§ The Order of the Day for going into Committee of the whole House on the Navigation Laws, and on the laws relating to the regulation of ships and seamen, read.
§ On the question that the Speaker leave the chair,
§ MR. ALDERMAN THOMPSON said, no ground had been shown for going into Committee on this subject. The House had had no report from the Committee appointed to consider the question, recommending any alteration in the existing law, and no large number of petitions had been presented, either from the consumers or from the importers of foreign products, praying for any change. It must be remembered that this subject was under the consideration of a Committee of the other 989 House of Parliament; and he thought, on the grounds he had mentioned, and considering also the peculiar state of Europe, that there was no reason why the House should enter, at the present moment, on the consideration of this important question. He had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would at least have given the House an outline of the changes he proposed to introduce before he asked them to go into Committee. He did not wish to throw any difficulty in the way of a fair and open discussion on this important subject; but he thought it would be better if the right hon. Gentleman would make some statement as to his intentions, and the character of his resolutions, before he asked the House to resolve itself into Committee.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE understood that the objection of the hon. Gentleman was, that the statement of the Government on this subject could be made more conveniently and more regularly in the House itself than in Committee. Now, he considered that the rule the House had established, that statements on questions of this nature should be made in Committee rather than in the House itself, rested upon a better foundation than mere form. He believed it was for the convenience of the House that that practice should be observed, and on this ground he would object to make his statement before the Speaker left the chair. The hon. Member for Westmoreland (Mr. Alderman Thompson) was too old a Member of that House not to know that he would have many opportunities of expressing his opinions on the plan proposed by Her Majesty's Government. His noble Friend at the head of the Government (Lord J. Russell) had the other night intimated his intention not to go into any discussion on this subject to-night, but to propose that the discussion of the plan should be postponed for a week, in order to afford ample time for its consideration. The hon. Member for Westmoreland would, therefore, have a full opportunity on Monday next of expressing his sentiments on the subject. He might take this opportunity of referring to a question which had been put to him on a former occasion by the noble Member for Lynn (Lord G. Bentinck), who had asked him whether he would consent to print in the Votes of to-day the resolution he intended to propose to-night. For the same reason he had assigned against making his statement before going into Committee, he had also declined to accede to the sugges- 990 tion of the noble Lord. The obvious effect of such a proceeding would be that the debate would take place on the question that the Speaker leave the chair, instead of in Committee of the whole House. The right hon. Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries) had recommended him, instead of moving a general resolution, to indicate, at least generally, the views and intentions of the Government on this subject. He had acceded, as far as he could, to that suggestion, and had framed his Motion in such a manner as to indicate generally the outlines of the scheme it was his intention on the part of the Government to submit to the House.
§ MR. ROBINSON fully concurred in the suggestion of the hon. Member for West-moreland. The question might well have been postponed for another year. In the present state of public business, and in so advanced a stage of the Session, the subject ought not to have been introduced at all; and at all events some grounds ought to be laid for going into Committee.
§ MR. HERRIES knew that there were precedents for going into Committee to receive the statement; but there were other cases, and he believed they were the more numerous (especially where the subject was of great importance), where the Minister thought it his duty to state his reasons for inviting the House to go into Committee. He had not come with a determination to oppose a dogged resistance to any change; but he thought the right hon. Gentleman ought, for the satisfaction of the House, generally to unfold the views with which he was disposed to make some change, and to state in what respect the law required amendment; and when the House should get into Committee, then would be the time to state more in detail what the proposed changes were.
§ CAPTAIN HARRIS was convinced that the House could not prudently come to any decision without further evidence on the most important point of all—the manning of the Navy. It was a singular and unaccountable fact, that only one naval officer had been examined before the Committee on this most important branch of the subject. The evidence of that officer was notoriously incorrect. Sir James Stirling had stated that only one-tenth of the seamen in the Royal Navy had been supplied from the merchant service. A Commission appointed by the Admiralty to investigate the subject, had reported that two-fifths came from thence. Other parts of that evi- 991 dence were equally erroneous, and calculated to mislead. He (Captain Harris) would prove in Committee what he now advanced; and he entreated hon. Members not to pledge themselves by speech or vote, until fresh evidence on this point—on which hinged the naval supremacy and existence of this empire—was laid before them. He would take the earliest opportunity in Committee of moving that the Chairman report progress and ask leave to sit again in a month, to allow of the evidence taken before the Lords' Committee on the Navigation Laws now sitting being laid before the House.
§ MR. HUDSON considered that the House might very well go into Committee without any statement being made, if the House were unanimous upon the subject; but the Committee ought not to be pressed when a large section of the House objected to it. It was not fair to those who thought it doubtful whether an alteration of the navigation laws should take place at this moment; he would not say that some alteration might not take place with advantage, but the Motion ought not to be made without explanation. The resolution had been handed to two or three persons behind the right hon. Gentleman; but he had not had the courtesy to show it to that (the Opposition) side.
§ MR. THORNELY reminded the House that, according to its standing orders, any Bill relating to trade, or alterations of the laws concerning trade, must originate in a resolution come to in a Committee of the whole House. If hon. Members objected entirely to any the least alteration of the Navigations Laws—[Mr. HUDSON: No!]—they might properly oppose the going into Committee. Many extensive shipowners agreed that certain existing regulations were most absurd—such as that which prohibited the produce of Asia, Africa, and America being imported from Europe; but, in order to get rid of that, the House must go into Committee.
§ House in Committee.
§ On the Motion of Mr. LABOUCHERE, the following passage of the Lords Commissioners' Speech at the opening of the Session was read by the Clerk at the table:—
"Her Majesty recommends to the consideration of Parliament the Laws which regulate the Navigation of the United Kingdom, with a view to ascertain whether any changes can be adopted, which, without danger to our maritime strength, may promote the Commercial and Colonial Interests of the Empire."992
MR. LABOUCHERE spoke as follows:* —Mr. Bernal, in rising to redeem the pledge which was given in the Speech of Her Majesty, at the commencement of the present Session, by bringing before the attention of the Committee the subject of the Navigation Laws, I assure them that I am deeply conscious of the weight and responsibility of the task which has devolved upon me. I know that those laws have long been regarded among us with a reverence inferior only to that which we are accustomed to pay to those immortal statutes which are the bulwarks and safeguards of our constitutional liberties. I am aware that they have been defended by some of our greatest statesmen, and eulogised by some of our wisest philosophers and historians. But, on the other hand, I may venture to remind the Committee that they have been subject to frequent changes and alterations. It was remarked long ago by the sagacity of Mr. Burke—
If the Navigation Act is suffered to run the full length of its principle, and is not changed and modified according to the change of times and fluctuations of circumstances, it must do great mischief, and frequently even defeat its own purpose.
And if the changes which I am about to recommend to the Committee are of a far more vital and extensive description than any that have been previously proposed to Parliament, I entreat them to consider, at the same time, how everything else has been changing around us. What changes, even in our own times, have we not witnessed, in all the circumstances that affect the commercial and industrial position of the country! The emancipation of the great South American colonies—the introduction of steam navigation—that awakened spirit of rivalry which a long peace has caused among all the nations of the world in the race of mercantile prosperity—and, above all, those great changes which we ourselves have adopted in our whole system of protection, and of the system under which our trade is conducted. These events, although crowded into a few years, have done the work of centuries, and they render it necessary that the House should well consider what may have been their effect upon our navigation laws, and what course it may behove us to pursue in reference to those objects which it professes to maintain—objects which no man can be
From a corrected Report, published by Ridgway.
more anxious to see secured than I am myself—I mean the commercial greatness of the country, and the continuance of its military and naval power. The Committee will perhaps allow me, in a very rapid and general manner, to call their attention to the changes that have taken place in the navigation laws in this country. I believe the first navigation law which is to be found on our Statute-book was enacted in the fifth year of the reign of Richard II.; and it contains perhaps the strongest provisions that are to be found in the whole code. It enacts broadly—
That no subject of the King should ship any merchandise outwards or homewards in any but ships of the King's liegeance, on pain of forfeiting all merchandise shipped in any other vessel.
This Act only lasted a single year; it was found necessary to alter it the next year, and foreign ships were allowed to be employed, if English ships could not be procured. A few years later it was enacted that English ships should only have reasonable rates of freight; and afterwards a law was introduced to fix a tariff of the maximum of the freights to be charged by vessels carrying between the ports of England and the principal ports of the Continent of Europe. The distinctive character of this system was plainly that of exclusive monopoly and restriction. It lasted, with some modifications, but without departing from this main principle, to the reign of Queen Elizabeth; but in the first year of Queen Elizabeth a very remarkable change took place. The Parliament of Queen Elizabeth passed a statute which altogether reversed the principle of the navigation laws which had previously existed, and adopted, instead of an absolute exclusion of the foreigner, the principle of protection by means of differential duties, allowing foreign ships to come to this country as well as English ships, but imposing a differential duty upon goods imported in foreign bottoms as contradistinguished from goods imported in English bottoms; and, as was much the habit in those days, the preamble of this Act set out much more frankly than, I think, we are accustomed to do, the reasons which induced the Legislature to adopt this change of plan; and they are reasons so remarkable, that I will venture to call the attention of the House to them. The Act stated—
That since the making of the statutes other sovereign princes, finding themselves aggrieved with the said Acts, as thinking that the same were made to the hurt and prejudice of their
country and navy, have made like penal laws against such as should ship out of their countries in any other vessels than of their several countries and dominions; by reason whereof there hath not only grown great displeasure between the foreign princes and the kings of this realm, but also the merchants have been sore aggrieved and endamaged.
§ The principle adopted by Queen Elizabeth was very much the principle that prevailed generally in those times, and indeed which to a very considerable degree prevails at the present day on the part of other commercial nations of the world. At that time, I believe, every nation that enjoyed any foreign trade at all put distinctive duties upon produce imported in alien bottoms, for the protection of their own navigation; this, I believe, was the system of all foreign nations, with one very remarkable exception. There was one country which at that period was almost struggling into existence that adopted a very different principle—of course I am speaking of Holland. Holland adopted a system of the most unrestricted freedom. She gave the utmost encouragement to commerce, and made her marshes the home of the merchants of every country who chose to go there. The result of that policy was most remarkable. It enabled the Dutch to build up the most magnificent fabric of commercial greatness and political power, upon foundations naturally so slight, that the world had ever before had an example of. I ought, perhaps, to state to the Committee, that while Queen Elizabeth made this change of policy with regard to the navigation laws, she for the first time introduced a system of restriction which did not exist under the system of the previous period. She made for the first time the coasting trade of England a monopoly. Till then the coasting trade had been open to foreign vessels. This second period of our navigation laws lasted without any material change to the time of the Commonwealth. It was during this second period, especially in the reign of James I., that our great colonial empire originated. The successors of Queen Elizabeth applied to the colonial trade the same principle that she had applied to the home trade. They did not make it a system of strict monopoly and exclusion, but they favoured British commerce with regard to the colonies in the same way as they had done with regard to the commerce of England, namely, by virtually placing differential duties upon goods carried in foreign vessels engaged in the colonial trade, in the same 995 manner as they were imposed upon goods in foreign vessels engaged in the home trade of this country. This was the policy of what I call the second period—I mean the period which began in the reign of Elizabeth, and lasted to the time of the Commonwealth—with regard to the navigation system.
§ At the time of the Commonwealth, began the third period, which has lasted down to the time at which I am now addressing the Committee. The foundations were then laid of that system which has left an impress very strongly on the laws that are still upon our Statute-book. This system was begun by Acts passed during the Commonwealth, and confirmed by the statute commonly called the Navigation Act, and which Act, when taken in conjunction with the "Statute of Frauds," which was passed immediately afterwards, mainly comprises the provisions regulating our commercial navigation. It is the Act of 12 Charles II. c. 18. It is not necessary I should state to the Committee what are the principles of the Navigation Act—they are too familiar to all of us to make it necessary for me to do so. The Legislature of England at that period again reverted to the system of monopoly and exclusion. They endeavoured as far as possible to treat the British empire as self-supported and self-relying. They sought to engross to our own shipping all the trade and business of the empire; reverting in this respect to the old policy of Richard II. They included in this system the vast colonial trade which had sprung up during the interval. The motives which induced the country to adopt this change were principally political; at least they were not, I believe, mainly and originally founded upon commercial motives. Blackstone gives a very clear account of the reasons why, in his opinion, the Legislature were induced to adopt this system. There was, in the first place, a desire on the part of the Commonwealth Parliament to impede the intercourse which those who had adopted the Royalist cause were carrying on with our colonies; and in the second place, they had still more for their object and purpose, a desire (to use an expression of Blackstone) "to clip the wings of the Dutch," of whose great carrying trade we were jealous, and with whom we were then beginning to quarrel on other grounds. This system has remained in some respects unaltered to the present day; at the same time a great many changes in other re- 996 spects have been made, with the details of which, however, I will not now weary the Committee. The first circumstance that materially tended to break down this system was the occurrence of the events which led to the declaration of the independence of the United States of America. That declaration produced many remarkable consequences. In the first place, it destroyed a great trade actually existing. It destroyed that self-supporting power which the British empire had, at least as it was supposed, hitherto possessed. The commercial connection which had hitherto existed between our West India Islands and the colonies which were then becoming independent States, had been very great, intimate, and important. The violent destruction of that commercial connection placed this country in a most embarrassing position. It was some time before the Parliament of this country could make up their minds to adopt the course which they were ultimately forced to pursue. Mr. Pitt, on the first declaration of independence by the United States, with true wisdom and with great courage, came forward to propose to Parliament and the country to continue that commercial intercourse with the United States of America pretty much upon the same footing that had previously existed while those States were British colonies; but all the power which Mr. Pitt possessed failed in persuading the country to adopt that wise policy. Palliatives, indeed, were had recourse to; but many practical evils to our commerce followed from this discontinuance of the connection between our colonies and those portions of North America which had become the United States. Attempts were made to enable those colonies which had remained faithful to the British Crown to supply the deficiency that had been occasioned by the separation of the other colonies; but these attempts afforded no adequate remedy, and it was not till the greatest practical evils had taken place that Parliament consented to apply an effective cure to them. I find it stated, in an address of that period from the House of Assembly of Jamaica to the Crown, that there had been for several successive years hurricanes in that island, and that, between the years 1780 and 1787 no less than 15,000 slaves had perished from the want of the accustomed supply of food from the United States of America, and from its consequent dearness; this want of supply being entirely the result of the in- 997 terruption of that system of commerce which had previously existed between the West India islands and the colonies which had since become the independent United States of America. At last, step by step, free intercourse between the United States and the West India colonies was allowed; but so gradually that it is only in our time that a free and unrestricted access has been allowed, by which the West India islands may obtain whatever supplies they may require from the United States. These changes made a very wide breach in the system of our navigation laws. Many other changes followed. The first I will advert to is, that of the admission of Ireland into a participation of all the advantages of the English trade. This took place about the time of the declaration of American independence. Then came the measure for establishing free ports, and the introduction of the warehousing system; after that came Mr. Huskisson's reciprocity treaties; and lastly, and quite recently, came the measures which we have adopted for enabling those inland countries which, by means of steam navigation and of rivers, can carry on an intercourse with the sea near to the mouths of those rivers, to use the ports which they approach as if they were ports of their own—a measure of which, in passing, I must say, that while absolutely forced upon us by a sense of justice, and in order to develop our trade, it is one which no man can fail to see has made a considerable breach in our navigation system—a breach which it is now too late to repair, and which it will be exceedingly difficult to prevent becoming much wider than it is.
