The Chancellor of the Exchequer
having moved the order of the day, for the House to resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, upon the Bill "to make further regulations for the Registry of ships built in India,"
§ Mr. Alderman Atkins
said, that he fell it to be his duty to oppose the Bill in its present stage. The ship-building estaments on the banks of the Thames had for a long period furnished employment for from 3 to 4,000 mechanics. He apprehended it was the intention of Government to make such an arrangement, that those India-built ships already employed in the trade between the two countries might be admitted in British registry; but if it was intended that new ships of that class which had lately been furnished by India, might still be introduced into our commerce, the business of the establishments on the banks of the Thames was at an end. He then went into a series of calculations from documents before the House, to show the great importance of the building of ships engaged in the India trade to the shipwrights of this country. If the building of these ships was to be transferred from England to India, the great establishments on the banks of the Thames would be totally annihilated, and instead of furnishing employment for 3 or 4,000 men, he calculated they would not keep more than 3 or 400. He spoke at some length on the falling-off of the trade formerly carried on in the yards on the banks of the Thames, and reminded the House of the service rendered to the state by the 14 or 15 sail furnished from the private dock-yards of the Thames, when the combined fleets of France, Spain, and Holland, were opposed to the power of this country, before the battle of Copenhagen; and inquired what would have been the situation of England, if wanting this resource, it had been necessary to wait till such a force could be obtained from India. He insisted upon it, that it was the duty of Government to protect the interests of establishments to which the 628 country owed so much. Deprived of the building of ships for the India trade, how were the artisans in the dock-yards to be employed in times of peace? He could not believe it was the intention of Government to ruin the English ship-wrights, and did not expect that the right of registry would be extended to any ships which were not engaged in the trade carried on between this country and India, If, however, any ships of 1,50O tons were to be built in India, to be employed in our commerce, there was an end of the trade carried on in the yards on the Thames. In case of a long peace following the present war, how were the numbers of men now employed in the dock-yards to find work, if the commercial marine should not be able to find employment for those who were no longer necessary to our military marine? The hon. alderman contended, that no apprehensions could seriously be entertained of the scarcity of oak-timber, lamented the number of workmen whom the present Bill would necessarily throw out of employment, and concluded by opposing the Speaker's leaving the chair.
§ Mr. Wallace
rose. He said he had no difficulty in answering the questions of the hon. alderman, and stating, that it was intended that the registry should be confirmed to all ships built within our Indian possessions, and employed in the trade between the United Kingdom and India, which had already received it; and that it was not intended that ships of the same description, employed in the East-India Company's trade, should be excluded from the benefits of the present Bill. Having said this, he entered upon the consideration of the measure itself, and assured the House that, if he entertained the same apprehensions of the consequences to be expected from it which had been stated by the opponents of the measure; if he believed that a serious injury was to be inflicted by it on the British ship-builder, or that the construction of our large ships was to be transferred to so distant a branch of the empire, he should be as unwilling to give his support to its further progress as the hon. gentleman who preceded him. Nothing, he admitted, would be more impolitic; but so far from feeling this danger, he could see in the measure before them no encouragement afforded to the East-India ship-building beyond that which was essential, as well to the security of our valuable possessions in the East as to the 629 general political and commercial interests of this country; and instead of being injurious, he considered it as affording not a nominal, as it has been represented, but a substantial protection to the ship-builders of Great Britain against the most formidable rivalry they could encounter; a protection become the more necessary from the increased number of India-built ships registered in the course of the last year; a protection, too, in his opinion, founded less in strict justice, than in considerations of partiality to those very interests of the ship-builder at home, of which the advocates of the Bill were accused of being so culpably destitute.
No measure had ever been the subject of more misconception and misrepresentation than the present Bill. This was apparent in all the petitions which had been presented against it. The petitions were of two kinds: those from ship-builders of the Thames, and those from the outports. Of the former he could not help thinking he had some reason to complain, when the petitioners stated a belief that there existed a systematic plan for the introduction of India-built ships, not only to the India trade, but for sale in this country; and the more that such an insinuation should have been thrown out after the measure had been explained and discussed in conference with his Majesty's ministers; and after the petitioners had had in their hands the Bill itself, the provisions of which not only afforded no ground for any such apprehension, but directly refuted it. Why, then, was it introduced? Why, but to excite the alarms of the builders in the outports, and to induce them to unite their clamours with those of the Thames builders against the measure. This project, however, was not attended with very eminent success. From the whole number of outports there were last year about twelve petitions, and those unsupported before the committee; and all, he believed he might venture to say, proceeding on a misunderstanding of the Bill against which they were directed. They assumed its object to be to convey to the ships in question the privileges of British ships, and so admit them to the general trade of this country; while the very end and purpose of it was to confine them exclusively to the India trade—a trade which, from its very nature, must be confined, in a great degree, if not exclusively, to India-built ships; a trade which the outports never had enjoyed, and never 630 could enjoy. Some of them, after stating the decline of ship-building, attributed it to the admission of the India-built ships—a cause which it was impossiple could have produced such an effect. Of all the ships admitted to British registry in 19 years, amounting to 94, it appears that only 17 could be found in the general trade of the country—not quite a ship a year; and, taking the average of the British building at 556, not amounting to a five-hundredth part of it. Is it possible this could have had any sensible effect? In addition to this, it appeared that, in the last year, when these very petitions were presented, the ship-building of Great Britain (notwithstanding the alleged want of building on the Thames) not only equalled, but considerably exceeded in point of tonnage the average building of the preceding 20 years. Had those who signed these petitions been aware of these circumstances, he did not believe they would ever have set their names to them; in fact, they had no interest in the question—it was purely connected with the interests of the builders of the Thames; all the evidence was confined to the effect the measure might produce upon the Thames builders: a most respectable body of persons undoubtedly, but little in comparison to the general ship-building interests of the empire; and even of the Thames ship-builders-it was comparatively a small proportion who had an interest in the building of ships for the India trade, as it seemed not more than six or seven had ever been employed in that line. It was, then, these establishments and their interests exclusively which were to be weighed against the great national considerations, both commercial and political, which this measure involved.
