§ Mr. Huskisson
rose, and spoke, in substance, as follows:*—
Sir:—In the course of the last session of parliament the hon. member for Gram-pound (Mr. Robertson) frequently took occasion to indulge himself in certain oracular denunciations, foreboding the ruin of this country, as the result of the commercial and foreign policy of the government. At that period the commerce of the country, it must be allowed, was at least sufficiently active, and the demand for mercantile shipping greater, perhaps, than had ever before occurred. Whether from these circumstances, or from the solemn tone of mystery in which the hon. member's denunciations were delivered, they did not, at the time, make any considerable impression, either in this House, or out of doors.
Recently, however, a variety of petitions has been presented to parliament, from persons connected with the port of London, and with several other commercial towns, expressing their apprehensions, that the shipping interest is in a state of decay, and that the foundations of the prosperity and security of the country are, in consequence, likely to be undermined. When such impressions have been created in quarters where the authority of the petitioners, so far as their observations go, is entitled to the greatest consideration, I trust that no apology will be requisite, for claiming the attention of the House—or at least of that portion of it, who are now present—to a subject of such vital importance to the maritime power and greatness of the country. I am well aware of the reluctance which hon. gentlemen must feel to a statement, from its nature, necessarily dry and te-* From the original edition, printed for Hatchard and Son.1145 dious; but, I am also aware, that the matter involved in it is of too much importance not to demand the deepest attention; for, if the fears expressed in the petitions on the table of the House be well-founded, it is scarcely necessary for me to say that the sooner an inquiry takes place the better.
The House, Sir, is aware, that our navigation laws have a two-fold object. First, to create and maintain in this country a great commercial marine; and secondly—(an object not less important in the eyes of statesmen)—to prevent any one other nation from engrossing too large a portion of the navigation of the rest of the world.
Acting upon this system, the general rule of our policy has been to limit, as much as possible, the right of importing the productions of foreign countries into this country, either to ships of the producing country, or to British ships.
There certainly have been exceptions to this general rule, but it is the broad principle upon which the navigation system of this country was founded; and it is obvious, that the motives for adopting that system were, first, that such portion of the carrying trade of foreign countries as does not devolve to British shipping should be divided, as equally as possible, amongst the other maritime states, and not engrossed by any one of them in particular; and secondly, that countries entertaining relations of commerce with this country, and not possessing shipping of their own, should export their produce to England in British ships only, instead of employing the vessels of any third power.
But, when I state that the first object of our navigation system was to create and uphold a great commercial marine, I think I may add, without fear of contradiction, that that object could not have been effected solely by regulations, restrictions, or prohibitions, however judiciously devised. The only true and durable foundation of a large commercial marine is to be laid in the means of affording to it beneficial employment. Without such employment—without, in short, extensive commerce, and great capital, to sustain and invigorate that commerce—nolaws, merely protective, will avail. Whatever, therefore, contributes to extend the general commerce of the country must, incidentally—I may almost say directly,—contribute also to improve and extend its navigation. These two great elements of our power 1146 and wealth are, of necessity, closely and intimately connected. I do not mean to say that their interests are always identified. I know they are not so. I know full well, that every thing which interferes with the freedom of commerce is more or less disadvantageous to the capitals which are employed in it. I am ready to admit, as consistent with this general principle, that the regulations of our navigation system, however salutary they may be, must, more or less, act as a restraint on that freedom of commercial pursuit, which it is desirable should be open to those who have capital to employ. I am, however, at the same time, bound to say, that those regulations are founded on the first and paramount law of every state,—the highest ground of political necessity,—the necessity of providing for our own safety and defence; the necessity of being prepared to afford security to our numerous colonial possessions scattered throughout all the seas of the world; the necessity of protecting the different branches of our widely-spread commerce, against all the risks attendant on a state of war; and lastly, the necessity of preserving our ascendancy on the ocean, and thereby sustaining the high station in the rank of nations, which that ascendancy, more than any other circumstance, has given to this country.
Entertaining these opinions, I am as ready as any man can possibly be, to say that it is our duty, on all occasions, to look to the peculiar nature of this state necessity; and that, whenever the interests of commerce and navigation cannot be reconciled, the feeling which ought to be uppermost in our minds should be (I, Sir, have no hesitation in stating it to be my feeling), that the interests of commerce, in all such instances, ought to give way, and those of navigation to have the preference.
I trust that I have, in this brief statement, now placed myself fairly before the House. And, if the measures recently adopted by his majesty's government have laid this country open to the danger with which, according to some, it is threatened, certainly I have imposed on myself no light task, in attempting to vindicate and defend those measures.
I begin with laying it down as a general position, that, in looking to the interest of the ship-owner, we ought not to cramp commerce beyond the degree which state necessity requires for the protection of 1147 our navigation. I say that, apart from the considerations upon which the navigation laws were founded, we are bound not to depress one branch of industry, in order to give undue encouragement to another.
The questions, therefore, which we have to consider are these—
First; whether the alterations which have been made in the system of our navigation laws have or have not exposed the great public interests, for the support of which that system was established, to jeopardy and hazard?
Secondly; whether those alterations are such as to have placed any particular branches of the shipping interests of the country in a situation of difficulty, such as to entitle them to specific consideration?
Thirdly; whether, in the alterations which have been adopted, his majesty's government have been actuated by a mere gratuitous desire to make experiments, and to try the effect of innovation; or whether those alterations, even if attended with some inconvenience to particular interests, were not called for by circumstances, in order to obviate greater inconvenience which might have arisen to the general interest if we had rigidly persisted in the course which we formerly pursued?
Now, Sir, before I join issue with those who call in question the necessity or expediency of the alterations which have been made in the system of our navigation laws, the House will, perhaps, permit me shortly to recall to their recollection the principal outlines of that system; a course which is necessary, in order to mark more distinctly the alterations which have been made in it.
The great charter of the Navigation system of this country is the act of the twelfth of Charles the second. The different modes which that act provided for the encouragement of shipping, may be arranged under the five following heads:
First, the Fisheries. The ocean is a common field, alike open to all the people of the earth. Its productions belong to no particular nation. It was, therefore, our interest to take care that so much of those productions as might be wanted for the consumption of Great Britain, should be exclusively procured by British industry, and imported in British ships. This is so simple and reasonable a rule, that, in this part of our navigation system, no altera- 1148 tion whatever has been made; nor do I believe that any will ever be contemplated.
The second object which the navigation laws had in view was, to give to the shipping of this country, employment in what is called the coasting trade. When those laws were first passed, that trade was confined to England only, but, since we have become legislatively united with Scotland and with Ireland, it has embraced the whole of the British islands. In this important part of our policy also there appears to be no motive for alteration. I shall, therefore, dismiss it with a single observation. The law, in this respect, remains unchanged, and will remain unchanged, so long as we have a desire to maintain a great commercial marine.
The third object of our navigation system was the European trade. The rule laid down, with regard to that trade, was, that the ships of the other states of Europe were to be at liberty to bring, from any port in Europe, any article of European production, with the exception of certain articles, since known in trade by the name of the "enumerated articles." They amount in number to twenty-eight, and include those commodities which, being of the most bulky nature, employ the greatest quantity of shipping. With respect to these "enumerated articles," the exception was this; that they should not be brought to our ports in any other than British ships, or ships of the country in which they were produced, proceeding directly from such country to this. This was the general state of the law in respect to European commerce from the time of its enactment in the twelfth of Charles the second, down to a recent period. Its provisions, however, were more rigorous and exclusive towards Holland and the Low Countries. The regulations of that period were not framed merely for the preservation and encouragement of our own commerce, but also to weaken the powerful marine of Holland. Guided by this policy our ancestors applied more severe measures towards the Dutch than they thought necessary towards any other nation. In this spirit it was, that they prohibited the importation, generally, of the productions of the other countries of Europe from Holland; instead of confining that prohibition to the twenty-eight enumerated articles.
The fourth object of our navigation system was to regulate our Commerce 1149 with Asia, Africa, and America. The rule of law on this head was, that no article, the produce of either of those three quarters of the globe, should be allowed to be brought into an English port, except in a British ship.
The fifth and last part of the system of our navigation laws related to our colonies. The principle on which we acted towards those colonies was strictly to confine them, in all matters of trade, to an intercourse with the mother country. They were not allowed to dispose of any of their produce, otherwise than by sending it in British vessels to this country. They were equally restricted from receiving any articles necessary for their consumption, except from this country, and in British bottoms.
This, I apprehend, is a fair summary of the main points of encouragement to the shipping interest of Great Britain, and of repression of the shipping of other states, aimed at by our navigation laws, as those laws existed from the twelfth of Charles the second down to the year 1783. In mentioning this latter period, I advert to it now as the commencement of that mighty change in the state of the world, the foundation of which had been then laid in the progress, and unfortunate issue, of the American war. But, before I state what that change has been, so far as relates to navigation and commerce, I shall, perhaps, be permitted briefly to notice some of the circumstances which had prepared the way for this calamitous contest: the result of which, as I shall show presently, rendered the revision of our navigation system a matter no longer of choice but of necessity;—a result, which, in its consequences, in less than half a century, has dragged after it nearly the whole colonial system of the old world.
Sir, the war which began in the year 1756, commonly called the Seven Years' War, was, strictly speaking, so far as relates to this country and to the Bourbon governments of France and Spain, a war for colonial privileges, colonial claims, and colonial ascendancy. In the course of that war, British skill and British valour placed in the hands of this country Quebec and the Havannah. By the capture of these fortresses, Great Britain became mistress of the colonial destinies of the Western world. What use we made of our successes in that quarter, I will not now stop to inquire.
1150 But if the proceedings of the government of this country, after the peace of 1763, be closely examined, we shall find, that many of the causes which, ten years afterwards, led to the unfortunate rupture with our then colonies, now the United States of America, may be traced to our unseasonable attempts to enforce, in their most rigid and exclusive application, our colonial and navigation system. Every complaint, every petition, every remonstrance, against the oppressive tendency, and vexatious consequences, of that system, on the part of the inhabitants of New England,—every temperate effort made by them to obtain some slight relaxation of the trammels that shackled their disposition to engage in commercial enterprise,—were only met, on the part of the British government, by a constant succession of new laws enforcing still more restrictive regulations, framed in a spirit of still more vexatious interference. One instance of the character of that legislation will be sufficient; and I give it, as a slight specimen of the commercial jealousy which prevailed in our councils, in reference both to the colonies and to Ireland.
A ship from our American possessions, laden with their produce, was stranded on the coast of Ireland. It will naturally be supposed, that the cargo was landed, and the ship repaired, in that country. No such thing. The law compelled the owners to send another English ship from England, for the purpose of bringing away the cargo—a cargo which, not improbably, might then be wanted in the Irish market, and which was, perhaps, destined to be ultimately consumed there, after having been trans-shipped in a port of that country, landed in an English port, and again re-shipped to Ireland.
This is a sample of the real grievances under which our American colonies laboured. Such a state of law could not fail to engender great dissatisfaction, and much heart-burning. It is generally believed, that the attempt to tax our American colonies without their consent was the sole cause of the separation of those colonies from the mother country. But, if the whole history of the period between the year 1763 and the year 1773 be attentively examined, it will, I think, be abundantly evident, that, however the attempt at taxation may have contributed somewhat to hasten the explosion, the train had been long laid, in the severe 1151 and exasperating efforts of this country, to enforce, with inopportune and increasing vigour, the strictest and most annoying regulations of our colonial and navigation code. Every petty adventure in which the colonists embarked was viewed by the merchants of this country and the Board of Trade of that day, as an encroachment on the commercial monopoly of Great Britain. The professional subtlety of lawyers, and the practical ingenuity of Custom-house officers, were constantly at work, in ministering to the jealous, but mistaken views of our seaports. Blind to the consequences elsewhere they persevered in their attempts to put down the spirit of commercial enterprise in the people of New England, until those attempts roused a very different spirit;—that spirit which ventured to look for political independence from the issue of a successful rebellion.
The result is well known. The country found itself engaged in a civil war. That war, in its progress, involved us in the greatest difficulty and embarrassment. It was terminated by submitting to humiliations such as, I trust to God, the Crown of Great Britain will never again be exposed to.
America was not the only part of our dominions in which we were called to pay the penalty of humiliation. Ireland, towards which we had acted in the same spirit of commercial jealousy as towards our American colonies, took advantage of our difficulties, and refused any longer to hold her industry and trade subject to our system of exclusion. To the Parliament and Volunteers of Ireland we had also to capitulate. If the capitulation was mortifying to the pride of England, fortunately it neither compromised our honour, nor involved any concession beyond what was strictly a debt of justice to Ireland. The benefits of our commercial and navigation system were extended to her. She was permitted to trade direct to the colonies, and placed rather upon the footing of a partner than that of a dependent, in the concerns of the British empire.
