HC Deb 13 April 1858 vol 149 cc996-1019

* Sir, I rise to move an Address to the Crown with the avowed object of obtaining the abolition of the Stade Dues.

Every one who has paid attention to the Returns of the Board of Trade must have looked with alarm at the falling off of our exports during the last two or three months. The amount of our exports during the first two months of 1858, as compared with the corresponding months of 1857, is less by £3,800,000, while for the same period the amount of tonnage has diminished 207,000 tons. I am aware that the House and the country have of late been more inclined to look for prosperity to ships bristling with cannon than to fleets laden with merchandise, and to regard our armies in the field as of more importance than the legions labouring in the factory; but trade has created a population which we cannot maintain, but which can maintain itself if we give free scope to its labour and full development to S its industry, and any obstacle or impediment in its way demands the anxious and patient consideration of this House, and the immediate attention and action of the Government of this essentially commercial country. On this ground I ask the indulgence of the House whilst I make a short statement on the subject of the Stade Dues, which I regard as no mean impediment to the progress of our trade.

Not the least important part of our foreign trade is that which we carry on with the free city of Hamburgh. It involved a money value, during the last year, for exports alone, exceeding £13,000,000 sterling. The approach to Hamburgh, as every one knows, is by the River Elbe, one bank of which is in the territory of the Duchy of Sleswig Holstein, and the other is under the dominion of Hanover, by whom it was somewhat irregularly acquired only in the year 1715. About forty miles distant from the mouth of the river, and twenty-three miles from Hamburgh (I speak in round numbers), just at the confluence of the Elbe, and the smaller stream of the Schwinge, is a little town called Stade, and an insignificant fortress, and still more insignificant harbour, designated as the Port and Fort of Brünhausen. At this point every ship of every country, with the exception of those of Hamburgh and of Hanover, is called upon to interrupt her passage, and is compelled to bring-to and show her papers (many of which are specially required for the purpose) to the Hanoverian functionary; and on these being considered satisfactory by that redoubtable individual, she is graciously permitted to proceed on her voyage. On her arrival at Hamburg, a Hanoverian Commissioner stationed there makes his appearance, and proceeds to charge duty on the goods forming her cargo—such duty amounting to from one-fourth to three-eighths per cent. ad valorem, though upon many articles, principally the staple commodities of the country, the charge is considerably higher; and not until all demands are satisfied, and all the arbitrary regulations imposed by the Hanoverian authorities are complied with, is the ship permitted to break bulk, and the cargo allowed to be discharged. It is an axiom in political economy, indeed one of the universally acknowledged rudiments of that science, that the cost of production of an article is not the outlay expended on the manufacture of the merchandise when it leaves the factory door, but the cost which has been incurred in respect to it when it arrives at the market where it meets with the competition of other manufacturers. The only proper way therefore in which we can calculate the incidence of this tax, is to look to the proportion that it bears to the freight, and to ascertain how far the cost of carriage is enhanced by the additional burden of the Stade Dues. Now I have before me a well-authenticated statement with regard to a cargo of goods from Hull to Hamburgh, which shows the relative proportions of the freight paid by the merchant, and the toll levied upon him by Hanover upon the absolute cost of the goods; and it will be found that the cost of the carriage of goods to Hamburgh is increased by the exaction of these dues in a proportion the House probably will hardly credit.

From the statement to which I refer, it appears that on two cargoes of woollen carpets, the freight was 1 5–8 marcs banco, and the toll 11–16, showing 65 per cent. additional expenditure on account of the toll. On five casks of drugs there were paid 18 9–16 marcs banco for freight, and 12½ for toll, being 66 per cent. additional expenditure. On 28 bales of woollen goods (five cases) there were paid 59 7–16 marcs banco for freight, and 57¼ for toll, being 96 per cent. additional expenditure. For one cask silk goods there were paid 13 marcs banco for freight, and 14g for toll, being 108 per cent. additional. For 58 bales of cotton goods there were paid 158 marcs banco for freight, and 202 for toll, making an addition of 128 per cent. For two cases of cotton and silk goods there were paid in freight 2 marcs banco, and for toll 3 3–8, or 168 per cent. additional expenditure. This is startling enough; but in addition to this increased cost there is another and still more serious impediment to the free course and current of all commercial transactions. Under pain of a heavy fine, levied upon the slightest infringment of the regulations, on the sole assumed authority of Hanover, in a port not her own, the British merchant is obliged to carry two sets of papers with his ship, and, beyond the ordinary documents usually required, he has to furnish a description of the origin, nature, and value of his cargo, and to state particulars that he is not called upon to show at any other ports in Europe. I need not say how great is the delay, inconvenience, expense, and annoyance of these arbitrary proceedings, but it is only on a due compliance with her despotic commands that Hanover condescends to allow British ships to enter a port where she has no natural authority whatever, or accords to the Englishman her affable permission to return home to a British harbour. But this not the full extent of the evil. Not very long since Hanover, contrary to the position of things when the treaty of 1844 was signed, had joined that combination against maritime trade, and that antagonistic system to British commercial interests generally, which is known as the Zollverein, and has thereupon proceeded to make a political engine of the Brunhausen Toll, by exempting ships going to Harburgh from the operations of the tax, while those bound to Hamburgh remain subject to the imposition. The object of this, of course, is to divert the trade from the free port of Hamburgh to the inconvenient and shallow harbour of the Zoll- verein at Harburgh— to drive our trade from a city and population where we are received with every facility, all free reciprocity, and with a cordial and friendly co-operation which for centuries has endured, and which I trust may continue for centuries yet to come—to a port where we are met by every form of protection and prohibition, and regarded as rivals and antagonists. It may be said now, as indeed it has been said privately to me by those high in office, and for whose judgment I am bound to feel respect, that this is a question not between England and Hanover, but between Hanover and Hamburgh, and that it matters little to England whether their commerce is carried on through one port or the other. But those who advance this position, however sound and undoubted may be their diplomatic experience, can have little practical knowledge of the details, the necessities, and the deep-rooted habits of commercial intercourse. Do they imagine for a moment that it would be an easy matter for British merchants to change the course of that mighty trade which has long been directed through Hamburgh, scattering thence our goods and manufactures to all parts of Germany and the north of Europe? Do they suppose that it is a simple, nay that it is a possible, task to change at once their agents and correspondents, to repose in new men, under new conditions, that confidence and to afford that credit which is at the bottom of all commercial transactions. If the trade of Germany is to be diverted from that great city which has made for itself wealth, population, and importance—without territory, without an army, with no fleet save its merchantmen, but by the mere force of its industry, its energy, its perseverance, and its enterprise—let me warn the House to beware lest it be diverted not only from Hamburgh but from Great Britain—lest it be carried on, not by British ships, but by foreign railways, and lest the restrictions and the protections of the Zollverein come to the aid of the Hanoverian Stade Dues to the exclusion of British merchants and British shipowners—not altogether, perhaps, for British energy is not easily defeated, but in a degree that will be seriously felt by the working classes and the manufacturers of England.

