§ MR. GRAVES
, in rising to call attention to the denunciation by the French Government of the "Treaty of Commerce" with this Country, and to the effect of the recent changes in the Navigation Laws of France upon British Shipping, and to move a Resolution, said, he would remind the House that the Correspondence which had passed between the two Governments of Prance and England had been presented to the House, and that no one who had carefully perused it could fail to be struck by the magnitude of the interests involved, or to notice how great a blow had been dealt at the trade and industry of both countries by the abrogation of the Treaty. It was the undoubted right of every nation to determine its own fiscal policy, provided that existing treaties and obligations were not violated; and if he referred for a moment to the causes that had led France to denounce the Treaty, it was rather for the purpose of expressing regret that she should have put an end to a Treaty which had brought into the closest alliance, politically and commercially, two peoples hitherto kept apart by prejudice, if not feelings of a stronger character. Nay, more, he was prepared to show that during the time the Treaty had been in existence France had been placed in the van of commercial progress; that she had gained for 1761 herself a distinction in the commercial world which she had never possessed before; and that her prosperity had been greater than she had ever before experienced. Those were circumstances which, he thought, ought to have influenced the statesmen of France; but he regretted to find they had ignored them, and had chosen to adopt a policy which, in his opinion, did not tend to promote the interests or the commercial prosperity of their country. No one could be prepared to make greater allowances than he was for the position in which France was placed, for burdens heavier than any which were ever imposed on a great nation had been suddenly thrust upon her; but he ventured to think that our sympathy would not have been less if she had acted in a more generous and just spirit in her commercial relations with this country, and if, instead of pursuing a policy of isolation, she had evinced a greater appreciation of the manner in which England had acted towards her during the last 12 years in sharing with France all that was valuable in her trade, and who had shown in all her commercial relations the deepest consideration for France. It was impossible, however, to read the Correspondence in question without coming to the conclusion that France desired not so much the denunciation, as a modification of the Treaty; that she sought for time to prolong the negotiations, and that her overtures were somewhat sternly rejected by the Government of England. He thought, therefore, he was justified in stating that Her Majesty's Government had assumed some responsibility for allowing a Treaty to terminate which by negotiations or modifications might have been kept alive and not denounced. They might deserve praise or blame for that, according to the views of hon. Members; but he trusted he should be allowed to state the grounds on which, as he conceived, Her Majesty's Government had seen fit to take up the position they had done. He did not want to trouble the House with long extracts from the Correspondence; but he might state broadly that Her Majesty's Government appeared to have been influenced by a fear or suspicion that any modification of the Treaty, however slight, would be a departure from the dogmas of Free Trade. When the Due de Broglie waited on 1762 the Foreign Minister of this country to hand in the denunciation of the Treaty, he asked for further time for negotiation. He was told by Earl Granville that if the scheme—or rather the views—which M. Thiers had advocated in the French Chamber with regard to Protective policy could be retracted, Her Majesty's Government would be willing to listen to the overtures for the prolongation of the time. He questioned how far the Government had a right to consider that views advanced in a written message to, or in speeches delivered in, the Chamber of another country ought to be withdrawn as a preliminary to negotiations connected with a Treaty. For his own part, he thought it was rather an overstraining of the position of the Government, and he found it difficult to understand why, in obedience to theoretical doctrines, substantial commercial benefits should have been refused; for he thought it would not be controverted that Her Majesty's Ministers had been largely guided by the fear that any modification of the Treaty would be regarded as a retrograde movement on the part of France, and as a departure from the true principles of Free Trade on the part of England. What view did our able and zealous Minister in Paris take of the matter? His words were so impressive that he would venture to quote them. Lord Lyons, writing to Earl Granville on the 1st of February, said—Your Lordship is well aware that I myself think that the political results of an abrogation of the Treaty would be very injurious to cordiality between the two countries; that it would produce an impression that the friendship between them was diminished; and that the mere existence of this impression would have the effect of soon making it only too correct. On political grounds, therefore, I am very desirous the Treaty should be preserved; and I also confess that I do sympathize strongly with the French in their financial straits, and perfectly understand the annoyance which they feel at the restrictions which the Treaties impose on their adopting such measures as they themselves consider to be best calculated to supply their urgent need. It is natural, therefore, that I should look with some discouragement at the present state of the negotiation.His Lordship went on to say—On the other hand, if a proper 'most-favoured nation clause' were inserted in a new Convention with us, France would be precluded from carrying the Convention into effect so long as Treaties with any other Powers subsisted.Now, he was prepared to show that the absence of that "most-favoured na- 1763 tion" clause was likely to inflict the greatest injury on the maritime interests of this country, and that on this ground alone it would have been expedient to carry on the negotiations as Lord Lyons advised. There was a party in the country—and he believed it was represented in that House—who held that it was not the interest of England to have any treaties at all, and who believed it would be well if we abstained from making any. So far as commercial treaties were concerned, he did not share that opinion, for the simple reason that commercial treaties were the universal means by which international reciprocal advantages were secured; and we were taking a wrong view of our position if we said to all other nations—"Because you will not give us what we want in our own way, we decline to take what you want to give us in the way you are disposed to give it to us." If the Treaty of 1860 was not a retrograde step, why was the modification of it in 1872 to be regarded as a retrograde step? We might ride our hobby too far; and it was idle for us to say we would deal with other nations only upon our own terms. If that continued to be our commercial policy, we should, sooner or later, find ourselves commercially isolated, and our trade would be diverted into those more favoured channels fostered by reciprocal benefits. Our great natural advantages had hitherto rendered it unnecessary for us to foster our trade by artificial legislation; but now other nations were steadily increasing in commercial and industrial energy and activity, and if we did not pay more attention to commercial politics we might soon find a considerable diminution in our trade. It had often been said that in this country we required a strong commercial department in the Government; and it was impossible for anyone to read the despatches mentioned without coming to the conclusion that the sooner there was a Department in our Executive specially charged with the guardianship of our commercial policy the better it would be for our commercial interests. He knew that recently the Foreign Office had constituted a commercial branch. It was, however, an inferior one—though presided over by a zealous official—not such as he aimed at—a distinct department presided over by a responsible Member of Government 1764 charged with the surveillance of our trade at home and abroad. To-night he proposed to illustrate the injury done to our commercial interests by taking up the maritime branch, with which he was most conversant, and which more than any other had been subjected to exceptional treatment on the part of France. The Treaty of 1860—otherwise termed the Commercial Treaty—simply extended the direct navigation conceded by the Treaty of 1824, to the importation of cotton and jute from India and wool from Australia as freely in British as in French vessels; and it further provided by Article 5 of the Supplemental Convention that merchandise imported into France in British ships should be put on as favourable a footing as if imported into France in the ships of any third Power. In 1866 France, pursuing an enlightened policy, took a most important step in commercial progress, for she opened her whole navigation, except the coasting trade, to the nations which reciprocated with her perfect freedom, reserving to herself the coasting trade, which she had before and since restricted to her own flag. She also admitted ships to registration, wherever built, at a nominal payment of I franc a ton. In February last, however, a complete and disastrous change came over the policy of France. She then enacted that dues should be levied on all merchandise imported in foreign bottoms, and the dues ranged from¾ franc to 2 francs for every 100 kilogrammes, with an addition of 3 francs a-ton when brought from European entrepôts. A further levy of I franc a-ton, as quay dues, embraced every vessel, whether French or foreign, and therefore no special complaint could be made in respect of it. She also levied a tax of from 30 francs to 60 francs a-ton upon every vessel admitted to registration built out of France. With that tax, probably, the French shipowner alone had to do; and if he were satisfied to pay 10 per cent more on new vessels, and from 20 to 30 and even 40 per cent more on old vessels, that was his question. He must soon find out that in the competition of these days he was too much overweighted to hold his own—he would be carrying a load which no energy or enterprise