§ Order of the Day for a Committee of the whole House on the Resolution moved on Monday, May 15, read.
§ On the question that Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair,
§ MR. HERRIES
rose to move the following Resolution, of which he had given notice:—That it is essential to the national interests of this country to maintain the fundamental principles of the existing Navigation Laws; subject to such modification as may be best calculated to obviate any proved inconvenience to the commerce of the United Kingdom and its dependencies, without danger to our national strength.The right hon. Gentleman said, the course he had taken on this occasion certainly required that he should briefly explain to the House why he had been induced to adopt it. The measure introduced by Her Majesty's Ministers upon this most important subject, had not been brought before the House in the mode which would have been most fitting for enabling those who differed from the proposition in part, if not in the whole, fairly to state the grounds of their opinions, and discuss seriatim the resolutions which would have been presented to them, had Ministers chosen to take the most convenient course, so that the House might have dealt with the resolutions separately, and might have affirmed such portions of them as they could agree to. Ministers had adopted a different course: they had proposed a very sweeping and comprehensive resolution for the abrogation of the navigation laws of this kingdom. They had accompanied this with qualifications and modifications, some of them important, not conveyed to them in the shape of resolutions at all, but which they were to gather from the speech of the Minister who introduced the subject to the House. It was for that reason chiefly he had thought it necessary to bring the whole subject, as briefly as he could, under the consideration of the House, with the view of inducing them to express, in opposition to the sweeping proposal of Her Majesty's Ministers, 10 an opinion more consonant to the great interests of this country, which would meet with more approbation from the public, and would tend more than the Ministers' resolution to remove any evils which might exist in the present shape of our navigation laws, and at the same time would give perfect assurance that the main principle of those laws would not be abandoned. He would shortly advert to the nature of the question, and the position in which it stood; for in that would consist very much the ground on which he thought it his duty to oppose as well the principles of the measure as the season and the circumstances of its introduction. Early last Session a Committee was appointed, not at the suggestion of the Government, but of a private Member of that House, for inquiry into the operation of the navigation laws. That Committee continued its labours till the end of the Session, and then had not arrived at such a point as to enable it to present a report to the House. At that moment, therefore, they were in possession of no opinion from that or any other Committee appointed to sit on this subject, although the evidence gathered from the various witnesses examined was voluminous, and had elicited very important opinions, and much information, more or less valuable, bearing on the question. At the commencement of this Session it might well have been expected, as this inquiry was so incomplete, and as, pending the course of it, Her Majesty's Government might have been supposed to have adopted some view of their own, that a new Committee would have been appointed to continue the inquiry thus broken off. Government took another course: without further inquiry they thought proper to announce in their Speech from the Throne their intention to enter upon the subject in these terms:—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 change can be adopted, which, without danger to our maritime strength, may promote the commercial and colonial interests of the empire.Such was the announcement made to them at the meeting of Parliament in November; it was now six months since that period, and during the whole of that time Ministers had not thought fit to lay before the House either the views they entertained, or the measures they intended to propose. If ever there was a measure which required the longest possible time fully to weigh its consequences, and to collect the 11 opinions of those in the country who would be most deeply affected by it, and give the Legislature time fully to discuss it; it was this which had now been submitted to the House. Was it to meet some special, instant, and imminent danger, that this great measure was now so suddenly and hastily pressed forward? Was it to remove some evil at this moment calling upon the Government for an immediate remedy? Was there any reason which could justify a Government in thus postponing for a length of time the declaration of their intentions, and then requiring that their measure should be adopted without adequate time for a full and fair consideration of its merits and its consequences, not only in Parliament, but throughout the country? There never was a time in which so little reason for such precipitancy could be urged on this head as the present. Under these circumstances, he felt it to be his duty to call the attention of the House to the great principle involved, so that instead of debating in Committee, upon a general resolution only, the character and effects of the measure proposed, he thought the House should first come to a decision whether it was right and proper, under present circumstances, to abandon or uphold the very principle of the navigation laws. He had another reason for recommending this course. Although the Ministers in that House had not thought fit to institute a further inquiry, the other House of Parliament, judging more wisely—taking, as he thought, a sounder and more constitutional view of this great question—had thought it right to appoint a Committee to take evidence and collect information upon this momentous question, as a preliminary step to their own decisions upon it. A portion of the evidence taken on that subject in their Lordships' Committee was now before the House; and he rejoiced that it was, for it would furnish very material grounds on which to resist the measure of Ministers at present, and to call, if not for its abandonment, at least for a considerable postponement of it. Let the House observe, moreover, the point of difficulty which might arise from the attempt to press the measure through this House under such circumstances. The Government proposed to legislate upon the evidence, such as it was, now before the House of Commons. But the Lords had appointed a Committee to carry that inquiry farther, which had already made some progress, and was still sitting. It was certainly possible, and from 12 the evidence already produced it might be said to be highly probable, that their Lordships would be led to a conclusion diametrically opposite to that of the Government. What embarrassing consequences might there not arise from sending up a Bill to the House of Lords—if the Commons should pass such an one—for the abolition of the navigation laws, knowing that information was before their Lordships leading them to resolve on the maintenance of those laws, and the rejection of the Government measure! These surely were cogent considerations for inducing the utmost caution, and affording the most ample time, in dealing with this great question, which, according to the plan of the Government, proposed nothing less than to destroy entirely the protection which had hitherto been afforded by law to British seamen and British ships in all trades except the coasting trade. By a strange policy it reserved the coasting trade alone out of the wreck of all the rest, while it might not be difficult to show, that of all classes and descriptions of our maritime trade, this was perhaps the least susceptible of invasion or deterioration by foreign competition. Something indeed had been said about reservation of the fisheries; but the exemption did not relate to fisheries in the proper sense of the word, for the right hon. Gentleman had explained that the produce of the deep sea fisheries—the whale fisheries—was to be admitted equally in foreign and British ships into this country. It seemed to him to have reference to our fishing grounds only, which had really nothing to do with the navigation laws. But before he proceeded farther, he must call the attention of the House to a most remarkable incongruity in the proposed measure, which might serve as a fair specimen of the consistency, the justice, and the wisdom of the whole plan. It was proposed entirely to abrogate all the protection hitherto afforded to British ships and seamen in trading with foreign countries, and also with our own colonies; and yet it was also proposed to reserve the burdensome conditions hitherto imposed upon the British shipowner, and to require him to continue to man his ship as under the existing conditions of the navigation laws, exposing him thus to all their onerous provisions, and casting away the protection in consideration of which only those burdens had hitherto been imposed on him. This singular condition was announced, with much emphasis, as a very essential 13 feature of the measure. The Government had been six months concocting their plan; it had, no doubt, been most carefully considered; and yet it contained this most marvellous proposition—such an one, he ventured to say, as no Parliament would be unwise enough to pass—that the British shipowner should from this time forth be exposed to unqualified competition with those he could not encounter without protection; and yet should continue to bear burdens which had been imposed upon him, not for his own but the national advantage, and solely in consideration of the protection which the navigation laws afforded to him. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech had truly said, that the alterations he proposed were of a grave and serious nature—that they went to the foundation of the navigation laws—and that the changes he recommended were more vital and extensive than had probably ever been submitted to Parliament. That was perfectly true, and was an additional reason why the proposition should not have been submitted to Parliament so late as it had been, and with a view to immediate legislation. No legislator, however strong his opinions on free trade, or however disposed towards reform, had ever yet proposed the abrogation of the navigation laws. The most eminent of all legislators in liberal commercial policy, Mr. Huskisson, would have heard of their abrogation with dismay. It might have been expected that the right hon. Gentleman, in proposing a measure of such vast importance to the country, would have taken some pains to show the necessity for so sweeping a change, and would have pointed out in some detail the benefits which they might hope to derive in return for the sacrifice they were required to make. A radical change in the fundamental principle of our maritime policy, upholden and cherished for more than two centuries, ought surely not to be hastily adopted, unless it could be distinctly demonstrated that advantages of the highest character might be expected to result from it. But the right hon. Gentleman had not sufficiently shown either the necessity for the change, or the advantages that were to flow from it. He explained in great detail the nature of the measure; but he glanced very slightly at those reasons of State which demanded a retention of our present navigation system; and he (Mr. Herries) had yet to receive a satisfactory exposition of the grounds upon which this great alteration 14 was proposed, and how it was that the right hon. Gentleman imagined that so great a venture would be followed by no danger to the interests of the country. Of all the reasons given for this change, none was more groundless than that founded on the demand made by some foreign countries. Demand from England there was none. They had received not a few petitions on the subject; but on which side were they? One petition indeed, had that night been presented by the right hon. Gentleman from the city of London on the subject; but he was in a condition to say that another petition of a very different weight and character would be in his hands very soon for presentation from the same place against the proposed alteration. From all the great maritime towns of England there were the strongest representations in favour of the existing laws; while on the other side there was no pressure from any part of the country in favour of the proposal of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman had, however, read to them applications from three quarters; and he very impressively and very emphatically called the attention of the House to thorn as deserving the highest consideration. One of these was from Prussia, one from America, and the other from Jamaica. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: And from Canada,] Canada might, perhaps, have been mentioned; but Jamaica was the one most relied upon; and he could not allow the right hon. Gentleman to slip out of Jamaica, as he would hereafter show how little ground there was for founding a demand on that application. The first of these applicants for an alteration in the great English naval laws—the staple of our maritime power—was Prussia. Now he would ask, with what justice or propriety Prussia could come, at the present time with that which the right hon. Gentlemen hesitated to call a menace, but which he said was a voice of warning, to ask us to make this alteration? Prussia came to us, after having witnessed, for 20 years and more, every disposition on our part to meet, fairly and freely, the commercial interests of Prussia in conjunction with our own; and, after having made with us treaties, by the effect of which she had derived an enormous accession to her maritime power. Prussia had enjoyed, under reciprocal treaties with us, advantages by which her shipping employed in her intercourse with this country had been en-creased threefold, while that of England in 15 the same trade had been considerably diminished. He did not complain of those advantages to Prussia, nor did he wish to abrogate the treaties with that country. He was in favour of those treaties when they were negotiated, and had the honour of co-operating with Mr. Huskisson when he promoted them, and he had not then nor since disapproved of one single part of the policy which that eminent statesman then pursued. He had, therefore, no desire to disturb the present arrangements with Prussia. Wherever it was found possible to promote the interests of our commerce with foreign countries by mutual concession, he was in favour of such a course, and would not hesitate to say that the stringent provisions of our navigation laws ought in such cases to be relaxed. But what right had Prussia, at the close of a long reciprocal compact, to come and tell us that we ought still further to relax our navigation laws and principles in her favour, and that too beyond the limits of our direct trade with her? What was there in the, position or power of Prussia that should "frighten us from our propriety?" Who gave Prussia a just claim, or any claim at all, to insist upon our making so enormous a concession as was involved in the total repeal of our navigation laws? What could Prussia give us in exchange for such a concession to her, as would be the admission of her ships to trade between this country and our colonies, and also between this country and the East? What could she give us in exchange for the abandonment of an exclusive preference of our own sailors and ships in these important lines of commerce? When the right hon. Gentleman received a "menace" from Prussia, he might well, instead of making any concession to it, have reminded Prussia of the footing upon which the respective interests of England and Prussia really stood, and have shown how Prussia had enjoyed by far the largest share of the advantages which were guaranteed by existing treaties; while her threats were of no importance, for she was not able to wrestle successfully in commercial hostility or rivalry with the greatest maritime nation in the world. The right hon. Gentleman, however, stated, with some degree of satisfaction, that the appointment of the Committee moved for by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent had the effect of "suspending the blow" which Prussia was prepared to strike. Was it then come to this, that the com- 16 mercial greatness and naval pre-eminence of this country were saved, only because an hon. Member of that House had chosen to make a Motion for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the operation of our navigation laws? What was the amount of the commercial intercourse of Prussia with this country? How much did Prussia take of our manufactures? The last return he saw showed that she took somewhere about 500,000l. worth of our goods annually. How much did England take of hers in return? The accounts of our Custom-house would not show the exact quantity, because it was blended with the general account under the head of "Germany;" but certain he was that it was greater by an enormous amount. He did not hesitate to assert that of all the Continental Powers Prussia had been the least liberal in her intercourse with this country. In fact, English manufactures were almost excluded from Prussia. The good or evil that country had it in her power to effect with respect to England, weighed as nothing when compared with the loss which England would sustain in power and influence if, in deference to that or any other State, the navigation laws were to be abrogated. Prussia knew very well that she might perhaps manage to press a little on the Government, and enable the Ministers to use her menace to some advantage in that House; but she was also fully sensible that it was not on such flimsy grounds that the Legislature would consent to the abrogation of that policy by virtue of which Great Britain had attained her unrivalled maritime influence and great naval power. They were given to understand that there was another foreign State which did not threaten but invited England to adopt the course which the Ministers were now disposed to shape out for her, and that that State was America. Now, he meant no disrespect to America; but he would take leave to say what was, indeed, a notorious fact, that America never made any proposition to any other country without having previously ascertained, with great certainty, that she would herself be a gainer by it. America, with unexampled disinterestedness, now came forward to make this very kind proposal, that if we abolished the navigation laws, so far as they related to our colonial intercourse, she would do the same by us. But America had got no colonies, and it was wholly out of her power to give us any equivalent for 17 the advantage she would be sure to acquire by reason of the abolition of our navigation laws. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman opposite make some such proposition as this to America:—"Since you are so very liberal, and so very anxious to free commerce from all the trammels which enthral it—since you have so much at heart the promotion of the general commerce of the universe—begin by removing your own navigation laws, which are quite as stringent as ours?" If America had acquiesced, she might, then, with some grace, solicit the abolition of the navigation laws of England; but, as matters now stood, the bargain was not equal. America had nothing to give England in the smallest degree comparable with what she would obtain from the repeal of the English navigation laws, and the permission to trade freely with and between all our colonies and their mother country. No more unequal bargain had ever been recorded in the history of international compacts. But he found no mention of any such inequitable compact in the communications of Mr. Bancroft, the American Minister. Mr. Bancroft did nothing more than express a disposition to meet this country half way in an attempt to remove any vexatious and unnecessary restrictions by which the commercial intercourse between both countries might be trammelled; which was a different thing altogether from insisting on the abrogation, without condition, of that code of laws to which England was mainly indebted for her mercantile greatness and her supremacy on the seas. To make any such proposition would exceed the powers of face even of au American statesman. But then there were our own colonies. Was it they who had asked for this sweeping change? It was said so, indeed, in some quarters having a deep interest in our colonial possessions; but since those opinions had been expressed, facts, and circumstances had been brought to light materially calculated to alter them, and greatly to qualify the importance to be attached to any application professing to emanate from the colonies. Enough had been elicited by the inquiries which had been instituted before a Committee of the other House, to show that it was not for the interests of any of the colonies, and least of all for those of our West Indian possessions, that the navigation laws should, with all their concomitant conditions, be revoked. He held in his hand the first report of the inquiry before the Committee 18 of the Lords, and he found that there was a vast preponderance of opinion among the merchants examined as witnesses before that Committee in favour of the maintenance of them. Those witnesses did not think that any advantage would result to them from the proposed alteration. Thirty merchants were examined, and of these the chief evidence was, with few exceptions, that they were not even aware of the pressure of the navigation laws. A few of the witnesses admitted that they thought a reduction in freights might be effected, and was, of course, desirable; but they added that they did not think it was of such importance that it would be worth while to petition for it. Such was the general import of the evidence adduced before the Committee of the Upper House. The evidence adduced before the Committee presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Lynn (Lord George Bentinck), was of similar import, and went to show that if the Legislature were to make the sacrifice of our shipping interests, and thereby of the main source of our national power, by abolishing all preference and protection to those interests, they would commit the folly of making the greatest possible sacrifice for the smallest possible good. It had been said that a petition from the House of Assembly in Jamaica had been presented to the House of Commons, which contained a strong remonstrance on the subject of the navigation laws; and of that petition the most had been made by those who advocated the measure now under consideration; but the history of the document in question required to be explained, and deserved to be more generally known than it was. It was a document of a very doubtful character. One of the members of the House of Assembly, Mr. Geddes, was examined before the Lords, and he at first declared that there was no such document in existence at all. He was mistaken, however. He was referred to dates, and he then found that there was such a document; but the evidence which he gave with respect to it, showed that it was of a very questionable character, and was not entitled to much consideration. His evidence was, that the petition had not been made the subject, as it ought to have been, of a preliminary inquiry before a Committee—that it passed the House at the close of a Session in a hurried manner, without being subjected to such formalities as documents of the kind were usually submitted to, and that that 19 was the reason why it had entirely escaped his notice and that of many other Members. He begged, moreover, to call the attention of the House to this fact, that in the winter before this memorial was passed—he believed in December—there was a memorial transmitted to this country, containing a full account of all the grievances of which the colonists thought they had a right to complain. They were elaborately set forth, but not one word was said in that memorial of the navigation laws. More than that, subsequently, at the close of the next year, another memorial was prepared, setting forth all the grievances of the island. With that memorial Mr. Geddes was fully acquainted; and not one word was said in it about the navigation laws. Those memorials had passed through Committees of Inquiry. But it was only in this isolated memorial, which had not passed through a Committee of Inquiry, that the repeal of the navigation laws was mentioned. There was, moreover, a passage well deserving particular attention in this evidence of Mr. Geddes. He said—These parties, if they had been aware of this fact, that, by the abrogation of the navigation laws, you would cheapen freights from the foreign islands (where sugar was brought) to England as well as from the West Indies, they never would have thought of asking for it.To facilitate imports from Cuba by an alteration of the navigation laws, would only increase the disadvantage from which they were at present suffering. In short, the more the subject was carefully examined, the more the supposed advantages to our colonists from the abolition of the navigation laws would be found to vanish; and the more gratuitous the sacrifice of abandoning our present exclusive occupation of the carrying trade with our own foreign possessions: that trade he conceived to be of more essential importance to our maritime interests than the coasting trade of those islands, which it was proposed to reserve to our own shipping. On the contrary, if one only of these carrying trades was to be retained for the exclusive occupation of our own commercial navigation, he had little hesitation in declaring that he should prefer the reservation of the intercourse with the colonies; for, while neither America, nor any other country, could practically avail themselves, to any extent, of the opening of our home coasting trade to their ships, there were circumstances more especially affecting the former, which would expose our own shipping interests to the greatest disadvantage in a rivalry 20 with them in the colonial traffic. He would not on this occasion enter into the details of that part of the question, nor touch upon any of the minor topics, such as the provisions relating to apprentices, or to Lascars, which were adverted to by the right hon. Gentleman. He would confine himself to the more general principles of this great question. And here he must first observe, that, however disposed to uphold the navigation laws, he (Mr. Herries) was not aware that there were any persons who were not prepared to enter fairly into a discussion of the subject, in order to remove all existing and real inconvenience by which trade and commerce might be unnecessarily fettered—from which the shipowners suffered injury—and from the removal of which no detriment could be apprehended to the great maritime interests of the country. But, to approach the subject with such views was very different from abandoning the great principle of the navigation laws. Having undertaken to make a Motion in which the necessity of adhering to "the great fundamental principle of the navigation laws" was asserted, he wished to explain what he meant when he used that expression. He would take his explanation from a statement made by the greatest and most recent authority, Mr. Huskisson, which embodied all that he understood by that expression:—The fundamental principle of the navigation laws is that of giving by law in our foreign trade a preference to British shipping and British seamen, so far as we can do so consistently with our engagements and relations with other countries; and of confining our domestic trade, our coasting and colonial trade, as well as our fisheries, exclusively to ourselves.He found Mr. Huskisson insisting in the strongest terms on this great principle. He said—So far as exclusion is within our reach, that is, in the coasting trade, in the fisheries, in the trade between this country and our foreign possessions, we grant a strict monopoly to the British shipper. It is cur duty to maintain and enforce this monopoly, not for his special advantage, but for the public interest. It is our further duty to give him every legitimate countenance and protection in the trade of this country with other maritime Powers.And again, in the same speech, he said, "We are all agreed"—(he wished it could be said so now)—we are all agreed that our commercial marine is the foundation of our naval supremacy, and that the maintenance of that power is the paramount duty of those who administer the affairs of this, country.21 If the right hon. Gentleman assented to those views, the House might go into Committee on that principle; they might in Committee pass a resolution modifying the law; they might remove anomalies which had been the object of censure and ridicule in some quarters where attention seemed to have been bestowed only on the smaller parts of the subject. The right hon. Gentleman had himself made use of some of these exceptional and occasionally inconvenient occurrences in the enforcement of the navigation laws, with very undue emphasis, as if they furnished important arguments against the principle of them. Such was his case of the cargo of nuts improperly sent to Hamburgh, and which could not be re-imported from thence; and such also was the affair of the cotton which, finding no sale at Havre, was interdicted from seeking a market here. These were matters of little weight and of small public general importance when put in comparison with the main objects of these great national laws; and it was not to be supposed that this House would accept them as motives of any material weight or value for the adoption of a resolution for abandoning a policy hitherto deemed essential to the maintenance of the commercial marine and maritime supremacy of this country. On this subject he appealed again to the authority of that liberal statesman, Mr. Huskisson, to whose opinions upon this topic he must continue to adhere, although he saw, and saw it with regret, that others who had also formerly acted cordially with him, had now abandoned his cautious and conservative view of this important question; and in this as well as other matters, had laid aside the caution which he had always shown in actual legislation, and the protective principle by which his practical measures were always characterised. Speaking of these laws, Mr. Huskisson said—I am, however, at the same time bound to say that these regulations of the navigation laws were founded on the first and permanent law of every State, the highest ground of political necessity—the necessity of providing for our own state of defence; the necessity of being prepared to afford security to our various colonial possessions scattered throughout all seas; the necessity of protecting the different branches of our widely-spread commerce against all the dangers attendant on a state of war; and, lastly, the necessity of maintaining our naval ascendancy, and thereby sustaining the high station in the scale of nations which that ascendancy, more than anything else, has given to us. Entertaining these opinions, I am as ready as any man to say that it is our duty on all occasions to look to the peculiar nature of 22 our State necessities, and that whenever the interests of commerce and navigation cannot be reconciled, I have no hesitation in stating that the interests of commerce should give way to those of navigation.After all the attention he could bestow on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he was unable to discover by what chain of reasoning he arrived at the conclusion that we could abandon our protective maritime system without endangering our naval supremacy. Upon this main point—of all others the most essential in this question—he had been most sparing of his argument. He stated, indeed, that he agreed in holding that the commercial marine of this country was the main foundation of its maritime power; but if such was his opinion, he should have shown more clearly upon what grounds it was that he could take from that commercial marine the protection and fostering care which it had hitherto received, without at least endangering its progress and stability. He had not satisfied the House, and did not appear to have satisfied even himself upon that point. It would therefore become him or his Colleagues to offer more satisfactory explanations of their views in that respect. For his own part, he could not but concur with all who had looked at this subject with reference to its history from the earliest times, and conclude, that without the support, the protection, the fostering care, which had now for 200 years, by means of those Acts, been extended to their commercial marine, the interests connected with it must all be put to hazard. He would not go hack to stories of the reigns of Richard H. and Elizabeth, or other reigns, to which the right hon. Gentleman had adverted. No doubt the absurd legislation of those early times afforded abundant materials for ridicule, and furnished nice pickings for those who would write a comic history of the navigation laws; but for any other purpose they were useless. But, beginning from the time of that ruler by whom they had been modelled anew, and whoso great sagacity at least would not be denied, and tracing those laws as they existed under the monarchs who succeeded him, this fact was plainly seen, that successive Governments all held by those laws, as essential to the maintenance of the power, the commerce, and the industry of the country. To the present day there had been no variation from that policy; and when they turned from statesmen to philo- 23 sophers, they found that the most eminent of these in the science of political economy, contrasting the special interests of trade with the mightier interests of national power and safety, and weighing the whole subject in his sagacious mind, had come to the conclusion that those very navigation laws which were now made a subject for amusing criticism and ready condemnation, were "the wisest of all our commercial regulations." From Oliver Cromwell, therefore, to the most eminent statesmen of the present day, and from Adam Smith to Mr. Huskisson, all authority, practical and theoretical, was in favour of these navigation laws. Surely much respect was due to such authorities; and those who, like the present Government, came forward, in defiance of these opinions, with a proposal to cast aside, without qualification, or only with the most paltry reservations, a system so upheld, and so interwoven with our national convictions, ought to give us some better security against the possible dangers of the change than the assurance of their own conviction that we might do so without danger; and with some better reason for it than a reference to the general principles of free trade, and a desire to give facilities to commerce. For his own part, there was no measure calculated to extend British commerce to which he was not willing to assent, if it could be shown that the advantages so to be secured could be obtained without incurring some national evil more than sufficient to counterbalance all the good which might be gained. He was not willing, upon any doubtful ground, to hazard the mighty interests involved in the naval superiority of this country. That superiority was indispensable for our own defence, and for the maintenance of our independence. It was inseparable from our insular position and our vast colonial possessions. The authority of England in the general affairs of the world depended also on her maritime authority. Strip her of that, and she would sink into a third or fourth-rate Power; her possessions abroad she could no longer maintain—her colonies she could no longer hold—her foreign dependencies would pass into other hands. She could retain none of these except as the mistress of the sea. Nor was it for herself alone that it was essential she should maintain that position. It was of infinite importance to the balance of power in Europe, and to the peace of the world, which, by her 24 peculiar situation, and her predominant strength on an element where none could contend with her, she was frequently enabled by her sole intervention to uphold. Were they going to hazard all the advantages they enjoyed on the mere chance that the present measure might not produce the evils which had been foretold? These were all great national considerations, and undoubtedly presented themselves as the most weighty in approaching the subject now under discussion. But there were also extensive class interests involved in it which could not be overlooked, and which were of so large a character that they yielded only in importance to those which concerned the safety and honour of the whole nation. Such were the interests of the shipowner, the shipbuilder, the seaman, and all the trades connected with, and subservient to, the maritime profession. These had all been hitherto supported by a monopoly of certain branches of our trade, and a preference, so far as we could give it to them, in the remainder. Such, as Mr. Huskisson truly affirmed, it was our duty, and ought to be our care, to secure to them; and how could it be expected that these should be suddenly withdrawn from them without the certainty of immediate discouragement, and the hazard of permanent deterioration, to those interests? It appeared that the tonnage of the shipping belonging to this kingdom amounted to no less than about 3,900,000 tons; that the number of sailors employed in our mercantile marine was 230,000; it was also estimated that the capital embarked in shipping was little less than 40,000,000l.; and that the trades immediately connected with, and subservient