We complain, then, that we are subject to a toll which enhances the cost of our manufactures, and militates against our competition in the German markets and in those of northern Europe; we complain that we are subjected to a differential duty as between our ships and the ships of Hanover and of Hamburgh; we complain that an attempt is being made, by means of these duties, to divert our trade into a new channel, where we shall meet our rivals under a disadvantage; we complain of expense, delay, annoyance, and injustice, and we call upon the House of Commons and the Government to come to our aid in our emergency.

And what is it that we receive for all this arbitrary interference with our traffic? What service does the Crown of Hanover perform for which payment is required? None whatever. The whole expense of maintaining the navigation of the Elbe, from its mouth to its last navigable point, is defrayed, not by Hanover, but by this very city of Hamburgh against whom the taxation and the exemption are, with equal oppression and injustice, more especially levelled. Surely there must be some remarkable or extraordinary circumstances which can induce Europe and the United States to submit to this tax upon their commerce for the benefit of a country which is not concerned in it, and which has no means of enforcing its arbitrary demands. If such there be, I have been unable to discover them. We might just as well consider ourselves bound by a law enacted by Edward the Confessor to pay a toll to a private individual for the power of passing through the street as to hold ourselves shackled by an edict of Conrad the Second, passed in the year 1038, to pay for the privilege of passing a particular point on the river Elbe. But such is the position; we are submitting now to an ordinance of eight hundred years ago, when might was right, and each man took who had the power, and each man kept who could — the ordinance of an almost forgotten dynasty ruling over a long since dismembered empire. It is not my purpose to trace the history of the Stade Dues over this eight hundred years, it may suffice to say that this right of mulcting the commerce of the world and levying black mail on ships of free nations trading to a free port has been bought and sold and given as a marriage portion and made the subject of treaties and wars, just as if it had been a territory or a property to be bartered like merchandise. I shall come at once to the year 1715, when Hanover first assumed the right of that imposition; and I call the attention of my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whom I see industriously taking notes of what I say, to put this down among them. In the year 1715, Denmark, having conquered from Sweden the Duchies of Bremen and Verden, the possession of whose territory involved under the edict of 1.038 the assumed right of levying these dues, sold them to George the First King of England and Elector of Hanover, for a sum of £150,000. £150,000 was paid from the taxation of the people of England for the territory which claimed the power of exacting the Brüuhausen Toll. I know very well that it was pretended, and it was asserted in Parliament, that the King paid this amount, to use his own expression, "out of his own pocket." "Out of his own pocket!" when it is well known that he arrived in this country an impoverished man surrounded with a rapacious following. "Out of his own pocket!" when no less a sum than £700,000 was voted in that very year of 1715 for his civil list and personal expenses. But this £150,000 was hut a small part of the cost to England of the acquisition of these dominions: one of the stipulations made by Denmark and the main part of the consideration demanded and accorded for the cession of the Duchies was, that England was to declare war against Sweden, to raise an army to defend her new possessions, and to send a fleet to the Baltic; and in accordance with this agreement a fleet did actually sail under Sir John Nicol, which is a matter of history. Will any man say, will any interested functionary have the effrontery to assert, that this war expenditure was defrayed from "the King's own pocket"? Will anyone assert that the taxation wrung from the people of England was not used to purchase a power, or a claim to a power, now exercised against us, and that we ourselves have not paid for an imposition levied against us till this day? I am not asserting here anything which is not a matter of historical record. In 1717 the King sent a message to Parliament, asking for an extraordinary supply to fit out a fleet to maintain possession of the Duchies of Bremen and Verden, hut the vote only passed by a majority of four, and that not without opposition. I think that there are few here who will doubt that, notwithstanding the Parliament of that