HC Deb 19 March 1840 vol 52 cc1223-43
Mr. Hutt

said, * the House will have perceived, from the number of petitions which have been laid on the Table in the course of this Session relative to the Stade Duties, that the subject occupies a considerable share of public attention. So fixed, indeed, do I know that attention to be among a large number of persons in this country, and their expectation of the result of this night's debate to be so earnest, that I confess I wish the question had been brought under the notice of Parliament by some one, who, from his station and personal qualities, as well as from his habits of addressing this House, was more calculated to do it satisfactorily than I am. Upon me, Sir, this responsible task has devolved, as the representative of a great commercial community deeply interested in the question. I shall execute it to the best of my power. I only trust, that in the course of the statement (necessarily of some length), which I must submit to the House, I shall have the good fortune to obtain from the House a degree of attention on account of the importance of the subject, which on my own account I have no pretensions either to solicit or to expect. The subject, Sir, is assuredly of some importance. It relates to questions of trade and manufactures, and thereby involves the welfare of thousands of our fellow-subjects; but it relates also to that moral influence and authority of our flag among foreign nations, without the maintenance of which neither our commerce nor our manufactures could long preserve * From a corrected Report published by Ridgeway. their pre-eminence. I have come to the House this evening, for the purpose of complaining that the King of Hanover is in the practice of levying on British ships and cargoes navigating the Elbe, certain tolls and charges, called Stade Duties, to which he is neither by law nor treaty entitled, and that he compels the payment of these unjust demands, by means very arbitrary and oppressive, and wholly incompatible with our national dignity. Let me be clearly understood; I do not deny that the King of Hanover has a right to collect a toll on shipping at Stade—un-happily for the interests of commerce, I am constrained to admit, that he has such a right, I only contend that the King pushes his pretensions to a most illegal and unwarrantable extent—that the amount he levies is excessive, and that he enforces obedience to his will in a manner, which neither our interests, as a commercial people, nor our rank, among the nations of the world, can allow us longer to endure. I am not going to make any personal attack on the reigning King of Hanover. Whatever opinions I may entertain of that Prince, his individual conduct and character are in no wise mixed up with the Stade Duties. It is not my intention to confound them. Nay, more, I will plainly admit, that in collecting the present Stade Tolls, I can easily believe the King of Hanover imagines he is only exercising his unquestionable rights, inasmuch as he is only continuing a practice handed down to him by his three immediate predecessors. The manner in which the Stade Tolls became the property of the Hanoverian family is, on many accounts, remarkable. I will briefly explain it to the House. The tolls at Stade originally grew up under the permission, and, in some degree, under the sanction of the early emperors of Germany, to whom that town was subject. In the year 1648, at the treaty of Westphalia, Stade, together with the rest of the Bremen territory, was ceded to the King of Sweden, who exercised as a customary right the practice of levying these tolls on all vessels navigating the Elbe, those of Hamburg excepted, for Hamburg had been declared exempt from the tolls by a special rescript of the Emperor Frederic Barba-rossa. Some disputesarising between Sweden and the city of Hamburg as to the extent of the tolls legally authorized, a convention was appointed by these two states in 1691, and a treaty executed by them for the final settlement of the question. In that treaty the Hamburg exemption being first recited, the mode in which the vessels of other nations were to pay the required dues was clearly laid down. In the following year a scale of dues, or tariff, was drawn up, under the sanction of both parties, and was formally annexed to the treaty. These two documents were officially published, in the year 1692, and styled "the permanent settlement of the Stade Tax." The tariff was framed on this general principle: most articles of commerce were rated at one-sixteenth of their value, and charged on that basis. In certain cases the maximum charge appointed, was one-sixteenth per cent. on the real value. In all others, the duty was to be paid according to either system, as the merchant himself might direct. The election was with the merchant, not with the collecting officer. Other provisions for the favour and protection of trade were added, and Sweden formally renounced all idea of augmenting or altering the tariff. In the year 1715, the duchy of Bremen, which includes the town of Stade, was ceded by the King of Denmark (who had wrested it from Sweden) to George the First, as part of his Electoral dominions, in consideration of the sum of 150,000l., which the British Government undertook to pay for it, and in further consideration of certain hostile operations undertaken by this country against Sweden. The British Minister justified this bargain, by declaring that the sacrifice was necessary to secure the interests of our trade with Hamburg, which, even at that period, were of considerable importance. The Elector of Hanover, of course, took possession of his new territories with all their existing rights and obligations, among which was the Stade Tax. It is not pretended that George the First protested against the insufficiency of the Stade Tolls when he obtained them. The transfer could not, therefore, of itself, afford any pretext for altering the agreement of 1692, or for making that agreement binding upon one party only. The Stade Tolls, thus became—not the