§ Order for Committee read.
§ Copy of Treaty, &c. (presented 7th May) referred.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the subject of the Danish transit duties. In doing this he was actuated by no vexatious desire to oppose the going into Committee, but he thought the present a fit opportunity for bringing under consideration that portion of the Convention which related to the subject of his notice. He was not prepared to oppose the general scheme for the redemption of the Sound Dues, which he believed had long been a source of vexation and annoyance to the mercantile marine engaged in the Baltic trade. The collection itself was attended with both difficulty and danger to the shipping from the delay it caused, and, he believed, it would be for the benefit of all parties concerned that such an arrangement should receive the sanction of Parliament. But there was another subject of importance embraced in this scheme—namely, the transit duties levied by Denmark upon goods conveyed over lines of railway which intersected that country. Those duties were first levied in 1838; and it was then suggested that they should be at the rate of 9d. for every 100 lb. weight of goods. This rate was, however, the subject of remonstrance, on the part of Lubeck, and it was reduced to 4½d. The present proposition was, that four-fifths of those duties should be reduced. Now, it was the clear understanding when these duties were first imposed that they should be levied for the purpose of protecting the Sound revenue. When, then, this House was called upon to vote a large sum of money for the purpose of abolishing the Sound Dues, it was worth while considering the propriety of getting rid of the whole of the transit duties, instead, as was proposed, of leaving one-fifth of those duties still in existence. The Flensburgh Railway, over which British goods were conveyed, was that which intersected the Danish province of Lower Schleswig, and the amount of duties paid on about 17,000 tons of goods conveyed over this line last year was about £1,012. Reducing this by four-fifths you arrive at a sum of little more than £200 a year; and, even if the traffic upon this line double itself in future, Denmark cannot expect to derive much more than £400 a year under 1218 the new arrangement from this restrictive impost upon trade, and this might be reduced by the payment of a capital sum of £6,400 at fifteen and a half years' purchase. Now, he thought, when we were about making an arrangement like the one before the House, that a sum of this kind ought not to be allowed to stand in the way of an entire abolition of these transit duties. Now, the trade did not so much complain of the amount of duty as of the vexation, restriction, and delay which attended the declaration necessary for ascertaining exactly upon what goods it ought to be levied. The feeling was very strong against these dues in all the Hanseatic towns, the people of which were much more interested in the subject than we were. The total amount levied upon all the lines throughout the Danish dominions did not exceed at present £22,000 a year; reduce that by four-fifths and you arrive at the sum of £4,500 received by the Danish exchequer from this source; but, supposing that even double that amount should be raised, it was but a small receipt to justify such an odious and vexatious restriction as that which he had pointed out. But in addition to other grounds of complaint, he contended that the tariff of duties was most unfair. The raw produce of Russia, for example, including hemp, flax, tallow, timber, and so on, was exempt from all dues, and, he thought, it was only just, therefore, that our raw colonial produce, such as sugar, coffee, cocoa, and tobacco, should also be carried along the Danish railways free of duty. He believed, moreover, that the feeling which prevailed in Denmark itself was strongly opposed to the continuance of these dues; for he found in the Report of a Committee of the Danish Imperial Council which had sat to consider the whole subject the following passage:—The Committee, therefore, could not avoid taking into serious consideration whether it would not be in the interest of the State to remove the whole of the duties and to allow the free transit of goods, particularly as that source of revenue has been so diminished by the treaty already concluded as to lose the chief part of its political importance.That passage, he thought, might satisfy the noble Lord at the head of the Government that he could rely upon a certain amount of assistance from the Danish Imperial Council themselves in pressing this point. He could readily anticipate the answers which he should receive from the Government. He should be told, in the 1219 first place, that a great number of States were parties to the convention, and that, by its terms, any further concession made in favour of any one particular State must be shared in by all; and he should further, he apprehended, be told that it would not be worth while, for the sake of so small a sum as remained to be levied, to re-open the question and thus endanger the success of the entire scheme. To these anticipated objections to his proposition he could say that we were going to pay Denmark for what she gave up, and that we had better pay her at once for abandoning the duties entirely, because, however trifling the sum that remained to be levied, the delay and vexation consequent upon the necessity of declaring the goods would continue as great as ever. Then, as to endangering the success of the whole scheme, he could only say that Denmark had been compelled to abandon what she bad from fear of a war with the United States, and that it was not likely that she would render herself liable to another embroilment by insisting on the maintenance of the small duty that remained if the British Government were to protest against it. He would beg to remind the House that memorials had been presented, complaining of the Convention as an incomplete and unsatisfactory settlement of the question, from the North of Europe Steam Navigation Company, from the directors of the Royal Swedish Railway Company, and from sixty-two of the principal London firms engaged in the Baltic trade; and he would respectfully urge upon the House that, instead of giving their implicit sanction to the convention as it stood, they should endeavour to obtain the absolute and immediate abolition of all the railway dues. In the recent case of a Convention with France on the subject of the Newfoundland fisheries, the Convention was allowed to fall to the ground by Her Majesty's Government by reason of the colony objecting to it. There was one circumstance which appeared on the face of the correspondence of which he should like to have an explanation from the Secretary of the Treasury. A letter, calling the attention of the Government to most important facts, containing statements of figures, and going to the gist of the whole matter, was addressed to the Treasury on the 14th January, 1857. It did not appear even to have been acknowledged, but remained in the pigeon-holes of that Department until the 8th of May—the very day on which he moved for the 1220 production of this correspondence,—on which day it was forwarded to the Foreign Office, this Convention having been signed on the 14th of March. He must again warn the House that this might be the last opportunity which would be offered for obtaining the total abolition of those transit dues, and he called upon the noble Lord at the head of the Government to put the screw upon Denmark, with a view to the attainment of that object.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that, as the abolition of the transit dues formed only one part of the question of the redemption of the Sound Dues, it would probably be more convenient that he should postpone any answer to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman until the House went into Committee, and he had an opportunity of explaining the whole of the Convention, one clause of which related to those dues.
said, he thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should favour the House with the views of Her Majesty's Government before he asked it to come to a Vote which would involve the expenditure of more than £1,000,000 of money. He had so strong an objection to the arrangement that he should oppose it at every stage.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was his intention to make a full and complete statement to the Committee before asking it to come to any Vote upon the subject.
