§ The House went into Committee on the Navigation Laws.
And be it enacted, That in case it shall be made to appear to Her Majesty that British vessels are subject in any foreign country to any prohibitions or restrictions as to the voyages in which they may engage, or as to the articles which they may import into or export from such country, it shall be lawful for Her Majesty (if she think fit), by Order in Council, to impose such prohibitions or restrictions upon the ships of such foreign country, either as to the voyages in which they may engage, or as to the articles which they may import into or export from, or carry coastwise in, any part of the United Kingdom, or of any British possession in any part of the world, as Her Majesty may think fit, so as to place the ships of such country on as nearly as possible the same footing in British ports as that on which British ships are placed in the ports of such country.
intimated, that this being in substance the proposition of a perfectly new clause, it could not be brought forward until the report was received.
expressed himself in opposition to the principle of reciprocity involved in the clause, simply because he believed that it would have the effect (if any at all) of obstructing the principle of the Bill. The clause, however, was likely to be practically inoperative, and he thought that the omission of it would be of advantage.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that this question was one which had been fully inquired into and answered during the discussions on this subject last Session, and he thought, therefore, that it was quite unnecessary for him to enter into it. He entirely disagreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent in the belief that this was merely a formal part of the Bill; on the contrary, he believed it to be a most essential part. It vested the power in this country of retaliating at any time upon foreign States should they seek to take an undue advantage of our libe- 1296 rality. He objected to the principle of making legislation conditional on reciprocity, for that rather impaired than advanced the power of a Government to protect the rights of the subjects of its own country. It was different, however, with the clause before the Committee, which was rather in the nature of a check and a controlling power. So far from this being an immaterial portion of the Bill, he must repeat that he thought it to be a most substantial and important part, and certainly should give his most strenuous opposition to any proceeding which was calculated to impede the Ministry in their power to rightly protect the shipping interests of this country.
§ MR. G. SANDARS
rose, and said: Sir, as I find by the forms of the House it is not in my power to introduce the clause I have given notice of, at this stage of the proceedings, I shall content myself at present with stating its objects, and shall bring it up when the other clauses have been disposed of. Sir, the clause now under discussion (the 19th) is that which professes to give to Her Majesty in Council the power of retaliation against those countries which do not grant the like privileges to us which we give to them; but this clause is so worded as to convey an impression that it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Ministers to put it in force. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in introducing the Bill, admitted, that it was a passive rather than an active power. Now, Sir, the object of my clause is, to make it obligatory on Her Majesty in Council, when cause is shown, to enforce these retaliatory clauses. If they are to remain in the Bill, let it be understood by this House, and the country, and by foreign countries, that it is intended they should, at the proper time, be acted upon. Then I believe that before the expiration of the three years proposed, foreign countries (studying their own interest), will be but too happy to place themselves in a condition to be able to continue the advantages this measure will confer on them. Blind, indeed, would they be to their own interest, if it were not so; for, what equivalent has any other country to offer to us for the throwing open to it of our colonial trade, unless America will throw open to us as an equivalent her coasting trade? and I do say, if she acts with perfect fairness towards us she will do so. Sir, three plans have already been submitted to the House, viz., that of the 1297 hon. Member for Kilmarnock, which is the plan of reciprocity; that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, which he terms "conditional legislation;" and, lastly, that of the Government. I felt obliged to vote against the plan of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, as it appeared to me to be difficult, if not impracticable, to carry out its operation. Then, Sir, I could not agree with the plan of conditional legislation, advocated by the right hon. Member for the university of Oxford, as it appeared to me an objectionable extension of the principle of reciprocity; compelling the opening of our coasting trade to the competition of foreigners. I should regret to see our ports filled with the small craft of Denmark, Holland, Norway, and Sweden, competing with our own native sailors at their very doors. Then, Sir, there is left the plan of the Government, which appears to me the most desirable of the three, yet it requires improvement in its details, and particularly in the clause under consideration. Sir, it may be asked, why I, sitting at this side the House, and usually opposed to what are called the principles of free trade, should support the Government measure? I answer for two reasons: first, whether right or wrong, we are committed to the principles of free trade, and I see no reason for excepting the shipping interest from its operation; secondly, from the inconvenience which I, as a mercantile man, trading to all parts of the globe, have experienced from the operation of these laws. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford, in his speech the other evening, gave us the names of several West India merchants of high respectability and standing, who, in their evidence, said they experienced no inconvenience in carrying on their trade from the operation of these laws. This fact I can readily believe. Merchants confining their operations to one locality, and engaged in a trade not subjected to sudden fluctuations of supply and demand, are very differently situated from those who are trading to all parts of the world, and in an article subject to great and sudden fluctuations in price, supply, and demand. I speak practically on this point. The house to which I belong has had corn lying at various ports of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Baltic; and though foreign ships might have been had, it often happened that English vessels could not on any terms, and if chartered cost some 30 or 40 per cent more than 1298 foreign ships on the spot, besides entailing great loss and inconvenience from the delay. I have also frequently known that cargoes shipped in foreign vessels intended for the united kingdom, had to be sent to a foreign port to be reshipped in a British vessel to this country. Really, such anomalies ought no longer to be endured. All admit that these laws do entail hardships and inconveniences on our commerce. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford, in the resolution he brought forward last year, admitted this; and he proposed to agree to a modification, but still to maintain the fundamental principles. Why, Sir, these fundamental principles had, in fact, been surrendered in 1823 by Mr. Huskisson's Reciprocity Treaties. These treaties have worked well; for I believe in every instance, though the terms for which they were granted had expired, both parties admit the benefits received, and allow their practical continuance, though there are no treaties existing to authorise and enforce their observance. It is argued by the supporters of the navigation laws that they are necessary to preserve our naval supremacy. If I thought so, I should be the last man to vote for their repeal. All will agree that if the repeal of these laws does not injure our mercantile marine, neither can it our naval efficiency. Let us see what has been the effect of Mr. Huskisson's Reciprocity Treaties. The tonnage on British ships was in
And this great increase, Sir, in spite of all the gloomy forebodings and evil prognostications of the opponents of these measures in those days. I can see no reason why the shipping interest should be thus exclusively protected. It has always taken care of itself, and taken advantage of every opportunity of increasing freights. In the year 1847, that year of large importation of corn, freights advanced some 300 to 400 per cent. 8s. was paid per barrel on flour from New York to Liverpool, whilst 2s. is the usual freight; 2s. 3d. was paid per bushel on corn in place of 9d., the customary freight; and similarly increased 1299 freights were paid from all quarters of the world, notwithstanding the suspension of our navigation laws during the whole of that period. On behalf of the agricultural interest and the tenant farmers I claim the repeal of these laws. Why, when they are deprived of protection, should they be compelled to pay some 30 to 40 per cent increase of freight on their manure—the guano, the rape cake, and hones—or the food for their cattle—the linseed cake, maize, and pulse? Why should they be taxed for the benefit of this privileged interest? Sir, I beg pardon for wandering thus far from the immediate question before the Committee; but this being the only opportunity I have had of addressing the House upon this question, I felt I might trespass a short time upon its indulgence. Sir, I look for support to my Amendment from hon. Gentlemen around me. All agree there are inconveniences which ought to be got rid of—all must admit that some change is desirable; then better far support my clause, which does not make an unconditional surrender, but which adopts, after a trial of throe years, the American principle, "if you give little, we give little, if you give much, we give much, if yon give all, we give all." I have a right also to look for the support of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, who advocated in his speech last Session the principle of a limited continuation of the powers of this Bill. The right hon. Baronet said—
1823 2,460,500 1846 3,952,524 TONNAGE ON BRITISH SHIPS INWARDS AND OUTWARDS. 1823 3,454,853 1846 8,900,000 SEAMEN. 1823 165,474 1846 252,000I wish the Ministers to consider the policy of giving a temporary duration to the Act, so that at a certain period the privileges conferred by Act of Parliament would terminate without the Crown being called upon to fulfil the painful duty of reimposing restrictions. Suppose the trade were to be opened for a period of five years; at the end of that period the privileges given would necessarily expire, and every country would have notice that they had the means of averting the reestablishment of restrictions by entering into some arrangement with this country.The difference would be this, that whilst his plan would require all the countries which had acted on the principle of reciprocity to apply for fresh powers at the end of five years, mine would leave all such countries to the enjoyment of their privileges, and the few who refused to act on the principle of "what you give, we will give," would have those privileges withdrawn. I shall move. Sir, that the following clause be brought up when all the other clauses have been disposed of:—Whereas it is expedient that inducements be 1300 held out to foreign States to place British vessels in foreign ports on the same footing on which the vessels of such foreign States are placed in the ports of this country; Be it enacted, that, in case it shall, at the expiration of three years from the passing of this Act, he made to appear to Her Majesty that British vessels are subject in any foreign country to any prohibitions or restrictions as to the voyages in which they may engage, or as to the articles which they may import into or export from such country, to which the ships of such foreign country are not subject in this country, it shall then he lawful for Her Majesty in Council to impose such prohibitions or restrictions upon the ships of such foreign country as shall place the ships of such country on as nearly as possible the same footing in British ports as that on which British ships are placed in the ports of such country.