property of the state of Hanover, but the private perquisite of the King, and George the Second, in consideration of his obligations to the British people, in regard to this territory, relaxed in 1736 the mode of collecting the tolls; and, in 1740, renounced them altogether as far as related to British and Irish commerce. In "Anderson's History of Commerce," I find the following statement;— A. D. 1740. In this same year his Majesty King George 2nd, of Great Britain, and Sovereign of the town of Staden in the Duchy of Bremen, was graciously pleased to remit to all British and Irish ships the ancient toll payable at Staden by the ships of all nations in sailing up the river Elbe. For which bounty his said Majesty received an humble address of thanks from the British Company of Merchant-adventurers trading to Hamburg. These taxes were, however, resumed by George 3rd. In the year 1804, Hanover was occupied by the French, and the Stade Duties ceased till the year 1814, when they were compelled to retire. When the ancient government of Hanover was reestablished in 1814, it revived the Stade Duties, with many aggravations. This proceeding on the part of the Hanoverian authorities, gave rise to much irritation and remonstrance; but as the Congress of Vienna was then about to assemble, no formal protest was made against them, it being generally believed, that at the meeting of this important Congress, everything which was then crooked would be made straight. One of the first subjects which occupied the attention of the Congress of Vienna was the regulation of the international river navigation of Europe. With a view to the settlement of this matter, so important to every state of Germany, the plenipotentiaries at Vienna agreed that certain general principles should be applied to all the rivers of that country, and should form the basis of all further regulation by the Germanic states. Now, Sir, although I should be very unwilling to pronounce any panegyric on the general conduct of the Congress of Vienna, I am bound to say, that the views it adopted for regulating intercourse on the great rivers of Europe were wise, liberal, and comprehensive. They became the most illustrious body of statesmen that perhaps ever assembled; and they were explained in language as simple and unambiguous as that in which legislation ever unfolded its ordinances to man. The publication of these principles was received throughout Europe with sentiments of the utmost satisfaction. To reflecting men in every part of Germany, they suggested the most pleasing expectations of extensive commercial intercourse. The day, in their apprehension, had at last arrived when the noble rivers of their country, the arteries of her trade, and the instruments of her civilization, should no longer be obstructed by every petty, sordid, and grasping authority; but declared, by the universal voice of Europe, the natural and organic right of all her States, should be irrevocably thrown open to the trading enterprise of the world. In regard to the Elbe, this brilliant dream, like most others, ended in disappointment. The Congress having laid down the principles on which all measures for regulating the rivers should in future he framed, deputed to the States bordering on each river the duty of settling all details relating to its navigation. Commissioners appointed to re-organize the regulations of the Elbe met at Dresden in June 1819. They consisted of the representatives of Austria, Prussia, Hanover, Saxony, of Denmark for Lunenburgh and Holstein, Mecklenburg, Anholt, and the city of Hamburg. Now, Sir, as no papers relating to this Convention of Dresden have ever been formally communicated to this country, I have no power of quoting any recognised account of its proceedings; but as a report of them has lately been published, by a lawyer of great talents, and high reputation on the Continent, who had access to the original minutes preserved at Dresden, perhaps I may be permitted by the noble Lord (Palmerston) and by the House to refer to that publication as an authority. The Convention assembled on the 3rd of June 1819, and in the outset everything seemed to accord with the liberal intention of the Congress of Vienna. On the 19th of June, however, the Hanoverian minister astonished the meeting by objections to any interference with the Stade Toll, asserting that it did not come within the sphere of their duties, it being not a river, but a sea tax, and levied only on ultra marine vessels and produce. The president of the assembly, with the concurrence of the other ministers, stated in reply, that their duty, as expressed in their commission, was "to inquire into everything relating to the navigation of the river;" and therefore that the Stade Tax fell obviously within the province of their duty. The quibble, however, of the Stade Tax being a sea tax was renewed by the Hanoverian commissioner, whenever reference was made to that subject; and though he at last gave it up, and promised to submit his tariff to the inspection of the commissioners, nearly three years passed away without that pledge being redeemed. Both Denmark and Hamburg were dissatisfied at this, and strongly protested against the withholding of a document so important to the general navigation of the river. But the commissioners, being at last wearied out by the repeated evasions of Hanover, and the fruitless discussions to which they gave rise, came to this formal resolution which was afterwards incorporated in their proceedings as the fifteenth article of the Convention of Dresden. Without prejudice to the general principles expressed by the Congress act respecting river navigation, it is agreed with respect to the Stade Tax to waive and renounce all further discussion, in consideration that Hanover engages to supply the Commission with the Tax tariff for their information, and further binds itself not to raise or vary the said tariff without the concurrence of the other states interested therein. His Majesty the king of Denmark, and the free city of Hamburg, reserve to themselves