§ On the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate,
begged to be permitted to trespass for a few minutes on the attention of the House while he offered an observation in reference to some remarks which he had the honour of making on the last night that the subject of the navigation laws was under consideration. He was as jealous as any man could possibly be of the credit and commerce of this country, and he should be very sorry if any act or word of his should be construed so 180 as to give colour to a contrary supposition. It would be in the recollection of the House that in the course of his speech a few evenings since, he read an extract from a letter, dated Rio de Janeiro, the 1st of April, 1848, in which there occurred a statement to the effect, that—British ships, some of them twelve-year vessels, were lying in that port unable to get a charter, such was their character, or that of their captains, for carelessness and bad delivery of their captains.And that that happened while foreign ships found no difficulty in obtaining employment. He also referred to the fact that the statement to the same effect had been posted, during the same week, in Lloyd's Coffee-house. When he made those statements an hon. Member opposite, the Member for Poole, who was, he believed, chairman of Lloyd's, used the words, "It is altogether untrue." [Mr. ROBINSON: I said it was absolutely untrue.] He was willing to accept the hon. Member's own version; but, after all, there was not much difference between it and the version that had appeared in the public journals. But the point to which he desired to direct attention was this—whether these words of denial referred, as the House generally understood them to do, to the fact that such a document as that to which he had alluded had been posted at Lloyd's, or whether they were designed to refer to the fact that such British vessels were lying unemployed at Rio de Janeiro, was what he did not very clearly comprehend, and he was anxious to give the hon. Member an opportunity of explaining what he really did mean. Since he last had the honour of addressing the House, he had received letters from several gentlemen of high mercantile position in the city of London, some of them members of Lloyd s, in which he was assured that the fact of the notice to which he had alluded having been posted up in the coffee-room of that establishment was a fact which did not admit of dispute, but was notorious to the secretaries, officials, and at least half a dozen of the leading members. In fact, several who themselves had seen the notice and read it, had written to him to corroborate his statement. With respect to the letter from Rio de Janeiro, an extract from which he had read to the House, he begged to say that he had received it from a gentleman of the most undoubted respectability. That gentleman was a stranger to him, and was strongly opposed to his views with 181 respect both to the navigation laws and free trade; but he had written to him to say that so jealous was he of the character of the British commercial marine, that he had felt it to be his duty to make known to the public a fact of so extraordinary a nature as that which was disclosed in the letter. It was thus that the communication had passed into his hands; and since then he had received another letter from the same gentleman, in which he repeated his former statements, and quoted in corroboration of them the assertions of the secretaries and officials of Lloyd's. The original letter from Rio de Janeiro had also been sent to him, containing the statement which he had read to the House; and, on persuing that document, he found that the original words were precisely the same as those which he had cited. The statement which had been posted up at Lloyd's was not quoted from the letter in question, but from another letter altogether, which was addressed to Messrs. J. Robinson and Son, and which, it was worthy of remark, corroborated word for word the letter from Rio de Janeiro, which he had himself submitted to the House. It was right that an opportunity should be afforded to the hon. Member for Poole of explaining whether he had meant to deny the accuracy of the information that had come from Rio de Janeiro, or to impugn the statement that such a document as that to which allusion had been made had been posted up in Lloyd's, and was taken down half an hour afterwards by direction of some of the members.
§ MR. ROBINSON
It was his intention to address the House on the subject of the navigation laws, and he should prefer, unless the House should desire otherwise, to reserve his explanation until he had an opportunity of speaking on the general question. [" Go on."] Well, then, he bad to say that in point of fact, there was very little difference between the hon. Gentleman and himself. There was no difference of opinion at all as to the fact of such a letter or extract as that alluded to having been posted up at Lloyd's; nor could there be any as to the perfect accuracy of the quotation read to the House by the hon. Member. His denial was designed to refer exclusively to the inference which was sought to he deduced from the fact of there being eight first-class vessels at Rio de Janeiro which remained unfreighted, while foreign vessels were obtaining freights. The inference sought to be established, was that 182 the vessels were unfreighted on account of the bad character of the ships and of the masters. That was the inference which he had intended to deny, and he would take leave on a future occasion to explain to the House the reasons why he knew that inference to be erroneous. As for the letter from Rio de Janeiro, not only did he admit it to be genuine, but he knew that it was written by a highly respectable gentleman.
§ MR. MITCHELL
had seen the original letter from Rio de Janeiro, to John Robinson and Son. It was a business letter, and contained this plain statement of facts: that there were at Rio de Janeiro eight British ships, which could not obtain cargoes, not because of any defect in the vessels, but because of the bad character of the English captains as to taking care of their cargoes, A gentleman who had arrived from Rio de Janeiro by the last packet corroborated the statement, and went even so far as to say, that most of the great mercantile houses in Europe had given general directions that English ships should not be chartered (so bad was the character of their captains) if foreign vessels should be procured.
, resuming the adjourned debate, said, he was decidedly of opinion that the repeal of the navigation laws would be beneficial to the country. There could be no doubt but that it would operate as advantageously as the various changes which from time to time during the last twenty years had been introduced into our commercial policy. Those changes were at first regarded with great uneasiness, but the result had proved that they had worked well, and that the tonnage of the British commercial marine, so far from having diminished, had most materially increased by reason of them. He was at a loss to account for the alarm with which the proposition for the repeal of the navigation laws was in some quarters regarded. Any apprehension that our shipping trade would be fatally injured by it, and that the ships of the United States would become formidable rivals to those of England, appeared to be very irrational. The House did not appear to he thoroughly aware of the nature of the competition into which we were called upon to enter, or of England's resources to sustain that competition. The commercial marine of Great Britain was the largest and most powerful in the world, and need not dread any rivalry. Its enormous magnitude could only 183 be appreciated by contrasting it with the commercial marines of other countries. The proportion of foreign tonnage was thus calculated:—1846, France, 604,000; 1838, Austria, 128,000; Norway,212,000; Sweden, 118,000; Russia (steamers), 45,000; 1846, Prussia, 148,000: Holland, 339,000; total, 1,594,000. To this add, 1846, America, 2,562,000; total, 4,156,000. Great Britain, 3,817,000. Add one-fifth for difference of registration, 750,000; actual tonnage of Great Britain, 4,567,000. The following calculations would also attest the pre-eminence of England. Trade with Rio, 1842: British, 14,382; American, 34,976; Swedish, 12,856; Danish, 13,747; Hamburgh, 8,458; Bremen, 3,053–1844: British, 22,628; American, 53,607; Swedish, 16,992; Danish, 12,463; Hamburgh, 11,267; Bremen, 2,797. In 1844, British tonnage to England and colonies, 13,200; ditto to Austria, Antwerp, Hamburgh, and Bremen, 17,250. In 1844, American tonnage to America, 50,798; all other ports, 2,809; total, 53,607. The measure could not be much longer delayed; and he was of opinion that the sooner it was properly adjusted the better. But while he was an earnest advocate for the measure on principle, he thought it right to observe, that many of the details, as sketched out by the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, required, in his opinion, to be carefully reconsidered. For the retention of the navigation laws he was not anxious, for it was his decided opinion that their good effect ceased as soon as England came into real competition with foreigners. When the rates of freightage were the same in English ships as in foreign, those laws became useless. He should certainly vote for going into Committee; but he wished it to be understood that he reserved to himself the right of pursuing such course, in reference to the details of the question, as might appear to him most judicious.
§ MR. G. R. ROBINSON
said, there never was a measure submitted to the Legislature, involving such serious consequences as the present, and of such momentous importance to the shipping and commercial interests of the country, so feebly supported, or submitted upon such inconclusive grounds, as the proposition of the Government for the alteration of the navigation laws. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere) appeared to lay great stress upon a petition presented 184 by him from the principal bankers and merchants of the city of London in support of the measure. He believed the right hon. Gentleman had stated that it was signed by 272 persons. Now, he had had the curiosity to examine the petition, not having heard of it before, and he could assure the House, that although there were the names of some who were no doubt respectable merchants, there were very few who came under the denomination (and he did not mean in the least to impugn the respectability of the parties who had signed it) of considerable merchants, having a large stake in the trade and commerce of the country. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: There are the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England.] There were bankers and merchants, a large number of solicitors, and others, who were tradesmen and shopkeepers. If the right hon. Gentleman laid so much stress upon the petition, he asked him what he thought of the petition presented by his right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford, signed by 1,900 and upwards of the principal bankers and traders of the city of London? If the right hon. Gentleman would take the trouble to look at the names subscribed to that petition, he would see that the other petition bore no comparison whatever to it in point of numbers or importance. He ventured to say, that the disproportion between the petition presented by the'- right hon. Gentleman, and that presented by his right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford, which were signed respectively by 272 on the one hand, and about 2,000 on the other, was probably a fair representation of the proportion of the people of England who supported and opposed the proposition of the Government. The measure was not called for by any consideration either of policy or expediency; and he could not account for the Government persevering or pushing forward such a measure upon any other ground than that, unfortunately for themselves, they had committed themselves to the public upon this question, and it required more moral courage than they possessed to admit that they were in the wrong. The right hon. Gentleman had supported the measure upon another ground—namely, that the people of Jamaica had petitioned for an alteration of these laws, and that the House of Assembly of Canada were also in favour of an alteration. Both these facts were undeniable; he did not, however, believe that a numerical majority 185 of the people of Jamaica or of Canada were in favour of the Government measure. But because the Government had, by its injudicious policy, taken away the protection which those colonies formerly enjoyed, by which they had been brought to the verge of ruin, they were now seeking to indemnify those parties at the expense of the British shipowners. He, however, attached no value to the proposition of the Government, because, while it inflicted deep injury upon the British shipowner, it would not ward off the evils which the colonies endured. It was said, that Prussia had threatened, if England did not make these changes, that we might expect reprisals. He hoped, however, that the country was not yet in such a position that they should legislate for the interests of their commerce and navigation under the menace of Prussia or any other State. Were they reduced to such a position as that? He ventured to say they were not. Nor did Prussia give them any encouragement to act liberally, for she maintained the high duties of the Zollverein against us. But while Prussia was menacing, the United States was said to be offering measures of reciprocity. Having looked for many years past at the measures of the United States, he could not discover anything of a liberal policy in the commercial regulations of that country. Did the right hon. Gentleman believe, that if they passed this measure, it would make any material change in the commercial regulations of the United States with Great Britain? He would give the right hon. Gentleman one fact to show how little reliance could be placed upon calculations of reciprocity. He found it stated in a Washington paper, as soon as it was ascertained that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had informed Mr. Bancroft that it was the intention of this country to give up the navigation laws, that they were delighted to hear that England was disposed to accede to the wishes of the United States, because, in doing so, they had no doubt that the enterprise of their merchants and shipowners would enable them to secure a very large share of the trade with the British colonies. One of the worst features of the Government proposition was, that if it were carried out, nearly the whole of our colonial trade would fall into the hands of the Americans. If that concession was made, he believed it would be utterly impossible to compete with them upon equal terms. From the time 186 of Washington to Polk, the whole efforts of the Americans had been directed to increase and extend their commercial influence, and establish a powerful maritime force; and they now boasted that their commercial marine equalled any other in the world. Now, the House would bear in mind that that was said independently of any change in the navigation laws; and how much more advantageous would their position be if the present measure was passed into law? Was it meant to be said that America had any right to be offended if the British Government did not accede to her wishes? He would recommend the right hon. Gentleman, if he entertained any such idea, to read a passage in a letter of Mr. Canning, addressed to the American Minister, relative to the subject of permitting intercourse on the part of the United States with the British colonies. Mr. Canning, in a despatch to Mr. Gallatin, said that—In the alliances of States, any more than in the friendships of private life, it was not among the duties incumbent on either to submit to unequal compacts; nor had it been held an offence against such duties that a nation, any more than an individual, should decline such uncompensated sacrifices.He would ask what compensation did they anticipate from the United States? Nothing beyond what they at present enjoyed. He complained of the conduct of the Government, not for bringing forward the present measure, because if they believed it would be beneficial they were justified in doing so; but he complained of the mode and the manner in which they had done it, and the means they had condescended to have recourse to in order to support it. He alluded more particularly to the letters that had been addressed to the British consuls abroad. In consequence of the confident manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had spoken of those letters, as making out a triumphant case against the unfortunate shipmasters and the British commercial marine, he had been induced to read them, and he would tell the right hon. Gentleman that his own witnesses did not bear out his statements. So far from reporting unfavourably of the character and conduct of the British masters and sailors, many of them had given most favourable testimony. He would observe that the British consuls were not in all cases the most competent judges upon such matters: they had been most of them military men, accustomed to a strict standard of discipline, and not disposed to make much 187 allowance for men coming off a six months' cruise, and indulging occasionally in an extra glass of grog. But the Government, it would appear, had directed Mr. Murray to write to those gentlemen to state all cases of complaint and insubordination that had come to their knowledge. Now, he thought the Government was not justified in writing a letter asking such leading testimony. They should have rather stated, that, whereas they were about to bring forward a measure for the repeal of the navigation laws, it was desirable that the consul should report such observations respecting the state of the British commercial marine as had come to his knowledge. On the contrary, the Government directed them to report all the cases that had come under their observation detrimental to the character of the British marine. Was it worthy of the Government to seek to, blacken the character of a respectable body of men? Knowing them as he did, he did not hesitate to say that they were as respectable in their sphere as any other body of men in the British empire. The House would, he trusted, excuse him if he read two or three passages