HL Deb 13 May 1830 vol 24 cc660-71
Earl Slanhope

said, he now rose to present to their Lordships the Petition which the Ship-owners of London had done him the honour to intrust to his care. He thought it was a Petition which well deserved the most serious attention of their Lordships, and he should make a few observations upon it, as he conceived that it related to a subject of extreme importance, not only to the petitioners themselves, but to the general interests of the country. In doing so he should abstain, on this occasion, from entering into any detailed statements, because he did not consider this a proper or fit occasion for them, and because he intended presently to move for certain papers, which, when produced, would furnish their Lordships with most important information on this subject, and would tend to remove many of the delusive errors and mistaken notions which were abroad regarding this question. It would be in the recollection of their Lordships, that when the present new-fangled principles of commerce were first introduced,—at the. time when those new and mischievous principles were proposed by a Minister of the Crown, who had since retired from office, but whose pernicious principles appeared still to sway the councils of his Majesty's Government,—it would be in the recollection of their Lordships that at that period the Ship-owners of London, and indeed of every other port in the kingdom, strongly protested against the measure, and expressed their opinion—an opinion repeated in the present Petition—that the change introduced by that measure would be followed by the most detrimental consequences to their own interests, and to the interests of the country at large. A melancholy experience of the effects of that measure had fully verified those predictions, for the result was, that that measure had been productive of the most disastrous consequences to the shipping and commerce of this country. It was in vain to expect that British Shipping, taxed as it was with such a variety of expenses, could hope to compete with foreign. For building and wages the British Ship-owners paid nearly double. Now what was the effect of the alteration of the Navigation-laws, on which their ancestors had relied for the main strength of their commercial marine? Why, evidently to lower the rates of British freights, and so far deteriorate the home Shipping. Besides, the treaties of reciprocity, as they had been called, had gone exactly to produce the same effect,—they had advanced the foreigner at the expense of the British Ship-owner; they had not only reduced the capital of the Ship-owners, but also materially reduced their rate of freightage. The petitioners request, that articles purchased by British subjects in foreign countries should be imported in British ships, leaving foreigners to pursue such a course in the employment of their own capital as they pleased. Perhaps it might be said, that as these reciprocity treaties were fixed for a certain date, they could not now be broken, till the expiration of the time so stipulated, but still there would be some hope for the sufferers were Government to declare that acts so pregnant with evil should not be renewed. It was competent for either of the parties, to the treaty with the United States of America, to notify a time for its termination, and the Shipping-interests would feel the benefit of a pledge that it should terminate at a certain time. He had heard elsewhere, that notwithstanding the important commercial alterations to which he, in common with the petitioners, had referred their subsequent decline, that there had been an increase of tonnage. Now, were inquiry granted, this he would prove to be an error; for in the mode of calculating the tonnage in some of these returns the same tonnage of a single vessel was multiplied each voyage which she took; for instance, if the ship of 300 tons made twenty voyages in the year, she appeared in the returns of tonnage at 6,000 tons, instead of being set down at 300 tons. If Parliament did not depart from the principles which modern philosophers had so unhappily instilled into it, the whole groundwork of the British navy would in time be destroyed; indeed, this was admitted by Mr. Ricardo as a consequence of his measures, for he freely declared, that he would buy wherever he could get the article, be it freight or produce, cheapest. At all events, he hoped inquiry would not be denied to these petitioners; they then would at least have the satisfaction of knowing what were the ultimate views of the Government, and with them what would be the fate of their trade, which was the nursery of the maritime strength of Great Britain,

