§ Mr. Sykes
rose, pursuant to the notice which he had given, to present to the House a Petition from the Ship-owners of the town of Hull. He was confident that the petition would meet with every consideration and attention from the House. If the subject to which the Petition related would of itself be sufficient to fix the attention of all the Members present, the claims of the Petition on their consideration would be enhanced by their knowing that it came from a body of well-informed and well educated gentlemen, who were perfectly cognizant of their own interests and rights, and in his opinion as well qualified as any hon. Gentleman in that House to form a correct judgment upon the subject to which the Petition referred. These gentlemen were associated together in a society called the Ship-owners' Society. From time to time they had laid their petitions most respectfully before the House, and they now again approached it with a respectful statement of their condition, 1216 loping that the House might be able to devise some remedy for their relief. They stated in the Petition which he (Mr. Sykes) held in his hand,—and he was sorry to say that he could confirm the statement to its fullest extent,—that the interests which they represented were involved in the deepest and most deplorable distress. They embodied in their Petition a resolution passed at a meeting of the Ship-owners of Hull, held last January, in which the latter expressed their regret at the present condition, and their melancholy forebodings of the future prospects, of the Shipping-interests of the United Kingdom; and, in conclusion, they earnestly prayed Parliament to institute such an inquiry into the causes of the existing distress of the Shipping-interests as might lead to some remedial measures for the relief of that important national interest. They further prayed the House that they might be relieved from foreign competition, as experience had, in their opinion, fully proved that they were not able to compete with foreigners while burthened with their present load of taxation; and they therefore suggested, that the principle of an equalization of taxation with foreigners should be first applied before they were placed upon an equality with them in other respects. They further suggested, that the House, with a view to afford relief to the existing distress of the country, should introduce a more rigid system of economy into every department of the State,—that the national expenditure should be reduced to the lowest possible scale consistent with the due maintenance of the national honour, and that a more equal distribution should be made of the public burthens. The petitioners likewise objected to the reciprocity system. With their opinions upon that subject he did not concur, and it was a proof of their candour that, though aware of his difference with them upon that point, they did him the honour of intrusting their Petition to him. He should not trouble the House by entering upon the consideration of that system at present; he should only say, that he did not think that any alteration in that system would afford any relief to the distress that prevailed in the Shipping-interests of the United Kingdom. The petitioners also took the liberty of respectfully calling the attention of the House to a reduction of those taxes which more particularly pressed upon navigation. He thought that upon that score, they had a fair claim for a reduction of taxes, and in that portion of 1217 their prayer he fully and entirely concurred. In another part of their Petition the petitioners seemed to glance at the exchange of existing taxes for a property-tax. If ever an opportunity should be afforded to him for expressing his opinion upon that subject, he should do so; but he might he permitted to say that this, at all events, was not the proper time for discussing the expediency of such a measure. He had stated the several requests of these petitioners, and the grounds upon which they rested their claim to the attention and consideration of the House; he had stated those points with regard to which he agreed with the petitioners, and those points with regard to which he differed from them; and in dissenting from them, he would add that the petitioners were gentlemen as fully competent to form a correct opinion upon the subjects to which they alluded as any Gentleman in that House. He should now proceed to state what he conceived would be the best means of affording relief to this important national interest. There were only two things—only two quarters—to which he could look for relief for the shipping of this country. The first of these measures was to extend the foreign trade of this country in every possible direction in which it could he extended, and the other was, to remove from the Ship-owners every burthen that at present prevented the extension of our foreign trade. He conceived that the petitioners were fairly entitled to that species of relief at the hands of Parliament. With respect to the first point,—he alluded to the extension of our foreign trade, he would say that he looked forward with considerable hope to the alteration which he trusted would be made on the renewal of the East-India Company's charter. He should be grievously disappointed, and so would the parties he represented on that occasion, if, upon the renewal of that charter, the British seaman should be prevented from going to any part of India or China to which the sailors or shipping of any other nation was permitted to go. It would be most detrimental to the commercial interests of this country, and a most galling injustice towards British seamen, if all other nations should be allowed to trade freely to the continent of China, while British seamen should be alone excluded from a participation in that trade. He therefore looked forward with considerable anxiety to the