It was said to be founded on temporary Acts which were a departure from the true principle of our Navigation Laws. This Mr. Wallace denied. The object of those Acts, he observed, was, as far as they were connected with the present measure, to correct the effect of an act which, in respect to the ships of British India, was in direct contravention of that principle. What was the primary principle of the Navigation Laws, as it was to be collected from the enactments themselves? Shipbuilding? No: the extension of commerce and the formation of seamen. From Oliver Cromwell, through the reigns of Charles 2 and James 2, down to the middle of William 3, it was only required 631 that the ships entitled to the privileges of British trade should be owned by British subjects; and this provision was extended to the islands, colonies, and territories in the possession, or which should be in the possession, of his Majesty. It was not till the period last mentioned, (the reign of William 3), that the ships were required to be British-built; and was it then confined to the mother country? No: it was still extended to the colonies that actually did or might belong to it. Under this latter enactment the privilege was enjoyed by America; and I should be glad (said Mr. Wallace) to ask on what principle it is that an advantage enjoyed, without objection by America, and especially by Canada, is denied to our possessions in India? What, then, are they not colonies? Do they not come under the principle and within the meaning of the Navigation Laws? Has this been the opinion of the Courts? Mr. Reeves gives you several cases, and these are confirmed by the highest authorities of the present day. It is by one provision of the Act of the 26th of the King, they are inadvertently excluded; I say inadvertently, because the principle of the Bill is as extensive as the Act of Charles 2d, and equally embraces the colonies and foreign territories of his Majesty. The difficulty is a technical one, and a technical one only, which an arrangement with the India Company might easily remove. If this be the fact; if they are entitled in equity to registry under the Navigation Laws, and that registry would communicate to them the general privileges of British shipping, this measure, which confines the future employment of them exclusively to the trade between this country and India, is, in effect, really restrictive. But, say the opposers of the Bill, admitting this, we then contend, that for the security of our interests it does not go far enough. Not far enough? After all the clamour we have heard; after all the encouragement this Bill is alleged to offer to the shipping of India, our subjects there will not be on a footing with those of any foreign state in amity with Great Britain. And although there may be, and certainly are, good reasons for imposing upon them the restriction it contains, it is not the less a restriction in favour of the foreigner. One should have thought that the placing 50 or 60 million of our subjects, who are constantly ministering to the wealth, the Strength, and resources of the country, on 632 a footing less favourable than even that of a foreign friendly state, might have satisfied the spirit of commercial jealousy itself—but it does not, it seems, satisfy the ship-builders of the Thames. They call for still more restriction, and invoke every principle of national policy in their support. To maintain pretensions so extravagant, no common case will be sufficient: if expediency can ever be pleaded against justice, it must at least be an expediency clear, decisive, important, and nationals it is not enough to show that a few establishments on the Thames may be eventually affected; it must be shown that the injury is certain and direct, and that in that injury the national security itself is deeply involved.
Now let us see what is the case brought before us, in the papers on the table, in support of the proposition adverted to. It appears to divide itself into the actual state of the building yards on the Thames; the prospect of ruin to them from a probable want of employment, and the effects this ruin will have on the public interests. As far as the statement is well founded with respect to the condition of the yards, I regret it sincerely but I can by no means allow, that of all this calamity, the admission of East-India-built ships is the cause, or even among several causes the most prominent. That the want of building for the India trade is one among the causes no one will deny; but there are other causes, which (however little their exposure might serve the purposes of the petitioners) are of at least equal effect; the cessation, for instance, of the employment of Government, which for some years had been very extensive, and, I must add, the improvidence of the Thames shipbuilders themselves, who by their excessive charges have contrived to drive from the Thames every species of building, but that of the most expensive description. It is impossible not to be satisfied, that among the causes improvidence must have its share; why else, when shipbuilding is actively proceeding in every other part of the kingdom, when the aggregate building of the year exceeds, as has been stated, the average of the last 20 years—the Thames, and the Thames only should be deserted? Such, however, is the fact; and it is for this loss, for the loss of the employment of Government, and for this consequence of their own improvidence, that these gentlemen are now seeking indemnity at the expense of 633 India, of the national interests, and of justice itself.
The dependence of the Thames establishments on the building of East-India ships, Mr. Wallace observed, was not borne out by the evidence. By an account before the House, it appeared that the average building for ten years in the Thames for the India Company, was two ships a year. Now, could two ships give support to twenty-one yards? Bat if, added he, every India-built regular ship in the India Company's service had been built in the Thames, it would not have made the difference of one a year, and therefore could not have obviated the distress complained of; as he had been given to understand that the annual building of 6 or 7 ships was necessary to the maintenance of the establishments in question. The general want of employment in the Thames was the consequence of peace; an event for which the Thames builders ought to have provided by preserving the West India, and other building which they had formerly enjoyed. He observed that the same state of things, and the same complaints had followed the return of a former peace, by which the Government employment necessarily ceased; and quoted a petition from the shipwrights in 1787, to show that similar distress had been said to exist at that time, when it appeared that the building of India ships was carried on to an unusual extent. He stated the India building to have been little more than one-third of the building in the Thames, and referred to an abstract of men employed in the three principal yards, which showed that nearly the same numbers were employed in them, whether building for the India trade was going on, or not. He then entered into some calculations respecting the shipwrights, to show that even without any of the building for the East-India trade or for Government, the greatest proportion of the business of the yards might be supposed still to remain to them, if the evidence on the subject was to be relied on. Efforts had been made to connect the decline of building for the East-India Company with the admission of India-built ships, which led him to advert to several accounts to show that the building for the India Company had been greater since 1793 than in the 20 years previous to that date, during which period no Indian ships were registered, and the Commutation Act which so much 634 increased the shipping of the Company was passed; and also to show, that the building for the Company was the greatest in periods when the greatest number of India ships were admitted to registry. He then stated, that the want of India building in the Thames was chiefly attributable to the extension of voyages and the present state of the Company's ships in respect to their engagement; by an account before the House it appeared that not less than 30 regular ships would require to be replaced for the immediate exigencies of their trade. If, therefore, no ships had been built in the Thames, it was not because India-built ships had been substituted for them, but because in fact the Company, for reasons of their own, had deemed it prudent, in a great measure, to abstain from taking new ships into their service.
