HC Deb 12 August 1836 vol 35 cc1192-9
Mr. Patrick Stewart

rose to move as an amendment, that the petition presented on the 27th of June respecting the duties imposed on British manufactures on their importation into Java, be taken into consideration. That petition, the hon. Member said, was one of great importance to the commercial and manu- facturing interests of this country. It had been signed by all the principal manufacturers and merchants in Glasgow, and if there had been time it would have received an equal number of signatures from the same respectable and influential class in this country. It related to the conduct of the Dutch Government since its re-occupation of Java, which was ceded to it by this country in 1814. The petitioners stated, that the Dutch Government had violated every stipulation of the treaty which it had made with this country relating to the duties to be levied on British goods imported into Java; that such conduct was derogatory to the rights and power of the Crown of Great Britain, and that it was flagrantly unjust towards the British merchants, and the petitioners concluded by praying the House to address the Crown to take steps to induce the Dutch to do justice to this country in this regard. The duty imposed in 1816 was 6 per cent. on Dutch goods, and 8 per cent. on the goods of other nations. In 1818 the duty was raised to 8 per cent. on Dutch goods, and 16 per cent. on those of other countries. But notwithstanding this high duty, the English manufactures still kept the lead in the import trade of Java. In 1820, however, the Dutch Government, for the purpose of confining the trade if possible, to its own manufactures, took off the whole of the duty on Dutch goods, while it continued that of 16 per cent. on the goods of other countries; still, in spite of this heavy duty, two-thirds of the colonial trade of Java remained in the hands of the English. In 1824 the Dutch governor issued a proclamation raising the duty on British goods to 24 per cent., while the Dutch remained free of all duty, and enforcing that duty against goods that had been already imported from England, and were in the warehouses in Java. Immediately after that event came the treaty between the two countries, of the gross violation of which on the part of Holland, the petitioners, in common with all the merchants and manufacturers of this country, complained. A mere reference to that treaty would shew, that it went directly to establish the principles of free trade. That treaty provided, that no nation should pay more than double the duty imposed on the goods of the nation to which the port belonged, and that where there was no duty on the goods of the nation to which the port belonged, the duty on the goods of other nations should be only 6 per cent. The only exception made in the treaty "from the general stipulations of freedom of trade," to use the words of the plenipotentiaries on both sides, of whom Mr. Canning was one, and the Baron Fagel another, was that of the trade to the Molucca or Spice Islands. To prove to the House what was the object of the treaty, and the principle on which it proceeded, he would just read the following extracts from the speech of Mr. Canning on the discussion on the East India Possessions Bill, in June 1824. Mr. Canning then said, that the chief complaint against the Netherlands Government was, that it acted on the principle of exclusive trade. The first step, therefore, which he had taken in the negotiations, from which the Bill before the House proceeded, was, to obtain a disavowal of that principle on the part of the Netherlands Government. It was not, to be sure, usual in diplomacy to frame treaties for the purpose of recording principles, but as in the present case it was the only point at issue, it was done. * * * The objects, then, which it was proposed to attain by the treaty were, first, the recognition of the principles of free trade; secondly, the acquisition of Sincapore, and the ridding the Dutch of their possessions on the continent of India, and consequently of removing those grounds of irritation which would have existed so long as the Dutch possessions had remained intermixed with ours. Every one of those objects had been attained by the treaty."* Now, he only called on the present Government to vindicate these principles of free trade in the negotiations going on at present with the Dutch Government. For the last twelve years the evils of which the petitioners complained—the gross violation of a treaty to which they referred—had existed, and the Government of England had neglected the interests of its subjects. The noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, had at length manfully taken up the matter, and the noble Lord would, no doubt, inform the House how far the negotiation with the Dutch Government on the subject had proceeded, and what prospect there was of their ultimate success. There never was, he (Mr. Stewart) would contend, a more blind proceeding—a proceeding more fraught with injury and more fatal to the colonial wealth and *Hansard (New Series), vol. xi. p. 1444, 1445. manufacturing interests of this country—than the cession on its part of the finest country in the world, the Island of Java, to the Dutch. But having generously given it up, Great Britain at all events should not be deprived of the advantages that it had then stipulated for. At one time the Dutch, with a view to encourage their shipping, held that the right interpretation of the treaty was, that the flag should regulate the duty; at another period, to encourage their own manufactures, they held that the origin of the goods should be the regulating principle, and at length they endeavoured to exclude British goods altogether. The hon. Member for Glasgow had presented a petition from Sincapore, complaining of the state of trade in consequence of this conduct of the Dutch, and he (Mr. Stewart) had himself received a great many communications from Java, Sincapore, &c, to the same effect. One distinguished individual well acquainted with Java, and from whom a letter had reached him only that morning, stated that the duty actually levied there on British goods amounted to thirty-five or forty per cent. He trusted that they would not be simply told by the noble Lord that the matter was in process of settlement, unless his right hon. Friend would follow up that statement by declaring his determination to vindicate the rights of this country and the commercial interests of the subjects of this realm. He hoped also that his right hon. Friend would not say that the state of the trade carried on between Java and some of our eastern possessions was any excuse for the violation of this treaty. If the flag was to be the regulating principle, the duty on foreign goods imported into Java should be only double that levied on Dutch goods. He trusted that his right hon. Friend would say that justice would be done this country in this matter for the future, and that compensation would be given for the past. The hon. Member concluded by making his motion.