HC Deb 18 February 1859 vol 152 cc512-4

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to a letter dated Foreign Office, 10th of November, 1858, signed E. Hammond, purporting to be a communication from the Earl of Malmesbury to the Chamber of Commerce of Greenock, on the subject of the Navigation Laws. The letter in question was of some importance, because, as it had been read and understood in the country, it seemed to suggest the idea that the Government had in contemplation the revival of the old Navigation Laws. As the document had at least the merit of being brief, he should read it to the House. It was in these terms:— Foreign Office, Nov. 8, 1858. Sir,—The Earl of Derby having communicated to the Earl of Malmesbury your letter of the 29th ult., enclosing a memorial from the Chamber of Commerce at Greenock, urging that measures should be taken to obtain from foreign Governments, in behalf of British shipping, a reciprocity of the advantages conferred by this country on the shipping of other nations, I am directed by the Earl of Malmesbury to state to you that he regrets to say that the apprehensions winch were entertained by many persons of the probable effect of the abolition of the Navigation Laws have been realized, and that the efforts of Her Majesty's Government have hitherto proved unavailing to obtain fur the shipping of England that reciprocity of the liberal measures that she has grantee to other nations which she was entitled to expect. But I am to add that Lord Malmesbury will continue to urge foreign States to act with greater liberality in this respect. I am, Sir, your most obedient servant, E. HAMMOND. To A. M. Dunlop, Esq, M.P. He should be glad to know—and he felt certain that the House wished to know—whether that letter expressed the opinion of the Cabinet, or whether it merely shadowed forth the peculiar notions of the Earl of Malmesbury. He (Mr. Hutt) could recollect the somewhat intemperate language in which the leaders of the Conservative party denounced the measure of 1849 for repealing the Navigation Laws; but as the leaders of that party were now charged with the responsibilities of office, and came forward in the new character of an administration of progress and reform, he could not believe that they were contemplating to reimpose upon the country the antiquated lumber of the rejected system of the Navigation Laws. But if that were the fact, and if that fact were known to the Earl of Malmesbury, what, he asked, was the drift of the Greenock proclamation? He could not, for the life of him, understand what the noble Secretary would be at; and he was sure it was quite as difficult to imagine what were the effects of the abolition of the Navigation Laws, the realization of which Lord Malmesbury seemed to dwell upon with such poignant regret. He could recollect the apprehensions which were expressed, and the predictions which were indulged in by the noble Lord and his friends when that measure was before Parliament. They were similar to the predictions and denunciations which had been levelled against every measure of reform and improvement which had been introduced into Parliament for the last quarter of a century. It was said that the repeal of those laws would ruin the commercial marine, and leave the coasts of this country naked to its enemies, because we should be unable to man the navy. It was true that at the present moment the shipowners of this country were in great distress. He very much regretted to say, that they were suffering in a greater degree than they had done for a long series of years; but they were suffering not from want of the Navigation Laws, but from want of trade. Neither were they suffering alone, nor in a greater degree than others. They had their brethren in misfortune in the shipowners of every commercial State of the world, although in all those States the strictest principles of prohibition and protection were maintained. It was not owing, therefore, to the repeal of the Navigation Laws that that distress had fallen upon the shipowners of England, and it was worthy of remark, that during the seven years that followed the repeal of those laws, the shipping interest of this country enjoyed a degree of prosperity almost unparalleled, the tonnage having actually increased in the enormous ratio of 57 per cent. With regard to sailors, also, which were supposed to owe their existence to the Navigation Laws, their numbers increased in the proportion of 35 per cent. It was not on facts like these that the noble Lord could found the realization of his predictions, nor did it give him any great authority for his exulting despondency. Was it not known at the Foreign Office that every great commercial country had thrown open its ports to British shipping except two, France and Spain? The latter was not of any importance, and, as regarded France, she had lately assured us that she would enter on terms of reciprocity with us the moment we got rid of the discriminating dues which pressed so severely on her shipping, and which the cabinet of which Lord Malmesbury was a conspicuous Member, were not prepared to remove. The letter to which he had alluded required either apology or explanation. If it was written in good faith, there was strong reason for alarm. It possibly was an unworthy clap-trap to see how the matter stood. Here was a large body suffering distress, and ready to listen to any promise of relief, and the noble Lord came forward and said that he sympathised with their affliction and believed them to be the victims of the ignorance and incapacity of their rulers, and that he was in the possession of a secret, by means of which everything might be made straight. It certainly was possible to pick up out of the gutter, by such artifices as these, a miserable popularity. But the representatives of commercial constituencies were placed in a difficult position. They were surrounded by men clamouring for the imposition of mischievous laws, and they were hounded on by a Secretary of State. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman opposite could not wish to see any man driven from public life by such means.