This state of things, he argued, must speedily lead to new contracts; and then entered into the question of the probability, or rather necessity of their ships being built in the Thames.
It might be urged, that it was for the interest of the India Company to encourage the building of ships in India from the advantages they derived from it:—in some respects this was true; and he hoped, to a certain extent, they would encourage it. But the building in India did not depend entirely on the pleasure of the Company: the law prescribed the manner in which ships must be taken up by them when they were wanted. They might give permission for the building in India, but they could not command it. It might be for the interest of the parties who engaged to build the ships, rather to build here than in India; for though the India-built ships, if to be purchased, might be on the whole cheaper, yet if each of the owners were to supply the articles of equipment from his own manufactory, it might be to them more advantageous to build here. As a proof of this being the case, he adverted to an account, showing that in the course of certain years, out of 13 ships laid down on the bottoms of others, one only had been laid down in India. He mentioned the capacity of India to supply the demand if made upon her. Neither the present means of Bombay or Bengal were at all adequate to meet it. It was true, that great facilities of increasing the docks were said to exist: but even if that were done, where were the shipwrights to be found? It had been 635 strongly insisted upon in evidence, that no British shipwright was competent to his business in less than seven years; and it was hardly to be believed that the natives of India, whatever credit might be given to their ingenuity and aptitude to the mechanical arts, could perform that at once, for the performance of which an Englishman required seven years instruction. Referring to the advantages derived to this country from the ship-building in India, he said it was a great error to imagine, that every ship which was built and equipped in India, for the trade between the two countries, was a loss to our industry and manufactures at home. A great proportion of the equipment of every ship, amounting to not less than one-third of the whole cost, was sent from this country: he instanced the Balcarras, the cost of which was about 60,000l., for which articles of British manufacture to the amount of 22,000l, had been exported. He had understood that a similar proportion of European articles was used in the building of the ships employed in the country trade; if that was the case, the advantage this country had derived from the shipping actually belonging to the ports of Calcutta and Bombay, could not fall short of half a million. The repairs, too, of the India ships, which by their exclusion must be totally lost, were not of so insignificant an amount as they had been sometimes represented. Of this the Thomas Grenville was an instance; which, in repairs and equipment in her three first voyages, had produced an expenditure in the Thames of nearly 70,000l.; and there were to be found in the minutes of the evidence on the table, accounts of the expenditure of India-built ships employed in the private trade with India, and belonging to three mercantile houses, amounting to near half a million.
With respect to the articles sent to India, it was said, that though the fact be true, at present, it is an advantage that cannot be expected to be more than temporary; that in the rapid progress of improvement in India, the several articles of equipment alluded to, would soon be supplied there. This he doubted; at least that it could be so in any short period. It was true, the people of India possessed iron, and had long possessed it, but had never been able to convert it to the purposes required in the construction of ships. That copper could be procured from other sources than Great Britain, was 636 also true; but it was equally so, that no man had ever known a ship coppered with Indian copper; or a bolt, or even a nail manufactured from it. The fact was, that it was not adapted to these purposes, but employed exclusively in the fabrication of the common domestic utensils in use among the natives. Cordage, indeed, was manufactured in India, but of a quality so inferior to the British, that it appeared the latter alone could be relied on for the most important parts of the rigging. Sails also were manufactured there; but that they had come into use in any considerable degree, was owing to the enormous difference of price between canvass of Indian and European manufacture, as stated in the evidence; and yet, even with this enormous difference against the latter, it appeared it was still preferred for ships that were intended to pass the Cape. It had been slated as a great advantage on the part of Indian ships, that they were built free from taxation. How far this advantage could be claimed for them Mr. Mitchell's testimony sufficiently explained. It appeared from his statement, that on the imported articles manufactured subject to British taxation, and by British labour, additional duties to the amount of about 8 per cent. are levied; that the building and timber are subject to heavy duties; and by a new regulation, the Company oblige the builder to purchase timber of them exclusively, and at their own price; which, he believed, was about 20 per cent, more than it could be obtained for, if he was at liberty to seek it at the best market. Mr. Wallace regretted, he said, that such restrictions as he stated did exist, and trusted that a wiser system would be adopted, and the Indian builders relieved from some of these impolitic imposts. Under this taxation, and other circumstances, he believed the Indian-built ships were brought to sea at a higher first charge than those built in England. The advantages they possessed, arose from their superior durability, the less frequent necessity for repair, and the benefit of a home freight. These were the advantages which, it was said, created so decisive a preponderance in favour of Indian building, as to require a legislative protection against it: in these advantages is the whole case of our opponents. Admit these, say they, and you admit every thing. These, Mr. Wallace said, he did admit, and only regretted that in effect they were not greater than they really 637 were; because it would be the means of securing to this country, with greater certainty, all the commercial advantages he anticipated from the employment of them. Against these advantages protection was sought: we were modestly called upon, for the benefit of a few Yards on the Thames, to deprive one of the most important branches of our empire, as well as ourselves, of all the benefit of the great natural advantages she possessed, because, forsooth, they were so great: we were called upon to protect the British ship-building as a manufacture. It was said, You protect the cotton manufacture—you protect other manufactures—Why not that of ship-building?