§ House in Committee, Mr. FITZROY in the Chair.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Mr. FitzRoy, although the arrangement with respect to the redemption of the Sound Dues has been voluntarily concluded by the British Government with that of Denmark, yet the time at which it has come under the consideration of this Government has been somewhat independent of its volition. The question was first raised by the Government of the United States. About two years ago they questioned the legality of the Sound Dues, and stated that they would not consent to the payment of them by their vessels. In consequence of this announcement there were negotiations of a somewhat unfriendly nature between the King of Denmark and the President of the United States, which ended in the latter Power peremptorily refusing to consent to the exaction of these dues. Owing to this the Government of Denmark considered whether means could not be 1221 devised for their voluntary extinction, and in the course of the year 1855 a Congress of delegates assembled at Copenhagen to attempt to arrange the terms of a redemption. For some time the delegates were unable to agree upon the bases of a settlement, but in the spring of 1856 it was proposed to the British Government that the object should be effected by the payment of a gross sum for their redemption. At that time the treaty of peace with Russia was under negotiation; it was uncertain how long we might continue to be engaged in an expensive conflict; and the Government of Her Majesty, while recognizing the importance to our Baltic trade of extinguishing these dues, yet from financial considerations showed no eagerness to enter into the arrangement, and the first answer contained in a letter of Lord Clarendon's to Mr. Buchanan, the British Minister at Copenhagen, dated March 23, 1856, was not a favourable one. I mention this to show the Committee that Her Majesty's Government did not enter into this arrangement precipitately, but gave to it a calm, a cool, and a protracted consideration. After that answer was sent the negotiations between Denmark and other Powers proceeded; and not long after the treaty was signed which put an end to the great war with Russia, Russia itself and one or two other Powers signified their acceptance of the terms which had been offered to them as well as to England. This materially altered the position of England with regard to the question, because obviously disadvantages would have arisen to our trade if the ships of other nations had been exempted from Sound Dues while our vessels had continued to pay them. Her Majesty's Government deemed that this was a proper subject for the consideration of this House, as no treaty could be executed without a grant of money by Parliament; and, therefore, nearly at the end of the last Session I moved the appointment of a Committee which examined Mr. Buchanan, our Minister at Copenhagen, and many witnesses connected with the Baltic trade, and presented a Report to this House. I will not trouble the Committee at any length with extracts from that Report, but I would beg leave to call their attention to the fact that these Sound Dues are oppressive to the trade of this country, not merely on account of the payments directly levied upon British ships, but on account of the incidental charges which those payments 1222 bring in their train, and also on account of the detention of vessels at Elsinore for the purpose of levying the dues. On this subject I beg leave to call the attention of the Committee to one passage in the Report of the Committee. That passage I states—It is a matter of much complaint that these charges, which are only incidental to the payment exacted by the Danish Government, amounted to more than the dues themselves, in some cases being double the amount and an agent's account was submitted to the Committee, showing that the dues properly so called amounted to one-fourth only of the whole charges for which the owner of the cargo was made liable; these are composed of various items, such as commission, expedition, translation, stamped paper, &c.; and though some of these charges are sanctioned by treaty, the account when delivered is seldom examined, and if questioned, redress is difficult to obtain. Mr. Wilson, of Hull, says,—'We have to take the account of our agents, and I do not I see that we can check them; we should always be in a correspondence with them if we did; we are completely in their hands;' and witnesses admitting the correctness of the return that has been made by the Danish Government in the amount alleged to be paid by this country—namely, £70,000 per annum—place the burden falling on British commerce at not less than between £200,000 and £300,000.Now, if a sum of money, calculated not upon the total sum which British ships are compelled to pay, but upon that proportion of it which is directly levied, would redeem those duties, it appears to me that it is only reasonable to expend that sum for such a purpose. If the total tax levied upon British ships annually amounts to anything like £200,000 or £300,000 a year, and if the sum which we are asked to redeem amounts to only £70,000 a year, it appears to me that, assuming the sum which we have to pay for such redemption to be calculated upon an equitable basis, it would, I contend, be most advantageous for the trade of the country to effect that redemption. Then, again, it is not merely the charge imposed upon shipping that does the greatest injury to trade; there is a detention at Elsinore necessary to levy the dues, and I will trouble the Committee with one passage from the Report on this point:—Mr. Fleming, of Dundee, has given in the following passage a summary of the mischiefs which follow from the stoppage at Elsinore:—'The delays ships meet with at Elsinore from having to remain for their necessary papers from the Custom House is often the cause of many disasters. In fine weather the master may be on shore two or three hours only, but if the weather is not fine he may be absent five hours, and occasionally much longer. The roadstead in spring and autumn is very exposed and unsafe anchorage, 1223 and frequently serious accidents occur, such as collision, slipping chains, parting from anchors, driving on shore; and sometimes ships are lost, and the crews drowned.'The Report goes on to state,—Upon reference to other evidence it will be seen that strong and unvarying testimony is borne to the mischief arising out of the detention of vessels at Elsinore, and, indeed, some of the witnesses connected with the shipping interest state that the evil of the detention is greater than the evil of the payment. It would be difficult to suggest any relief to the trade for this evil short of rendering it unnecessary for vessels to stop for the purpose of paying these dues in future.The Sound Dues, therefore, as they are levied at present, combine in them what is most objectionable in taxes that fall upon trade; they are unequal in their operation, and they occasion great loss of time, and much needless expenditure, in the collection of a comparatively small revenue, and, as far as the cargoes are concerned, without professing to be raised for any service rendered in return, tend to impede and burden an important branch of trade. Under these circumstances, your Committee have no hesitation in declaring that these dues are the cause of annoyance and injury to British commerce, and that they deem it therefore highly desirable that they should be abolished.Now, that is the deliberate opinion of the Committee. They afterwards advert to the negotiations then pending, and conclude their Report by saying,—Your Committee therefore think that the proposals made by the Danish Government to the Governments of the different States interested in the navigation and trade of the Baltic, among which Great Britain holds the first place, should receive immediate consideration, and become the foundation of a final and satisfactory settlement of the question.In consequence of the Report of that Committee, which was presented to the House at the close of the Session of last year, but in plenty of time to give any hon. Gentleman who wished to do so the opportunity of calling the attention of the House to its contents, the Government thought that, looking to all the circumstances of the case, the most expedient course to adopt was to entertain the proposal of the Danish Government, and, accordingly, soon after the prorogation of Parliament last year, we communicated to the Government of Denmark our willingness to consent to the redemption of the Sound Dues for a fixed sum of money. We, at the same time, communicated to that Government that all our arrangements were of a provisional character, and dependent upon the ultimate sanction of Parliament. That was thoroughly understood by the Government of Denmark from the beginning of the negotiations, and, therefore, the power of Parliament to assent 1224 to or dissent from these arrangements remains unimpaired. I mention that circumstance because representations have been made that we have not taken proper precautions. Well, Sir, the negotiations continued, and an offer having been made by Denmark, the amount was diminished, and ultimately the Government of Great Britain acceded to an arrangement to which Russia had in the first instance acceded, and which has since obtained the concurrence of most of the other great Powers of Europe. The total sum proposed for the redemption of the duties was fixed at 30,476,325 rix dollars, which were to be assessed among fifteen Powers, of which Great Britain was to pay 10,126,855 rix dollars, Russia 9,739,993 rix dollars, Prussia 4,440,027 rix dollars, France 1,219,003 rix dollars; and the sums to be paid by the other contracting parties were also settled. The Government of Her Majesty were of opinion that they could not, consistently with the international law of Europe, adopt the policy which has been taken by the Government of the United States of America. The ground taken by the President of the United States was, that