could overcome. It was quite true that a tax upon raw material equally affected the consumer; but 1765 it would have this additional disadvantage—that it would drive the flag of England from the import trade of France, resulting in an enhanced rate of freight to that country, because the tax amounted to from 20 to 50 per cent upon the freights, according to the countries from which the merchandise came. Was it possible, under these circumstances, for the manufacturers of the raw material in France to compete with the manufacturers of Germany, England, and Belgium? A Return, which he held in his hand, showed that the amount of shipping engaged in the foreign trade of France last year was 11,000,000 tons; 4,000,000 tons carried the English flag, 4,000,000 carried the French flag, and the remainder was distributed among other nations, for the larger part having treaties. Now, if the English tonnage—which was about one-third of the whole—was excluded, the inevitable result must be to give greater employment to favoured nations' ships—to raise freights, and thus enhance the value of the raw material to the French manufacturer. If France was pursuing this policy to benefit her own commerce and her own shipping interest we might not have any ground of complaint; but it so happened that seven or eight of the principal maritime nations had treaties with France which had several years to run, and which placed the shipping of those nations upon the same footing as the shipping of France, and the shipping of those nations was free from the differential dues levied on the shipping of England, which were so high as to be actually prohibitory. What was more curious still was, that these nations were the very nations from which France had most to fear in competition; and on that point he had no worse authority than the words of M. Thiers himself—It was not the shipping of England that France feared, but it was the shipping of those countries in which wages, food, and shipping were low and cheap, and which were, therefore, able to undersail the shipping of France.At an interview with Lord Lyons, M. Thiers himself said—It was not against the competition of English vessels that the French mercantile marine chiefly required protection. Its most formidable rivals were the smaller merchant navies—such, for instance, as those of Italy, Greece, Sweden, Norway, and Germany—whose ships were cheaply built, and took freights which English vessels would hardly accept; it was the competition of these ships which would destroy the merchant 1766 navy, and against which protective measures were imperatively required.It was strange that, with these opinions held by M. Thiers, so great a blunder had been committed that the very nation he did not fear in competition was the very nation excluded; while the nations that were feared—Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Holland, and others—were under the favoured nation clause. It was so clearly shown, by the evidence given before a Committee of this House which sat in 1859 or 1860, that the amount of extra freight caused by these differential dues was the exact measure of the increased cost of the raw material in France, that the French Government added a Supplemental Convention, which provided that jute and cotton from India and wool from Australia should be put on the most favoured nation footing. The evidence was instructive, and was as applicable now as it was in 1859. His hon. Friend below him (Mr. Liddell) put a question to one of the witnesses, and the answer was that the freight of jute from Calcutta to England was £3 per ton, and to France £4 16s.—which was equivalent to a differential duty of £1 16s. per ton; in other words, a French ship got £1 16s. a ton more than an English ship did. The price of jute in Calcutta was £18 15s. if laid down in Liverpool, and £21 if laid down in Havre. New trades, too, had sprung up in France since the Commercial Treaty was signed, and had been brought under his notice by French merchants. One of these was the trade in rapeseed, because British ships could bring it in at a low rate with cotton. That was an advantage to oil consumers; but it could no longer be carried on in British ships, which were almost exclusively engaged in this trade. So with regard to saltpetre and rice, which had been brought as ballast in cotton ships, and at a low rate of freight. These articles were the productions of our own Possessions—our own Empire; but, strange to say, English ships, by our present commercial relations with France, were precluded from carrying our own products to France, while the shipping of all maritime nations having treaties with France in our own ports not only competed with us, but took every ton of goods, while our vessels were wholly unavailable for that trade; and remember, that the flags thus favoured were those which M. Thiers himself had declared 1767 were the greatest competitors of France—those she most feared. If England were the greatest enemy France possessed, in place of a warm ally, she could not have adopted a policy more unfair to this country, or one more likely to strangle her own commercial prosperity, than that which he had described. The French trade with England was only about one-tenth of the trade of this country, while the English trade with France was one-fourth of her entire trade. Then if they compared the exports and imports of France with England for the four years preceding the Treaty with the last four years for which statistical Returns were completed, they would find that 22,500,000 tons had grown into 58,000,000 tons, or an increase of 158 per cent; while the total foreign trade of England in the same periods only increased 67 per cent. If they turned to the tonnage of France, which before the Treaty was 2,800,000 tons, it too had swelled up to 4,680,000 tons previous to 1869; while the coasting trade of France, which was a monopoly confined to the French flag, had declined 15 to 20 per cent in the same time. He would now state to the House why he considered France was not justified in adopting towards England this ungenerous and unfriendly policy. In the first place, it was contrary to the assurances of the Government of that country; for in the earlier stages of this Correspondence it would be noticed that M. Thiers and every Member of the Government who wrote or spoke on this question assured the Foreign Minister of England, through Lord Lyons, that whatever occurred, England would not be put on a worse footing than any other nation. On the 21st July Lord Lyons conveyed to Lord Granville M. Thiers' words—"He asked no concession from England which should not equally be obtained from other Treaty Powers." Again, speaking of M. Thiers, he assured me—"No country should be placed in a more advantageous position than England." The policy adopted, however, was entirely at variance with these assurances. His second objection was, that the levying of differentia duties on merchandise imported into France under the British flag was a direct violation of the Supplemental Convention of 1860. That Convention provided that any concession granted to treaties to any other country should 1768 also be extended to England; while the original Convention declared that each of the High contracting Parties should give to the other all the advantages that either of them could give to a third Power. Her Majesty's Government, moreover, had, after consulting the Law Advisers of the Crown, deliberately declared to the Government of France that it was a violation of the Treaty. Despatch No. 92 left no doubt whatever as to the position of Her Majesty's Government on this question. It said—As the duties proposed to be imposed are to be levied not on the ships, but on the cargoes according to weight, they are duties on the importation of goods within the meaning of the Vth Article of the Convention of the 16th of November, 1860, and that having regard to the Treaties France has concluded with Austria and Sweden, no such duties can in the view of the British Government be imposed on goods imported in British ships, while such Treaties remain in force.He knew that exception was taken to this view by the Government of France; but, as we were advised, no such duties could be levied so long as other Powers enjoyed the immunity secured by treaties. The third ground on which he took exception to the policy of France was one not alluded to in any way in the Correspondence between the two Governments, and he took for granted that it had not been present to the minds of Her Majesty's Ministers in dealing with this question. On the 11th July, 1866, a treaty was made between Portugal and France, extending to the shipping of Portugal all the advantages conferred upon the French flag; and an Imperial decree of July 27, 1866, guaranteed to England that the same privileges should be conceded to her shipping. He could not find that that decree had ever been withdrawn. It was true this Treaty was once called a Treaty of Navigation, and again of Commerce and Navigation; but the Treaty would be found recorded in the official register of Laws, No. 1521, as of Commerce and Navigation—call it, however, by what name they would, it was declared applicable to England, and the decree had never been annulled. The fourth and last objection he had taken was one to which he attached more importance than to any other; and he could not help thinking that by a high-minded and sensitive nation like France it would have greater influence than any he had previously stated. In 1866, when France opened her navigation laws she did so on 1769 one condition—that only those nations which returned perfect freedom to her should confer complete reciprocity in return. It was not unnatural that under those circumstances England should claim the right of free navigation from France; but France refused it, stating that there were exemptions and inequalities in the English ports, which subjected the traders of France to taxation from which our own citizens were free. That was so; but a measure was at once passed in this House for the purpose of purchasing all those inequalities and exemptions, and we actually paid as much as £1,600,000 for that object. England, having thus fulfilled her part of the contract, was admitted to the privileges enjoyed by the French flag. Now, his contention was—and he advanced it as the strongest part of his argument—that England had purchased her maritime freedom, and it was not within the province of France to withdraw from the engagement without violating the honourable understanding which had been come to. Now, he should just like to turn to the future for a moment, for he found that throughout the French despatches the future was constantly in the mind of the French Minister, who always appeared to be considering whether England would retaliate. France, however, received from England an assurance that there would be no retaliation, and that the denunciation of the Treaty would make no difference in the friendly feelings of England towards France. M. de Remusat says, in Despatch 75—We accept with perfect confidence the assurance that England, faithful to her principles, will never return to the retaliating duties of a previous age.Lord Granville, over and over again, repeated the friendly pledges; but he asked hon. Members whether they did not perceive, in contrasting the tone of the earlier despatches with the later despatches of Lord Lyons, that there was a cooling in the feeling between the two countries? It was impossible that it could be otherwise; and he asked, whether it was wise or consistent with the actual state of the case that the English Government should persistently tell the French Government that the denunciation of the Commercial Treaty would make no difference in the relations between England and France? 