—This sounded plausible; and were it the ship-building of the country that was likely to be affected, he should not, he owned, hesitate in holding a course directly the reverse of that he now held. But such was, happily, not the case; the protection so claimed for the whole, could apply only to comparatively a very small part. Of that part, too, it was right perhaps to consider a little the real value. It was not his intention to institute any invidious inquiry into the comparative merits of the building in the King's dock-yards, and the merchants' yards. He was ready to admit, that the ships constructed in the one might be as good as those of the other; they were, however, considerably dearer: Mr. Seppings stated the difference as high as 5l. per ton, which in a frigate makes 5,000l., and in a seventy-four about 10,000l. On these terms we may receive, and have received, ships from the merchants' yards when they were required; but this was the extent of the whole public advantage derived from them. Men we obtained from them almost none; they were chiefly supplied by the northern ports. Mr. Seppings also told us, that such were the improvements which had been made, and the regulations introduced into the King's dockyards, as to render Government in future, whatever might be the demand, entirely independent of external aid, both in respect to the repairs and the building of large ships. Frigates, it was known, had been and might be equally well built at the outports. It was true, it might be more convenient to repair or build in the Thames than at the outports; but it was only more convenient. What, then, became of this public necessity for the maintenance of these Thames establishments, 638 upon which the security of the country, and the support of the navy was said so much to rest? It resolves itself into a mere matter of convenience—a questoin, whether the same thing shall be equally well performed in a nearer or a more distant port. If, Sir, no one ship that is ever again to sail between this country and India were to be built in the Thames, our navy, thank God, might still be secure. The fictitious importance ascribed to these establishments I always thought ridiculous; and when touched, it dissolves into air. If, then, we are to make a sacrifice to them, it is not from any alarms for the future—it is for services they have already performed—services which I am far from depreciating, but which I must observe were not wholly without their reward—services, however, which I cheerfully admit, with this proviso, that if they are to be pleaded on the part of the Thames builder, they may be equally admitted on behalf of the Indian one? If we are to be told of the battles of Camperdown and Trafalgar, we must not forget the acquisition of the Cape, of Ceylon, of the Mauritius, of Java, and the glorious expedition to Egypt: these bear honourable testimony to the public services the Indian ship-builder has rendered; and if still greater services have not been performed, it is only because greater exertions have not been demanded from him.
We are required to protect the Thames ship-building as a manufacture—this sort of protection is at all times a matter of rather questionable expediency; it is not applicable in any case except where there, is a complete command of the market; for to impose duties upon those who have the obvious resource of finding their supply elsewhere, is as absurd as it must be ineffectual. It is a principle, too, that has never been applied to the shipping of our colonies; nor is it less incompatible with sound policy than repugnant to the letter and spirit of our Navigation Laws.
It was said in the debates on the Corn Bill, that corn was a kind of raw material, the price of which entered into every thing; the same may be said of freight, with respect to every manufacture that; derives raw material from import, or is itself afterwards to be the subject of exportation. In commercial competition a low freight is an advantage; and if from natural or political causes you are subjected to a high one, it is a disadvantage you would resort to all prudent means as 639 far as possible to remedy or alleviate: but for a commercial country voluntarily to inflict on itself this disadvantage, seems to me an act of self-immolation, that would prove something little short of insanity; and for a body of men gravely to recommend it, appears, I must say, to argue a degree of boldness that the word effrontery very feebly describes. Yet this is precisely what is proposed to you by the opposers of this Bill. And when? not at a moment when by the commanding superiority of your fleets scarce a foreign ship traverses the ocean; but when the restoration of peace calls forth again into life the long-suspended commercial enterprise of every part of the world, and exposes your trade to various competitions, against which you have no arms but those of a commercial nature to contend with. Amongst the first objects for which you have thus to struggle, is the trade of India, as a participation in it will be the first object of foreign states to obtain. They possess, undoubtedly, a great advantage in the cheapness of their ships, but that is the whole. We also have our advantages; we have, if not so cheap as theirs, a description of colonial shipping cheaper than our own British shipping to resort to. It is said, indeed, that even then foreigners will have the advantage; that our efforts to secure the trade must prove unsuccessful and that we are incurring therefore an unprofitable risk. This would be true if on this one point, alone the issue depended—but have we no other advantages? the facilities which residence and our long connexion with the country has created, the partiality which subjects will always feel to their native country, and, above all, what no foreign nation can possess, unless our unjust and impolitic restraints throw it into their hands, a commanding capital ready for us on the spot. The chief support of a great proportion of the trade from India, is known to depend on the remittance of the acquisitions of individuals. They will naturally give the preference to the British trade, on equal, or nearly equal terms. This preference, however, has its limits, which, if exceeded, the benefit of that remittance is immediately diverted to the support of foreign commerce, and passes under foreign flags. Now, the measure of this preference has been experimentally ascertained, and we know it to be precisely the difference between the forced employment of British and the free employment of India-built 640 ships. Experience has left no doubt on this point. The trade of America—the Portuguese, the Danish trade, all drew their chief support from this ill-advised restriction imposed on British subjects. The moment the restriction was removed, the trade fell into its natural channel, and the foreign export trade lost all the support it had hitherto derived from British capital. Lord Wellesley, in his letter to the Court of Directors in 1800, tells them "It would be doubtful whether foreign nations would be able to retain any considerable portion of the trade from India to Europe, were the British merchants in India permitted to avail themselves of their superior means of drawing the whole of the trade to England. Their local knowledge, added to all the advantages necessarily derived from a constant residence on the spot, must always enable them to command a supply of goods of a better quality, and at a cheaper rate than foreign merchants can obtain. In the conveyance of Indian goods to Europe rests the foreign merchant's sole advantage over the British. The superior facility which the foreign merchant enjoys in this respect, giving him so decided a command over the trade, that he is enabled not only to outbid the British merchant in India, but also to outbid him in the markets of Europe. Were the British merchants in India permitted to provide their own tonnage as occasion might require, every reason exists to justify a belief that they would soon possess themselves of nearly the whole of the private export trade from India to Europe, and would render London the universal mart for the manufactures and produce of Asia."