from those consuls' reports. In his opinion they were most remarkable and curious, and some of them spoke in very high terms of the masters of the British vessels. He would state the opinions of some of these gentlemen as shortly as possible, because, probably, many hon. Members would not think it worth their while to look into those blue books when a Minister made a declaration that the consuls had reported unfavourably, and might take it for granted that the fact was precisely as he stated it. Mr. Brooker, viceconsul at Cronstadt, stated, that during his experience of fifty-nine years he had met with only two cases of masters of British vessels who were charged with obstructing the custom-house officers in the execution of their duty, and that both of them were acquitted. There were only two cases of seamen who were charged with theft. Now, during that time there had been in the port an average of 500 ships each year, and in the whole period 29,500 sail, with 295,000 sailors; and the vice-consul observed that in so large a number the circumstances he had detailed did not merit a thought, as many more crimes and faults would have been committed by an equal number of landsmen. That was one of the right hon. Gentleman's witnesses. Colonel Whitehead, consul at 188 Archangel, stated that some instances of misconduct had occurred, but they were comparatively rare; and some cases in which gross ignorance, except in the practical knowledge necessary to navigate a ship, was found, which rendered the masters a disgrace to the British marine. He added that within the last few years there had been a marked improvement among the crews of British ships. The native Russian sailors were said to be exceedingly troublesome from their intemperate habits. Colonel Wright, of Riga, stated that the British vessels always obtained a preference at that port; that the crews were steady and well conducted, many of them being members of the Temperance Society. Mr. Jeanes, consul at Odessa, wrote precisely to the same effect. Similar testimony was borne by Mr. Liddell, the consul at Memel, and by Mr. Macgregor, vice-consul at Elsineur, who said consuls were placed on the shady side of the proceedings. [An attempt was made to count the House out, which proved ineffectual.] He knew he had no right to claim any indulgence from the House on his own account; but, considering the importance of the subject, he did hope that hon. Members would bear with him while he shortly stated his views on this interesting subject. He would not say any more respecting the consuls; he had said enough to show the House that the consuls' reports were not, generally speaking, unfavourable to British shipmasters. He would now advert for a moment to what had passed at an earlier part of the evening with respect to the hon. Member for West-bury (Mr. Wilson). The statement which that hon. Gentleman had made, was, in point of fact, perfectly correct. The only difference between that hon. Gentleman and himself was, as to the inference to be drawn from the statement respecting the English vessels which were lying in the port of Rio Janeiro on the 1st of April last, and which the hon. Gentleman said were not freighted, on account of the bad character of the masters of the vessels. Now, the Committee of Lloyd's received by every packet a report from their agents, prepared, of course, without any reference to the navigation laws or any other political subject, but purely as a matter of business; and in the report they had received from their agents at Rio, dated the 1st of April, he found a very different explanation of the fact referred to from that given by the hon. Member. The statement of the hon. Gentleman was, that all the foreign 189 vessels then at Rio were getting freights, and that all the British vessels were not freighted, thus leading to the inference that no British vessel could get a cargo. From the letter referred to, however, it appeared that of eighteen loaded vessels there were four of them English, one Hamburgh, one Bremen, seven Danish, two Swedish, two Russian, and one French; and with respect to the eight English vessels in the port, which, in the letter of which he complained, were said to be without cargoes, so far from this being true, it appeared that the reason why they were not loaded or loading was, that the masters refused to accept the low freights which were offered to them, and that they were waiting in the hope that when the foreign vessels were despatched they would get higher rates of freights. This statement had been confirmed by the consignee of one of those vessels, a merchant in London, who had called upon him and told him the fact. He begged to tell the hon. Member for Westbury, therefore, that he had accepted the information he had received too readily, and that he was too credulous, and that before using the information he ought to have taken pains to ascertain not only that it was correct, but that his inference from it was correct also. [Mr. WILSON: It was not my inference.] The right hon. Gentleman, who introduced this discussion, stated that Holland was a country which, without the navigation laws, had at one time possessed a large mercantile marine, and an amount of commerce extraordinary for such a country. That was perfectly true; but what analogy was there between the state of Holland at that time, and the state of England at the present moment? At that time Holland had scarcely any competition compared with what we had at present. Besides, Holland had not a debt of 800,000,000l., nor had she such expensive naval, military, and civil departments to keep up as we had; nor had she, like us, to raise taxes (including local burdens) to the extent of 70,000,000l. a year. And therefore, although Holland had been able to maintain a large commercial marine without the navigation laws, that afforded no reason to expect that we should be able to do so also with the heavy competition we had to sustain. Should the Government be able to prevail on Members of that House, many of whom, he knew, had gone so far in free-trade principles, and had committed themselves to such an extent, that it was 190 scarcely possible to expect them to stop short now, to expose British shipowners to competition with foreigners without protection, he could assure them that the effect of throwing open the colonial trade to foreigners, not to say anything as to what was called the long voyage, must be in the course of a few years to displace a large portion of the commercial marine of this country to make room for foreign nations, who hereafter might become our rivals. But of what importance was that? asked some hon. Member, when a naval officer of some standing had stated in his evidence that a commercial marine was of no use to the Navy. After a life spent in intimate connexion with things of this kind, and a very large acquaintance amongst naval men, he could not have believed, until he read Sir James Stirling's evidence, that any naval officer of any standing and experience would have ventured to state such an opinion; and if any Gentleman laid any stress on it, he would recommend him to wait for the report of the House of Lords; for although he could not anticipate what their report would be, he should be greatly mistaken if it did not produce the evidence of greater naval authority to controvert that statement—indeed, it had already been directly contradicted by the statements made on a former evening in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch (Captain Harris). He would like to know from the Lords of the Admiralty whether they were prepared with any other plan for manning the Navy in cases of emergency than the one now in existence, before they exposed our commercial marine to such fearful competition as was now proposed? He had seen Sir James Stirling's plan, which was to keep up so large a peace naval establishment as to render the Navy comparatively independent of the commercial marine. He did not know whether the hon. Member for Montrose was prepared to acquiesce in this substitute; but he very much doubted whether the Government would succeed in passing such a measure in the present state of affairs. Another thing of which he had to complain, was the attempt to connect the British shipowner with the system of impressment. What had the shipowners to do with that except to complain of it as depriving them of their best men, and putting them to an enormous expense in finding substitutes at a much higher rate of wages? The system of impressment was 191 an Admiralty system. He was as much opposed to it as any man could be; he believed it to be an arbitrary and unconstitutional proceeding, only to be justified by extreme necessity, though, so far as he could form a judgment, he did not see how it could be dispensed with in cases of emergency without exposing this country to imminent danger. As a shipowner, however, and on behalf of the shipowners, he assured the Government that he should be much obliged to them if they could hit upon any substitute for impressment. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent spoke of the apprenticeship system, and made use of an extraordinary expression. The hon. Member accused the shipowners, in his celebrated Anatomy of the Navigation Laws, of training up apprentices for the purpose of being kidnapped by the Admiralty. It was not the merchants who had introduced the apprenticeship system; it had been forced on them by the Government, to their great detriment; and the right hon. Gentleman who proposed to expose the shipping to unrestricted competition, did not propose to remove the peculiar burdens to which it was liable. Therefore it was not free trade which he proposed; it was not fair play. It was absolutely giving a preference to the foreigner over the British shipowner. Was the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer prepared to allow our shipbuilders to import timber, free of duty, for the purpose of building ships? It was stated in a petition from Sunderland, that the difference of cost, in timber alone, in a ship of 200 tons, built here, as compared with one built in the north of Europe, was 250l., and there were various other charges incidental to the shipowner of this country from which the foreigner was altogether exempt. The right hon. Gentleman got over this difficulty by offering to allow them to build ships abroad, and then giving them the benefit of a British register; but he believed the British shipowner wished for no such alteration. If any doubt existed as to the difficulty of competing with foreigners, he would refer to one or two points of detail. In 1846 the vessels entering inwards from Sweden were 94, from Norway 27, equalling 2,909 tons; Denmark 63, equalling 6,941 tons; Prussia 442, equalling 63,284 tons; the United States 330, equalling 205,132 tons. The difference between vessels entering inwards from those States from 1824 up to 1846 in favour of foreign as compared with British vessels was no less than 3,980 192 vessels, equalling 700,607 tons. He had a table showing the great disproportion between the American and our own shipping carrying on the trade between the United States and this country. What would be the case if the navigation laws were repealed? All the great authorities, it had been well observed, were supporters of the navigation laws. His right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford had expressed his respect for the memory of Mr. Huskisson; and certainly no man who had known him, and the powers of his mind, and the vast industry which he brought to every subject connected with these questions, could doubt for a moment that he was by far the ablest statesman who had ever existed in this country in treating such subjects. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had also spoken of Mr. Huskisson with great respect the other evening; but in what way did he show his respect? By taking a course exactly the opposite of that which Mr. Huskisson recommended. Lord Wallace urged that the keeping of the intercolonial and coasting trade to our own shipping was a point which no statesman ought to give up who looked to providing for the defence of the country. If he were to go back to the time of Adam Smith, whom hon. Members opposite were fond of quoting when it suited their purpose, it would be found he expressed no opinions more strongly than those in favour of the navigation laws. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had, in his speech the other night, complimented the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Ricardo) upon the ability which he displayed in his work, the Anatomy of the Navigation Laws—upon the manner in which he had treated the question in that work. Now, he differed altogether in opinion from the right hon. Gentleman, inasmuch as he thought, that, with the exception of the historical part of the work, its contents were a tissue of ribaldry and prejudice; and he would state that the shipowners had a just right to complain of the manner in which they were alluded to in it. The hon. Member for Stoke said the other evening that British shipowners were not in the habit of building first-rate vessels; and, moreover, that they did not employ first-rate and efficient officers and crews to navigate them. Now, doubtless, the hon. Member had heard of Mr. Dunbar, Mr. Wigram, Mr. Green, Mr. Somes, Mr. Smith, and many others, who were the 193 most extensive shipowners in Great Britain, or in the world; and was he prepared to prove that those gentlemen were in the habit of sailing inefficient ships, and of manning them by persons incompetent properly to navigate them? But to return to the hon. Member's work on the subject. He repeated that the shipowners had a right to complain of their treatment in it, because the hon. Member had moved for, and obtained, a Committee to inquire into the subject; and they had, therefore, a right to assume that he would deal with the question impartially and without prejudice. On the contrary—and, as he believed, contrary to the evidence given before the Committee—the hon. Member, speaking of free trade generally, stated, "That a verdict had been pronounced against a long and grown-up system of exclusion of foreign shipping and foreign produce. It was settled that trade, in all its branches and appliances in this country, must be free, and meet, by its own strength, the world in open competition." Now, for his part, he did not, by any means, think that those questions were at all settled; on the contrary, he believed they were in a very unsettled state, and that the agitation consequent upon that state had had the effect of reducing to pauperism a large class of persons who were formerly engaged in the building and navigation of British vessels; and he was further of opinion that if this measure were carried, not only would the shipping interests suffer, but those who were engaged in other branches of commerce would be losers, and hundreds of thousands added to the mass of pauperism which at present existed throughout the kingdom. Let Her Majesty's Government look at the condition of the people throughout the different districts of the country, and he would ask them whether they really were of opinion that this was a period for making such a vast and hazardous experiment as repealing the navigation laws? He would ask them where was the necessity for such a measure? The disadvantages of such a course of proceeding were enormous, and the advantages were not in any way apparent, at least to him. The hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Treat had in his publication upon this question taken most unworthy means to ridicule and abuse the shipowners. That he had no right to do, notwithstanding he might be of opinion that the navigation laws ought to be repealed. He (Mr. Robinson) would not, 194 however, follow the hon. Member into that subject, but he would come to the important question raised by the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. J. Wilson) as to the effect which the navigation laws had upon the extension of commerce. The hon. Member said that they operated as an impediment to it. Now, he (Mr. Robinson) did not deny that in particular cases they did stand in the way of commerce; but his own conscientious opinion was, that those cases were so few and so insignificant, that, compared with the importance of maintaining the shipping interests of the country, our maritime power, and the trading connected with our mercantile marine, they afforded no grounds whatever for repealing the navigation laws. He was by no means desirous of occupying the time of the House, as he would have other opportunities, he presumed, of making observations upon the question before it; but he begged to say, that he would give every opposition to the proposal of the Government, unless they consented to adopt the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries)—he should, perhaps, say, unless they adopted the more sober, rational, and politic view of his right hon. Friend. The proposition of the Government amounted to nothing more nor less than the repeal of the navigation laws, excepting the coasting trade and the fisheries. He thought that there might be many changes made in favour of liberal commercial policy, provided other countries would follow our example, and give us something in return. But what made him hesitate in agreeing to such changes was, that the further those free-trade principles were pushed, whilst other countries acted upon opposite maxims, in the greater difficulties would we involve ourselves. In his opinion the result of nearly all the changes that had recently been made in our commercial code, proved eminently disadvantageous to the interests of this country, No wonder that discontent had been manifested throughout the realm by the working classes, and that so many I Chartist meetings had taken place; and he firmly believed, that if the navigation laws I were repealed, that discontent would be aggravated by the distress which would follow it. Looking at the present state of the world, he asked, would it not have been wiser on the part of the Government to have postponed the consideration of this question until the next Session of Parliament? The present period was most inopportune 195 for bringing it forward. At least they might have waited until they had an opportunity of seeing the report of the Committee of the other House upon the subject, which he hoped would throw a different light on it from that in which it was viewed by the Ministry.