If I have gone into this detail, I have done so because it appeared to me necessary, as bearing in a peculiar manner upon the question now before the House. The immediate lesson which I draw from it is this—that it is a part of political wisdom, when danger is foreseen, not supinely to wait for its approach, but, as 1152 far as possible, to take timely measures for its prevention.
The peace with America gave the first great blow to the navigation system of this country. There had now arisen an independent state in the New World. Our colonies had fought for, and had taken, a station in the rank of nations. They had now interests in navigation to attend to, and a commerce of their own to protect. It therefore became imperative on this country, unless we were prepared to relinquish all trade with America, to conform to circumstances. It was impossible for us, in this new state of things, to enforce the system of our navigation laws, which, until then, we had so rigidly insisted upon. That part of the system which provided, that none of the productions of Asia, Africa, or America, should be imported into England, except in British vessels, could no longer be adhered to.
After the peace of 1783, and before the general congress of America had established that system of government under which the people of the United States now live,—a work which was not completed until the year 1787,—each of the different states then composing the union was at liberty to act independently of the others, in matters relating to its trade with foreign countries. Accordingly, almost every state established a different rule of commercial intercourse with this country. The general character, however, of their legislation was conceived in a spirit of peculiar hostility (not unnatural, perhaps, so soon after the exasperation excited by civil discord) against trade with Great Britain. In some of those states, indeed, British merchants were prohibited from trading with them altogether: in others, heavier duties were specifically imposed upon British merchandise; and in all, a desire was manifested to give a decided preference to the goods of other countries.
This state of things continued until the year 1787, when the general congress met, and one uniform system of commercial policy was laid down. By that system, a heavy blow was aimed at the navigation of this country. It was resolved, that all foreign ships trading to America should pay half a dollar,—which was afterwards raised to a dollar,—per too duty, beyond what was paid by national ships. And further, that goods imported in foreign vessels should pay a duty of tea per cent, over and above what was de- 1153 mandable on the same description of goods imported in American vessels.
This system—in the adoption of which, the Americans had, in a considerable degree, followed the example of their English ancestors—was likely to become seriously prejudicial to the commerce and navigation of this country. The proper authorities, therefore, set about considering what was to be done in order to counteract it. The Board of Trade had recourse, for advice, to the most eminent merchants and practical men; and various projects were started on the occasion. One plan proposed to give a bounty on all goods exported to America in British ships. Another, to impose a duty on all articles carried out of this country in American ships. A third, to retaliate upon the Americans, and, following their example, to lay a specific duty on American ships, and on goods imported in those ships. These and various other plans, having the same object in view, on being sifted and examined, were found to be open to insuperable objections. It was shown that, without attaining their object, they would prove injurious to the commerce and manufactures of this country; and all of them were, in consequence, abandoned.
After this inquiry, and a long struggle to counteract the navigation system of America, without in any degree relaxing our own, this country found it necessary to adopt the system of reciprocity, on which, since the year 1815, the commercial intercourse between the two countries has been placed; namely, equality of all charges upon the ships belonging to either country in the ports of the other, and a like equality of duty upon all articles the production of the one country, imported into the other, whether such importation be made in the ships of the one or the other. In the practical consequences of this arrangement, our adherence to another part of our navigation laws, instead of serving, appears to me to have shackled the shipping interest of this country. Our law still provides that goods, the produce of Asia, Africa, or America, shall not be imported in foreign ships, unless they be the ships of the country of which the goods are the produce. The Americans retaliate this restriction by applying it to all goods the produce of Europe. An American ship trading to this country has, in consequence, a great advantage over a British ship trading to America. 1154 The American vessel, on her voyage to England, is freighted with a cargo wholly produced in the United States. She has nothing else to bring here. For her return to America she may load in the ports of this country with a cargo, partly the produce or manufacture of Great Britain, and partly of any other country. The British ship is debarred from this advantage. Her cargo, when trading to the United States, must be exclusively of British origin. For instance, an American vessel, at the port of Liverpool, may take nine-tenths of her cargo, in articles the produce of Lancashire, and the remainder may be made up of brandies, wines, or the produce of any other part of the world, to be procured at Liverpool. But, if an English ship, proceeding to the United States, were to take a single cask of brandy, or a single pipe of wine, she would be liable to seizure and forfeiture. Is it not, therefore, fairly to be presumed, that a further relaxation of our system, to the extent of allowing the importation, from the United States, of goods, the produce of any part of the world, in American shipping, on condition of the like privilege being granted to British ships in the ports of the United States,—however departing from the policy of our ancestors,—would be rather an advantage than an injury to the shipping interest?
Shortly after the commercial legislation of the United States had assumed, in 1787, a regular shape, and an uniform character, the war of the French Revolution broke out; a war which lasted nearly a quarter of a century. The course of this war was marked by so many strange and anomalous circumstances, both by land and upon the ocean;—so large a portion of the continent of Europe, including nearly all its trading and maritime communities, became subjected to the despotism of one great military power;—that despotism was exerted in so extraordinary a manner to crush maritime commerce;—that it would be vain to enter upon the history of our navigation system, or of that of other countries, during this long contest. It is, however, certain that the commerce of the United States of America, which were the only, at least almost the only, neutral power that could trade in safety, was greatly benefitted by the war. It is equally true, that Great Britain, being well able to protect her commercial marine, in consequence of her vast naval superiority, did extend that commercial 1155 marine, in spite of all difficulties, whilst that of the other countries of Europe was greatly reduced. It is unnecessary for me, as the facts are so well known, to dwell further on the circumstances of that war. We may, therefore, as far as relates to the present question, pass over the period between 1792 and 1815.
At the latter period, peace being restored, and with it, the independence of the states which had been incorporated with France, the commerce of the world began to revert to its ancient channels. The nations of Europe whose flags had, for so long a series of years, disappeared from the ocean, were now naturally anxious that their own trade should be carried on in their own ships. This gave a check to the shipping of the United States, which was also felt by the shipping of this country. Perhaps in a greater degree by our own shipping, in consequence of the restitution of several extensive and valuable colonies, which we had captured and held during the war.
Besides this material circumstance, there were others, to which I will briefly advert, which had a natural and inevitable tendency to interfere with, and diminish, the employment for shipping in this country.
The first to which I shall allude is the abolition of the Slave-trade. They who are old enough to remember,—and I am one of the number,—the early debates which took place on this subject, will recollect, that the arguments in opposition to the measure were grounded chiefly on the danger with which it threatened the shipping interests of the country. The necessity of kidnapping cargoes of slaves on the coast of Africa was, at that time, as coolly defended, on the score of encouragement to our marine, as the taking of cod-fish on the banks of Newfoundland could be at the present day. That traffic was, however, abolished in 1806; and, happy I am, that the interest of humanity, and the honour of the English name, were from that year no longer sacrificed to the plea of the shipping interest; though I may, I think, fairly adduce the abolition of the Slave-trade as having taken away one source of employment.
After the general pacification of Europe, but before we dismantled our fleet, we insisted on the powers of Barbary desisting from the practices of maritime warfare, carried on by cruizers under their flags, in the Mediterranean. These corsairs 1156 were constantly taking prisoners either for the sake of ransom, or for the purpose of carrying them into slavery. Whilst this system was tolerated, scarcely any trading vessels, those of Great Britain excepted, could navigate that sea in safety. In this state of things, it was highly honourable to this country to have used her naval power,—the dread of which had constantly ensured respect for her own flag, —for the purpose of procuring an equal degree of security for the navigation of all christian states. This was no positive duty which we were bound to perform. We were not called upon by any international engagement, nor by any moral obligation, as in the case of the slave trade. The act was one of spontaneous generosity. But, however high-minded in principle, it is not the less true that the result; of our interference was injurious to the shipping interests of this country, in the Mediterranean. Since the bombardment of Algiers, the flag of every petty state, bordering on that sea, floats in equal security with our own. I am not accurately informed what was the quantity of British shipping employed in the carrying and coasting trade of those states before this change, but I have heard it stated, in this House, by one likely to be well informed, —the late Mr. Marryat,—that from eight to ten thousand British seamen, and from seven to eight hundred British vessels, were engaged in that commerce. Consequently, to that extent has the employment for British ships been diminished in the Mediterranean.
But these were not the only circumstances, at the close of the late war, which had a tendency to reduce the amount of our shipping. With the termination of hostilities, there was necessarily a diminished demand for ships in the public service. The greatest proportion of those which had been taken up as hired transports were discharged. I have obtained a statement of their number and tonnage, as they stood at the termination of the war— and of the number and tonnage of those employed at the present period. The diminution is not less than, 1,226 vessels, amounting to 270,382 tons.
In the next place, we had to sell out of the king's service a number of vessels which were no longer wanted in the navy. I do not advert to ships of the line, or to. frigates of the large class, which are always sold, subject to the condition, that they shall be broken up. Of this latter 1157 description of ships I take no notice; but confine my statement to vessels of smaller burthen, adapted to other purposes than those of war, and which are consequently not required to be so broken up. Of this class, there has been sold no less a number than 383, the amount of their tonnage being 93,530 tons. So that, if we add to the number of transports discharged the number of ships sold, we shall find that his majesty's government have set free, to compete with the commercial marine of the country, 1,559 vessels, amounting in tonnage to 363,912 tons; a quantity nearly equal to one-fourth of the whole shipping of the country, as it stood in the year 1793, at the commencement of the late war.
But this is not all. If the difference of circumstances under which trade is carried on, in time of peace and in time of war, be taken into consideration, we shall find that, in the former period, a much smaller number of vessels is required for the same extent of transactions, than in the latter. In time of peace, the moment a ship has landed her cargo, she is at liberty to sail again, and is despatched on another voyage as soon as possible. During the last war we were obliged, in almost all cases, to place our merchant-ships under the protection of convoy; and, in spite of nil the exertions of the Admiralty, it was frequently difficult to provide convoys as expeditiously as the interests of commerce would have required. Four or five hundred merchant-men were sometimes collected together at one point, before the required protection could be afforded to them. And when, at length, these large bodies of shipping did proceed to sea, they were under the necessity of keeping together; so that the rate of sailing, during a whole voyage, was necessarily to be regulated by the progress of the slowest sailing vessel. In time of peace it is otherwise. Ships can then traverse the ocean singly without fear of interruption; and in their passage from one port to another, as well as in loading and unloading, every exertion is used to ensure despatch. An instance occurred lately, at Liverpool, of a large West-India-man arriving from Barbadoes, landing her cargo, and sailing again for that island in the course of one week. The multiplication and convenience of docks have also greatly contributed to obviate delay in the discharge and loading of vessels. Upon the whole, I shall not be overstating the propor- 1158 tion when I say that two-thirds of the number of vessels, necessary in time of war are fully sufficient for all the purposes of the same extent of commerce, in time of peace.
There is yet another circumstance to which, before I quit this part of the subject, I must refer. I mean the alteration made in the year 1815, in the foreign-corn trade of the country. During the war, this trade afforded regular employment to no inconsiderable quantity of shipping, but since the law has been altered, and the ports have been generally shut against the importation of foreign corn, that employment has ceased. In a desultory intercourse like that which alone can exist under the present law, the opening of the ports being sudden, and, in most cases, uncertain, till the quarterly average is declared, it is almost impossible that the trade, when permitted, should not fall into the hands of the foreign ship-owner. The period for which the ports may continue open being limited to a few weeks, the persons who wish to take advantage of that opening, instead of fitting out ships in our ports, send their orders to the continent, with directions to forward the corn by any vessels that can be procured on the spot. Hence the almost exclusive employment of foreign shipping in this occasional trade.
I must now crave the indulgence of the House while I show what was the situation of this country, with regard to its shipping, previous to the last war. In 1792, one of the most prosperous years which the country has ever known,—the year immediately preceding the breaking out of that war in which we were called upon to make such immense efforts to maintain our naval superiority,—the number of registered ships in the several ports of the British empire was 16,079; the amount of their tonnage 1,540,145 tons. In the present year, that is to say, in the year ended the 31st of December 1825, the number of registered ships was 24,174; and the amount of their tonnage 2,542,216 tons; showing an increase of one-third in the number of ships, and of two-fifths in the tonnage, within that period.