1770 He certainly thought it was a mistake, and that it would have been fairer to France if they had faithfully told its Government that, as certainly as with the Treaty had grown up a common intercourse and a mutual interest in each other's welfare, so as certainly with its termination must these sentiments diminish. They would have shown a truer appreciation of the real issues involved, and they might not now have to lament the absence of their commercial bond of union. What said the Foreign Minister of France, in despatch 36—It would produce a considerable disturbance in the commercial relations of the two peoples, and a cooling of the political relations of the two Governments.What was the action taken by Spain when informed of these differential duties? Why, when Spain, who had no commercial Treaty with France, was told that these differential duties would be levied in France on her shipping, the Spanish Minister threatened to return to the old navigation laws of his country and levy duties on French shipping, and the result was that the French Government had actually exempted Spanish vessels from contribution, while it was vexatiously enforced against the shipping of England. With regard to retaliation, if the great injustice to which he was now calling the attention of the House continued, a great change might come over public opinion in this country, and a demand for retaliation, which it would be impossible to suppress, might arise. He did not mean by retaliation the reverting to the differential duties of a previous age; but there were many ways of retaliating besides direct ones—already some were pressing on public attention. Take Portugal, as an illustration. France, by a liberal Treaty with Portugal, had completely diverted our woollen trade to Portugal. Remove the alcoholic standard by which we now levy duty on wines, and place the wines of Portugal and Spain on the same footing as the wines of France—the result of such a measure would be the loss to France of the woollen trade with Spain and Portugal, and its restoration to England. There were other ways which he might point out, if time permitted, for promoting our own interests, and which would inevitably be resorted to if France refused to do justice to us. He would conclude with a Motion, to which he believed no exception 1771 could be taken; a Motion, indeed, which might equally as well have been submitted to the French Chamber of Deputies as to the English House of Commons. He hoped that it might not be supposed that he wished to interfere with the province of the Executive Government of this country, who had declared that the levying of these duties in France would make no difference in the friendly feeling of England, and therefore he desired to appeal to the public opinion of France. He would like to see that public opinion exercise its influence on the French Government, and endeavour to bring them back to a policy which had done France infinite credit; and he was glad to see some indications that that was the case, for the able Representatives of Bordeaux and Marseilles had strongly protested against the present policy of France—the great centres of commerce in France had remonstrated, and within the last few days the Deputies of Havre had been excluded from the Chamber of Commerce of that city because they were instrumental in passing the vexatious and obnoxious law of 1872. These were the hopeful signs which justified him in appealing to the public opinion of France as to whether this policy was wise or just. He believed that it was neither one nor the other. He was thoroughly persuaded that if it were persisted in it would prove, not only injurious to British commerce, but more disastrous to France than the Armies of Prussia had been, and must inevitably impair a friendship which, in the true interests of both countries, it was very desirable to foster and extend. It was in that belief he ventured to submit a Motion which was unexceptionable in its terms, but which would enable the House to record its opinion upon the important question at issue. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. LIDDELL
, in rising to second the Resolution which had been so ably moved by his hon. Friend (Mr. Graves), said, he believed there was not a single commercial man either in or out of the House who would not regret that the existing Treaty was about to lapse. Not viewing the question merely as it affected particular interests, but taking a broader view, it was a matter for deep regret that a great international bond of union was about to be severed 1772 by the abrogation of this Treaty, which had in the course of a few years created a European Zollverein; for such treaties were the best guarantees we could have of peace, being, as they were, the cause of intimate friendship between the commercial men of both countries, whose influence would always be on the side of peace. Moreover, he was afraid, when it became known that the first link in the chain of these alliances had been broken with the sanction of England, it would have a bad effect on the morale of other countries in their desire to stengthen the chain. He was further sorry that the warning tones of their own Ambassador had not had a weightier influence on the Government. M. Thiers, himself a Protectionist, told Lord Lyons that, in his opinion, the Treaty should be preserved, for to do away with it would throw the international commercial relations back into chaos. He (Mr. Liddell) did not wish to see that deplorable result ensue. Then, again, the French Minister of Commerce, a Free Trader, stated that the sweeping away of the Treaty would only encourage the Protectionists of France. He (Mr. Liddell) did not want to encourage them, believing that the bonds of trade and commercial relations were the means of framing those friendships which were the strongest bulwarks of national union. In that sense he considered that the French Protectionists were not the best friends of England; whereas the French Free Traders undoubtedly could be claimed as such. He regretted that the matter had been discussed with France on the basis of principle rather than on the basis of figures and results; and more especially when they considered the present financial position in which France was placed as one of the contracting parties; for a stern declaration of principle was not calculated to convince; but if it could be shown that the French were gainers by the Treaty, that might have some weight with them. And it could be proved beyond question that the French were gainers by the Treaty. The tonnage of ships having direct trade with England had enormously increased, and this alone would be a conclusive argument with some. With regard to the question of "principle," Mr. Cobden, who negotiated that very Treaty, and as true a Free Trader as any Member of the present Government, always went on the principle, 1773 when he could not obtain all he wanted, just to take as much as he could get. It was not unnatural that the statesmen of France, at a time of unexampled pressure, should turn to Customs duties in order to meet the pressure which was put upon the resources of the country. The amounts they had hitherto levied from that source were small as compared with ourselves and the United States; but it was to the mode in which those duties were to be levied that objection was chiefly to be taken. What would be the effect of the new policy on France? The imposition of heavy duties on the raw material, though it might for a moment benefit the French manufacturer, must be paid for by the general consumer in the shape of higher prices, and that at a moment when the country was suffering under the burden of £25,000,000 of new taxation at least. Was not, he would ask, to raise the price of almost every article of common consumption a most suicidal policy under those circumstances? The result of the raising of the duties had been that a contraband trade in foreign articles had sprung up in France, and especially in the Provinces bordering on the Belgian frontier, to an extent which was wholly without precedent. He found that the imports of coffee during the first two months of 1870 amounted to the value of 13,000,000 francs, while in the corresponding months of 1872 they had, he believed, fallen to the value of 500,000 francs. He also found that the imports of colonial sugar during the first two months of 1870 amounted to the value of 13,750,000 francs, and that they had in 1872 fallen to the value of 11,750,000 francs. The value of the cocoa imported had in like manner fallen from 1,750,000 francs to 500,000 francs, and of tea from 266,000 to 116,000 francs. There was, therefore, a very remarkable falling off of Customs Revenue, so far as all the articles of consumption among the lower classes of the people were concerned. So great, indeed, was the amount of contraband trade that Petitions had been presented by the various Chambers of Commerce to the Government, imploring them to re-consider their decision. Under those circumstances, he thought it most desirable that an expression of opinion should go forth from the English Legislature showing that they felt for the 1774 people of France—that they considered them weighed down by an amount of taxation which had been rendered necessary by the war, and which was wholly unparalleled in the history of that or any other country; and that the French Government were taking that opportunity of making the consumers pay dearly for every article which they used. They ought to consider the difficulties of the French position, and he regretted that more conciliation had not been shown in the negotiations, believing that if that had been the case the results would have been more favourable, and that the Treaty might have been saved, even at the sacrifice of a certain amount of rigid principle. He was glad, however, to find one consoling passage in the negotiations which had taken place, and that was the expression of Lord Granville, that although the Treaty had been denounced that did not stop the negotiations; and he on that ground hailed with satisfaction the Motion of his hon. Friend behind him, for he believed that a friendly voice issuing from that Assembly, to the effect that the best interests of France were imperilled by the new policy, would strengthen the hands of those in that country who had steadily resisted the alteration of the law, as well as the hands of Her Majesty's Government in dealing with the subject. Taking that view, he most cordially seconded the Motion.