America was not a party to the international law of Europe, that that law was a system by which the different States of Europe had bound themselves by successive treaties, and which was binding on them, but which did not apply to the United States of America, a new country situate in a different quarter of the globe. It is not for me to say how far the pretensions of the President of the United States were or were not well founded, or whether the ground which he took was in accordance with the law of nations. Be that as it may, Her Majesty's Government considered themselves precluded from the adoption of a similar course. We are a member of the European family, and England is bound by the international law of Europe. Now, with regard to these Sound Dues, ancient treaties entered into between Great Britain and Denmark specifically recognise them. The treaty of July, 1670, in the reign of Charles II., made between them, and afterwards renewed in 1814 by the treaty of Kiel, declares that duties for the passage of vessels through the Sound shall be paid according to the printed tariff or book of rates, which book of rates was agreed to between France and Denmark in 1645, and was further regulated by a treaty signed at London by my noble Friend at 1225 the head of the Government, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in June, 1841, when the scale of duties underwent a, complete revision and considerable reduction. There is no reason to suppose that these dues have not always been regularly paid, except during a time of war, and, as a question of international engagements in Europe, nothing can be more plain than that we are bound in the most distinct manner to a recognition of the legality of the Sound Dues. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, came to the conclusion that, if the Government of Denmark were not willing to abandon those duties, but were only willing to extinguish them upon the payment of a certain sum, British vessels must either continue to pay the duties as hitherto, and undergo the annoyance to which I have alluded, or else the terms proposed by Denmark must be agreed to. Under these circumstances, then, I think Her Majesty's Government were fully justified in signifying their acceptance of the terms which were offered by Denmark. Before, however, those terms had been finally agreed upon, an attempt was made upon our part in concert with Prussia, and upon the suggestion of that Power, to enter into an arrangement by which the collection of the dues should be continued, but in accordance with which the detention of vessels at Elsinore, which was alleged to be one of the main grievances of the system, should be dispensed with, and the tolls payable upon vessels passing through the Sound, should be levied at the port of arrival or departure in the Baltic. That was a plan which was suggested by Prussia, and which England would have assented to if it had been found feasible. Such, however, was not the case, and the Governments of both countries concurred in deeming it desirable that it should be abandoned. Nothing therefore, seemed to remain but that England should either agree to the terms which were proposed by Denmark, or refuse altogether to enter into any arrangement upon the subject of those dues; and Her Majesty's Government, having given the question the most mature consideration, came to the conclusion that it would, upon the whole, be most beneficial to the trade of the country to pay the sum of money for which Denmark had stipulated—a sum amounting to £1,125,206 sterling. Upon payment of that sum the Danish Government intimated their determination to abolish to the fullest extent the duties levied upon vessels at the Sound, 1226 and undertook the maintenance of lighthouses, and other institutions of a similar character, for the facilities and requisites of commerce. They also undertook to reduce the transit duties levied upon goods passing over the lines of communication which run across the Danish territory by four-fifths of their amount. The reduction of those duties was not a question which entered into the original negotiations with Denmark upon the subject of the Sound dues. The importance of effecting such reduction was, however, subsequently brought under the notice of this House in that Report of the Select Committee from which I have already quoted, and my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had, in consequence of the statements therein made, instructed our Minister at Copenhagen to demand a remission—at all events to some extent—of the transit dues. Greater difficulty, however, was experienced in dealing with that question than with any of the others involved in the negotiations. The Danish Government was unwilling to admit that the transit dues were intended—as was alleged by the witnesses who were examined before the Select Committee—to operate as a protection to the Sound Dues by preventing the evasion of the payment of those dues by the transportation of goods across the country. Very strong objections were, therefore, urged upon the part of Denmark to the proposal for the reduction of the transit dues, and, as Mr. Buchanan states, the subject led to a Ministerial crisis in the Danish Cabinet. Mr. Buchanan says:—The only portion of the proposal of Her Majesty's Government to which the Danish Government strongly objects is that which relates to the reduction of the transit dues, a very influential portion of the Danish Cabinet being of opinion that to agree to such a proposition would be inconsistent with the dignity of the King of an independent country; but as Her Majesty's Government made the reduction of those dues a sine qua non, a convention embodying the proposal was eventually agreed to by the Danish Government. The subject has, however, occasioned serious differences of opinion in the Danish Cabinet, and M. Andre, the Minister of Finance, was not present at the Council, and has placed his resignation in the hands of the King.I wish to direct the attention of the Committee to that passage for the purpose of showing the terms which the British Government proposed upon the subject, and the reception which those terms met with at the hands of the Danish Government. Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that the transit dues operate 1227 as a protective duty in the case of the Sound Dues, and that the question of their remission might very fairly be introduced into the negotiations upon the subject of those dues. It was, however, no easy matter to prove that the transit dues did in reality operate as a protective duty; nor was it ever admitted upon the part of the Danish Government that such was the fact. They, upon their part, maintained that they had, independently of the remission of the transit dues, conceded as much as we were entitled to demand, and that as the transit dues were levied they could be regarded only in the light of a source of national revenue, in reference to which no foreign Power possessed the right to interfere. Now, it must be admitted, that it is not exactly the proper function of the British House of Commons to criticise the Ways and Means of the Danish Government, and that they have a right to impose such taxes as they deem best suited to the exigencies of their country. What should we think, for instance, of a foreign Power that should say to us, "You must allow our subjects to pass through your turnpikes without the payment of a toll?" We should consider such a proposal an undue interference with our internal traffic, and a precisely similar view of the proposition for the reduction of the transit dues was not unnaturally taken by the Danish Government. It might certainly be contended that such dues were a bad source of revenue, but the House of Commons have surely no business to go into that question. To the extent to which the transit dues were levied for the purposes of internal revenue, they lay beyond our purview. The hon. Gentleman who opposed Mr. Speaker leaving the chair said it was not the amount of the transit dues that he objected to. Surely that statement conceded the matter in issue. If it is once admitted that an internal duty is not objectionable in amount, this House cannot go further into the discussion. I trust, therefore, that under all the circumstances of the case, the Committee will come to the conclusion that Her Majesty's Ministers have obtained from the Danish Government as favourable terms with respect to the transit dues as they were entitled to expect, and that, looking to the whole arrangements which have been entered into, the importance of preventing a hostile collision between the United States and Denmark—the importance of preventing an arrangement being 1228 made for the redemption of the Sound Dues with some European Powers while we remained strangers to it—the importance of reducing these duties, and thus freeing our vessels, not only from the dues themselves, but from other charges which they brought in their train, and from the necessity of detaining the ships at the Sound—and looking also at the fact that four-fifths of the transit dues across Denmark have been reduced, I do trust that, having regard to all these circumstances, the House will come to the conclusion that, provided the pecuniary payment is considered reasonable, they will virtually ratify the treaty entered into. With regard to the amount of the redemption money, not only our own Minister who negotiated the treaty, but the very intelligent plenipotentiaries of the other Powers in the immediate vicinity of Denmark, who were more likely to be well informed as to the amount levied by the Sound Dues, came to the conclusion that the terms proposed were reasonable, and such as might reasonably become the foundation of an European compact. Russia, Austria, Prance, Belgium, Mecklenburg, Oldenburg, Prussia, Sweden, and other Powers are parties to the treaty on precisely the same terms as Great Britain, and the signatures of their plenipotentiaries are affixed to the same instrument. I therefore trust that the Committee, looking