to, the shipping interest, employed a capital of from 16,000,000l. to 17,000,000l. Thus there was between 50,000,000l. and 60,000,000l. of property, which would be immediately affected by the proposed change. There were also employed in this branch of national industry about 50,000 artisans, whose wages amounted to not less than 5,000,000l. a year. The cost of victualling the ships was estimated at 9,000,000l., and the freights which the mercantile marine earned per annum were reckoned at nearly 30,000,000l. These were enormous interests, and should not be dealt with lightly; but when, in addition to all this, it was considered that the existence of these interests lay at the foundation of our national defences, and that without these defences we could not 25 exist in the present position which we occupied as a nation, surely these afforded ample reasons, if not for resisting all change, at least for proceeding with such changes as were thought necessary—not in the reckless way which was now proposed—by at once adopting a sweeping resolution that the navigation laws should he wholly abolished, but by improving, altering, and modifying thorn in such a manner as might he found consistent with all the great interests which they were framed to foster and protect. If they must needs attempt amendments and modifications of these laws for objects of sufficient importance to justify the attempt, let it at least be made with all the care and caution, and deliberate prudence, which the magnitude of the possible results, for good or evil, unquestionably demanded. Let there be ample time given, not only for this House, but for the whole country, and for all parties specially concerned in the issue, to form and express their opinions upon the proposed sweeping measure. There existed no emergency in this case requiring immediate or hasty legislation. It was a question of prospective amendment only, even in the eyes of those who conceived the most favourable view of its ultimate advantage. It was one of great danger in the opinion of others. It was therefore, of all others, a subject the most requiring a cautious and deliberate mode of proceeding. For the Government to contend that after a delay of six months between the announcement and the production of this measure, that it should be hastily urged into practical legislation, was utterly preposterous. They could hardly themselves expect it. Prepared as he himself was to reject the proposition, as it then stood, at once upon the merits of the case, he must further declare that no efforts on his part should be wanting to prevent undue haste and precipitancy in the progress of it, if persisted in. He would take the liberty of telling Her Majesty's Ministers what course they ought to have adopted in a matter of such vast interest and importance as this. They ought, without delay, after the announcement of it in the Speech from the Throne, to have laid their plan upon the table of the House, and there have left it for long and ample consideration. They must be presumed to have come to some determination respecting such a measure, before they made that announcement. If so, they ought surely not to have locked it up 26 within their own bosoms for six months, in order to produce it towards the close of the Session, and then to call upon the Legislature precipitately to adopt it. He had not gone into any details of the subject on this occasion; having only slightly alluded to the marvellous anomaly of retaining the obligation on the shipowner to man his vessel as prescribed by the existing laws, while he was to be deprived of the advantages in consideration of which that burdensome condition was imposed upon him. But that part of the plan was insisted upon in the speech with which it was introduced; and the House was to take the declaration in the speech as a part of the measure. In conclusion, he begged to state that he opposed the whole resolution as it stood, on the ground that it professed to be destructive of the navigation laws; and for that reason he had thought it necessary to put his opinion in a distinct shape, affirming the converse of the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, and he hoped the House would concur in it. Considering the peculiar disadvantages to which the shipowner of this country was exposed, connected as they were with the social and political condition and the public economy of the country itself, he knew it to be impossible for him to sanction an unreserved competition with the foreigner, and to maintain the seamen he employed in his present state of proud superiority over the same class in all other nations. He knew it would be impossible for him without the aid of efficient protection to uphold his high position as the main instrument of the power and glory of this great country; and, therefore, for the sake of all those interests which depended upon that power—our own safety and independence—our great colonial possessions—and even the general peace and tranquillity of the world; he prayed the House not to assent to an experimental change which might impair the strength of that right arm which this nation had hitherto put forth to awe and control the world, and convert it into a palsied limb which the meanest of our rivals might successfully grapple with. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the resolution given at the commencement of his speech.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that when he introduced the question to the House the other night, he had an opportunity of so fully explaining the grounds upon which he was prepared to support it, that he was unwilling to present himself again to the 27 notice of the House so soon; but he assured them that he would confine the remarks which he was compelled to make within the briefest possible compass. He was not at all disposed to quarrel with the course which the right hon. Gentleman had taken. On the contrary, he thought that the resolution which the right hon. Gentleman had placed in the hands of the Speaker, very fairly raised the issue which the House must decide before they considered the details of the proposition which Her Majesty's Government had submitted to them. That issue he conceived to be this—whether they should widely depart from those principles which had hitherto been considered as essential and fundamental principles of the navigation laws, or whether, adhering to them, they should endeavour to reconcile that adherence with some partial deviation from them, in order to meet certain particular grievances? The House would do him the justice to recollect that when he proposed the question to the House, he did not attempt to conceal from them that he was proposing an innovation of a very large description, and that he was dealing with a subject of immense magnitude. To have attempted to take any other course would have been alike unworthy and useless. He would not have done so if he could, and he could not have done so if he would. Having made up his mind that a great alteration was necessary for the general benefit of the country, and above all for the benefit of our commercial marine, and for the military greatness of the country, he thought it right fairly to state to the House that he was proposing a novel course—a course at variance with the general tenor of legislation which the House had heretofore pursued. He had listened with the greatest attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, whose great knowledge and long experience upon such subjects at all times commanded his best attention; but he must say, that although he clearly understood him to say that he objected to the course proposed by Her Majesty's Government, he confessed he had failed to carry away so distinct an impression of what were the views really entertained by him, as—whether agreeing with him or not—he generally derived from statements made by the right hon. Gentleman. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman's speech was exceedingly vague on the whole subject. In some parts of his speech he would have led them to suppose, that if foreign 28 countries would meet us on a footing of fair reciprocity, there was hardly any part of the restrictions which he was not prepared to abandon—while in other parts of his speech the right hon. Gentleman would have led them to believe that he would rigidly adhere to the principles of restriction, although he might be prepared to consider some partial or secondary modification of them. The only thing he had very distinctly collected from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was that at all events he was not prepared to relax the restrictions placed upon the navigation and trade of our colonial possessions. He would retain them as a strict monopoly; and he quoted the authority of Mr. Huskisson upon that point. Now, no man could respect the memory of Mr. Huskisson more than he (Mr. Labouchere) did; but he might be permitted to doubt whether, in the position in which we were now placed—it having been the declared policy of the Legislature to deprive the produce of our colonies of that preference and protection in the markets of the mother country which they had hitherto received—he might be permitted to doubt whether, in such circumstances, Mr. Huskisson would have defended the monstrous proposition, that while we had adopted this policy we should at the same time insist upon retaining what Burke called the paper chains' which bound the colonies to the mother country. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was an advocate for reversing the policy of the Legislature in this respect, and for returning to the system of protecting duties upon the produce of our colonies, and upon articles the manufacture of our own country. The right hon. Gentleman had not given them the least inkling of what his opinion was on this point; and yet it did seem to him to constitute a very material consideration when discussing the question as to whether or not they should introduce other alterations in consequence of that change of policy. Judging from the political society in which he saw the right hon. Gentleman, he concluded he would, if he could, recommend to the House to revert to the system of high protecting duties upon the produce of our colonies and of the mother country; but he should be very much surprised indeed, although holding these abstract opinions, to find one so sagacious as the right hon. Gentleman imagining that in the long run it was possible to restore that system. He was aware that much stress was laid 29 upon the recommendations of a certain report which the noble Lord opposite had presented that night. That report, doubtless, afforded great joy to those who held protection principles. But what did it recommend? On the special ground of the condition of the West Indies, it proposed that for six years, and no more, there should be a protecting duty of 10s. in favour of sugar alone the produce of our colonial possessions. The right hon. Gentleman in dealing with this part of the subject, quoted the evidence of a Member of the Jamaica House of Assembly, who was examined before the Committee of the House of Lords, and who admitted that it was true a very strong memorial had been sent by that Assembly protesting against the navigation laws, and asking Parliament to abrogate them, but who said that he knew nothing of its having passed; that it was brought forward at a late period of the Session, and that it had come with surprise upon the House of Assembly. He could neither confirm nor refute that statement; but he apprehended that the right hon. Gentleman was hardly prepared to say, unless the same trick was played all over the island, that the memorial of the planters, merchants, labourers, and others of Hanover, Jamaica, did not represent the opinions of those who had sent it to this country. Their statement was, that British shipowners, under the navigation laws, compel parties to pay double the amount for freights that they would pay if they shipped their produce in other vessels, and that a great number of American ships leave the island in ballast, which would otherwise carry away a large amount of the produce of the colony. He would also remind the House of the statements on former occasions made by Lord Harris, the Governor of Trinidad, in which he strongly urged on the mother country the relaxation of the navigation laws as a boon to which the West Indies were entitled, and stated as a fact that those very restrictions had operated recently in raising the freight of imported immigrants into the West Indies. He was ashamed to waste the time of the House in arguing at any length the proposition that the navigation laws were a burden and a grievance to our colonies. It stood to reason that it must be so. Any one who was acquainted with the history of the colonies must know that the colonists had at all times complained of those laws; and was it possible that they could bear the burden without complaint now that this country had an- 30 nounced her intention of depriving them of those advantages they had heretofore possessed? It was true that some West Indians who were brought before the Committees both of the House of Lords and House of Commons treated this question of the navigation laws very lightly; but he thought it was not very difficult to discover what had been the sources of those variations of opinion. The fact was, that the West Indians, somehow or other, believed that gentlemen who were generally attached to protective duties would express a stronger opinion upon the navigation laws, from the circumstance of those laws being mixed up with protective duties, than they would if they considered them only as an abstract question. The right hon. Gentleman had dwelt upon the case of Jamaica; but he took good care not to say anything about Canada. Could there be a more explicit declaration than the joint memorial that proceeded from the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council of that colony, agreed to, he believed, unanimously, declaring that the navigation laws were an intolerable burden to the people of Canada, diverting the trade naturally belonging to that colony through the United States, and asking for relief from them? He would not again read Lord Elgin's admirable despatch, in which he said that on commercial grounds, as well as on political considerations, he thought it highly important such a grievance should not be deft to rankle in the minds of the colonists of Canada. Thus much on the question of commercial restriction, which he acknowledged was one of the fundamental principles of the navigation laws; but there was another essential principle of our navigation laws which the right hon. Gentleman was so much alarmed at the prospect of repealing, and that principle was that which endeavoured to restrict to ourselves the carrying trade between us and other countries. He would not go again over the ground he had taken when he first brought forward this question; but the right hon. Gentleman had not attempted to prove that we could derive any advantage by keeping the carrying trade to ourselves, or that we should not utterly fail in that struggle if we engaged in it with other countries. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had sneered very much at the value of the Prussian trade; but Prussia had given the signal, and other countries had followed the example. The right hon. Gentleman, looking to the Prussian trade, said it did not 31 become England to succumb to anything like a menace from that quarter; but the question for us to consider was whether the thing was just or unjust. Prussia had told us fairly that she could not, consistently with the feelings of her own people and her own interests, enter into trade with us unless upon equal terms, but that she would then he ready to do so. My own opinion is, that by meeting her on equal terms, she will be ready to trade with us; and the right hon. Gentleman, in part of his speech, seemed to me to he perfectly willing, if he could get equal terms, to meet any country that chose to meet us upon those terms. All that Prussia asked for was, that in the European carrying trade, her ships and ours might be placed precisely on the same footing. [Mr. HERRIES: She wants the colonial trade.] No; that was not the point in dispute between them, though he thought they might give her the colonies. The point was, that Prussia asked that her ships might have the same facilities with regard to the European carrying trade that we gave to our own ships; but that could not be done without giving up the main principle of our navigation laws. That, however, was a principle which it was not worth contending for, for they might depend upon it that we could not continue to deal with the rest of the world upon a system of inequality—they would not allow us to maintain privileges and immunities which we were not willing to extend to others. The question was, whether we could now enter into a war of retaliation? His own firm conviction was, that we had a deep interest in accepting the terms they offer us frankly and fairly. He utterly denied the position of the right hon. Gentleman, that British shipping could not compete with that of any nation in the world. If he believed that British shipping could not be as well navigated as that of any other nation upon the terms of free and open competition, he should tremble for this country—he should think that our maritime greatness was undermined, and that no restriction we could devise could maintain it—that our commercial greatness would dwindle away—and that our maritime greatness, which was so intimately connected with it, must also share in its ruin. But he could discover no reason in the world for coming to such a conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman had talked about the United States of America, and said it was notorious that their shipping beat ours wherever they met it. That 32 he utterly denied. How stood the facts of the case in trade generally, if they took the trade between the United States and England? First of all he would state to the House what had been the progress of those two great countries with regard to shipping during the last few years, and then the House would see to what degree the United States had been able to overwhelm and crush our marine in the competition in which it was engaged. He found that in 1827 the American shipping amounted to 1,620,607 tons, and in 1846 to 2,562,084; having increased between 1827 and 1846, 941,477 tons; whilst in 1827 the British shipping amounted to 2,460,500 tons, and in 1846 to 3,817,112 tons, being an increase in the same period of 1,365,612 tons. The difference, then, between the increase of British shipping, as compared with that of American shipping for the same period, was 415,135 tons, or 44 per cent.; and, comparing the direct trade between Great Britain and the United States—a trade obviously open and unprotected for the two countries with each other, and