period when that charter should come to be renewed, and he trusted that the result would he, that we should be hereafter permitted to navigate 1218 those seas, and to carry our cargoes to India' and China free from all restrictions, and to trade with every part of those countries, like all the other nations of the earth. He also hoped that our foreign trade would be extended in other directions, and especially by the cultivation of a closer commercial intercourse with the States of South America. He should now advert to the other quarters to which he looked for relief of the Shipping interest in the shape of extension of trade. He hoped that every restriction that pressed upon British commerce would be removed. He thought that many burthens which now weighed upon the navigation and commerce of the country might be very judiciously taken off, and he should allude, in the first plate, to a burthen, of which he thought the Ship-owners very justly complained,—he meant the cost and expense of the coast-lights. That was a heavy burthen upon the Ship-owners. These coast-lights were farmed out, it was well known, by the nobility and gentry of the country, who derived a large revenue from keeping them up, and the expense of their maintenance was levied upon the Ship-owners. That burthen ought to be removed. There was also another oppressive burthen upon Ship-owners in the shape of rates for pilotage, which should likewise be taken off. There was also another burthen, called the "Greenwich-chest," which was a tax of 6d. per month upon every seaman's wages. That was a large sum of money to be levied off the seamen. It was levied for the benefit of Greenwich Hospital, and he (Mr. Sykes) should like to know why the seaman who received no benefit whatever from it should be compelled to contribute to a fund that was not devoted in any way to the support of the mercantile marine of the country. A far more important consideration, however, was the heavy taxes laid by the Government on articles used by the Ship-owner; and a reduction of those which pressed most heavily on him ought undoubtedly to be made. Why, for instance, should the present enormous duty upon hemp be kept up, while reductions had been made in the duties on tallow and other kinds of Russian produce? By reducing the duty upon hemp, the Shipowners would be able to get their cordage and other articles at a considerably reduced price. There was another matter which had been already ably pressed upon the consideration of the House by an hon. friend of his,—he meant the reduction of the stamp duties upon marine insurances. 1219 While these duties produced but a small revenue for the Government, they pressed heavily on the Ship-owners, and the reduction of them would afford considerable relief. There was another matter which he conceived well worthy of the attention of the Government and of the House—he meant an equalization of the duty on timber and deals. He thought the duty upon those two articles should be put upon an equal footing. Why should timber, when imported into this country in a solid body, pay a higher, rate of duty than when it was imported cut into deals? He should certainly bring that subject under the consideration of the House upon another occasion, and he should then like to hear, from any member of his Majesty's Government, a reason for the maintenance of this absurdly unequal duty. The fact was, that by imposing a higher rate of duty upon timber imported in a solid shape, than when imported in deals, we gave a premium to foreign labour, and discouraged the labour of our own country. There was another measure with regard to the propriety of which he entertained great doubts, but which the petitioners were anxious to press upon the House, as a means of affording them relief: he alluded to some alteration in the present bonding system. The petitioners urged that this system, which enabled foreign ship-owners to land their goods here without paying duty, was productive of great hardship to the Shipowners of this country, and that it placed them upon an unequal footing with their foreign competitors. He hoped that when the opportunity should arrive, (which he trusted would shortly be the case,) that a full and free trade would be allowed in every respect; and he confidently hoped that before the end of this Session, or at furthest before the end of next session, some of those burthens would be removed or lightened—a measure which would in some degree contribute to restore the prosperity of British Ship-owners. That general distress prevailed amongst them he had always said. That was a proposition which he believed no one who had paid any attention to the subject would deny: and he was greatly afraid that the distress, instead of diminishing, would go on increasing, unless some measures were adopted to counteract its progress. He believed in his conscience that it was greater this year than last year, and unless some remedy should be devised, he was of opinion that it would be still greater next year. The 1220 petitioners did not suggest a remedy for the distress under which they suffered; they left that to the wisdom of the House: and he thought that they had strong claims upon its consideration. To show the extent of the present distress, he should take the liberty to read a statement which had been forwarded to him by a well-informed and intelligent correspondent in the town of Hull, with regard to the trade of that port. He slated that, within the last few years, a diminution of ten per cent had taken place in the freights in that port. The following was the statement upon which that gentleman grounded his opinion, and if the facts which it contained were erroneously stated, it was open to any member to correct the error. The following was the table, as furnished by that gentleman:—
Being equal to a diminution of 15l. 7s. 7d. per cent.
