* MR. LINDSAY
I rise, Sir, to move the following Resolution:—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the burdens and restrictions especially affecting Merchant Shipping, and of the following Statutes; 9 and 10 Vict., c. 93, an Act for compensating the families of Persons killed by accidents; the Merchant Shipping Act (1854); the Merchant Shipping Amendment Act (1855); the Passenger Act (1855); and the Chinese Passenger Act (1855).Sir, in March last, I Drought under the consideration of the House, in the late Parliament, a Motion similar in all respects to that which I now submit to the consideration of the House. Parliament was then pleased unanimously to grant this Committee of Inquiry; but unfortunately the late Parliament was soon after dissolved, and, consequently, no results followed the appointment of that Committee. I have now, therefore, again to ask that a Committee be appointed to inquire into the special burdens and restrictions affecting Merchant Shipping. I see on the paper that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London has a Motion similar in substance to that which I have just submitted to the consideration of the House; and, apparently, the object which my hon. Friend has in view is the same as that which has caused me to move in the matter. I may say, for the satisfaction of my hon. Friend, and for the information of the House, that if the House shall be pleased to grant me this Committee of Inquiry, it will be necessary, in the first place, to make 333 some inquiry into the actual position of the British Shipping Interest, which, I am sorry to say, has for some time past been suffering great depression. It will be necessary also to glance generally at the causes of that depression. I for one feel that the causes of that depression are so apparent that a very limited inquiry on that head will suffice. I believe the Committee will find that the causes of that great depression to which the British Shipping Interest has been subjected, arise in great measure indeed from the same causes which bring periods of great depression on other branches of commerce. I will call the attention of the House to the facts of the case.
In 1853–54–55, it is well known that the British Shipping Interest was in a state of great prosperity. The Crimean war, while it created an enormous extra demand for ships, curtailed in a very small degree the usual channels of commerce, and the consequence was that a larger number of ships was called into requisition than was necessary for the usual trade of the country. I am free to own that the shipowners at that time brought forward more ships than the trade of the country required. What was the consequence? The consequence has been that the supply, during the last three or four years, has greatly exceeded the demand. But I would not venture to ask the House for the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry if I thought that the sole cause of the depression was the over-supply of ships, because I fear I should thus be setting a precedent that would justify other interests, when they were in a depressed state, to come before this House with a demand for inquiry.
But there are other causes which to a considerable extent have been the causes of this depression. In the first place, there are those peculiar restrictions which, when the shipping interest was deprived of protection, ought also to have been removed— restrictions which were the creatures of protection, and which, when protection was abolished, ought, in justice to the shipping interest, to have been also swept away. There is another point on which the Committee will feel it necessary to make some inquiry. The House is aware that the repeal of the Navigation Acts, ten years ago, admitted the ships of all other nations into our ports on the same terms as our own ships are admitted. In thus throwing open our ports I admit we have shown a wise and prudent regard to our own interests, 334 but we have also displayed great liberality to other nations, and at the least we might have expected that other nations would make us some return. But other nations have not reciprocated our liberality; for I find that France—and I take the case of France, because I understand that we are about to enter into a commercial treaty with that country—and though I will not say anything that would lead to the discussion of a treaty of the details of which I am ignorant, I may take up this point— how we stand, with regard to the shipping interest in our relations with France. In 1850—ten years ago—we admitted the ships of France into our ports on the same terms and on the same conditions as our own ships. Ten years have gone, but France has not met us in the same spirit of liberal policy. France maintains high differential duties. The article of sugar, when imported into France in French ships, pays a duty of £3 8s. per 100 kilogrammes; if in British ships it pays a duty of £4 4s. I find that coffee pays a duty, if in French ships, of £2 8s. per 100 kilogrammes; if in British ships, £4 4s. Tobacco in French ships pays 4s. per kilogramme; in British ships the duty is double the amount. Cotton wool in British ships pays £1 8s. per 100 kilogrammes; if in French ships, it pays only half that amount of duty. Tea, if in British ships, pays 4s. 9d. per 100 kilogrammes; in French ships, only 1s. 2d. There are very few staple articles admitted into the ports of Franco in British vessels upon the same terms on which they are admitted in French vessels. In fact, in many cases, there are not merely very high differential duties against our ships, but the duties are almost prohibitory. It is perfectly true that France does not gain by that illiberal policy, for we find that, for every French ship that enters our ports, three British ships enter the ports of France. But that is no answer to the complaint of what I may the injustice on the part of France, which, deriving as she has done during the last ten years the full benefit of a share in our vast carrying trade, excludes our ships from her comparatively limited trade. It is not, however, solely of the differential duties on goods imported in the ships of the respective nations that I have to complain, I find that there are also very high tonnage duties levied, to the disadvantage of British shipping entering the ports of France. I find that British vessels from any but British ports in Europe pay a ton- 335 nage rate in France of 2½ francs per ton, while French ships pay a tonnage duty of only eighteen centimes, or one-fourteenth of the charge imposed upon our vessels. I find that French vessels from other ports than those belonging to Great Britain and her Colonies pay 75 cents per ton; while British vessels from all parts pay 2½ francs per ton; and the ships of the Americans—our great rivals in the carrying trade—are also only subject to the French charge of 75 cents per ton. As I have already said, we not only admit the ships of France to our ports, but we also admit the ships of the rest of the world; and, however high those differential duties of France may be against us, they are as nothing compared to the differential duties maintained by the Spanish Government against our shipping entering their ports. I find that coffee imported into Spain from Havana in British ships pays a duty of 20 cents per 9 lbs., while coffee imported in Spanish ships pays a duty of only 12 cents per 9lbs. I find that sugar—the staple product of that island—imported in British ships pays 37 cents, per box, while sugar imported in Spanish ships pays a duty of only 25 cents per box. I find that the same high differential duties are imposed against our shipping upon other articles, and that on tobacco, for instance, the charges fall in the proportions of 150 and 75. I find that at Cardenas, dues of one dollar and a half per ton are levied on British ships, while dues of only half a dollar per ton are levied on Spanish ships. I need hardly add that we are excluded not only from the coasting trade of Spain, which is inconsiderable, but also from the coasting trade of France, which is considerable, and in which it might be important to us to be allowed to share. There are altogether seventeen nations which maintain against us differential duties, or prohibit our ships from engaging in their coasting trade. What is the course which we ought under these circumstances to adopt, it is not for me to say; but I do think that these are facts which the Committee, if it be granted, will be bound to inquire into, and to report upon to the House. I believe it will also be the duty of the Committee to ascertain what the various Governments which have sat upon these benches since the year 1850 have done to obtain from foreign nations that reciprocity which we have a right to expect. I think, or rather I fear, it will be found that these Governments have not used the 336 exertions which they ought to have used with foreign nations for the purpose of inducing them to allow our ships to enter their ports upon the same terms on which their ships are allowed to enter our ports. With regard to the United States of America, it is true that for many years treaties of reciprocity have existed between them and this country; and, consequently, when we repealed our navigation laws in the year 1850, America had in reality nothing to give us for the vast benefits which we had conferred upon her shipping, except her coasting trade. We had previously admitted her ships into our ports upon the same terms on which she had admitted our ships into her ports. But, by the repeal of the navigation laws in the year 1850, we threw open to the ships of the United States our ports in our distant possessions in India, in Australia, and elsewhere. Now, as I have just observed, America had nothing to give us in exchange for that advantage except her coasting trade; and when we threw open to her our trade, we expected that that enlightened nation would open to us her vast coasting trade. But she did nothing of the kind. Again, when in the year 1854 we threw open our coasting trade, I remember that the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Oxford (Mr. Cardwell), who was then President of the Board of Trade, was not only sanguine, but seemed to entertain no doubt, that when the Act of 1854 should come into operation, America would throw open to us her coasting trade. Six years have since elapsed, and the American Government still exclude our ships from that valuable trade. I remember that when this subject was under discussion some years ago in this House, Mr. Labouchere (now Lord Taunton) represented the conduct of the American Government in this respect as "shabby." I do not know that I can find a more appropriate word than that; and I will repeat the language of Lord Taunton, and say that the conduct of the American Government towards us after what we had done was indeed "shabby." Even if the trade from which America excluded us were a coasting trade in the strict sense of the words, the course which she pursued would be nothing less than "shabby," but it is very questionable whether it is a coasting trade at all. The distance from New York to California is quite as great, and the voyage from New York to California is more hazardous, than that from London to Calcutta. In making that voyage, 337 American ships are obliged to pass the shores of various foreign nations. Now, can it be said that, even in the tachnical sense of the words, that is a coasting trade? And above all, can it be said that it is a coasting trade in the sense of that equity which ought to guide great nations in all their dealings? But America has been stretching that point to our prejudice. She has not only maintained that the voyage I have just named is a coasting trade, but she has held that a ship loading at New York with a portion of her cargo for Rio Janeiro, another portion for Bahia, another for Valparaiso, another for Lima, and the remainder for California, is engaged in that coasting trade from which our ships are excluded. I believe that such an assumption is opposed to the provisions of our reciprocity treaty with America, and that, whatever may be said in support of the doctrine that the direct voyage from New York to California is a coasting trade, a ship which lands goods at an intermediate port in a foreign country does not come within the terms of that doctrine. That is another subject into which it will be the duty of the proposed Committee to inquire. In a question so comprehensive as this, hon. Members will not expect that I should do more than touch upon its leading features.