to all the circumstances, will be disposed to approve the discretion exercised by the Government in coming to this arrangement. There is one point on which I have to ask the attention of the Committee, and it is as to the nature of the conditional agreement made by Her Majesty's Government with the Government of Denmark with respect to the payment of this large sum, because, undoubtedly, the sum I am asking the House to charge upon the Consolidated Fund is a sum of very considerable amount. The Committee will observe that no other course could have been adopted by Her Majesty's Government which would have left the discretion of Parliament more completely unfettered, or by which they could have called the House to their council at an earlier period. The subject was referred last year to a Select Committee before a final answer was given. The Select Committee examined our Minister at Copenhagen, who had conducted the negotiations, and had the power of putting any questions to him they thought proper. They also had communicated to them 1229 all the diplomatic correspondence that had taken place up to that period on the subject. The Committee must be aware that even if the treaty-making power were vested in the Houses of Parliament, as it is vested in the Senate of the United States, it would still be necessary to confide to one person, who would probably be our Minister at a foreign court, a discretionary power to negotiate the details of the treaty. It would be impossible for a legislative assembly to make a treaty with a foreign Power, without giving such a discretionary power to some person. Look at the case of the treaty recently negotiated with the United States in regard to Central America. The Committee are, of course, aware, that in the United States the President has not the power of ratifying the treaty, but that the power of ratification resides in the Senate. The treaty with regard to Central America was negotiated in London by Mr. Dallas, the United States Minister, with my noble Friend (Lord Clarendon), Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. They fully discussed the circumstances, and after they had come to an agreement, a treaty was signed by both, which was remitted to the United States for the approval of the Senate. The Senate, however, made alterations in that treaty, and hitherto no final arrangement; has been come to. But that shows, that even if this House had the power of ratifying a treaty, instead of only furnishing the funds necessary for its completion, they must have confided to Mr. Buchanan, or to some other Minister, the power of negotiating and signing a treaty for their consideration. There was no other course by which the action of Parliament could have been left more unfettered, or by which its advice could have been earlier called in. The treaty was made to take effect from the 1st of April last, but there was a protocol signed by the British Minister by which the Danish Government engaged to take bonds provisionally from British vessels passing the Sound after the 1st of April, on the understanding that the dues were not to be exacted if Parliament ratified the treaty; but that the Danish Government would have the power of exacting payment if Parliament refused to ratify the treaty. No precaution has, therefore, been omitted by Her Majesty's Government for securing a full and unfettered consideration of the whole subject by Parliament. As to the mode of paying the sum of money a separate convention 1230 has been entered into, by which the British Government undertake to pay the sum, not as they might have done, by an annuity extending over twenty years, but at once and within three months after the Act is passed. I will now state why the Government preferred that arrangement to the mode of paying the amount agreed to by other Powers. We were of opinion that there would be no advantage in tying up our hands by a terminable annuity. The time fixed by the treaty was twenty years; but in the event of a necessity arising for having resort to a loan, it appeared to us that a somewhat longer time might with advantage be gained. I have, therefore, made an arrangement with the Bank of England, in the event of the Government finding it expedient to raise the amount by a terminable annuity, by which they agree to advance the sum immediately upon a terminable annuity of £64,700 for thirty years, or of £60,014 for thirty-five years for liquidating the sum of £1,125,206. Upon these terms the Committee will perceive that there will be no difficulty in raising the loan, and I should be disposed to recommend that course to the Committee, if it were not that the present state of the balances in the Exchequer seems hardly to justify a resort to loans. In the financial statement which I made at the commencement of this year, I informed the House that a part of my statement of the revenue and expenditure of the year ending April 1, was necessarily founded upon an estimate. I made that statement on the 13th of February, and for the rest of February and the whole of March I was compelled to make an estimate both of receipts and expenditure. It is generally prudent in such estimates to be on the safe side, and I estimated the income at £71,885,000, and the expenditure of the year at £78,000,000. I calculated the balances in the Exchequer at the end of the financial year as compared with the balances at the end of the previous year at £1,384,000. But the actual result was, that the income of the year, which I calculated at £71,885,000, amounted to £72,334,000, and the expenditure, which I estimated at £78,000,000, was really only £76,588,000, being £1,412,000 below my estimate. Thus, the excess of income being £449,000, and the deficiency of expenditure £1,412,000, there is a sum of £1,861,000 in favour of the public beyond the estimate that I then stated to the House. The result is, that the balances 1231 in the Exchequer at the end of the year, instead of being £1,384,000, were £3,245,000 in excess of the balances at the end of the previous year. That difference shows that there is a sum of £1,861,000 in the Exchequer, which is available for the service of the present year beyond what I then stated. In my estimate I included £2,000,000 for the payment of the Exchequer bonds which were due early in the month of May. These bonds have been paid off, but that even after that large payment there should remain the present aspect of the balances in the Exchequer, is owing partly to the circumstance I have mentioned, and partly to the fall in the duties of tea, in consequence of which a large portion of the duties were withheld during the quarter ending the 1st of April, and fall into the Ways and Means of this year, instead of those of the year preceding. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, I do not feel justified, at the present moment, in asking the Committee for any borrowing powers: I therefore propose to charge the Consolidated Fund with the whole amount, and to pay it out of the present balances in the Exchequer. It would be possible, no doubt, to resort to a loan in the nature of a terminable annuity, by which a charge would be imposed on the public for a series of years of between £60,000 and £64,000 per annum. If that arrangement were adopted, provision might be made for the payment of that annual sum by a special Customs duty on articles imported from the Baltic, calculated to yield the requisite amount. This plan has been carefully considered by the Government; but though, possibly, some arguments may be adduced in its favour, it appears to proceed to a great extent on an assumption of very doubtful validity—namely, that the Sound Dues are a charge on the persons engaged in the Baltic trade; whereas it seems to me they must ultimately be regarded as falling upon the general consumers of this country. They are an addition to the expenses of the navigation through the Sound; and the merchants engaged in that trade, although subject to occasional losses from the capricious detention of their vessels and other causes, no doubt obtain the average profits on their capital. The charges consequent on the collection of the Sound dues being therefore ultimately borne by the consumer, would any particular benefit arise from imposing a duty on tallow, hemp, timber, 1232 corn, or other articles imported from the Baltic, with the view of indemnifying the Exchequer for the redemption of these duties? If this were done by the expedient of annuities, the amount would hardly justify the imposition of a special class of Customs' duties of the nature to which I have referred; and it is not my intention, therefore, to make such a proposition to the House. At the same time, if the House entertain insuperable objection to charging the proposed sum on the general revenue of the country—if they think the consumer would not be benefited by the remission of the Sound Dues—it will, of course, be competent for them to resort to the contrivance which I have alluded to. I have troubled the Committee at considerable length on this subject, but I have thought it right to lay before them distinctly the grounds on which, after mature deliberation, this arrangement has been made. And notwithstanding the magnitude of the sum by which this boon has to be purchased, I can scarcely doubt that, on a careful investigation of the question, the Committee will come to the conclusion that the exemption would be of the greatest value to the commerce of this country; that it would free from most harassing and inconvenient restrictions an important branch of our trade and navigation; and that we should be consulting the lasting and solid interests of our commerce by acceding to the arrangement now proposed, and by authorizing the Crown to complete the agreement which has been provisionally entered into. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by placing in the Chairman's hands a Resolution that a sum of £1,125,206, be granted out of the Consolidated Fund to compensate the King of Denmark for the abolition of the Sound Dues.
