HC Deb 22 March 1852 vol 119 cc1413-26

Order for Committee of Supply read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


begged to move in the way of amendment on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, the Resolution of which he had given notice. He could not help thinking that, in rejecting the services of the Metropolitan Volunteer Rifles, the Government had pursued a course equally inconsistent and injudicious. It was, indeed, most inexpedient to have done so, for it ought not to have escaped the recollection of the Government, that at periods of our history when there was well-founded apprehension of a foreign invasion, it was owing in a great degree to the patriotic activity of volunteer corps that the horrors of such a calamity were averted, He hoped that the Government would reconsider what they had done in this matter, and give such an explanation of their views as would tend rather to encourage than depress the readiness which the people of this country had, in many places, manifested to form themselves into volunteer companies. The letter addressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Middlesex was certainly of a very depressing character, and was regarded by the members of the Metropolitan Rifle Corps as tantamount to a refusal of their services. The right hon. Gentleman stated in that letter that the Government did not intend to sanction such clubs until their plans on the subject of the militia had boon fully matured and discussed in that House—unless, perhaps, in some few instances of absolute necessity, and that they did not regard the county of Middlesex as furnishing such an instance; but in this, in his (Sir De L. Evans's) opinion, they were greatly mistaken—for if there was one point in all England which, in case of a foreign invasion, would be more valuable than another, that place was the centre of the county of Middlesex. Some declaration of the present in- tentions of the Government on this subject, ought to be made with as little delay as possible, for nothing was more to be deprecated than the circulation amongst the public of the notion that offers of volunteer services for the defence of the Kingdom would be sure to be received in a cold and ungracious manner by the authorities of the State. He (Sir De L. Evans) was astonished there should be any delay whatever in accepting this offer. It was supposed that the members of these corps would be exempt from serving in the militia; but he saw no necessity for such an exemption. Being a military man, his own feelings were, of course, strongly in favour of a regular army; but he would not underrate the importance of such services as might be rendered by volunteer companies, for he could not forget that it was by such forces that the Swiss had been rescued from the yoke of Austria—that the Dutch had overthrown their Spanish masters—and that the Americans had erected themselves, despite of England, into an independent State. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department would give a satisfactory explanation of his letter to the Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex, and make such a statement as would prove that the public had no distrust of the people of this country, and that some misapprehension, arising from extreme pressure, had alone led to the idea that they were disposed to regard with disfavour the proffered services of volunteer companies.


, in seconding the Amendment, said that though he had, on two nights, objected to any Votes in Supply being taken after midnight, he had heard with satisfaction the statement of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), that he did not intend any further to interrupt and stop the supplies. He (Mr. Hume) thought every facility ought to be afforded the Government for obtaining the supplies, which would have been given to the late Government, in order that they might proceed with the measures they thought to be absolutely necessary before the dissolution. The proceedings in that and the other House must have satisfied every one that it would be impossible for the Government to refuse the appeal to the country, so soon as what were considered measures of necessity were passed. It was probably the first time in his life that he had refrained from opposing Votes in Supply. But he thought that the best policy was that which had been adopted by the noble Lord the Member of the city of London, as far as the Army, Navy, and Ordnance Estimates were concerned. Should there be any hesitation about carrying out the understanding for a dissolution, it might be a question whether the Miscellaneous Estimates should not be voted for a short period in order to enforce it. He did not believe the noble Lord was aware of the opinion of this country with regard to the militia. In 1831 the whole population was roused in angry opposition to the proposal to ballot for the militia; and nothing but the most immediate necessity would warrant such a conscription. He hoped the Government would not consider that as one of the measures requisite to be passed before a dissolution. As long as he was able to stop such a proposal, he would do so. He was the more confirmed in his view after hearing what had been stated by the gallant General. If the Government wanted force, there were volunteers to be had without fee or reward, one of whom was worth five obtained for hire. So far from thinking that any additional force was required, he believed it to be too great at present.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'in the opinion of this House it is inconsistent, on the part of the Government, to propose an augmentation, however small, of the armed and paid Forces of the Country, while they, at the very same time, refuse, and in effect discountenance and discourage, the highly laudable, patriotic, and chivalrous offers of gratuitous service from various parts of the Kingdom, having for their object the formation of Rifle Companies and Regiments for the National defence,' instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he must deprecate a debate upon such a question as that raised by the Amendment, and without pledging himself to any particular scheme of any kind, was anxious that the Government should be permitted to lay their Militia Bill upon the table on as early a day as possible. He had his own opinions on the subject of volunteer companies. He thought that such a force might be very serviceable as a secondary corps to support a regular army, or to support any force regularly combined; but he should be very sorry to entrust the entire defence of any country to such an armament as volunteer companies.