§ Having thus, in a very general manner, asked the Committee to survey the course of legislation pursued with regard to the navigation laws, I will now call the attention of the Committee to the actual state of the law at the present moment. The law on the subject is mainly comprised in three statutes. The one is the Navigation Act, properly so called—the 8th and 9th Victoria, cap. 88—which is a consolidation of the provisions of our navigation laws; the next is the Act regulating the registration of British vessels, being the 8th and 9th Victoria, cap. 89; and the third is the statute for consolidating the laws relating to merchant seamen, and for keeping a registry of seamen, being the 7th and 8th Victoria, cap. 112. I will state as concisely as possible what is the actual result of these laws. The Navigation Act directs 998 that certain enumerated articles, the produce of Europe, shall be imported into this country for consumption only in British ships, or in ships of the country of which the goods are the produce, or in ships of the country from which they are imported. The bearing of this law obviously is as far as possible to secure the European carrying trade to our own shipping. It goes on to direct that the produce of Asia, Africa, and America, shall be imported into this country only in British ships, or in ships of the country of which the goods are the produce, and from which they are imported; and, further, that these productions shall not be imported from any part of Europe in any ships whatever. The purport of which plainly is to keep to ourselves what is called the "long voyage trade," not permitting even our own ships to bring the produce of Asia, Africa, and America from any European port, but obliging the long voyage to take place in British ships. It also directs that no goods shall be imported into our colonies (under which term I do not include British India) except in British ships or in ships of the country of which the goods are the produce, being also the country from which they are imported. It confines the trade between all parts of the British empire to British ships, the only exception being in the trade between this country and India, into which some foreign ships are admitted under treaty. The object of these provisions is as far as possible to confine the colonial trade to ourselves. These are the main provisions of the Act, but they are subject to several exceptions and modifications. The Act further provides that British ships shall be navigated by a British master, and by a crew of whom three-fourths are British seamen; and it defines British seamen so as to exclude natives of India. It directs, moreover, that no foreign ship shall be admitted to be a ship of any given country unless it be of the build of that country (or British built), nor unless it be wholly owned by subjects of that country, nor unless it be navigated by a master and crew of whom three-fourths are subjects of that country. The character of the British vessel is next laid down in the Act for the registering of British vessels. This character depends upon three points—first, upon the building of the ship; it must be built in some part of the United Kingdom, or in the British Possessions. No foreign ship, unless she has been a prize taken in war, is entitled to be considered a 999 British vessel. The next point is the ownership. No vessel that is owned by a foreigner can be entitled to be registered as a British ship. There are some anomalies which I purpose taking the present opportunity of correcting—such as that a foreigner naturalised in England may be the owner of a British ship, but a foreigner naturalised in the British colonies cannot. I now come to the third point necessary to constitute the character of a British ship—I mean the manning. The law may be described in this manner—a British ship engaged in the coasting trade must have the whole of its crew composed of British seamen; a British ship engaged in foreign trade must have three-fourths of its crew composed of British seamen. Every British ship is obliged to have on board a certain number of apprentices, amounting to about one-sixth in number of the whole crew. These are the main points of the law with regard to British shipping, registering ships, and seamen. I will now proceed to state the reasons that have brought me to the conclusion that these laws require alteration.
They rest, as I have said, upon three main principles—first, to secure our colonial trade; secondly, to secure the long voyage trade; and, thirdly, indirectly to secure the carrying trade to ourselves. I will proceed to call the attention of the House to the operation of each of these principles, and to state the reasons that have induced me to believe that we cannot consistently with our own well-understood interests and sense of justice, leave either of these principles as it now stands, or without applying to it some large and fundamental alteration. I will begin with the case of the colonial trade. I believe that if ever there was a just demand made upon this House—I say this House, which has adopted the principle, and which I trust will maintain the principle, that there shall be no differential duties, as a system, in favour of English colonial produce imported into the mother country—I say, if the House is prepared to maintain that principle, then, I repeat, if ever there was a just demand made on a British House of Commons it is that which is now proceeding from every part of the British colonies, namely, that if we think it right to set ourselves free from those restrictions which we at one time thought it conducive to our own interests and those of the colonies to maintain, but which we now think it beneficial to ourselves (and, as I believe, it will be found equally
beneficial to the well-understood interests of the colonies themselves) to abrogate, then we ought also speedily to relieve the colonists from those other restrictions which we have imposed upon them in reference to navigation. Everybody knows that even during the system of protection our colonies bore most impatiently those restrictions on their navigation. When Mr. Huskisson brought forward his proposal with regard to treaties of reciprocity in 1826, he declared it to be his opinion that these restrictions upon trade and navigation had had more to do with that fatal war which took place between the American colonies and the mother country, and which led finally to the independence of the American colonies, than the question of taxation itself. I believe there is no one who has looked with any attention into the history of that period but must be convinced that the opinion so expressed by Mr. Huskisson was a well-founded one. Now, with regard to our West India colonies, I have already quoted an account of the injuries inflicted during several years upon the island of Jamaica for want of supplies from America after the independence of the United States; but the whole history of the West India islands shows, that even during the period of the system of protection, they were constantly complaining of the injuries imposed upon their trade by our system of navigation laws. The history written by Bryan Edwards is full of the complaints made by the colonists to the Board of Trade of that day, and of accounts of the struggles which took place between the West India colonies and those of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and the Government of the mother country, in consequence of the complaints of the former, on account of the grievances which these navigation restrictions inflicted upon them. I now ask the Committee well to consider, whether they think it possible or just, after having adopted a policy which deprives all colonial produce of any preference in the markets of the mother country, to maintain those restrictions which could only be justified as long as the produce of these colonies enjoyed protection? ["Hear, hear!"] I understand those cheers coming from the benches opposite. Undoubtedly those hon. Gentlemen would urge the argument I am now using as a reason for persuading us to retrace our steps and restore protection once more to the colonies; but I now address myself to those who are not prepared to
take that step; and I think I have a right to ask them to join me in relieving the colonies from restrictions which are so unjust and insupportable, especially in the condition in which those colonies are now placed. I have stated that remostrances and complaints have come from all parts of the British colonial possessions with regard to the operation of this Navigation Act. I will read to the Committee some of the most remarkable documents that have thus reached the Government from those colonies. I will begin with Canada, and read to the Committee an extract from a joint address from the Legislative Council and Assembly to the Queen, praying for the free navigation of the St. Lawrence by all nations, and the repeal of the navigation laws as far as respects that colony. This address, dated the 11th of July, 1847, states—
That measures have been adopted in the neighbouring Republic, with a view to divert the trade of this province to and front Great Britain through the railroads and canals of that country, and thereby to secure to them a large accession of carrying trade, and from which a revenue was yielded last year o about 700,000l.; and that there is too much reason to fear that their attempts will prove successful, unless other and further inducements than at present exist are offered in favour of the route by the St. Lawrence. That to afford Bach inducements, and to prevent a calamity so much to be apprehended, we humbly pray that your Majesty will be most graciously pleased to sanction the free use of the navigation of the river St. Lawrence by all nations; and that, to that end, your Majesty will be further graciously pleased to recommend to the Imperial Parliament to repeal the laws of navigation so far as they in any manner relate to or affect this colony.
Considering the parties from whom that address proceeded, and the circumstances under which it was agreed to, it is impossible that any document could be more deserving of the attention of Parliament. In conjunction with this address I cannot avoid reading an extract from a despatch penned by the distinguished individual who now fills the office of Governor General of Canada, and dated March 26, 1847. It contains much good sense, and I take the liberty of recommending it to the consideration of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly those who are connected with British North America. Lord Elgin said—
It will probably be urged in certain quarters that the monopoly of the river navigation is essential to the maintenance of British supremacy in this portion of North America, and that the authority of the mother country will be imperilled if the United States are permitted to share the privilege. It may well be doubted, however, whe-
ther these apprehensions are well founded. One of the most efficacious expedients for securing the allegiance of a high-spirited and enterprising people is to convince them that their material interests will not be advanced by separation; and with respect to any disposition on the part of the United States to resort to a policy of aggression, I think it may safely be affirmed that nothing will be more likely to keep such a tendency in check than the knowledge that it will entail the destruction of a flourishing trade, in which the citizens of that country are largely engaged.
Those are wise and statesmanlike opinions. My belief is, that the more liberal and beneficent our policy towards the colonies shall be, the more strict and durable will be the ties which bind them to us. I might multiply extracts from the correspondence of various parties in Canada, all bearing on the same point, but I feel it unnecessary to do so. I think that if the Committee will only consider the position of the British North American colonies at this time with regard to the United States, with its system of drawbacks, giving every possible facility for the export of the produce which grows on the great lakes through the canals of the
United States in connexion with the port of New York, whilst, on the other hand, every encouragement is given by the same system of drawbacks to import, by way of New York, goods intended for the use of those flourishing portions of Upper Canada, about the great lakes—if the Committee will only consider this state of things, it will see that we are deeply interested in affording the people of Canada every possible facility, by means of cheapening freights (which can only be the result of competition), to avail themselves of the natural advantages which the St. Lawrence presents. So much for British North America. I now come to the West Indies. The strongest representations have been sent to this country by the West Indians of the evils which they believe themselves to be suffering in consequence of the restrictions which they conceive to be imposed upon them by the navigation laws. I am aware that some persons will say that the West Indians do not understand their own interest in asking for this change. All I can say is, that the West Indians themselves are of a different opinion. The West Indians urge, that since we have adopted the policy of depriving their produce of the preference which it used to enjoy in the markets of this country, they are entitled to claim, as a matter of justice, that they should be released from the trammels of the navigation laws. I request the attention of the
House to the following extract from a memorial to Her Majesty from the House of Assembly of Jamaica:—
Your memorialists could point out the advantages possessed by the Island of Jamaica for becoming a commercial depôt, especially as to position with respect to both continents of America and the surrounding islands. If the navigation laws were withdrawn, foreigners would bring assortments of goods from Europe, Asia, and North America, and other foreigners would come to purchase and re-export these; and, as the Government of England already permits the abolition of all differential duties hitherto enforced for the protection of her manufactures, no injury could arise front an extension of this permission, and a relaxation of the navigation laws. Your memorialists would call to your Majesty's consideration that the prosperity of your Majesty's colonies cannot but be beneficial to the people of England, who always have been able to undersell the manufacturers of all other countries, and could not fail to find in the free ports of Jamaica a profitable outlet and depôt for their productions, both for consumption and exportation; nor could any loss occur to them in regard to their shipping, which has ever competed successfully with that of the world; a great demand would inevitably arise both for ships and manufactures and merchandise of all kinds. The benefit to Jamaica from such relaxation of the navigation laws would be infinite; it is the most desirable boon that her inhabitants could solicit or receive from your Majesty's Government; it would aid Jamaica out of her difficulties; it would be hailed with exultation, and acknowledged with every sentiment of gratitude and respect, and it would be an honourable and generous concession on the part of Great Britain, which would exalt her in the esteem and admiration of all other nations.
I will also trouble the House with an extract from a despatch of Lord Harris, the Governor of Trinidad, to Earl Grey; it is dated January 20, 1847:—
But what I intended to ask is, whether any relaxation in the terms of the navigation laws might be hoped for; such as I am informed has already been granted to the Mauritius, and which the nature of the population of this island and its position might warrant, so as to allow the goods of all nations to be brought here in any vessel without restriction; it would undoubtedly promote an extensive and direct commerce between Trinidad and France and Spain, which is now much retarded and restricted by being carried on by way of Martinique and the Spanish Main. Another great advantage would accrue respecting immigration, as the freight of immigrants would be much reduced. When Coolie labour was first proposed to be introduced, American vessels could have been procured to bring them at 9l. per head, whereas the present charge is nearly 18l.
§ I feel, however, it would be an unpardonable waste of time if I were to argue the question whether it would be advantageous to the West Indies to abolish these restrictive laws. Looking at the position of the West India Islands, which qualifies them to be the entre- 1004 pôts and depositaries of the merchandise of that part of the world, it is impossible to foretell what development of trade might take place if those colonies were allowed the free use of their own energies in unrestricted intercourse with the other parts of the world. I am unwilling to detain the Committee longer than is necessary by quoting from the evidence taken before the Committee which was appointed on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. J. L. Ricardo); but I cannot allude to that Gentleman without offering my tribute of gratitude to him for the great ability and industry which he has brought to bear upon the question, and for what he has done to promote just and sound views on the subject. It was but the other day that Mr. Gillespie, one of the greatest North American merchants, came to me at the office of the Board of Trade, and stated, that if the navigation laws should not be repealed as far as regarded the West Indies, he had made up his mind finally to abandon the trade. Mr. Gillespie's opinions must carry great weight with them. I believe he is a protectionist; and though he is sorry that we reduced the duties which gave a preference to colonial produce, yet he says that, having done that, we must repeal the navigation laws. If we do not do that, Mr. Gillespie thought that we should commit an act of monstrous injustice. Gentlemen opposite may cheer, but I think I am entitled to say, even upon their own principles, that if a majority of this House will not retrace their steps and reimpose differential duties for the protection of colonial produce, we must not retain restrictive laws which would drive Mr. Gillespie and other enterprising merchants from the colonial trade, in which they are prevented by the operation of those laws from competing with foreigners. I could also read to the Committee memorials to the same effect from Ceylon and Australia. Thus much with respect to the navigation laws, as they relate to the colonies.