This opinion is amply confirmed and supported, by the reports of external commerce; it appears that three-fourths of the trade to Hamburgh, Denmark, and Portugal, was carried on by British capital till the year 1798. He distinctly states in his report, "that in 1798–9, when British merchants in Calcutta were permitted to load their own ships, or to make their own arrangements for freight to London, there was not a single bag of sugar, or bale of cloth, shipped by them to any foreign port; whereas if such permission had not been granted, the shipments in Anglo-Danish vessels would have continued." Again, "To the low rate of freight in 1798–9, may be attributed the additional quantity of gruff goods shipped to England in comparison with preceding years, and the 641 total annihilation of the trade carried on in ships conjectured to be Anglo-Danes prior to that period." In another passage he says, "in consequence of the various publications which have lately appeared in London on the subject of the private trade of India, and the hopes entertained by many merchants residing in Great Britain, that India-built shipping would no longer be permitted to carry merchandize to the river Thames, as allowed by indulgence since the year 1798–9, the European Anglo-foreign trade has already commenced."
It would be easy, said Mr. Wallace, to multiply quotations to the same effect; but I flatter myself I have already done so sufficiently to show how much our possession of the trade of India is connected with the permission to use India shipping, and that, notwithstanding some advantages enjoyed by foreigners, we possess the power to secure it to this country, and to make her the great emporium of Asiatic commerce, if we do not improvidently reject the means that are open to us. Then, adverting to the importance of the private trade, he stated the sale amount of the imports from the year 1801 to 1810, to have been 24 millions sterling:—that it consisted, partly of goods for re-exportation, and partly of gruff goods and raw materials for the use of our manufactures. The first, as a carrying trade, must, of course, be affected by the price of freight: the latter he stated as having arisen out of, and being entirely dependent on, the employment of the India-built ships:—that it could not bear a high freight; that it required every facility that could be given to it, and that we must possess it through the medium of the India ships, or be content to abandon it altogether. Among the goods of the latter description were hemp, sugar, cotton, and many others. It was known how important the import of this last article from our own territories was; and it was not difficult to perceive how much more important it might, under certain contingencies, become to the manufactures of the country. From 1792 to 1811, it appeared that above 84,000,000 of pounds had been imported, (in one year 23,000,000) of which only 3,000,000 had been exported, leaving 81,000,000 applicable to our own manufactures. The actual advantage of this would not only be lost to us, but would be transferred to support the trade, promote the industry, and augment the resources 642 and power of foreign and rival states, whose manufactures we should thereby foster at the expense of our own, and create a formidable competition against one of the most important branches of the national industry. Nor would this be all. Every hope that we can entertain of extending the sale and consumption of British, manufactures in India, must rest upon the power of affording them at the cheapest possible rate to the consumers. This the return of the India ships, which have made the voyage to this country, furnishes, because the freight already received enables them to carry the return cargo almost without profit, and thus to afford the fairest chance of extending to the utmost point, to which circumstances admit it to be extended, the use of, and demand for, the manufactures of Britain amongst the vast population of our Eastern dominions.
It was asked, why this might not be effected by the British ships, of which the merchant might have the same command as of an Indian one. Was this all, then, that was essential to success? did no other disadvantage remain? Either the merchant must possess British ships in India, or must depend on their being sent from England. It was not his having the complete command of his ship, the assortment of his cargo, and the time of dispatch that was alone necessary to the merchant, but that his ship should be of the cheapest kind, and best adapted to the general purposes of his trade. The effect of imposing upon him British ships would be, to oblige Wm him to use a species of shipping that been stated in evidence, to be not only dearer but not adapted to the general purposes of his trade, which was that of India, while the employment of his ship on a European voyage was occasional. If he depended on the ships sent out, his supply of shipping must be precarious, governed by the views and speculations of the shipowners at home, and would sometimes be abundant and sometimes deficient. Of such uncertainty the prejudice was obvious. It would, besides, throw the Indian merchants without resource into the hands of the British owner, and in fact place them in a worse situation than they were under the former system, so justly complained of; which at least, in case of distress, admitted of a resort to the native shipping. Was it to be expected, that under such difficulties any commerce could flourish? was it consistent with justice? was it con- 643 sistent with the principle of the former proceedings of Parliament? The Act of 1793 recognized the necessity of a moderate freight, if we would secure to this country the full advantages of the commerce to India. Several provisions of that Act were founded on this principle, and a sort of free trade was grafted on the monopoly of the Company. The late lord Melville, the author of the Act, and who had introduced the provisions in favour of the private trade, confessed that they had completely failed in their object, and himself called for a revision of them, which took place in 1801, in order to effectuate the purpose to which they were avowedly directed, and which they had failed to obtain. Hence the arrangements in respect to the extra ships. This, again, from the embarrassments and obstructions it suffered, has been productive of nothing but dissatisfaction and complaint, which attended it up to the period of the final opening of the trade in the year 1813, founded on the very principle I have stated, and on the conviction that the trade could only be preserved to this country by encouragement, facility, and freedom. In vain, Sir, has the wisdom and firmness of Parliament triumphed over all the prejudices that opposed it;—in vain has it removed the monopoly of the Company and the restrictions connected with it;—in vain has it opened the commerce of India to the subjects of the empire,—if it imposes restrictions even more oppressive than the pre-existing ones, and pronounces a prohibition against the use of the only vessels in which that trade can be carried on with safety or success. This is not to realize, but cruelly to mock the hopes your former proceedings have created. This is not what the country, its manufacturers, and its merchants have a right to expect at our hands.