Average Rate of Freights, Provisions, and Wages, from 1821 to 1824 and from 1826 to 1829, all inclusive. [The. year 1825 was omitted, as being one of feverish excitement and unusual speculation.] FREIGHTS. per ton. From 1821 to 1824.— Memel £1 3 3 Petersburgh 4 1 10 America 2 4 6 Total 7 9 7 From 1826 to 1829.— Memel 1 0 1 Petersburgh 3 10 9 America 1 15 9 Total 6 6 7 Difference 1 3 0
By that, it appeared that the total alteration against the Ship-owner in the latter period, compared with the former, was 29l. 18s. 11d. per cent. These facts spoke volumes as to the distress which prevailed in the Shipping-interest. It was impossible that the Shipowners could remain passive under such circumstances, and see their property thus slipping out of their hands, without making some effort to procure relief. The fact was, that the Shipping-interest of this country had been depreciated 100 per cent. Their 1221 distress had been going on increasing from year to year, and that fact alone should be sufficient to induce his Majesty's Government to turn its attention to the subject, with a view to afford them some relief, The petitioners merely laid their case before Parliament; they stated that many of the Ship-owners in this country had been reduced to beggary, and that if things went en as at present, and no measures were devised for their relief, their situation would be perfectly hopeless and ruin must ensue. It was impossible that Parliament could allow this interest, which contributed so materially to the maintenance of the national glory and honour, thus to sink into utter and complete ruin. All that he asked on the part of the petitioners was, that the Government and the House would apply themselves to the subject, for the purpose of devising some remedial measures for the relief of this great and important national interest.
PROVISIONS And WAGES, From 1821 to 1824— Beef £4 19 4 Pork 3 10 3 Bread 0 13 9 Wages 2 17 6 Total 12 0 10 From 1826 to 1829— Beef 5 15 3 Pork 4 1 10 Bread 0 18 10 Wages 3 0 0 Total 13 15 11 Difference 1 15 1 Percent increase 14 11 4
said, I have listened with attention to the statement of the hon. Gentleman who presented the Petition, and I can affirm, from my own knowledge, that the distress of the Shipping-interest is by no means exaggerated. The Shipowners were the first interest to experience that distress which has since unfortunately pervaded all classes: they have suffered long, and most severely. The evidence of this may be found in the present indifferent construction and parsimonious equipment of those vessels, which formerly stood preeminent in the commercial marine of the world. I remember the time when a British ship was insured at half the premium asked upon the foreigner. Now, from the causes I have stated, a foreign vessel is often preferred to the British. Notwithstanding this, I am afraid that it is not possible to grant effectual relief by legislative measures. In my judgment, the distress is to be ascribed to the natural approximation to the low prices and profits of foreign nations, which has arisen from the free intercourse since the peace. It is well known that the price which our surplus commodities command in the foreign market regulates the price at home. We have more shipping than we can employ in our coasting and colonial trades (which are, in fact, our home market as regards shipping.) The surplus ships seek employment in foreign trades, where they must of necessity navigate upon terms as low as foreign ships. These low freights bring down the freight of British ships at home 1222 to the same level; and thus cause a universal depression. I sincerely lament this distress, but am afraid the proposed remedies would in the end only increase the evil. To restrict our imports to British bottoms only, would be useless, unless we could at the same time reduce our shipping to the exact quantity necessary for our own trade, so as to have no surplus requiring employment in the foreign trade. Such being my conviction, I see no means of alleviating the British Ship-owner, except by reducing the duties upon all articles required in the construction and outfit of his vessels, in order that he may, by cheapness of materials, be enabled in some degree to compete with his foreign rival.