§ MR. MITCHELL
begged to be allowed to offer a few observations to the House, in reply to the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. He had made so many assertions that it was really necessary that he (Mr. Mitchell) should make him some answer. The hon. Gentleman had undertaken to defend the character of the English captains; but as Chairman of Lloyd's, he ought not to have been ignorant of the facts respecting the bad care the captains took of their cargoes. The hon. Gentleman had expressed upon the subject an opinion directly opposite to that held by the whole of the underwriters of Lloyd's. He (Mr. Mitchell) was perfectly convinced the hon. Gentleman could not contradict the assertions which had been made. Two of the underwriters of Lloyd's had given evidence before the Committee of that House last year confirmatory of what he had asserted. As to the hon. Gentleman's denial of the affair at Rio, to which allusion had been made, it was well known that English ships were as well built—that they were, in fact, better built than most other ships, and they could therefore be insured on better terms than any other—but it was equally well known that the cargoes shipped in British vessels could not be insured on as good terms as those shipped in other vessels. The evidence on that point by those two underwriters of Lloyd's was very striking. One of these gentlemen (Mr. Cumming), who was one of the most eminent men in Lloyd's, mentioned a case strikingly in point. There were two vessels, one of which was English, the other American. They were both freighted with sugar, and insured at St. Petersburgh. The sugar on board the English ship was insured at 3 per cent; that on the American at 2¾: both vessels arrived at the same time. There was no claim made on the part of the American vessel; but the damage to the cargo of the English ship was so great that it nearly swallowed up the whole of the insurance charges. The information respecting the affair at Rio was communicated from a most respectable house in Rio to a most respectable house in London, by a gentleman who was not in any way connected 196 with a party. But the general order was, not to take insurances on cargoes in English ships upon the same terms as those in foreign vessels, because there was not the same care taken of the cargoes by the captains. As to the British consuls to whom the hon. Gentleman had referred, from how many consuls had letters been received? Why, from nearly every British consul in the world. The hon. Gentleman had only quoted five; and had forgotten the consul at St. Petersburg. The hon. Gentleman should have also recollected that Sir Edward Baines was the individual who had supplied Lord Stanley with the celebrated statistics of the quantity of corn grown at Tamboff. He (Mr. Mitchell) could mention a case in point. He had himself chartered an English vessel with an English captain, from Cronstadt. For several weeks the captain was never seen, being all the time in a state of drunkenness. At last the mate and crew managed to get about two-thirds of a cargo shipped. The captain was got on board and they sailed. He thought he had so far done with him. But no; the ship was stopped again at Elsinore. Ultimately, six months after his time, he came to London. He went to his lawyer and said, "Here is a man who has kept me out of my cargo months beyond the time, and it is not now worth so much as it would have been three or four months ago; what redress can I have?" The lawyer replied, there was only one mode of proceeding—first, to pay freight and all expenses, and then to bring an action against the captain. So that the merchant was left completely at the mercy of the captain, who might not be worth even the costs of an action. Now, Mr. Brooker ought to have had cognisance of that case. But it was hardly necessary to go into any further details to show the effect of those laws. As to Canada, the case was most monstrous. They were shortly to have flour from Canada on precisely the same footing as that from other countries. But what did Mr. Gillespie, who was one of the best authorities upon the subject, say? The average rate of freights in 1842, or 1845—he (Mr. Mitchell) was not sure of the exact year, but it was one of the forties—the rate of freights of flour from Canada to this country was 4s. 9¼d. the barrel. At the same time the freight from New York was only 2s. 1d. The difference of time occupied on the voyage was, from Canada, on the average, thirty-five 197 days; from New York, twenty-five days. Taking the difference, then, of one-third more for the cost of freightage from Canada, for the greater distance, it ought to be 2s. 9d. from New York, when it was 4s. 9d. from Canada, supposing the freightage on the same scale in both places. So that it would be seen that there was a very heavy charge imposed upon the Canadians in their competition with the United States by the operation of the navigation laws. As to the expected reduction in freight, he never grounded his support to the present resolutions on such au expectation. What he looked for was, equalisation of the freightage rates with those of the Continental vessels; and his firm opinion was, that by increasing the liberties of trading, they would increase the general trade of the world. And as that would not increase the quantity of shipping at the same time, the consequence would he rather an advance than a decline in the rates. He had been for a length of time at Riga unable to procure a single British ship in which to send a cargo to England, whilst, at the same time, there were vessels belonging to foreign ports shipping cargoes in abundance. It was absurd to say that such restrictions were useful. They did no good to British shipping. This country was by far the greatest consumer of tea, sugar, coffee, and other articles of foreign produce. Those articles would be brought to the country which offered the best market; and the consequenee would he that England would become the depôt of all Europe. Hamburgh had been. But the hulk of those goods would he brought to the English market, in which the greatest quantity was consumed; and should sudden reverses take place, such as hurricanes in the West Indies, or the fly in the cotton crop, the consumers and manufacturers of England would have the advantage of supplying themselves on cheaper terms than any other people, they being nearer to the depôt of those goods. Employment would be given to our docks, our warehouses, and our shipping. And did it not stand to reason that in the case of England being made such a depôt, English ships would be employed, as being nearest to hand, and would always command an advantage in getting employment? Such was the trade they had hitherto kept themselves out of, by not making England the depôt of Europe. He had heard no argument tending to alter his opinion upon any of the subjects which had been touched. 198 But as to the timber duties, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to take off the remaining duties on foreign timber. The chief foreign timber coming into this country was fir; and the revenue derived from the duties on it was so small, that it might be safely sacrificed for the sake of admitting foreign oak. But he asserted that ships could be built in our North American colonies of the hard firs, such as larch, cheaper than they could he constructed in the north of Europe; and in the matter of outfit we had altogether the advantage of the Americans. The yarn for making sailcloth was an article of considerable export to Germany from this country. But he would just state what was the cost of fitting out ships here. They were—about 1l. per ton. for sailcloth; 1l. a ton for cordage and running rigging; 10s. a ton for iron work, of course supposing the vessel timber built; and 5s. a ton for copper work, not of course including copper sheathing. The entire cost was therefore about 2l. 15s. per ton; and he invited the hon. Gentleman to go over the world, and find if he could, any place in which a cheaper outfit could be had than that. Then, about the crews. As regarded the captains, they were far better paid in the Baltic than they were in the English service, with the exception of those engaged in the service of China and India. But they could not expect to have good steady sailors if they were to he ruled by a man who was always half sober and half drunk. As regarded the seamen in the Baltic trade, he was prepared to admit that the common seamen of Sweden, Russia, and Prussia, were paid lower wages than seamen in British vessels; but he would take another country: he would take the United States, and he would remind the House that if there were danger of any country displacing them in the carrying trade, it was the United States; and he would ask, were the seamen in American vessels paid less than I those in English ships? The very reverse was the fact. He believed that the lowest wages paid to seamen in the United States was 3l. a month, whereas here their wages did not exceed 45s., or at most 50s. a month; and one of the consequences of this difference was, that the United States ships were manned chiefly by English seamen. And yet the American navy was increasing faster than the English, and their ships also commanded greater freights, in consequence of the greater care that their captains took of their cargoes. But 199 there was another reason to be drawn in favour of the view which he took of this question, from the system of the navigation laws itself. The American navigation laws were entirely based on those of England. The Americans were ready to alter their laws, if this country did so; and he had a right, therefore, to put the matter in this light. But how did those laws affect this country? At present the trade between the two countries was carried on in either British or American vessels. The import trade into this country from America might be carried on in ships of either country; but when they came to consider the return trade, what did they find? Nearly all the cargoes that went out to the United States were assorted cargoes, consisting partly of English manufactured goods, partly of goods brought from Germany, and partly of articles the produce of India. Now none of these cargoes could be taken out in English vessels, and the result was that this country was thrown out of the entire carrying trade to America. Again, there were certain trades which were totally unprotected, and yet these were the very trades that required most protection, according to the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite: the trades between Norway and England, for instance. According to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, it was one of those trades in which there was not the least cause to dread the effects of competition, though, at the same time, there could he no doubt but that, as far as that trade was concerned, the English shipowner was placed under peculiar disadvantages. Nearly all the ships engaged in the timber trade between the Baltic and this country were owned by the houses that shipped the wood from Norway and Sweden to England; and as they could, therefore, he always depended upon, they would, even from that reason alone, command a preference over English ships. The English ships engaged in the Baltic trade carried lumber, or wood, or coal, according to whichever description of cargo might be best at the time. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen might know that it was of the greatest importance that the deals should arrive at market in a clean state; but in vessels engaged in this indiscriminate trade it was often impossible to effect this object; and he had himself got large quantities of timber from Russia so dirty as to be absolutely unsaleable. That was another reason why the timber trade was 200 carried on at a disadvantage in English ships. But that was not all. The English shipowners were exposed to this competition with all the additional disadvantages to complain of that had been described to the House. They had, for example, the apprenticeship system, which was, in his opinion, a great grievance, and which was to he continued. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: No!] He meant that the system was to be continued if the navigation laws were to remain; or else what was the meaning of all they heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite about the mercantile navy being a nursery for seamen? He could assure the House, that he had considered this whole subject as fully as he possibly could, and that unless he thought this country could stand the competition of foreign countries with the most perfect ease, or if he believed that the removal of the navigation laws would have the effect of reducing or injuring the commercial navy of England in the slightest degree, strong a free-trader as he was, he should be against the change which he now advocated. But his belief was, that this country had it in her power to stand competition with the whole world, and that anything which removed obstacles to trade must benefit trade generally, and the shipping interests with it.