The Duke of Wellington

said, that he felt as acutely as any noble Lord for the distress of any class of the community, but he could prove from official details that his noble friend was entirely in error respecting his view of the present condition of the Shipping-interest of Great Britain, and that our merchant vessels had increased since the adoption of the new measures to which the noble Earl had ascribed an injurious operation. He spoke upon this point from official details. In the year 1814; the number of British ships entered inwards was 8,975, in the next three years they averaged 9,959, and then from 1820 to 1823, they averaged 11,056; the same augmented average was observable in the years 1821., 1825, and 1826, when it was 12,574; and in 1827, 1828, 1829, the number averaged 13,409, being near 5,000 more ships in that year than in 1814, and 1,200 more than the average number for the three years preceding the reciprocity treaties to which such injurious consequences had been ascribed. In the last year the entries were 13,659, and the tonnage 2,184,535, being the greatest number ever known in the commercial history of this country. He begged their Lordships to remark, that the increase was gradual and progressive, occurring year after year. It was not therefore the result, as the noble Earl might suppose, of the ancient laws, nor had it been impeded by the new laws. In conjunction with this gradual increase of British shipping, he would wish their Lordships to observe what had been the progress of foreign shipping. In 1814, when the number of British ships entering inwards was 8,975, the number of foreign ships was 5,286; in 1817, when the average number of British ships was 9,959, the number of foreign was 3,974, shewing a large decrease in the latter. In 1820, the number of foreign ships was 4,639; in 1823 it was 3,573; in 1826 it was 6,116; and in 1829 it was 5,218, shewing that the relative increase of shipping was altogether on the side of this country. In fact, there had been rather a decrease of foreign vessels, and a great increase of British ships engaged, as the noble Earl would have it, in a sadly losing trade. All this, however, and every thing of the same kind, went for nothing with the noble Earl. It was perfectly true that the increase of trade with those countries to which we were bound by reciprocity treaties had not been so great as their Lordships might desire, but still there had been an increase, Again, to advert to another part of this losing concern of the noble Earl—the number of ships built within a certain period. He knew very well that if the trade was a losing one, and men had ships, it was better to employ them at a low freight than allow them to rot idle in the docks; but then, if nothing was to be made by the shipping trade, why build new ships? If the trade in the old were carried on at a loss, for what reason did they build new? Now, taking each year since the year 18 14, he found the following statement on the subject of ship-building:—

In 1814 the number was 733
In 1815 the number was 949
In 1816 the number was 866
In 1817 the number was 766
In 1818 the number was 761
In 1819 the number was 797
In 1820 the number was 635
In 1821 the number was 597
In 1822 the number was 571
In 1823 the number was 604
In 1824 the number was 837
In 1825the number was 1003
In 1826 the number was 1037
In 1827 the number was 911
In 1828 the number was 857
In 1829 the number was 734
By this statement it would be seen, that the average of the three years before the adoption of the reciprocity system, was only 591, while the average number of ships built since that system came into operation was 834. With reference to the reciprocity treaties, he was quite free to admit that they were adopted with a view to decrease the price of freight in this country, so as to enable the British merchant to take his goods abroad, and bring back his returns, on cheaper terms than before, and thereby to enable him to compete with the new-state of things, which it was foreseen must arise in the new condition of the external relations of British commerce. It was well known that freights would be rendered cheaper, but when the trade since 1814 had nearly doubled, the voyages were made quicker, and of course, though the sums paid were smaller, the advantages of more rapid commercial intercourse would more than make up the difference. When the noble Lord said that nothing had been done for the Shipping-interest, but that every thing had been done against it, he must appeal to facts against the assertion. Were there not great facilities now afforded in quarantine regulations,—had there not been a great reduction of colonial fees? The stamps on registers and shipping bonds were reduced from 30s.. to 5s.; the stamps on ship-transfers and on mortgages had also been decreased. In all the stamps on shipping transactions, reductions had, in fact, been made: the tonnage duty had been repealed, lights and harbour dues greatly reduced, and a greater latitude allowed for repairing ships—they could be repaired abroad, to break down combination at home; half the hemp duty had been repealed; and all these regulations must surely be admitted to have been benefits conferred on the shipping-interest during the time which the noble Lord says that nothing was done by the Government to protect the interests of this class of the community. When these circumstances were all taken into consideration, recollecting that voyages were now much more rapidly made, and were more frequent than formerly, he thought they must refute the statements which the noble Lord was so anxious, to make. He was at a loss to see what good could result from the proposed inquiry; for it could only make apparent the same details which he had already given from official records, the general tendency and result of which could not, he thought, be mistaken.

