HC Deb 29 March 1860 vol 157 cc1528-53

said: Sir, I rise to propose the following Motion:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she will be graciously pleased to enter into negotiations with the Emperor of the French, with the view of making a Treaty for the reciprocal abrogation of all discriminating duties levied upon the vessels and their cargoes of either of the two nations in the ports of the other; and for procuring such alterations in the Navi- gation Laws of France, as may tend to facilitate the Commercial intercourse, and strengthen the friendly relations between England and France. After the statement made in the early part of the evening by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that he did not mean to offer any opposition to this Motion, I should content myself with simply proposing it to the House, were it not that, from the peculiar nature of the subject to which it relates, there are two parties who must give to it their assent before it can be attended with any practical effect. This House may adopt the Resolution, but it can lead to no result, unless it shall also meet with the approval of the Government of France; and I therefore deem it expedient that I should go at some length into the question with which it deals. I believe that although the change which I advocate is desirable on the part of England, it would be still more beneficial to France. Those Navigation Laws, which we abolished in the year 1849, had been imitated by France and other countries. They had been framed as long ago as the year 1651, and they had been in operation since that period until the year 1849, with the exception of those alterations which had been made in them under Reciprocity Treaties, concluded some time after the commencement of the present century. By them it was provided that no goods from Asia, Africa, or America should be imported into this country in any but British ships; and that from Europe no goods should be imported except in British ships, or ships of the country where the goods Were produced. There were, besides, lists of what were called "enumerated articles," which could only be imported, under any circumstances, in English vessels; and there were double duties against foreign ships for Light Dues, Harbour Dues, and other charges. Those laws remained in force until the year 1850, when the measure for their abolition, which had been passed in the preceding year, came into operation. They were somewhat broken in upon by a Treaty into which we entered with Turkey in the year 1809, and which was our first Reciprocity Treaty. But the first great blow next struck at them was the Reciprocity Treaty which we were compelled to conclude with the United States of America in the year 1815. By the laws previously in force we prohibited the Americans from bringing us their own produce in their own ships. They protested, and very properly protested, against such a provision, but their remonstrances had hitherto been made in vain. At last they gave notice to our Government that they would be obliged to exclude the ships of England from their ports unless we made a material change in our Navigation Laws. The British Government paid no attention to that threat, and then the Government of the United States levied a duty of one dollar per ton on every British ship entering their ports; and not satisfied with that, they imposed a differential duty of 10 per cent on all our manufactures imported in British ships. The result was that we were driven to the necessity of forming with them a Reciprocity Treaty, which placed American ships entering our ports upon the same footing, with regard to duties and local charges, on which they placed our ships entering their ports. Shortly after that we had to make a similar concession to almost every other country. Every one conversant with that subject must be aware that in the year 1822 the Prussian Government complained of the effect of our Navigation Laws on their trade, and threatened to exclude our ships from their ports unless we changed those laws. The consequence was that Mr. Huskisson found it necessary to conclude a Reciprocity Treaty with Prussia upon the most liberal terms which had previously been adopted, in the case of the United States of America, in 1815. Then followed our Reciprocity Treaties with other countries, including France, with which we entered into a treaty of that character in the year 1826. France, it might therefore be said, had imitated our policy in that matter throughout its two early stages. She had followed our exclusive system, which we had commenced in the year 1651, and which she had "imitated" in the year 1664; and she had afterwards concluded, as we had done, Reciprocity Treaties. It will, perhaps, be advisable, considering the subject which I have now in view, that I should here state what it is that we have lost or gained by the policy which we have pursued upon this subject. In the year 1720 ! the earliest period for which we have any Eeturns—under the protective system, there cleared outwards from our ports 430,000 tons of British shipping; and in the year 1810 there cleared outwards from our ports 1,600,000 tons; showing an increase of 1,170,000 tons in these ninety years. Hon. Members might think that was a large increase; but as throughout that period we had the command of nearly the whole Carrying Trade of the world, he believed it ought really to be regarded as a very small increase, and it would appear still more so when it was compared with the figures of other epochs. The middle stage of our Navigation Laws was that of a reciprocity period. In the year 1820, before the operation of the reciprocity system, there cleared outwards from our ports 1,670,000 tons of British shipping. In the year 1849 we abolished our Navigation Laws, and with them the reciprocity system, and in the year 1850 there cleared outwards from our ports 4,700,000 tons of British shipping; showing, under a partial free trade, an increase of upwards 3,000,000 tons in a period of thirty years, while under a strict protection the increase had amounted to only 1,170,000 tons in ninety years. In the year 1858 there cleared outwards from our ports 6,440,000 tons of British shipping, which give in the eight years an increase of 1,740,000 tons ! a greater increase than that which had taken place in ninety years under a close protection. But as it might be said that these Returns did not give a correct view of the state of the trade, I must direct the attention of the House to a statement of the tonnage of the ships which we owned. In the year 1830, under the reciprocity system, we owned 2,500,000 tons of shipping; and at the end of last year we owned nearly 6,000,000 tons; showing, during