§ I will now advert to that portion of the navigation laws the object of which is to secure to this country the long voyage trade, and which prohibits even British ships from bringing to England the produce of Asia, Africa, or America. At present a British ship could not bring from Havre or Hamburgh sugar, cotton, or any other article, the produce of those three quarters of the globe. This branch of the 1005 navigation laws is almost universally condemned. I shall be surprised if it finds protectors even in the ranks of hon. Gentlemen opposite, for several among them have intimated that they are prepared to abandon part of the navigation laws, and I suspect it is this part. Let us see how it operates in the way of protection. If the cotton of the United States, or the Alpaca wool of South America, be made into cloth, or the sugar of Brazil be refined in a foreign port, or if mahogany be converted into furniture, it may be brought into this country, because it is then no longer raw produce, but manufactures, with which we have to deal. The consequence is obvious—the navigation laws give a premium to the foreign manufacturer against our own manufacturer.
That is not the only evil which results from this portion of the navigation laws; it also deprives our shipowners of a great deal of business. Some conversation took place in this House not long since about the difficulty of bringing some cotton from Havre to this country. The cotton had been carried to Havre on English account in foreign vessels, and landed at that port. Political events in France destroyed the market for cotton in that country. It could have been sold at Liverpool to advantage, but in the existing state of the law no British ship could bring it. The consequence was that the British merchant who sent the cotton to Havre lost his money; the British shipowner lost the profit he would have made by bringing it to England; and the British manufacturer lost the profit he would have gained by working it up into goods. Can so absurd a restriction as this be of any advantage whatever? The attempt to secure what is called the long voyage for our shipping by these means is perfectly futile. I remember that a Friend of mine, a Member of this House, lately imported into Havre a cargo of ground nuts, which are articles of African produce, extensively used in the manufacture of oil. This Gentleman came to the Board of Trade, and begged that the Treasury would grant him permission to bring his merchandise from France, where it was unsaleable, to this country, where he could find a ready market for it; but I was reluctantly obliged to tell him that such a proceeding would be in the teeth of the absurd restriction imposed by the navigation laws, and that neither I nor the Treasury was able to dispense with the law of the land. I cannot for a mo-
ment believe that the Committee can suppose that the commercial and maritime state of this country can depend upon the maintenance of such preposterous restrictions. The truth is that commerce has outgrown these restrictions. They may have produced a comparatively small amount of mischief in former times; but we are now running the race of competition in a vastly extended system of commerce, against rivals who are unencumbered by similar restrictions. To continue such a system would be like putting new wine into old bottles; the result could not but be disastrous. On this point abundant evidence was given before the Navigation Committee; but I will read to the Committee only two extracts from the evidence given by as many witnesses. Mr. R. V. Swaine, a merchant at Hamburgh, said that—
If the navigation laws were repealed, the whole of the Alpaca wool, South American sheep wool, and nitrate of soda, and almost all the palm oil from the coast of Africa brought to Europe for account of Hamburgh merchants in foreign bottoms, would go to London or Liverpool. The palm oil which now goes to Hamburgh would go to England in Hamburgh vessels. The operation of the navigation laws, with respect to the supply of Peruvian wools to this country, such as are brought to the continent of Europe first, is unquestionably unfavourable to British manufacturers, because the German manufacturer is purchasing that article now at a less price than the manufacturers can purchase it in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the consequence must be that tho German manufacturer can afford to sell his cloth at a less price than the English.
Mr. G. Houghton, a merchant in London and the Canary Islands, said—
The navigation laws interfere excessively with the trade with the Canaries. The cochineal produced there is obliged to be shipped to Cadiz, owing to the few English vessels coming direct to England. Having once been landed in Europe, it cannot come to England, as being the produce of Africa, except for exportation, although the Canaries are virtually part of Spain. The consequence is, that it now goes almost entirely to France. The barilla trade is circumscribed much in the same way. Cochineal can be sold at 4d. or 6d. per pound more for consumption than for exportation. This prevention of the importation of cochineal from Europe into Great Britain gives a very great advantage to the French and other foreign manufacturers over the English manufacturers, as the cochineal of the Canary Islands is of a very superior quality. The effect is an addition of 6d. per pound to the price, besides the injury caused by the prohibition of its use in British manufactures.
§ But, Sir, the Committee will form an inadequate idea of the impolicy of these restrictions, if they look only to the cases 1007 of actual injury produced by them. Of far greater importance than that is the trade which they prevent being carried on at all. It is hardly possible to estimate the extent to which commerce would be developed if it were relieved from these restrictions, and the navigation of the country conducted on the same liberal principles as those which Parliament has applied to our system of duties.
I shall now address myself to the remaining branch of the subject, namely, those provisions of the navigation laws which have for their object to secure the indirect or carrying trade to this country. I feel it unnecessary to discuss whether the attempt to secure the carrying trade to this country at a former period was or was not wise policy. I have no wish to disguise what my own opinion is, namely, that at no time did the measures adopted effect the object they were intended to attain. But we shall greatly deceive ourselves if we suppose that the question whether or not we shall retain the carrying trade exclusively to this country, is one the decision of which rests with ourselves. The House must recollect that this is a game which two can play at. Foreign nations have given no very obscure indications of what their intentions are upon this point. My impression—derived from those best able to form an opinion—is, that foreign nations are determined not to trade with us except upon equal terms; and the practical question which the House has now to decide is, whether we shall engage in a contest with every commercial nation in the world for the maintenance of privileges which are many of them worthless, and some positively injurious; or whether, on the contrary, we shall, by making timely concessions and adopting a more liberal policy, place our commercial interest on a surer foundation of prosperity than it has hitherto rested upon. From one country we have already received an important intimation upon this point, not in the way of menace, for it was given in no hostile or unfriendly tone, but of warning. It comes from the same country which induced Mr. Huskisson to make his great alteration in the navigation laws in 1823—Prussia; and on this occasion Prussia speaks with the voice of Germany. Our commercial treaty with Prussia is on the point of expiring; and an intimation has been given by M. Bunsen, the Prussian Minister, that it will not be renewed by Prussia upon the same terms as before. 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 restrictions to disappear which at present weigh upon German navigation and commerce, and which so notoriously impede the development of the commercial relations of the two countries.
The allusion to the Committee on the Navigation Laws in this extract is deserv-of a passing notice. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said, that the appointment of that Committee would be productive of nothing but mischief, whereas it is evident that it had the effect of suspending the blow which Prussia was already prepared to strike, and which, but for the appointment of that Committee, would have already fallen upon our shipping interest. I have reminded the Committee that a voice of warning came from Prussia. I will now speak of another country from which has proceeded a voice, not of warning, but of invitation; I allude to that great republic of the British race, which is second only to ourselves in commercial and manufacturing industry—the United States of America. In the autumn of last year, the American Minister, Mr. Bancroft, put himself in communication with my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and myself, and informed us, that the Government of his country, believing it was the disposition of Parliament to make a large and liberal alteration of the navigation laws, was most anxious to cooperate with us in that work, and in conjunction with us to give an example to the rest of the world, which he hoped would be productive of the most important and salutary effects. Mr. Bancroft's language, in a conversation which I had with him upon this subject, was, "We are ready to do anything you like; if you can do but little, we must do little—if you can do much, we will do much—if you shall do
all, we shall do all." My noble Friend requested Mr. Bancroft to put his views in the shape of a formal communication, and the consequence was, that he addressed a letter to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs which I will now read to the Committee:—
American Legation, Nov. 3, 1847.
The undersigned, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America, has the honour to inquire of Viscount Palmerston, Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if Her Majesty's Government is inclined to remove existing restrictions on international commerce. Universal reciprocity, in the widest sense, is held by the American Government as the only thoroughly appropriate basis for intercourse between two great nations. The prohibition of the indirect trade has but restrained enterprise; it has done good to neither country. To abrogate it would at once set free dormant commercial wealth, without injuring any one. Should Her Majesty's Government entertain similar views, the undersigned is prepared, on the part of the American Government, to propose that British ships may trade from any port in the world to any port in the United States, and be received, protected, and in respect to charges and duties, treated like American ships; if reciprocally, American ships may in like manner trade from any port of the world to any port under the dominion of Her Britannic Majesty. 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; and by its influence on the intercourse of nations create new guarantees for the peace of the world.
§ I will not read the reply of my noble Friend to that communication; but simply observe, that he stated to Mr. Bancroft, that though he was not prepared to enter into negotiations on a subject which would imply the abandonment of some of the most essential principles of our navigation law, and that such a course, with a view to any final arrangement, would not be justifiable on the part of the Government without the previous sanction of Parliament, yet that Government were prepared to make such proposals to Parliament as would meet the views expressed by Mr. Bancroft on the part of the United States. Thus, concurrently with this warning from Prussia, in which Prussia spoke in the name of Germany, and, I believe I might add, all other foreign countries, we have this invitation from America; and I should for one most deeply lament if we were to throw away the opportunity thus presented to us. I should indeed lament if we were prevented from availing ourselves of this opportunity, believing as I do that it is a matter 1010 of grave concern that our navigation laws should be placed on a sound footing, and also that no time should be lost in doing so—that we should not follow the course which, I am sorry to say, has been too frequently the case in preceding alterations—that they have come somewhat too late, and not till great practical evils have been inflicted.
I have now stated to the Committee in a general manner what the navigation laws are, and I have stated my reasons for believing that we cannot, consistently with the interests of this country, maintain those laws in their present shape. I shall now proceed to state what are the alterations that on the part of the Government I am desirous to make, and I will begin with those parts of the navigation laws that I do not propose to alter. It is not my intention, then, to make any material alteration with regard to the coasting trade of this country. I have not adopted this resolution because of any belief that if we were to throw open the coasting trade foreigners could by possibility, to any great extent, avail themselves of it. On the contrary, I am bound to admit that, if there is any part of our navigation that is more protected by nature from foreign interference than another, it is our coasting trade; but, on the other hand, if that is the case, I think it must also be admitted that throwing open the coasting trade would produce no very great amount of good. I cannot think that if foreigners are by nature so practically excluded from the coasting trade, an alteration of the law would produce any great relief or benefit to any interest. Under these circumstances, and being desirous not to recommend to the Committee any alteration of which I cannot lay the foundation on a case of urgent and absolute necessity, I think that as a matter of prudence and circumspection, in dealing with a subject of this magnitude, in which the feelings as well as the interests of the country are involved, and seeing, moreover, that no practical advantage could be gained by throwing open the coasting trade, while it would cause considerable alarm among the shipowners and merchants of the country—an alarm, nevertheless, which I could not share—I think that, on the whole, the more prudent and advisable course is not to ask the Commitee to interfere with that branch of our navigation. I may also add that I think there may be just objection to any change in this branch of our trade for
another reason; there may arise many difficulties with regard to the management of the revenue and police of our coasts, if the admission of foreigners to the unrestricted use of the coasting trade is conceded. On these grounds, the Government have come to the determination that it is not right to interfere with the navigation laws relating to the coasting trade of the country. For reasons somewhat similar, but, I think, stronger, in degree, I do not intend to propose any alteration in the laws which restrict the fisheries to English vessels. Those laws will be affected in an indirect way by the general alteration of the navigation laws; but, so far as regards mere fishing, I propose no alteration. Having made these reservations, I shall propose to the Committee to deal in a very large and general and comprehensive manner with the remainder of the system of our navigation laws. The truth is, that system hangs so together, that it is very difficult to separate one part from another; and on the best consideration I have been able to give the subject, I believe there would be little practical advantage in doing so. Moreover, I am bound to say, that having looked into each of the several parts of our protecting system—that part, for example, which restricts the importation of goods the produce of Asia, Africa, and America, from European ports, either in foreign or British ships, and also that part which is devised to protect our carrying trade—I cannot believe that this country has any real interest in retaining these laws, at least so far as regards foreign countries that may be disposed to reciprocate with us in respect of those matters. I therefore propose, by Act of Parliament, altogether to strike out of the Statute-book the existing restrictions; but I shall desire the Committee not to deprive the Queen in Council of that power which she already possesses, under so many statutes, of imposing countervailing duties, if she so think fit, on any foreign nation that may treat our shipping with injustice. I do not propose that the exercise of this power shall be obligatory on the Crown. I do not propose that the Crown, for the mere sake of retaliation, shall be obliged to impose restrictions on the ships of a foreign country which imposes similar restrictions on ourselves; but I do not think that it would be expedient so completely to strip this country of all power of retaliation, under all possible circumstances, and under any amount of ag-
gravation and injustice, as to deprive the Crown of the powers which it already possesses under so many Acts of Parliament. I do not know whether I have clearly explained to the Committee the plan which I mean to submit, but I shall be ready to do so, if required, still more explicitly. [Sir R. PEEL: What restrictions, if any, are to be placed on the fisheries?] With regard to the fisheries I make no alteration, and whatever privileges fishers have on our coasts they will still retain. Those rights depend upon the law of nations, and upon various treaties with other countries, especially with France. There are certain enactments which I adverted to in the beginning of my speech, to which it is now necessary to call the attention of the Committee. These are the Acts which regulate the character of British vessels—the ownership, the building, and the manning of vessels. I think, in exposing the British shipowner in the manner I propose to competition with all parts of the world, it is but reasonable that he should be afforded every facility for obtaining his ship at the cheapest rate. I therefore propose to do away with the restriction which at present limits the right of acquiring a British register to a British-built ship. I propose that a ship built abroad, but owned by Englishmen, shall be entitled to a British register, whether that ship be employed in the coasting trade or in foreign commerce. With regard to the ownership, I do not propose any material alteration. There are some anomalies which I hope to remove; but with regard to the general principle of rendering British ownership necessary, I do not make any change. With regard to the manning of vessels, I propose still to make it necessary that a British ship engaged in the coasting trade shall have a crew entirely composed of British seamen; and I propose no alteration in the law regarding the crews of British ships engaged in the foreign trade, but will require that they still have three-fourths of their crew British sailors. There is one alteration with regard to manning that I shall propose, and this I think it best to mention before I proceed to the subject of apprentices. I shall propose to raise Indian seamen, who go by the name of Lascars, to the character of British seamen. I think it is absurd and unjust to leave them in their present position, and, therefore, I will take this opportunity of placing the Lascars on the same footing with British seamen. To this privilege they are fully
entitled by their excellent conduct, and by the uniform fidelity they have shown to British connexion. Then I propose altogether to abrogate the necessity of taking apprentices. I believe this obligation has been of the most inconvenient and burdensome nature, and I have no hesitation in saying it has utterly failed in its object. The effect has been, that one-sixth of the crews of the merchant navy consists of these boys, and, as a necessary consequence, there has been a great disturbance of the labour market. The system tends to drive the ablebodied men out of our ships, and to force them to seek employment in the American or Swedish navy, or in that of any other country where their services are required. This is the effect of overstocking the labour market by compelling shipowners to take these boys. I believe that so far from this restriction answering its purpose, namely, to increase the number of ablebodied seamen in the British Navy, and to provide a nursery for the Royal Navy, it has not in the slightest degree done so, and has not in any way improved the character of those engaged in the commercial marine. The law makes it necessary to have a certain number of apprentices on board ship; but this, in future, I will leave entirely in the option of the shipowner, and enable him, if he so choose, to employ none but ablebodied seamen. In his examination before the Navigation Laws Committee, Sir James Stirling, a most competent authority, says on the subject—
It throws the older seamen out of employment at times when trade is not very brisk, and leaves them no alternative but to seek employment in foreign service. The law requires that about a sixth-part of the whole number of seafaring persons shall at all times be apprentices; but, if too many seamen are made by this process, the hardship falls upon the old sailor, who is thrown out of employment, or is prevented from getting full employment. It appears to be an arbitrary interference with the labour market, is at all times a hardship upon the shipowner, and at certain times a hardship upon the seamen.
