HC Deb 07 June 1864 vol 175 cc1353-62

said, he rose to move an Address for Copy of any Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of France, Spain, and Portugal, from 1850 to 1863 inclusive, relating to the abrogation of the Discriminating Duties still levied upon British Vessels and their cargoes trading with those Countries. In 1850, when the repeal of the navigation laws came into operation, he was aware that there were many persons who entertained serious doubts of the wisdom of that important change. Many were of opinion that the repeal of those laws would seriously injure the merchant shipping of this country; and upon those grounds it was strenuously opposed, not only by numerous Members of that House, but by a large proportion of the shipowners of the country. He was desirous now of troubling the House with a statement of a few facts, with a view of showing how mistaken those persons had been in their apprehensions. In 1849, the year before the repeal of the navigation laws, the tonnage of the shipping of Great Britain amounted to 3,500,000 tons. In 1862, being thirteen years afterwards, our tonnage had in- creased to 4,950,000 tons. In 1849 we owned of steam shipping 167,000 tons. He estimated that we owned Inst year—for no Return had as yet been made—800,000 tons. In 1849 the aggregate of the entries inwards and outwards with cargoes amounted to 9,700,000 tons of British shipping. In 1863 the amount was no less than 15,000,000 tons. But, great as was the increase with regard to British shipping, and in our trade with foreign nations, that increase fell into insignificance compared with the enormous increase which had taken place in the exports of British manufactures and British produce; and the House must bear in mind that free trade in shipping had much to do with this enormous increase of our exports. In 1849 the declared value of our exports amounted to £59,000,000 sterling. Last year the value of our exports had increased to £146,000,000. Now, it would be apparent to every man, when he looked into this question, that the shipowners must be very largely benefited by this increase of our exports, because it proved that they obtained thereby a much larger field for the employment of their vessels. It was with that view that the Legislature in 1849 wisely resolved to do away with the navigation laws, and to allow ships of all nations to enter and to leave our ports upon the same terms as our own vessels, with the exception of small local dues which were still exacted in various outports in the shape of municipal and other private charges. The people generally of this country, as well as our shipowners, were large gainers by this change. When we resolved to repeal the navigation laws we entered into communication with all other nations on the subject. We told them of the policy we proposed to adopt, and asked them whether they were prepared to follow our example in this respect. All other nations did agree to adopt that policy, with four or five important exceptions — namely, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, and the United States, each of whom declined to reciprocate our policy. France still maintained that it was for the interest of her shipping and her people that she should maintain a protective system. The other nations to which he had referred expressed themselves in a similar way. He would pass over the United States. Mighty events were now going on in that unhappy country, which would result in great changes, political and social, in the new world. Before long, no doubt, the navigation of America—the coasting trade of that mighty country, extending from New York to California—would be thrown open to the ships of all nations. When the separation between the Northern and Southern States took place, which must be the case sooner or later, the policy and interest of the South would assuredly he to adopt free trade; and, above all, free trade in ships. He had spoken of Holland as not having reciprocated our policy, because, although the Government of Holland had opened their ports to the ships of England upon the same terms as we dad opened our ports to the ships of Holland, it so happened that the trade between Holland and the Dutch possessions in the East Indies, the only trade which would be of any value to our shipping, was under the exclusive power of the Dutch East India Company, so that the trade with the Dutch possessions in the East Indies was still confined to Dutch ships, and British ships were not allowed to enter those ports. Now, he was by no means disposed to think that even the shipowners of Holland gained by this restrictive policy, although the Dutch East India Company, in endeavouring to encourage the trade, offered £10 a ton freight from Batavia and Java to Holland. In consequence of those high terms a large number of Dutch ships had been built for that trade; in deed the number became much greater than the trade could well employ. The result of such a state of things was that the majority of those