computed on fair terms—he found that between 1824 and 1846 the amount of shipping had increased from 45,000 tons to 205,000 tons; and if they took the general trade of Great Britain with the United States, the increase was still more remarkable; for in 1824 there were only 54,600 tons of British shipping engaged in the American trade, whereas in 1844 there were 766,700 tons. That would show that under the pressure of that competition which was described as so overwhelming, the increase in our shipping in that trade in which it had to compete with American shipping, and enjoyed no protection at all, had been enormous in the course of the last few years; and he would remark in passing, to those Gentlemen whose apprehensions directed them not to look at America, but at Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia, that if it were shown that we could compete with the shipping of the United States, we need have no apprehensions but that we could also compete with the shipping of Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark. The third principle of the navigation laws, as he apprehended, was to secure to us what was called the long-voyage trade, so as to prevent goods coming from Asia, Africa, or America from being imported into this country from any European port. He thought, from something that fell from the right hon. Gentleman, that he was not unprepared to give up what had hitherto been 33 considered as one of the main principles of the navigation laws. It was, however, most desirable that the interval between the proposal of a measure of this description, and proceeding with it, should not be longer than was required for the full consideration of the subject; and be had been much struck by an observation that had fallen from an hon. Gentleman opposite, the worthy Alderman the Member for Westmoreland, one of the most decided as well as well as one of the ablest opponents of the measure when he (Mr. Labouchere) had had the honour of bringing it forward. That hon. Gentleman had said on a former occasion—Do not suppose I am fighting for delay; nothing is further from my purpose. I know too well what is the real interest of those whose cause I am defending; and nothing should I regret more than that this question should he brought before Parliament, and that Parliament should not decide 'aye' or 'no' upon it. I know the evil of delay. It paralyses trade; and therefore, opposed as I am to the measure you have brought forward, depend upon it I will be no party to obstructing or preventing Parliament from fairly considering and definitely deciding upon it.He thought there was great good sense in that remark of the hon. Member; and he trusted that it would be followed by those who acted with the hon. Member in opposing this measure, and that it might not be obstructed by delay, which was most injurious to the great interests which were involved in this question. He was altogether unwilling, upon that occasion, to enter into any of the details of that measure, aware, as he was, that they could best be considered in Committee when the measure of the Government was before the House in the shape of a Bill. He should, therefore, refrain from going into those details, or even from discussing that question of manning which the right hon. Gentleman had adverted to. He would not, he said, enter into the last point further than this—that he supposed the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to say that every ship, by merely mounting a British flag at the masthead, having a British owner, but not being British built or British manned, could be considered a British vessel. There must be some regulation on that point; but he would not then enter into a controversy with the right hon. Gentleman upon that question of detail. Even in the United States the right hon. Gentleman knew very well that two-thirds of a ship's crew must be American citizens, and that to be an American citizen a person must have 34 resided five years in the United States; whilst of British ships three-fourths of the crew must be British citizens: but he thought that all these matters were infinitely better considered when the Bill was before the House. The real point for the House to decide that evening was fairly raised by the resolution of the right hon. Gentleman. Would they be contented with patchwork legislation? Was it right to maintain the principles of the navigation laws? The first principle was that of colonial monopoly; the second was the maintenance of those restrictions which were intended to secure the long-voyage trade to this country; and the third was the maintenance of those restrictions which were intended to secure the European carrying trade. The question was, were they prepared to consider the propriety of departing from those principles, or leaving them untouched—whether they should meet the wants of commerce and the exigencies of the case before them—whether they were prepared thoroughly and completely to revise the whole system of our navigation laws, with the view of adapting them to the spirit of the times and meeting the just demands of other countries, the wishes of our own colonies, and the interests of our expanding trade? He believed that that was really the question before the House. He had never sought to disguise from the House the magnitude of the question. It was to be considered in all its details, and was fairly raised by the right hon. Gentleman. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman carried his proposal, it would be fatal to the measure of the Government; and he should regret it, because he believed that, for all the interests of this country, and more especially the mercantile and maritime interests, the time was come when, after having made such great alterations in our commercial system, they should look at the navigation laws—that they should grapple with the whole system, and not have any piecemeal legislation, but should adapt them to the policy which they had lately pursued. If he believed that the honour of England would be affected by the measure he proposed—if he believed that it would have the effect of crippling the maritime greatness of this country—he would rather cut off his right hand than place upon the table the resolution of which he had given notice; but he was convinced that this alteration was necessary for our commercial and maritime greatness, and in his mind 35 he could not separate the one from the other. He could not conceive that a contingency could arise, such as that this country, with its seafaring population, its abundant harbours, the genius of its people, long inured to navigation and commerce, and its expanding trade, could dwindle away from the maritime greatness it had hitherto maintained. If we could not compete with other nations in shipbuilding, then there was nothing which we could compete with them in, and in all that pertained to the sea the doom of this country was sealed. He held that any apprehension would be justifiable rather than that upon that element where the character of England had so long been eminent, she should dwindle away to a second-rate Power, as long as we took care not to dry up the sources of the industry of our people, the energy of our commerce, and the freedom of our navigation and trade. These were the real foundations of British greatness; and they might depend upon it that as long as they could preserve these, with tranquillity at home and abroad, as long as commerce and the liberties of this country were maintained, there was no fear for our maritime greatness. The right hon. Gentleman, with all his ingenuity, had failed to show any reason for apprehending that that greatness was declining; and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would not have contented himself with vague generalities as he had done, if he could have adduced any facts or arguments to show that his apprehensions were well founded. He would not, however, detain the House longer. The details would be better considered in Committee, and he had therefore contented himself with stating the reasons why he thought the House should not agree to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, but, on the contrary, ought to allow the Bill to be introduced and fairly considered.
said, the House would readily agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he stated that he did not propose any piece of patchwork legislation, because the right hon. Gentleman proposed to sweep from the Statute-book the whole of the navigation laws, except those which had reference to the coasting trade, where foreigners could hardly desire to compete with our shipping. The importance of the subject could hardly be overrated; for it was, in truth, one of the greatest national questions which had been discussed in modern times. He had no interest whatever 36 in shipping; nor did he represent a constituency in the slightest degree concerned in it. If the object of the right hon. Gentleman in proposing the repeal of the navigation laws was to reduce freights, there was not one individual who would benefit more than himself, because there probably was not one who gave more employment to shipping. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) said, that if we could compete with the United States of America, we could also compete with the ships of the northern ports of Europe. But if he looked to the evidence taken before the Committee last year, he would find that the ships of the north of Europe were not only manned and sailed at a much lower cost than our own, but that the original cost of these ships was also very much less than in the case of vessels built in the United States and in Great Britain. The right hon. Gentleman complained that his right hon. Friend had not been explicit in stating what alterations he would agree to in the navigation laws. He (Alderman Thompson) would not hesitate to state for himself that there were modifications to which he would consent, and he would state what they were. He would maintain to the fullest extent the fundamental principles of the navigation laws; but there was some of the produce of America, and of Africa especially, which might be introduced with advantage into our home consumption, and brought into the ports of Europe by ships of any nation. He meant such articles as would be beneficial to the manufacturing interests of England; but he was not prepared to say that bulky articles should be so admitted. He did not find that shipowners were agreed in opinion as to the restrictions which compelled the produce of Europe, Asia, and Africa to be brought by ships of this country. As to the offers made to this country by the United States, the representative of the United States in this country offered to concede a little if England would concede a little, and to concede much if England would concede much. But, in point of fact, America could concede very little to England; for although American shipping had increased in a very great ratio, he believed the right hon. Gentleman was wrong in his statement of the business carried on between the United Kingdom and the United States. He (Alderman Thompson) spoke from recollection merely; but his memory must be greatly at fault if it were not the fact that two-thirds of the 37 American trade was carried on by American ships, and one-third in British bottoms. They had heard much about English navigation and English commerce; but those arrangements would be prejudicial to both. The right hon. Gentleman said, that the effect would be to promote the commerce of the country. They would find that the Americans were our great competitors in the China market, especially in cotton goods. They would find that the British merchant was greatly limited by the difficulty of getting a return cargo. But the Americans would send their ships with cargoes to China, and in return they would take tea, the natural export of the country, and that tea would be brought to the United Kingdom, the chief market for it (the Americans not being a tea-consuming people), thereby displacing to that extent the export of so much British manufacture. He said that America was not a tea-consuming country. The quantity annually consumed in America was only 15,000,000 lbs., whilst there were about 45,000,000 lbs. annually imported into this country. But again, from Cuba, Brazil, and Porto Rico, nearly the whole trade of which was in sugar—and the law now allowing slave-grown sugar to compete with free-grown—the Americans, who had the supplying of those countries with lumber and provisions, would bring their sugars into the British markets. They would take American cottons in those countries, and would bring their sugars to England, whilst our ships would come home in ballast. The British shipowners could no more compete with the Americans in South America than they could in China. And the noble Lord behind him reminded him that the Americans supplied lumber, provisions, and corn to the West India islands; and they could, and no doubt they would, bring cargoes away in return. But that was said to be a great advantage to the West Indies. Suppose they could bring Jamaica sugar at 10s. a ton cheaper than at present, what advantage would it be to the consumer? Was it worth while for so comparatively trifling an amount as a quarter of a farthing a pound, to make such an alteration for the consumer's benefit? As to the East Indian produce—sugar, or anything else—brought hither by American ships, the most they expected to save was about one farthing a pound. Did that justify these changes? And as to the concessions to be made to Prussia, he should like to know if they had not al- 38 ready made great concessions? We had reduced the duty on Prussian timber from 55s. a load to 15s. a load; and in February next, the corn of that country would be admitted free of duty into our ports. What advantage had we gained in return? Prussia had been more stringent in its commercial regulations since 1846 than it had been before. We had admitted the cotton of America, and were about to admit her corn; but every article of British produce was taxed from 20 to 30 per cent in that country. The right hon. Gentleman stated the other night that Holland had et the example of a liberal policy in her navigation laws in other days, and that her commercial marine had risen in consequence to an immense magnitude and importance, while England had followed a restrictive policy in her navigation laws. It did not appear very liberal on the part of Holland when, after concluding a treaty with her, we were prevented from trading with the Dutch colonies. The right hon. Gentleman said, that if Parliament adopted the measure now proposed, every country was to have the benefit of these changes, unless the Queen by an Order in Council should otherwise direct. Now, how would the Government act with respect to Holland, and with respect to the great colony of Java? He had a table which showed the different export duty levied in Java upon produce in Dutch and British ships:—"
|Produce by Dutch Ships
|Coffee.—Export duty per picul of 134 lb.
|Sugar.—Free of duty
|6 per cent.
|Tin.—Export duty per picul
|Pepper.—Export duty per picul.
|Nutmegs—Export duty per picul.
|Mace.—Export duty per picul.
|Tonnage duty, 10d. per ton (Dutch), 20d. per ton (British).
No fewer than 300 Dutch vessels were engaged in the Java trade, of the average burden of 600 tons, many of them varying from 800 to 1,200 tons. Under the proposed change in the law, he should like to know how the right hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with the Dutch in respect of this trade? With respect to manning the Royal Navy, it appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman had placed very great importance upon the evidence of a single gallant officer, Sir James Stirling, who was examined before the Select Committee on the 13th of May, 1847. He must be permitted to express his opinion, that the scheme of this gallant officer was of an
Utopian character, for whilst he admitted the difficulty of arriving at a satisfactory decision upon the question of what would he the effect upon the Navy if the navigation laws were repealed, he said he would train up a race of seamen exclusively for the Navy, a race totally unconnected with, and irrespective of, the commercial marine. In order to be prepared for the exigencies of war, this gallant officer's plan was to keep up a large peace establishment—about 120,000 men in time of peace. He should like to know what would be the sentiments of the hon. Member for Montrose, and, indeed, of the House itself, when they were asked for the annual vote for the wages of 120,000 seamen in the time of peace? We had now had thirty-three years of peace. Would the hon. Member for Montrose consent to maintain a system like that? There was something, however, still more peculiar in the evidence of Sir J. Stirling; and the answers to two questions, which he would venture to read, would confirm his view of it:—
Sir James was asked, 'Do you consider that the repeal of the navigation laws would be accompanied with any danger to the maritime defences of this country?' The answer was: 'I am scarcely prepared to reply positively to that question; my own conclusion upon the subject of the Navigation Act is, that it has not the effect it was intended to have; that it does not, in fact, promote the prosperity of the shipping interest; and, consequently, entertaining that notion, I conceive that its abolition would not be injurious to the maritime power of the country; at the same time, the question is of so general a nature, and would require to he answered with reference to such a variety of facts, which I have not at present in my memory, that I would rather be permitted to decline giving a positive answer to that particular point, unless I may be allowed to state it as mere opinion, unsupported by the facts to which I refer.'
An hon. and gallant Friend of his (Mr. Alderman Thompson's), no longer a Member of the House, Sir Howard Douglas, a man whose professional character stood upon the highest eminence, put the following very pertinent question to the gallant officer:—
'Would you, in commanding a ship or a fleet during a war, with a mixed crew of foreigners and British, go into action with as much confidence of success against an equal, as if your vessel were exclusively manned with British seamen?' Mark the answer:—'No. I can illustrate that by a case which happened to myself at the breaking out of the last war. I commanded a sloop of war; we were in the presence of the enemy, and expected to engage, when nine men came to me and said they were Americans, and declined to fight against their own country. It was exceedingly inconvenient at the moment. I had no al-
ternative but to admit their claim, because it appeared upon the books that they had been impressed as American subjects, and I could only put them upon the booms, where I could see that they did not do any mischief, but I could not make them otherwise useful.'