that interval, an increase of 3,500,000 tons. Look, too, at the other advantages which accompanied the change ! at the great improvements which have taken place in the models of our ships—at the application of the screw to navigation—at our magnificent steamships constructed of iron—and, above all, if we look at the vast increase in our commerce which this free trade in shipping has materially assisted, we must at once admit that the free-trade policy was a wise policy, and that it has greatly benefited, not only the country generally, but the shipowners themselves. Now, as I have already said, France followed the example of our ancient navigation laws. She thought that they were founded upon a wise principle; and I fear she still considers that to be a policy which it is her interest to pursue. By her first navigation law she levied 50 sous per ton on all foreign ships frequenting her ports. In the year 1687 she made the law almost an exclusive one against foreigners; and, not satisfied with confining her coasting trade and the trade with her colonies to her own ships, she actually imposed a duty of £30 per ton on all exports from her West Indian colonies, and a duty of £50 per ton on all imports into those colonies; and those charges had to be paid by her people for the purpose of "encouraging" the enterprise of her shipowners. But France, as I hate already stated, wisely-entered into reciprocity treaties, and her treaty with this country was concluded in the year 1826. I shall now proceed to allude to the state of her navigation laws as they at present exist. There is, first, her coasting trade, which is strictly confined to her own ships, any foreign vessel engaging in that trade being liable, as well as its cargo, to confiscation. There is, next, the direct trade—that is to say, such a trade as that between France and England—and, by the Treaty of Reciprocity, that trade is placed upon the same footing in the two countries. There is, thirdly, the indirect colonial trade of France. That trade is entirely limited to French vessels, the differential duties to which foreign ships are liable being so high that they are excluded from any share in it. Then there is the indirect foreign trade—such a trade, for instance, as that between New Orleans and Havre, or that between Brazil and Bordeaux. From that trade, too, English ships are almost wholly excluded, because the differential duties to which they are liable are so high that they could not enter into the competition. I wish the House to observe what has been the result to France of the policy she has thus pursued. In the year 1787 she had 164,000 tons of native shipping employed in her trade with foreign countries; in the year 1830 she had only 156,000 tons engaged in that trade; so that in the course of those forty-three years that portion of her shipping had decreased by 8,000 tons. In her colonial trade, which is entirely confined to her own ships, she had in the year 1787 not less than 114,000 tons of shipping; she has now only 102,000 tons; so that there has been in the forty-three years a decrease of 12,000 tons in that strictly protected trade. Another very remarkable fact is, that while the protected branches of her shipping have decreased, there has been an increase in those branches of it which were unprotected, and had to engage in a competition with other nations. On comparing the entrances and clearances of France for the year 1856, with the mean number of annual entrances and clearances during the five years from 1851 to 1855, I find that although in the trade with the Colonies there was an increase of 16 per cent, in 1856 there was a decrease of 17 per cent m her strictly protected trade with her own, French possessions out of Europe; and that in her fisheries which were guarded with unusual care, there was a decrease of 4 per cent. But both in her non-protected trade with European countries there was an increase of 10 per cent, and in her non-protected trade with countries out of Europe there was an increase of 11 per cent. What I say is this, that while the policy which has been pursued by France towards this country, in a commercial view, has been injurious to us, it has been far more injurious to France. Let us examine the question with respect to the number and the tonnage of the French ships, and contrast them with ours. In 1787 France owned 500,000 tons of shipping; in 1850, sixty-three years afterwards, she owned only 688,000 tons. Her shipping has only increased, therefore, in sixty-three years, 188,000 tons. In 1835 I find France owned 15,600 vessels; in 1840, instead of any increase, I find she only owned 14,800. The House may say that, although the number of vessels is small, their tonnage may be large. What is the fact? Why, that out of 14,800 vessels there were 10,000 under thirty tons, and 3,000 between thirty and 100 tons. France, in 1838, owned 680,000 tons of shipping, but instead of increasing she appears to have been on the decrease, for I find that in 1844 she owned only 604,687 tons of shipping. Taking the whole period, from 1838 to 1858, the increase in her shipping, under her protective policy, was only 370,000 tons; whereas, if I look to the increase of British shipping during the same period I find it has increased from 2,890,601 tons to 5,609,623. So, while the French shipping has increased only 370,000 tons under her protective policy, British shipping has increased under a free and enlightened policy no less than 2,800,000 tons. What is the case with respect to steam? I find that while we had, in 1838, 82,716 tons of steam vessels, in 1858 we had no less than 488,000 tons; while France, which in 1838 had 9,693 tons of steam shipping, had only increased in 1858 to 66,587 tons. Thus while we have increased upwards of 400,000 tons of steam shipping in the last twenty years, France has only increased about 55,000. The House will also remember what France has given large bounties for the creation of a steam merchant fleet, and yet with all her protective policy in her favour and with all these bounties she can only show an increase in sailing vessels of 370,000 tons as against an increase in British sailing vessels of 2,800,000 tons, and in steamers an increase of 55,000 as against 400,000 tons. Why is all this? France has a greater seaboard than any other country in Europe. Her coast is studded with magnificent ports along the Channel to an extent of no less than 150 leagues; on the shores of the Atlantic she has a seaboard of 130 leagues; and on the shores of the Mediterranean she has a seaboard of 90 leagues. Her situation is all that they can desire for carrying on a very large maritime trade. France is also increasing at an extraordinary rate in her general trade, for