chips were kepi waiting now 10, 12, and sometimes even 18 months before they could yet employment: and though the Dutch merchants paid £10 or £12 a ton freight for the sugars they required from the East India possessions, the shipowners after all, gained little advantage thereby, inasmuch as while they were kept waiting for a cargo at £10 a ton they could often make two voyages, and would be better compensated at £6 a ton by Continual employment, whilst the people of Holland would be enabled to obtain their sugar at so much less. He therefore contended Unit so long as the Dutch East India Company maintained this restrictive policy the people of Holland would be losers by that policy and the shipowners also. In reference to Portugal and Spain, they had always maintained a restrictive and protective policy. He had often had occasion to visit Portugal, and he had often been struck by the facilities which the Tagus afforded for the commerce of all nations, Their cumbrous commercial regulations, however, counteracted all those advantages which they would otherwise obtain. Spain, which was becoming rapidly developed by means of railways, would probably reap the most splendid advantages if she would only abolish her navigation laws and open her ports to the world. Spain imported from this country only £3,500,000 of British produce and manufactures annually. Now we sent last year to Gibraltar goods to the value of £1,500,000. No one would imagine for a moment that these goods were consumed in Gibraltar—we knew that they were imported indirectly into Spain. Consequently, in spite of all her restrictions, the produce and manufactures of England found their way into Spain, and the revenue of Spain lost all those duties which were levied for the protection of the produce of Spain only. But in regard to France, he must say he was surprised that that great and enlightened country should still maintain her restrictive policy. He had heard complaints from Frenchmen that France did not derive those benefits which she anticipated from the commercial treaty with this country. His answer to these complaints was, that France never would obtain those advantages unless she swept away her navigation laws We were large buyers of wine and other French produce; and the French were willing to be paid for their produce by the wools of Australia, the sugar of England, the silk of China and India, and by other articles in our colonies and possessions. But when we desired to pay her in those articles, the navigation laws of France stepped in and said that she could not take the silks of China or the produce of India in our ships, because they would be subject to a high differential duty. He had read with great surprise and regret a speech recently delivered by M. Thiers on this subject. Now, he was surprised that a statesman with such great experience of the world should at the present day propound doctrines so fallacious in regard to the navigation laws of his country. M. Thiers complained that French shipping was not advancing at the rate the people of France had a right to expect, and ascribed that circumstance to the fact of its not being sufficiently protected; and then in order to increase it that statesman said that French ships should not trade between two foreign ports—he wished to limit the field of em- ployment for French ships as a means, forsooth, of increasing their number. He desired to confine all the carrying trade of France to French shipping. Now, with the exception of the direct trade, the carrying trade of France was already confined to French ships. But what was the result to France of her maintenance of this protective policy? In 1849 she owned 680,000 tons of shipping. In 1862, thirteen years after the repeal of our navigation laws, her shipping had only increased to 980,000 tons, or an addition of 300,000 tons; whereas in Great Britain, by following that policy which M. Thiers condemned, British shipping had increased within that same period by 1,450,000 tons. But that was not all. Let the House mark how the people of France suffered by this protective system. He asked hon. Members just to look on Mercator'a Chart. We had, as the House was aware, lines of steamers sailing every week from Southampton to various foreign ports. The Peninsular and Oriental Company's ships were constantly returning home laden with silk and other produce, which the people of France eagerly desired to have. These ships were compelled to pass by Marseilles. The navigation laws of France forbade them entering the French ports, and they were compelled to proceed with their cargoes to Gibraltar. These ships then crossed the Bay of Biscay, and landed their cargoes at Southampton, from whence they were conveyed by railway to the bonded warehouses in London. From London many of those goods were carried in English bottoms to Havre or Bordeaux at a vastly increased price. He would ask every thoughtful man whether those navigation laws did not entail a heavy loss upon any people they were intended