HC Deb 22 June 1825 vol 13 cc1277-8

On the order of the day for the third reading,

Mr. Robertson

begged to call the attention of the House to the great decrease of shipping in this country, and its increase in other countries, from which the right hon. gentleman near him had lately removed the operation of our old Navigation Laws. From papers which were before the House, it appeared that the increase of foreign shipping engaged in the Baltic trade with us, since the removal of those restraints which formerly existed upon it, was no less than 150,000 tons; and the decrease of British shipping trading to the ports of those vessels was 28,000 tons. The whole foreign commerce that was carried on by this country, and which, during the prevalence of our old navigation laws, was confined almost exclusively to British bottoms, was now transacted, the major part of it at least, in foreign vessels. The proportion between the two descriptions of shipping might be very shortly stated thus—the foreign trade of Great Britain employed of British shipping 660,000 tons; of foreign ditto, 680,000. He did, therefore, earnestly exhort the House to consider well the inevitable consequences to which the measures lately pursued by ministers must tend. Twelve years ago only, what would have been thought of a statement that such was the condition of our trade? How would gentlemen have been alarmed, if it had been stated that our foreign commerce was carried on by vessels of other nations than our own? It was true that our coasting trade was very flourishing, and, including that of Ireland, employed a tonnage of near 1,000,000 tons. The trade with the United States, however, like our foreign commerce, exhibited the same alarming appearances; for it employed British shipping to the amount of 42,000 tons only; but shipping of the United States to the amount of 126,000 tons. He must call such a condition of things most alarming. Let it be remembered that America possessed about an equal share with ourselves of the trade with the continent; and that a very large coasting trade was carried on in her own vessels upon her own coasts. The natural tendency of that trade to increase, presented to his mind the prospect of additional changes to our own trade hereafter. If the right hon. gentleman who had so warmly advocated the fatal alterations in our commercial policy, had wished to devise a project the most hostile to the future welfare of our trade, he could not have hit upon one more entirely calculated to effect such a purpose than that which he had been pursuing. He had been forcibly impressed with this truth the other night, on hearing the speech made by the right hon. gentleman in relation to the Customs' bounties bill. For what appeared from that speech? Why, that we imported from the Baltic, flax, hemp, and timber; and the two first we empowered our manufacturers to convert into canvass and cordage. We allowed them a bounty on the exportation of that cordage and canvass to foreign ports, where they would be used for the rigging and equipment of foreign ships. But, upon the same manufactures, if employed for the use of our own shipping, we actually levied a certain duty. The same inconsistency was observable in respect of the timber trade. The government had imposed a heavy duty upon the importation of the timber of which our ships were built; while in our own ports, to foreign vessels built with timber that had paid no such duties, they gave equal advantages and an equal footing with our own; thereby putting British vessels in a worse situation than the others. He would ask, whether there was any possibility of our being able to compete with them under these circumstances? The fatal effects of the new order of things might not, perhaps, be much felt for some years to come; but, supposing this increase in foreign shipping and decrease in our own to continue, and the trade of the United States with. France, for example, to go on enlarging itself, what was to become of us in the event of a war? Our greatness depended on the greatness of our navy; and in the decay of its strength was involved the failure of our own. In the same spirit the right hon. gentleman had said, on a former evening, that if our seamen chose to enter into such combinations as some of them had engaged in recently, we must employ foreigners; and that if the shipwrights persevered in similar connexions, it would be necessary for our merchants to take up foreign shipping. From propositions like these, fraught with so much danger, he earnestly entreated the House to withhold its sanction.

The bill was read a third time.