§ MR. RICARDO
rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation and policy of the Navigation Laws. The hon. Member for Sunderland and his constituents laboured, he said, under a great mistake. With reference to the subject adverted to in the petitions which had just been presented, he did not mean to propose the repeal of the navigation laws. An Act was passed in 1651, called the Navigation Act, on which was founded the Act passed in the 12th year of the reign of Charles II., which, until the year 1822, was held to be the perfection of human wisdom, for although, in 1815, circumstances compelled the British Government to relax that law with respect to the United States of America and, shortly afterwards, in favour of Portugal, it was not until 1822 that any statesman was found bold enough to attack a statute which, up to that time, had been regarded as the greatest possible achievement of legislation. In the year mentioned, namely, 1822, Mr. Wallace brought forward five Acts, whose object was, in parliamentary language, to amend and explain various Acts which had been passed with respect to trade and navigation. Shortly afterwards—he thought it was in 1824—Mr. Huskisson brought forward and passed his famous Reciprocity Act, which enabled the King in Council to allow the entrance of foreign ships into our ports on the same terms as those on which British ships were permitted to enter foreign ports. Several trifling alterations were made, from time to time, in the navigation laws, the last of which was in reference to Hong-Kong, in 1845, to which it was unnecessary to allude more particularly. Having now shown the position in which the question of the navigation laws was, he once more begged the hon. Member for Sunderland to understand that he did not mean to propose the repeal of the Navigation Act—all he wanted was an inquiry into the operation of that 1008 Act. If the Government should agree to his Motion for a Committee, it would hardly be fair in hon. Gentlemen opposite to offer any opposition to the proposal; for in 1844, a Committee upon the same subject was appointed at the instance of those hon. Gentlemen, and two-thirds of the members of that Committee were Gentlemen who held opinions coincident with those of the hon. Member for Sunderland. The Committee of 1844 was appointed to inquire into the state and condition of the commercial marine of the country, and to take into consideration and report upon the best mode of encouraging and employing British shipping. The very words of the Motion certainly intimated some doubt as to the efficacy of the navigation laws in promoting the object for which they had been framed. That Committee, which was appointed on the Motion of one of the hon. Members of the city of London, agreed to a report, in which they stated "that they had entered upon the investigation of the important question referred to them, but that in consequence of the late period of the Session at which they had been appointed, they had not found it possible to complete their inquiry, or to come to a satisfactory report, and, therefore, they contented themselves with laying the evidence which they had taken before the House, and expressed a hope that the Committee would be reappointed at an earlier period of the ensuing Session." The Committee was accordingly reappointed at an earlier period of the following Session, and this was the report which they made to the House:—Your Committee having been prevented by unforeseen circumstances from going fully into the inquiry referred to them, submit to the House the expediency of their being reappointed at an early period of the next Session.The Committee, however, was not reappointed in the following Session; for what reason he could not tell. The Committee had acknowledged the important nature of the inquiry referred to them; and the very fact of such a Committee having been appointed implied the existence of some little doubt as to the efficacy of his navigation laws for their intended purpose; under these circumstances, it would be only fair in hon. Gentlemen opposite to allow some other person to take up the inquiry at the point at which they had left it, and endeavour to bring the important investigation to a conclusion. If, however, he should fail in obtaining acquiescence in his Mo- 1009 tion from the appeal which he had made to the candour of hon. Gentlemen opposite, he should still, he thought, be able to show so much of evil to the manufacturer and merchant of this country—so much of oppression to our colonial fellow-subjects from the operation of the navigation laws—that he thought he had a right to demand from the justice of the House the appointment of the Committee for which he was about to move. It would be easy to make out the case of injustice and oppression from the evidence taken before the Committees of 1844 and 1845, which had been reported to the House. The first witness they had called was Mr. Somes, afterwards a Member of that House, and whose untimely loss they all so much regretted. That gentleman, it was well known, went so far as to demand a tax upon colonial shipping. In answer to a question put to him by the Committee, he said, "some interests might profit by cheap carrying, but that it would ruin important interests." He was then asked by the hon. Member for Gateshead whether it were not an advantage to our merchants to have goods brought from India at 3l. instead of 4l. per ton? To which he replied, "Yes, looking at it in a commercial point of view; but I think we ought to keep our mercantile marine." Now, the witness admitted a fact which must be obvious to everybody, that it was a greater advantage to our merchants to pay 1,500l. for freight of a vessel of 500 tons, than 2,000l. It was quite clear the cost of the production of an article was not its cost when it left the factory, but the amount expended upon it when it arrived at the market. And here we were spending millions on millions on our internal communication; Parliament was looking with the utmost jealousy lest we should be charged a halfpenny or a penny too much for our internal transit; yet, when the goods arrived in dock we found a law had been enacted which had for its object to increase the cost of their transport over by far the larger portion of their journey. The next witness called was Mr. G. F. Young, who also advocated a tax upon colonial shipping. He said he—"considered the whole system of the navigation laws as relating more to the encouragement of our maritime commerce than any other object, and that many sacrifices of pecuniary interests ought to be made for it.In answer to the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool, he also said—I have no doubt that private interests should be sacrificed for the general interests of the coun- 1010 try. If the Legislature should decide that it was no longer necessary to keep up the navigation laws as a means of national security, no doubt the consumers of foreign articles could purchase at a cheaper rate, since this would be the natural consequence of admitting imports in the ships of foreign nations.He might go on through the whole book; but it must be evident that, by every ton of shipping driven from our ports, we lost the benefit of a sale of an equal value of our merchandise; and that, thereby, we deprived our manufacturers of profits, and our workmen of wages, as well as the Government of revenue to that amount. The importer and his ship ought to be like the pedlar and his pack, travelling from place to place, buying of all who might find it profitable to sell, and selling to all who might find it convenient to buy; and the more we obstructed him, whether by fixing him to a particular place, or restricting him to a particular means of conveyance, the more we crippled his profits and deprived him of the advantages which would otherwise accrue from his industry. If the Spaniards wanted earthenware, the French sugar, and we wine; why on earth should we forbid the natural course of the transaction? The Spaniard would take in a cargo of sugar at Cuba, which he would deliver at a French port, and take in wine for us; but we had so arranged that when he arrived at one of our ports he would be met by a custom-house officer, who would tell him that he could not be permitted to land his cargo. "Why," the Spaniard would say, "I understood you wanted wine." "So we do," the officer would reply. "Then," the Spaniard would say, "I will exchange my wine for your earthenware." "That will not do; it must be brought by Frenchmen in a French ship." "But the French do not want your earthenware." "We cannot help that; we must not let you violate our navigation laws;" and then the officer would entertain the poor Spaniard with some pompous declamation about "the great bulwarks of our country," "the wooden walls of Old England," and other patriotic topics. But the Spaniard would ask whether there was no way in which he could get the wine into England; and he would be told, "Yes, if you take it to Spain, land it, and reship it, you may bring it here, and we will be glad to take it from you." Could anything be more absurd than such a system? A case almost parallel to that which he had stated to the House, was given in evidence before the Committee of 1844. A merchant at Mar- 1011 seilles, to whom some hides from America had been consigned, sent them for sale to Rotterdam; but not meeting with a market there, they were returned to Marseilles. The merchant then, supposing, perhaps, that the merchandise had been sufficiently naturalized, sent it to Liverpool, where it was seized as American produce imported in a French bottom. The goods were subsequently released upon petition; but only on condition that they should be sent back to New York. Thus it was that we destroyed that which was usually deemed the most profitable part of commerce, namely, the indirect, or triangular trade, as it was called. If the direct trade were more profitable, we did not want Acts of Parliament to encourage it—into that would naturally flow the capital of our merchants and shipowners; but if the indirect trade were the most advantageous, was it expedient to pass laws to obstruct it? It was impossible to create trade by laws. No code of laws which human wisdom could devise could operate as well as the natural laws which regulated trade and commerce; and every attempt to interfere with the natural course of things by legislative means, was certain to produce waste and extravagance and inconveniences of various kinds. Because we would not let things take their natural course, we passed the Reciprocity Act, as a sort of compromise; and what had been the consequence? We had actually incurred an expense of 600,000l., because we had found it necessary to exempt foreign shipping from the payment of certain dues to which our own vessels were subjected. After all, the obligations imposed by the navigation laws were evaded in so many instances, that they operated more injuriously to the British merchant than to his foreign competitor. He understood, from the answer which his right hon. Friend the Vice-President of the Board of Trade gave to a question he had put to him on a former evening, that refined sugar would be admitted into this country as a manufactured article in vessels of the countries in which it might be refined. That decision appeared to rest on rational grounds. Refined sugar was certainly as much a manufactured article as cotton yarn; and as long as the one was admitted in that character, it would be absurd to exclude the other. But, then, what became of the navigation laws? As regarded the importation of sugar, they would be a complete nullity. So flour might be manufactured of American grain—cigars of Havannah tobacco—quinine 1012 of Peruvian bark; and they might all be imported into this country in the ships of the country whence imported. Thus, after the lapse of 200 years, a flaw is discovered in the code which we had substituted for the natural laws which regulate commerce: you have ordained that no goods, the produce of Asia, Africa, or America, shall be imported into this country in other than British ships or ships of the countries where produced; but you find that the diplomatist is able to steer a ship through the Act of Parliament, and the result is, that the navigation laws, instead of securing to British shipowners a greater proportion of the carrying trade than, in the natural course of things, they could hope to obtain, actually operated as a direct encouragement to the foreign manufacturer in his competition with our own. These were collateral points; but the real object of the Navigation Act, call it by what name they pleased—the Charta Maritima, or any other magnificent title—was to protect British shipowners, in other words, to raise freights unnaturally. If it did not act in that way, it would not operate at all. Freights varied in proportion to the length of a voyage, being less for a long than a short voyage; but he would suppose that the effect of the Navigation Act was to raise freights only 10s. per ton on an average. Now, what was the amount of tonnage affected? In 1843, 7,181,789 tons of British tonnage were employed in the foreign carrying trade; and, therefore, assuming that the freights were raised 10s. per ton by the operation of the navigation laws, this country actually paid a tax of 3,590,394l. for the protection of shipping. In 1845, the amount of British tonnage similarly employed was 8,546,090, which showed that the people, in that year, had a tax of not less than 4,273,045l. for the protection of shipping. He did not say that the law actually raised the freight 10s. a ton; but if it was operative at all it could only be so by raising the freight; and at 10s. a ton that would amount to a tax of more than 4,000,000l. on this country. But these evils were not peculiar to this country. They were felt equally by the colonies, and they had some peculiar to themselves; and he thought he could make out a case for them also. He recollected being struck by what he read on the discussion when Mr. Huskisson made his statement on the shipping interest. One of the stanchest advocates of that interest, Mr. Marryat, said, he understood that a compact had been entered into between 1013 this country and the colonies, by which we undertook to give them a preference in our market for their produce, they in their turn undertaking to pay us for the monopoly granted to them by granting us a monopoly in transporting their produce. And he went on to say that if we touched the navigation law, that monopoly must go; but that if the monopoly was to go, the navigation laws ought to go first. The Legislature, however, began at the wrong end, for it took away the monopoly enjoyed by the colonist, about the value of which, to him, there was a strong question, while it retained that monopoly derived through the navigation laws, which, if it were of value at all, could only be so in proportion as it injured the colonies for the benefit of the mother country. The colonists, under these circumstances, spoke only the truth in their memorial of July last, when they stated that these laws were upheld by the mother country, now that protection was