their own rights on ground of existing customs and contracts, and therefore, with regard to the said King and Seuate, the question of the Stade Tax remains a resintegra. As related, therefore, to Denmark and Hamburg, the question of the Stade Duties was left untouched by the convention of Dresden. As related to the other states appointed by the Congress to settle every thing that related to the navigation of the Elbe, the Stade Duties were to remain unconsidered, on condition that the general principles laid down by the congress should be respected in the tariff, that a copy of it should be laid before the commission, and that Hanover should introduce no alteration into it without the concurrence of the other states interested therein. The Hanoverian minister, when all the labours of the convention had terminated, and when the commissioners assembled for the last time, to exchange the ratifications of the several courts, produced his tariff, which, of course, passed without discussion or revision. Thus, although the convention successfully resisted the claim of the king of Hanover to consider the Stade Duties as sea taxes, the real object which his majesty had in view—that of preventing any interference with his system of collecting taxes at Stade—was completely attained. And thus, notwithstanding all that was concerted and enacted at Vienna, this system of exaction was left untouched by the convention, both in principle and in detail. I have already stated to the House the nature of the tariff established by the Swedish treaty. Merchants were ordered to pay, as a maximum, what amounted to rather less than twopence per bale; or if they preferred the ad valorem tax, they were to produce their invoices (to prove what the value of their goods really was), and on that value they paid one sixteenth per cent. This, with a small toll on the ship, constituted the whole of the Stade Duties. Many provisions were made in the tariff for the safeguard of commerce, and the crown of Sweden, as the lord of Stade, specially abjured all design of altering or augmenting the charges thereafter. Such, then, was the Stade tariff up to the year 1715, when it fell into the hands of the elector of Hanover. What was it now? By singular good fortune, I am enabled to answer that question on authority; for last year the crown of Hanover condescended, for the first time, to apprize our government of the nature of that tariff, by which it was collecting taxes on our commerce. Up to the year 1839, the Stade tariff was an unacknowledged, if not a secret document. Neither our manufacturers, our merchants, nor our ship-owners knew anything of this impost, except that it was very extortionate, and very rigorously enforced. The Board of Trade was in profound ignorance of every thing relating to it. The noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Department made repeated applications to the court of Hanover to ascertain the scale of charges which it was applying to our ships and cargoes in the Elbe; and the answer of the court of Hanover was practically this:—"Ah, you don't know, and we won't tell you." However, last year it was formally produced, and placed in the hands of Mr. Bligh, the representative of the Foreign Office at the court of Hanover. I have examined it. It is the same tariff as that brought forward at the convention of Dresden, and if it can be said to bear any resemblance to the only legal tariff that of 1692, it is the resemblance of a hideous caricature. In the first place, it is more than ten times as long; again, all the stipulations favourable to commerce in the legal tariff, are struck out; in the third place, in regard to the rates laid down, such a latitude of construction is assigned to the collecting officer, that the whole character of the tariff, as a table of fixed charges, is effectually and entirely nullified. Among other capricious anomalies, the rate of taxes is made to depend, in many instances, not on the nature of a commodity, but on the name—on whether it is entered in the ship's papers in the English or German language! Thus, bales are charged twice the amount levied on ballen, though the only difference consists in the one word being English and the other German. In the same way, English horses are made to pay sixteen times as much as any other horses. Then capricious distinctions are made as to the description given of merchandise in the cockets made up at the port of departure. Among other documents, which have passed through my hands, I find an application made to the noble Lord for redress by a most respectable London firm, because having, in accordance with the regulations of the British customhouse, entered a quantity of ale as "British manufactures," they were compelled to pay a toll at Stade ten times as high as if they had entered it as ale. There are a multitude of similar enormities, but I pass them over. All these absurd distinctions, though they appear in the tariff acknowledged by Hanover, are pure innovations, resting on no intelligible authority, and contravening in the directest manner the most valuable provisions of the Swedish compact. In short, the tariff which Hanover admitted to Mr. Bligh to be that in practical use, has little in common with that which was handed over on the cession of the duchy of Bremen to George 1st. It can derive, therefore, no pretence to legality from the treaty of 1692. It is a heap of miscellaneous exactions, with no apparent force or validity but what they gather from usurpation. This is not my opinion merely—my opinion is, I know, entitled to very little weight with this House. Nor do I give this merely as the opinion of the petitioners; they, unhappily, are too deeply interested in the question to pass for the most impartial judges of any portion of it. But I beg the House to listen to the language used on the subject by the states of Denmark and Hamburg in 1824. The language of Hamburg is deserving of the utmost attention, because had the senate of that illustrious city taken a narrow and short-sighted view of this