The MARQUESS of GRANBY
said, the hon. Gentleman had, in the beginning of his speech, remarked somewhat severely on the conduct of captains of British ships; but, at the same time, the hon. Member had the candour to say those captains engaged in the long voyages were superior to any captains in the world. [Mr. MITCHELL: Not superior.] Well, equal to any captains in the world. But what did the hon. Member propose to do? He proposed to take out of the hands of the British people the long voyages, and leave us nothing but the coasting and fishing trade. The hon. Member went on to say, that gross injustice had been committed upon Canada; that the freight of flour from Montreal was 4s. 9d. per barrel, whereas the freight from New York was only 2s. 9d. He believed the reason of the increased freight was not principally and mainly owing to the navigation laws, but to the difficulty of navigating the River St. Lawrence. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade stated the other evening that the measure he proposed to introduce was no patchwork measure, but an alteration of the great principle of the navigation laws. 201 The right hon. Gentleman went on to say, that if he thought that by making that alteration he should endanger the mercantile marine, and thereby endanger the naval superiority of the country, he never would have proposed the measure. The other evening he went further, and said, he would have his right hand cut off rather than do so. "But," said the right hon. Gentleman, "I contend that those measures do not endanger the mercantile marine, and therefore do not endanger the naval superiority of this country." But something more was necessary than to contend for that. He could not but think that there was the greatest possible danger to the mercantile marine of this country, and that we should lose our naval superiority if the navigation laws were repealed. The great question was, whether we really could or could not compete with foreign shipowners. And if they could prove to him clearly and indubitably that we could compete with them, then he admitted that the House ought not to resist the prayer of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. But allow him (the Marquess of Granby) to ask what was the difference between the cost of a foreign ship and that of an English ship? He thought it had been proved before the Committee which sat upon these laws last Session, that the dearest foreign ships were cheaper than British ships; whereas the cheapest foreign ships could he built at about half the cost of English ships. The main elements in the prices of shipbuilding were, first of all, the wages and the material. The wages of the artisans employed in shipbuilding in foreign countries were in the proportion of three or four to one cheaper than they were in this country. And with regard to the materials, such as oak and fir, they were in the proportion of two to one cheaper than in this country. And then, with regard to the working of the ship, after it was built, the wages were about half what they were in British vessels. On the point of the comparative cost of shipbuilding in the different shipping countries, he would refer to the evidence of Mr. Young, a gentleman who had paid great attention to this subject, and who was himself the owner of a large number of ships. On these grounds, therefore, he thought that that gentleman's evidence was entitled to the careful and impartial consideration of those hon. Gentlemen who advocated the repeal of the navigation laws. Mr. Young stated, that 202 the cost of an English ship of 500 tons was 8,750l.; of an American ship, 7,250l. (or 17½ per cent less); of a ship built in Holland the cost was 20 per cent less; in Prance, 22 per cent less; in Denmark and Norway, 31 per cent less; in Sweden and Bremen, 37 per cent; in Russia, 45 per cent; and in Finland, 51 per cent less than in England. He would ask hon. Members, therefore, whether they could say fairly and honestly that it was in the power of a British shipowner (if the statements which he had quoted were correct) to compete with a foreign shipowner? Well, but the advocates of this proposed change in these laws said," If you will only repeal these navigation laws, you will, by the reduction which that repeal wall cause in the price of the materials for shipbuilding, be enabled to compete with the foreigner." Now, what were the main articles necessary to the building of a ship? The only article that entered materially into the cost of shipbuilding was the timber used therein. Mr. Young stated, that the quantity of timber used in the building of a ship of 500 tons cost 380l, 18s. 4d., Mr. Young stated before the Committee of last Session, that, up to the time when the duties upon timber were altered from 2l. 15s. to 1l., he was in the habit of paying 5l. a ton for foreign timber, and that since the reduction in the duties the price of foreign timber was not materially reduced. He, then, would ask the House, whether it were reasonable to suppose that the small reduction which this proposed change might make in the freight, would make up to the British shipowner for the loss which he must inevitably sustain if the alteration were sanctioned? He did not deny that there might have been peculiar reasons why the price of timber kept up at the old rate? He did not deny that railways might have influenced the price, and kept it up higher than it would have been; but he asked the House whether it ought not to look forward to an increased demand for the future? Were we to be a stationary country? Was that the expectation that they formed of their free-trade measures? If the prices of timber were greater last year and the year before, were we to make a sudden stop, and retrograde? Could they suppose that the same causes which had operated to make timber dear heretofore, would not act for the future? But he thought that the right hon. Gentleman himself entertained some doubts as to the possibility of a British shipowner competing with the 203 foreigner; for he had provided that it shall he in the power of a British shipowner to buy a foreign ship, and to have it registered as an English one. But he asked the right hon. Gentleman whether this was the time, when there were so many of our people, our artisans and mechanics, unemployed, to throw some thousands of the hands that were employed in our dockyards out of employment, and thus add a grievous weight to the distress which already prevailed throughout the country? He would ask whether it would be quite safe to throw so many hands out of employment in our private dockyards, when there was such imminent danger of a general war bursting out over the whole of Europe? He would ask the House to remember the valuable assistance that had been offered to this country by the men employed in our private dockyards during the last wars. He would ask the House to remember that there were no less in one year than fifteen hundred artisans taken from our private dockyards to build ships in Her Majesty's dockyards. But the right hon. Gentleman had said that wages in this country were in reality and in point of fact as cheap as they were in foreign countries; that although there appeared to be a difference between British and foreign wages, as regarded shipbuilding, yet that that difference was merely nominal. He had said that we had attempted to build ships of war at Bombay, but that these ships would not last, and that, therefore, we had given up the building of ships at Bombay. Now, he (the Marquess of Granby) believed that foreign ships were not only infinitely cheaper than our own ships, but that they lasted longer. The instance which the right hon. Gentleman had adduced as a proof that our wages were, in point of fact, on a level with those on the Continent, was a complete refutation of the principle which the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to make out. Now, when the great change was proposed to he made with reference to laws which had been improved and consolidated by the experience and wisdom of two centuries, he thought he had a right to ask what were the grounds, what were the urgent necessities, that had induced the Government to come to this extraordinary determination? Had they shown the House any advantages likely to accrue from this change, that. had induced them to propose such an extensive alteration? Were there numerous petitions lying upon the table 204 of the House that induced them to suspend their better judgment, and make this sudden and total change in a principle that had existed for 200 years—a principle that had been sanctioned by all our preceding statesmen, and by their greatest political economist. But it mattered not what might be the advantages of these laws to the country generally: if they did but interfere with their newfangled principles of free trade, they cast them aside as a useless impediment. Mr. Huskisson, whom the right hon. Gentleman quoted the other night, might say this or that on this or any other question, without the free-traders paying the slightest attention to his opinions if they differed from the opinions of the free-traders; but should Mr. Huskisson he for them, then they insisted that the authority of Mr. Huskisson was not to be questioned. Now, it so happened that Mr. Huskisson, in speaking of the navigation laws of this country, had stated that they should ever have his warmest support, as he believed that they contributed in a great measure to the prosperity and security of Great Britain. He insisted on that House being told upon what grounds the Government had come to the determination of making this sweeping change in the navigation laws. Had we been threatened with some great calamity if we did not accede to this alteration? He thought that the right hon. Gentleman did not understand those free-trade principles which he had taken up; and he would refer him, therefore, to one of the great authorities that had contributed to effect this change. He alluded to the evidence which had been given by Mr. Porter before the Navigation Laws Committee. In question 7715 Mr. Porter was interrogated as follows:—Therefore, as far as regards the struggle for supremacy in commerce, it is rather to our advantage to enjoy a free trade, while other countries are shutting their ports, so as to impede their own commerce, than that they should also adopt the same principles as we ourselves adopt?Mr. Porter answered—I am clearly of that opinion; at the same time, it is also my opinion that this country having always been looked to as a rule and guide in all matters of commerce, we should not be long flourishing, as I think we should under a system of free trade, without other countries being anxious to follow in the same course.Again, in answer to Mr. Villiers, Mr. Porter said—It would be better that all countries should be wise; but if all are not, I would rather my 205 country were wise; and certainly I think the advantages of unshackling trade in every respect will be greatest to those who embark in it earliest.And again—Your view of the principle of protection to trade is, that the country which adopts it injures herself?—Yes. If we are in rivalry with any other countries who wish to maintain that principle, looking to no higher motives than self-interest, we are rather benefited than otherwise by their continuance of protection?—Certainly; if I ran a race I should like to see my opponent put weights in his pocket. You consider that when France imposes high duties upon raw materials, or anything that she requires, it is not to be regarded so much as injurious to us as to herself?—More injurious to herself than to any other country.Why, if that were so, we ought to rejoice that other countries had not imitated our policy, by adopting the free-trade principles. If they were to rely with any confidence upon the evidence of Mr. Porter, it was one of the greatest boons, one of the greatest blessings that could be conferred upon us, that Prussia should never allow a British ship, on any account, to enter her ports. But he (the Marquess of Granby) did not believe that they had that confidence in their free-trade principles which they had some few short years ago. He believed that one of the main grounds on which the right hon. Gentleman had rested his case for a repeal of these laws was, that that repeal would reduce the freight to the benefit of the consumers. Would they then, if they found that Mr. Porter was of opinion that the repeal of the navigation laws would have a contrary effect, would they, in such case, consent to retain those laws? Now, he would read a question asked by the Committee, and the answer given by Mr. Porter:—Is it not the fact that freights were extremely low for the three years ending with the year 1842?—It is the fact: partly, I have no doubt, referable to the navigation laws. Is it not the fact that since that period freights have considerably risen, and shipping has been again remunerative to its owners?—No doubt highly remunerative. May that be referred to the navigation laws?