almost altogether removed from their produce, against their wishes and against their interests. He could not perceive upon what principle of justice, or of sound policy, the Legislature could justify so arbitrary an interference with the independent commerce of the mother country. The colonists said that trade should be as free in shipping as it was now in sugar; and they were right. To withhold it was to inflict an injustice and an injury upon them. The demand for freights in the West Indies was on the increase, because a large proportion of the ships that went to those colonies heretofore now went to the Brazils, to import into England the slave-produced sugar of that country, and also went to other slaveholding countries for a like purpose. The supply of shipping in the colonies was therefore decreased, and freights raised just at the moment that we had introduced them to a formidable rivalry. And as the navigation laws prevented the employment of foreign ships, the colonists were thus unjustly treated and severely injured. Let him remind the House that the system of isolating colonies from the rest of the world, for the benefit of the parent State—tried in various forms and under various pretexts, in none more specious or more effective than the navigation laws—was one that had lost Brazil to Portugal; left only the island of Java to Holland; caused the secession of the United States of America from England; and, of all her magnificent colonial empire, left Spain with Cuba and the Philippine islands. Could any ground of political ex 1014 pediency, or any national advantage, be shown to justify the retention of these laws? He asked the question fearlessly, and he knew how he would be answered. No doubt the authority of Adam Smith would be adduced against him, and that great writer's opinions would be quoted in favour of the navigation laws. ["Hear, hear!"] To that cheer he would reply, without fear of contradiction, that Adam Smith in that instance departed from his constant practice—that was to say, he made an assertion without bringing forward an argument to support it. In fact, the argument which preceded the assertion went against the assertion; and he was quite content that hon. Gentlemen who differed from him on this point should take the assertion, if they would only give him the argument. It would be answered likewise that as the mercantile marine was the nursery of the defensive navy of the country, and as the defensive navy was the safeguard of the realm, it would not do to disturb it. Now, it would save much trouble if he began this part of his case by making some admissions; and he would accordingly admit that the defensive navy was of the utmost importance to the welfare of this country, and that the commercial marine was the nucleus and nursery of that branch of the public service, inasmuch as it provided naturally those elements which could only be artificially maintained by a non-maritime country. But while he admitted these two propositions, he most distinctly and emphatically denied the inference from them, that the way to encourage the commercial navy was to place on the commerce of the country restriction, impediment, and obstruction. Restriction, he maintained, was a drag and an impediment. Restriction meant scarcity, and scarcity meant inferiority: and to a most successful state of inferiority had our maritime code conducted us. This was clearly shown in the case of the American trade. Merchants engaged in making shipments uniformly advised that they should be made in American bottoms, if possible, even though the rates were a little higher than the freights of English vessels; and constantly protested against the employment of the latter. And this was not the case with America only, but with other countries; yet England had the carrying trade of no other country, the system of protection established by the navigation laws having reduced it to out-trade alone. Well, what was the consequence of the navigation laws? Cer- 1015 tainly not the superiority of English shipping — a fact which he would undertake to prove, if a Committee was granted him for the purpose. He would also undertake to prove that the British shipbuilder was quite capable of protecting himself in any competition which might ensue upon the abandonment of these laws. The next greatest navy in the world to that of England was the mercantile navy of the United States of North America. The tonnage of the United States was about two and a half millions. Let them see what we had to fear from this competition. It might be said the United States had a great advantage over England in the matter of timber, and that the shipbuilders would therefore be on a better footing than the English shipbuilders; but he was not quite clear on that point; and, at all events, he should like to go before a Committee to elicit the facts of the case. As far, however, as oak and teak were a question, the United States had no advantage over England; nor had they any advantage even in the matter of wages for labour. In Sunderland and the outports of England the shipwrights' wages ranged from 3s. 6d. to 4s. a day; at present, perhaps, they were rather higher, in consequence of the high freights; but as the demand extended to America also, the rise was proportional in that country. In London, owing to a combination caused by the monopoly of the navigation laws, shipwrights' wages were 6s. a day. But they were 1½ dollars in the United States, or 7s. a day on the average. In some cases they were two dollars; but he would take the average of 7s. as the fact. That was, however, 1s. a day higher than the highest wages in England, and nearly double the wages paid in Sunderland and the out-ports. With respect, however, to the other materials for shipbuilding, iron, copper, cordage, &c., they were cheaper in this country than in the United States. What, then, was the cause of all the outcry for protection against the foreign shipbuilders, as if the English shipbuilder had no means and no power to protect himself? If the assumed expense of building a ship was taken to be the actual expense, there would be no ships built in London at all under the present circumstances; for it was stated by Mr. Somes that the same description of ships would cost from 5l. to 6l. a ton more in London, than it would in Sunderland; so that there was as much difference between the cost of a ship built in London, and of a ship built in 1016 Sunderland, as there was between a ship built in Sunderland, and a ship built in New Brunswick. He could not, however, admit the calculation at so much per ton in shipbuilding; he should take the whole ship as it stood, and look at the actual value as the only criterion. But as respected those places where ships were built cheaper and better than in England, it was necessary, in that point of view even, to make inquiry why such should be the case, which would in itself be almost a sufficient ground for the appointment of a Committee. Timber, cordage, copper, and all other materials which went to the construction of a ship, were permitted to come into this country; but the moment they were put together in the shape of a ship, then they were prohibited. Every part of a ship was admissible, but the ship itself was not; she could not be bought or used by a British merchant. What was the reason for this? Why, after all, it came to a protection for British carpenters. If a foreign ship was taken in time of war, the Government and the Legislature were proud of it, and it was at once put into commission as a member of the military navy of the country. A large crew was put on board of it: she was sent out to fight our battles. He, however, never knew that these crews had been contaminated because the ship was not British-built; nor that the ship itself was less effective against the enemies of England. Another objection with which he would no doubt be met, was the expense of navigating English ships as compared with foreign. It was asserted that the foreign ships were navigated much cheaper than the English; because their crews—composed, the best of them, of Swedes and Danes—could live, it was said, upon biscuit and oil; while their wages, at the same time, were much less than those of the English sailor. If that was the case—if Danes and Swedes, who were not prohibited to the shipowners of the United States, were as effective as they were represented to be—how came it that half the American navy was manned by Englishmen, who received higher wages than they did in their own country? How was it, even, that the English shipowners had never availed themselves of the permission accorded by these very navigation laws to employ one-fourth of their crews, foreigners, natives of any country with which we might be at peace—alive as they were to their own interests? There were Danes and Swedes enough to be brought to England, if they were wanted. Why, then, 1017 was there such an outcry on the subject of cheap navigation, when we did not employ even the number of foreigners permitted? If the Committee which he asked for were granted him, he (Mr. Ricardo) would undertake to prove all these facts; and also to prove that the British shipowner, as well as the British seaman, needed no protection. He would show the Committee, on the contrary, that they were both ready to compete with any nation, and that, in building ships, as in spinning cotton, England was a match for the whole world. He would next advert to a point, in reference to which he begged the indulgence of the House—namely, statistical facts in support of his arguments. He thought it right to judge by the past, how to legislate for the future. He held in his hand a statement, showing the number and tonnage of shipping entered and cleared from the ports of the United Kingdom, distinguishing British from foreign, and showing the centesimal proportions which the British and foreign tonnage bore to each other in the year 1814 (the last year of the war, when British ports were not generally accessible to foreign vessels, and when the Navigation Act was in full force); in 1824, the year of reciprocity treaties; and in 1845, after twenty-two reciprocity treaties had been carried out, and twenty-seven were in operation, which was as follows:—
1018 The excess of British over foreign shipping stated in tons was, therefore, as under:—
INWARDS. CENTES. PROP. YEARS. BRITISH SHIPS. TONS. FOREIGN SHIPS. TONS. BRIT. FOREIGN. 1814 8,975 1,290,248 5,286 599,287 68.28 31.72 1824 11,733 1,797,320 5,653 759,541 70.29 29.71 1845 21,001 4,310,639 11,651 1,735,079 71.23 28.77 OUTWARDS. 1814 8,620 1,271,952 4,622 602,941 67.84 32.16 1824 10,157 1,657,533 5,026 746,707 68.94 31.06 1845 20,231 4,235,451 12,296 1,790,136 70.22 29.78
That was to say, it was in 1845 more than double what it was in 1824; and more than four times what it was in 1814. All this in consequence of the relaxation that had been intermediately made in the restrictions which pressed upon the commerce of the country as well as in the navigation laws. He had another statement which he should wish to read to the House, and he hoped he might be permitted to do so; it was a subject which had not been inquired into for the last twenty years; and deserved, therefore, an accurate investigation. It related to the protected and unprotected tonnage, as he should term them; the protected tonnage being the British and colonial vessels engaged in the colonial trade; the unprotected, the British vessels engaged in foreign trade on fair and open competition; and the periods which he should take would be the two of 1826, when protection was at its height; and 1844, when it had been greatly relaxed in this country:—
INWARDS. OUTWARDS. 1814 690,961 669,011 1824 1,037,779 910,826 1845 2,575,560 2,439,315
BRITISH TONNAGE. Inwards. Outwards. 1826 Protected tons 939,321 839,558 — Unprotected 1,011,309 897,867 1,950,630 1,737,425 1844 Protected 1,460,882 1,551,251 — Unprotected 2,186,581 2,301,571 3,647,463 3,852,822
which was just double the increase of the protected tonnage. These facts spoke for themselves, and showed by the case made out that protection had not answered. There were other and far surer means of encouraging our shipping. It was said that the commercial marine was the nursery of the defensive navy; but what was the nursery of the commercial marine? It was commerce—commerce was the parent. Nourish the parent, and the child would flourish; but if the parent 1019 was starved, the child could not be expected to continue in health, and both would fail. If the House only looked for a moment at the effects of relaxation, as evidenced by the measures of the right hon. Baronet opposite, it would be surprised to see how sensitive the shipping interest of this country was to improvements in that direction. He would read to the House an abstract of the state of the shipping trade in reference to those relaxations, as they affected two or three branches of the commerce of the country. And, first, with respect to the timber trade:—
1826 Amount protected inwards and outwards 1,778,879 1844 Amount protected inwards and outwards 3,012,133 Increase in 1844, 1,233,254; or 69.32 per cent. 1826 Amount unprotected inwards and outwards 1,909,176 1844 Amount unprotected inwards and outwards 4,448,152 Increase in 1844, 2,578,976; or 135.07 per cent;In 1843, the year before the reduction of the duties on timber, there were employed in the timber trade with the North American colonies 1841 ships, representing 689,731 tons, whereas in 1845, the year after the reduction, there were employed in the same trade 2,608 ships, representing 964,276 tons.So that in the next year the number was nearly doubled, because restriction had been removed. Then, again, with respect to the Chinese trade. This was the past and present position of it as regarded the shipping interest:—
He would next call attention to the condition of the foreign trade; and he should therefore read to the House an account of the number and tonnage of British vessels employed in the foreign trade of the United Kingdom in the nine months ended the 10th of October, in the years 1844 and 1846:—
Year. Ships. Tons. 1835 100 56,645 1845 207 86,193
There was an increase in the foreign and colonial trade in the five years ending 1839 of 1,503,673 tons; and in the five years ending 1845, of 2,055,605 tons; being 551,992 tons greater comparative increase in the last five than in the first five years. He had now done with figures. If he had in the slightest degree raised a doubt in the mind of any hon. Gentleman upon the subject—if he had shown that injury was inflicted upon the merchants and manufacturers of this country by the operation of the navigation laws—if he had made out, as he hoped he had, the injustice of those laws—if he had revived a doubt even of the beneficial character of these laws to British shipping—then he maintained that the House was bound to institute an inquiry into the case, and 1020 either to refute his facts, or to give him an opportunity of substantiating them. He had endeavoured to state his case fairly, with temper and moderation; and he hoped he should be met in a similar spirit. The hon. Member concluded by submitting his Motion to the House.