If, then, as he believed, the number of British seamen was to be diminished by a diminution in the number of British ships, would it not be utterly impossible to man the Navy? Must we not, in that case, have recourse to foreigners—to Prussians, Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes, in order that the case put by Sir James Stirling might be met? It had been shown to demonstration, that about two-fifths of the seamen employed in the British Navy had belonged to the merchant service; and he had had an opportunity of seeing a gallant Admiral (Sir C. Napier) now commanding one of Her Majesty's fleets, to whom he had put this question:—
'Pray who have you for sailing-masters now in the Navy?' 'Who have we?' was the reply—'Of course we have men from the merchant service; and we have nobody else that knows the coast, and can bring our ships into port.'
This was a circumstance that ought not to be lost sight of in any discussion upon this important question. He considered, then, the evidence of Sir J. Stirling to be practically unsupported, in proof of which he might state, that naval officers of the highest rank in her Majesty's service were ready and willing to be called in, who would have stated to the Committee, that any great alteration in the navigation laws must impair the efficiency of the Navy, and consequently the power of this country. Evidence of this character had been given, he believed, before the Lords' Committee now sitting, and he hoped it would receive the attention which the importance of the subject required. There was another point to which he desired to direct the consideration of the House. Ships built out of this country, but bought by British subjects, were to be entitled to a British register; but the right hon. Gentleman said further, that every British registered vessel engaged in foreign trade was to be manned with a crew of whom three-fourths were to be British seamen. He apprehended the right hon. Gentleman would experience some difficulty in the working of these principles. If he went to Archangel, and worked his ship in foreign trade from thence, he would not thank the right hon. Gentleman for a British register. Where indeed would be the use of it when he could employ his vessel in the colonial
trade—in the trade to America, China, and India? The whole value of the British register was gone if the right hon. Gentleman's plan was adopted. He might be a shipowner either as an Englishman or as a foreigner; and if he manned his ship with Swedes or Norwegians, he could carry on his trade more profitably than under a British register. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman's plan completely failed the moment he declared he did not intend to reduce the number of British seamen in ships having British register, and that it should remain at the point now required by the law. He repeated, then, that the plan was impracticable, because, if he employed his ship abroad, he did not want a British register. The British register, therefore, became of no use, except to vessels engaged in the coasting trade; but ships of 500, or 600, or 800 tons, were not wanted in the coasting trade. They were required in the long voyages—in the trade with India, China, America, and the colonies. Perhaps he had no reason to complain of the intended change in that respect. It was, however, an inconsistency, aggravated in some degree by injustice. Why was an English shipowner, who was now compelled to man his vessel with a certain proportion of British seamen, not to have liberty to take as many foreign seamen as he might require? Why were restrictions to be placed on him above all individuals in the community? The House had been legislating for the last year or two for the establishment of free trade; yet, strange to say, they were now asked, by this measure, to establish restrictions of the most repugnant character. He did not agree with those who would repeal the Reciprocity Acts, for he had supported Mr. Huskisson in many of those measures; but what had been their effect upon the tonnage of this country? The first treaty was concluded with Prussia in the year 1824, and the following was the result:—
|In 1821 the tonnage of ships entering the United Kingdom from Prussian Ports was
|In the year 1845 it
|Showing a decrease in British tonnage of
|And an increase in Prussian tonnage of
§ With regard to Sweden and Norway, the account stood thus:—
|S. and N. tons.
|In 1825, Swedish and Norwegian ships were placed in reciprocity, and the tonnage for that year was
|In 1845 it was
|Showing a decrease in British tonnage of
|But an increase in Swedish and Norwegian tonnage of
§ As to Denmark, the statement was as follows:—
|In June, 1824, the reciprocity treaty was concluded, and in year the inward entries were
|In 1845 they were
|Showing a decrease in British tonnage of
|But an increase in Danish tonnage of
§ With regard to Russia, no reciprocity treaty was concluded with that country till the year 1843; and in 1843 and 1845, the inward entries stood thus:—
|Showing an increase of
|66,002 and on
|27,795 and on
§ He left these facts to speak for themselves. Another circumstance had to be remembered in conjunction with them. In the year 1844, the Merchant Seamen's Act was passed, the preamble of which alleged the expediency of increasing the number of seamen, and for that purpose of affording them all due encouragement and protection. By this Act, the shipowner, or rather the captain, was liable to punishment as for a misdemeanour if he did not provide, to the satisfaction of the authorities, provisions for the ship, suitable both in quantity and quality. The owner of a foreign ship, whoever he might be, was not liable to this responsibility; he might therefore provide his ship with stock fish and black bread in the place of good fish and wheaten bread. Under all the circumstances, he was convinced that the best course for the House to take, would be to 43 adopt the resolution proposed by his right hon. Friend; and when they had arrived in Committee, let them make those alterations in the law which would be found to work conveniently both for the commerce and for the Navy of this country. But he implored the House not to abrogate the principles of a law which had essentially contributed to the safety and security of the British empire.
§ DR. BOWRING
said, the worthy Alderman, like indeed every hon. Member who had spoken on the same side of the question, had made a very important concession, namely, that apart from the interests of the shipowners, the consuming community would be greatly benefited by the change in the laws, because he, with the other hon. Members, admitted that there would be a considerable reduction in the freight, and if so, there must be a proportionate reduction in the cost of the articles conveyed by ships. The worthy Alderman no doubt very properly attacked many countries that had not, as yet, adopted that wise change in the commercial system which we had lately legalised, and which the spirit of these times so loudly demanded. But he (Dr. Bowring) contended that in this question we were not to inquire into what other nations were doing; we were not to inquire whether other Governments were wisely or unwisely discharging the duties which were committed to their charge. All that we had to do was, to ascertain what were the best means for developing those immense resources which this country was allowed to possess. And he thought it really a disgraceful confession on the part of any one interested in the shipping interest of this country to aver, that with such a superfluity of capital and its consequent supply on such cheap terms, with such activity of intellect, with such large colonial possessions, with aptitudes of such varied character, with raw materials cheaper than in almost any other nation of the earth—still, with all these preponderating advantages, we should not be able to struggle with any other competing naval Power. If we could not compete, there must be some fault in our system; if, as the worthy Alderman himself (Mr. Alderman Thompson) had acknowledged, we could not meet successfully Norway, Sweden, or any of those other northern Powers, after all our long experience, and with all our great advantages, then there must be something in the legislation itself under which we lived which demanded an immediate change. Reference had been 44 made again and again to that country upon the progress and augmentation of whose shipping we looked with the greatest alarm. He alluded to the shipping of the United States. The worthy Alderman had stated as a fact of which there could be no doubt that the proportion of the shipping of Great Britain and the United States had been on the average about three to two in their favour. But that proportion was very much the same as had existed for the last thirty years. There had been certain periods, no doubt, in which the proportion of English shipping had been considerably greater. It never was greater than in the year 1847, for he observed that of 100 tons entered in 1847, nearly 60 were foreign and 40 British; whilst in the year 1820, twenty-seven years ago, the proportion of British to American shipping was as 16 to 84. With regard to the clearances in 1847, of 100 tons, there were 43 British and 57 American. The proportion, therefore, instead of being as two to three, as had been represented by the worthy Alderman, was in fact as four to five. The returns which had been laid upon the table of the House proved that, notwithstanding the severe difficulties with which the country had had to contend, the proportion which existed many years ago had still been maintained. He durst say there was scarcely any hon. Member to whom a certain document had not been sent—a letter addressed to Mr. G. F. Young, a very distinguished and zealous advocate of the navigation laws, by an eminent merchant of Calcutta. A cause must indeed be desperate that had no better arguments than those which were prominently put forth in that letter. Of course the questions were put forward with some ingenuity, for the purpose of obtaining answers suitable to those by whom they were put. The first inquiry was, whether any practical inconvenience had ever been experienced from the navigation laws by the party questioned; and to that the answer was "Quite the contrary." And yet it was rather singular that in this very document there was abundance of evidence to show that, on many occasions, freights could have been obtained much cheaper in a foreign than in an English vessel; and the reason put forward for the answer, "Quite the contrary," was that, during the last few years, freights had been so low as to be scarcely remunerative to the British owners. It was no inconvenience then, no injury, but "quite the contrary," to be obliged to 45 pay for any service more than its current value. But why was the House to legislate merely for the benefit of the British shipowner? There was a personage that might be represented in the abstract as the consumer (who was everybody), who represented the common and universal interests of the people; and it appeared to him (Dr. Bowring) that it was precisely that common, universal, and national interest which in these discussions they were so apt to forget. The hon. and learned Gentleman then proceeded to advert to the evidence given before the Lords' Committee on this question, by Mr. Joshua Wilson, against the navigation laws, and which evidence, he contended, was not counterbalanced by any means, still less overweighed by the evidence given in favour of the existing laws. As a representative of a humble, poor, but laborious constituency, he (Dr. Bowring) insisted upon it that the price of their goods should not be enhanced for the purpose of giving an undue preference to some wealthy shipowners. All that they were struggling for was this, that the English artisan should be denied more of the advantages which were possessed by his foreign competitor—that he should have the advantage of cheap communication for what he bought and for what he sold—that laws should not interfere with his comforts and his profits. The grievance was, that, in consequence of the present navigation laws, the people of this country were made to pay a higher price for articles of necessary consumption than they could obtain them for, if they were allowed to be introduced into the English ports in foreign vessels, upon the same conditions as British vessels, and such a grievance as that ought to he at once removed; and on the other hand that they might be able to send their manufactures to any country at the lowest rate at which they could be conveyed. Reference had been made again and again to the opinions of Adam Smith, and great importance had been attached to his declaration that there were various considerations which rendered it essential to our prosperity that the navigation laws should be maintained. For one he (Dr. Bowring) was very willing to recognise the authority of Adam Smith on commercial and politico-economical matters; but Adam Smith was not an authority on the very different topic of the national defences. He certainly should not go to his pages to study how men should he best provided for the Navy or the Army. That was a point on which he should 46 think the authority of Adam Smith was of exceedingly little value. But for what had our legislation been struggling for so many ages? What had they been endeavouring to procure Session after Session? To provide cheap carriage and cheap conveyance for the people. The importance of economical and rapid communication was recognised in every step of their legislation. They had applied hundreds and hundreds of millions for the accomplishment of that object. First they began by passing Bills for the formation of canals. Well, no doubt those who had interests in the old turnpike roads very much opposed the introduction of canals. These parties had what the French called droit acquis; they had an interest recognised by Act of Parliament. But still, notwithstanding their opposition, the Legislature, with the view of advancing the public good by encouraging improved communication, decided that canals should be formed throughout the country. Well, then came railways to compete with canals, and another struggle was made still further to cheapen and quicken communication throughout the land. The owners of canals came forward to oppose the projectors of railways; but the Legislature told them that, as they were bound to further any good plan which would reduce the cost of carriage, they must sanction the formation of railways, although they threatened destruction to canal navigation. And thus had the Legislature sanctioned the diversion of enormous sums of money from various channels of industry for the purpose of establishing railway communication throughout the country. It was well known that since the establishment of that species of communication we were enabled to travel more cheaply as regarded money, and more economically as regarded time; and he wished the House to bear in mind that this very system of railways, which had been already sanctioned by the Legislature, and so much lauded by the supporters of the navigation laws, tended to a great degree to destroy "the nursery," as it was called, of the English Navy. The arguments of the opponents of a repeal of these laws proceeded on the ground that anything that was done to foster foreign trade, tended proportionably to destroy our own. Now he had hoped that they had long since become thoroughly convinced that the advancement and prosperity of other people, was deeply and intimately associated with the well-being and pros- 47 perity of ourselves. He thought that the whole tendency of our legislation of late had been to prevent our looking jealously upon the augmentation of the riches around us; and rather to induce us to rejoice that we had very opulent neighbours, since it was out of their opulence that we should be benefited, and that it was far better that we should have the means of trading with those who were rich, industrious, and active, than with who were poor, backward, and idle. Now something had been said with respect to this being the settlement of this matter. He could not but feel strongly what had been so ably urged by his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, that if there were a grievance, it was far better that this matter should be promptly settled. If they had made a wrong step in legislation, the earliest moment for retracing it was the fittest moment. The only justification for hesitation or delay, would be in the proof that no grievance existed. But the advocates of the repeal of this unjust protection did think that they had made out a strong case of grievance; and when there was a wrong, it was fit that that wrong should be put an end to as early as possible. The upholders of the present system had pointed in a very marked manner to the number of petitions on the table of the House, which the shipping interest of this country had signed, against any alteration in the navigation laws; and from which they endeavoured to show that our manufacturers and merchants of this country were unfriendly to their repeal. But Gentlemen who represented the shipping interest must be told that they had no right to consider themselves as the true representatives of commerce. They were associated with commerce no doubt, but they were only the instruments used by manufacturers and merchants. Unless there were merchandise to be exported, and mercantile capital wherewith to purchase it, what became of the shipping interest? Why, the shipper was but a mere subsidiary to the manufacturer or merchant. He had no more to do with the creation of wealth than a carter had who conveyed commodities along the high road. He was very important no doubt to the purposes of commerce; but the ship, like the cart or waggon, was useless until something was conveyed by it. It was absolutely necessary to the proper expansion of commercial operations that there should be cheap conveyance. Freight was a most important 48 element in commerce. There were a great many articles in which the question of freight was almost everything. It was a sad affair if, after all her resources and experience, England must confess herself unable to compete with the foreigner in matters of navigation; how humiliating to think that we are