Earl Stanhope

said, he hoped their Lordships would allow him to make a few observations in reply to what had fallen from the noble Duke. The noble Duke had said, that the increase of tonnage necessarily proved the prosperity of the Shipping-interest. In the course of the observations he had already made, he had protested against any such inference being drawn from the amount of tonnage. On that subject he would repeat what he had said last year. In 1814, 1815, and 1816, (he did not quote from written documents) there was a decrease of tonnage. In 1817 and 1818 there was a considerable increase in the number of ships and tonnage. In 1819, 1820, and 1821, there was a decrease in the number of ships and the amount of tonnage, although these were years of comparative prosperity. In the year 1826 there was a great decrease, and in the years 1827 and 1828 there was a progressive increase. According to the noble Duke, the Shipowners could not be in a state of great depression, because the various circumstances referred to shewed an increase in the amount of tonnage. This view of the subject was, however, fallacious, and it was necessary that the accounts should be laid before the House, in order that they should be accessible to all who were anxious about the public interests. When it was stated that there was an increased number of ships, he was rather disposed to think that the number must be multiplied in those papers. The noble Duke stated the amount of registered vessels and the annual tonnage, exclusive of any consideration of the number of voyages, which one vessel might make in the course of a year. When they talked, however, of an increase in the amount of tonnage, as a proof of the prosperity of the Ship-owners, it ought to be taken into consideration that some markets had been extended and others opened to the trade of the country. Mr. Canning, in his oratorical manner, on one occasion stated, that he had opened a new world to the commercial navigation of this country. In his view the greatest proof of the depression of the Shipping-interest was, that notwithstanding the increase of population, the opening of new markets, and the increase in the quantity of exports, (for there was an increase in the quantity though the declared value was less) but notwithstanding all this increase, our shipping had not advanced in an equal ratio. One of the arguments used in defence of the alteration of our commercial system was, that Prussia would have imposed heavy duties on our shipping if those concessions had not been made. That government was, he believed, too enlightened, and afforded in many instances, too good a model of legislation, to insist on those concessions, if there had not been on our part a disposition to grant them. The government of Prussia was too well aware of its own interests to urge any demands which might oblige it to forego the advantage Prussia already enjoyed under the treaty with this country. It had an undoubted right to remonstrate if we proposed to put an additional duty on Prussian vessels; but that was no reason why the commercial code under which this country so long flourished, and to which its prosperity was mainly owing, should have been altered. The noble Duke had avowed that Government, when altering the Navigation-laws, contemplated the reduction of freights. Before the alteration took place, then, it should have been proved to the satisfaction of Parliament, and of the people, that freights were previously excessive. We had yet to learn, however, what advantage had actually arisen to any class of the community, from the measures which, it was now said, were intended to reduce the rate of freight. It appeared to him, that the interests of the Ship-owners had been sacrificed, and their property plundered, without any class of the community having been benefitted. Indeed, he defied his Majesty's Government to shew that any class of the community, or any branch of the productive industry of the country had been benefitted by the alterations in our commercial system. There was not a single class of the population that was not suffering grievous, and in many cases intolerable distress. Notwithstanding the change, the disease was spreading, and threatened the dissolution of society. The amount of the distress varied in particular cases by local circumstances, such as the amount of the poor-rates, the demand for labour, and the rate of wages; but among all classes of the community, and in all parts of the kingdom, suffering was great, and distress unexampled. He conscientiously believed, that to the Minister who proposed the alterations in our commercial system, the country was indebted for much of the distress under which it was suffering, and the dangers to which it was exposed. If that Minister had fairly and honestly avowed at the time, that he wished to reduce the rate of freight; and if he had said to the Ship-owners, "I shall reduce the rate of freight, and I care not what distress you may suffer," such a spirit of decided and determined opposition would have been raised, that the measure could not have been carried. If, as the noble Duke believed, the Ship-owners were not in distress, what possible objection could there be to an inquiry? It was not his object then to press for an inquiry, though it might be his duty to do so on a future occasion, when the accounts which he proposed to move for should be laid on their Lordships' Table. Considering the period of the Session, it was not likely that they would be laid before their Lordships until its close; but some inquiry was due to the importance of the subject, and he could not but express his surprise that such an inquiry had not been long since made, if it were only to answer the repeated remonstrances of the Ship-owners. If their representations were not correct, nothing could be more easy and simple than to confirm the view taken by the noble Duke,—to disprove the depression which they alleged to exist,—and to shew that they were not navigating their vessels at a loss; for that was the real question. It would be unbecoming in him to say that he knew better than the noble Duke the state of the Shipping-interest; but he must say, that there were persons who were better acquainted with it than either the noble Duke or himself,—he meant the Shipowners themselves. They stated, that the value of their vessels had been diminished fifty per cent by the repeal of the Navigation-laws. As to the amount of freight, it was quite clear that it must be regulated by the rate of freight in the continental ports, If the rate of freight were cheaper in them than in British ports, the merchants would employ foreign ships in preference. Nothing could be more simple, however, than to ascertain all those points, by inquiring in a committee. It would be useless and unnecessary, however, to go into an inquiry, if it were determined beforehand not to grant any relief, whatever might be the result of the investigation, The noble Duke had referred to the abolition of the harbour-dues as affording relief to the Ship-owners. That abolition, however, was attended with loss to the public. Those dues were received in many cases by corporations, for local purposes, and when they were abolished the public was obliged to give compensation to those parties to the amount of 175,000l.