§ MR. WEGUELIN
said, he desired to express, on the part of those engaged in the Baltic trade, his acknowledgments to the Government for the treaty which it had entered into with the Danish Government. He considered that the negotiation of that treaty had been very successfully conducted by Her Majesty's Representative at the Court of Copenhagen. He thought the thanks of the country were due to him for having brought the negotiations with respect to the Sound Dues to a satisfactory conclusion. The effect of the treaty on the trade carried on by this country in the Baltic was not exactly to be measured by the amount paid in dues, 1233 which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, he believed, correctly estimated at about £75,000 per annum. The great objection to the Sound Dues was the detention of vessels. The loss and inconvenience sustained by the merchants by that detention very far exceeded the pecuniary charge in the shape of Sound Dues. It had been estimated that on an average every vessel which had to pass through the Sound was detained three days there in order to effect her clearance. It was not that her actual detention for the purpose of paying the dues amounted to that time, but the accidents by change of wind, and such casualties to which the official detention subjected them, made the average loss of time amount to three days. Now, if the Committee took the interest for three days on the property conveyed through the Sound, they would arrive at an idea of the very great injury done in the shipping trade by such a detention. He believed that the Select Committee must have included that amount in their Report when they put down the whole detriment as amounting in money loss to something like £300,000 a year; for he thought it hardly possible that the agents' dues, which were percentage dues on the dues paid by the Government, could raise the annual loss by dues paid from £75,000 to £300,000. He should have been glad to have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer more details of the principle by which the proportion to be paid by this country of the general indemnity had been fixed. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly correct in holding that the Sound Dues ultimately fell on the consumers of the country, but he should have wished to hear some details as to whether the relative quantities of goods consumed by England and foreign countries had been taken into correct account when the indemnification was being apportioned. He, however, presumed that this point had been duly considered, for he found that Russia had to pay nearly as large a share of the indemnity as England. With regard to the transit dues on the goods conveyed by railway through the interior of Denmark, he did not think that was a matter with which our Government could have dealt, except it had appeared that those dues had been laid on as countervailing dues, in consideration of the abolition of the Sound Dues. These transit dues had 1234 never been oppressive on the commerce of this country, and, therefore, he did not think we had any right to complain of them. As to the advantage which the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) appeared to think Russia had obtained by her facilities for internal transport, he (Mr. Weguelin) did not think that it was a reality. The goods likely to benefit from a reduction of transit to Russia were goods imported into Russia, the cost of which was borne by the Russian consumers. A class of persons denominated Sound agents had hitherto taken up their residence at Elsinore, their business being to negotiate the payment of the Sound Dues between the ships passing through and the Danish Government. He hoped that the English Government would not forget to suggest to the Danish Government the propriety of giving some compensation to these agents, now that their occupation was about to be put an end to by the redemption of those duties.
said, he could not concur in the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, or of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as to the proposed redemption. He, of course, admitted that it was absolutely necessary to the completion of a negotiation that something should be given up, but it was his opinion that our Government had yielded too much to the claims of the Danish Government in reference to this question. He did not think that the House of Commons would be justified in voting so large a sum as £1,125,000 for the redemption of these dues. No individual acting in his private capacity would enter into the bargain which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked the Committee to ratify. He (Mr. Bramley-Moore) was a Member of the Select Committee on the Sound Dues, and had the advantage of having heard the whole of the evidence, which proved most distinctly that the British shipowners did not complain so much of the amount of the Sound Dues as of the detention of their vessels. One of the witnesses called to prove that detention was the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Weguelin). The hon. Member for Southampton now said that the average detention was three days; but in no less than three places in his evidence before the Select Committee he estimated it at only twenty-four hours. He could not entirely concur in the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this was an inter- 1235 national question. To a certain extent it was such; but when the Committee considered the origin of these dues, that they were a sort of compensation in early times to the Danish Government for the protection of vessels against pirates, at a part which was now not at all troubled by pirates, and that for seventy years the Swedish Government was altogether exempted from payment of these dues, he thought it would be seen that it was a question not of international law, but merely of treaty. At the treaty of Bromsbro in 1645, Scania and other provinces were ceded to Sweden, and an exemption from Sound Dues, but with the stipulation that Sweden should not exact any for herself. At the treaty of Fredericksburg in 1720 further concessions were made to Sweden, and a stipulation that she should again resume the payment of the Sound Dues, which she has continued to do to the present time. Up to the year 1815 these dues went into the King's private purse. The Danish Government had acted in this matter with a sagacity and foresight to which the English Government could lay no claim. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had led the Committee to believe that the amount annually paid by British vessels in respect of these dues was between £200,000 and £300,000, and that the English Government had, therefore, made a good bargain by redeeming them at the price of £1,125,000; but there was no warrant for saying that the annual payment was anything like £200,000 or £300,000. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: I quoted the words in the Report of the Select Committee.] The amount really paid for dues was about £70,000 per annum, and, when the Report stated that the burden which the dues imposed upon British commerce was between £200,000 and £300,000 a year, the Committee meant, not that anything like that sum was exacted by the Danish Government, but that between agents, captains, &c., the burden amounted to the sum mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. In entering into an arrangement of this nature the Committee ought to be made acquainted whether the trade in question was increasing or diminishing. Now, the fact was that this was a diminishing trade. In the year 1853 our exports to Russia (it would be unfair to refer to the years 1854–5–6, as they were a mere nothing, in consequence of the war) were £1,100,000, 1236 but a few years previously they were £1,500,000. In the year 1849, the celebrated year of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, the number of British vessels that passed the Sound was 6,846; in 1853 the number had decreased to 4,665, showing a falling off of 2,181 vessels. But how stood the case with regard to foreign vessels? In 1849 the number of Prussian vessels that passed the Sound was 1,356, whereas in 1853 it had risen to 3,472, showing an increase of 2,116 vessels, being about an equivalent of the decrease in the British vessels during that period. The number of ships belonging to Sweden and Norway which passed the Sound was, in 1849, 5,038; in 1853, 5,387, showing an increase of 349. With regard to the Hanse Towns the increase was still greater. In 1849, 311 vessels belonging to the Hanse Towns passed the Sound; in 1853, 743, or more than double. He thought it was fully established, therefore, that we had been making a bargain with a decreasing trade, while the trade of other countries was an increasing one. Then he thought the arrangement, if effected at all, ought to apply equally to the Sound and the transit duties, for unless both were abolished we were paying our money without any proper equivalent. But even if we obtained a redemption of the dues payable both by land and water, we had no security whatever that they would not be reimposed in another way. He knew an attempt was made to provide for this by the treaty, but suppose the Danish Government increased their customs duties, how could we prevent it, consistently with a due regard for the rights of Denmark as an independent kingdom? It appeared to be considered that England must always pay for everything, no matter what. Upon the same principle, why did we not call upon foreigners to contribute for the purpose of abolishing our passing tolls? No such demand was ever thought of. If we found passing tolls to be an impediment to commerce we ourselves removed them without asking foreign countries to do it; let Denmark, therefore, act in like manner in this instance. But there was another difficulty which occurred to him in connexion with this subject. All nations ought to concur in contributing towards the redemption of these dues. They did not, however. He was not aware that America had agreed to pay, and the consequence was that when we had handed over this money, America would step forward, and 1237 would claim the same rights as were enjoyed by England, France, and other nations, and would compete with us on equal terms without having had occasion to put her hand into her pocket. Besides America, however, Spain, Portugal, the Italian States, Greece, and the whole of South America were in the same position, and represented in the aggregate a sum of £500,000, on the terms of redemption adopted by England. Now, it was perfectly idle to suppose that the Danish Government would maintain their establishments at Elsinore for the purpose of enforcing the dues upon these dissentient nations. There would be no means of excluding them from participating in the trade of the Sound. The tenor of the evidence given by Mr. Thompson, Mr. Pearson, and the other witnesses examined before the Select Committee was to this effect—that they did not complain of the money payment but of the delay occasioned. Could not Her Majesty's Government enter into arrangements with Denmark for putting an end to these delays? He did hope the Committee would not sanction the payment of this money, which was to be taken from the pockets of the people of this country without any security that the dues to be redeemed by it would not be reimposed in another shape. Suppose the case of a war with Denmark. We should have furnished her with the sinews of war in the shape of this £1,125,000! Altogether he considered the measure impolitic and unsound, and as such he ventured to oppose it.
MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, he thought it most unjust to impose a tax upon the people of this country exclusively for the relief of the Baltic merchants. It was stated that the amount of tolls paid by these merchants was about £72,000 a year, and that the detention of their vessels, and consequent loss of time, cost them £200,000 or £300,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had intimated that one mode of raising the sum required for the redemption of the dues would be by terminable annuities. Now, he thought the just way of dealing with the question would be to raise the money required in the manner suggested, and to repay it by levying dues upon ships trading to the Baltic. The tax would be insignificant in amount, would only be imposed for twenty or twenty-five years, and would with far more justice be borne by the Baltic mer- 1238 chants than by the people generally. Passing to another point, he would remark that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated no reason why the United States should not pay a part of the gross amount required for the redemption of the Sound Dues. It was said, "Oh! the United States won't pay." Well, suppose we were to say, "England won't pay." We had just the same power of withholding payment as the United States, and were no more called upon to contribute our quota than she was. It seemed to him that in this case, as in many others, America, by acting upon true and independent principles had acquired for herself that justice which other nations, and especially this country, had failed to obtain.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, he thought that the whole question with which the Committee had to deal turned on this—did the Sound Dues fall on the Baltic trade or on the consumers? Take any article of commerce coming from the Baltic and paying this tax, would the importer of this article be enabled to charge the tax upon the consumer? He should certainly wish to have that matter cleared up before they voted to a foreign country so largo a sum as £1,125,000. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that the income of the country for the last year amounted to £72,000,000, and the expenditure to £76,000,000 in round numbers. From that statement he thought it was tolerably plain that the £1,125,000 was not to come out of the income over expenditure for the year, but out of the loan raised for last year's expenditure; in other words, that this large amount was to come out of the pockets of the people, to be paid by the taxation of the country. This at once brought them to the question, did the Sound Dues fall on the Baltic trade or on the consumers? Now, that was a doubtful question. It was, at least, a nice question of political economy. He believed that a large portion of the dues went into the pockets of those who traded to the Baltic and those to whom the produce belonged; and it certainly did not appear to him to be a fair and just arrangement to place upon the taxpayers of the United Kingdom the large sum of £1,125,000.
§ MR. ADAMS
said, that looking at the vexatious character of the Sound Dues, their redemption, whatever the price paid for it, would undoubtedly be regarded as 1239 a great relief by the shipping interest. It was not simply the amount of those dues, but the detention and annoyances to which they gave rise, which rendered them an almost intolerable grievance; and he doubted if the actual loss they occasioned to the commerce of this country was overestimated when it was put, as it had been by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at between £200,000 and £300,000 a year. It seemed to him, therefore, that the bargain which had been entered into was, on the whole, an advantageous one. It should also be remembered that there were two parties to the bargain; that we could not say we would have it on our own terms; Denmark was certainly in the condition of saying what were her terms also; and that, however determined we might be in offering less, she might equally insist upon asking more. So far as we were concerned the whole spirit of our legislation of late years had been to do that which seemed right for the general liberation of commerce, irrespective of the question whether or not that policy would be beneficial to other nations as well as to ourselves. For these reasons, then, he should be prepared to give his support to the arrangement. But more than that; considering that the conduct of the treaty had been entrusted to perfectly competent authorities, he should be willing to concede much to negotiators, who must have taken into account all the surrounding circumstances of the question, and he was sure would endeavour to make the best bargain for their country. They might lament that other countries would not come into the arrangement. The United States, for instance, it was generally understood, had declined to do so. He did not, however, agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that her reason was that she was not a member of the family of European nations. He had always understood that she had denied the legality of the toll in the first instance, and contended that being illegal she was not bound to pay it. But there was no question that England had paid it for a considerable number of years; and that, under the provisions of treaties, and by the acquiescence of this country in the payment of it for many years, Denmark had acquired that indefeasible title which nothing but a resort to force on our part would enable us to evade. He regarded it as the first prin- 1240 ciple of political economy that duties fell upon the consumer. All outgoings were calculated by the shipowner, and the amount of freight was proportionate to the expenses incurred. In that manner these dues ultimately fell upon the consumer; and to get rid of them by imposing a partial tax upon, shipowners would be only substituting one grievance for another. Speaking in behalf of the shipping interest of the port he represented (Boston), he felt greatly obliged to the Government for having relieved the trade of that port, especially the timber trade, by the treaty they had concluded with the Government of Denmark for the abolition of those duties.