These, Sir, are the grounds on which I profess myself an advocate for the present measure;—these are the public advantages, commercial and political, which I confidently anticipate from it. There are other advantages of a contingent nature that may accompany it, and are not wholly without importance, though I own they have little influence on my opinion. One consideration particularly, I think, has been made to assume a much more prominent character in the discussion of this Question than justly belongs to it—I mean that of the state of the timber, which occupied so much of the attention, and formed so large a part of the inquiry of 644 the committee. I own, Sir, so little am I affected by this consideration, that had the result been totally different from what it appears to me to be,—were the existing and prospective abundance of oak timber as manifest as I think it is the reverse,—had every thing attempted to be proved on this subject been completely and unanswerably made out, it would not have shaken my opinion of the policy of this measure, or taken one jot from the earnestness with which I think it my duty to support it.
On entering the committee last year, we heard that all the results of the preceding inquiries into the state of timber were founded in error, and all the alarms which had been entertained inconsequence of them, idle and visionary. This proposition, considering how these inquiries had been conducted, and by what persons these alarms had been felt, appeared rather hazardous; and, in fact, the success, in point of proof, corresponded so little with the boldness of the statement, that I came out of the committee with pretty much, the same impressions under which I entered it; namely, that such was the state of the timber, as to render every practicable economy in the use of it highly desirable, if not indispensably necessary.
I will not trouble the House with going through the different inquiries that have taken place within a few years; that before a Committee of this House in 1771, which led to the Restraining Act of 1772; that of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests in 1792; with that of the Commissioners of Naval Revision at a subsequent period, forming the ground-work of the plans which have been adopted by Government to provide for the future supply of oak to the British Navy. All these investigations tend to prove, that those who have been engaged in them have had a similar conviction of the progressive deficiency of naval timber. Scarcity and abundance are relative terms. In speaking of the former, I wish not to be understood as supposing, that there is not a great deal of oak in the country: that in various parts of it, if it was within the power of Government, a supply for several years might not be found. If it should appear, that the demand has been easily met at a moderate price, and without the assistance of foreign importation, I am ready to admit it is a proof of sufficient supply: but if that is not the case, if the demand has been met with difficulty, and at a pro- 645 gressive and rapidly increasing price of the article, and with the assistance of a great annual foreign import, I think I do not ask too much if I say the existence of a practical scarcity ought to be conceded to me.
The witnesses adduced on one side, are most of them clear that there is no actual scarcity, and none to be apprehended; and this opinion appears to be founded chiefly upon their own comparatively narrow dealings, which they state to have been easily supplied. Of the amount of the general demand and means of supply they know nothing. All they know is, that the quantities they have wanted they have found, and that there is a great deal of oak of various descriptions growing in different parts of the country. Now, Sir, I have been at the trouble of taking the amount of the dealings of each of these individuals, to see what inference could be drawn from their being so readily supplied, and I find that all together they amount annually to about 38,000 loads, which is not more than one-fourth part of what is required annually for the naval purposes of the kingdom. With respect to what is standing, the evidence is very loose; it is what these individuals have seen in going about the country, or what they believe to exist in the districts they are acquainted with. Mr. Read tells us, he could find in eight counties a 74 in each county, that is about 3,000 loads; but there would be no more such timber for the next 50 years. Mr. Hervey, a most intelligent witness, estimates the power of Staffordshire, which he deems one of the best wooded counties in the kingdom, at 10,000 loads a year, if gentlemen could be induced to cut. What is this, compared to the demand? It would require twenty counties as well wooded as Staffordshire to meet it; and where are they to be found? It has been said, that the supply has hitherto been found in the home counties, and that the vast resources beyond this circle are as yet inviolated. Let this be answered by the account of timber brought round the Land's-end for the use of the dock-yards; which will sufficiently show how much the remoter counties have already contributed. By this it appears, that of timber contracted for by the Navy Board in eight years, 154,822 loads came round the Land's-end, while 89,366 were supplied by the home counties. The diminution of large timber is a circumstance not to be denied. It is ex- 646 pressly admitted by many of the witnesses, and the great increase of price by all. Mr. Alexander, an experienced dealer, tells us, that on the same farm for the same species of timber, he now gives 12 or 13l. for what, 20 years ago, he paid from 50s. to 3l. 10s. What rise in any other article bears a proportion to this? This, too, notwithstanding all the facilities afforded by the multiplied and extended internal navigations of the kingdom.
What have we on the other side? The confirmed proof of the greatly increased price; the admitted diminution of the large timber, positively stated to be not less than two-thirds in the space of a few years, and the difficulties of obtaining the supplies of timber required, with all the expedients resorted to to save it. It must be obvious, that the supply of an article can only be certain and permanent when it is advantageous to the producer; yet it may easily be shown, that it never can be a beneficial speculation to employ the ground on which alone oak will grow well in producing timber for the purposes of the navy. It is not less clear, that it cannot be a profitable speculation to preserve it to the age that those purposes require; and, according to the testimony of several witnesses, an earlier period of its growth, is that at which it is most advantageous to the possessor to convert his trees into money. None of those, said Mr. Wallace, who spoke on the subject of the growth of oak, made its progress, even under the most advantageous circumstances, as far as I recollect, such as to double its value in 20 years. Now, it is well known, that money at compound interest, with which the fair comparison must be made, will double the original sum in a much shorter space of time.