to be beaten by the Danish, Swedish, Prussian, and American shipowner! But he did not believe it. The same gloomy pictures were held out by hon. Gentlemen opposite when the question of protection to British agriculture was under the consideration of the House. They were told that if agricultural protection were abolished, England would fall. Indeed, the language that was then uttered by protectionists foreboded far more gloomy results than that of the most zealous advocate that had yet appeared on behalf of the navigation laws. The land was to have no value, and universal destruction was to follow closely upon the establishment of free trade in corn. For his own part he did not believe that the Legislature could produce such considerable changes on any question as some parties represented. There were certain great principles in commerce which settled themselves, and could not be much affected by any act of the Legislature. It was now obvious that building dear ships implied the necessity of paying dear freights; and therefore this Bill very properly proposed that, if an owner found it perfectly impossible to build ships at home as cheap as they could be bought abroad, he might go abroad and buy them. But he doubted very much when the English shipbuilder was put upon his metal—when the pressure of competition came upon him with its iron hand—when he was bound to look around him not for the aid of protective laws—when it was forced upon him to make every possible exertion in order to compete successfully with foreign rivals—he (Dr. Bowring) doubted very much whether under such circumstances the British shipowner would not be found to make, in the shipbuilding of this country, improvements as palpable as those which had been made in other branches of home manufacture under the stimulus which had been administered to them by the abolition of protection. And such a change, he had no doubt, would be beneficial to the British shipowner as well as to the British people generally. He objected to that portion of the Bill which had reference to reprisals, and thought it would be far wiser and far 49 more effectual to instruct by our example rather than by our menaces. The way to conciliate France and Prussia was to invite the produce of those countries into our own, and so make the producers of France and Prussia our friends. A great deal had been said about the sufferings and distress of the West Indian interest; but he thought relief was to be looked for not by continuing restrictions and trammels, but by removing them—by giving them more facilities both for import and export. The aptitude and capacity of our sailors and captains had been eulogised; but he thought there was much room for improvement in them, particularly in respect to temperance, and instruction as regarded the science of navigation, in which many of our merchantmen captains were very deficient. He would quote to the House one passage from the petition of the merchants of London, which had been upon that very night presented to the House, and in the spirit and substance of which he entirely concurred:—Believing that the influence of the navigation laws is all-pervading, your petitioners, in common with others favourable to commercial freedom, urge those important objections to the continuance of our present maritime policy. The representatives of the German Zollverein, the Hanseatic towns, and other foreign States, have expressed their readiness to forego their own privileges provided a system of reciprocity was established, and that similar advantages were conferred upon their shipping in British ports and harbours.The petition went on further to say, that if this freedom of trade was not granted by England, a system of discriminating duty would be imposed upon British ships and cargoes by those foreign countries, which would end in the total destruction of our Continental trade. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to say that, next to the question of the corn laws, the question of the navigation laws excited the greatest amount of public attention, especially amongst the commercial interest. This was considered the great test by which free trade was to be tried; and the repeal of the navigation laws was looked to by foreign countries as the best evidence of our sincerity as free-traders. The navigation laws had existed for a long period, and in many men's minds they were associated with the strength of the Navy, and with our national and political power. But experience, reflection, growing intelligence, and daily observations, had produced in the minds of the great mass of the thinking 50 portion of the people a change upon this subject, almost similar to that which had been wrought by the machinery of the Anti-Corn-Law League on the subject of the corn laws. He thought the time was come when this great work ought to be done; the attention of the world was turned towards them; and he could not doubt but that the change which they were about to introduce would add to our greatness and security, and that with it the permanence of peace and the extension of mercantile intercourse would be long and happily associated.
§ MR. H. BAILLIE
said, this was a question in which the interests of all classes in this country were deeply involved. It not only embraced the whole subject of our colonial policy, but it was calculated to exercise a deep influence upon the power, greatness, and naval superiority of this country—that superiority which we had hitherto exercised over the other great nations of the world; and therefore it was that this question ought not to be discussed with any party or political feeling, or in that latter spirit which appeared to have animated the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He was perfectly ready to admit that the navigation laws were, to a certain extent, injurious to the trade and commerce of the country. All laws which had a tendency to restrict the free interchange of commodities between the nations of the world, must undoubtedly be so; and therefore it must also be admitted that harbour dues and lighthouse dues were, to a certain extent, injurious to trade and commerce. They tended considerably to increase the rate of freights. The lighthouse dues alone of this country amounted to a tax upon commerce of 400,000l. a year. The lighthouse and harbour dues, however, were attended with advantages which far outbalanced any injury which they might be supposed to inflict upon the trade and commerce of the country; and it must be for those who contended that the navigation laws ought to be maintained, to prove that they also were attended with advantages to the community at large which far outbalanced any injury or inconvenience which they might be supposed to inflict upon our trading and commercial interests. There were two points under which this subject might be considered: first, with reference to the effect which the proposed change of the law was calculated to produce on the colonial policy of the empire; and, secondly, with reference 51 to the effect which it might produce upon our shipping interests, that is, upon the commercial marine of England. He would, in the first place, address himself to that portion of the subject which regarded the colonial policy of the empire. And here he must confess that he was at a loss to understand what were the views and opinions of Her Majesty's Ministers with respect to the maintenance of our colonial empire: whether they thought that our colonies were an advantage to us—that they contributed to the power, greatness, and wealth of this country—or whether, on the other hand, they were of opinion that those colonies were costly appendages, maintained at a vast expense to the people of this country, who were heavily taxed for their maintenance, without at the same time contributing in any degree to promote the general wealth or prosperity of the empire. He was disposed to believe that those latter were the views entertained by Her Majesty's Ministers—if not by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, at least by a majority of the Cabinet—and he was naturally led to that conclusion, because he thought that all the measures of the present Government had tended to convince the people of our colonies that henceforth they were to look for no advantage whatever from their connexion with the mother country. They had lately indicated to the people of the colonies that henceforth they were to look for no favour or protection for their produce in the ports and harbours of the mother country, which was not to be afforded to the produce of any other country in the world. They were about further to indicate to the colonists, by the proposed measure, that henceforth they were to look for no favour or protection for their ships in the ports or harbours of the mother country, which was not afforded to the ships of every other country. Now, when those measures should be carried into effect, would any Minister have the kindness to inform the House of what possible advantage our colonies could be to us under those altered relations, and why the people of England should any longer be taxed in order to maintain their military defence? To illustrate the subject, let him take, for example, the case of the Canadas. This country had lately accorded to the Canadas a constitution which, whether it were generally popular in that country or not, did at least virtually establish their independence, 52 because they had now a Government which was only responsible to the Colonial Legislature. But we had indicated to the people of Canada, that henceforth they were to look for no special protection for their produce in the mother country; and by the proposed measure we were about to indicate the same thing with regard to their ships; and to declare, at the same time, that the mother country would not seek for their own ships any favour or protection from the people of Canada. Well, then, when those measures should be carried into effect, he would ask would not Canada, to all intents and purposes, be just as useful, just as advantageous to this country, if she formed one of the States of the American Union? Then if that were so, how long did they suppose the people of England would suffer themselves to be taxed in order to maintain the military defence of Canada? Now he would refer to another, a stronger ease. By a series of measures, which were now admitted on all sides to have been most unwise, impolitic, and unjust, having first deprived the British West Indians of that labour which they formerly possessed, and then having passed laws to prevent them obtaining labour from other countries where it might have been procured, and having by that means reduced them to a state bordering upon ruin, the Government now intimated that they had lately discovered, by the study of political economy, that there was no greater advantage to the people of this country in deriving colonial produce from their own colonies, than if it came from Cuba, or Brazil, or any foreign State; and that having made that discovery they were determined henceforth to seek for colonial produce in the cheapest markets. Our British West Indian colonists also were to be told that henceforth they need look for no favour or protection in the harbours or ports of the mother country. When thus ruined and rendered unproductive, could it be said, that henceforth the West India colonies would be of the slightest advantage to Great Britain? Would they not become an immense burden to us? Were they not now taking measures for resisting the payment of taxes and the maintenance of the civil executive? And why should the people of this country be called upon to pay both for their civil administration and their military defence? He, for one, would not henceforth be a party to tax the people of England for the maintenance of those colonies, which the Government by its mea- 53 sures had utterly ruined, and had rendered useless and unprofitable to this country. To prove that this was not mere idle declamation, he would refer to a resolution recently agreed to by the West Indian Association of Liverpool. They said—As it is impossible for the inhabitants of the West Indian colonies to continue the production of sugar and coffee upon such unequal terms and competition with foreigners, this association sees no other means left, unless efficient relief be at once afforded, than for the West Indian colonies to appeal to the Crown for relief from their unprofitable allegiance, in order that they may attach themselves to some other country, which will extend to them the protection which they are at present denied.That was the result of those measures; and they might depend upon it that they would soon be called upon to intimate to the Canadas and the West Indies that henceforth they must provide for their own military defence. And let them not think that that intimation would be received with any great grief or dissatisfaction. On the contrary, those colonies would seek, and not in vain, for that fostering care and protection from their great natural mother—the United States of America, which had of late been so cruelly denied them by their unjust and unnatural stepmother. If, then, they were determined to carry those measures into effect—and he doubted not they had the power to do so, because they had no serious opposition in that House, many hon. Gentlemen upon his side being prepared to support them against their consciences, because they did not wish to displace the Government—do not let them, at all events, deceive the people of England as to their ultimate intentions. Then if, after the people of England knew what the meaning of the Government was, and were still determined to support them, at least they would have no reason to complain that they had been deceived or misled, or that they had been induced by the confidence they had in the Government to give their support to measures, the ultimate aim, object, and tendency of which they did not clearly understand. So much, then, as regarded the question with reference to the effect it was likely to produce upon our colonial interest. And now let us see what would be the effect of this measure on the shipping interest, and on the commercial marine. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, when he brought forward this measure (and he had again repeated it this evening), frankly admitted 54 that the power and greatness of this country depended upon the maintenance of our commercial marine; and it naturally followed from that admission that any measures which were calculated to weaken, to undermine, or to cause the decrease of the commercial marine of England, and the increase of that of the United States, would be an injury inflicted upon England, and an advantage conferred upon the people of the United States. He would take the admission, therefore, as granted, and admitted on all sides of the House. What, then, was the advantage which you had promised to the trade and commerce of England by this measure? You had promised them to reduce the rate of freights, and a Member of your Government had published a statement to the effect that the advantage to be accorded to the commerce of England by this measure would amount to at least 1,000,000l. sterling a year. He knew not if this calculation would turn out to be as minutely correct as that which was made upon a former occasion by the hon. Member for Glasgow, when he promised to the people of England, not the advantage of 1,000,000l. but 100,000,000l. sterling a year, by the repeal of the corn laws; but he was quite ready to accept the calculation made by the hon. Gentleman, and to admit, for the sake of argument at least, that the advantage would be quite equal to that which he had promised; and he had no hesitation in saying, not that he wished to maintain the shipping interest, or the shipping owners of this country—for he cared not if they were ruined as individuals, or as an interest to-morrow—but it was because he believed the interest of the shipowners of England was that of the whole body of the people of the country, that he was prepared to maintain that interest, even at a cost of 1,000,000l. sterling a year, if that should be proved to be necessary. The advantage, then, which you promised to obtain for the commerce of England was a reduction of the rate of freight; and how did you propose to obtain that advantage? By the employment of foreign shipping? But the employment of foreign shipping must of necessity enforce the displacement of your own. You could not employ foreign ships without throwing British ships out of employment. And now let us take an example in order to illustrate this subject. Let us take the case, so often alluded to this evening, of the British West Indies. He was quite ready to admit that the navigation laws 55 acted injuriously to the colonial interest. The injury had been very much exaggerated—widely exaggerated. The people of the West Indies, feeling so unjustly treated by the mother country, had exaggerated very much the injury they received from these laws. It was well known that the British West Indies were supplied with lumber altogether from the United States of America; and the noble Lord the Member for Lynn had calculated that not less than 140,000 tons of American shipping annually frequented the ports of the West Indies with lumber. Under the existing law these vessels were unable to take away cargoes of sugar from British ports, and consequently they were obliged to leave the ports of the West Indies in ballast, at least a great portion of them. If the laws were repealed, of course they would not; they would take cargoes of sugar for British ports at a reduced freight, because they would be, in the first place, return cargoes; and it was admitted it would be a slight advantage to the colonial interest. Now he would suppose, that 50,000 tons of American ships should annually take in cargoes of sugar from the British West Indies for British ports; would anybody deny that 50,000 tons of British shipping would be thrown out of employment? That was not the only evil. Those vessels would arrive and deliver cargoes in British ports, and then they would naturally seek to obtain return cargoes again for the United States, which they would be able to afford to do at less rates than British vessels; and, therefore, double injury would be effected, because other