day was an unreformed representation of public opinion—that it was a Parliament composed of men more of less under the influence of the Government and of the Court—nevertheless there was sufficient patriotic feeling even then to make it certain that that majority of four would have been converted into a considerable minority had any one been able to suppose that there was the slightest probability that the Stade Dues would be continued to be levied against us, or that it were possible that it would be necessary in the year 1858 that any Independent Member of Parliament should be standing up in his place to protest, as I am protesting now, against the interference of Hanover with British commerce and British shipping. I will not weary the House (which has been good enough hitherto to accord to me so close an attention) by quoting historical authorities, but I cannot refrain from reading a short extract from Belsham's History of Great Britain, describing the manner in which part of the money for the expenses of the fleet raised for the Baltic was granted by the House of Commons. Belsham says (this was in January, 1817): — A supply of £250,000 was accordingly voted, but by a perilous majority of four voices only, and not without vehement debate and opposition, chiefly in consequence of an alarming division in the administration, and the eventual secession of various of its members distinguished equally by eminence of station and ability—amongst whom Lord Townshend, sometime Secretary of State, and lately appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and Mr. Walpole, who had succeeded the Earl of Halifax as First Commissioner of the Treasury, appeared most conspicuous. The leaders of the secession, by the faint and languid support which those who took any part in the debate gave to this Motion, and the obstinate silence of the rest, sufficiently showed their disapproval of the conduct of the Court, which, for the sake of an useless acquisition of territory in Germany, scrupled not to involve Great Britain in an expensive, dangerous, and destructive war. And it was now clearly perceived, though unfortunately at a period too late, that the separation of the Kingdom from the Electorate ought to have constituted the basis of the settlement of the Crown upon the House of Hanover. The Message was declared by Mr. Shippen to be unparliamentary and unprecedented; penned, he supposed, by some foreigner totally unacquainted with their accustomed forms of procedure, and their invariable usage of granting money only on estimate and for certain specified services. Such was the manner in which this outlay was regarded in 1817; but the cost to this country of the Stade Dues did not end here. Not only did we pay the sums to which I have alluded on being involved in a war with Sweden—the political consequences of which went nigh to change the dynasty of England, and had almost led to an in- vasion of the country—but on the termination of hostilities, which happily occurred on the death of Charles the Twelfth, a further sum of a million of rix dollars was paid by England, not out of "the King's own pocket," but out of the taxation of the people, to retain peaceable possession of the ceded territories, including of course the power of levying the Stade Dues. But, so strongly was it felt, and so universally was it admitted, that England had been sacrificed in these transactions, and that the position that she was to be called upon for heavy contributions to achieve her own disadvantage was utterly and demonstrably indefensible, that in the reign of George the Second the duties were remitted; the Brünhausen Toll was abandoned so far as regarded the ships of Great Britian; and there is a Memorial extant from the merchant adventurers trading to Hamburgh, "thanking his Majesty and accepting only as their undoubted right this act of justice and equity;" even as there is a Memorial or rather a remonstrance in the succeeding reign indignantly complaining of the re-imposition of these dues; for it was not until long after the accession of George the Third to the Throne, and under a Regency of which we have no reason to be proud, that the Stade Duties were re-imposed. Their re-imposition was submitted to only because it took place at a time when it was supposed that the Congress of Vienna, which was about to meet, would settle all matters relative to the navigable rivers of Germany —and so it was. By the Treaty of Vienna it was agreed that the navigation of all German rivers should be free, and that no charge should be levied upon the ships of one country which was not paid by those of another. By the Treaty of Vienna the navigation of the River Elbe became as open and as unimpeded and as free as is the navigation of the River Thames, so far as pen and ink could make it.