question, they would have considered themselves interested in keeping up Hanoverian exactions on British commerce since their own enjoys the privilege of exemption. With regard to the tariff," said the representatives of these states, "we have carefully considered that which was produced at Dresden. It is impossible that we should be satisfied with the pretensions of a state to levy such taxes on no other grounds than its own will and pleasure. A tax, without a fixed scale of amount, would be perfectly monstrous, and nothing less than a revival of the club law of our ancestors in the dark ages. There is no document in which a rule of taxation can be found, except in the tariffs drawn up by mutual agreement between Hamburg and the crown of Sweden, dated 15th August, 1692, which is to be found in the Bremen and Verden Corpus Constitutionum. The Danish commissioner also remarked that looking at the tariff put forward by the King of Hanover, it seemed as if his Majesty had renounced all notion of being confined by any fixed standard of dues; and that in such a proceeding Denmark would never concur. The tariff of 1821 was, therefore, objected to by Denmark; first, because the principle on which it turned was erroneous, as it brought into application all varieties of measures, values, numbers, casks, and cases, without any attempt at definite regulation of duties. Secondly, because it proceeded on an arbitrary departure from the old lawful standard, established in 1692, and was, therefore, without any foundation in right. Thirdly, because the new scale having no legal foundation, it could afford no security against further infringement in future. Such was the statement of Denmark in 1824—Hamburg remarked, in addition to this, that the maximum of State taxation, established by treaty was one sixteenth per cent.; while most of the charges were below this rate; but according to the new tariff, one-sixteenth had become the minimum, and the more important articles of commerce were subject to a charge of one-half, two and a half, and even five per cent., and that this together with the complexity and confusion introduced into the mode of collection, placed the whole trade of the Elbe at the mercy of the customs officers of Hanover. Nothing can be plainer than this language. If I err, therefore, in denouncing the tariff of the King of Hanover as illegal and intolerable, it will be seen that I err with the states of Denmark and Hamburg—of Hamburg, who is an auxiliary without exception, for she is a witness against her own cause. I will return, however, to speak on the question of legality—at present, I must pursue another part of my subject. It used to be the fashion in this country some years ago, to jest a good deal at the ingenuity with which the Government of the day had made every object in the whole circle of material nature, the subject of taxation. It was said, that all the things on the earth, and in the waters under the earth, were the objects of fiscal assessment—and that the Finance Minister seemed to consider them as created by Providence for no other purpose. Against any ingenuity of this sort which the most acute Chancellor of the Exchequer ever displayed, I will place that now arrayed by the Hanoverian authorities against British commerce in the Elbe. Without going into details, I will recite the different classes of taxes which a vessel bound to Hamburg is required to pay to the King of Hanover on passing the town of Stade. They consist of eight kinds. Taxes on the ships; which on a ship of 250 tons is about 200l. Taxes on the cargo, every article being charged in detail after the fashion I have described. These taxes frequently amount to five per cent, on the value of the commodities, and they sometimes largely exceed the customs duty levied at Hamburg on importation. Mr. M'Culloch quotes instances in which it is five and six times as much. The next tax is commission of six and a quarter per cent. on the two former taxes, it is paid to the collecting officers. Then come "ship's expenses," these are a kind of forced harbour dues. The fifth tax is commission on the fourth tax, to the collecting officers of Hanover. Eventualiter interim certificate is the sixth. The seventh certificate of return. Tax the last is—tax on passing Stade outward bound. The vessel is then permitted to escape without further exaction on her voyage. From these various imposts the King of Hanover obtains for his private revenue 70,000l. or 80,000l. per annum; and, large as the amount may seem, it is absolutely as nothing in comparison with the cost and trouble thrown upon merchants and shipowners by the penalties which menace them should they offend in any manner against the mandates of the Hanoverian custom-house, or against the caprice of the officers placed in charge of it. On the slightest inaccuracy in any of the ship's papers, no matter how trivial, how obviously accidental, or how absolutely unavoidable (and both the ship and cargo are scrutinized with the most vigilant search after inaccuracies), the vessel and her commodities are seized and confiscated; a penalty sometimes commuted for heavy fines, long detention, and ruinous expenses. I will mention one or two cases of this species of oppression; for I doubt if without some such illustrations the House will give credit to the full extent of the grievance I refer to. Some time ago, Messrs. Gee, Loft, and Co., of Hull, merchants of great wealth, and of the highest integrity, shipped for Hamburg, by the Fairy, Captain Gell, a vessel which was loaded by them with a general cargo, "three bales of cottons or merchandise." In the bill of lading, the articles were inadvertently entered "bales of cotton twist," the difference of the Stade duty was about 7s. only. All the ship's other papers described the goods with technical correctness, and in no other respect was there any informality. For this error alone in the bills of lading, the Fairy was seized by order of the Hanoverian Custom-house, to be released only on Messrs. Gee, Loft, and Co., paying to the