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the recent action of the French Government in imposing 'Differential Duties' on merchandise carried in British Ships in the 'Indirect Trade,' is inconsistent with the policy mutually agreed upon between the two Countries in 1866; and that such policy, whilst likely to entail serious injury upon French Trade and Manufactures, is calculated, in the present circumstances of the 'Carrying Trade,' to inflict injury upon British Shipping, and to impair the relations and intercourse between the two Countries, which have grown up under recent commercial arrangements, more especially when it is considered that other European flags are (under Treaties recently made with them) free from the restrictions now imposed upon British Shipping,"—(Mr. Graves,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, that when the Motion of the hon. Member for Liver- 1775 pool (Mr. Graves) was put on the Paper some weeks ago, he believed it had reference to a grievance which was severely felt by the shipping interest, and he came down to the House prepared to indorse the statements of the hon. Member in support of the allegations which he had made, and with which he entirely agreed. But he had been somewhat taken aback by the speech of the hon. Member, for it opened up questions he did not think were raised by the terms of his Motion as it stood on the Paper. He could not, for instance, agree with the interpretation which his hon. Friends the Mover and Seconder of the Motion before the House put upon the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in reference to the matter, for the whole of the Correspondence showed that Her Majesty's Government were deeply sensible of the unfortunate financial position in which France had been placed by the late war. Indeed, the Government, so far from saying, as had been imputed to them, that nothing would induce them to modify the Treaty, had expressed great willingness to consider any proposals of a purely fiscal character calculated to relieve the French Exchequer. The whole argument, however, of M. Thiers during the negotiations was, that France detested the Treaty on the ground that it had injured her commerce, but that she was willing to modify it not for her own benefit, but for the advantage of British commerce, and in order to maintain her own friendly relations with this country—to which Her Majesty's Government replied that this country had derived no special advantages from the Treaty, and that it was impossible for them to turn their backs upon the commercial policy which had been so successful in this country for many years. The hon. Member for Liverpool and his Seconder had made some extraordinary economic statements; but they had also destroyed the arguments which they themselves brought forward, for instead of continuing what he was about to call their cursing of the policy pursued by Her Majesty's Government they had turned round and blessed that policy, characterizing the course followed by the French Government as one which could not fail to end in disaster to that country. He, for one, concurred in the terms of the Motion which had been brought forward; but he was surprised 1776 that it had been made the shield from behind which to level an attack upon Her Majesty's Government and the Free Trade policy which had been so successfully carried out in this country. There was, however, a complete answer to one branch of the attack made by the hon. Member for Liverpool. The hon. Member said Her Majesty's Government had always allowed it to be believed that nothing would induce them to alter the Commercial Treaty arrangements with France, notwithstanding any action that might be taken by that country in respect to our commerce; whereas the words of Earl Granville in a despatch to Lord Lyons, dated 19th January, were, that whatever course the French Government took with regard to the Treaty, Her Majesty's Government would never dream of resorting, by way of retaliation, to a Protectionist policy; but, at the same time, the noble Lord adverted to the unreasonableness of the French Government in expecting the Government of Great Britain to continue in the observance of those provisions of the Treaty which interfered with the fiscal liberty of this country. Passing on to the Motion before the House, he (Mr. Norwood) must express his strong conviction that the conduct of the French Government in relation to the differential duties on British shipping was hostile in character and not for a moment to be defended. He admitted, as a general principle, the right of the French Government to change their fiscal policy as the altered circumstances of the country required it; but he maintained that these differential duties ought not to have been levied until the expiration of the Treaty. As an illustration of the hardships inflicted by these duties, he might mention that quite recently an order was transmitted from London for the conveyance of flax to France from Russia; but English and Danish ships were excluded from the charter, because of the differential duty they would have to pay; and in an order for a steamer to convey sugar from Manilla to Marseilles a British flag could only be accepted at 20 francs per ton reduction. Although British shipping was thus placed under serious disadvantages the French people would themselves suffer heavily from these duties, in consequence of the increased price they would be called upon to pay for their imports, and this would be specially the case when deficient 1777 harvests in France called for large imports of grain from the Black Sea and Baltic. The British Government, moreover, had, up to the present time, paid upwards of £1,600,000 in extinguishing local differential dues on foreign shipping, and therefore they had a right to ask in return that France would abstain from imposing restrictions upon British commerce. As the hon. Member for Liverpool had introduced party politics into his speech, it would be well to remind the House that this large expenditure was chiefly incurred by a Conservative Government, and to express an opinion that the Government in question made a mistake in not availing themselves of the opportunity in 1867 of negotiating a Treaty of Navigation between the two countries. By remaining staunch to the principles upon which this country had for years carried on its commercial proceedings Parliament would strengthen the hands of the Government in any future action on the subject, and foreign countries would see that we had not been induced to abandon our principles by any temporary advantage which a renewal of the French Treaty might possibly have given to our manufactures. The Free Trade party in France was strengthening day by day, and only a fortnight ago M. Thiers was defeated in his own Assembly on a question connected with the taxation of raw materials. It should be borne in mind, too, that although a retaliatory policy was altogether out of the question the abrogation of this Treaty set us at liberty just as much as it did France, and that if the Treaty were allowed to expire within the next few months, we could pursue whatever fiscal policy we might deem most conducive to our own interests. He was not sorry for that, for he had long been of opinion that it was our minerals—coal and iron—which made us the foremost commercial nation of the world, and, surely, we might fairly debate whether it was wise to part rashly and hastily with this great birthright? By-and-by some one might suggest in that House—and some Minister might think it right to consider—whether we ought not to be chary in allowing foreign nations freely to take our coal in order to manufacture articles in opposition to us. The hon. Member for Liverpool had alluded to Spain and Portugal. Now, he had always thought our wine 1778 duties were not fairly assessed as regarded those two countries. There was in Spain and Portugal an abundance of generous and good wine which we never saw in this country, but which our middle and lower classes would be very glad to have. The Spaniards and Portuguese, too, were of opinion that the 1s. duty was a great bonus to France and unfair to them, and he was bound to say he rather agreed with them on this point, especially as the alcoholic test was no longer supported even by financiers, the manufacture of spirits out of wine being known to be a costly operation. Therefore, if the French gave up the Treaty and our goods were shut out of France, it might be wise to try to find new markets. Supposing we were to impose a uniform duty of 2s. a gallon on French, Spanish, and Portuguese wines, the English people might be greatly benefited, our trade largely increased with the Peninsular, while France could not, under the circumstances, raise an objection to such a proceeding. His hon. Friend had entered upon debateable ground, and, while he differed from him on many points, he agreed with him in others, and in none so fully as in the generous sympathy he expressed for France. He should be only too glad to see her raised from her difficulties and receiving reasonable assistance from us; but, at the same time, he was of opinion that we, as a great Free Trade nation, ought not to turn our back on the policy we had adopted, and to give other nations reason to believe that we did not place entire confidence in our policy of Free Trade.
