§ Mr. Lyall
, pursuant to the notice which he had given, moved,That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the state and condition of the Commercial Marine of this country, and to take into consideration, and report on the best mode of encouraging and extending, the employment of British Shipping.The hon. Gentleman said, that the terms of his Motion would give sufficient latitude for inquiring into the whole subject, and he therefore hoped the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Bolton, would not press the Amendment of which he had given notice.
§ Dr. Bowring
said, that he had the interests of the ship-owners as much at heart as any Member of that House, and his earnest wish was, whenever the Committee was appointed, that they should proceed fairly and fully to investigate the whole question, and ascertain the real cause of the distress. He made these observations in no hostile spirit, for his object was, that the attention of the Committee should be directed to the best mode of promoting the true interests of the parties concerned, and if he saw before him the prospect of a full investigation he should not now put the House to the trouble of dividing.
said, that so far as the Government were concerned, they had no wish to oppose the appointment of a Select Committee for the purposes set forth in the Motion then before the House. At the same time, he thought it was not fitting that he should omit that opportunity of saying a few words. It appeared to him that the Motion brought forward by his hon. Friend was worthy of being supported; but if he did not offer a short explanation, he feared there might prevail some misapprehension as to the spirit in which Her Majesty's Government gave their support to the present Motion. It appeared to him that the state of our commercial Marine was such as to justify the 275 Motion which had been brought before the House; the more especially was he disposed to support the Motion on account of its having been brought forward by a Gentleman whose sound and temperate views of the laws which affected our commercial Marine eminently qualified him for the task of conducting the investigations of that Committee, and of bringing these inquiries to a satisfactory and beneficial issue. It was well known that at the present moment that great and important interest was exceedingly depressed; but that admission did not necessarily show that the policy was bad by which that interest was regulated. In such a case, however, no Committee of Inquiry ought to be appointed, unless there existed a reasonable prospect of removing the distress and the difficulties which existed, by effecting some possible change in the laws which bore upon that interest. There were, for example, the Navigation Laws, and other Acts, which might fairly come under the consideration of the Committee, and it might possibly be expected that some amendment of those laws would be proposed in their Report. Now, he wished to guard the Government and the House from the imputation of being supposed to think that the present depression could be ascribed to the existing Treaties of Reciprocity. No doubt those Treaties of Reciprocity would in some quarters be expected to form a main object of inquiry with the Committee. But he certainly did not assent to the appointment of the Committee with any such intention; and he did think that mischievous effects might ensue if the notion went abroad that after the lapse of so many years there existed any intention of departing from those treaties. He wished it to be understood, that he considered it totally impossible to do anything of the sort. He should consider any proposition to abandon those treaties as wholly visionary. They must be maintained unless this country were prepared to embark in war on a large scale. Between the evils of war and the maintenance of those treaties we had no choice. But he did, nevertheless, think it quite fair that the state of the shipping interest should occupy the attention of a Committee of that House. He thought that it was a matter which ought to be inquired into on commercial, political, and national grounds. All such matters should, he considered, be investi- 276 gated from time to time, and it seemed to him that on the present occasion it might be a legitimate subject of inquiry for the Committee to ascertain, if possible, how far the existing depression had been brought on by the duties which affected our commercial Marine, and how far those might be alleviated? Finally, it appeared to him that the present state of the trade gave sufficient reason for the Motion then before them; and having thus guarded himself against misapprehension, he was willing to give the proposition his support.
§ Sir C. Napier
concurred in the Motion. During the last three years there had been a great diminution in the commercial Marine of this country. As a naval officer he deeply regretted this, because the Navy must ever rely on the merchant service for seamen. He hoped and trusted the Committee would go into the inquiry fully and fairly, and without allowing themselves to be influenced by any party motives.
§ Mr. A. Chapman
said, the shipping interest had reached a point of depression that was unparalleled in his recollection. It was his wish, and that of his constituents, that a full and fair inquiry should be had; and he was sure that the Committee about to be appointed would conduct the inquiry fairly and impartially.
§ Dr. Bowring
wished to have some express understanding as to his amendment. Was it intended that the "causes of the distress" should be inquired into?
answered, that they might form a legitimate subject of inquiry, but he thought it better that these words should not be inserted in the Motion.
