HC Deb 27 March 1804 vol 1 cc1048-53

On the order of the day being read, for the House to resolve into a committee on the Marine Society Fishery bill, counsel were ordered to be called to the bar against the bill, when

Mr. Caleraft

rose, and observed, that it might have been reasonably expected that the framers of the bill, before they are to expect the House would finally adopt a measure so severely injurious to so many industrious individuals and their families, as this bill must almost inevitably bring to ruin, would at least hold out some advantage likely to be derive4 to the public by the measure, in lieu of the immunities, a surrender of which they required; but no such advantages had they held out, nor had the House before, it any document to shew the necessity of depriving one of the most laborious and useful classes of men in society, their wives and children, of their means of live- lihood, merely to promote the advantages, or second the interested views of any monopolizing company. The purposes alledged by this bill were, to reduce exceedingly the prices of fish at Billingsgate market, and, by increasing the quantity, to reduce the price of provisions for the poor. But what security did the bill, or its proposers, offer to the public, that such a result would accrue, or that fish could be reduced lower than two-pence per pound, the price at which it was now generally sold at Billingsgate? There was an instance of the establishment of a monopolizing company, instituted a very short time since, under the appellation of the London Flour Company, whose professed object it was to reduce most considerably to the public the prices of flour, meal, and bread. But how far, he would be glad to ask, did that company succeed, while it continued in existence? Or what was now become of that company, no longer visible? Here then was a criterion by which the House might judge; and to prove that the only advantage that could arise from the passing of this bill, would be to gratify the monopolizing speculations of a new and unknown set of men, to the almost certain ruin of so many thousands of industrious individuals, who had devoted their lives and industry to the business of fishing in all weathers, and at all risks, for the regular supply of the London market, of the sufficiency of which supply no complaints had been made; a body of men, who, in all exigencies, afforded a supply of able and expert seamen for our navy, and whose community, within the last year, afforded a supply of above. 200 pilots for the service of govt. Such an object as the livelihood of such a community, was too great to sacrifice to any such speculation as the present bill. It was before the House last Session, and rejected upon the clearest ground of its inadmissibility. What new proofs, he would be glad to know, had since been discovered of its propriety? He had the authority of an hon. friend of his, member for a neighbouring county, a very great portion of whose inhabitants would be materially injured by this bill, to declare his opposition to it; and he concluded by moving an amendment in the order for the committal of the bill for this day, that instead of the word "now" the words "this day six months" be inserted.

Mr. Hiley Addington

rose to second the motion of the hon. Member, and at the same time begged leave to add a few observations to what had fallen from him on the occasion. he asked the hon. gent.'s pardon for reminding him that the bill of last year on the subject, was not rejected by the House, but withdrawn by its framers for that time, with a view to reconsider the propriety of bringing it forward at a future day, in a more perfect shape; and he must own, he thought it rather extraordinary those gent, after having coolly reconsidered the bill, could again think of offering it for the adoption of parliament; for he could consider it in no other view than as a measure calculated merely to favour a monopoly, and he therefore trusted the House never would consent to pass it into a law, as it was of a tendency not only extremely injurious to one of the most useful, industrious, and important classes of the community in the country, but of the utmost danger to the very existence of that fishery which it professed to improve. To his certain knowledge, a number of persons, who, as well as their grandfathers, and great grandfathers before them, had been deeply engaged in, and derived their livelihood from, this trade, had recently, under the apprehension, which he thought unfounded, namely, that this bill would pass into law, actually sold off the ships they occupied in the trade, and many had even forfeited contracts into which they had entered, and-risked all the penalties they incurred thereby. He was sorry that any class of the community should be induced to entertain apprehensions that the legislature would, in the wisdom of its deliberations, suffer any measure to pass into a law for the advantage of one set of men, so injurious to the interests of so numerous, useful, and industrious a class of individuals. Ha stood not there merely a representative for a particular borough, whose inhabitants would be materially injured by the bill, to oppose it; but as a representative of the community at large, and for the general good. The advantages derived to the navy from this valuable class of men, was a matter worthy of serious consideration: no less than three thousand apprentices were actually bringing up on board the ships employed in the trade, for the supply of fish for the port of London. The House must see how impossible it would be for those men individually to stand, up against the high, bounties that would be offered by a wealthy company, which must deprive them of their hands, and, at the same time, not increase the quantity of fish, but transfer the profits of the trade from the industrious individuals, In whom it was now vested, and thereby destroy competition, and leave the community at the mercy of a monopolizing company.