Year. Ships. Tons. 1844 22,266 4,352,821 1846 24,377 5,123,631 Increase in 1846—2,111 ships, 771,810 tons.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
The hon. Member who had just sat down had laid before the House a question of much interest, and in doing so had called their attention to the history and effects of the Acts of Navigation, into which he proposed to institute an inquiry before a Committee of that House. His hon. Friend had prefaced his Motion by questioning the policy of the navigation laws, and pointed out many evident anomalies in the working of those laws; but the Motion which he had placed in their hands did not call for anything more than their assent to the proposition that there was at least a case for inquiry, and did not commit any hon. Member who supported the proposal to those measures which his hon. Friend might, in his own mind, think best suited for the settlement of the question. If the Government, therefore, gave their consent to the appointment of a Committee, it appeared to him that they would be acting in strict concordance with the recommendation of the Committee appointed in 1844, which was moved for by the hon. Member for London, and the object of which was precisely the same as that of the hon. Member (Mr. Ricardo) in calling for the present inquiry. The subject for reference to that Committee was, that they should inquire into the means of extending and increasing the employment of British ships and seamen. The navigation law was a law which professed to be for the encouragement of British ships and navigation; and, therefore, an inquiry into the navigation laws would be an inquiry of a similar character to that of the Committee of the hon. Member for London. In point of fact, considerable evidence on the navigation laws had been taken in that Committee; and the report it made was, that they were unable, owing to unforeseen circumstances, to conclude their inquiry, and recommended that they should be appointed to sit again. He thought, therefore, that if the House agreed to this proposal, it would be but continuing a train of very useful inquiry which it had already commenced. It must have occurred to the minds of most hon. Members, that, after the great commercial changes which had 1021 taken place during the last few years, the necessity would arise for inquiry into the navigation law, which was in itself a regulation of our trade with foreign countries. As the course of our trade had been already changed by the commercial measures adopted by the British Parliament — as the reciprocity treaties, to which the hon. Member alluded, had been forced on this country by the necessity of the times—and, as a change had taken place in the commercial relations between England and foreign countries, this inquiry was desirable. It appeared to him that since they had changed most of their trading relations with those countries—since they had abolished the corn laws, and had provided for the equalisation of the sugar duties—and, since in these and other material points considerable changes in their relations with foreign countries had been made—it was natural to suppose, that the same circumstances which necessitated reciprocity treaties in former times, might prevail at present; and that it was proper, as it appeared to Her Majesty's Government, to appoint a Committee for the purpose of inquiring into the policy of the laws to which their attention had been called. The hon. Member proposed that an impartial Committee should be appointed, and that the Members should be selected with a view to the investigation of the truth, and not to make out a case for those with whom he acted—the supporters of an opposite policy to that of hon. Gentlemen at the other side of the House. On the contrary, he was sure they would not see anything but a desire on the part of the Government that this Committee should proceed to its investigation as impartially as possible, and that it should be composed of Gentlemen of that position and talent which entitled them to the confidence of the House. He did not think it necessary to prejudge the question by going into the arguments as to the policy of the navigation laws. That he would leave for some future time, in case the Committee should think proper to recommend legislative measures for their improvement. He would not trespass further on the time of the House, but conclude by recommending, on the part of the Government, that the Committee moved for by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent should be acceeded to.
§ MR. H. T. LIDDELL
had listened with extreme attention to the speech of the hon. Member introducing the Motion, and he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman 1022 the Vice President of the Board of Trade had been so explicit, inasmuch as it was a matter of the greatest importance, not only to that (the Opposition) side of the House, but to the country at large, to know what course Her Majesty's Government proposed to take on this subject. He begged for the indulgence of the House while he expressed his own sentiments in regard to those commercial laws which were connected with the highest and best interests of Great Britain. The hon. Gentleman who made the Motion, had told them, for their comfort, that he had no intention to repeal the navigation laws; but he (Mr. Liddell) must acknowledge that he looked with suspicion on the quarter whence the attack was directed. The hon. Member represented a central and highly commercial district of the kingdom, far apart, however, from the bustle of seaports, from the agitation of the waves, and the rocking of the masts of those vessels which were alike the pride and the defence of the nation; and it was only natural to suppose that the hon. Gentleman would be inclined to pursue a path loading more directly to the advancement of those interests of which he was the champion, rather than to the profit of that other and more important class whose well-being he (Mr. Liddell) felt himself bound to consider. The hon. Member had merely asked for an inquiry; but the object of his speech had been, not so much to suggest an investigation into the navigation laws, as to point out the hardships to which commerce was subjected, and those alterations by which, on a superficial examination, that commerce would be benefited. The hon. Member had thought to forestall objections by admitting the well-known sentence of Adam Smith in favour of the navigation laws to be against his case; but before he (Mr. Liddell) resumed his seat, he hoped to be able, by reference to other and equally valuable authorities, to show that they took the correct line of conduct in resisting the appointment of a Committee, from which they anticipated a report would be obtained seriously adverse to the great interests of commercial navigation. Allusion had been made both by the hon. Gentleman who first addressed the House, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade, to the Committee of 1844; and it had been argued, because the labours of that Committee were not brought to a satisfactory conclusion, that the object with which it had 1023 set out, was similar to the object now entertained in moving for this Committee. He would explain to the House the reason why, in the case spoken of, it had not been possible to come to a satisfactory conclusion, and how wide was the difference between the aim of that Committee and the object of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ricardo). It was now twenty years since he (Mr. Liddell) had first stood up in the House to advocate the cause of the shipowners of England. It was then, and after the passing of the reciprocity treaties, that the shipowners first began to discover the unequal competition to which they had been exposed; it was then that they first began to complain of the injuries which had been inflicted on them. Those shipowners intrusted their case to General Gascoigne, then the representative of Liverpool. That gallant Officer first asked for an inquiry into their claims. The House refused the inquiry, and denied the Committee; and since that period, the British shipowner had never ceased to complain of the evil and mischievous effects of the reciprocity treaties. Again and again, through various advocates, had the shipowners since appealed to the House for liberty to state before an impartial Committee the hardships which they were compelled to endure. Upon repeated occasions that request had been rejected. But, after twenty years' experience of the treaties, the shipowners had never reached so low an ebb of depression as in the year 1843; and then it was at length, upon the Motion of the hon. Member for the city of London, that Mr. Gladstone, at that day the President of the Board of Trade, consented with a good grace to the formation and appointment of the required Committee. That Committee was appointed, and went industriously into a consideration of the various topics embraced in their inquiry. Now, what was it that prevented a satisfactory termination to their labours? It sat with diligence through the whole of the Session of 1844; at the end of that Session, as they had not concluded their inquiry, they brought up that short report which the hon. Member had quoted to the House. The Committee was reappointed in the Session of 1845; and at about that date, the first time for a considerable period, a gleam of prosperity having manifested itself to the shipping interests, the necessity of tracing further the causes of the extreme depression previously existing was obviated, and the original ob- 1024 ject was considerably modified. Another cause of the impediments presented to the progress of the Committee was to be found in the non-attendance of the chairman, the Member for the city of London, whose absence had been occasioned by a domestic affliction of a very melancholy character. It was then felt that much valuable evidence had notwithstanding been elicited; that great light had been thrown on the question; and, from a sentiment of delicacy, suggested by the unavoidable absence of the hon. chairman, and in consideration also of the better prospects which were opening up to the shipping interests, it was not thought necessary to reassemble in the ensuing Session. Hence that meagre report which had been read to the House. But the object of that Committee was not the object of the hon. Gentleman. It had been before shown by the remarks of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart), and the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), that the object now entertained really was to obtain a repeal of the navigation laws. He (Mr. Liddell) was, for one, prepared to resist such a proposal. The hon. Member had produced a few cases of the hardships endured by merchants, in consequence of the existing laws; but he doubted if these hardships had arisen to any extent, and if they had, it was the business of the merchant to conform to the established regulations. The hon. Member, again, had denied that a commercial navy was fostered by a system of protection; and he had compared the wages paid to shipwrights in England, the expenses of navigating vessels when supplied from England, with the state of things in the United States. Now, why did not the hon. Member go to the Baltic ports for a comparison? And when alluding to the authority of Mr. Huskisson on this head, why did the hon. Member not give those portions of the remarks of Mr. Huskisson which went directly against his own case? In 1826, when stating the grounds on which he made certain recommendations in relation to the reciprocity treaties, Mr. Huskisson said—The object of the navigation laws was twofold; first, to create and maintain the great commercial marine of this country for the purposes of national defence; and, secondly—an object not less important in the eyes of statesmen—to prevent any one other nation from engrossing too large a proportion of the navigation of the world.Mr. Huskisson further said, that in those two branches of our maritime system, the 1025 fisheries and the coasting trade, there appeared to be no motive for alteration, and that the laws in this respect must remain unchanged, so long as we sought to uphold our great commercial marine. In reference to the European trade, the same authority declared that the altered state of the world compelled England to enter into some new treaties; that, in so far as exclusion was within their reach, they were bound to grant and enforce a monopoly to the British shipowner—not for his especial advantage, but for the public interest; that the commercial marine was the foundation of their naval power, and that the maintenance of this power was the paramount duty of all who administered affairs. It was his (Mr. Liddell's) decided opinion, however, that the reciprocity treaties had ever been distasteful to the British shipowner; it was always admitted that they had suffered in the carrying trade with other countries from unequal competition, although it was now too late to think of giving up those treaties, or of altering that policy to which the country had pledged itself. When the proposition for the temporary suspension of the navigation laws was submitted by Her Majesty's Government, for the purpose of affording an immediate relief to the people of Ireland, and when that proposition was cordially assented to on the part of the shipowners, and on the part of hon. Members on that side of the House, it was little supposed that this would be made a peg on which to hang the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. He would ask the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) what could he gain by the appointment of the Committee? The navigation laws, in reference to grain and bread stuffs, were already suspended until the 1st of September next. They had thus done all they could in the way of temporary relief, by increasing the facilities for the transport of corn; and, as they were now in the sixth year of the present Parliament, and, he might say, on the eve of a general election, it was not advisable at such a time to enter upon an inquiry which would be without profit or result. Was it worth while, at the suggestion of an individual Member of that House, to enter into this large and complicated inquiry, involving such enormous interests, exciting agitation and feelings of dismay, and want of confidence in every seaport of the empire? Would it not be wise in the noble Lord to abstain from such an inquiry at the present moment? Surely there was enough in the 1026 exigencies of other parts of the empire at the present time to take up the attention of Her Majesty's Ministers and the House, without entering upon a question that must lead to a disturbance of the interests on which rested the great bulwarks of our national power. He was sure that it would be more satisfactory to the feelings of the noble Lord, as it would be more satisfactory to the country at large, if this inquiry was postponed till the meeting of a new Parliament. If it should then appear that there was a necessity for this inquiry—if it should appear to the Minister of the Crown that such an inquiry would be of advantage to the commerce of the country, then it would be more satisfactory if the Government came forward and stated in what particulars they considered these navigation laws susceptible of modification, and asked for a Committee from the House, than to take the course now proposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite. Though on the present occasion he would much rather confine himself to generalities than go into details on this question, still, as the hon. Gentleman had gone so much into detail, he trusted that the House would excuse him if, to some extent, he attempted to follow his example. Regarding the comparison of the expense of British and foreign ships, it suited the case of the hon. Gentleman to compare those expenses with the expenses of the United States alone; but why not look to the Baltic States, with the trade of which the whole of the eastern parts of the island were brought into direct competition? They found in the evidence taken before a Committee of that House, instituting a comparison between the relative cost of a British and a Prussian ship, that the navigating a three months' voyage, in a vessel, say of 300 tons, cost a British shipowner 169l. 10s.; while it cost a foreigner only 81l. 14s.; that the victualling of the former cost 93l., that of the latter 32l. They found that the cost of building in the foreign port was 5l. 6s. a ton; while in the port of Sunderland it cost the British builder the average sum of 10l. a ton, and in the Thames 16l. a ton; and, for first-class vessels, he believed 21l. and 22l. a ton, before they were complete for a voyage. In the Thames the wages of workmen were stated at 6s. a day; in the dockyards, in the outports, 4s. 6d. a day; while, in France, they were only a franc and a half a day; and in the Baltic ports at a lower ratio still. But the hon. Gentleman, by his interference, would desire to affect this 1027 state of things, and reduce to the same level the wages of workmen here and on the Continent. The question of wages indicated the difference between a rich country and a poor one; and far distant be the day when there would, in this country, be a reduction of wages to the continental level! With the dogmas of political economy held by the hon. Gentleman, he only looked to the profits of trade, instead of looking to the advantage of the working classes, which formed a part of the great principle of protection they (the protectionists) were endeavouring to the utmost of their power to uphold. Let the House remember the well-established dogma of the economists, that wages and profits vary in an inverse ratio. He would now call the attention of the House to a comparative statement of the tonnage of this country as compared with foreign countries at various periods, going back as far as the year 1821. In a return cited by Mr. Huskisson of the number of British and foreign ships which passed the Sound in 1821, and the four following years, these are the numbers:—