Having stated the number and tonnage of our registered vessels at the commencement of the late war, I will now show what they were at its close. In 1815, the number was 24,860, and the amount of their tonnage 2,681,276 tons. It appears, therefore, that there has been, since the conclu- 1159 sion of the war, a decrease in our shipping of 686 vessels, and 139,060 tons; but I have, I think, shown satisfactorily that, upon the return of peace in 1815, our commercial marine was greatly in excess of what was requisite in the then altered situation of the country.
As connected with this part of our inquiry, it is material to ascertain the number of vessels that have been built in the British dominions, since the termination of the late war, and to compare it with the number built in former periods. It is with much satisfaction that I find myself enabled to assure the House that, taking the last thirty-seven years, the number of ships annually built in Great Britain, instead of decreasing, has increased. The documents which prove the correctness of this statement are already upon the table of the House, with the exception of those for the year 1812, which, in consequence of the calamitous fire at the Custom-house in that year, could not be procured.
From the returns which I hold in my hand, I find that the number of ships built last year, in the several ports of the British dominions, exceeded the number built in any one year of the whole period to which I have referred. In the year 1814, when the war with France first terminated, the number of ships built was 818; the amount of their tonnage 95,976 tons. Last year, the number of ships built was 1,312; the amount of their tonnage 171,827 tons. So that, in fact, the tonnage of the ships built last year was little short of double the tonnage of those built in the year 1814, and exceeded considerably that of any year upon record.
These details, however dry in themselves, appear to me to involve the elements of the whole question, and to afford the best criterion by which a judgment can be formed, how far the complaints which represent our shipping to have been in a state of rapid decline are well-founded. The only other comparison, growing out of the documents which I hold in my hand, is that of the number of ships which have entered inwards, and cleared outwards, to and from the ports of Great Britain, in the several years since the alterations which are objected to in our navigation laws.
I have provided myself with a return exhibiting this comparison, from the year 1814 down to the last year; and I intreat the House to bear in mind that the complaint in the petition on the table is, that 1160 in consequence of the alteration made in the navigation laws within the last three or four years, the employment of British shipping has decreased, and that of foreign vessels trading with this country has increased. I will confine the comparison to the returns of vessels, British and foreign, entering inwards; and for this reason— that it is not necessary for ships leaving our ports in ballast, to clear out at all, and therefore the returns exhibiting the number of vessels cleared outwards must be very imperfect.
I find that, in the year ended the 25th of December, 1824, the number of British vessels that entered inwards was 19,164, and the amount of their tonnage 2,364,249 tons. The number of foreign vessels that entered inwards, during the same year, was 5,280, the amount of their tonnage being 694,880 tons. In the year ended the 25th of December, 1825,—a year in which the modifications made in our navigation laws were in full operation,— the number of British vessels that entered inwards was 21,786; the amount of their tonnage 2,786,844 tons. The number of foreign vessels that entered inwards in that year had increased to 6,561, and the amount of their tonnage to 892,601 tons. The year 1825 was, it is well known, a year of unexampled speculation in every branch of commerce, creating an unusual demand for shipping, not only in the ports of this country, but throughout Europe. And what, as regards British shipping, was the result? Why, that the positive increase of British vessels entered inwards, as compared with the year 1824, was 2,622; and of tonnage422,595 tons; while the increase of foreign vessels entered inwards, during the same year, was in number 1,281; and in tonnage 197,721 tons. This at least is no unsatisfactory result. The increased employment of British shipping alone in that year exceeds the aggregate increase of employment to the shipping of all other nations of the world.
But, as the attention of the House has been specially referred, by the petitioners, to the state of the trade between this country and the northern parts of Europe, and more especially to the trade with Prussia, I must beg leave to enter rather more specifically into that part of their case. I am happy to be able to state, upon the authority of documents which will be laid on the table of the House, that by a comparison between the British and Prussian shipping engaged in the trade between the 1161 two countries, during the years 1824 and 1825, the increase of British was much greater than that of Prussian shipping in the latter year. The number of British ships trading to the ports of Prussia in the year 1824 was 470; in the year 1825, 942; being more than double the number of the preceding year. The number of Prussian ships which came to this country, in the year 1824, was 682; in 1825 the number was 887; being an increase of about one-fourth.
Such, Sir, if any inference is to be deduced from the trade between Prussia and Great Britain for the last year, is the comparative growth of British and Prussian navigation. I am aware that the danger of losing our carrying trade, from the ports of the Baltic, has been the main source of the jealousy felt by the shipping interest, and of their complaints to this House. The comparison between British and Prussian shipping for the two or three last years, and especially that of the year 1825, has certainly not borne out their predictions, or justified their alarms. But it would be uncandid to deny, that we have not yet sufficient experience to warrant a positive conclusion that, prospectively, the shipping of the Prussian ports may not gain ground in the competition with our own. I am the more induced to make this remark, as, from the excessive excitement, and over-trading of the last year, I am ready to acknowledge that, taken by itself, it cannot be considered as affording an estimate for the future: neither, on the other hand, perhaps, will it be fair, in 1827, to form such an estimate from the experience of the present year, which, it is much to be feared, as a natural consequence of late excess, will be one of severe depression in the trade of this country.
Having adverted to the apprehensions which are entertained respecting our trade with the ports of the Baltic, I have naturally been most anxious to sift to the bottom this important part of our inquiry. I know no mode so satisfactory of ascertaining what have been the fluctuations in the trade, either as respects our own share of it, at different periods, or the proportion which that share bears to the trade of other powers with the ports of the Baltic, as a reference to the annual returns of the vessels of all nations which have passed the Sound in a given number of years. Fortunately, the State-paper office has furnished me with these returns. This ac- 1162 count I hold in my hand, from the year 1783 to the year 1792, with the exception of the year 1789; the returns for which year have been either lost or mislaid. I also hold in my hand a similar account, from the year 1816 to the year 1825, both inclusive. The comparison of these two periods, each of ten years (both periods of peace), appears to me to afford a fair illustration of this branch of trade. I am happy to say that the result will be found highly satisfactory; for it will be seen that the number of British ships which passed the Sound in the year 1825, was not only positively greater than it was in any one of the twenty years to which I have referred, but that its proportion, with respect to the number of vessels from all other nations, was equally favourable to this country. It would be going into an unnecessary detail to give the numbers for every year of the twenty. I shall, therefore, confine myself to the five last years. The total number of ships which passed the Sound was;—
So that, looking at the proportion which Great Britain has been able to retain of the trade of the Baltic, it appears that, last year, when the total number of vessels which passed the Sound exceeded that of any former year, British shipping engrossed considerably more than one-third of the whole navigation of that sea, and had increased very nearly two-fifths, compared with the average of the four preceding years. The papers to which I have referred I propose to move for, so that the House will be able to judge from them of the correctness of my statement.
British Ships. Ships of all other Nations. In the year 1821 2,819 6,358 In the year 1822 3,097 5,386 In the year 1823 3,016 6,187 In the year 1824 3,540 6,978 In the year 1825 5,186 7,974
In consequence of the restoration of peace, the demand for shipping, as I have already remarked, was much diminished, and the rates of freight were considerably lowered after the year 1815. This gave rise to great complaints on the part of the shipping interest. In the hope of finding same remedy for their difficulties, the House, in the year 1820, appointed a select committee to inquire into the state of our foreign commerce. My right hon. friend, the master of the Mint, now absent, I am sorry to say, from indisposition, presided over the labours of that committee, 1163 and prosecuted the inquiry, in several succeeding sessions, with a degree of zeal, diligence, and ability, for which the country is greatly indebted to my right hon. friend. One change recommended by that committee, in the navigation laws, was to the following effect;—that whereas certain goods which I have already described as known in trade under the designation of "enumerated articles," could only be imported in British ships, or in ships of the country in Europe of which they were the produce, and directly from that country, it was the opinion of the committee that the law ought to be so far relaxed, as to allow the importation of these articles in the ships of any country into which they had been previously imported.
The recommendation of the committee was adopted by the legislature. That this relaxation has been beneficial to our commerce and navigation is now, I believe, placed, beyond all doubt. It afforded a great facility to the execution of another project, emanating from the same committee, and since also carried into effect;—that of establishing a general system of warehousing, so as to make this Country a place of entrepôt for all foreign commodities. It was obviously impossible to give full scope to this system, unless we were prepared to allow greater latitude to the admission of foreign goods. The superior capital and credit of this country afford inducements to send those goods here, and their being deposited in British warehouses gives a facility to the British merchant and ship-owner to supply the demand for them in other parts of the world, through the medium of British adventure and British shipping, instead of their being sent directly to those parts in foreign shipping, from the countries of Europe in which such goods are produced.
It was desirable, therefore, for the interest of our foreign trade, that we should no longer rigidly adhere to that part of the Navigation act which prohibited the importation of the "enumerated articles," if brought from countries other than those of which they were the produce. Such a restraint, it is hardly necessary to say, could not fail frequently to prevent speculations of trade, in which the spirit of British enterprise would have otherwise engaged, or to throw those speculations into other channels. It interfered, likewise, to prevent the advantageous assortment of cargoes, and other commercial arrange- 1164 ments, as well in foreign ports as in the ports of this country; and, in this and many other ways, contributed, directly and indirectly, to diminish the employment for British shipping.
Another alteration in our navigation system has since been adopted, which certainly ought not to have been so long delayed. This alteration consists in putting the trade between Great Britain and Ireland upon the footing of a coasting trade. Every gentleman must, I think, see that, from the time at least of the union of the two countries, it was desirable that their interest and commercial system should be identified as much as possible. From that period it was absurd to consider the commercial intercourse with Ireland as a part of our foreign trade, and to subject the shipping employed in it to the restrictive regulations and higher charges of that trade.
But these were not the only deviations from the ancient rules of our navigation system. The revolutions which have occurred in the political state of the world, in our time, rendered other changes indispensable. There has grown up over the whole continent of America, a situation of affairs similar to that which the United States presented after their separation from the mother country. This change, from a colonial to an independent existence, necessarily draws after it, in each particular case, the application of the new rule, which, as I have already stated, unavoidably grew out of the independence of the United States.
The first application of that rule occurred in respect to Brazil. From the moment when, in 1808, the house of Braganza transferred the seat of empire to Brazil that country virtually ceased to be a colony. Great Britain had no choice but to apply the European principles to the commerce and navigation of Brazil, though out of Europe, and to admit Portuguese shipping,—and, since the separation of Portugal and Brazil, Brazilian shipping,—coming from that country into our ports, upon the same footing as the ships of any other independent nation.
This principle has been extended, from time to time, as new states have risen up in America. When I heard the hon. member for Grampound complain that, in our treaty of commerce and navigation with Colombia, and in that with Buenos Ayres, we had consented to place their navigation upon an equality with 1165 our own, I certainly listened to this charge I with no small degree of surprise, being satisfied that what the hon. gentleman censured so severely, was the very wisest principle that this country could adopt. Those states were anxious to encourage their commercial marine, by granting exclusive advantages to their own shipping, and imposing certain restrictions upon that of this country. This disposition was frequently manifested by the ministers of those states in the course of our discussions with them; and certainly there are not wanting some who are constantly endeavouring to excite in these new countries a jealousy of the naval power of Great Britain; instigating them to adopt a separate and novel code of maritime law for the new world; and to frame their navigation system upon principles of giving a preference to their own shipping, and to that of America generally, over the shipping of this country, and of Europe.
Have we acquiesced in these views? Have we compromised any of the acknowledged principles of maritime law? No, Sir.—Whilst we have explicitly refused to listen to any such compromise, we have disarmed all suspicion as to our commercial pretensions, by frankly declaring, that we sought no exclusive advantages for British ships or British trade, and that the principle of our intercourse with the new states, as with the old states, of the world, would be that of a fair and equal reciprocity.
This brings me to the gravamen of the charge made against his majesty's government; namely, the step taken by them, in furtherance of this principle, by the introduction of a law, enabling the Crown, with the advice of the Privy Council, to remit all discriminating duties on the goods and shipping of such countries, as may agree to impose no higher charges or duties upon British ships, and the goods imported therein, than upon their own ships, and the like goods imported in such ships.
