HC Deb 02 July 1847 vol 93 cc1135-56

On the Question that the Navigation Laws (No. 2) Bill be read a Second Time,


The noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown said the other evening that, if there had been 500 quarters of corn imported in foreign vessels by virtue of the suspension of the Navigation Laws, he should equally feel it his duty to propose the continuance of the suspension of the Navigation Laws until the 1st of March; and I think I may therefore fairly say, that in this proposal for the suspension there lurks a real intention to repeal the Navigation Laws altogether; and that this is nothing but a flimsy pretext by which it is purposed to undermine the principle upon which we continue those laws for the protection of British shipping. On these grounds I feel it to be my duty to oppose the present measure for the suspension of these laws. The noble Lord did lay on the Table of the House a return purporting to be a return of the number of ships with cargoes of grain that have been imported into this country by virtue of the suspension of the Navigation Laws; and I presumed, as that return emanated from the Government, it was the intention of the noble Lord, in presenting that return to the House, to make out a case for himself for the repeal of these laws. I gave my reasons to the House for supposing that that return was incorrect, as regards Ireland at least; and I asked for a further explanation of this return. That explanation has not yet been given us, except as far as London is concerned; and at that port we are told that 136 foreign ships of 8,700 tons have arrived by virtue of the suspension of the Navigation Laws. Now, it does happen that in September last we had 17 ships of war keeping watch in the Tagus to maintain the Queen of Portugal on the Throne—17 ships of war lying there to aid her despotic Government to trample down and crush the liberties of the people of Portugal. If the Trafalgar, the Albion, the Queen, and theSt. Vincent, had been spared from this ignoble duty, they might have imported all that these 136 ships—which form so conspicuous a portion of the 201 foreign ships that have come into England under this suspension, which figure in this return—have imported. Why, out of these 136 ships said to have come into the port of London laden with grain, no less than 76 arc nothing but river craft. Nothing but the lighters and barges of the kingdom of Hanover; and a sort of Humber keels which navigate the Elbe and the Weser, averaging from 25 to 70 tons, but only one of the whole lot reaching 70 tons. So that, as regards the port of London, the importation of vessels of this description is scarcely worth consideration; and the loss of which would have been entirely compensated for if Her Majesty's Government had spared, while it had 17 ships lying in the Tagus in September last, only four of the largest to bring grain from New York. But I will admit that in the winter time, there having come a sudden demand for ships, that the suspension of the Navigation Laws may have been of some service; for we all know perfectly well that so great was the demand for ships in the United States, that freights rose to 17s. 6d. per quarter for grain, and 12s. 6d. per barrel for flour. There was plenty of grain at the seaboard, but no vessels to bring it. The ships then were tied by their charters and old contracts, and were not at liberty to fetch corn; but how do matters stand now? I have a shipping return here from New Orleans, dated the 20th of May, which mentions that within a few days the arrival of ships in the port of New Orleans was 108, and that no less than forty ships were lying there at that date waiting for freights. Another return of that date shows that there were 37,000 tons of shipping at New York waiting for cargoes, in consequence of there not being barges sufficient to bring down corn from the interior, and that numberless British ships were leaving New York to seek for timber cargoes in our North American provinces. At the time that statement came from New York, 60 ships, all of large capacity, had left Liverpool for New York and New Orleans in search of grain, but which had not arrived in the United States. So that instead of the freight market being starved for want of ships, it is now glutted, and the freights have fallen from 12s. 6d. to 2s. per barrel for flour. How stands the matter as regards the Baltic? I have a statement in my hand from Mr. Court, secretary to the Underwriters' Association at Liverpool; and he informs me that on the 12th of May last the first ship arrived at Cronstadt from this country, and the total number there waiting for cargoes on the 11th of June was 926. He also informs me that the loss of British shipowners who have sent vessels to St. Petersburg and Riga is expected to be very great, as the supply of ships at those ports is enormous, and out of all proportion to the supply of grain to be obtained. We have no returns as yet of the ships which came from the Mediterranean by virtue of the suspension of the Navigation Laws; but I think it appears from the return lately laid on the Table, that not above one or two have come from the Mediterranean, and that though freights were high at Christmas they will be low in Sep- tember, as they are now daily falling at Alexandria, Constantinople, and Odessa. Therefore the necessity, so far as the feeding of the people wont, for further suspending the Navigation Laws had now entirely passed away. I showed on a former occasion that only three foreign ships had come to Liverpool from New York and New Orleans under virtue of the suspension of the Navigation Laws; and that, together with the fact that the present suspension continues until the 1st of September, shows no very great necessity for its extension to the 1st of March. With respect to those vessels which came from the north of Europe—the seventy-six vessels from the Elbe and the Meuse—they cannot leave those parts after November, when the rivers are usually frozen up. Therefore these small craft, which tell so well in the returns of the noble Lord, will be useless, and the further suspension of the Navigation Laws from November to March altogether inoperative. The further suspension will, therefore, only come into operation with respect to that part of the British trade which is already glutted with shipping. So that in point of fact the question now is, not whether we are to suspend the Navigation Laws to supply a great deficiency of shipping, but whether we are to suspend them as a step to their permanent repeal. If the noble Lord had really desired to assist the importation of grain into this country, he would have done one of two things. He would cither have applied those ships of war lying idle in the Tagus to fetch corn from America, or he would have spared those five war steamers cruising off the shores of Portugal, and sent them to Gibraltar to tow through the Gut the 600 or 700 grain-laden vessels which lay there wind-bound, and unable to beat through the Channel. The result of not having done so was this—that when the ships arrived here their cargoes were so heated that they