I would now, with the permission of the House, direct its attention, for a very short time, to those burdens on the shipping interest which, I think, ought to have been removed when the navigation laws were repealed. And, first of all, I would refer to the light dues. This is a question which has been discussed over and over again in this House. It was made the subject of a very full inquiry by a Committee of the year 1845, over which the late Mr. Joseph Hume presided, and of which the noble Lord at present at the head of the Government was a member; and I think I cannot now do better than read to the House a Resolution at which that Committee arrived after the fullest investigation. It was as follows:—That all expenses for the erection and maintenance of Lighthouses, Floating Lights, and Beacons, be henceforth defrayed out of the public revenue, and that as the Trinity House has incurred a debt under the authority of the 6 & I Will. IV. c. 79, in purchasing the lights of private individuals, for their leases and possessions of Lighthouses, the Government ought to take upon it that debt.If I remember rightly it was the noble Lord 338 at present at the head of the Government who proposed that Resolution in the Committee, and at all events he was one of the majority who voted in its favour. Here, therefore, we have a Committee which, after the most careful inquiry, was clearly of opinion that not only the cost of lighting our shores ought to be paid by the nation, but that the whole of the debt contracted in the purchase of private lighthouses ought to be defrayed out of the Consolidated Fund. At that time the shipping interest was a protected interest. I am one of those who doubt very much whether it ever received any benefit from that protection, but it was supposed at least to derive from it certain advantages; and if it were right to recommend then that those burdens should be removed, there exists surely a stronger reason why it should be relieved from them now that it has to enter into competition with the whole world. May I ask the attention of the House for one moment to the extreme hardship of this case. At the time when the Committee recommended that the lights should be maintained out of the Consolidated Fund, and that the money necessary for the purchase of private lights should be taken from the same quarter, a sum of not less than £1,250,000 was required for that purchase; and let it be remembered that the interests which had to receive that indemnity had been created to a great extent by the improvident grants of ministers and kings in times long gone by. But that Resolution of the Committee of 1845 was never carried into effect, and the shipping interest was obliged to pay, and has paid, the whole of that sum of £1,250,000 for the purpose of buying up those grants of private lighthouses. But, independently of the merits of this particular case, I contend, on the grounds of policy and of justice, that it is the duty of all great nations to light their shores. If we invite other people, as we have been doing, more especially during the last ten years, to trade with us, surely we ought to warn those who accept the invitation of the dangers which surround our shores, without taxing them for that knowledge. If we have been before other nations in adopting the doctrine of free trade, they have been before us in the point to which I am now directing the attention of the House. It is to the credit of the Government of the United States of America that they have never charged either their own shipping or ours one sixpence for the maintenance of the lights along their coasts, and other 339 great nations have followed the same course. Now, strongly as I feel with respect to the manner in which America has acted towards us in the case of her coasting trade, I really do not see how we can go to her and ask her to throw open that trade until we shall have placed her ships upon the same footing in regard to lights in which she has placed our ships. The Americans, as a keen people, have felt this grievance, and have remonstrated with our Government upon the subject. On looking into the blue-book which has been laid before the House, I find that in the ten years between 1840 and 1850 they have paid towards the maintenance of our lights a sum of not less than £234,000. Now, when we go to the United States and ask them for that reciprocity which I think we have a right to expect—nay, more, which I think we have almost a right to demand— led us go with clean hands; let us admit that we have taxed their shipping too long for the maintenance of our lights; and let us announce that we will at length square accounts with them, and admit their ships into our ports in all respects upon the same terms on which they admit ours into their ports. If we do this, I think we shall have a better chance of obtaining a system of reciprocity from the United States.
There will be another subject for the consideration of the Committee; and that is, our local dues and passing tolls. That question also has been often discussed in this House. Hon. Members may remember that about two or three years ago a Bill was introduced to deal with that subject. I was one of those who thought at the time that if two separate measures had been brought forward, one dealing with the passing tolls and the other dealing with the local dues, the passing tolls would then have been abolished. But as many persons thought that the local dues formed a vested interest, and that they ought not to be swept away without compensation to the owners, the Bill which dealt with the two questions did not pass through this House. The result was that the local dues and passing tolls were still maintained, and our shipping was still obliged to pay a sum, which amounted to nearly £200,000 per annum, for what was called local dues, levied under the names of craning, meting, wharfage, and various other designations. But the sum so raised was not employed in any work the names under which it was levied would imply. That money was appropriated for the benefit, not of the 340 parties who were called upon to pay the tax, but for the benefit of the local bodies by whom it was received. In the year 1852, no less a sum than £105,000 was paid by the shipping interest to the Corporation of Liverpool, and was actually transferred by them to their borough fund for the purpose of cleansing their streets, building St. George's Hall and completing other works, which are very well in their way, but with which the shipping interest has nothing whatever to do. It is not Liverpool, alone, however, which levies those dues. There is the port of Newcastle, which also raises a very large sum under the same pretext, without affording any benefit whatever to the parties from whom it is received. The port which I have the honour to represent in this House —namely, the port of Sunderland, the largest shipbuilding port, I may say, in the world, which has three times the amount of tonnage of Newcastle—is still considered a creek of Newcastle, and pays to that borough a sum of £1,400 per annum, for which it gets no return whatever. These are subjects with which, I hope, this House will deal. There is also another matter to which I desire for a moment to direct your attention. As I have already said, there are various bodies besides the Corporations of Liverpool and Newcastle which levy these dues. I think there are seven of them altogether; and in former times, before we entered into reciprocity-treaties with other nations, these corporate bodies had the right of charging double rates on all foreign ships frequenting our ports. But since the years 1824 and '5, when Mr. Huskisson, on the part of this country, had entered into reciprocity treaties with foreign States — one condition of those treaties being that the ships of those States should be admitted into our ports upon the same terms with regard to dues as our own ships—these corporations were obliged to reduce their charges on foreign ships to the same amount as that which was imposed upon British shipping. They then, however, stood upon their vested rights; they appealed to this House, and this House granted them compensation for the loss they had thus sustained. This House has paid up to the end of 1858 no less a sum than £1,125,000 in order to compensate those corporate bodies who levied taxes upon shipping for purposes which I have endeavoured to explain.
Now, Sir, this brings me to the question 341 of passing tolls. In regard to passing tolls, I had the honour of being a member of the Royal Commission which was appointed to investigate that subject, and after a full inquiry the members of that Commission arrived at the unanimous decision that those charges ought to be defrayed at the expense of the country at large, one of them being to afford light to ships frequenting our shores in the ordinary course of commerce, while the other portion of the expenditure was for the purpose of creating harbours of refuge, which would be able to receive at all states of the tide, and during stormy weather, ships of almost any size. Surely these are two great national objects; and if the decision at which the Commission arrived is a correct decision—namely, that it is the duty of the nation, in the interest of commerce, to light our coasts, and to maintain harbours of refuge from which ships can derive benefit—it is high time that the shipping interest should be relieved from the payment of taxes from which they can derive no benefit whatever. We have paid for a very long time, and still continue to pay, no less a sum than £1,200 passing tolls for Dovor. Most hon. Members are acquainted with Dovor, and, therefore, they must know that Dovor in certain states of the tide is a dry harbour, and that not one out of ten ships which pays for its maintenance can enter the harbour of Dovor. Can it then be said that any such vessels derive any benefit from it? Then, again, £1,400 a year is charged for Ramsgate, which we also know is a dry harbour. And Whitby is also a harbour dry at low water; yet towards the maintenance of Whitby harbour we have paid no less than £5,000 per annum for many years. Last of all, there is Bridlington. Now, Bridlington is one of the places which we visited in the course of the inquiry, because it was said to be the very best site on that part of the coast on which to form a harbour of refuge. It is only just to the people of Bridlington to state that, when the idea was first mooted, they did not say that they thought Bridlington the best place for the formation of a great national harbour of refuge. However, we inspected it for that purpose, and the House will hardly realize what this harbour of Bridlington is without visiting it. We were in a steamer which the Admiralty had placed at our disposal, drawing about eight feet of water. The House might at least suppose that such a vessel should enter a harbour of refuge. 342 But no; we were obliged to moor her full half a mile outside of the harbour. The steamer could not enter, and we were obliged to land in a small boat. Well, Sir, we proceeded to the entrance of the harbour, and positively found that we in our small boat could not enter; and we, Her Majesty's Royal Commissioners, were actually obliged to be carried on shore from the entrance of this harbour of refuge on the backs of the Coastguard. Yet the amount charged for passing tolls annually for Bridlington is actually £2,800, and there is a debt upon the security of the tolls to the extent of £28,000. These are surely matters which ought to have been changed long ago. I wish to remind my right hon. Friend, and those with whom he acts, that various Ministries, ever since 1850, have pledged themselves to the House and country that these restrictions and burdens should be removed from the shipping interest. I will just remind the right hon. Gentleman who now fills the office of President of the Board of Trade of the remarks made by Mr. Labouchere when he held that office in 1856. That right hon. Gentleman then said: —The Government did not undertake to deal with this question until it had been fully examined. I will ask, likewise, is the subject a new one to this House? Why, the very grievances we are now considering, have year after year been forced on the attention of the House and Government, and when it fell to my lot, several years ago, to propose the repeal of the Navigation Laws, I was repeatedly taunted for not coupling that great change with a subsidiary measure like the present, doing justice to the shipping interest, and it is, in fact, in redemption—a tardy redemption, I admit —of the pledges then given by me and other Ministers on that subject, that the Government introduced the Bill before the House.I ask my right hon. Friend to redeem the pledges given so long ago to the House, and to remove from the shipping interest those burdens and restrictions with which it is still fettered. Sir, I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire is in his place, and no doubt I shall have his support, as well as the support of hon. Members on that side of the House generally, in any attempt which I may make to remove the passing tolls; for so long ago as 1852, in his financial statement, the right hon. Gentleman told the House that passing tolls were a vexation, a grievance, and a burden to which the shipping of this country, under present circumstances, ought not to be subjected. No doubt, if the right hon. Gentleman had remained in office, those passing tolls would by this time have been removed.
343 But, Sir, there are other burdens upon shipping, such as the Static Dues, to which our attention may well be called. Inasmuch, however, as my hon. Friend (Mr. Ricardo)—whom I do not now see in his place—has given notice of his intention to ask a question in regard to them this week, I will pass them over; but if something is not done before the labours of this Committee close, should the House think proper to appoint a Committee—I shall feel it my duty to make those dues the subject of investigation; for not only do they operate as a hardship upon shipping, but they tend very much to prevent our having any large transactions with the interior of Germany. There is, however, a series of dues, at the existence of which the public in general will feel greatly surprised. There is in this country a Russia Company, which levies dues on shipping to no less an extent than £12,000 a year. What the benefit may be which the shipping interest derives from the money levied by that company, I am at a loss to understand. All I find is that the following are the items:—Lastage, address money, church money, passes, &c, &c, £1,791; then there is a sum for the chapel of the British Factory at St. Petersburg, and £623 to the Russian Company's chapels in Russia; organ at Moscow £25, plate to Governor, £85; entertainment to Russian Embassy, £193; ditto to Grand Duke Alexander, £595; £360 for engraving, and £200 for framing and embellishing the portrait of the Emperor Nicholas; and £100 to churchwardens at Moscow.I cannot for the life of me understand what necessity there is for taxing the shipping interest for the purpose of giving dinners to the Embassy and the Grand Duke Alexander; but certainly the last item but one is the most amusing of all. Why on earth are we to be taxed for engraving and framing a portrait of the Emperor Nicholas? Surely these are matters which ought to be brought under the notice of the House of Commons.
