on rising to present a Petition from the Ship-owners of the City of London, observed, that the subject of this Petition—the changes that had lately been made in the Navigation Laws of this country—was one of vital importance to the nation, as there was great reason to fear that if, by any accident or false legislation, this country suffered other nations in this respect to get the start of her, it would be exceedingly difficult, if not altogether impossible, to regain her position. He took that opportunity, therefore, of asking the vice-president of the Board of Trade, whether it was the intention of government to grant a committee of inquiry upon this subject? He felt himself perfectly unprejudiced; as he acknowledged that he had been one of those who had called for the alterations, respecting which he had since seen some reason to change his mind. He entirely concurred in a sentiment delivered by his right hon. friend, in the very eloquent speech with which he had introduced the bills on this subject, that in carrying into effect experiments founded on untried theories, the best and wisest men might be led into mistakes. The hon. gentleman then proceeded to express his conviction, that some inquiry was necessary into the state of distress which prevailed among those engaged in the shipping trade, for the purpose of ascertaining whether that distress really proceeded from the measures which had been adopted, or whether it was not the consequence of that general stagnation of trade which had, more or less, affected all the other branches of national industry. If it could be really proved before a committee, that the present state of the shipping trade resulted from the measures which had been adopted by his majesty's government, and that if those measures were persisted in, the distress must go on increasing, then it was obvious, that, unless they turned back from the course which they had been pursuing, it would be impossible for this country to compete with foreigners, cither in the shipping or carrying trade. After several other observations, which were delivered in too low a tone to reach the gallery, the hon. gentleman concluded by expressing his conviction, that it had been proved beyond contradiction, that ships built in Great Britain cost just as much again as those built in Germany; in short, that every thing necessary to send a ship to sea, cost double 1268 what it could be purchased for in that country. Under these circumstances, he certainly did think that some inquiry by a committee ought to take place as soon as possible. Nothing could be more censurable than the conduct of government with respect to that great and important question. The apathy which they had displayed for the last two or three weeks, upon that and almost every other subject, was to him a matter of astonishment. How the country was to go on, if it could be proved that it was not able to support itself as a maritime power, he was unable to understand; and he did hope that the House would press the subject upon the immediate attention of government. They seemed, indeed, to be at a stand-still for some time, on account of the want of a prime minister; and he hoped, if something was not done, and done speedily, to give an energy to the proceedings or the government, that some independent gentleman would move an address to the Throne [hear!], for the purpose of ascertaining what course was intended to be pursued, and hastening the appointment of those men who were to regulate the proceedings of the government [hear].
Mr. C. Grant
begged not to be supposed to assent to the propositions of the hon. member, if he abstained from following him through the various subjects he had touched upon. All he rose to say was, that his right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Trade, was exceedingly anxious to take the earliest opportunity which his health would allow of, to bring the subject under the consideration of the House. He begged, at the same time, not to be understood as pledging his right hon. friend to adopt any particular course. He was not authorised to make any declaration on that subject by his right hon. friend. He merely begged to be understood as declaring, that he would take the earliest opportunity of putting the House in possession of the views of his majesty's government upon the whole question connected with the Shipping interest of the country.
§ General Gascoyne,
after having postponed his motion so frequently, in order to have the opportunity of hearing the sentiments of his right hon. colleague (Mr. Huskisson) upon the great question which it involved, felt strong reluctance to bring it forward in his absence. As he understood, however, that his right hon. colleague 1269 was most anxious to be present, he thought, under the present circumstances, that it would be most beneficial to all parties if he postponed the motion of which he had given notice, until after the Easter recess. He now begged leave to give notice, that he would bring the state of the Shipping-trade under the consideration of the House, upon the 1st of May.
Mr. Alderman Thompson
was willing to admit, that great distress prevailed among the ship-owners; but he very much doubted whether it was in the power of parliament to afford them any relief. It was his opinion, that the alteration in the Navigation Laws, which was said to be the cause of all their distress, had not injured the ship-owners to any thing like the extent which was supposed. That distress, he feared, was but a part of the system of overtrading, which had, more or less, affected all the interests of the country. It was a matter well worth the attention of the House, that the shipping had not fallen off in number of vessels or extent of tonnage, since the alterations which were now decried as the sole cause of all their misfortunes. The shipping interest, like every other, had been affected by the late spirit of overtrading; and, although he entertained serious doubts whether any remedy could be applied by that House, he had no objection to an inquiry before a committee.
deprecated discussion at the present moment, and hoped that members would abstain from making any precipitate pledges, as to the course which they would take.
said, of this he was convinced, that the shipping interest could not remain in its present state. Either something less should have been done, or something more should now be done. He did not know what would become of the country, if we did not maintain our commercial superiority.
said, he had observed no indications of that division of opinion in the cabinet, which the hon. member for Callington stated to exist, with respect to the liberal system of commercial policy lately adopted by government. On the contrary, he had observed—and it had given him much satisfaction—that all the members of government had concurred in stating their determination to continue to act upon the liberal principles which they had avowed. He thought it right to say 1270 thus much, because the statement of the hon. member was calculated to give weight to the anti-liberal party, if any such existed in the government.
§ Sir T. Lethbridge
said, it might be the wish of ministers, but he doubted their ability, to follow up the liberal system in all its bearings. It was with some surprise that he had listened to the observations of the hon. member for Callington that night, because he recollected that, three years ago, on presenting a petition to that House, the hon. member had called upon government to carry into execution those very principles which he now so strongly objected to [hear, hear]. For himself, he entertained the same opinion which he at that time expressed; namely, that it was impossible for this highly-taxed country to follow up the system of free trade. The distress of the ship-owners arose from this circumstance—that the protection which they formerly enjoyed against the competition of foreign shipping had been withdrawn. Nobody could desire more than himself to see the President of the Board of Trade in the House again; but he thought the question was one which ought not to be postponed on account of the absence of any individual. He trusted that the hon. general would not postpone his motion beyond next week; for he knew well the anxiety which was felt on the subject, and the vital interests which were at stake.
§ Sir E. Knatchbull
said, that if the motion were postponed to the 1st of May, the appointment of a committee at that period would be useless, so far as regarded the present session.
said, that the question of time was of great importance, and for that reason he was desirous of learning from the vice-president of the Board of Trade, whether ministers intended to oppose the appointment of a committee. If ministers were resolved not to grant a committee, it did not much matter when the motion was made; but if the contrary was the case, it ought to be brought forward immediately. He recommended ministers to turn the matter in their minds, and to state their decision, not that night, but to-morrow or the next day. If that decision should be in favour of the appointment of a committee, it might be immediately nominated, and the subject could then be calmly and dispassionately investigated.
§ General Gascoyne
observed, that if 1271 ministers intended to accede to his motion, there would be no necessity to postpone it; but, if otherwise, he would not bring it forward till the time he had stated.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that without pledging himself as to any particular course which the government might think it advisable to adopt, when the motion should be submitted, he hedged to state, on the part of himself and his right hon. friends, that their wish was that the gallant general should take exactly that course which he considered most convenient to himself, to the petitioners, and to all the parties interested. If the gallant officer should fix upon a time when his right hon. friend, the President of the Board of Trade, should, from ill health, be unable to attend, he undertook to say, on the part of those about him, that, they would, though deprived of the assistance of their right hon. colleague, endeavour to give the best explanation in their power of the views of government upon the subject.
§ General Gascoyne
said, that after what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman, he would postpone his motion to the 29th instant.