King of Hanover the sum of 215l. 17s. 6d. This enormous fine was paid, and all applications for re-consideration were unavailing—not a farthing was ever restored! I mentioned to the House last Session a case very analogous to this, in which, during the year 1839, one of the most respectable merchants in Hull, Mr. Richard Tottie, was similarly plundered. I pass it over now for other matter. My second illustration is, however, of very recent occurrence. It is a case in which the Stade authorities seem to have been actuated by the mere gratification of wanton power, and it appears to me urgently to demand the interference of the noble Lord, on grounds very different to those called in question by the last I have mentioned. In the course of the year 1838, as the Severn steam-ship, Captain Knocker (which plies between Hamburg and Hull), was proceeding on her homeward voyage, she stopped, as usual, off the guard ship at Stade, to render the certificate of return. A gun was fired at the Severn by the Hanoverian guard-ship, and a boat sent alongside. It then appeared that the officers of the guard-ship had been pleased to determine, that, on her last voyage, the steam-vessel did not stop soon enough. They demanded, in consequence, as a fine for the offence, the sum of eight marks, and prepared to detain the packet, because the captain, knowing there was no foundation for such complaint, hesitated to comply with their arbitrary exaction. At last, to avoid the detention of his ship, the captain paid the money, but did so under protest, and made application to Mr. Canning, the British Consul-general at Hamburg, for its restoration. For this act of contumacy towards the authorities of Stade, I entreat the House to notice this fact,—the Severn was condemned to an additional fine of fifty dollars on her return to Hamburg! As in the former case, remonstrance was fruitless. There was no redress. The fine was paid. Is it astonishing that English-men complain? Is it very wonderful that, fleeced, insulted, and oppressed, by a petty German state, they besiege the Foreign-office and the Board of Trade with petitions and remonstrances? Hitherto they have petitioned in vain—all redress has been refused them. I have not been able to learn of a single case, however aggravated, in which satisfaction has been obtained by the authorities at home for the British merchant. I doubt if an instance can be cited in which it has ever been firmly or honestly demanded for him by the Secretary for Foreign affairs. I do not complain particularly of the noble Lord, (Palmerston) nor of the present government, nor of the past government, nor of any government in particular—I complain of every successive government which, during the last five-and-twenty years, has swayed the destinies of England—one and all have exhibited, in regard to British interests involved in the Stade question, a most reprehensible dereliction of their first duties. Well, so long as the King of Hanover was, also, King of England, I dare say it was a delicate matter to undertake the regulation of the Stade Duties, which formed the private perquisite of the monarch. I can believe it would have been an affair of great difficulty to any minister. But that difficulty exists no longer. That excuse—a bad one at best for past supineness—cannot justify your doing nothing now. Is this abuse to last for ever? What answer does the House mean to give to the petitioners, whose complaints, expressed in respectful but vehement language, now lie upon the table? They assert that the King of Hanover is levying unjust demands on their property,—is enforcing payment, With every circumstance of injury and insult, and that the meteor flag of England, which in every other portion of the globe has ensured to them honour and respect, is powerless to protect them in the river Elbe from the marauding violence of Hanover. The noble Lord is bound either to vindicate the conduct of the king—to prove that he has a right to behave as I have described, or else to put a period at once and for ever to his outrages on our people. Has the King of Hanover law and justice on his side, when he burdens our commerce and oppresses our mariners? He has not! Then I trust that this House will, by supporting my motion to-night, announce to the King of Hanover, in the face of Europe, that he shall not do these things with impunity. I protest that I cannot approach the subject in proper temper—it drives me to a passion to think of it, that any Prince or authority in this world shall presume to plunder and oppress the maritime navy of England, and that our merchants shall not only be denied all redress for past injuries, but denied even a guarantee for better treatment in future. Is it asserted that the King of Hanover has a right to act in this manner? The King of Hanover can have no inherent right to levy taxes on the Elbe. His right to do so, if he have any, must rest upon some clear and intelligible basis. All general presumption bears against such a right; and the title to it, like all other titles, ought to be established by the party claiming to act under it, by competent and unquestionable evidence. What evidence is adduced? I presume that the circumstance of the tolls having been enforced since the peace of 1814, will not establish the title, since, against the enforcement of them, various European states have constantly, and vehemently, and formally protested; and the King of Hanover is no more entitled than another to derive advantage from his own wrong. What pretence then is set up? The Congress of Vienna! What said the general act of the Congress of Vienna? What said the sixteenth act of the Congress? Listen;—The navigation of the German rivers, along their whole course, shall be free.—The duties collected shall be as nearly as possible the same; along the whole course of the river.—They shall be regulated in an uniform and fixed manner, with as little reference as possible to the different qualities of merchandize.—The duties shall, in no way, exceed those now paid.