HC Deb 08 July 1859 vol 154 cc863-5

said, he rose to ask the Vice-President of the Board of Trade whether the American Government regard the trade by sea between New York and California as a coasting trade, when the goods are unshipped at Aspinwall and carried across the Isthmus of Panama to be reshipped for California; and, if so, whether it is proposed by Her Majesty's Government to address any remonstrance upon the subject to the Government at Washington? And also, whether since he had given notice of his question another cargo had not been seized, upon the ground of an infraction of the coasting trade of the United States.


said, he was sorry to say he was informed that the cargo of another British vessel, consisting of guano, had been seized upon its way from one port to another of the ports of the United States, which was an infraction of the treaty between the two countries. The question was one of great importance to the shipping interest, and, in the present depressed state of that interest, it devolved upon the House and the Government to take special care that the existing arrangements between the two countries were fairly carried out. It would be recollected that the understanding with the United States, which was embodied in a correspondence between the English Minister at Washington and the Secretary of State for the United States, was that the whole of the privileges conferred by the laws of Great Britain upon the ships of the United States should be conferred upon British ships by the United States, except as regarded the coasting trade. A very large and expansive meaning was attached by the United States to the term "coasting trade," for they made it include the trade from the east coast of America, from New York and New Orleans on one side, round Cape Horn to California on the other side of the continent. He did not, at the present moment, contend that they were not technically right in that interpretation, because by the law of 1817 the coasting trade was declared to be the trade from one port in the United States to another, so that if a vessel were chartered from one port of the United States to another in one continuous voyage, it might be contended, by an extreme application of the term, that it came under the definition of the "coasting trade." It was urged by the United States that a similar state of things prevailed in Europe, and that when a vessel made a voyage from Havre to Marseilles, although a part of Portugal and Spain intervened, yet that she was engaged in the coasting trade. It was therefore contended that the question was one of degree and not of principle. Admitting this, he must say that to construe as coming within the definition of the coasting trade a cargo sent from New York or New Orleans to Aspinwall, unshipped there, carried across the Isthmus, reshipped on the other side, and sent to California would be, both technically and in spirit, incorrect. That was, however, the general representation of the shipowners. In consequence of the representations made to the Board of Trade, they had applied to the British Consul at San Francisco, who now happened to be in this country. As at present advised, he should be disposed to say that the English shipowners were under a mistake, and that it could not, even by the laws of the United States, be construed as a coasting trade if goods from one port in the United States were landed on one side of the Isthmus, conveyed to the other, and re-shipped to California. However, in order that no mistake should arise, and as by the increased facilities of communication across the Isthmus it was probable that almost all the shipments for California would be conveyed across the Isthmus, it became a matter of the greatest importance to come to an understanding on the point. The Board, of Trade had there fore called the attention of Lord Lyons to the subject, with the intention of obtaining a satisfactory settlement of this question.