If, then, it appears, that it is neither beneficial to plant, nor to preserve oak with a view to the navy, it may be asked, How has the supply been hitherto obtained? Why is so much wood planted, and why so much preserved? The taste of those who possess the land of the country—the pleasure of contributing to its beauty—the pride of possessing what marks the dignity and antiquity of a residence, and the affluence of its possessor, will solve the problem. But the same causes that lead to planting, induce the proprietors to plant trees of the more rapid growths; and those which lead to preserving, unfortunately, in very many instances, induce the proprietors to preserve 647 it beyond the period when the timber can be useful in ship-building; hence, in parts of the country, appearances of abundance of wood, where, in fact, there is substantially very little, when brought to the test of regular examination. How easily men are deceived, we have a proof in the statement of some of the witnesses as to the quantities of timber standing in parts of the country with which they were acquainted, and which they estimated at from 82,000 to 103,000 load, but which, when brought to the ordeal of strict survey, turned out to be only a fifth of that quantity, namely, about 19,000 loads. If we may take the survey of Me. Fermor, in conjunction with the evidence of Mr. Thorne and Mr. Staples, as a fair corrective of the accounts of the abundance of ship-timber said to be standing in the country, we shall find, that our dependence on our own internal supply, is not a very sound one. Lord St. Vincent, when at the head of the Admiralty, was so convinced of the necessity of economising the expenditure of naval timber, that he strongly recommended it to the East India Company to desist from building large ships; and they accordingly extended their contracts with the ship-owners for additional voyages.
In addition to these observations, Mr. Wallace adverted to the declaration of the ship-builders in 1805, when contracting for a certain number of ships, that if 40,000l. (which could hardly have obtained above 8 or 9,000 loads) was employed in purchasing timber for Government, their contracts, though at the augmented rate of 36l. per ton, would become ruinous to them. The means resorted to for the saving of British timber, as stated by Mr. Seppings; the use of fir; and the extensive importation of foreign oak into the dock-yards, which in one year amounted to 30,000 loads; all these circumstances, Sir, continued he, lead me irresistibly to the conclusion, that there has been a growing deficiency of naval timber, and that we are bound to avail ourselves of the most effectual means we can resort to, both for sparing and assisting the resources the country still possesses. If so, to what are we to look but to economy in the use of our native oak, and to the relief of our immediate wants by an external supply of timber fit for naval purposes? and if we admit external supply, whence can it be obtained with so many concomitant advantages, as from India?
648 It may be said, that the encouragement to build in India will destroy the price of oak in this country. In the degree in which building large ships shall take place in India, it will certainly lessen the competition for the large timber required for them, and produce this effect; but I do not think the possessors of timber in this country need entertain much apprehension on this ground, if they look only for a fair price for their timber; this will always be secured to them by the excess of the demand above the supply the country can furnish. It appears that for the ten years from 1803 to 1812 inclusive, the average consumption of foreign oak in the dock-yards has amounted to about 15,000 loads; if the whole of the shipping employed by the Company, taking it at 58,000 tons, and allowing it a duration of twelve years, was to be transferred to India, the probable annual building there would require not quite two-thirds of that quantity, or about 9,000 load; so that there would still be a necessity of importing for the dock-yards at home one-third of the quantity of foreign oak which had been heretofore imported annually. But, if those who possess oak desire (of which I fully acquit them) more than a fair price; if their object be to raise its value, by shutting out a competition, they must not stop at the opposition to this Bill; they must prohibit the importation of all foreign timber, which may enter into the market against their own; and, what will be the effect? What, but to increase the price of ship-building in the United Kingdom, in a degree absolutely incompatible with the commercial enterprize and prosperity of the country?—And let gentlemen consider what are the advantages they derive from commerce, now that it extends over every part of the produce of their estates, the effect it has had in the increase of their rents, as well as in the augmented value of the land itself. Let them compute this, and then calculate how far a few shillings, or even pounds per load upon the oak they possess, will form an adequate compensation for the possible consequences of checking the prosperity and efforts of our commerce.
If we require aid, India is a source that possesses recommendations which belong to no other quarter. We have, indeed, received solemn warnings of the hazard of making a great part of our naval means dependent upon so remote a territory, a 649 if we had ever entertained so dangerous, so extravagant a notion. No man's sense of the impolicy of removing that great arm of our strength to a distance from the seat of government, goes beyond mine; but I must always distinguish, and beg the House to distinguish, between this which I condemn, and that for which I am the advocate, namely, the availing ourselves of the resources of India in aid of those of the United Kingdom; and thus, by seasonably sparing our own means, effecting our real independence, not only on India, but on the whole world. We are told that our possession of India stands on a precarious foundation—that it hangs on a thread. Is it more precarious than the amity of those Powers on whom we now depend for oar naval supplies? But, be it so; be it as precarious as you will—and no man feels more strongly than myself the contingencies to which it is exposed—what is the inference? What is the lesson it should teach? What is the wisdom of him who has no reliance on the future? Is it not to enjoy the present?—The more, then, we are impressed with the perils that belong to the tenure of our dominions in India, the more eager ought we to be to profit by the means which that country possesses, of adding to our strength and supporting our resources while it is yet in our power. How long we may be destined to retain that miraculous dominion, which Providence for its own wise purposes has committed to our hands, it is impossible to predict; but if its tenure can be protracted by any human means, they are those of protection and support, not those of injustice and oppression. It has been asserted that the natives of India are not interested in this question; that it is only a few British merchants, established at the different presidencies, to whom its effects will be confined. It is a great proportion of the external commerce of India that is at stake. It may be true, that a few merchants at each presidency are the channels of that commerce; so, in this country, the merchants, who are the channels of commerce are, in comparison to the population, few in number: but is there one individual, be his station what it may, that does not feel the benefit which flows from the commerce conducted by them,—the landholder, the manufacturer, the agriculturist, the labourer; all feel it. Look around at the improved state of every part of the kingdom, and say what is the cause of it! Let us not, 650 then, be told that the Indian is not alike deeply interested in the commerce of his country, through which the reward of his industry, and support of his family, are to be received; and let us reflect what effect it will produce upon the mind of that people when they shall see the ships of every European nation taking in the produce of their manufactures and transporting the fruits of their labour, except the British; to see their trade conveyed under every flag, but that of their natural and legitimate protector. It is true, that in this view they are less interested than Great Britain herself;—their manufactures will be supported, their industry will be rewarded, their prosperity will be promoted, though we shall not be the visible instruments of producing these effects, or reap any benefit from them.—To the natives of India, therefore, in this view, the question is of little comparative importance; to us, it is of the greatest, as it involves the preservation of an extensive and flourishing branch of our commerce, the support and encouragement of our manufactures, and, above all, the stability of one of the main foundations of our power in India; for in no way can power be so effectually strengthened and confirmed as by insuring the confidence, the gratitude, and the affection of those we govern.