Article 108 of the Convention of the Congress of Vienna, dated 9 June, 1815, sets forth as follows:— Les Puissances dont les états sont separés ou traversés par une même rivière navigable s'engagent a régler d'un commun accord tout ce qui a rapport à la navigation de cette riviére. Elles nommeront à cet effet des Commissaires qui se réuniront au plus tard six mois après la fin du Congrès et qui prendront pour bases de leurs travaux les principes. 109. La Navigation dans tout le cours des rivières indiquées dans Particle précédent, du point oú chacune d'elles devient navigable jusqu'à son embouchure, sera entiérement libre, et no pourra, sous le rapport de commerce, être interdite a personne, bien entendu, que l'on se conformera aux réglemens relatifs a la police de cette navigation, lesquels seront conpus d'une maniére uniforme pour tous, et aussi favorable que possible, au commerce de toutes les nations. 110. Le système qui sera établi tant pour la perception des droits que pour le maintien de la police, autant que faire se pourra, sera le même pour tout le cours de la rivière, et s'étendra aussi, a moins que des circonstances particulières ne s'y opposent, sur ceux de ses embranchemens et confluens qui dans leur cours navigable separent ou traversent differents etats. But the Elector of Hanover, represented by the Regent, counting upon the support of a subservient ministry in England, and obtaining that support, I am ashamed to say, even against the best interests of her people, had no idea of abandoning a revenue exclusively enjoyed by himself, and being a part of his own private emolument. Using therefore his power as King of England to serve his purpose as Elector of Hanover, what was the pretext he availed himself of for continuing the Stade Duties, and thus evading the arrangement of Vienna? When the Commission of the Riverian States assembled to adopt the necessary police regulations, it was contended on behalf of Hanover that this was a sea and not a river duty, and under that miserable pretence the impost was retained. Had the interests of England alone been considered in Downing Street, had the Government of that day not aided and abetted in the infliction of a great wrong to the trade and commerce of their country, I do not believe that this argument would have been sustained for twenty-four hours; but every possible influence was brought to bear upon the Commission, every possible delay and impediment was thrown in the way of the settlement of all the complicated questions before them, until this point was attained, until at last the Commissioners, worn out by the pertinacity with which it was advocated, and protesting that they submitted to an assumption which they were powerless to prevent, reluctantly and guardedly allowed the dues to be continued. In the year 1844 the manner in which the dues were levied, which I am bound to say was still more vexatious than the present mode adopted, and their injurious effects on our commerce, led to a compromise being effected, and somewhat precipitately, and, as I think, very unwisely, in that year a treaty was concluded, under which the arrangements I have mentioned still remain in force. That treaty and that alone is the one single acknowledgment of England's submission to be taxed at all. What, therefore, I want the House to do is to present a respectful Address to the Queen, asking Her Majesty to instruct Her Ministers to take advantage of a clause in the Treaty of 1844, which was evidently penned in contemplation of the arrival of a time when the people of England would no longer submit to this imposition, and to give notice that at the expiration of twelve months the treaty would terminate. I am far from advocating such a proceeding as that of attempting to evade a treaty. The Treaty of 1844 undoubtedly exists, and so long as it continues in force every remonstrance addressed to Hanover will be met as it has been met by the simple rejoinder, that she will not argue the question with us; that, right or wrong, whether reasonably or unreasonably, we have entered into a treaty in which we undertake to pay tribute for the privilege of trading with Hamburgh, and she will call upon us to act up to the provisions of that treaty. And consistently with that good faith which is the pride and boast of Britain, we have no alternative but to bow our heads and submit. If, however, notice were once given (and I say it is incumbent upon us that it should be given without delay) of the termination of the treaty as provided for by its 8th Article, we should be free to place Hanover upon her defence, while she herself would be compelled to adopt a very different tone, and to show herself more accommodating and more accessible to our reasonable remonstrance. I have carefully studied this particular point: I have sought for information on the subject both from English and foreign jurists, and I cannot concur with those who, having given, perhaps, less attention to the subject than myself, apprehend that the extinction of the treaty would send us back to the complicated and still more onerous state of things which existed previous to the arrangement of 1844. By the Convention between the Elbe-bordering States, signed at Dresden April 13th, 1844, the tariff now in force has been determined; and the first article of that Convention distinctly lays down that it cannot be altered without the consent, not of the majority, but each particular one of the contracting States. The words are: "That the Regulations which will come into force in October, 1844, cannot be altered without the common consent of the contracting States." It is true that Hanover may withdraw, if she be allowed to levy this duty at all, so much of her concession of 1844 which accepts two-thirds of the toll specified in the tariff of the 15th of April, 1844, on certain articles; but these same reductions have been granted subsequently to the vessels and goods of all other nations, and it is not to be anticipated that she will be enabled to make a general advance, however trifling, in her arbitrary claim upon the commerce of the world. So that if the Treaty of 1844; were abolished to-morrow, it would scarcely be otherwise than that the existing regulations would, so far as Hanover desires, still continue in force, while there will be no official acknowledgment on our part of the power of Hanover to levy these duties at all, and we shall be at liberty to take any course we please with regard to them. Doubtless, by the same rule under which Hanover levies ¼ per cent she may levy 50 per cent; by the same rule and right under which she detains ships four and-twenty hours in the Elbe she may lay an embargo upon them for a fortnight: but surely the forbearance of Europe has a limit, and it is possible that we may pluck up courage enough to defend the interests of England, even though we have no Treaty of 1844. There are those, and they are to be found principally in the ports more immediately and especially injured by this toll, who advocate the redemption of these duties by a money payment, and who look to a simple, easy, comfortable, and speedy severance of the knot by the purchase of the Brunhausen Toll upon the same principle as that upon which the Sound Dues were redeemed; but it is plain, obvious, and undeniable that no analogy exists between the two cases, and, for my part, I have no idea of calling upon my constituents to subscribe a sum of money for the purpose of funding an injustice or of capitalising a wrong. Whether this tribute be paid annually or all at once, it is equally indefensible and equally extortionate. If it can be shown that there exists any international law which justifies the interposition of one country for its own, private benefit between the commerce of others; if it can be explained that there is any, the slightest, service rendered which justifies a demand for a reasonable payment in return; if it can be proved that any strategical position is occupied which comprehends a claim for an acknowledgment in the shape of tribute from the ships of the world: if this levying of black mail can be defended by any fiscal right, or is authorised by any commercial usage, then it will be time enough to consider, not what amount we shall pay for its redemption, but what sum should be deducted as a set-off from our claim upon Hanover for the cost of the Duchies of Bremen and of Verden.