If the system of discriminating duties for the encouragement of shipping were a secret known to this country alone; if a similar system were not, or could not be, put in force in every country, I should not be standing here to vindicate the measure to which I have just referred, and the present policy of his majesty's government. So long as, in fact, no independent trading community existed out of Europe, and so long as the old govern- 1166 ments of Europe looked upon these matters,—if they looked to them at all,—as little deserving their attention, and were content, either from ignorance or indifference, not to thwart our system, it would have been wrong to disturb any part of it. But is this the present state of the world? Did not the United States of America, in the first instance, for the purpose of raising to themselves a great commercial marine, and of counteracting our navigation laws, adopt, in their utmost rigour, the rules of those laws, and carry, even further than we had ever done, in respect to foreign ships, this principle of discriminating duties against our shipping? Can we shut our eyes to the fact that other nations have followed, or are following, their example? Do we not see them, one after the other, taking a leaf out of our own book? Is not every government in Europe, if possessed of sea-ports, now using its utmost endeavours to force a trade, and to raise up for itself a commercial marine? Have we not boasted of our navigation laws, till we have taught other nations to believe (however erroneous that belief), that they are almost the only requisite, or, at least, the sine quâ non, of commercial wealth and of maritime power? Did these vauntings excite no envy, no spirit of rivalry, no countervailing opposition in other countries? Did the success of the United States of America create no desire in those countries to follow her example?
It would be worse than idle, it would be dangerous, to dissemble to ourselves the great changes which have been wrought since the establishment of American independence, in the views and sentiments of Europe, upon all matters connected with commerce and navigation. They now occupy a leading share in the attention of almost every government. They are every where a subject of general inquiry and interest. Even in countries of which the institutions are least favourable to the discussion of political topics, these questions are freely discussed, and, by discussion, the influence of public opinion is made to bear upon the measures and policy of their governments.
In this altered state of the world it became our duty seriously to inquire, whether a system of commercial hostility, of which the ultimate tendency is mutual prohibition,—whether a system of high discriminating duties upon foreign ships, with the moral certainty of seeing those 1167 duties fully retaliated upon our own shipping in the ports of foreign countries.— was a contest in which England was likely to gain, and out of which, if persevered in, she was likely to come with dignity or advantage? I will lay aside, for the moment, every consideration of a higher nature, moral or political, which would naturally lead us to look with some repugnance to the engaging in such a contest. I will equally lay aside all consideration for the interest of our manufactures, and for the general well-being of our population, who, as consumers, would obviously have to pay for this system of custom-house warfare, and reciprocal restriction; and I will view the question solely in reference to the shipping interest. In this comparatively narrow, but, I admit, not unimportant, view of the question, I have no difficulty in stating my conviction, —a conviction at which I have arrived after much anxious consideration,—that, in the long-run, this war of discriminating duties, if persevered in on both sides, must operate most to the injury of the country which, at the time of entering upon it, possesses the greatest commercial marine. How can it be otherwise? What are these discriminating duties, but a tax upon commerce and navigation? Will not the heaviest share of that tax fall, therefore, upon those who have the greatest amount of shipping and of trade?
Before we embark in such a contest, we owe to the character of the country, as well as to its interests, to satisfy ourselves,—first, that it is necessary for its welfare; and, secondly, that once committed to the trial with all the commercial powers of Europe, the country would have the firmness and fortitude necessary to go through with it. Do not let gentlemen too hastily decide this last point in the affirmative. Let them call to their recollection the famous orders in council;—let them, above all, bear in mind, that we have yet had but one trial of this discriminating warfare,—the trial with the United States of America,—and that we came out of that trial, after several years' perseverance, by conceding the very object, for the maintenance of which it had been carried on. Would it be politic, or dignified, to engage in a like struggle in Europe, with the risk of arriving at the same result? In commerce, in navigation, in naval power, and maritime pretensions, the United States are our most formidable rival; and we are now arraigned for not 1168 withholding from Prussia and Denmark, what parliament and the country, ten years ago, concurred in yielding to America!
Under what circumstances did England found her navigation system? When her commercial marine was, comparatively, insignificant, her wealth inconsiderable, before manufactures were established, and when she exported corn, wool, and other raw materials.—When, on the other hand, Holland and the Netherlands were rich, possessed of great manufactures, and of the largest portion of the carrying trade of Europe and the world. What has followed? The commercial marine of the latter countries has dwindled away, and that of Great Britain is now immense. But, in the progress of the change, England is become the great seat of manufactures and trading wealth, frequently importing, and never exporting, corn; drawing raw materials from, and sending out manufactured goods to, all parts of the world. This was our state, though in a far less degree than at present, when America became independent. She started by applying towards us the system which we had applied towards Holland. She was then poor, with a very small commercial marine, without manufactures, having corn and raw materials to export;—and we know what her shipping now is. Let gentlemen reflect on these circumstances, before they decide that it is necessarily wise to enter upon a similar contest with other poor and unmanufacturing countries. Let them seriously consider, whether a system of discriminating duties,—nowthat the exclusive patent by which we held that system is expired,—is not the expedient of such a country as I have described, rather than the resource of one which already possesses the largest commercial marine in the world. They will then see, that it may possibly be a wise policy to divert such countries from that system, rather than to goad them on, or even leave them a pretext for going into it.
Let us for a moment, however, suppose that, at all hazards, we have embarked in this warfare of counteracting duties. They who recommend this policy have no right to assume that, in the progress of the struggle, the discriminating duties imposed in the foreign country (Prussia, for example), on British shipping will not be, at least, equivalent to the like duties levied in England on Prussian shipping. The United States did not content them- 1169 selves with equivalency,—they went more boldly to work:—so might any European power. If equivalent duties be established on both sides, how will they operate? It is clear that the shipping of each country will stand in the same relative situation to that of the other, as if no such duties had been imposed; the duties, therefore, in both countries will be a tax, and a very objectionable one, upon the interchange of their respective productions. But, as those productions are different, these duties will affect differently the industry of the contending parties. Our principal exports to the north of Europe are manufactured goods and colonial produce;— our imports, timber, hemp, flax, pitch, tar (occasionally corn), and other raw materials. The former must be sold dearer in the foreign country—the latter in this country—by all the amount of the tax. What is this in the foreign country, but a premium against our manufactures, in favour of the rival manufactures of other states, or of the importing state itself;—and in this country, but a tax upon raw materials requisite for carrying on our own manufactures? A ship, for instance, is a manufactured article, and, to encourage our shipping, here is an additional tax upon the raw materials of that manufacture! Our cotton goods, our woollen stuffs, barely maintain a competition with those of other countries, and here is an additional tax on their importation into those countries, to turn the scale against us! Our West-India planters complain of the low price of their productions, and we provoke an additional tax which tends to shut them altogether out of the foreign market! If the end of this warfare should be, as, pushed to the extreme, it might be that each country should export its own production, in its own ships, and no country import the productions of another, in the ships of that other, which would be the greatest loser, the country manufacturing, or the country producing the raw materials? I will not even glance at the effect of all this strife upon the consumers, that is, upon the bulk of the population; because I know that, in certain quarters, I shall be taxed with theory, if I stand up for the general interest of the community, against the pretensions of a particular class, when the interest of that class is supposed to be at stake. Indeed, I have no doubt I shall be told by some practical men, that all this is theory, to which they have a short answer. That 1170 answer is, "We do not want any thing from the Baltic. We have plenty of timber, &c. in Canada, all of which would be brought home in British shipping; and, therefore, the powers of the Baltic must submit to our discriminating duties, without retaliation, or be content to lose our trade." I really know not how to reason with such logicians. I believe the Baltic can do to the full as well without us, as we can do without the Baltic. We import quite as much timber from Canada as can be used for the purposes for which that timber is fit. For other and more important purposes, we want timber of better and more durable qualities. Looking to the shipping interests of this country, and to the interests of Canada, I am not one of those who think we have done too much for those interests, in the great preference, in point of duty, which we have given to the Canada timber, and in the consequent sacrifices which we make to encourage the importation of that timber, inferior as it is; but I must say, at the same time, that the great annual increase of the importation from our North American possessions, under the present duty, shows that the proportion which it bears to the Baltic duty has not been settled to the disadvantage of the shipping employed in the Canada trade. Were it necessary, however, to make an option between a contest of discriminating duties with Prussia in the timber trade, or a further reduction of the duty on Canada timber for the greater encouragement of our shipping, I certainly should prefer the latter measure, as the least injurious of the two to all the other interests of this country.
For the reasons which I have now stated, his majesty's government have thought it more prudent and more dignified to enter into amicable arrangements with other powers, founded on the basis of mutual interest, and entire reciprocity of advantages, rather than embark in a contest of commercial hostility and reciprocal exclusion;—a system, at best, of doubtful benefit to the shipping interest; involving the certainty of great injury to all the other important interests of the country; and which would at last, place parliament and the government in the painful alternative, either of turning a deaf ear to the complaints of the many who would suffer from the contest, or of terminating it, as other contests of a like nature have been terminated, by con- 1171 cession, bringing with it not only immediate humiliation, but other consequences, which do not end with the concession itself.
But it is asserted, that we should not have been compelled to make our choice between these alternatives. Whilst I entreat the House to bear in mind the circumstances which I have already stated, in respect to the general feeling which prevails in the maritime countries of Europe, and in America, I must now call their attention to the steps which had been actually taken by Prussia (the first power, after the United Stales, with which we entered into a treaty upon this subject) before the negotiation of that treaty was entertained by his majesty's government.
I hold, Sir, in my hand a report, made on the 6th of August, 1822, by the British consul at Dantzic; also reports of the vice-consuls at Konigsberg and Memel, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I will not trouble the House with reading the whole of these despatches, but I request their particular attention to the following extracts:
§ Extract of a Despatch from Mr. Consul Gibson, dated Dantzic, the 6th August, 1822.
§ "My lord:—I do myself the honour to transmit to your lordship a translation of the order of cabinet (which I have only now been able to procure) respecting an increase of the government port charges in the Prussian ports, on vessels belonging to countries between which and Prussia no reciprocity has been fixed by treaty, or which do not otherwise treat Prussian ships and their cargoes as advantageously as their own. Prussia has made arrangements with Holland, Denmark, and America, for establishing a reciprocity in this respect, and the present regulation has evidently for object to induce other countries, particularly Britain, to enter into a similar arrangement.
§ "At present Prussian, Dutch, Danish and American ships pay, as public port charges here, about 46½ common groshes, or about 17⅔d. sterling, per last of 4,0001b. (about 4,140lb. English), or about 1⅜ tons British measurement; while British and other vessels pay about 77⅔ common groshes, or about 29⅔d. sterling per last, making 8¾d. sterling per ton measurement more. The advance that is to take place will make, as it will be payable in gold at a losing valuation, viz.1172
|Pence Sterling per Ton measurement.|
|"On ships coming in with a full cargo of goods about||58|
|"On ships with a quarter of a cargo or less||29|
|"On ships going out with a full cargo||29|
|"On ships with a quarter of a cargo or less||14½|
§ "Thus vessels arriving even in ballast, and taking a cargo back, will in future be burthened with about 37¾d. sterling per ton measurement more government port charges than Prussian ships; which however is not quite so great an advantage to the latter as British vessels have over Prussian in Britain, by paying lower port charges, light money, &c. and less duty on the cargo, if of timber for instance, which gives the chief employment to Prussian ships.
§ "The Prussian government make this new port charge regulation professedly from the interest created by the situation of their ship-owners, who are indeed all going to ruin."
§ Cabinet Order of the 20th June, 1822, for the Encouragement of Home Shipping.
§ "In consideration of the unfavourable state of the shipping of this country for several years past, and in consequence of the representations made to me, founded on divers consultations, that the unfavourable state of things operates the more injuriously on the said trade, as the principles always observed here, of imposing moderate burthens on foreign ships frequenting Prussian ports, and of levying the same duties on goods imported or exported, whether in foreign or in native ships are not adopted in several foreign ports frequented by Prussian ships; I have resolved, so long as these relations subsist, so detrimental to the maintenance of this important branch of domestic trade, to grant the said trade greater advantages than it has hitherto enjoyed; I therefore do ordain,
§ "First. That the coasting trade from one Prussian port to another shall be considered, exclusively, a branch of domestic trade, and shall be carried on solely by Prussian vessels, under pain of ship and property being confiscated, upon any foreign ship-master being detected in it. Exceptions can only be allowed in very urgent cases, and only for the public good, by the provincial authorities.
§ "Secondly. An increase of the hitherto existing harbour dues shall take place, in all Prussian ports, on foreign ships with cargoes, in-coming or out-going, but 1173 the same shall not be applicable to the ships of those nations:—
- a "With which Prussia has treaties, placing her ships and their cargoes on an equal footing with the native ships, or with those of the most favoured nations, in conformity with the stipulations therein made."
- b."Which from other causes, treat Prussian ships, with their cargoes, the same as native vessels with theirs.
- a. "On in-coming ships. R. 2 per last of 4,0001bs.