said, he had heard with pleasure the statement of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) that he would interpose no further delay to the House passing the Votes of money or of men. He had heard also with pleasure the cheers of hon. Gentlemen around the noble Lord at that statement. As for the noble Lord himself, he would be an unnatural parent if he did show some paternal anxiety and fondness for his own Estimates, and more especially as right hon. Gentlemen opposite were merely doing the work of the noble Lord and the late Government. If that were so, and if no ulterior object with respect to a dissolution was in view, he could well understand the noble Lord and his Friends supporting the proposals they themselves had originally made. He had, however, to express a humble hope that the acts of his noble Friend and of those who cheered him, would correspond a little more to that hope than they did on Friday last. On that day, hon. Gentlemen who had avowed their desire for an early dissolution, occupied the House with eight hours of debate, and without even the consolation of a division after all. He did not deny that there were two or three good speeches, but he questioned whether there was any necessity for those speeches being made. An Amendment was now interposed with respect to a question which would be legitimately discussed on Monday next. They had also had a speech from the hon. Member for Middlesex (Mr. B. Osborne) on the subject of Irish education, which the right hon. Secretary of State had told them Government did not intend to interfere with this Session. If they were all agreed the Parliament should be speedily dissolved, he submitted to those hon. Members who interposed Motions, how far such discussions were consistent with their glowing desire for an immediate appeal to the country on the question of protection?


said, he had understood the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) to give the Government to understand that upon certain conditions no further discussions likely to protract their proceedings would take place from that side of the House—that the Votes which were necessary, and which any Government would require, should be agreed to with as little delay as possible, the Mutiny Bill passed, and, he presumed, the Bill for the disfranchisement of St. Albans, to which there appeared to be no opposition. On other questions there was no difference of opinion, except on that of the militia. The noble Lord had not been treated very civilly on that question; he had not been allowed even to bring in his Bill; but he now proposed, with a magnanimity not always to be found on the Opposition bench, to allow the Bill of the Government to be laid on the table. To that he (Mr. Bright) had no objection; but he would recommend the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the Bill was not a mere formal measure, and would create a great discussion in the country, after laying it on the table of the House, to let it remain there, and be one of those subjects of general policy on which the right hon. Gentleman and his chief proposed to go to the country, as soon as they had got rid of the question of protection. It was peculiarly one of those questions which ought to be discussed by the constituencies; because the noble Lord's Bill proposed to affect a particular class of the community, men between the ages of twenty and twenty-three. It was a great question—first, whether we required any additional defence; secondly, whether it should be provided in that way; and, thirdly, whether it should be made to bear upon a particular class of the community in that manner. And it would be exceedingly unjust to the community, and going beyond the proper duties of that House, except in a case of emergency such as had not been laid before them, to attempt to settle a question like that in a Parliament just about to be dissolved, and altogether disorganised, owing to the election ferment now spreading through the country. He hoped the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) did not give the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer the slightest expectation of assistance in the carrying of that important measure, during the few remaining days or weeks, as it might be, of that Session. He presumed the right hon. Gentleman would bring the affairs he intended to submit to the House within the smallest possible compass; for it was certain that many Members were suffering severely in their pockets every day that the House was not dissolved. The demoralisation which, under the present system, took place at every election, must be materially increased if the elections were unnecessarily delayed.