There is, however, another question which may be worth while to consider. I do not see how hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Ministerial Benches can, consistently with their political opinions, support the tax on timber. Upon what principle can they admit a manufactured ship which enters our ports to compete with our ships, but which may bring a cargo or not—on what principle can they admit such a ship free, and yet place a tax upon the raw material which builds that ship, and the manufacture of which gives employment to a large number of men? How is it 344 that they can bring themselves to continue the imposition of 7s. 6d. a load upon square timber and 10s. on deals? I know very well the sort of answer that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make next Monday to this; I know very well that he will say—"This impost brings in a revenue of £600,000 a year. I am very sorry to say that I am a long way off a satisfactory settlement of the accounts. I am very short of money, and I have nothing to spare for the remission of the Timber Duties, or, for that matter, for anything else." However true that may be, still I do think that there has been a very great deal of money unwisely and unnecessarily spent which might have been spared; and I do say that, if the Gentlemen sitting on these Benches, acting in accordance with their free-trade principles, admit manufactured ships into this country free, they ought also to admit the raw material free. It is no answer to me to say that they have no money. This is a question of justice, and justice is not to be bought If it is just that these duties should be removed, the people of this country will find the ways and means; but if it is impossible to remit the whole duty of £600,000, I think the least they should do would be to remit the tax upon oak and pitch pine.
I now proceed to touch upon what may be called the legislative enactments, or fiscal burdens. My Motion in the last Session, as brought before the House, was simply the first clause of the present Motion, and my hon. Friend the Member for London (Mr. Crawford) added to it the reference to the 9th and 10th Victoria, which contains the legislative enactments or liabilities of the merchant shipowners. The House will be aware that, by the Merchant Shipping Act, the responsibilities of shipowners are said to be limited to the value of the ship and freight. By an Act previously passed, and which is known as Lord Campbell's Act, certain regulations were made, and certain responsibilities created, which applied to carriers by land, but which the law has since held, applies to carriers by water, and it would appear that shipowners by that Act are placed on the same footing as carriers by land. But the House will perceive that there is a vast difference between carriage by sea and carriage by land. In the latter case the things carried are in most cases under the immediate control of the carrier or his servants. It is true you may say an acci- 345 dent may occur as easily on shore as upon the sea; but the House will agree with me that accidents on land to a great extent are attributable to some amount of negligence on the part of the persons engaged in the carriage, but on the sea accidents may arise from the natural dangers of the sea, from the tumult of the winds and waves, and from many other causes irrespective either of the owner, who is most frequently on the land, or of his servants, for whom he is to be made responsible. There is, therefore, a marked difference between a carrier by sea and a carrier by land — so marked, in deed, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford, when President of the Board of Trade, found it necessary to insert a clause in the Merchant Shipping Act which stipulated that the responsibility of shipowners should be limited to the extent of the ship and freight, but not less than £15 a ton on the registered tonnage; and the object in so limiting it was to prevent inferior ships from entering into the passenger trade. Attention had been drawn to the fact that before the passing of that Act a great number of inferior ships were employed to carry passengers from this country to North America, and it was deemed expedient to prevent inferior ships being employed in that trade. But the object in view was not accomplished. In 1857 I find, while there were shipped at Liverpool in British bottoms for North America 13,000 passengers, as many as 76,000 embarked for the same place in foreign ships. The consequence was that there were greatly enhanced rates of freight —namely, from £3 10s. to £5 per ton— while by that over-legislation which sought to carry out our object, we raised the passenger charge to the poor emigrant to a very serious extent, and he does not appear to thank us for the measure we passed, seeing that he prefers going in a foreign ship to going in a British one. But another influence has been at work in regard to responsibility. Lord Campbell's Act was so onerous that our leading shipowners declined to carry passengers at any cost. They said it was far too serious a responsibility. No amount of money would pay them to keep their ships employed in the Passenger trade under such stringent laws, and the result was that all the passenger trade was thrown into the hands of a few persons, at enhanced rates, and the poor emigrants who were about to settle in North America, were treated worse than ever. Is it not, 346 I ask, too much that a shipowner shall be mulcted in penalties, it may be of £100,000 —for there are many merchant ships afloat of greater value than that — long after his ship is beyond his control? And yet we have not effected the object we had in view. The effect was strikingly manifested in respect to the trade carried on in the conveyance of coolies from Calcutta and other parts of our Eastern Empire and China, inasmuch as it rendered necessary that clause which was introduced into the Chinese Passengers' Act of 1855, and which was so stringent that prudent shipowners declined altogether to allow their captains to convey passengers of that description, whatever might be the rate of passage money; so that not only did we increase the value of labour in these countries, but the carrying trade of coolies and Chinese fell to a great extent into the hands of the Americans. There is another feature of this case to which I must draw the attention of the House—I mean the practice of inflicting very heavy penalties upon shipowners who enter into contracts for the conveyance of Government stores or mails on the one hand, and the infliction of equally heavy penalties on the other by the Board of Trade, in case any serious accident happens. On the one hand, the Admiralty comes down upon the unfortunate shipowner for not going fast enough; and on the other, the Board of Trade comes down upon him for going too fast. The shipowners are placed in a dilemma. If they do not go fast enough they are mulcted by one; and if they go as fast as they arc required, they are mulcted by the other, under the responsibility of the Merchant Shipping Act. Considering that every ship carrying passengers must be certified by the surveyors from the Emigration Office; considering that there are no less than forty-nine imperative obligations, for the broach of which he is subjected to penalties varying from forty shillings to £500, and, in some cases, amounting to the forfeiture of the ship; considering that, before he can send a ship to sea, the master must receive a certificate of competency from the Board of Trade, and that the first and second officers must also receive similar certificates;—all these things being taken into consideration, I think that the shipowner has the strongest claims to be relieved of the virtual responsibility he is now subjected to under the ordinary Carriers' Act and Lord Campbell's Act. I have no desire to see the shipowner re- 347 lieved from that responsibility which might be justly thrown upon him, but I think it might fairly be limited to the sum of £10 per ton, so as to protect the merchant ship entering into the passenger trade; that the limit should be £18 for a ship employed by Government, and £25 per ton for a steamship. I, for one, think that would be a very good proposal. There are questions of pilotage, stamps, and other matters, not in themselves, perhaps, of very great consequence, but all fit subjects to be inquired into before a Select Committee, and discussed in this House; and therefore I do trust that the House will, as it did last year, appoint a Committee of Inquiry.
I have no desire to make any proposition that will have a tendency to reverse the established policy of the country, for I believe that that very policy of free trade is not merely for the benefit of the country, but for the benefit of shipowners themselves. Still, I say that shipowners themselves cannot be said to have free trade while they are fettered with all these burdens and restrictions, while our ports are free and open to every ship in the world, and while the ports of almost every nation in the world are closed to our ships. These are matters which are worthy of a calm and impartial inquiry by a Committee of this House; and I hope that the Government will take some steps to obtain from other nations a reciprocation of that liberal policy which we offer. Then I think I may say that, if the shipping interest is relieved from all peculiar burdens and restrictions, it will have no reason to fear competition from any nation in the world; but that our ships will be found, as they always have been, on every sea, the true harbingers of peace and progress. All I ask for the shipping interest is a full, fair, and impartial inquiry. To use their own forcible expression, all they want is a fair field and no favour. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for the appointment of the Committee.
§ MR. HORSFALL
said, his hon. Friend would not expect him to agree in all that he had said; in fact, he should have been more satisfied if the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford) had brought forward the Motion of which he had given notice, but as that hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) had come to an understanding upon the subject, he (Mr. Horsfall) could have no hesitation in seconding the Motion. 348 He agreed with much that had been said by the hon. Member for Sunderland; he thought that there ought to be an entire removal of all unnecessary restrictions upon British shipping. He agreed also in the propriety of the abolition of the Timber Duties. He did not, however, concur with the hon. Gentleman in the observations which had fallen from him in reference to local dues, more particularly the local dues of the town which he (Mr. Horsfall) had the honour to represent. The hon. Member must have forgotten that, in accordance with provisions of a special Act of Parliament, these dues were now appropriated to the benefit of shipping, and not expended for the advantage of the town itself. He also agreed that the efforts made by Her Majesty's Government, if such efforts had been made with a view to the introduction of reciprocity with other nations, it did not seem to have been attended with very beneficial results. He would not follow, however, the hon. Member for Sunderland into the various matters he had brought before the House, though he would add that he entirely concurred with the hon. Member as to the operation of Lord Campbell's Act. There was also another important subject to which he might advert—he meant the operation of our international maritime law—in dealing with which he (Mr. Horsfall) was desirous of impressing the House with the conviction that it was a question most deeply affecting the shipping interest of this county. He wa3, of course, quite aware that there were political reasons why there was an objection to any interference with that law; but the mode in which it acted ought nevertheless, he thought, to be fully investigated by the proposed Committee, so that such information upon the point might be obtained as would be of use to Parliament in case legislation in regard to it should hereafter be determined upon. It had been too much the custom to consider the shipping question as one solely connected with shipping and manufacturing interests; but it was more than this, it was a question which affected the whole consuming population of the country,—nay, more, it was of the utmost importance when considered in connection with the subject of the national defences; for, if the mercantile marine, which was the nursery of that reserve of 30,000 seamen by which our shores were to be defended, were to continue to suffer under the existing system, the efficiency of the force to which he alluded must be pro- 349 portionately diminished. He should not on that occasion enter further into a subject which had been so often and so fully discussed, but should content himself with expressing a hope that the Committee, if nominated, would do its duty faithfully by inquiring into the various subjects connected with the welfare of British shipping, and be enabled to supply the House with such a report as would enable it to legislate effectively upon a question of such great national importance.