stunk so that they might have been smelt half a mile off. Now, if the great care of the Government for the Queen and King Consort of Portugal had not prevented them from sparing those five ships cruising off the shores of Portugal—if they had followed the more provident Government of Franco, and helped the trade and commerce of this country in the hour of need—the noble Lord would have done far more than he could do by the suspension of the Navigation Laws, and done it not to the injury, but to the advantage of the British commercial interests. As the question of the repeal of the Navigation Laws is virtually now to be discussed, and not, in fact, its suspension merely, I should like to ask the noble Lord how the Navy is to be manned in future when those laws are repealed? If they are to be repealed so far as to permit the ships and seamen of foreign countries to compete with the ships and seamen of England, he must he prepared to do away with all those regulations which, to a certain extent, cramp and cripple the power of the English shipowner to meet that competition. The Navigation Laws were intended not so much for the advantage of the commercial marine of England, as for the defence of our shores and colonial dominions in time of war. We insist that every British ship shall carry an apprentice and four men for every 100 tons; and why is it that the ships of the United States beat us in competition? Not because, as it has been scandalously and libellously alleged, our captains, our mates, and our officers are not in all things equal and superior to those of all other countries; but because instead of five men they only carry three. That makes it impossible for the British shipowner to compete with the ships of the United States. I have before mo a valuable return moved for by the hon. and gallant General the Member for Liverpool, which shows that there came into this country in 1846, 330 ships of the United States, measuring 435,399 tons, and manned by 13,912 seamen. This is a trifle over three men to each 100 tons. But how are British ships manned? We have more than a million tons of shipping manned by 54,000 men, being considerably over five men to each 100 tons. Need it, then, be asked, how is it that British ships cannot compote with those of America? But, Sir, let me ask, if we repeal the Navigation Laws and permit English ships to be manned by three men to every 100 tons, to what extent shall we not diminish the number of the seamen manning our commercial marine, which arc our only great security; and if a sudden war should break out, how are we to man the navies of England? In 1813–14 our Navy was manned by 114,000 seamen; at this time we have but 30,000. Where, then, are we to look for security to that Navy unless we do provide that there shall be a surplus; that the commercial marine of England shall be manned by a surplusage of crow from which we may draw our resources in time of war? You will observe that there is forty per cent more men on board the British commercial marine than in that of the United States. We have upwards of 200,000 men in our commercial marine, and we have 80,000 men less in our men-of-war than would be required in time of war; and where are those 80,000 men to be drawn from if you take 120,000 from your 200,000? That is the great question we have now to consider; and this consideration ought not to be lightly lost sight of in the discussion of this question. In France—I know not what the laws of France may be, but I observe in this same return that the ships of Franco are not manned as are the Americans by three men for 100 tons—nor as those of Great Britain by eleven men for 200 tons; but they have eight men for every 160 tons. In the year 1846, France had 4,765 ships, of 262,938 tons, manned by 21,754 seamen, which gives fully that proportion. The British shipowner is therefore entitled to some protection from the State; he is entitled to something of a monopoly of the carrying trade. It may be said that when the corn laws were repealed, it followed as a matter of course that the Navigation Laws must follow. I confess I feared that would be the natural result; and when I saw the representatives of the shipping interests hurrying on to deprive the agriculturist of his protection, I thought their protection would be the first to follow. It might be that some would think the advocates of protection to agriculture ought to retaliate upon them for their desertion; but I thought then and still think that the shipping interest have superior claims to protection—if they have no claims on us on their own account. And if we regard the supremacy of the British Queen on every sea in the world, we must take care to do nothing which may impair the British commercial marine, which is the strength and stay of this country. But I have one word to say to those scandalous charges, entirely unfounded in truth, which have been urged against the officers of the British commercial marine. We have been told that they lose the trade from not being so capable of managing their ships as the seamen of foreign countries. I suppose next to our own in skilfulness those of the United States are the most skilful seamen. I have a comparative list of disasters at sea which befell the grain-laden ships of the United States, and those of Great Britain, and which left the United States on their way to Great Britain between the 10th of September and the 1st of May. I acknow- ledge the ships of the United States are more in number than those of Great Britain; but this comparative statement will show, notwithstanding, the result I wish to arrive at. There were 294 British ships, and 450 American ones; of these there foundered at sea three British and twenty-one American. This was in the winter season; and the next item will show the superiority of the English to make a good voyage. There were three British ships put back to port, and seventeen American. Now, in order to provide the people of this country with corn, the Government have suspended the Navigation Laws to encourage foreign ships to import the grain, instead of ships of our own country. Now, we will see how the matter stands with regard to their ability to bring corn to England. There were of British ships that crossed the Atlantic and failed to bring their cargoes safe but six, while twenty-seven Americans had to throw their cargoes overboard; and there were four British vessels stranded, and twelve Americans. I want to know, after that statement, on what grounds any practical man would give credence to the evidence laid before the Committee now sitting on the Navigation Laws? That statement proves, I think, that the hand of the British pilot has not lost its cunning, and that the hearts of British seamen have not lost their courage and energy. Having made this defence for our commercial marine, against those who have so unjustly attempted to run it down; having thus exposed the falsity of the grounds on which some parties attempt to injure the high character of the seamen and officers of the commercial marine of England, I shall move that the Bill be read a second time this day three months.