- b. "On out-going. do. 1 do.
- c. "On ships that have only one-fourth of a cargo, or less, one-half of the above,
§ "Ships in ballast are not subject to the increased imposts.
§ "The proceeds of this impost shall not be considered as an additional source of revenue to the state, but shall be applied for the benefit of the Ship-owners, accordingly as you, the minister of commerce, shall propose to me.
§ "Thirdly. In order to present, as far as is in the power of the state, a real source of profit to the ship-owners, the conveyance of such goods as may be for account of the government, shall be effected, in preference, by native ships, regarding which I refer to my particular order of this day.
§ "The first and third of the foregoing enactments shall be put in force immediately; but the second point only in three months after publication of this order, which is to be made through the collection of laws, and according to which the needful is to be decreed.
§ (Signed) "FREDERICK WILHELM."
§ Extract of a Despatch from Vice-Consul Tuke, dated Konigsberg, 22nd August, 1822.
§ "Sir:—I beg leave to draw the attention of your excellency to several new laws and regulations of the Prussian government, which are highly detrimental to the British trade, and respecting which numerous complaints have been made to me by the merchants and shipmasters interested in the trade between this country and Great Britain.
§ "By the last tariff, a duty of one guil- 1174 der per hundred-weight is imposed on all flax, hemp, and tow, shipped in foreign vessels. This is probably intended as a measure of retaliation for the difference of import duty charged in Great Britain between goods arriving in British and foreign vessels. This law has obliged several British ships this summer to load flax at the low freight of thirty shillings per ton, instead of fifty shillings, which they would have got, had not the merchants been obliged to pay twenty florins per ton export duty, because the goods were shipped in a British vessel. As hemp and flax are, now that the corn trade no longer exists, the principal articles of export from hence, this duty bears exceedingly hard on British vessels.
§ "According to a cabinet order, dated Berlin, 20th June, 1822, intended for the encouragement of Prussian shipping, the King has been pleased to direct a duty of three dollars per last to be charged on all foreign vessels arriving with cargoes after the expiration of three months. This tax is so important in its consequences as to demand immediate attention, for a moderate-sized vessel will, by this order, be compelled to pay three hundred dollars in addition to the existing heavy charges, which will entirely prevent our vessels from enjoying the carrying trade from home to this country."
§ Extract of a Despatch from Vice-Consul Fowler, dated Memel, 21st August, 1822.
§ "This difference between British and Prussian shipping" (i. e. the difference established by the decree of 20th of June) "must drive the carrying trade in British bottoms from this port, to the great injury of the British shipping interest; for about three hundred British vessels, on an average, load here annually with timber for Great Britain, which, of course, cannot bear such heavy charges, as cargoes consisting of grain, flax, hemp, tallow, &c. &c, and which are of so much more considerable value. The merchants here, who are principally British, have protested against this new regulation, and petitioned the Prussian government for the repeal thereof."
§ From what I have now read, the House will at once understand the nature of the measures adopted by the Prussian government, in the year 1822, and the motives which influenced them in that proceeding. What was the consequence of these measures? Why, that, in the next 1175 year, 1823, the Board of Trade, and other departments of the government, were assailed with representations from all quarters, connected with the shipping and trade of the country, against the heavy charges imposed upon British ships in the ports of Prussia. In such circumstances what course did his majesty's government take? We felt it to be our duty, in the first instance, to communicate with the Prussian minister in this country and our minister at Berlin was, I believe, also directed to confer with the Prussian government on the subject. I myself had a conference with the Prussian minister at this court, and I well recollect the substance of his reply to me, "You have," he said, "set us the example, by your port and light charges, and your discriminating duties on Prussian ships; and we have not gone beyond the limits of that example. Hitherto, we have confined the increase of our port and tonnage charges to ships only; but it is the intention of ray government next year" (and of this he shewed me the written proof) "to imitate you still more closely, by imposing discriminating duties on the goods imported in your ships. Our object is a just protection to our own navigation; and so long as the measure of our protection does not exceed that which is afforded in your ports to British ships, we cannot see with what reason you can complain."
§ Against such a reply, what remonstrance could we, in fairness, make to the Prussian government? We might have addressed ourselves, it may be said by some, to the friendly feelings of that government;—we might have pleaded long usage in support of our discriminating duties;—we might have urged the advantages which Prussia derived from her trade with England. Appeals like these were not forgotten in the discussion, but they were of little avail against the fact stated by Mr. Consul Gibson—that "the Prussian ship-owners were all going to ruin."
§ By others, it may be said, "your duty was, to retaliate, by increasing your own port charges, and discriminating duties, on Prussian shipping." I have already stated generally my reasons against the policy of this latter course. We were not prepared to begin a system of commercial hostility, which, if followed up on both sides to its legitimate consequences, could only tend to reciprocal 1176 prohibition. In this state of things, more prudently, as I contend, we entered upon an amicable negotiation with the Prussian government, upon the principle of our treaty with the United States—that of abolishing, on both sides, all discriminating duties on the ships and goods of the respective countries in the ports of the other.
§ Having concluded an arrangement with Prussia upon this basis, we soon found it necessary to do the same with some other of the northern states. Similar conventions were accordingly entered into with Denmark and Sweden. Reciprocity is the foundation of all those conventions; but it is only fair to add, that they contain other stipulations for giving facility to trade, and from which the commerce of this country, I am confident, will in the result, derive considerable advantage.
§ When his majesty's government had successively made the concession of these discriminating duties to the United States, to Prussia, to Denmark, and to Sweden, I should have been ashamed of the councils of this country if we had hesitated to enter into a similar agreement with the free Hanseatic towns of Hamburgh, Bremen, and Lubeck. These little states, I admit, bad imposed no discriminating duties upon our ships, though they had the power to do so. But would it have been worthy of the character of this great country, consistent with its justice, or honourable to its generosity, to continue to levy, upon the trade and shipping of these ports, duties which were no longer paid by the subjects of more powerful states!—to have made their forbearance the plea for our exaction, or to have waited to do an act of justice until they had deprived us of that plea?
§ In our treatment of these free towns, this country ought not altogether to forget that, amidst the barbarous ignorance, and habitual violence, of the feudal ages, those little republics were the refuge of commerce, and the nurseries of civilization. They were the sanctuaries, in which the arts and pursuits, most conducive to the enjoyments and improvement of mankind, were respected, amidst the scenes of bloodshed, rapine, and insecurity, by which they were too often surrounded. With these recollections, I shall, perhaps, be excused, if I express my regret, that several of the little trading communities on the continent have ceased to be free and independent. In point of 1177 policy, it has always appeared to me that the incorporation of these communities with the military monarchies of the continent, was not the most satisfactory part of the late settlement of Europe. This incorporation was, probably, more the inevitable consequence of the general derangement of the war, than the legitimate result of the principles which prevailed at the restoration of peace. Were I disposed to illustrate the inconvenience of that incorporation, in reference to the present subject, I might, not inopportunely, refer to Dantzic. If, instead of passing under the dominion of an absolute monarchy, that town (formerly, I believe, one of the Hanseatic league) had continued free like Hamburgh, and had the government of Prussia then said,—"You shall not trade with us, except on such and such conditions,"—our answer might have been, "the commodities which we want from your country we can procure at Dantzic, where no such conditions are imposed on British ships."
§ If we look at the present question, as connected with our maritime strength, I contend that there can be little or no danger from the arrangements which I have now described. The states to which those arrangements extend, from their situation, and from many other circumstances, which it is not necessary for me to mention, never can become formidable as maritime powers;—they never can dispute with us the ascendancy on the ocean, nor have they an interest in assisting others to obtain that ascendancy. Their commercial interests, and regard to their own security, must alike incline them to our side.
§ In time of peace, it is well known, the policy of this country excludes, as much as possible, from our commercial marine the natives of all foreign countries; but, in time of war, when our native seamen are required for the king's service, we are under the necessity of admitting Volunteers from other countries to man our merchant ships. The consequence is, that, from our multiplied intercourse with those secondary states, their seamen, in; time of war, tempted by higher wages and other advantages, assist in manning our merchant ships, and thereby afford us great facilities for carrying on our extensive commerce. On the restoration of, peace, these volunteers are, most of them, forced to seek employment again in the merchantmen of their own countries; and 1178 their return thither contributes to give increased activity to the commercial marine of those countries.
§ If, therefore, by this system of extended reciprocity, a somewhat larger share of the carrying trade between Great Britain and these secondary states, devolve to their shipping, in time of peace, so far as this participation is obtained at the expense of any diminished employment for our own shipping, we may regret the diminution: at the same time, if the circumstances which lead to it be unavoidable, it is some consolation to know, that the corresponding increase, elsewhere, is divided among those countries which cannot be dangerous, and are likely to be most useful to us, in time of war.
§ The timber trade with Norway has, at all times, been carried on chiefly in the ships of that country. They are built for the purpose, in the cheapest manner, but so rudely constructed, as to be unfit for the conveyance of almost any other article. In respect to the Prussian timber ships, they are also of a construction very inferior to the shipping of this country, built for the purpose of general trade. We are told by most of the petitioners, and figures are adduced to prove the statements, that they are sent to sea and navigated at less than one-half of the expense of British ships. If it be so, the restoration of the discriminating duty, to the repeal of which these petitioners attribute all their present difficulties, would be of little avail to protect them. That protection was 2s. 9d. upon a load of timber, being the difference between 57s. 9d., the duty in a foreign, and 55s., the duty in a British ship, exclusive of some difference on account of lower port charges, and light money paid by the British ship. Against this advantage, therefore, in our ports, was to be set off the alien duty of 3s. 1¾d. a ton, imposed on British ships in the Prussian ports, whether with a cargo or in ballast. The balance, therefore, on our side would be next to nothing—totally inadequate, upon the shewing of the petitioners, as protection; but just enough to excite irritation, and to afford a pretence for vexatious restrictions on British commerce, and the introduction of British manufactures into the Prussian dominions. It has also been stated by some of the petitioners, that ship-building in this country is rendered more expensive by taxes on the materials, 1179 from which other countries are exempt. I am not aware that, in the petition from the shipping interest in the port of London, praying for a continuance of the discriminating duties, the petitioners urge the direct taxation upon the materials employed in ship-building, as a ground of complaint. It has been alleged, that the Americans build their ships upon cheaper terms than we do. This I do not believe. Timber, I admit, is cheaper in the United States, but almost every other article employed in ship-building is as dear as, and several of them dearer than, in this country. Labour likewise is dearer, and the pay of the crew full as high as, if not higher than, in England.
§ After all, there is nothing new in the complaints now made of the increased employment of the shipping of the northern powers, in their trade with this country. Similar complaints were made after the American war. In the year 1786, the ship-owners represented that our laws gave too great an advantage to foreign ships, and especially to the foreign ships employed in the importation of timber from the Baltic.
§ In consequence of this representation the Board of Trade of that day entered upon an inquiry into the subject. Mr. Reeves, in his work on the Law of Shipping and Navigation, states, in reference to this inquiry, that,
§ "In the year 1786, it was observed, that the quantity of foreign ships employed in the importation of goods from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the East country, was much greater in proportion to the British, than the foreign tonnage employed in other trades; and that it was increasing in general, and the British shipping employed in some of these trades was, at the same time, decreasing. A reference was made, in consequence, to the Board of Customs, to see whether it might not be proper to augment the duty, called the alien's duty, or petty custom, on such of the goods enumerated and described in the eighth and ninth sections of the act of navigation as were then subject to it, and were imported from the before-mentioned countries; and whether such increase would materially operate to increase the burthens on, and consequently the prices of, those articles, if such duty were increased gradually; that is, by making it double from the first of January, 1787, and treble from the first of January, 1788; and in case the Board 1180 of Customs should be of such opinion, then they were called upon to consider, whether some advantage might not be given to British-built ships employed in those trades, by lowering the duties on those articles when imported in such ships; or whether both these methods might not be pursued in such proportions as might best attain the end proposed, and not materially affect the revenue."