Mr. Hurst

said he had a host of objections against the bill; but two in particular, which he thought insurmountable. When so material an alteration was proposed in the existing laws, for the regulation of so important a branch of trade, some broad and palpable ground should, he thought, be laid down to shew the necessity; but in this case, no such ground had been shewn. No advantage was proved practicable, and yet the House was called on to adopt a bill for vesting a monopoly in a new company of men, which must, in the first instance, ruin every town upon the river Thames, and upon the coasts in the vicinage of the metropolis: hence he could not agree to the bill. Another objection to it was, that it went to enable the company it proposed to incorporate to employ any number of seamen they thought necessary, and to protect them from the impress service; he was no particular friend to the impress service, but he had no idea of giving to any particular body, but particularly a new monopolizing company, an exclusive protection, which no other branch of the British marine could be allowed to enjoy. Besides, he was well informed, that the evil stated in this bill, of an unfair price being demanded for fish at Billingsgate, did not exist. It was put up there fairly to auction to the highest bidder, and sold at the fairest price; and to take it now out of the hands of individuals, long experienced in the trade, and interested in a competition, and place it in the hands of the Marine Society, who knew nothing of the business, would he to destroy competition and sanction monopoly.

Sir William Dolben

spoke in favour of the bill, and thought the best way to put the House fairly in possession of its merits, or demerits, would be to let it go to a committee for investigation. It was said, in the petitions on the table, that the bill would be injurious to the navy: but he begged to know, if our present fisheries were an useful nursery for seamen, and therefore useful for the navy, how the establishment of an additional nursery could be injurious? The alledgment on this point, therefore, was merely assertion, and not fact. But did gent, consider, that if, as was said, 3000 apprentices were living on board the fishery ships, that the Marine-Society had sent upwards of 56,000 seamen to the navy? Surely, therefore, some consideration was due to their institution; and the present bill had for its object, not only to enable the Marine Society to extend the means of rearing seamen, but of lowering the price of an important article of provision to the public. Much had been said of the danger of creating a corporation, at the risk of a monopoly. He believed, however, that the public had already experienced much greater mischiefs from a combination, than could be apprehended from a corporation; and that, from the combinations between the fishermen, and their agents at Billingsgate, much imposition had been practised on the public. It was said, the gent, of the Marine Society knew nothing of the fishing trade: this assertion he must take leave to contradict, for many of them were many years extensively experienced, and had large capitals vested in it.

Sir William Geary

supported the bill, and said, if he could conceive it would tend to sanction a monopoly, he should be one of the last men in that House to support it. Me wished, however, that the bill might be suffered to go into a committee, where these assertions might be put to the test, and the proofs examined, and its merits or demerits fairly shewn. It was ridiculous to talk of a monopoly in a commodity, the produce of which knew no bounds, but were utterly inexhaustible; and so far would the extension proposed by the bill be from producing injury to individuals fairly interested in the trade, that 10 times the capital and number of ships now employed on our coasts would be in operation: ample markets would be found in this country for all the fish they could procure. The only persons who had injury to apprehend from the bill, were those concerned in the combinations carried on against the public at Billingsgate. The friends of the bill had in view the two-fold object, of raising boys for the navy, and cheapening and rendering plentiful an important article of wholesome food to the public. No man could more seriously wish to oppose monopoly than he did, but he desired the bill to have a fair investigation in the committee.

Mr. Peter Moore

strenuously opposed the bill, and observed, that the House could not be at a loss for a precedent to guide its decisions upon this head; for if they would turn to their Journals for 1750, they might there find the record of a bill having passed their House on the same ground proposed by the present, but which, after three years of experience, instead of an advantage, proved an absolute nullity, as he had no doubt the present bill would do, if it passed into a law. No less a sum than 500,000l. had been subscribed under the authority of that bill, and at the end of three years it was found totally to fail, and the only return the subscribers got for their money, was 3 per cent, for 14 years. Should the present bill pass into a law, he had no doubt but the plan would be speedily extended by subscriptions; that very speedily a board of 24 directors would he found necessary, who would not like to act without ample salaries; that a house like the India House, or the South Sea House, would be found necessary for their operations, with appropriate officers, secretaries, and clerks; and, in a little time, so far from reducing the price of fish would their scheme be found, that they must sell every sprat they could catch at the price of a turbot, in order to defray their expences.

Mr. Princep

opposed the bill as a mere speculation, by which no laudable purpose was likely to be answered.

Mr. Blackburn

thought that the bill ought at least to be allowed to go into a committee.—The question was then called for, when

the House divided. For the original motion 35; for Mr. Calcraft's amendment 38:—majority against the bill 3.