Mr. Duncan Dunbar says#x2014;
We being compelled to take apprentices entails a very considerable expense and very inconsiderable inconvenience. If not obliged to send boys, I should send a ship with twenty ablebodied men. I now send her with fourteen ablebodied, and six ordinary men, and six apprentices. The ships could be better manned if we were not compelled to send boys, and there would in that case be more security for the lives of the people on board.
§ I think I have now given an outline of the measure I have to submit to the Com- 1014 mittee on the part of the Government. I will now recapitulate the scheme I had laid before them. I propose to reserve unaltered the law affecting the coasting trade and fisheries of this country, and of all our colonial possessions. With regard to the coasting trade of the colonies there is a modification to which I will hereafter allude; but, with this exception, I propose absolutely to throw open the whole navigation of this country, of every sort and description. I propose, however, to retain to the Queen in Council the power of putting such restriction on the navigation of foreign countries as she may think fit, if those countries do not meet us on equal terms—not making it obligatory on the Queen in Council, but enabling Her to use such power in such a way as may be best for the interests of the country. I ought to have stated, as regards the coasting trade of the colonies, that I propose to reserve it in the same manner as I do the coasting trade of the mother country; but I mean to allow each colony, if it shall think fit, to pass an Act, throwing open the coasting trade to foreign ships, such Act to have the consent of the Crown in the usual manner; in short, that each colony shall be allowed to deal with its coasting trade as it thinks proper. If such a power were not given, the case of Canada and the St. Lawrence would not be provided for at all. As to the manning, ownership, and building of ships, I propose that, to entitle a vessel to be called a British ship, it shall not be necessary that she be British built, though it will be necessary that she be a British owned and British manned ship, retaining the regulation that now exists of three-fourths of the crew being British. I propose, however, altogether to do away with the necessity of having a certain number of apprentices. These are the outlines of the alterations which I have ventured to submit to the consideration of the Committee. I do not disguise from myself that they are of a very grave and serious nature—that they go to the very foundation of what have hitherto been considered the navigation laws of this country: and I can assure the Committee that it is only after giving the subject full deliberation, and having come to a full conviction in my own mind that the alterations in question would be most conducive to the interests of this country, that I have ventured to propose these alterations to the consideration of Parliament. I cannot believe that the alterations which are con- 1015 templated will really injure the commercial marine of this country. I look to the results of the removal of former restrictions, and the progress towards commercial freedom. I recollect the prognostics made of the ruin which would befall the trade of this country in consequence of the alterations made by Mr. Huskisson in 1826. But I beg to remind the Committee of what has been the result of those alterations, which will appear from the following statement of the tonnage of shipping which belonged to the ports of the United Kingdom and its colonial possessions in 1824 and 1847 respectively:—
|1,654,586 tons; or, 182.98 per cent.|
|1,044,578 tons; or, 137.70 per cent.|
§ This statement shows, therefore, that the general amount of commerce in the less protected trade had increased more than in that trade in which a strict monopoly existed, and also that the increase in British shipping was greater than in foreign. I have stated shortly my reasons for believing that the British shipowner and British commerce will not be injured by the alterations in the law which I propose for the consideration of the House. I do not, either, entertain any apprehensions that the British shipbuilder will be injured by these alterations. When I consider the great natural advantages which this country possesses in regard to the manufacture of ships—in iron, in cordage, in paint, and in a greater choice of timber than any other country in the world has at its command, 1017 I cannot believe that there is any danger which the British shipbuilder will suffer, when he is brought into competition with the shipbuilders of other countries. It is a great mistake, when comparing the cost of ships, to look merely to the actual amount of money which has been expended in their construction. We must also consider the quality of the ships built and their durability; and I believe it can be proved that, taking ship for ship, and considering the excellence and durability of British ships, we are able to build ships fully equal to those which are constructed in any other part of the world. If the trade of shipbuilding depended merely on the cost of construction, the British shipbuilder would have been driven out of the market long ago by our own colonists. Those ships which cost least in construction are at this moment built by our North American colonists. For many purposes they are very useful; but it is very far from being the case that they have superseded the employment of the dearer sort of ships built on the coast of England; and, while there is no doubt that colonial shipbuilding has greatly increased, the trade of shipbuilding on the coast of England has also increased enormously. I have mentioned the great advantages which the English shipbuilder enjoys; but I am told that he has to contend with great disadvantages in the rate of wages which he has to pay. Now, my opinion is, that the disadvantage which he labours under in that respect is far more nominal than real. I believe that, taking the value of the work done into consideration, English labour is not the dearest, but cheaper than any other labour in the world. Look at what takes place in our dockyards. It has been tried to build British ships of war in the dockyards of Bombay. The timber there is excellent, and labour is nominally very cheap; but it has been found by experience to be far cheaper to build a ship of war at Portsmouth or Plymouth than at Bombay. My hon. and gallant Friends connected with the Board of Admiralty, will tell the Committee that the nominally cheap labour obtained in the dockyards in India is found to be dearer than English labour at home, though six Hindoos may be hired for the same wages which would be paid to one Englishman. I will also advert to a circumstance which I think ought not to be left out of consideration, namely, that if we repeal the navigation laws, materials for shipbuilding will be brought to Eng- 1018 land at a cheaper rate than at present, and in that manner also the shipbuilder will derive considerable advantage from the repeal of those laws. Upon the whole, I am satisfied, that when the Committee comes to consider this part of the subject, they will be convinced, that while they do an act of justice towards the British shipowner, they will not destroy the valuable and important trade of the British shipbuilder. I can see no reason whatever for our lagging behind any nation of the world in the trade of shipbuilding; and if there does at present appear in the United States any evidence of superiority over us in that respect, I think it may be ascribed to the spirit of monopoly which has hitherto prevailed here. It appears to me, that any one who is prepared to contend that ships cannot be built in England as cheaply, considering their quality, as in any other country of the world, ought also to contend that we cannot conduct any manufacture as cheaply as it can be done in foreign countries. I cannot conceive any argument of that kind which would not apply to our great cotton and many other manufactures in the same degree.
§ I now come to the objection which I know has the greatest weight in the minds of many men, and if I believed myself in its truth and validity, I confess I should think that all the arguments I have adduced in favour of these changes ought to go for nothing; I refer to the objection that this alteration in the navigation laws would be destructive of the military marine and naval greatness of this country. Adam Smith has declared his opinion that, as the defence of the country is better than opulence, the navigation laws impose a wise and salutary restriction. I will not inquire whether, in the days of Adam Smith, that opinion was well-founded or not, although, speaking with that diffidence which it becomes me to use in questioning the soundness of any statement made by so great a man, I may venture to state my own opinion, that this declaration involves one of the few errors which Adam Smith ever made. At any rate, whatever truth and force there might have been in the application of those laws in the time of Adam Smith, I believe that his arguments in their favour would not apply now. The question with me is, will the removal of these restrictions in the navigation laws increase or diminish your mercantile commerce? I am not prepared to go the length of those who contend that you can 1019 separate maritime commerce from naval power; for I do not believe that maritime power can be placed on any other basis than a commercial marine, and if I thought that the changes which I propose would have the effect of crippling our commercial marine, I should not recommend them to the consideration of the Committee. But, as I contend that this will not be the consequence of these alterations, I cannot see how it is possible, so long as our commercial marine is maintained, that the military marine of this country should suffer. Mr. Huskisson truly stated that the only secure foundation of our naval power was to be found in the beneficial employment of our commercial marine. I apprehend no danger to our mercantile navy from a free competition with the ships of foreign countries; but I must admit that there are causes in operation which threaten the continuance of its prosperity. I hope the attention of Gentlemen has been directed to the very remarkable correspondence which has been laid on the table of the House, and which is contained in the letters of our consuls abroad in reply to the inquiries addressed to them from the Foreign Office. I think no Gentleman can have perused those documents without feeling deep concern at many of the statements there made. Our mercantile navy suffers exceedingly in comparison with the mercantile marines of other countries, not from the want of protection, but I regret to say from evils inherent in itself, which no amount of protection will cure, but which, on the contrary, I believe the removal of protection will have a great tendency to eradicate. We find that while the character of British sailors, so far as skill in the handling of ships goes, stands as high as ever, the character of British shipmasters, in many branches of our trade, is at a low ebb, partly on account of their want of nautical skill, and partly owing to their low moral characters. Owing to these causes, our ships are fast losing their character in the commerce of the world. I must say I think it is better to look these evils in the face, than endeavour to dismiss the truth from our minds. The consequence is, that merchants prefer in too many instances to trust their cargoes to American, Bremen, Swedish, and other vessels, rather than to British ships, because of the injurious effects produced in respect to the latter by the want of professional capacity and of proper moral conduct on the part, in too many cases, of the ship- 1020 masters, which injures the discipline of the crew, and is the cause that proper care is not taken of the cargo. One can scarcely read a page of the documents I have just referred to without being struck by the painful description of those matters. I will not go further into this part of the subject at present; but I have thought proper to call the attention of the Committee to it, because it is my firm conviction that these evils have grown up very much in consequence of this principle of protection, which has led shipowners to believe that they may depend upon that, and need not exert themselves otherwise to improve the condition of their ships; and I believe that the effect of the stimulus of competition would be, that the shipowners would take care that those they employ should be men of improved character. There are other questions connected with the merchant navy of this country which ought to receive the attention of the Committee. Two of those questions, which I propose to submit to the House in the course of this Session, relate to the Light Dues, and to the Merchant Seamen's Fund. There are other measures, which, though not brought before the House in the present Session, will, I trust, before long, be dealt with by Parliament in a manner advantageous to the merchant navy of this country—I allude to the pilotage question—to any measure that can be adopted for insuring a better description of shipmasters, and other measures for the improvement of our merchant navy. With respect to the present system of restriction, considering it in connexion with the effects produced by it to which I have referred, I am convinced, though many persons believe that their interest is promoted by it, that they would find it ultimately nothing but certain ruin. This system of protection and monopoly will avail them nothing for the remedy of the evils to which I have referred, but will only narrow and confine the general commerce of this country. The navigation of this country must depend upon its commerce; and to suppose that anything which cripples and narrows that commerce can be favourable to the navigation of the country is an idle illusion; and the class connected with navigation, as well as every other class, will find their true interest, in the long run, in being allowed to compete with other countries—in being relieved from as many fetters as can possibly be removed from them—and, above all, in not being incumbered by 1021 a protection which does them no good, an is deeply injurious to other classes.
§ I have now gone through, though I am afraid imperfectly, this great subject, and I humbly and respectfully recommend the proposals I have made to the deliberate and impartial consideration of Parliament. I believe that their effects will be greatly beneficial to this country at large, and to no interest more beneficial than to that which I value as much as any man can—I mean the commercial prosperity and maritime greatness of the British empire. I feel convinced that the tendency of these alterations will be, instead of producing discontented colonies, jealous rivalries among foreign nations, crippled trade and contracted manufactures, to give us good will from other countries, union among ourselves, and the extension of commerce upon a sound and a permanent basis; and I believe that we shall be placing the prosperity of England on the safest as well as on the noblest foundation, if we connect it, as we shall do by these measures, with the general interests, with the expanding trade, and with the continued peace, advancement, and well-being of the whole civilised world.
The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the following Resolution:—
That it is expedient to remove the restrictions which prevent the free carriage of goods by sea, to and from the United Kingdom and the British possessions abroad, subject, nevertheless, to such control by Her Majesty in Council as may be necessary, and to amend the Laws for the registration of Ships and Seamen.
§ MR. ELLIOT inquired, how far the proposed alterations would affect the law requiring the employment in every ship of a number of men proportioned to the amount of tonnage?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE thought his hon. Friend was mistaken as to the present state of the law. He believed that, according to the existing law, provided a British ship maintained the proportion of three-fourths British seamen to one-fourth foreign seamen, it might carry as many or as few seamen, in proportion to the tonnage, as the owners pleased. It was only when the first-mentioned proportion was violated, and more than one-fourth foreign seamen were maintained on board a British ship, that it became necessary to have a certain number of British seamen to the tonnage. But he apprehended that this latter restriction would practically be found seldom to come into operation.1022
§ MR. FORSTER had expected that the Government would have taken advantage of the present opportunity to explain their intentions with respect to the light dues.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE observed, that he did intend in the course of the evening to call upon the House to take some preliminary steps to enable him to bring in a Bill with respect to the light dues; but he thought it best not to mix up the one subject with the other.