§ MR. CLAY
said, he fully concurred in the opinion just stated by the hon. and learned Member for Boston, that this tax fell upon the consumer, and rejoiced exceedingly at the prospect of getting rid of it. It was admitted by every one not to be a question of money as much as a question of annoyance, and he thanked the Government for concluding a bargain which would be generally beneficial to commerce.
said, he was unwilling to forego the immense advantage of an abolition of the Sound Dues simply because they could not at the same time get rid of the toll levied on goods in transitu. That was only a small bone of contention. The large bone of contention was the grievance of shipping being detained and large expenses incurred by agents at Elsinore, in addition to the amount of dues paid to the Danish Government.
said, he did not think it necessary, after the observations which had fallen from the hon. Members for Boston and Hull, to make any remark upon the incidence of this tax. It was quite clear that whatever the shipowner paid, the public had to reimburse in the price of the goods. Indeed, the public had to pay for loss of time, and every incidental disadvantage to which the shipowner was subjected. As to the question whether this charge should be made directly upon the shipowners or upon the Consolidated Fund and paid by the public at large, the very same observation applied; because, if a charge were imposed upon shipping going to the Baltic in order to indemnify the Consolidated Fund, the public must in their turn indemnify the shipowners, and thus we really arrived at nearly the same pay- 1241 ment by the public, only in a very roundabout way; and he might at the same time observe, that in these roundabout payments the public were always losers. In one shape or another they had had to pay this charge hitherto, and they would have to pay it now. All experience had shown, however, that great advantage invariably accrued to the public from the withdrawal of restrictions; and when it was considered that the goods which came from the Baltic included many of the raw materials of manufactures and some of the prime necessaries of life, it must evidently be for the interest of the public—whether regard were had to the price paid for the commodities or to the pressure upon manufacturing industry—that such restrictions should be altogether removed. He thought, from the discussion that had taken place, that that was generally admitted by the Committee, and, if it were, he did not see that any better mode could be devised for carrying out the object in view than that which had been proposed by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. To resort to a terminable annuity he believed would be the least advantageous plan that could be adopted, and there could be no doubt that if we were prepared to pay the amount at once out of the balances of the Exchequer that no method could be more profitable or economical for the country. He had risen principally, however, in consequence of a complaint which had been made by the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) of delay in the production of certain documents relating to the Danish transit dues. He was bound to admit that there had been some apparent delay in this matter on the part of the Treasury, but the circumstances of the case were these:—In November last he was waited on by Sir Samuel Morton Peto and others, who were deeply interested in certain railways, and in the transit duties of Denmark, and they presented a memorial and a letter to the Treasury. The subject was not one which immediately concerned the Treasury, and he forwarded the memorial and letter to the Foreign Office, the Department to which the matter properly belonged, together with a letter from the Treasury strongly urging the Foreign Office to use all the means in their power to induce the Danish Government to comply with the wishes of the memorialists. These documents were transmitted to the Foreign Office on the 25th of November, and on the 29th a commu- 1242 nication was received from Lord Shelburne, the Under Secretary of State, acknowledging their receipt. On the 20th of December the Treasury received another letter from the Foreign Office enclosing a communication from Mr. Buchanan, the British Minister at Copenhagen. Now he apprehended that any one who had read that letter from Mr. Buchanan must see that the matter was then concluded; and it must at the same time be remembered that when we came to treat upon the internal regulations of an independent State, it was a very delicate matter for one Government to appear to force any particular view upon another. Besides, Mr. Buchanan stated in his letter that he had brought before the Danish Minister the subject of that communication, and that the Danish Minister had given him good and substantial reasons why the Danish Government could on no account comply with that request. It must not be forgotten that the Danish Government had already of their own accord, and very greatly to their credit, reduced the transit dues to one-fifth of their former rate, and it was a very delicate thing for the English Minister after such a liberal reduction to press with great pertinacity the views of the English merchants or even of the Government upon such a subject. But the great difficulty in the way of the concession of that point by the Danish Government was thus explained in Mr. Buchanan's letter of the 10th of December:—It must also be remembered that the reductions about to take place will not much affect the dues levied on the Berlin Railway, which I understood form nearly one-half of the whole revenue hitherto derived from transit dues. Therefore, even if the Danish Government were willing to make a sacrifice of the dues levied on railways between Danish ports on the North Sea and the Baltic, for which they might hope to obtain some compensation by an increased traffic, they would be deterred from doing so by the clause in the general treaty which is about to be submitted to them, stipulating that all privileges and facilities granted to Danish railways must be also extended to those crossing their territory from Hamburg to Lubeck, Mecklenburgh, and Prussia, the traffic-on which can never in any way promote the industry or prosperity of Denmark.The conditions of the treaty, therefore, imposed on the Danish Government the necessity of treating the transit dues on all those railways in the same way as on that single railway; and that was a conclusive reason in the mind of Mr. Buchanan why he should not urge further on the Danish Government the view of the English merchants. It had been represented 1243 to him (Mr. Wilson), however, by the Gentlemen who had waited on him at the Treasury that it was not so much the charge upon goods as the detention which was so vexatious and distasteful to the English merchants; but it seemed that upon that point the Danish Minister had shown every disposition to meet them, for Mr. Buchanan went on to say—"He," the Danish Minister,Would, however, willingly, he said, recommend to the Department of Customs that every possible facility should be granted to the railway, and that some arrangement should be devised for preventing delay in the collection of the dues. I therefore venture to suggest that, in the event of the Danish Government declining to abolish the dues, which appear to be almost certain, an arrangement should be made by which goods, intended to be landed at Tonning for transmission by railway, should be classified and weighed before shipment, and that a certificate from the English custom-house of the weight of the goods subject to transit dues in each cargo should be delivered to the Danish authorities as the weight on which the railway would have to account to them for dues. I am not aware whether such an arrangement would be found inconvenient in England, but, as far as the Danish Government are concerned, it appears to me that it would be merely a slight modification of the system according to which the amount of Sound Dues to which a cargo is liable has been hitherto ascertained at Elsinore.That appeared to him (Mr. Wilson) to open the door for remedying the main grievance which the merchants complained of; and as it was a matter which belonged strictly to the department of the Treasury, he tried to see what arrangement could be made on this side of the water for the classification of goods, in order that no detention might occur when they were landed at Tonning. He accordingly wrote to the gentlemen who had called upon him, offering to make an appointment with them, in order to consider Mr. Buchanan's suggestion upon this point, and he certainly expected that they who had shown so much anxiety to get rid of the delay and inconvenience of which they complained, would have been glad of an opportunity of discussing the means by which shipments might be made in the classified form proposed. He had, however, never heard from them upon the subject. On the 14th of January they certainly wrote him another letter, in which they forwarded new information—though it did not materially affect the point—and they urged still upon the Government to endeavour to obtain a remission of the transit duties altogether before the treaty was signed. Those papers were not transmitted by the 1244 Treasury to the Foreign-office at the time, but he had had personal communications on the subject with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and also with the Under Secretary, and he was told that the matter had been so much pressed already on the Danish Government, and that Mr. Buchanan had expressed himself so conclusively on what the decision of that Government was, that it would only be delaying the treaty to urge the matter further, which was not considered to be either wise or desirable. Then, on the 8th of May, the hon. Member for South Northumberland moved for these papers, and when he asked him (Mr. Wilson) whether he had any objection to produce them, he stated that he had none whatever, but he asked the hon. Member to postpone his Motion for a day or two in order that the correspondence might be formally completed. His only object in delaying bringing forward the papers in question was to obtain, in the shape of a formal answer, from the Foreign Office the substance of that which had been personally communicated to him before, in order that the whole of the correspondence might appear more complete. Therefore, on the 8th of May he transmitted those papers formally to the Foreign Office, and the answer from the Foreign Office was dated a day or two later. Although there appeared, therefore, to have been some delay in closing the correspondence it was only a delay upon a matter of form, and practically there had been no time lost in the consideration of the papers, and in endeavouring to secure for the merchants that which they were anxious to have accomplished. That was the explanation which he had to give of the delay which had taken place in the presentation of the papers.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he was given to understand that a very strong feeling existed in the Danish Imperial Council itself in favour of the entire abolition of the transit dues, and it was his opinion still that it only required a little pressure to have effected that total abolition. The arrangement without it was incomplete and unsatisfactory.