I do not propose to consider, and I hope the House will not consider, this as a question with regard to the maintenance or repeal of the Navigation Laws. Whatever may be the merits of those laws—whether it be right to maintain them entire, or to make certain changes in them, or whether it be right to repeal them altogether—is not the question which is brought before the House on the present occasion. All I have to say, therefore, on that part of the speech of the noble Lord, which occupied a considerable part of what he addressed to the House, is this—I beg to remind the House that when the Committee on the Navigation Laws was appointed, I said that it was a question of the most serious importance to this country; and if, in consequence of the report of that Committee, and of the evidence that was laid before them, it appeared that any alteration ought to be made in the Navigation Laws, that this House would be bound to consider the burdens on the British shipowners, and to take into consideration any disadvantages they might have to contend with, and at the same time to consider any restrictions that might be imposed on foreign shipping. That remark is the answer to what the noble Lord has now said on that point; but I would remind you that the question now before the House is this—whether the present Navigation Laws should be suspended? I think you may suspend laws of this nature without affecting at all the principles on which those laws arc founded. For instance, with respect to the corn laws, they have boon, within the last fifty years, frequently suspended, sometimes, for six months, sometimes for a year, sometimes for two years; and yet a great majority of both Houses of Parliament at the same time maintained the policy of those laws, and declared that on principle they ought not to be altered. So it may be with regard to the Navigation Laws; and I own I am much surprised that the noble Lord should take this course as to the Navigation Laws at the present moment, having consented to the suspension of the corn laws. Although the noble Lord consented to the suspension of the corn laws, he would, I think, he perfectly justified in coining before the next Parliament, and saying, "We have not given up the principle of protection; the Parliament was in error that resolved on giving up that principle." He might require either a sliding scale or a fixed duty on corn, and might say that principle was founded on a better policy than was the repeal of this law. He would be perfectly justified in making such a proposition; and it would, I think, be a curious answer to such a proposal to say, "You have consented to suspend the corn laws in the course of the last year." In the same way as regards the Navigation Laws, it cannot be urged hereafter, as an argument against them, that there was a certain period at which it was proposed to suspend those laws. But the noble Lord, having consented to the proposal for the suspension of the corn laws, says the Navigation Laws ought not to be suspended, What, I ask, was the ground for suspending the corn laws? What but the expectation that there may be a great want of corn and provisions in the country? Therefore the policy of the Government is, that foreign corn should be admitted free of duty into this country; and if it be right that corn should be admitted free, is it not equally right that the vessels in which that corn is to be introduced, should also be admitted on the same terms? If you admit the corn until next March, why not say, whatever be the vessel in which that corn comes, we will ask no question as to the origin of those vessels, or the country in which they were built; but as they bring corn and provisions, which we want, on that ground we will admit them? It appears to mo that the two questions stand on a perfectly similar ground; and it is inconsistent on the part of the noble Lord—having with the whole House agreed to suspend the corn laws—that he should now oppose the suspension of those other laws, and seek to impose restrictions on the admission of grain. The noble Lord has said, and said truly, I was prepared to argue that if only 500 quarters came in under the suspension of the Navigation Laws, I should still be prepared to contend that those Navigation Laws should be further suspended. I said so because I think the situation of the country is such that you should impose no restrictions whatever, and that the best course is to make the admission of corn as free as possible, so that the benefit of that admission, be it great or be it small, may be enjoyed by the country. The right principle is assured by removing any restrictions that might prevent the introduction of corn, and that is an argument perfectly good whatever may be the amount of the corn admitted. The noble Lord has referred to the quantity of corn admitted according to this return. I believe with regard to most of the ports in the United Kingdom, from which returns were received, the returns are correct. You will find with regard to London and Liverpool, that the returns are correctly made. With regard to some of the ports, I believe the Custom house made an error, with regard to corn which might have come in if the Navigation Laws had not been suspended; therefore there may be some slight error in the general return; but as to the total amount I believe they represent with tolerable correctness what has been introduced. The amount introduced has been brought in by 538 ships, with a tonnage of 63,555. The noble Lord says it would have been far better to have sent four line-of-battle ships to intro- duce corn from foreign countries. I answered