—They shall never be increased without the consent of the co-riverans states.—The Tariff shall be so framed as to encourage navigation.—There shall be no port or forced harbour dues; even those now existing shall not be permitted, unless all the states deem them necessary for general commerce.—Regulations shall be established to prevent customs' officers throwing impediments in the way of navigation. Why, in regard to every British ship that passes Stade, the King of Hanover breaks every day some one or more of these regulations. Well, then, the King of Hanover can draw very little help from the articles of the Congress of Vienna. The Convention of Dresden can just as little be brought forward to support his proceedings. I remember the noble Lord contended last year that the 15th article of the Convention of Dresden bore a construction favourable to the practices now going on at Stade. But, surely, the plain meaning of that article, (which I have once read to the House,) is this; that the Convention would consent to abandon all further discussion respecting the Stade Tax, provided that the Tariff was not repugnant to the general principles laid down by the Congress Act respecting navigation. To contend from the words of this article that the Commissioners engaged to sanction the tariff, whether it was or was not in harmony with the navigation law announced at Vienna, is to contend that they had agreed to assume functions altogether at variance with their commission, for they were specially appointed to carry the Vienna principles into effect, and they had no power delegated to them to authorize regulations prejudicial to those important principles. Now I have shown, that the system assumed by Hanover, at Stade, is in defiance of them all. The Hanoverian tariff, therefore, receives no sanction or authority from the Convention of Dresden. That point is settled past controversy. If, then, neither this Convention, nor the Congress of Vienna, nor some years persistance in wrong, nor the treaty between Sweden and Hamburg, afford any justification of these proceedings, I must infer—having' carefully examined every source from which legality could be derived—I must infer, that the taxes levied at Stade have no foundation whatever in right or justice, and that they differ in no assignable respect from the depredations formerly carried on by the Dey of Algiers, except that they have not yet roused the civilized world to repress them—[Sir Frederick Trench: "Hear, hear!"]—The gallant Officer opposite is displeased at that expression. Sir, I should be very unwilling to apply any terms to the conduct of the King of Hanover which the facts before us do not amply justify, and even demand. If I believed that there existed any custom, any treaty, or engagement, which could shelter the King of Hanover in the course he is pursuing towards this country—ruinous as it is to our interests—degrading as it is to our honour—against him, as the lawful collector of established tolls, I would wish to use no harshness of expression whatever. There would, in such a case, be many grounds for regret, but none whatever for censure or resentment. In such a case, I should lament, indeed, over a necessity which placed the King of Hanover in a situation by right, where, by exacting money for which he rendered back no equivalent, he contradicted all our natural ideas of justice and propriety; I should deplore his unquestionable power to obstruct the passage of our manufactures to the most valuable market on the continent, where they are already so much let and hindered by the rising manufactures of rival nations, as well as by the prohibitions of the Berlin confederacy. I should bewail the destiny by which that flag which has "braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze," had been compelled to yield supremacy to the might of prescription or the entanglements of diplomacy. But since this is not so, since the system established at Stade has no justification in custom or in treaty, I denounce it, without hesitation, as a system of outrage and of robbery. Its existence is a national reproach and dishonour. I complain in the name of thousands engaged in manufacturing industry—in the name of thousands dependant on commerce and on shipping—in the name of all to whom the honour and dignity of the country are dear—not of the King of Hanover merely, but of those who, from their official stations, might have put down his aggressions if they would, and who have not done so. I have a very high respect for the noble Lord (Palmerston)—I admire his talents and assiduity—I feel grateful to him for the fields which he has so successfully laid open to the operations of British industry. No former minister, as far as I am aware, ever paid so much attention to the general interests of our commerce; but the noble Lord must excuse me if I tell him plainly that, in regard to the Stade exactions, he has neither kept faith with his country nor with his own well-deserved reputation. Sir, the parties of whose cause I have this night been the feeble advocate, are wearied of fruitless applications for redress to official boards and government offices. They have resolved, after five-and-twenty years of patience and disappointment, that if reparation and protection are to be obtained at all, it is from other quarters they must derive them; and, therefore, strong in the conviction of right—strong in the belief of their country's sympathy—to this House, as the parens palriœ, which has so often redressed the wrongs of the injured, they now offer their respectful, earnest, and last appeal. I conclude by moving— That it is the opinion of this House that the tolls now levied upon British ships and cargoes in the river Elbe, by the authority of the King of Hanover, under the name of Stade duties, are of doubtful legality, oppressive in amount, and highly vexatious in the mode of exaction; and that it is, therefore, incumbent upon Her Majesty's Government to take the steps necessary for procuring relief from imposts so injurious to the general interests of the country.