In submitting my Resolution to the House, I have no wish to embarrass Her Majesty's Government in the matter, and I cannot but think that if they accept it they will thereby strengthen their position, inasmuch as Hanover will perceive that the Parliament of Great Britain will no longer submit to an unfounded and an unjustifiable claim. The Thames, and the Tyne, and the Mersey, and the Clyde, are as free to the ships of Hanover as to those of the United Kingdom. Every British port from Plymouth Sound to the Frith of Forth is open to the merchantmen of the world on the same terms and under the same regulations as to our own. And it is a humiliation and a disgrace to the flag of England that it should be under the command of any country in any particular spot of the world, and that our ships should not enjoy the same immunities and the same facilities as we ourselves accord to those of other nations. I believe that the exaction of this toll is an infringement of international law, a sordid and grasping attempt to interpose between the intercourse of nations, and a disgrace to the usages of the civilised world, and, so long as I have the honour of a seat in this House, I shall not cease my exertions to abrogate what I regard as a most oppressive tax upon the commerce of this country; and so, Sir, I beg to place in your hands a Resolution.


seconded the Motion. He most cordially concurred with the hon. Mover in thinking that this obstruction, which it Was now in the power of the Government to put an end to, should no longer be allowed to exist. It was a burden upon the commerce of the country, and an obstacle to its increase. He hoped the Government would avail themselves of the power which the treaty gave them to put an end to it. Last year they had voted £1,125,000 for the redemption of the Sound Dues, but he hoped the Government would never entertain the notion of buying up the Stade Dues, because they had been purchased with English money. Hanover might have had some pretext to levy them if both banks of the Elbe had belonged to hon. It would he derogatory to England to submit longer to pay these dues, because she did not enjoy the same privileges as other nations did in the trade to Hamburgh.

Motion made and Question proposed,— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, respectfully representing the injury to British Commerce inflicted by the Tax levied by Hanover on Merchandise and Shipping ascending the River Elbe, under the denomination of the Stade Dues; and praying that Her Majesty will be pleased to give directions to Her Ministers to give notice of the termination of the Treaty between the United Kingdom and Hanover, of the 22nd day of July, 1841, according to the terms of the Eighth Article of that Treaty.


said, he should only make a very few observations in answer to the hon. Member. He thought it was nut necessary for him or any one to say that the payment of a turnpike was a great nuisance, and ought, if possible, to be got rid of. That nuisance might also be accompanied by circumstances as disagreeable as the payment of the money itself. He believed in respect to the present case some of those circumstances existed; such, for instance, as the obligation to stop and deliver in papers at the place where the toll was originally paid. It was not necessary for him to say that the toll amounted to a considerable charge on vessels going into the Elbe; but he must say, in passing, that he was extremely glad to find the new-kind of light which had come on the hon. Gentleman who made the Motion, because the House used to be told that all these charges on an article fell on the consumers. However, let that be as it might, he should be very glad to see the toll in question properly got rid of. His observations in answer to the Motion would have been very short, if it had not been for the interesting historical question raised by the hon. Member, and the conclusion he deduced from the facts he narrated. The hon. Member by no means confining himself to the inconvenience of the payment in question and to the actual trouble it occasioned to the persons engaged in shipping, had distinctly and directly raised the question as to the legality of the payment. There was no doubt, however, but that the question was surrounded with considerable difficulties. The length of time during which the tolls had been paid, the quasi recognition the payment had received from treaties, and the declarations made by no less a person than the noble Lord opposite within a recent period, all showed that the case was not so simple as the hon. Member seemed to consider. He thought the course suggested by the hon. Member was, perhaps, not the best calculated to get rid of this matter. The question having been broadly raised as to the legality of the payment of the duties, he thought that before the House asked or compelled the Government to take so decided a step as the giving notice of an intention to put an end to the treaty, it would be more prudent to have the matter investigated, in the same way as in the case of the Sound Dues, by means of a Select Committee. It would put the Government in a position of advantage if anything like the cases put by the hon. Member should be made out by investigation in a Select Committee; but he must say that he had seen no facts that led him to believe that such would be the case. Still as the mover and seconder of the Motion had raised the question of the legality of these dues, he thought the question would be best submitted to a Committee. The investigation would not take up a long time, and would put them in a better position to deal with the question. Some doubts might arise whether, if the tolls were put an end to, the same advantages would be enjoyed by the trade as at present. Quite agreeing, however, that it would be a desirable tiling if these tolls were got rid of, he thought the wiser course for the hon. Member to adopt was, to move for a Committee of inquiry, as in the case of the Sound Dues, rather than call on the Government to take at once so decided a step as putting an end to a treaty. If the hon. Member should adopt that course, he was quite ready on the part of the Government to assent to the appointment of a Committee.


