HC Deb 10 August 1848 vol 101 cc56-60

House in Committee on the laws relating to navigation and the registration of ships and seamen.


said, that in placing in the hands of the Chairman the resolution he was about to move, it was scarcely necessary for him to remind the House that the Government had been compelled, very reluctantly, to give up all expectation of being able, during the present Session, to pass a Bill for the alteration of the navigation laws. He hoped the question might be brought under the notice of the House next year, at so early a period as to insure its receiving that full consideration which its importance deserved, and to enable Parliament to adopt a matured measure. It was not the intention of the Government to attempt to pass any measure on the subject during the present Session; but they were desirous to be enabled to lay their views before the House and the country in the shape of a Bill, which would be a much more satisfactory way of presenting the subject to their attention than by the statement of a Minister of the Crown, He believed there was a general disposition on the part of the House to assent to this course; and he considered that it would be altogether inconsistent with the spirit of the agreement which had been entered into if he were to say anything that could lead to a discussion on the subject. He begged, therefore, to place a resolution in the hands of the Chairman, with the object of enabling him to bring in a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman moved— That it is expedient to remove the Restrictions which prevent the free Carriage of Goods, by Sea, to and from the United Kingdom and the British Possessions Abroad, subject, nevertheless, to such Control by Her Majesty in Council as may be necessary; and to amend the Laws for the Registration of Ships and Seamen.


did not feel that he should be justified in entering into a discussion of the merits of the proposition, as the object of the Government was only to lay their measure completely before the House, and not carry it further this Session.


thought the Government could not be blamed for postpoing the measure. There could be no hope of passing one so complicated—involving such extensive interests, appealing so much to the feelings of large parties in and out of the House, and compelling the discussion of complex collateral questions—unless it were introduced at a very early period of the Session. Knowing, that with the mass of public business to be dealt with, it was very difficult for a Government to bring forward its measures as early as it would desire, he did not refer to this in the way of censure, but to express a hope that it might be submitted very early in the next Session, if not as the first measure of the Session. With respect to the form of the resolution, he confessed he should have preferred one of a more general character, not involving that peculiar feature of the Government plan—the reservation of a very large discretionary power to the Queen in Council; to his mind it was an extremely doubtful question whether the form in which the measure was thus shaped was the most conducive to the public interests; and he did not quite agree that, as a general rule, resolutions of this kind ought to be passed pro formâ, and without committing those who voted on them. It must be understood that he did not hold himself bound to any assent to this feature in the Government plan, but that that subject remained entirely open.


said, it had been the purpose of the Government to state their intentions and go into their general view before Christmas; but the pressure of other business induced them to postpone it; and, having been postponed to a later period, it was found impossible to proceed with the measure this Session. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he did not wish to be bound to the peculiar form in which this question was introduced, and that he thought the resolution ought to be in general terms. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman as to the nature of the resolution to be proposed; but, in this instance, it was originally made an objection that there was not a sufficiently specific resolution proposed; and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Herries), instead of going into Committee to discuss the question there, moved a previous resolution by which he wished the House to affirm the maintenance of the general principle of the navigation laws. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had said that he considered the peculiar form in which the repeal of the navigation laws was thus proposed to remain, perfectly open to discussion; it certainly would, but he would state, that though the Government had wished to introduce the measure in this particular form, there would be nothing to preclude them from reconsidering that form. The opinion of the House had been obtained upon the general question, whether the navigation laws should be maintained with exceptions, or repealed with exceptions, and there was a very decided majority against the proposition that the navigation laws ought to be maintained. This was the state of the question at present; and the Government having obtained that opinion of the House, it would be open to them to reconsider, if they should think proper, the form in which, in a future Session, they would propose the repeal of these laws. He quite agreed that, whatever the measure, it should be proposed early in the Session.


denied that the House had affirmed the principle of the Government measure. They had only negatived the counter resolution proposed.


would repeat what he had stated on a former occasion, that the population even of the shipping towns were in favour of this measure. At a public meeting in Sunderland, the opinion was almost unanimous in that direction; and three or four years ago, when the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Hudson) was first returned, though he had a majority of the shipowners at the poll, the sailors and artisans were for the abolition of the navigation and corn laws. When the sailors' procession assembled in Trafalgar-square not long since, he (Mr. Bright) asked one of them what they were going about; and the answer was, "that some of the people down the river had told them they were to eat black bread if the navigation laws were abolished." This was the sort of delusion attempted to he practised upon them. He wanted to make no boast of his sympathy for them—he wanted only what was just for the labourer; and in regard to this particular question, seeing how large a portion of the population of this country lived by industry employed on articles exported to foreign countries, and by the trade arising from the importation of foreign products, he saw nothing that could be more calculated to stimulate industry, and improve the condition of our labourers, as far as it went, than a measure which would throw open more extensively and freely the great highway of nations, across which those products were carried to and from this country. The hon. Member for Sunderland was in fact an exemplification of the want of soundness of his own principle; for perhaps no man had done more than the hon. Member to bring about a free communication between Scotland and the southern parts of this island. He was surprised, then, to see the hon. Member stand up in that House and support the miserable and obsolete code of the navigation laws. If the hon. Member would examine this question with the same plain common sense which he applied to the management of railways, and would trust less to the politics of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn than to his own powers, he would do better for himself and for the part which he took in the legislation of the House. But he (Mr. Bright) trusted, if this resolution were adopted as he hoped it would be, that the Government would in the next Session bring in a Bill with that sort of spirit and determination which, when exhibited from the Treasury bench, had a great effect not only in that but in the other House; for he found that when the Government brought forward in that House a somewhat good measure, and urged it feebly, and without some determination, some noble Lords in another place plucked up courage they otherwise would not have had, and threw out measures which, under other circumstances, they would have been willing to accept.


supposed that the resolution which had been placed in the hands of the Chairman was a true exposition of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman was about to lay on the table of the House, because otherwise those who had opposed the measure introduced by the Government would be in a false position.


said, that the hon. Member for Warwickshire had asked him whether the Bill he proposed to lay on the table was in accordance with the statement he had made when he brought this question before the House, and also with the resolution in the hands of the Chairman? He (Mr. Labouchere) should think that he was practising a sort of trick upon the House if the Bill were otherwise than in accordance with the resolution; and he thought when the hon. Gentleman compared that Bill with the resolution, and recollected what he (Mr. Labouchere) had stated on introducing the subject to the House, he would find that the Bill he was about to introduce carried into effect that which he then proposed. At the same time he did not consider himself precluded from taking advantage of any information or consideration he could give to the question during the recess. He would only repeat the assertion he made on the former occasion, that nothing would have induced him to propose this measure to the House if he had thought that those alterations were inconsistent either with the commercial greatness of this country or the maritime power which he felt was indissolubly connected with that commercial greatness. It was because he believed that by this wise and timely alteration we should secure the foundation upon which the most important national objects were based, that he had ventured to recommend it to the House.

Resolution agreed to. Bill to be brought in.