The Duke of Wellington

.—The Shipowners were relieved in proportion.

Earl Stanhope

admitted that the Shipowners were relieved in one way, but they were burthened in another by the taxes to which they were obliged to contribute for compensating all these corporations. It was not, however, his intention to enter into minute details—but to take such a general view of the subject, as would authorize him to conclude by moving for certain returns calculated to throw light on it.

Lord Ellenborough

said, it was very prudent of the noble Earl to enter into a general discussion on the subject, and to assume as facts, matters which the papers he was about to move for would disprove, After the explanation given by the noble Duke, it was unnecessary to offer any observations whatever upon this subject; but he was desirous of noticing some of the statements made by the noble Earl; it was true, as staled by the noble Earl, that it was impossible to ascertain the exact amount of tonnage in any one year, because the number of voyages made by the same ship was not specified in the accounts; but they would enable their Lordships to draw a companion between one year and another. The circumstances which affected the accuracy of the amount, occured in one year as well as in another; and therefore the proportions might be correct, though the exact amount in each year could not be precisely ascertained. He admitted that the Ship-owners, taking them as a body were sensible men, who knew their own interest; and he could not believe that they would go on extending their trade, had it been, as represented, a losing trade since 1820, with the exception of the extraordinary year 1825; yet the tonnage of British vessels entered inwards, in the years ending

5th January, 1822, was 1,599,274
5th January, 1823 was 1,664,186
5th January, 1824, was 1,740,859
5th January, 1825, was 1,797,320
5th January, 1826, was 2,144,598
5th January, 1827, was 1,950,630
5th January, 1828, was 2,086,898
5th January, 1829, was 2,094,357
5th January, 1830, was 2,184,535
shewing a continual increase, not to be equalled, he believed, certainly not surpassed by any other branch of trade. In looking into other accounts connected with this subject, he found one or two results confirming the view which had been presented to their Lordships by the noble Duke. Comparing the amount of tonnage built and registered in the several ports of the British empire during the last three years with the average amount in the years 1814, 1815, and 1816, he found this result:

Number of Ships built and registered.

In 1814, 1815, and 1816, carried 114,630
In 1827, 1828, and 1829, carried 166,595
Shewing an increase of 51,965
although, for the year 1829, all the returns had not yet been received. Notwithstanding this deficiency, however, the average for the last three years was nearly fifty per cent greater than in the former three years he had referred to. The increase in the number of men navigating British ships, entered inwards exclusive of the trade between Great Britain and Ireland, taking the average of the same years, was from 83,004 to 109,602. The number of men navigating foreign ships entered inwards during the same period, was, 31,846 and 37,867. The increase therefore in the number of seamen navigating foreign ships was only 6,021; whilst there was an increase of 26,598 in the number of men navigating British ships. It was perfectly true that, under the treaties of reciprocity, the trade of some foreign states had increased; but at the same time, the trade of other states had decreased, so that on the whole, he found that the increase of British tonnage, beyond that of foreign Powers, was very considerable. Even with respect to Prussia, a case which had been particularly referred to by the noble Earl, of which the increase of tonnage in its favour amounted to 4,000 tons, as compared with this country; yet, that was to be accounted for by the great increase of our trade with that country, caused by the treaty of reciprocity, and of which increase our shipping had a share, though it did not equal the amount enjoyed by Prussian shipping. The imports from that country, which in the year previous to the conclusion of the treaty amounted in official value to 543,089l., leached, in 1828, to 1,108,758l. With respect to America also, how did the comparative account stand? The British tonnage entered inwards from the United States, in the two years previous to the reciprocity treaty, was 86,654 tons—that of the United States, was 348,628. In the two last years the British tonnage had risen to 141,501 tons, and the American had decreased to 300,501 tons. When the papers were produced, which the noble Earl meant to move for, their Lordships would be able to judge of the accuracy of these statements. He would say no more, further than again to compliment the noble Earl on the judgment he had shewn in making his speech before he had his facts; stating to their Lordships his own assumptions rather than the deductions of accurate and authentic documents.