§ Mr. Marryatt
said, that the present Bill was calculated to give support to the people in the East Indies, at the expense of the most important interests of the shipbuilders of this country, the encouragement of whom was most essential to the support of the British navy. He could not see the reason why they should be indulged with so great a preference in comparison of what was enjoyed by our colonial possessions, which were bound to take our manufactures at our own price, and to send us exclusively in return their raw material. In the East Indies they were exempt from all these restrictions. Their country was open to the flags of different nations, and they had a right to buy as cheap as they could, and to sell their commodities for the very highest price they could obtain for them: and as they were not subjected to colonial restrictions, they were not entitled to more than colonial privileges. The price of oak was not more than double the price it was sixty years ago, and the use of it was greatly diminished; of course the demand for it must be less, for it was well known 651 that the supply of every commodity was in proportion to the demand. It was a fact well ascertained, that in various parts of this kingdom there were extensive plantations of oak, which had been set on foot within the last twenty years, and if the Legislature showed a strong inclination to encourage any measure that tended to depreciate its value, the proprietors of these oaks would be apt to grub them up and destroy them; and if after that, by the loss of India—which the right hon. gentleman had acknowledged was more than probable—we should be thrown back on our own resources, we should then find we had impoverished ourselves. If this argument held good with respect to ships, it applied equally to all articles of manufacture in India, and that was directly contrary to the spirit of our system of legislation, which had always been directed to the protection of our own manufactures against the competition of foreign rivals. The right hon. gentleman had said, that no danger could arise to this country from building ships in India, for they could not build ships there. If that argument was true, it went directly against the Bill itself, for it was ridiculous to pass a bill for the protection and encouragement of ship-building in a country where such a measure was not to be effected. But the argument destroyed itself by going too far, as it was too well known that they could build ships, and had built ships; and further, that they could build them cheaper than we could in this country; and it was just as clearly ascertained, that all nations would purchase where they could do it the cheapest. The right hon. gentleman had also told us, we were in danger of losing India. He was sorry to say, that we had a similar version of that doctrine from even a higher authority than the right hon. gentleman. Warren Hastings himself had declared in that House that we held India only by a thread, and that thread was public opinion. India had already been three times in great danger from want of attention to this. Once from the interference and intrigues of foreign enemies, who had nearly I turned the tide against us; another time from some ridiculous, but wanton alteration of their turbans or the cut of their beards; and the third from a difference between the King's and the Company's officers. It had been said, that we were bound to encourage and support India by all the means in our power; but we were not bound to give such encouragement at 652 the expense or risk of our own paramount security—our maritime strength. For these reasons he should oppose the further progress of the Bill.
§ Mr. F. Douglas
replied to the arguments of the last speaker, whose apprehensions from the enactment of this Bill he considered as altogether visionary. The hon. member appeared to him to have quite mistaken the authorities to which he had referred, with regard to the security of our Indian empire. That empire would be best secured to this country, by treating its inhabitants with justice—by allowing it to make use of its produce, and import its commodities on the fairest terms. Such was the object of this Bill, and therefore he should support it, being always willing to treat our colonies as friends rather than to deal with them as enemies, which seemed to be the import of the last speaker's observations.
§ Sir Charles Monck
opposed the Bill. He had hoped, from the full consideration which this measure had undergone, that his Majesty's ministers would have seen the expediency of abandoning it altogether, as a measure inconsistent with those principles of national advantage which it was our duty to uphold.
supported the measure. What, he asked, had the hon. gentlemen opposite proved? Merely that recourse had been occasionally had to the merchant-yards in the river Thames, but not that they ought to be always employed. It would be a monstrous proposition to maintain, that the navy of England should depend on a few ship-builders in the river. He contended, that ships built in India were entitled, by the Navigation Laws, to be received and registered in the ports of this country. Though he did not think that oak timber was so scarce as was represented, yet from all the reports made on the subject at different periods, it was clear that there was a necessity for husbanding our resources. The benefit of the new charter would not be obtained if the House did not agree to pass the present Bill.
thought, that if the case required it, they might import timber, but not ships—not the manufactured article.
§ The House then divided on the question for going into the committee. The numbers were:
|For going into the Committee||51|
§ The Bill was accordingly committed, the blanks filled up, and the amendments agreed to. After which the House resumed, and the report was received, and ordered to be taken into further consideration on Thursday.
|List of the Minority.|
|Astell, W.||Meyler, R.|
|Allan, G.||Mitford, W.|
|Calcraft, John||Morritt, J. B. S.|
|Crickett, R. A.||Newark, lord|
|Carew, R. P.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Doveton, gen.||Round, J.|
|Davenport, D.||Sumner, H.|
|Ellison, Cuthbert||Western, C. C.|
|Egerton, J.||Wigram, sir R.|
|Houblon, J. A.||Mr. Alderman Atkins|
|Lester, B. L.||Monck, sir C.|