I find the increase of her special commerce from 1827 to 1836 to have been 10,000 million francs; from 1837 to 1846, 15,000 million francs; and from 1847 to 1856, to have been no less than 22,000 million francs. That is the commerce which includes only her own manufactures and her own produce, and articles which she imports for her own use; yet in the ten years from 1847 to 1856 the increase in that special commerce has been the immense sum of 20,000 million francs. How is it that, with a splendid situation for carrying on large mercantile pursuits, with such a large seaboard studded with magnificent harbours, with a vast and rapidly increasing commerce of her own, that the shipping of France is almost at a standstill? I will tell you why. It is because the shipowners have been taught by their legislators to depend upon the Government instead of depending upon themselves. As with individuals we seldom see those who have been left well provided for so energetic as men who have to make their way in the world themselves, so it is with nations. It has been proved by the policy of this country that when British shipowners were left to their own energies and their own resources they went on increasing largely, and I have no hesitation in saying if the Emperor of France had adopted as wise a course of policy the shipping of that country would be greatly increased and materially bene-fitted, and its commerce generally would be vastly increased. Now, Sir, observe how unjustly these laws operate upon the French people themselves. It was stated before us the other day in the Merchant Shipping Committee, by an intelligent witness, that in one particular branch of trade alone, which was a very small branch, the difference of freight paid between the French and English ships on sugar imported from our possessions in the East to France was no less than £300,000. Of course France pays that. It is not possible, but if it were possible to show what the people of France are suffering and paying in trying vainly to increase their Merchant Navy, I have no hesitation in saying that the people of France would at once appeal to the Government, and demand a change in the Navigation Laws for their own interest. Because, if in a small branch of trade in which only about 180,000 tons of shipping are engaged, the people of France have to pay every year £300,000 for the benefit of that trade, what must it be with the trade of France as a whole. France, with her vast commerce, has not got a merchant navy one-fourth sufficient to enable her to carry on her own trade; consequently, she is obliged to come and seek shipping from other countries, and, in spite of her protective laws, foreign shipping, to a very large extent, entered the ports of France. In 1857, the total number of entries in French ports was 4,162,000 tons, but of that number no less than 2,550,000 were foreign ships; so that by far the largest proportion of the carrying trade of France is conveyed in foreign ships, and if we could get at an estimate of the differential duty paid upon that 2,550,000 tons of shipping, it would be found that the people of France are taxed to an enormous extent in their vain attempts to create a merchant service and a foundation for her navy. The people of France are beginning to find that this policy of protection to shipping is a mistaken policy for their own interest. Honourable Members may have seen by the public press, the other day, that the merchants and planters of Guadeloupe have memorialized the French Colonial Minister, and have represented to him the very great inconvenience to which they have been subjected from the want of a sufficient supply of French tonnage to carry their sugar and other produce to France; and only the other day I had a letter from a large East India House, and though I do not wish to weary the House with extracts, this is so important that I must beg permission to read it— It is from a merchant and shipowner at Bordeaux to the head of an East India House resident in London, and is an answer to a communication with respect to the rice market in the East. This firm had written to the French merchant to know if they could supply him for the incoming year, as on previous occasions. The following is his reply:— I have received with much pleasure your letter of the 24th November, and thank you for the information it gives me on business in rice this year. I must tell you that rice is no longer admissible, except by a French flag, since the beginning of this year; that is, that it pays a duty of 9 francs per 100 kilogrammes, if by a foreign ship, which excludes it completely. I find, Sir, that in 1847 France imported 3,000 tons of rice; but in 1856, when the duties on rice and. other grain were suspended, she imported no less than 50,000 tons of rice from the British East Indies, showing the enormous benefit which, in this case, France derived from a free-trade policy, by which they allowed ships of all nations to convey rice from our possessions in India to the ports of France. But this is not all. Take the case of the manufacturers, and here again I beg to refer to another important communication. About a fortnight since I made a speech in regard to this same question, and it so happened that the words which fell from me found their way to the French press, and were somewhat extensively circulated. And in consequence I received a communication from a large manufacturer carrying on his business in a northern town of France:— I am interested," he says, "here in jute-spinning, and our trade in Prance will be much injured, if not ruined, if the present differential duties are continued; and as these duties are injurious both to the British shipowner, as well as to the French manufacturer, while not in reality serving the French shipping, I thought your influence might be brought to bear on the subject. Well, Sir, the only answer to be given to the French manufacturer was—"Really, this is more a question for the French manufacturer and the French people, than it is for the British shipowner. Memorialize your Government to release you from the trammels by which you are bound; agitate throughout the country for the repeal of the laws, to the repeal of which you must look for advantage as a manufacturer, and by so doing do good to the people, and also to the shipowners of your country." But, Sir, while we are impressing upon the French Government that, in justice to us, as well as in justice to their own shipowners; and, above all, in justice to the people of France, they should make a material change in the navigation laws of that country, let us not forget that we have a duty to perform to France. We still levy Light Dues on the ships of France entering our ports, as we