Motion made, and Question proposed,—
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the burdens and restrictions especially affecting Merchant Shipping, and of the following Statutes: 9 & 10 Vict. c. 93, an Act for compensating the families of Persons killed by Accidents; the Merchant Shipping Act (1854); the Merchant Shipping Amendment Act (1855); the Passenger Act (1855); and the Chinese Passenger Act (1855).
MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
said, he rose in no spirit of hostility to the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this Motion to the House. His aim was, that the Committee, if granted, should be armed with such authority as would place it in a position to set at rest that question which was the cause of deep anxiety from one part of the country to the other. He maintained, however, that the Motion of the hon. Member for Sunderland would not set at rest all the disturbing elements in this question. The shipping interest of this country was in a very depressed condition, and they need not go further back than the debate in June last, when hon. Members on both sides of the House, the representatives of great as well as small maritime constituencies, were unanimous in their opinion that a cloud heavier than that which the experience of any former year revealed then hung over British shipping. In support of the justice of that view he might quote the authority of the hon. Member for Sunderland himself, who, in a work which he had recently published, made mention of the adversity under which the shipping interest had laboured over since the date of the Crimean war, and declared the prediction that that adversity was only a mere passing cloud to have been completely falsified. He might add that in letters which had emanated from the Shipowners' Society of Sunderland a short time ago, in answer to an application which had been addressed to them, it was stated that the depression in the case of the shipping of that port had decidedly increased since December last; 350 while from North Shields, Montrose, and Glasgow similar replies were returned. He should next call the attention of the House to certain figures which had been furnished by the Board of Trade, in compliance with a Motion which had been made in the month of February last year. Those returns bore out the same view of the case, and if the House acted in a spirit of justice they would institute a searching inquiry into the whole subject. This return showed that the average increase of British entries during the five years from 1844 to 1848 was greater by 72 per cent than the increase during a corresponding number of years from 1834 to 1838, and that the increase of foreign tonnage during that period was greater by 86 per cent than during the like period immediately preceding. The average increase of British shipping in tonnage from 1854 to 1858 was greater by 39 per cent than the average increase from 1844 to 1848; while the average increase of foreign shipping during the same period was 126 per cent. He perceived, moreover, that for the five years previous to the repeal of the navigation laws the average annual increase of British tonnage was 73 percent, that of foreign being 88 per cent; while, taking a similar period since the repeal of the navigation laws, the increase of British shipping had been at the rate of 40 per cent, while that of foreign shipping had been at the rate of 133 per cent. He did not make this statement with a view merely of raising an argument in support of the old navigation laws; for he had voted in favour of their repeal, and he believed that free trade was an absolute and unmixed blessing. He did not mean to prejudge the opinion of the Committee by pronouncing whether the views of the shipping interest were right or wrong; he merely said that while they murmured and complained, something more would be found necessary than the remedy pointed out by the hon. Member for Sunderland in order to silence those murmurs and apply the healing balm to those complaints. The competition with American and other foreign shipping, even in our colonial ports, was very severe. In the April of last year there were 235 sailing ships of 190,000 tons in the Chinese ports: 100 out of these were British ships; out of the whole number only 69 vessels were loading, and of them only 21 were British vessels; at Hong Kong there were 24 British vessels and 35 American, besides several French, Dutch and Spanish; 26 of them were taking in cargo, 351 of which only six ware British and the larger proportion were Americans. So that British vessels were unable to hold their own in the Chinese ports, and American, Spanish, and other foreign ships were running away with freights; and what was true of Hong-Kong was true of other colonial ports. The shipowners did not say, "Enforce reciprocity, go back and avail yourselves of your orders in Council, but look at Prance— look at America—look at the system of differential duties to which our ships were subject in foreign ports, all but excluding us from their trade, and say whether something cannot be done to put us in a more fair position." He was happy to see, so far as France was concerned, that the prospect was improving; the Emperor was disposed to hold out the hand of a reformer, guided by a judicious and intelligent mind. He hailed this as an indication that the time was not far distant when France would be encouraged to follow the example shown in this country urged by the remonstrances which the debate of that evening would enable the Foreign Office to address to her, when our shipping would participate in the benefits of prosperous commerce, and when the golden threads of friendly interchange would be woven into a band of amity. At present we had to compete with foreign ships, having differential duties in their favour. America excluded us from her coasting trade covering a voyage of 5,000 miles to San Francisco. That could not be called, in any equitable sense of the term, a coasting voyage; if so, what became of the voyage from New York to Aspinwall —was that to be held a coasting trade? The shipowners said, in the spirit of free trade, "Let America meet us on fair and equal terms—we will throw open our Canadian coasting trade; throw open yours." They did not clamour for something evanescent and paltry when they sought admission to this vast field of profitable employment in the American coasting trade. That trade comprised the conveyance of 15,000,000 tons of coals, 4,000,000 barrels of flour, 20,000,000 bushels of wheat, 5,000,000 barrels of provisions, 1,000,000 hhds. of sugar, 21,000,000 bales of cotton, and 1,000,000 hhds. of tobacco. By their exclusion from this coasting trade, British ships were practically excluded from much of the American foreign trade, although the American foreign trade might he nominally open. Having put before the House this view of the question, he considered that he did not ask too much when 352 he asked that the British shipowners might go before a Select Committee to tell their wrongs, and hear from that tribunal whether their grievances were such as Providence only could help but no legislative remedy could heal. Here was the great mercantile interest of this country, with all the relations, direct and indirect, clinging around it, supplicating that House to hear their complaints, and were they to turn a deaf ear to their supplications, or meet them with a prejudiced opinion that they should not be listened to because they were protectionists at heart. He trusted that so respectable a body of gentlemen would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that a British House of Commons would not refuse to listen to their complaints. They did not want a Committee to determine the question of lights. The incidence of lights on the shipping interest had been condemned in principle by the opinion of their most eminent Statesmen, by votes of the House, and by the most enlightened Foreign Ministers. Was it fair that these lights should fall on the merchant and not affect the Royal Navy? Railways were allowed to convey every species of traffic in goods, as well as passengers, without the incidence of any corresponding dues, and he would ask why the shipping interest should he clogged with a burden that bore upon it so heavily? They had the Reports of 1843 and 1845. The opinions of the wisest and most experienced men who could be placed on those Committees were unanimous in declaring that the expense of the lights along the coast of this country ought to be borne by the public revenues of the country. If they wanted an example as to the expediency of that plan he would refer them to Russia, Prussia, France, and America, in all which countries the expense of lighting the coast was borne by the State. In 1851, Mr. Lawrence, in his correspondence with the noble Premier, published an important fact—namely, that two United States steamers, called the Herman and the Washintgon, paid an annual charge of £800 for the mere privilege of touching at Southampton on their way to Bremen. The whole sum paid by two Liverpool steamers for light dues in the course of the year was £4,748. There were £200,000 paid as port dues in the American trade alone. Surely, then, if the House approached this subject in the spirit of doing but common justice to their own trade, they would be in a better position to ask the Americans to 353 throw open their ports. If they exercised greater economy in their system they might be enabled to reduce their charges from £350,000 to £170,000 a year. The shipping interest had obtained the pledge of their Premier in favour of an alteration. Former Committees had declared themselves unanimously in its favour. What, then, could they hope for from a Select Committee? If the hon. Member for Sunderland were in earnest in the matter, he should not have included this subject at all events amongst the inquiries of a Committee. He would remind that hon. Gentleman of what he said before his former constituents of Tynemouth. His hon. Friend then told them that they had had evidence enough upon the subject, and that they did not require the light of a Select Committee to make the matter clearer. He (Mr. Digby Seymour) thought that they ought to invest the Marine Department of the Board of Trade with full authority over their various lighthouses and their funds. If they did so, they might be enabled, by the exercise of a judicious economy, to reduce the expenses of the lights from £300,000 to £150,000 a year. And when they had done that they might expect a more indulgent hearing from the Chancellor of the Exchequer than they could now hope for. In respect to the question of the passing tolls, he considered it impossible that any Select Committee could throw additional light upon it. The cases of Ramsgate, Whitby, Dovor, and other ports presented an admitted injustice, which successive Governments admitted, and had pledged themselves to assist in remedying. Some time ago a right hon. Member (Mr. Lowe) brought in a Bill upon the subject, in which he proposed to exempt all ships from paying passing tolls, except those which actually entered the harbours for the benefit of which they were levied. Now, that he looked upon as a simple solution of the Gordian knot, in respect to those passing tolls. Let the hon. Member for Sunderland, therefore, if he were in earnest in this matter, bring in a Bill at once on the subject; there could he no difficulty in the House dealing with it at once, and settling the question of passing tolls without the delay of sending it before a Select Committee. The hon. Member fur Sunderland spoke of referring the harbour and town dues to his Committee. If this course were taken, would his hon. Friend leave out of that Committee the hon. Members for Newcastle, which had 354 its Trinity House—the hon. Member for Hull, with its Trinity House, and the hon. Member for Liverpool, with its corporation? His hon. Friend could not leave out those hon. Members with any degree of consistency if such a Committee were appointed. But supposing that they wore on that Committee, the result would be only to raise up many obstacles to the carrying out the main object in view. The best way of getting rid of the monstrous grievances of the Trinity Houses of Newcastle and Hull, and the dues of Liverpool, would be to appoint an arbitrator competent to effect a safe and equitable adjustment of the claims of those places, and the mortgages and other charges upon them. The same observation applied to the State dues and the clues claimed by the Russian Government. With regard to the timber dues, that was not a question with which a Committee of that House could deal. That was a question entirely for a liberal-minded Chancellor of the Exchequer, acting upon the advice of Mr. M'Culloch, who said that there ought to be at least a drawback of the duty upon all ships built in this country. A substantial reduction of the duties upon oak and pine used in the building of ships would confer a great benefit upon the shipping interest, He concurred in thinking with the hon. Member that the Merchant Shipping and Passenger Acts might, however, very fairly form the subject of inquiry, with a view to remove the grievances of the shipping interest. He wished also to see the High Court of Admiralty in this country adapted to the purposes for which its constitution and customary practice qualified it. He wanted to see the mechanical power of that court rendered more suitable to the increasing maritime commerce of this country. He contended that the Court of Admiralty, in respect to questions of general or particular average, charter parties, hills of lading and the like, ought to have concurrent jurisdiction with the Courts of common law. The attention of the public was lately called to the case of the Paramatta, in which her commander, Captain Baynton, was charged with misconduct, by which the vessel was lost. Now, he maintained that the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, which had directed that inquiry, had acted in a manner opposed to the elementary principles of common justice, inasmuch as it monopolized to itself at once the executive, elective, and administrative functions without any control whatever. It became in the first instance 355 the prosecutor, it then elected the judges, and ultimately it carried into execution the sentence that had been passed. Under the Merchant Shipping Act, if a person was charged with the loss of a ship he was taken before a magistrate. The Board of Trade then appointed a nautical assessor, and the whole case was again investigated, and, if guilty, the man was punished under the circumstances to which he referred. It would be therefore a fit matter for inquiry by the Committee, if appointed, whether the general marine interests of this country were not in favour of granting an appeal from those courts to the High Court of Admiralty, aided by the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House. Those were the reasons which induced him to give notice of his Amendment, and he now asked the House to grant to those interests that measure of right and justice to which they were entitled from the British House of Commons.