that question at the commencement of the Session; and I then satisfied an hon. Gentleman who made a Motion on that subject, that in the first place the amount of the tonnage of the line-of-battle ships we should have at our command would be small; in the second place, that it would have taken some time to have fitted out those vessels for the conveyance of corn; that some of the present fittings must be taken away, and that they must be fitted for the reception of cargoes of grain; and that the taking them away from the military service in which they are engaged—supposing any question arose like that respecting Tahiti, which arose a few years ago—would be of great disadvantage to this country, which might find itself crippled by the application, in the manner proposed, of those ships which were necessary for the service of the country for other purposes. And I next urged—which was in my mind the strongest argument of all—that if the State interfered in subjects of this nature, the more it proclaimed it was about to furnish that which commerce usually furnishes, the more it would disturb, disarrange, and discourage the natural trade and enterprise of the country. Now, let us consider what amount of tonnage would be afforded by the Queen, the Trafalgar, the Albion, and the other vessel which has been mentioned. I will take in the first instance the amount of tonnage of two of these vessels. The amount of tonnage of the Queen is about 3,104 tons, of the Albion is 3,110. Now, suppose you had two other other ships of nearly an equal amount, that would make 12,000 tons that would be applied for this purpose. Now, 63,555 tons is the amount of tonnage which foreign ships have introduced into this country, and which they could not have introduced except for the suspension of the Navigation Laws. And they have done that, leaving to you the employment of those ships of war in any way you may think proper. The noble Lord has introduced a subject which has nothing to do with the question before the House, as to the policy pursued in reference to Portugal; but I would remind him that if those ships were not on the coast of Portugal, they would be in the Mediterranean, or in the Channel, forming part of the force on which in case of necessity the country would rely. Four times as much as those vessels could have done has been done without suffering any of that anxiety which would be experienced if they were engaged in the manner to which the noble Lord has referred, and without any further expense except the natural profit that was made by the merchant. I entirely disapprove of that plan of taking four line-of-battle ships and using them for the purpose of bringing in a certain amount of foreign corn to this country; but, beyond this, let the House consider for a moment, apart from this question of the Navigation Laws, what have been the immense operations that have been carried on in the trade of this country for the purpose of supplying the people of the United Kingdom with food. We had an almost unexampled high price for corn; but, at the same time, the efforts that have been made by the trade of the country have been enormous. Some time ago, the importation was at the rate of 9,000,000 quarters a year: within the last month I think it was at the rate of 12,000,000 quarters in the year, and in some particular weeks it has exceeded that amount; but altogether, I believe, when the accounts are made out it will appear that there has been a greater importation than ever was previously known, and I would say, not less than six millions of the people may have been fed during the course of the year by importations from foreign countries. Compare that with any effort that could be made by line-of-battle ships, and it was owing solely to the enterprise of the merchants and importers. Compare that with any efforts the Government could make, end then you may estimate the effect of throwing open your ports, and allowing a free intercourse with foreign countries. But now, Sir, the noble Lord seems to think that this must be a question of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, because the necessity, he says, has passed away, and there are no extraordinary circumstances to call for it. [Lord GEORGE BENTINCK: I said it will have passed away.] Let me therefore ask the attention of the House to the extraordinary circumstances that have occurred within the last few months. There has been in Prance a very great failure of the crops. The estimate of France was at one time that they should want eighteen days' consumption; another estimate was that they should want twenty-five days' consumption; and the estimates went so high as to say that forty days' consumption of food would be required by France—and the harvests were deficient, it was thought, to that extent. There was also a deficiency in Germany to a great extent, so much so that corn on the Rhine has risen at times to 90s. a quarter, and the peace of the country has been disturbed both in Prussia and other places owing to the extraordinary high price of provisions. There has been a call for the importation of corn into this country from all parts of Europe and America from which a supply could be had, and there has been a very extraordinary supply from America. There has been, as I have said, a considerable importation to this country; but, on the other hand, France has required a great part of the importation from the Black Sea, and the corn which, if there had been a good harvest in France, would have been brought here, has been taken to Franco for consumption in that country. In the month of January we thought the case so