HC Deb 07 March 1854 vol 131 cc462-6

Order for Third Reading read.


said, that before the Bill was finally disposed of he would beg to address a few words to the House. He had received various communications from different Associations and Chambers of Commerce, and had been requested to urge on the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade the necessity of endeavouring to obtain some satisfaction as to the reciprocity which this country was likely to obtain from foreign countries in consideration of having abandoned the last remnant of prohibition. That observation applied more particularly to the Government of the United States, which reserved its coasting trade. Whilst this country had relinquished its coasting trade, the right hon. Gentleman was not able to hold out any assurance that anything in the shape of reciprocity was likely to be obtained from the Government of the United States. Indeed, he felt justified in stating that the notion a smart American had on the subject of reciprocity seemed to resolve itself into this—that America should attain all she could get, and give up nothing that she could keep. He would, therefore, entreat the right hon. Gentleman to keep his attention fixed on that point, and trusted he would be able to establish a perfect principle of reciprocity with foreign States. Looking forward to the possible contingency of trade, he could not regard with confidence this change in the law. Although, at the present time, the demand for freights was so great that universal employment was found for the mer- cantile marine of all nations, he feared this state of things could not be expected to last for ever, and he could not but fear that the time might come when our shipping, being exposed to great depreciation, and our shipowners to great loss, very painful feelings might be excited in our ports by the admission of foreign ships, the crowding in of foreign seamen, and the immense amount of competition to which this country might be exposed.


said, he wished to inquire whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had turned his attention to the restriction which prevented screw steamers from engaging in the coal trade on the Tyne?


said, at present that upon the entry of foreign vessels into English ports their stores were sealed up, but the masters were allowed to take out the articles necessary for the crews during their stay. He wished to ask whether it was in the contemplation of the right hon. Gentleman to make the owners of foreign ships pay duty on all the stores that might be on board such vessels?


said, he could not allow the third reading of the Bill to pass without recording his complete disapproval of the measure. It was a Bill that in his opinion affected the well-being of England itself; and, therefore, all consideration for private interest ought to yield to the consideration of what was due to the maintenance of England's prosperity.


hoped that, as the Bill was to pass, other countries would be induced to confer similar advantages upon us.


said, that as a shipowner, he must express his regret that the present measure had not been passed simultaneously with the alteration of the Navigation Laws; had that been done the mercantile interests of the country would have been freed from many inconveniences long ago. It was most important, however, that the United States, at all events, should grant the same freedom to England that they enjoyed in this country. He alluded especially to the prohibition against English vessels engaging in the trade between New York and California. He felt sure that the time would come when the people of the United States would feel quite sure that the present system was maintained solely for the advantage of the proprietors of their splendid clippers, while it affected most injuriously the great bulk of their mercantile and manufacturing community.