The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given notice.
After the words 'inquire into' to insert the words 'the causes of the present depressed condition of British Merchant Shipping, and how far the same are capable of Legislative remedy, and—'
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. R. W. CRAWFORD
said, he did not intend to trouble the House with many observations, as the hon. Member for Sunderland had anticipated him in many of the statements he had wished to make. He, however, thought it due to the House to make some remarks upon the question generally, inasmuch as he had placed upon the paper a Motion relating to the same subject. He had given notice of an intention to move the appointment of a Select Committee "to inquire into the condition of the Commercial Marine, and the operations of any legal enactments and peculiar burdens affecting the same." He had taken that step at the request of a large body of shipowners, who met together in London in the month of November last. Now it seemed to him that the Motion of the hon. Member for Sunderland comprised much of what was necessary to be stated to the House for the purpose of obtaining a Committee of Inquiry, and he must therefore 356 express his satisfaction that the result of the ballot, by placing the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland first upon the paper, had relieved him from the task which he had been himself asked to undertake, and had placed the direction of the Committee, if it should be appointed, in the hands of that hon. Gentleman. He certainly could not concur with the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Digby Seymour) in the Amendment he proposed, more particularly as in his speech he had asked the House to exclude from the consideration of the Committee several matters of great importance to the shipping interest, which had been alluded to in the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland. At the same time he (Mr. Crawford) thought that the terms of the inquiry, as comprised in his own notice, was a much more satisfactory mode of treating the subject than those proposed by the hon. Gentleman who introduced this question to the House. Although more briefly worded, it appeared to comprise all that was required to enable the Committee to inquire satisfactorily into all the points of importance. With respect to the operation of Lord Campbell's Act, he would suggest that the words "the condition of the merchant marine" ought to be added to the terms of the Motion of the hon. Member, in order to make the order of reference perfectly clear and intelligible, and while excluding the consideration of that Act in its effect upon railway companies which might otherwise seem to be included in the duties of the Committee, expressly to direct the attention of the Committee to the former part of the subject. Were this provision omitted, the Committee remembering the lecture of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Pakington) on the previous evening, might claim the right to enter upon such an inquiry. He, to a certain extent, concurred with the argument of his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, as to what was due from America to this country. In urging the House to authorize the Committee to go into the consideration of the reciprocity question, he was actuated by no desire to undo what was done in 1849. When the Act of that year was under discussion, it would be recollected that an hon. Member wished to limit the extension of the reciprocity clause to those nations who expressed their readiness to reciprocate with us. That proposition was, however, overruled, and the House adopted the course of leaving it open to the 357 Queen in Council to retaliate upon any State that did not open its ports to us. He (Mr. Crawford) thought that was most unwise, and that it would have been better to have opened our ports to the whole world, and have left other nations to act as they pleased. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the circumstances under which America excluded us from the coasting trade, and the hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment adverted to the vast field of profitable enterprise that would be open to us if we could obtain the freedom of the coasting trade of America. The hon. Gentleman was, however, not warranted by the facts in making such a statement. The real state of the case was, that the depression of other trades had driven American ships into that one, and it had now become as unremunerative as any other, being one proof among many that protection was never beneficial to any interest. Notwithstanding the earnest endeavour of the hon. and learned Member for Southampton to dissuade the House from inquiring into the questions of lights, local dues, passing tolls, timber duties, and the stamps upon policies, it was, in his opinion, most important that the Committee should undertake that investigation, in order that the country might see clearly how those imposts operated upon the interest of shipping. The House would recollect that in the course of last Session he described how the various Acts relating to shipping bore upon the interests of that branch of industry. The Merchant Shipping Act passed in 1854 repealed every previous Act which in any way affected shipping, and was, in fact, a codification of the law, as it stood, at that time. But it introduced various alterations and modifications. It consisted of no less than 548 clauses, all of which were passed through Committee in the course of one sitting. The House would at once understand that such a treatment of the measure in Committee excluded anything like fair consideration. Indeed, it seemed to be taken for granted at the time by the framers of the Bill that it would require revision and alteration. It was to a certain extent tentative. Six years had passed since that Bill passed into an Act, and therefore the great shipowners were perfectly justified in coming down to the House and saying, "Let an inquiry be made as to the way in which this voluminous Act has worked." There were many matters of great interest to shipowners, which if a Committee were 358 granted they could bring under its notice, and the Committee would have an opportunity of considering what improvements might be made. Thus, for instance, there was the Passenger Act. That Act was introduced, not by the Board of Trade, but by the Under Secretary for the Colonies. Under it various penalties, ranging from 40s. to very considerable sums, even the absolute forfeiture of the property, were enforceable for breaches of the regulations which it prescribed. The effect of that Act had been to drive the passenger trade out of the hands of the British shipowners. Of 90,000 passengers who had embarked at Liverpool for the United States 75,000 went in American ships, and only 15,000 in British vessels. At the same time, while our shipowners had lost the traffic, the American shipowners had gained an additional sum per head for every passenger conveyed by them. Nor was that all. A vessel taken up for the conveyance of emigrants was subjected under the Passenger Act to the inspection of an emigration officer. If the emigration officers acted upon any fixed rule the shipowners would have nothing to complain of, but unfortuately they were most capricious in their proceedings, and a vessel was often hewed and hacked in pieces to suit their peculiar views. Again, take the case of an English ship conveying passengers to Australia. She might, for some reason or other, be obliged to put into a port on the Brazilian coast, and might there be found to be in an unseaworthy condition and unfit to continue her voyage. The means of repair might not be at hand, the ship might be condemned, still in that case the captain would be obliged to pass on his passengers to their destination. He did not complain of that; but if the ship were an American ship the captain might snap his fingers at the authorities and leave his passengers in the port where his ship lay condemned to do the best they could for themselves. The Passenger Act, therefore, did not place English and American vessels upon the same footing. English shipowners might also complain of the liability to which they were exposed by that Act. The House would recollect that, in the investigation which took place into the circumstances attending the loss of the Royal Charter an attempt was made to fix upon the unhappy master the charge of intoxication. No proof whatever was adduced that Captain Taylor had been a man of intemperate 359 habits, and the charge completely broke down. But what was the object of that charge? It was to fix upon the owners the responsibility of having entrusted the command of the ship to a man given to intemperance, and so to expose them to heavy claims under the provisions of Lord Campbell's Act. He should not more fully enter into the question, believing that his hon. Friend (Mr. Lindsay) had made out a case for inquiry, and therefore he should support his Motion.
MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
wished, in explanation, to say that he had not proposed to exclude from the attention of the Committee the restrictions and burdens on shipping referred to by the hon. Member for London (Mr. Crawford). He had merely treated them as subordinate matters.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, it appeared to him to be impossible to overrate the importance of the question brought before the House that evening by the hon. Member for Sunderland. As had been well observed by the hon. Member for Liverpool it was not merely the case of the mercantile shipping that was before them; but they had further to consider how the navy was to be manned. Although from the state of the benches — more particularly that of the Treasury and front Opposition benches—one might not suppose that the House was discussing any matter of importance. He had listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland. At first the hon. Member appeared to him to ask the House to grant a Committee, not in consequence of any impression of dissatisfaction at the effect of Free Trade legislation in respect of shipping. However, in a very few minutes he entirely changed his ground, and admitted that there were very strong causes for such an impression; in a very few minutes more he (Mr. Bentinck) found his hon. Friend in full swing of abuse against the present state of British legislation on the subject, and against those nations who had not met the Free Trade measures of this country in the spirit of reciprocity. His hon. Friend mentioned various countries which had not reciprocated to our measures of Free Trade; and America in the first place. He said, "Enlightened America does not reciprocate," and he then proceeded to apply the term "shabby" to America. Now, he (Mr. Bentinck) was not one of those in the House who were accustomed to express admiration of America and her institutions; but he must 360 say that on the present occasion his hon. Friend had applied epithets towards that country which she did not deserve. The case appeared to him to be this. Suppose a man wanted to make a bargain with his neighbour, and commenced by giving his neighbour all he had to give away. It would not, in a worldly and commercial point of view, be unnatural to expect that the neighbour, if more long-sighted, would say—"I will take what you have given me, and also keep all I have got myself." In his (Mr. Bentinck's) opinion the Government which was to blame was that which gave what it had to give to another without stipulating what that other was to give in return. The hon. and learned Member for Southampton had gone into the question of lights and tolls; but he (Mr. Bentinck) believed that the state in which those lights and tolls now stood was an incidental grievance; it was not a primary cause of the position in which merchant shipping was now placed, and therefore he should not enter upon the matter. His hon. Friend called on the Government to demand from other countries that reciprocity which we had a right to expect. In tendering the advice his hon. Friend was bound to state what course he thought the Government ought to take in case other countries refused to comply with the demand. In his (Mr. Bentinck's) opinion, but one course would be open to the Government in such an event, and it was one which he should recommend them, even under less pressing circumstances to adopt —namely, to say to those countries, "You have refused to meet us in the spirit in which we think, according to fair play and justice, you should meet us, and therefore we shall retract our policy if you continue in your present course." As to what had been said about the timber duties, he admitted it was monstrous to talk of Free Trade, especially in shipping, so long as those duties were retained. But if his hon. Friend came to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who it appeared did not think this question of sufficient importance to honour the House with his presence—and said the timber duties ought to be removed, the right hon. Gentleman's answer would be, "We cannot afford it." The fact was, they never could have Free Trade, as it was called, or miscalled, so long as they attempted to raise revenue. The hon. and learned Member for Southampton had described Free Trade as "an absolute and unmixed blessing." If the effect of an abso- 361 lute and unmixed blessing was to produce on the mind of the recipient the effect which it had produced on the shipowners, then he hoped be might never have an absolute and unmixed blessing inflicted upon him, for he had never seen any persons more dissatisfied with anything than the shipowners were with it. There was a curious fact connected with the Act of 1849—that was the power given to Her Majesty— which of course meant her Ministers for the time being—to revoke the Act. From that fact it was evident that the framers of the Act of 1849 foresaw exactly what would occur — namely, that the system of reciprocity would not be adopted by other countries. It would appear that that anticipation had been fully realized, yet they had not heard of any active steps on the part of the Government to meet the difficulty. In the reply of the Government to the memorial of the shipowners, figures were given, showing an increase of British as well as of foreign tonnage; but those figures did not show that the British tonnage was not working at a loss. The whole case was really in a nutshell. He believed the obstacle in the way of a remedy for that which the British shipowners complained of was to be found in the disinclination on the part of that House to take a step which might be considered one of retrogression from the principles of Free Trade. Within the four seas of Great Britain there were numbers of gentlemen who were free-traders, not from conviction, but from political compulsion. He firmly believed that to be the case, and the reason he believed it was that the language which he heard on the subject of Free Trade in private conversation outside the House was very different from that which he heard within it. He came then to the question, was Free Trade practical, or was it not? He should like to hear his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. M. Gibson) tell the House whether Free Trade could ever exist in this country without entailing national bankruptcy. Did it ever exist in any country except where men lived in the woods and fed upon roots? Was there ever such a thing known as Free Trade in a civilized country? [laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh; but would any of them be kind enough to answer the question in the affirmative, and make good his assertion? He contended that Free Trade was impossible in this country unless they were prepared to couple with it a national bankruptcy. If Free Trade was not 362 a possible state of things, ought its attempted maintenance be a reason for refusing relief to one of the greatest interests in the country? The experiment of Free Trade lurked under all the objections to that relief. It was that which prevented this country from insisting on reciprocity from other countries. If they did this they would be condemning their system of Free Trade. Hence they hesitated. He blamed no Government in particular, for be held in his band a document which showed that the previous Government had been beating about the bush and were unable to furnish a reason why the petition of the shipowners could not be complied with except the opinion of the Government, that what was asked for would be of no use. He hoped that this question would at once be dealt with, without allowing any more time to elapse in further examination. It was not a reason because some twenty years ago an association was formed avowedly for the purpose of procuring cheap food for the people; but in reality for the purpose of procuring cheap labour for its promoters; it was not a reason because, as a sequal to this league, a certain number of public men abandoned their principles, and betrayed their party; it was not a reason because at a more recent period the House of Commons of that day voted by an immense majority those financial measures to be wise, just, and beneficial which the greater number of that majority had previously voted to be unwise, unjust, and prejudicial to the best interests of the country; it was not a reason because these untoward and discreditable facts were indelibly recorded in the pages of history; these were not reasons why we should now stoop to the lowest act of folly and degradation of which any country could be guilty —namely, a determination not to own and not to apply a remedy to a gross and glaring error. He believed that a gross and glaring error had been committed. He believed that the effect of that error bad been to cause a vast amount of depression and distress amongst one of the most important interests in the country. He believed that there was but one remedy for that state of depression. He could not doubt that the House would grant what the Committee now asked for; and judging from the evidence which must be laid before it, he could not doubt as to what would be the general tenor of the Report of that Committee; and when that Report was laid on the table be trusted that the House would not hesitate to give the most prompt and 363 efficient relief to the distress of an interest upon the maintenance of the prosperity of which not only the general extension of our commerce but the very existence of the country must mainly depend.
§ MR. CLAY
said, he was ready to admit that the greater part of the tonnage of the country had been working at a loss, but he thought the cause of the depression lay rather in over-supply of ships than in the result of competition. He agreed, however, with the hon. Member for Sunderland in the object he had in view, but he was afraid he bad not sufficiently considered what would satisfy the interest, the affairs of which he proposed to inquire into. He would recommend, therefore, that the hon. Member should allow the introduction into his Motion of some such words as had been suggested by the hon. Member for the City of London, (Mr. Crawford).
§ MR. INGHAM
said, he also thought the words proposed by the hon. Member for London would meet the objections made by the mover of the Amendment, for they would let in all classes of people who, connected with the shipping interest, had either a ground for complaint or a remedy to propose. He desired to see no controversial feeling imported into the discussion of this question, but a fair and impartial inquiry, and then, he had no doubt, the Committee would satisfy all parties with their report. He hoped the Amendment would not be persisted in.
§ LORD LOVAINE
said, he wished to observe, in reference to the observations which had been made relative to the conduct of the late Government in not putting in force the reciprocity clause of the Act, that the Board of Trade had reported so fully upon that question, and in such a manner, that the late Government would be perfectly justified on the face of that Report. It ought to be recollected that the number of foreign ships that enjoyed the advantage of the free-trade principle, and consequently traded on the coasts of Great Britain, was exceedingly small. He thought the present Government would not entertain a different view from that held by the late Government, on the reciprocity clauses. The late Government had done all they could to relieve shipping from the burthens that oppressed it, and they had also prepared measures which would have done away with several of the objections now urged by the hon. Member for Southampton. He believed the present Government would afford the shipping interest 364 the fullest means of stating their objections; and he could only say with regard to himself, that if appointed a member of the Committee he would do all in his power to improve the legislation on the subject.
MR. DANBY SEYMOUR
said, that in his opinion when the shipping interest found their property depreciated 30 per cent in value, they should have an opportunity of stating what their grievances were; but he did not understand why, while this was going on, the Government might not bring in a Bill upon a subject which had already been inquired into—namely, the passing tolls and light dues. The local dues on shipping had already been inquired into, but he would empower the Committee to inquire into the objects aimed at by the shipping interest, including the operation of the passenger Act, and afterwards, as a separate subject, into the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade. The duties on foreign timber for shipping had already been condemned, and as a large sum would fall into the revenue this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would perhaps take the case of the suffering shipping interest into consideration. He agreed with the hon. Member for Sunderland that the depression was not owing to Free Trade, but, at the same time, he thought the shipping interests had a right to have the whole of what they considered their grievances overhauled by a Committee of that House.
§ MR. H. TAYLOR
said, that when the House knew that 40,000 of our best seamen were in foreign service, and that a vast diminution had taken place in the number of apprentices in the merchant service, the matters to be inquired into by the Committee would be seen to be of the most serious nature even in a national point of view. In his opinion measures ought to be taken for establishing a more effective system of supplying the navy with well-trained sailors. Either the system of taking sea-going apprentices should be reverted to, or else that the Government should establish school ships in our rivers to educate lads for the sea. If one of these two things were not done they might one day find themselves in an emergency which it was not agreeable to contemplate.
§ MR. AUGUSTUS SMITH
said, looking to the propositions before the House, he preferred the one made by the hon. Member for London (Mr. Crawford), but he thought that if the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) would agree to the intro- 365 duction of the words proposed by that hon. Member, the House would accept his Resolution. It was because he (Mr. A. Smith) was a believer in Free Trade that the reciprocity clauses ought, in his opinion, to be insisted upon. In respect to our trade with the United States there was this difficulty, that we were sometimes dealing with individual States and sometimes with the whole Confederation. He held, however, that the British Government had a right to insist that the trade between one State and another should not be regarded as a mere coasting trade, but should be held to be identical with the traffic carried on between Great Britain and her Colonies. He agreed with Mr. Labouchere, who, when a Minister of the Crown and a Member of that House, said that the notion that a voyage between Malta and England stood upon a different footing from a voyage between New York and California was preposterous and inconsistent. With regard to the restrictions that had lately been placed upon the shipping interest, he thought they were most absurd, and that there was great room for amendment. One of the greatest grievances of which that interest had to complain was the subjection in which they were placed to the Board of Trade. Only those who were practically connected with the shipping interest knew the absurdities and difficulties to which they were thus exposed, from the whole of which foreign nations were exempt. Owners of vessels had great cause to complain that an examination of masters and mates was obligatory in order to enable them to command a vessel. The certificate, unfortunately, was no test of seamanship. The men who were crammed to a certain extent got the certificate, while those who were far better seamen were unable to obtain it. As an instance he might refer to a case with which he was acquainted of a well-qualified seaman, as far as the most important elements of his profession were concerned, who had been for twenty-four years in the service of his country as a master in the Royal Navy, but having left the navy and desiring to enter the mercantile marine, he was unwilling to undergo the examination in question, notwithstanding the practical evidence of his ability— the twenty-four years' service in all descriptions of the most important kind of navigation—he was held to be unfit for the Appointment he sought. He trusted that the Committee now sought to be appointed would be so constituted as to enable them 366 to deal with a petition lately presented by the mercantile marine, praying for something like an organization in the shape of an incorporation, and he thought that the Trinity House formed a very good foundation for such a scheme, and that it might be so modified in its constitution as to meet the wishes of the petitioners, to whom he had alluded. No doubt there were defects in the characters of those connected with the mercantile marine, but nothing would so much tend to improve that service as to treat them with more confidence, allow them more latitude in the regulation of their own affairs, and place them in that position of society to which they were entitled.