to serve? But hon. Gentlemen might say that this roundabout trade was only carried on to a small extent, and that the people of France were not sufferers to any serious amount. But what were the facts? Last year France imported 4,700,000lbs. of silk from this country, the whole of which had been brought from India and China. And yet the people and the manufacturers of Lyons, by their unwise, he might say absurd, navigation laws, were forced to bring that silk, which they had had likely enough in exchange for articles which we had had from them, into Southampton, have it bonded there, and then carried into the heart of France, there to be manufactured. Last year France imported 11,400,000lbs. of coffee, every ounce of which was first imported into this country; but if she had allowed it to be imported in ships of all nations, French shipping would no doubt have been employed in carrying a very large portion of it. On the contrary, the shipowners of France had gained nothing by those restrictive laws, and the French people had had to pay a greatly enhanced price for the articles they required from other countries, and thus the consumer had been a great loser as well as the shipowner. Take the case of sugar. Last year France imported from this country 8,000,000lbs. of sugar at greatly enhanced prices, and without any benefit to the shipowners of that country. Wool did not apply so much, because it was duty free; but last year France imported from this country, of colonial and foreign wool, no less than 31,000,000lbs.; and whether they looked to the inward or to the outward entries they would see how the trade of France was crippled by the operation of its navigation laws, and how the shipowners of that country, as well as the people, suffered from her restrictive policy. Last year 6,900,000 tons of shipping of all nations entered and cleared the ports of France, and that was the measure of her trade with other nations. France had a population of 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 more than this country, yet we required last year 23,000,000 tons of shipping to carry on our trade with other nations, showing how we had gained by our free trade policy, and more especially by our sweeping away our restrictive policy connected with our navigation laws. He was aware that foreign nations were not very much disposed to listen to the advice of others, but at the same time he thought they were open to consider what was best for their own interests, and he thought that if these facts were brought by the Foreign Office more prominently under the notice of foreign nations, they might have a beneficial effect in showing them that, whilst it was not merely just for them to grant to us what we had granted to them, it would be for their interest and that of their peoples to do so. There was, however, something cumbrous about our machinery for communicating with foreign Governments upon questions of trade, and he was glad to find that a Committee had been appointed with regard to it, and that the result would likely be the adoption of a plan whereby the Board of Trade could be put at once into immediate communication with foreign Governments. He had no doubt the Correspondence he had moved for would show that many communications had passed between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of those countries, and that France, Spain, and Portugal were rattier shy in following our example; but when negotiations by letters failed he thought our Ministers at those places might have done a little more by showing the advantages England had gained by her change of policy, and what they might reasonably expect to gain by following our example. He was glad to find that the Government of France had ordered an inquiry into the subject by a Commission consisting of some of the most eminent French statesmen; and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade might be able to inform the House what had been done in connection with it, and what prospect there was of the French Government making an alteration in their navigation laws. He, however, took that opportunity of stating that Lord Cowley had received him with great courtesy when in France in regard to the question, and had afforded him every facility; but it was not to be expected that be could be Acquainted with all the details of so technical a subject. It would, however, be well to instruct our young diplomatists in questions of this kind, because such questions were often the cause of great trouble between nations. He thought it was the duty of that House and Her Majesty's Government to use every exertion to have the restrictions to which he referred removed.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an Address for Copy of any Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of France, Spain, and Portugal, from 1850 to 1863 inclusive, relating to the abrogation of the Discriminating Duties still levied upon British vessels and their cargoes trading with those Countries."—(Mr. Lindsay.)