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that his hon. Friend had undoubtedly called the attention of the House to a very serious grievance which this country suffered by reason of the conduct of the Dutch Government, and it could not be denied that for a long course of years the Dutch Government had most distinctly violated the stipulations of a solemn treaty which it had contracted with Great Britain. His hon. Friend having so clearly explained in what that violation consisted, he (Lord Palmerston) would not take up the time of the House by recapitulating the points of it. He would content himself with saying that his hon. Friend had justly and truly stated, that whereas, by treaty, all articles imported into Java by British subjects and in British ships were to have a duty imposed on them double that imposed on similar goods imported by Dutch subjects and in Dutch ships, the Duties that had really been levied on English goods were far higher than those authorised by the provisions of the treaty; and that in other cases, where Dutch goods were imported free of duty, and where it was provided by the treaty that a duty of six per cent. only should be levied on similar goods imported by British subjects, a far higher duty had been exacted by the Dutch government. The subject had been discussed between the British Government and that of Holland for several years, and his hon. Friend was therefore entitled to come to that House and require some explanation from His Majesty's Government, so as to satisfy the country that there was at length a fair prospect of this matter being brought to a termination, and that the time had not arrived when it would be fit for that House to interpose by an address to the Crown. He (Lord Palmerston) thought he should be able to satisfy his hon. Friend that, for the present at least, no step was required to be taken in the matter by that House, for, though for a long time the Dutch Government had denied some of the facts contained in the representations made by the Government of this country, and though it had interposed many difficulties in the way of affording the redress sought, yet he (Lord Palmerston) believed that he was now in a position to state to his hon. Friend that a disposition had been manifested by the Dutch Government to do justice in the matter. For a long time that Government denied that there was the difference complained of in the duties levied in Java. But proofs having been obtained by the British Government that such duties were levied there, the Dutch Government was at length forced to admit that the practice was contrary to the provisions of the treaty of 1824. They had accordingly issued an edict to render the practice more conformable to the treaty in one respect, by enforcing the proportion of duty regulated by the treaty—that was to say, that where there was twelve and a-half per cent, duty on Dutch goods, the duty on British should be twenty-five per cent., and that where the Dutch goods were imported free of duty, the duty on corresponding English goods should be only six per cent. There was still one point of difference to be settled between the two Governments. The government of Holland insisted that the criterion of duty should be the nationality of the article imported, whereas the English Government contended that it was the nationality of the merchant and ship that, according to the true interpretation of the treaty, should be the criterion of duty. Whether the one interpretation or the other would be the better one for the commerce and industry of this country was not the question that we had to determine. He was sure that we should have no solid grounds to stand upon in our representations to foreign countries, unless we adhered to the strict interpretation of treaties, for it was only while we did so that we should be justly entitled to enforce our demands where they were denied. Even, therefore, supposing that a concession of the interpretation sought for by the Dutch might be to us in some respects advantageous, we should lose in the long run by being deprived of the high ground we at present occupied, when we insisted on the strict fulfilment of the treaty. He agreed with his hon. Friend that the English Government in restoring to the Dutch the magnificent colony of Java had done an act of splendid national generosity. It had become ours by force of arms during a war carried on with Holland, and at the peace we should have been perfectly justified, if we chose, in retaining it amongst our possessions. His hon. Friend was certainly entitled to say, that the Dutch Government had not shown a due appreciation of the generosity of England, by depriving us for such a long period, of the commercial advantages guaranteed to us by the treaty of 1824. It had often been made a complaint against the Dutch, that they paid too narrow an attention to their own interests, in their intercourse with other nations. When they were our chief rivals in the carrying trade, there were none so loud in insisting on the principles of free commercial policy; and when they became manufacturers, they became the most exclusive of all monopolists. He believed, indeed, that all nations, more or less, pur- sued their own interests. We were not, therefore, entitled to complain of the Dutch on that score, but we were entitled to complain that they had departed from the engagements of a solemn treaty. He begged to assure his hon. Friend and the House, that his Majesty's Government would continue to press upon the Dutch Government its interpretation of the treaty. He did not despair that these representations would have their due effect, especially as the Dutch Government had lately shown a more liberal spirit, and he trusted that the issue would be, that the strict terms of the treaty would be enforced. Such being the present state of the case, he was sure that his hon. Friend, and the House, would agree with him in thinking that, it would be departing from the practice of Parliament, and a most inconvenient course for the House to adopt, to interpose, by an address to the Crown, pending negotiations, and without that full knowledge of them, which it would be inconsistent with his duty at present, to lay before it. If the Government should succeed in the present negotiation, it would be terminated in a manner more conformable with those amicable relations which should be preserved between the two countries. If, on the contrary, it should fail in its efforts, it would then be his (Lord Palmerston's) duty to lay before parliament what had passed in the course of the negotiation, and to ask the consent of the House to such measures as the case demanded. He repeated, however, his expectation, from the mode in which the negotiation had of late been conducted, that the Government of Holland would see that it was its duty to do justice to this country.