Showing a proportion of more than one-third in favour of British vessels in the first year, and in the last of nearly two-fifths. He would now state the number of British vessels which passed the Sound in the years 1835, 1836, and 1837, and the years 1842, 1843, and 1844, with the proportion to the total number during these years:—
Years. No. of British Ships. No. of Ships of all other nations. 1821 2,819 6,358 1822 3,097 5,336 1823 3,016 6,187 1824 3,540 6,978 1825 5,186 7,974
Brit. Ships. Tons. Total Ships. Tons. 1835 2,472 470,727 10,255 1,594,202 1836 3,188 605,889 11,916 1,882,463 1837 3,417 655,447 13,102 2,033,706 1842 3,519 613,809 13,957 2,117,388 1843 3,515 633,952 14,945 2,159,069 1844 4,424 818,440 17,332 2,521,098
Being in every year less than one-third of British, compared with the whole amount of foreign in these six years; while in the year 1825 it was triumphantly stated by Mr. Huskisson that the British engrossed two-fifths of the navigation of the Sound. But there was an enormously increased 1028 trade in the timber which had been exported from those ports; and that would have been the means of giving employment to a much larger proportion of British ships, had it not been for the great competition to which they were exposed. He would now give a statement of the amount of tonnage that had entered the port of Hull in 1844, distinguishing the nations to which they belonged, these nations being Sweden, Norway, Russia, and Denmark:—
Proportion of British Ships to total:— 1835 0.295 1842 0.290 1836 0.322 1843 0.293 1837 0.322 1844 0.324
He hoped after these statements, that the House would not be misled by the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite; he hoped the House would not say that the British shipowners were undeserving of protection. He would now state, from returns that were made to Mr. Huskisson, the amount of British shipping belonging to the United Kingdom, showing that the amount of shipping belonging to the United Kingdom had scarcely increased since the war:—
British. Foreign. Ships. Tons. Ships. Tons. Sweden 30 5,387 120 14,002 Norway 2 116 29 3,043 Denmark — — 482 34,445 Prussia 80 10,812 222 32,698In the year 1816 the tonnage amounted to 2,783,000, and in 1826 to 2,635,000, showing a decrease of 148,000 tons. In the years 1842, 1843, and 1844, the number and tonnage of registered British ships stood thus:—
It might be said we had done very well to maintain so large an amount of shipping when exposed to the competition of the world; but those who said so did not consider the enormous increase which, during the above period, had taken place in our exports and imports. In 1816, the amount of cotton imported into this country was 60,000,000 lbs.; in 1826, it amounted to 150,000,000 lbs.; in 1843, it was 673,193,000lbs.; and in 1846, 646,111,000 lbs. There had been an immense increase in the quantity of wood imported, amounting, in 1843, to 600,000 loads, and in 1844 to 727,000 loads; and also in other articles, such as wine, tobacco, wool, &c., all of which had increased in an equal ratio. Why, instead of enabling the British shipping to remain at the point at which it now stood, it should have been more than trebled, but for the amount of competition to which it had been exposed. It was 1029 said by the hon. Gentleman opposite, that if this inquiry was granted, things which were injurious to the British shipowners might be discovered and removed; but if such were the object of the Committee now asked for, why did the hon. Gentleman direct himself so little to this view of the subject? He said the commerce of the country was taxed to the extent of 4,500,000l. by the protection given to British shipping. [Mr. RICARDO here remarked, that he had put his case hypothetically, having taken 10s. a ton as the amount of loss to commerce.] Why, the hon. Gentleman now admitted that the case he had put—the hypothetical case—was not worth one farthing. Yet he had put this forward as one of his arguments. He would say to the House, that before they removed protection from shipping, they at least should remove the restrictions which pressed upon it. In a report of the committee of the General Shipowners' Society, he found stated, in much better language than he could employ, the following sentiments on this question:—
No. of Ships. Amount of Tonnage. 1842 23,207 2,990,849 1843 23,000 2,957,437 1844 23,253 2,994,166As a member of the great community of the empire, the shipowner advances no claim to special or peculiar privileges: he has no right to demand, on abstract grounds, exemption from any burden to which other interests are subjected, or any immunity from which they are excluded. If they be protected, his right to protection is coequal with theirs. If they sustain the pressure of foreign competition, he must make up his mind to meet it also. All this, however, is true only so long as he is permitted freely to pursue, like others, his own interests in his own way, unfettered by any restrictions from which other interests are exempt. But if, for objects of supposed national benefit, conferring on him no separate or special advantage, the State imposes on him burdens and restrictions of a heavily disqualifying nature, common justice would prescribe that up to that point to which the proved disqualification extends, he should be protected from the competition of those who are free from his burdens; and common sense will determine, that, unless so protected, he must sink in the struggle of such competition. Now, this is exactly the case of the British shipowner. By the registry laws, he is restricted to the use of ships probably the most costly in the world. By the navigation laws, he is compelled to employ exclusively the highest paid and most expensively-fed seamen—those of native birth. By a variety of laws and regulations, deemed by the Legislature essential to some common interest or some general duty, he is impeded, taxed, and prevented from conducting his pursuits in the manner most conducive to his own interests. The effect of all this on his expenses must be self-evident. It has been established argumentatively, statistically, before Committees of Inquiry—by Parliamentary returns—by proof upon proof, defying refutation. It has been demonstrated by the most conclusive of all evidence—that of experience. Your committee 1030 have no desire to revive bygone controversies; but the annual records of their proceedings bear continual testimony to the practical effects that have followed in every instance in which the experiment has been tried of placing British shipping in a position of unprotected competition with the ships of foreign nations. They have before asserted, and they again repeat, because at this moment the fact cannot be too extensively known or too forcibly impressed, that in every case in which discriminating duties on imports have been withdrawn, and British ships have been left to compete, without protection, with the shipping of foreign States possessing a mercantile marine, the navigation of those States has greatly advanced, while our own has absolutely declined; or if, from increasing commerce, increased demand for tonnage has arisen, it has partaken in a very inadequate degree of the benefit of the increase, which has fallen chiefly into the hands of the foreign shipowner. The degree in which this effect will take place, will, of course, vary with the relative disproportion in expense of building, equipping, and navigating ships, between British tonnage and that of different foreign nations; but it is perfectly indisputable that, under his present disqualifying burdens, the British shipowner can compete with none. If, then, the principles of free trade are attempted to be further applied to British navigation, the ground must, both in common justice and in ordinary policy, be based on the removal of the restrictions under which the shipowner labours, before the competition which free trade would introduce be permitted.He conjured the House to ponder these words—the restrictions here complained of should indeed be mitigated; but if they followed this up by removing the protection it had so long enjoyed, from that moment the interests of British navigation would decline. The country might increase in opulence, and extend its empire to every part of the globe; but security would be wanting; our very wealth would prove our weakness, by tempting the cupidity of hostile nations, while we should become the laughing-stock of our enemies by the gratuitous sacrifice of the elements of our national greatness. Was England to be made merely the workshop of the world? Did we look for the recruiting of our army and the equipment of our navy from the stunted population of our manufacturing districts?Non his juventus orta parentibusInfecit æquor sanguine Punico;Pyrrhumque et ingentem ceciditAntiochum, Hannibalemque dirum:Sed rusticorum mascula militumProles.Let not the House, in a moment of delusion, consent to the appointment of this Committee, and fritter away the great interests committed to its charge. The hon. Member concluded by thanking the House for the indulgence it had shown towards him.
§ MR. HUME
was not surprised that an hon. Gentleman who avowed himself a protectionist, should endeavour to maintain protection to the only interest which now claimed it. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had made various comparisons with reference to the shipping of this country between 1816 and 1826, and between 1826 and 1840; but none of them had anything to do with the question they were now considering. The hon. Gentleman had asked them where they intended to stop in their advocacy of free trade? He (Mr. Hume) replied, that he would stop nowhere so long as any restriction remained. He wished to know whether there was anything which could prevent the English shipowner competing with the foreigner, provided he had equal facilities? He concurred with the hon. Gentleman when he said, that reciprocity was an unequal contest. It was. It was unjust to the shipping interest. He had always advocated the repeal of restrictions on the shipping interest, and his opinion remained the same, for he had never concealed from himself that the British shipowner had carried on his trade at great disadvantages. For every article formerly used in the construction of ships in this country, the British shipowner had to pay at least 50 per cent more than the foreigner, in consequence of the protective system of this country. Protection, therefore, instead of having benefited the shipowner, had nearly ruined him. Formerly, they had a fleet of 600 sail of whalers in the South Seas; but now the United States had no fewer than 700 ships in that trade. Such was the effect of protection. One of the objects of the Committee which had sat on this subject, was to afford a greater degree of protection; but all their efforts to obtain it had failed, and they had to rest content with merely reporting the evidence. If the hon. Gentleman would read through that evidence, he would find that no interest had been worse treated than the shipping interest had been. It had been loaded with taxation. Timber for shipbuilding had till lately been subjected to a tax of 250 per cent, and certain kinds of hard wood had paid from 50 to 100 per cent. If such protective duties had not existed, would not the shipping of this country have increased to a greater extent than it had done? But who were to be blamed for the continuance of those duties? In 1833, when the Government were desirous of relieving the shipping 1032 interest from the additional tax on timber, they were opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, the protectionists not only of corn, but of timber. It was not surprising, therefore, that foreign shipping should have increased, and that the shipping trade of this country should have been a losing concern. He had never been able to impress the shipping interest with a true sense of their interest. He had no doubt, however, before the present Committee terminated, hon. Gentleman opposite would be convinced of the necessity of freeing it frem all restrictions. He believed that the prosperity of all interests in the kingdom depended upon their being perfectly free; but it was impossible the shipping interest could be free so long as the navigation laws were allowed to remain. He had not the least doubt that in the proposed Committee it would be proved, by the most incontrovertible evidence, the present laws were injurious. He could tell the hon. Member for Durham, that the same sort of compulsion which had induced Mr. Huskisson to enter into reciprocity treaties, would now compel the removal of the navigation laws. Any man who looked to the state of the colonies must admit the truth of what he said. The rule laid down by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, that they should sell in the dearest and buy in the cheapest market, was the rule by which commerce ought to be regulated and protected—not protected in the sense which hon. Gentlemen opposite attached to the word. He hoped he should never use the word in that sense. Every man who used the word must carry in his mind an act of injustice. [Laughter.] Yes; it was impossible for any man to maintain protection for one individual, without inflicting an injustice on other individuals. That was his interpretation of the word. One principal object of inquiry by the Committee would be to ascertain how far these laws had destroyed the very objects for which hon. Gentlemen opposite had always contended; and another point for inquiry would be the effect which they had on our colonies. He had given notice of a Motion for copies of all applications from the colonies since the passing of the measures of the right hon. Baronet opposite, with regard to the effect of these measures. He believed it would appear that the general feeling in the colonies was in favour of being placed on the same footing as the mother country, and of being freed from the restrictions of the 1033 navigation laws. He held in his hand the copy of a report by the Board of Trade of Montreal, which had been sent him by the chairman, and which contained resolutions which had been transmitted by the Governor General to the Secretary for the Colonies. They demanded from this country the repeal of the imperial differential duties, the repeal of the three-shilling frontier duty on American wheat, and a modification of the navigation laws, so as to leave them free to procure the cheapest freighted vessel without regard to its being British or foreign. Two of these demands had already been granted. The third they were clearly entitled to. From a tabular statement which he held in his hand, he found that the average freight during three years of a barrel of flour from Montreal to Liverpool was 4s. 9½d., while from New York to Liverpool it was only 2s. 1½d. The consequence was, that the greater portion of the produce of Canada intended for this country was sent to New York by the Erie Canal to be sent home in American vessels. It had been stated by a gentleman, with whom he believed the noble Lord the Member for Lynn had had some correspondence, Mr. Buchanan, that the navigation laws were considered by the colonists of Canada as a great grievance, and that unless they were removed there was some danger of a revolt. Such were the statements which these colonists in Canada were making, and such would be the statement which would come from Australia, and all their other colonies, as would be found to be the case when certain papers which had arrived in this country from them would be laid to-morrow on the Table of the House. And he firmly believed that no reasonable or suitable answer could be given to these remonstrances or to these demands. Such being the case, he conceived the time was fully arrived when an inquiry should be made in this matter, and if the necessity for some modification in the present system of our navigation laws was not sufficiently and satisfactorily proved, he for one would not be an advocate for such a measure.
