HC Deb 02 July 1847 vol 93 cc1133-5

I shall at once take the opportunity of asking the question, with reference to which I have given notice, of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in regard to the commercial relations between this country and Prussia. About the 4th of June last there appeared in the Globe newspaper a paragraph to this effect—that a Berlin journal stated that the Prussian Cabinet had received a despatch from the English Cabinet, announcing that if the States of the Zollverein persisted in introducing a system of differential duties with respect to England, that the English Government would have recourse to reprisals. I have since ascertained that that paper was the Prussian States Gazette; and this paragraph having therefore a great semblance of truth, and being of an official character, I take leave to ask the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether, having now discovered that Prussia is not shaken, he has had recourse to a threat of retaliatory measures upon Prussia, if Prussia persists in her course of protecting duties, and of taking care of the industry of her own people, to the prejudice of the industry of this country?


I do not remember to have seen the paragraph to which my noble Friend adverts; but I can say that that paragraph was entirely incorrect. The state of the case is this:—It is well known that Great Britain and Prussia entered into a convention in the year 1841, modifying to a certain extent the navigation practice of this country. By that treaty certain ports between the Elbe and the Meuse, which were considered to be the natural outlets of certain inland German States, were to be deemed and considered, with regard to our Navigation Laws, as the ports of those States, though they were not, in point of fact, within their territory; and vessels coming from those ports were to be admitted on the same conditions as if the ports from which they came were within the territory of those States. That privilege was granted to the Prussian and Zollverein navigation and commerce, in return for certain privileges which British vessels enjoyed in Prussian ports—not a privilege then for the first time granted, but a privilege which they had enjoyed by the more liberal nature of the navigation system of Prussia. That treaty might be put an end to at the conclusion of the present year, by a notice given before the 1st of July. The Prussian Government has given that notice—they have given notice previous to a particular day, that the treaty shall be at an end with the present year, intimating at the same time, on the part of Prussia and the Zollverein—of which Prussia is the diplomatic organ—that Prussia and the Zollverein were dissatisfied with that treaty, because it does not, according to their view, rest upon the real principle of reciprocity—that our navigation laws do not accord to the vessels and commerce of Prussia and the Zollverein all the advantages which, according to the present state of things, our vessels and commerce enjoy in the States and ports of the Zollverein; and it was intimated that if Great Britain should continue to persist in her comparatively restrictive navigation system, that the States of the Zollverein would think it their interest to establish a differential duty of 20 per cent upon the manufactures and produce and commodities of Great Britain. That is the state of the case. The communication did not begin with a threat of retaliation on the part of Great Britain to compel Prussia to do anything she was not disposed to do; but, on the contrary, there was a communication from Prussia and the Zollverein that if Great Britain did not relax her navigation system, the States of the Zollverein would impose differential duties on the commerce of Great Britain. To that communication an answer was returned, stating that the Treaty of 1841 has been of very little advantage to Great Britain; that a small amount of British tonnage—less than five hundred tons in the whole of the ports—had availed itself of the advantages of the Prussian navigation system; and therefore it really was a matter of comparative indifference to us whether that Treaty of 1841 should continue to be allowed to expire. The communications on the subject can hardly be said to be concluded; I don't know whether the Prussian Government mean to reply to our despatch or not; but I have no objection to lay before the House the Prussian notice with respect to the cessation of the treaty, and the reply of the British Government.


I beg leave to ask the noble Lord, whether Her Majesty's Government has received an intimation from any of the States of the North of Germany that they have it in contemplation to impose differential duties on British vessels importing into Germany the productions of countries other than the possessions of Her Majesty, unless Great Britain will so far abolish her Navigation Laws as to allow German vessels to import productions from all parts of the world into the United Kingdom; and in the next place, whether the Foreign Secretary is aware of any negotiations going on for the purpose of inducing the Hanse Towns to unite with the States of the Zollverein in an arrangement to impose differential duties on the ships of all nations which do not accord to German States the same privileges of navigation which the German States extend to them?


With respect to the first question which has been put to me by the hon. Gentleman, I have only to make the same reply as I have given to my noble Friend opposite. With regard to the second question, it is certainly true that the Prussian Government, as the organ of the Zollverein, has been in communication with the several States of the Hanse Towns, as we understand. We have had no official communication on the subject from the Zollverein or from Prussia; but we have good reason to believe that a person has been sent from Berlin to Hamburg and Bremen, and the other States, to induce the Hanse Towns to become members of the Zollverein; but I believe no disposition has been shown on the part of Hamburg or Lubec to accept the invitation. Bremen is, I believe, more inclined to become a member of it. Bremen is rising rapidly in commercial importance, Bremen looks to great advantages from railway communication in the interior of Germany, and has much more disposition than Hamburg to adopt the corporate system of German commerce; but at the same time I am not aware that any intention is entertained, or has been expressed by Bremen, to accede to the invitation.

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