Mr. Hawes

, in seconding the motion, said, that after the very minute and luminous statement made by his hon. Friend, he should not enter into any further details upon the subject. He thought the enforcement of the decision come to by the congress of Vienna with respect to the navigation of rivers, was an object particularly deserving of the attention of the noble Viscount, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He did not say the noble Viscount was to blame in this case, but there certainly appeared to have been an unjustifiable obstruction to the navigation of the Elbe by the regulations now under discussion. He thought that the noble Viscount now had both the will and the power to remove the grievances which were complained of, and that nothing was wanted but an expression of the opinion of the House upon the subject. Too little attention had been paid by the House to the state of our foreign trade, although at the present time it was a subject particularly entitled to consideration.

Viscount Palmerston

considered the question brought forward by the hon. Member for Hull to be undoubtedly one of great importance and interest to the commerce of the country, and so far he agreed in the view which the hon. Member took of the subject. He was afraid, however, that the question was not quite so simple in its elements as the hon. Member appeared to think. It was complicated with the arrangements made by old treaties, with the transfer of territories, and with the provisions which had been agreed to at the congress of Vienna, referring to plenipotentiaries from the states through which the rivers of Germany passed the regulation of matters connected with their navigation. The subject had not been allowed to sleep since the discussion that had taken place upon it last year; her Majesty's Government had pressed the government of Hanover to place the Stade tolls on a more rational foundation, and one more consistent with what we were entitled to expect. It was only, however, within the last few weeks that he had received the answer of the Hanoverian government to the representation made by our minister at that court. The answer was under the consideration of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and her Majesty's Government were proceeding to determine what steps should now be taken. Such being the state of this matter, being the subject of negotiation between the two governments, he presumed his hon. Friend and the House would feel that it would, perhaps, be premature to come to the particular resolution proposed, and he would therefore suggest the propriety of postponing, at all events for the present, to call on the House to enforce the opinion contained in the resolution, leaving her Majesty's Government, of whose sincerity and good intentions he was sure his hon. Friend entertained no doubt whatever, the opportunity of trying by negotiation with the government of Hanover to place these duties on a footing more satisfactory to the hon. Member, the House, and the commercial interests of the country. For the same reason, the subject being now matter of negotiation between the two governments, he thought his hon. Friend would feel, that it would not be expedient or advantageous that he should enter at present into a discussion of those various questions which had been started with regard to the right of Hanover either to levy a toll at all, or the particular tolls of which complaint was made; at the same time he was quite prepared to say it was the opinion of her Majesty's Government that the tariff under which these duties were now levied was not one which Hanover was entitled to enforce; and upon that footing it was that their negotiations with Hanover had hitherto been placed. This was a question in which England was not alone concerned. Negotiations had been going on with Hanover, on the part of Hamburg and Denmark, on this very subject. He would not, therefore, go into an investigation of the particular grounds on which this motion had been brought forward, but would only submit to the consideration of the Member for Hull whether it would not be better, even with a view to the objects which both his hon. Friend and himself contemplated, not to call upon the House at present to pronounce an opinion which he maintained they were not, in a Parliamentary sense, in possession of sufficient grounds to justify. The latter part of the motion was, of course, unnecessary, her Majesty's Government being actively and sedulously employed in endeavouring to relieve British commerce from those vexatious imposts of which his hon. Friend complained. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the motion stated what was undoubtedly true, that the navigation of the great rivers of Europe was a matter of the utmost interest to all commercial countries; and perhaps it might also be true, that the different powers who, by the treaty of Vienna, were deputed to arrange these matters, had not, with respect to all those rivers, been as active in carrying the stipulations of that treaty into effect as one might have expected, even from a regard to their own interests; because, although with regard to the Rhine a convention had been held and regulations established, yet there were many other large rivers in reference to which no such proceedings had hitherto taken place. There was at this moment an unsettled question between Spain and Portugal with respect to the navigation of the Douro, which came within the stipulations of that treaty. The Danube also was a most important river, to which, unquestionably, the stipulations of the treaty of Vienna must now be considered as applicable, because Russia, having by the treaty of Adrianople acquired possession of the banks of the lower part of the Danube, and the upper part belonging to Austria, both powers being parties to the treaty of Vienna, he apprehended its stipulations must now be considered as applicable to that river, whatever question might formerly have arisen with regard to Austria, which was, and Turkey, which was not, a party to that treaty. With respect to the accumulation of deposits at the Soulineh mouth of the Danube, he begged to state that the matter had not escaped the attention of Government. They were in communication with the parties interested for the purpose of effecting the removal of the obstructions to navigation in that quarter, and means were about to be taken for clearing the channel to its original depth, so as to admit vessels of from thirteen to fourteen feet draught. He must again assure the hon. Member and the House, that Government was duly impressed with the extreme importance of the commercial interests of the country. Every one who took the shallowest and most superficial view of the subject must see that our political importance, if not our existence as an independent country, must depend on the resources which our commerce affords, and therefore any Government which was inattentive to what constituted the fundamental support of the political influence of England must be extremely unfit to manage those interests which were committed to their care. Her Majesty's present Government had done much, although he would not say as much as they wished to accomplish; it was not for any Government, in matters where other nations were concerned, to be able to do all they wished or attempted; and the House must be aware, that although in this country public opinion in general was so enlightened in matters of commerce that there were fewer difficulties than in former times in carrying points for the enlargement of commercial enterprise and intercourse, yet in other countries there were difficulties to be encountered, arising, first of all, from the want of that information which had been diffused in this country, and also perhaps—he must not disguise it—from some degree of jealousy of our political power, and a wish in other quarters to reduce those sources whence our political power derived so materially its strength. He assured his hon. Friend, that not only with regard to this particular matter, but all those other questions in which the commerce of the country was concerned, her Majesty's Government would not only endeavour to do their utmost to increase commercial facilities, but would feel obliged to any hon. Gentleman to point out measures which might not suggest themselves to their minds, thereby assisting and strengthening their exertions to carry such objects, by showing that when the British Government talked to other governments on these matters, they were not merely speaking the opinion of the executive, but responding to the deep feeling of the country, and that they would be backed by the country in any measures it might be necessary to take in order to protect the interests and enlarge the sphere of our commercial intercourse.