§ Mr. Robinson
said, he had been particularly requested by the petitioners to support the prayer of this Petition, and he rose to discharge that duty with very great pleasure. The petitioners complained, that since the period when they asked for a Committee of Inquiry—namely, the Session before last, when that committee was refused, the depression which then existed in their trade, so far from getting better, since that time had gone on continually increasing; that the diminution in the value of their property had proceeded at rapid strides; that the rate of freights had become still lower; and that their ships were employed now in many instances without any profitable return. It became the House to consider whether this important national interest should be consigned to ruin without any effort being made to afford it relief. His hon. friend, in presenting the Petition, had said, that the petitioners did not point out any particular remedy for their distress. They certainly did not, because they were of opinion that, without inquiry, it would be presumptuous on their part to dictate to the House the species of remedy which they conceived should be employed for the removal of the distress. It was for the House to institute an inquiry, and to apply the proper, remedy. He recollected that in the course of an incidental discussion upon this subject last Session, the hon. member for Liverpool (Mr. Huskisson) said, that he did not believe that the Shipping-interest was so much depressed as it was described to be, for that we went on building ships, and he could not be satisfied that the Shipping-interest was in such distress while that was the case. He was obliged, however, to deny the correctness of that statement at the time, and he would refer the hon. Member to an account of the number 1223 of ships built in the years 1827, 1828, and 1829, to show that there had been latterly a considerable falling-off. He had taken the trouble that day of consulting the Finance Accounts for the last year, which were not, as yet, in the hands of hon. Members; and it appeared by them that a great falling-off had taken place in ship-building. The facts which he should state afforded ample grounds for investigation; and he trusted that these facts, which showed that the Shipping-interests were in a dreadful state of destruction and depression, would make such an impression upon the Government and the House as to induce them to institute an inquiry. He found by the Finance Accounts, that during the year ending the 5th of January in each of the following years, the number of ships built, with the amount of their tonnage, was as follows:—
Thus exhibiting a decrease of 279 vessels, and 43,142 tons, in 1828; of 534 vessels, and 78,336 tons, in 1829; and of 644 vessels, and 96,407 tons, in the last year, 1830, as compared with the year 1827. That table showed that there had been a diminution of nearly one-half in the amount of tonnage built during a period of only three years. That was an important fact to illustrate the present condition of the Shipping-interest, and was more impressive than the mere fact of the quantity of employment obtained by our ships, which had been cited as an argument to prove that the distress was not so general as had been stated. The truth was, that what ever ships were in existence must be employed, or abandoned altogether, as property, for that was the only alternative. If they were not employed and kept, they occasioned a ruinous expense without any profit. But were they to be seriously told, that when persons employed vessels they must necessarily make profits by them? It was not, in fact, possible to tell, when a vessel commenced a voyage, that it would turn out advantageous, which could only be determined at the end of the voyage. It should be recollected, too, that the Ship-owner always wont on hoping for an improvement, though the state of his trade might be every day getting worse and worse. He could prove that, by a reference to the number of foreign and British ships trading to the ports in the Baltic. His hon. Friend 1224 the member for Hull, had expressed his dissent from the opinions of the petitioners, with reference to what he (Mr. Robinson) would say, was falsely called the system of reciprocity. That system, conjoined with other causes, had increased the depression and distress of the Shipping-interests of this country. It was not possible for British ships, while burthened with one-third more expense, and subject to increased charges in the shape of taxes, to compete with foreign ships. To prove that, he would refer to an official return of the number of Foreign and British vessels which had cleared outwards for and entered inwards from the ports of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Russia. The number of foreign vessels entered inwards from those countries for the different ports of the United Kingdom in the year 1829 was 1,946; the number of British vessels employed in that trade for the same period was only 1,164—the foreign tonnage amounted to 293,402 tons, and the British to 187,822 tons. The number of foreign seamen employed was 14,573, and the number of British only 8,554. It would be found too, that a similar disproportion existed between the number of British and foreign vessels cleared outwards in the same trade during the same period. The number of foreign ships cleared outwards for the ports of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Russia, was 1842, amounting to 267,579 tons, and employing 13,425 seamen. The number of British ships cleared outwards in the same trade for the same period was 1,023, amounting to 189,462 tons, and employing 7,656 men. These facts showed, that in the trade with the ports of the Baltic and of the North of Europe, we were not able to compete with the vessels of foreign shipowners. He saw that within the last three days another reciprocity treaty had been laid on the table of the House, formed with the Emperor of Austria. He would not, upon the present occasion, enter into the policy of that treaty; but this he would say, that it did appear to him most strange and incomprehensible that we should open all the various and numerous ports of the United Kingdom to a power which had only three ports in its dominions to which our ships went, Trieste, Venice, and Fiume. Venice, be it also recollected, was now a free port; and therefore to Venice we should have had free access without any reciprocity treaty. The fact was, that owing to such impolitic regulations, the declension, of our Shipping-in 1225 