—That certainly is not referable to the navigation laws, which have not altered since the period to which you allude.He did not consider himself bound by the evidence of Mr. Porter; but he thought that those who had advocated the repeal of the navigation laws ought to allow such evidence as that which he had quoted to have great weight with them. Then, in addition to the plea of the reduction of freights, which it was said would follow a repeal of these laws, there was another 206 reason urged why these laws should be repealed; and that was that America did not indeed threaten, but very kindly asked this country to reciprocate with them in this movement of navigation law repeal. Now, really it was all very well for America to show such kindly feelings towards this country; but she no doubt sincerely wished, at the same time, to enjoy the trade that we now had between our colonies, and between India and China, and this country. And, in return for the boon which she anticipated receiving from us by her proposal, what advantages did America offer to us? With regard to the coasting trade, which had formed the subject of some discussion, he would make one or two observations. The advocates of this repeal admitted that that trade was an excellent nursery for the Navy. Now, he would ask whether there were no symptom of that trade already falling off? Captain Stirling, upon whom so much confidence had been placed, stated in his evidence that the railways were already competing with the coasting trade; and that he thought that, in a few years, they might almost destroy it. He also found, in the evidence given before the Commissioners ordered to inquire into the state of the merchant seamen of this country, that Mr. Miller, who shipped goods in the coasting trade, was asked whether a general falling-off had recently happened in the coasting trade? Mr. Miller's answer was in the affirmative. He was asked whether the number of ships had diminished? He replied, "Yes; when the railway from London to Norwich was opened, the ships in the Yarmouth trade were entirely stopped." He was asked to what extent the coasting trade had diminished; and he replied, "One-third." He was asked, "Do you think that the goods that were carried by the ships that no longer ply along the coast are now taken by railway? "His answer was, "Yes." So that it seemed entire destruction awaited our coasting trade, "the nursery of the British Navy." The hon. Member for Westbury, the other evening, stated that he would not consent to an alteration in the navigation laws if he thought that the commercial marine of this country would be paralysed thereby; and, he entered into a long statement, and laid before the House a number of figures, for the purpose of showing that by the reciprocity treaties of Mr. Huskisson this country's commercial marine had not suffered, but was on the 207 increase. Then, the ingenious arguments of the hon. Member came to this, that with the reciprocity treaties of Mr. Huskisson, and with the navigation laws, as they at present stood, the shipping of this country had been in a prosperous state; and not only that the shipping of this country, but that the importations, had increased from every other country. Then he asked the hon. Member, he asked Her Majesty's Government generally, why they proposed to make the change? If this country had maintained itself in so prosperous a state under the present system, why were they to make this dangerous experiment upon the great interests of the; country? But he wished to draw the attention of the hon. Member to what he thought the hon. Member would admit to be a great deference between the principle of the two cases as to reciprocity. Mr. Huskisson proposed to confine the trade between each individual country and this country to the shipping of the two countries. But the proposition of Her Majesty's Government was to allow the ships of any country to enter into the entire trade of the whole world with this country. Now, there might be many countries with which we were able to compete; and were those countries to enter into these reciprocity treaties, the result would no doubt be beneficial to this country. But there were also countries with which he did not think that we should be able to compete when we admitted them to the same advantages which we ourselves possessed in regard to the trade between this country and our colonies, and between the United Kingdom and China. That was a totally different and distinct ground. We might be able to keep our heads above the water whatever might be the number of American ships arriving in this country; but it was a very different thing if we allowed American ships to bring teas from China here; that was a very different question, and one in which he believed America would be able not only to compete with us, but to drive us altogether out of our own market. He came now to a part of the question which was of the greatest possible moment; and he would draw the attention of the hon. Member (Mr. Wilson) for one minute to the principle of reciprocity laid down by Mr. Huskisson in 1826. Mr. Huskisson said that the most important principle of the navigation laws was this, to prevent any one foreign country gaining an ascendancy over the trade of this. Was there no injury to be apprehended 208 from the foreign countries which this proposed change would benefit? Did we anticipate no dangers from America? Let him call their attention to the fact that the American tonnage had increased sixty-six per cent from 1816 to 1824, whilst the British had increased only thirty per cent. With regard to the important question, even in a mercantile sense, of keeping the long voyage, the hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Dr. Bowring) alluded, in a very off-hand way, to the arguments of Mr. Aylwin, of Calcutta, who had addressed a letter to Mr. Young upon this subject. Mr. Aylwin said—In order to make myself intelligible, I will take an East Indian article, as rice, which I will reckon, on the average, costs in Calcutta, in English weights and moneys, about 5l. 10s. per ton; if we then calculate the average homeward rate of freight by a British vessel at 4l. 10s. per ton, it follows that (exclusive of intermediate charges between Calcutta and England) the British consumer is forced to pay for this article at the rate of 10?. per ton. Now, as I before said, it is perfectly competent for the foreigner to send his vessel to Calcutta., purchase his rice at 5l. 10s. per ton, convey it home at 3l.10s. per ton, and so lay it down to his own consumer at 9l. per ton; but, for the reason above stated, instead of so doing, we find he prefers rather coming to the depôt of England, selecting and purchasing the exact quantity and quality that suits him, and incurring the heavy and intermediate charges that accrue between this country and the Continent, amounting, in many instances, to no less than 2l. per ton; or, in other words, purchasing his rice in England at 12l. per ton rather than draw his supplies direct from India at 9l. per ton; as therefore our own manufactures and consumers obtain their rice at 10l. per ton, they enjoy, by the maintenance of the navigation laws, an advantage over the Continent of no less than 2l. per ton, or say 20 per cent.He was afraid that if this change were adopted, it would remove our depôt from London to Hamburgh; and the evil consesequences of that, the hon. Gentleman who spoke last had clearly and most ably defined. He would, for one moment, refer to the rates of warehousing at five different ports. In London the landing and warehousing of a cargo of tea was 16s. 6d. per ton, rent 5s. 6d. At Amsterdam it was only 2s. 3d., rent 1s. l0d. At Rotterdam landing 2s. 6d., rent 1s. 10d. At Hamburgh landing 5s. Now, he asked the House whether there was not great danger of the trade between this country and India and China being carried on by foreign ships, and even of the merchants of this country actually being deprived of the advantage of having London as a great depot for their goods? He thought that 209 no person who had read over the evidence taken before the Lords' Committee, could fail to see that our West Indian colonies did not look to a repeal of the navigation laws as a solution of their difficulties. Our West Indian colonists stated that, in consequence of there being no ships at Brazil, no Spanish ships at Cuba, the rate of freights between Cuba and the Brazils and this country, and between our West Indian colonies and this country, would be reduced; that they would receive no benefit whatever from a repeal of the navigation laws; that, on the contrary, it would be injurious to them; and that under the proposed alteration they would have to depend upon chance vessels from America, instead of a regular supply of English vessels, for the exportation of their goods. They stated emphatically that, instead of being benefited by the change proposed, they should be in a far worse condition than they were at present. The House was willing enough to listen to that memorial from Jamaica, which had been so ably exposed by his right hon. Friend. The free-traders and the Government were disposed to listen to that; they said they were willing to relieve the colonies from that position to which their policy had reduced them; but when these colonies entreated of them to do them justice—not to oblige them to compete with slave-grown sugar whilst they were prevented from using slave labour—when they asked them for a protective duty for their produce, in order to enable them to compete with the foreigner—they cared not for their wishes—they cared not for their entreaties—and it was not until they wanted another pretext for the furtherance of their evil policy that they manifested any anxiety for the West Indian colonies. First of all, they inflicted a heavy blow on the agriculture of this country—then they told the agriculturist that out of justice to him, they would give him cheap sugar and cheap coffee, so that he might reap the advantages of free trade—so that he might "buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market." Well, they carried out this scheme too, and they succeeded in one thing at least—in one thing their success was beyond question or doubt—they ruined the West India colonies. Now they came down to that House with a new scheme. Having sacrificed the West India colonies, the British shipowners were next to he victimised. The British shipowners were to be added to the list. The great free-trade 210 principle of "buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market" was to he ruthlessly and recklessly applied here. Ships were to be bought in the cheapest market, and 70,000 or 80,000 men thrown out of employment. Such was the result, he wished he could say the final result, of their policy. He should like to know whether this were really the last on the list? What was the next interest to be sacrificed, or when would they come to the end of their tether? Would they persevere in this cruel and mistaken course, or would they not rather stop since they seemed determined not to retrace their steps? Would they blindly persevere until they placed the colonies in direct antagonism and hostility to the mother country? He had already detained the House too long; but he would say one word upon the proposal of the Government for abolishing the system of apprenticeship. That was, indeed, a most important question. He believed the system had acted injuriously in some degree to the shipping interest; but that interest was content with the system notwithstanding, if they but only let them alone, and did not injure them by their meddling legislation. There were 10,300 apprentices entered in one year in the merchant service, and he begged the House to remember that, although a reflection had been cast upon the system by some of our seamen having deserted to the American service, the number which so deserted was comparatively small, and that the deserters were, generally speaking, the worst men in the service—men who lost their registry tickets, whilst the best kept theirs. The hon. Member who spoke last said it was impossible that the system of impressment could be continued in this country. There was not a man in that House more desirous than he was to do away with impressment, but he felt that at whatever inconvenience, they ought to maintain their naval superiority. He knew that the Navy must be manned, for the safety, the honour, the greatness, and the defence of this country and of her possessions, as well as for the sake of their mercantile interests. Mr. Locke had the following observations:—Crœsus showed Solon his wealth, and boasted of it; but Solon replied, 'If any other come that has better iron than you, he will be master of all this gold.' Surely at this day, with us of Europe, the vantage strength at sea (which is one of the principal dowries of this kingdom of Great Britain) is great, both because most of the kingdoms are not merely inland, but girt with the sea most 211 part of their compass, and because the wealth of both Indies seems in great part but an accessory to the command of the seas.That House out not to fix their vision and direct their legislation entirely upon gold, and the best mode of amassing it. They ought to have a higher and a nobler aim to maintain England's high position in the scale of nations—to deal in an equitable and kindly spirit towards their fellow-subjects—and to consult the dignity as well as the wealth of the country. One word upon the attack which had been made upon the British captains, and also as regarded apprenticeship. He would read to the House the evidence of Mr. Brown:—Is it your your opinion that the character of the English sailor has improved or deteriorated of late years—is he more reckless or less reckless than he was, or have his habits of sobriety increased?—Answer: I think he has improved and does improve in all these respects, and that the apprentice laws have done much towards effecting this improvement.He had endeavoured to show that the advantages which they expected to result from the repeal of the navigation laws were at least doubtful, and, in the opinion of those best, because practically, acquainted with the subject, likely to prove most injurious; that the benefits which they could reasonably anticipate from the repeal of those laws were in no degree commensurate to the risk which they incurred, and the dangers which threatened them; and that as prudent legislators they ought not, without some strong and urgent necessity, to take such a step. At least (said the noble Lord), wait until you hear all the evidence. Do not be precipitate upon a question involving such mighty interests. Let us hear what the Lords' Committee have to say, and what the witnesses examined before it may depose to. Surely this is only fair—it is but decent. Why prejudge the question, or take it for granted that all the evidence before that Committee, and the report founded upon it, will be entirely in favour of your projected legislation? Again, there is no necessity for your immediate interference—there is no clamour or agitation in the country in favour of the repeal of the present law. On the contrary, Sir, there is a strong feeling in the country that this law ought not to be tampered with—ought not to be altered. It is not the people of England that ask for its alteration—not at all. It is foreign nations who make that request; and you seem more disposed to listen to their request than to hearken to the 212 wishes or consult the interests of your own countrymen. The English people, I repeat, are silent, and do not demand their repeal. I again ask the House not to consent to the repeal of these laws, which have lasted for more than two centuries, and under which the maritime power of England has reached a height never equalled by that of any other nation—whose object, in the words of the preamble of the Act of Charles II., was "to increase the shipping and to encourage the navigation of this country, whereon, under the good Providence and protection of God, the wealth, the safety, and the strength of this empire are so much dependent."