§ MR. HERRIES
said, this clause, taken in conjunction with the first, abolishing existing Acts, formed, in fact, the Bill, that is, contained its very essence; and while he still retained his objection to the whole principle of this measure, he thought he might here observe that nothing could show more the necessity for an important modification of the measure than the number of proposals which had been made on this very subject of reciprocity. First, there was the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, who made an effort to introduce a clause to that effect; then there was the present provision for the same purpose; and, lastly, his right hon. Friend the Member for the university of Oxford, had suggested, though he had not pressed, some conditional clauses. He regretted at the time that the right hon. Gentleman had not brought forward his plan, and he did so the more, now that he understood under what erroneous impressions it was that he had declined to do so. It appeared that he had mainly abstained from proposing his plan, because he thought there were some persons, or some party in the House, who would be disposed to make a tool of his proposition, by placing him in a dilemma in a subsequent stage upon the merits of the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman supposed that there was the least stratagem intended upon his part, or on the part of those hon. Members with whom he was acting, he had been most grievously mistaken. It had never entered into his mind, and he knew not the person who had for a moment indulged such a thought. He and those who were acting with him would adopt a plain, manly, and straightforward course in giving their opposition to what they believed to be a most pernicious and calamitous measure to the country. He had never lent himself to any plan, nor in- 1301 deed had any one of the party with whom he was connected, for the purpose of obstructing or impeding the legitimate progress of the Bill. With respect to the particular clause before the House, he was bound to say that he did not attach much importance to it, because it could do no good, but might possibly do a great deal of mischief. Upon looking at it as it stood, they could not but ask themselves what its effect would be with respect to the United States. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had withdrawn, when the Navigation Bill was last under discussion, that part of the Bill which was the least objectionable. If they could have succeeded in getting some return from the United States for that portion of our coasting trade which it was proposed to give them, he must confess that the arrangement introduced by the Bill would have been less objectionable. The restrictions of America were manifold; yet, notwithstanding all the advantages we gave her, we were to receive nothing in return, whereas they ought to get from foreign countries, and from America in particular, something like reciprocity. The United States had declined to enter into the arrangement alluded to, for an exchange of the coasting trades of the two countries; and this was the real reason for the withdrawal of the "coasting clauses" from the present Bill. The Americans were too wise to give away anything for nothing. And what, he asked, would be the effect of the retaliation clause upon them? After surrendering to them that colonial trade which they had so long been seeking, what had we to withhold or withdraw? Why, the Americans had, by the mouth of Mr. Clay, their eminent statesman, laid down this principle:—Whatever commercial privileges are granted by the United States to any foreign nation are founded upon equivalents; holding out the principle of fair reciprocity, we neither ask nor afford commercial boons.However (said, the right hon. Gentleman) we do. But I think America "wiser in her generation" than we are—for I think it is the duty of every Government to protect the interests of its own people.
§ MR. MACGREGOR
considered this clause as necessary to the present Bill, although he confessed he would much rather that it had not been introduced at all. If there was one reason more than another which had induced him to form that opinion, it was a desire on his part to 1302 see the restrictions removed from all the commercial and maritime interests between every portion of the British empire and the United States of America. It had been said that they were giving everything to America, and that she had little to give this country in return. He did not concur in that opinion; he believed that the indirect trade with America would be very great. The trade from the Mediterranean and other parts, which would be open to this country, would be of greater importance than could be estimated at the present moment. The United States were willing to meet this country if the Government would only act in the same liberal spirit towards them.
