HC Deb 07 August 1866 vol 184 cc2146-9

who rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of the House to the negotiations for the abolition of the Navigation Laws in foreign countries, and to move for Papers relating thereto, remarked, that sixteen years ago Parliament took away all protection from the shipping interests of this country by the abolition of the Navigation Laws. Neighbouring States, however, could not at that time be induced to follow our example; and it was not till 1860 that Mr. Lindsay, then a Member of that House, proposed an Address to the Crown praying Her Majesty to negotiate with France for the modification of its Navigation Laws, and the repeal of the differential duties imposed on commodities imported in British ships. The Government accordingly communicated with our Ambassador at Paris, but Mr. Cobden, who was then in France negotiating the supplementary convention for carrying into effect the treaty which he had previously concluded, advised the Government, on being appealed to, not to pursue the subject any further. He stated that the opposition of the protective inte- rests in France already presented a formidable obstacle to a satisfactory settlement of the treaty, and that a proposal to abandon the existing restrictions on navigation would awaken hostility in quarters hitherto favourable. Owing to that advice no steps were taken in the matter, and Lord Cowley, when, at the end of the year Earl Russell again called his attention to it, replied that no advantage would arise from then pressing the French Government on the subject. Most men would have desisted after such discouragement, but Mr. Lindsay took the energetic step of going over to France, and, being very courteously seconded by Earl Russell, he had an interview with the Emperor, and placed before him the whole subject of the Navigation Laws of France, and their relations to the industry of that country. The result was that the Emperor became the first convert to the expediency of dealing with the question, and at his request a very able document was drawn up by Mr. Lindsay, and submitted by the Emperor to his Minister of Commerce, M. Rouher. The Minister, after frequent interviews with Mr. Lindsay during a period of sixteen months, recommended that a Commission should be appointed, and that Commission, being furnished by Mr. Lindsay and by other gentlemen in this country with evidence showing the advantages that would accrue from a modification or repeal of the Navigation Laws, reported in favour of such repeal. The French Legislature, he was informed, had consequently passed a measure abrogating those laws, and repealing or reducing to a nominal sum the duties hitherto imposed on ships constructed in foreign countries, and brought to France for the purpose of being registered as French vessels. They bad thus struck at the very root of the protective system, and very important results might be expected from such a step. The effect of the recent changes in the laws of France relating to shipping would be almost as advantageous to this country as was that of Mr. Cobden's treaty. It would be desirable that the French law effecting those changes should be laid upon the table, and therefore he moved for the production of papers relating to this question. The efforts of Mr. Lindsay to obtain some relaxation of the Navigation Laws in Spain and Portugal had not been properly followed up by our diplomatic representatives in those countries; neither had any steps been taken by the Foreign Office to give effect to the Address unanimously agreed to by the House in 1860. The noble Lord had a great opportunity before him for dealing with this subject, because it was probable that Spain and Portugal might be willing to follow the example of relaxing these laws that had been set them by France. He had referred particularly to the part taken by Mr. Lindsay in inducing the French Government to modify their Navigation Laws, because it was remarkable that in a case where diplomatic efforts had failed a private shipowner should, by merely bringing his intelligence to bear upon the subject, have carried it to a successful conclusion. He begged to move for Papers relating to the negotiations for the abolition of the Navigation Laws in foreign countries.


seconded the Motion, and in doing so stated that the shipping owners of this country had many grievances to contend against; and he hoped the noble Lord would seriously turn his attention to the removal of them.


I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman as to the opinion he has expressed that it is desirable that the Navigation Laws throughout Europe should be relaxed, if not altogether abrogated. I think that is a point upon which no difference of opinion can exist in this country. The only question we have to determine is how that abrogation or relaxation is to be brought about, and to what extent diplomatic exertions are likely to be successful in inducing foreign Governments to assent to the changes in their laws that we desire to see effected. I do not myself attach much weight to negotiations upon this subject, as foreign countries would hardly repeal their Navigation Laws for the sake of pleasing us, and I think that the example of this country, and the success that has attended the abrogation of our Navigation Laws, afford an argument better than any we could direct our representatives to make use of. At the same time, there is no doubt that there is good in keeping the subject, from time to time, before the eye and before the mind of foreign Governments. I do not think that great activity has been shown during the last two or three years in reference to this question. As to France, I understand that what has been done is this—A provision has been made for the progressive reduction of differential duties, and, as I understand, after a certain time, they will be totally abolished. The decree by which that change is made comes into operation at the commencement of next year. As to the decree itself, it is a public document, and therefore there can be no objection to lay it upon the table of the House. With regard to the correspondence, the hon. Member will, I am sure, not misunderstand me when I say that I should like to look into it before I say whether or not it can be produced. The hon. Member has correctly stated that all attempts in a diplomatic way which have been made to obtain a reduction of the differential duties against foreign flags in Spain and Portugal have been unsuccessful. Nothing that I am aware of has been done by either of those countries. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that the example of France will, in all probability, carry very great weight with those countries, and I shall be glad if that be the case. It is desirable that every opportunity should be taken by our Ministers to urge upon foreign Governments the necessity for repealing their Navigation Laws; but there is some danger in pressing this matter too hard, for if we do so, foreign Governments might imagine that we were anxious to bring about that which would be to the advantage of England rather than that which would be to the general benefit. It is possible to lose a good bargain by showing too much anxiety for it. I have not much faith in the power of persuasion, but I have great faith in the power of example, and I think that the example of France in this matter will have a good effect upon the other Continental nations. I will take care that the attention of our diplomatic body is directed to this subject, and I trust that at no distant date some progress will be made in reference to this matter.

Motion agreed to.

Copy ordered, "of any Papers or Correspondence relative to the abolition of the Navigation Laws in Foreign Countries." —(Mr. Ayrton.)