terest was great and general, and he contended that upon investigation it would be proved to be so beyond all possibility of contradiction. It appeared from a petition which was now upon their Table, that in the port of Whit by, where in 1826 there had been eight ship-yards and seven graving-docks, and upwards of 1,000 men regularly employed, three of the former had been given up already, and two more were going to be abandoned; and that all the docks would be given up and the trade entirely relinquished, unless something were done for its relief by the Government. Let the House consider how the distress of the Shipping-interest affected the general interests of the country. It was not merely because our commercial greatness would pass away like an empty vision if the Shipping-interest of the country were ruined, that he called attention to this subject, but because it had a tendency to augment and aggravate the distress of every other interest in the community. The Shipping-interest gave occupation to many branches of industry: it consumed considerable quantities of various of our manufactures, and thus gave employment and subsistence to a vast portion of our labouring poor. He therefore contended, that it was well worthy of the attention of the House; and in spite of the various instances of refusal to cuter into committees of inquiry which had occurred during the present Session, he hoped that the House would see that it was its duty not to continue in a blind adherence to a system which ought now at least to undergo examination, as all the predictions of its success had been completely falsified. We were at present pursuing a course which seemed likely to lead to great mischief; and he thought that the sooner we paused in our career, the better it would be for the country. It had been said, "What good will inquiry do?" He would answer that question by another—"Will it do any harm?" If the investigation for which the petitioners asked were granted, and it were proved in the course of it that the evils of which they complained were attributable to other causes from those which they imagined, they would sec that those evils were inevitable from their situation, and would learn to bear them with patience and fortitude; but they would never be satisfied to be told without examination, and on the mere dicta of some official gentlemen, that the distress which overwhelmed them was at once inevitable and irremediable. The 1226 ship-owners had, in their general distress, a decided case against the vague representations which had been made of their prosperity, and there was also a primâ facie case against these representations in the constant refusal of Government to grant any inquiry; for it was quite clear that if Ministers were convinced that an inquiry would bear out their representations, they would not have the slightest objection to grant it. He admitted that the present was too important a question to be thus incidentally introduced to the consideration of the House, but as his hon. friend, who presented the Petition, had no intention to follow it up by any motion, he, as a Shipowner, had felt himself induced to cull attention to it. Whether his hon. friend intended at some future period to found a motion upon this Petition, he did not know; and being in that state of ignorance, he thought it right to state fairly, but without exaggeration, the distressed condition of the ship-owners, and to express a hope that the Government would look to it with all the attention which its importance required. He hoped that the reciprocity system would not be followed up by the formation of any more treaties with foreign powers, until the result of the treaties already made was more fully known. We had already gone far enough in that system; we ought to wait for the experience of a few years before we went further. If that experience should prove that the system was good, then we might proceed further; but till then the system ought not to be extended. The only parties who cooperated with us in that system were those small slates which had every thing to gain and nothing to lose by it. Those great commercial nations, which by adopting the reciprocity system were most likely to conduce to our benefit, would have nothing to do with it; they determined to employ their own ships in their own trade, and instead of meeting us with concessions similar to our own, they rendered our access to their ports expensive by imposing high duties. He therefore thought that it was a question which Government ought to consider immediately, whether they could not alter for the better the present boasted reciprocity system.
Ships. Tons. 1827 1,719 207,088 1828 1,440 163,946 1829 1,185 128,752 1830 1,075 110,681
§ Mr. William Duncombe
said, that the object of this petition had been so fully and ably stated by the hon. and learned member for Hull, that he did not feel it necessary to say many words in support of it. But as he had presented petitions of a, 1227 similar nature from several other sea-ports in the county which he had the honour to represent, he could not let the opportunity pass without expressing a hope to the president of the Board of Trade that he would institute a minute inquiry into the condition of the Shipping-interest. He was convinced that the distress of that interest was not, as that of Birmingham had been represented to be, imaginary, but urgent, clear, and almost overwhelming. The petition which he had presented from Whitby on a former night, stated that several of the establishments for ship-building in that town had been given up, and that others now in existence were likely to share the same fate. The petition which he had presented from the port of Scarborough contained the same statement, and both that petition and the former attributed the distress of the Shipping-interest to the alteration of the Navigation-laws in 1826. He concurred with the petitioners in that opinion; and he trusted that if it were possible for Government to make an alteration in those treaties which had grown out of the reciprocity system, they would apply themselves to that task without delay. He trusted that they would also examine whether relief in some other shape could not be afforded to the Shipping-interest; for it was not merely the ship-owners, but all the artisans who depended upon them for employment, who were affected by the severity of the distress which now pressed upon the Shipping-interest. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that this subject would even yet be deemed worthy of inquiry.