do on the ships of all other nations. But France lights her shores free. She makes no direct charge on the ships of England under the head of Light Dues. There are other small taxes, more annoying, perhaps, than of pecuniary importance, which we still continue to levy upon the ships of France frequenting our ports, from which freemen are entirely exempt. I believe these charges are well known as Freemen's Dues. France, upon various occasions on which we have endeavoured to obtain reciprocity from her, has made these charges the ground for not entering into reciprocal dealings. I think such excuses have been frivolous, but still they have been made, and I say we must be prepared to remove those charges, which are still levied at 83 ports throughout this country. We must exempt the ships of France from all such charges; we must exempt them from Light Dues; and when we have done so, we shall have placed the ships of France in all our trade on the same terms in every respect as our own ships. Having done so, it is to be hoped that the Emperor of the French will be willing and ready to meet us in making the change I propose, which is much more essential to the interests of his own people than it is to the interests of the people of England. To what extent it is desirable that that change should be made it is not for me to say. That is a matter which must rest with the Government of France itself. If I had anything to say in the matter, if I was a Frenchman interested in the question, I should urge the total and unconditional repeal of the Navigation Laws of France, and I should urge it not merely on the ground of justice to the shipowners, but, above all, in justice to the people of France. If the French Government is not prepared to go to that extent, and to say that the Navigation Laws should be totally repealed, they ought at least to put the trade between our colonies and possessions, and France in the same position as the direct trade is now placed; that is to say, they ought to abolish all differential duties levied on goods conveyed from our possessions and colonies to France in British ships. In that trade, which is peculiarly our own, we ought at least to be placed on exactly the same footing as our ships are now placed with respect to the direct trade. The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) has been good enough to say that this Motion is not to be opposed, and that, so far as Government is concerned, it will be allowed to pass this House. Allow me, however, to take the opportunity of saying to the noble Lord that something more is wanted. If this Resolution is adopted by the House, it will be in the shape of an Address to Her Majesty, and it will be the duty of the Government to lay it before the Queen. But there is another duty connected with it beyond that ! a duty which is most important; and I do trust that Her Majesty's Government, if the Motion is carried, will use its most strenuous efforts and every argument in its power to impress on the Government of France that if the Treaty of Commerce just ratified is to produce the good both nations anticipate—if it is to increase their commerce and bind them more closely together in their friendly relations, and thus tend to prevent war, then it is essential that a great change be made in the Navigation Laws of France, so as to enable the more free interchange of commodities, and remove the irritation which these differential duties create, and which tend to produce angry feelings, and too often, with them, war. I wish my feeble words could reach the palace of the Emperor and the Senates of France, but far more do I wish that they should reach the hamlets and the homes of the heavily taxed and toiling millions of that fair—that sunny land. The question, as I have endeavoured to show, is of far greater importance to the people of that country than it is to England; but in the interests of progress, and, above all, of peace, it is one of vast importance to both. However prone man is to evil— however desirous to vindicate what he considers "right" by might, no nation can desire war. To Her Gracious Majesty I move this Address. I know that she ever has and ever will mourn the sacrifice of her people on the battle field; that she will ever be ready to put forth her hand to aid the cause of peace; and I cannot but feel that her great Ally, the Emperor of the French, must equally deplore the dread havoc which war creates, and that he will be ready to join our Queen in the adoption of such measures as are likely to render more secure the peace of Europe, and promote the happiness and prosperity of the people. There can be no happiness in their palaces when the harsh note of war is sounded. On questions such as these they must hold even stronger feelings than the people, for in the uncertainty of war their own destinies are at stake, and in its results depend the stability of their thrones and kingdoms, and often their personal liberty. They, indeed, must be deeply interested in any movement which tends to join nations together in the bonds of peace and goodwill.


, in seconding the Motion, expressed his conviction that the greatest good would be produced by the fact of its receiving the unanimous support of the House and the Government.


said, that, as his hon. Friend was already aware, no opposition would be offered by the Government to the Motion. He quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman that if this address were adopted it would be necessary that steps should be taken to give effect to it, and at a fitting opportunity the Government would use their utmost endeavours for that purpose. There could be no doubt that British ships laboured under many disabilities in French ports. The coasting and colonial trade, or the trade between France and her own colonies, might not at once be conceded; but with regard to the indirect carrying trade or the foreign trade of France, seeing that all countries, with the exception of France, Spain, and Portugal, had extended full reciprocity to England in the foreign carrying trade, he might fairly express a hope that the facilities enjoyed elsewhere would Be also extended to this country by France. He felt the advantage it would be to French commerce and to the French nation, and, without taking up the time of the House by travelling over unnecessary ground, he might say that he fully concurred in the views of the hon. Member as to the great advantages conferred on English shipping and commerce by the liberal navigation code which we had adopted. The hon. Member had made a most interesting and useful speech, and he would say no more than that he could assure him the Government would do all which lay in their power to give effect to his views.