SIR W. JAMES
would not detain the House at any great length; but, considering the interests which he represented, he did not think it right to give a silent vote. He had given the matter the best attention he could, and must say that the hon. Member who had laid such statistical details before the House, had, by the industry with which he had collected them, and the skill 1034 and judgment with which he had arranged them, proved himself well worthy of the name he bore. He did not think any fair ground had been raised for resisting the Motion. It appeared to him that some hon. Gentlemen gratuitously assumed a certain position. Those hon. Members who considered themselves a party in that House, when they saw the Motion for inquiry conceded by the Government; when they saw inquiry, he might say demanded by the very parties interested, and who had concurred in a similar Motion in 1843 and 1844, yet they assumed a gratuitous duty, and aiming at a sort of highflying patriotism which he confessed he did not understand; upon their own responsibility divided the House, as to whether or no investigation should take place. Why, what was asked? Nothing more than inquiry and investigation. Those who shrunk from inquiry could do so from no other reason than because they felt the weakness of their own case. He believed it had happened to almost every hon. Member who had sat for a length of time in that House, to have given votes which he subsequently saw reason to regret. He believed the oldest Members, as well as those like himself of only ten years' standing, were at one time or another in this position. It appeared to him that the Motion of the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent bore a great resemblance to a Motion made some time back by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden). The arguments which were used by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Liddell) for resisting the present Motion, bore a marked likeness to those used for resisting the Motion for an inquiry into the corn laws, and their effects upon the agricultural labourers. No agriculturist would now say, that any benefit to him had resulted from refusing that inquiry. As soon as the question of the corn laws was seriously agitated, as soon as there was a prospect of that event taking place, the agriculturists themselves were the first to cry out for inquiry. Who first taunted the agriculturists with this? The noble Lord the Member for the city of London. Therefore he would say to the shipowners and those who would advocate them, "If you value your interests and your welfare, do not oppose the Motion for inquiry." Why, it proved that Hull was carrying on a prosperous and extensive trade with Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden, which he hoped would long continue and prosper. He looked upon the 1035 repeal of the navigation laws as an application of the principles of free trade, which were undeniably sound and true. They were founded upon the principles of mutual prosperity, and it was a satisfactory thing to know that they were not only prospering themselves, but that the whole European community were prospering around them. The hon. Member for Durham had touched upon another point respecting wages; but this he thought had been satisfactorily confuted by the hon. Member for Montrose. If an Englishman did as much work in a day as three Frenchmen—and he had no doubt that this was the case—it was natural and reasonable that he should be paid higher wages; and yet that the work should be cheaper done. He thought also that the hon. Member for Montrose had made out an undeniable case with regard to the colonies. But, after all he had said, he wished carefully to guard himself against going the full length of the principles of the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent. He did not say repeal the navigation laws at once; he was an advocate for gradual and progressive reform; they had gone on for a long time in a course of injustice, and, therefore, even in unravelling it, they ought to proceed cautiously. But this he would say, that the hon. Member had made out a case for inquiry which appeared to him to be perfectly unanswerable. The hon. Member for Durham had argued against the repeal of those laws, by referring to the greater expense incurred in manning and victualling English ships compared with foreigners, though he took no notice of the difference which the free-trade measures of last Session had made in that respect. But, supposing his figures to be accurate, how did the hon. Member account for the statement made by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, that that portion of British shipping which was unprotected and exposed to the rivalry of all foreign nations, flourished to a greater degree than that other portion which had the full benefit of our navigation laws? But the question really at issue was, were the principles of free trade sound, or were they not? Were hon. Gentlemen not yet convinced of the soundness of the principle to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market? He had, indeed, heard it said, that that was a dreadful and a very irreligious principle; but he must say for himself that he had yet to learn that it was contrary to the religion which he professed, to the interests of morality, or to 1036 the welfare of mankind. He could conceive of a philosopher adopting the principles of protection; he could conceive of a man forming a Utopia, in which the inhabitants were to make their own clothes—to weave, to sow, to provide food—to be, in fact, a self-sustaining community, and arguing that such a community would be happier and greater gainers than those who engaged in trade with foreign nations. If such persons were to say that trade was a curse—if they were to adopt the words of the poet—Nequicquam Deus absciditPrudens Oceano dissociabiliTerras: si tamen impiæNon tangenda rates transiliunt vada.If that were the sentiment of such a person, resistance to this Motion would be all well and good; but, if a person believed that trade was not a curse, but a blessing—that the sea, instead of being dissociable, was intended as a highway for the commerce of nations—he did not see on what ground they could resist this Motion.
§ ALDERMAN THOMPSON
took it for granted, from the speech which had just been delivered by the hon. Member, that the people of Hull wished to see their harbours and docks filled with Prussian and other foreign vessels. ["No, no!"] He had come to a different conclusion from the hon. Gentleman. He had not failed to see that the main supporters of this Motion for inquiry had already made up their minds as to the expediency of a modification, if not a total repeal of the navigation laws. The hon. Member for Montrose, candidly, fairly, and manfully—as in all he did—expressed his opinion. He told the House that he wanted no inquiry, that his mind was made up as to the expediency — nay, he believed the hon. Member said as to the justice of repealing the navigation laws. The hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, he was sorry to say, had not dealt equally candidly with the House, because the hon. Member had founded his Motion upon the circumstance that the Committee which sat upon the state of the shipping interest in the years 1844–5 had not brought their inquiry to a conclusion. Now what was the object of the appointment of that Committee? Why, it was not to meddle with the navigation laws at all, but to inquire and report to the House what was the cause of the great depression which had taken place in the commercial marine of the country during 1037 the preceding four or five years. The reasons why that Committee had not finished its labours, had been most correctly stated by the hon. Member for North Durham. Reference had already been made to the evidence given before that Committee by the mover of this proposition. He would not weary the House by reading extracts from that evidence; but he would take the liberty of reading the answers to two questions which were put to his lamented friend, Mr. Somes, who was formerly a Member of that House. Mr. Somes was asked, "In what state do you consider British shipping to be at this time?" The answer was, "Most deplorable." He was then asked, "How long has it been in that state?" and he answered, "For the last three or four years." [Mr. HUME: He might have said for the last three-and-twenty.] Mr. Somes then went on to say—and he begged to call the attention of the House to this statement, in order to show the great progress which foreigners had made in the increase of their shipping, as compared with the increase of British shipping—Mr. Somes went on to say, that he had made a calculation, showing that in the last twenty years British tonnage had increased 42½ per cent, while the foreign tonnage of the northern parts of Europe had increased 172½ per cent. Now, he was ready to admit the statement that if the navigation laws were attempted to be maintained on the ground of protection to British shipping alone, that was an argument which could not be maintained. But he said that the navigation laws of this country were essential to its security, its power, and its independence. Let them free British shipping from all those regulations which rendered it necessary to maintain a numerous body of able and intelligent seamen—let them remove the obligation upon them to take apprentices, and to victual their ships in a manner which must be approved of by a public officer—let them remove the necessity of their carrying a surgeon and medicines, to which the foreigner was not subject—let them be relieved from the necessity of giving 5 per cent of their wages to the relief of disabled seamen, widows, and orphans, and then they would place British shipping in a better position than it was now in. But he would not say that it was not expedient to do that as regarded the general interests of the seamen. In every Act of Parliament which was formed in former times, the preamble of the Bill always contained 1038 a recital of the necessity of providing for the security and defence of the country; and in the preamble of an Act passed so recently as 1844, entitled an Act for amending and consolidating the Laws relating to Her Majesty's Seamen, the preamble stated that whereas the safety and preservation of the United Kingdom depended upon a large, constant, and ready supply of seamen; therefore it was expedient to promote the increase of those seamen, and to afford them encouragement and protection. He said, therefore, that the navigation laws were intimately connected with the general policy of this country. The hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent had stated that the amount of British tonnage entered inwards and outwards last year amounted to 8,000,000; and upon that he had raised an hypothesis on which to found his argument, that these laws pressed injuriously upon the merchants and consumers of the country, because he said he might reasonably assume that the operation of these laws raised the amount of freight 10s. per ton above what it would if trade was left to its natural course. Now, that was a most extraordinary statement, because what was the fact? Why, that taking the average rate of freights all over the kingdom, it did not amount to 10s. per ton. The hon. Member for Durham knew very well that in one of the greatest portions of the coasting trade of this country — the carrying of coals from Newcastle and Sunderland—the freights were now only 7s. 6d., or 8s. per ton; and even this was higher than they used to be. His hon. Friend knew that in the North American colonies — in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward's Island, and Newfoundland—there was a vast amount of tonnage which was increasing every year, and every one of those ships was justly entitled to the full benefit of our navigation laws; and therefore he conceived that a great injustice would be done to them if the House attempted to weaken or destroy these laws. In fact, the only colonies he was aware of that had a right to complain were the West Indies; but then that was compensated by the trade they carried on with our North American colonies, whose ships carried lumber to the West Indies, and returned with sugar. If he might refer again to the evidence given before the Committee of 1844, he would state that Mr. G. F. Young had stated that from 1840 to 1844, British ships had fallen in value from 25 1039 to 30 per cent. Mr. Somes, who was the owner of 23,000 tons of shipping, all first-class vessels, said that he considered his property had decreased in value from 60 to 70 per cent. And yet the hon. Member said that he made this Motion for the purpose of further inquiry. He conceived that this Motion would be a most mischievous one to great and important interests; because it was quite impossible that the inquiry should be finished so as to allow of legislation taking place in the course of the present Session. If, therefore, Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that it would be wise and expedient to alter the navigation laws, he said they ought to come boldly forward at once, and to lay a Bill before the House; and then they and the country at large would know how to deal with the measure. But to leave these great and vast interests in a state of uncertainty for the space of eighteen months, was not to deal fairly by the community. Under these circumstances, he felt it his duty—if his hon. Friend should think proper to divide the House—to vote with him, as he felt satisfied that to obtain information was not the object in view; and he would add, that during the period he had had the honour of a seat in that House, he had sat upon three or four Committees, all inquiring into this subject, and he was sure that all the information the House could desire would be found in those reports.
