HL Deb 19 July 1832 vol 14 cc531-3
Viscount Strangford,

seeing the noble President of the Board of Trade in his place, was desirous to make some observations on the arrangement which had been made with the French Government on the subject of the reciprocal tonnage duties of both countries, and to obtain some information from the noble Lord respecting that arrangement. He was glad that the arrangement had been at length effected, although the progress to its conclusion had been so very tardy. Still he believed, that the British shipowners would feel extremely obliged to the noble Lord for the arrangement, although it was not altogether satisfactory. The reduction in the duties payable by British vessels in the French ports was not so great as we were entitled to; and then it was worthy of consideration, that owing to the delay which had taken place in coming to a final arrangement, British vessels had been obliged to pay 200,000l. in the ports of France more than they would have done if the arrangements had been promptly concluded. The French in our ports paid only 7d. or 8d. per ton, which was only about one half of what we paid in the French ports, and this, too, with a treaty of reciprocity staring us in the face. He admitted that the reduction of the duties payable by British vessels in French ports to 1s. 3d, per ton was a very great advantage, and yet the payment by us of 50 per cent more than the French paid was rather too much. The French, too, had a great advantage from our light-houses on the coast; and this was a benefit which British ships had not on the French coast. He was not, however, disposed to quarrel with the arrangement, if we had value for our money. But from Ushant, on the French coast, to 120 miles distant, there was not a single light, though the coast was for seamen an extremely dangerous one, perhaps as dangerous a one as was to be found, and a great many British ships had been consequently wrecked. He had a letter from a gentleman who had resided for a short time at Morlaix, and he said that during that time thirteen British ships had been wrecked on that coast. The French paid for nothing for which they did not receive a full equivalent advantage, while our payments were a pure tax. The arrangement, however, was, on the whole, a great benefit to British shipping; but he wished for some explanation from the noble Lord as to the particulars which he had mentioned, and in which it did not appear that the British had a reciprocal or equal advantage.

Lord Auckland

was willing to give the noble Lord all the information in his power. There was no tardiness whatever on the part of France in concluding the arrangement, and the delay had arisen only from unavoidable obstacles. The French Government had throughout met him with perfect frankness, and apparently with every disposition to make an arrangement with this country on terms of reciprocity. The delay had been occasioned by the necessity which existed of procuring information from various Consuls and other persons, and by some other causes. The principle upon which they had proceeded in making the arrangement was, that the duties payable by British vessels in the French ports should be reduced to an equality with the duties payable by French vessels in the British ports; but the difficulty was to settle the precise amount of payments, which, all things considered, would constitute that equality. Certainly the British did not pay fifty per cent more than the French. The payments were placed as nearly as possible on the footing of equality. The charges in all the French ports were uniformly 3s. 6d. per ton, while in every one of the British ports the amount of duties varied, as they were dependent on the charters of each of the corporations. An average, therefore, had been taken of the duties payable by French vessels at the ports of London, Liverpool, Dover, and the other ports where French vessels had been in the habit of entering for the last four years, and that average was the rule adopted. The duties payable by vessels from Cherbourg to Portsmouth varied considerably from those payable by vessels from Cherbourg to Liverpool, and it had become absolutely necessary to strike an average. The result was, that French vessels were to pay 10d. per ton; but it was remarked on the part of the French, that the French charged by one measure, and that we charged by another; and that, in order to produce the proper equality, it was necessary that British vessels should pay 1s. 3d. per ton. To this we demurred, and the arrangement as to this payment was only provisional, and the French Government was ready to alter it, if we could make out that the payment was too much. But from the calculations that he had made, and the information he had collected, he was rather disposed to think that the French calculation was correct. With respect to light-houses on the French coast, French commerce was concerned on that point as much as the British, and we had no right to make any demands in that respect. No complaint for want of lights had, however, reached him, otherwise they would have been attended to.

Viscount Strangford

proposed to move for an account of British vessels wrecked on the part of the French coast alluded to, within a given period but on Earl Grey intimating that there was no means of making such a return, the motion was withdrawn.