§ Order of the Day read for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Navigation Laws.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
spoke as follows: In proceeding to request the indulgence of the House while I endeavour to lay before them the view which I am inclined to take of this most important and by no means easy question, I can assure them that I shall refrain entirely from troubling them with figures and with particular details. Enough has been done and will be done by other Gentlemen, I have no doubt, in that form of illustration of the general argument; and I shall only endeavour to lay before them the grounds which have led me to the opinions that I have formed. The question which is at present under our consideration is not exactly whether we consider the plan of the Government in all its details, or even in its leading outline, to be the best plan that could by possibility have been adopted; the question fairly raised, as I think, by the Motion of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Herries) is, whether we are prepared, and prepared at this time, to make an extensive change, not only in secondary particulars, but in the principles of the navigation laws. To that question, thus fairly raised, I am ready to give a deliberate answer in the affirmative. Indeed, when I read the Motion of my right hon. Friend, I was afraid that many would have no difficulty in giving it such a construction as to make it—what I am sure he did not mean it to be—equivalent to nothing; because there are not many will say that there are no "proved inconveniences" whatever attending the navigation law, and that you cannot alter it in any particular—that you cannot scrape so much as a single filing off it, without so far "endangering our maritime strength." But that is not his opinion, and I am far from intending to charge him with it. I understand his description of the navigation law: it is quite clear and succinct; I understand his description to be, that the principles of the navigation law were these—that in your domestic trade and your colonial trade you should secure an absolutely exclusive right to the British shipowner; but that in your 252 foreign trade with the whole world it was a perfectly fair question how far upon principles of reciprocity you might admit the foreigner to an equality of dealing; and, unless I greatly misunderstood him, he stated that he was himself prepared, with respect to the foreign trade of the country, by no means to take his stand upon the present law, but to discuss with one nation and another the extension of trading privileges upon an equal footing, so far as regards all branches of our commerce, except those which relate to the dominions of Her Majesty. Understanding these to be the principles of the navigation law, it is my opinion that they ought to he altered, and that this is the most seasonable time for making the alteration. Great attempts have been made to throw upon the proposers of this measure the onus of proving a necessity for it. It has been treated as if this were a thing new and unheard of in our Legislature—as if it had no analogy in principle to the recent commercial legislation of the country. Sir, the recent commercial legislation of the country has been founded upon the principle, that upon the whole the more free and unrestricted you can make the application of competition to the principles of trade, the better will trade be conducted; and that principle, which has now been applied with certain limitations to nearly every great interest in the country, is the identical principle on which it is proposed to alter the navigation laws, and, being the identical principle on which the proceedings of Parliament for so many years have been founded, the onus of proof surely rather lies upon those who contend that the navigation laws ought to remain as they are. But it is unnecessary to rest the issue upon any discussion which might arise as to which party was hound to prove his case; in my opinion there never was an instance in which the proof was more distinct, that if you ought to legislate you ought to legislate at this moment. Why, surely the attitude taken by foreign States, and States of the first importance, is quite enough to show—I will not say that we ought to abolish or even to modify the navigation law, but that this is the time to make up our minds about it—this is the time to examine and to decide finally whether it is to continue in substance a portion of our code, or whether we are to proceed upon a different basis. America has, in my opinion, gained to herself great honour by the challenge she has thrown at the 253 foot of Her Majesty's Government. But there is not only that friendly challenge which we have received—there is the notice of a less friendly character, denounced by my right hon. Friend as a menace, which Prussia likewise has placed before us. And I must say frankly on the part of Prussia, without being an enthusiastic admirer of the commercial legislation to which she of late years has been a party, that I do not think she has deserved the rebuke which my right hon. Friend administered to her. She has given notice that she intends to require at our hands an entire equality of dealing, and failing her success in that purpose, that it is her intention to abrogate the conventions subsisting between her and this country. Now, it is true, I apprehend, that on the very face of those conventions Prussia is not at this moment upon a footing of equality with us. At this moment the access to the ports of Prussia from the ports of the globe is guaranteed by treaty to British ships; but, on the other hand, Prussian ships are not allowed admittance to the ports of this country upon terms of equality unless they proceed from ports of Prussia only. Is not Prussia perfectly entitled to demand that equality from us? And is it wise on the part of my right hon. Friend to speak of Prussia and her commercial position in the slighting terms he applied to her on Monday night? He is the very last man who could be deceived by the mere accident that the Customs returns of this country in the figures by which they measure our trade with Prussia happen to be fallacious. He must know well that for commercial purposes Prussia represents to us a population of 20,000,000 or 25,000,000, who are among the very greatest consumers of our commodities in Europe, and that there is no trade which we carry on throughout the whole compass of the globe more important us than the trade with Prussia, and the other members of the commercial league formed under her auspices. As regards commerce, Prussia is a first-class Power. As regards justice, Prussia is entitled to demand equality with us. The day has gone by when we can look down upon other countries in this respect, and arrogate to ourselves privileges which we are not prepared to yield to them. And, as regards the menace Prussia has uttered, I say that if she entertained the intention she was entitled to entertain—if she meant, unless we relax our navigation law, to tighten hers, it was 254 not an unfriendly course—it was a fair, a just, and a friendly course, to give us clear and full notice of her intentions, and afford us thereby an opportunity of escaping the evil which a persistence in our present system would not fail to draw down upon us. Then, with regard to the case of the colonies; my right hon. Friend seems to think that, because we have not a flood of petitions pouring in from our colonies, there is no urgent cause, so far as they are concerned, for taking the matter into consideration. That was just the case with the United States while they were our colonies, that little notice was taken of the restrictions this country from time to time laid upon the navigation of those colonies, until the crisis of those colonies came, and then it was that all those grievances were raked up against us. But those restraints upon the navigation of the colonies were regarded as taxes imposed upon them for our benefit, and not for theirs; and if it be true that the colonist's command of the means of conveyance for his produce is limited by the provisions of our navigation law, depend upon it, whether you hear of it now and in the form of petitions or not, at one time or other, and in one form or other, you will hear of it. It is impossible, upon principles of justice, that it should not be so. But I think the right bon. Gentleman rather went beyond the literal truth when he said that Parliament had now determined that there should be no preference whatever for colonial commodities, because, undoubtedly, a scale exists upon our Statute-book, without any fixed term assigned for its duration in several important instances; and, although we are travelling towards that point, it cannot, I think, yet be said that we have attained it. But now let us look at the Australian colonies. It cannot be said quite literally, but there is no important exception to the proposition, that the Australian colonies derive no benefit from our navigation laws. You require them to send their wool to this market to compete with the wool of Germany, which has to be carried an eighth of the distance. Is it fair that they should likewise be limited in the choice of their freights, and that if they find a German ship in one of their ports that has come out with emigrants, they should be obliged to refuse that ship, and not be allowed to send their produce home in her? What have we just done with respect to copper ore? We have declared that the copper ore of Cuba and 255 Chili shall be admitted on the same terms as the ore of our own possessions. Now, some valuable mines of copper ore have lately been opened in South Australia, and you tell your fellow-subjects in that colony that they shall have no preference for their ore in the home market; and, more than that, you do, in effect, place a differential duty upon them, because you permit those who produce ore in Cuba to choose the ship in which they will send it, whilst you compel the South Australian miner to pay whatever freight the British shipowner, in the exercise of his exclusive privilege, may demand. It appears to me that a good deal of misunderstanding prevails with respect to Jamaica. It has been represented that the Jamaicans were anxious for an alteration of the navigation laws, only because they thought it would be the means of reducing freights to this country; but it is now apparent that the measure will confer an equal privilege on the Cuba producer, and, therefore, no relative advantage can accrue to the Jamaicans. That, I understand, is the argument which is held to be sufficient to destroy the force of the memorial from Jamaica in favour of the repeal of the navigation laws. But surely this is a great fallacy. I must here advert to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford. He told the House that he was willing to allow American ships to bring produce to this country from all parts of the world, on condition that equal privileges were conferred upon us. He is willing to allow the planter of Cuba to send his sugar to this country in American vessels, and thereby to gain whatever advantage is to be obtained by the reduction of freights; but, in his affection for Jamaica and the other British colonies—in his desire to hug them in the closest embrace—lie insists that with respect to them the monopoly of the British shipowner shall continue. It appears to me that the result of such an arrangement would be to give the foreigner in Cuba an advantage which is denied to the British planter in our own colonies. Another circumstance marks the present moment as a time eminently suitable for carrying out fully the principle involved in the proposition which has been submitted to the House. During the last five or six years we have entered on an active course of commercial legislation; and it cannot be denied that we have done more than was ever before done in a similar time. We have done more than ever can be done 256 again to add to the bulk and weight of imports into this country. By taking that course we have immensely stimulated the shipping interest, and greatly enlarged the field of employment. We have done more than ever can be done again to increase the profits of shipowners; and, therefore, I venture to think that now is the time, before any great speculation in British shipping should cause the supply to overtake and perhaps pass beyond the demand, to subject the British shipowner to competition with a wider field of rivalry than he has hitherto been exposed to. An important question is raised with reference to this subject. The relation of the question with the defences of the country is one of vital importance, which no one could be justified in omitting from view in considering the subject; and when I see the noblemen and gentlemen of England, who are themselves stripped of protection, coming forward, and from motives, of which I do not for a moment dispute the sacredness, maintaining for others the protection which they have lost themselves, and that too not only from an abstract attachment to commercial restrictions, but because they conscientiously believe that the proposed alteration of the navigation laws will be injurious to the power and the defences of the country, I am more than ever bound to give the objection my serious consideration. I must own that I am not prepared—it may be owing to weakness of nerve—to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, in the lofty flight which he took with reference to the subject. I am not prepared to say, that with the view of gaining an accession of trade to this country, I would deprive the British Navy of all possible resort to the mercantile marine in the event of a war or sudden emergency. I concur with the right hon. Gentleman in entertaining a sanguine hope that the commercial legislation of this country, with its benign contagion, so to speak, will spread itself slowly among other nations, and become the rule of general legislation; that it will prove a tie which will much strengthen the bonds of amity which unite different countries, and diminish the frequency of wars. I cannot, however, concur with the right hon. Gentleman in his sanguine prophecy, and anticipate that universal peace will immediately follow the declaration of freedom of commerce. The untoward fate which has attended some recent prophecies with respect to revolutions, will make me very 257 cautious in giving faith to predictions for the future. And I must say that, judging from the past, if the right hon. Gentleman or any other person should prophesy that universal peace would follow the repeal of the navigation laws, so far from believing him, I should rather entertain a suspicion that a general war would he raging within a week. With reference, however, to the important question to which I have just adverted, I may remark that the facilities for manning the Navy by the aid of the merchant service appear to be greater, if we may judge from experience, than we are led to suppose. If I recollect accurately, the late Secretary to the Admiralty stated during a former discussion, that at the breaking out of the war in 1793, our naval force did not exceed 16,000 or 18,000 men, whilst our mercantile marine amounted to only 1,500,000 tons—it now amounts to 4,500,000 tons—and yet, within eighteen months from that period, we had 86,000 men on board the fleet. Undoubtedly the introduction of steam in the Navy must exercise a most important influence on the question, chiefly because it is to steam vessels we must mainly look for the execution of those sudden operations which render the power of a sudden resort to the mercantile marine for the purpose of manning the Navy a matter of such importance. After stating these limitations, however, I confess it appears to me that the decision of the House must depend mainly on the question, what is to be the commercial effect of relaxing or removing the navigation laws? Are we to expect by the adoption of that measure to give a wholesome stimulus to our mercantile marine, and to extend the field of employment; or, on the contrary, will that marine dwindle away under the influence; of competition, and be reduced to so low a point that the country could no longer depend upon it for furnishing a supply of men to the Navy in the event of a sudden emergency? On that issue I am ready to stake the whole question. I am prepared to advocate an alteration in the navigation laws on my conviction, supported by arguments, that the effect of a judicious change will be, not to limit, but to strengthen and extend the commerce, and, with the commerce, the navigation of this country. On the other side, the advocates of the retention of the law say, "How is it possible that the British shipowner can exist under competition with foreign countries, when he pays more for his timber than the Rus- 258 sian, more for the wages of his men than the Dane, and more for their food than most foreign nations?" I will not stop to inquire whether these allegations are strictly accurate. I believe that they are somewhat exaggerated; but I think we have no reason to apprehend that in a fair contest the British shipowner will be left behind his rivals, let them belong to what nation of the globe they may. If we are to fear the Danes and Swedes on account of the means of cheaper construction and manning, how is it, I ask, that those nations have not already driven us out of the carrying trade of the world? Let any candid man answer this question, How is it that British ships proceed in multitudes year after year from the port of Rio to the port of Trieste? I am not now speaking of that which is called—though not with strict accuracy perhaps—the direct trade of this country. The Danes have had plenty of time to think about it; and if they are unable to drive you out of trades which are strictly and literally unprotected, why should we fear that they will succeed in doing so after the repeal of the navigation laws? Is the cheapness of ships an important advantage? Then why do not the British shipowners have their vessels built in British North America, where they can be made as cheaply as in any part of the world? I remember that about four years ago a movement took place in this country, the object of which was to protect the British shipbuilder against the competition to which he is exposed with the builder in British North America. Upon that occasion it was stated that it is usual to build ships in Canada or New Brunswick, to freight them with timber, and send them to this country, where, after the sale of the cargo, the ship is sold for less than the cost price, the speculator being satisfied with the profit which he has made by the timber. That statement was made by a high authority, and I have no reason to doubt its accuracy. It is evident, then, that not only is the British shipowner able to have ships built as cheaply as they can be made in any country of the world, but that he can buy them under prime cost. Why does he not buy them? Because they will not last; and that observation applies to the cheap ships of all foreign nations. The facts quoted by the hon. Member for Dartmouth last night, proved that since the existence of the reciprocity treaties, their mercantile marine has made less progress than ours. If there be any real ad- 259 vantage in cheap ships, how happens it that our shipowners go on building dearer and dearer ships every year? It is a remarkable fact, and pregnant with instruction, that the books of Lloyd's show of late years an increase of vessels of the higher class, built, of course, at a greater cost than ships of a lower class. With respect to the cheapness of seamen, why should we fear the Danes, when the Americans did not fear them? The Americans pay their seamen higher wages than we do, and the American vessels are supplied on a more expensive scale than ours are; yet the Americans do not fear the Danes. On the contrary, they are superior to the Danes in the commerce of the world. Their commerce extends over the whole globe, and their shipping increases more rapidly than that of the Danes or Swedes. But we feared not American rivalry. Why then fear that of the Danes? Away with the bugbear of cheapness! It is not cheap but dear countries we have to fear—countries that possess capital, enterprise, industry, and intelligence; and I hesitate not to express my conviction, that in any one of those particulars we shall be able to meet any other country, and to beat it. I say, therefore, that, as far as we can form a judgment from any elements of this kind, there really is no reason why we should apprehend serious or permanent injury to any branch of the maritime trade of this country, or to the interest of the shipowner, from the fair and just competition of other nations. At the same time, I fully grant that the system it is proposed we should proceed to alter, is a very complicated one. Its operation has no doubt been, to give, in many instances, an artificial form to our trade, and induce people to rely on what they ought not to depend upon, instead of leaving them to rely only on what they could command, and the advantages they might legitimately avail themselves of. We are here destroying not merely a single monopoly of the shipowner at the expense of the public; we are called upon to undo a complicated web of distinct interests, one compensating another, but all of them subsisting at the expense of the public. The shipowner is invested with monopoly in many instances against the foreigner; but the shipowner has to meet the monopoly of the seaman. The monopoly of the seaman is again counterworked by the shipowner being forced to carry a greater number of apprentices than he would do if left to his own discretion. 260 He is also limited as to power in bringing certain goods from certain countries. Then the rates of charge on shipowners for lights and pilotage are very high—higher than they ought to be, and higher than they might have been had the shipowner, being exposed to fair competition, earnestly bestirred himself to get these lights and pilotage dues reduced to the lowest point at which the service could be done. The shipowner, again, is subject to the disadvantage of impressment. In this respect he has suffered much; and in calling on him to relinquish any advantage he may have derived, or may think he has derived, from the restrictions imposed on trade by the navigation laws, we must, of course, I apprehend, be prepared to remove entirely from him all the fetters which now affect him. In my opinion there is not one of these fetters that can be allowed justly to remain. I fully grant the shipowner has a right to claim at our hands everything any class can claim. As far as any class can be entitled to special regard for its interests, I say this is the class. I say the shipowner is entitled to require perfect freedom in the purchase of his ship—he has a perfect right to own a foreign-built ship if he pleases. I won't go into the question whether foreign-built ships should, according to the analogy of your tariff, be subject to a moderate duty. But if the ships of the Baltic be so cheap and so good, he should be allowed to purchase them if he thinks proper. I must also distinctly state—although here I am sorry to differ from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade on a point I hope he regards as not essential, but only a matter of detail—if we destroy the navigation laws, I do not think we should require the shipowner to man his ship with three-fourths of British hands. This would be alike contrary to policy and justice. It is contrary to policy, for what inducement would the shipowner then have to register at all? If you continue a legal restriction of that kind, he will not register his ship as a British ship. But I think it is also plainly contrary to justice. I think it is not fair to require the shipowner to enter into unlimited competition with one of his hands tied. If you leave the importer of produce free in his choice of the ship which is to carry his goods to this country, it is impossible to argue in the same breath that the British shipowner is to be restricted in the choice of the men by whom to navigate his vessel. That, I 261 think, is a feature of the Government plan which cannot survive the ordeal to which, of course, the measure will be subjected in detail by the Committee. Upon every point the shipowner should be left at perfect liberty. With respect to impressment, even, the shipowner has a right to be free. I do not now enter into the question, on which I do not feel qualified to pronounce a judgment, whether, under all circumstances, we may not dispense with impressment; but this I do say, if it be necessary for the public interests that impressment be maintained, the shipowner has an absolute right to be compensated. We have no right to make him the victim of public convenience. Then the seaman has a sort of monopoly against the shipowner. But what is his predicament? Is he not punished for it? He is subjected to competition from boys; he is liable to be ousted from employment by the necessity the shipowner lies under to carry a certain number of boys. He is liable also to service in the Navy, and—what is a grievous hardship—ho is subject to a tax on his wages, in the shape of a contribution to the Merchant Seamen's Fund. The law is altogether exceptional, and, as now worked, it is totally impossible that it can continue. I am not for giving up the tax; but if you choose to maintain the exceptional law for the seaman, you must see that he enjoys the advantage of it. I wish to have it so worked as to render it beneficial for its objects. Every argument of policy is in favour of revising it. But what is now the condition of the seaman in almost every port? You profess to provide him with a pension, but not one-fourth part of what a pauper in every workhouse enjoys. You interfere with his profits, and withdraw part of his wages under the pretence of making a provision for him in old age, which is no provision at all; and you leave him in many instances in a worse position than that of a pauper, with a miserable pension—which cannot give him anything like support—after having paid a price for which he ought to have received a full and honourable recompense. Now, if the monopoly of the seaman should be destroyed, I say, on the other hand, that the seaman ought to be relieved of these disadvantages. So of the shipbuilder, again; if he can show that he labours under disadvantages which it is in the power of the Legislature to remove, we ought to remove them. I think the shipbuilder will have great difficulty in showing that he labours 262 under those disadvantages. I think it will appear in evidence, that as regards steamship building, he is already in a position of immense, almost unapproachable, advantage. In building sailing vessels he has also great advantages. The Legislature has made great efforts to relieve him from the disadvantages he formerly laboured under. He has a perfectly free command of the means of victualling