§ MR. ROBINSON
wished to suggest an Amendment in the clause, which would have the effect of taking away from the Privy Council the option of restricting the privileges of foreign ships in the event of foreign countries not reciprocating with us. That object, could, he understood, be effected by omitting the words "if she think fit." He should be glad to know whether the omission of those words would make it imperative on the Privy Council to act in such cases?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that in his opinion, the omission of the words would make it imperative to restrict the privilege of foreign ships, in cases where the countries to which they belonged did not reciprocate with this country. If this Amendment, however, were carried, it would only revive the old spirit of retaliation, and make it the duty of the Government to retaliate every little restriction that might be imposed by other countries, to the great inconvenience of the trade of this country. He hoped, therefore, that the Amendment would not be pressed.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
differed with the right hon. Gentleman as to the construction of the words of this clause. He did not think that a clause stating that "it shall be lawful for Her Majesty to do so and so," would at all bear the construction that she was bound to do it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford had alluded to the course which he (Mr. Gladstone) had taken with respect to the Amendment which he had intended to have proposed to the House. When he said, on a former occasion, that the right hon. Gentleman, or any one acting with him, intended to use his Amendment as an instrument or tool, for the purpose of defeating the Bill, he did not in the slightest de- 1303 gree mean to insinuate anything but the most manly and straightforward course of opposition. There was not the slightest reason to complain of the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman and those acting with him had chosen to make their opposition to the Bill. What he thought was, that, as he was about to make a proposal entirely independent of those hon. Members, it was intended to make use of that proposal for the purpose of damaging the Bill; as he did not consider that his propositions would have been valuable unless they had received either the support of the Government, or the undivided support of the Opposition.
§ MR. ROBINSON
said, that he would like to know from the Attorney General what would be the effect of the omission of the words he had proposed?
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that undoubtedly the impression on the public mind of the omission of those words would be that Her Majesty would be required by the Act to do certain things.
§ SIR F. THESIGER
was of opinion that the words "it shall be lawful for Her Majesty," if they stood alone, would not imply that she was bound to carry out the restrictions referred to in this clause. It was merely discretionary.
§ The Amendment was then withdrawn, and the clause was ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 20 and 21 were agreed to without discussion.
§ On Clause 22, enabling the Queen in Council to reduce differential duties in certain cases,
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that the object of the clause was very simple. Her Majesty was at present enabled, when a commercial treaty had been entered into with any Power, and that Power had reduced the light-dues, harbour dues, and other charges of that kind upon our vessels, so as to place them in that respect upon the same footing as their own, to make a corresponding reduction in the charges upon foreign vessels. But to enable Her Majesty in Council to do this, there must be a treaty between this country and the foreign Power in question; and the Brazils and Spain were unwilling to conclude a treaty for that purpose, though they were quite willing to remit these duties. It was most desirable that our shipping should have the same relief in 1304 this respect in countries with which we had not formal treaties on the subject, as was afforded to it in countries with which treaties existed. The object of the clause, therefore, was to enable Her Majesty to reduce the differential duties by an Order in Council, whether there was a treaty with a foreign country or not.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
That was a large question—which it would not be advisable to discuss at present. Dock dues stood on a different footing from light and harbour dues, inasmuch as docks were the property of private corporations, and those dues did not appear to stand on the same broad and national foundation as the other dues he had mentioned.
§ MR. WAWN
The Hull Dock Company had received a grant of land belonging to the Crown for the construction of a new dock, in order to provide accommodation for the shipping of that port, and had yet received 10,000l from the Government for dock dues remitted to foreign vessels. He proposed to insert "dock dues" after "light dues."
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
The words of the clause as they stand include everything now paid by the Government.
§ MR. HENLEY
The whole question of this remission of dues and payment out of the Consolidated Fund required consideration and revision. Some hundreds of thousands had been paid out of the Consolidated Fund in consequence of doing away with these differential dues. It might be a question whether corporations and private individuals ought not to forego these dues, payable by foreign vessels, instead of calling upon the Government to pay them.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
The words of the present clause were borrowed from those of the Act of the 59th of George III., and the words "other dues," in that Act were held to include dock dues, which were paid by the Government in certain cases under that Act. The effect of the present clause would be that the remission of dues, which at present must be done by treaty with foreign States, might be done without, by an Order of the Queen in Council.
§ MR. HENLEY
These charges might 1305 go on increasing to any extent. The Act of Parliament to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred, only contemplated a limited state of things, and not the opening of the trade to the extent to which it had proceeded.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
said, he presumed that, in point of fact, the extension of the public burdens contemplated by this clause was not considerable; because the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had referred to Spain and the Brazils, who had not a great deal of shipping. He wished, however, to refer to a matter of some importance, arising out of this clause, though it related to a point of form, namely, whether the clause was sufficient to enable Her Majesty to lay charges on the Consolidated Fund. The Attorney General had referred the Committee to the Act 59 Geo. III.; but though there was a clause like this in that Act, there was also another clause which enjoined the payment of the money out of the Consolidated Fund, and therefore he presumed that the latter clause had been the subject of a preliminary resolution in the Committee of the whole House. There had been no preliminary resolution in the present instance that the money should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, and he should be glad to hear the opinion of the Chairman, now that his attention had been called to the subject.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bernal)
having already had his attention drawn to this point confessed he had doubts, and was not prepared to say that the Committee could proceed at present without such preliminary consent having been given in Committee of the whole House.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
When the Queen made a treaty She was enabled to charge the Consolidated Fund with the payment of these dues.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The clause had no necessary connexion with the Bill before the House, and he would withdraw it for the present. If he found that he could bring it forward afterwards he would do so.
