HC Deb 17 August 1835 vol 30 cc610-3
Mr. Robinson

had given notice that on the reading the Order of the Day he should call the attention of the House to the Commercial Confederation between the Kingdom of Prussia and other states of Germany; if, however, the bringing forward the subject was in the least degree inconvenient to the noble Lord, he would postpone it. He had already brought the subject under the attention of the House; but in consequence of what had taken place lately, he felt called upon, before the termination of the Session, once more to press the subject on the attention of the Government. The commercial arrangement to which he alluded did not extend merely to Prussia, but also obtained with regard to the other States of the North of Germany. He could not help feeling that the confederation to which he alluded was of the most extraordinary character, and was framed somewhat in a spirit of national hostility. He conceived the matter to be of considerable importance; and he, as a commercial man, should consider himself guilty of negligence if he did not call the attention of the House to it. Prussia, not satisfied with what she had already done, was endeavouring to induce other parties to join in this treaty, and since last year she had gained over the important State of Baden. It was difficult to point out the course Government should pursue under the circumstances of the case: but still the attention of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign affairs, should be directed to the subject. Undoubtedly, every nation had a right to fix the duties on the importation of goods into its own territories, but the tariff of Prussia imposed such heavy duties on articles of British manufacture, as to amount to almost a prohibition. Not satisfied with imposing these heavy duties in her own territory, she had induced other countries to follow her example, and to equalise the duties on all goods imported into them. By this means there was one general system of Custom-house regulations throughout the North of Germany, and the same duties were paid in all the districts. Prussia also claimed the right of raising these duties to any height it pleased. He could not help feeling that in the course pursued Prussia was influenced by some political considerations. He was sure that the noble Lord could not be ignorant that Prussia, under the pretence of these regulations, might be aiming a blow at the interests of this country. He need not allude to the jealousy entertained by both Prussia and Russia at the intimate connexion existing between France, Spain, and Portugal, and this country. Those two powers were fully aware how dangerous it would be to make a hostile attack on this country or her allies, but they thought they could injure her by means of vexatious commercial regulations. It might be said that the superior energy and ingenuity of the people of this country would overcome all the difficulties thrown in her way: admitting this to be the case to a considerable extent, still the enforcement of such vexatious regulations must prove highly prejudicial to the commerce of England. The avowed object of Prussia was to force England to make a change in her corn laws and timber duties. If they succeeded in forcing us to alter the present state of the law on those subjects, it became a question as to what was the best and most advantageous arrangement with Prussia. If a change became necessary, the noble Lord should endeavour to make it conditional on an alteration of the tariff. All that he required was, that the Government should take such a course as would ensure equivalent advantages to this country with those which were likely to be obtained by other States. He was anxious to obtain from the noble Lord some explanation as to the course intended to be pursued by the Government. The hon. Gentleman concluded by proposing that a copy of the commercial treaty between Prussia and the other Confederate States of Germany be laid on the Table.

Viscount Palmerston

did not intend to cast any blame on the hon. Gentleman for calling the attention of Parliament to the subject. It was natural, taking so warm an interest as he did in commercial affairs, and so deeply interested in them as he was, that he should be in some degree anxious on this subject. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government had not been insensible to the proceedings of Prussia, but had anxiously looked to see how far the conduct of that State was likely to be prejudicial to the interests of this country. This, however, was not the first commercial union that had existed between the German States. Many years ago such a confederation existed between the northern States of Germany, and also one between the southern States. The system on which these Confederations were founded was, that there should be one system of Customhouse regulations for all the States. That was, that the goods which had paid duty on entering into one of these countries should not be charged with other duties on being taken into another of the States. They naturally adopted a system of this kind for the purpose of commercial convenience. He could not see that it followed from the mere existence of these confederations that it originated in a spirit of political hostility to this country, or even of commercial hostility. The country had no right on general principles to object to such unions of States. He repeated, England had no right to step out of the ordinary course of proceeding in consequence of the existence of these compacts between independent States. The hon. Gentleman said, that one of the objects of Prussia, in entering into this confederacy with other States, was to compel this country to alter and relax the prohibitory duties against foreign corn and timber. Whatever might be the motives of Prussia, this certainly could not operate on the other German States so as to induce them to join in the union, for they did not export corn or timber. He did not believe, that the present arrangement had been productive of any advantage to the manufacturers of Prussia. Possibly, however, the manufacturers of Saxony benefited by it; but Prussia, so far from being a gainer, was a considerable loser. With respect to the course to be adopted, he would only observe that matters were not sufficiently ripe to take any decided steps. He was at present unable to ascertain what was likely j to be the effect of these arrangements on English commerce, or what steps it might be expedient to take. In all these matters, he need hardly say, that the promotion of what appeared to be the best interests of the country would be the guide he should pursue. He was satisfied that the strict adoption of the principle of reciprocity would be found to be the best course that could be pursued. With respect to the negotiations with Portugal, it was only necessary for him to observe, that the subject would occupy the anxious attention of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and himself.

Mr. George Young

recommended that negotiations should be opened with each country separately with regard to its trade. Those who expected that England would be made the workshop of the world by forcing free trade on other nations would find themselves egregiously deceived. He was glad that his hon. Friend had brought forward the subject; and must say, that the reply of the noble Lord had been any thing but satisfactory.

Sir John R. Reid

entirely concurred with his hon. Friend the Member for Worcester in the view he had taken of the subject, and thought that it deserved the serious attention of the Legislature and the Government.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

did not see, that because foreigners pursued an unwise system, we should persist in a system equally unwise. It appeared to him that it would be very inexpedient for this country to purchase its commodities at a dearer market, because the country in which they could be obtained cheaper would not adopt our more liberal principles of commerce; such a course as that must have the effect of weakening the resources of our own industry, and depriving us of the means of competing with other countries in the markets for manufactured articles.

The Motion was withdrawn.