HC Deb 18 August 1831 vol 6 cc220-3
Mr. George Robinson

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to a question which considerably affected the commerce of this country, and he therefore trusted he might be excused for pressing it on their attention at that moment. The House would recollect, that on the 26th of January, 1826, one of the treaties which were called Reciprocity Treaties had been concluded between this country and France, by which it was agreed, that from and after the 5th of April following, all ships of both nations should be admitted into the several ports of each, on payment of the same duty as that levied upon the vessels of each particular nation. It was likewise provided, that all goods, wares and merchandise, should be admitted into their several ports, in vessels belonging to either nation, at the same rate of duty as was charged by each nation upon goods, wares, and merchandise, imported in ships of their own country. Now, nothing could, to all appearance, be more fair and equitable than this arrangement, but he thought he should be able to prove, that although this treaty might have been kept to the letter, it had yet-been violated in the spirit, by the government of France. To explain this, he begged, in the first instance, to read a few words from one of the clauses of the treaty, which would show, that the object contemplated by the contracting parties was, to diminish the burthens upon commerce generally, and that there was not the slightest intimation of an intention to increase the duties upon either side. The words were, "At the same time, with a view of diminishing the burthens upon commerce generally, his most Christian Majesty consents to reduce all duties in proportion with those now levied in the ports of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland." Here there was reference to a probable diminution of duty, but nothing was intimated respecting an increase; because the great object of the treaty was, that both nations should diminish the burthens upon commerce already existing. Would the House, then, believe, that when this treaty was promulgated on the 8th of February, 1826, it was accompanied by an Ordonnance, to which England was no party, raising the duty on French tonnage, and therefore on British tonnage, admitted under this treaty, above what it had been before. The consequence of this was, that the rate of duty paid by English vessels in the ports of France was much greater than that paid by French ships entering into British ports. A remonstrance, he understood, had been made to the French authorities upon this subject; and the only answer which could be obtained was, that they had adhered to the letter of the treaty, in not charging more on English tonnage than on that of their own vessels. He admitted the fact; but he insisted they had violated the spirit of the agreement. It might be said, perhaps, by the French government, that England could, if she thought proper, pursue the same course; but France knew well, that according to the course of our commerce, it would be utterly impossible for us to raise the duty upon British tonnage; and that she must, during the remaining five years of the treaty, if we succumbed to this violation of the spirit of the compact, continue to enjoy the advantage. By another article of the treaty, it would be remembered that goods were allowed to be imported into this country in French vessels, at the same rate of duty as if they had arrived in British bottoms. But let the House observe the different effect which this arrangement had upon the commerce of the two countries. While here it was the policy to lower every duty on French goods and merchandise, so as to afford them the utmost facility of introduction into this country, the policy of France, on the contrary, was to impose a prohibitory duty on British goods. Thus it appeared, that in commerce as well as in shipping, France enjoy- ed every advantage in our power to grant, while we, on the contrary, were precluded from every benefit in her power to bestow. The duty on British ships in French ports was seven francs a ton; on French ships, in British ports, it was only three shillings a ton. Before this treaty had been passed, too, it had never been the practice to levy a duty upon the tonnage of French vessels returning from a foreign port, nor was it now, except in respect of those vessels returning from a British port. Now, however, they charged a heavy duty on French ships returning from British ports, and this simply and solely that they might be enabled to levy a similar amount upon British vessels. His object in calling the attention of the House to this subject was, to procure sufficient official information to enable the House to come to a conclusion upon the question, and to justify him in a motion, that his Majesty's Government be directed to address a remonstrance to France upon the virtual infraction of the treaty—an amicable remonstrance—which he could not doubt would, under the circumstances of the case, be found sufficient. He should accordingly move for copies or extracts from the correspondence between his Majesty's Government and the Consul-general at Paris on this subject. If, however, he were assured by the Government that they would take the matter into their own hands, and if the treaty was, as he contended it had been, virtually violated, pledge themselves to obtain redress, he would not press his Motion. The hon. Member moved "for copies and extracts from the correspondence between the British Government and the Consul-general at Paris, relative to tonnage and other duties levied in the ports of France since the Convention of 1826."

Viscount Palmerston,

after admitting the extreme candour and fairness with which the hon. Member had brought his Motion forward, said, that when he informed the hon. Member the matter Was under discussion between Ministers and the French government, and that the production of the papers would be attended with inconvenience, he was sure that the hon. Member would not press his Motion. A correspondence was at that moment going forward with the French Government, which it would then be inconvenient to produce, but when it was brought to a close, he should not have the slightest objection to lay the whole of it before the House. He would not at present attempt to argue the case, because he was engaged in endeavouring to convince the French government that they had not heretofore executed the treaty properly, and according to our acceptance of it; and that, in fairness and equality, what we demanded of them ought to be done forthwith.

Motion withdrawn.