§ As it does not appear that recourse was had to these expedients, it is to be inferred that, upon further consideration, it was found it would not be safe to risk the experiment. The northern powers had not then complained of our existing alien charges upon their shipping; they had taken no steps to countervail those charges in their ports; but did it follow that they would continue passive, if a question then at rest had been disturbed, by increasing those charges in the manner suggested? In my opinion, to leave the question at rest, as long as possible, was the wisest policy for this country. It was the policy pursued until the matter was taken up, not by us but by the United States of America, and in succession by other powers. In that state of things, and after the arrangements which we had entered into with those powers, acting upon the necessity of the case, I felt, in the course of the last session, that it would be better to make our laws upon this point square with our practice—better as one general rule—first, to tender to all nations alike, and indiscriminately, equal facilities of commerce and navigation, and equal inducements to visit the ports of this country, with their merchandise, either for our own consumption, or in the way of transit (entrepôt) to other parts of the world:—secondly, to abolish all discriminating duties affecting differently the like productions of foreign countries, and, in lieu thereof, to establish one uniform tariff for the whole:—and thirdly, to reduce that tariff to the lowest degree, consistent in each particular article, with the two legitimate objects of all duties—either the collection of the necessary public revenue, or the protection requisite for the maintenance of our own internal industry. These are the principles according to which our new book of rates has been formed, and the consolidation of our innumerable, and, in many instances, inconsistent and contradictory laws of customs been effected.
§ A few observations on our commercial 1181 policy, with regard to our colonies abroad, will bring me, I hope, to the conclusion of this important investigation. The former colonial system of this country was simply this, that our possessions abroad should receive all their supplies from hence in British shipping, and they were prohibited from trading directly with any other country. But, so early as the year 1783—the year in which we recognized the independence of the United States of America—it occurred to the government at home, that it might be somewhat hard to require of the West-India colonies to draw all their supplies from the mother country. What, then, was the line adopted? Orders in council, allowing those colonies to trade directly with the United States of America in British shipping, were passed, from time to time, as occasion required, and the ministers as often came down to parliament for bills of indemnity, for having so far violated the plantation laws.
§ In process of time, however, the government of the United States, jealous of a trade in which British shipping alone was employed, said to this country—"If you want the productions of our country, for the use of your colonies, and will not allow us to send them in our ships, we will entirely prohibit the exportation to your colonies, in British shipping, of those articles of which your colonies stand in need." They did so. The British government had then recourse to another expedient, in order to avert the threatened inconvenience, and at the same time to avoid any positive alteration of our navigation laws. A sort of open mart or fair was established, at some half-way place between the coast of America and the West Indies, to which the ships of the United States came, and where, being met by our traders, the respective parties interchanged commodities, according to their mutual wants.
§ But the government of the United States again interfered, and prohibited their ships from this trade. After a suspension of intercourse had continued for some time, parliament, in the year 1822, passed an act, by which American ships were allowed to trade, directly, between the United States and our colonies, in the West Indies, and North America.
§ Now let me ask, was it politic, was it altogether consistent with impartiality, and our friendly relations with the north of Europe, to grant to the shipping of the 1182 United States, first in the trade between them and this country, by the treaty of 1815; and, secondly, in the trade, by this act regularly legalized, between those states and our colonies, privileges, which we continued to deny to the shipping of Prussia, of Denmark, of Sweden, of Hamburgh, and of other trading communities of Europe? Upon what principle of fairness, upon what principle of sound policy, were we to continue this preference exclusively to a power, towards which, God knows, I entertain no feeling of hostility—far from it—but, when I am speaking of that nation in a British House of Commons, it is not improper to say, that in matters of navigation and naval power, there exists, towards us, a spirit of rivalry in the United States; a spirit of which I do not complain, but which should incline every Englishman to doubt the wisdom of any measure, tending to encourage the growth of the commercial marine of America, by giving to it privileges greater than are permitted to the shipping of other states—states less jealous of our maritime ascendancy in time of war, and, at all times confining their views upon the ocean to the industrious employment of their sea-faring people, without looking to the ulterior object of one day disputing with us the dominion of that ocean.
§ Considering, therefore, the act of 1822, and the changes which had taken place in the colonial system of other powers, it appeared to me that the time was arrived when upon every sound principle it would be right to extend to the foreign shipping of Europe, the same privilege of trading with our colonies in the New World, which had been granted to the shipping of America; and also to give a greater facility, and extension, to the intercourse between foreign countries and our colonies generally—strictly confining, however, to British shipping only, all trade between this country and the colonies, and all inter-colonial trade between the different foreign possessions of the British empire.
§ Whether we look to the interests of our commerce, which are also the interests of our navigation;—whether we look to the separate interests of the colonies, or to the general interests of the parent country;—or whether we consider the changes which have recently taken place, especially in the New World;—all these considerations appear to me to concur in 1183 support of the measures to which I have referred, and the enlarged views of policy upon which they are founded.
§ Shipping, like other branches of business in this country, is liable to fluctuation. There may be great excitement at one period, and great depression at another. Last year, for instance, the demand far exceeded the means of the British ship-owners to supply it. The price of freight for foreign adventures was, inconsequence, so much raised as to become a very serious injury and interruption to other branches of navigation, more especially to our coasting trade. Yet, such was the unbridled rage for speculation which then prevailed, that our tonnage could not keep pace with it, and foreign vessels were taken up in every port of Europe, not from a preference, but because British ships could not be procured. This is not the proper occasion to inquire into the origin of the almost universal mania which appears to have seized upon merchants and manufacturers, not of this country only, but, more or less, upon those of other countries, during the last year. It is now too generally seen and admitted, even by those who were most infected by that mania, that their speculations were carried on without reference to the habitual scale of our consumption, or to the rapid accumulation of goods, or to any of those circumstances which, in their calmer moments, direct the operations of commercial men. When prices had risen, in the first instance from natural causes perhaps, speculation soon forced a further and more rapid rise, and the only inference, for a time, among buyers, seems to have been, that it would continue progressive, and almost indefinite.
§ Connecting this rage for speculation with the employment of shipping, the House will be surprised to hear in what a degree the quantity of bulky articles from foreign countries, and from our possessions in North America, in the last year, exceeded the importations of former years. In the year 1822, the total importation of timber from foreign countries was 140,715 loads—in 1825, it amounted to not less than 301,548.
|Of flax in 1822||607,143|
|Of flax in 1825||1,042,956|
|Of tallow in 1822||805,238|
|Of tallow in 1825||1,164,029|
|Of wool in 1822.||19,048,879|
§ Above twelve inches in diameter:
§ The result of all this overtrading of last year, of which I have selected only a few instances, is the depression which now prevails, the interruption of commercial credit, the great diminution of employment for manufacturing labour in this country, and the general derangement of business in the countries with which our principal interchange of commodities is carried on. I deplore this state of things, not the less, certainly, because it is not confined to this country; and, in alluding to the sufferings of others, I do so, not as a source of consolation to ourselves, but as evidence, that this derangement is to be traced to some cause of more extensive effect than the municipal regulations of this country.
§ It would be matter of surprise if, amidst this almost universal stagnation of demand, the shipping interest, which had fully participated in the extraordinary activity of the preceding period, should not partake of the languor by which it is now-succeeded. In looking dispassionately at this or any other of tire leading interests of this country, we must not draw our conclusions from extreme cases, either way. We must also recollect that shipping, in common with every other mode of employing capital and industry, when it seeks a foreign market is liable to be affected by a competition with other countries, and by acts of foreign states, over which we can have no control. As far as exclusion is within our reach,—in the coasting trade,—in the fisheries,—in the trade between this country and our foreign possessions, — we grant a strict! monopoly to the British ship-owner. It is our duty to maintain and enforce that 1185 monopoly, not for his special advantage, but for the public interest. It is further our duty to give him every legitimate countenance and protection in the trade of this country with other maritime countries; but if any branch of that trade is interfered with, either by new regulations in those countries, or by the erection of territories, once colonies, into an independent state, however we may regret the circumstances, as affecting our ancient navigation system, it may not be in our power to overrule those circumstances.
§ In such a state of things, our policy must be, retaining the important principles of that system as much as possible, to adapt it to the change in our situation, and to the altered relation in which we stand to the parties with which we have to deal.
§ The first effect of such inevitable changes, either in navigation or trade, is, usually, more or less, to derange the interests, upon which they immediately bear; but the temporary difficulty is generally overcome by the speedy opening of fresh channels of employment, and is soon merged in the increased enterprise which attracts capital and shipping to some other quarter. This was the case after the separation of the British colonies in North America; and I hope for a similar issue on the present occasion.
§ We are all agreed that our commercial marine is the foundation of our naval power, and that the maintenance of that power is the paramount duty of those who administer the affairs of this country. In an inquiry like this, therefore, the most important question for the consideration of the House is, not the detail of each separate branch of trade in which our commercial marine was employed in any particular year, but its aggregate amount at this time, compared with the aggregate amount at some antecedent period.
§ Now, Sir, I have already stated what that amount was at the breaking out of the last war in 1793, and what it is at the present time. The comparison, taken by itself, certainly affords no ground for despondency or alarm. But, in making this comparison in reference to our military marine, we are also to bear in mind, that in 1793, both the military and commercial marine of France and Spain were much more numerous than they are at present. The navy of Spain, once so powerful, has dwindled almost to nothing; her merchant 1186 ships have nearly disappeared from the ocean. The navy of France is less numerous and less formidable than it was at the breaking out of the Revolution, and her commercial shipping, though reviving, since the peace, is probably, at this moment, not more than one half of its amount in 1792. On the other hand, whether we look to the number of ships of war, to the means of manning those ships, to the general spirit which pervades every branch of the service, or to any other element of naval power, what a contrast between our situation at the close of the last, and of the American, war! Can we forget the period when the combined fleet of the House of Bourbon was master of the British Channel,—when a West-India convoy was obliged to assemble at Leith, and go north about, in order to escape capture by an enemy's fleet, within sight of our principal sea-ports? Can we forget when Gibraltar, blockaded by the united naval forces of those same powers, was relieved, as it were by stealth?—when it was considered matter of just praise to the highly-distinguished officer who commanded the British fleet, on that trying occasion, that in performing this service, he was able to elude the vigilance of a superior enemy, and to return to land, without having risked a combat.
§ These are among the recollections which belong to the American war. How different from those which connect themselves with the war by which it was succeeded! That our sway on every part of the ocean was undisputed by the naval power, not of France and Spain only, but of all Europe, before the close of the lost war, is matter of notoriety. In fact the British navy was then occupied in the blockade of every naval arsenal of its enemies; and this, for the last years of the war, formed its principal employment in Europe.
§ When we began that war, in the course of which we achieved so many victories, our commercial marine was three-fifths of its present amount. Our seamen in the king's navy, 16,000, instead of 30,000, their present number. We had then no reserve of veteran seamen, receiving for former services an annual allowance from the state. We have now such a reserve amounting to many thousands, all of whom are liable, upon an emergency, to be called upon by the admiralty, and of whom a large proportion would, I have no 1187 doubt, be found as efficient as before their discharge. Our ships, likewise, are in a more complete state, and better prepared with all the means of speedy equipment, than at any former period of peace.
§ Never, I will venture to affirm, was there a time when the country might rest with greater confidence and satisfaction on the sufficiency of its naval resources than at the present.
§ But we are told, and I am ready to admit it, that if the naval resources of France and Spain have declined, a new and formidable power has grown up in the United States of America. I have already stated, that the maritime means of that country had, from peculiar circumstances, been considerably benefitted during the late war, which lasted so long, and spread so generally through Europe. But, if the commercial marine of the United States increased during that period, our own advanced in a greater amount. Since the restoration of a general peace, the shipping of both countries has rather decreased. The diminution in that of the United States has been stated at 168,000 tons, which I believe to be fully equal to any diminution that has occurred in this country. I am warranted, therefore, in concluding that, upon a comparison of our commercial marine with the commercial marine of other powers, we have no reason to apprehend any of the difficulties now which the petitioners predict, and that our naval means are fully adequate to any possible emergency which may compel us to call them into exertion.
§ If, Sir, I have trespassed too long upon the time of the House, my apology, I trust, will be found in the vital importance of the subject. The severe distress, under which the country now labours, is attributed, in some quarters, to the changes which have recently taken place in our navigation system, and in our commercial policy. If any honourable members entertain that opinion, all that I ask of them is, to come forward, and point out distinctly to the House the specific changes to which they ascribe these consequences. It is for them to shew, if they can, by evidence, or by argument, the connexion of cause and effect between those changes and the difficulties in which the country is now, unhappily, involved. Let them give a notice, and appoint a day for that purpose. This would be the manly course to pursue;—it was the 1188 course taken by the hon. member for Coventry (Mr. Ellice) on the question of the trade in foreign silks. For having taken this course I return him my sincere acknowledgments. To follow his example is the only favour I ask of those who heap abuse upon the measures in question, or who excite clamour, out of doors, against the individual upon whom has been devolved the task, however imperfectly executed, of submitting those measures, on the part of his majesty's government, for the approbation and sanction of parliament.