Mr. A. Chapman

supported the motion. He considered the Stade duties both oppressive and odious, no return to our commerce being derived in any shape whatever.

Sir W. James

said, a large sum of money had been paid in the reign of George 1st, with the view of securing a preference of British interests for the town of Stade, but it now turned out that this very town for which so much British money had been paid, had been turned into an instrument of oppression upon British commerce. He did not wish to throw any unnecessary censure on the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) but had the noble Duke in the other House been at the head of foreign affairs, the present question would have been settled long ago.

Mr. Labouchere

hoped that after the discussion that had occurred, his hon. Friend would not press his motion. He should feel extremely sorry if the House came to any vote on the subject, or should express any opinion as to the right of imposing tolls being well founded or otherwise. He had listened with much attention to what had taken place, and he felt the question was one of great difficulty. The right was so complicated; it rested on so many treaties passed such a long time ago, that it was extremely difficult for Government to come to any decision at present. The states bordering on the Elbe had found the question one of much difficulty; and, putting aside the abstract right, they had endeavoured to come to some practical and satisfactory conclusion without determining the question of right, and to get the King of Hanover to consent to the abolition of those vexatious regulations by which the imposition of tolls were accompanied. It was the determination of Government to put an end to the question; and even the King of Hanover himself admitted that the regulations, as they at present existed, were indefensible. It would be impolitic, in the present situation of matters, to enter into the question. As to the abstract right of the King of Hanover to levy the tolls, that had better not be at present entertained. The wiser course would be to separate the two parts of the subject. To give the House an opportunity of avoiding an expression of opinion on the motion, he should move, by way of amendment, the previous question.

Mr. Hume

did not see how the noble Lord could consistently oppose a vote of the House, which would strengthen his hands, by showing that the House was unanimous in condemning the conduct of the Hanoverian authorities as oppressive and vexatious. It was said by an hon. Baronet who spoke opposite, that if the Duke of Wellington had been in office, these oppressive proceedings would have been checked long ago. Why, the same oppressive proceedings had gone on while that noble Duke was in office, from 1824 to 1830, and why had he not then interfered? The Foreign Office and the Board of Trade had been memorialized, year after year, by the merchants who were oppressed, and they had only been trifled with. Let the noble Lord only send a 74-gun ship to a position alongside the Stade vessel; he need not declare war, but only open a friendly communication through the medium of an officer commanding a 74, and he would soon see an end of the exactions that were complained of. If his hon. Friend thought proper to divide the House, he would, with much pleasure, vote with him.

Viscount Palmerston moved the previous question.

Mr. Hull

, though with great unwillingness, consented to the proposed course, and consequently the original motion was not put.

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