said, that representing as he did a constituency all more or less concerned in the shipping interest, he felt called on to make a few remarks on the question now before the House. The distress of the shipping interest was acknowledged when the hon. Member for Sunderland moved for a Committee of Inquiry. At that time he did not think that the sympathies of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade were greatly in favour of that interest, but he was delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman express himself tonight much more warmly, and to receive an assurance that the noble Lord at the head of the Government intended to exert himself to carry out as much as he could the views of the hon. Member for Sunderland. With regard to the fact stated the other day that freights from the Mauritius were unremunerative to British while they were lucrative to French shipowners, a witness before the Committee on Merchant Shipping attributed it to the excess of British tonnage. Great competition might partially be the cause, but he believed that the command of a more extended sale for their produce made it worth while for merchants at the Mauritius to pay double and treble freights and to put their merchandise on board French ships rather than English ships, which in comparison had so limited a field for sale. It was a most extraordinary injustice that English shipping should be exposed to the operation of differential duties in French ports which operated against it in the proportion of five to three, and also involved, in some cases, the forfeiture of both the ship and her cargo. He had read not long since a pamphlet written, he believed, by the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Digby Seymour), in which that hon. Gentleman mentioned that the increase of the French over the English shipping since the repeal of the navigation laws was in the proportion of nine to one; and in his opinion that statement was perfectly accurate. Statistics proved that the export and import trade of Yarmouth had very much decreased. In 1857, Yarmouth exported in British ships 77,413 quarters of wheat; in 1858 only 33,462 quarters of wheat. In 1857, the export of barley from the same place was 81,792 quarters, and in 1858 only 77,249 quarters. In 1857 no maize whatever was imported into Yarmouth in British ships, but in foreign ships 3,492 quarters. In 1858, 200 quarters were imported in British, and 7,990 quarters in foreign ships. In 1858, 410 quarters of wheat were imported in British ships, and 9,723 quarters in foreign ships. In 1857 no barley was imported in British, but 36,950 quarters were imported in foreign ships. In 1858, 4,999 quarters of barley were imported in British and 22,695 quarters in foreign ships. There were many other statistics, proving the decline of the trade of Yarmouth, with which he would not trouble the House. He would merely say that within the last few months 100 foreign ships had delivered their cargoes in that port. Yarmouth, which he had the honour to represent, was particularly interested in the trade of salted herrings, and his constituents expressed great anxiety at the extraordinary quantity of salted herrings which had arrived lately from Norway and other places. A few days since one ship brought no less than 1,100 barrels. They believed that a great trade might be opened with France if the Government would kindly give their attention to the subject, and endeavour to get the duty lowered on them, if not abolished. At present the duty charged by France on the barrel of 100 kilogrammes—equal to 2 cwt. ! was 30 francs, and when he told the House that the same quantity could be bought for much less, retail in Yarmouth, it must be obvious that the duty was perfectly prohibitory. He had reason to know that there was a disposition on the part of the French Government to afford facilities to the English merchant for carrying on this particular trade. The demand from the interior of France for them was great and increasing, but the duty of 30 francs a barrel was regarded in the light of a prohibition, and notwithstanding every encouragement was given to the French fisherman, he could not, under any circumstances, meet the demand made from the interior of his own country. If the Government at this favourable time would interest themselves in coming to an arrangement with that of France on this subject, the result would be to open up an important trade between France and the towns on the eastern coast of this country, and it would be relieved from the reproach that they had more especially consulted the coal and cotton interests, and had neglected the shipping interests of this country.


said, that he wished to call attention to a branch of this question which had been overlooked. The question of a treaty of navigation with France was not a new question, for a treaty was entered into in 1826, having reference to the direct trade. That treaty had not been in operation more than a few months when grave complaints were made by the Government of France against the man- ner in which that treaty was carried out by this country. France charged the English Government that although they might carry out the treaty in the letter, yet in the spirit of that treaty they had not faithfully carried it out. The ground of complaint made by the French was, that in a vast number of our ports there existed exemptions or exceptions in respect to the payment of duty, which operated differentially against the ships of a French port. Matters continued in this state up to the year 1849, when a new state of circumstances occurred. It would be in the recollection of the House that, in that year, the Navigation Laws were repealed, and it was then proposed by the English Government, as a sort of corollary to our repealing the Navigation Laws, to enter into a negotiation with France; but the same objections with regard to local exemptions were then urged as were urged in 1826. Mr. Edgar Bowring, of the Board of Trade, was employed to investigate the grounds of complaint, and the result of his inquiry, as stated in evidence before a Select Committee, was that in no less than eighty-one ports and creeks of this country local exemptions from the payment of duty continued to exist, and to operate differentially against French ships trading to this country. In 1850 another attempt was again made to enter into a treaty with France, when the question of local exemption was again urged by the French Government. As he understood that fresh negotiations were about to be commenced on this subject, he should like to have some assurance from her Majesty's Government that they would endeavour to get rid of those causes which, from 1826 down to 1850, formed a barrier to the carrying out of any treaty with France. Unless the Government did that, he was afraid that no negotiations on this subject could have a successful result. He quite agreed with his hon. Colleague that the system of the Navigation Laws as it existed in France was, although injurious to English commerce, still more injurious to French commerce and the French people; but he had no great faith in the Government being able to convince the French people of that fact at present. He trusted that before the debate was concluded, the House would have some assurance from the Government that an attempt would be made as early as possible to get rid of the causes which had so long operated to pre- vent this treaty of navigation between this country and France being carried into effect.


said, he regretted that the hon. Member who had last spoken should have introduced a new element of dissension into the debate. Attempts had been made both by the Government and the House to deal with the local exemptions alluded to, but without success. The reference to them on the part of France was obviously only a shallow pretext to avoid a navigation treaty with this country. He rose, however, mainly for the purpose of expressing his gratification at the assurance that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to enter into communication with the French Government with a view of obtaining, at any rate, some relaxation of the French Navigation Laws. He thought that as we were now supposed to be on terms of commercial alliance with France we were entitled to ask, as a matter of justice, from those with whom we had recently concluded the treaty, that they should meet us in a fair spirit. It had been left free to French ships to trade from all parts of the world to this country as suited them best, and it was extremely galling to an English shipowner that in consequence of discriminating or differential duties being levied in French ports on English vessels, he was often unable to compete in our own Colonies with French vessels in obtaining a cargo, or getting as high a freight. He trusted the French Government, if they were sincere in their desire to carry out the design of giving to the French consumer the full benefit of the Commercial Treaty recently concluded, would see the necessity of removing these very offensive duties, He asked of the Government that they would supply the omission in the late Commercial Treaty, an omission which had been much complained of, but never satisfactorily explained. He trusted the proposed negotiations might prove successful; but he wished he could be more sure that they would be successful, for he felt that if the negotiations had been entered into at an earlier date, their chance of success would have been much greater than it now was.