said, he did not rise to prolong the discussion, but to express to the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) his opinion that he had been guilty of a great error in the proceedings of Fri- day night, and that he was convinced, from what had occurred to-night, that the noble Lord had in some measure come again to his senses, and now perceived that in the course which he had been induced to take in endeavouring to enlarge the basis of his opposition, he had been considerably mistaken. He had to congratulate the noble Lord on the change which had taken place to-night, and on the fact that he had not that night thrown out his skirmishers to raise a debate for which there was no "consumption" in the country. The noble Lord, in the first instance, appeared inclined to treat the Government in the dog-in-the-manger style, but now he stood in a different situation. As regarded the Opposition, he had no hesitation in saying that there were two. The Chesham-place party might be considered the broad-bottomed opposition. But there was another, headed by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), which might be styled the broad-brimmed opposition. If the noble Lord consented to receive advice from the "proud humility" of the hon. Member for Manchester, he could only congratulate him on such an ally, because he felt certain if the noble Lord went to the country with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham) as an ally on one hand, and the hon. Members for the West Riding of Yorkshire and Manchester on the other, it would be a most unpopular Opposition. There was a great public actor in London who entirely expressed his (Sir J. Tyrell's) sentiments on the present state of affairs. Mr. Keeley—[laughter]—Mr. Keeley said, "Vy are you in a 'urry? Great folks are never in a 'urry. The Government ought never to be in a 'urry." And so he hoped Government would not be in a hurry, and would not allow themselves to be dictated to. Hon. Members on the other side said they were anxious for a dissolution. They paid little or no respect to the wishes of county Members or quarter-sessions justices; but he could assure them that they were not fast asleep as they seemed. They were neither afraid of a dissolution nor of the factious policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He regretted seeing so distinguished a statesman as the noble Lord placed in his present position. The noble Lord seemed to have quite lost that natural sagacity for which the public only a few weeks ago gave him credit. If public rumour was to be believed, no small number of the Whig party would not consent to the noble Lord being placed at the head of any future Whig Administration. If that were so, there was an end of the family compact—the supplies had been exhausted—and even the relatives of the noble Lord's great-grandmother would no longer come to his aid. The noble Lord when he found out his mistake summoned his followers, and found that he was forced to avail himself of the support of the resuscitated Anti-Corn-Law League, and to invite the hon. Member for the West Riding to Chesham-place, and the hon. Member for Manchester to dinner. He trusted Government would neither hasten nor retard their measures. They had declared that they were not afraid of a dissolution; and if hon. Members opposite acted on the suggestion of the noble Lord, they would refrain from factious proceedings, and assist the Government to carry out the measures that were absolutely necessary.


said, that there was one subject upon which the public felt great interest upon which he wished to ask a question, more particularly as there seemed to be some ambiguity thrown upon it by the discrepancy in the statements of the noble Earl at the head of the Government in the House of Lords, and the hustings speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control. He alluded to the Repeal of the Navigation Laws. The noble Earl said that the repeal of the measure of 1848 would be wrong and unwise; but the right hon. Gentleman seemed to hold a very different opinion. He stated that the percentage of foreign tonnage had increased in a much larger ratio than the percentage of English tonnage. But that was an unfair way to put the subject, because, if from a certain country only one ship entered this country this year, and two ships entered next year, the increase of tonnage would be 100 per cent, while, if our British were to increase to a far larger extent, the percentage might not be so great. The hon. Gentleman, also, seemed to think that they could have no prosperity in this country without a corresponding degree of adversity in other countries. It was explicitly declared by the Earl of Derby in another place, that he utterly and completely abandoned all intention of falling back on the system that prevailed before the repeal of the Navigation Laws. He now wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman—and it was a matter in which the public, on the eve of an election, were entitled to have explicit information—whe ther it was intended by any means, either by retaliation, prohibition, or restriction, to alter the present policy in respect to their mercantile marine?