§ Clause 22 was then withdrawn.
§ Clauses 23 to 28 inclusive were agreed to without discussion.
§ On Clause 29, which provides that a declaration shall be made by the owner of a vessel previous to registering, that he is a subject of Great Britain,1306
§ MR. GLADSTONE
, on the subject of the ownership of vessels, thought it a questionable provision by which no foreigner could, either directly or indirectly, hold any ownership or part ownership in a British ship. Several vessels were owned partly by foreigners and partly by British subjects; and if other foreign Powers adopted the same rule as ourselves, it would follow that those ships could not be registered in any country whatever. He did not see why they should make the rule so stringent. A vessel, to be entitled to the privileges of a British vessel, ought to be principally British; but it would surely be enough if the majority of the shares in such ships were owned by British shipowners.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
agreed in the principle of the objection urged by the right hon. Gentleman; but it was of very little practical importance, as the law was sure to be evaded. People were obliged to live outside the law sometimes. The ships of the General Steam Navigation Company had been held to be entitled to the privileges of British registry, though it was notorious that the greater number of the shareholders were foreigners. It was a most anomalous thing that they might compose nearly the whole proprietary body of a largo and powerful corporation, and yet not be entitled to own the one-hundreth part of a single sloop.
§ MR. HUTT
believed that shares to a considerable extent in British vessels were held by foreigners in the name of other persons. He agreed with his right hon. Friend, that the law would be extensively evaded; but, inasmuch as the clause would, pro tanto, restrict the sale of British vessels, it was to that extent a bad one. He suggested that they should add—"Provided that the larger number of registered shares should be owned by British subjects."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that a vessel, in order to acquire the character of a British ship, must be British owned. He thought there was no practical inconvenience in leaving the law as it stood, though he should be ready to consider any amendment which might be proposed specifying the proportion of foreign shares which might be held in a British ship. He knew that any law which was passed might be evaded to some extent; but that was no reason why they should make evasion more easy. He certainly did not wish to see ships which were 1307 really the property of foreigners entitled to the privileges of a British register.
§ The clause was then agreed to, as were also the remaining clauses of the Bill.
§ MR. G. SANDARS
said, with reference to the clause of which he had given notice, respecting inducements to be held out to foreign States to place British vessels on the same footing as their own, he did not think it then expedient to press it to a division.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On the Motion that the preamble be agreed to,
§ MR. GLADSTONE
said, that before the Bill was reported to the House, he should wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, with reference to the powers proposed to be conferred on the colonial legislatures, whether he had had an opportunity of considering the Amendments which he had placed on the Votes in the form of clauses to be inserted on the report? He would leave the form of the clauses to the right hon. Gentleman, if he could consistently adopt their substance.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
thought there was no great practical difference between the right hon. Gentleman and himself on the subject; but still he preferred the course pursued by the Government, which was likely to be more acceptable to the colonies. He did not preclude himself, how-over, from giving the Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman further consideration.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would apprise him when he had finally made up his mind, as it might be necessary to take the opinion of the House on the matter.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, in reply, that he should do so shortly. He wished further to state, that he had recently conversed with some shipowners respecting the proviso which was to regulate the proportion between the number of British and foreign seamen to be employed in the vessels regarding which they intended to legislate by means of the present measure. In one respect it was proposed that, without reference to tonnage, the numbers of British and foreign seamen should bear a certain proportion to each other; in another it was proposed that where the number of British seamen bore a certain relation to the tonnage of the vessel, the number of foreigners on board need not be inquired into. As he saw no great advan- 1308 tage in the latter part of the proviso, he thought it might be withdrawn.
said, it would be a great boon to the shipowners if the clause were got rid of altogether.
§ The preamble was then agreed to.
§ The House resumed. Bill reported; to be considered, as amended, on Monday next. Bill, as amended, to be printed.
§ MR. HERRIES
had understood from the noble Lord at the head of the Government that he did not, under any circumstances, intend to propose the third reading of this Bill until after Easter. He did not Irish to offer any lengthened opposition to it in its next stage; but he certainly should oppose the third reading of it. He wished the noble Lord would name the day after Easter when he proposed to take the third reading.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
would do so in the course of a few days, and he would endeavour to fix upon a day which he thought would be most convenient to the House.