urgent that we proposed the suspension of the corn duties and the navigation laws, and such suspension was at once agreed to. The average price for the six weeks preceding that time was 63s. 10d. a quarter. In the week preceding that in which the proposition was made, I think the price of wheat was 70s. 3d. the quarter; and in those circumstances the House agreed unanimously to the suspension of those laws. Since that time there has been a most extraordinary rise in the price of corn; and I believe that corn in the months of March and May rose to 100s. and 108s., and I think on one day to 115s. a quarter. The price has again fallen; but the average of the last six weeks, by the London Gazette, was 94s. 10d. per quarter; and yet I am now told it is unreasonable to ask the House to agree to a further suspension of the Navigation Laws. Then the noble Lord says that on the 1st of September the necessity will have passed away; but who can assure the country of that? [Lord G. BENTINCK: I said the necessity for the ships.] The necessity for the ships will have passed away! Why, my whole argument is, that if there be any necessity for the corn, there will be a necessity for the ships. My argument is, that if a ship arrives at Liverpool from Havre, and brings a quantity of corn which had been landed there from America and reshipped to Liverpool, you are not to say, "This is American corn, and because it was landed at Havre, and then brought here we will not take that corn—you must take it back again." My argument is, that if there be a necessity for the admission of the corn, you ought to admit it in whatever ships it may come. And now, I ask, what are the prospects for the next year? However strong may be our expectations at the present moment, who can say that we shall have a bountiful harvest, or that the harvests of the Continent of Europe shall he plentiful? Or who can say that the great abundance with which America was blessed in the last year, will be repeated in the present? Who can say we shall not have in the ensuing autumn a difficulty, not only in procuring a supply of corn in England and in Europe, but also a difficulty in obtaining that large supply which during the present year we have procured from America? Let us not forget with regard to this subject, that with the price of corn so high, and taking into consideration the depreciation of the currency during one part of the past year—let us not forget that which is a most remarkable fact in the present aspect of affairs, namely, that there was also a most extraordinary consumption. I believe that the great number of railway works have in many instances alleviated the calamity under which we are suffering, by causing a considerable demand for labour. When you look to the amount of calls for railways from the month of January to the present, that amount being 21,000,000l., of which it was calculated that 18,000,000l. were required for the United Kingdom, it is impossible not to see that the expenditure of any large part of that sum must have led to very considerable consumption—a consumption that would not have taken place if there had not been such an extraordinary expenditure. That consumption, again, leads to an increased price, and of course leaves a less amount of the whole food to be divided amongst the people of the country. While the construction of railways has been in one sense exceedingly beneficial, there are other senses in which it aggravates the difficulty, and at all events in this sense, that there is a much greater consumption than ever previously took place, notwithstanding the high price of provisions; and that extraordinary consumption must tend to make the quantity of food in the country less for a part of the people than it otherwise would be. Taking all those questions into consideration, the general result is, that it ought to be the policy of Parliament to open the doors as widely as possible for the admission of food, and to take away every restriction that would prevent a single quarter of corn from coming into this country. If you mean at all to keep up the manufactures of the country, and to make a provision for the labouring poor—looking also to the state of the revenue—the course to pursue is to adopt a policy on this occasion that is favourable to the free and indiscriminate admission of corn. Coming to that conclusion, I cannot agree to the plan of the noble Lord; and again I say I will not on this occasion discuss the weighty question of the Navigation Laws, which most probably will he brought under the consideration of Parliament when the evidence taken before the Committee has been considered. For my part, I promise to-day to give the most serious attention to that evidence when it is produced. There is no question which has a more serious aspect, as relates to the state of our commercial marine; as relates also to our naval power, and likewise to the general principles of freedom of intercourse. There is no question which has so many and various aspects that deserve to be considered, as that of the Navigation Laws; and I should be unwilling to discuss that question at the close of the Session, with a Committee sitting that have as yet made no report on the subject. The noble Lord is not justified in supposing that any determination has been come to by mo on that subject. I assure the noble Lord I shall be ready to consider the determination which ought to be taken with reference to the general principle and effect of these laws, also with reference to the altered state of the world, and lastly and most deeply with reference to the naval force and supremacy of this country.