Mr. Alderman Waithman
supported the petition, and expressed his concurrence with what had fallen from the hon. Member who had presented it. He hoped that the President of the Board of Trade would take the subject into his consideration with a view of affording relief.
§ Mr. Hume
rose also to express a hope that the right hon. President of the Board of Trade would take some notice of the statements which had just been made to the House, He was one of those who thought that some relief might be granted to this particular branch of trade. One of the objects prayed for in the petition presented by his hon. friend, the member for Hull, was certainly within the power of the Government. It was quite possible for the Government to reduce the rates paid by merchant vessels for lighthouses—rates which put about 18,000l. or 20,000l. a year into the coffers of the Commissioners 1228 of Woods and Forests, but which took 18l. or 20l. from each vessel to put into the pockets of the nobility and gentry who farmed them. The Government might also reduce the rate of duties levied on various materials used in ship-building, such as hemp and timber; indeed, he thought it was a duty incumbent upon Government to reduce them. He could not, however, concur with the hon. member for Worcester (Mr. Robinson), in attributing the present distressed condition of the Shipping-interest to the reciprocity treaties. But for those treaties he believed that things would at present have been much worse. For though it might be true that the Shipping-interest was now in a very low condition, every branch of industry, even those which had no connexion with the reciprocity system, was in an equally depressed state. The hon. member for Worcester had stated, that the predictions made about the success of the reciprocity system had signally failed, but had not said a single word to show how they had failed. He had shown that the Shipping-interest was in distress; but so were other interests. As to the want of employment, of which the ship-owners at present complained, it was one of those accidents which could not be avoided. If we had more ships than were required, the supply must be reduced to the demand. He believed that the supply was now reduced to the demand, and he hoped that by next year they would hear that every ship was in full employment. The hon. Member concluded by expressing a hope that the Government would take off the tax which was imposed on every seaman on board of a commercial vessel for the benefit of the chest at Greenwich Hospital. He conceived that it ought to be taken off because it was partial in its collection, and unjust in its operation.
thought, that the House would have been more surprised if he had entered into a discussion like the present, containing such various topics, and embracing so wide a field, on the presentation of a petition, than it now was on hearing the hon. member for Aberdeen taunting him for his silence. Had it not been for the appeal made to him by the hon. member for Montrose, he should not have risen for one moment to address the House on the present occasion. It was to vindicate himself from the possible imputation of any want of respect to the hon. member for Hull, who had presented this petition, and 1229 to the important subject to which that hon. Member had called the attention of the House in the course of his speech, but on which he had not founded, or expressed his intention to found, any motion, that he now trespassed for a few moments on its consideration. He could not consent to enter, upon the present occasion, into any discussion of that great question which the hon. member for Worcester had brought under the notice of the House: for, if he touched upon that topic, what topic, already introduced into the debate, was there, which he could properly fail to notice? The first topic on which he would be called to enter would be that of free trade; and he used the term free trade, because it was the denomination by which a system of commercial policy recently adopted was generally entitled in that House. The hon. Member who presented the petition seemed to take the same view of the question of free trade which he himself was disposed to take. He might therefore leave that hon. Member to give his opinions before him upon that subject, and to refute the observations of the hon. member for Worcester. The same answer would apply to all that had been said on the present occasion respecting the bonding system. Plausible as the arguments against it might appear on the first view, it became quite preposterous, after considering the subject maturely, to think of doing it away. He had had several interviews on the subject with some of the leading Members of the interests to which the hon. Member professed to belong; and the scheme of getting rid of the bonding system was no sooner mentioned in argument than it was immediately abandoned. The hon. member for Hull seemed to agree with him also upon this topic—so that there was no occasion for him to pursue it further. Then there was the reciprocity system! Was the present an occasion on which he ought to address the House for the purpose of showing that the consequences attributed to that system had not emanated from it? That system was no system of his. He could not, therefore, be supposed to have any unfair predilection for it. It had been introduced by others, and though he had fully concurred in the views of those who had adopted it, it by no means followed that he was to defend it at all hazards. Still, though he would not enter into the discussion at present, he was pre-pared, at the proper time, to show that the hon. Member was completely mistaken in the view which he had taken respecting it. 1230 