§ Mr. Hawes
said, that it appeared from the terms of the Motion that the Committee was to inquire into the best mode of encouraging the shipping interest. He did not know what "encouraging" meant, and he thought the expression ought to be defined, as it must be considered that the Committee was appointed on the responsibility of the Government. He wished that some additional words should be inserted, so that the Committee should be appointed to inquire into "the causes which had led to the present state of depression" of the shipping interest. As the Motion now stood, the causes of the distress could not be inquired into. All that the Committee would have now to inquire into was the present state of the shipping interest, but of its present state the House knew beforehand. Was there any object- 277 tion to add some words to inquire into the causes of the distress. If not, he should cordially support the Motion thus altered. Perhaps it might be found that there was no branch of the commercial interest which had been so nursed and protected, and which had been so often complaining, as this interest. They had always been having something done for them. Probably, however, if the Committee came to inquire into the causes of the distress, they would go no further, for the causes he was persuaded, would be found in those restrictions on trade which affected the shipping interest more than almost any other interest. He moved that after the words "of this country," the words "and into the causes of its present distress," be inserted.
said, his objection to the words was that he was afraid they would go to create a misapprehension out of doors as to the real intention and object of the appointment of this Committee. He was afraid that practical effect would follow, considering the extent of the popular cry that the existing distress had arisen from our Reciprocity Treaties. He thought there would be that danger in the adoption of the words. He thought the words as they stood were perfectly safe and intelligible. As to the meaning of encouraging the employment of British shipping, there might be gentlemen who wished to abolish altogether all differential duties on ships of different nations; they might consider that to be one mode of encouraging British shipping. He should be glad if the hon. Member would with-draw his motion.
§ Mr. Hutt
thought, that the hon. Member for Lambeth ought to agree to this, after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman. He would take this opportunity to ask the reason why some papers for which he had moved last Session, and 278 which would have exhibited the reasons why British ships were charged in foreign ports dues which were not charged on foreign ships, had not been laid on the Table. They would have thrown great light on this subject, and he regretted that the Order of the House with respect to them had not been complied with. He had made every inquiry in the proper quarters, but he was not able to find why obedience had not been rendered to the Order of the House.
said, he should be as glad, and he was as curious to see the returns as the hon. Member could be; but the hon. Member must recollect that the preparation of returns of this nature took a great deal of time, as they ran a good deal into detail. In this country they found it difficult enough to get such returns, and in foreign ports, where they had to depend altogether on the consuls, who had not the facilities for obtaining detailed returns that we had here, it was still more difficult. He could only recommend patience to the hon. Member; but he could assure the hon. Member that he would make every exertion in his power, by requesting his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office to reissue his circular to the consuls at the foreign ports from which no returns had hitherto been made.
Sir W. James
concurred with the hon. Member for Whitby in considering the present state of the shipping as most lamentable, and one into which it was most desirable to have a full and fair inquiry.
§ Mr. Wawn
said, he had just returned from the borough he represented (South Shields), and he could say the shipping interest was in a most deplorable condition. He hoped some measure might be suggested for alleviating the burthen of taxation which pressed on the shipping interest so as to enable them to compete with foreigners. They would look with very great jealousy at the construction of the Committee. He hoped such Members might be appointed on it as would duly represent the shipping interest, though he wished only for an equality, not a majority of Members belonging to that body.
§ Viscount Palmerston
was glad to see, that there was not much difference between his hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Both were agreed, as every one must be, that the Committee was not intended to go into the question of the Reciprocity Treaties. The necessity 279 of these treaties as a measure of self-protection to this country, was so obvious to everybody who had bestowed a moment's consideration on the subject, that no Committee would conceive it to be their duty to re-open that question. The right hon. Gentleman apprehended that if the words proposed by his hon. Friend were inserted, either the Committee or the public might imagine that such was the intention of the proposers of the Committee. He did not think that a valid objection to the adoption of the words, and it seemed to him that an inquiry into the origin of the distress was necessarily involved in the very Motion of the hon. Gentleman, because, if you inquired into the condition of the mercantile navy, meaning thereby the distress which now prevailed if you inquired how you could encourage and promote its prosperity, you must necessarily inquire what bad been the cause of the distsess. Unless you investigated the cause of the distress, you could not propose any effectual remedy. Therefore, it seemed to him that the words suggested by his hon. Friend were so naturally involved in the Motion itself, that it was really a matter of words rather than of substance which was discussed between them, namely, whether the addition of these words would make the Motion more clear, and put the Committee more completely in possesion of the course it was intended to follow. The causes of the distress were various, independent of, and unconnected with the Reciprocity Treaties, and the inquiry should be directed to the effects of competition, of domestic restrictions, and to the various disadvantages under which the shipping interest of this country might labour. His hon. Friend on his left hand had taken advantage of this discussion to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman opposite; and he would take the liberty of following the example, and asking a question connected with this subject, which, if the right hon. Gentleman could not answer at present, he would perhaps bear in mind, and return an answer at some future day. It related to a matter that was very important to the shipping interest, and which had frequently been brought under the consideration of the House; he meant the State Duties. There had been a very long negotiation on this subject. They were told at one time that the negotiation was going on, and twelve months 280 ago they were told that it was virtually broken off. Papers were then asked for, and it was stated that they could not be produced while the negotiation was proceeding. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman what had become of that unhappy negotiation, and whether it was now dormant, or in that state of annihilation and extinction which would permit Government, without prejudice to the public service, to lay before Parliament Papers showing what had passed on the subject? With respect to the production of Papers, he would not press for them now, but if the negotiation was still pending, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would give an answer on that point at some future day.