was surprised that the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) should have described this measure as a flimsy attempt to undermine the Navigation Laws. He thought the noble Lord must be influenced in his present opposition by other objects than those he avowed; he could not help thinking it had some election purpose. All the arguments on which the noble Lord supported the suspension of the Corn Laws, applied to the suspension of the Navigation Laws. In that suspension of the Navigation Laws which had already been agreed to, the interest of the consumer had been consulted with advantage, and no injury whatever had been done to the shipowner. The public had now had an opportunity of contrasting in the strongest manner the effects of the old system, and the results of the policy already partially adopted; and he had no doubt whatever that the opinions of those who had hitherto deprecated any permanent change, would be considerably modified by the evidence which had been recently laid before the Navigation Committee. It was, however, now premature to discuss the general question; but, whether the Bill before them were accepted or not, he warned the House that, ere a long-period had elapsed, they would he called on to consider if the best interests of the nation and of all parties would not be consulted by a total abandonment of some portions of the Navigation Laws?


had listened with great satisfaction to the declaration of the noble Lord, that, though dooming this to be a necessary measure, he and his Colleagues would reserve their opinions upon the general question of a repeal of the Navigation Laws. He quite concurred with the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken, that this was not the fitting occasion to enter on a comprehensive discussion of those laws; and he also thought that this was not the House of Commons by whom the decisive opinion ought to be pronounced. It appeared to him that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had completely misrepresented the arguments urged by his noble Friend (Lord G. Bentinck). The noble Lord seemed to think, because his noble Friend had consented to the suspension of the Corn Law, that, therefore, as a logical necessity, he had agreed to the suspension of the Navigation Laws for a still further period. Even admitting that the suspension of the laws referring both to ships and corn had once been politic, yet now, finding that freight had very considerably declined, so as not to exceed the ordinary average of freight all over the world—finding at the same time that though ships were plentiful, corn was scarce—they might, without the slightest inconsistency, consent to measures to supply the country with corn, and nevertheless oppose the abrogation of laws upon the continuation of which they believed the prosperity of their commercial marine must always depend. To suspend them from September for six months longer, would derange trade, while it would confer no benefit on the shipowner; because the ports of the north would be then closed from natural causes, and at other parts of the world corn freights at that period would not be obtainable. His noble Friend had charged the Government with having neglected to apply all the means at their disposal to the assistance of trade in supplying the people with food. His noble Friend, however, had not, as had been represented, censured the Government for not using the ships of war in the conveyance of corn. All he said was, that there were five war steamers cruising off the coast of Portugal to no purpose whatever, which might have been made eminently useful in tugging into port the 600 or 800 wind-bound corn-laden vessels on the coast of Africa and in the Gut of Gibraltar. All these vessels had been detained by adverse winds; and in consequence of their late arrival in this country much suffering had been caused, and the cargoes of many of them had been spoiled and rendered worthless. There could be no doubt whatever of the services which had been done by the activity of merchants; and it was satisfactory to find, as stated by the noble Lord, that the energy with which the ordinary trade had been carried on, had provided 6,000,000 of the population with food; but still the argument of his noble Friend was true as regarded those particular vessels, and demonstrated the further benefits which the country would have derived at such a time by such an employment of the war steamers off Portugal. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had declared, that, whether the benefits from the suspension of the Navigation Laws proved to be great or small, he should yet consider it to be his duty to recommend such a Bill. Now, the House would recollect that at this moment a vigorous assault was being carried on against those laws; and they could not but apprehend danger to the permanent continuation of the system, if now, without sufficient reason being shown, they consented to the temporary suspension; and if it could be shown that but slight advantages were to be gained from the suspension of the law, they would be perfectly justified on general grounds in resisting such a measure. He, however, did not wish to avail himself to the utmost of that argument. They were fully sensible of the imperative necessity imposed upon them of, in the first instance, providing food for the people; and from no consideration of their own interests would the shipowners ever think of opposing any obstacle in the, way of the furtherance of such an object. But the absolute necessity must be proved. The danger of giving way in a question of the kind was, that those who were adverse to the law would make use of the concession as an argument in favour of its total repeal. He would not support a total repeal of the law; he saw no necessity for such a hazardous experiment, when, as in this case, it was in their power, by an Order in Council, or by a vote of that House, to remove restrictions which sometimes, in periods of extreme distress, might he objectionable, hut which generally were found to operate without injury to any class. Discussion, however, on that question must be reserved. The noble Lord had pledged himself, on the part of the Government, not to anticipate the evidence which was now being taken before the Committee; and he (Mr. Liddell) would therefore concede this point. He implored the noble Lord to give his dispassionate attention to the consideration of the Navigation Laws, with which, as he had admitted, were connected great national interests. He entreated the noble Lord to keep himself free from the bias of preconceived feelings in favour of free trade, and from all representations as to a fanciful analogy between laws giving protection to agriculture and laws affording security to British shipping; and if his powerful and comprehensive mind was fairly directed to the subject, he (Mr. Liddell) was satisfied that, with the firmness which he had so often exhibited, the noble Lord would resist the repeal of those laws, if the measure could only be urged on him on the ground that the concessions to the principles of free trade rendered a further step in that direction indispensable.