Mr. Hume

said, that a grosser departure from its engagements had never been made by any country, than by Holland, in this case. He foretold in 1824, that such would be the case. When the papers were laid on the table, they would see what had been done. He believed it would be found that very little had been done for our commerce, and he must add his conviction, that the commerce of this country had suffered more by the neglect of its diplomatic agents, than that of any other country whatever. Had this treaty been made with America, there was no doubt she would have insisted on its fulfilment, or she would have made the Dutch feel the consequences. It was a fact, that the Dutch had been most regardless of the treaties they had entered into with this country. In conclusion, he felt greatly obliged to the hon. Member who called the attention of the House, and the Government to this important question.

Mr. Robinson

concurred, in much of what had been observed by the hon. Member, who had introduced the subject to the House, and by the hon. Member for Middlesex. It was a fact, that commercial men of this country, were exposed to many hardships and difficulties in many parts of the world, and that the constant vigilance, and active exertions of our diplomatic agents, were necessary for their protection. The magnanimity and generosity of England, in giving up Java at the close of the war, did not stop; she also gave up the right of fishing off Newfoundland to the French, which they now practised to the annoyance of the English. There were many other important matters connected with our commercial relations, which required the diligent inquiries of Government. The merchants of this country did not seek for exclusive privileges, but they bad a right to certain advantages, in virtue of treaties, which ought not to be allowed to be infringed.

Sir John Reid

hoped that the Government, during the recess, would turn their attention to, with a view to redress, many of the grievances which related to our commerce. Complaints had been made at Sincapore and other places, of duties being laid on British goods to which they ought not to have been subjected. He did hope that the attention of Government would be directed to these matters.

Mr. Patrick Stewart

expressed his satisfaction at the explanation given by the noble Lord, and would not press his motion.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that the hon. Member for Middlesex seemed to be under the impression, that the commerce of this country was suffering from the neglect or apathy of our diplomatic agents. In that, he could assure the hon. Member that he was mistaken. Half the correspondence which reached his office, from our diplomatic agents abroad, had reference to the commerce of the country.

Amendment withdrawn.

Consolidated Fund Bill read a second time.