HL Deb 20 June 1815 vol 31 cc885-91

The Earl of Buckinghamshire having moved the committal of the East India Ships Registry Bill, the Petition of the London Ship-builders against the Bill was read, and counsel were called in. Mr. Harrison appeared for the petitioners. Mr. Spankie, and Mr. Grant, also appeared in favour of the Bill; but no petition on that side having been presented, they could not be heard.

Mr. Harrison

, for the petitioners, contended, that the admission of ships built in India to British registry would be mischievous to the public, and ruinous to the petitioners. The great principle of the Navigation laws was to encourage, the belligerent navy of the country, and this could not be done without encouraging the ship-builders of Great Britain, and especially those of London, who alone were capable of affording adequate assistance to the navy upon emergencies, when the requisite number of ships could not be built in the King's yards. If the India-built ships were admitted to British registry, the whole India trade would soon be carried on in India-built ships, and the London ship-builders would be almost ruined. If the ship-building were transferred to India, the manufactures depending upon it would also be removed from this country, such as the manufactures of sails, cordage, iron, copper, &c. for all which, India, or countries in the neighbourhood, possessed the raw material, and, therefore, the builders there would not come to this country for these articles. The apprehensions of a scarcity of timber owing to the demands of the merchant yards were, he said, unfounded, as the timber in several counties had not been touched for the supply of the navy. A similar apprehension was entertained in 1792, but never realized. As for the trade from India, it might very well be carried on by British ships; and even if it were thought that India ought to have the advantage of exporting in their own ships, the reason did not apply to the China trade. In the case of an independent power, it was necessary or reasonable that the subjects of that power should be allowed to bring their own produce to this country in their own ships, and a duty might be imposed to prevent any injury from this to the British shipping interest: but the object now was to admit India-built ships on the same terms as British-built ships. At a time when a new naval power was rising up, and when there might be so great a demand of ships for the navy beyond what the King's yards could supply, it must be contrary to the soundest public policy to ruin the shipbuilding establishments of the Thames.

The counsel having been ordered to withdraw,

The Earl of Donaughmore

said, he had heard nothing that could justify the House in proceeding any further with the measure. It was taken up not on public grounds, but with a view to create partial advantages to a particular class, at the expense of the East India ship-builders. He thought an adjournment of the question was necessary, in order to give time for a full consideration of the subject, which he conceived should be permitted to lie over for that purpose.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

said, that if the noble earl had not risen with such precipitation, he was about to have made a short statement to their lordships on the subject, which he hoped would prove satisfactory. The learned counsel had avoided any very direct allusion to the Jaw as it stood, and for a very good reason, which was this,—that when the law as it stood was stated, it would necessarily appear that the petitioners not only had no reason to complain, but that this Bill was favourable to their interests. Under the Act of the 26th of the King, India ships were admitted to British registry; and had been so admitted for thirty years. Such was the actual state of the law: but, from reasons of policy, it had been thought proper to confine India-built ships to the trade between India and. this country; so that the Bill was rather a bill of restriction upon the building of ships in India, which must be so far favourable to the British ship-building interest. Then, with respect to the scarcity of timber, the evidence taken in the other House, and laid, on their lordships table, was contradictory; but it appeared that the proportion of foreign timber procured for the navy had been increasing of late, which showed a falling-off in the home supply. The proportion of foreign timber had been, not long ago, one-half: but it had since increased to two-thirds. Then, as to the India trade, his lordship quoted the authority of a commissioner of the navy, and others, to show that unless the India trade was permitted to be carried on with this country in India-built ships, that trade would be in a great measure engrossed by foreigners: so that the British ship-builders would not be injured by this measure, but rather benefitted in that view of the subject. They would also have the repairs of the India-built ships here, which otherwise they would be deprived of. As for the sails, cordage, &c. it was provided by law that these articles should be, in a great measure, supplied from this country. Upon the whole this was a measure of great advantage in a public view; and it would not be injurious, but the contrary, to the ship-building interests of Great Britain, though he admitted that it might prove disadvantageous to the Thames ship-builders. But it would not be disadvantageous even to them in the degree which they held cut; and at any rate, the interests of individuals must sometimes give way to those of the public. It was a great object for the East India Company to have this Bill passed; for then a competition would be created, and they might choose where to purchase their ships, instead of being confined to the Thames ship-builders, who had been enabled to make their own terms.