§ MR. G. DUNDAS
said, he shared in the dissatisfaction expressed by the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) at the shortcomings of the proposed arrangements with respect to the transit dues, and he thought that if the House would consent to "put the screw 1245 on," they would induce the Danish Government to concede all that we had a right to ask in that matter, and so secure the trade being open to us, and the abolition, not only of the Sound, but also of the transit dues. If they calculated the basis upon which it was proposed to redeem the Sound dues, the insignificant sum of £6,200 would have been quite sufficient for the purpose. He thought, therefore, that the treaty was most incomplete.
said, he wished to know if it were ascertained that Prussia had been favoured in the collection of these transit dues. It was stated in evidence that she had had one-third of the amount returned; and Mr. Buchanan said be had, been assured that it was the fact. He wished to say one word in reply to the observation of the hon. Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Wilson), that the Sound Dues fell upon the consumer. Now he was well aware that as a general rule, whatever taxes or duties were levied the consumer had to pay them in the end; but then there were exceptions to the rule, and that of the Sound Dues was one of them. For instance, if the same import duties were levied upon the produce of all parts of the world alike, unquestionably their burden would fall upon the consumer. But take the article of timber; if only one-tenth of the quantity of timber imported into this country came from the Baltic, and the remaining nine-tenths from other parts of the world, it was clear that the dues levied on the one-tenth as Sound Dues must fall on the merchant and producer, and not on the consumer.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, it is not necessary for me to trouble the Committee at any length, inasmuch as it appears to me that this subject has been well discussed by the hon. Members who have taken part in the discussion, and that, notwithstanding the minor differences of opinion and the strong expressions of dissent which have proceeded from some quarters—founded chiefly on the question of the transit dues and not on that of the Sound Dues—there appears to me to be a disposition on the part of the Committee favourable to the proposition which has emanated from the Government. With reference to the observations which fell from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Mr. Bramley-Moore)—who, I must say, attended the Committee which sat last year with much diligence, and 1246 showed great industry in applying his mind to the subject under consideration—I regret that I have altogether failed in making my meaning intelligible to him. I thought I had stated that the sum on which the redemption-money was calculated was the amount of shipping dues paid by English vessels passing through the Sound, and not on any charges in addition to that amount. If hon. Gentlemen would refer to the Reports of Mr. Buchanan, our Minister at Copenhagen, they would see that that sum was estimated by the Danish Government at £75,730 a year; that the total capital on which, in the first instance, the redemption was calculated by the Danish Government was 60,000,000 rix-dollars, and that the sum which, according to that original calculation, would fall to the share of Great Britain was £1,893,000. The sum was objected to, and it was subsequently reduced from 60,000,000 to 35,000,000 rix-dollars, or not much more than half the original amount, and the sum which England has to pay was reduced from £1,893,000 to £1,125,206. The Committee will therefore see that a considerable reduction has been made in this demand, and that that reduction has been acceded to by the Danish Government. In addition to the £75,730 representing the annual amount of dues paid by English vessels passing the Sound, there are to be calculated the charges imposed on vessels on different grounds, and estimated by competent and well-informed persons at from £200,000 to £300,000 a year, and in addition to that again there is the extra charge and inconvenience arising to traders from the detention of vessels which takes place from time to time. The hon. Member for Maldon says we have made a bad bargain. If we have made a bad bargain, all I can say is, that we have erred in good company, for we have done so in common with all the principal Powers of Europe, and after a full and deliberate examination with them of the whole subject. I can scarcely conceive that greater security could be taken for an arrangement of this sort than the scrutiny and investigation of the Plenipotentiaries of so many of the considerable Powers of Europe, all of whom had a direct personal interest in the result, and all of whom directly concurred in the arrangements embodied in this treaty. What would be the result if we were to adopt the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and refuse to ratify and conclude this treaty, 1247 and were to attempt to reopen the subject? In the first place we should negotiate singly, instead of negotiating in company with France, Russia, Prussia, and the other Baltic Powers, and we should be negotiating in the face of this fact, that we should be asking Denmark to give to us more favourable terms than have been granted to those other Powers, and Denmark would find it impossible to reduce the terms agreed to by us without at the same time granting a corresponding reduction to the other Powers concerned. I think, therefore, it will be obvious to the Committee that if we refuse to conclude this arrangement we shall not only not obtain better terms, but we shall obtain no terms at all, and that our ships will be still subject to the Sound Dues, while the ships of all the other great Powers of Europe will be free from those dues. Again, it is said that we have made a great mistake in completing this arrangement without the concurrence of the United States. In the first place, the share which the United States has at present in the trade of the Baltic is insignificant compared with that of the great European Powers. I find, in proof of this, that the average dues paid by the United States in the eleven years from 1842 to 1853 was 911 rix-dollars, whereas the average amount paid by Great Britain in the same period was 35,373 rix-dollars. This shows that the exclusion of America from the arrangement was of no great practical importance. But there is one paragraph in the letter of Mr. Buchanan which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bramley-Moore) appears to have forgotten. Mr. Buchanan says:—I have been assured by the Danish Commissioner that a treaty between the United States and Denmark is ready for signature, in which the American Government engages to pay to Denmark the proportion of the general compensation money assigned to the United States in the table enclosed in this despatch.Therefore, if that information be correct, we may assume that by this time—or at all events at no very distant period—the United States will become parties to the treaty. The hon. Gentleman has likewise said that means may be found of avoiding this treaty, and that Denmark may impose Customs duties which will be equivalent to the Sound Dues. I must remark, however, that Customs duties would not be an equivalent for the Sound Dues, because those dues are levied upon all ships passing the Sound, although their destination 1248 may not be Elsinore, Copenhagen, or any Danish port, but they may be proceeding to some Prussian or Russian port. Therefore, even if the Danish Government were to alter their Customs tariff—which I do not think they are likely to do—that would in no way affect the question of the Sound Dues. I have before me a statement of the number of ships which have passed the Sound during the years since 1845, and I find that in that year the number of British ships was 3,645; in 1849 it had increased to 6,800; in 1850 it underwent some diminution; in 1851 and 1852 there was a further diminution; in 1853 the number was 4,665; in 1854 and 1855, the years of the war, there was a considerable diminution; but in the last year the number rose to 4,772. I trust, Sir, that with these explanations, the Committee will think fit to agree to the arrangement which we propose, and that they will see that if they do not sanction the treaty agreed to by the Government there is no probability that any more favourable arrangement can be effected with Denmark, but that they must choose between the two alternatives of confirming this treaty, or of allowing the Sound Dues to be levied as at present upon all British vessels engaged in the Baltic trade.
Resolution agreed to.
Resolved, "That a sum of £1,125,206 be granted to Her Majesty, out of the Consolidated Fund, for the purpose of compensating the King of Denmark for the abolition of the Sound Dues.
§ Resolution to be reported on Monday next.