was not disposed to take the same view of the question as the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, for it appeared to him that the present was not a parallel case with the Sound Dues, and was one that ought to be referred in the first instance to a Committee of the House. The question with regard to the Sound Dues was this: the Government wished to propose to Parliament to buy up and redeem those dues; and the question referring to a Committee to consider was, whether, balancing on the one hand the charge to the public by that payment, with the relief on the other to our commerce from the cessation of the Sound Dues, it was expedient for Parliament to grant the sum, which, it was agreed, would be received, if Parliament sanctioned the grant for the redemption of those dues. That was therefore a very fit subject for the consideration of a Committee. The Government had first acted on their own responsibility in ascertaining what were the terms on which the Sound Dues could be redeemed, and it was proper for the House of Commons to determine whether they would sanction the payment of that amount. But, as the right hon. Gentleman put the question, the point to be considered relative to the Stade Dues was whether they were legal,—whether, according to international law, to long-standing custom, to the proper interpretation of treaties, to the admissions made by the British Government at different periods, Hanover was entitled to continue to exact these payments. Now, with all submission, it appeared to him that that was not a question to be thrown loose before a Committee of the House of Commons; it was rather a question which the executive Government, in conjuction with their law advisers, ought to investigate. They ought to make up their minds, after proper investigation and legal advice, whether the Hanoverian Government were entitled to require the continuance of the Stade Dues, and they should then state to Parliament the views which they had formed, and propose whatever course they, upon their responsibility, might think it right to pursue—either that the treaty should be put an end to by the notice which his hon. Friend suggested, or that payment should be refused; or, if they were advised to concur in the opinion that the dues could not legally be refused, recommended Parliament to adopt the same course as was pursued in the case of the Sound Dues. He did submit to the right hon. Gentleman, (Mr. Henley) therefore, that the reference of this legal and international question to a Committee of the House of Commons would not be a proper course to pursue. On the other hand, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that we were hardly prepared as yet to concur in the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ricardo), and that so decided a measure as giving notice of the cessation of the treaty would be premature, at least before it was known in what condition the country would be loft if that treaty were terminated. It might be that in such a case we should fall back on some anterior state of things out of which we were extricated by the treaty, and that we should be for the moment in a worse position than that which we now occupy. At all events, he hoped the Govern- ment would bestow full consideration upon the question, and, having made up their minds as to the legal obligations of the country, would state to the House the course which, on the whole, appeared to them most desirable for the national interest.


said, that the comparison drawn by the right hon. Gentleman, between these dues and the toll taken on turnpike roads was not a very apposite one, because it was necessary that roads should be kept in repair; but, in this instance, the persons who received the tax did nothing in return for it. Nor did it meet the case to suggest that the consumer paid these dues, because the vexation and annoyance caused by them were of even more consideration than the mere amount of money levied. He was glad to find that his hon. Friend had brought forward his Motion, because he felt quite sure that an early abolition of the nuisance must he the result of a discussion of the subject in that House. He fully believed that, in consequence of the toll, our trade with Hamburgh was in course of rapid diversion. A gentleman, largely concerned in the Baltic trade, had told him that his vessels to Stettin were going out full of cargoes which formerly went to Hamburgh. It might be said that, so long as we carried these cargoes, it did not much matter to which port they went; but the Hamburgh route was naturally the cheapest and most convenient, and it was hard that the legislation of man should close up the channel which nature provided. He believed the matter to be really urgent, and required to be dealt with at once; but he certainly doubted whether the course suggested by his hon. Friend would provide the most rapid means of getting rid of this nuisance. The Earl of Clarendon had been engaged, for at least a year, in endeavouring to put an end to the tax by negotiation; and the records of the Foreign Office would supply ample evidence of the necessity which existed for getting rid of the dues, and of the means adopted by the late Foreign Secretary with this object. He believed, however, that the Earl of Clarendon made up his mind at last that the impost could not be removed by negotiation. If the treaty were put an end to, it appeared to him (Mr. Clay) that they would return to the state in which they were immediately before it was made, or something worse. Under these circumstances, then, he thought that the best course which could at present be pursued would be, to treat the question as the question of the Sound Dues had been treated, and to purchase out the right claimed by the Government of Hanover. His hon. Friend the Member for Stoke had expressed his disapproval of such a step, and had argued that no advantage would he gained by paying a certain sum in a lump, instead of spreading it in the shape of small contributions over an indefinite period. But his hon. Friend seemed to forget that the great objection to that tax was not so much its amount, as the delay and the vexation to commerce which it occasioned. He (Mr. Clay) believed that a sum of about £200,000 would be sufficient to purchase a cessation of the nuisance; and the cost of the operation might be considerably diminished, if an allowance could be obtained in favour of this country, as a compensation for the payment of £150,000 made out of the English funds in the time of George I. to Hanover, for the purpose of purchasing the right of that country to exact the charge.