said, that he must have expressed himself very imperfectly indeed, if the language he used conveyed anything like the impression which it seemed to have made on the mind of the hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Herries) had said very nearly the reverse of what the hon. Gentleman had stated as his sentiments. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere) would do him the justice of bearing witness that when the question of the repeal of the Navigation Laws was before that House, he expressed an opinion, and he did so with great regret, that it would be difficult, if not altogether impossible, to reverse that measure if passed. He had even used with regard to it the hacknied quotation, Vestigia nulla retrorsum. He had stated as distinctly as possible that by reason of the manner in which that unfortunate measure was carried, an insurmountable obstacle was placed in the way of a future remedy. He believed, therefore, that they could not now attempt the reversal of that legislation. He trusted, however, that some mode might yet be devised for alleviating the distresses of the shipowners. He never said that nothing could be advantageous to this country which was not proportionately disadvantageous to other countries; nor did he ever utter anything approaching to it. He gave instances of the extent in which British shipping had been supplanted by foreign shipping. The hon. Gentleman had not attempted to deny those figures; and, indeed, they were so clear and conclusive, that they could not be denied.


said, he considered the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to his constituents a sort of funeral oration over the Navigation Laws. The right hon. Gentleman said, and said truly, that no Government could materially alter the great measure by which that House had repealed the restrictions upon foreign and also upon British commerce. British commerce having once enjoyed all the new fields of enterprise which the removal of these restrictions had thrown open, that Government must be mad indeed which would attempt to reimpose them. If he had not entered into any discussion on the subject, it was not because he was afraid of entering into a controversy with the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the astounding statement made by him to the people of Stamford. The every prophecy which he (Mr. Labouchere) and others entertaining the some opinion had made, had been fully carried out. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman what was the state of the shipbuilding trade in this country at the present moment, because if the shipbuilding trade was flourishing, the prospects of the shipowners could not be so desperate as the right hon. Gentleman had attempted to represent them. He had no doubt the right hon. President of the Board of Trade had looked into a document in his department, which he (Mr. Labouchere) had thought it his duty to collect, with regard to the present state of the shipbuilding interest, and he would fearlessly assert, that at no period of the history of this country had there been greater activity in the shipbuilding yards than at the present moment. It was said that the consequence of the change would be to transfer shipbuilding to our foreign rivals. But what had been the case during the last two years? Last year 10,000 tons of foreign shipping were admitted to British registry, and this year between 8,000 and 9,000 tons of foreign shipping had been so admitted. On the river Thames we at present were building, on foreign account, a greater amount of tonnage than foreigners ad built for us during the whole of the past year. He denied emphatically, therefore, that the repeal of the Navigation Laws gave foreigners any advantage over the shipbuilding interest of this country.