merely rose to say, that the hon. Gentleman had understood him quite correctly. He did not intend, in proposing a suspension of the law, to prejudge or pledge himself to the question.


believed that this Bill was called for by the peculiar circumstances in which the country had been placed. He did not fear that any injury whatever would be done to the shipowner, or that the pre-eminence of our commercial navy would, be at all diminished; and though corn might be scarce and ships plenty, the suspension of the Navigation Laws (as we understood the hon. Gentleman to say) would keep down freights, and so prevent the food of the people reaching an exorbitant price.


could not imitate preceding speakers in promising not to enter upon the general question, because he feared that, like those Gentlemen, he would not be able to keep the promise. As to this Bill, however, he should have been willing to support it, even had the suspension been proposed to be continued to a more distant period than March, 1848. He was one of those who for some time had taken the gloomiest view of our prospects of procuring food to meet the wants of our population, and especially the wants of the people of Ireland during the next year; and even though he considered it probable that there were more ships in proportion than the corn to be imported, he thought it would still be very dangerous to interpose between the consumer and producer, even in the smallest degree, any accession of prices. So far from thinking any argument which could now be brought forward ought to prevent them in September continuing the suspension, he was of opinion that the discussion on the subject could not come on at a more unfortunate time for those opposed to the repeal, than when the people, suffering perhaps from high prices, would be disposed to attribute all their sufferings to the operation of the Navigation Laws. They ought not to be discussed when they could not be considered fairly and impartially, and when the people would look upon them with suspicion; and for these reasons it was desirable that the suspension should not be continued for any shorter period than that ending in March next. But he wished likewise to call the attention of the Government to a subject which, though not directly connected with this question, had a somewhat close relation to it—he meant the subject of agricultural statistics. As an individual Member of Parliament, it was not for him to say what Bills the Government ought to favour or oppose; but he must say that, considering the state of the corn market during the last year, and the uncertainty that prevailed from the ignorance which existed as to the real extent of the crops, it must be matter of regret that means were not taken to ascertain from the home grower the amount of our supply; not that such returns were likely to be very accurate, but they would have afforded at least some data by which a knowledge might be obtained of what the probable supply of grain was. He therefore regretted that the Government had not allowed the Agricultural Statistics Bill to pass during the present Session, in order that for this year they might have obtained information which must have proved exceedingly valuable. Having the experience of last year before them, and having the prospect of a continuance of the same sufferings, he regretted that the Government should have prevented the passing of that Bill, which, if ever it could be useful, must have been especially so during the present year.


said, the noble Lord the Member for Lynn had referred to the great extent of shipping now available. Every one knew that there might be a temporary glut of shipping at a particular port; but the question was, whether ships could be chartered to load corn at foreign ports at lower rates than existed at the time the suspension of the Navigation Laws first took place. He maintained, that taking a practical view of the question, there was no better ground for resisting the suspension now proposed, than there was six months ago. Indeed, he was persuaded that the necessity for further suspending the Navigation Laws was greater now than it was then. The proposal of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn that ships of war should be employed in the importation of grain, was one of the most singular proposals he had ever heard made in that House.


must candidly acknowledge, with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that to send men-of-war to import corn would not be advisable nor politic; and he believed that our mercantile marine would be quite sufficient for that purpose. He did not intend to oppose the suspension now called for; but he should have been glad to have heard from the noble Lord that the countenance of this measure was not meant as a stepping-stone to the permanent repeal of the Navigation Laws, which he considered had been the means of greatly promoting the safety and prosperity of the country. He could have wished also that the noble Lord had attended rather to the evidence taken before the Committee on this subject, than to the report which they had made. It appeared to him that a majority of the Committee had been guided more by their preconceived notions of free trade, than by the evidence either for or against the continuance of the Navigation Laws; and from their views he entirely dissented. When he considered that the naval superiority of this country was maintained by those who had been trained in our commercial marine, he must raise a warning voice against any measure that might tend to injure that body; and he therefore hoped that the present suspension of the Navigation Laws would not be made a stepping-stone to the total repeal of these laws, which had a most intimate connexion with the well-being of the country.