his ship; he has a perfect command of all the metals that are required in the building of his ship; he has a perfectly free command of the materials of sails and cordage. With regard to timber, there is only, after all, a very limited burden imposed on him, in the shape of a tax of 15s. per load. The portion of Baltic or other foreign timber, which he uses in building his ships, is very small. The chief material used he has close by—British oak, and that he has cheaper and readier than any of his rivals. Even with respect to the portion of Baltic or other foreign timber, he may require in the construction of British-built ships, I do not see why that proposition should not be revived which was made by Mr. Huskisson, although it did not then meet with a very favourable reception—that a drawback should be allowed on the materials employed in the shipbuilding trade. It is within the power of Parliament to relieve the shipbuilder in that respect, while it exposes him to competition. It would not be fair to assume—for myself I deprecate the assumption—that this measure involves a general censure either on British seamen, or British shipmasters, or shipowners. The object of such a measure undoubtedly is, that you may get the trade of the country carried on in the best way and at the smallest cost; but it is not fair to represent it as involving any general censure on those who do carry it on. Much has been said of the consular reports, and the qualifications and character of masters and seamen. I have no doubt there has been some exaggeration on that subject; but, on the other hand, I have no doubt that from the very fact of the unrivalled inborn seamanship of the British subject, he may have been less careful in accomplishing himself in his profession, than has been the case with the seaman of other countries, who had fewer advantages. I cannot doubt that you might by judicious measures improve in some important particulars the standard of professional accomplishments as regards the mercantile character of shipmasters. It is painful to 263 observe the difference between the rates of insurance with reference respectively to ships and cargoes. The superiority of the British shipbuilder is asserted unequivocally by those impartial judges the insurance-offices; he can insure his ship lower than the shipowner of any other country. But it is painful to read that the insurance effected on the cargo of a British ship is higher. And why is it so? Is it true or not that in many instances greater care is bestowed on his cargo by the foreign than the British master? I have myself heard of cases of British merchants being compelled to send orders to their correspondents not to ship by British vessels, because in foreign vessels goods were better taken care of. Here is one point on which an improvement may be brought about by legislation. By the number of men employed on board ship, and the disposition to economise labour, as the Americans economise, something may be effected. Great as are the enterprise, skill, and vigilance, of those who make the mercantile marine of England, you may raise them to a higher point by subjecting that marine to a less restricted application of the principle of competition. Nor would it be fair to represent the object of this measure, to reduce freights. This may be an incident of it, very possibly. But, in the first place, it is also possible that there might be great benefit to the public in the better care of cargoes, in greater despatch, and in various other ways, enough to justify the measure, without any serious reduction of freights; and, on the other hand, it is equally undeniable that there might be a reduction of freights without detriment to the shipowner. His field of employment being extended, he might afford to take a full freight at lower rates, rather than wait longer in port, and have his ship at last half empty. Upon general grounds, therefore, I cannot have the least hesitation in thinking that we have reached that time when we ought to contemplate an extensive alteration of the navigation laws; and I have only now to state to the House what occurs to me with respect to the form of the measure proposed by the Government. And here I must confess that in several not unimportant particulars I should have preferred that the Government had determined to pursue a somewhat different course with regard to the form of their measure. I will state first an important point on which I should have preferred a measure that might in its 264 first effect have been more restricted, and more gradual in its operation. Although I fully admit that the question is not free from difficulty—although I reserve to myself the opportunity of deriving information and advantage from the lights others may throw on this discussion, I should have wished, on the whole, that Government had thought fit to adhere to what has been almost the invariable course of precedent, sanctioned by utility and convenience—I say not also by justice—and had made the large concessions of privilege they propose conditional and limited by reciprocal treatment from other countries. If I may describe the manner I should have preferred, I would quote simply the words which the right hon. Gentleman informed the House Mr. Bancroft employed on the part of the United States. I know the many limitations now imposed on the trade of Europe might, in some particulars, have made it necessary for you to proceed unconditionally; but with regard to the great question, cargoes coming from all parts of the globe, all goods irrespective of origin, and with regard to the colonial and the coasting trade, I should have wished the Government to say to every country, "If you do little, we will do little; if you do much, we will do much; and if you do all, we will do all." Wow, I will state the reasons on which that opinion is founded. I know it is an opinion that will not be popular in this House. I don't think the adoption of it would materially sweeten the cup commended to the taste of the shipowners of this country. The very name of reciprocity is extremely unpopular to those who are attached to the principles of commercial freedom. But I think that is an unjust prejudice, derived from the universal, unequivocal failure of all attempts to contract engagements of reciprocity in customs duties. I admit their failure in the fullest terms, without qualification, great or small; but I contend that the two subjects are entirely distinct. We have failed entirely in the formation of tariffs on the reciprocal relaxation of customs duties. As a matter of argument I take the negotiation with Portugal. We say, "We will reduce the duties on port wine from 5s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. per gallon, provided you reduce your duty on British woollens from 50 or 60 to 20 per cent." Well, now, are the materials which it is attempted to compare together, in any respect commensurable with each other? Have the interests that are brought into 265 contact with one another, any particular relation one to the other? The producer of cloths in England does indeed derive an indirect benefit from the reduction of the duty on Portuguese wines; but he does not derive that direct, palpable, immediate, and paramount benefit which would be derived by the shipowner, from a diminution of the duty. Their interests are not at all the same. You ask to have the duty on British cloths reduced with a view to the general extension of trade; but if the British shipowner, trading to Spain, and paying double duties, has to compete with Spanish ships, that pay only single duties, the effect is to create an absolute monopoly for the latter. We have a remarkable instance of this in the trade with the British East Indies. For many years the trade from this country to the East Indies has been opened to American vessels as well as to vessels of other nations. I am afraid it is true they have not availed themselves of that permission; and why? Because, although the duty levied is extremely low, yet, double duties being charged upon the Americans, they are thereby practically excluded from the trade. Now, I have this fear, that if you do not stipulate for the abolition of these double duties, in many instances you will have a practical monopoly established against you. I do not think there is much in this question as a matter of practice, because I am disposed to believe, and I ardently hope, that America on the one hand, and the Baltic Powers on the other, will enter into the establishment of a system of unconditional freedom on both sides. But when I look at the policy of Holland, which, though liberal in its customs duties, is not so in regard to its navigation—and when I look to the policy of Prance, of Spain, and of the Italian States—I must confess I have considerable apprehensions, not of any great, permanent, or vital injury being inflicted on the vast interests of the British shipping, because those interests are too extended to be seriously injured by the policy of a few European countries, but my great fear is, that much mischief will be done by affording a scope to the indulgence of the selfish and narrow views of those countries, and that much hardship will be inflicted upon the shipowners by their being excluded, by the force of the double duties, from trading with those countries, and that they will lose the great benefit which the public would otherwise derive from a system of 266 freedom in the carrying trade of the world. It has always been admitted by the advocates of reciprocity duties, that if it were possible to secure a double benefit by treaties with other countries, it was highly important to do so. It has always been granted that the beneficial effects of free trade must be greatly limited and restricted if this country should have to proceed in carrying out its principles independently of other countries and at its own risk, and that that circumstance alone made it worth while to exert our best efforts to secure the double benefit of reciprocity treaties. In this case, therefore, it is required in fairness to the interests of the shipowners, as well as to your merchants and manufacturers, that you should endeavour to secure the double benefit of such treaties. But what has been the answer with regard to these treaties? The answer has been, that the reciprocity system was a failure—that it was impracticable—that, however good and desirable it might be in theory, it was not feasible, and therefore, being compelled to choose between acting by ourselves, or not at all, we have acted for ourselves, rather than not at all. But that, Sir, is not the alternative before us. If it were, I should not feel it necessary to say that I should feel myself bound to a course of inaction. But I think the practicability of proceeding on the plan of reciprocity can be established. You have not the difficulty of comparing stipulations on the one side and on the other; there is not the same opportunity now as heretofore for ignorance and prejudice to find their way into the discussion of the question, or to clothe with the clouds of uncertainty the future, by vague statements in respect to the customs duties—you have merely to say, "Here is the plan; its provisions are perfectly understood; we found no difficulty in proceeding with that plan before." This course was open to you, and is so still, and on the whole, I think it would have been advantageous and safe to have preferred that course in the present instance. But even the measure which you now propose is not, after all, an unconditional measure. It is proposed to reserve a power to the Queen in Council. First of all, you abolish all restrictions on navigation, and then you place in the hands of the Queen a power to impose countervailing duties on all countries who do not grant to us the same advantages as we concede to them. I confess it appears to me that, instead of that 267 plan, it would have been wiser to have proceeded by treaties of reciprocity. I think there is a great objection to conferring such a power as that which is proposed to be given to the Queen in Council. I grant a similar power has been given in former instances, but not in so extensive and important a matter. Certainly it was given in the case of the Corn Bill; but I remember observing hon. Members smile when it was proposed, because everybody understood that it was a mere brutum fulmen. No one believed that the Corn Bill was to be repealed, as against any particular country that might levy a duty upon British goods which the Government might think excessive. There was the case of opening the colonial trade; but that was a very peculiar case. Mr. Huskisson's object, on that occasion, was to bring rivals in the trade against the Americans. It was not a case beginning de novo; it was not a case res integra. The Americans already possessed the trade with our colonies, and the object of Mr. Huskisson was to let in other countries to participate in that trade. But, in the present instance, we ought to know, because it is a material point, whether it is intended to retain this power as a dormant power, or whether the Government means to act upon it against those countries that do not reciprocate with us. It is quite plain that hostile interests will force from the Government a most explicit pledge on this subject. The Government will be required to define distinctly to what class of cases they mean that power to be applied. I think they do not intend it to remain dormant, but to be bonâ fide, and by virtue of that power at their discretion to reimpose differential duties in order to extort reciprocity from; those nations that would be otherwise inclined to pursue an illiberal course. If they do so, I must confess, although I have no want of confidence in the present Government for such a purpose, and I would as soon leave that power in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Trade, of whose honour and candour all who know him are aware, as in the hands of any person whatever; yet at the same time I think it too large and delicate a question to be left in the hands of the Executive, without obvious and pressing necessity. I think it a power, the concession of which will be extremely disagreeable to the right hon. Gentleman: the pressure from one quarter and another will oblige him to regret powers which are of an order that 268 should be reserved for the decision of Parliament. And if it is intended that it should be a living and practical power, which you are to put in force in case of need—and it is obvious you cannot otherwise exercise it honestly—then you would, I think, proceed more safely and wisely by undoing piecemeal the system you have got, than by sweeping it away in order to reconstruct it piecemeal, and then shortly afterwards, in all probability, pull it down again. Though I admit this question to be one of difficulty, then, I must differ from the Government with respect to their form of procedure; but I ask no credit whatever from the shipowners for that difference of opinion, because I frankly avow my belief that, as respects all those who may be looked upon as the more formidable rivals—the Baltic Powers and the Americans, who are certainly entitled to the name of formidable rivals—I believe you will have reciprocity, whether you pass the Bill in this form, or in the form which I should prefer. Then with respect to the restrictions you propose still to retain, I have already said I think it impossible to pass a measure of this kind, striking at the root of the navigation laws in all essential particulars, and preserve the restriction on the shipowner of obliging him to man his ships with three-fourths of the crew British seamen. His claim in that respect, I think, is absolutely irrefragable. I am inclined also to differ from the Government with respect to the restrictions they propose to retain upon the fisheries. As the right hon. Gentleman has not yet referred to that subject in detail, and I do not know certainly what his reasons may be for retaining those restrictions, I will not go into detail respecting it, but I must make a few remarks on another and very important restriction which the Government propose to retain—I mean the coasting trade. I confess I am aware of no reason whatever why the coasting trade should not be dealt with exactly in the same way as you deal with the colonial trade. The right hon. Gentleman adverted to the danger to the revenue that would ensue if this were acted upon. That, of course, is a subject which he and his Colleagues in office are much better qualified to judge of than I am; and if it can be shown that real danger to the revenue would occur by opening the coasting trade, I confess you have an argument against that measure; but subject to that qualification, I am adverse to the restriction. I 269 disapprove of it not merely upon practical grounds, and because I wish to arrive at a solution of this question which shall be a complete settlement of it, and which shall leave nothing further to be debated in this House; but if the right hon. Gentleman will favour me with his attention for a few moments, I can show him that the exclusive retention of the coasting trade, whilst it is of no importance to the British shipowner, will have the effect of materially lessening the advantage you are anxious to obtain for the British shipowner in other countries. There is no quarrel between us on the ground that reciprocity is desirable; we are unfeignedly anxious for the benefit of the British shipowner, and desirous to extend the field of his employ; we are desirous to obtain for him from foreign countries, if it can be obtained, the same extended liberty we give them as regards our own. Look, then, at the bearing of this principle on your commercial relations with America. I will not advert to any other country, because I cannot assume that there is any other to which the coasting trade would be of the same importance, although, when I remember that the coasting trade of the Miditerranean was at one period carried on to a great extent in British vessels, I am by no means prepared to deny that our coasting trade might not be of the utmost advantage to other countries. I believe the coasting trade of America would be of the utmost advantage to our shipping. ["Hear!"] Yes, I cannot but understand the words of Mr. Bancroft, in his note to the noble Lord opposite, as meant to imply a graduated or sliding-scale of concessions. I understand him to say, "we are ready, if you are ready, to make short work of it; we are willing to give to the British flag all the privileges which you may give to the Americans." Now, what are you going to do by this measure? You are not going to give the coasting trade to the Americans. If I am asked what is likely to be the most serious inconvenience the British shipowner will suffer before this question is thoroughly settled, I should be very much disposed to answer, the rivalry of the Americans in the colonial trade. Well, you are not going to give your coasting trade to the Americans, though probably few Gentlemen will be found to entertain apprehensions that if it were thrown open to them, there would be many vessels under the stripes and stars engaged in it; and therefore its concession would not practically be 270 a very serious one for our own shipping interests, though in giving them the colonial trade you give them something which we have a right to regard as of far greater magnitude. America has no colonies; but she has a coasting trade equivalent to a colonial trade, and in carrying on which our connections to the north and south of her territory are in a condition to enable us to take a very useful part in assisting her shipowners. I say, then, we ought to be prepared to make to America this demand. Let us give her the coasting trade, and we are entitled, not merely in policy but in justice, to ask her for her coasting trade. But let us give her the colonial trade without the coasting trade, and we give her the valuable boon whilst we withhold the worthless; but we cannot say to her, "Give us all, for we have given you all." But this is a matter of very great importance; and it appears to me a very forcible argument for including the coasting trade in any arrangement you may make. In the general principles of the relaxation of the navigation laws, it is evident, I think, from what I have said, I cordially concur with Her Majesty's Ministers; I am sincerely desirous to give them an effectual support in carrying their measure, and should be extremely unwilling to take any step that could hinder its progress. On the other hand, I hope they will not feel themselves precluded from accepting any suggestion I have thrown out, in case they should be convinced, after discussion, that it would be an improvement. But with respect to the general principles on which we are to proceed, never did I feel more confident either of their soundness or of their applicability to the case in hand, or that the time is come which is marked out by a singular combination of circumstances as the time for proceeding to action. Really, when I heard yesterday the clerk at the table read a petition from the city of London, signed by names of great authority, in which it was stated that this was the last moment at which we ought to proceed to touch the navigation laws, I asked myself, to what class of considerations could these gentlemen be turning their minds? What view could they take of the recent proceedings in foreign countries? The invitation of America through her Minister—the menace, if such it may be called, of Prussia—the recent augmentation of our imports; I remember no case of a great problem in which the preliminary question of time was 271 so plainly determined for us by a combination of important circumstances. In another sense, indeed, the phrase of the petition may be true, that this is the last moment for considering the navigation laws; for it may be true, if we postpone this measure for a year or two, that we will no longer have the opportunity of considering it. It is painful to find—but though it may excite regret, it cannot excite surprise—that when we have endeavoured to plead the relaxation of our commercial code as an argument for the concession of similar relaxations on their part, we have always been met with the observation, that that argument comes too late from us, who have clung to our restraints as long as we could, and never surrendered them except under the pressure of overpowering necessity. When I consider what are the avowed opinions of one great Power—what is the course of political change on the Continent, not favourable, I fear, to commercial freedom—I am afraid that if you refuse to consider the friendly offer which Prussia has made you, it may be the last moment you may have for considering the question. But as respects the application of those principles to shipping, why should the shipowner fear it? Does he labour under any other disadvantage than what applies to any other trade in the country? Can you speak to any man in England who does not urge to you, as a reason for his being protected, that he has to pay higher wages, and higher prices for a portion of his materials, than are paid in foreign countries? Do not these statements apply equally to the shipowner? But yet these classes are able, not only to hold up their heads in the general competition, but to head the race. And so with the shipowner—he has the same advantages open to him as to any one else, nay, in some respects greater: the unparalleled cheapness of capital in England—the encouraging trade with foreign countries, so that his employment lies at his own door, instead of his having to go, like others, for a field in search of it—the immense commercial connexions of this country—its high commercial character, which has a pecuniary as well as a moral value in the conduct of business—its geographical position, so remarkably placed as it is between the great seats of commerce in Europe and America, as if she were the central point, and they the extremities. Besides that, he has that which lies at the root of the whole—the maritime genius of the people, which makes the 272 Englishman feel at home on the wave—that power which characterises him beyond almost all the nations of the globe, which makes it true of the British navigator and merchant that the whole world is their home, as of the illustrious dead it was said that the whole world was their tombs. With these advantages, once liberated from the artificial habits which have grown upon him, surely he ought not to dread the permanent effects of any competition to which he may be exposed. But he will not dread it the expressions which seem to imply dread are but like the expressions which have proceeded from other classes of men under similar circumstances. It is quite true that great legislative changes have been descried by them as the offspring of mere theory; but when they have been tested by circumstances and results, there is hardly any case in which their soundness has not been admitted. Look at the reciprocity treaties which you were told, from 1825 down to a very recent period, had ruined the commerce of this country. There is a remarkable passage in a report of the Shipowners' Society, in which I cannot help thinking we detect the authorship of our excellent friend, Mr. Young, ascribing to them a multitude of calamities, and amongst them the total incapacity of British shipowners to compete with foreign in the present state of the navigation laws. Two years more elapse, and we are told the state of things is so satisfactory that no attempt should be made to interfere with it! These are not theories, but attempts to apply the results of past experience to the future condition of the world. We are bound so to consider them, and to do everything we can, with a fair consideration of the general interest, to break the force of transition. I think Parliament has done wisely to take that course, and to abate something from the rigid principles of political economy, for the sake of softening the impact of changes which may be, under particular circumstances, contemplated with alarm, though we do not fear their ultimate effects. But, adopting these principles honestly, boldly, and firmly, we may trust to them to work out their own results; and if now, without further delay, we give our sanction to the principle of freedom of navigation, we may hope that our example will have a powerful effect on foreign countries, because we have already the first fruit of the result in the invitation addressed to us by a great Power on the other side of the Atlantic. 273 We may hope that when England and America have concurred in setting that example to the world, other nations will be drawn to imitate it by a moral force which it will he difficult to resist; and that we shall live to see the ocean, that great highway of nations, as free to the ships that traverse its bosom, as the winds that sweep it. England will then have achieved another triumph, and made another powerful contribution to the prosperity of mankind.