felt that he would be abandoning the position he had ever held on this question if he were not to meet the statements of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) with a direct and positive contradiction. He affirmed that the shipbuilding trade in this country, and in the port of London in particular, was in a most disastrous condition. The only exception was the foreign orders now executing for ships of war, and not for the merchant service; and the same depression existed in all the ports of the kingdom. A return, giving an account of the British and foreign tonnage employed in the foreign trade of this country, had been laid on the table of the House a few days ago; and he must say he did not understand how the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. J. L. Ricardo) could make light of the reliance to be placed upon percentage calculations with such a document as this staring him in the face. The hon. Gentleman, however, had no objection to refer to percentage calculations, when he found them likely to answer his own purpose. By this return he (Mr. G. F. Young) found that the amount of British shipping entered inwards in 1849 was 4,390,375 tons; in 1851, 4,388,245 tons, being a decrease of 2,130 tons in two years. Then, how stood the foreign entries? In 1849 there were entered inwards of foreign shipping 1,680,894 tons; and, in 1851, 2,599,988 tons, being an increase of 919,094 tons. If the state of public business and of his own health had permitted, it was his intention to have moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the effect of the repeal of the Navigation Laws on the navigation of this country. He hoped that inquiry was only postponed, and, if it pleased God, he pledged himself to bring this subject under discussion in a new Parliament. In the meantime, he only hoped the House would suspend its judgment, and not receive as undeniable the statements that were so often made by Gentlemen on the other side on this question.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control, if he thought it a misfortune to this country that since 1844 British ships had increased 50 percent.; and also, whether he thought it a misfortune that last year the British registered tonnage was the largest on record, exceeding that of any previous year? I take the official return of British vessels with cargoes both inwards and outwards: in 1844 it was 5,691,680 tons, in 1851 8,535,252 tons, making a gain in 1851 over 1844 of 2,843,572 tons. There were launched last year in the port of Sunderland alone 146 vessels, 51,923 tons; and there were on the stocks, on the 1st of this year, 73 vessels, 27,955 tons. Then let us take the incceased tonnage of all nations trading to our ports: for three years before 1848 it was 1,131,000 tons, and for the three years after 1848 it was 2,841,000 tons, being of British 936,000 tons, and of foreign 774,000 tons; but the most remarkable feature in the case is, that in comparing the month of February 1850 with the month of February 1851, British tonnage had increased 37,000 tons, and foreign decreased 10,000 tons: these facts are well known and too patent to every one to be set aside. I therefore cannot believe that shipowners, who are men of common sense, would go on increasing their tonnage as they are doing, if their business be so ruinous as it is stated to be. I do not think that it is injurious to the shipping interest of this country, in case of an exigency such as the late famine, if foreign vessels come to our aid, induced by high freights, for such events would otherwise stimulate an unnecessary increase of British shipping more than our ordinary trade requires; when that exigency ceased, the unavoidable consequences would be, that an over-supply of British vessels competing with each other, would reduce the freights so low as greatly to injure their owners. If I understand the right hon. Gentleman, he has given up the idea of protection altogether, but hints at some relief. I am as desirous as he can be to remove all oppressive light-dues and other charges, as well as unnecessary restrictions and burdens of every kind, so that we may be fully able to meet the competition of every nation; and in aid of this I shall be a most willing party.


begged to call particular attention to a petition which he had presented to that House from the shipbuilders of Sunderland, complaining that although they were fully occupied, yet they were pursuing their trade at a considerable loss, that they were in fact suffering considerable distress. They were pursuing their trade with that honourable determination which characterised British merchants, who, in times of commercial depression, ceased not to labour perseveringly, in the hope that better times might reward their industry. He hoped that the Government would devise some means whereby relief might be given to his distressed constituents. They were thankful for a repeal of half of the timber duties, and they looked forward to the day when the remaining half would be repealed, so that every facility might be given to them for pursuing their occupations. He had always thought it was a great hardship to permit foreign manufactured goods to be admitted duty free, whilst raw materials were not allowed to be imported free from duty. He begged to assure the noble Lord lately at the head of the Government, that the whole commercial world would feel exceedingly indebted to him for the forbearance which he had displayed on that occasion, in permitting the supplies necessary for the public service to be granted without delay.


was very glad that the present Government had expressed their anxiety to relieve the shipping interest from some of the burdens under which it still laboured. He begged particularly to call their attention to that unfair impost to which it was subjected—he alluded to the light-dues. There was no other country in the world that refused to pay the expense of lighthouses out of the general revenue. And now, particularly, when the shipping of this country had been forced to enter into competition with the whole world, it was but fair that the entire country should bear the burthen of lighting the sea coasts. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford would give his immediate attention to this subject.


