HC Deb 21 February 1839 vol 45 cc739-46
Mr. Hutt

rose to call the attention of the House to the injury inflicted on British commerce by the duties levied at the town of Stade by the King of Hanover. As it was a subject of vast interest to the commerce of the country, he hoped he should be permitted briefly to explain the origin and nature of those duties, in order to do which he should not have to travel very far back. At the congress of Vienna, in 1815, a claim was preferred by the King of Hanover to levy upon all the ships and cargoes passing the town of Stade on their way to Hatnburgh, that great mart of commerce on the river Elbe, certain tolls or duties; which claim, amongst other pernicious measures, was admitted and sanctioned by the congress. It was subsequently referred to the convention which was held in 1821 in the city of Dresden, upon which occasion the ministers admitted the right of the King of Hanover to levy those dues, but, at the same time, required, that he should lay before the convention a tariff of the dues be proposed to levy, and that he should never increase them without the consent of the parties interested in them. Such was the brief history of the origin and existence of the Stade duties. He entreated the House to remark, that this extraordinary and unprincipled concession was made to the king of Hanover, without any advantage, right, or immunity whatever being granted by him in exchange; and that the emoluments arising from it went, not into the public exchequer, but into the private purse of the King of Hanover himself. He never could forget the conduct of the British Minister, who, for the purpose of gratifying the ambition and increasing the private income of his Sovereign had consented to a measure so detrimental to the commercial interests of this country. But there was a treaty! And, however, they might lament its effects—however, they might deplore the subserviency which dictated it, they must respect the faith of that, as of all treaties, and dare not without any indemnity, propose its abolition. He knew, that many of his constituents had spoken of that treaty, as being founded in injustice, and of Hanover as a weak and powerless state, by which it was unfit that we should be dictated to. But he should be extremely sorry that the Government or the Legislature of this country should prescribe one law for the weak and another for the strong; and, if Hanover could establish her right under the treaty of Vienna, and exact those dues, he was ready to admit, that it would be both impolitic and unjust on the part of England, to attempt their abolition. He contended, however, that the King of Hanover had infringed that treaty, inasmuch as he had never redeemed the pledge which he had made by his Minister, to lay before the Congress a tariff of the duties to be levied at the town of Stade. No such document was ever laid before the Congress; or, if it had been, it was immediately and surreptitiously withdrawn, and finally extinguished. He had taken the greatest pains, as Member for Hull, to obtain a copy of that document, but it was not to be found. He had searched for a copy of it even in Hanover, but without arriving at the prospect of success. He need hardly suggest that a knowledge of the tariff was an object of great interest to all persons connected with commerce, and to all representatives of commercial communities; he accordingly felt it to be his duty to apply to the right hon. Gentleman near him, the President of the Board of Trade, requesting a copy of that document, or extracts from it, but at the Board of Trade no knowledge of any such document existed. British merchants knew no more of it than that which they derived from the painful experience of being sufferers under it. They had no knowledge of the nature and extent of those duties, with the exception of that portion of them which they were compelled to pay; and, in fact, so little was known of it, that one might almost venture to affirm, it had no real existence, except in the will and pleasure of the King of Hanover. In the absence of direct proof, he must endeavour to lay before the House such presumptive evidence as it had been in his power to collect. Ever since the year 1821, the duties had been continually varying, and almost always increasing. He could show, that on the same articles the duties varied according as the articles were entered by German or by English names. Thus, it would seem, that every thing depended upon the language in which the entry was made. To establish this startling fact, be would refer to evidence of the most unexceptionable character. He had obtained a copy of a pamphlet, published in Hamburgh by a person of great consideration there, and who was naturally prejudiced in favour of what were supposed to be Hanoverian interests. From this publication it appeared, that if bales of merchandize or manufactured goods, were entered in these terms, they paid a certain specified duty of very large amount, whereas, if the words were translated into German, the parties who had to pay, became great gainers by the change. The unhappy use of the word "toys," instead of the German term, inflamed the duty six-fold. These were the exact terms in which that sensible and judicious pamphlet noticed this part of the subject:— There is a precision observed in the wording of invoices, so as to tax the denomination of the article imported, not the nature of the article. Thus, if the word 'bales' is introduced into the invoice, it is made to pay double the duty that it would pay if called 'ballen,' although the only difference between the two terms consists in this, that one is English and the other German. The same singular distinction is made with respect to