§ Mr. Huskisson
concluded by moving for the following returns:—
Accounts "of the number of vessels, with the amount of their tonnage, that were built and registered in his majesty's dominions, from the year 1814 to the year 1825, both inclusive:"
"Of the total number of vessels, with the amount of their tonnage, and the number of men and boys employed in navigating the same (including their repeated voyages) that entered inwards, and cleared outwards, from and to all parts of the world, in the several years from 1814 to 1825, both inclusive; distinguishing the British from the foreign:"
An address for "Account of the total number of ships, of all nations, which passed the Sound, from the year 1783 to the year 1792, both inclusive; specifying the number of ships belonging to each nation.
"A like account from the year 1816 to the year 1825, both inclusive."
Returns "of the total number of ships of war, and other vessels, which have been sold out of the service since the conclusion of the peace: specifying the amount of their tonnage, and distinguishing the number and tonnage of those sold subject to the condition of being broken up:
"Of the greatest number of hired transports, and vessels of every description, which were employed in the public service, under the Navy-office, or the Transport-board, at any one period of the last three years of the late war, and of the numbers now employed in the same service; specifying the total amount of tonnage; also, the number of transports discharged during the years 1815, 1816, and 1817, and the amount of their tonnage:
"A like return from the Victualling-board:
1189 "A like return from the Ordnance:
"Of the total quantity of timber of all sorts, masts, flax, hemp, tallow, and linseed, imported from the different ports of Europe, in the years 1822 and 1825, respectively; distinguishing the countries from which imported:
"Of the quantity of timber of all sorts, masts, ashes and corn, imported from the British possessions in America, in the years 1822 and 1825, respectively:
"Of the number of ships, specifying their tonnage, which have entered the port of London, in the years 1823, 1824, 1825; distinguishing the British from the foreign, and the coasters from the foreign trade."
said, he was most willing to bear testimony to the great industry bestowed on that department of government over which the right hon. gentleman presided, of which the able and elaborate detail just given to the House afforded ample proof. There was hardly one point on which the right hon. gentleman had touched, in which he did not concur with him; and he rose, not so much with the intention of following the right hon. gentleman's remarks, as that of thanking him for the able manner in which he had developed his views, and for the general system he proposed to adopt with respect to our domestic and foreign shipping. As to the effects of the alterations introduced by the right hon. gentleman, he could speak with some confidence, having watched them narrowly; because, he was sure no man could say beforehand—and any man who pretended so to say was a charlatan—what effects would arise from any measure; and he knew they had been beneficial, though he was not prepared to find them equal to what the returns read by the right hon. gentleman stated them to be. By them it appeared, that there had been a considerable increase in the trade with the north of Europe, conformably to what had before been stated. When he recollected, however, the mad speculations of last year and the stupor of the present, he hardly thought that any returns made of these two periods could, with safety, be assumed as the correct basis for sober calculation. The people of this country, particularly those connected with the shipping interest, laboured probably under a mistake, in expecting now to possess the monopoly of trade as they had done during the war. There was no possibility of their having this, 1190 and to look for it was hunting after a delusion. He must be allowed, however, to mention a subject of which the House had lately heard so much, and to state that the trade with the north of Europe depended very much on our own Corn-laws. They met us at every turn. Those nations built their vessels cheaper than we could do, and they navigated them cheaper; and if corn were kept up at a high price in this country, that added to the cost of building our ships, and to the expense of navigating them, and made us unable to compete with the poorer nations of the north. He must, however, unpleasant as it might be to state it, say, that if gentlemen were determined to preserve that system, and not to open their eyes to its consequences, they would at length wake and find that it had beggared and ruined every interest in the country. With reference to our colonial system, he would say of our North American colonies, that their situation was such that it was not possible to preserve them, but by giving them all the advantages of a free trade, and attaching them to us by acts of kindness and liberality. If, therefore, it was desirable to preserve them, the system on which the right hon. gentleman had acted was necessary. Since the American war, those colonies felt their own power, and knew their own interest; and it was not possible to retain them by violence, or subject their trade to unnecessary restraints. The case of our West and East India colonies was different. We might irritate them without danger of their separating from us, and torment them without fear of their resistance. By interfering, as we were doing, with the internal government of the West-India islands, and with the management of their slaves, we were putting their patience to a severe test. But they were helpless and dependent, and nothing but their helplessness and dependent condition kept them from raising the standard against this country. With their trade we might there fore do as we liked, and subject to such restrictions and limitations as were beneficial to ourselves. On the whole, however, he concurred with the line of policy adopted towards them by his right hon. friend. It should be recollected, that two of ourcolonies, namely, Jamaica and Trinidad, were of importance, not only in themselves but as constituting a depot for the trade to South America; and, if we wished they should flourish as such, it was necessary to make the trade to them as free as possible. He did not 1191 wish to enter into some topics extrinsic to the main subject brought forward by his right hon. friend, and introduced into his speech; but he must be allowed to say, as to the silk-trade, that if his right hon. friend thought he had not injured that trade by his measures, his opinion was different from that of the manufacturers of Spitalfields and Macclesfield. In their opinion, those measures had injured the silk-trade, and had compelled; them to turn off their workmen. As to the paper currency, he would say that the measures of ministers had aggravated all the evils, and added to all the difficulties, brought on the country by that currency. Owing to the cheaper rate of the navigation of other countries, he should not be surprised to see the commercial marine of all Europe increase faster than our commercial marine. The remedy for this was not, he thought, the imposition of new duties, but the removal of the Corn-laws.—He must again express his satisfaction at the statements of the right hon. gentleman, which he thought would go a great way to remove the erroneous impressions which had gone abroad, as to the effects of the alterations made in our commercial laws. He had not, perhaps, given the House all the information it was desirable to have, as to the increase of the trade of the United States of America; but he! knew that nine tenths of all the foreign trade with Liverpool was carried on by American ships. The docks of that town looked, at all times, more like a port of the United States than an English harbour. He looked at this subject with some; anxiety: but he was not aware that it was possible to alter it. He should listen with great willingness to any suggestions having this for their object; but, though he thought the evil a serious one, he saw no means of remedying it. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that at the breaking out of the war in 1792, our commercial marine amounted to upwards of 1,500,000 tons, and that now it was 2,540,000 tons: but the American commercial navy now amounted to between 1,600,000 and 1,700,000 tons. But this afforded no ground for imputing any blame to government; unless it was to be maintained, that government could find some remedy for the evil; if evil it could be called.
contended, that the statements of the right hon. gentleman were at variance with the papers then before the House. During the last four 1192 years, the foreign tonnage entering the ports of this country had trebled, while our own trade was daily going down. The whole of our foreign trade employed 700,000 tons of British shipping, which was 200,000 tons less than the foreign shipping employed in the same trade. Adverting to the reciprocity system, he maintained, that it must lead to the ruin of our commerce; and remonstrated against the short-sightedness of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, who, by the measures which he had adopted, was opening the eyes of other countries to their own interests, which otherwise they might, perhaps, not have seen. The true maritime interests of this country had been sacrificed, in an extreme degree, by the right hon. gentleman, and the other interests would eventually follow. And besides reducing our shipping, his measures had had the effect of destroying our warehousing system, and of rendering this country less and less the emporium of foreign trade. He also contended, that these measures would have the effect of placing m the hands of the North Americans, the whole of the trade with South America; which ought to belong to our West-India colonies. He did not blame the abandoning a great part of our navigation laws; for he admitted that they were offensive to other nations; but then the shipping interest of this country had as much right to protection as the silk or any other trade. Let them be put on the same footing, and he would not complain; but, if this were not done, we should not be able to grapple, a few years hence, with the naval power of America, which was fast increasing. If the navies of France and America increased, while ours declined or continued stationary, let the House consider the situation we should be in in a few years; and how much, in case of emergency, we should have to bring up of what we were now losing. The President of the Board of Trade had much to answer for on this subject. We were daily making innovations on the system of our commercial regulations, which were unsettling and keeping unsettled the general mind of society. He did not see how it would be possible for us to go on paying the national debt, if ministers persevered in the system they had adopted. He had been informed, on authority on which he could confidently rely, that the woollens manufactured on the conti- 1193 nent were driving ours out of the market; and, indeed, foreigners were making rapid advances towards successfully rivalling us in the manufacture of cottons; although he must admit that as yet they had not quite equalled us. Looking at the present situation of the manufacturing interests, and considering the great weight of taxation with which they, along with the other branches of the community, were burthened, he should like to know how it would be possible for them to surmount their present difficulties, if foreign manufactures were admitted into the country r How could they possibly enter into a successful competition with the manufacturers of France, where labour was so much cheaper and taxation so much lighter, unless they had some protection afforded them, sufficient to counterpoise the advantages which the French, in other respects, enjoyed over them? The hon. member concluded, by calling on the House to give protection to our shipping, as well as to our other interests; and, above all things, to follow the example of the United States, in paying proper attention to our own interests, and preferring them to those of other nations.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
observed, that as he had recently presented a petition to that House from a body of persons whose interests were intimately connected with the subject under consideration, he would beg to be allowed to say a few words in elucidation of their case. Arguing from the documents already before the House, he must say, that in many important points he differed most materially from the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade. By those documents it appeared, that the foreign tonnage which had entered the port of London had doubled in the last three years. What was the relative state of our exports and imports? In the years 1824 and 1825, the imports to Great Britain from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Russia, increased to the value of 243,151l., whilst during the same period our exports to those countries decreased to the value of 290,000l. This evidently showed that something was wrong in our commercial system. In fact, it was impossible that our shipping interest could prosper, under the circumstances in which it was placed. The difference between the cost of building, the rate of wages, the price of victualling, &c. in this and in foreign countries, sufficiently accounted for the de- 1194 pression of our own shipping interest. In the ports of Germany, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden, vessels of the first class cost in building only from 7l. to 8l. a ton; in England they cost 16l. or 17l. a ton. The expense was therefore double in the original construction. The contrast in the expense of victualling was not less. Then, with respect to wages: the wages of seamen in our merchant-ships last year were from 4l. 10s. to 2l. 10s. per month; this year they averaged 1l. 15s. The wages of foreign seamen were from 20s. to 12s. 6d. When, in addition to all this, the heavy taxation on all commodities to which our shipbuilders were subjected was considered, it would not appear surprising that foreign builders should be able to build vessels on much cheaper terms. He had a right therefore to say that the shipping interest of this country was in a condition which entitled it to call on parliament for interference and protection. Unless it were intended that our navy should dwindle into insignificance, means ought to be adopted to lighten the burthens of our shipping interest, and to enable it to compete with the shipping interest of other countries. It was not to be expected that, at the present late period of the session, such an object could be accomplished; but he hoped they might look forward at an early period of the next session, to a rigid inquiry into the subject. He would merely occupy the time of the House in mentioning a fact which had occurred under his own observation, and tended to confirm the statements he had made. It was this: he had just left a foreign merchant who had opened an account with a banker in London, and in whose hands he had deposited bills to the amount of 35,000l., being the price of produce which he had shipped from Hamburgh to Newfoundland. The whole of this produce was foreign, and the settlers were foreign; in short, there was nothing in the whole transaction which had any thing to do with this country. It must he evident to the House, that all this was an evil which affected interests still more extensive than the shipping interest. He repeated his earnest hope, that early in the next session an opportunity would be afforded of entering fully into this important subject, with a view to relieve the shipping interest from the utter ruin with which it was threatened.
