pass, there would be a much greater quantity of work for the weavers in London than there was at present. With respect to wages, he was persuaded, that, in all the common branches of the manufacture, they would not fall; for at the present moment they were as high in the country, with reference to those branches, as they were in London.
The House divided: For the third reading, 53; Against it, 40. The bill was then passed.
On 18 July, when the amended bill came back from the Lords, Mr. Huskisson declared that ‘it now came down in so altered a state and with so many of the old regulations unrepealed, that, in his view of the subject, it would neither conduce to the public interest, nor be consistent with his duty, to proceed further with it at present.’