§ MR. BIRLEY
said, the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) had regretted some debateable points which, as he alleged, had been raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves); but he ventured to say that the last thought in the mind of his hon. Friend was to raise a party question on the present occasion. It would be a great mistake to suppose that the cost of an article to the manufacturer or consumer was to be measured by the rate of freight. It was of the highest importance to a commercial country to possess seaports and great entrepôts for storing the produce of other countries and its own manufactures. These were the markets which attracted traders from all quarters, and which gave the greatest commercial stimulus to the manufactures 1779 of this country. It was in this way that Manchester and Liverpool acted and reacted on each other reciprocally, and it should have been the study of the French people to have made Havre and Marseilles great emporiums like Liverpool. There was no point on which the French manufacturers dwelt so much in the great inquiry before the Imperial Commission some years ago as the cost to which they were put in bringing their raw material from foreign parts to the manufacturing towns of France. That enhancement of the cost much exceeded the freight, and he maintained that the interest of France in the Commercial Treaty was far greater than that of England, though that of England was pretty considerable. With regard to the recommendations of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, he would remark that the cotton trade of Lancashire had been much disappointed with the action of the Treaty. It was supposed that very great benefit would accrue to that trade, and that the exports to France would be very large indeed; but that expectation was not fulfilled, and the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, feeling it would be dangerous and objectionable to go back from the principle on which we set out—namely, that we would not be parties to the increase of duties—advised the Government not to depart from that principle. He greatly doubted whether we possessed sufficient information to enable us to take a clear view of the action of the Treaty. Two years ago there seemed to be an instinctive objection to any inquiry as to the results of the Treaty, lest it should be proved that the benefit to this country had so largely exceeded the benefit to France that the French Government might be inclined to raise their duties. He was tempted to ask where our Board of Trade was? It appeared to him to have become almost effaced. The Foreign Office had taken a certain degree of action in this matter; but that Office knew very little about commercial subjects, although he wished to join in the tribute which had been already paid to the zeal and ability of Lord Lyons by the commercial community, and must say that the noble Lord had fully maintained the high character he had won for himself in so many foreign appointments. While differing in some respects from his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, he should 1780 fully support the Motion, because he believed that every word of it was strictly accurate, and that we had great reason to complain of the conduct of France in regard to the differential duties imposed on our shipping, and to regret the decision she had arrived at with regard to the Treaty.
said, he did not pretend to have any great technical knowledge of the subject under notice, the importance of which was much greater than a merely technical consideration of it would imply; but he wished to point out that there was some discrepancy between the Resolution as it stood on the Paper and the speech in which it had been introduced, for the Resolution had reference to the navigation duties, but the Commercial Treaty had been mixed up with them in a manner which was foreign to the subject, and what British interests were suffering from at present was the action of the French Government in regard to the navigation duties. The subject was a very large one, and opened up the question whether the course which we had taken during the last 20 years as pioneers in the cause of Free Trade was the right one, or whether a pedantic adherence to some of the principles of Free Trade had not prevented us acting in its spirit. In fact, the Commercial Treaty was one thing and the navigation duties another, and our whole rights with regard to the navigation duties were regulated by the Treaty of 1826, which was made in the time of Lord Liverpool, and was limited simply to direct trade. Down to 1860 nothing whatever passed between France and England with respect to commerce, and the Treaty of that year was absolutely a commercial Treaty. A few months subsequently, however, there was a supplemental Convention, and that was the Alpha and Omega of our International relations with France in regard to navigation duties, for by that Convention articles could be carried into France in British bottoms, though those articles did not come direct from England. The Treaty of 1826 regulated the direct trade, and everything outside the direct trade was, of course, outside that Treaty. There were Treaties with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal, and in 1866 the Austrian Government had concluded a Treaty with France in which the indirect 1781 trade was thrown open prospectively to Austria, and certain concessions had been made upon our part, to which the hon. Member for Liverpool had alluded. But why, he should like to know, had money been expended by us in the case of these navigation duties without our having obtained a receipt? It appeared to him that the action of our Government on that occasion resembled the conduct of a man who paid money over the counter, but did not take a receipt; and that we had only to blame ourselves for being debarred from those benefits which must accrue until the Austrian Treaty had expired to all those other countries which were in possession of the carrying trade of Europe.
§ VISCOUNT ENFIELD
said, he could assure the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) that he entirely concurred in the remarks he had made, and the sympathy he had expressed with France under her commercial and financial embarrassment; and he shared with him in the regret he expressed that she had thought fit to make those changes in her navigation laws which had proved so detrimental; but, on the other hand, he could not agree with him when he said that during the course of the negotiations between this Government and that of France during the last 12 months, we had sternly refused all overtures on the part of France for the modification of the Commercial Treaty. On the contrary, he thought anyone who went through the Correspondence on the Table must come to the conclusion that although Lord Granville had expressed in the name of the English Government his sympathy with France under her present condition, and his anxiety as far as in him lay to assist her under her fiscal difficulties, still he felt as a Minister of the Crown and the English people he could not agree to those proposals which were of a retrograde and restrictive character. As there had been no discussion up to that time with reference to the part which the Government had taken with regard to France during these negotiations, it might not be inopportune to review very briefly the course which the Government had pursued on the question of the modification of the French Commercial Treaty; and afterwards glance at that portion more immediately connected with the changes which France had made in the 1782 navigation laws. It was nearly a year ago that Lord Lyons was informed that probably some change would be proposed by the French Government in the Treaty of Commerce with England made in 1860, but the negotiations were not fairly commenced until July last year, when M. Ozeune came over from Paris, and made certain proposals, which were in the first instance considered to be so vague that certain questions were addressed to the French Government, to which a categorical reply was asked on the part of the English Government. It was not until three applications had been made that any reply was received; but in the meantime, while the assent of the French Assembly to the imposition of the duties on raw material was doubtful, the French Government were frankly told that it rested with them when they pleased to announce the denunciation of the Treaty. The French Government complained that our answer had been delayed, and stated that as they could not agree to our proposals no resource remained but to denounce the Treaty. But our Government could not agree in the assertion that they had by any delay at all cumbered the action of the French Government. They explained to the French Government the great magnitude of the commercial interests involved, pointed out the necessity of frequent consultation with our Chambers of Commerce, and reiterated their inability to accept proposals of a Protectionist tendency. While these negotiations were going on, however, M. Thiers stated in the French Assembly that under the Treaty France had a right to impose duties on raw materials, and in return attention was drawn to the fact that the Treaty required that corresponding Excise duties should be imposed on similar raw material produced in France. The negotiations continued, and at last it was suggested that matters which did not require the consent of the French Assembly might still form a basis of negotiation between the two Governments. Lord Granville, in reviewing the final policy of the Government, in regard to these last proposals, stated that Her Majesty's Government could not depart from the general principles of Free Trade, which formed the basis of the commercial policy of the Treaty, and that the denunciation of the Treaty would be a step towards its extinction, although it would 1783 not necessarily preclude further negotiation. In fact, the negotiations continued until within a week of the 15th of March, when the denunciation took place; and there was no ground for the apprehension of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) that in consequence of the denunciation coldness would arise between the Governments, for M. de Rémusat, in announcing to the Secretary of State the result, expressed a hope that the cessation of the Treaty, if it must be final, would not be followed by any lessening of the intimate relations which had existed for so many years between France and England, and the maintenance of which was of so much value to both nations. Arrangements were consequently made for its terminating that day year, during which time negotiations might continue; and, at the same time, assurances were repeated