§ MR. GIBSON
said, that the noble Lord who had just addressed the House, had in the latter part of his speech uttered loud lamentations on account of the great injuries which he seemed to think had been inflicted upon the great industrial interests of the country. The noble Lord said, that nothing could have been more unwise than first to strike a blow against the agricultural interests of England, then to inflict a deep injury upon our colonial system, driving it even to the brink of ruin. He would take the liberty of saying, that there was something more unwise still, namely, having got so far in the policy of free trade, now to remain where they were. Having exposed the colonial and the agricultural interests of this country to unrestricted competition, were they prepared to say that, with respect to shipping, they would now take their stand, and neither go backward nor forward? He presumed that they did not intend to go backward, for he had heard no proposition from any quarter which indicated such an intention. As they were not recommended to go backward, and as they could not stand still, he entreated them not to be deterred from pursuing a consistent course by any mistaken views of self-interest. He had often heard it stated by those who opposed unrestricted commerce that they did not object to free trade in the abstract—that they did not object to free trade if it were to be carried out in all things; but their cry was, "Don't make agriculture the sole object of your experimental policy." He did not then see the hon. Member for Essex in his place; but he felt confident he had often heard that hon. Baronet say—he would not undertake for the exact words, but the idea was this—that he did not object to the removal of restrictions, provided the principle were uniformly and 213 equitably carried out through every branch of British industry. Now, the measure at present before the House would realise that which the hon. Baronet said ought to be the policy of Parliament. The noble Lord who had just sat down, said a great deal upon the subject of competition; but he begged to remind that noble Lord, that if the friends and promoters of free trade talked of the British shipowner entering into competition with foreigners, they did so rather to calm apprehensions and fears, than to form any groundwork for a free-trade policy. If it could be proved to his satisfaction that the mercantile marine of England was decidedly of an inferior character, that freights were higher, and voyages were more hazardous, that would only make him more urgent with the House to relieve foreign vessels from the imposts under which they suffered. Did any one mean to say, that if our vessels were worse than those of our neighbours, that that formed a reason why we should secure to our own shipping, supposing them to be worthless, the sort of monopoly which they at present enjoyed? Suppose our vessels were no better than Chinese junks, should we therefore continue to them all the benefits of an exclusive trade? The worse our vessels were, the greater necessity was there to stimulate their owners to improvement by means of competition, and the more did common justice require that the English manufacturer and the English merchant should be supplied with a cheap mode of transmitting and receiving the objects in which they dealt. He said thus much, lest it should be supposed he was bound to prove that English ships were not inferior to foreign vessels; he was not called on to prove that they were as cheap as foreign ships, but he would do this—he would, for the satisfaction of the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Poole, supply him with a little piece of evidence. It would be seen, from the testimony of Mr. C. Graham, who had been examined before the Navigation Committee, of which he (Mr. Gibson) had the honour to be chairman, that in England ships could be built as cheaply as in any part of the north of Europe; besides, as the witness justly observed, regard should not be had exclusively to high or low prices without reference to the quality of the vessels. Mr. Brunton, who was surveyor for Lloyd's at Sunderland—[Mr. ROBINSON: Not Lloyd's, but surveyor of the registry.]—Mr. Brunton was a good authority on the 214 subject, and Mr. Graham stated that Mr. Brunton would undertake to prove that vessels could be built at Sunderland, of Dantzic oak, as well and cheaply as in the north of Europe. A great portion of every vessel was found cheaper in England than elsewhere; for example, iron, copper sheathing, sails, and rigging, were all cheaper in England, and the Americans found it so; for they frequently sent their vessels here only half completed, and in this country had them permanently fitted up. He should not dwell upon this question of competition; it was now universally admitted that matters could not stand as they were—every one was prepared for some alteration; but they were told that in making the change, which all men felt to be unavoidable, they ought not to surrender some great fundamental principle which maintained the superiority of our mercantile marine, and secured our naval supremacy. But where was this to be found? In a certain Act of Parliament—the 8th and 9th of Victoria, cap. 88—that Act was a collection of confused conflicting prohibitions upon imports. Such was the state of the law, that people might export in any ships they thought proper: the navigation law only affected the importing ship. It was true that a merchant might import in foreign vessels provisions which were not to be consumed by the people of England. If his goods were to be bonded, then he was outside the navigation laws—that was the state of the law, and he desired to see it changed. He would tell them frankly and boldly, that if ships came hither from any part of the world laden with produce or goods for the use or consumption of the people of England, he would not drive such vessels away from our ports. He would exclude no ships; but would, on the contrary, give access to the ships of all the world. Were they afraid of increasing their revenue by allowing imported commodities to come in? If not, why exclude foreign ships? Could it he contended, that the exclusion of those ships, bringing produce for the use of British manufacturers, was not an evil to the British population? Could such a policy be justified on any natural grounds? He took it that when the question was presented in such a simple form, a single argument could not be found for the exclusion. A ship presented itself in a port of this country laden with food; but the opponents of the measure now proposed said, that as the food was not grown in 215 the country in which the ship was built, and of which it was a national ship, therefore the food should not he admitted. Nevertheless they showed by suspending the navigation laws last year, when a pressure on account of the want of food was apprehended, that these navigation laws were an evil in themselves. ["No!"] Then why did they, at that period, clamour for the suspension of the navigation laws? Could those laws be very good which required to he suspended at the first pressure? Who was to judge whether the supply of food or raw material was sufficient for the manufacturers here? Were not they the best judges on that point who imported the goods with a view of selling them for a profit? That was a question that could not otherwise be settled, but it must be left to the free operations of trade to decide as to the sufficiency of the supply of food and of raw material; and to say that other parties should judge when they would suspend these laws, was to say that they would risk the infliction of a great injury on the country. He had said that these navigation laws were a collection of confused prohibitions on imports; and he would now further say, that they were not altogether for the purpose of protection to the British shipowner, but there was another object in view. The noble Lord, who quoted Mr. Huskisson, supplied a deficiency in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman wno moved the Amendment to the proposition of the Government, because he gave the whole of what Mr. Huskisson said, together with Mr. Huskisson's description and interpretation of the meaning of the Navigation Act. What the noble Lord supplied was material, because he (Mr. Gibson) thought that the most objectionable part of the Navigation Act, and at the same time the most antiquated and absurd part, was to the effect that foreign countries might carry for themselves, but not for one another. Was there that probability now that some one country would carry for all the rest, and assume a naval supremacy on the seas? If there existed such a probability, which is that country? Was it the United States? If it were the United States, why they gave to the United States, by the present system, great advantages under the navigation laws. They, in fact, protected the United States, in their trade with this country, against competition; for they said that a Bremen ship or a Dutch ship should not compete with an American ship in coming 216 here from the United States. Therefore they actually protected the country which they said was most likely to become a great naval Power, in her trade with England, against the competitions of other countries, and gave her the full control of the direct trade between this country and America. Was not that an inconsistency in reference to the principle which they had laid down? He could not conceive anything more absurd than to dictate to all the countries of the world the terms on which they should build and man their ships in order to trade with this country. He could not conceive anything more absurd than for the English Parliament to nurse up the mercantile marine of every country in the world by declaring that each should use her own ships in trading with this country. But the point to which he wished to call the particular attention of the House was, the practical bearing of the proposal of the Government. That proposal, as respected the United States, amounted to this:—that the English navigation law and the American navigation law should at one and the same time be repealed. If they rejected that proposition, what would they be calling down on themselves in another direction? They would he calling down on themselves the fulfilment of those threatening notices of exclusion received by this country from Prussia; and the example of Prussia would probably be followed by the Hans Towns, the Zollverein, and the whole of the Germanic Confederation. With respect to the shipping interest itself, could they for a moment hesitate between these two proposals—to have free access to the ports of America, or to remain with only a portion of the American trade, and lose also a portion of the Baltic trade which they now possessed? What was the value of the American trade? The imports into the United States amounted, he believed, to 75,000,000 dollars. 36,000,000 dollars of these importations came from the British dominions; the remaining 39,000,000 dollars of imports proceeding from all other parts of the world. Under the navigation laws they could only enjoy about one half of the import trade to the United States; but if they repealed the English navigation law, which would cause the repeal of the American navigation law, they would be able to share in the whole of the import trade with the United States, whereas at present they could only enjoy a portion. The hon. Member for Bridport had, with great success, called the attention of the House to 217 the injurious effects of the combined influence of the English and American navigation laws on English shipping; and in support of that view he (Mr. Gibson) would quote the evidence of a gentleman who would be admitted to be a disinterested witness, the collector of customs at the port of London, who stated that the effect of the fourth clause of the Navigation Act, combined with the operation of the American navigation law, had been to confine almost the whole of the carrying trade between America and England to American ships. It was all Europe against England in favour of American ships in going to America; and the American ship had always a good opportunity of getting a full freight in coming from America to England, because the produce she brought was the raw produce, cotton and corn. Therefore, under the two laws, the American shipping had a decided advantage over the English shipping. If the House, consequently, rejected the present proposition of the Government, he thought that it would be inflicting a great blow on the English shipping, and depriving that interest of the great advantages now within their roach. With respect to the colonial interests, which it had been contended had been pressed down by the application of free-trade principles, he felt bound, having advocated the application of those principles to the colonies, to give them that freedom for the transmission of their produce which was consistent with the principles of free trade. It had been said that they should lose the colonies, and that the colonies would claim their independence; but would the colonies complain of the removal of restrictions on them? Was it likely that the colonies would think it a grievance to have the power of transmitting their produce to the English market, and to every other market, at the cheapest rate? And why should they not put the exporting merchant in the colonies on as good a footing as the foreign exporting merchant? He would take the case of Canada and the United States. They confined the grower and exporter of Canadian produce to one ship, that being a British ship; but to the American, in the United States, they gave the choice of two ships—his own or a British ship. Thus they confined the Canadian exporter to one solitary ship—they confined him to a monopoly, and deprived him of the advantages of competition. He therefore called upon hon. Gentlemen opposite, who professed so much sympathy 218 and kindness towards their colonial fellow-subjects, to extend to them at least the same privileges, to afford them the benefit of that competition for the reduction of freight, which they were willing to give to foreigners. It was more especially necessary that such privileges should be granted to our colonists now that they were exposed to unrestricted competition with foreign producers in the markets of this country. It was impossible to deny that it was a great injustice to place the growers of corn and the exporting merchants in Canada in a worse position than the growers and exporters of the United States. But he would take another case. The House must recollect that the real source of grievance on the part of our West Indian colonies with regard to the navigation laws was, that those laws, when they were first adopted, partook of the nature of penal statutes; they were imposed not so much to benefit the colonies, or even this country, as to punish certain of our colonies for the political opinions they had maintained. The inhabitants of the colonies felt, and always had felt, that the obligation imposed upon them by England, to transmit their produce to the home market in the mode which England thought fit to prescribe, was—he would not say a badge of slavery, but a great and pressing grievance. Now, suppose a West Indian planter were to go to the United States—to New York, for instance—and found there articles of British manufacture which he was desirous to send to Jamaica, and there happened at the time to he no British ship at New York; the navigation laws would prevent him from employing any foreign ship that might be in the harbour for the purpose of taking British manufactures to a British colony. These laws, therefore, were not only injurious to the colonists, but also to the British manufacturers; and he called upon the House, in justice to the colonists, to free them from these odious restrictions, and to allow them to ship their goods in any bottoms they might think fit. He might he permitted to call the attention of the House to a petition he had to-night presented from the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester, the in habitants of which town were deeply interested in the prosperity of our manufactures. The petitioners stated that, while they repudiated protection for themselves, and while they considered that the Legislature had wisely adopted the principle of commercial freedom, they 219 must claim to be relieved from the oppression entailed by the navigation laws. They stated that, under the enervating influence of those laws, combined with the monopoly they afforded in several important trades, rates of freight had prevailed in British vessels, which raised the price of raw materials indispensable for our manufactures, and of many foreign articles which were consumed by the people. The petitioners further represented that freight was an essential element in the promotion of commercial and manufacturing operations, and that it ought to be treated in the same way in which the Legislature had already determined to deal with the raw materials employed in manufactures; and they expressed their belief that an immediate and wise modification of the navigation laws would tend to the well-being of the industrial population and of the shipping interest. The views of the petitioners were expressed in such forcible language, that he (Mr. M. Gibson) thought it was unnecessary for him to dwell on this part of the subject. He must remind the House that it had been admitted by hon. Gentlemen on both sides that the navigation laws could not remain as they were. If he understood the worthy Alderman opposite (Mr. Alderman Thompson), that hon. Gentleman was prepared to assent to a very important change in the navigation laws. The hon. Gentleman was prepared to infringe upon those great fundamental principles which the right hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries) was not willing to surrender. He (Mr. M. Gibson) doubted whether it would be practicable to make any modifications or improvements of the existing law without infringing upon those great fundamental principles. Why, one of