§ MR. BRIGHT
observed, that some persons were of opinion that the navigation laws should not be interfered with; but it should be recollected that it was only the other day the House had suspended those laws to some extent; so that even supposing that those laws were founded on a sound principle, it appeared that, at all events, they were only fair-weather laws, and would not suit the country in times of apprehension and danger. It had been said by an hon. Member, that the Committee of 1844 was not a Committee of Inquiry into the navigation laws; but he (Mr. Bright) appealed to any hon. Member who was on the Committee, whether the principal bearing of the case, brought forward on the part of the shipowners, was not to show that the depression that had taken place in the shipping trade, was attributable to their acts of relaxation. Two facts had come within his (Mr. Bright's) knowledge, which showed that whatever advantages might arise from the navigation laws, some disadvantages also arose from them; and 1040 there being a mixture of good and evil, it was desirable they should examine minutely into them. A gentleman of his acquaintance, a merchant in Manchester, bought a quantity of cotton in Havre; speculation was going on in the country at the time; and prices were rising in consequence of the apprehensions of a short supply. The merchant to whom he referred had bought the cotton in Havre, for the purpose of bringing it to England, and it would be of great advantage if he could bring the cotton from Havre; but the navigation laws prevented that cotton being brought to England. It was the produce of one of those three quarters of the globe to which the navigation laws applied, and the result was that this gentleman was obliged to send that cotton back to the United States of America, and then bring it from the United States to this country. The merchant who had endeavoured to snpply the means of labour for one of the greatest branches of our manufacturing industry, was thus subjected to a great loss from the operation of those laws; and let them bear in mind that it was of no advantage to the British shipowners. The British shipowner got nothing by it, and this gentleman suffered very much. He would mention another case. An American vessel arrived in Liverpool, consigned to a large house, with an order to freight her with British dry goods, and to send her to Hong-Kong. When they proceeded to load her, they were informed by the collector it was impossible that the ship could go to Hong-Kong. They consequently made inquiry at the Board of Trade; and after a considerable correspondence, it was found that she could not be admitted there; and 20,000l. or 30,000l. worth of the produce of this country, because it was on board an American ship, could not be landed in Hong-Kong, but had to go to Canton, and the British merchants in Hong-Kong lost all the advantages which they might derive from it if it were landed there. He submitted these two cases of actual and undoubted hardship, which no man could deny or dispute. It might be true, as the hon. Member for Westmoreland had said, that there were advantages in those laws; but yet there were also disadvantages arising from them, and it was worthy of inquiry whether those advantages to which the hon. Member had vaguely alluded, were deserving of being preserved. The time was gone by when such things could be cushioned without inquiry, and therefore 1041 he should vote with the greatest possible readiness for the inquiry moved for by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
thought, that if this question of the navigation laws were to be brought before the House at all, it ought to be in the hands of the Government. He perfectly admitted that, considering the great changes which had recently taken place in the commercial and industrial systems of the country, it was their duty, from time to time, to revise their other systems, and to adopt such changes as might be rendered necessary. But when they were about to deal with a principle which was not purely a system of commerce, but one which affected the security and defence of the country, he must say that it was the part of the Government at once to come forward and distinctly to state their views. He confessed he thought it was perfectly unjustifiable on the part of the Government to throw such a measure upon the Table of the House, leaving it in the hands of a Gentleman holding particular opinions, but with no other responsibility than that of an ordinary Member of the House. He thought it was not right to leave the question in such a state, without guidance, responsibility, or control, in the hands of a private Member of Parliament. He did not mean to commit himself with regard to any particular modification of the navigation laws, especially as he thought that the late changes in our commercial system might render some change necessary. But it was the business of the Government to look into these changes, and to state openly to the House why they proposed these alterations, and the principles on which they were founded. With regard to the cases of hardship mentioned by the hon. Member for Durham, there could be no doubt that the navigation laws did injury to the pure principles of commerce. They were on the same footing with regard to the expenses of our army and navy; they proceeded upon the principle that it was necessary to sacrifice some of the benefits of commerce, in order to render commerce itself more secure. He was ready to vote for an inquiry supported by the Government, on the ground that it was desirable that the whole question should be considered; but at the same time he felt great difficulty in entering into the consideration of a question which was left in this unprotected, helpless manner.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
would not have 1042 troubled the House with any observations upon this question, if it were not for the reflections which the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool had cast upon the Government with regard to it; and really, he conceived, very unjustly. His noble Friend had admitted that the changes in our commercial system rendered it desirable that the question of the navigation laws should not be dealt with in a summary, indiscreet manner; but that they should be subject to a deliberate, cautious, careful inquiry, to see in what way they ought to be modified. But then his noble Friend said, that it was altogether wrong to throw this question loose upon a Committee of the House of Commons. Now he recollected that subjects of equal importance had frequently been delegated to Committees of the House; and he hoped never to see the time when any Member would dare to reply to an independent Member who thought proper to bring such a question before the House, that it was not a fit subject for a Committee of that House to look into. He appealed to the House whether the gravest and most important questions had not been dealt with in this manner. The questions of slavery, of the shipping trade, of the timber duties, and various other questions had been so dealt with. It was, no doubt, impossible to deny that an inquiry of this sort would throw doubt into the minds of many persons as to the permanency of these laws; but it was too much to say that because that might be the consequence of inquiry, therefore the House of Commons was to forbear to inquire into a subject of this description. He thought, therefore, that the attack of his noble Friend was unjust, and unwarranted by the conduct of former Governments and former Houses of Commons. His noble Friend admitted that the question of the navigation laws did require a dispassionate consideration with reference to the altered circumstances of the country. [Lord SANDON, spoke of the operation, not the general policy of those laws.] He did not understand that in granting this Committee, either the House or the Government were committed to the expression of any opinion for or against the policy of these laws; all that they were committed to was an opinion that, considering the altered circumstances of the country, and especially considering the commercial changes which had recently taken place, it was proper that these laws should undergo a dispassionate scrutiny, and that a Select Committee was the best 1043 mode of instituting that investigation, with regard, for instance, to the interests of the colonies themselves. It was well known that some of our colonies considered that they had been hardly used by the neglect to make such alterations in the navigation laws as they considered the necessary concomitants of the other commercial changes which had taken place; and it was only fair that they should have an opportunity of laying their case fully before Parliament. They had asked for that opportunity by numerous petitions; and they could obtain it in no more effectual mode than a Select Committee would afford. He protested altogether against the doctrine of his noble Friend, that it was the duty of the Government to prevent an independent Member of that House from bringing forward such a subject, and moving for a Committee upon it. He hoped that, as a Member of the Government, he should always be ready to take his full share of the responsibility which attached to the Government. For the measures which they introduced, the Government were responsible, and he trusted that they should never shrink: from that responsibility; but he considered it would be an invasion of the privileges of the House of Commons, if the Government were to say, "We will keep in our own hands every question of national importance." He said, as a Minister of the Crown, as plainly as he could say it as an independent Member of the Government, that the House of Commons ought not to tolerate such an assumption on the part of any Government. It was the clear right of every independent Member of that House to propose an inquiry into any subject, which, in his judgment, required it; and that House ought not to refuse the Motion merely because it was not proposed by a Member of the Government. The Committee, when appointed, made such recommendations as they thought fit; and then it would be for the Government to adopt those recommendations or not at their discretion. That too was their part; but he could not consider that the present Government were open to the censure of his noble Friend, because, upon a Motion brought forward by an hon. Gentleman fully competent to deal with the subject, they had not thought fit to oppose a Select Committee; in doing which they had only followed the example of other Governments, which had not refused Committees on subjects of equal nicety, though moved for by independent Members of that House.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
I differ altogether from the right hon. Gentleman opposite; and concur entirely with my noble Friend the Member for Liverpool in thinking that it is not consistent with the duty of Her Majesty's Government to permit a great question of national policy to be sent up-stairs before a Select Committee, when the proposer and seconder of that Committee have been pleased to use such language as this: that the shipping interest and the commercial navy of England may be compared to pedlars and packhorses, and that the shipping trade in England should be made as free as the trade in shoes. When that is the spirit in which Gentlemen opposite are prepared to go into this inquiry, I think it is perfectly clear that that inquiry will be conducted in a different animus from that with which the inquiry of 1844 was undertaken. The Committee of 1844 was not a Committee to inquire into the operation of the policy of the navigation laws, but to inquire into the state of our commercial marine, and was proposed with the view, not of discouraging, but of encouraging the shipping interest. But now we learn from the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Potteries, that his object is to reduce the rates of freight, to purchase sailors and shipbuilders in the cheapest market, and to drive down our shipwrights from 6s. a day, which he says that they now get in consequence of the existing monopoly, to 3s. 6d. per day; and it is proposed, somewhat on the principle of the old Irish soldier, who spent "half a crown out of sixpence a day," to diminish the freights by 10s. a ton, they being now only 7s. 6d. These are the views and this is the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman opposite will enter upon the inquiry; but we are also told that England has lost her British colonics by maintaining her navigation laws. Now I, Sir, had always thought that England lost her British colonies by endeavouring to put a tax upon tea on those who were not represented in this House. Again, we are told that Portugal lost her Brazils through her navigation laws—["No, no!"]—through her colonial system. The hon. Gentleman was drawing a comparison between the colonial system of this country, which prohibited the trading with other countries, and the colonial system of Portugal; but I thought that I remembered that the elder branch of the House of Braganza, finding the fortunes of Portugal falling, had thought it better to retire to a more secure seat on the throne 1045 of the Brazils. For these reasons, without entering into the subject at any greater length, I shall take the same course with my noble Friend, and resist this inquiry. [Hon. MEMBERS: But he supports it.]
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
had explained that, notwithstanding his objection to it, he was loth to resist a Committee supported by the Government.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
Then as I, Sir, concur in the objections felt by my noble Friend, I will take the more open and decided course of resisting the Committee altogether. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Hull has endeavoured to exercise his influence with my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and has warned them that, if they hastily oppose this proposal, they may soon have cause to repent; but I hope that my hon. Friends about me will not be alarmed by the warnings of the hon. Gentleman. No doubt the hon. Gentleman, having turned his back on every vote which he has ever given, is wise in advising others to be cautious how they act; but as my hon. Friends about me can trust to their own consistency and firmness, the advice of the hon. Member is unnecessary; and I trust that, with me, they will resist the proposed inquiry.
§ MR. MITCHELL
said, that the noble Lord opposite had supported the Committee in 1844, because he was of the same opinion with the mover; and he opposed the present Committee, because he was of a party different from that of the mover. There could be no other reason, because the question was as much unsettled by that Committee, as it would be by the present. He, however, did not believe that the interests of the shipowners would be disturbed by granting this inquiry. Never since the war, had they been in so prosperous a state; never had there been so favourable an opportunity for entering upon the investigation. Were the present high rates of freight likely to continue? The best evidence of it was to be found in the fact, that the noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite had consented to a suspension of the navigation laws, admitting, by that consent, that the British shipping was at present insufficient for our carrying trade. But it was obvious that for many years there must be a very large carrying trade in corn; and, consequently, high freights. He, however, should not go into the Committee, as had been suggested by the noble Lord, with any determination to abolish protection. All he 1046 wanted was a systematic inquiry, to which the navigation laws, though they had been passed 200 years, had never been subjected; and he believed that the fear of total abolition was a complete bugbear. He did not understand his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent to say, that he would reduce the freights by 10s. per ton, but that he was using that as an illustration only; but he totally dissented from his hon. Friend the Member for Westmoreland, who, in reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Hull, had stated that the average freight was only 10s. per ton. [Alderman THOMPSON: In the coasting trade.] But, then, his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent had referred, not to the coating trade alone, but to the general trade of the country. The great object was to check very high freights, and so to avoid the necessity of resorting occasionally to the objectionable course of a temporary suspension of the law. It was not, certainly, to be forgotten that there were special burdens on the shipping interest; as, for instance, the lighthouse dues, and the charitable provision for seamen, which, in his opinion, ought to be charged upon the general revenue of the country. It was a disagreeable thing to mention in that House, but he bad good reason to believe that the captains of our ships were not as efficient as they should be. He had repeated orders from abroad to charter any vessels but French or English—a very humiliating exception. Ships of British, oak were good ships; the only bad British ships were those of Canadian timber, which were little better than floating rafts; but the reason of the exception given to him was this, that the captains of almost all other nations, took more care of their cargoes. Now, as he believed that there was nothing like competition for stimulating people, he fancied that a little more competition would, in this respect, do all the good in the world. Besides, our numerous reciprocity treaties brought us into competition with other countries not subject to the restriction of navigation laws; and in that point of view, therefore, they were a disadvantage to our shipping interest. He, however, was prepared to go into Committee, as he believed the House generally were, with minds completely unoccupied, and ready to hear the whole case.