that there was no intention of returning to a more Protective system than the one set forth in the hitherto rejected proposals. He (Viscount Enfield) thought it would be admitted by the House that although the French Government might feel some disappointment in the matter, yet that Lord Granville, acting in entire consistency with the duties imposed upon him, could not very well agree to the modifications proposed, and was perfectly justified in not accepting the proposals of the French Government, they being of a retrograde and Protectionist tendency. He would refer now to the question more immediately brought under the notice of the House by the Motion of the hon. Member for Liverpool with regard to the changes which France had made in her navigation laws injurious to British shipping, and with regard to which it might be said that the Treaty of 1826 related solely to the direct navigation between Great Britain and France, and might be terminated at a year's notice. The Treaty of Commerce of January 23, 1860, however, expressly reserved French differential duties in favour of French shipping, in Article 3. By the supplementary Convention and the annexed tariff of November 16, 1860, British and French vessels might carry to France jute and cotton from British India and wool from Australia on equal terms. British vessels were also allowed to convey to France these commodities from British entrepôts. Subsequent to the repeal of the English navigation laws 1784 in 1849 complaints were made on both sides of the Channel as to certain restrictions which pressed relatively upon the shipping of both countries. Explanations ensued, and in doing so, the French objected to certain "local exemptions" in some parts of the United Kingdom. These freed vessels belonging to certain ports, and not others. A French law of 1866, however, enabled the Government to relieve foreign shipping from previous differential treatment on condition of reciprocity. Correspondence ensued, and Her Majesty's Government applied to Parliament to extinguish these exemptions, and the French Government in return extended benefit of the new law to British shipping. Its provisions were—1. The suppression of tonnage dues in French ports from January 1, 1867, except when levied for improvements on all ships alike. 2. The suppression from May, 1869, of "surtaxes de pavillon" or surcharges on the flags. Both countries carried out these arrangements. The French Government fulfilled their engagements to English ships by the decree of June, 1866, and the English Government passed a Bill through Parliament to abolish the local exemptions complained of, pecuniary compensation being granted to the parties whose rights were affected thereby. When Lord Lyons reported the introduction of the Bill to repeal the law of 1866, he was instructed to remonstrate on the probable injury to British shipping interests. M. de Rémusat and M. Thiers disclaimed any intention of placing British shipping at a disadvantage. The new law was promulgated on the 2nd of February, and by it [Blue Book, page 147] "Surtaxes de pavilion," surcharges on the flag, or differential duties, were imposed as follows:—1. On goods imported into France in foreign vessels from European countries and the basin of the Mediterranean, 75 centimes per 100 kilogrammes weight. 2. From countries out of Europe this side of Cape Horn and Cape of Good Hope, I franc 50 centimes. 3. From countries beyond the Cape, 2 francs. Surtaxes d'entrepôt, 3 francs per 100 kilogrammes, were imposed on goods the produce of countries out of Europe on importation into France from entrepôts, warehouses, or market-places in Europe. The Customs circular issued, moreover, defined the new law as strictly applicable 1785 to British shipping only, for Austria, Belgium, Italy, Holland, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Zollverein were exempted in virtue of Treaties. Her Majesty's Government at once remonstrated on these grounds—(1.) Unfriendly character of the policy of imposing this differential treatment on British trade in comparison with other countries; (2), as being opposed to the arrangement come to in 1866; (3), as being differential duties on merchandise, not on ships, in fact Customs and not navigation dues, from which England might claim exemption under the "most favoured nation" Article of the Treaty of 1860. By the French Treaty of 1860, Article 3, it was understood that the rates of duty mentioned in the preceding Articles were independent of the differential duties in favour of French shipping, with which duties they should not interfere. The local exemptions were—(1.) Exemptions in favour of freemen, which were expiring daily, and which were only reserved for those who were living and had claims in 1835. (2.) Exemptions in favour of ships registered at particular ports. (3.) Exemptions in favour of persons residing at particular ports. The effect of the proceedings of the French Government on French trade was most unfavourable. Consul Mark, writing from Marseilles, pointed out the disastrous effects which this law on the Mercantile Marine would have on the trade and commerce of that port. He said—The heavy 'surtaxes de pavillon' will atop the large carrying trade hitherto carried on by British and Greek vessels in the Mediterranean, and will drive it into the hands of the mercantile navies of France and Austria, which, however, are not large enough to supply the great demand. A consequent rise in freights will take place, and the French consumer will be the ultimate loser.The new duties on the transfer of ships to the French flag were also a bar to the purchase of foreign vessels—of which large numbers built in Canada had been annually bought—and Consul Mark added—In 10 years the shipbuilders of France could not supply the deficiency. Should the ensuing harvest in France be short, serious inconvenience therefore would be felt throughout the country from the want of vessels to convey corn from the Black Sea and elsewhere to meet the want; and Marseilles must either cease to be the great grain and wheat emporium it was now, or the new duties must be renounced as quickly as they had 1786 been imposed. British vessels had been largely engaged in conveying oil seeds to Marseilles for its soap manufactories. This trade would now cease, and great injury be caused to those engaged in it. The amount of shipping in the Port of Marseilles and other French ports had greatly diminished, and the commercial community at large were loudly protesting against the new taxation.The question for the House, therefore, was whether they would agree to the Motion of the hon. Member for Liverpool; and with regard to that, if Her Majesty's Government had from the first been remiss in representing to the French Government the injurious effect which the navigation laws of France would have upon our shipping, he could understand that the House would be anxious to accept the Motion; but the Correspondence would show that the Government had been as strong in their opinions as the hon. Member himself. The Correspondence, in fact, was not yet closed, for within the last 10 days further communication had passed, and the Secretary of State had not neglected to reiterate his objections, and to urge as forcibly as he had done in the despatches of the Blue Book the injurious effect which the policy of the French Government would have upon our shipping. He (Viscount Enfield) hoped, therefore, the hon. Gentleman would accept the assurance that the subject was not closed, and though it would be premature and hazardous to affirm that our representations would have the desired effect, he could say that no effort would be spared by the Secretary of State to press on the French Government how wise and just it would be both in their interest and in our own to relax the restrictions now imposed upon British shipping.
§ MR. STEPHEN CAVE
said, that the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) had expressed surprise that the Motion of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) had been converted into an attack on Her Majesty's Government. But if it could be called an attack on the Government it must be admitted to be a very moderate one. The hon. Member for Hull, however, attacked the preceding Government on account of the negotiations which were carried on with the French Government in 1866 and 1867. He should be glad to assume the entire responsibility of those negotiations, but it did not belong altogether to the Government of which he was a 1787 Member. The negotiations had been commenced before that Government came into office, and the credit belonged to that extent to the Government which preceded them. In 1866 the French Emperor of his own will abolished certain tonnage dues in French ports which bore hardly on foreign shipping, and in doing so he expected that the nations concerned would give a corresponding advantage. There were in certain English ports exemptions which placed vessels belonging to particular corporations and classes in a more favourable position than all others, including, of course, the French. The Emperor said unless we abolished these privileges, he could not extend to English ships exemption from French dues. As the hon. Member for Hull had pointed out, these privileges were equally disadvantageous to vessels trading from Bristol to Hull as to vessels coming from Havre or Bordeaux. These exemptions were bad in themselves, inasmuch as they gave a monopoly to individuals. Therefore, when they were abolished we abolished hindrances to our own trade as well as to the trades of foreign countries. When it was said we had paid our money and taken no receipt, this did not accurately state the nature of the transaction. As a matter of fact, we got value before we had paid anything, for the Emperor took our word for our bond; he removed the tonnage dues with regard to England on the 1st of January, and it was not until February that a Bill was introduced to abolish the exemptions. Each trusted the other, and, if anything, the French trusted us the most. The abolition of the exemptions imposed no burden on the Imperial Exchequer, because compensation to the parties who had benefited by them was paid out of harbour dues. In fact, we remitted no payment, but we made all pay alike. What the hon. Member for Liverpool and others felt was that the Government viewed without regret the termination of the French Treaty. An idea had grown up that Treaties of Commerce had gone out of favour with the Government, who wished for Free Trade that should not be hampered by the restriction of Treaties. This was very much his own idea, and Treaties could be justified only when the object was to induce nations to take steps in the direction of Free Trade which they 1788 otherwise