said, there was no objection to the Motion if his hon. Friend would insert after Copies "or Extracts." The documents would be given as fully as possible to make them useful, but there was much that did not bear upon the Motion. He quite agreed with the general sentiment which his hon. Friend had expressed—namely, that freedom of navigation must be a great benefit to all countries, and especially to those who were desirous of extending their foreign trade. It was not certain that trade and ships increased in the same ratio; and if freedom was not given to foreign ships for carrying the exports of a country, in all probability a cheek was put on the extension of the very trade it was intended to promote. In England our mercantile marine did not keep pace in tonnage with our trade; and we could not carry on our commerce exclusively in British ships; and he had no doubt the same principle applied to all other nations, and especially to France. His hon. Friend did not appear to him to make sufficient allowance for the difficulties Her Majesty's Government had to encounter in consequence of the prejudices of protected interests abroad. Foreign Governments were fettered and trammelled in their policy by class interests, and nothing but time and the experience of the effects of a free trade policy in this and other countries were likely to remove those prejudices, and enable foreign Governments although themselves enlightened to act as they thought best for the interests of the notion in this important subject. Her Majesty's Government, he could assure the hon. Gentleman and the House, had lost no opportunity of impressing on foreign Governments the necessity of revising their navigation laws; and when our own navigation laws were repealed, a circular was immediately addressed to Her Majesty's Ambassadors, Ministers, and Consuls in the various countries, directing them to invite all foreign Governments to adopt a reciprocal policy. They all responded with the exception of France, Spain, and Portugal. His hon. Friend on a former occasion carried an Address to the Crown that a treaty for effecting reciprocity with France should be negotiated. He was not sure whether his hon. Friend framed it with a view to a treaty; but Her Majesty's Government were invited to negotiate with the French Government an arrangement which would relieve British ships from the disabilities under which they laboured in going into French ports. We communicated with our Ambassador, who also communicated with the French Government, and made known to them that such an Address had been agreed to by the House of Commons, and memorials which were presented to Her Majesty's Government from various bodies of shipowners to the same effect were also communicated to them. Some short time after, in 1862, an inquiry was instituted by the French Government into the operation of their navigation laws. It was continued over some time; witnesses from different countries were invited to give their evidence, and amongst others his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland. He had read his hon. Friend's evidence, and he advised those who took an interest in the subject to do the same, because they would find that his hon. Friend had put the matter in the clearest manner before the gentlemen who conducted the inquiry, and he could not conceive that any representation could be made by this country to France more likely to have the effect of bringing conviction to the minds of those persons who were interested in the subject in France than his evidence in reference to the effect of the French navigation laws upon the commercial interests of that country. Her Majesty's Government had not yet heard the result of that inquiry; but he presumed the evidence taken was being digested, and he hoped the result would be some relaxation of those restrictions under which navigation existed at present in France. Very little had been done by Spain towards a reciprocity. Very little encouragement had been given by the Spanish Government to the representations that had been made upon the subject. Although the Correspondence might not appear to be so extensive as his hon. Friend might think the importance of the subject required, he must bear in mind that many communications, both verbal and by private letter, had been made to the various Governments on this question that would not appear in the published despatches and Correspondence. British ships were formerly subject to a double charge of a differential character in Spanish ports—first, with regard to the ship, and then upon the cargo—but after much correspondence and negotiation the former was removed, and the cargo only was subjected to a duty of 20 per cent. A correspondence had also taken place with Portugal on the subject. All he could say was, that it was not from any indifference or want of endeavours on the part of Her Majesty's Government that more had not been done in Portugal, Spain, and France. As he did not object to the Motion, it was not necessary for him to detain the House with any further observations.


said, that no doubt this discussion would reach the fo- reign Governments named, and he hoped it would have some weight with them. An allusion had been made to the Committee on a somewhat kindred subject now sitting upstairs; he hoped his hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade would take care that the Correspondence would be published in time to go before that Committee, in order that the Committee might be able to make use of any part of it bearing on the subject before the Committee. He was quite satisfied with the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade; but he was sorry the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was not in his place; for the Correspondence between this country and foreign nations relative to trade and commerce, was conducted by the Foreign Office and not by the Board of Trade. He hoped the Correspondence would include the inclosures, showing the instructions or advice the Board of Trade had given to the Foreign Office during the continuance of the Correspondence. The facts given, he thought, would show very clearly the immense interest it would be to foreign countries to adopt the change, and he could not but believe that if our Ministers abroad had had as much knowledge upon the subject as the hon. Member for Sunderland, no time would have been lost in effecting the required change.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

Address for Copy or Extracts of any Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of France, Spain, and Portugal, from 1850 to 1863 inclusive, relating to the abrogation of the Discriminating Duties still levied upon British Vessels and their cargoes trading with those Countries.