said, the noble Lord was quite correct in his remarks, that a very long negotiation had been proceeding on this subject, for, in point of fact there was a negotiation going on for eleven years, at least for seven or eight years, while the noble Lord was at the Foreign Office. But the noble Lord was not altogether correct in calling it an unhappy negotiation; it had now reached, at least had substantially, he considered, reached its conclusion, and one which he thought would be satisfactory to the mercantile body and the public at large. An arrangement had been agreed to between the Government of Her Majesty and the King of Hanover, though it had not yet reached its formal term, and some of the details of which were, at the present moment, in process of adjustment. It was, therefore, not in such a state as to enable the Government to lay the Papers before the House; but, at the same time, it was in such a state that he had not the least hesitation in using the expression he had employed—a state of virtual and practical conclusion. He believed the day was fixed on which the negotation was to be carried into effect; he was not positive, but he thought the 1st of October. He was not surprised that the noble Lord, after what had passed, should feel an anxiety on the subject, and the Government would be very glad if, when the day came, they could lay the Papers on the Table. Although he would not bind himself to their production, he hoped that very shortly, and certainly before the close of the present Session, the Papers relating to the negotiation would be produced to both Houses of Parliament.
§ Viscount Palmerston
wished to know whether the effect of the arrangement would be to reduce the Stade Toll?
thought it would tend greatly to the disadvantage of the public service, and to mislead the House with respect to the nature of the arrangement, if he were to answer that question, or give any further information.
§ Mr. Milner Gibson
said, the public would be better satisfied if they were informed that the country would get rid of the Stade Duties altogether. Hanover had done nothing to facilitate the navigation of the Elbe, or to make any adequate return for the sums levied on British ships.' He did not think that the public would be satisfied with a mere diminution of the duties. He hoped that his hon. Friend (Mr. Hutt) would take another opportunity of bringing on this subject, as well as another that was also important to the shipping interest—that of the Sound Duties. These were open to great doubt, and he hoped the matter would be thoroughly sifted by the Committee. He wished to know the position in which the question before the House stood. He understood the hon. Member for Bolton meant to move certain words as an addition to the motion of the hon. Member for London. Taking the words of the Motion, there might be some doubt as to the subjects into which the Committee were to inquire. Very often, when some question arose on which a Committee did not like to enter, they got rid of the difficulty by saying, "We have no authority for this, it is not on the Votes." He hoped his hon. Friend would press the words he proposed to add, because it was plain, that unless the Committee was to go into the question of the effect produced on the interests of the commercial Marine by the restrictions on the supply of naval stores and provisions, there would be no fair, good, and impartial inquiry into different branches of the question. He did not look on the maintenance of those restrictions as an article of religious faith, as some hon. Gentlemen seemed to consider it; he thought we should inquire into the bearing of restrictions on all branches of our industry; and particularly, when inquiring into the state of the shipping interest and the effects of competition, we should examine how far English ships might be prevented from succeeding by these restrictions.
§ The amendment moved by Mr. Hawes put and negatived.
§ On the original question being again put,
§ Dr. Bowring
would be satisfied with the words proposed by his hon. Friend; but looking to what the right hon. Gentleman had stated, that he intended the inquiry should be conducted on a large scale, he could not see that any inconvenience would result from adding the words which he proposed. The hon. Member for London had no objection to the words, they grew out of the Motion, and it was admitted that they ought to form a part of the inquiry. He should therefore move that words be added to the Motion, as follows:—And that the said Committee do examine into the effect of the Taxes on Materials used in the building and equipping of British Ships; also into the effect on Wages and Ship Stores of our restrictions on Provisions (in respect to the expence of navigating British Ships), and to consider and report to the House on the expediency of removing the same, in so far as they may be found to prevent the British Shipowner from competing successfully with the Foreign Shipowner.
was sorry to be under the necessity of objecting to the words now proposed to be added, and he objected more specifically to them than to those suggested to the hon. Member for Lambeth. They were in their nature calculated to lead to misconstruction, and to make it seem that the inquiry of the Committee was to be in a particular mode and direction, while, in point of fact, it was general. He most distinctly objected to any particular specification of the objects of inquiry, which might lead to the belief that one portion of the shipping interest was to be made the subject of investigation to the exclusion of other points in connexion with the matter. In fact, the amendment of the hon. Member for Bolton would have the effect of restricting the labours of the Committee.
§ Mr. Hume
said, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade appeared to think that the amendment which the hon. Member for Bolton had proposed, was calculated to limit the inquiries of the Committee. As the right hon. Gentleman had given the House an assurance that the subject would be inquired generally into, he trusted that the hon. Member for Bolton would withdraw his amendment.
§ Dr. Bowring
expressed himself satisfied with what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had stated to the House, and should withdraw his amendment.
§ Sir C. Napier
wished to know whether they would appoint a fair Committee? He hoped it would not be packed from the other side of the House.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ Original Motion agreed to.