§ Mr. Ellice
said, that in his opinion the proceedings of last year had materially added to the distresses of the shipping interest, and had produced changes not only in this country, but all over the world. The present distress was said, by ministers, to have been created by the system of over-trading which our merchants and manufacturers had pursued; but he begged leave to retort the charge, and to declare that ministers themselves had been the cause of that over-trading, by the excitement and stimulus which they had given to the already excited spirit of speculation. He had no hesitation in saying, that the calamities of 1816, of 1819, and of 1826, had all been produced by the sudden contraction of the issues of the country, which had been previously deluged with paper money, beyond the amount required by its internal and external commerce. It was said now, that the quantity of shipping was increasing in this country, and not only here, but in Canada; but the fact was, that though more vessels might now be built in that colony than had formerly been built there, they were brought home almost immediately afterwards, and sold for little more than half of their original cost. The new ships not only could not find sufficient employment, but in what they did obtain they interfered with the employment of those vessels with which our ports were already overstocked. The right hon. gentleman had said, that within the last year there had been an increase of British shipping, beyond the increase of foreign shipping in the same time. That fact might easily be accounted for, without at all proving that our shipping interest was in a better situation than it had formerly been. The increase referred to, was the consequence of that system of over-trading which the right hon. gentleman deplored, and which, when we were importing from all parts of the continent, had occasioned a demand for the service of all the British shipping; and when their numbers were exhausted, and not till then, had had recourse to foreign shipping to aid in satisfying the powerful commercial excitement which had been created. The shipping interest were mistaken if they imagined that the right hon. gentleman could alter his course for their particular benefit. He could not do so: and if he did, he would not do enough. What course, then, must he pursue? Why, he must not only follow 1196 his principle of free trade, but must go on further, he must reduce every tax and burthen which affected the shipping interest of England, so as to place them in the same situation as the shipping interest of other countries. He had long attempted to make ministers adopt this course, but it was only last session that he had been able to induce them to reduce the duty on shipping—a duty which was then equal in amount to the profit that a foreigner expected to derive from the freight of his vessel. The stamps on policies ought also to be reduced, and government ought now to be convinced, that they could not raise the present amount of taxation at the same time that they determined to carry on the principles of free trade. They had altered their currency, and they should have reduced taxation to meet that alteration. He had given his support to the alteration of the currency, but it was because bethought any thing was better than that artificial system on which the value of all the property in the state might be in a moment raised or depressed. With respect to the state of trade, generally, he must say that, in his opinion, nothing could be worse. There were no symptoms of amendment, and parliament would much deceive themselves if they thought that, with our present amount of taxation— with prices extravagantly high upon one article and very low upon another—with our shipping exposed to so many burthens from which other nations were exempt, and whilst other nations paid moderate taxes—the trade of this country was likely to revive. He confessed he did not envy ministers their responsibility with respect to the state of the country generally. In the course of his own time he had seen many depressions of the different interests of the county; but he had never seen a time when the national energy seemed at so low an ebb, and gave so little promise of being able to right the vessel, or enable her again to rise with the tide. It was not, however, the fault of the right hon. gentleman opposite. He could do no more than what he had already effected: his measures had not produced the present distress; and he was justified in calling, as he had done, on those who attacked those measures, to make their attacks openly and distinctly; and not to rely on vague assertion, when they attributed to him evils that had their source in causes very different from those of the principles which he had advocated.
§ Mr. Haldimand
said, he did not mean to enter into a detail of the arguments, respecting the right hon. gentleman's commercial policy, but he could not refrain from expressing his opinion, that the right hon. gentleman had pursued his theory with a little too much eagerness. He made this remark without at all intending to charge all the evils of the country on that theory; which, however, he believed could no longer be pursued, unless a reduction of taxation was effected that would enable our merchants to compete with foreigners in the various markets of the world. We had been engaged in a conflict with the whole of Europe, which had brought great burthens upon us, and had so augmented the national taxation, that every interest in the country was fettered, and in a condition that ought to excite great alarm. It was far from his disposition to desire to debar foreigners from a participation in the benefits of British commerce; but, in the first instance, we ought to look with caution into our own affairs. We ought to look at the means by which this country had arrived at the pitch of grandeur it had attained; and then turn to our present enormous expenditure, and endeavour to ascertain how the career of prosperity was to be maintained with an expenditure of nearly sixty millions a year.
in alluding to the increased quantity of foreign shipping which had been in our ports since the passing of the reciprocity acts, took occasion to observe, that he was not at all surprised at it. Foreign ships, he was well aware, could be bought and navigated at a much less expense than our own, in consequence of our ship-builders having to send abroad for most of their materials, and also in consequence of their having to pay a greater sum for wages and provisions. Merchants, who had goods to freight, would naturally send them by those vessels which asked the least price; and, as the foreigner could afford to convey at a less price than the British shipowner, it was no wonder that, of late years, a greater quantity of foreign shipping had arrived in our ports. He had neverdoubted that this would be the effect of the system of reciprocity. Though he had no knowledge of political economy, he was inclined to believe that the increased amount of exports and imports was a proof of increased prosperity; and yet he could not conceal from himself a 1198 suspicion, that the cause of that increased prosperity might, some how or other, turn out to be prejudicial to the shipping interests of this country. It had hitherto been the policy of this country to afford different kinds of protection to its different interests. Whether that policy had been right or wrong, he would not at that moment pretend to decide; but this he could say, that, under the system of protections, every interest of the country had risen to a degree of unparalleled prosperity. How far the system of reciprocity might tend to increase that prosperity he could not tell; but it did appear to him, that the effect of it on the shipping-interest was not at all satisfactory. Indeed under the existing circumstances of the country, he was afraid that we could not compete with the foreign shipping; and more especially with that part of it which belonged to the northen states of Europe.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
said, that he could not concur in the view which the right hon. gentleman below him had taken of the present state of the shipping interest. The right hon. gentleman had ascribed the present distressed state of it to the over-trading which had recently prevailed throughout the country. Now, that over-trading was owing to the government and not to the merchants; and therefore the right hon. gentleman was not justified in saying, that the merchants were themselves to blame for the depression which existed in every department of the shipping interest. He admitted, that when the freights were high last year, we were enabled to compete with the foreigner; but he complained that, now that they had fallen, we were unequal to that competition. He could show to the House, by a series of details, that of the arrivals in the river since the beginning of the month, the proportion was as three, or at least as two, to one in favour of foreign shipping. So long as the British ship-owner was obliged to pay 3l. 10s. per month, and the foreigner only paid 20s., for seamen's wages,—so long as the former paid 6d. for beef, whilst the latter only paid 2d., this result could not be avoided. If we gave reciprocity to foreign shipping, we must, in justice to ourselves, put a countervailing duty on every thing that was imported or exported in them. He admitted that the trade of France was valuable to us; but contended, that if the French government did not think right to enter into a system of re- 1199 ciprocity with us, we had no right to abuse that government, as if it had been acting hostilely towards our commerce; but we had a right to protect ourselves, by placing countervailing duties on their goods, if we did not place it on their shipping.
said, that he wished to bring under the notice of the House certain duties affecting our shipping, which, though they were of small account when considered separately, became of some importance when considered collectively. He concurred with the hon. member for Coventry that what was wanted to enable the British to compete with the foreign ship-owner was a reduction of taxation. He held in his hand a statement of the charges which had been paid by a small vessel of 71 tons, on her voyage from London to Petersburgh. The fees for pilotage were 10l., and the other charges, including tonnage, &c., were 44l. 18s. Now, this appeared to him to be quite enormous. He had frequently pressed upon the House the necessity of making some reduction on the pilotage; and he should think that the right hon. gentleman could have no objection to making some reduction of it in the case of the smaller vessels; on which it fell most heavily, in consequence of their making, in a general way, more than one voyage in the season. He admitted that the last pilotage act was a great advantage to the shipping interest; but he thought that it might be still further improved, by altering the graduations of it. The hon. gentleman then called the attention of the House to the comparative cost of fitting out ships in a foreign and in a British port, and entered into a series of details, by which he proved, that a ship which could be fitted out in Prussia for 120l., could not be fitted out in England for less than 340l. He trusted, however, that the alarm which was now felt by the ship-owners would cure itself; or that, at any rate, it would be put down by some well-considered measure in the next session.
§ Mr. Hume
was of opinion, that the country could not congratulate itself at present upon the state of the shipping interests. He thought that if the right hon. gentleman would leave out of his calculation the increase of our shipping which had taken place last year, in consequence of the speculations which then were so prevalent, he would not find that there was any just ground for exultation in the 1200 existing state of it. The whole of the difficulties of our shipping interest resolved themselves into the increase of our taxation. The hon. member for Coventry was correct in stating, that that was the cause of our evils, and had rightly added, that our attempts to apply palliatives first to one part of our system, and then to another would never bring us back to a right system. In the year 1792 the amount of our ships was 16,000; in the present year it was 24,000. Here was an increase of 50 per cent. But what did the House think was the increase of our taxation in that time? Why, it was 400 per cent. He thought the right hon. gentleman had no right to take the increase of our shipping in any one year, as it was an unfair criterion, and certain to lead to erroneous results. He ought rather to have taken the average increase during a given number of years; and if he had done so, he would have found that the increase was not so great as he had stated, and that our shipping interest was in a worse situation than it had ever been in before. Here the hon. member entered into several details to prove this assertion. After he had concluded them, he proceeded to advise the right hon. gentleman not to continue his tax upon certain articles used in shipbuilding, as cordage, timber, &c, which, though they might not be of much consequence, taken separately, amounted to at least ten per cent on the value of every vessel. Now, a tax of 10 per cent on the hull of a vessel was enough to make the builders direct the trade to any other country. In looking at the great increase which, according to the right hon. gentleman, had taken place in the number of ships built during the last year, the House would observe, that the amount of tonnage built in the plantations amounted to 52,000 or 53,000, whereas the usual average had not formerly exceeded 11,000 or 12,000. This could not create the slightest surprise to any thinking man; for it followed of course, that individuals would prefer to build ships in any other country, rather than in that in which they had to pay an extra sum of ten per cent. The two last years were not, he repeated, a fair criterion to judge by. He would undertake to say, that if the right hon. gentleman would take any other number of years as a criterion, he would find that we had not more employment for our ship-carpenters than we had thirty years ago. This appeared to him to be a serious con- 1201 sideration; and he trusted that it would induce the right hon. gentleman to remove all the unnecessary charges which at present bore so hard on the shipping interest. He would not, however, be content with the removal of these charges. He was convinced that unless our ship-owners could get provisions much cheaper than they got them at present—unless they could reduce the rate of wages which they paid to their sailors, a measure which might easily be effected by abolishing impressment, which naturally tended to increase the rate of wages—unless they could have the duties on policies taken off, and the fees on pilotage much lessened, their present sufferings must continue, and our shipping interest be entirely ruined. In conclusion, he regretted the outcry which had been raised against the principles on which the right hon. gentleman had been recently acting. Nothing could be more unjust than such an outcry. The evils under which the shipping interest now laboured were not to be attributed to the change of system which the right hon. gentleman had introduced, but to the weight of taxation under which the country laboured, and which alone prevented it from flourishing.
Mr. C. Grant
declared his intention of not trespassing long, at that hour of the night, on the attention of the House; indeed, he could have wished that hon. gentlemen, instead of rushing wildly into this discussion, had waited until they had seen the papers printed which his right hon. friend had presented. They would then have avoided many errors into which they had now almost unavoidably fallen. The hon. gentleman who had just sat down had told the House, that his right hon. friend had deceived himself in the view which he had taken of the shipping interest. To that observation he would merely reply, that the printing of the papers would best decide whether his right hon. friend or the hon. member for Aberdeen were correct m the view they had taken of the subject. The great object which his right hon. friend wished to accomplish by his statement of that night was, to prove to the nation, that the complaints made against them out of doors were utterly unfounded, and that the measures which he had introduced had not had any effect in diminishing the commercial marine of the country, but on the contrary had considerably increased it. If, at the same time that our commercial marine had increased, our 1202 foreign commerce had also improved, it was an accession to our commercial wealth, and formed no cause of complaint against his right hon. friend. He admitted that the two last years ought, upon a general view of the question, to have been left out of the calculation of his right hon. friend; but there was a sufficient reason for his right hon. friend's introducing them, particularly into his statement of that night; and that was, that the earliest reciprocity act was passed about two years ago. Much had been said, in the course of the evening, of the expenses to which British shipping was liable. Undoubtedly it was subject to greater charges than foreign shipping; but that was not a new discovery; on the contrary, it had been the subject of remark more than a century ago. He did not state that fact to justify the continuance of the present charges, but merely to show that the difference of expense in fitting out the British and the foreign ship did not make the difference in their employment. The question of the charges to which British shipping was liable had been taken into consideration by the committee upon foreign trade. They examined several witnesses on the subject; and the result of their deliberations was, that though the freight in British vessels was dearer, there were circumstances connected with them, as their better building, navigation, seamanship, &c, which made the merchant give a preference to them. As a collateral support of the assertions of that committee, he would tell the House, that in America the chairman of a committee on American navigation had observed, that though American navigation was dearer than ours, they were enabled to support it, because they were enabled to make three voyages where we only made two. He mentioned this to show that the mere question of cheapness was not supposed to settle the matter. At that late hour he would not go further into the subject. It had been already exhausted by his right hon. friend. Attempts had been made out of doors to cast odium upon the measures introduced by his right hon. friend; and the manly course he had taken was, to come forward at once with the statement he had made to the House, and which he had no doubt would prove satisfactory both to the House and the country.
§ The several motions were then put and agreed to.