said, he regretted to find, from all he could gather, that the President of the Board of Trade appeared to have no opinion at all on this subject. He often had occasion to admire the acumen and the ability displayed by the right hon. Gentleman; but he confessed, that never during the whole time he had occupied a seat in that House did he remember an instance in which a Minister had come down so little prepared to express an opinion on a subject which had for so long a time occupied public attention. By the course he had recommended, the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues might perhaps save themselves from some trouble at present, but the time was not far distant when they would certainly regret it. The Stade Dues had been ceded to the King of Hanover through the mediation of England, and this country had paid a good round sum of money for the precious bargain, by means of which that arrangement had been effected. Sir Robert Walpole, however, had defended that expenditure of money upon the ground that it was extremely desirable that those dues should be placed in the hands of the Hanoverian family. At the time of the Congress of Vienna the question of the collection of the dues had been referred to the consideration of the river-bordering States, with the injunction that they were to observe in their mode of dealing with the subject certain liberal principles. The King of Hanover, however, who had been repre- sented at the Congress of Vienna, had refused to submit to its jurisdiction, and the consequence had been that the tolls continued to be levied in the most arbitrary and illegal manner. Subsequently, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton had taken the matter into his hands, and had prevailed upon the Government of Hanover to agree to a proposition for referring the Stade Dues to a mixed Committee, in which this country should be represented. A Committee had accordingly assembled in Hanover in 1841, in which Mr. Ward, a gentleman of great intelligence, had represented England, and had laid it down as a principle that the stipulations of the Swedish treaty should be adhered to, and that Hanover should not be permitted to levy more than one-sixteenth per cent upon the commerce of the Elbe. The King of Hanover, however, had refused to accede to that limitation, and the Committee had separated, having effected nothing beyond placing upon record its deliberate opinion that the Stade Dues should not exceed a certain amount. In 1843 the question had fallen into the hands of the Earl of Aberdeen, and he had succeeded in inducing the Government of Hanover to submit to the jurisdiction of the Elbe Committee, which had awarded the King of Hanover ¼ per cent upon all the traffic of the river Elbe, notwithstanding that the Swedish treaty in the most explicit manner had set forth that the duos should not exceed one-sixteenth per cent. Instead, however, of protesting against that illegal proceeding on the part of the Elbe Committee—which might just as well have handed over to the King of Hanover the right of closing the Elbe altogether—the Government of England had adopted the decision with complacency, and had made it the basis of a convention, stipulating only that certain articles of British manufacture should be liable to a lower rate of charge than that which the Committee had fixed. Such was the position in which we now stood in reference to the question; and his hon. Friend who had introduced the subject to the notice of the House simply proposed to relieve British commerce from the grievous imposition under which it was suffering, by repealing the convention of 1844. That proposition, however, would not, even if it were carried into effect, release our shipping and commerce from the Stade Dues, which differed from the case of the Sound Dues which had been levied by the King of Denmark in so far as that, while the latter had contributed in some degree to facilitate navigation by the erection of buoys and lighthouses, no such advantages were afforded by the King of Hanover. For his own part, he saw no means of escaping from the difficulty except by following the plan proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay), and buying up these vexatious and mischievous tolls altogether; but whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be in a position to take that course during the present year it was not for him (Mr. Hutt) to say. He should, however, maintain that the necessities of British commerce required that some decided step in the matter should be speedily taken.


said, the question under discussion seemed to him to have become somewhat complicated. He had listened to the speech of his hon. Friend who had introduced the subject to the notice of the House with great attention, and he felt convinced, by the arguments which his hon. Friend had adduced, that it must soon become the duty of Her Majesty's Government to devise some mode by which the Stade Dues should be abolished. The question certainly could not be allowed to remain in its present position, but he confessed that he was anxious to see some fruit produced by the Motion at the present time. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton objected to the proposal which had emanated from his (Mr. Gibson's) hon. Friend, and also to the proposition of Her Majesty's Government to appoint a Committee of Inquiry; but the noble Lord had failed to point out any means by which a profitable result should flow from the Motion which had been submitted to their consideration. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Hutt) and the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay) had told the House that the revenue derived from the tolls in question by the King of Hanover must be redeemed, and, as his hon. Friends had devoted much attention to the subject, he (Mr. Gibson) thought it was a question well deserving of consideration whether a Committee should not be appointed to inquire how far it was worth the while of the Government to redeem the Stade tolls out of the taxes of the people of England. He should therefore advise his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ricardo) to accept the offer of the Government of a Committee of Inquiry. It was quite certain that the operation of these dues was most injurious to the trade of the manufacturing districts, and, without en- tering into detail at present, he would only mention the simple fact, that upon cotton goods sent from Hull to Hamburgh the tolls levied amounted to 128 per cent upon the freight. Inasmuch as the ships of Hamburgh and Hanover were exempt from those dues, he thought it would be admitted that British shipping and commerce were most unfavourably affected by them. He repeated his advice to his hon. Friend to accept the offer of the Government, being convinced that a full investigation of the subject must lead to satisfactory results.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) had misconstrued the observation of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, who did not object to the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry at the proper time, but said that the question of legality having been distinctly raised, it was the duty of the Government to satisfy themselves upon the point by investigation and reference to the law advisers of the Crown. When that matter had been determined, it might be proper to have a Committee of Inquiry, but in the first instance he should wish to know whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared to take the opinion of the law officers upon the question of legality.


said, that as one of the Members for Hull, he wished to impress upon the House the necessity for taking some steps with regard to this most vexatious tax. They might appoint Committees without end, but it was certain that the only way to get rid of these dues was to purchase them. He had formed part of a deputation that waited upon the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs upon this subject, who made a very satisfactory declaration that the matter was undergoing the consideration of the Government. His constituents were ready to make any reasonable sacrifice in the way of expenditure that might be necessary to get rid of these tolls, as, in truth, it was not merely a matter of money, but of annoyance and delay. At present every master of a merchant ship visiting Hamburgh had to make out a separate manifesto of his cargo, and, in addition to that inconvenience, there was the delay arising from the visitation of Customs officers. He trusted that the time would speedily arrive when this most obnoxious restriction upon our trade would be completely removed.