Earl Stanhope

said, he thought that the question had been unfairly argued by the noble Lord who had just addressed them. It would have been preposterous if he had argued, that the increase of the shipping of some states was not followed by a diminution of the shipping of others. When he called for documents, he was not to be met by accounts pulled out of the pocket of a Cabinet Minister, which might perhaps hereafter be described as such document had before been, as nothing more than private memoranda. When an account was produced of the declared value of articles exported, we were told that it was impossible to obtain a correct account, because on some occasions the value was taken, and on others their weight, and therefore, that the account must be unsatisfactory. The noble Lord must not knock him down, therefore, with a statement of the value of goods imported from Prussia. If that statement were correct, would it not be equally easy to produce an account of the value of goods imported from France? In order to form any conclusion on such statements, there ought to be a general valuation of all the articles imported. With respect to the Shipping-interest, the question was, whether it was; or not a losing concern, and he believed that upon inquiry, it would appear to I be a losing concern. Their Lordships would not, he hoped, suffer themselves to be led away by the multitude of details which had been forced upon their attention, until they weighed and considered their effect, and ascertained how far the noble Duke and the noble Baron could vouch for their correctness. The noble Earl concluded by moving, that there be laid before the House,

"A return of the Shipping employed in the trade of the United Kingdom, exhibiting the number and tonnage of vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards; with the number of their crews, distinguishing British from foreign ships, and the trade with each country in each year, from 1814 to 1829, both inclusive, specifying the countries with which treaties of reciprocity have been concluded;—also a return of the number and tonnage of ships and vessels built and registered in the United Kingdom in each year, from 1814 to 1829, both inclusive, distinguishing the number and tonnage of those built in the United Kingdom from those built in the Colonies:—also, a return of the number and tonnage of ships belonging to the several ports of the United Kingdom, from 1814 to 1829, both inclusive; distinguishing those belonging to the United Kingdom from the Colonies, and excluding those navigated by steam:—also a return of the number and tonnage of vessels belonging to the United Kingdom that are navigated by steam:—also, a return of the number and tonnage of ships and vessels registered in the United Kingdom in 1825, and in every subsequent year, distinguishing each year:—also, a return of the number and tonnage of ships and vessels, navigated by steam, which cleared outwards, and entered inwards, in the ports of the United Kingdom, to and from foreign ports in each year, from 1822 to 1829, both inclusive: —also, a return of the number and tonnage of ships and vessels navigated by steam, which entered inwards and cleared outwards coastwise in each year, from 1822 to 1829, both inclusive:—also a return of the number and tonnage of ships and vessels which have been broken up or sold to foreigners in each year, from 1824 to 1829, both inclusive: also, a return of the number and tonnage of ships and vessels which are lost or missing, of which the owners have not delivered up their certificates of registry:—also, an account of the monies paid out of the public Revenue from the year 1824 to the year 1829, distinguishing each year, to any corporation or public bodies, for compensation for light, pilotage, harbour-dues, scavage, alien-dues, and dock-dues; distinguishing the corporations and public bodies, and amounts paid to each:—also correspondence relative to the petitions of the Ship-owners of the port of London, addressed to the Privy Council.

The Marquis of Londonderry

thought the present low state of the Shipping-trade well worthy of inquiry, with a view to devising a remedy; and that the thanks of the country were due to the noble Earl (Stanhope) for his zealous endeavours to bring the case of the Ship-owners before Parliament.

The Duke of Buckingham

said, that the British shipping had increased since, and in consequence of the Reciprocity Treaty Acts; and that the statements made by his Majesty's Ministers were complete answers to the complaints of the noble Earl. He did not object to the production of the documents, but he thought they were perhaps more voluminous than was requisite.

Earl Stanhope

in reply to the noble Duke, his relation, observed, that the statements of the Ship-owners were more worthy of credit than the public documents. Their distress could not be doubted in the teeth of their own assertions, and indeed it was proved by the necessity they had been laid under, of entering into competition with foreigners, who could build, victual, man, and repair their ships at so much less cost than they could.

The Returns were ordered.

[The further examination of witnesses on the East Retford Disfranchisement Bill was proceeded with.]