§ MR. HUDSON
said, if it was necessary for him to offer any apology for rising to address the House on the important subject then before it, it would be found in the fact of his having the honour of representing one of the largest shipping ports in this country. In the port of Sunderland, for which he was Member, out of a population of 70,000 souls, about 25,000 were employed in shipbuilding. He had listened to parts of the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down with great satisfaction, for he thought the right bon. Gentleman assigned the best possible reasons why they ought to vote for the Amendment of his right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford, rather than with the Government. There was not one proposition submitted to the House by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere) with which the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had not found fault; and the right hon. Gentleman had also shown that it would have been much more desirable if by treaties they had paved the way for the adoption of this measure. He hoped, then, that by agreeing to the Amendment, the House would give Ministers an opportunity of carrying out the sound views so ably enforced by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had gone on to argue that British shipowners would be able to compete with the Dutch, the Prussians, and other foreigners. From that he entirely dissented. Again, the right hon. Gentleman said, ships might be built at less cost in our colonies than at home; yet our shipbuilders were able to face colonial competition. It was true that ships might be built in the colonies for less money; but the timber was of bad quality and little durability, and this accounted for the fact of our being able to compete with the colonies. This, however, would not be the case when we came to compete with the Baltic shipowners, and encouraged Russia to build ships. He ad- 274 mitted that at present our trade with Russia was carried on by the ships of this country, but it should be recollected, that since machinery was allowed to be exported, British capital had transferred itself to Russia, and that now, instead of sending to Russia cotton fabrics, we sent the Russians raw cotton to manufacture for themselves. He was afraid the same result would attend the shipping trade, and that instead of bringing timber to Sunderland and other ports to build their ships, it would be found that British shipowners had much better transfer their capital and enterprise to the place where the timber existed. He fully agreed with the right hon. Gentleman as to the hardship of maintaining restrictions on the shipowner as to manning his vessels; it was evident that they would not he retained for a moment after the measure passed; if we were to have free trade, let it be carried out fully and fairly; if we were to have protection, let it be protection on a firm and solid basis. From a statement made out by the shipowners of Sunderland, and which he had the honour of submitting to the right hon. Gentleman opposite on a deputation, it was plain that they could not sustain a competition with foreigners, as a shipowner at Sunderland was subject to charges calculated to amount to 2l. 10s. a ton more than the shipowner of Dantzic, or any other Baltic port, had to encounter. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the reciprocity treaties, and said, that in spite of the ruin denounced from them, the shipping interest was in a state of the greatest prosperity. But this was merely temporary, occasioned by the immense demand for the conveyance of food to this country during the last two years, larger than had ever before been known. From a return of ships entering the port of Sunderland in the course of the last ten years, he found that to ninety-five British vessels coming from the northern ports, there were 350 foreign—some proof that foreigners could compete with us successfully in navigation. He was informed, that as soon as this Bill passed, 20,000 of the labouring people of Sunderland would be thrown out of employ. No man would for a length of time, until he saw the effect of these alterations, commence the building of a new ship. The right hon. Gentleman said, that we must progress, and told the House to look at what had been already done. He must be a bold man to say that his measures had been successful. He would call the at- 275 tention of the right hon. Gentleman to the reduction of the duty on glass. In the town of Sunderland, since the duty had been repealed, an establishment which used to employ 300 or 400 men had reduced the number to 30 or 40, though in Sunderland they possessed advantages for the manufacture of glass almost equal to those of Belgium, labour excepted. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the labouring classes in this country were suffering from their measures, and that the result of their freedom of commerce was to deprive the industrious population of this empire of food and employment. What was the present state of our manufacturing districts, and the country in general? It was not such as would warrant any congratulations on its condition. They had not increased but diminished the consumption of their manufactured goods. They would, he thought, have to adopt again the system which they had abandoned. What had they done in the West Indies? Why, the interests of these colonies had been almost totally destroyed. They took away protection, but a Committe of that House had told them that they should retrace their steps, and give protection again. They took the duties off corn, and they would find the agricultural interests hereafter come clamouring to them for relief. By the measure now before the House, if carried, the value of British shipping would be reduced at least 33 per cent. What was to be the result of such a proceeding? For his part he thought they ought to wait to see the consequence of the measures which they passed two years ago, before they passed a measure affecting so deeply another great and important interest in this country. The people were told that former measures would tend to the employment of the poor man. Yet the result had been that his wages were lessened, and his comforts diminished, even where he was fortunate enough to have work. What would be the consequence of the proposed measure but to throw out of employment the 25,000 operatives engaged in shipbuilding in the borough of Sunderland? How did they propose to provide for that population? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had been told by the deputation from Sunderland that as soon as that Bill passed, the members of that deputation would cease to build ships. He had himself been authorised to state on the part of persons interested in that sub- 276 ject, that if such a proposal as that before the House were adopted, they had no wish that the coasting trade should be excluded from the operation of the measure, as they considered that such a provision could be of no benefit to them. If the proposal of Her Majesty's Government were agreed to, what right would the Legislature of this country have to insist that British shipowners should retain in their vessels a certain number of British sailors? They would have no more right to take such a course, than they would have to tell British cotton manufacturers and glass manufacturers that they should not employ as many foreigners as they might think proper. That measure, it should be remembered, would destroy a fundamental law of these kingdoms—a national law, the object of which was to maintain here a mercantile marine that would be always ready to act in defence of the country. He concurred with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford, that some alterations might be beneficially made in the present system; but that was a very different thing from destroying it—a course which could not fail to be disastrous to the best interests of the country, as being ruinous to the prosperity of our commercial marine. He would ask why should they place the shipowner in competition with the rest of the world, and then put restrictions on him as to the number and description of seamen he should employ? In the speech delivered last night by the late Vice-President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Gibson), that Gentleman seemed to say that commerce was everything—that they should look only to the interests of trade—to the getting of money, and to nothing else. Now, he did not think that that was a principle which the people of this country would recognise. Their great object ought to be to find employment for the poor. Therefore, the question at present before them was, would this measure confer any advantages upon the poor? He had heard with deep regret some things said by Gentlemen opposite derogatory to the character of the British commercial navy. Such things as these sounded distastefully in their ears. They had been accustomed from their earliest days to think and speak with respect and affection of the British navy, and he regretted that aspersions upon that class of men should have come from two Ministers of the Crown. He should have thought that the Treasury bench was the last quarter 277 from which abuse of the navy could have come. The number of captains in the merchant navy was, he believed, about 33,000, and the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Westbury had thought it right to attack those men in very strong terms. He had just been appointed to a situation under Government; and the first thing he did was to attack the navy, which had been the glory of this country and the admiration of the world. The country was very much indebted to his hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) for the exposure he last night gave of that blue book which had been laid upon their table; and he must say he was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman had made no allusion to the subject. It would be gratifying to hear what was the real object in getting up that book, if it was not to disparage the fair name of the British navy. The questions sent to the consuls were put in so very offensive and distasteful a manner, that he could scarcely have believed it possible that they proceeded from a British Government. There was no doubt that the object was to disparage the navy, and that book should never have been put on the table of the House. He was sorry it was there, and he hoped that, in future, Gentlemen would be more cautious in traducing the character of the navy. He saw no reason whatever why they should then enter on a dangerous experiment, which might end in the degradation of the country, and deprive her of the empire of the sea which she had so long possessed, not merely for her own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole civilised world. It was all very well for hon. Gentlemen to attempt to enforce abstract principles; but when he heard from able and intelligent men that the effect of the measure would be to induce them to abandon that profession by which they had been able to give employment to thousands, he felt most anxious that the House should not adopt such a proposal. At all events, if they should persevere in their determination to repeal the navigation laws, let them give parties engaged in the shipping trade time to put themselves in a position to meet the difficulties with which they would have to contend after a change of so important a character. He earnestly hoped that the House would pause before it adopted that measure. The principal ground for supporting it was, that they should apply to the shipping interest the same principles of free trade which they 278 had already applied to many other branches of the national industry. But those classes which had been affected by our previous free-trade measures did not ask for a repeal of the navigation laws. The country did not ask for it. No large section whatever of the people asked for it. The right hon. Gentleman who had introduced that measure had pointed out no great and certain advantage which they would derive from its adoption. The right hon. Gentleman had merely held out to them vague expectations of certain benefits which would result from the course which he had recommended. But he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that on such a subject he ought calmly to reason, rather than to deal in splendid promises. They had been told that Prussia demanded the proposed change. But Prussia was already receiving a good share of our carrying trade, as far at least as regarded the port of Sunderland. To any arrangement by which we should obtain from foreign Powers an equivalent for a relaxation of our system of navigation laws, he could have no objection. He did not, however, think it wise or proper that we should make concessions to other nations, without having ensured to ourselves some corresponding advantage. Such an advantage we had not obtained by the recent repeal of our corn laws. It should be remembered that the new Corn Bill had been passed in a panic, and without calm consideration. He did not deny that public feeling had been in favour of that measure to a great extent. Men of great ability had held out the most magnificent promises with respect to its operation; and the consequence had been that it had been passed hastily at a period of great public excitement. But the question then before the House was one which they might consider more dispassionately. It was not a question connected with the food of the people; it was a question whether the merchant was to receive his goods at a cheaper rate than now, and whether we were to throw out of employment large bodies of the people? Time should, therefore, be taken to negotiate with other countries for advantages in return. Notwithstanding all the benefits which had been conferred on Russia by our changes, that country took no more of our goods than before, and Prussia had not abated a whit her restrictive duties. And now they were asked to adopt this new proposal without regard to the consequences—they were asked to sacrifice the ship- 279 ping interest of the country to a fanciful idea of political economy—to sacrifice that interest for no possible advantage in return, except to a few importers. He said that they ought not to pass such a measure as that under their consideration, without ascertaining by negotiation what equivalent foreign nations would grant for such a concession. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade appeared, however, to have done nothing to promote that object. He was about to sacrifice the shipping interest to some fanciful principle of political economy; while the measure could be of no advantage to any persons in this country, except a few importers of foreign produce. One of the alleged justifications of the proposal was, that the carrying trade was not conducted as well as it ought to be. But they had received no petitions containing complaints upon that subject, although there were always complainers in the world. The late Member for Inverness (Mr. Morrison) used to complain in that House that the French railways were better managed than the English, although at that very time the carriages on the French lines were only going at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, while those on the English lines were going at the rate of forty miles an hour. This measure ought to have been introduced in February; but here it was in the month of June, and no doubt they would be taunted with unduly obstructing the Bill whenever they showed any opposition to it. He would, nevertheless, take every opportunity to oppose the measure, because he believed it would be injurious to the best interests of the country. At this period of the Session they were called upon to deal with this measure, which involved not merely a commercial but a great national question. The opening of the corn trade, in point of nationality and importance, could not be compared with it. He felt himself called upon to say that he thought this ought to be an open question, and that the Members connected with Government should be left to follow the course they deemed most advisable, especially the gallant Admirals and Officers connected with the naval department. He supposed they would have those gallant Officers voting for this measure; but he should have liked to see it treated as an open question. The shipping interest would have reason to complain that, instead of leaving the matter to be dealt with according to the unbiassed judgment of those Gentlemen, it had 280 been made a Government question, thus making them vote, he would not say contrary to their views, but in a way different perhaps from what otherwise they might have done. If this measure was to pass, he hoped it would do so with the amendments suggested by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone). The country was not prepared for a measure of this kind. It was either too large or too small. They had taken a course that was objectionable in every way they looked at it. If they did not regard it as a national question, they should have gone further. He hoped, however, the House would not be led away by fanciful free-trade notions. He was satisfied that the effect of such competition as the shipbuilders would be exposed to from this measure, would bring ruin upon all parties who entered upon it. He believed that ships were built cheaper in Sunderland than at any other port; but there would be no possibility of the enterprising builders of that place bearing up against foreign competition. If he was a shipbuilder, he would transfer his whole capital to some place where the timber existed; and he would bring the ships that he might build, laden with produce, to Sunderland, and sell them there at a good profit. In fact, the shipbuilders of this country would have no chance with such ships. For these and many other reasons, he would give his most determined opposition to the measure.
