HC Deb 08 June 1815 vol 31 cc692-6

The Report of the committee on the East India Registry Ships Bill being taken into further consideration,

Mr. Wallace

proposed to introduce a clause to substitute 350 tons to 100. As the Bill stood, no ship under 100 tons was to obtain a registry: he found that ships of that tonnage were not employed in the East India trade, and therefore wished to alter the number to 350.

Mr. Marryatt

renewed his opposition to the Bill. It had been said by an hon. member (Mr. C. Grant) on a former day, when he (Mr. Marryatt) had announced his intention to offer a clause for restricting the operation of this Bill, that it might as well be attempted to take from the East India Company their charter, as to prohibit them from employing India-built ships. He would state what had been advanced on this subject by that hon. member, and other directors of the East India Company on a former occasion, and leave him to answer his own arguments as he could. He then quoted the report of a committee of the East India Directors, dated January 27, 1801, in which the admission of India ships into a format participation in the commerce and navigation between Britain and India was viewed with the most serious apprehension. In another part of the same Report such a line of conduct was "deprecated as tending to supersede the Company's privileges, and open the way to what all agreed ought to be prevented—the colonization of Europeans in India." It was further stated "to involve principles and effects dangerous to the interests both of the Company and of the nation, to lead to the pouring of Europeans of the lower sort into India, and thus, by lessening that respect entertained for the British character, which had hitherto contributed to maintain our ascendancy in the East, to disturb and shake our Government there." In a second Report, the plan of the Governor-general respecting India ships, was described to be at variance with the principle adopted by the Court of Directors." A third Report stated, "the public to have been under a delusion." They had heard so much of British manufactures and surplus produce, that they never believed other objects were in view; at last, however, the mask fell off, and the truth appeared to be—a trade in India-built ships. It was added, "that though this was the primary object of the parties concerned in these representations, their friends in this country were aware that British ships could not be sacrificed for so flimsy a pretence." In one of the Reports it was stated that "the Directors, after viewing the question respecting India ships generally, entertained a decided opinion that it was sound policy to look with a jealous eye on any other description of naval or military strength, or the seeds of it that might be about to arise in India, that was not British." The Directors, however, added, "they were willing to sacrifice their own judgment to that of the Government, and to endeavour to carry into effect the plans of the ministers for the public service; but doing this, they were aware that they ought to be on their guard, to speculate upon events, and to look for combinations far different from those which had formerly occurred." In replying to the statements which had been made, it had been said in the Report, that "it would be impracticable to bring the foreign trade to the River Thames, if teak ships were employed as the means. The best and only means consistent with the combined and extensive interests of land, commerce, and manufactures and navigation, at the same time that the public faith would thereby be preserved inviolate, would be to employ British ships." It was added, "that if there were any well-founded claim on Government at that time, it was the fair and just claim of British ships and seamen to provide, and not to deprive them of, the means of employment, in return for the great and meritorious services rendered during the war." These Reports were subsequently confirmed by the Directors and Proprietors. After some farther observations, he concluded by moving the following clause, "That no ship or vessel employed by the East India Company in the China trade, and not built within the United Kingdom, shall be entitled to the privileges of British-built vessels."

Mr. Grant

thought the hon. gentleman had laboured hard to make the worse appear the better reason. He had quoted reports of the Court of Directors to support a doctrine contrary to the obvious intention and scope of those reports. The Court of Directors had never any particular objection to teak ships more than to other ships; but their objection was to admitting any other ships into the participation of their rights. He conceived, that the clause proposed by the hon. gentleman would have the effect of taking away the charter from the Company, and giving them up, bound hand and foot, into the power of a few ship-builders on the River Thames. His argument went upon the fallacious supposition, that if this Bill were to pass, all the ships to be employed in the trade for the future would come, from India. The only consequence would, be, that the Company would not be left entirely at the mercy of about half a dozen ship-builders on the River Thames, to be charged whatever exorbitant price they thought proper. In 1793 the price they charged was 14l. a ton. In 1800 it was 19l. 10s.; but after 1805 it rose from 25l. to 31l. per ton. The price of wages, which in 1793 was three shillings and sixpence a-day, had afterwards got up to seven, and even to ten shillings. If those men choose to idle three days in the week, it was the East India Company that must pay for it. For a long period of time, the Company had been entirely at the mercy of the ship-builders of the River Thames. The power of building ships in India had certainly rendered them somewhat more independent of them. India, however, had not the means or resources, nor would it have for a long time, of finding tonnage equal to the demands of commerce. He believed that out of the last 79 ships, 13 only had been built in India. As the building for India was never above a third of the whole business of the ship-builders in the Thames, it was going too far to say that their trade would be annihilated, even if the whole of the East India business was withdrawn from them. There was no reason, however, to doubt but that they would for a long time have by much the greater part of their business. When the worthy alderman (Atkins) had spoken, on a former night, of the number of shipwrights that would be thrown out of employ, he must observe that he believed the whole number of shipwrights in the Thames did not exceed 4,500, and that 400 (not quite a tenth of these) were all that were ever employed in building ships for the East India Company. Were all the great interests of the Company then to be sacrificed to the interest of a very small number of ship-builders and shipwrights on the Thames? All that these persons could now complain of, was, that their monopoly would be affected by introducing a sort of competition. It was a most mistaken idea to conceive that India ought to be governed at all like a colony. It was a great and populous empire, rich in arts and manufactures, when we first came there: it would be therefore most unjust to prevent them from availing themselves of their natural advantages. It would be also most impolitic for this country to refuse to avail itself of the advantages that their great forests afforded for ship-building. As to the apprehension of the Indians becoming a great maritime nation, it must be recollected, that of all the classes of Indians it was only the Mahometans that ever became sailors, and therefore the Indian sailors could only be taken from among those Mahometans that happened to live near the sea-coasts. As to what had been said about the probability of a revolution in India, he considered that our government was now more confirmed and stable than at any former period.

Mr. Marryatt

, in explanation, said, that his clause did not at all respect the ships employed in the trade between India and this country, but had only reference to the trade with China, the monopoly of which was allowed to be a great advantage to the Company.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

observed, that the surveyors of the India Company exercised the right of survey as to the materials of the ships built for them in the river Thames, as strictly as it was exercised on the part of the royal navy. The great increase in the price of ship-building had not proceeded from any exorbitant demands on the part of the ship-builders, but from the great price to which foreign timber had been raised, from our being excluded from the trade of the Continent. As to the price of labour, the war had raised the value of a man's labour, in the same proportion that other articles were raised.

Mr. P. Moore

said, that there ought to be a fair and open competition with regard to ship-building, and opposed the clause.

Mr. Forbes

spoke a few words against the clause.

The House divided: For the clause, 11; Against it, 39; Majority, 28. The Bill was ordered to be read a third time to-morrow.