toys, which pay six times the duty on spielzeug, because the former word is English and the latter German. Of all foreign powers trading to Hamburgh, England is by far the most interested in the removal of this grievance. But, injurious as the high rate of duty is to our commerce, inasmuch as it offers a premium pro tanto to the manufactures of rival nations on the continent not exposed to them, it was ten times more injurious on account of the rigour and spirit of oppression with which it was enforced: this he would explain, by stating the manner in which the duties were collected. On the arrival of a ship off Stade, she was compelled to "lay to;" the captain went ashore, and delivered over to an officer of the Hanoverian Customs, the ship's papers. The papers were forwarded to Hamburgh, and, should there appear on the discharging of the cargo the slightest discrepancy between the ship's manifest and the goods on board, she was exposed to seizure, detention, fine, and even confiscation. Let any error be detected, however trivial or unavoidable, let the Hanoverian officer discover any variation, however free from suspicion of fraud, and the vessel and all she contained, fell into the tender mercies of the King of Hanover, by whom she was disposed of according to his arbitrary will. Dr. Adolph Soetbur mentioned the case of a ship whose papers had described her as containing an anker of wine instead of two half-ankers, and for this error of technical denomination, she was seized, and released only on the payment of a fine. He had, moreover, a statement in his hand, sent to him by a merchant of Hull, which he thought, was worthy the attention of the House, both on account of the hardship it described, and the high respectability of the party from whom it proceeded. He was sure, that the noble Lord, the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, and many other Members of that House, would corroborate his statement, when he asserted, that any allegation by one of the family of Mr. Tottie was deserving of every attention in that House, and in any other assembly. Now, what said Mr. R. Tottie, of Hull?— Two cases which have recently occurred, will serve to illustrate the practice under such regulations. The first was, a bale which contained 900 lb. of worsted yarn, and a few pounds of linen yarn as a sample, and was shipped from Hull in April last, on board the Lee, for Hamburgh. Upon the plea that this small parcel of linen yarn was omitted in the bill of lading, which only expressed the contents of the bale as worsted yarn, notwithstanding this omission made no difference in the rate of duty, and that no fraud was or could be imputed, the ship was detained until a fine had been paid. The discovery of this sample of linen yarn was made by the Hanoverian inspector, resident at Hamburgh, who has access to the custom-house there, and to all entries of goods imported. The Stade duties are levied at certain rates per package, whether large or small, and vary according to the denomination of the goods they contain—viz. a rate for manufactures or merchandise another rate for worsted or linen yarn, and a third rate for cotton twist, &c. The other case was a fine of 22l. 7s. 10d. levied on fifteen bales of manufactured goods or merchandise, shipped at Hull, in the Tiger, for Hamburgh, in August last. The plea for this fine was, that those bales were denominated in the Hull custom-house cocket 'cotton twist,' while the bills of lading expressed their denomination to be 'merchandise,' and for this misnomer in the cocket, the fine above-mentioned was levied, although the Stade duty was claimed and paid as merchandise which is subject to the higher rate. Such was the statement of Mr. Tottie, of Hull. He could multiply evidence of the same description did he not fear to fatigue the patience of the House, and thus to injure a cause he so ardently desired to promote. Perhaps he had said enough, to convince the House that the manner in which the King of Hanover enforced his assumed rights on the Elbe, was wantonly injurious to British commerce, and discreditable to the honour of our national flag. He hoped, also, that the House had followed him to the conclusion, that the manner in which the Stade duties were collected, was an infringement of the treaty of Vienna and of the articles of the Convention of Dresden. Now, then, he should wish to know how long these proceedings were to be endured. In the area of the world, from China to Peru, he could discover no sovereign so bound by personal obligations to treat the people of this country with leniency, kindness, and consideration, as the King of Hanover, not only on account of his British birth and education, not only on account of his close connexion with the British throne, but because, King of Hanover as he was, he received 20,000l. per annum from the people of Great Britain. He was sure, that these acts of insult and outrage, coming from any other quarter, would have been replied to from the mouths of our cannon. He could discern no special reason why the King of Hanover was to be treated with so much tenderness, and he hoped the House would support him, at least in the resolution which he now submitted, and which, he trusted, if agreed to, would be the medium of arresting the progress of this oppression and injury. He moved, "That this House had seen with regret, the conduct of the King of Hanover in regard to the dues levied by the authority of his Majesty at Stade, on British vessels and cargoes; and that this House is of opinion, that no foreign power should be permitted to levy on British shipping or commerce, any tolls, dues, or charges whatever, till its right to do so has been first clearly and fully established."