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down stated that if the members of the Board of Admiralty were not connected with the Government, they would, in all probability, give a very different vote from that which he expected they would give; but it was fortunate for him (Captain Berkeley) that he had already on a former occasion parted from his political Friends, because he thought different from them on a vital question connected with the manning of the Navy. He must say that he differed in opinion from a gallant officer (Sir J. Stirling) who had given evidence on the subject, when he said, that the manning of the Royal Navy should be totally distinct and separate from the commercial marine. He differed from him in this view, for he believed that the Royal Navy was dependent on the mercantile navy, and that the mercantile navy was dependent for its existence on the Royal Navy. It had been said, with regard to the apprenticeship system, that they re- 281 ceived a great number of merchant apprentices into the Royal Navy. He must say that the advantages were reciprocal; but where there was received one apprentice from the merchant navy, there was made from 20 to 30 per cent more of seamen that went to the merchant service from the Royal Navy. He had been studying these matters all his life, and he thought they should take the most precious care of their seamen, so as to induce them to come into the Navy. Those, however, who looked into these matters must be aware that the long-voyage ships did not furnish to the Royal Navy able seamen, meaning by that term men accustomen to meet difficulties, and accustomed by their energies to overcome them. The reason why they had not so many of these able seamen from the merchant ships as might be expected was this—formerly these ships were rigged by their own ship's company when they went out, and they were unrigged by them on their return. Now, however, when a ship returned from a long voyage, the men were paid off in the river or harbour, and the ships were taken into clock; there they were unrigged, and when about to sail again were rerigged and restowed, and taken out into the stream before the ship's company were engaged. The consequence was, that men from the Royal Navy were sought for by the merchant ships. Take, for example, the first-class boys of a ship, who were nineteen or twenty years of age, and had been four or five years at sea; they were ordinary seamen, and could rig, steer, and do all that was necessary on a voyage out and home. Perhaps they deserted from the Royal Navy, or were paid off; and thus it was that they had not the same number of men coming from the merchant service that they had formerly. He hoped, however, everything would be done to bring seamen from the merchant service to the Royal Navy. About 3,000 apprentices were said to be sailing in the fleet we now employed. He held in his hand a return of the number of boys entered into the Royal Navy for the last eleven years. The boys who entered the Navy amounted to 21,000, of whom about 2,887 were accounted for by desertion, leaving 18,117. Out of that number of 18,117, only 2,947 could be accounted for as rejoining the Royal Navy. But from inquiries he had made, he was able to say that they were to be accounted for in the manner he had stated. They entered the merchant service, they made an 282 outward voyage, they came on their return to a man-of-war, and claimed to enter the service as for the first time, thus passing themselves off as coming from the merchant service, whereas they had been really brought up in the Royal Navy. They had nothing to gain by showing that they had been brought up in the Royal Navy, and it was not fair to set them down as belonging to the merchant service, when in truth they belonged to the Royal Navy. He was glad this system of reciprocity between the Royal Navy and the merchant service did exist. He was thankful for all the merchant seamen whom they got into the service of the Royal Navy; but he did not wish hon. Gentlemen to lay too much stress on this point, supposing that in time of peace so many men could be got from the merchant service. There was another thing to be considered. They employed at this time not less than 20,000 seamen. At the end of the war they would have had no difficulty in getting 100,000 men. He believed there were 60,000 or 70,000 British seamen who were serving in foreign countries, especially in America. When at one time this country was placed in something like a hostile position towards another country, men voluntarily came back to the different ports to take their chance of serving in the Royal Navy. There was a difference in pay between the American Navy and the British. The Admiralty were anxious to raise the char-actor and elevate the moral tone of the Royal Navy. At Portsmouth there were understood to be American agents to entice away the seamen. But of two men, one of whom entered the American service and the other the British, it would be found at the end of four years, taking the same rating for both, that the man who had gone into the American ship would return with very nearly 100l. more in his pocket than the man who had gone into the British ship. It was no matter for surprise, therefore, that men should be taken away from the British service; though a great number of them would be brought hack again in the event of war. It was said by those who wished to continue the navigation laws, that on repealing them the registration of seamen would be overset. When that registration was proposed, he had thought it in theory a very good measure. But he had taken the greatest pains to watch its working; and he could say that, practically speaking, it was the greatest farce that could be conceived. 283 The registration tickets were obtained by wholesale, and passed backward and forward from one to the other, and in a word the Act was evaded in a thousand ways. Moreover, it was so hateful to the men, that it was driving many of them out of the country. With respect to the general question before the House, having heard the arguments on both sides, and considered the subject well, he had no fear, if the measure proposed by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere) were carried, that they would be able to man the Navy fully as well and quite as quickly as they had ever done. If he thought the measure would operate injuriously in that respect, no power in the world should induce him to vote for it.
§ CAPTAIN HARRIS
entirely agreed as to the importance of manning the Navy with the hon. and gallant Member who had just addressed the House, and who had given the best proof of his sincerity in retiring from office when he could not hold it consistently with his opinions. But he would not join him in his condemnation of the registration system, which was most ably conducted by Lieutenant Brown, and afforded not only the machinery for carrying out the most valuable clauses of the Merchant Seamen's Act, but also the resources for putting into practice measures to obviate the necessity of impressment in time of war. For this last purpose it had been established by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon, and it would be madness to abandon it without a fair trial. He did not believe it to be unpopular with the best and steadiest men, who found security in it against oppression; but those, both masters and men, who from motives of self-interest or recklessness were indisposed to conform to the law, raised prejudices against it. The registration of seamen was intended to enable the country to dispense with impressment in time of war. There was a universal wish to do away with impressment, and Parliament was losing valuable time in not providing a substitute. Such a measure ought to originate with the Executive Government; but if none were introduced in the meantime by the noble Lord at the head of the Admiralty, who, he understood, was most anxious on the subject, he should feel it his duty next Session to submit a measure himself. The seafaring population being exempted from militia ballot, might be required by law to serve a number of years in the Navy at the discretion of the Crown, 284 according to the emergency of the case, and after completing their service be entitled to a protection: increase of pension and other advantages might be held out to volunteers. He should urge on the Government the propriety of taking such a measure into consideration before the country should be hurried into war. For in that case what would be the result? They would commence by giving bounties (10l. a man), under the Act of the right hon. Member for Ripon; and finding that plan too expensive they would fall back on impressment, and thus have a crew consisting of volunteers, 10l. bounty men, and pressed men, which would never answer, even supposing impressment to be practicable. With respect to the manning of the Navy, he had on a former occasion gone into detail to prove that Sir J. Stirling's evidence was erroneous; and both the President of the Board of Trade, and the gallant Officer who spoke last, admitted that the Navy depended mainly on the merchant service for its supply of seamen. But he must express his surprise that the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), who had once been President of the Board of Trade, and also Secretary for the Colonies, should have insisted on denationalising the marine of this country. He advocated repealing the law which required that three-fourths of the crew should be British seamen. He (Captain Harris) would ask the right hon. Gentleman under what flag he would sail his motley crew? Strike St. George's cross out of the banner of England, before you hoist it over a foreign-built ship with a foreign crew. Such a scheme would excite universal indignation and discontent. The apprenticeship system had been represented as a great burden on the shipowners; but when they found Mr. Dunbar, a shipowner, expressing his hope to see the day arrive when apprentices would rise to the command of all his ships, they could not believe that the views of the shipowners had been fairly represented. It had been stated that numbers of promising lads sent from workhouses, and apprenticed in the merchant service, worked themselves up in the British service as petty officers and able seamen. With respect to the apprenticeship system, he should suggest a reduction in the scale, but he would not consent to doing away with it, as he believed it to have materially contributed to an improvement in the morals of the great body of seamen. He held returns in his hand to 285 show that one-fifth of the petty officers and able seamen had been apprentices in the merchant service; and he trusted that none of these salutary enactments would be repealed until the free-trade part of the question had been tried, and its effect as to the increase or diminution of the British mercantile marine been fairly tested. As regarded competition in building and sailing ships, the evidence as to the expense was very contradictory; but he had come to the conclusion that in this country they could compete with the American ships. The alteration of the law, however, ought not to be introduced in so sweeping a manner, but it should rather be left to the Crown in the exercise of its discretion to make treaties with foreign Powers. Those countries whose ships could be more cheaply constructed than here, ought to give some reciprocal advantage in a diminution of customs duties. One objection to throwing open the coasting trade was, that foreigners would acquire a degree of skill as pilots round the British shores, such as ought rather to be confined to natives of this country. He trusted that the noble Lord at the head of the Government would not be induced to give way to the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, and to go beyond the plan he had already proposed, which, in his (Captain Harris's) opinion was of a sufficiently sweeping nature.
§ SIR A. HOOD
said that, connected as his family had been with the British Navy, he would be ashamed of himself if he did not stand forward in defence of the existing navigation laws, and offer his most decided opposition to the resolutions proposed by Her Majesty's Government. Those resolutions were an emanation of free-trade principles; and he looked upon the free-trade measures which had been already adopted, and the measure for altering the navigation laws contemplated by the Government, as Siamese twins. He was convinced that if the intentions of the Government were carried out, the results would be most injurious to the interests of the nation; and he must express his deep regret that free-trade principles had been upheld by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, who had done so much more for the country than had been effected by the noble Lord opposite and his Colleagues, by diminishing taxation, and consequently increasing the comforts of the poor. The hon. Member for Mon- 286 trose (Mr. Hume), at a recent county meeting, had instituted a comparison between the expenditure of the noble Lord's Government and that of the Duke of Wellington; and he (Sir A. Hood was glad to find that the comparison was greatly in favour of what was called the Tory Administration. He considered that the changes proposed by the Government would be most injurious to the colonies, and he would, therefore, vote against the reductions.
§ MR. J. CLAY
Although he would not trespass at great length on the attention of the House, yet he could not confine himself to the two abstract propositions within the limits of which it was the wish of the President of the Board of Trade to narrow this debate, for he could not separate any discussion of this question from the details which the right hon. Gentleman had given to the House some days back. He (Mr. J. Clay) had waited with much anxiety for these details, and had entertained a hope that they might be such as he could entirely support, in the belief that they would advance the general interests of the country, and be, to say the least, not detrimental to those particular interests which the navigation laws had hitherto been supposed to protect. He regretted that the present measure did not, to his mind, fulfil these conditions. As a free-trader, he could not for a moment advocate the protection of one interest at the expense of the rest: nor would he insist that, inasmuch as the commercial marine was the nursery of the Royal Navy, the navigation laws were a price which the whole nation paid for one one of the most important benefits—the national defence. Although he thought this argument was formerly a fair, perhaps a convincing, one, he considered it now no longer available, because the commercial marine only was, and only would be again, a nursery for the Royal Navy, through the means of impressment—a system he held in utter abhorrence, and to which he believed we never could again resort. Hon. Gentlemen opposite admitted that it was only, to be justified in cases of extreme necessity. He went further, and declared it impossible. The rights of the poor man in his labour, his only property, were now better understood; and he (Mr. J. Clay) believed that our very women and children would find resistance to the atrocities of a pressgang. He could no longer, then, be satisfied with the well-worn nursery argu- 287 ment, unless he was told by what other means it was proposed, in case war broke out, to retract sailors from the commercial marine for our Royal Navy. The experience of the last war had proved, that to outbid the merchant in wages would be a too costly, if not an impossible operation; and he was of opinion, that the measure before the House ought to have been preceded, or at least accompanied, by a measure finally to set at rest the question of how the Navy was to be manned in case of war. This might be a very easy thing to do, but people did not think so. Many high authorities entertained serious apprehensions on this subject; and the present was not a time when any large class ought to be exposed even to ill-founded apprehension. He would, however, say that in his belief the original intention of the navigation laws never was the protection of a particular class. It was thought expedient, whether rightly or wrongly mattered not, for the sake of creating a preserve for that pressgang which never would go out sporting again, to lay on our shipowers certain burdens, the chief of which were the obligation to carry apprentices, and to sail their ships with a British captain and mate, and three-fourths of a British crew. In return for this service to be rendered to the State, certain carrying privileges were given. What did the present measure propose to do? To sweep away all the privileges, and to retain some of the burdens. To take away all the price, and to leave some of the work to be done for nothing. We were relieved from the necessities of carrying apprentices, but we must still sail our ships with the old proportion of British crew; and if, in a distant port, where no British sailors where to be had, we, from necessity, returned home with a foreign crew, we must still, if obliged, as was probable, to send them back whence we took them—send them back as supernumeraries. This was not his (Mr. J. Clay's) notion of free trade. And what made it more extraordinary, and the injustice more manifest, was, that if we were to believe the Government story and official documents, British sailors were among the least efficient and the most insubordinate to be found; the captains less educated, and the crew more intemperate. So our shipowners, if this story is to be believed, are to be exposed to competition with the whole world, and to be forced to sail with three-fourths of an insubordinate and inefficient crew. But it might be said 288 that all privileges were not swept away—that the coasting trade remained a monopoly. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade at least would not make this answer, for he had admitted that the coasting trade could take care of itself, and therefore wanted no protection. But in this he had understated the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford had said that we should even be gainers by exchanging coasting trades with the Americans. He (Mr. J. Clay) was not in the House, and had missed the pleasure he always received from the speeches of that right hon. Gentleman; but he entirely agreed in the opinion expressed, for he knew that it was the opinion of many of the most intelligent shipowners—and he might quote their greatest authority, Mr. G. F. Young—that if we exchanged coasting trades with the Americans, we should see British vessels between Boston and New Orleans, but no Americans between London and Newcastle; and this because the American build was not adapted to our harbours—most of them bar harbours—while our ships were so built that, when out of the foreign trade, they were adapted to the coasting trade. The President of the Board of Trade had said that giving the protection and privileges of a British register entitled us to ask for a distinctive British feature in the crew. He (Mr. J. Clay) contended that that distinctive feature was found in the British ownership; and he could only see, in this obligation to carry a three-fourths British crew, the lingering idea that our shipowners were to provide for the possible wants of our Royal Navy, and were to do it for nothing. This was not fair. If the nation required a national service from the shipowners, the nation should pay for it. But if our shipowners were to lose all their privileges, then he asked for them the full benefit of free trade, and that they might be allowed to sail their ships with the best and cheapest crew they could find. He would not insist on this if he believed that the removal of the restriction would throw one British sailor out of employ; but he believed no such thing. First of all, he knew that the abuse of the English sailors was not true to anything like the extent alleged. It was true that most foreign captains were subjected to an examination previous to being allowed to exercise their calling. This appeared from the evidence before last year's Committee, and from the work of his hon. Friend the Member for 289 Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Ricardo), a work which—and there was no higher praise—for acuteness and research, was well worthy his distinguished ancestor. He (Mr. J. Clay) knew that there was a prejudice in this country, that a man could not he at the same time brilliant and sound; and the hon. Member for Poole, who shared in this prejudice, had fallen foul of his hon. Friend for writing wittily on so serious a subject. He (Mr. J. Clay) should as soon expect to hear thunder unaccompanied by lightning, as to find a man whom Heaven had gifted with wit reasoning on a subject, however serious, without availing himself of that powerful weapon which he had the good luck to possess. To return from this digression, it appeared that, even in one of our own colonies, in Malta, merchant captains were subjected to an examination, and that, as at our universities, three kinds of degrees were given—a first-class for commanding in the longest voyages; a second-class between the Pillars of Hercules; and even the masters of the small craft between Malta and Gozo, and so forth, must take a sort of nautical "little go." He should be glad to see this examination extended to our captains, with the certainty that they would beat the foreigners hollow; for, even as things were, he had failed to discover the superiority of foreign sailors, captains or crew. And yet he had had some experience, for he had sailed with crews of almost all European nations; and with reference to Malta, he had had a vessel of his own for a year in the Mediterranean, with captain, mate, and crow, all Maltese. He did not recollect what degree his captain had taken; it must at least have been a second class. But he did remember that whenever they were caught in a white squall, his highly educated captain and intelligent crew were on their knees praying to some Maltese saint for that safety which an English sailor would have found in his own courage and energy. His (Mr. J. Clay's) experience was, that if he was to be exposed to the perils of the sea, let it be in a British ship, with a British captain commanding a British crew. He would, however, admit that our sailors, like the rest of us, had their faults. How were they to be mended? Why, was there ever a free-trade debate in which they had not heard of the magic effects of competition on British energy? How often in this debate had they heard of the good effect competition was to have on the shipown- 290 ers; but how was the boasted stimulant of competition to act for the improvement of our sailors? Whether they were good, bad, or indifferent, our shipowners were forced by law to employ them. Our men were the best stuff in the world; and abundant evidence showed, that when they took service with foreigners, and were forced into competition with foreigners, they commanded the highest wages, and were the best seamen. He asked, then, quite as much in the interest of our sailors themselves as in that of the shipowners, that this restriction should be removed; and he felt confident that both, with fair play, would beat the world. But there were other grievances of which the shipowners had long complained, and to the redress of which they were now at least entitled. He would say nothing about the light-dues as a measure, for their alteration