§ In reply to MR. HUME,
§ MR. LABOUCHERE said, that Ceylon would be treated as any other British colony.
§ MR. GLADSTONE said, that he intended to act in accordance with the general feeling, not to enter into a discussion until after the plan of the Government was laid before the House, and some short delay allowed for consideration, and would now only ask, for the further elucidation of the Government plan, for information on one or two points. He did not perfectly understand that part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement which referred to the fisheries. He apprehended that the right hon. Gentleman said that for the same reason which made it expedient to continue the existing restrictions in respect to the coasting trade, he thought it desirable to continue the restrictions in respect to fisheries; but he did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman had only a view to those existing rights to fisheries within certain limits and banks enjoyed by British ships, or whether he extended his views to the restraints imposed by our commercial law on the importation of fish in foreign vessels, the effect of the provisions in the Customs' Regulation Act being to prevent foreign vessels from coming direct from their fisheries to a British port. That was a question of considerable importance, not only with respect to the supply of the markets of this country with fresh fish, but also with respect to the supply of train oil, which was carried on upon a large scale by American ships. He also wished to know whether it was the intention of the Government to propose any measures to Parliament, or to take any measures which it might be within the competence of the Executive to adopt, either in regard to the education of young persons for the seafaring life, or in regard to the examination of masters and mates? He had been in hopes that, on the present occasion, the House would have heard some general 1023 statement of the effect of the measures adopted some years ago for the voluntary examination of the latter. He should have been glad to know whether the Government thought that that system was of an extensive character, and satisfactory as far as it went, or whether they thought it desirable to give it a farther extension? In respect to the education of persons for the seafaring life, he was anxious to know whether the Government had that subject under view. It might be matter well worthy of the consideration of the Education Committee of the Privy Council, whether it might not be in their power to give aid from the public funds to a class of persons, at the ports of this country, whose education was at present exceedingly defective? He should also be glad to know whether the right hon. Gentleman could give the House some general information of the views and intentions of foreign Powers other than those two—Prussia and the United States—to which he had alluded? Could he say that the views of Sweden and Denmark, for instance, were likely to coincide with the general measures he had introduced? This was a matter of importance; and if the right hon. Gentleman could answer the question affirmatively, that would give satisfaction.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE apprehended, that if Parliament assented to the plan of the Government, it would undoubtedly be in the power of foreign vessels engaged in the deep sea fishery to bring the produce of the fishery direct to this country; though, with respect to the coast and bank fisheries, he thought it would be desirable to preserve to our own people the existing privileges. With respect to the intentions of foreign Powers, the Government had not thought it expedient to enter into communications with other Powers besides those he had alluded to, until they knew the sentiments of that House on the subject. It was better that the House should decide on general views and principles, than that the Government should go through Europe asking, "Who will assent to these principles?" The first was the more likely method to attain the object in view. The right hon. Gentleman had adverted to the important subject of the examination of shipmasters. The system of voluntary examination had been in operation for some time, and he was generally able to say that that system had been adopted to a considerable extent. Persons desirous of becoming shipmasters had availed them- 1024 selves of it, and a considerable number had passed their examinations, and there had been manifested an increasing disposition to take advantage of the system. Under these circumstances he should hesitate to propose to the House that which was very much objected to by persons connected with the merchant navy—a compulsory system of examination. Parliament might be obliged to have recourse to that at last; but he was disposed to give the voluntary system some further trial. With regard to the suggestion of the desirability of encouraging schools in the seaports to give useful instruction for the seafaring life, he attached great importance to the subject, and should be glad to see the House at a fitting opportunity direct its attention to it. He took this opportunity of saying that the Government of this country, part of whose duty it was to protect and promote the interest of the mercantile marine, had not the advantage at present of sufficient professional assistance; and on the occasion of reconsidering the light dues, he contemplated taking advantage of the occasion to propose the constitution of a department of the Board of Trade, to be called the Department of the Mercantile Marine, and to consist of unpaid officers—one of the Lords of the Admiralty, and other competent persons connected with the merchant service, giving it the benefit of their advice. This department would be no additional expense to the country, and would afford the Executive Government the means of considering all questions connected with the merchant service more advantageously. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that no man was more deeply impressed than himself (Mr. Labouchere) that it was the duty of the Government and Legislature to take every means in their power to improve the condition and to promote the interests of the mercantile marine of this country. As he had before stated, he believed that the measures he had proposed would be beneficial to it; for if he thought otherwise, he should be the last man to have brought them forward.
MR. ROBINSON expressed his surprise at the introduction of this measure at such a juncture, as there was not the slightest necessity for it. The present moment was the most unfavourable for making such alterations that could well have been selected. He should have thought, too, that there would at least have been some wisdom in postponing the
measure until the next Session, and then they would have the advantage of seeing the evidence taken before a Committee of the other House of Parliament; for, without disrespect to those constituting the Committee of last Session, he must say that their mode of pursuing the inquiry was extremely unfair. If there had been any petitions for such a change, the Government might have framed an excuse upon that; but, unfortunately for them, there had been few or none; while, at the same time, the petitions against any change had been exceedingly numerous. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of petitions from the colonies; but those, he suspected, must be sent by parties who hoped to indemnify themselves for the distresses under which they at present laboured at the expense of the shipping interest. They would, however, find themselves most egregiously mistaken. And so with respect to the consumer in this country, to whom it was held out as a bait that these changes would be beneficial. They were told that if articles of consumption were brought here in foreign ships they would be much cheaper; but a greater delusion never existed. Everybody knew, that except in about thirty articles, the difference between the freights in foreign and British vessels was too small to affect the consumer in the slightest degree. The doctrines of free trade were supported by the plea of reciprocity; but here they had a large measure throwing open a great interest for the benefit of the foreigner without the slightest promise or prospect of a shadow even of reciprocity. In the United States, there was more a spirit of rivalry than of reciprocity; and in the last Message of the President to Congress, it was stated that, if America progressed in the number of vessels as she had done in the last year, the time was not far distant when their commercial and marine navy would be larger than that of any nation in the world. He had forty years' experience as a merchant, and that experience was in favour of the present navigation laws; and he cautioned the Government against reducing in such troublous times our means of manning the Navy; for, in case of a dispute with either France or America—which, however, he trusted would not occur, the ancient sympathy between those countries, now stronger than ever, since both were republics, would induce them to assist each other—and, opposed to their united fleets, England would be in danger of losing her naval supremacy.
No man had a higher opinion of the British sailors, who were equal in his opinion, whatever the right hon. Gentlemen opposite might say, to the Americans, and greatly superior to those of other countries; and, even in such a strait as that he had described, he should not despair of seeing them once more triumphant. But was that a moment for increasing our hazards? Was that a time to diminish our commercial marine, and thereby weaken the naval force of the country, while we were increasing the force of America and other countries? He sincerely trusted the Government would not have sufficient influence to carry this measure through Parliament. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly sincere in the views he had taken; but the right hon. Gentleman appeared to think, with several hon. Gentlemen who had adopted the principle of free trade, that such were the resources of this country, and so great was the industry of her people, that protection might be thrown overboard, and that all her great agricultural, colonial, and shipping interests might be exposed to unrestricted competition without the least danger. Now, he told the right hon. Gentleman, and he would tell the House, that as far as he could form an opinion, such a line of policy would bring the country to the brink of ruin. He would not commit himself so far as to say that it would ruin the country, for it was hard to tell how far it might be possible to experimentalise with a country so powerful and industrious as ours; but this he would say, that it would bring us to the verge of ruin, and plunge us into financial difficulties from which we might never be able to extricate ourselves. He did not wish to go into the question of free trade generally; but he would tell the right hon. Gentleman, in reply to the confident tone in which he had spoken, that the country had been told the same thing with respect to other changes; and would any free-trader be adventurous enough to say, that it was not now in a worse position than before those changes were made? He was not an advocate for monopolies of any kind. He had no extraordinary sympathy for the agricultural capitalist, the colonial merchant, or the extensive shipowner; but he entertained a strong sympathy for the labouring classes, and he told the right hon. Gentleman that he was a Protectionist, because he knew that if capital were not protected and encouraged in this country, employment could not be found for the people,
Where would be the good effects of free trade, if it were to take capital out of the country? It was true that the proposed alteration in the navigation laws would permit the shipowner to build his ship in a foreign country, where materials and labour were cheap, and thus effect a saving in the construction, and afterwards bring his vessel home to be registered; but this was no boon after all. He, as a shipowner, did not want any such boon. If ships were to be built at foreign ports, what would become of our shipbuilders and operatives at home? What would become of that numerous and important class of the community who depended upon the building of ships in this country, and who were connected with the dockyards and our seaports, for labour? The shipowners might be benefited, but that benefit would be conferred at the cost of hundreds of thousands of deserving operatives. For this reason he would be no party in promoting a change in the existing navigation laws. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had mentioned the name of Mr. Huskisson—a name which was very often alluded to by Gentlemen holding modern free-trade opinions. He begged to assure those hon. Gentlemen that Mr. Huskisson was a free-trader on the principle of reciprocity, but no further. He had sat in Parliament for many years with that distinguished statesman; and though he did not agree with him on questions of commerce and navigation, yet he was bound to say that that great man entertained opinions perfectly sound and perfectly safe, and that he had never introduced a single measure calculated to endanger the commerce or navigation of the country. Upon the question of
the navigation laws, Mr. Huskisson said—
That wherever the interests of commerce and navigation could not be reconciled, the feeling uppermost in our minds should be—and that was a feeling which ought to regulate the deliberations of Parliament now—that the interests of commerce in all such instances ought to give way, and those of navigation to have preference.
Mr. Huskisson had also said, with reference to the colonies, that the principle on which we should act, would be to confine the colonies to intercourse with the mother country—to prevent them from sending their produce home except in native vessels—and not to allow them to consume the manufactures of other markets. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the letter of Mr. Bancroft, and upon that subject he
should wish to say a word. Perhaps some hon. Gentlemen who had not sat so long in the House as he had, might not be aware that, since the establishment of American independence in that enterprising country, whenever the Americans had any object in view which was likely to benefit themselves, they never relaxed in their exertions until they had attained it. Whenever there was no opportunity, they adopted the principle of "biding their time;" but when that time arrived, they never failed to avail themselves of it. On that principle Mr. Bancroft had acted. Perceiving that Parliament had entered into an inquiry on the navigation laws through the medium of a Committee sanctioned by the Government, Mr. Bancroft wrote to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and said, "We are disposed to reciprocate, and if the Government will adopt the principle of reciprocity, as regards the navigation laws, you may depend upon it that in time America will be a consenting party." Such was in substance the reply of Mr. Bancroft. Considering the great diplomatic experience which the noble Lord had acquired, it appeared somewhat astonishing that he was not more cautious before jumping at the conclusion which he had evidently done. He wrote back a letter, to the effect that the Government was about to bring forward the subject of an alteration in the navigation laws, and stated that, as far as his Government was concerned, it was ready to reciprocate. Now, if America could really reciprocate, there would not be any ground of complaint against the proposed policy as far as she was concerned; but the noble Lord knew very well that if the Government of this country were to establish a system of reciprocity in the shape of navigation with America, we could not obtain any national advantages that we did not already enjoy, whilst America would derive advantages from us which it might not be at all prudent to grant her. How different was the policy of Mr. Canning, when he declared that England was ready to enter into any friendly relation with America, but that there were certain points which she could not give up, and that one of them was the navigation laws, securing us the colonial trade. With respect to the colonies, he could not see what possible use there was in retaining them, if we were to give their trade to America and to other countries, and be saddled with the expense of sending out governors and keeping up a military de-
fence. The only use of the colonies was to contribute to the strength and commerce of the country; but when they ceased to be effective in that way, the sooner they were got rid of the better. He begged the House to take care how it lightly interfered with those laws upon which depended the labour of the thousands of operatives who were directly and indirectly connected with the shipping interests of the country. If they wished to put down discontent, come from what source it might, they should not do anything which might have the effect of aggravating the difficulties of the working population. The shipping interest employed an enormous number of persons, and many of the principal towns in the empire were in great part dependent on it. It was true they might not be altogether ruined by those changes in the law, but they might be paralysed to a ruinous extent. In conclusion, he assured the right hon. Gentleman that if there were any parts of the Bill which he thought would increase the trade and commerce of the country without trenching upon the fundamental principle of the navigation laws, he would not offer it any opposition; but he must be excused if, holding the opinions he did, he felt himself bound to oppose any measure which he considered might injure the mercantile marine of this country.