The very fact that the average amount of British tonnage entered inwards and cleaved outwards for the last four years greatly exceeded the average amount of British tonnage during the four years ending in 1824 before the alteration of our system, was a proof that the alteration had not been productive of mischief to the Shipping-interest. There had been an increase of 242,882 tons entered inwards in the latter period. There had likewise been a proportional increase in the number of ships, of tonnage, and of men cleared outwards within the same time. He admitted that in foreign shipping there had been a small increase; but upon the whole, the great increase of employment had undoubtedly been in favour of British shipping. This was a fact which was not known to him alone—it came within the knowledge of every man who gave himself the trouble of attending to this subject. That there had been an increase of the foreign shipping engaged in the British trade was a point which he did not mean to deny; but the increase of the foreign tonnage was to the increase of the British tonnage in the ratio of 5,000 to 200,000. He mentioned this, not for the idle purpose of gaining a temporary advantage in debate, but for the sake of dispelling the gross delusions which prevailed in certain quarters on this topic. He did not enter at present into the question of the profits or of the distress of the shipowners, who were employed, as they stated, at a loss. He would only say, that there was, on the part of Ministers, no want of anxious attention to the condition of the Shipping-interest. There was, on the contrary, an earnest desire to apply their best abilities to the consideration of any remedy which the members of that interest, could point out for the grievances of which they complained. Ministers were, and had been, ready upon all occasions to listen to all their petitions, to weigh them with care, and to argue them with patience, and they had never turned a deaf ear to any statement which had come from this important branch of the trade of the country. He assured the House that Ministers were inclined to pay attention to those parts of the petition which were of a peculiar kind, not referring to the foreign policy of the country, but to the burthens more peculiarly affecting the Shipping-interest; and concluded by promising that they should be made the subject of his immediate consideration.
§ Mr. John Stewart
referred, in confirmation of the assertions of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, to a declaration contained in the Report recently made by the Committee on commerce to the Congress of the United States. That declaration was as follows:—"When the present and past condition of our navigation are contrasted,—when we compare the increase of British and American tonnage before and since the war, and show the rapid growth of the commerce of the British North American possessions, we shall learn to comprehend the advantages of a system of free trade, and we shall perhaps feel no small degree of alarm, lest our fatal restrictions should have already driven us too far in the rear of all our rivals for national power and naval ascendancy." Attached to that report was a comparative statement of British and American tonnage actually employed; and from that statement it appeared, that for the last few years the increase had regularly been on the side of British, and the decrease on the side of American, tonnage. The hon. member for Worcester had quoted the number of foreign vessels entering inwards as a proof of the mischief arising to the Shipping-interest from the reciprocity system; but the evidence which the hon. Member had brought in support of his position did not appear to him to be altogether satisfactory. For his own part, he believed that all foreign shipping was in a much worse situation than our own. The distress of the Shipping-interest was not the malady of our country, but of the times. He believed that the further we advanced in experience, the more should we be convinced that the doctrines advanced upon this subject by his right hon. friend, the member for Liverpool, were doctrines founded on sound policy and the most philosophical principles of political economy. They were the seeds which would hereafter ripen into a plentiful harvest of national wealth; and to their prosperous results might be applied the beautiful expression of Virgil—Tarda venit seris factura nepotibus umbram.''The Petition was then brought up. On the question that it be laid upon the Table,
§ Mr. Robinson
said, that he must be permitted to make one or two remarks on the observations which had fallen from the right hon. President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman had said truly that there had been—not that there is—an increase in the amount of British tonnage entered inwards and cleared, outwards. 1232 Though the right hon. Gentleman had not given the returns up to the latest period. He had seen them; and by the official return for the last year, which had not yet been published, it appeared that there had been a decrease in the amount of tonnage for the present year. The right hon. Gentleman said, that there had been an increase in the amount of British tonnage employed in trade generally. He would undertake on another opportunity to show, beyond all possibility of contradiction, that that increase belonged entirely to the vessels engaged in our colonial trade, which had nothing to do with any reciprocity system, and to the vessels engaged in the Brazilian and Indian trade. He would undertake to show that there had been, during the year ending December, 1829, a decrease in the registered tonnage of the United Kingdom of no less than 642 vessels.