had been announced. But he considered that the duty on marine insurances should now he remitted. He should not trouble the House with details of points to which it would probably be his duty, before long, again to call attention. But there was another vexatious impost, which, although not of so much general interest, yet was cause of much complaint in the borough he had the honour to represent. In 1845 an Act was passed allowing ships' stores to be taken out of bond duty free. Most of the voyages out of the port of Hull were short voyages, and it constantly happened that a very small amount of stores, say from 4l to 6 l., was taken. First there was 5s. 1d. for a bond stamp, then 3s. for the officer to follow the stoves on board (a whole day's pay for an hour's work), and he believed some small imposition besides, making something like 10 per cent on the amount of stores required, and, pro tanto, defeating the beneficial operation of the Act of 1845. He also expected that Government would declare an intention of seriously taking in hand the matter of the charges of foreign brokers. He would not tax the patience of the House, but would refer them on this head to the evidence before a Select Committee on British shipping, in 1844, and particularly to that of Mr. Thomas Thompson, one of the most intelligent and able of the merchants at Hull. They would there find that our ships in many foreign ports were subject to the grossest imposition. Charges the most opposite were lumped together without the items or even vouchers being given; and at Cronstadt our ships paid 291 church money—a heavy charge for Cronstadt, and for St. Petersburg also. If a Russian ship came to Hull, we did not charge her 6l. or 7l. for Trinity Church, and as much more for York Minster. On this subject Government had been memorialised more than once; and he (Mr. J. Clay) had had the honour of an interview with the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in consequence of which a circular had been sent to our consuls. The result of this was some increased facility for the detection of the imposition, but none for its remedy. This subject Her Majesty's Ministers must seriously take in hand. If our shipowners were to be started in this race of competition without protection, it behoved Government more than ever to be watchful that our consuls performed the duties they were paid for, and secured to our ships in foreign ports that fair play which foreign ships enjoyed in ours. He would now come to the shipbuilders. He had examined with the closest attention the statements put forth on both sides as to the comparative expense of building ships in this and foreign countries. He did not generally pay great attention to statements of this kind, as he had usually found that figures were much like a Chinese puzzle, and could be thrown into any shape which best suited the purpose of the person who played with them. The statements from the opposing parties in this matter were of the most marvellous discrepancy—the one proving the impossibility, the other the obvious facility, of the English shipbuilder competing with the foreigners. From the best judgment he (Mr. J. Clay) was enabled to form, he was of opinion that the difference was very narrow, and he should not be contented unless we were permitted to build our ships in bond, or at least that every description of timber for shipbuilding purposes should be duty free. If Government would declare that they would make these concessions, or at least that they were prepared to act in this spirit, he should entertain no fears whatever for any of the interests affected, whether those of the shipowner, shipbuilder, or seaman, and would support the Government measure. Many hon. Members had allowed that measures such as he had suggested were required, and had declared their willingness to forward them as soon as the navigation laws were repealed. This did not satisfy him. He wished to see these measures now, or at least to hear them pro- 292 mised. If he had to start a horse for a race, he should like to see him prepared before he went to the post. No one started a horse with the idea of training him afterwards. He must, therefore, suspend his support of the measure proposed by Government until he heard what Her Majesty's Ministers had to say on these subjects. With respect to the two abstract propositions immediately before the House, he could not certainly vote for the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford. He (Mr. J. Clay) was quite unprepared to affirm that the "fundamental principles" of the navigation laws were sacred, more particularly when he was told that the restriction to encourage the "long voyage" was one of these principles. He believed this to be one of the most generally approved nuisances of the present system, and peculiarly prejudicial to the port of Hull, where comparatively they had little interest in the long voyage, but whose ships in Baltic ports constantly lost freights through the restriction which prevented them bringing to England goods which had made part of their journey in foreign bottoms. He was quite aware that the opinions he had expressed would find but little sympathy with any party in that House. The free-traders would quarrel with him for not swallowing at once a measure which bore the name of free trade, although to him it appeared to want the reality. The Protectionists would owe him but little favour for an opposition in which they could but in small part concur. If, however, he had satisfied nothing else, he had at least satisfied his own conscience, in stating nothing but his sincere convictions on a subject which he regarded with deep, nay, with fearful anxiety.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
apprehended that the compensations held out by the hon. Member (Mr. Clay) to the shipowners were like the Stirling evidence—very short weight. Like that hon. Member, the right hon. Gentleman the representative of Oxford University (Mr. Gladstone) presented to the House the spectacle of a Gentleman thinking one way and voting another. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to feel painfully that, as we had injured the colonists by free trade, we ought for their sake to injure the shipowners. But if the measure before the House had done nothing else, it had gone a long way towards bringing many to their senses; and hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side, who had steadily maintained their 293 principles in the face of agitation and menace, and at the cost of a leader of whom they had good reason to be proud, would, ere long, find their principles acknowledged to be the principles of common sense. Theirs were the principles of common sense. He asked, was not the modification of abstract principles, and their adaptation to the necessities of the community and of the State, the true principles of common sense? He defied any hon. Gentleman to deny the proposition. He would now go into some facts connected with the subject under consideration. The House was asked to abrogate the framework of laws under which our naval supremacy had grown up, on the faith of evidence taken by a one-sided Committee, who never completed their inquiries or reported their opinion to the House. Nor was this the first instance in which great changes had been proposed upon crude, insufficient, and partial information. The Committee on Import Duties, appointed by that House in 1839, reported that the evidence was not sufficiently complete to enable them to offer any suggestion. The Committee was again appointed in 1840. The report was again that the evidence was not yet complete, and they could therefore give no opinion. Nevertheless upon that evidence the free-trade policy was adopted, whose melancholy results they had now to deplore. The Government then proceeded to interfere with the monetary system and banking interests of the country, also on incomplete evidence taken by Committees who stated their inability to furnish a report. And now the House was asked to tamper with the most vital interests of the country, on the evidence of a Committee that did not feel itself competent to report its opinion. He had to complain of the manner in which many hon. Gentlemen opposite had handled the subject. He (Mr. Newdegate) would have thought that commercial, monetary, and financial disasters, consequent upon the crude and hasty legislation of the last few years, might have deterred Her Majesty's Government from further experiments based upon incomplete evidence. But he had especially to complain of the mode in which the hon. Member for Westbury had used statistics in support of his views. The hon. Gentleman ought, for many reasons, to be very careful how he used statistics. But he compared the tonnage of this country in the years 1817 and 1823, with the tonnage in 1846, at the same 294 time that he stated that it was most desirable that adequate averages should be taken. Now, what were the real circumstances of the country between the years 1817 and 1823, as compared with those in 1846? In 1817 a Continental war had just ceased, and our armies were just disbanded. International trade and commerce were just beginning to revive, and competition was opening upon us from abroad. In 1819, Sir Robert Peel's Banking Act was passed; and it produced such a dreadful revolution in trade, that, after enduring a period of depression such as this country had scarcely ever known before, in 1822 the principles of the Act had to be departed from. And those were the years notoriously of depression taken by the hon. Gentleman to compare with the year 1846—the last years of our prosperity, the first year of free trade. Was such a comparison likely to produce a true or a false impression upon the House? No one could doubt. The hon. Member for Westbury stated that in 1817 the tonnage of this country amounted to 2,664,000 tons. In 1823 it had fallen to 2,506,000 tons, being a loss of six per cent upon the tonnage in six years. But what was the decline upon the trade between those two years? In 1817 the foreign exports amounted to 41,761,000l. In 1823 they had fallen to 35,458,000l. The exports of colonial produce fell in the same period from 10,929,000L in 1817, to 8,603,000l. in 1823; being a falling-off in the foreign trade of sixteen per cent. in the colonial of twenty per cent. evidencing the extreme distress which then prevailed. And as shipping was the mere effect of trade, the decrease of our tonnage of only six per cent. while the decrease of our trade was sixteen and twenty per cent. showed that, even during that period of great depression, our shipping suffered far less than our trade from extraneous circumstances, the cause of that depression. He (Mr. Newdegate) said that the selection of such periods at so wide an interval to compare with that of 1846, was an abuse of statistics of which the hon. Member for Westbury should not have been guilty. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford had taken this ground for his argument—he said they should judge of the probable effects of the abolition of the present navigation laws by the effects of Mr. Huskisson's measure; and that the state of the tonnage under Mr. Huskisson's system was the criterion of what might be ex- 295 pected when the laws were abolished under which that amount of tonnage had existed. Now, this appeared to him (Mr. Newdegate) to be an anomaly, for they were asked to infer from the results of reciprocity treaties what would be the effect of giving up all reciprocity. But to judge fairly of the effects of the navigation laws, and of Mr. Huskisson's Reciprocity Act, which was a modification of them, it was necessary to test them by the review of a considerable period; and with the permission of the House he would do so by the following table of the
§ Tonnage of the United Kingdom and her Colonies.—Averages of the first three years of each Decennial Period, commencing with 1803, the earliest Period given in Mr. Porter's Tables, in which 1814 is taken instead of 1813 in second average, owing to the Records having been destroyed by fire.
§ Records for 1813 destroyed by fire.
§ Increase on 1st Period 455,090 tons, or 20 per cent.
§ Increase of tonnage checked, as compared with preceding Period, 1814 to 1816, by the action of the Reciprocity Treaties.
§ Decrease below 2nd Period 111,087 tons, or 3½ per cent.
§ increase over 3rd Period, 181,198 tons, or 8 per cent.
§ Increase over 4th Period, 958,632 tons, or nearly 25 per cent.
§ He thought that statement must fully satisfy the House that our tonnage had been increasing rapidly during the last few years under our present laws; and now, when shipping was so rapidly increasing, was 296 the time selected by the Government for striking a blow at the whole system. The right hon. Member for Oxford declared he was intent upon more reciprocity, so he would offer the Americans the coasting and long-voyage trades; but he admitted that even if this country gave up the coasting trade, the Americans could not avail themselves of it. The Americans wanted a free trade with our colonies; and in his opinion such an advantage ought not to be conceded to them; but the right hon. Gentleman considered the colonial trade ought to be confined to British shipping: to give up that, went beyond the right hon. Gentleman's ideas of reciprocity. To suppose that we could drive the American liners off the long voyage by opening to them our coasting trade in exchange for theirs, was indeed a wild speculation—to suppose, in any case, that the Americans would not have the best of the bargain—to suppose they would open their coasting trade to us without our opening the colonial trade to them—was expecting far more easy dealing on the part of the Americans, than any experience of that keensighted people justified. Now, were the United States rivals we ought to despise or trifle with? Let them look at the comparative increase of the shipping of America and Great Britain in the years 1815, 1825, 1835, 1845, and 1847. It was—
|British. Tons.||American. Tons.|
§ The increase of British shipping, therefore, within the last two years had been 238,462 tons; the increase of American 422,044 tons; the American increase was nearly double the British. If, then, they added the fresh stimulus to American shipping which would be afforded by the proposed alteration of the navigation laws, they would soon find England rivalled by America. Already the American shipping had been increasing at a rate which, if our shipping interest should be depressed by legislative enactments, might soon leave England lagging behind in respect to maritime greatness; and in an official report from the Secretary of the Treasury, addressed to the House of Representatives in Congress, on the 9th of December, 1847, appears the following return:—297
§ Statement showing what the tonnage of the United States would be in 1850, if during each of the ten succeeding years the per centage of augmentation were the same as during the last year:—
§ An amount exceeding our present tonnage.
§ If hon. Gentlemen opposite believed Smith's theory to be right, why did they not adopt his opinion when he stated the limits within which the theory of free trade could in his opinion be safely applied to this country? And if they so much reverenced Mr. Huskisson's principles, why did they endeavour to strike from the Statute-book those very laws which he enacted for the benefit of this country? If they adopted the assertion that "this country cannot safely bear a rival in maritime greatness on equal terms," how far less could they expect in safety to see her outstripped? And he (Mr. Newdegate) had shown that, if the Americans progressed in their marine for the years to come as they had in the few years past, the time was near at hand when they would equal this country. It appeared to him that the idea entertained by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, of the manner in which England ought to negotiate with foreigners amounted to this, that the Legislature and the Government were to give up the whole question, and then go and best on the Continent for reciprocal action, for some return for the sacrifices they had made. He (Mr. Newdegate) knew no better criterion of the value of the navigation laws than the conduct of America, and her position with respect to other countries. The System was that of strict reciprocity. She concluded treaties with other countries on precisely the terms granted by those countries. She held to the old Mosaic principle of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." The Americans dealt with countries, some of which had navigation laws and some had none. He held in his hands a statement of the Austrian Lloyd's, in which the countries were set forth with which America treated on terms of reciprocity; those in which navigation laws were in force; and those in which they were not. Those which had navigation laws were Britain, Holland, Belgium, and Sweden and Norway. And, firstly, of the trade of the British empire with the United States, 298 calculated in dollars; 83,754,552 dollars worth was carried in American vessels, whilst in vessels not American the value was 24,108,184 dollars; thus showing a proportion of 78 per cent in American vessels, and in the vessels of other nations of only 22 per cent; of the trade with Holland, 3,703,761 in American vessels, and 1,491,272 in vessels not American, being a proportion of 73 per cent of American vessels to 27 per cent of vessels belonging to other countries. In order not to detain the House, he would state merely the result per cent with regard to the remaining countries. Of the trade with Belgium 64 per cent was carried in American vessels, and 36 per cent in foreign vessels. Sweden and Norway, who had the advantage of a strong protective system in their favour, showed a proportion of 40 per cent in American vessels, and 60 per cent in vessels of foreign countries, including their own. He now came to countries that had not the advantage of the protection of navigation laws, and he found the result to be still more in favour of America. The trade between Russia and the United States gave a proportion of 90 per cent carried in American vessels, and only 10 per cent carried in other vessels, including those of Russia. Between Denmark and her colonies and the United States, 95 per cent of the trade was carried in United States' vessels, and only 5 per cent in other vessels. With Austria, 84 per cent of the trade was carried in American vessels, and only 16 per cent in the vessels of other countries. He had already stated that America carried 78 per cent of the trade with this country, while only 22 per cent was conveyed in the ships of other nations, including those of Great Britain; and he had also shown the still smaller proportion that nations not having the protection of any navigation laws were able to secure in their commerce with the United States; and, he would ask, was this a country in favour of which still greater facilities should be given? He held in his hand a most remarkable statement which appeared in the New York Courier and Inquirer of January 5, 1847, with reference to the commerce of the United States for the year 1846, and he found that it fully corroborated the results which he had just quoted from the Austrian document. It showed that of the whole import trade of the United States, 106,008,173 dollars was imported in American, and 15,683,624 in foreign vessels; or only 12 per cent came in foreign vessels, while 88 per cent 299 was carried in American vessels. Of the export trade, 23,507,483 dollars, or 23 per cent, was carried in foreign vessels; and 78,634,410 dollars, or 77 per cent, in American.
|The whole trade amounted to||223,833,690|
|Carried by foreign vessels the value of||29,191,107|
§ Or about 17½ per cent, and American 82½ per cent.
§ He was anxious, in the next place, to call the attention of the House to the present state of the trade between the United States and the United Kingdom and our colonies, in order to show whether America needed any further stimulus in that direction, or whether she was not already driving a sufficiently large trade with the colonies of this country. The following will show the imports by the United States from England and its possessions in their own and foreign vessels:—
|American Vesssels.||Foreign, including British Vessels.|
|British East Indies||1,361,345|
|Cape of Good Hope||81,686|
§ Thus the Americans imported from the United Kingdom and its possessions 84 per cent in their own vessels, and 16 per cent in foreign.
|EXPORTS OF THE UNITED STATES IN DOLLARS.|
|American. Dollars.||Foreign. Dollars.|
|British East Indies||264,145||6,455|
|Cape of Good Hope||23,713|
|British West Indies||4,221,598||693,485|
|British North American colonies||3,536,462||2,506,204|
The Americans had thus exported to the United Kingdom and its possessions—
74 per cent in their own vessels, and
26 per cent in foreign.
But taking their entire trade with the United Kingdom and its possessions, we find that the whole trade was carried on—
79 per cent by their own vessels, and
21 per cent by foreign, including British.
Thus, though England had a reciprocity treaty with the United States, it was clear that the reciprocity was all on one side; and he would ask whether it was reasonable that, because they were asked to do so by a Power which had so much profited by the treaty that now existed, they should strike down the whole system under which the commerce of this country was encouraged? By the return which he had quoted from the Austrian Lloyd's, it appeared that, taking the whole trade between the United Kingdom and the United States, for the year 1846, no less than 78 per cent was carried in American vessels, and only 22 per cent in vessels other than American; and it was curious to see how nearly the Austrian account tallied with that from the New York Herald, proving both essentially accurate. He was afraid that he had wearied the House with these details; but he wished to show that they were not dealing fairly with the question, when they spoke of reciprocity of trade with the United States. He wished in the next place to allude for a moment to the communication that had been made by M. Bunsen to the noble Lord at the head of Foreign Affairs. That communication had been properly described as a threat towards this country. M. Bunsen says, in a note addressed to Lord Palmerston, dated May 10, 1847—
The Treaty of 1841 does not allow Prussia, as the aggrieved interests and public opinion in Germany, which powerfully supports those interests, would require, to restrict in an analogous manner the admission of British ships; for the second article of this treaty accords to Great Britain the right of the most favoured nation with respect to the importation of sugar and rice. The expiration of the treaty at the end of the present year will restore that liberty to the Prussian Government, and a change in the laws affecting navigation has been the subject of its serious consideration. The nomination of a Parliamentary Committee to examine the English navigation laws, and to report during the present Session of Parliament thereupon, has nevertheless held out to the Prussian Government a hope that Great Britain will, at no remote period, by means of a general legislative measure, cause the restriction to disappear which at present weigh upon German navigation and commerce, and which so notori-
ousiy impede the development of the commercial relations of the two countries.