the great fundamental principles of the navigation laws was, that the produce of Asia, Africa, and America should be altogether inadmissible from European countries. This principle was adopted from the fear that foreign nations might become the carriers of the produce of the world—that Holland, for instance, might carry the produce of Asia, Africa, or America to Europe—and that the employment of English ships might then be confined to carrying that produce across the English Channel. Now, he wished to know whether the hon. Member for Westmoreland (Mr. Alderman Thompson), the right hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries), and the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. G. Robinson), could agree on this point, because, if there 220 was one principle for which the stickler for the old navigation laws was disposed to contend more than for another, it was that the produce of Asia, Africa, and America should be inadmissible into Great Britain from European countries. The right hon. Member for Stamford was for adhering inflexibly to this fundamental principle of the navigation laws, while the worthy Alderman was ready to surrender it. He (Mr. M. Gibson) thought, also, that the worthy Alderman was prepared to surrender our indirect foreign trade. If, then, these hon. Gentlemen were all agreed that important changes must be made in the navigation laws, how could they consistently refuse to go into Committee for the purpose of considering the subject? It was impossible to introduce any of the changes which had been advocated by some of those hon. Gentlemen, until the House resolved itself into Committee. He had been charged by the noble Lord the Member for Lynn (Lord G. Bentinck) with having been in some way instrumental in framing returns, or causing returns to be framed, with a view of misleading the Committee on the Navigation Laws. Now, he must say, that a more unfounded charge, or a more unfounded insinuation, never was made. He was prepared to assert that the returns in question were correct. [Lord G. BENTINCK had not made the charge to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.] He had certainly read the insinuation in the noble Lord's speeches, that returns had been prepared by the Board of Trade, with the intention of biassing the Committee, and inducing them to draw erroneous inferences; and he could only say that a more unfounded statement had never been made in that House. The figures in those returns were perfectly correct, and the object of those returns was to show the increase in trades which had been exposed to competition, compared with the increase in trades which had been entirely protected from competition. The returns distinctly showed that in the trades which were protected from competition the increase had not been so great as it had been in the trades in which competition was permitted. It had been said that the heading of the return was improperly worded; but the words used were in fact the words employed by Mr. Young, when under examination before the Committee. That Gentleman stated that, in consequence of protection having been entirely withdrawn in 221 certain cases by the reciprocity treaties, great injury had been done to the trade of the country, and that in his opinion the repeal of the navigation laws would be attended with ruinous effects; but the table to which he (Mr. M. Gibson) was alluding proved that instead of the relaxation of the navigation laws—or rather the reciprocity treaty system—having produced any such evil effects, the very trades upon which the reciprocity system had operated had increased in a much greater ratio than those in which there had been a close monopoly. He denied that any one who was not totally ignorant of the whole bearing of the navigation laws could be misled by these returns. Now, he wished to ask the House whether they considered that, if they resisted the proposition of the Government, their existing relations with foreign countries would enable them to maintain the navigation laws? If they did, he (Mr. Gibson) did not. His firm belief was, that in consequence of the concessions we had already made, the departures that had taken place from the Navigation Act, and the existing treaties which contained the "favoured nation" clause, we were not in a position to maintain our Navigation Act, or any great portion of it. We had permitted countries to use ports, for the purpose of navigation to this kingdom, which were not situated in those countries, altering geography for the purposes of the navigation laws. We had permitted Austria, for instance, to use Galatz, as if it were in Austria; Hanover to use Memel, and all the ports between the Elbe and the Meuse, as if those ports were in Hanover; and so with Oldenburg, and Mecklenburgh, and all the States of the Zollverein; we had departed materially from our principle of making every country confine itself to carrying its own produce. But what said the countries with which we had the "favoured nation" clause, and to which we had promised to give all the privileges that we gave to any foreign country? Holland said, "You allow Hanover to carry produce from Memel to England; is Memel in Hanover? You allow Hanover to come to the Meuse, and carry Dutch produce from Holland to England. You must allow Holland to carry produce from Memel to England; we are entitled by the 'favoured nation' clause in our treaty to the privileges you grant to other countries." Yet it was actually to prevent Holland from being the carrier from all these countries that the 222 Navigation Act was passed. If we allowed this to Holland, we must allow it to Sweden; and if to Sweden, to Norway and Denmark what would Prussia say? Why, that if we allowed Holland and other countries to go to Memel, and carry Russian produce to England, we must permit Russia to go to Holland and these other countries, and carry their produce to England. The hon. Alderman shrewdly saw this; in fact, all that part of our Navigation Act which related to the indirect foreign trade, and the admissibility of Asiatic, African, and American produce from Europe into this country, was practically gone. Indeed, he (Mr. Gibson) very much doubted whether, if at this moment the United States were to call upon us to fulfil our treaty obligations with them, we could even under the present law prevent American produce from being imported from Europe into this country; for the American treaty said that we should not impose any prohibitions upon the produce of America which we did not impose upon the produce of other countries; and if we allowed European produce to be brought from Europe into England, we must allow American produce also. He believed it was only the idea that we were going to deal with the Navigation Act which had prevented different foreign countries from pressing for the performance of our treaty stipulations with them; and he thought he spoke within bounds when he said that with regard to the Dutch treaty the Dutch claimed years ago to have this carrying trade which our navigation law was enacted to prevent—that we have not denied the justice of the claim—and that, whether we now repealed the navigation law or not, we should be under the necessity of making very considerable concessions to them and other Continental Powers. He thought he had stated reasons to induce the House not to take such a bold course as to say—" We will not stir one single step in the consideration of these navigation laws." It was monstrous, when it was remembered how Parliament had sanctioned the principle of free trade, that we should now be deterred from taking the initiatory step of considering the measure, on the ground that protection was invaded, He must now add one or two remarks upon the argument—which otherwise he should be charged with overlooking—that the navigation law was the support of our national defences, and that the mercantile marine must be protected in order to supply 223 our Navy. Hon. Gentlemen seemed to talk as if every man in the British Navy was a seaman. It was only a very small portion that we were supposed to derive from this protection. He believed that of the whole British Navy, not more than a fourth upon an average were seamen. Sir J. Stirling's proposition was not so very unreasonable; it was, that where so small a portion of the whole force was supposed to be derived from the mercantile marine, or consisted of that peculiar body of men that we could get from the mercantile marine, it would be possible so to constitute our Navy as to render it independent of the mercantile marine. He (Mr. Gibson) could conceive it perfectly possible. Was it meant to be said that there could be no reconstitution of the Navy so as to keep the two services entirely independent? Had we got the least possible number of officers and least possible amount of expenses in our naval department? Were we sure we could not increase the number of able seamen without increasing our expenditure? Could we not diminish the number of officers? Sir J. Stirling said—You have no mode of getting the men from the mercantile marine except by impressment; they will not volunteer.Hon. Gentlemen opposite said, that the mercantile marine was necessary for the support of our naval power, and yet they said they most strongly objected to impressment; but no one pointed out how the transfer of men from the merchant service to the Navy was to be effected. That was a point that perplexed him (Mr. Gibson) much. He believed we had no mode of getting these men except making them come against their will. At this moment they did not volunteer very freely; and he was quite sure they would not, in case we wanted their services for warfare. But the effect of our attempting to impress them would be to make them fly to America; and the mercantile marine and the naval power would both of them lose their services. It behoved the House to consider well the advice which Sir J. Stirling gave to the Committee upon the subject of manning the Navy—gave after mature consideration. He saw that Parliament were relying upon a broken reed in relying upon the power of impressment and protection to the mercantile marine; and therefore he urged that the naval power should be made totally independent of the merchant service, each relying upon its own resources. 224 Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to plume themselves upon being the friends of the shipowner and the sailor; but could the human mind conceive anything more cruel, more tyrannical, to the shipowner than the policy they advocated? Did they not, in fact, say in so many words, "We invite you into costly voyages and expensive fittings on the faith of giving you protection—we induce you to give high wages—but we claim the right, when a war shall break out, to pounce upon you, to take your seamen from you, and thereby to subject you to great embarrassment and certain loss?" Was it possible for the human mind to conceive a more clumsy plan for manning the Navy, or one more tyrannical to British seamen, and more destructive to the real interests of British shipping? Upon this point he begged to be allowed to read a short extract from the evidence of Sir James Stirling, a gentleman of great experience in naval affairs. Sir J. Stirling was of opinion that the Navy should be constituted so as to render it entirely independent of the merchant service, and he proceeds to say—I would, therefore, begin a reconstitution of the Navy with fixing the peace establishment; and the consequence of that would be, that a largo part—in fact, the whole force—would be trained men and able seamen, instead of being, as they are now, for the most part inexperienced in arms and in the art of seamanship; and having that basis of trained and organised men, the force might be expanded to a very great amount by the addition of landsmen and marines, without having occasion to resort to the merchant service for a single seaman even in the event of a war. It would be a great point to render the two services independent of each other; so that if a war should take place, the trade of the country might not be interrupted by taking the seamen employed in the merchant service for the use of the Navy.Mr. M'Culloch, who was sometimes quoted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, said, in the article on impressment, in his edition of Adam Smith's works, that an arrangement might be made for manning the Navy, independent of impressment, which, in the long run, would be safer and cheaper than the present system. The seamen of the country were not well treated. The policy advocated by Gentlemen opposite was not successful in preventing the shipowners and the seamen whom they employed from suffering great distress from time to time. Nor had those who professed extreme sympathy with the seamen ever taken any measures to improve their condition. Let a sailor fall into poverty and decay, after being worn out in the service, and he got 225 nothing more than a pauper's allowance. It was not his intention to say a word in disparagement of the shipowners, or captains, or mates. It was unnecessary for his argument that he should do so. It was only natural that the shipowners should view with feelings of suspicion a measure which they believed to be injurious to their private interests; but he was not on that account to he deterred from discussing the question with a view to the general interests of the British empire. He was sorry to bear the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) ask where was the clamour, where the petitions, in favour of the measure proposed by the Government? Was the British Parliament never to carry any measure except under the influence of clamour? It would be a subject of the deepest regret to every true friend of his country, if Parliament could never apply itself to a question unless it were backed by clamorous pressure and threatening from without. The present question stood on better ground, because it was not backed by clamour. It was a question to be decided by dispassionate consideration, not by clamour. When hon. Gentlemen opposite laid such stress upon glory, power, and supremacy, they did not exactly follow the spirit of the times. The spirit of the times was commerce. The spirit of the times was industry, internal improvement, mechanical invention, and political economy. It was not war. It was peaceful relations, peaceful progress, and amicable feeling among all the nations of the world. If we wished to act in accordance with the spirit of the time, we must let the nations of the world bring produce to our shores from every climate. That would be a course beneficial to industry, to manufactures, to shipping, to all classes of this great country; whilst, at the same time, it would he the means of strengthening peaceful relations with foreign Powers, and, as an example of just, generous, and enlightened policy, it would raise the character of England among all the nations of the world.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had observed that this was a question which ought to be decided on great and general principles, and with reference to the general interests of this vast empire. He altogether agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in that principle, though he very likely should differ from the right hon. Gentleman as to what he considered to be the general interests of the empire. The 226 right hon. Gentleman had separated himself very lately from Her Majesty's Government; and he thought he would not have ventured, as a Member of a Government, to have separated the commercial marine from the Navy of this country, He had never himself heard any Member of a Government take that ground. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had endeavoured to tell that House, that, in these days, commerce, and the pursuits of peace, were to regulate us; but if he could gather anything from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, it was, that there was another thing which he wished should regulate us, namely, the sordid spirit of gain. In the early part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that the "pocket" was the thing be looked to. But the noble Lord below him (Lord Granby) had told the right hon. Gentleman very justly, that he had sacrificed the internal trade of the country, that he had sacrificed the colonial interest, and that he was now about to contribute to the sacrifice of the shipping interest; and the noble Lord then inquired what he would do next? The right hon. Gentleman had told them that he was ready to sacrifice the honour of the country to gain—that everything was to be made subservient to gain—and that, if half a farthing more per pound could be obtained, every consideration of honour and of national security was to he given up. They might clothe these sentiments in fine language if they would; but they could not get rid of the fact that, in every single step they took, they cared not whether they starved one part of the community or the other, so long as one particular class got some particular gain. They well knew that that was the fact, though they pretended to clothe, as he had already stated, this sordid spirit in these fine flowing words. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to a petition he had presented from the Chamber of Commerce at Manchester, some parts of which appeared so extraordinary that he confessed he (Mr. Henley) could not understand them. The right hon. Gentleman said something about the enervating influence of the navigation laws depressing the raw material. But how could that be? How the enervating influence of navigation laws could depress raw material to the injury of the consumer, he could not understand. It meant, he supposed, lowering of the price; but bow that could be injurious to the right hon. Gentleman's constituents he was at a loss to discover. 