was surprised to find that so much had been said about the proposition of his noble Friend the Member for Lynn with respect to men-of-war being employed in the importation of grain. That proposition was not made as the best that in ordinary circumstances could be adopted; but it proceeded on the assumption always alleged by the Government that the calamity was great—that the danger of a limited supply of food was imminent—that, in short, the calamity was so awful, that all the common means of obtaining food were insufficient; and that, therefore, the most extraordinary ought to be resorted to. Admitting the interference with trade that the employment of men-of-war would cause—admitting, indeed, every possible objection, still, he maintained that there was a justification of that proposal to be found in every speech that had been made. The principal proposal of his noble Friend, however, namely, that steamers should be employed, had not been answered by any one. The noble Lord at the head of the Government ended his speech by saying, that so great was the danger, so appalling the results that would follow from the famine, that though the benefit to be gained from the present suspension might be small, still they ought to do what they could to keep the ports of the country open to the importation of food, however little that importation might be; but why did the noble Lord not meet the great difficulty that lay in the way of importation? What was it that placed the greatest restriction on the importation of corn? It was the contrary winds and adverse tides; and those could only be successfully met by the employment of steamers to bring into our harbours the ships which, as in the case of those that so long lay in the Straits of Gibraltar and other places, were unable to reach our shores. Such was the proposal of his noble Friend; and, undoubtedly, it was one of the best means of importing grain into the country. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke had admitted that no more ships had come under the suspension of the Navigation Laws into English ports than would have come in had they not been suspended; but he said again, that great benefit had accrued to the country from the suspension of those laws in the facilities given to the importation of corn, and its consequent greater cheapness. If so, then it came simply to this, that the price of corn had been reduced, but that the quantity of grain had not been materially increased. Such, at least, was the conclusion which the statement of the hon. Gentleman had produced in his mind. The hon. Member for Stoke said he could not conceive any ground for the opposition of the noble Lord to the suspension, unless it was that he wished to do so for an electioneering purpose. Why, if the sentiments of hon. Gentlemen opposite on this and other subjects were as popular with constituencies as they represented them, what possible advantage could it be to his noble Friend, just when they were going to their constituents, to oppose a measure which, on the first blush of it, had so much the appearance of being a humane and merciful measure; and which measure was said by the hon. Gentleman to be in accordance with those principles that were believed to be so triumphant throughout the country? With respect to the general question—after the declaration of the noble Lord at the head of the Government—he thought they might place the most implicit reliance on the fairness and impartiality with which Government would come to a decision on the subject next year; but he would suggest to the noble Lord, whether, when they enforced the suspension of the Navigation Laws, the shipping interest had not some reasons to complain of the heavy duties they had to pay—for example, on policies of insurance? Those duties were most obnoxious in practice, and objectionable in principle; they were duties that ought never to have been imposed; and the present was a fair and legitimate opportunity of at least suspending them. He trusted that Her Majesty's Ministers would introduce a clause into the Bill in Committee for suspending these objectionable duties, and thus give a pledge to the shipping interest that they were fairly inclined to take every step that could tend, not only to secure the naval supremacy of England, but increase the efficiency of our mercantile marine. He could only say, that he placed the greatest confidence in the impartiality of Her Majesty's Government, and that, in those circumstances, he could have no objection to the proposal now before the House.


considered that the House was much indebted to the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) for the way in which he had introduced his views on this subject. One of the objects of the present discussion was to obtain the assurance that the present suspension of the Navigation Laws would not be used as a reason for their total repeal. This object had been attained; for the noble Lord had stated that he would make no use of the suspension to promote a total repeal. They had, however, received no answer to the statement that there was no necessity for further suspension, seeing there were more ships than there was corn to be brought into the country. Still, he did not think it would be wise to obstruct the Government in this matter, as there might be a feeling in the country that suspension would be of service; and he did not think that the prospects of the country were sufficiently developed to enable them to run any risk in the matter.


hoped that an opposition would not rise in the country in favour of the shipowners during the elections like that which had been raised in 1841 in favour of the farmers; for, if it were so, the shipowners would not unnaturally conclude that their fate would be the same.


said, after the declaration of the noble Lord, upon which he placed the utmost reliance, that he would give his unbiassed and impartial judgment to the evidence taken before the Navigation Laws Committee, he should not put the House to the trouble of dividing.

Bill read a second time.