The only meaning of that communication was—Under the terms of the existing treaty, there were certain restrictions by which the carriage of particular articles, such as sugar and rice, from England to the ports of the Zollverein, were reserved for British vessels; and they were now told, "Yield up those restrictions, or else the Zollverein will increase the restrictive duties on your manufactures." But there was nothing like an offer of a concession in case of Great
|IMPORT DUTIES IMPOSED BY THE COMMERCIAL GERMAN UNION.|
|Old Duty.||New Duty.||Articles.||Date of Alteration.|
|free||0||1||0||Iron (and Steel), raw||per cwt.||imposed||1844||Sept. 1|
|0||3||0||0||4||6||Iron, pig, rail, &c||per cwt.||raised||50||per cent||1844||Sept. 1|
|0||9||0||0||18||0||Iron, weighing less than 1 cwt.||per cwt.||raised||100||per cent||1844||Sept. 1|
|0||3||0||0||9||0||Iron for fellies of locomotives,||per cwt.||raised||200||per cent||1844||Sept. 1|
|0||9||0||0||7||6||Iron, less than one-half square inch||per cwt.||reduced||17||per cent||1846||Sept. 1|
|0||18||0||0||9||0||Iron, ship chains||per cwt.||reduced||100||per cent||1846||Jan. 1|
|0||9||0||0||12||0||Steel, polished plates||per cwt.||raised||25||per cent||1846||Jan. 1|
|0||9||0||1||10||0||Glass, coloured||per cwt.||raised||200||per cent||1846||Jan. 1|
|0||1||6||Glass, painted||per cwt.||raised||2,000||per cent|
|HABERDASHERY AND HARDWARES.|
|1||10||0||7||10||0||Ornaments of dress, toilette, &c.; Needles, knitting, &c; Varnished wares of metal, &c.||per cwt.||raised||400||per cent||1846||Jan. 1|
|1||10||0||15||0||0||Gold and Silver Leaf, imitation||per cwt.||raised||400||per cent||1846||Jan. 1|
|3||6||0||0||18||0||Furs, Coverlets, &c||per cwt.||reduced||75||per cent||1846||Jan. 1|
|8||5||0||16||10||0||Ribbons, silk||per cwt.||raised||100||per cent||1846||Jan. 1|
|1||10||0||7||10||0||Printed Goods, Shawls, Lace, Embroidery, &c.||per cwt.||raised||75||per cent||1846||Jan. 1|
|0||0||6||0||6||0||Yarn, raw||raised||1,100||per cent||1847||Jan. 1|
|0||3||0||0||15||0||Bleached or dyed||raised||400||per cent||1847||Jan. 1|
|0||1||6||0||9||0||Boiled with ashes||raised||500||per cent||1847||Jan. 1|
|0||6||0||0||12||0||Thread||raised||100||per cent||1847||Jan. 1|
|0||6||0||0||12||0||Manufactures, raw||raised||100||per cent||1848||Jan. 1|
|1||13||0||3||0||0||Manufactures, bleached, &c||raised||90||per cent||1847||Jan. 1|
|0||6||0||0||9||0||Cotten Twist, unbleached||raised||50||per cent||1847||Jan. 1|
§ Now these were changes affecting our exports made of late years in the tariff of the Zollverein; in the councils of which Prussian influence predominated. They were nearly all highly restrictive, and Russia was the Power that came to that House to ask for a relaxation of our restrictive system, and before whom Her Majesty's Government were going to bow down. That was the treatment which was to wring consent from England. Because Prussia menaced us with the rejection of our manu-302
§ Britain yielding to this demand. And he would beg to remind them that the Zollverein had constantly acted on its own policy, in direct opposition to the system which was now recommended to the House by Her Majesty's Government. The hon. Member here read, from a return he had moved for, the following list of the recent changes in the Import Duties imposed by the German Commercial Union which affected the principal exports of this country:—
factures from their markets, that House was asked immediately to go the whole length of the concession for which she asked, and, by so doing, to strike down the very system upon which our maritime supremacy was based. Of all the arguments that had been urged in favour of this question, that which grated most upon his feelings was the one urged to the detriment of the character of our shipowners and seamen. The contradictory and ex parte character of the documents presented
to the House on that subject, had been exposed by his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), whose great characteristic was this, that he had a more innate love and clear conception of that which was due to justice to every man and every class—he (Mr. Newdegate) said it without exception, and without offence—than any Member in that House. He begged to refer the House to one document out of the contradictory pieces of evidence which had been got up for the purpose of making out a case in favour of this proposed change. The Consul at Bremen said that there could be no doubt that the supervision of our seamen was not so regular as that of other nations, and the English Government might take blame upon itself that the means of supervision were relaxed; and the same Consul said that was a sufficient answer to the calumnies that had been uttered against the British shipping interest. He thus emphatically stated his opinion—
But there is another reason, why British vessels are cried down by British merchants and others, and whereby not only British owners are injured, but shipwrights, ropemakers, chain and anchormakers, and in fact every species of mechanics who gain their livelihood by ship-work are losers, and foreign sailors taught to compete with British.
I allude to the great and increasing investment of British capital in foreign vessels, in countries where reciprocity treaties exist. It is impossible to state the exact amount, but most of the foreign vessels which trade to America—Austrian, Prussian, Argentine, &c.—are, more or less, in fact sailing for account and risk of British owners, who have, under the pretext of mortgage or otherwise, invested their property in ships under these flags, because they enjoy the same privileges as British vessels, whilst the original cost is much less, and the wages of the men and price of provisions considerably lower,
These facts are naturally difficult to prove, but there is no doubt of their truth.
The way of employing their capital being exposed to the view of the Prussians, they naturally follow the path which British enterprise has pointed out to them; and when the British merchants and others cry out against ships sailing under the British flag, and give other flags a higher freight, they are doubtlessly very often influenced by the wish of giving the best freights to ships in which they are themselves privately interested. Hinc illœ lacryma!
British capital is ruining British prosperity. It is the same in all branches. Almost all the machinery by which the Zollverein is rivalling and outdoing England, in the manufacturing line, is English—the best workmen Englishmen; and one may look where one will, British intelligence is undermining British prosperity.
And did the noble Lord at the head of the Government expect that investment of Bri-
tish capital in foreign vessels would be less when the navigation laws were repealed? There could be no doubt that British capital was ruining British prosperity in all the departments of commerce throughout the world. The best workmen of England were carried away to foreign States, and there employed by British capital thus British intelligence was undermining British prosperity. He contended that, if this measure were passed, greater facilities would be given to the investment of British capital in foreign countries; and he did, therefore, urge upon those who had taken an active part in the agitation against the navigation laws well to consider whether they might not be liable to the imputation of seeking to aggrandise the capital which they already possessed at the expense of England's dearest interests. He begged hon. Members who had manifested the most zeal in this agitation to consider well whether they were pursuing a very patriotic course; whether they were seeking a great legislative change, not for the purposes of advancing the general interests of this empire, but merely of increasing the gains of one class or department, to the injury of the nation at large. He would warn hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial benches that the great bulk of the people of this country were beginning to look with extreme jealousy upon the motives of those who advocated the free-trade policy. What had the advocates of the Manchester school to tender to the House as an evidence of their success in legislation? Had we not around us distress—almost insurrection? Had we not discontent? Had we not a rising agitation for unconstitutional changes? Had we not a menacing populace? Had we not poverty amongst our merchants? He would ask them, then, with what face came they to the House to urge the Legislature. to sanction this further abuse of that theory which they called free trade? They might be democrats; but was not Cromwell a democrat, and yet he founded the navigation laws. Was not Adam Smith a free trader, and yet he supported them? Was not Mr. Huskisson entitled to be considered a liberal politician; and he stated his belief, that upon the maintenance of the navigation laws depended our national independence. He (Mr. Newdegate) would conclude by asking the noble Lord at the head of the Government to consider seriously whether the measure would bring honour on his grey hairs, and whether
generations yet to come would have to thank him, or curse him, for having persevered neglecting all evidence on what he (Lord J. Russell) called the system of progress, and find that this miscalled "progress" ought to have been more appropriately termed the "road to ruin."
§ MR. WAWN
said: The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford has stated that the shipowners of this country do not like reciprocity treaties. The hon. Member for Westbury has quoted the trade with the United States as evidence in their favour; but he omitted to state that the South Sea fishery has been taken from us by the Americans. Denmark has increased her tonnage since 1824 with this country 391 per cent, while our trade has increased only 200 per cent. Sweden and Norway have increased 40 per cent, whilst we have decreased 300 per cent. Prussia has increased 100 per cent: our trade has decreased. And where is the reciprocity in salt? Each successive Government has fallen short of its duty in not getting that grievance redressed. Since the treaty with Russia in 1842 the Russian tonnage has increased 168 per cent, and ours only 58 per cent. The shipowners have good grounds for complaining of the exemption in that treaty in favour of Russian vessels from navigation dues in Russian ports for the first three years. Then there is the Russian Company imposing taxes (I will not say legally) upon British ships. This ought long since to have been abolished; and an assurance ought now to be given to that effect. The British Government committed a great blunder in 1841, when it proposed to the House a duty of 20s. per load upon Canadian timber. In proposing to levy that tax upon our colonial timber it made a blunder, as it has made one now, in proposing that ships built in Baltic or other foreign ports should come in duty free, whilst the shipbuilder in this country, building a ship of similar timber, has a duty imposed upon him. Many such blunders I believe there will be before the Government tumbles through. If these resolutions are sanctioned by the House, I trust that the measure which the right hon. Gentleman introduces thereupon will bear its proper title. It should be styled "An Act to encourage shipbuilding in foreign, in preference to British ports." There are two other measures which have been introduced—twin measures, bearing an intimate relation to the present one—which have not yet been 306 printed, although read a first time on Thursday, the 25th of May; but the Government appears to have no desire to proceed with them, until it knows the fate of the present measure. We shall be kept in the dark until that is known; but I have no doubt that if this debate should close at 2 o'clock in the morning in favour of the Ministerial proposition, these two Bills will be printed and circulated with the Votes of to-morrow. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford has argued in favour of admitting the Americans to the coasting trade of this country. You may theorise and philosophise as much as you like upon this question; but it is quite evident that if the Government measure be passed, not only will our colonial shipping he ruined, but even our very coasting trade will be destroyed. What benefits do you expect to reap from the yielding up of our colonial trade to the American shipowners? But notwithstanding all that I or other hon. Members may urge, I know very well that there is a class in this House on whom arguments will have no avail, if opposed to their immediate interests, and who, once they get the wedge in, will he sure to drive it home. And who will get the coasting trade? Certainly not the Americans—but the Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes, whose rivers, for three or four months of the year, are ice-bound, when they cannot employ their vessels; and they, of course, will very gladly avail themselves of the opportunities of commerce which the coasting trade of this country will afford them. They will certainly come here, and destroy our coasting trade. Now that trade has, by the mislegislation of this House, been too much injured already. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) might have bestowed some thought upon that trade. Instead of dealing with it as he intends, he ought to have proposed a measure for exempting it from some of its burdens—the light-dues, &c, which amount to more than 5 per cent upon the capital of the vessels employed. And I well tell the right hon. Gentleman why I claim those exemptions on behalf of the coasting trade. It is not merely because I apprehend danger from the Norwegians or the Swedes; the danger is from within; the danger is from what I call an abuse of the Parliamentary powers given to railways. I wish to be distinctly understood. There are certain parties—railway companies or their directors—who come before this 307 House, and state (not upon oath) to the Committees, that certain tolls ought to be granted by Parliament along certain parts of their line, so as to give the shareholders a sufficient interest to induce them to carry on the undertaking. But how is that privilege used? Is it fairly used? The undertaking for which they obtain Parliamentary sanction is eventually carried along the coasts of the country, so as to absorb the coasting trade. And the better to enable the railway companies to drive the shipping in that trade out of the market, they in some instances carry heavy goods at a halfpenny a ton per mile—levying threepence per mile upon first-class passengers, to make up for the disadvantages to which the proprietors subject themselves, until they succeed in ruining their rivals on the sea. Now, with regard to pilotage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford states, that he is ready to join in any fair proposition for an alteration of the pilotage laws, as well as the revision of the light-dues. I want to know why the right hon. Gentleman did not manifest the same anxiety to do justice to that subject when he was in office, and when this very question was forced upon his attention. On July 28, 1845, when a report on a Bill affecting the shipping interest was made, I got these words inserted:—That a British ship engaged in foreign trade, and which shall have discharged its cargo at any port in the United Kingdom, shall not be compelled to take a pilot when proceeding in ballast to any other port of the United Kingdom.Now, as a test of the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, I wish to observe that he, with the and of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the then Government, struck those words out in the next stage of the Bill. I cannot have much faith in an hon. Member who acts so inconsistently—but it may be with an eye for office. Such conduct on the part of one so thoroughly versed in the proceedings of this House, is trifling with this important subject. With regard to one of the other questions before the House—the Merchant Seamen's Fund Bill—I wish to know why it is kept in the dark? Does the Government intend to levy a tax on the shipping interest? I also wish to know if the Government intends to abolish the timber duties, so far as the shipping interest is concerned? I wish to have these questions answered. I oppose the Government scheme, because I think it is fraught with danger. As to the ques- 308 tion of impressment, I am old enough to remember the miseries inflicted on seamen and their families by the pressgangs, but will not say that circumstances may not arise which will render the operation of that system necessary. What made us independent of foreigners during the last war? It was not free trade with foreign countries. It was that we had colonies, loyal, wealthy, and powerful, and also an excellent mercantile marine. Was not our mercantile marine at that time a powerful auxiliary? The fact cannot be denied. Every Englishman will feel proud to acknowledge it. I will not longer detain the House, but thank hon. Members for the patience with which they have listened to me.
