HC Deb 11 February 1818 vol 37 cc332-8

The Mouse having resolved itself into a committee of Supply,

Lord Castlereagh

said, that after the very full discussion which this subject had undergone, he felt it quite unnecessary to make any observations, now that he moved, in the terms of the treaty, That a sum not exceeding 400,000l. be granted to his majesty for the purpose of carrying into execution the treaty with the Spanish government for the abolition of the slave trade. He should be ready to answer any questions that might be put to him; but as he felt assured from the sentiments of the House on a former evening, of the general approbation with which the subject was received, he would enter into no farther observations at present.

Mr. Lyttelton

said, that it was with reluctance he rose to offer any observations at all calculated to disturb the unanimity which the object of the treaty so justly obtained. There was not a more sincere friend to the progress of that great cause of humanity, than he was. But he took the opportunity, from instructions that he had received, to ask the noble lord a few questions, materially connected with our commercial intercourse with Spain. He saw by the provisions of that treaty, that a sum of 100,000l. was to be paid by this country, as a bonus to the Spanish nation. When we were evincing such a disposition towards that government, it could not be inopportune to advert to the state of our commercial relations with that power. And he must say, from what he was taught to believe, that this country was, as to those relations, in a state rather remote from a very cordial amity with Spain. The British merchants were not merely treated with severity, but with a caprice the most destructive to the continuance of a commercial intercourse. In the export of cotton goods, one of our principal articles, we were met with a total prohibition. Although he lamented that circumstance, he was still ready to admit that such prohibition could not form the ground of any hostile remonstrance. Woollens and linens, also, which were staples of this country, were prohibited. The duties on iron were 110 per cent, upon their actual value. But, if he was rightly instructed, we were not only treated with rigour, but that rigour was exercised without due notice. Formerly six months notice had been given of any prohibitions; now, those prohibitions were suddenly made; so that it was impossible to give timely notice to the merchant in London, in order to prevent shipments and very serious losses. This was the greatest grievance that could affect the interests of commerce. That orders upon matters of commercial regulation should be explicit and clear, definite in their extent, and precise as to their commencement and duration, was essential to the very existence of commerce. Let taxation be carried to any extent, but, in God's name, let timely notice be given of such taxation! He hoped the noble lord would feel it his duty to effect, if possible, a treaty to remove the excessive impositions upon our trade, or at least to ensure due notice to our merchants. Every information the noble lord could give would be attended to; but he particularly wished to know what remonstrances had been made by our government, and what answer had been returned.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that that hon. member had very properly distinguished the subject to which his question referred from the motion before the committee. In reply to the question of the hon. gentleman, he must say, that he lamented as much as any one, that the commercial principles which regulated the conduct of the Spanish government were of so confined and mistaken a nature—principles which had now been quite exploded in the politics of this country, and which he hoped would not long maintain their ground in any European cabinet. At the same time we ought to show some indulgence towards the Spanish government even on this score, considering that we ourselves had, not long since, acted upon the very same mistaken principles in many of our commercial regulations. The British government had endeavoured, as much as possible, to convince Spain, that the principles on which she acted were utterly fallacious, and that the whole duties in her tariff were fixed on mistaken notions. With the view of effecting a general improvement in our commercial relations? with that country, two proposals had been made by the British cabinet. But he was sorry to say that nothing decisive had yet been done with respect to these proposals; nor could he positively state that any measures were in progress with the view of acceding to them. With respect to the particular branches of trade mentioned by the hon. gentleman, he was not aware of any recent change made by the Spanish government in the duty on cotton, which had been the cause of any special hardship to British merchants. No man could regret more than he did that Spain had placed such restrictions on the cotton trade. But the restriction was not a recent one. In the treaty of 1792, the admission of cottons to the Spanish market was entirely prohibited, and if since then it had been at all permitted, it was only by an act of special indulgence, suspending the operations of that treaty. Yet, after all, Spain was not the only country that acted on the system of restriction and prohibition in commerce. Even we ourselves were still a good deal embarrassed by the restrictions of our own commercial regulations. Still, with respect to the system of the Spanish government, it had produced such effects in many cases, that the strongest remonstrances had been found necessary—so strong, that even the hon. gentleman would not have recommended stronger. These remonstrances, in many cases, had been effectual, and redress had been given; in other instances, the evil had been diminished, though not remedied entirely; and in several instances he was sorry to say, they had been hitherto quite unsuccessful. Still, it would not be fair to entertain strong feelings against Spain on account of this. Even between Great Britain and Ireland there were cases of as great hardship endured, and of as much difficulty, in removing the grievances occasioned by the commercial regulations between the two kingdoms as between great Britain and Spain, or any other foreign power. It was to be hoped, however, that, as those mistaken notions of commercial regulations were gradually abandoned by other nations, the time was near at hand when they would cease to be harboured in Spain.