said, he also wished to express his gratification at the fact that the Government had acceded to the Motion of the hon. Member for Sunderland, and his conviction that the Government had exercised a sound discretion in taking that course, still he thought it behoved the House to ask why it was necessary that so soon after the Treaty with France another negotiation should be commenced? How came it that they had, so soon to set to work to patch up the comprehensive Treaty recently concluded r He believed that the Treaty had originated in party and not Commercial objects, that it was more a political than a Commercial Treaty. It had, therefore, been hurried through in a hasty, crude, and, he might say, slovenly manner, so that it might be ready for announcement at the opening of Parliament, as a proof of activity during the autumnal recess. This seemed to have been considered requisite as a stimulant after the long period of autumnal inactivity. No doubt it had obtained for the Government some cheers, but they would be only of a temporary character, The Government had given up everything to France, and now they would have to recommence negotiations with the Government of that country when they had no inducement to offer. He rose to remind the House, and to press upon the Government, that they should in future employ those skilled and experienced diplomatists who were always at the service of the country in these important matters. It was no disparagement to the ability of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cobden), for whom he had the highest respect, that, however eminent he might be in private life, however superior to all competitors in his own line of trade, he was not so well qualified to deal with astute and wily negotiators, as one who had had the benefit of diplomatic training and experience. If a proper negotiator had been selected, then this country would not have been called upon to make such extensive concessions without obtaining equivalents. He would shortly call the attention of the House and the noble Lord at the head of the Government to a speech of the noble Lord's, made seventeen years ago, on the occasion of Lord Ashburton being sent to the Court of Washington to negotiate a treaty. The noble Lord laid it down as a rule, and he was a great authority, that when the country had to enter into Commercial Treaties, they ought to leave the matter to diplomatic agents, and the noble Lord used these remarkable words: I know that some persons imagine that in negotiation a plain, simple, straightforward man will do just as well as the most experienced and skilful diplomatist; but the House may depend upon it that the same rule holds good in negotiation, as in any other employment of the intellec- tual faculties, and that a man who has some acquaintance with the practice will, ceteris paribus, have an advantage over a man who has none. Now, was the Government driven by any necessity to appoint an inexperienced negotiator, and had they no other choice? Those words were spoken seventeen years ago, and yet the noble Lord, in forgetful-ness of them, had appointed an hon. Gentleman who had had no experience in these matters. He entertained no political bias against the hon. Member for Rochdale; but he believed it would be seen that the more his crude and ill-digested Treaty became known throughout the country, the more it would be disliked and opposed. As an instance, he might refer to the Chamber of Commerce of Leeds. A petition had been presented from that body, which showed that the 30 per cent duty on goods imported into France, would in almost every instance prove a strictly prohibitive duty. The people of Leeds were engaged in nearly all the great manufactures to which the provisions of the Treaty related, and so dissatisfied were the leading and influential merchants of that great centre of commerce and manufactures, that the Chamber of Commerce prayed that a supplemental treaty might be made. Now, if the work had been properly done in the first instance, there would not be this universal cry for a supplemental treaty. He believed the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, had not been consulted on all these matters, or a different result might have been obtained. It might be said, on the part of the Government of Prance, whenever an attempt was made to open negotiations, that the Parliament of England had sanctioned the principle of differential duties, by agreeing to the late Treaty, and that would be one of the great difficulties in the way of removing them. In the case of the linen trade, the right hon. Gentleman, (Mr. M. Gibson), had held out hopes of an amelioration of the regulations in future negotiations; but what hope could there be of successful negotiations when the original proposition of the French Government was a maximun ad valorem duty from 10 to 15 per cent, which was raised by our negotiation to 30 per cent. He (Lord C. Hamilton) could only hope that those future negotiations would be entrusted to an experienced diplomatist, and that the noble Viscount at the head of the Government would act upon the advice he had tendered to another Government in making the selection.