would not take. Mr. Cobden never committed himself to the approval of such Treaties in the abstract, though he felt, of course, that there was a justification for the Treaty he negotiated. That Treaty should be considered in relation to the position of the Emperor at the time. The Emperor was a Free Trader, the bulk of the French commercial classes were Protectionists. The Treaty enabled the Emperor to overcome their opposition. Now, however, matters were reversed, and the Government was Protectionist while the bulk of the population was in favour of Free Trade. When all nations were imbued with principles of Free Trade, Treaties of Commerce would be worse than useless. But as yet it was difficult to say what nations were Free Traders, and, after the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley) and a Motion made in this House last year, whether our manufacturers were wholly Free Traders; and therefore there might be advantage, not only to ourselves, but also to other countries, in resorting to Treaties to place trade upon a stable basis, and prevent its being interfered with by capricious and interested changes. He would not defend the whole Treaty, many of the details of which were settled in haste. He had already taken exception to its provisions affecting coal, which were not popular in this country, and to the absence of a "favoured nation clause;" but still, if we were to wait until other nations were converted to Free Trade we should have to wait for generations. The Treaty had been of the greatest advantage to France and to this country; but France would be far worse off than us without it. Our commerce was more elastic, and would find new channels. However, the French nation was not now Protectionist. The controversy between M. Wolowski and M. Duchataux showed this; and, so far as popular songs were indicative of a nation's opinions, those of Beranger might be referred to as highly eulogistic of Free Trade. Protection, he wrote, was a stagnant pool; Free Trade a river which carried abundance and comfort to wide districts. Roubaix and Lille had complained of the operation of the Treaty, and denounced Free Trade; but, on examination, they proved to have become wonderfully prosperous under it, and to be rapidly extending their 1789 bounds. The Committee on the Budget appointed the other day contained 21 Free Traders to 7 Protectionists. Our Government was right in refusing to entertain proposals of higher duties, if they were absolutely protective and were not accompanied by countervailing Excise duties. The French Government had hardly learnt the grammar of Free Trade, and they did not see, for example, in the case of the sugar duties, that, while fighting against salaries and pensions, they were, by giving bounties to the refiners, taking a far larger amount of money out of the pockets of the people, and enriching the few at the expense of the many. M. Thiers said the French nation had been ruined by the English Treaty; but M. Chevalier said M. Thiers was the only man in France who believed it. The hon. Member for Hull in mentioning Portuguese wines, seemed to suggest that we might retaliate. He (Mr. S. Cave) thought that retaliation was a word which ought not to be heard in that House on the subject; and, so far as the French Treaty went, we were at perfect liberty to make any reduction in the duties on Spanish and Portuguese wines. The French could not complain if we lowered them. This question had been often considered while he was in office, and it had been considered solely as a question affecting our Inland Revenue. He should be sorry to think that the lowering of the duties on Spanish and Portuguese wines should be considered as a measure of retaliation on France, and that it should not rather be regarded as a step taken by ourselves in our own interests. This particular question, however, might suggest this consideration—that where legitimate trade was impeded, illegitimate trade sprang up. The saying of M. Chevalier that the policy of M. Thiers was protection tempered by smuggling had, he thought, considerable justice in it. The hon. Member for Liverpool had, in his opinion, done good service in bringing the question before the House. The tone of the debate was sufficient to show that we were not disposed to act in anything like a virulent spirit towards France; on the contrary, that we deeply sympathized with her, and regretted to see that she was by her policy aggravating the burden of her heavy liabilities. But the House of Commons was simply stating—that which it had a perfect 1790 right to do—what the effect of the change in French policy would be on this country. There could, so far as he could see, be no more reasonable subject of discussion for a commercial nation. Trade had been very much interrupted in its course by the action of the French Government, but it would, no doubt, find another course before long; so that France would, in all probability, lose more than we should. In the meantime, however, the interruption of our amicable commercial relations with that country was a subject for regret, and it was but reasonable, under the circumstances, that such complaints as the House had listened to that evening should find expression, and that the Government should be asked to make the matter a subject of remonstrance in their communications with the French Government. He hoped very much from the good sense of the French people; but he must at the same time, as an Englishman, protest against our shaping our conduct in the present or in any other case in accordance rather with the feelings of foreign Powers than in accordance with our own convictions. An entirely independent policy was the only policy worthy of a free, a great, and an enlightened nation.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he had listened with great pleasure to the speech which had just been delivered from the opposite benches, and that it was because he sympathized most heartily with the French people in their sufferings, and because he sincerely desired their speedy restoration to prosperity, that he was glad to find there was no hint of retaliation from our Government during the progress of the negotiations. He was, at the same time, of opinion that the conversion of the French people to Free Trade—which was, he believed, making rapid progress—would not be hastened by our showing any symptoms of yielding in our principles, or by seeming to cling too anxiously to the Treaty as if it had been made only in our own interest. Though the Treaty had been spoken of as a bargain, it was in reality no bargain at all, and the allegation of M. Thiers that it had been made in the interests of England was far from placing it in its true light before the French people. Let France be allowed to learn her own lesson undisturbed by any violent efforts to retain the Treaty on our part, and he 1791 had no doubt she would find out the direction in which her interests lay.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, the subject was one in which he took a deep interest, and he was the more anxious to make a few observations with respect to it because he had been asked by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley) "What has become of the Board of Trade?" That question he must interpret as expressing the surprise of the hon. Gentleman that no despatches signed on behalf of the Board of Trade were to be found in the Blue Book. He should, however, be sorry that the hon. Gentleman should labour under any delusion on that point. The reason why there were no despatches signed on behalf of the Board of Trade was that it was not the Board of Trade but the Foreign Office which carried on all negotiations with foreign nations. But although the Board of Trade was not a negotiating, or, in such cases as the present, an acting Department, he could assure the hon. Gentleman that many of the despatches which appeared in the Blue Book had been written only after consultation with that Department, and that it furnished the Foreign Office with all the information at its command. It would be a great mistake, therefore, to imagine that the Board of Trade had been either idle or indifferent to the great question before the House. The House, he might add, had, he thought, great reason to be obliged to the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) for having brought the subject before them, although he might be hypercritical in saying that his observations, in common with those of other hon. Members, ought to have been addressed to a French rather than to an English Assembly, for the quarter in which an impression was to be made was over the Channel, rather than in this country. Nevertheless, he thought it most advisable and advantageous that there should be an expression of opinion in the House of Commons on the part of the leading representatives of the commerce of this country, and he trusted it would not pass away without result. He felt that this country had grave reason and full right to complain of the differential dues on our shipping that had been imposed by France: indeed, from some things in the Papers before the House he could not help hoping 1792 that the policy that had been adopted was one for the moment, and that it was not the final determination of the French Government. It was not long since that the Representative of the French Government informed us that there was no intention of inflicting any such special disadvantages on British shipping, and that what they were about to do would have no such effect; but it was too well known that the result had been very different, thereby showing that the change had been made without knowledge of what the effect of the alteration of the French law would be. He hoped, however, that what had been said would have the effect of inducing the French Government to take a more friendly course towards this country; and, if so, the hon. Member for Liverpool would have reason to congratulate himself if he should contribute to that result.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, that the manufacturers in this country of paraffin oil had been subjected to great losses for what had been decided to be breaking of contract arising from the alterations which the French Government had made in the duty on that article, and he hoped the British Government would use its influence to obtain redress for the English manufacturers. The duty on paraffin oil was under the Treaty 5 per cent, and there was a stipulation contained in it that it should not be increased more than 25 per cent, but it had been increased to 88 per cent, whilst American petroleum had only been increased to 78 per cent. He trusted that it would not be thought too late to remonstrate with the French Government on the subject.
