HC Deb 17 April 1826 vol 15 cc272-5
Mr. Heathcote

presented a petition from the Ship-owners of Sunderland, setting forth,

"That the Shipping trade of this kingdom, on which the petitioners are dependent for employment and support, has of late been greatly depressed, and the circumstances of the petitioners thereby considerably impoverished; that the cause to which the same is mainly to be attributed is, the operation of the 'Reciprocity of Duties Act,' which, by allowing the importation of articles of foreign merchandize in ships belonging to any country on equal terms with British vessels, gives to foreigners a decided advantage over the subjects of this country, inasmuch as that the former being enabled to build and navigate their ships at a considerably less cost than the petitioners, are consequently in a situation to accept freights at a much lower rate than the petitioners; that a considerable proportion of their shipping is now laid up, the petitioners finding they can only be navigated to a loss, the effects of which will not only be severely felt by themselves, but will also be the cause of much poverty and distress to the working classes dependent on them for employment; that the petitioners beg to refer to the Custom-house returns of British and foreign tonnage employed during the last year, which, when compared with that of the year preceding, they have no doubt will show a very great increase in foreign shipping over British; that the petitioners humbly conceive themselves to be entitled to the protection of the legislature equally with other branches of trade and of agriculture, and hope the House will be pleased to pass a law for levying such a protecting duty on foreign shipping as will enable the petitioners to compete with foreigners in the freight market, without which the petitioners find they must shortly be reduced to a state of comparative poverty; the petitioners, therefore, humbly pray, That the House will take their case into their serious consideration, and afford them such relief as in their wisdom may seem meet and proper."

Sir M. W. Ridley

supported the petition, and wished that the president and vice-president of the Board of Trade were in their places, as this was a subject deserving the gravest consideration of govern- ment. It was not a little extraordinary to observe, that between 1821 and 1825 the tonnage of British and foreign shipping engaged in our trade having been doubled, the foreign shipping had increased in equal proportion with the British. Another circumstance worthy of remark was, that there was uniformly an increase in the shipping of those countries with which we had entered into commercial treaties, while there was no increase of the shipping of those countries with which we were not bound by any such treaties. He did not say that the increase of foreign shipping was hurtful to the trade of the country; but it was clearly calculated to injure our carrying trade, and to counteract, in that degree, the great nursery of our seamen.

Mr. Heathcote

said, that the facts proved by the returns on the table ought to be sufficient at once to induce ministers to take up the consideration of this very important subject. The following would show, in one view, the slow progress which British shipping had made within this year:—

Ships. Tonnage. Men.
1824 11,733 1,797,320 108,700
1825 13,517 2,144,680 123,120
1,784 347,360 14,420
1824 3,389 469,151 28,421
1825 6,967 958,050 52,630
Mr. Sykes

expressed his concurrence in the sentiments of the hon. member who had preceded him.

Mr. Baring

observed upon the absence of ministers from the House at that period of the evening; then near six o'clock. Here were petitions before the House involving questions of the highest interest to the country, and there was not one minister of the Crown in his place to give any opinion or information respecting them. The House of Commons, he must say, was not accustomed to be treated with such disrespect. With reference to the Reciprocity system, he was one who had concurred in the experiment being tried; but only as an experiment. He must admit that, as far as it had gone, it had failed. He should like, however, to hear what the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade had to say upon the subject. He wished to know what had been the cause of the present appearances, and what was expected to be the future results of the experiment. He was inclined to think the experiment had not yet been sufficiently tried. The worst result undoubtedly was, that those powers with whom the Reciprocity treaties had been made, showed an increase in the employment of their own shipping; but it was, at the same time, to be borne, in mind, that this increase had taken place without any diminution upon the total of ours. The whole question was one of the highest importance; and it would be useless for him to add, that it was a question not only of national wealth, but of national power.

Mr. Robertson

thought that the hon. gentlemen opposite, who had urged ministers to these experiments, saw now sufficient reason for retracing their steps. While the taxes of the country were so heavy, it was impossible we could compete with the foreigner.

Mr. Hume

was also sorry that ministers were not present, when a subject of so much importance was before the House. If they had been in their seats, he would have recalled to their memory, the speech delivered by the late Mr. Ricardo, when the Reciprocity Duties bill was under debate. He had stated distinctly, on that occasion, that if this country acted upon the system of reciprocity, without repealing the heavy duties by which the shipping interest were pressed down, the consequence would be, beyond all doubt, that we should lose that branch of our trade; and he had voted for the bill only on the understanding, that in the ensuing session all those duties would be removed. He entirely concurred in Mr. Ricardo's opinion. If the taxes on our navigation were repealed, he believed that, under the freest competition, British shipping would keep their ground against all rivals, from every part of the world; but for that purpose it was essential that the whole of the taxes should be abolished on hemp, timber, iron, tallow, and all other commodities consumed by the shipping interest.

Mr. Irving

said, it was a fact much to be deplored, but undoubtedly true, that the employment of British shipping was now confined to the colonial trade; and he regretted to observe, that there was a set of persons seeking, night after night, to destroy that interest. Almost the whole of the navigation of the countries, that had adopted the reciprocity system, was carried on by foreigners.

Ordered to lie on the table.