said, he thought the observations of the noble Lord uncalled for, and that the attack made by him upon the conduct of the hon. Member for Rochdale in his absence was undeserved. That hon. Member would no doubt receive the thanks of his countrymen for his recent labours in the cause of freedom of trade; and he believed the noble Lord could not name any diplomatist who would have been better qualified to carry on the late negotiations with the French Emperor and his Government. The Treaty was from first to last a Treaty of Commerce, and not of navigation, and the noble Lord could not point to any Article in it which altered the character of the Treaty. Any man who looked at the matter fairly would see that in asking the French Government to enter upon negotiations for another treaty, the Government would be met by the answer that one of the first things to do would be the removal of those various charges on French vessels which had been referred to by the hon. Gentleman near him (Mr. Fenwick). The object of the Motion before the House was to show the general feeling of the maritime body and of the Government, that France, having regard to the concessions made by us, as well as with regard to her own interests, should meet us in the spirit in which we met her. For the last ten years England had allowed French ships to enter her ports freely, and the moral was that free trade could not be both a blessing and a curse, or, in other words, while free trade was life to us, it could not be death to the French people. But though England had thrown open her ports to France, English vessels, although permitted to carry goods to France from this country, were at a relative disadvantage with the French, because they were excluded from the French coasting trade. The latest advices from the Mauritius stated that while French ships were getting from £3 to £3 10s. for freight, British ships could not command more than £1 for freight to French ports. But at Port Louis, French and English ships for English ports Were obtaining the same freights. The differential and tonnage duties against British ships were equal to £4 19s. 4d. per ton on all importations of guano into France. These facts were enough to show that the statesmen of both countries ought at once to negotiate the basis of a supplemental treaty of navigation; and to those who remembered the advances which France made in a free-trade policy in 1854, by repealing a portion of her navigation laws, this would not appear altogether hopeless. He had recently received a copy of the Journal du Havre, which contained a report made by the French Ministers, MM. Baroche and Rouher, in which they commented on the Treaty recently concluded between the two countries, from which he (Mr. Digby Seymour) was led to hope that, while due regard was paid to the French marine as one of the great national interests, a sounder commercial policy than the old Protective system had now among its champions the Emperor of the French and the Ministers who had assisted him in the recent progress of free-trade doctrines in France. This country had cast away the worn-out cloak of Protection which the French had picked up; but he hoped the sun of free trade would induce them, too, to drop it from their shoulders, and that they would come to see that it was for their own advantage to make those arrangements in favour of the shipping interest which the voice of justice demanded. He trusted the example of France in 1854, when certain alterations were made, would be followed, and that better results would be obtained. The hon. and learned Gentleman then referred to comments of MM. Baroche and Rouher in the Journal du Havre, in favour of the late Treaty, and said he hoped a better light was dawning upon the Government and people of France in reference to freedom of commerce, and if that were so, it would lead to the further adoption of the principle of the Treaty of 1826 between this country and France.


rose to express his surprise that any hon. Gentleman should place the differential duties, or rather the exemptions which existed in certain English ports, as really a bar to the negotiations of a treaty with France. Those were not really dues that were charged on the shipping with France, they were simply exemptions that were made in favour of certain classes of persons in England, and pressed upon portions of our own countrymen quite as much as they did on the subjects of France. He quite concurred in the conclusion of the hon. Member for Sunderland, and he was assured that the shipping interest would read the hon. Member's speech with great satisfaction, for they would remember that not very long ago the hon. Gentleman did not attach so much value as he now appeared to do to the system of reciprocity. They would be glad to find that since the hon. Gentleman had applied his vigorous mind to the subject he had come to the conclusion that, without reciprocity, the prosperity of the British shipping interest would not long continue. He did not mean, however, to detain the House with any remarks on the general question, which he thought was exhausted by the speeches in the present debate, and by one on a former occasion. But he must say that it was not complimentary to the shipping interest that it should be necessary to bring forward this Motion. When a treaty of commerce was under discussion it was due to the shipping interest that hopes should have been held out to them that their interests would not be neglected. But those hopes had not been held out, and it was only after a great deal of agitation, both in and out of this House, that hopes were at last held out that some attempts would be made to redress their grievances. For his own part, he was disposed to trust very little to the generosity of nations; for each Government would naturally get the best advantage for their own subjects that they could; and he felt certain that if in a negotiation they were to begin by giving to France all they had to give, and then asked France to make some sacrifice to them in return, they would find themselves quite disappointed. He thought the attitude of Prussia, in Mr. Huskisson's time, which had been alluded to by the hon. Member for Sunderland and the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Digby Seymour), and by himself on a former occasion, was the attitude which should have been maintained by Her Majesty's Government. His opinion was that the whole question of the navigation laws with France required revision. Circumstances were entirely changed from what they were when the existing treaties were formed; and following the example of the hon. Baronet behind him (Sir H. Stracey), he would take the liberty of reminding the Government that in any revision of our relations with France there was a portion of his own constituents whose claims he wished to recommend to the notice of the Government. The hon. Baronet advocated the interests of the herring fishers; he wished to advocate the claims of the oyster fishers. It was known to everybody that there was on the south coast of England a race of hardy fishermen who were engaged in the oyster fisheries. Since the convention with regard to these fisheries, which was concluded with France in 1839, deep-sea beds of oysters had been discovered in the middle of the Channel, the existence of which was at that time altogether unknown. These beds could only be fished at a certain time, and in rough weather the boats could not go out to them at all, and as the close time intervened great hardship was often inflicted on these fishermen, who in some seasons lost their fishing altogether. Now, there was no reason why the terms of the fence months should not be, in regard to the deep-sea fishings, extended for two months longer, but the difficulty was to persuade the French Government to consent. The French fishermen cared nothing about these deep-sea fishings; they only wanted to protect their own shallow water fisheries, and with that view they demanded that our fishermen should be prevented from going into deep-sea fishings. This prohibition, however, wag of no advantage to either party, for as the beds lay in the middle of the Channel and were net under the jurisdiction of any Government, the Butch fishermen, as he had lately learned, came to the beds and dredged them in the fence months to the disadvantage of both countries. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would take this question into their favourable consideration, as our fishermen naturally felt aggrieved at these injurious regulations which pressed upon them alone. I think the Motion, though it only regards actually the reciprocity duties of Prance and England, should include these minor matters in any revision which may be deemed advisable. Her Majesty's Government had shown themselves anxious to maintain a good understanding with Prance. Every man on both sides of the House, who had any regard for the interests of his eountry, would be anxious to maintain it. But Her Majesty's Government need not to be told by him, that nothing would be so fatal to such a good understanding as any uneasy feeling among particular classes in the country that it had been purchased at the cost of impediments to their trade, and a sacrifice of their interests.