§ MR. LIDDELL
observed that the great point of difference under discussion appeared to be between the terms of the several Motions before the House, but the great object, as it suggested itself to his mind, appeared to be not to narrow the scope of this most important inquiry. No one, however, who had listened to this debate, could, he thought, accuse the House of a desire to narrow the question before it, and he thought there were some reasons not yet alleged why the proposed inquiry should take place. It was very natural that the House, which, of its own free will, some years ago made various important changes in its commercial legislation, should be anxious to inquire what the result of those changes and of that legislation had been, especially as they affected one of the most important, if not the most important, of our national interests. Her Majesty's Government also appeared to him to be in a position not enjoyed by the last Government, of approaching this great question without creating the shadow of a suspicion in any man's mind. Had the late Government gone into the various questions raised that night (with rather more warmth than he thought still existed in that House on the subject of protection), they would have been met on all sides with the hue-and-cry that they wanted to reverse our commercial policy and return to the old system of protection. But Her Majesty's Government were not in that position. From whence had this Motion emanated? Why, from a man whom he believed to be as sound and sincere a free-trader as any in the country. The proposition had been supported by representatives of the great commercial communities of the country, and from what he designated the free-trading side of the House. This showed him, and every one who clearly looked 367 at the question would see, the truth and sincerity of the grievances that, according to the statement of the shipowners of this country, now existed. He was not present when Her Majesty's gracious Speech was discussed, but in common with other Englishmen he felt great pleasure and pride in observing that the country was congratulated on the state of national prosperity that existed at the present moment, but no allusion was made in that Speech to one thing, and he confessed he thought it an omission—namely, to the depression, which was now assuming a chronic character, of the great shipping interest of this country. This depression was not temporary, as it had now extended over more than two years. He was not aware that it had been in any way alleviated. It might be to some slight extent, but it would have been but considerate to the shipping interest if room had been found for one paragraph in the Royal Speech referring to its present depression. But Her Majesty's Government could amend that omission by cordially accepting the Motion now brought before them, and granting a full and impartial inquiry into all questions connected with these complaints. Allusion had been made—and he was glad it came from the quarter it did, because it illustrated the honest intentions of the Gentleman who called the attention of the House to the subject—allusion had been made to the reciprocity clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act; and they were also told that one of the chief labours of the Committee would be to overhaul the Acts of Parliament passed for the protection—he did not use it in the old sense of the word—and promotion of the shipping interest. While they were engaged in the work he trusted that these reciprocity clauses would not be left out of sight, and he would ask any member of the House who had been instrumental in passing the great repeal of the navigation laws in 1849 a simple question—Why were these clauses put into the Act of 1849? They had been subsequently incorporated in the Mercantile Shipping Act, and formed part of the law of the land. They gave Her Majesty the power of placing the ships of foreign nations that did not reciprocate the advantages which that Act extended to them on the same footing that they placed ours. That was the substance of these clauses. Now, be would ask, were these clauses put in to gain the support of persons to the measure who would not other- 368 wise have voted for it, or were they introduced with the intention of acting on them in the event arising, and which had arisen, of a refusal on the part of foreign nations to reciprocate these advantages? He would follow that question up by a further one. Was Her Majesty's Government prepared, on carefully examining the state of the case, to exercise this power, or to expunge these clauses from the statute book? For what had been their effect? Persons were induced to invest their capital, and to purchase ships on the strength of the power vested in the Crown without the interference of Parliament at all. They were deluded and misled by these clauses at this moment. He did not suppose that that House was likely to grant permission to any Minister to carry these clauses into effect; but they were a delusion and a snare as they at present stood in the statute book, and he would ask Her Majesty's Government whether they were prepared to consider these clauses, and the powers they possessed under them, and expunge or use them as they thought fit? His hon. Friend who spoke on that side of the House (Mr. Bentinck) took up the cudgels on behalf of the American Government in connection with the question of the coasting trade. He would not argue the matter with him, but he would set him right on one or two points, because he had clearly misapprehended the case as put by the Mover of the Motion, with regard to the effect of the restrictions of the American Government on their coasting trade. The hon. Member for Sunderland said the coasting trade of America was closed against us, but the American foreign trade was professed to be open to all nations; nevertheless, under the existing arrangements, we were virtually excluded from a great portion of the carrying trade, which was professed to be an open trade, and he gave illustrations to show how other ships obtained a preference in the matter over British ships, showing that the question of the American coasting trade was very materially and closely allied with that of the foreign carrying trade, which the Americans professed to be open to all countries. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Danby Seymour), told the Government that they were in a position to deal with the question without further inquiry. On many material points he (Mr. Liddell), granted that they were, and he would follow up the request that had been made, which, as it came from a supporter of the Government, he hoped would have weight. If they dealt with the passing 369 tolls, or any other question of that kind, he implored the Government not to mix up with it that which was the cause of the former Bill being lost, not by accident, as the hon. Member for Poole had observed, but because the Government— and he thought it unwise at the time— and the noble Lord retained the place he held when the Bill was brought in, and the Government was somewhat similarly constituted—had mixed up with the consideration of the matter difficult and embarrassing questions involving vested rights and corporate rights, and the rights of property, which that House had always held sacred. If they dealt with the question as a simple question, no doubt it would be carried. The reason why the Passing Tolls Bill was not passed was an obstacle to which he had alluded, and these were matters so difficult of solution that they defied the labours of the Committee upstairs to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. It was decided that many of these disputed points were for localities to settle among themselves, that they ought to be left out of the question, and that they should deal with the Passing Tolls simply with a view to their abolition. The consideration of that question would, no doubt, be a difficult one to deal with, because it involved vested interests and liabilities with which the House was not acquainted; and it would be expedient not to mix up other and more difficult questions, as had been the case on the former occasion. Another hon. Member had touched upon that which really, in the eyes of the House, ought to be more important that all the details into which they would be necessarily led, but which he would not enter on then—namely, the national part of the question. He hoped that the inquiry which the House was evidently generously disposed to grant would be a full inquiry, more particularly as we had now a great and most vital subject before the country relating to the best mode of manning the navy. When the legislature repealed the navigation laws, as an act of justice to the shipowner, it was obliged to make certain concessions to him, with regard to the proportion of British seamen employed in the composition of his crew, and he was now enabled to take a much larger number of foreigners into his service than formerly. But besides that, they abolished the system of compulsory apprenticeship on board of merchant ships, and he believed they would be compelled eventually with regard to the public ma- 370 rine to revert to some system of apprenticeship for the education of seamen. The Committee should also inquire whether the tendency of the existing state of the law had not been to engender in the mind of the merchant sailor something like a feeling of antipathy to serve the country that had placed him in his present position with regard to foreign seamen. He mentioned this point from practical conversations that he had had with men who were well acquainted with the subject. The British seaman saw the foreign sailors throng our quays, but without spending one farthing on our shores, or bringing custom to them, and they purchased nothing in our seaport towns, inasmuch as they bring all their stores with them, which they consume on board, free of duty. This, therefore, ceased to be a marine question, but became important as a social one to the commerce of the country. On the contrary, our own sailors on going to a foreign port—if they were lucky enough to get in at all—in Spain, Prance, and other places, were met by prohibitive duties. Besides, the foreign sailor was much more cheaply fed, could live on food that the English sailor could not, and this tended to displace a largo number of our English sailors. Was it to be supposed that this was not calculated to weigh in the mind of the British seamen? The Government had now a great measure before the country, and he would give them the fullest credit if they carried it—he meant the provision for a reserve of seamen for the defence of our shores in times of emergency. He was told it was not working in the way that was expected, and that the retaining fee was not accepted by sailors as had been expected. How did they know but that this feeling of soreness and dislike to serve the Government, arising from the inferior position of the British seaman to that of the sailors of foreign Governments, might not have something to do with it? With regard to apprenticeship, he thought the country required a national system of apprenticeship to be provided for our seamen. He hoped that her Majesty's Government would be in a position to do this without creating suspicion. He trusted they would accept the Motion in its widest sense, and investigate every portion of the subject. There was plenty of work cut out, more than one Committee could do in a year; but let the House and the country know what had been the working of the great Act of 1849, ascertain whether, it had been on the whole conducive 371 to the commercial prosperity of the country. Let them ask whether if it had failed in any of its details, what these details really were; let them approach the inquiry impartially, and unhampered and uncontrolled by any previous prejudices that might have existed on one side or the other; let them consider that the shipping interest was second to none, he was almost saying it was the first interest in this kingdom—an interest that had placed this country in the proud position that it occupied—that had obtained and established her maritime superiority and prosperity, remembering too that if we lost that maritime supremacy and prosperity we should lose our position as a nation.
§ MR. CAVE
said, he rose to express a hope that the suggestions both of the hon. Member for Sunderland and the hon. Member for the City of London would be adopted and incorporated in the Motion before the order of reference went to the Committee. In this way the investigation would be considerably widened. Besides, after the discussion of the previous night on the reappointment of the Packet Service Committee, it was desirable that the objects and scope of the inquiry should be well defined in the order of reference. If the shipping interest suffered no depression, or only temporary distress, there would be no necessity for investigation. But if the Committee were appointed the subject they would have to investigate would be two fold, and the whole inquiry would hinge upon the disabilities to which British shipping was subjected either by British or Foreign enactments. They had heard that English enactments pressed—and he was willing to admit the truth of the allegation—in many instances with undue force on the British shipowner, and the reconsideration of these Acts would be of the greatest possible advantage, value, and importance to the British shipowner. Great benefit would arise from their revision and reconstruction, and he hoped that the British shipowner would accept this as an instalment, not shutting them out from future demands. It should not, however, be forgotten, that the relaxation of burdens which pressed equally upon the foreign and upon the British shipowners, would not affect their relative position. As an illustration of the extreme absurdity of the way in which the timber duties, for instance, pressed upon the British shipowner, he might mention that the other day a ship on entering one of the northern ports, by ac- 372 cident went on shore, and, in addition to this misfortune, the unfortunate owner was immediately pounced upon by the Custom House officer, and made to pay duty for the timber into which his vessel was converted by the winds and waves. As regarded the other principal point involved in this question—the point which depended upon Foreign enactments—which had been dealt with by hon. Members on the other side (he would except the hon. Member for Truro) with some reserve, as if they were afraid of their own conclusions, the point in fact of reciprocity. He could state cases where the existing want of reciprocity most materially affected the British shipowner. For instance, a French ship at Calcutta commanded a higher rate of freight for the homeward voyage than an English one, simply because she had a choice of two destinations. Again, an English ship went from China to New York and discharged her cargo. She was obliged, if she wished to return to China, to go back to England, probably in ballast. But an American ship going from China to New York, after discharging her cargo, could take a fresh one and go a coasting voyage to San Francisco, or even our own colony of Australia, which would take her more than half way back to China. It was said we could not enforce the reciprocity clauses. If that were so, it was a humiliating consideration that we should have provisions on our statute book which were inoperative, and therefore a delusion and a snare; but the fact was we might enforce them easily by denying corresponding advantages to those States which refused them. In the days of Huskisson disabilities were imposed upon the merchant ships of Prussia. What was the consequence? Prussia threatened to retaliate, and the English Minister was compelled to give way. Now, the trade of Prussia was not nearly so important to England, as the trade of England is to America and France. If, therefore, Her Majesty's Government in the present day were to adopt a firm attitude, not in a spirit of hostility, but in a reasonable and just manner, towards those other countries that now refused the same advantages we gave to them, they would find them more pliable than we thought they were, and then our shipping interest, restored to equal rights with that of other nations, would, in spite of bad food and scanty wages of the foreigner, fear competition with the mercantile marine of no country in the world.