said, he believed they were all agreed on one point, and that was that this was not a party question. Upon the part of the Government there was certainly no desire to evade the discussion of this subject, or to abstain from attempting to bring about a satisfactory settlement of it, they being as fully aware as any of the hon. Members who represented commercial constituencies that the tax was not only objectionable in amount, but that there were other circumstances connected with it which rendered it of great importance to the trade of this country that the tax should at the earliest possible moment be abolished. There were now two proposals before the House, and he would refer first to that made by his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade who suggested the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton had met that proposition by urging that it was not becoming on the part of a Government to throw loosely before a Committee a question of legality which the Government themselves had the best opportunities of solving through their own law officers. If the question had been simply one of legality, the noble Lord's argument would have been unanswerable; but the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke must have satisfied the House that besides the legal question there were many other important and historical circumstances connected with these dues which could not properly be submitted to the law officers, and which could be best considered by a Committee of the House. The hon. Member for Stoke had raised a question as to the mode in which these tolls had been acquired by Hanover, and had contended that, as they were bought with English money, in any arrangement for their purchase from Hanover the amount originally contributed by English tax-payers should be taken into account. That was a point upon which there was considerable dispute, for although it had been alleged that the £150,000 which had been paid to the Duchies was part of the grant to George I., that statement had been met by a direct negative from the Government of Hanover. Another point which would best be inquired into by a Committee was the question of how far we were estopped from questioning the legality of the tax by our recognition of it in the treaty of 1844. There was a further point, on which the hon. Member for Stoke made a very positive statement, but a statement which he (Mr. FitzGerald) had not been able to satisfy himself was entirely correct. The hon. Gentleman said that if we were to give notice to put a determination to the convention or treaty on this subject, we should be in the same position as before, and should not be called upon to pay an additional tax. That might be so, though he had not been able to obtain any satisfactory information upon it. Indeed, he rather thought it was a grave question, whether this country would not be in a worse position than now; whether we should not be called on to pay a very increased amount of duty on all articles whatsoever, and lose the advantage which we now had of paying about one-third less than other countries on certain descriptions of articles. The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) spoke of referring the matter to the law officers of the Crown; but he begged to remind the noble Lord that only last year he had declared that these Stade Dues could only be treated in the same way as the Sound Dues, and be made subject to redemption or purchase. The noble Lord, however, had never taken any step for that purpose—not even the step which he said the present, Government was bound to take in the matter, for he had neglected to obtain the opinion of his law officers as to the legality of the tax. The Government were fully alive to the importance of getting rid of the toll, and all they had to do was to ascertain how that object could be best accomplished. The question as to whether a large sum of money should be paid out of the public revenue was one which it was their bounden duty to submit to a Select Committee, not only because they would then get the best materials on which to form an opinion, but because they would satisfy the people, from whom the money came, that it was properly, judiciously, and well expended. He therefore hoped that the proposition of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) would be accepted. He hoped the hon. Member for Stoke would accept the proposition of his right hon. Friend, and consent to the appointment of a Committee as the most likely mode of hereafter arriving at a judicious settlement of the whole question.


said, that as he was connected with large commercial interests of the country which were especially affected by these tolls, he trusted he should be permitted to make one or two observations on the Motion before the House. They were told that of all places Hull was one which was most interested in the question; but he was not about to advocate the interests of that town, which had been ably supported by hon. Gentlemen who had already addressed the House. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Hutt) had put the question very clearly before the House, and then stepped in the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton (Mr. M. Gibson) who truly stated that, unless the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to refer the matter to a Select Committee were agreed to, they would be in the agreeable position of getting absolutely nothing; and therefore he thought it the wisest course which could be pursued. In that opinion he (Lord Hotham) concurred. He thought that referring it to a Committee was the only method of coming to a just and reasonable conclusion, and although he had no authority for saying so, he believed that that was a course which the parties who were more immediately connected with the question desired.


said, he was very much of the opinion of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton as to the inutility of a Committee on this subject, but it seemed to him that he had no choice left in the matter. He had stated certain facts which ought to be refuted before his Motion could be properly rejected; but the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had not done so, but had rather chosen to refer the matter to a Committee, and he had no other alternative than to accept it. He scarcely thought that it would be denied by any one that the Government ought to take steps to get rid of these tolls. For himself, he was prepared at any time to prove all the assertions he had made before the Committee, and he was quite sure the result of the investigation would be, that the Government would feel it their duty to assert the right of England to carry on its commerce without undue interference.


What I stated has been misunderstood. I thought the better course was for the Government to make up its mind to a definite proposal and to submit it to a Committee, instead of a Committee framing a definite proposal and submitting it to the Government. However, as the Government and the right hon. Gentleman seem perfectly agreed, of course I will not press my views further.


inquired in what manner the question would be submitted to the Committee.


said, that when he heard the statement of the hon. Member who brought forward this Motion, and found that he referred to a great many facts, the accuracy of which he was neither in a position to controvert nor to affirm, he thought that the best way to deal with it would be to submit it to a Committee, in which the accuracy of those facts could be tested. After they had been affirmed he quite agreed that it was the duty of the Government to take the opinion of the law officers of the Crown on the whole of the case. On the whole he did not see how the matter could be so fairly and fully dealt with as by referring it to a Select Committee.


asked whether the Government would move for the appointment of the Committee?


said, that he had no objection to do so.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.