§ MR. HUME differed entirely from the hon. Member who had just spoken as to the advantages of this measure. The hon. Member had very properly stated that the great question which this and other countries had to deal with, was the labour question, and how they were to employ the labouring classes. He believed that this measure would have the effect of increasing considerably the trade of this country, and would do more to employ the people than any other. He thanked the Government for bringing this measure forward. He was confident, from what he had seen, that much injury had been done this country, even within the last year, from the difficulty experienced in bringing materials to our shores. These difficulties being likely to be removed, as he considered, by the passing of such a measure, it was natural to conclude that our trade would be increased every day. He knew no reason why English goods should not compete successfully with the goods of other countries, when placed upon the same footing. There were some burdens that it would be highly necessary for the Government to 1030 remove. There was the increased charge upon marine insurance to which the ships of other countries were not exposed. There was also the restriction of apprentices, which ought to be got rid of. He took it for granted that this system would be done away with. It should be perfectly voluntary with the shipowners to have apprentices or not. The apprentices themselves would, in such case, suffer less than under the old system. The number they had heretofore been obliged to keep formed an impediment to the proper management of the ships. The evidence of the shipowners went to show that but for those restrictions in respect to apprentices they would have been much better able to man their ships by an intelligent crew. He thought that the Government had taken the proper course to improve the trade and the condition of the country. The duty upon lighthouses should be done away with. He could not allow that the shipping was treated fairly while the present heavy system of taxation on account of lighthouses existed. There was no less than 400,000l. claimed this year for lights, while 90,000l. only was required to pay all the expense. The Government had already conferred a vast advantage upon the manufacturing interests of this country by the reduction of the duties upon raw produce; and a measure of this kind, in conjunction with such reduction, was well calculated to increase their interests considerably. An hon. Member from the Opposition benches, who was connected with the Navy, appeared to be alarmed as to the supposed difficulty of obtaining a good supply of seamen for the naval service. The evidence, however, that had been given above stairs was quite sufficient to allay any such fears. Sir James Stirling had given most satisfactory information upon the subject. He believed they were under a mistake in supposing that this measure would have an injurious effect. On the contrary, he believed the effect would be beneficial, inasmuch as it would give us the command of able seamen enough to man our fleet. He firmly believed that the effect of the apprentice system had been to drive our able seamen into the service of foreign Powers. This, however, was an abuse which was now about to be remedied, and he hoped other abuses would be remedied. He believed the whole country was in favour of the measure, and he begged to express an anxious hope that Government would state what they intended to do with respect to 1031 the lighthouse dues and marine assurance. He should give the present measure his hearty support.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK, differing as he did from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, could not thank Her Majesty's Ministers for the introduction of the present measure. Considering the great ability of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the measure to the notice of the House, he never recollected to have heard such a great measure of change recommended on such feeble grounds as those put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman did not tell the House that the country was unanimous in demanding this change. He could not tell them that any great number of petitions praying for the change had been presented. He did not pretend to say, that the country groaned under any grievance, and that this change was necessary for the interest of the country. He did not pretend to show that freights were too high, or that seamen or shipping were scarce. The only pretence for this change which the right hon. Gentleman had to offer was, that Prussia, forsooth, had threatened, if we did not yield, to trample our shipping interest under foot. Why, the House was told ten years ago by the learned Doctor opposite (Dr. Bowring), and two years ago by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, that "Prussia was shaken" in her protective system, and was disposed to relax her restrictive laws. Prussia had seen her corn admitted free into our ports, and the duties on her timber reduced from 55s. to 15s. a load; yet Prussia was not coming down with her restrictive policy—was not about to offer relaxations of her tariff; but, on the contrary, had increased her duties sixfold on some part of our cotton goods, and had doubled the duty on our yarns. With all this before them, they were now told if they did not repeal the navigation laws, the interests of the country would suffer, for Prussia threatened new restrictions on our trade. Now, then, as to the grievances: he had heard no grievances alleged, except some of those which had been before served up in the Anatomy of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ricardo). One grievance was, that a Mr. Houghton had sustained a great inconvenience in being debarred by the navigation laws from importing cochineal not from the Canary Islands to England; but that when there were no English ships at the Canary Islands he could not get his cochi- 1032 neal carried except at an expense which raised the value 4d. or 6d. per 1b. Now, in his opinion, it needed no great amount of arithmetic to show that 6d. per 1b. was about 56l. a ton What! British merchants and British ships not to be tempted by 56l. a ton freight to go to fetch cochineal from the Canary Isles! "Tell this to the marines," and they will not believe you! Then something had been said about the difficulty of importing Alpaca wool, which some person who had settled at Hamburg complained he could not bring thence to England. Well, what great grievance was there in that, when he could import Alpaca wool straight to England from all the countries in which it was grown? He believed that the Alpaca was a sort of mongrel between a sheep and a goat; and for the sake of the wool of this animal, half goat and half sheep, and the cochineal of the Canary Islands, the right hon. Gentleman proposed to repeal the navigation laws. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he did not wish to throw any imputation upon the skill, seamanship, or good conduct of the mercantile marine of England. Now, he (Lord G. Bentinck) would not say, that amongst 16,000 or 20,000 captains and skippers there might not be some drunken men or some immoral men; he did not know where, except, of course, in that House, they would find 20,000 men of whom some might not be guilty of immoralities, or occasionally "disguised in liquor." But as to general misconduct—as to any general inefficiency on the part of the mercantile marine—he would like to ask the insurance offices what they had to say on that subject. Were there any ships of any other country which were insured at so low a premium as British ships? It was a fact which could not be denied that there were not. What was the comparative statement of disasters at sea which he had to make in the last Parliament with respect to grain-laden vessels of Great Britain and the United States of America? And it would not be denied, that of all foreign ships none were better sailed than those of the United States. Of the grain-laden ships which sailed between the months of September and May, in the winter of 1816–47, from the United States to England, there were 294 British, and 450 American. Of these, only three British ships foundered at sea, while there were 17 Americans; only four British ships were stranded, while there were 12 Americans; there 1033 were but three British vessels which were obliged to throw their cargo overboard, while 17 Americans were reduced to that necessity. Therefore, the disasters which occurred to ships manned by British seamen were in comparison but one-fourth of those which befell the ships of the United States. This was not like the tales of consuls: the ships in this case sailed in the winter season between the United States and this country. This was his answer to all the idle slanders and worthless statements arrayed against the shipping interest of this country as an excuse for repealing the navigation laws. Now, the House had, doubtless, expected to hear from the right hon. Gentleman how the British Navy was to be manned under the new system; but all that he had done was to quote Sir James Stirling. He was an officer of the British Navy, and therefore entitled to be listened to; but he did not wait to be cross-examined. And what, after all, was the gist of the evidence on which the right hon. Gentleman placed so much reliance? It was this, that the mercantile marine were of scarcely any use in manning the Royal Navy, for that only one-tenth of all the seamen of the Royal Navy had ever been in the mercantile service. That statement certainly deserved some attention, if it were true; but an hon. and gallant Friend of his (Captain Harris) had stated that night, that in the Howe, which was commanded by Sir James Stirling himself, it was the very reverse of the fact—that nearly one-half, if not more, of the petty officers of Sir James Stirling's own ship had learned their business in the mercantile navy. But the House did not need to be told that; for it appeared from returns laid before Parliament in 1831 and 1835, that out of about 12,500 seamen entered for the Navy in those two years, 9,500 or more had never been in the Royal Navy before. Therefore, Sir James Stirling, on the only point on which his evidence could have been valuable, was altogether mistaken. Sir James Stirling knew nothing of the matter on which he came to give his evidence before the Committee; and no doubt if it had not been necessary that he should go and join the Howe instead of being cross-examined, all these facts would have come out, and they would not, for nine months together, have had the changes rung on the evidence of that gentleman. Well; but what had the right hon. Gentleman given as a reason for re- 1034 lieving the mercantile navy from the obligation to take out so many apprentices? Why, he said, the consequence of the present system was that there was a surplusage of seamen—more seamen than could be employed. Why, what stronger proof could they have that the present arrangements were such as would provide for all requirements in case of a naval war? The right hon. Gentleman had not told them that any new scheme was to be devised for that purpose. Sir James Stirling, if he recollected his evidence rightly, proposed that they should maintain a standing Navy, which would be sufficient for the requirements of war. Now, to what did that proposal amount? They all knew, that in the war 114,000 men (exclusive of marines) were required to man the Navy. Would Sir James Stirling propose that they should keep up a standing Navy of upwards of 100,000 men? In order to do that, they must be prepared to add some 2,000,000l. or 3,000,000l. sterling to the annual Navy Estimates. While, however, the right hon. Gentleman quoted Sir James Stirling, he did not adopt his proposal; neither did he tell them of any alternative by which he could supply seamen for the Navy in case of necessity. In the year 1815 this country was enabled, upon very short notice, to add 70,000 men to the Royal Navy. He wanted to know how they could make such an addition as that on any sudden emergency if they stripped the mercantile marine of that surplusage of men which it was said now to possess. The right hon. Gentleman had not told them, as he ought to have done—and he supposed that some Member of the Government would yet rise to do so—what the Government expected to be the practical effect of the repeal of these laws, as regarded the maritime defence of the country. The hon. Member for Montrose had predicted that their repeal would increase the trade and navigation of this country. It might increase the navigation of other countries; but how adding to the competition was to add to the trade and navigation of this country, he was at a loss to understand. This might be, and was, a measure for the encouragement of Prussian seamen, and they knew it to be so; above all, it was a measure for the encouragement of the navy of the United States, as might have been learnt from the anxiety with which his Excellency the United States' Minister had attended under 1035 the gallery to the debates of that evening. He well enough knew what would be the effect of this measure. They were going to throw open to the United States their colonial trade, of which the United States had had some taste before. The House had to a certain extent opened the colonial trade in 1822; they had opened it further in 1843 and 1844. What had been the result? Why, that the lumber and provision trade of Great Britain and North America with the West Indian colonies had dwindled down almost to nothing, whilst the tonnage of the United States had been increased by 140,000 tons. He now came to the old rotten argument with respect to "the protected and unprotected trade." Returns had been laid on the table last year in view of the repeal of these laws. Now, how were these returns made up? Amongst the unprotected trades was the great and increasing trade of China. Imagine England requiring protection against the Chinese junks. That was a close trade against all foreign shipping. In the whole history of the navigation laws there was no monopoly to be found more complete than the Chinese trade. Under the same bead of "unprotected" was placed the trade with Brazil, Peru, Chili, and Mexico, which had no ships at all. From a return of the sugar-laden ships coming from Brazil to Great Britain, it appeared that there were 159 British ships, and only eight foreign; and in the whole sugar trade with Brazil, with Porto Rico, and with Cuba, 407 of the ships employed were British, and the remaining 69 foreign. Yet they were told by the right hon. Gentleman that these were all "unprotected trades." Another of the great protection trades to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded was the Russian; but he did not know how long it was since—he believed in the time of the Empress Catherine—that an English Russian company had been established, and permitted to trade under the protection of the Imperial Government, and yet it was called now one of the unprotected trades. But if ever there was one part of the United Kingdom more exposed than another to the effects of foul free trade, it was the British West Indies. By the emancipation of the slaves, the produce of the British West Indies had been reduced nearly one-half; and how, then, was the carrying trade to be increased, or otherwise than decreased? And yet a right hon. Gentleman laid (by command of Her Majesty) returns before 1036 the House, disingenuously attributing the decrease in the West India shipping trade to the operation of the navigation laws. But the House knew very well that the falling-off in the case of the British West Indian trade, which figured so largely in those returns, was not owing to the navigation laws, but to the laws which emancipated the slaves, and left them without a sufficient supply of labour, and to the free-trade laws which opened the colonial trade to the United States of America, and thus deprived the British shipping interest of its previous monopoly and protection; so that whilst the American vessels engaged in that branch of the carrying trade had increased by 141,000 tons, the British shipping similarly employed had fallen off to the amount of 60,000 tons. Nothing could be a better proof of the utter weakness of a Government which was not able to adduce any better reason for those great changes than such as these. Their great motive was that it was mainly a plan in obedience to the dominant free-trade theory. But there was one point upon which he desired information. The House ought to know what the Government expected would be the diminution in the cost of freights. The measure was intended to diminish the cost of freights. He (Lord George Bentinck) had seen in a newspaper, which was understood to be written by one of the Members of Her Majesty's Government (Mr. Wilson), and he supposed he might look upon it consequently as an official organ; he had read in the Economist, whose political principles and dogmas were adopted by Her Majesty's Government to be the truest possible exposition of the policy that ought to be adopted in that House:—he knew well, and was happy to be able to bear his testimony to the great ability of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westbury, to whose talents he was ready to pay the meed of his admiration;—and that hon. Gentleman had stated in the Economist, that half-a-crown a ton was to be the saving that was to be derived by the consumers of this country by the repeal of the navigation laws; and he calculated, therefore, that 1,000,000l. sterling in freights would be annually saved to the consumers, and lost to the shipping trade. He asked, was the House prepared, before they saw a little more of the working of that free-trade principle which the hon. Member advocated, but which he did not think had proved itself so very trium- 1037 phant—were they, he asked, prepared to consent to strike such a blow at the shipping interest as would diminish their gross earnings, which were stated to be 28,000,000l. sterling per annum, by 1,000,000l. a year? With regard to the last year, when freights ran so high, was it not Her Majesty's Ministers and the Times newspaper that raised the alarm "that all the shipping in the world would not be sufficient to bring over the corn required for this country?" And what, after all, was the fact? At the moment when Her Majesty's Ministers were reviving the dying alarm that there were not ships enough in all the world to bring the required food to England by the renewal of the suspension of the navigation laws, the West Indies were wanting increased conveyance for their great sugar crop; the owners of vessels were induced to desert the West India trade, and to go to New York and New Orleans for corn; and the practical effect was, that by the 20th of April, 1847, there were no fewer than 60 ships waiting at New York, unable to procure freights—34,000 tons of British shipping were at one time lying idle at New York waiting for grain to be brought to the seaboard. A still greater number of ships arrived in one week at St. Petersburgh, expecting to find cargoes of corn, which was not there for them. A false alarm had been raised—an undue charge for freights had been obtained—the country had been put to an unnecessary loss—the sugar colonies had been deprived of the freights they required, and greatly disorganised—while the usual course of the trade of the country had been disturbed by the measures which had been adopted, and the mischievous alarm which had been created. The Government had not shown that anybody was discontented except our North American colonies; and they having been deprived of their protection in this country for their flour and timber, turned round and said, "Having exposed us to this competition, you must allow us to send our commodities by the cheapest conveyance." When they should have at last deprived British shipping as well as British manufactures of protection in the Canadian trade, they would have left nothing to themselves but the cost of maintaining the Government of Canada, while they were inducing the Canadians to draw still closer the bonds of trade, commerce, familiar intercourse, and political attachment between themselves and the United States. They had left Canada 1038 nothing to gain from this country, and they had left the Canadians owing nothing to this country except the debt for the Rideau Canal, which, if they were to cast off the union, they would in all probability repudiate immediately. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the affections of the British West Indies were to be secured by granting them the favour they demanded of the repeal of the navigation laws. The right hon. Gentleman and he (Lord G. Bentinck), had been sitting in Committee together; and the right hon. Gentleman knew it to be perfectly true, that although some witnesses belonging to the West Indies had asked for the repeal of the navigation laws, yet, for one connected with that interest who had made that request, there were three at least who had said that the repeal would be of no value unless limited to the British West Indies. It was clear to him, that the repeal of the navigation laws would favour Cuba, Porto Rico, and Brazil more than the British West Indies. The build of the American ships was better calculated to hold the bags and boxes in which the sugar from those places was packed, than the hogsheads in which the British West Indian sugar was contained. So far as the British West Indies were concerned, the right hon. Gentleman, as he had long foreseen, intended to mock them with this worthless boon, so that he might be able to turn round upon them and say, "We gave you the repeal of the navigation laws." The right hon. Gentleman promised the repeal of these laws for a boon, knowing well that it could not be desired. With reference to the Mauritius, the right hon. Gentleman knew very well they had never asked for it; indeed the right hon. Gentleman must remember that in the Sugar and Coffee Planting Committee, when his Colleague (the Vice-President of the Board of Trade) was cross-examining Sir George Larpent, a noted free-trader, and asking him whether he thought that this repeal of the navigation laws would be of any advantage to the Mauritius, Sir George Larpent answered, "that the Mauritius had no ground of complaint on the score of the navigation laws." They had their sugar carried at 4l. per ton a distance of 12,000 miles; and no freights, either in Cuba, the Brazils, or elsewhere, could compete with that in cheapness. It was already shown by the existing state of things that no unfair monopoly had taken place. There was no section of the British interest indulged in a monopoly of the sugar carrying trade 1039 of the British West Indies; and so long as they saw between 400 and 500 British ships going to Cuba, Porto Rico, Rio Janeiro, Bahia, and Santa Cruz, importing sugar from thence, not only to Great Britain, but to various parts of Europe, any man of common sense would see that if the freights of the British West Indies, of Jamaica, Barbadoes, British Guiana, &c., were raised beyond their proper level, these ships, instead of seeking freight abroad, would at once go to our own colonies, and seek freight in them. He had seen in a State paper of the United States, that in the course of the year 1846–47 there had been an increase of nearly 11 per cent in the registered shipping of the United States; and it was there stated, that if it continued to increase till 1857 in the same ratio, the tonnage of the United States would in that year be very nearly equal to the tonnage of Great Britain. And no small portion of this increase had arisen from the trade between the British West Indies and our North American colonies having been transferred to the United States, and now they wanted to make it worse still. In 1846, when they repealed the differential duties on foreign goods, they trusted to the generosity of Prussia in particular, and of other countries at large, to follow their example. After flinging their money away without making any bargain to get back anything for it, they were now about to give the United States the trade of their colonies. The United States already supplied Cuba entirely with timber and provisions. Seeing all this, they were now about to open to them the sugar-carrying trade between Cuba and this country, having already opened the market for the slave-grown sugar of that island. He, for one, should be disposed to reject this resolution without permitting it to be laid on the table. As for those details admitting the Lascars, he had great doubts whether any of his friends around him would think of objecting to their admission, or to their placing the colonies, so far as they were concerned, on an equal footing with this country; but a fundamental abrogation of the navigation laws was wholly unnecessary for so trivial an amendment. He desired to see them united in one common interest with this country. He was by no means sure that it was necessary to bring in a Bill to repeal the navigation laws to admit these Lascars. An Order in Council would suffice to decide that question. He 1040 did not think this measure called for or required by the interests of the country, and he, for one, should give it his strenous opposition. He would not trouble the House any longer than simply to express his great joy at having heard a certain expression fall from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He alluded to the expression in which he quoted the advice of Lord Harris with respect to the colonies. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would in all things attend to the advice of Lord Harris, as much as they seem disposed to attend to his advice with respect to the navigation laws, and then the British West India colonies would have the protection they deserved, in matters more important to them than the navigation laws, and would be saved from the serious evils and ruin with which they were now threatened.