§ CAPTAIN HARRIS
said, that he was not one who would suppose that any Committee of that House would enter 1047 upon an investigation committed to it with a predetermination in favour of one particular view; nor was he prepared to deny that a Select Committee was the best tribunal to investigate a matter of this sort; but when a Committee on a subject of national policy was moved for, he required to have good grounds for that inquiry laid before him. For those grounds he must look to the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen who had moved and seconded the proposal. Now as to the comparison of the pedlar, he did not object to it as an emblem of the free trader. The pedlar was full of wise saws: he bought in the cheapest and certainly sold in the dearest market; and when one pedlar set up, another pedlar was sure to oppose him; and if one of them bought his wares for 10s. and the other for 20s., of course the former would undersell the latter. So it was with national competitors. The result of former inquiries might be recalled with advantage. In 1833, Mr. Nichols, an eminent shipowner, was examined by a Committee, and in answer to questions as to the cost of building ships in different countries, he stated that the cost in the Thames was from 13l. to 14l. per ton; while in Dantzic it was only 5l. 7s. 6d. It was evident that the shipowner who could not carry freights under 20s. a ton, must be driven out of the market by the shipowner who could do so at the charge of 10s. The navigation laws might be dated from the time of Cromwell, one of the wisest statesmen (though a most consummate villain) this country ever produced. They were consolidated under the Act of Charles II. After the Peace of 1815, several important changes took place. In 1816 the Reciprocity Act with America was passed. In 1824 similar Acts were passed with Prussia and several other northern States: and in 1833 an Act of Consolidation was passed. On that occasion the present party now in power were then in office; and looking at the debates which took place at that period, he was justified in advising hon. Members to be cautious in assenting to the present Motion. There was one point which, to one of the profession to which he had the honour to belong, was particularly interesting and important—that of supplying men for the naval service of their country. Should these laws protecting the British shipowners be repealed, they would consider themselves justified in asking us to do away also with the laws regarding the 1048 employment of foreigners as mariners, and the restriction to a minimum number of men in proportion to the tonnage of all British vessels. He begged leave to quote the opinion of one whose name would be heard with respect and veneration—the opinion of Nelson—upon the effect of the navigation laws. The energies of that great man were always roused whenever the interests and the honour of this country were concerned; and it would be remembered by all who had read his life, that when stationed in the West Indies, in command of a ship, he took a course contrary to the orders of his admiral; and they all knew that to disobey the orders of a superior was no joke to a naval man. But Nelson disobeyed orders from the sincerest motives of patriotism, for the purpose of breaking up the monopoly of the carrying trade with our West India islands, then enjoyed by the Americans contrary to the Navigation Act. He seized their ships—the lawyers were against him, but the country was with him, and he carried his point. He saw that the trade carried on by the Americans would ruin the carrying trade of England, and he stepped in to prevent it. To preserve the carrying trade of England now, he (Captain Harris) would maintain the navigation laws as they stood. Canada having been mentioned during the course of the debate, he would take leave to remind hon. Gentlemen, that if there were any fear of ruin in that quarter, it would ensue because Canadian produce could no longer fetch a value similar to what it had obtained before the recent changes. If then they were to have the proposition of an out-and-out free trader, receiving the incidental support of the Government, and the support also of a particular section of the House, who had lately joined the free traders, he felt it to be his duty to withstand the Motion at once, and he should therefore therefore vote against it.
§ MR. WAWN
was for a full inquiry. There was, however, one branch which the Government ought to take up on its own responsibility, and that was an inquiry into the circumstances of the British sailor. If English shipping should decrease, and the British sailor be forced into the service of other countries, where were men to be found in the time of war? He hoped also that the Government would jealously watch over the constitution of the Committee, and see that it was not composed of men 1049 pledged to one set of opinions or another, but composed of men in whose candour, impartiality, and judgment, reliance could be placed.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
I wish to state that it is my intention to give my support to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent. I think there can be no reason given why there should not be an inquiry into the operation and effect of the navigation laws; nor why there should not be an opportunity given of ascertaining whether the maintenance of those laws, as they at present exist, is for the interest of British commerce, or for the interest of British shipping. Above all, I think it is a subject necessary for consideration whether or no the maintenance of those laws, as affecting our mercantile interests, is necessary for the support of the maritime supremacy of this country. I give my assent to this inquiry, not to support the views of any hon. Member, although the Motion is proposed by an individual Member of Parliament, and assented to by the Government; yet I think assenting to the inquiry in no way binds the parties to support the particular opinions of the hon. Member. The whole subject is to be referred to a Committee, not for the purpose of giving effect to any particular preconceived notions, but to have a bonâ fide inquiry into all the bearings of this very important question. It is on this condition that I give my ready assent to this proposal. It has been remarked in the course of this debate, that the navigation laws have endured for two hundred years, and that they date their origin from the period of the Protectorate. The navigation laws, I think, are of much older date. The origin of them, I apprehend, was almost simultaneous with the commencement of a commercial and military marine in this country, and that at the time of the Protectorate the principle then existing was incorporated in the code of laws. But whatever may be their antiquity, you have been compelled from time to time to relax them, not from any theoretical principle with regard to them, but from mere necessity. In the year 1815 why did you relax those navigation laws? Was it upon the chances of any superior speculative advantages which you might derive from their relaxation? No. It was because the Americans were determined to introduce and to act upon your principles, and to levy duties upon your ships entering their ports, and levy 1050 duties upon your goods in the same manner as you levied upon foreign vessels and goods entering yours. And the question you had to consider in the year 1815 was, whether by the rigid maintenance of the navigation laws you would not give advantages to the produce of other countries in American markets; or by relinquishing a portion of them, and admitting American vessels to equivalent advantages with your own in British ports, you would not secure the intercourse with the United States. It was not then on any speculative notion you relaxed the navigation laws in 1815. The Americans had themselves applied the principle of those laws, and you had to take your choice between the exclusion of your commerce from American ports, or the relaxation of your laws. Why was it too that Mr. Huskisson again relaxed the navigation laws in the year 1824? Mr. Huskisson did not then act upon any speculative notion, He did so because Prussia was preparing to act then upon precisely the same principle as the United States had adopted in 1815. In the course of the speech which Mr. Huskisson made in 1826 upon the budget, he explained his motives for having relaxed those laws in signing the reciprocity treaties in the year 1824. It was because Prussia was then preparing to follow the example of the United States. He had been informed that Prussia was about to subject British vessels and British goods entering Prussian ports to similar disadvantages to those that Prussian ships and Prussian goods were subjected to on entering British ports. The Prussian Minister said, "We shall go on imitating your example. We shall not only impose upon British goods unfavourable discriminating duties as compared to Prussian, but we shall place upon British ships the same restrictions as you impose upon ours." And it was the fear of the operation of those restrictive laws on British commerce that made Mr. Huskisson admit Prussian ships to the same privileges in British ports as your own. Afterwards the same privileges were extended to the ships of Norway and Sweden. It was, therefore, on account of the great changes that have taken place in the commercial system of the world, that you have gradually relaxed these laws. Let us see, then, and consider maturely and deliberately, whether the recent changes that have been effected in our commercial policy, may not render some further change necessary in our na- 1051 vigation laws. And as it is a paramount consideration not to be on any account discarded, I hope the Government will take care that the Committee be so constituted, and its objects so directed, that, after a deliberate and dispassionate inquiry into the subject referred to it, its decision may secure as much confidence from the House as the decision of any Committee can obtain, and have as much authority with the country as the decision of any Parliamentary Committee can command.
§ MR. HUDSON
felt it his duty, as representing a great commercial interest in the country, to give some reasons for his vote on the present occasion. The right hon. Baronet, who had just sat down, had commenced his speech by saying, that the appointment of the Committee would not give any sort of pledge to the House for the pursuit of a particular course with regard to the subsequent relaxation of the navigation laws. But he had concluded his speech by telling the House that it might be possible to effect some such alteration, and that some alteration should in fact take place. Now, what was the object of the hon. Gentleman's Committee? The hon. Member, no doubt, intended that some alteration should take place in the navigation laws; and he firmly believed that any alteration that could be made would be injurious to the British shipping interest and to the British seaman. Believing too, as he did, that the shipping interest was decidedly opposed to any alteration, he should give his vote against the Motion. He thought, too, that the matter should not have been left to an individual Member of the House. He thought that the Government should have undertaken the conduct of the inquiry, if they approved of it, instead of remaining quiescent.
§ MR. HUTT
said, that having been a member of the Committee appointed in the year 1844, he was anxious to say a word upon the subject before the House. He thought that a misconception existed with regard to the appointment of the Committee. He recollected that, only three years ago, he was permitted, without any remonstrance or obstruction, to have a Committee of Inquiry into matters connected with one of the most important laws of the British Constitution, the Act of Settlement itself. He did not wish to pronounce any opinion of his own on the navigation laws; but he would tell the House the opinion which Mr. Burke had left on 1052 record on these laws. Mr. Burke stated it to be his conviction that the prosperity of this country was much less dependent on the navigation laws than was generally supposed. He thought, therefore, that an inquiry into their operation might very fairly be instituted; for he could not bring himself to believe that their chief excellence was dependent on the Act of Charles II.