said, he could not allow this discussion, so important in every respect to one of the most vital elements of British prosperity, to close without saying that it was without exception the most unsatisfactory debate—and he had heard a good many unsatisfactory debates ! to which he had ever listened. What was the result? His hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, than whom no man was better qualified for the task, had brought forward a Motion in which he had shown there was a strong case for-interfering in favour of the present depressed condition of the British mercantile marine; and the only result of that Motion was, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was good enough to get up and say that at some future fitting time Her Majesty's Government would condescend to look into the matter and see if they could do something for the shipping interest. This was the sum and substance of all that was gained in consequence of his hon. Friend's Motion. He must say, therefore, that involving as this Motion did the welfare not only of that important branch of British industry, the shipping trade, but involving what was far more important, the supply of the seamen to the British navy, it was impossible that a more meagre, unsatisfactory, and unfortunate answer could have been given than the answer which Her Majesty's Government had given to this Motion. The thing spoke for itself. The condemnation of Her Majesty's Government lay in the fact that his hon. Friend felt called on to make such a Motion. What was the state of the case? This Treaty had just been concluded and they were told it was a Treaty of Commerce, not a Treaty of Navigation. But if so, why was the third Article introduced into the Treaty? The question he put was this—he wished it had been put by his hon. Friend who was so much better qualified to deal with the subject—why were the interests of the British mercantile marine so totally lost sight of and neglected by Her Majesty's Government when they were negotiating the terms of this Treaty, under the able and distinguished diplomacy of the hon. Member for Rochdale? Why were those interests neglected? Was the thing of so little importance that they did not think it necessary to ask whether those interests would be injured or not? Before this Treaty was concluded with a great neighbouring nation, was it not their duty to inquire whether there was anything in position or the relations of that interest that required revision before the Treaty was signed? But that was not the whole of the, case. Long before they entered upon, the consideration of that miserable Treaty the deeply-depressed condition of the shipping interest had been pressed upon them in every possible way, and every possible means had been taken to call the attention of the Government to the subject, yet the whole question was ignored by them when they came to carry out the details of this Treaty, and all his hon. Friend could obtain by his Motion for this great national interest was an assurance from Her Majesty's Government that at some fitting opportunity they would endeavour to rectify some portions of the gross neglect of which they had been guilty. He wished this debate could have been postponed for a few days, because then he should have been at liberty to quote to the House the opinions of a great authority in these matters, for the fact, which indeed there was hardly a man connected with the shipping interest who would not corroborate, that if the reciprocity clauses in our Navigation Act were once put in operation, there was not a country in the world which would not agree to reciprocity with us, rather than submit to be shut out, by the operation of those clauses, from our trade. That was stated by a high authority in evidence, to which he would not further allude, except to say that it would soon be laid on the table of the House. But this was only another proof of the inconceivable blindness of Her Majesty's Government to the existence of this great and important interest. If his hon. Friend was content with the assurances he had received from Her Majesty's Government, of course he could not object—all he had to tell him was, that all the assurances he had yet received were not worth a £5 note. But this was only part and parcel of the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government, by which every interest in the country was sacrificed with one exception. The Government and their agents had been utterly mystified by abler men than themselves in the concoction of this Treaty; and unless something more than this was done, the hon. Member for Sunderland would find that this great national interest would be sacrificed in the same coldblooded mariner in which every other interest, except one, had been sacrificed in this country.


said, he rose to express the surprise with which he had learned that exceptional dues existed in some of those very ports that were now claiming reciprocity. As one entirely independent and impartial in the matter, it appeared to him that we could not ask France to remove her restrictions unless we removed ours. [Cries of "Agree."] He was glad to find that the House should agree, and he hoped they would insist on these restrictions being removed.


said, he rose to reply. He was quite willing to admit that the Treaty, which had been recently ratified by both sides of the House, bore on the face of it that it was strictly for commercial purposes, and that it left the question of navigation exactly where it found it. It was not fair, therefore, to charge the Government, as they had been charged, with neglecting the interests of the British shipowners. They had not, in fact, done so. It ought to be remembered that the present navigation laws between the two countries imposed differential duties upon foreign ships that were employed in the trade between England and France. The third clause in the Treaty, to which so much reference had been made, proposed to continue those duties, and if that clause had not been inserted foreign vessels might have come here and been loaded with English manufactures, and conveyed them to the ports of France. The insertion of this article, therefore, was a protection of both English and French ships against foreigners, and against that small amount of competition the Government had not neglected to protect the British shipping. But he must say, as this Motion was to be adopted unanimously by the House, he did not think it would be sufficient for his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to say that he would take some fitting opportunity, at any period, however distant, to take this solemn and unanimous Resolution of the House into his consideration. He felt such treatment of this Resolution would be a mere mockery—a waste of the time of the House. The Government ought not merely to act upon it when it suited their convenience, bnt they should be prepared, he hoped before Easter, to state distinctly what means they proposed to adopt in order to carry if possible the Resolution into effect with the Government of France.

Motion agreed to.

Resolved,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She Will be graciously pleased to enter into Negotiations with the Emperor of the French, with the view of making a Treaty for the reciprocal abrogation of all discriminating Duties levied upon the Vessels and their Cargoes, of either of the two Nations in the Ports of the other; and for procuring such alterations in the Navigation Laws of France as may tend to facilitate the commercial intercourse, and strengthen the friendly relations between England and France.