said, that the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) had called the attention of the House to a subject which, it was easy to fore-see, must necessarily come under debate. From the speeches which had been delivered it was plain that this was a subject of great pain and embarrassment, and that it was more easy to give utterance to sentiments of dissatisfaction and regret than to suggest a remedy for the inconvenience complained of by the country generally. He, however, hoped and believed that the hon. Member for Liverpool would considerately decline to press his Motion to a division, for though it might be a question with some hon. Members whether the Government had urged with sufficient 1793 energy on the Government of France the various causes they had of complaint, still what the House would wish would be to leave the Government in a condition in which they could address the Government of France with the utmost freedom with respect to the matter, and they would be more able to use that freedom in the spirit of friendship and frankness if no decision were given on a Motion of this kind by the House of Commons; because, though hon. Members who had spoken had been most considerate in the language they used with respect to the Government of France, yet any Motion of that nature must assume the appearance of a modified Vote of Censure in the eyes of the French Government. He could not, however, hesitate to admit that Her Majesty's Government felt that they were seriously aggrieved by the proceedings of the French Government in this matter, and in respect to the very important subject which bore injuriously on the shipping of this country, though more injuriously on the French nation. The hon. Member who spoke last (Mr. M'Lagan) had referred to the duties on a certain class of oils. With regard to that point, the English Government had pressed on the French Government, in very decided terms, what they conceived to be the duty of France with regard to those breaches of contract of which the hon. Member complained; but up to that time it had not been in the power of Her Majesty's Government to obtain any satisfactory answer to those remonstrances. In some quarters it had been thought that the Government, in some portion of their conduct, had shown some want of sympathy for the peculiar condition of France; but he must say that the sympathy they felt for France was one of the reasons why the urgency of their remonstrances with the French Government had been less than it might have been under other circumstances; and although the Motion before the House did not mention the great subject of the French Treaty, yet it was impossible that the Treaty, which formed the principal subject of our deliberations during an anxious and protracted Session, should not have formed a large portion of the staple of the debate. It had also been said that Her Majesty's Government had shown a want of consideration for the necessities of France; 1794 but they had at all times been most careful to convey to the French Government that any proposition they made that was of a fiscal character, and which the French Government considered required modification, would meet with our ready and most favourable consideration, although according to our experience, fiscal necessities were not best met by the re-imposition of protection, but rather by liberating the industry of the country. The hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) had complained of a too rigid adherence to principle; but the principle upon which the Government had acted was that commerce would be best served and peace secured by allowing each country to regulate its own fiscal tariff according to its own interest and requirements. That was not only the Government's opinion; similar views had been expressed on the other side of the House, and that opinion was the result of long experience. For five or six years previous to 1845 the Board of Trade, with which he was then associated, endeavoured to make reciprocal arrangements with European nations and signally failed in every instance, because those nations uniformly believed the motives of England were selfish. Accordingly, Sir Robert Peel and his immediate successor resolved to leave the consideration of the subject to the independent action of each country. In 1860, however, an entirely new state of things arose; but in conducting the negotiations with France this country bargained for nothing. The concessions made were offered because they were good in themselves, and because granting them would promote Free Trade—the chief object in view. That statement needed only one qualification. To a certain extent this country, by making the French Treaty, did interfere with its own fiscal arrangements, and bound itself to do certain things; in fact, it sacrificed its freedom of action to a certain extent, but did so for certain benefits. He did not take a very favourable view of the taxation of coal, which had been referred to; but it was not desirable to be tied even in a matter of that kind. The agreement come to with regard to wine and spirits undoubtedly restrained our commercial liberty, and now that France drew back from continuing that agreement it must not be forgotten that by doing so she gave 1795 us back fiscal liberty. The French, nation should comprehend that although Parliament might denounce the motive of retaliation, still it reserved absolutely the power of dealing with the wine and spirit duties as the interests of the country might dictate. But he was anxious in stating this to say also that the Government did not contemplate using the liberty which the country regained by the denunciation of the Treaty. The French Treaty had been productive of enormous good. It had allayed political excitement, which might have assumed dangerous proportions; it had extended trade, and produced a season of prosperity at a time of need; it had not—with some few exceptions, such as the Coventry trade—caused British industry to suffer, and it had led the people of Europe generally to make progress in the direction of Free Trade. Many European countries had made arrangements between themselves which England had failed to make with Continental States. The reason that they had succeeded when England had failed was, because the commercial superiority of England was so paramount that other countries could not disabuse from their minds the feeling that any suggestions coming from us must be dictated by selfish motives, and, if adopted, must result in disadvantage to themselves. No small advantage from the French Treaty, however, was that, besides enormously extending commerce and intercourse between the two countries, it had done wonders in extending kindly feeling. It had given a new character to the relation between the Englishman and the Frenchman; and lastly, it had the effect of developing in France itself a vigorous, intelligent, Free Trade party of native growth. Why, then, it might be asked, did we not make some sacrifice during the recent negotiations on this subject? The House should not forget the peculiar position which the two Governments relatively occupied. Regarding those results with the liveliest satisfaction, the Government could not forbear from taking all possible measures to preserve the Treaty; it forbore from pressing the matter to the utmost for fear of awakening that old feeling of jealousy with which the advances of England had usually been met. M. Thiers, the most able of all the champions of the Protective system, had ex- 1796 pressed himself as having always disapproved the Treaty, and as having always preferred commercial liberty; but, out of sincere desire to maintain moral and political union with England, he was ready to forego those opinions and continue the Treaty in a modified form. It was never contended that the French wanted the Treaty for its own sake; it accepted the arrangement merely as a favour to England. Supposing we had contrived to concoct some new adjustment of duties, remaining under all our obligations, retaining all the restrictions on our fiscal liberty, and conceding here and there to France, what would have been our position? We, too, should have held this language—"We prefer our liberty as you prefer your liberty; but we consent to prolong the Treaty as an act of favour to you." That would have been to continue the Treaty on a hollow basis. The true basis of commerce is an exchange of benefits; but that would have been an exchange of sacrifices. That is a groundwork upon which it is totally impossible to erect any solid fabric, either of commercial or national union. The Treaty was formed in the earnest hope that it would lead to further development; and if in 1860 any one gifted with the endorsement of prophecy had been able to foresee that in 1871 that France would hark back in the course on which it had entered, he would have raised a far more formidable barrier in our way at that moment than any of the arguments we had to encounter. It was not a perfect measure in itself that the Treaty was adopted. They had been taunted that the Treaty on the part of France did not embody the doctrines of Free Trade. There was in it, undoubtedly, a great deal of a rather strong Protective element, but it was a movement onward in the adoption of the principle of Free Trade; it was expected to be followed by a second and by a third in the same direction; and not to have adopted it would have been a great responsibility for those who were firmly fixed in the belief that the principle was a sound one—namely, that commercial freedom was best promoted, and national union best promoted by the independent action of each country. And now, he must say, on that melancholy occasion there was one element of consolation, and that was the intelligence, the fidelity, the strength, the resolution 1797 of the free traders of France. They were not embarrassed by our help. Reference had been made to M. Chevalier. He never heard that that gentleman regretted that we declined to accept the offers of the French Government. Hon. Members saw on the floor of the French Assembly the strength of those sentiments, and their endeavour to organize themselves with such force and sanguine energy. In every other respect he must admit the situation was a melancholy one, and there was no one to whom it brought deeper sentiments of regret than to himself, for the authors of the French Treaty were the Emperor of the French and Mr. Cobden, and after those distinguished persons no one was more responsible for it than himself. It was melancholy to think that a measure so beneficial—he might almost say so blessed in its results, speaking of its moral and pacific consequences—should now have become the subject of denunciation by the Government of France. All they could do was to recognize the disposition of the French Government to mitigate the moral and political evils which could not be separated from its denunciation. If the multiplication and extension of friendly and mutually beneficial intercourse between England and France had been a great good, the comparative restriction of that intercourse was a great evil. All they could do was to reciprocate cordially the expressions of goodwill to the Government of France—to appeal to the Government of France to let their acts run in a course, as far as possible, parallel to their professions, convinced that they were made with the utmost sincerity—to take care that, on their part, they exhibited towards them that warm sympathy which their circumstances demanded, and those sentiments of friendship of which the Treaty was the symbol and the most powerful prop. In that spirit they would endeavour to act, not forgetting that so far as specific causes of complaint were concerned nothing was to be gained by a remiss or unmanly tone. They would steadily represent to the Government of France in friendly language whatever they thought matter of right and equity in the treatment of British interests, fie was satisfied his right hon. Friend near him was right when he referred to the difficulties they had experienced in administration, and when he expressed a sanguine hope, from the 1798 large and increasing prevalence of sound views in France, that the causes of regret which they now experienced would, ere any long time had elapsed, cease to operate, and that they would again see in action all those means of beneficial intercourse the temporary diminution of which they now so much deplored.
§ MR. MACFIE
said, he entirely agreed in the opinions expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and toped that England would soon recover her commercial liberty.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ SUPPLY—considered in Committee.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.