Viscount Palmerston

was ready to admit, that the case which had been brought before the House, was one on which there appeared to be a good ground for complaint. But, at the same time, he must say, that that ground was not precisely that which the hon. Member had attempted to prove. The ground on which he thought they were entitled to complain of the conduct of the Hanoverian authorities was, that they had levied these duties, exceeding in many cases, as he thought, the right of collection; and that there had been a system of vexation and an arbitrary exercise of power in the application of the duties. He should be glad, if he felt able to state to the House, that the King of Hanover had not a right to levy these tolls; and he should, in that case, be undoubtedly prepared to vote for the resolution which had been proposed by his hon. Friend, and perhaps for one worded in stronger terms, if the hon. Gentleman had proposed such an one; but he apprehended that no doubt could exist as to the right of the King of Hanover to the duties which he claimed. What the origin of them was, he was not prepared to say; because it rested in remote antiquity: but as early as 1691, when the duchy of Bremen belonged to the kingdom of Sweden, a treaty was entered into between Sweden and Hamburg, by which Sweden gave up in favour of Hamburg, the collection of the tolls on vessels passing to that port. This statement, therefore, on the one hand would show the authority to demand the tolls, and on the other it would also exculpate the former Ministers of this country from the imputation of having, at the Congress of Vienna, acquiesced in claims made by the King of Hanover, which were not founded on right, because the right of the possessor of the duchy of, Bremen to levy the duties was as old as the period which he had mentioned. Then, in 1719, the duchy of Bremen was ceded by the Crown of Sweden to the. Elector of Hanover, with all the rights which belonged to it at that time; and in 1756, a treaty was concluded between England and Hanover, by which English vessels were exempted from stopping at Stade to pay the toll, and were permitted to go to Hamburg, for the tolls to be paid there. This, then, was another admission on the part of this country of the right to the tolls. Then he came to the treaty of Vienna, and it would be recollected, that that contained provisions that all rivers which traversed more than one State, or which separated two States, should be free to all tolls which should be established by the ministers-plenipotentiaries, and all the parties were bound to acquiesce in such tolls as should be decided upon and established by the Convention. With regard to the Elbe, there was a Convention; and the plenipotentiaries met at Dresdent, in 1821, and at that Convention it was agreed, that the Stade tolls should continue to be levied. He thought, therefore, that it would be impossible for this country to resist the right of Hanover to levy the dues. On the other hand, however, this country had a right to inquire whether the duties demanded were sanctioned by the convention of 1821, and to see that there should be no caprice in levying them, and not merely, that nothing like injustice or violence should be committed, but that every facility was given to the commerce of England. Undoubtedly complaints had been made to the British Government since the year 1825 that abuses did exist with regard to the levying of tolls, and a communication was established, before the year 1830, between the British Government and that of Hanover. After the change of the administration in 1830, complaints were again made, and he and his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had been in communication with the representatives of Hanover here, with a view to ascertain how the facts of the case stood. The first thing which they endeavoured to do was, to get the tariff, which was the foundation of all these proceedings. After some difficulty it had been obtained, and he had referred it to Mr. Canning, the chargé d'affairès at Hamburg, for any observations which, from his local experience, he might be able to make upon it. He had not yet received it back from that Gentleman, but he had no doubt that it would reach him in the course of a few days. They had also applied for a copy of the regulations for the guidance of custom-house officers in acting upon the tariff, mid when they obtained them, on comparing them with the tariff, they would be able to judge between them. The House would, therefore, see that the state of the case was, that the British Government was in communication with the government of Hanover with a view of obtaining redress, and he could assure them that he was quite aware of the importance of the subject as bearing upon the interests of British commerce, and that there should be no neglect or indifference on his part in obtaining that redress if it were due. Under these circumstances, therefore, he should think, that the House would be departing from that course which it had been found usually expedient to adhere to if they were to adopt this resolution, and the more so as he thought that the resolution comprehended a denial of a right on the part of the King of Hanover, which he feared could not be borne out. He should, therefore, move the previous question, and should hope that the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Hull, knowing that the Government had this matter under consideration, and were endeavouring to do their best to set right what might be wrong, would not object to the Amendment.

Mr. A. White,

on the part of his constituents, felt bound to say, that the present system was exceedingly unjust to the British interests, especially when it was remembered that the vessels of Hanover were allowed to trade to this country on the same footing as British ships. He was therefore glad to observe that the noble Lord had this matter under his consideration, and that some steps would be taken to remedy this important impost. He begged, therefore, to support the motion of the hon. Member for Hull.

Mr. Hutt

begged to be permitted to make one or two observations. He might leave the matter, with great confidence, in the hands of the noble Lord, who had the interest of British commerce at heart; but he could not give up the point that the King of Hanover, having become a party to a contract, had not performed it, as he had not produced the tariff, which he was pledged to do; and therefore that it was not valid.

Amendment agreed to.