Mr. Lytlelton

expressed his high satisfaction at the sound and enlightened views of the noble lord, and he hailed their annunciation as propitious to the commercial interests of the country. He trusted they would be acted upon in the councils of the nation, as soon as was compatible with public expediency. What he ad principally complained of, in regard to Spain was, the capricious manner in which the change of duties without notification was made.

Mr. Robinson

said, that, with respect to cottons, there had been a notice given by Spain, in 1815, of her intention to return to her old prohibitory system against them. Sir Henry Wellesley had remonstrated against this, not entirely without success. He was not aware of any recent increase of the duties on iron. It certainly was a grievance that heavy duties should be suddenly imposed on the importation of a particular article of trade; yet this was a grievance which we ourselves had not infrequently occasioned to foreign merchants. For it even now was no uncommon thing (however mistaken the principle unfortunately was) to pass an act, imposing heavy duties on the importation of a particular article, which were to take effect immediately on the passing of the act.

Mr. Lyttelton

said, he was informed it had been the practice of Spain to give six months' notice of any prohibitory duties before they were actually imposed, and the complaint was, that this practice had been discontinued.

Dr. Phillimore

wished to know whether, under the present treaty, persons who, having instituted proceedings in the admiralty court here, had sentence of restitution of captured vessels pronounced in their behalf, were to be referred to the Spanish government for the execution of that sentence? He was induced to ask the question, in consequence of its having been said, that 200,000l. out of the 400,000l. was in lieu of claims for vessels captured, and afterwards restored.

Lord Castlereagh

replied, that persons who had sentence pronounced in their favour, would have a strong equitable claim on the Spanish government. His understanding was, that persons in that situation must look to the Spanish government for indemnity.

Lord Althorp

had no objection to the spirit and object of the treaty, but the laying out of so large a sum of money in pure bounty to the Spanish government, appeared to him very liable to suspicion. We were evidently ambitious of being distinguished as the most charitable of all nations; but could we get credit for lavishing so large a sum out of mere charity, while our own country was in such distress?

Mr. Wilberforce

had no doubt at all that the treaty had proceeded from feelings of the purest humanity; but, viewing it on the coldest principles of commercial calculation, he would say, that it was the wisest treaty that could have been framed. With a view to promote the commercial interests of the country, nothing could be more politically wise and provident, than to possess the inhabitants of Africa with a taste for our manufactures. The provisions of the treaty respecting the abolition of the slave trade were beneficial, not only for ourselves, but for all mankind. But, in a commercial view, it was of incalculable advantage to have the supply of that large tract of country, from the Senegal down to the Niger, an extent of more than 7,500 miles, with the necessaries and gratifications which our manufactures and our commerce afforded. One of the greatest difficulties in repressing the slave trade was, that we could not give the inhabitants of Africa their accustomed gratifications. To obtain these, they often had recourse to the abominable practices of this inhuman traffic. This evil would be, in a great measure, remedied by this treaty. It was, then, he repeated, of vast commercial benefit. Even already, with all the difficulties we had to encounter, our exports to Africa were greatly in- creased. Under the operation of this treaty, they would advance more and more, to the great profit of this country, and to the improvement and happiness of much-injured Africa.

Mr. Calcraft

believed great advantage might arise from the treaty, both as to the advancement of fair trade, and the abolition of the slave trade; but there were other points on which he wished to make an observation: 400,000l. was the sum to be voted for Spain; one-half of that sum, he understood, must be paid to our crews who had captured slave-ships, in order to make restitution of those ships. Was it only the remaining 200,000l. that was to be given to Spain? or were the claims of the captors to be referred to the Spanish government? Those persons would, in that case, be left in a very auk-ward situation. If they had claims to the amount of 200,000l. their claims ought to be satisfied out of this money. To refer them to the Spanish government was doing them much injustice.

Mr. J. P. Grant

observed, that the claims in question were of different kinds. Some of them were yet to be made good. Others were already established, the ships having been condemned. With respect to the latter, he thought a specific sum ought to have been stipulated for their satisfaction.

Mr. W. Smith

thought it was very evident, that other European nations, and France especially, had a common interest with ourselves in observing the conditions of this treaty. France, which was a colonial power, had already abolished the trade as far as it respected her colonies, and, he was ready to admit, did intend to prohibit it generally to all her subjects. It must, therefore, in his opinion, be the interest of France, in whatever light it was viewed, as well as the interest of this country, not to suffer a trade in slaves to be carried on with her colonies, under foreign colours, which she did not allow to her own subjects. He gave his entire approbation to the treaty under consideration.

Sir R. Heron

did not consider the amount of money to be paid to Spain as any objection to the conditions of the treaty, although he could not help regretting, that it was to fall into the coffers of the Spanish treasury at the moment when it might enable that government to effect the subjugation of its revolted colonies. He did not very clearly see why our policy now should so far differ from that of queen Elizabeth, who had considered it important to the interests of this country to protect the rising liberties of the Netherlands.

The resolution was then agreed to.