§ VISCOUNT INGESTRE
, in a debate of such importance, and involving interests of such magnitude, would not have intruded himself upon the attention of the House, but for the connexion which he had with the Navy of this country; and he trusted that circumstance would plead his excuse for the few observations which he was about to offer. The first thing he wished to state was, that in a question of so much magnitude, and involving such mighty interests—involving the maritime supremacy of this country—a supremacy which had lasted for hundreds of years, and which had attained its zenith under the present system—the Government was bound, before they asked the House of Commons to alter the law, to show a case of urgent and permanent necessity for so radical and sweeping a change. But he had not heard a single sentence from any Member of the Government showing the urgency or necessity for such a change, nor, indeed, any just cause for the introduction of the present measure. Hon. Members opposite talked very largely of the defects of the present system. Why did they not point out these defects? They were bound to do so before they asked the Legislature to alter a system which had been identified with the maritime superiority of the country—in other words, with the existence of the country itself. Let those hon. Gentlemen put their fingers upon those defects, and he, for one, would be the first to assist in removing them. But surely it was not necessary, because a patient was ill, that they should give him a medicine which would kill him? He did not purpose to enter into any commercial or statistical details, and would only slightly touch upon the commercial part of the question. He 309 felt it to be his bounden duty to give every resistance he could to a measure which, in his conscience, he believed would be most detrimental to the maritime power of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said, and no doubt said sincerely, that he would cut off his right hand sooner than that right hand should be instrumental in framing a Bill which was to destroy or injure the maritime power of England. But the right hon. Gentleman had not supported his opinion with facts which brought conviction to his (Viscount Ingestre's) mind. He begged to remind the House that the evidence was incomplete, and that the evidence before the Lords' Committee was not yet finished. Now, he thought this fact of itself ought to induce them to postpone their decision. It was most dangerous to introduce topics which might cause a collision between the two Houses of Parliament; and the least the House of Commons could do would be to wait for the report of the Lords' Committee before they decided upon this question. Much had been said about the evidence of Sir James Stirling before the Committee of the House of Commons last Session; but he (Viscount Ingestre) was of opinion that the experience and the judgment of the great majority of naval officers were contrary to that evidence. He would be sorry to regard this entirely as a commercial question. He did not like to look upon it as one merely of pounds, shillings, and pence. It involved higher considerations; and he felt bound in duty to his country to resist the attempt now made to sacrifice those higher considerations—the dignity, the power, and the high maritime position of Great Britain—to the theory of free trade. And, after all, were their free-trade schemes so successful as to justify them in calling upon Parliament to carry them to a still greater extent? He denied it. What had they seen for the last two or three years—free-trade years? Bankruptcy and ruin. By the operation of their free-trade principles, the money was exported from this country, and great distress and misery had resulted from it. The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Wilson) said, they (the Protectionists) were great alarmists when the repeal of the corn laws was proposed. Very well; what then? He (Viscount Ingestre) admitted he was an alarmist then; and, upon the same principle, and in the same manner, he was an alarmist now; nor had he seen anything in the working of a free 310 trade in corn to alter his former views, or to forbid his being an alarmist. He wished to call to the hon. Gentleman's mind that the repeal of the corn laws had not yet been fully tested. Yes, he admitted the fact, as extraordinary and accidental circumstances had raised and kept up the price of corn, and kept the farmers in comparative comfort; but the first good harvest under a different? state of things would put the new system to the test, at least as regarded our agriculturists, and their ability to compete with foreigners. Well, then, if they passed from the corn question to the colonial question, what did they find in the position of the colonies to give him cause for exulting in the operation of the free-trade principles? What did they see in the West Indian colonies but bankruptcy and ruin, the result of their unfortunate and misguided legislation? There was a toast which used to he always drank at political dinners in the old-fashioned times, "Ships, Colonies, and Commerce;" but he feared that toast would be honoured no longer, at least by the Gentlemen opposite. The mercantile navy had been long regarded as the nursery and nucleus of our Navy; they were the men who afterwards manned the finest of our vessels, who kept the enemy from our shores, and carried the flag of England throughout over the seas. But it appeared this old-fashioned system was to last no longer. All was to be sacrificed to our pet theory of free trade. They were to expose their fellow-subjects to the competition of the wide world, and their philanthropy was so universal, and so chivalrous, that, in order to benefit all mankind, they would ruin themselves. He was not opposed, but, on the contrary, heartily wished, that a good feeling should exist between nations; but he could not forget the old adage that "charity begins at home;" and that, as other countries have only looked to their own interests, it was their duty not to give up all to benefit strangers. In advocating their free-trade principles, the one class ever alluded to was the consumer. It was very proper to think of the consumer; but why should they quite forget the producer?—at least in this industrious community, where the consumers were for the most part producers. He had presented a petition, signed by 2,800 seamen, masters, and mates of vessels in the port of London; a petition not got up by trick or intrigue, not lying at the corner of a street or upon a bridge, to which all passers by were so- 311 licited to sign their names, but a petition emanating from the panic feeling of a large and honest class, who rushed to affix their signatures to it. The petitioners stated that they were loyal subjects of Her Majesty, but that if the navigation laws were repealed, they feared they would be obliged to seek for a livelihood by engaging in the vessels of foreign nations, and that when a war broke out, they might perhaps be then in the service of the enemy. A great deal had been said to the disparagement of British seamen—he thought most erroneously. It surely was most illogical, as well as unfair, to judge of the character of a whole class by a few instances. A few cases of drunken captains, or drunken mates, were pointed out, and then, forsooth, they were called upon to conclude that the whole service was drunken and irregular. It might as well be said, because there was an occasional drunken soldier, or drunken railway guard to be seen, that all railway officials and the whole army were composed of drunkards. His experience of British seamen (and it was considerable) led him to believe that they were, notwithstanding some exceptions, a well-behaved and industrious body of men. He thought the time at which this measure was brought forward most inopportune. When he looked at the state of things on the Continent, the position of foreign politics, and the state of things at home, he could not help saying that, whatever might be the merits of the Government scheme, the moment at which it was brought forward was singularly ill chosen. In the present political state of Europe confidence was placed in British ships; and were we to give up voluntarily, and for no consideration, the advantages to be derived from the state of things? He would not enter into a statement as to the difference in the expense of building ships here and in foreign countries; but he took, as admitted, the broad fact that the expense was much greater, and would be so, so long as we had duties and freights on our timber. That being so, the consequence of the present measure would be, that the capital of our shipowners would shift its allegiance and be employed in foreign parts. The effect of the alteration as regarded freights would be, that the Americans would get all the light goods and profitable freights, and leave to the British shipowner all the heavy freights, such as sugar and goods of that less profitable class. There was another point well worth considering. All the pre- 312 sent restrictions were to be retained, and the British merchant would therefore employ foreign ships, because, of course, they would not be subject to British burdens, or compelled to sail with three-fourths of British seamen. He would, therefore, employ foreign ships in time of peace, and in time of war select the ships of some neutral State. He would, then, leave the House to infer where we should find seamen to man our fleets and defend our shores. He considered it was especially the duty of those Members of the Government who were connected with the Admiralty—who had the charge of our maritime defences—to consider seriously what would be the result in this respect, He was no advocate for impressment, but he would show the House a strong case for it. In Lord Campbell's Life of Lord Loughborough, Lord Chancellor, vol. vi. p. 127–8, appeared the following remarkable passage:—June 28th, at twenty minutes past twelve, without previous notice, he moved 'for leave to bring in a Bill to suspend all exemptions from impressment into the Navy, together with the right of those impressed to sue out a writ of habeas corpus for their liberation.' Will you then continue these impediments, submit to an inferiority at sea, allow your men-of-war to rot in your harbours, and trust the existence of this country to the fate of a battle on shore? So confident does the Government feel in the co-operation of Parliament on this occasion, that I do not scruple to tell you, that the unrestricted impressment which this Bill is to authorise, is begun—that I make this Motion at this late hour, without notice, for the purpose of rendering the measure effectual; and that I hope, by the suspension of Standing Orders, it may to-morrow be carried through all its stages. At one o'clock the Bill was brought in and read a first and second time. The following day it was sent to the Lords, and on the third it received the Royal Assent. The victory of Rodney was the consequence.Before the Government then carried a measure so vitally affecting our maritime supremacy, it was bound to bring in some substitute for that body from which, though by means of the pressgang, we had hitherto manned our fleet and defended our shores. Sir James Stirling, in his evidence, suggested that he should keep up large peace establishments, for training seamen to man our fleets in time of war; but what would hon. Gentlemen opposite, the economists, who held extreme opinions with respect to a standing Army, say to that? The hon. Member for Westbury had quoted, the other evening, a great decrease in our tonnage between the years 1817 and 1823, as compared with 1844, 313 1845, 1846; and with respect to that, his hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had pointed out a sufficient reason for that decrease in the fact that the country had just emerged from a protracted war, in which large numbers of transports had been employed, and other nations which had been compelled to make use of our ships, were beginning again to employ vessels of their own. It was not, therefore, in any degree attributable to the restrictions then in force. The hon. Member had further quoted a great increase in 1846 in our tonnage; but he forgot to state that in the case of every country where there was a reciprocity treaty, the increase of foreign tonnage had been in a greater proportion than our own. A good deal of stress had been laid upon Mr. Bancroft's letter; but the declaration of the American Minister was somewhat at variance with that of the President. Mr. Bancroft writes—The removal of commercial restrictions, while it would be of mutual advantage to the material interests of both countries, could not but give openings to still further relations of amity between them.The tariff of the United States of 1846 was highly restrictive, imposing duties on the importation of every article of British production, varying from 10 to 70 per cent. Speaking of this protective tariff, Mr. Polk, in his address to Congress on the opening of the present Session, says, after describing its beneficial effect on American interests—With such gratifying evidences of prosperity, and of the successful operation of the Revenue Act of 1846, every consideration of public policy recommends that it shall remain unchanged. It is hoped that the system of import duties which is established may be regarded as the permanent policy of the country, and that the great interests affected by it may not again he subject to be injuriously disturbed, as they have heretofore been, by frequent and sometimes sudden changes.Mr. Polk seemed to have a high opinion of the beneficial effect of productive duties. He demanded, therefore, on the part of the industrial classes of this country, that the Government should not hastily make so great a change without proving that there was some imperative reason for it. They had already ruined more than one interest, and that was sufficient, he should imagine, to compel them to be cautious. It had been said that we must retrace our steps; but he was not willing to do that until the people of this country were satisfied that we had been going on in the wrong direction; but he did think 314 we ought to have a little more experience before we pursued those steps any further. He must point out, before he sat down, one fact, and that was, that we were not dealing on equal terms with other countries. We had great colonial possessions, which they had not, and which we must preserve. Strip this country of her home trade—and her home trade he would call it—in the colonies, and what trade was she likely to have? We had raised ourselves, if not in consequence of these laws, with their assistance, to a bright maritime commercial supremacy. Were we lightly to overturn that system under which we had prospered so much, without some imperative reason? He implored the House to pause before it entered upon so fatal a course, or allowed itself to he hurried, with what he must say was indecent haste, to sacrifice a patriotic class of men. He trusted the House would refuse to disturb the capital of the shipowners, so beneficially employed for the weal of the country; and that it would never be made the instrument of injury to that maritime interest which he hoped would still continue superior to that of all other nations.
§ LORD J. HAY
was sure that he should not in vain solicit from the House that indulgence which they never failed to extend to a Member addressing it for the first time, particularly as he intended to confine his observations to those subjects which were more immediately connected with the profession to which he had the honour to belong. His noble Friend (Lord Ingestre), following the example of every hon. Member who had spoken against this measure, bad limited his observations principally to the effect which it was calculated to produce on the naval power of this country. He was willing to concede to his noble Friend that the naval power of this and of every other country must depend upon the extent of its commercial prosperity; and if he could believe for one moment that this measure was calculated to destroy the naval power of England, it certainly should not hare his support. But he had come to a very different conclusion. He had considered this question in all its bearings, and he firmly believed that it was likely to arouse such an amount of energy and enterprising spirit in this country as would be most calculated to increase its wealth, and secure its naval supremacy. He had the honour twenty years ago, to sit in that House, and it was his fortune to hear now the very same argu- 315 ments and predictions which were made when the navigation laws were relaxed. It was said that if the British shipowner were brought into competition with the foreigner he must be destroyed, and that the nursery for British seamen must, of course, follow the same fate. But what was the result? By taking the step of relaxing the navigation laws, the amount of British tonnage and the number of British seamen had increased. That, he believed, no hon. Member in that House could deny. It was said that it would be prudent for us to wait until we met with a corresponding liberality from other countries. He held that to be a bad principle. He could not conceive, for one moment, the prudence of denying ourselves the results which must ensue from freedom of trade, because there were people in existence much too stupid to understand it. It had been stated also that the shipping interest of this country was unequal to contend with the ships of other nations—that was to say, that in the building and equipping of British merchant ships they exceeded the cost of other countries. Now, he believed that, to a certain extent, this was true, at least so far as related to a particular quality of ships; but if they took a first-class British ship he was perfectly convinced that she could be built cheaper in the Thames than in any foreign country on the face of the globe. He would take, for instance, the expense of building a ship in the East Indies, and in so doing he would not venture upon the case of a merchant-ship, because he had not inquired particularly into that; but he would take the cost of building as it was found to exist in the Royal naval service. It was true that they would find labour cheaper in the East Indies than in this country; but then one man in England could perform more actual work than five men in Bombay, and the expense of building a line of battle ship in England, as compared with the East Indies, would be as 60,000l. to 80,000l. He had made particular inquiry into this subject so far as regarded America, and had come to the conclusion that a first-class merchant ship could be built cheaper in England than in the United States; and that the equipment of a ship could be effected 20 per cent cheaper in England than in the United States. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) last night dissected very minutely the evidence contained in the correspondence sent to this country by the British consuls abroad. He had read 316 that evidence, but would not trouble the House with any remarks upon it. He would rather speak from his own personal experience, and he did not hesitate to say that he believed the statements of the consuls to be substantially correct. In 1831 he had the honour to command one of Her Majesty's squadrons off the Douro for several months; and there were, during that time, more than 100 British ships under the protection of the British flag; there was scarcely a morning that he was not called upon to decide a quarrel between a master and the crew of some vessel. He took nearly fifty men out of those ships as volunteers for the Royal Navy; and he did not hesitate to say, that in almost every instance of quarrel the master was wrong and the men were ill used. But he would go further than that. In 1843 he commanded a frigate at New York; and during the time he was there, nine cases of complaint came before him of the bad conduct of persons on board the British merchant ships lying at that port. It was clear to him that all this was the effect of a bad state of discipline on board those ships; and he had never met one man acquainted with these matters, and on whose judgment he could depend, that had not confirmed the opinion he entertained on this subject. Having said this, he did not mean to convey an unfavourable impression of the mercantile marine of this country generally. He was speaking of particular trades, and especially of the ships that were taken up for short voyages, as having an inferior description of men. He knew very well, and he had good reason to know, because he had associated almost daily with some of our most distinguished shipowners, that the Thames, the Clyde, Liverpool, to a certain extent, and Bristol, were exceptions to the rule. Then, as regarded the ability of these men in the management of their ships, he knew that there were not better seamen in the world, but that was not what he complained of; his complaint was of the conduct and moral discipline exhibited in those ships; and he certainly thought that they were not the kind of men who should be in charge of British ships, or who were likely to give encouragement to commercial houses to employ British ships in the way of trade. With regard to the manning of the Navy, he thought Sir J. Stirling, in his evidence before the Committee, had given some very useful hints; but with regard to the numbers of merchant seamen who were received into 317 the Royal Navy, he thought Sir James had overrated them at the present time. Sir James stated them at six per cent; but he would venture to say they did not exceed one or two per cent: he was rather inclined to agree with his gallant Friend (Captain Berkeley) that they were losers by the connexion; as regarded the manning of the fleet, he did not believe that they gained one per cent. By a return presented to that House, it appeared that the number of seamen, first entries, received into the Royal Navy in the eight preceding years was 22,500: this included every description of men—able seamen, ordinary, and landsmen; but he ventured to say that out of that number not more than 4,000 were seamen who had served their apprenticeship in the merchant service. It frequently happened that when a ship was paid off in our naval ports, there was no demand for seamen, that is, no ship fitting out, consequently these discharged men looked to the merchant service for temporary employment. In 1835 no fewer than 3,000 boys were entered. It was found that men were not coming from the merchant service, and it became necessary to raise them for the Royal Navy, independent of the merchant service. That entry was excellent in itself, but it was not afterwards followed out, because it was found that when these young men went abroad, where the captains were restricted from giving higher ratings except in particular circumstances, they naturally became dissatisfied, and most of them when discharged went into the merchant service. He believed, that if they took these different classes of men, they would find that the merchant service was the gainer, and received more from the Royal Navy than it gave. Indeed, he attached no importance whatever to the seamen that they received from the merchant service. But the question was put, how would they man the fleet in the event of war? That question was easily put, and as easily answered. Experience had proved that every step they had taken in the modification of the navigation laws had increased their trade, and in proportion had caused an increase of seamen. He thought it was a fair conclusion to come at, therefore, that this measure was calculated to produce the same result; and that in proportion as they relaxed their present system they would increase the number of seamen; and the naval service would be in the same position as it was formerly, with 318 this difference, that they would have a greater number of men in the market. But the noble Lord asked how they would be got out of the market? Would we impress them? It was scarcely fair to ask that of a professional man; but he might say that if we were to have a war tomorrow, the necessary consequence would be a stoppage of trade to a certain extent. A number of men would thus be thrown out of employment, and therefore a supply for the Navy would more easily be obtained. The inducements to seamen to enter the Royal Navy were much greater now than formerly. Take a seaman on board a man-of-war, explain to him the provision made for him if his health should fail, or if he should be wounded in action, and then he would see that by serving in a ship of war he would be laying up a provision for his old age. The noble Lord had asked what had been got by free-trade measures? He would answer that they had got everything they had ever expected; and he only hoped that the repeal of the navigation laws would prove as successful as the repeal of the corn laws had been. [Cheers.] He knew the meaning of those cheers; but he would have hon. Members who cheered know that he took as great an interest in the agricultural question as any hon. Member in that House, and he knew that property had been sold at a higher price, and farms were let for a higher rent now, than they obtained before the repeal of the corn laws was carried.