British vessels might be thrown out of employment. No one could doubt that that must be the result of the measure as regarded the West India trade. Then as to the effect that would be produced upon the India and China trade, Mr. Aylwin, a great merchant at Calcutta, but not a shipowner, said in a letter to Mr. G. F. Young—My Calcutta firm has for many years past been connected with the Continent, and I have, on several oceasions, had charters of foreign vessels offered me considerably under the rates which charters for English vessels were at the same time commanding. In fact, I have no hesitation in asserting, I could at any time have chartered an A1 foreign bottom for the round between Europe and Calcutta at 4l. 10s. per ton, which I consider fully 15s. or 20s. under what a British ship must earn, in order to cover her expenses.The same gentleman then went on to say that the competition of the foreigners in 56 the India and China trade would most unquestionably lower the homeward rate of freight; and the result would be that foreign vessels would be employed, and British vessels would be thrown out of employment. He admitted, as far as he was concerned, that this measure would be of advantage to himself; but he was opposed to the repeal of the navigation laws, because he believed it would be injurious to the commercial navy of England, and, therefore, to the best interests of this country. These were noble and patriotic sentiments—they were well worthy the mind of a distinguished British merchant; and as such no doubt they would be appreciated. And he would observe that the Americans were most anxious to compete with us in this carrying trade of India and China. He calculated that they would be able to do that; and he must remind the House that the carrying trade had nothing whatever to do with the general trade and commerce of England; we might by this measure greatly extend the general trade, and at the same time diminish the carrying trade. We might increase our general trade with China, and our carrying trade to that country might fall into the hands of the people of the United States of America. You might suppose this was a very improbable occurrence, but you could not assert that it was impossible; and without going into any theoretical discussion upon the subject, let us see if we could bring the question to the test of experience; let us inquire whether there existed any trade at present on which we had had a fair competition with the people of the United States of America, and what had been the result of that competition. He said, then, that there was a trade in which we had, for the last twenty-five years, maintained an active competition with the people of the United States—a trade in which no favour had been shown to either party, and which, he lamented to say, had ended by the total destruction of our trade, and the complete triumph of the trade of the United States—he alluded to the South Sea fishery. It was probably well known to the House that the South Sea whale fishery was a trade which required a large capital to carry it on, for the vessels were employed upon an average voyage of four years; they were manned by double the usual number of sailors, the ablest, and best, and most adventurous that could be obtained. It was, therefore, a trade which was peculiarly calculated as a school 57 for our Navy. These were all advantages which must be supposed to have told in favour of England, because capital was more abundant in England than in the United States, and sailors were more easily procured. In spite of these advantages the result of this trade had been as follows:—The Americans might be said to have commenced their competition with us about the year 1821. In 1821 the number of American ships employed in the trade was under 90, and their seamen 2,900. On the 1st January, 1846, the number of American vessels had increased to 737, their burden to 233,282 tons, and the number of officers and seamen to upwards of 20,000, the first seamen in the world. The number of British ships engaged in the whale fishery in 1821 was 295; seamen 11,900. In 1848 the number of ships employed by Great Britain was 61, and the number of seamen 2,630. Thus had we been completely driven out of this trade, utterly and entirely ruined by the competition; and the evidence before the Lords' Committee clearly and distinctly proved, according to the evidence of one of the greatest merchants in the trade, that he was ruined by the advantages which the American vessels possessed over the English, and the cheaper mode in which they could navigate. This was boasted of in the American House of Assembly. He was not going to assert that the same result would inevitably follow the China and India trade; but this he did assert that a certain number of British vessels would be thrown out of employment, and a certain number of American vessels would be employed in their places; and that was admitted to be an evil by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He need hardly go into the argument in order to prove that if the principle of this measure were good, there was no reason why Government should not make it of universal application; there was no reason why it should be applied to the long seavoyage trade, and not applied to the coasting trade; because if it were advantageous to the people of this country to receive the produce of different countries at a cheap rate, it was also advantageous to the people of this country to receive their own produce at a cheap rate. It was, for example, an advantage to the citizens of London to receive their coal from Newcastle at a cheaper rate, whether it came in foreign or English bottoms. What, then, was the reason you had made this differ- 58 ence between the two? Simply this, you had not confidence in the success of your own measure. You had not confidence in the principle of your measure. You were not quite certain it might not turn out disadvantageously, and were inclined to make an experiment in the first instance with the long sea-voyage trade. If, then, these fears which you entertained should really turn out not to have been without foundation—if it should really turn out that this measure should lead to those consequences which he had endeavoured to point out, namely, to the decrease of our commercial marine, and to the separation of our colonies—you would then have justly excited the indignation of the people of this country, whose dearest interests you would thus have betrayed and sacrificed, without the prospect of any adequate compensation. For even should your measure prove successful, you could hold out no great or flattering prospect of advantage to the people of this country, beyond a slight reduction in the rate of freight; but should your measure prove unsuccessful, you would then have inflicted a blow on the greatness and prosperity of the empire, which would justly call down upon your heads the execration of all classes of the people; at least, of all those who felt a deep and patriotic interest in the power, the glory, and naval superiority of their country.
§ MR. JAMES WILSON
would not follow the hon. Member into the discussion of extraneous matters, but would address himself to the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, which raised the general question, whether the principles of free trade, which had been carried out by the House in respect to commodities, ought also to be applied to shipping? He was quite aware that a great authority had been quoted to justify, in the case of the navigation laws, an exception from those principles. But he thought, if hon. Gentlemen allowed him to make a few observations on this subject, he could show them that the remarks of Adam Smith did not apply to the case now before the House, especially after the experience they had had of the operation of free-trade principles during the last few years. Adam Smith, in referring to this question, freely admitted that even if it could he shown that ships could be built more cheaply in other countries, and that they could be manned more cheaply there than they could in this country, yet, if it appeared that British 59 shipbuilders were unable to withstand competition with foreign shipbuilders, arising from any natural and insuperable impediment, that then it might be the policy of this country to incur a great money sacrifice in order to support her political greatness, and to maintain her naval defences. If that was the position Adam Smith laid down, he (Mr. Wilson) was quite prepared to assent to it. If he could not show the House that this country was prepared to compete with foreign nations—if he could not show that we had carried on such competition successfully—he would be quite prepared to give his sanction to the doctrine of Adam Smith, and to say that our naval defences ought to be maintained even at the sacrifice of our commercial interests. But he conceived that Adam Smith had overlooked a great principle. It was only within the last twenty years that the free-trade policy introduced by Mr. Huskisson, and others who succeeded him, had been tried; and it had been found that free trade had not only had the effect of introducing cheaper commodities from abroad, but also of inducing a larger and cheaper production at home. There was no one article to which free-trade principles applied, with regard to which it would not be found that, while the imports from abroad had increased, the competition had produced increased production and increased cheapness at home, and consequently an increased power of competing with foreign countries. If, then, the same result was found with regard to shipping—if it appeared that the partial free trade applied by Mr. Huskisson to the shipping interest had had the effect of increasing the commercial and maritime greatness of this country, and its power to compete with foreign nations—he contended that they had encouragement to go on in the same direction, in the conviction that by carrying out the same policy they would promote the commercial and naval supremacy of the empire. These were questions of fact, and not of opinion; and it was only necessary that he should refer to the statistics of the last twenty years to show whether our commercial navy had increased or declined during the partial competition to which it had been exposed during that period. In 1823 Mr. Huskisson proposed a modification of the navigation laws, in order to avert the difficulty and danger which he saw would result from foreign countries imitating the example which had been set by North America in wringing 60 from this country the Reciprocity Treaty of 1815. In 1823 Prussia passed a similar law to that adopted by the United States, prohibiting the entrance of British ships into Prussian ports; and she compelled the British Government to give to her, and to other countries willing to afford us reciprocal advantages, privileges similar to those which they had conceded to the United States. The consequence was, that reciprocity treaties were concluded between this country and Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and other States; and he would ask the House to observe what had been the result of these various treaties. Perhaps some hon. Gentleman might not be aware, that previously to the adoption of Mr. Huskisson's measure, from 1817 to 1823, the tonnage of ships possessed by the United Kingdom and its dependencies had been gradually decreasing. In 1817 the tonnage of shipping belonging to the United Kingdom and its dependencies was 2,664,000 tons; in 1823 it had declined to 2,506,000 tons. But from that period to the present day the tonnage of British shipping had rapidly increased, until, in 1846, it was 3,817,000 tons. He thought, then, as he had shown that when a strict monopoly was maintained the shipping trade was in a declining state, and that immediately after the approach to free-trade principles there was a rapid increase in the amount of tonnage, it would be admitted that there was no reason to doubt the ability of the British shipbuilders and British shipowners to compete with foreigners. He would now call the attention of the House to another fact, to show the condition of the shipping interest prior to Mr. Huskisson's change, and subequently. He found that in the three years preceding the alteration of the law effected by Mr. Huskisson, the tonnage of ships built in this kingdom was—in 1821, 74,000 tons; in 1822, 67,000 tons; and in 1823, 86,000 tons. But what had been the tonnage of ships built during the last three years? In 1844, 159,000 tons; in 1845, 203,000 tons; and in 1846, 223,000 tons. This return, he might observe, referred exclusively to sailing vessels, and did not include any steam ships. They had been told that the Reciprocity Acts which had been adopted since 1823 had given a great advantage to foreign over English shipbuilders. He thought that, in considering such a question as this, it would be unfair to pick out any particular country as an example, and he would therefore 61 take the tonnage of the whole of the shipping from and to this country and those States with which we were now on terms of reciprocity prior to the adoption of the Reciprocity Act, and for the last year. In 1820 the tonnage of British ships entered outwards to all those countries was 626,000 tons, and of foreign ships entered inwards, 464,000 tons. In 1846 the tonnage of foreign ships entered inwards had increased to 1,578,000 tons. The hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House had said that every ton of foreign shipping that came to this country must displace a ton of British shipping but what was the fact? Why, although the tonnage of foreign ships entered inwards had increased from 464,000 tons in 1820, to 1,578,000 tons in 1846, the tonnage of British shipping entered outwards had increased from 626,000 tons in 1820, to 1,920,000 tons in 1846. He (Mr. Wilson) denied, then, the statement of the hon. Member, that every ton of foreign shipping they might employ displaced a ton of British shipping. With regard to our trade with the whole world, he found that in 1824, the tonnage of British shipping entered outwards and inwards was 3,291,000 tons; and the tonnage of foreign ships entered outwards and inwards, 1,385,000 tons. It was true that in 1846 the tonnage of foreign ships had increased to 3,727,000 tons, but the tonnage of English ships had also increased to 8,620,000 tons. He thought, then, that either with regard to those countries with which we had treaties of reciprocity, or taking the whole trade of the world, after the relaxation of the navigation laws which had been adopted from time to time, there was no reason to fear that British shipowners or shipbuilders would be unable to compete with foreigners. A great deal had been said upon the colonial question, and on that subject he would say a few words. The quantity of shipping which left our ports in 1820 was 1,549,000 tons, and of that amount 746,000 tons went to the colonies, and 802,000 to neutral countries. In 1846 the colonial trade, the increase of which chiefly consisted of the East Indian and Australian trade, afforded employment to 1,672,000 tons of shipping, but at the same period the trade with the neutral ports of the world had increased to 2,721,000 tons. The whole increase of the colonial trade within the period he had mentioned had been 110 per cent, while the increase in the neutral trade had 62 been 240 per cent. They had been told that by the change which it was now proposed to make, they would pursue a course which would be disadvantageous to the colonies in some respects, and that in others the advantage would be so small that it would be of no real benefit to them. They had also been told that if they prevented colonial ships from coming here with peculiar privileges, or if they deprived ships bound to the colonies of the privileges they now enjoyed, they would immediately tear asunder the tie which knit together the mother country and the colonies. It was asked, "Why should you maintain a colony, if you will not keep up these restrictions?" That argument would be intelligible if it were shown that the restrictions were mutually beneficial; but if, instead of that, they were a mutual evil, why should not the removal of them be hailed as an advantage to both the mother country and the colonies? The hon. Gentleman who spoke last referred to the probability of the employment of the ships that carried lumber from North America to the West Indies; but, considering the condition of those colonies—considering that we were called upon to relieve them in every possible way—he could not have used a stronger argument in favour of the measure now proposed. If by removing the restrictions under which the colonies laboured we could enable them to send their sugar home at a lower rate by employing the lumber ships of America, we should undoubtedly confer a great benefit upon those colonies; and if also we could enable the British manufacturer to send his goods out to the United States by those ships on their return voyages at a cheaper rate, a benefit would surely be conferred upon him and all the industrious classes dependent on his efforts. The hon. Member had alluded also to the effect this alteration would have upon our East India shipping; but there could be no more advantageous thing than to open up means whereby, whether in American ships or British, the growth of the East Indies could be imported here, and our own distant territories rendered more available for the supply of important raw materials. Then, if it appeared, so far as free-trade principles had been extended to the navigation laws, that there had been nothing to lead us to doubt that the British shipowner and shipbuilder were able to compete with foreigners, there was nothing to induce us to hold shipping an exception in 63 regard to those principles. Then came the objections of Adam Smith. If free trade stimulated the exertions of the British shipbuilder and shipowner—if competition acted in this as it did in other cases, and led to an increase rather than a diminution of our shipping—then free trade tended to an increase of our national defences. It was only necessary to compare the shipping of 1820 and 1846, and observe the number of men added by the increase of the shipping in that period; if it was upon our commercial navy we depended to man our Royal Navy, surely the larger the number of ships from which we could draw men, the more sure we might be of a sufficient supply. But there was another important consideration, which had been considerably overlooked. If the increase in foreign shipping just stated to the House had not taken place since Mr. Huskisson introduced a policy which had been followed by succeeding Ministers, how should we have had brought here that increased quantity of raw material which we had been fortunate enough to obtain and to work up? The object of our legislation for the last seven years had been to increase our imports and exports; but to do that we must have an increased quantity of shipping. Would it be well, then, by artificial stimulants, or high protection, to divert capital from more profitable occupations into the shipping trade of this country now, when capital was so scarce? Our imports had risen since 1823 thus:—Of sheep's wool, from 19,000,000 lbs. to 62,000,0000 lbs.; of cotton wool, from 169,000,000 lbs.; to 473,000,000 lbs.; of sugar, from 210,000 tons, to 410,000 tons; of wheat, from 394,000 quarters, to upwards of 12,000,000 last year, without producing any effect upon the market worth speaking of. Would it not be wise to encourage a sufficiency of shipping to bring the supply of goods, which the whole scope of our commercial policy tended to increase? It could be no advantage to this country that freights should be high; higher freight was precisely tantamount to a greater distance from the place of production. We might as well refuse to avail ourselves of a near market, because we could bring goods from it cheap, and go to a greater distance because the price here would then be higher. Who would say it would be a national advantage that we should remove to a greater distance the places whence we received the chief supplies of our raw material and colonial pro- 64 duce? There were many proofs that British shipping could compete with foreign successfully; there were many countries where it did so, enjoying no protection whatever; and perhaps it would compete with greater success were it better attended to and manned. The return of the ships entered outwards from Rio Janeiro in 1845, showed 571 ships, 84 of which were British; but those British ships did not come home to England, enjoying any peculiar protection; they went to various parts of the world in open competition with Bremen, Trieste, and other shipping. Complaints had been made, however, of a very serious and alarming nature, affecting the carrying trade of this country. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) alluded the other night to the consular returns; very strong corroborations of his remarks had been sent to him (Mr. Wilson) without solicitation. He had a letter from a very respectable mercantile house in the City, enclosing an extract from one dated Rio Janeiro, April the 1st, stating that vessels were much wanted, but that a few days ago there were eight A 1 British ships there, unable to get a charter, owing to their character or that of their captains for carelessness. He had also a letter from the City, dated the 23rd inst., stating that on the previous morning an extract of a letter from Rio was by a member of Lloyd's put on the intelligence board, but very shortly after taken down on the authority of other members of the Committee; its substance was, that whereas every foreign vessel had been quickly taken up for coffee, there were eight British ships that no one would have anything to do with, on account of the carelessness of the captains, and the manner in which they delivered their cargoes. [Mr. G. ROBINSON: It is altogether untrue.] The hon. Member might inspect the letter sent to him (Mr. Wilson). If he had made out a case at all, it must be conceded that there was no difference between ships and other articles of commerce, as regarded the application of the principle of free trade. Then came a question, with respect to which a great difference of opinion prevailed amongst Gentlemen of high authority—namely, the policy of adhering to the principle of reciprocity, first adopted by Mr. Huskisson. He was glad to hear the frank admission made by the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford on a former evening, of the difficulty which the late Government experienced in their attempt 65 to carry out free trade on the principle of reciprocity. The question, then, resolved itself into this—Ought we to make our own enjoyment of that which we knew to be beneficial, dependent on our capability of prevailing upon others to participate in it? The experience of the late Government as to the difficulty of prevailing upon other countries to enter into treaties of reciprocity with us ought to prevent other Governments, and the House, from wishing a similar policy to be pursued in future. It appeared from the statement of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, that the moment we went to other countries and asked them to make treaties of reciprocity with us, they imbibed the most exaggerated notions of the advantages which the treaties would be of to us, and preferred claims of an extravagant character, which usually ended in long and futile negotiations. The Government, therefore, was right in proposing to do that which it knew to be beneficial to ourselves, and thus to set an example to foreign nations of its confidence in the principle of free trade. On that ground he thought the plan proposed by his right hon. Friend would cost less trouble, would ultimately be more successful than an attempt to obtain the same end by means of reciprocity treaties. Hon. Members opposite had referred to the failure of the success of the experiment in free trade; but they were not justified in attributing the present state of the country to that cause. It was deeply to be regretted that the country was suffering from a great depression of prices, and the cessation of the usual demand for our manufacturing and other products; but he asked, whether the condition of any other country which had not adopted the principles of free trade was better than our own? [Mr. ROBINSON: The United States of America.] It was a matter of wonder that the country had passed through the ordeal to which it had been subjected with so little difficulty. Had it not been for the measures carried into effect by Sir R. Peel during the last seven years, the sufferings of the country during the last two years would have been greatly aggravated; and he entertained a confident hope that those measures, when fairly developed, would prove to contain within them the germs of great future prosperity.
MR. H. DRUMMOND
Sir, although unwilling at this late hour to prolong the debate, I desire to submit some observa- 66 tions to the consideration of the House previous to your leaving the chair, because I have the misfortune to differ in opinion not only from Her Majesty's Ministers who have brought this proposition forward, but also from many Members on this side of the House. I am willing to concede that the course of policy which has been pursued by both parties has rendered necessary some such measure as that now under discussion; that it is a step essentially requisite in the course which has been adopted for many years; but as I object to that course in toto, I must necessarily object to each step taken in the same direction; nevertheless it is not my intention to offer an unavailing and therefore factious opposition, and I will leave Ministers unembarrassed by hostile votes hereafter from me. I confess I was exceedingly astonished at hearing Parliament called upon to adopt a measure of this magnitude upon such feeble grounds—a measure which has for one of its objects to turn British seamen out of our ships, and to man them with Norwegians and Lascars—a measure by which it is proposed at one fell swoop to wipe out the whole code of our maritime laws from the days of Richard I. to the present time—a code of laws, observe, not enacted at once, but which has been developed year after year, or rather age after age, throughout that whole period. This mighty change is, however, to be made in order to work out more completely the principles of the thing called free trade. Gentlemen, doubtless, know what they mean when they make use of the terms free trade on the one side of the House, and of protection on the other; but I am somewhat at a loss to understand them, for I find that the free-traders still leave many articles of commerce with duties upon them, whilst the protectionists make no objection to the unrestricted admission of others. Still there must be a principle in it if we could but get at it. Yorkshire has been heaving on one side, and Lancashire on the other; there has been a mighty mountain in labour, and something must be produced at last: the statistical department of the Board of Trade lent its obstetric aid; the politico-economical club volunteered its assistance, but it is not easy to determine what part it took in the operation—perhaps it only held the sponge with the chloroform to the nose of the patient; at length a great dogma was enunciated, which was, that we ought to buy in the cheapest, and sell in the dearest market. 67 This was the wonderful discovery of the age: this is the test by which we are to estimate the value of the military and naval defences of the country, and by which the whole course of Government is to be regulated. Sages in all times had pronounced certain dogmata by which they have become celebrated; one has said, "Know thyself;" another has said, "Pleasure is the greatest good;" another had said, "Virtue is the greatest good." The great dogma of the Manchester school of the present day when reduced to its lowest denomination is, "Buy for a penny, sell for twopence." This maxim has all the characteristics of a great philosophic truth; it is simple and comprehensive, and yet minute: it takes in the great Manchester manufacturer, and the merchant princes of London, and yet does not leave out the poor barrow-woman at her stall, nor even the dog and cats' meat man. Such is the principle on which the Government of the country is conducted, and this is the only ground which has been offered by Her Majesty's Ministers for the adoption of the measure under consideration, and we are urged to pass it merely as the means of procuring sugar and cochineal cheaper than we can at present. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, referred to the relaxation of our commercial system which took place at the close of the last war. Doubtless at the end of that war, this country was in a very different position from that in which it was at the commencement, not only with reference to its own circumstances, but also with reference to its relative position as regarded other European States. Our nearest and most restless neighbour had increased its army tenfold; other nations had done the same to nearly an equal extent; whilst our army had been little more than doubled: their territories had however, become (with the exception of Prussia) much more compact, whilst ours had been extended many thousand miles. Mr. Huskisson, Lord Wallace, and others, justly thought that many regulations which had been established when certain trades were in their infancy might be wisely discontinued; and be it remembered that many of these regulations were bound up in treaties for which political equivalents had been received by us, and were not the creation of our laws. The only way by which it ever was or is now possible for you to retain your colonies, is to make them integral parts of the mother country; to give them every pri- 68 vilege which we enjoy; and to make the trade between them and the mother country as free as it is between any two English counties. Instead of sending them out constitutions from your Colonial Office, which prove generally inapplicable to them, you should have given to the local authorities power to adopt any English laws which they pleased, and in this way although the foundations of their local laws are all various, some being Dutch, some French, some Portuguese, and some Spanish, they would gradually have grown into union with the laws of the mother country. Instead of doing this you have sacrificed your colonies to your manufacturing system: you have starved them for the sake of Manchester, and you are going on in the same course of class legislation. You know well that no trade Can be carried on for any length of time between two parties unless it were eventually advantageous to both, and you intentionally prefer to give the benefit of trading with you to the French, or to any foreigner you can find, rather than to your own. brethren the colonists; you intentionally do this—you intentionally enrich the French and Germans, and impoverish the subjects of your own country. This was your intention during your whole agitation about the corn laws. You said it was for the sake of the poor. Do you think the poor believe you? Do you think that they do not see through the fallacy when you talk about cheapening the poor man's loaf at the very time that you are taking away from his employer the power of giving him the means to purchase that loaf? You say that the poor are ungrateful, that there is an attempt made to set the working classes against the manufacturers: there is no need to do that. The poor see through all this perfectly well. I never spoke to a working operative, as you call him, or country labourer concerning free trade, who was not against it; and when you charge them with ingratitude to you for the benefit you say you have conferred by giving them cheap bread; they feel, though they may not know how to express in the words of Lord Bacon, that, "Ingratitude is sometimes only a keen insight into the motives of benevolence." When allusion was made on a recent occasion to the advantage and non-advantage of colonies, and to the possibility of our retaining them, the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government said that he had been accustomed to contemplate with pride the 69 greatness of this empire, and that if ever the time should arrive when they should be separated from the mother country some other hand than his must be looked for to sign the deed. This sentiment was creditable to him as an Englishman, and worthy of the high reputation which he deservedly enjoys as a British statesman; but there is in this country one greater than he is; and if it would be a painful thing for him to present such a deed to his Sovereign, it would be doubly painful to Her to receive it. Monarchy is fatherhood, and the Sovereign loves all her children alike. The noble Lord must remember how painful it was to George III. to receive the Ambassador from the United States; and if the noble Lord perseveres in the policy which he is now pursuing it is impossible for him to preserve the colonies of this empire. I concede every word that has been demanded with respect to the commercial advantages which may accrue to this nation by the present policy. You may be rich, but you will be contemptible. The policy of your Edwards, long before the policy of Richard II. began, was to make the country great, knowing that when a country was great it would be rich, and caring nothing for its being rich unless it were also great. The object of your idolatry is wealth; wealthy you may be, and the Queen may have an European Island like Corsica or Sicily; but if you persevere in your present course the Sovereign of the British Empire she never can be more.
§ MR. SCOTT
fully concurred in all the sentiments which had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House. What were the grounds offered to the House to justify their assenting to pass this suicidal measure? He would ask hon. Gentlemen who advocated it on the principle of free trade, whether the poor-law returns, or any statistics as to the state of the poor in the agricultural or manufacturing districts, were of such a character as to warrant them in saying that free trade had contributed to the happiness of the people? He denied that it had in any degree improved their condition. The evidence taken before the Committee of the House of Lords showed the building, manning, and victualling of British ships to be far more expensive than in foreign shipping. When the Committee appointed by the House of Commons had made no report of their opinion, and when the Committee of the House of Lords was still sitting, he had a right to assume that the 70 facts and statements which had been put forth on behalf of the shipping interest, being unchallenged, were unchallengeable. He could show that the increase of British shipping, great as it had been, was not so great in proportion as those who competed with us. The very nations who were taking our carrying trade away from us were those who rejected our manufactures in order to establish their own. These were surely arguments against any relaxation of the navigation laws. One effect of the abolition of the navigation laws would be that the Prussians, whose ships were not suited to such trade as was now carried on with our colonies, would be encouraged to build ships for long and distant voyages, and would thus supplant us in our foreign carrying trade, as they had already done in our manufactures. It had been argued that our shipmasters were not so moral as those of foreign countries; but surely, whatever reason that might be for taking measures to make them more moral and more efficient, it was no reason why Britain should give up the exclusive right of navigation to her colonies. It could never be urged as a good argument against the existence of the navigation laws. Another argument was, that the public would derive advantages from the reduction of freights; but they might depend upon it that any such reduction would be merely temporary, for if foreigners once got possession of the carrying trade of this country, freights would be sure to rise higher than ever. If the carrying trade with the colonies were opened to foreigners, the result would be the same as Sir Henry Pottinger had explained with respect to China; American longcloths supplying the place of British manufactures. They would sever the last bond which united their commerce with those dependencies; for if they lost their shipping, they would lose their colonies, and with them their naval supremacy.
§ Debate adjourned to Thursday.