, in reply, stated that he had spoken of the increase in the amount of our tonnage from returns made up to the latest period. He had stated that the amount of British tonnage entering inwards and clearing outwards for the last four years was superior to the amount for the four years immediately preceding the year in which we made the alterations in our commercial system; and he now said, that the amount of men, tonnage and ships entering inwards and clearing outwards, during the last year, was greater than ever it was at any former period. Take the amount, for instance, for the years 1828 and 1829. In 1828, hte number of ships entering inwards was 13,436, their tonnage was 2,094,357, and the number of men employed was 119,141. In 1829 the number of ships entering inwards was 13,659, their tonnage was 2,184,535, and the number of men employed was 122,185. Thus the difference in favour of the year 1829, for ships entering inwards, was, in ships, 223, in tonnage 90,178, and in men 3,044. In 1828, the number of ships clearing outwards was 12,248, their tonnage was 2,006,397, and the number of men employed was 119,143. In 1829 the corresponding numbers were—ships 12,636, tonnage, 2,063,179, men, 119, 262. Thus the difference in favour of the year 1829, for ships clearing outwards, was, in ships 388, in tonnage 56,782, and in men 119-Surely this would satisfy the hon. Member for Worcester. He had also spoken of the comparative average amount of ships, tonnage, and men entering inwards and clear- 1233 ing outwards, for the four years ending with the 5th of January 1822, 1823, 1824, and 1825; and for the four years 1826, 1827, 1828, and 1829; and if the hon. member would allow him, he would shortly state it to the House. In the first of these two periods there were entered inwards, on an average, ships 11,894, tonnage 1,836,223, men, 110,734; in the latter of them there were—ships 13,175, tonnage 2,079,105, men, 117,775; leaving a difference in favour of the last period, of ships 1,281, tonnage, 242,882, men 7,041. In the first of the same two periods, there were, of ships clearing outwards, 10,172, tonnage, 1,634,327, men, 101,034-; and in the latter, ships 11,802, tonnage 1,923,671, men, 113,999; leaving again a difference in favour of the latter period—of ships, 1,630, tonnage 289,344, men, 12,965. He would likewise state that the increase of British ships, on the average of the last four years, over foreign ships, engaged in foreign navigation, was—in ships entering inwards 464, in tonnage, 5,000, and in men, 530; and in ships clearing outwards was, 820, tonnage, 30,000, and men, 2,400.
§ Mr. Robinson
again contended, that in the return which he had seen there were 642 vessels of registered tonnage less this year than there were last.
§ The Petition laid on the Table. On the motion that it be printed,
§ Mr. Sykes
returned thanks to his hon. friend, the Member for Montrose, for having excited the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, by his observations, to give some reply to the statements of the petitioners. He thought that this question would have been left in a very unsatisfactory condition indeed, if it had not elicited from his right hon. friend the observations which he had just made. His object in giving notice of his intention to present this petition to-day, was to apprize Ministers of the importance which he attributed to it, and to call upon them to declare their sentiments upon it. If his light hon. friend had persisted in his original determination to keep silence, the greatest dismay would have fallen upon the petitioners. It would have pleased him much more if his right hon. friend, instead of dealing in general professions of the attention which be and his colleagues were always ready to 1234 pay to the complaints of the ship-owners, had said that he was prepared to bring forward some specific measure for their relief. As to Free Trade, that was a subject on which he had not thought fit to say a single word: for on this subject, of all others, he thought that a discussion of its merits ought not to be introduced. Free Trade, as he understood the phrase, consisted in the greatest extension of imports and exports into and from every country in the world. To other interests it might be one of the most pestilent heresies that ever existed; he did not, however, think that it was; but to the ship-owners it could not but be favourable, as they were, and must always remain, the carriers of the world, and it gave them, as far as possible, the liberty to go to every part of the world.