227 The right hon. Gentleman had also told them—unless he had misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman—that he could not comprehend anything so injurious as those laws both to our commercial and to our naval marine. But if they were to judge from the number of years—from the centuries—these laws had been in existence and operation, he did not think that the facts bore out the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, for our commercial marine had advanced in an extraordinary degree, and had progressed without any check; and whenever we had required seamen for our naval force, we had never been without a supply to man our ships, and to fight our battles; and when the right hon. Gentleman said that these laws had been injurious to either our commerce or our Navy, he could not understand what the right hon. Gentleman meant. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that this measure ought to be passed because there was no clamour for it, and that there was a great clamour in favour of the shipowners and in favour of the seamen; but if there was one interest in the country—considering its extent and its vast consequence to the nation—if there was one interest which was now, and which had at all times been, weakly represented in that House, it was the shipping interest. That interest was, in some respects, a part of our commercial interest, no doubt; but it had never been a clamorous body—and that was a reason why the House should dispassionately consider this question. He was not, for his own part, disposed to rest his arguments on the ground of competition. That was a matter in regard to which they might go into large statements on both sides: it was, after all, purely a matter of opinion; it was impossible to tell what would be the effects of competition, and it was not the whole question. Let them look at the situation of England: she had vast possessions all over the world, and enjoyed, great advantages from them that belonged to no other nation; and it was of more consequence to her than to any other nation, not only that she should be on equal terms with all other countries, but should have a supremacy on the seas; and if the naval supremacy of England was to decay, or our naval power to be equalled by the rest of the world, the strength of the British empire would from that moment be gone. The force of this empire was composed of a vast number of parts, not in this island alone, but in other portions of the globe. 228 The English themselves were an industrious and busy people, possessed of more energy than any other nation on the earth, except the Americans; but if they were to retain the advantages of their extended empire—which was knitted together by the ocean, as it were, in one great mighty nation—an empire more valuable even than if it lay in one mass, because they could command the produce of every part of the world—they could not secure it unless they secured the supremacy of the seas. They were asked to be content to compete with others; but competition might not do all that they wanted. And what risk was iucurred if their calculations should turn out to be unfounded? What would be their position in that case? Mr. Huskisson was right in his restriction when he said, speaking on this subject, that he would not run the risk of giving to any other energetic nation the trade of the whole world. He was willing to give them as much as they could get within their own limits; but if England helped to give away the trade of all nations, she ran the risk of creating a mighty rival in case of war. That was a risk they ought not to run. The right hon. Gentleman had taunted those on his (Mr. Henley's) side of the House with refusing to consider this question. They did not refuse to consider the question; but what they did refuse was, to consider a proposition, not of any moderate character, but which was at once to sweep away the whole system of their navigation laws. The right hon. Gentleman had said that all parties admitted there must be some change in that system; but he must he permitted to say that he had never admitted anything of the kind, nor heard before of any such admission. The right hon. Gentleman, indeed, took the most extraordinary views in connexion with some parts of this case he had ever heard of. One of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments was, they had got rid of a certain portion of protection, and therefore they must get rid of every other, and become fused, as it were, into one nation with the whole world. The right hon. Gentleman, to be consistent in his advocacy of free trade, should not advocate it in regard to one thing only, but in regard to all. Had the constituents of the right hon. Gentleman no protection? Why did he not propose to begin by removing all protection from his own constituents, if he were really sincere? Was it not singular that when the right hon. Gentleman was 229 in office he did not move to take away protection from Manchester cotton? There was certainly, or he was misinformed, a protection of 10 per cent on some of the, finer fabrics of Manchester. He had not heard one single argument brought which could justify the House in running what he conceived was so great a risk. The bulk of the statements given in evidence before the Committee were intended to make out a case. One opinion was evidently influenced by an affection for the sugar trade, and another opinion by a like bearing to another trade. One gentleman was aggrieved because he could not turn himself into a land pirate. His partner had bought a French wreck a bargain, and he was injured because he was not allowed to turn it into a British ship. This was by no means an uncommon sample of the evidence. There was another branch of the subject with respect to which he must detain the House a short time, because he felt that a great injustice had been done to a deserving class of men. He should not have thought it necessary to have dwelt for a moment upon this subject, had it not been for the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. M. Gibson) and the Secretary of the Board of Control (Mr. Wilson) being officers of the Government, had taken up the statements made in a blue book, and fathered them, and I given them the weight of official authority—statements which he would presently prove were as slanderous as any ever made. They were got up in the true Chadwick style. He would not rest quiet for a moment, when he saw the officers of the Government employing their officials in a manlier so unjustifiable, to get up a case against a body of men behind their backs, and drawing conclusions from it which were contrary to the facts, and not even tenable on the evidence they had suborned, until he had exposed so base au attempt to injure a large and deserving class of men. These were strong statements, and he hoped the House would give him their attention while he showed upon what grounds he came to this conclusion. The House would, perhaps, surmise that he was alluding to the information derived from various consuls in reply to circular letters from Mr. Murray. The first letter was, to say the least of it, a singular one, if this gentleman wanted true information. What was the fact? A paid servant of the British Crown writes to a few—he did not write to all, but made a selection of 230 seventy out of 215—of the British consuls, and these he addressed in the following extraordinary letter, which was dated July 1, 1843. He begged the House to recollect that he was not the party to originate this charge against the Gentlemen on the Ministerial bench, as he had distinctly stated that he should not have noticed it had not the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gibson) and the Secretary to the Board, of Control (Mr. Wilson) taken up the statements and chosen to father what otherwise only stood upon the worthless authority of a blue book. The fact was also worthy of notice, as an essential part of the system, furnishing arguments by which it was sought to run down British shipping, showing a foregone conclusion for a purpose which was but too obvious, as there had been hardly a speech made on the other side of the House which did not dilate upon the incompetency of the captains and crews of British ships. Mr. James Murray thus writes:—Foreign Office, July 1, 1843.—I am anxious to obtain any information which your long experience may enable you to supply me with respecting the character and conduct of British shipowners and seamen"—(some of these gentlemen of "long experience" having been two or three years in their situations)—I am particularly desirous of gaining information in regard to instances which have come under your observation of the incompetency of British shipmasters"—(that was pretty strongly a fishing question)—to manage their vessels and their crews, whether arising from deficiency of knowledge of practical navigation and seamanship, or from moral character, particularly want of sobriety; also to the different conduct of crews, according as they are commanded by good or incompetent masters—allowing, therefore, the advantage, us regards preserving the character of British seamen, of their being commanded by a class of persons who should combine, with skill in their profession, a knowledge of the means of properly maintaining authority on board their ships.And then he went on to state his object:—My object is to show the necessity for authoritative steps, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to remedy what appears to be an evil detrimental to, and seriously affecting the character of, our commercial marine; and, therefore, advantageous to foreign rivals, whose merchant vessels are said to be extremely well manned and navigated.This letter, be it remembered, was from a gentleman high in the Foreign Office; and they all knew what an effect a communication 231 from the Foreign Office was likely to have upon consuls. They might form a pretty good guess of the sort of answers received. Without imputing want of sincerity to these gentlemen, they would inevitably address themselves to supply that which the letter left little doubt was wanted. He would, however, venture to say that this evidence was so full of contradictions made by the same men, and contradictions as to the same facts by different consuls, that it was not evidence upon which anybody would hang a dog. He did not hesitate to say that if that evidence were submitted in support of a case in a court of law, the counsel would decline to go to the jury, as no verdict could be given on statements so contradictory. The first evidence to which he would draw attention was that of Mr. Booker, Vice-Consul at Cronstadt, inclosed by Sir E. Baines, the Consul at St. Petersburgh. The effect of that evidence, given from fifty-nine years' experience, averaging 500 ships a year, was highly favourable to the east country captains, as they were called—captains from Hull and the eastern ports—all of the collier class, the class of men they were taken from. Then they next had Consul Crowe, of Hammerfest (Norway), and Consul Baker, of Riga, and they spoke very disparagingly of the same class of captains which Consul Booker had praised so highly. There was no mistaking Consul Crowe's language, he spoke out in good plain English. He said of the very same men who had been so well spoken of at St. Petersburg—The observations I now make are solely with respect to this class (that is, the Newcastle, Sunderland, and London colliers), and taking them as a whole, I do not hesitate to say they are the most ignorant, illiterate, and brutal set to be met with in command of vessels belonging to a civilised nation.That was pretty well, he thought, for a man to write respecting his own countrymen. Consul Baker, of Riga, said pretty much the same thing; but he took, besides, the most extraordinary course he (Mr. Henley) had ever heard of. The House would have observed that, in the course of the debate, every hon. Member who had addressed the House had spoken in high terms of the "long trade" captains. The House must he aware of the distinction that existed between these and the "collier class" referred to. Mr. Baker certainly was a most extraordinary witness. He, being Consul at Riga, says—"I have had occasion to remark the conduct of 232 more than one hundred shipmasters;" and proceeds to speak disparagingly of them generally, though in a less distinct way than Consul Crowe. But feeling that what he is able to say may not fully come up to the expectations indicated in his letter of instructions, he adds—I beg to enclose you a most interesting document, with respect to the character and conduct of British shipmasters, in which I fully concur.And where did the House suppose it was from? Why, the Bombay Chamber of Commerce. This was the disingenuous way in which a case was got up against these men behind their backs. The witness did not say "I know," but that there was somebody else who did; and, sending a bad general account, encloses a more particular one from Bombay, he himself being questioned as to Riga. What was such witness's testimony worth he should like to know. The Bombay Chamber of Commerce spoke ill of the long-trade captains—the men praised by all the hon. Members opposite; and Consul Baker, wishing to run down his countrymen at Riga, adopts the opinions of other parties with respect to a different class. What could Consul Baker know of the Bombay trade captains? and yet he says, "I fully concur" in their condemnation. But the case did not rest there: there were multitudes of such instances, though he must now be satisfied with having turned the attention of the House to them. There was, however, one other case so remarkable, that he must mention it. After Mr. Murray received his first batch of letters and put them together, he received second communications from some of these gentlemen. ["Divide!"] The character had been assailed of a class of men to whom the country owed a debt of gratitude, and while he had life or breath he would never hear them assailed without standing up for them. Mr. Cumberbatch, Consul at Constantinople, wrote his first letter on the 30th of September, 1843. He complains of the disorderly conduct of the Sunderland and Newcastle captains; but he says—Vessels arriving from London and Liverpool are generally better navigated. The masters and men are of a superior class, and disorderly conduct is much less frequent on board those vessels than the others.That was a decided statement of facts. But Consul Cumberbatch sends a subsequent letter, dated November 3, 1847, and what did he say then? Why, he then wrote— 233That vessels belonging to the outports are better commanded and manned than those belonging to the larger ports, as there the owners have better opportunities of examining the characters of the masters and crews they employ.In the former letter London and Liverpool ships were better than those from the outports. Here, then, was a Government official contradicting himself on a matter of fact. What confidence, then, could be placed in such evidence to take away the characters of men behind their backs? But the Consul went on to say, that—Ships insured in clubs were commanded by men of more respectability, because mutual insurance makes them more careful as to what masters they employ.The ships insured in clubs are those of Newcastle, and not of London and the larger ports, and the Consul thus gave a reason to show why he could not have been speaking the truth. A good deal had been said about ships at Rio Janeiro not being properly loaded; but there was evidence to prove the bad condition in which English ships delivered their cargoes, caused by the practice of that port with regard to the stowage, which was taken out of the hands of the master, and placed in that of an intermediate agent who had a beneficial interest in it. As a specimen of the peculiar kind of information given by some of these consuls, he might mention that a gentleman at Palermo, of the name of Goodwin, wishing, no doubt, to magnify the foreign marine at the expense of the British marine, stated, that the Sicilian mariners were, so good that when such a thing occurred as that a Sicilian found his way to India and back again, he was immediately made an officer of the Royal Navy. Full as this book was of slanderous statements, there was not one man whose evidence it contained that had not admitted the superiority of British seamen so far as seamanship was concerned. The Consul at St. Michael's acknowledged that—The consuls only see the men when they are on shore, and there are many men who may indulge and break out on shore when off duty, but who may he good men at sea.With these men, whom he had set down as intemperate, not a single vessel had been lost, though several had been so with the other class. Of the seventy-one gentlemen who gave evidence, no two agreed; yet upon the testimony of those persons the seamen of Great Britain were to be aspersed. He repeated that the evidence 234 was of such a nature, that he, for one, would not hang a dog upon it. It was got up by leading questions proposed by the authorities to whom those gentlemen looked for promotion. He did not hesitate to state that a valuable class of men had been slandered behind their backs for the purpose of getting up a case to repeal the navigation laws. He cautioned the House how it lightly interfered with the existing law. No ease had been made out for an alteration. The British commercial marine had increased quite in proportion with the demands for commerce. The present measure was adverse to the interests of the mercantile marine; and if that suffered, the nation at large would he subjected to to irreparable injury. Let them remember that when once concessions were made, there was no retracing their policy. Let them remember that they were not taking a progressive step, but that they were about to take the whole step at once. He felt that the interests of the country, not merely the interest of the monied and trading classes, but that the honour, the greatness, the independence of the country, and everything they held dear and wished to retain inviolate, could only be secured by keeping up their naval supremacy. Lose that and they would no longer he mistress of the seas—the glory and greatness of the country would have passed away.
§ Debate again adjourned.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past One o'clock