§ MR. R. HILDYARD
regretted that he felt it his duty to oppose the Government. On those who introduced measures of this description lay the onus of proving the necessity which they said existed for such experiments. He could not but remark that of all the Gentlemen who had spoken on the other side of the House, not one of them had condescended to refer to the fearful amount of injury which would be inflicted on individual interests provided this experiment was made, and should turn out to be a failure. The right hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this question had stated that no less than 40,000,000l. of money were embarked in British shipping independently of the vast sums also embarked in other branches of British industry intimately connected with the shipping interest. But how did the Gentlemen opposite speak of that great and important interest? They spoke of them as a specially protected class, and as a body that could well afford to bear a reduction of 319 their profits, should such, unfortunately, be the result of this measure. But there was no greater mistake than to suppose that the money embarked in shipping was in the hands of a few rich men; for he could assure the House, that as regarded the town which he had the honour to represent (Whitehaven), and the case was the same with respect to many other places—nearly every person in it—as well those who were still in business, as those who had retired from trade—had some portion of their capital embarked in shipping; and what, let him ask, was to become of these persons should this experiment fail? With respect, again, to the numbers of working hands employed, and gaining a livelihood by the shipping of this country, it was said to amount to between 230,000 and 240,000. He knew that the time had been when the manufacturers on the opposite side had said, that if workmen engaged in other pursuits were thrown out of employment, they could themselves employ as many of them as could be procured; but, for the last two or three years, had they not had many thousands of men out of work in the manufacturing districts of this country? Seamen were a class whom they all admitted to be a most meritorious one; they were also a class who could only get their livelihood by one occupation. They were unfitted for every other mode of employment except that to which they had been brought up; and if they were thrown out of employment by the operation of these measures, what would become of this enormous body of men, and how were they to be supported? He was assuming now that these measures would fail. With regard to the national question involved in the maintenance of the navigation laws, the noble Lord (Lord J. Hay) had fallen into an inconsistency. He did not deny that the prosperity of the mercantile marine of this country was essential to the efficiency of our naval service; yet the noble Lord dissented from some of the statements of Sir J. Stirling, and he thought that the naval service had the worst of the bargain with the mercantile marine. But, let the noble Lord tell the House what he really did mean. Did he mean that the efficiency of the naval service required the prosperity of our commercial marine or not? They were asked to run an enormous risk in tampering with our commercial marine, if, as he believed, it involved the efficiency of the naval service, to which this country owed its protec- 320 tion. With regard to what they were to do in time of war, the hon. and gallant Officer opposite (Captain Berkeley) had not told them in what way they were to get their sailors, except that many of those who had left the British for the American service would—as he (Mr. Hildyard) trusted would be the case—quit the navy of America, and return to their own, and offer to fight the battles of their own country. He would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite what would be the case with regard to this country, supposing our commercial marine was not only to fail us, but to be transferred to another country? Suppose the commercial marine of America were to be raised at the expense of the commercial marine of this country, it would be impossible to increase the merchant service of America without also increasing her naval force, for the strength of the one was in direct proportion with the prosperity of the other. And as this was an admitted fact, the consequence of course would be that America would compete with us also in the empire of the seas. He did not wish to indulge in gloomy forebodings, but he begged the House to remember that in case of war, hostilities would be conducted in a very different manner. He trusted that the next naval war would be equally glorious as the last; but, no matter how successful we might be, we were not exempt from casualties. Such casualties had attended us in our last war, but we had then our vast commercial marine on which to fall back, capable of supplying us with any number of men who might be required to replace those whom we lost. But what would be our condition in another war, if by sacrificing our commercial marine we deprived our Navy of this important resource. He felt considerable difficulty in speaking on a subject of this sort, without touching upon ground already travelled over; but he would endeavour to avoid repetition, and to be as brief as possible. One of the grounds assigned for the introduction of this measure was that the policy of foreign countries rendered it necessary. In support of this argument, Prussia and America were cited. He did not care whether the intimation of Prussia was intended as a threat or not. Every nation had a perfect right to say, "You ought to pursue such a course, and if you do not we shall be driven to a retaliatory policy." He did not blame any nation for saying thus much, neither did he wish to impute blame to Prussia for 321 having done so; but he asked what chance was there that Prussia would really carry out her threat? He disapproved very much of the vague and premature manner in which the report had gone abroad, that Great Britain intended to make a change in her navigation laws. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the President of the Board of Trade, thought proper to make known, as he had stated that he had done in the course of conversation with a casual merchant, the course of policy which the Government intended to take, of course the statement would go much further than was intended. Why, if language of that sort was used, it would quickly find its way to foreign Powers, who would, as a matter of course, use it to their own advantage. The right hon. Gentleman had not acted prudently in thus unequivocally expressing his opinion to a mere stranger; and the loose mode in which official persons had been holding such language was the real secret for the threat on the part of one Power, and the soft invitation on the part of the other. Did any reasonable man believe that Prussia intended to carry that threat into execution? The interests of Prussia would not permit her to do so. What was the amount of British shipping engaged in the commerce between England and Prussia, and what was the amount of Prussian shipping in the year 1847? In the year 1847 the total tonnage of British and Prussian shipping entered inwards and cleared outwards was—
Thus by carrying her threat into execution, Prussia would inflict on her own shipping nearly four times the injury she inflicted on British shipping. And be it remembered that the Prussian shipping engaged in the direct trade with England, constituted a very large proportion of the whole shipping of the Prussian empire. And would the Prussian landowner consent to be deprived of the British market for his corn, his timber, his hemp, and the other articles of Prussian produce, in order to carry out this threat? Prussia had not done anything to entitle her to concession on the part of Great Britain, for Prussia had entered into a treaty to return perfect reciprocity to our ships; and yet salt, a principal article of back freight from this country, being a Government monopoly in Prussia, was always carried in Prussian bottoms, in open vio- 322 lation of the treaty. In mentioning this, he did not wish to excite angry feeling, but he merely mentioned it to show that we ought to do for ourselves that which Prussia took care to do on her own behalf. Now, let them turn to the "soft impeachment" of America. He was quite ready to admit that the proposition of Mr. Bancroft had been made in perfect good faith; but all did not depend upon Mr. Bancroft. In order to carry out an arrangement of reciprocity, the navigation laws of America would have to be rescinded; and was America keeping pace with us in rescinding the laws which protected her navigation? Was she proposing any measures to go pari passu with ours? No! America was standing by, watching till this country should prostrate its own interests at her feet by passing the measure now proposed. It might be said there was a reservation; but how could "the Queen in Council "protect those interests? When Parliament had assented to the alteration, and nothing stood in the way of carrying it into effect but the will of the Sovereign, if the Royal veto were interposed, an angry feeling far more dangerous than the menace of Prussia would grow up; and nothing would be more likely to involve this country in war than the attempt to give effect to such a safeguard as was proposed in the veto of the Sovereign. It would be much more invidious to interpose that veto than to refuse to pass an Act of Parliament reversing the previous policy of this country. The amount of what America said was, "If you give much, we will give much; if you give little, we will give little." But what were we about to give? We were about to give an enormous colonial trade, or at least a participation in it, to America; while America had nothing to give us in return. With respect to the proposed reservation or exception of our coasting trade from the operation of this measure—although on this point he differed from the hon. Member for Shields, who was an authority on such subjects—he still believed that we might safely allow America to interfere in our coasting trade, provided she would keep her word, and give us a share of her coasting trade in return; because, if there was any portion of our commercial marine which could stand competition, especially with America, it was that which was engaged in our coasting trade, which he did not believe America could take away. But was not the American coast- 323 ing trade a matter of importance to us? The seaboard of America was enormous, and the population of that country was developing itself with enormous rapidity, so that if her coasting trade was not important at the present moment, he was satisfied that in a few years it would be so. Of the present enormous commercial marine of America, how much did hon. Members think was engaged in the coasting trade? Why, within a fraction as much as the whole of the shipping which they had engaged in the foreign trade. He believed, therefore, that the American coasting trade was far more important to us than any detriment which would result to us from throwing open our coasting trade to them. By the present measure, however, we were giving, as usual, the Yankee the best of the bargain. It was said that our colonies had demanded the repeal of the navigation laws, and that in justice we ought to concede it to them. He denied that the colonies had ever made such a demand. They demanded something totally different. They demanded a relaxation of these laws with respect to themselves; but, instead of that, we relaxed them in favour of the whole world; and this, so far from being a boon to the colonies, would be a great disadvantage to them. He thought the opponents of this measure had some reason to complain of the inconsistency of its supporters. One class of its supporters contended that we owed this measure to the colonies; while another class maintained that it would benefit the consumer in this country. Now, both of these arguments could not be sound. The measure could not at once benefit the producer in the colonies and the consumer in this country: for he begged to remind those who spoke of the advantages which the measure would confer on this side of the water, that, according to the arguments of some of their friends, these would be previously disposed of on the other side. With respect to the case of Canada it was argued that if we did not relax our navigation laws, our trade on the St. Lawrence would be transferred to the United States; because, by the American system of drawbacks, that country was rapidly carrying off the trade in question from us. Well, if too much competition had already reduced the profits of navigation on the St. Lawrence, how would the matter be mended by introducing further competition? It was said there was no fear that we could not successfully com- 324 pete with the foreigner. If this was true—if we could successfully build our vessels, and man our vessels, and victual our vessels, in spite of competition with the foreigner, why was there any exception at all? Any exception was a departure from the great principle they advocated. Why did they except the coasting trade? Why did they require from the British shipowner that three-fourths of his crew should be British seamen? Much had been said on the subject of the reciprocity system. The hon. Member for Westbury had contended that the shipping of this country, engaged in commerce with those countries between which and Great Britain reciprocity treaties existed, had thrived, and thence passed, not very logically, to the conclusion that it must continue to thrive, if we threw open our ports to the shipping of the world, without any stipulations for reciprocal concessions. But had our shipping thrived, in its competition with the shipping of those countries between which and ourselves reciprocity treaties existed? How stood the facts as regarded the carrying trade between this country, and Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Prussia? At the end of the war this trade was mainly in the hands of British shipowners. What was the case now, after twenty-four years' experience of the fruits of reciprocity? The total tonnage of British, and Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Prussian shipping entered inwards and cleared outwards in the year 1847, was—
Inwards. Outwards. British 88,390 Prussian 303,225 British 92,947 Prussian 241,892
So that out of the enormous carrying trade between these countries, formerly all our own, little more than one sixth part survives to us; and yet the hon. Member for Westbury had the courage to appeal to the results of this reciprocal trade, as a justification of the rash and dangerous proposition of the Government, that this country should throw open its enormous colonial possessions, and our carrying trade with the whole world, without even the poor equivalent of any reciprocal concessions in return. How was this great difference accounted for by Mr. Porter, upon whose shoulders the mantle of the hon. Member for Glasgow seemed to have fallen? When the question was asked in the Lords' Committee, Mr. Porter stated that the explanation was to be found in the fact that British shipping found more profitable em- 325 ployment elsewhere than with those countries with which treaties of reciprocity existed. Now, this proved that such treaties were not so profitable, after all, to the British shipping, as other sources of traffic. With respect to Russia, the treaty of reciprocity had not been in existence so long; but in one single year, whilst our shipping to Russia had increased between one-third and one-fourth, the Russia shipping had increased twofold; and he would remark that Russia had exempted all her own ships for three years from certain duties, to which all other ships were subject.! It might be said that, commercially, she was wrong in doing so; and no doubt, as a mere matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, that was true; but she was stimulating her navy—and he believed that Sweden, Norway, and America had done the same. We formerly gave a bounty to shipping engaged in the South Sea fishery, and so long as we did so, that trade was almost exclusively our own. We afterwards withdrew that encouragement—the Americans pursued an opposite policy, and now the South Sea fishery is entirely in their hands. Whether this policy were wise or unwise, it tended at all events to increase the difficulties in the way of British shipping competing successfully with fostered foreign shipping. In conclusion, he begged to make one remark on what had fallen, on the previous evening, from the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Milner Gibson). That right hon. Gentleman said that we had arrived at a now era—that the days of power, and glory, and supremacy, had passed away. ["No, no!"] He would appeal to the recollection of the House, if that was not the substance of what the right hon. Gentleman said. "No!" and "Hear!"] In fact, it was that sentiment which elicited such vociferous cheering from the hon. Gentlemen who surrounded the hon. Member for Manchester. What new era we had arrived at he knew not; but, for his part, he would be content, if it was as great and glorious as the past. And when he heard that sentiment fall from the right hon. Gentleman, he was painfully reminded of the language of one of our most talented and philosophical poets, who, sitting amidst the ruins of the capitol of once the greatest empire in the world, predicted the downfall of this mighty kingdom, from causes, the germ of which were but too distinctly developed in the policy of the party to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged:— 326
Inwards. Outwards. British 118,095 Foreign 665,600 British 153,094 Foreign 743,433This is the moral of all earthly tales,'Tis but the same rehearsal of the past;First freedom, and then glory; when that fails,Wealth, vice, corruption—barbarism at last;And history, with all her volumes vast,Hath but one page.He entreated the House to remember the parting words of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, who never addressed the House without producing a great effect. That hon. Gentleman told them that if it were once taken, they could not retrace this step. Vestigia nulla retrorsum. And if they adopted it, they would be involved in complex difficulties from which they never could extricate themselves. They would see their marine, he would not say at once, but gradually, decline, and the naval service of this country impaired; but they would be utterly helpless to arrest the evil, and would have the mortification and remorse of feeling that they had brought about the disastrous result not from any paramount necessity, nor for any equivalent or corresponding benefit for the risk they had incurred.
§ SIR J. WALSH moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ After a brief conversation,
§ The House divided on the question that the debate be now adjourned:—Ayes 236; Noes 73: Majority 163.
|List of the AYES.|
|Abdy, T. N.||Buller, C.|
|Adair, H. E.||Bunbury, W. M.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Cabbell, B. B.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Callaghan, D.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Cardwell, E.|
|Alford, Visct.||Carew, W. H. P.|
|Anderson, A.||Chaplin, W. J.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||Childers, J. W.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Christopher, R. A.|
|Bailey, J., jun.||Christy, S.|
|Baillie, H. J.||Clements, hon. C. S.|
|Baines, M. T.||Cerk, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Baldock, E. H.||Clive, H. B.|
|Baldwin, C. B||Cobbold, J. C.|
|Baring, rt. hon. Sir F.T.||Cocks, T. S.|
|Baring, T.||Codrington, Sir W.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Coles, H. B.|
|Bellow, R. M.||Colvile, C. R.|
|Benbow, J.||Conolly, Col.|
|Bonnet, P.||Corry, rt. hon. H. L.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Cowper, hon. W. F.|
|Birch, Sir T. B.||Craig, W. G.|
|Blake, M. J.||Dashwood, G. H.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Denison, W. J.|
|Bourke, R. S.||Devereux, J. T.|
|Bowles, Adm.||Disraeli, B.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Dod, J. W.|
|Boyd, J.||Dodd, G.|
|Bremridge, R.||Drax, J. S. W. S. E.|
|Brotherton, J.||Drummond, H.|
|Brown, W.||Duff, G. S.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Duke, Sir J.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Duncombe, hon. A.|
|Duncuft, J.||Lowther, hon. Col.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Lushington, C.|
|Dunne, F. P.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|East, Sir J. B.||M'Cullagh, W. T.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||M'Neill, D.|
|Evans, J.||Maher, N. V.|
|Fagan, W.||Maitland, T.|
|Farnham, E. B.||Mandeville, Visct.|
|Farrer, J.||Martin, C. W.|
|Followes, E.||Martin, S.|
|Filmer, Sir E.||Masterman, J.|
|Fitzpatrick, rt. hn. J.W.||Matheson, A.|
|Floyer, J.||Maule, rt. hon. F.|
|Foley, J. H. H.||Melgund, Visct.|
|Forbes, W.||Miles, P. W. S.|
|Fordyce, A. D.||Monsell, W.|
|Forester, hon. G. C. W.||Morgan, H. K. G.|
|Forster, M.||Morgan, O.|
|Fox, W. J.||Morris, D.|
|Freestun, Col.||Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Mowatt, F.|
|Galway, Visct.||Mullings, J. R.|
|Gore, W. R. O.||Muntz, G. F.|
|Granby, Marq. of||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Greenall, G.||O'Brien, J.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Grey, R. W.||Paget, Lord C.|
|Grogan, E.||Paget, Lord G.|
|Haggitt, F. R.||Palmer, R.|
|Hale, R. B.||Palmerston, Visct.|
|Hall, Col.||Parker, J.|
|Hamilton, G. A.||Pearson, C.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Hardcastle, J. A.||Pigott, F.|
|Harris, hon. Capt.||Pilkington. J.|
|Hastie, A.||Plowden, W. H. C.|
|Hawes, B.||Price, Sir R.|
|Hayter, W. G.||Prime, R.|
|Heathcote, Sir W.||Raphael, A.|
|Henry, A.||Reid, Col.|
|Herbert, II. A.||Repton, G. W. J.|
|Herbert, rt. hon. S.||Rice, E. R.|
|Herries, rt. hon. J. C.||Richards, R.|
|Hervey, Lord A.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Hildyard, R. C.||Romilly, Sir J.|
|Hildyard, T. B. T.||Rufford, F.|
|Hill, Lord E.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Hill, Lord M.||Russell, hon. E. S.|
|Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J.||Russell, F. F. H.|
|Hobhouse, T. B.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Hodges, T. L.||Salwey, Col.|
|Hodgson, W. N.||Sandars, G.|
|Hollond, R.||Scholefield, W.|
|Hood, Sir A.||Scott, hon. F.|
|Hope, Sir J.||Shcil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Hotham, Lord||Shelburne, Earl of|
|Howard, hon. E. G. G.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Howard, Sir R.||Simeon, J.|
|Hudson, G.||Smith, J. B.|
|Ingestre, Visct.||Smollett, A.|
|Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.||Somerset, Capt.|
|Keogh, W.||Somerville, rt. hn. SirW.|
|Kildare, Marq. of||Sotheron, T. H. S.|
|Knox, Col.||Spooner, R.|
|Labouchere, rt. hon. H.||Stafford, A.|
|Lascelles, hon. W. S.||Stephenson, R.|
|Lewis, rt. hon. Sir T. F.||Stuart, H.|
|Lewis, G. C.||Stuart, J.|
|Lincoln, Earl of||Sutton, J. H. M.|
|Lindsay, hon. Col.||Talfourd, Serj.|
|Littleton, hon. E. R.||Tenison, E. K.|
|Lockhart, A. E.||Thicknesse, It. A.|
|Lockhart, W.||Thompson, Col.|
|Thompson, Ald.||Ward, H. G.|
|Thornely, T.||Watkins, Col.|
|Thornhill, G.||Westhead, J. P.|
|Towneley, C||Whitmore, T. C.|
|Townley, R. G.||Williamson, Sir H.|
|Townshend, Capt.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Turner, E.||Wilson, J.|
|Turner, G. J.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Tyrell, Sir J. T.||Wyld, J.|
|Urquhart, D.||Young, Sir J.|
|Villiers, hon. F.W. C.||TELLERS.|
|Vyse, R. H. R. H.||Walsh, Sir J. B.|
|Walter, J.||Henley, J. W.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Alcock, T.||Martin, J.|
|Anstey, T. C.||Matheson, Col.|
|Barkly, H.||Maxwell, hon. J. P.|
|Bateson, T.||Milner, W. M. E.|
|Bouverie, hon. E. P.||Mulgrave, Earl of|
|Brand, T.||Noel, hon. G. J.|
|Brisco, M.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Brockman, E. D.||O'Flaherty, A.|
|Bulkeley, Sir R. B. W.||Ossulston, Lord|
|Bunbury, E. H.||Peto, S. M.|
|Campbell, hon. W. F.||Rendlesham, Lord|
|Carter, J. B.||Reynolds, J.|
|Cavendish, hon. C. C.||Ricardo, J. L.|
|Cavendish, W. G.||Ricardo, O.|
|Chichester, Lord J. L.||Robartes, T. J. A.|
|Clifford, H. M.||Sadlier, J.|
|Cockburn, A. J. E.||Scully, F.|
|Cotton, hon. W. H S.||Seaham, Visct.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Seymer, H. K.|
|Davie, Sir H. R. F.||Shafto, R. D.|
|D'Eyncourt, rt. hon. G||Smith, rt. hon. R. V.|
|Duncan, G.||Smith, M. T.|
|Estcourt, J. B. B.||Spearman, H. J.|
|Fitzwilliam, hon. G. W.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Fortescue, hon. J. W.||Stanton, W. H.|
|Goddard, A. L.||Sturt, H. G.|
|Granger, T. C.||Sullivan, M.|
|Greene, J.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Grenfell, C. W.||Talbot, J. H.|
|Gwyn, H.||Verner, Sir W.|
|Hallyburton, Lord J. F.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Heneage, G. H. W.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Heywood, J.||Willcox, B. M.|
|Howard, P. H.||Williams, J.|
|King, hon. P. J. L.||TELLERS.|
|Locke, J.||Cochrane, A. D.R.W.B.|
|Mangles, R. D.||Powlett, Lord W.|
§ House adjourned at a quarter past One o'clock.