§ MR. DISRAELI
would not detain the House for more than five minutes; but as the question before them had assumed several characters during the discussion, and as they were going to a division, he thought it highly important that the feelings of hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House should not be misunderstood. In the first place, he begged the House to observe, that in the vote they were about giving, they were not giving a vote in favour of the navigation laws. They did not consider that question to be before the House, and their vote would be merely one against inquiry. Hon. Gentlemen might think there was no difference in the distinction which he drew; but he hoped to be able to make the majority of the House agree with him that such a distinction was a proper and real one. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth laid down a very broad ground for the vote which he was to give, as he inferred from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that night that he was not disposed to resist the investigation of any question which should be brought before the House of Commons. That appeared to him to be a very novel and dangerous proposition; as it seemed to him, that though investigation might be necessary in some cases, it was not as matter that should be morbidly encouraged on all occasions. He knew not what subject or what branch of commerce there was on which questions might not be raised, that would, according to that principle, justify a demand for inquiry, nor did he see why multitudes of Committees should not be sitting down investigating details into various branches of industry and various processes of law, to the disturbance both of the finances and of the law of the country to an extent that would by no means justify such a course of proceeeding. But he said that the vote which they were about giving, was not in favour of the navigation laws, but against inquiry. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth laid before the House with that perspicuity which he always could command, the grounds of former interference with 1053 the navigation laws. But there could be no doubt that the measures brought for-word by Mr. Huskisson were not mere speculative measures. They were measures of inevitable necessity at the time, and it was quite impossible that the alteration which he proposed should not take place; and he was not for a moment contending against the gradual or occasional alteration of a law even so important as the navigation laws. But the question they had to decide was, were they to have further inquiry on a question on which the most ample information already existed? It was a subject on which so much investigation had taken place, that it was already familiar, not only to statesmen, but familiar in all its details to every Gentleman in that House. But at the same time, as great alterations had taken place in the commercial laws of this country, there could be no doubt but that the effect of these alterations on the commercial marine interests of the kingdom, ought to be investigated by the Ministry of the country. He could not conceive how any Ministry proposing the great commercial alterations of last year, or any Ministry succeeding them in office, could think of accepting power under these circumstances, without having the question under their consideration, and made the subject of their Cabinet councils. He thought, therefore, that it was the duty of the Ministry—whether the late Ministry, if they had remained in power, or those of any other party that might have succeeded them—that it was the duty of the Government of the country, to have come forward with a decided opinion on this subject; and if they saw it was necessary that there should be a further alteration in these laws—that there should be continued modifications of them—that they should have embodied their convictions in a Bill, and have brought that Bill before Parliament, and have staked their Ministerial character and existence on a measure of such immense importance to the prosperity of the country. But what was the conduct of Her Majesty's Government on this occasion? They had adopted a course which placed the House, and the country too, in a very peculiar position, and which, he should add, did not tell for their interest. The noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government appealed to the House to make a temporary alteration in the navigation laws. He would ask the House whether, from the manner of the noble Lord, or from any 1054 communication which he made to the House on that occasion, welcomed as he was by every hon. Gentleman in the House, whatever his party opinions might be, in meeting an exigency by any temporary sacrifice—whether the noble Lord had given them any intimation that this temporary change would lead to an ulterior and permanent alteration being proposed or approved of by Her Majesty's Government. He thought the manly course for the noble Lord to have taken, would be to come down to the House, and say that in the present exigency of the case, he only intended asking for a temporary suspension of the navigation laws, but that he thought it due to the House, to state, that Her Majesty's Ministers, under the present state of the commercial laws, had considered very deeply the effect of the alterations in these laws on the navigation laws, and that they would be ready to communicate their views to this House on this important subject on a future occasion; that they did not immediately press the question on the House, but that he made the announcement because he did not wish the temporary suspension of the navigation laws should, under the circumstances, pass sub silentio; that the subject was one which ought to be investigated, and that the Ministers of the Crown would make that investigation, and bring the result before the House. That, he thought, was the course which the noble Lord should have pursued; but that course not having been taken, the House was at present not called upon to vote in favour of, or against the navigation law. They were required to give their opinion simply, whether it were desirable at the termination of the existence of Parliament, and under the present circumstances of the country, at the bidding of a private Member, who, as it were, pulled the Government after him; whether it was right and judicious to give their support to a Motion for inquiry. He did not think that by the vote which he was about giving, he would preclude himself from giving a vote on any future occasion on the subject of the navigation laws themselves. What he objected to was, inquiry on a subject of such paramount importance on which they had already the fullest information, and the most voluminous reports. And, then, what was the basis of every speech which they had heard? One hon. Gentleman told them that these laws existed for 200 years. The right hon. Baronet the Member for 1055 Tamworth reminded that hon. Member that the system was much older; but at all events they had 200 years' experience at the least of these laws. As to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman, that though they had often appointed such Committees before, still it was not an unusual thing for Ministers to oppose the appointment of Committees. They had here a law which was universally acknowleged to be of a constitutional character; and it was therefore one on which, of all others, they ought to have the opinion of Her Majesty's Government. As he said before, he merely rose because hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House wished, before recording their votes, to have it understood that they thought it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government—if they had any doubts as to these laws—to have removed these doubts in private council, and then to have come down to the House, and stated the course which they were prepared to recommend.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has stated, I think fairly, the question before the House; and I agree with him in his statement of that question, although I come to an entirely opposite conclusion. The hon. Gentleman says the question before the House is, not whether we should approve or disapprove of the navigation laws, but whether we should consent to an inquiry. Now that is the question before the House. I think it is fairly the question raised by the hon. Gentlemen's Motion; but I come to an opposite conclusion from the hon. Gentleman regarding it, because it seems to me that it is a question most fitting for inquiry. I quite allow that when I brought forward the question of the temporary suspension of the navigation laws, I did not do so with any view to a permanent alteration in them. I considered that whether the navigation laws were defensible or indefensible, the temporary suspension of these laws was necessary and justifiable at the moment, and therefore I did not take any advantage of the proposition for the temporary suspension of the laws to induce the House to vote for any inquiry generally into them. But I say that it is impossible for any hon. Gentleman to assert that these laws are of that constitutional character, or of that firm and fixed nature, which renders it impossible for us to consent to any alteration whatever in them. Sir, I cannot but reflect that not many 1056 years ago Mr. Huskisson thought it necessary to propose an alteration of these laws; and I cannot forget also that the hon. Gentlemen who oppose this Motion, admitted that he had no other course to take but that which he adopted, from the great evils which would have followed if he had not done so. Again, when another hon. Gentleman defended the navigation laws as far as they related to the fisheries, it should not be forgotten that Mr. Huskisson gave the strongest opinion on that matter also, and that again a great alteration was made in these laws at the time alluded to by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, when he was himself a Minister of the Crown. I think that it is agreed thereon that circumstances may occur which require that an alteration should be made in these laws, instead of their being of that unalterable and permanent character which the hon. Gentleman supposes. [Mr. DISRAELI: The noble Lord entirely misunderstands my argument.] The hon. Gentleman certainly used the words that the navigation laws were of a constitutional character, and that the question was one not merely affecting the commerce and shipping of the country, but that it was one of a constitutional nature. But it is admitted that circumstances may arise from time to time that require the modification and alteration of those laws, and that such alterations or modifications may be of so pressing a nature as to meet with general assent. But now, supposing that Her Majesty's Government, having a great deal of other business to bring before Parliament, should have come down and proposed to the House an alteration in the navigation laws, as the hon. Gentleman says we ought to have done if we thought it necessary; I think it probable that we would have been met by a demand, "Will you propose this alteration without inquiry? Will you not allow the shipping interest, which is so deeply interested in the matter, the benefit of an inquiry in the first place? Will you, who are so deeply engaged with other matters, ask the House to consent to an alteration of so important a law without the intervention of a Select Committee, before whom the parties interested can state their grievances and support their rights?" I think it is very likely that we should be met by such questions as these; and it would be very difficult to reply to them; and therefore when my hon. Friend proposes the course which he recommends, I cannot but think that it would be of 1057 great use to the House of Commons, and to the country, that a Committee should be appointed, and that all parties interested should be brought before that Committee, and permitted the liberty of stating their views. It is true that the Government of the country has many and great means of obtaining information; but I know of few means that are better for procuring the fullest and best information on any matter, than by the examination of persons deeply and intimately connected with such matter, before a Committee of the House of Commons, where they would be examined by persons holding different views and advocating different bearings of the question. I think, therefore, that it is probable we may derive great advantages from the inquiries of the Committee of the House of Commons which my hon. Friend proposes. Now, with regard to any measures that may result from this inquiry, I can only say that, with respect to all these subjects, we have had very great changes of late years. These changes have affected various interests, and, among others, they have affected very deeply the colonial interests. We have heard some of our colonies declare that it is hardly fair for us to have made these alterations, and at the same time to leave them subject to the navigation laws. Well, if they have that statement to make, let us hear them in support of it, and learn what their grievances are. But there is another part of the case which also deserves inquiry, and that is as regards the shipping interests themselves. Heretofore several Committees were appointed on this part of the case; but they were merely appointed with a view to ascertain whether we could go back to a system of greater protection, on the ground of the necessity which they laboured under, for some equivalent for the greater expenses to which they were subjected in comparison with other countries in building and victualling their ships, and which they could not bear unless further restrictions were imposed in their favour. Now let us hear what the restrictions of which they complain are, and see what modifications are practicable, in order that the great shipping interest, which is one of the chief means of advancing the political greatness of this country, may be best promoted. I do not myself agree in the arguments that would lead us back to a system of protection; but I do say that if we are to go on in the way of freedom, it is desirable that the benefits of freedom, which are extended 1058 to other parties in the community, should be extended to those also who are peculiarly affected by these laws. On behalf, therefore, of the shipping interest, as well as on behalf of those who advocate a modification in the navigation laws, I shall cordially give my vote in support of the Motion of my hon. Friend. I did not myself intend to propose a Committee on this subject; but I am very glad that a Member so independent and intelligent as my hon. Friend, should have taken up the subject, and brought the Motion for a Select Committee on these laws before the House.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 155; Noes 61: Majority 94.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acheson, Visct.||Ewart, W.|
|Acland, T. D.||Fitzwilliam, hon. G. W.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Forster, M.|
|Ainsworth, P.||Fox, C. R.|
|Baine, W.||French, F.|
|Bannerman, A.||Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.|
|Barkly, H.||Goulburn, rt. hon. H.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Granger, T. C.|
|Barron, Sir H. W.||Grattan, H.|
|Bell, J.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Berkeley, hon. C.||Grosvenor, Lord R.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Grosvenor, Earl|
|Blake, M. J.||Guest, Sir J.|
|Bodkin, W. H.||Hall, Sir B.|
|Bouverie, hon. E. P.||Harcourt, G. G.|
|Bowles, Adm.||Hawes, B.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Hay, Sir A. L.|
|Bright, J.||Hayes, Sir E.|
|Brotherton, J.||Heathcoat, J.|
|Brown, W.||Herbert, rt. hon. S.|
|Buller, C.||Hill, Lord M.|
|Byng, rt. hon. G. S.||Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J.|
|Callaghan, D.||Hope, Sir J.|
|Cardwell, E.||Hope, A.|
|Carew, W. H. P.||Howard, hon. H.|
|Chaplin, W. J.||Humphery, Ald.|
|Cholmeley, Sir J. M.||Hutt, W.|
|Clements, Visct.||James, W.|
|Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G.||James, Sir W. C.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Jervis, Sir J.|
|Collett, J.||Kelly, J.|
|Copeland, Ald.||Labouchere, rt. hon. H.|
|Corry, rt. hon. H.||Langston, J. H.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Lascelles, hon. W. S.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Denison, E. B.||Lindsay, hon. Capt.|
|Dennistoun, J.||Loch, J.|
|Dickinson, F. H.||Lockhart, A. E.|
|Duckworth, Sir J. T. B.||Macaulay, rt. hon. T. B.|
|Duncan, Visct.||M'Carthy, A.|
|Duncan, G.||M'Taggart, Sir J.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Maitland, T.|
|Dundas, D.||Masterman, J.|
|Easthope, Sir J.||Maule, rt. hon. F.|
|Egerton, Sir P.||Mitcalfe, H.|
|Ellice, rt. hon. E.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Ellis, W.||Moffatt, G.|
|Escott, B.||Morpeth, Visct.|
|Esmonde, Sir T.||Morris, D.|
|Evans, Sir De L.||Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.|
|Napier, Sir C.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Newry, Visct.||Somerville, Sir W. M.|
|O'Brien, C.||Stuart, W. V.|
|O'Brien, J.||Strutt, rt. hon. E.|
|O'Brien, W. S.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|O'Connell, D. jun.||Tancred, H. W.|
|O'Connell, J.||Thornely, T.|
|O'Conor Don||Tufnell, H.|
|O'Ferrall, R. M.||Tuite, H. M.|
|Ogle, S. C. H.||Turner, E.|
|Oswald, A.||Vesey, hon. T.|
|Oswald, J.||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Paget, Lord A.||Walker, R.|
|Parker, J.||Warburton, H.|
|Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.||Ward, H. G.|
|Philips, M.||Watson, W. H.|
|Plumridge, Capt.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Pusey, P.||Wellesley, Lord C.|
|Rice, E. R.||Williams, W.|
|Rich, H.||Winnington, Sir T. E.|
|Romilly, J.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Russell, Lord J.||Wood, Col. T.|
|Rutherfurd, A.||Wortley, hon. J. S.|
|Sandon, Visct.||Wyse, T.|
|Seymour, Lord||Yorke, H. R.|
|Sheridan, R. B.||TELLERS.|
|Smith, rt. hon. R. B.||Hume, J.|
|Somers, J. P.||Ricardo, J. L.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Allix, J. P.||Henley, J. W.|
|Arkwright, G.||Hodgson, R.|
|Austen, Col.||Hotham, Lord|
|Bailey, J. jun.||Houldsworth, T.|
|Bankes, G.||Hudson, G.|
|Baring, T.||Inglis, Sir R. H.|
|Baskerville, T. B. M.||Lygon, hon. Gen.|
|Bateson, T.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Bennet, P.||Manners, Lord J.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Maxwell, hon. J. P.|
|Beresford, Major||Miles, W.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Morgan, O.|
|Blakemore, R.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Broadwood, H.||O'Brien, A. S.|
|Brooke, Lord||Packe, C. W.|
|Buck, L. W.||Palmer, R.|
|Clifton, J. T.||Pigot, Sir R.|
|Cole, hon. H. A.||Repton, G. W. J.|
|Conolly, Col.||Rolleston, Col.|
|Disraeli, B.||Round, J.|
|Douglas, Sir H.||Rushout, Capt.|
|Ferrand, W. B.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Finch, G.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Forbes, W.||Stuart, J.|
|Frewen, C. H.||Tyrell, Sir J. T.|
|Gore, M.||Verner, Sir W.|
|Granby, Marq. of||Waddington, H. S.|
|Grimsditch, T.||Walpole, S. H.|
|Grogan, E.||Walsh, Sir J. B.|
|Hamilton, G. A.||Thompson, Ald.|
|Harris, hon. Capt.||Liddell, hon. H. T.|