Earl Stanhope

said, that the noble earl who spoke last had laid great stress on the law as it stood; but in considering a question of this magnitude, they ought not merely to take into view the law as it stood, but the law as it ought to be. The noble earl seemed to hint that his noble friend had not read the evidence; but his noble friend, he believed, might give the answer, which was returned on a certain occasion by a French curé to an ignorant bishop who could not read. "Have you read my charge?" said the bishop: "No," replied the curé, "and I doubt whether you have read it yourself." It appeased doubtful whether the noble earl himself had read the evidence; but if he had read it, it was quite clear, he had it not at his fingers' ends. Then the noble earl talked of the scarcity of timber: but it you reduced the demand for timber, the supply must fail in proportion; and besides, there was a new method invented, for seasoning oak so as to make it last much longer, though the Admiralty had not paid the attention to it which it deserved. The noble earl said nothing about teak wood, but it had been said, that it was the most durable of all timber. The noble earl had, however, said that the Thames ship-builders would have the repair of these teak ships, and so they might console themselves by the chance of having the repair of ships which required no repair. Then the noble earl adverted to the India trade, and read authorities to show how advantageous the measure would be in that view. But who were these authorities? Persons connected with India. Rare authorities! Did you ever hear a fishmonger call out slinking fish? that was not to be expected. But their, lordships ought also to consider, that it was possible that India might be separated from this country; and where, then, was the soundness of that policy which went to transfer our naval establishments to that country? Our laws, our religion, our existence as a nation, depended on our navy; and it ought to be a matter of para- mount policy to confine our ship-building establishments as much as possible to this country. Before the first American war, no one would have believed in a separation. The same language, the same habits, laws, religion, &c. bound us together, and yet the separation took place; and we ought not therefore to reckon too securely on India. The policy was altogether monstrous. Show me such politicians, said his lordship, and I will show you the description of statesmen mentioned by Dr. Franklin—those who have found out the secret to make of a great state a very small one.

The Earl of Donoughmore

said, he wanted to hear something in justification of the Bill before their lordships. His opinion was not merely that the Bill ought not to be permitted to go any farther, but that it had already gone too far. Not one argument, not one word of the noble lord's speech went to justify the measure; He had stated nothing to show in what way, or upon what principle, the restraint which it imposed could be useful. The proceeding, he did not hesitate to say, was new; stud being so, was at least entitled to a single argument, or a short explanation. The Bill went to restrain a right which was not only exercised at present, but had existed for the space of 30 years. Between the year 1794 and the present time, 283 ships were built in India and registered. The Bill went to abridge that right. Would it be wrong to require time to read over the evidence, and enable ministers to do the same? The noble earl, in particular, ought to be fully aware of the evidence in support of his own case; yet not a word on that subject had escaped him. He thought that India should be permitted to remain as it was in point of shipping. All they wanted was, to be left as they were before; and yet his Majesty's ministers conceived themselves justified in withholding every information on a Bill of two years standing in the other House of Parliament. The authority of a noble person, well acquainted with East India affairs (the marquis Wellesley), had been quoted. He respected that authority much; but there was also another to which no allusion had been made, and whose weight could not be inconsiderable. He alluded to a speech that was spoken by the late lord Melville in the year 1801, in which that nobleman expressed a hope that he would live to see the day when India-built ships would be admitted into the ports of Great Britain, not only as merchant vessels, but as ships of war. He did not conceive why that right should be taken from them. It seemed to be taken for granted hat some restriction should be applied—why? no reason was assigned. And was this a season to refuse considering such important topics? Ought they not to observe the decency of some appearance of deliberation? The Indian empire had stood well and firmly, and he hoped would long stand so, under the regulations that had existed for 30 years. Some further delay would enable him to understand the subject better himself, and would afford the noble earl an opportunity of reviving his recollection and increasing his knowledge. His lordship concluded with moving, That the debate be adjourned.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

assured the noble lord and the House, that he had read every word of the evidence, nine-tenths of which did not apply to the question. At the time of the renewal of the East India Company's Charter, it was deemed necessary to introduce a clause to the same effect as the present Bill. Some misrepresentations, however, having gone abroad, and persons being desirous to be heard in evidence at the bar, time was given to produce them. It was afterwards determined that the clause should be taken out of the Bill, and made the subject of a distinct measure. A temporary enactment was then passed for the year, and the permanent one postponed to the present session. The misrepresentations had now abated, and the persons who before complained regarded it rather as a relief than an injury. If the shipbuilders of India were themselves satisfied with the Bill, the naval defence of this country was of such importance as to render the restraint imposed OH them a useful policy.

The question wag put on the adjournment, and negatived without a division. The House then went into a committee on the Bill.

Lord Torrington

objected to the large proportion of Lascars beyond British seamen, as dangerous to the commercial and naval interests of the country, and proposed a clause for excluding East India ships not built and registered in this kingdom from the privileges of British-built ships.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

said, he should oppose the clause, on the ground he had stated before.

The Earl of Donoughmore

said, that the Bill was intended to gratify the Thames ship-builders; yet, while it injured those of India, it did not satisfy these at home. The argument of counsel went to drive out India-built ships altogether. He saw no reason why we should embank in bad bottoms because they were our own, when we could get better from one of our own dependencies. According to that Bill the whole crew might be Lascars, on a certificate from the officers on the station. They were fonder of British ships than of British hands, and in that respect had abandoned the principle of the Navigation Act. He did not want the Bill amended, for he hoped it would not last long; and though the noble earl had read the evidence, it was desirable that when he next came forward, he should be better prepared to defend his own measure against a system which was sanctioned by the experience of thirty years.

The Earl of Liverpool

maintained that the provisions of the Bill gave general satisfaction to the shipping interests. India was not under colonial restrictions, and the same principle did not apply to her as to the other colonies. A noble earl had supposed the case that India was independent; but even in that Case India-built ships would be admitted on the principle of the Navigation Laws.

The clause was negatived, and the report received without any amendment.