MR. RICARDO could not reconcile the statement made by the noble Lord of the loss of the American vessels on their way to this country, with the great timidity which he had expressed at the conclusion of his speech, respecting the rivalry which it was proposed to open between the ships of this country and those of the United States. The noble Lord was, he believed, wrong in both respects—both as to the loss of American vessels, and the advantages which the United States would have over this country in the event of opening the trade. The fact would be found to be that at the period to which the noble Lord referred, in consequence of the great demand for grain in this country, there was a great pressure for ships in the United States, and vessels were taken up there which were not adapted for that trade; the consequence was that in many cases the cargoes shifted, and they were obliged to sacrifice them, or, failing this, the ships were lost. He did not think we should be the sufferers by opening the trade between the two countries, because, although we might shut out American ships from our own colonies and Africa, yet, on the other hand, they shut us out from Europe, and the trade between Europe and the United States was better than that with our colonies in Africa. Our ships could not go at
present to the United States with an assorted cargo; and it was a singular circumstance, that although American vessels were the dearest built and the dearest manned ships in the world, they had two-thirds of the whole trade between this country and the United
States; while the Russians, with the cheapest ships in the world, were obliged to give us up the whole trade between their country and ours. But the noble Lord admitted the existence of one evil, and his approbation of its removal. He was willing that the Lascars should be admitted to rank as British seamen. He did not believe that any one would deny this. It was a great evil that those Lascars were not admitted to work British ships. As an example he begged to state that it appeared from a circular issued by an eminent house in India that had failed, although neither the principals nor any of their clerks had ever speculated in any of the objects of speculation abroad during the last few years, that their failure had been mainly owing to their inability to realise any portion of the value of their trading stock at Bombay, in consequence of the failure of tonnage, there being no vessels to be had. And that was the state of things: whilst English operatives were starving at home for want of employment, which the masters were unable to give for want of raw material, the raw material was actually lying in foreign ports, and no vessels could be had, in consequence of the navigation laws, to bring it home. And those very Lascars that had fought by the side of British soldiers at Sobraon, Ferozeshah, aud Aliwal, and who were manning British vessels at Singapore, Borneo, Callao, and Canton, were prohibited from working those vessels to this country. But he did not wish to be understood to agree with the noble Lord in the motive for which he demanded the admission of these men to the privileges of their fellow-subjects. He agreed with him in the injustice of their expulsion from British ships; but he said, that if instead of Indian ships, there had been ships built of American oak, owned by American citizens, manned by American sailors—if they had been Spaniards, or Frenchmen, or Swedes, the tyranny and injustice to the British merchant and manufacturers would have been as great and as inexcusable. Take the case of the Australian colonies. There were in this country hundreds of people unemployed, and in Australia thousands of acres of land uncultivated, and numbers of mines unworked. There were ships ready to take the emigrants to our colonies, but they were not British ships, and the navigation laws would not allow them to go. It was stated by a witness before the Committee for which he moved, that the fares to Australia between decks by
emigrant vessels from Bremen were 12l. a head, while the charge for the same voyage for emigrants in British ships varied from 20l. to 25l. a head. One of the witnesses was asked whether there was any difference in the provisioning and comforts on board one vessel and the other; and he replied that if there were any difference of comfort at all, it was in favour of the Bremen vessel. The Montreal Board of Health had published a statement, dated the 12th of August, 1847, respecting the frightful amount of mortality on board British ships in which British emigrants were conveyed to that colony. This report stated that—
The Laren, reported this morning from Sligo, sailed with 440 passengers, of whom 108 died on the passage, and 150 were sick. The Virginius sailed with 496–158 died on the passage, 186 were sick, and the remainder landed feeble and tottering—the captain, mates, and crew were all sick. The black-hole at Calcutta was a mercy compared to the holds of these vessels. Yet simultaneously, as if in reproof of those on whom the blame of all this wretchedness must fall, foreigners, Germans from Hamburgh and Bremen, are daily arriving, all healthy, robust, and cheerful.
It would doubtless occur to every one to ask why, if the Bremen ships were so much cheaper and better, more of them were not employed? The reason was obvious. The witness (Mr. Swaine) was asked before the Navigation Committee—
Do Bremen vessels obtain return cargoes from Australia?—No, they obtain no cargoes from Australia; they generally go in ballast either to Batavia or Singapore, for the purpose of seeking a cargo there.
The charge by Hamburgh and Bremen vessels to America was rather higher than by English vessels; but then the English shipowner had to encounter the Americans in competition. In the Australian trade he had a monopoly, and charged what he liked. There were many articles of small bulk, such as ivory, of which whole cargoes seldom came to this country. They were looked upon as filling up for other cargoes, and to confine the trade to them was, in fact, to annihilate the trade altogether. If these articles did not come as portions of more bulky cargoes they did not come at all. The mischief done by the navigation laws, was, in fact, more real than it was apparent. There was a beaten track laid out by them, which it was impossible to turn away from, on one side or the other, without finding that they were shut in by the restrictions of the navigation laws. There was, for instance, the Java
trade. The English merchant sent out to Java British manufactured goods, but he did so with the expectation of being able to get home sugar in return. The sugar came down from the interior at stated seasons; but though there might be hundreds of ships ready to receive it, none of these ships might be British ships; and the consequence was that the English merchant was unable to obtain the most profitable return for his goods. The case was the same with regard to copper ore. Unless the copper ore were imported direct to this country for home consumption, it could not be admitted at all; and many hon. Members had, no doubt, heard of a case that occurred some time since, when a merchant was unable to get a cargo of copper ore that had been sent to him from Chili, and that had put into Havre, and he had been told that the only way that he could get the ore into this country was to send it back to Chili, and then to re-import it here from that country. They had it proved how far the merchant was trammelled—how far the manufacturer was impeded in his manufactures—and how far the country generally had been shut out from the commerce of the world by these laws; and with such facts before them, he had a right to say that this was an unjustifiable sacrifice in favour of a particular interest, unless, indeed, it could be shown that some great national good resulted from it. What was the remuneration to be obtained for this great sacrifice? That which was proposed by the title of the Bill was an Act for encouraging a commercial marine, with a view to the better manning of the Royal Navy. It was true that 200 years had passed since this encouragement had been given, and which ought to have afforded a commercial marine something like a model for other nations. Surely, after 200 years' encouragement in every sea where the British flag floated, and in every port where no other ship could obtain a freight until the British ship was freighted—surely, your captains must be the best, and your sailors must be the best conducted. But was this the case? The noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Bentinck) said it was the case; and the hon. Member for Sunderland, by those emphatic expressions, said that he thought so also. Now, there was a report which had been laid on the table, and which had been alluded to by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere), and which the hon. Member for Sunderland had read through. [Mr. HUDSON:
No, no!] Well, be it so, but this was not a report by a packed Committee; it was not a report concocted with a particular view, but it was a collection of reports from official gentlemen appointed by successive Administrations, and forming a body of no particular political bias, and having no object in view except to give correct information to the Foreign Office. And yet if they had all met in one room, and consulted together as to how each should frame his report, they could not have been more unanimous in showing how the two hundred years of encouragement of the commercial marine of this country had conducted them to a most successful state of inferiority. The noble Lord had alluded, in very strong terms indeed, to these reports from the British Consuls abroad; but he must excuse him (Mr. Ricardo) for saying that he would rather trust on such a question to their judgment and experience, than to the noble Lord, acting under the determination of never yielding one particle of his principles. But what was the cause of this inferiority in their commercial marine? They had the greatest facilities in disposing of their cargoes; they had facilities in procuring iron and timber for the building of their ships, for he would maintain that their timber was, after all, the cheapest in the world. They also boasted of having the best sailors and the most intelligent captains. They were the same men as manned the Royal Navy; and how was it that they were not equally good in the commercial marine as in the Royal Navy? He would tell them. Because, though they had the advantage in all these respects, their shipowners were the very worst of their class. He did not want to make a sweeping charge against all. He knew that there were exceptions; but he would say that the good men were the exception, and the others formed the rule. If they saw a well-appointed ship they might rest satisfied that her owner did not care two-pence about their navigation laws—that he felt that he was an Englishman, and as such need not be afraid of any other nation under the sun, be they Russian or Dane, Swede or Norwegian. But if they saw a ship with a drunken captain, and a disorderly crew, they might be assured that the owner was one who trusted to the navigation laws, and was all for the importance of monopoly—that he was one ever ready to cry out about his vested interests being attacked. Who ever heard of shipowners
objecting to the duty on cattle, or timber, or corn, or sugar being lowered? They did not do so, because every such reduction was a benefit to themselves; but the moment they were told that the cheap sugar or corn should be carried cheaply, they started up in opposition, and then the country heard all about the "wooden walls of Old England," and all those other phrases that took the place of argument on their side. While taking advantage of the fact that there were some well-paid crews, and steady captains, and efficiently managed ships to be found, they endeavoured to make it appear that these were the rule instead of being the exceptions. He would just refer to some of the statements made by the British Consuls as to the treatment which the commercial seamen of this country experienced. Mr. Clark, British Consul at Cuba, in a letter dated the 11th of September, 1848, stated that—
When sick, the seamen are too often left to the care of the cook, after the administering of a dose of medicine, which in many instances is the wrong one. I have seen British seamen dead or dying from yellow fever, over and over again in the bows of British merchantmen, when, if the sufferers had been sent on shore at the commencement of the disease, at least half the deaths from that terrible scourge might have been avoided.
After giving numerous examples, Mr. Clark went on to say—
If I chose to make extended inquiry, I could fill a small volume with the harrowing details which attend, and ever will attend, the system of non-contract, or even medical attendance on board ship; and I solemnly declare, with the deepest conviction of the truth of my assertion, that the owners of vessels trading to Santiago de Cuba might save one half, if not two-thirds, of the number of seamen who die of yellow fever on board ship, if they would only instruct the masters in their employ to contract in every case for medical attendance on shore, and order them, on pain of dismissal, to send to hospital any man complaining of headach, or pain in the back, no matter at what hour the seaman should make his complaint.
Mr. Hesketh, at Rio, in a letter dated November 3, 1843, stated that—
Many points of injustice and cruelties are practised on the crews by young shipmasters, whose livelihood is not dependent on their avocation, and who too often are guilty of such actions with impunity; which treatment of the crew, however, tends to destroy discipline equally as much as want of sobriety on the part of those in command.
Mr. Cowper, of Pernambuco, in a letter dated October 2, 1843, said—
A complaint was made to me by the crew of starvation and ill-usage, which, in my opinion,
was very clearly established; and the men added, hat a boy was on board who had been cruelly treated by the master.
Mr. Moore, Consul of Ancona, in a letter dated August 9, 1843, stated—
The seamen are so unaccustomed to kind treatment that they never look for it. In all disputes on shore, or on board, wherein crews of different British vessels are concerned, independent of the inhabitants, the men almost invariably side as one body against the masters, and vice versa.