§ SIR CHARLES NAPIER
said, the hon. Member for Sunderland had adverted to a falling off of apprentices in the merchant service in two recent years of from 37,000 to 20,000. He believed the hon. Member had correctly stated the declension; but he (Sir Charles Napier) had it on the best authority that boys were now coming into the service in great numbers. This would be satisfactory to the House. It had been also stated that the numerical strength of our seamen was diminishing, but that was wrong, for between 1852 and 1857 the increase had been no less than 45,000 in the merchant service. The number of foreign seamen in the coasting trade was very small indeed. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might be stating correctly enough the numbers in the ports with which he was connected, but over the country he knew that the number of foreign seamen employed was very small, much smaller indeed than was expected. His hon. Friend had alluded to the manning of the navy, and no doubt that was a very serious subject, for he was sorry to say that he believed the Government plan of a reserve had quite fallen through. But he would not go into that question now, for they must have a discussion upon the subject. The Parliament must look into the matter, and then he would be prepared to state what were the real causes of the falling off, and to the best of his judgment he would state the remedy. But he could not allow it to go abroad that the number of our seamen was diminishing, or that the apprentices were not kept up.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, it was really impossible for him to touch upon the various subjects which had been introduced into this debate, and it would be very inconvenient to do so, as many of the Acts of Parliament and measures adopted by foreign countries which had been mentioned, and concerning which opinions had been freely expressed, were precisely the subjects proposed for inquiry by this Committee. He was well aware that some of the Acts of Parliament were of recent origin; and he did not think that any one was of opinion that they were so perfect as not to prove, on inquiry, susceptible of changes which would be beneficial to the shipping interest. The question before the House was somewhat peculiar, for it mainly turned upon what should be the particular order of reference to guide the Committee in its investigation. The late Government promised a 374 Committee of Inquiry, and the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Lindsay) moved in the late Parliament for a Committee to inquire into the operation of all burdens and restrictions especially affecting merchant shipping. The hon. Member for London (Mr. Crawford), not thinking those words sufficiently wide, proposed an addition, and subsequently the House agreed to the Motion as amended. In its amended form the Motion was precisely what was now before the House. It was the same Motion which the late Parliament agreed to, and which was considered by the shipowners generally as sufficiently wide for all the purposes of inquiry they had in view. He therefore thought they might consider the present Committee as a continuation of what had already taken place. He could assure the House that there was no desire on the part of the Government to limit the inquiry in the smallest degree. The object of the Government was that the inquiry should be sufficiently wide to go into all grievances, so as to provide a remedy. If the House should be of opinion that the words "into the state of British shipping" should be introduced he saw no objection, though he did not think it would be any improvement upon the order of reference to which the House had already agreed, and under which the Committee sat, and the inquiry commenced. His hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland had, in the course of his speech, commented upon the treaty of reciprocity now existing between England and France as regarded dues on merchant vessels in the direct trade, and had complained that British ships entering French ports were not treated on an equal footing with French ships entering English ports. It was very remarkable that there had been for years past complaints of a similar kind on the part of France—namely, that having entered into a treaty of reciprocity with England, the English did not treat French ships entering English ports on so fair a footing as the French treated English ships entering French ports. He must remind his hon. Friend, also, that the treaty embraced only the direct trade, not the general trade, so that we might put differential duties on French ships entering British ports, if they did not come from France. The complaint of the French Government was an old affair, and had been the subject of correspondence for years past. They said that although we entered into a reciprocity treaty in 1826 375 to put French vessels engaged in the direct trade on the same footing as British vessels, yet we maintained a system of exemptions in favour of freemen and residents in certain towns, which, as Frenchmen could not become such privileged persons, prevented their really being on as good a footing as all owners of British vessels. He did not say whether such a course of argument was correct or not, but he pointed it out as a remarkable circumstance, that while the hon. Member was charging other nations with not keeping reciprocity treaties, they urged that we were not entirely carrying out the engagements which we had entered into with them. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. A. Smith) had condemned the Board of Trade and the strictness of their examinations, but it should be recollected that they only acted under the Merchant Shipping Act. The Parliament of England had passed certain laws, and all that the Board of Trade did, was conscientiously and faithfully to carry them out. With regard to the master in the Navy who did know sufficient of navigation to pass the examination, he very much doubted, if that were so, his capability to he the captain of a merchant ship; but he thought his hon. Friend was misinformed upon the subject, because he imagined a master in the navy would, as a matter of course, have a certificate given him as competent to command a merchant vessel. With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Southampton, he thought the House would consider it hardly admissible. He did not wish to dispute for an instant the assertion that the shipping interest was in a depressed condition, but he asked the House whether they had sufficient proof by figures of such a state of things that they were prepared to pass a deliberate Resolution that there existed at the present moment such depression as to demand inquiry. It would be prejudging the question. They had not facts before them to justify their passing such a Resolution. It might be so, but Parliamentary documents did not show it. They had the assertion, he admitted, of most respectable men, and statements to that effect from associations, but they had no figures which showed a greatly depressed condition of the shipping interest. On the contrary, the figures which were laid before Parliament would rather lead to a contrary conclusion. They would find that, although in 1855 there was an enormous increase in the number of sailing and 376 steam ships built and registered, owing to the Russian war, there had been an annual augmentation in subsequent years far beyond what used to take place in former times. In 1856, 244,000 fresh tons were built and registered; in 1857, 250,000 fresh tons were built and registered, and in 1858, 208,000 tons. But a far better test than this was the number of tons actually employed. In 1855, 3,599,000 tons of British shipping were employed in the home and foreign trade; in 1856, 4,000,000 tons; in 1857, 4,211,000, and in 1858, 4,325,242 tons. Such an increase as this irresistibly led to the conclusion that if there were a serious depression in British shipping, it could but be temporary, and that we might look forward to a speedy improvement, even if it had not already begun. The old comparison, so often made between the number of British ships entering and clearing from the different ports of the United Kingdom, and the number of foreign ships so entering and clearing out was somewhat fallacious, because in the return of British ships no account was taken of those employed in other parts of the world, between Australia, for instance, and foreign ports. But had the alleged depression been peculiar to England? From a return contained in the report of the Secretary of the Treasury in the United States which had been recently put into his hands, it appeared that while there had been an increase in the British shipping employed in the last three years in the home and foreign trade, there had been a positive decrease in the shipping of the United States employed in their home and foreign trade. And if similar returns could be obtained for France and Holland, he had every reason to believe that they would show the same result. These were the figures. From 1855, up to the present time, 335,072 tons had been added to the tonnage of British ships employed in our home and foreign trade — about 10 per cent—while there had been a decrease of 66,964 tons in the tonnage of American ships, or a decrease of rather less than 1 per cent. The conclusion at which those persons, who, he believed to be fully competent to form an opinion, had arrived, and which he himself had also formed, was that this alleged depression was a fluctuation common to all trades and employments. It would be quite impossible by any legislation to secure to the shipowners year by year an undeviating course of prosperity 377 —to provide that freights should be settled at one fixed sum, or that the shipping interest should derive from the employment of their vessels the same uniform rate of profit. The only fair way was to take an average of years, and the progressive increase for the last few years in the British tonnage employed ought to give us confidence that the depression would be but temporary, and he hoped soon to see the period return, if indeed it had not already commenced, when there would be a considerable improvement in the condition of the British mercantile marine. There was no objection on the part of the Government to an inquiry, but he would be no party to inserting words in the order of reference leading to the idea that it was possible to find a remedy for the alleged depression by reversing the commercial policy of this country. As far as he could gather, there appeared to be no such desire on either side of the House. Hon. Gentlemen who had spoken on that side rivalled each other in their professions of adherence to Free Trade, while on the other not even the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) seemed desirous of returning to Protection. With regard to Lord Campbell's Act, it was undoubtedly true, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for London, that there was something more in that Act than the question of how far it bore upon the shipping interest, since it was passed to provide a remedy for injuries sustained, either by the fault or negligence of railway companies, or any other carriers by land or sea. By the old common law a remedy could not be obtained in cases where death ensued, and Lord Campbell's Act simply extended the principle formerly applicable to cases of injury short of death, to cases where death ensued either on board steamers, or sailing vessels, on railways, or any other conveyance, an extension to which he thought no one could entertain a reasonable objection. Merchant shipping was placed in a rather more favourable position by a clause in the Merchant Shipping Act, which only rendered owners of vessels liable to a certain amount. If Lord Campbell's Act were inquired into by the Committee, it would be better that the inquiry should be limited to the effect of that Act on merchant shipping, and he would ask leave to insert words in the order of reference to that effect. He would therefore conclude by suggesting that the Resolution should be amended so as to read, "A Select Com- 378 mittee to inquire into the state of British Shipping, and into the operation of the burdens and restrictions especially affecting Merchant Shipping."
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Select Committee appointed: —
To inquire into the state of Merchant Shipping, the operation of the burdens and restrictions especially affecting Merchant Shipping, and of the following Statutes: 9 & 10 Vict., c. 93, an Act for compensating the families of Persons killed by Accidents; the Merchant Shipping Act (1854); the Merchant Shipping Amendment Act (1855); the Passenger Act (1855); and the Chinese Passenger Act (1855).