said, as the whole discussion, with respect to the Navigation Laws, had originated in some returns for which he had moved with respect to British tonnage, he hoped he might be allowed to submit some facts on this question to the consideration of the House. The returns which had been granted upon his Motion spoke for themselves, and needed no corroboration; still they did not comprehend the whole facts necessary to illustrate the diminution in the employment of British shipping since the repeal of the navigation laws. He would, therefore, simply lay before the House an account of the total number of vessels that passed the Sound in the years 1848, 1849, and 1850. The whole number of vessels that passed the Sound in 1848, was 16,853; in 1849, the number was 18,955; and in 1850, 19,064, showing an enormous increase in the total navigation through the Sound. And now, as to the number of British vessels that passed the Sound in those years—in 1848, the number was 6,714; in 1849, the number was 6,885; and in 1850, when the repeal of the Navigation Laws was beginning to be felt in this country, the number was only 5,448. Now, he had simply stated these simple figures, and they supplied the answer which he had to make to hon. Gentlemen who would get up and boast of the beneficial effects of the repeal of the Navigation Laws. If the present laws were not altered, and competition should prevail as it did at present, the result inevitably would be a decline of our naval strength.


said, this question ought not to be decided by the effects which the repeal of the Navigation Laws had produced upon the port of Sunderland; it ought to be decided by the effects which had been produced in all the great ports of the Kingdom. Now, with regard to Liverpool, he could assert that the tonnage there of the past year had exceeded that of 1849 by 10,000 tons. It must not be forgotten that a great change was taking-place in navigation. In a very short time he believed our trading vessels would be propelled by steam. He believed that in the ports of London and Liverpool especially this change was taking place. He did not deny that there were means of giving relief to the shipping interest. The timber duties ought to be repealed, and every facility given to shipbuilders to procure at a cheap rate the raw materials for building vessels. He rejoiced to hear that there was no intention on the part of the present Government to reimpose the Navigation Laws. He believed that such a thing could not be done. Great alarm was expressed as to foreigners ruining our shipping interest if we should repeal the restrictions on shipping; but these alarmists seemed to forget that we possessed iron, capital, enterprise, and skill, to so great an extent that we need entertain no fear whatever of competing with any nation in the world.


hoped before they came to a division—if such was intended—that he might be allowed to congratulate the House and the country on the announcement of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), that, to use his own language, there ought not to be any further opposition to granting the supplies. He had been pleased also to hear from the highest authority on that side of the House, namely, the noble Lord the leader of the Opposition, that there was to be no further obstruction to the progress of public business. He could assure the noble Lord that he only did the Government justice in assuming and believing that they had an anxious desire for the proper discharge of the public business. They were not less anxious than the noble Lord that that recurrence to the sense of the people so often spoken of should take place; and they were prepared that it should take place—as he had stated the other night—as soon as those Votes were passed that were necessary for the service of Her Majesty, and those measures carried that they believed to be necessary for the security and good government of Her Majesty's Empire.


said, it almost appeared as if the House had lost sight of the Motion brought forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De L. Evans). The hon. and gallant Officer was aware that the late Govern- ment had sanctioned, under certain conditions, the formation of volunteer corps, those conditions being, firstly, that the corps should be equipped and armed at their own expense; and, secondly, that they should be subject to all the rules and regulations of the Volunteer Act. These conditions had been sanctioned by the present Government, with the addition of a third, to the effect that, while the arms were to be furnished at the expense of the corps themselves, they should be subject to such rules and regulations as would insure that they were of the same calibre and of an uniform bore in all the regiments. The hon. and gallant Officer had referred to a letter of his (Mr. Walpole); and he begged to say that the reason why he had written that letter, submitting that the formation of voluntary corps should be suspended, was that a Militia Bill was about to be introduced, and that if such a law was sanctioned by the House, the members of volunteer corps ought to be exempted from its operation. As to the nature of that measure, the House would, of course, excuse him from giving any explanation of it on that occasion. He could assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that nothing was further from the intention of the Government than to show any distrust of the people of this country in reference to any volunteer corps which they might undertake to form in the event of a necessity for them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn; Main Question put, and agreed to.