If, instead of "ships" they were to read "factories," and instead of "freights" they were to read "manufactories," and instead of "sailors," if they read "workmen," what a torrent of indignation would be poured out at such statements by hon. Gentlemen opposite! In support of monopoly, however, the case was altered; and without weighing the reasons that had been assigned by his right hon. Friend, in bringing forward his resolutions, they wished to see the commercial marine of the country continued under the protection of the navigation laws, even though every one of their Consuls abroad had borne testimony to the ruinous effects which these laws had produced. Instead of allowing to the reports of the Consuls the weight to which they were entitled, the noble Lord had described them as garbled calumnies and libels. But he would tell the hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they meant to depend upon the commercial marine for manning the Royal Navy, they would have to massage that marine in a different manner from the present, or otherwise they would find, when too late, that they were depending on a broken reed. He trusted that they would allow the resolutions to pass, and that they would not hastily condemn the propositions which his right hon. Friend had laid before them, because, although these laws may have been hallowed by time, they ought not on that account to refrain from examining into their effect. They ought not to dread investigation, because, although they might be terrified like the frogs in the fable at the splash which the log had made, they would find, when they came to examine it, that it was but a log after all.
§ MR. HENLEY said, that if he had felt some surprise at the statement with which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had favoured the House, resting his case, as he appeared to have done, first upon the accidental circumstance of the revolution in France 1047 having given no room for certain cargoes of cotton that were carried there, and next, upon the distress in the West Indies, which the right hon. Gentleman himself mainly contributed to bring about—if he felt some surprise that the right hon. Gentleman, a Minister of the Crown, did not even condescend to touch upon that not unimportant part of this great subject, namely, the effect which the proposed change might have upon the creation of seamen for manning the British Navy—if the right hon. Gentleman considered that to be so insignificant a part of the subject as to be scarcely worth alluding to, he was certainly still more surprised at the manner in which the parent of this subject (Mr. Ricardo) had treated it. That hon. Gentleman had certainly made a most extraordinary speech; he stated that it was quite true the evils of the present law were more real than apparent. He did not rightly understand that expression unless it were to be taken in the same sense as the Latin maxim, De non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio. The hon. Gentleman had used language and abuse of every sort and kind against the British shipowner and the working seamen; and upon what foundation did he rest his abuse? Why, upon a blue book in which the most contradictory statements were put forward. The Consul General of St. Petersburg gave a statement completely at variance with the statements of all those gentlemen bearing the title of colonels in the Army, who got those consular appointments, and who were as fit to judge of commercial affairs as they were to sit as judges in Westminster Hall. This happened not to be a matter of opinion: the country had the best of all possible means for testing the value which practical men put upon these representations. What was the insurance upon British ships? When a merchant went to Lloyd's, he found that he could insure his goods in one of these English ships, with their licentious crews, at a less cost than he could if he shipped them in one of the hon. Member's pet model vessels. The hon. Member had quoted from the blue book to show that emigrants could be carried to Australia, from Bremen, at 12l. per head, whilst from this country the cost was from 20l. to 25l. per head. The story bore evidence of untruth upon its face. The passage from this country to Bremen was not more than 2l. or 3l.; and if the fare to Australia 1048 from Bremen was as little as was stated, emigrants would go to Bremen, instead of paying 25l. for their passage to the colony from this country. Then the hon. Member lugged in a case of disease occurring on board an emigrant ship at a time when the people were flying, smitten with fever, from the famine in Ireland, and wished the House to believe that that was a fair sample of what occurred in British emigrant vessels generally. He was not displeased with the favour about to be conferred on Lascars, for he was of opinion that all subjects of Her Majesty ought to enjoy equal privileges; but what effect these changes would produce upon the future manning of the Navy remained to be seen. It appeared that under the new regulations a ship might be manned by five Swedes and fifteen Lascars, without having a single Englishman on board of her. The hon. and gallant Admiral opposite might have an opportunity of forming an opinion as to the comparative advantages of having Lascars or boys bred up to the sea in merchant vessels for the purpose of manning the Navy. Those who were old enough to remember the last war knew that we had 100,000 men in the Navy, most of whom were obtained from merchant vesels, and they beat everything that came before them. And he doubted not that that class of men would do the same thing again, if Her Majesty required their services, in spite of the injurious terms in which the hon. Member had spoken of them.
§ MR. MITCHELL said, he could not agree with what had been stated by his hon. Friend as to the 12l. and 25l. with respect to the Bremen ships carrying out emigrants to Australia. There was a great difference, no doubt, as between the charges made by vessels from Bremen and that made by English ships. Last year it had been said by Mr. George Frederick Young, that foreign ships were insured upon better terms than English ships. He had denied that statement, because he was convinced that the hulls of English ships were superior to the hulls of foreign ships; and he was convinced that so far as regarded the hulls of the ships they would be insured at a cheaper rate. But the most eminent underwriters of London had given evidence unanimously to the effect that goods shipped on board English vessels could not be insured on the same terms as goods shipped on board foreign 1049 vessels. If the vessels went to the bottom, the insurers were liable; but if any damage occurred to the cargo during the voyage, that fell partly upon the owner, partly upon the underwriter, and, therefore, the first-class foreign vessels were insured at a lower rate; and why? He admitted the bluff courage of the English captains. He admitted their superiority in a storm; but with the exception of the captains of the China and the East India ships, very few of the English captains were properly educated. They were not commercial men—they had been raised from the mast. No doubt they had considerable knowledge of seamanship, but they had little knowledge of commerce and business, and they could not set the example to their crew which they ought to set. The captains of foreign ships were obliged to undergo a rigorous examination. They were examined in navigation, seamanship, commercial accounts, and in all the branches of a general education; and unless they could pass such an examination they could not be appointed to the command of a ship. It was impossible to compare an English captain with the captain of a foreign ship without perceiving the superiority, so far as education went, of the foreign captain. The noble Lord had said that the repeal of the navigation laws would do away with the school for British seamen. He had said that if we did away with the navigation laws—if we did not insist upon British ships taking a certain number of apprentices, we should be destroying the nursery of our Navy; but he wanted to know what in time of peace became of this surplusage of seamen, who could not be absorbed into the Navy? Why, they went into the navy of the United States. Our navigation laws were, in fact, supplying the navy of the United States. We shall never get them again. That was no protection. If he believed that the repeal of the navigation laws would injure the interests of the English shipowners, he would not consent to their repeal; but he believed that the English navigation laws were rather an encouragement to American than to English shipping.
§ CAPTAIN HARRISS hoped that the Committee would defer their next sitting until they had before them the report of the Lords' Committee, so that they might not prejudge this question, or come to a conclusion upon that part of the question which he considered of the greatest importance—the manning of the Navy—upon 1050 false data. Much misconception prevailed as to the number of seamen in the Royal Navy who had been brought up in the mercantile marine; and he must say, that the Committee which had sat on the subject of the navigation laws had not taken the proper method to get a true knowledge of the facts. The question had often been asked, but never answered, why only one officer of Her Majesty's Navy had been examined on that Committee, and why, after giving his evidence, that officer was not cross-examined? He could not reconcile certain statements in the speeches of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ricardo) with what he found laid down in a book before him which bore the hon. Member's name. When the hon. Gentleman, on a former occasion, introduced this subject, he stated in his speech with regard to the manning of the Navy, that the commercial marine was the great nucleus where seamen were formed for Her Majesty's service; but in the book to which he had referred, the hon. Gentleman stated that the mercantile service was no nursery for the Royal Navy. He would proceed to analyse Sir James Stirling's evidence: he had the honour of that gallant officer's acquaintance, and entertained a great respect for him; but he believed that he had, like many others, been run away with by his hobby, and had not stopped to examine the correctnes of his statements. Sir J. Stirling said that not above one-tenth of the seamen in the Navy had been brought up in the merchant service. Now, in consequence of a notice which he had placed on the book of the House, the Admiralty appointed a Committee of Captains in the Navy to inquire into the supply of seamen from the merchant service. That Committee reported that two-fifths of the petty officers, able and ordinary seamen, entered annually on an average of eight years from the merchant service. But this was not all; of the most experienced petty officers and seamen now in the Navy, nearly one-half had first gone to sea in the merchant service, because twenty years ago the vote of seamen was low, one half of what it is now, and so it might be again; and in those times they must depend chiefly on the commercial marine for rearing the supply for a future period in the Navy. He would quote some documents from the Office of the Registry of Seamen, to prove this last position. These were obtained from a category furnished by the captain of each ship on completing her crew:— 1051
|First went to Sea in the Navy.||First went to Sea in Merchant Service.|
|Petty Officers.||Able Seamen.||Ordinary Seamen.||Petty Officers.||Able Seamen.||Ordinary Seamen.|
§ MR. LABOUCHERE certainly could not accede to the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member. The House had appointed a Committee of its own last year, which had fully investigated the subject. He had already intimated his intention to propose a postponement of the discussion to Monday next, which would afford full time for considering the resolution.1053
§ MR. HUDSON begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, considering the importance of the subject, he would not agree to postpone the further consideration of the resolutions for a fortnight? The House might meanwhile proceed with the Health of Towns Bill. Only two petitions had been presented in favour of the repeal of the navigation laws. His authority for that statement was the Report on Petitions, from which it appeared that two petitions had been presented for repeal, and seventy against repeal, one of the latter having 28,860 signatures. An hon. Gentleman opposite had read a letter from Newcastle, in which the suspension of payments by mercantile houses there was attributed to their not being able to get their produce to this country; but investigation would show that the excuse was one of a class, apt under such circumstances to be placed before creditors. Then the hon. Gentleman had indulged in some abuse of the mercantile navy; but the navy of England lived in the affections of the people, and any abuse of them would rather injure the cause of those who advocated the repeal of the navigation laws. The hon. Member for Bridport had contradicted the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, and been cheered loudly: he said British ships were insured at Lloyd's for less than foreign ships; but he met his own argument, when it appeared that the British ship was a better ship, and that it would stand out better in a gale, for there were more pluck and courage in the seamen. It could well be understood why some mercantile men should give such evidence as appeared in the blue book, for they were interested in foreign shipping. He could not understand why 10 per cent should be retained as a protecting duty on cotton, when it was proposed to remove all protection from shipping. The people were almost sick of the anticipations which had been held out to them. Two years ago they were told they should have no more distress, and their manufactures world be bought all over the world. Instead of sending their manufactures to Russia and elsewhere, they were sending the raw cotton. He was sure that the measure would bring such distress on the shipbuilders of this country as the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to deplore; and he thought its operation ought to be deferred for three years, to allow time for them to prepare for the change. He regretted that the 1054 right hon. Gentleman had passed a sweeping censure on the mercantile navy of this country.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE had no wish to press forward the Bill in any improper manner; but the present was only a preliminary proceeding on which the Bill was to be founded. He did not think it unreasonable to ask the House to consider the question that day week, as there would besides arise many other opportunities for discussion after the Bill was introduced. Being anxious that the Bill should pass this Session, he did not think he should be justified in postponing the next consideration of the subject beyond the day he had named. The hon. Gentleman stated, that he had passed a sweeping censure on the mercantile marine of this country. He trusted that the House would bear him out when he said that he had done no such thing. What he said was, that with respect to the qualifications of seamanship, with respect to courage and ability in handling a ship, he believed that the British seaman stood as high as ever, and had not his equal in the world; but he proceeded to say, what he felt it to be his duty to state, that it was indisputably proved, from the reports received from Consuls in every part of the world, that the character of the British shipmaster was in many trades fast deteriorating. It would not be acting like a true friend to the commercial navy not to call attention to a circumstance so full of peril to it; and he believed he showed himself a better friend to the mercantile navy by speaking the truth on this subject, by calling the attention of the House to it, and by inviting the shipping interest to produce a better state of things, than by shutting his eyes to an apparent evil. With respect to the China trade, he would mention that the character of the commanders in our merchant service was as high as ever.
§ House resumed. Chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again.
§ On the question that the House will on Monday next resolve itself into the said Committee,
§ CAPTAIN HARRIS moved, as an Amendment, that the Committee be postponed to the 29th instant. After some conversation, the House divided on the question that the words "Monday next" stand part of the question:—Ayes 62; Noes 28: Majority 34.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adair, H. E.||Pearson, C.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Pilkington, J.|
|Bernal, R.||Pinney, W.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Power, Dr.|
|Brotherton, J.||Raphael, A.|
|Carter, J. B.||Rawdon, Col.|
|Clements, hon. C. S.||Ricardo, J. L.|
|D' Eyncourt, rt. hn. C.T.||Ricardo, O.|
|Divett, E.||Rice, E. R.|
|Duncan, G.||Romilly, J.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Russell, F. C. H.|
|Dundas, Sir D.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Salwey, Col.|
|Ferguson, Sir R. A.||Scholefield, W.|
|Fordyce, A. D.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Fortescue, C.||Shelburne, Earl of|
|Greene, J.||Simeon, J.|
|Grey, R. W.||Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.|
|Hallyburton, Lord J. F.||Stanton, W. H.|
|Hawes, B.||Sullivan, M.|
|Hay, Lord J.||Thicknesse, R. A.|
|Heywood, J.||Thompson, Col.|
|Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J.||Thornely, T.|
|Howard, P. H.||Towneley, C.|
|Labouchere, rt. hon. H.||Ward, H. G.|
|M'Cullagh, W.||Westhead, J. P.|
|Maitland, T.||Wilson, M.|
|Melgund, Visct.||Wyld, J.|
|Morpeth, Visct.||Wyvill, M.|
|O'Connell, M. J.||TELLERS.|
|Ogle, S. C. H.||Tufnell, H.|
|Parker, J.||Craig, W. G.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Bennet, P.||Ingestre, Visct.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Mulgrave, Earl of|
|Burghley, Lord||Palmer, R.|
|Christy, S.||Renton, J. C.|
|Clive, H. B.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Cobbold, J. C.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Duncuft, J.||Spooner, R.|
|Forbes, W.||Thompson, Ald.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Thornhill, G.|
|Galway, Visct,||Tyrell, Sir J. T.|
|Granby, Marq. of||Wawn, J. T.|
|Henley, J. W.|
|Hildyard, T. B. T.||TELLERS.|
|Hood, Sir A.||Harris, hon. Capt.|
|Hudson, G.||Miles, W.|
§ Question again proposed. Motion made that the House do adjourn. The House divided on the question that the House do now adjourn:—Ayes 26; Noes 63: Majority 37.
§ Question again proposed, that the House will on Monday resolve itself into the said Committee.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday next.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.