In replying, Sir, to the various suggestions which have been thrown out with regard to the impediments in the coal trade, I have caused some inquiries to be made, and shall be happy if any satisfactory alteration can be made in that respect. With respect to stores, foreigners will be admitted to exactly the same privileges as British subjects, and to no others, and a foreigner coming here will enjoy no privilege with regard to duty-paid stores, but would be placed on the same footing as the Queen's subjects. Before the Bill takes its final departure from this House, however, I wish to say a word or two on the subject of reciprocity. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Liddell) has expressed his apprehension not only lest this country should fail in obtaining reciprocity, but lest at some future period, in consequence of reverses of trade, we should experience the evil results of opening our trade to all the world. I was happy to hear that observation replied to by the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Thompson). The Liverpool Shipowners' Society, not insensible to the interests of the shipowners of the United Kingdom, have forwarded to me an official record of their approval of the Bill, and they coupled it, and justly coupled it, with their desire that the Government should urge upon foreign countries the duty of conferring upon England privileges reciprocal to those which in our ports have been conferred upon them. And in urging that duty on foreign countries, by what means would the Government be most likely to prevail? If, by retaining some fraction of our protective system, this country had betrayed a want of confidence in the principles which it professes to espouse, we should naturally have failed in the arguments which ought to be addressed to foreign countries; for it was not by reciprocally bargaining upon the subject of trade that we should be so likely to carry out our views with foreign countries as by showing from the success of our example—from that unparalleled prosperity which has followed every relaxation of the restrictive system—that we have adopted it from a conviction that it benefits the people and redounds to the national advantage—thus tending to produce in their minds an anxiety to reap the same advantages for themselves. My attention has been particularly drawn to the case of the United States—the most important of all the countries with which we have relations on this subject. It has been said, "The United States will not give us reciprocity unless we can satisfy them that it is for their own advantage to do so." Probably the easiest mode to satisfy them would be by urging our own successful example upon them. But what I wish particularly to call the attention of the House to in regard to the United States is this. In 1849, when the repeal of the Navigation Laws took place, you entitled yourselves by the self-acting clauses of the law in the United States to a reciprocity with them so far as regarded the general over-sea trade. You would not have entitled yourselves, by these self-acting clauses, to reciprocal concessions in regard to the coasting trade. But by the course you have taken, you have laid yourselves under these disadvantages. By opening your colonial trade to them, although not your coasting trade, you naturally expected to receive in return, if not their coasting trade, at least that peculiar trade which consists in the voyage from the eastern coast of America, say New York, to the western coast, namely, California. But there was in America an objection of so high a nature as connected with their constitution, that it might fairly be called an insuperable objection to their making that particular concession, for there is a principle of their constitution which prevents their placing one particular State in a different position from another, and they could not place the voyage from New York to San Francisco on one footing in their law, and the voyage from New York to Baltimore upon another. Up to this time this insuperable difficulty has been felt. Now, however, that your coasting trade has been opened, you have the right to go to America and address to her another language. You have the right to say that, having made every concession with regard to your own country—having shown your unhesitating confidence in the soundness of your own principles—you are not now open to that rebuff when you urge upon her to admit your subjects to advantages such as you give to her subjects. I contend, therefore, with regard to reciprocity with the United States, that this measure is a most important measure, as placing you in a position to call on that great and friendly country, although our rival in navigation, for a measure of reciprocity. Nor did Her Majesty's Government neglect to take the steps which it became them in that respect. At the proper time my noble Friend at the head of Foreign Affairs took steps to call the attention of every country, and more especially the attention of the United States, to the step which Her Majesty was recommending Parliament to take on the subject of the coasting trade. The time that has since elapsed has not been sufficient for answers to that communication to be generally received; but it is my good fortune to be able to state to the House that that circular has been productive of results already. In the case of an important neighbouring country, important as regards its commerce—Holland—I learn from my noble Friend that the most satisfactory assurances have been received of immediate action on reciprocity. I think it must be extremely satisfactory to the community that the measure has been permitted to pass this House without a dissentient voice—supported on this occasion, and on others, by the testimony of those either most largely interested in the shipping trade, or representing the largest shipping communities and I believe it is a most important step in the progress of universal free trade, that England, with the unanimous concurrence of the House of Commons, has struck from the free navigation of these shores the last remaining fetters.


said, that referring to a resolution of the Shipowners' Committee of Sunderland condemning the opinion he had expressed on a previous occasion in that House, he must deny that that resolution expressed the sentiments of the majority of the people of that town. The press of Sunderland—Tory, Whig, and Radical—had united in expressing their approval of the course he had taken in supporting Her Majesty's Government, and he might add, to their credit, that the seamen of Sunderland had come to the conclusion that the throwing open of the coasting trade and the extension in that way of free-trade principles would, while it promoted the prosperity of the country generally, promote also, if not at the present moment, at least in the end, the prosperity of the interests which they represented.

Bill read 3°, and passed.

The House adjourned at a quarter after Seven o'clock.